Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Dustin

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Dustin Ellis. Dustin is serving as a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the academic year 2014-2015 studying in Barcelona, Spain.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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The Beginning

Quito: the capital city of the country of Ecuador, where I will be spending the next four months of my semester abroad.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared in my life than I was on the day I arrived in Ecuador. Studying abroad is such a huge step in every way possible because it completely alters every aspect of your life. I was anxious at the beginning about many things – not knowing how to get around, whether I would be safe or not, what my host family would be like, and the list goes on. The first week was a lot to take in. My immediate thoughts once here were that the city is so huge, and that I knew absolutely no one at all. Those two mixed together is quite the overwhelming combination. In the next two weeks that have followed, my life has settled down and I’m able to start adjusting to what my life is like here. It’s a lot of daily work to make that happen, but it’s worth it.

One thing I miss from the United States is not having to take public transportation everywhere I go. Being in such a big city here makes traveling a time-consuming thing, which in my small home town, I am not accustomed to. There is so much traffic here! It’s hard to believe there can be so many cars and buses in one place at the same time!

One thing that I have found that I absolutely love here in Ecuador – which isn’t really prevalent in the United States – is the dancing culture. Everyone dances here! Young or old, male or female. It’s in their blood here, and I love it. People have so much fun dancing, and enjoy life through it. I have loved learning about all the different types of dance here, such as the salsa, which is my favorite!

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In the Land of Smiles

There was a split moment where I noticed several people skittering out from the sidewalks into shops and under awnings. The cloud covered sky over head likened itself to that of a thick smoke and then water, from nowhere, was everywhere. You haven’t had rain till you have had tropical rainy season rain. I was drenched in seconds. In America it would not have been uncommon to spit and swear, to get angry and upset. But this is Thailand. Walking over to the nearest cover I heard a woman call out to me in Thai and in turning back was greeted with a smile. The woman standing before me bowed her head and handed me a kabob of pineapple and pomelo and though I was soaking wet and a mile from home I couldn’t help but smile. This is Thailand.
The last week before leaving for my program was one of the most anxious times of my life. There is something about knowing that in a few short days your life with be changed drastically for the better that can mess with your head. Most of this anxiety was less nervousness about the move over but almost entirely about my own readiness to just be in Thailand. Of course, I was nervous about meeting new people or getting past the language barrier, but nothing trumped the awesome feeling of adventure and starting something new. And now that I’m in the country and have settled in, I can really feel that nervousness, that anxiety, falling away.
Arriving in Thailand has raised some new questions and erased some preconceived ideas of what life would be like here. There is no climate like Thailand’s climate. The sticky heat is everywhere and the rain comes down in sheets but it isn’t unbearable. I believe with time I can find it quite nice. I had been told it was hot here, but no one could have prepared me for the humidity. In a similar way, before I arrived I had this idea that because of the language barrier the native people wouldn’t even try to work with me. After multiple times of ordering meals and getting directions with no working knowledge of the language, I cannot stress how wrong I was; the Thai people have taken these problems with a smile and a great attitude.
This all makes for a wonderful experience so far and I can feel myself already growing accustomed to the many changes this move constitutes. And every time I’m caught in a monsoon rain or lost in the winding streets outside Bangkok I can do as the Thai do. I can smile and laugh it off because this is Thailand.

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Entering the Black Hole: Month #1 in China

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Hello!  My name is Tarrajna Walsh, and I am a senior from Loyola University Chicago in the United States.  I am studying abroad for a semester at The Beijing Center located on the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China.  Almost exactly a month ago today I arrived at the Beijing airport–my first time on Chinese soil!  I was fortunate enough to have had a direct flight from Chicago, and about 12 hours later (my flight was two hours earlier than anticipated!), I spied my first glimpse of the Asian continent.  I had a middle seat, so I had to lean forward and crane my neck to get a look out the window without appearing to be staring at my neighbor.  When I saw the tan colored hue of a jagged mountain range far below, a feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety washed over me.  What in the world had I gotten myself into?  Flying to China may as well have been flying to the moon.  Though I had seen pictures of Chinese cities and rural landscapes, watched Chinese films, and met with many people who had been to China in the months leading up to my own trip, I had a very abstract grasp of China.  I even had difficulty imagining what it would look like.  Needless to say, as we prepared for landing, I felt instead as if we were flying into a black hole.

Since arriving in Beijing, I have been overwhelmed with new impressions and experiences.  That is the joy of traveling, especially to a place where you do not speak the language.  Everything is a new–and often challenging–experience.  The most perfunctory aspects of daily life at home–shopping, ordering food, going to the bathroom–become the most challenging experiences while abroad.

Before arriving, I heard many things about China.  I was told that the food is very delicious, and very different than Chinese food in the States.  After being here for a month, I would have to agree.  Chinese food in the U.S. mainly derives from the Cantonese region of southern China, whereas there are many diverse regions reflected in the food here in China, such as Sichuanese (spicy!), Hunanese, Hui, Tibetan, etc.  I also imagined a relatively heterogeneous population, as compared to the diversity of ethnicity and nationality in U.S. metropolitan areas.  Although the vast majority of Chinese people are Han Chinese, there are many different ethnicities and sub-cultures represented as well.  For example, while on our two-week excursion along the ancient Silk Road Route into western China (more about that in another post!), I encountered a wide diversity of people.  There were many Hui Muslim people in Lanzhou, Gansu, identifiable by a round, white cap worn by men, and a hejab worn by women.  We also met Tibetan Chinese in Xia’he, Gansu, located on an outer cusp of the Tibetan Plateau.

An immediate impression I had of China–well, Beijing at least–upon arrival was that it is very dirty.  That impression has not really changed, although the subway is impressively clean (especially compared with Chicago’s El).  Another impression/expectation I had was that people would not be particularly friendly toward strangers.  I have been pleasantly surprised to find that in many cases I was wrong.  Shopkeepers, waiters/waitresses, and random passersby have been very cheerful, patient, and friendly many times when I needed help.  And as with any city, there are the not-so-friendly people as well.  But by far my greatest impression of people in China has been their curiosity about foreigners.  Especially while traveling along the Silk Road, my colleagues and I were asked numerous times to take photos with strangers, stared at, talked about in Chinese, and generally scrutinized.  Coming from the diversity of the United States, this was at first a surprising and unsettling experience, but we soon learned to enjoy it, especially after realizing that people were as curious about us as we were about them and their nation.  We soon coined the expression #Chinafamous, and were lamenting that we would lose this special attention upon our return to our respective countries.

One major observation I have made since arriving here is how crucial food is to identity.  I would not consider myself anywhere close to being a foodie, and yet even I have felt the pangs of being away from one’s home cuisine and comfort food.  Though Chinese food offers a wide variety and can be extremely delicious, there are some moments when I really miss one of my home staple foods: tacos.  I know the exact taco place I will visit for my first meal when I get home.  Nonetheless, this is Beijing and there are reportedly several authentic taco shops here, though I have yet to seek them out.  On the flip-side, one aspect of China I already know will be missed when I leave are the jianbing: a burrito-like food consisting of batter made from millet spread over a round griddle, with an egg cracked over it and cooked in, lettuce, sauce, spice, some yet-unidentified crunchy thing, and meat of your choice all rolled in.  Mostly all the study-abroad students in my program, myself included, eat this for lunch every day.  It costs about $1.50 and is absolutely delicious.  Yes, $1.50.  Food here is much cheaper than the U.S., and there is no tipping.  Yet another reason it will be difficult to go back.

After returning from our Silk Road excursion, we launched right into classes.  I am taking Intensive Chinese four times a week for almost three hours each day.  My professor is an excellent teacher, and only speaks in Chinese.  This is really challenging!!  There are some days after class when I head straight back to my dorm (well, after a tasty jianbing hot off the griddle) and take a nap.  Three hours of Chinese can be mentally exhausting, but overall I can already see that I am making much faster progress here than back home, simply due to the immersion experience.  All my classes are quite engaging, and I am confident that I will have a far greater understanding of Chinese culture, history, and society than before arriving.  Nonetheless, China is a huge nation with a vast history.  I feel strongly that one semester here will only reveal the tip of what promises to be a tremendous iceberg.

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Gilman Video Blogger Alex – Internship Reflection

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Alex Montoya. Alex was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the summer of 2014 studying and interning in Shanghai, China.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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Velkommen til København (Welcome to Copenhagen)

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Nyhavn – this canal leads out to the harbor, which you can actually swim in because they keep it so clean!

It’s the little things that catch your eye. Well, not at first. At first you’re Rushed, Rushed, Rushed ¿Confused? Tiiired, IMOBLIZED hungry Rushed and finally, after 10-plus hours and land in sight, relieved. You sigh, feel yourself relaxing just a bit, and then, only then, do you look around and notice these little things.

Like a translucent orb seeming to float, weightless, in mid-air that turns out to be a streetlight. Stoplights that flash a yellow warning before turning green. Colors that don’t seem to quite match. A citrusy, astringent aroma that seems to perfume all of the public transit busses and trains. A building that leans so comically off-kilter that it seems to stumble into its sturdier rectangular friend placed strategically to one side. And bikes. Bikes everywhere! Bikes carrying their riders to trains, bikes in trains, bikes in special lanes on the streets, bikes locked to other bikes locked to the omnipresent bike-racks.

A sign at the airport you saw earlier said “Velkommen til København,” introducing you in the friendliest way possible to the one of the most difficult languages to pronounce, at least in the opinion of your newly-made friends. And who even are these “friends?” You just met them 20 minutes ago! Now you’re exploring the city with them as if you’d known each other for the past year.

And then you notice the feeling that’s been resting calmly in the background since you left Boston. It’s a sense of purpose, of tranquility, lying under the more superficial feelings of anxiety and confusion. You’ve done this before – travelled to a new place with new people. It was completely your choice to do it then as now, and it worked out well before.

Times up! You slip out of your thoughts to your friend (yes, he is my friend now) calling out that you have to get back to meet your respective host families. My family? Right! Of course, I’m staying with people here. God you’re tired.

Later, they show up and your name is called as if you were back in elementary school and your parents’ minivan with the bumper stickers and comfy seats had just driven up. You feel so happy, elated, even joyful (and again relieved) to finally, finally meet the people you’ll be living with for the next four months. Jan (“Yan”) and Dot are friendly and funny, entertaining you as they take you on a car tour of Copenhagen. And the best part? They speak English as if you were still in the US. This string of familiarities soothes the jarring harshness of the unknowns you just faced like sleep taking away all the troubles of a day. Sleep! You’re exhausted. While on the flight, your body overcame it with adrenaline and numbness. Now, however, you’re parasympathetic nervous system is kicking in and you’re starting to really feel the exhaustion. You can’t wait to get back to your host parents’ house and just sleep….

But they don’t let you! They know (far better than your body) that it’s 10 am and it’s time to be up! It’s time to meet you host brother Anton! He’s about your age, with a big smile and easy laugh to match his gregarious personality. You spend the day with them doing various small activities. By dinnertime you’re almost incoherent. Your host family asks “What did you say?” repeatedly, because you’re repeating yourself, and them, and the world just doesn’t make sense. You think it will make sense after you sleep, so you finally give in and go to bed at 9 pm. Exhausted, bewildered, happy. You know this is what you should be doing. This is right….

This mingled apprehension, confusion, excitement, and odd sense of calmness made up the whirlwind that was my first day in Denmark. The plane arrived at Copenhagen airport at about 6 am and we had to wait until 10 for our host parents to arrive, so my new friends and I went to explore the nearest neighborhood: Christianshavn (not to be confused with Christania). The old, colorful, intricately-detailed buildings along this harbor melded beautifully with the cobblestone streets and fresh coffee we bought and made us feel truly in Denmark. Later, my host parents were smart enough to keep me up, which saved me from having any jetlag during the first week.

I chose to describe this first day in such detail beacause it’s actually a very good illustration of how I’ve felt since then. I’ve explored some of the most beautiful and historic places in Copenhagen, celebrated a Silver Wedding (25th wedding anniversary) with friends of my host family, made new friends, bungyjumped over the harbor, and visited my host grandparents in the source of the spirit of Denmark: Jutland (more to come on these later!). Through it all I’ve been feeling the same jumbled mixture of emotions as on the first day, but, most importantly, I’ve been welcomed. Directly opposing the stereotype of Danes as closed to outsiders, I’ve felt so accepted by my host family and literally every Dane I’ve met (not an exaggeration). They are friendly, warm, fun-loving, and always making jokes.

My experience with my host grandparents shows this best. Jutlanders are stereotyped by Danes from more metropolitan areas as serious, tough farmers with no senses of humor. When I arrived there with my host family, I didn’t know this (and was better for it). Jørgen and Mie, the parents of my host father Jan, certainly didn’t speak any English, but they were as warm and loving as the grandparents in a Christmas movie. I was content to sit and eat the authentic Danish meal they had prepared for us while they all spoke in the Jutland dialect, but about half-way through the meal Jørgen suddenly turned to me and said, in halting but coherent English, “I normally speak proper Danish, but today I’m speaking in my dialect so I can annoy Dot.” Everyone laughed. Up until this point I thought he spoke zero English, and to have him communicate directly with me, in my own language, was nothing short of a blessing. Jan, Dot, and Anton made me feel at home in Copenhagen – Jørgen and Mie made me feel welcomed to all of Denmark.

Clockwise from left: my host mother, Dot, me, my host father, Jan, Jan's father Jørn and Jan's mother Mie.

Clockwise from left: my host mother, Dot, me, my host father, Jan, Jan’s father Jørn and Jan’s mother Mie.

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Bienvenue en AFRIQUE!

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The city (I took it from the airplane)

I can’t believe I am actually in AFRICA! There is so much I want to write about and so much to tell, but mostly I wanted to tell you how grateful I am to be here! It is very surreal and I am constantly reminding myself that I’m actually in Africa! I love the people, the culture, and the hospitality. I won’t be able to express all that is going on, so please comment with specific questions and I’ll answer those.

The first few days we have been going through an orientation (lots of time in the classroom and little time to explore). We learn about Senegalese customs, learn to dance a little, learn how to eat around the bowl (this means we all eat out of the same big bowl and sit on pillows on the floor), learn about Senegalese EVERYTHING! I feel like I have forgotten most of what they said, but luckily I am not afraid to ask over and over again. Out of the forty-ish students here, I am definitely the one who doesn’t mind talking with the locals. I have made friends with about everyone I have met, and they are so welcoming. The Senegalese have one word that represents their culture: TERANGA. This roughly translates to hospitality. They have a firm belief to always invite people in and help foreigners because they never know if they will need help in the future. People gladly help me with directions, finding transportation, and I have already been given so many gifts.  I have had special excursions to some markets and have been introduced to several people around the city while the rest of the students just stay in the hotel. I am truly trying to get out there and experience the culture– and don’t worry mom, I’m being safe.

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Hotel Room (aka the orphanage)

So since there is so much to write about, I will try to give an adequate abridgment of Senegal through my eyes with the understanding that I will never fully explain the entirety of this awesome experience.

The City

Dakar is a thriving metropolis. There are so many people, street vendors and cars everywhere. We have to cross a giant highway to get to school (which is terrifying since pedestrians have no rights) and I feel like I’m always a bit anxious when I cross. They have three main neighborhoods where students live. I live in the furthest one which is called Ouakam. Try to search for pictures from Oaukum on the internet to see where I live. This is a developing country so that means that there are livestock on the streets, dirt roads, no dependable source of running water, and frequent electricity cuts. I’m learning to shower out of a bucket and enjoy being sweaty and smelly all the time.

Food

The food is crazy delicious. Of course the main dish is rice and fish, but my host mom explained that she likes a variety of food. Everyone here eats out of one large bowl. Normally they eat with their hands, yet my family has adopted silverware after having been a host family for 6 years. Most of the dishes are very simple- lentils, french fries, rice, onions, etc. My favorite is the fruit, especially the MANGOS! They are so delicious! I eat about three a day because it also costs only one dollar for a kilo. I’m loving the food and so far no illness.

My Host Family

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My family

So the best part so far is my host family. They insist that I call them ” Mama” and “Papa” along with my three brothers and one sister. Here are their names so you can get some sort of idea of who I’m living with: Simon Pierre, Bernadette, Christian (26), Amelie (23), Pappi (17), and Benoit (9). My little brother Benoit already loves me so much– he follows me around, copies what I do, always wants to play and gets sad every time I have to leave. My very first night with the family almost felt like I was in the United States. We had spaghetti for dinner and after we all played UNO! I am super blessed to be living with a family that shares my beliefs and has made me feel at home so quickly.

As I said, there is so much that has happened and so many people I have met! I am really missing feeling dry and smelling clean, but I know I will soon get over that. There is so much talk about EBOLA and with one case emerging in Senegal, I am trying to enjoy each day and do as much as I can.

 

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