Gilman Scholar Everett Elam was first inspired to study abroad after hearing a Gilman Scholar’s Follow-on Service Project presentation at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. As a blind student studying music and the Spanish language, Everett was interested in exploring the rich musical culture of Spain, and improving his Spanish speaking skills. While abroad, Everett stayed with a host family and took intensive language courses. He also immersed himself in the traditional Spanish music community by participating in gatherings of musicians and learning new techniques to play on the fiddle.
Since returning from his experience abroad, Everett has become an outspoken advocate of study abroad for students with disabilities. He has presented about his study abroad experience and the Gilman Scholarship to numerous groups in his community, and created an “abroadcast:” an audio-story about studying abroad that transports the listener to Spain how Everett experienced it: through sound.
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Two days into 2017 and I found myself on a long journey to the United Kingdom. After spending the holidays at home with my family in Mexico, I packed my suitcase and drove north for four hours, just me and my mom. We crossed the border and arrived in Tucson, Arizona – spending a brief night in a place that I had also once called home. Ever since my parents relocated to Mexico, I rarely have the opportunity to visit. Perhaps it was just the nostalgia, but it felt right to be in the place where it all started before flying to my college home again.
The next morning, I took in the lingering smell of the desert rain and kissed my anxious mother goodbye. Seven hours later, I found myself lugging my heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs to a mostly empty college apartment in Philadelphia. After two years studying at the University of Pennsylvania, it also felt like home to walk around my college campus and have late night conversations over noodles at the local Ramen Bar. Less than 24 hours later, I packed up my second suitcase and stumbled back down the stairs before heading back to the airport for another day of traveling.
By the time I arrived in London, I had passed through 3 different countries over 3 days of travel. Disoriented and exhausted, it was difficult to find the charm in London when I first arrived. My heater didn’t work, my phone service went out, and there was no logic in the placement of crosswalks. During orientation, I sat in the back with one of my best friends from Penn and we rolled our eyes at every cheesy presentation while introducing ourselves to an overwhelming group of new people.
What school do you go to? What are you studying? Where are you from?
Though the entire situation surrounding “Abroad Orientation” called for small talk and awkward introductions, my inconsistent response to every “Where are you from?” question made me uneasy. As I stumbled to simplify my complicated background and the different layers that compose my identity, I realized that home could take on different meanings. To other American students, I was mostly from Arizona, the place where I grew up. In awkward and somewhat incoherent sentences, I would also mention Philadelphia before quickly moving on. On the other hand, to my British classmates, I was clearly American. Yet, I would often find myself clarifying that I was Mexican too.
It has been a month since I first arrived in London and as the days pass, introductions and “where are you from?” questions have become less frequent. Still, these past few weeks have encouraged me to look back and pinpoint the places that I call home and people that have inadvertently impacted and influenced who I am. At a time when the value of diversity has been questioned and undermined, I find myself embracing my background and the framework that it has provided as I find my place in this expansive and multifaceted city. Sure there is no place like home and there is no place like London but I have a feeling that the two aren’t altogether mutually exclusive.
I refuse to let the pressure get to me. Walking around the hallways of this elite French school, I refuse to be intimidated. I refuse to let everyone’s ease and comfort, (their only worries the readings they didn’t complete last night or the impending presentation they haven’t started), make me feel like I’m a burden. I refuse to feel that I deserve this less, or even, that I deserve this more, which is a thought that bubbles up to the surface when I am overly-confident, partially bitter at how little everyone else has had to do to succeed as I scaled my very anxieties to get here. I refuse to bow.
I have a few friends who go to my host school (or are alumni). A good friend of mine, who for the sake of this blog we can call “Nick,” attended this school and graduated, with high honors of course, and told me everything I’d need to know before attending. I know it’s wrong to come to a new place with worries and assumptions but, I’m human, and I cannot keep myself calm in almost any situation so why should this be different? Before I came here Nick told me that this school was built as a place where the French elite could educate their children; politicians and diplomats sent their kids here to follow in their footsteps, and it’s become world-renowned as a place to get your foot in the door to a successful life as a part of high-brow academic society. Many of the previous French presidents have attended this school. Almost all of the people who go here are part of the wealthy elite in whatever nation they come from; all of their family is usually college-educated. Well, crap.
Knowing that I have quite the snappy attitude towards those who think they’re better than anyone else because of their academic or economic privilege, I prepared myself for the worst. I pictured myself living in an academic battlefield, constantly having to prove that the self-sufficient girl from New York (the Bronx, to be specific) was good enough, smart enough, and could handle what this school brought for me. Every time I thought about it, I got sick. What if I couldn’t afford to take all the same fancy trips everyone had planned? How would they feel about me going to a state school, one of the most affordable educations in the nation, coming from a CUNY rather than Columbia University, or NYU?
Fast forward some months, and voila! Here I am. Refusing. Refusing to let my own mental insecurities about my abilities affect how I present myself and how I perform at this elite institution that I absolutely deserve to attend. Refusing to disappoint my parents, who I don’t see as inferior for not having attended college, but as visionaries and angels, who sacrificed everything they’ve ever had to make my life better and more privileged than theirs ever will be. I refuse to view myself in competition with others with whom I might not relate; but rather I will let myself get to know others, and see the similarities we share in the world of academia, global travel, and professional experience.
To be honest, I think all first-generation college students share some of the same trials and tribulations. There is a girl here with me from my school who has become one of my closest friends in the time we’ve been here together. Let’s call her… Amara. Along with her, I’ve made good friends with an Afro-Brazilian woman (let’s call her Dascha) studying abroad in Paris, and she has struggled just like me to make it to this great university. They both understand, as fellow first-generation college students and low-income women of color, how nerve-wracking it is to be here among all of this wealth, prestige, and honor. We’ve had days, hours, and moments, when we’ve needed to confide in each other about comments made in our classes, observations we’ve seen among social groups, and implications of this institute which were shocking to us. (For example, everyone here can afford textbooks. At our home university, many professors omit them, or give much more time for students to purchase them, because working class colleges contain multitudes of people who can’t afford hundreds of dollars at once for reading material.) I am extremely grateful to you, Amara, for being a friend I confide in about these issues, who understands my anxieties, and gives me hope that we can for sure fulfill this experience without losing our self-esteem, or feeling any type of inadequate.
For all the first-gen students who are reading this, feeling some type of way, looking for inspiration or courage to study abroad or head off to college: look inside yourself. It will be difficult to get rid of the assumptions that society has put on us, and we will always feel slightly resentful at how much harder we’ve had to work to get here but please understand that it’s worth it. You deserve the opportunities you’ve fought for, and there’s no sense in worrying so much that you lose the ability to soak in all of the wonderful experiences, moments, and friends you will make here. Refuse to let yourself be a statistic, but make yourself a living example. Refuse to feel self-conscious, but let your different background propel you. Refuse to let the pressure get to you, use it to succeed.
Last time I wrote that “adjusting to field camp has been pretty easy. The Marines prepared me well for this physically demanding and highly structured environment.” Easy might have been the wrong word. Being physically fit and super organized, I might make it look easy, but beneath my calm exterior, my mind is clouded by doubt. The reason I’m so well prepared is because I worry about everything.
I served on active duty for four years. One of the hardest things about readjusting to civilian life has been travelling with others in unfamiliar environments, which is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last four weeks of field camp. I get stressed because I feel the need to plan everything. The Marine Corps taught me that the more control I can have over my surroundings, the safer I will be. When I’m on my own, this is not a problem. I can take all the time I need to properly prepare for whatever the day may bring. When I’m travelling in a 30-person school group with instructors who decide where we go and when we stop, I worry endlessly.
What if my boots don’t dry overnight? What if I forget to refill and pack the water bottle I was using at breakfast? Once we’re out in the field, what if I don’t have time to stop and reapply sunscreen? What if I need to adjust my pack? Will there be a lunch break? When, and for how long?
Whenever I’m away from home, I feel the need to be at 100% readiness so that if an emergency presents itself I will be in the best possible position to respond. Call me paranoid, but that’s the way I think. I’ve been trained to be highly aware of my vulnerabilities. Stopping and addressing them calms me down and gives me a surge of confidence, but it’s hard to find the time to do that at field camp. I have to rush to keep up because my group is always on the move.
We spent nine days in New Zealand’s Southern Alps, five days on the West Coast, and now here we are on North Island. We’ve spent all week in the Taupo Volcanic Zone studying volcanoes. Highlights have included hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing, speaking with volcanologists at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, and getting to put our hands on volcanic deposits left over from processes like lava flows, pyroclastic density currents, and lahars. All the while we’ve been staying at a cozy, but cramped ski lodge on the flank of the Zone’s tallest volcano, Mt. Ruapehu, which last erupted in 1995.
Tomorrow we fly back to Christchurch for the final module of this field camp: a mapping exercise on Banks Peninsula. For all my anxiety, I must admit, it doesn’t get much better than hands-on learning in world-class geological settings. Experiencing these rocks and sediments with all five senses (yes, sometimes even taste*) is sure to cement them in my memory better than any textbook figure. Still, I’ll be happy when it’s done. It will be good to set my schedule and move at my own pace.
*Even with a hand lens, it is impossible to see the difference between silt and clay in the field. Try grinding them between your teeth, however, and the difference is night and day. Clay is so fine you won’t feel a thing, but silt is coarse enough that it will feel similar to sand.
My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.
About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.
While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.
At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.
However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.