A Metamorphosis Abroad

I have never been able to relate to a lot of the people I met growing up unless they came from a similar background as I do. If they did not, a bridge was immediately formed where we stood on opposite ends, speaking still, yet never truly hearing or understanding one another. This was especially true for Asian people (I know how bad that sounds but let me finish). Growing up, I definitely let the media, stereotypes, and Hollywood brainwash my ideas surrounding Chinese people. I always assumed they were very well-off, and super good at math. The fact that the Asians at my schools fit these stereotypes only pushed my prejudices deeper into my conscious. Before studying abroad, I had only met three Asians who did not fit these stereotypes, but still zero I could relate to. Yet still, I have been fascinated with Asia since I was a child, and made it my mission to eventually travel here. This by far one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.

My first day in Hong Kong was a very humbling experience. It was the first time in my life I saw Chinese people doing regular jobs, like supermarket cashiers, fast food, and plenty of other jobs. I thought wow, these people are just like every other race: diverse. Diverse in every sense of the word, from their fashion, views, and physique. It washed away my idea that Chinese people were people I just couldn’t relate to because we are just so different, but that is so far from the truth. This is the part where I introduce my brilliant co-worker and friend Ariel.

 

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This is Ariel, my brilliant Hong Kong sister whom I will miss dearly.

 

Ariel is like my tiny little sister, even though shes only one year younger me. She is an incredibly hard worker and has taught me so much about Hong Kong culture. We have similar views on most things we discuss, like the governing and policing parties, how life should be more than just working so much, and plenty of other stuff. She is the reason I work overtime practically everyday, her presence is dope. She’s passionate about her people and their freedom, she goes to protests just like us Berkeley folk are known for doing.

Through friendships like Ariel’s and my coursework through the University of Hong Kong, I have learned a lot about myself. I thought I was capable of adapting to any environment, but I discovered my kryptonite: censorship. During my travel to and from Tokyo, I have stopped in Shanghai a couple times. Since Shanghai is a part of mainland China, censorship is very real there. I was blocked from using all my apps, and even e-mail. I firmly believe that no one or governing force should have the power to control the information people can receive. It creates a bubble for that group of people, they become lost in the dark. Knowledge is power, and when access to resources that can provide that knowledge is prohibited, people gain very little power.

Experiencing this censorship was a miserable experience, until I decided to make the most of it. I exchanged my HKDs (Hong Kong’s currency) for RMB (China’s currency) and wandered around Shanghai. I discovered street vendors who were cooking some food that smelled amazing. I was about 3 dollars short, so I gave them the rest of my Hong Kong coins, and they accepted them with intrigue. When I was leaving, one of them asked for a picture with me, and of course I said yes because she had been so kind.

 

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My delicious meal in Shanghai.

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The kind street vendor who asked for a picture with me.

 

One of my reasons for interning in Hong Kong was because I imagined the work culture here being extremely intense (it is). So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to force myself to improve as a professional. I can say mission accomplished. Through my internship with the social enterprise Mircoforests, I have written website content, drafted a grant proposal, designed workshop newsletters, and produced press releases. I have gotten used to working 8 hours a day plus the usual hour or hour and a half overtime (keep in mind my internship is unpaid). I can focus on tasks better, I have learned how to write grants, press releases, and effective newsletters. I know the inner-workings of social enterprises which are similar to non-profits,  and I plan on starting my own non-profit or social enterprise once I have the means to do so.

I came here under the impression I was open-minded, then discovered I could be very narrow-minded at times. It feels like someone has pried my mind wide open with a crow bar, showing me a beautiful aspect of diversity and human connection. This experience has prompted a conscious metamorphosis.

 

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong

Farewell Reflection

It’s been almost a week since I’ve been back in the United States, and while I’ve been nothing short of busy from moving to a new apartment, looking for a new job, and getting ready to go back to school, I find that the time I’ve had to reflect on my experience in Japan and my readjust to life in Miami is quite plenty.

When I came back from my first year abroad in Thailand I remember feeling like people were so standoff-ish in America. Now coming back from Japan I feel quite the opposite. It’s kind of strange to have people being so open with each other compared to the quiet and reserved nature of Japanese people. While there are many things that I’m having to get used to again, there are also some things that seemed to come back naturally to me. Like hanging out with family and old friends, which has grounded me in a way that makes transitioning back to American culture much easier. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve been able to eat all the foods I’ve been missing while meeting up with these people. But already I find some aspects of life in Japan that I miss.

 

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From my last trip within Japan to Nasu.

 

Funny enough, I’m already missing the transportation system that Tokyo offers. I miss the freedom that it gives, especially considering I don’t have a car here. I miss the feeling of calm that Japan has. Stemming from the fact that Japanese culture is so centralized around not being an inconvenience to anyone, traveling around the city and just going out in general has a much more calm atmosphere than what I’ve been experiencing so far while back and it’s been admittedly kind of hard to get used to. I also miss the dynamic that I had with my friend group in Japan, specifically knowing that the likelihood that we’ll all be able to hang out the same way that we used to is impossible, at least for a very long time from now.

 

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Another photo from Nasu.

 

My overall takeaway from coming back has been one of general acceptance. While life in Japan and Miami is so completely different, I’m glad to be able to say that living in Japan and learning about the people and culture and language has made me grow and given me a better perspective of the world. I’m feeling positive about the reintegration process so far, and am glad to have such supportive friends and family to help me through it.

 

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This photo is from my hotel room in Narita.

 

Traveling for long periods of time is, I know, intimidating. But when it comes down to it the personal rewards and experiences that you gain from studying abroad are so much more beautiful and amazing than any of the difficulties or challenges it brings. Which is exactly why I know that traveling and studying abroad will never not be an important thing to me, and that it will continue helping me to grow and change for the better.

 

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And this is a photo from my balcony at my new apartment in Miami.

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Filed under East Asia, Stephanie in Japan

Understanding

Prior to studying abroad, I considered myself extremely open minded and understanding. I contribute these characteristics to my creative nature and unique background and interactions with various kinds of individuals from loving, kind and intelligent souls to racist, ignorant, and arrogant ones. However, what I am learning about myself in my time in Hong Kong is that I am not as understanding as I have perceived myself to be. Understanding Hong Kong culture, especially its work culture, has been a ball of confusion, sometimes met with frustration. I cannot understand the idea of dedicating so much of yourself and your time to an occupation, especially if the occupation is not a fulfilling one. I do not understand how when rules are set here, there seems to be no wiggle room whatsoever. Laws and rules are followed as they should be, but when these rules prevent productivity and lack compassion, it seems that logic and rationality become useless within the machine of society.

I understand that I must learn to live by the rules because at the end of the day, I am still a guest in this country and have no right to try changing ideas that have been cemented into their society ages ago. Becoming aware of my lack of understanding is just another example of how I am growing so much here, in the beautiful, yet sometimes confusing place that is Hong Kong.

 

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This is my amazing boss Rainbow Chow, who is one of the people who has challenged my understanding and helped me grow. She is a true inspiration and has taught me so much. Never have I been inspired by an individual so much.

 

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Filed under East Asia, Sua in Hong Kong

Change is Inevitable

It’s been 2 months and I am still very much in love with Lüneburg.

It has remained beautiful, it has remained welcoming and, as I predicted, it has proven itself to be the perfect place for me to achieve my study abroad ambitions.

As my time here draws to an end, I often find myself thinking about what I expected to happen. I find myself thinking about the excitement I felt during the very first hour of arrival. I find myself remembering how anxious I was to experience what Germany had in store for me. And I often find myself looking back on something that my German professor said to me right before I left for my program.

She said, “You don’t know it now but you’re going to change so much”

I really didn’t know what she meant by that. I mean, how much could a person really change in just 10 weeks?

A lot, apparently.

“Change” somehow implies that one can spontaneously develop new characteristics when placed in a different environment. I’m stubborn, so I would prefer to think that being here has made me more aware of who I have always been. That my experiences in Germany have helped me nurse the characteristics that would have otherwise been suppressed or ignored. This has, in turn, modified the way I act, how I communicate, and my general world view.

 

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I’m not fond of being the subject of photos but I really loved the historic architecture that my friends and I encountered in Dresden and had to remember my reaction to the moment.

 

The most important way I’ve changed is in that I have become a lot more confident in my point of view. Previously, I spent most of my time fitting my perspective into the narratives of others. Instead of letting my unique point of view shine through, I sought to blend in. Blending in made it easy for me to make statements, engage in discussions, and be involved without exposing the facts of my life that make me who I am.

My cultural identity is a prime example of this. I was born in Houston, Texas but raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite my purely American accent, I spent more of my life in Nigeria (11 years) than in the United States (7 years). Yet I had always felt the need to hide this fact because I genuinely believed that, in order to connect with people and to be a good communicator, I had to be totally and completely relatable. Even if that meant ignoring the “Nigerian” in “Nigerian-American.”

Being here, and being a foreigner on both fronts has made me a lot more comfortable with being open about my cultural identity. It has actually helped me figure out exactly what that is. This happened with encouragement from the curious locals and fellow study abroad students who saw my name and asked me to talk about my background and went even further by asking about how it has shaped my personal identity. I realize now that there is so much value in being “all of me” while connecting and communicating with others. I don’t think that I would have been brave enough to come to this realization myself or change in the way that I have while in the United States, especially at this moment in time. So I have my study abroad experience to thank for this.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Eastern Europe

Finally Back in the USA!

I miss Wien (Vienna)!

Since I’ve been back in the U.S., I’ve kept in contact with many people I spent time with in Wien. Readjusting to the time difference has been the most difficult factor because I feel exhausted while everyone here thinks the day is still young, and then I am wide awake while everyone is sleeping. I would say I am in the stage of reverse culture shock that involves frustration and loneliness because my friends and family here don’t understand what I’ve experienced and how I’ve changed. It is astonishing yet frustrating how a student can leave their home for several months and build a new life elsewhere but without everyone they’ve always known. It is also frustrating because the closest friend I made in Vienna, Akilah, is about a 10-hour car ride away now, instead of a 40-ish minute train ride. It is easy to talk about Vienna with people here, but the more I talk about it, the more I wish I had spent the rest of my summer in Wien!

I absolutely miss Vienna’s reliable public transportation system. I miss the feeling of knowing I could get from point A to point B with little to no effort and with peace of mind.

 

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Nighttime view of the Danube River and the mountain-scape from the U2 U-bahn (subway).

 

I also miss the scenery and beautiful gardens. I miss the vibrant colors and the variations in each garden I visited while in Vienna. I firmly believe that a reliable public transportation system and well-kept recreational areas are great assets to a person’s quality of life.

 

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Akilah and I in Volksgarten!

 

Here in America, there seems to be an urgent need to be going to one place or the other, or to be completing a certain task. In Austria, people actually took their time to breathe and never seemed to be overwhelmed with any daunting tasks. That is something I brought back with me: I don’t necessarily feel it is important to be everywhere and doing everything.

The American food culture is also very different from Austria’s. I never felt the need to cook in bulk while I was there because I had a mini-refrigerator. My options were to either stop by the market and buy the ingredients to cook my meals or spend quality time with friends at a restaurant. The food was always fresh and the memories are unforgettable!

 

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Our final dinner together!

 

This fall concludes the final semester of my undergraduate studies at Purdue. I will be sharing my experiences abroad during the study abroad fairs in September, and I am super excited about that! I think my insights will influence students who are on the fence with their decision to study abroad. I am also looking forward to graduating in December. Some people say it seems like I have breezed through college, but I can say I have made the most of my undergraduate studies. I will be seeking employment opportunities within the field of agriculture, but I am open to any career that requires travel and the use of my global awareness and adaptability skills!

Bis bald, Wien.

 

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Western Europe

My New Host Country Crew

I remember boarding the plane to China, being really excited for the next twelve hours and feeling overwhelmingly nervous the final hour before landing. I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried about not speaking the language and not knowing anyone in my study abroad cohort of students. The first week was hard because I was missing home, friends, and most importantly my family.

The following week was a lot easier, I got to know my roommate, Juan, who hails from Argentina. We discovered that we have similar viewpoints, took turns cooking, and when we had overlapping free time, we would explore Shanghai together. Then Juan relocated and once again I was alone. When one door closes another door opens and sure enough that’s when I met Manav who has been my closest friend throughout this experience. I can honestly say my time abroad would not have been as eventful as it has been had we not become friends. Manav introduced me to Jagger who introduced me to his roommate Alec, and later we welcomed a new addition to the group, Luke.

The five of us have shared some great times together and I’m thankful for each one of these guys. During the week after we get off work, we all meet at my apartment and share a meal. Manav is Indian and the rest of the guys are American. I also have a lot of Chinese friends from my university back in the United States, but they are all scattered across China, which is a little bit smaller than the U.S. but with triple the population. My friend Peter drove three hours to come visit me and brought a lot of house warming gifts which meant a lot.

 

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A trip to the market.

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Our ingredients from the market for our home-cooked meal.

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Dinner with friends.

 

Last week my Chinese best friend Terry introduced me to his high school friends who took me out last weekend and showed me a great time. Frank came to my apartment then we met up with his friends; Ken and Gimy at a restaurant. We went to a very nice hot pot and they showed me their favorite hot spots. I am very grateful for Frank and his friends because they showed me that friendship transcends culture and language barriers (although they spoke very good English).

 

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Hot pot with Peter.

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Shopping for jerseys.

 

My friend Terry will visit again at the end of July, and then we will go to Chongqing which is very close to Sichuan and is famous for its spicy cuisine. I am very excited to see my friend as well as reunite with Frank, Ken, and Gimy. Afterwards, my Russian friend Val will visit China and we will meet in Beijing where my sister Manal is currently residing. After Beijing, we will visit Shanghai and explore the city with my new host country crew. Although I have a month left in China, I know I will miss this experience and the people I have met dearly. Everything from my job, my coworkers, my boss, and my new friends have exceeded my expectations. I am very thankful for this opportunity and the chance to document my experience through the Gilman Scholarship.

 

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Work selfie.

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

A Case for Short-Term Friendships

Before my study abroad program, I had always taken pride in the idea that I could both adapt to and eventually leave any given environment easily without any sense of loss or regret. This is because I have moved a lot during the past several years. And moving so much forced me to develop a passive character that did not necessarily reject close connections, but was resigned to the belief that close friendships do not last forever.

This frame of mind has honestly helped me look towards the future as I have said goodbye to different chapters and people in my life. However, I have to admit that it has become increasingly more difficult for me to do this. And the end of the first session of my program here in Germany has been my biggest feat to date.

 

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Ashley, Victoria, and I decided to break out of routine of classes and go explore more of our beautiful host city.

 

My program is split into two summer sessions, 5 weeks each. I am among the 20 or so students who are enrolled for all 10 weeks. I was aware of this when I arrived but I did not think that I would develop substantial friendships during a short study abroad program. I knew that I would meet interesting people and maybe become friends with a few but I did not anticipate meeting so many amazing individuals. Individuals that I will not have the pleasure of associating with when I return to the United States because we all go to different schools in different states.

 

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The beginning of the second session was filled with sad goodbyes. The only silver lining was having the opportunity to connect with the new students and explore Berlin with Michaela and Ben, pictured here.

 

Saying goodbye to friends who left Germany after the first summer session was very difficult because I had somehow found people who I instantly connected with on deep level. I found people who were willing to have difficult, sometimes controversial discussions, in an intellectual and empathetic manner. I found people who were willing to laugh at themselves, people who saw the value in sitting down and having a conversation with someone who is nothing like you. I found people who embody attributes that I strive to have.

Saying goodbye to them and knowing that I would most likely never see them again was hard to swallow. I honestly spent days afterwards regretting not saying yes to certain outings and travel opportunities. But thankfully after moping around, I soon began to appreciate the short time that I had with them. I realized that I was lucky to have had any time with them because our paths would never have crossed if we had not enrolled in the same program.

 

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Standing in this cramped (but huge) elevator with about 30 other students was the first time the reality of our fateful yet limited time together really hit me.

 

As I collected my emotions, I began to remember the moments that characterized my friendships with them. I remembered the five minute to hour long conversations. I remembered the excitement we shared together when we tried new cuisines or explored new cities. I remembered how we confided in each other during times of uncertainty. And I remembered so much more that made me happy for our time together, regardless of how short it was.

To add a relief from my self-introspection, I’ll talk a little bit about the people I said goodbye to:

 

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Long train rides would have been terrible without these two (Ashley and Victoria) to talk to. And also Charlotte who is not pictured.

 

The laughing, fiery red-head girl to the right in the picture above is Victoria. Victoria and I had no classes together, our paths rarely crossed and we could have easily missed each other on a daily basis. Yet, we became very close. I credit our initial interaction to the fact that we both have a dark sense of humor that is lost on most people. My favorite moments of the first session of my program were spent with her. Previously, I had never met anyone who was so self-aware. We would sit for hours to talk about everything and nothing. The fact that she was so open and willing to struggle through theories and ideas with me (and anyone) was the reason we bonded so quickly and so closely.

 

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Taken on the first day of our program’s week in Berlin. This day also marked the start of a beautiful friendship with the two women pictured, Abra and Sam.

 

The two women pictured above are Abra and Sam. We sadly did not get to know each other very well until their last days in Germany. But those 3 days were enough to create memories that will stay with me for a very long time. Our most memorable time together was when we ventured to visit what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Berlin is not an easy place to navigate through without a guide so we had to rely on each other’s wits to get us through the city.  After walking through and experiencing something of that magnitude, we sat down for what is to date the most delicious meal I have ever had, and talked about everything and nothing over dinner.

The final profile I’ll share is of the smiling young woman in the picture below.

 

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I made her stand and smile because I mischievously wanted a picture of the two performers behind her without having to pay. It turned out to be a pretty great picture that shows how much fun we had that day.

 

In 6 weeks, I had only talked to Tana about 2 or 3 times. Our paths never really crossed, at least not until I answered her general request for someone to accompany her to the Lüneburg City festival. We then spent the rest of the day and part of the next morning together just having fun and getting to know each other. Our day together was the first time that I really thought of the notion of a short-term friendship. Because we both knew that day was our one and only chance to bond.

Saying goodbye to these people and the prospect of saying goodbye to more in the coming weeks is sad. But these individuals (and many others not mentioned) have expanded my life perspective in ways I will carry with me forever.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe