How Jordan Reshaped My Running and Writing

As a runner from the midwest, Jordan’s terrain has inexplicably taken a toll on the ease of my runs. I have been running long distance for the past six years now, and for the past year and a half, I have been recovering from runner’s knee. Runners are possibly some of the most adventurous people you will ever meet; no matter what situation we are facing, we always find a way to run and we always yearn to run. Since high school, running has occupied most of my little free time. However, when I was badly injured last year, I had to find a new hobby. Running is my outlet and it is my way of clearing my head and coping with my emotions. Without this outlet, I grew very anxious and agitated, and that is when I took up journaling and found my passion and love for writing. My writing ranges from day to day reflections, polaroid memories, and poetry. Studying abroad in Jordan has reshaped and propelled the runner and writer that I am today.

Running

Amman is a city built on seven hills. I come from Illinois, a state where I have to go out of my way to find a hill to do hill workouts. The hilly terrain of Amman, Jordan, has made my easy runs extremely difficult. What I would normally consider an easy 5-mile run, I now have to account for it taking longer with all the hills that tire me out. On top of the hilly terrain, there are no sidewalks in Amman. I am often times finding myself running on the street with cars (a habit I picked up running in Chicago is to make sure I am running opposite the direction of the cars). Because of the terrain and lack of sidewalks, walking is not common in Amman, so you can only imagine how much I stick out while running. This often times leads to cars honking at me, slowing down next to me, and other general harassments. To say the least, being a runner in Jordan has been a physical and mental challenge for me.

On September 1st, 2018, I ran my second official half marathon in Petra, Jordan. The course of this race was breathtakingly beautiful –emphasis on the breathtaking– and it was truly an amazing experience. I ran through the desert, alongside camels, Bedouins, goats, sheep, etc., and ended up climbing 142 floors throughout the race (the Sears Tower in Chicago is 110 floors to give an idea of the mountains I had to climb).

I am now currently training for my first marathon that I will run in March. My training, as I stated, has been difficult on many levels, but nonetheless, I will persevere, as running my first marathon while abroad is one of my goals. Living in Jordan has challenged the role running plays in my life, but I will without a doubt return to the U.S a stronger and more confident runner.

Poetry

Writing has always been something I enjoy, but it was not until recently that I started identifying as a writer. Coming from marginalized backgrounds, my identity is inexplicably important to me, and it is even more important that I have my voice heard. I have had numerous heartwarming and jubilant experiences while studying abroad, but I have also had many dark moments that took a toll on my time here. That being said, I would not change anything from what it is. The bad moments have pushed my growth and have shaped who I am and who I am going to be and are equally as important as the good experiences that filled me with joy. Everything this past year has influenced my writing. I never realized how much I love writing poetry and I would have never imagined sharing my deepest words and most sacred feelings to anyone. If you asked me six months ago who I was, I would have never told you I’m a writer, an artist. I would have never shared with the world (about 60 people, a mixture of expats and locals in a small cafe located in Jordan, a very tiny country in the Middle East) my vulnerability and fear of public speaking. I never would have imagined that sharing my work at poetry slams in Amman would play a big role in my study abroad experience, but it is the things you do not expect that reap the biggest reward.

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A New Five-Year Plan: Gilman’s Lasting Impact

If you had asked me three years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said a journalist. My five-year plan was to graduate, get a job at a local news organization, and to seek the truth and report it.

Receiving the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship changed almost all of that by allowing me to study abroad in the Czech Republic in 2017. I studied mass media, politics, and diplomacy at Charles University in Prague where I learned how to translate my passion for journalism into public diplomacy and global communications.

In class I studied the impacts of authoritarian regimes and censorship, visited the Radio Free Europe headquarters, met with Czech diplomats, and studied the political history of Central and Eastern Europe. These experiences helped to shape my academic interests, but it was the time I spent studying diplomacy with a former diplomat and at the U.S. Embassy’s American Center that completely reshaped my career goals.

As a Gilman Scholar – a participant in a federally-funded program that sends Americans abroad as part of public and cultural diplomatic efforts – I received invitations to participate in cultural events hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

I had the opportunity to meet U.S. foreign service officers, ask them my questions and experience public diplomacy in action. I shared my culture and language with Czech citizens, and learn about theirs in turn, at events like Coffee and American English, and as a volunteer “student ambassador” with the American Student Association.

This is where I began to see diplomacy as more than just political negotiations. At its core, diplomacy is a about intercultural communication and as a journalist, someone who is passionate about communication, learning, and sharing stories, that is right up my alley.

The experiences I had as a Gilman Scholar opened my eyes to new interests and career paths that I would never have previously considered. My new five-year plan is to get a Fulbright, earn a master’s degree in international relations and global communications, and join the Foreign Service.

Since graduating, I have begun to volunteer as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador because I want to encourage more students to apply for the Gilman Scholarship, and to connect with alumni and to hear how the Gilman Scholarship has changed or shaped their goals. I am continuing my education by learning Arabic in order to apply for a Fulbright to study the visual representations of war and conflict in the Middle East. From there, my sights are set on applying to two additional federal fellowships – the Rangel and Pickering Fellowships – for graduate school.

So, for those of you looking to apply for the Gilman Scholarship, my advice for you is to ask yourself, “why?” Really think about why you want to study abroad and the impact it will have on you. Be open to new paths. And for those of you currently abroad, attend cultural events, accept invitations to events with the local Embassy, be open to new opportunities, and connect with people from different backgrounds. Studying abroad is whatever you choose to make of it and your experiences could change what you want to do in life.

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Volunteering for a Leprosy Survivor Village in Chengdu

I had a life-changing opportunity volunteering at a leprosy survivor village in Chengdu, China. Leprosy is a chronic infection causing nerve damage and muscle weakness leading to disfigurement and deformities. Due to leprosy being airborne, patients are isolated in villages far away from large cities. However, these villages also have perfectly healthy children that have never seen life beyond their village because of the stigma around leprosy.

Maoxi School (located inside New Century Global Center, world’s largest building in terms of floor area) allowed 39 of these kids to come to Chengdu and study English, arts, sign language, etc. My USAC friends and I got to take a little part of our week after classes to teach and interact with these kids. But they definitely ended up teaching us more than we could have taught them. These kids were funny, enthusiastic, and quick learners.

One of my favorite memories was when a group of students asked if I could teach them to sing “that one song from Fast and Furious 7”. It took me a while to figure out they were referring to See You Again-Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth. By the end of their summer program, I attended their graduation and there was not a single dry eye on that stage and it was at that moment that I came to a full realization of how much this all really meant to them.

Going abroad, I knew that I wanted to utilize and make the most out of my time in China and get the full local experience. I never expected to get this immersed with China’s community and I am forever humbled and grateful for this experience!

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How Studying Abroad helped me in Graduate School

Study Abroad and graduate school are usually not in the same sentence. What does your previous experience abroad have to do with being in graduate school? Studying abroad has helped me navigate this overwhelming and daunting experience of the first weeks of graduate school. For students who are thinking about pursuing graduate studies, your experience abroad will help you along the way. Here’s how:

Living in a different city. I decided to attend graduate school in a state that I had never visited before.  Coming from the South and now living up North, I was quite anxious. I became more comfortable with the situation because I remembered the time when I lived in a different country three years ago and how I had to overcome the challenges of living in a new place. Even if you do not travel out of state for graduate school, you will need to work with new people and a department that might have a different culture that you may not be accustomed to. Looking at your experience abroad will help you overcome settling in a new environment.

Connections. I connected with my cohort because most of us had experience abroad, studied a language, or aspired to have a career outside of the States. This allowed us to instantly become friends during the first week of our graduate school. Talking about your international experience with a stranger can sometimes break the ice in conversations. It is an open invitation for people to know more about you and direct you to opportunities. Based on the conversations I had with one of the staffs at my university, I was invited to attend a talk with South Korean diplomats that was hosted at my university. Never put your experience on the backburner!

Language. Do not think that if you are not getting a Master’s or a Ph.D. in a foreign language you cannot take language classes in an academic setting. There are many scholarships/fellowships that are offered at universities and through the US government that can help with your language ability. Your experience abroad can make you an applicable candidate to further peruse language acquisition. My university offers scholarships such as the FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) and several other funding to help with improving with your language ability. There is the Critical Language Scholarship, Boren Fellowship, etc. Knowing about several types of funding has made me look forward to furthering my Korean language skills.

Obtaining more education can be stressful! A new location, new people, and possibly a different lifestyle. However, looking back at how you navigated living in a different country can help you apply previous knowledge and experiences towards your professional degree and make the journey fun!

 

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Back in the Homeland: Both of Us Different?

“Ta…” I responded to my sister when she told me we would go grab lunch. The word is a response Brazilians say after agreeing with somebody – in full it’s ‘esta,’ meaning alright. I’ve been repeatedly saying it over the past weeks along with others, yet that’s not the only thing. I genuinely miss Brazil. I’ve really been readjusting back to life in California. I didn’t originally believe in reverse culture shock, but I adamantly admit it now. The feeling of remembering the country and the lifestyle, from the beaches to the acai.

When I first arrived in Brazil last year I felt homesick not weeks after my arrival, but months. It took me a good few months to adjust to my new lifestyle there in Rio, with new friends from town and foreigners. Now here in Los Angeles the same is true. The food is not the same as in Brazil, my routine is totally different, I am now driving after one year of busing, and am reconnecting with old friends and especially making new ones. Also, I missed In-N-Out.

I’m also back living at home, home, not in Davis where I was a student, but with my family in Los Angeles and searching for jobs – that has been an experience. The study abroad program was my last project I completed during my undergraduate career. I therefore came directly to my hometown in Los Angeles and haven’t been in Davis for a long time. I’m currently working part-time and hoping to find an internship while I continue my search for a career job in Los Angeles or Washington D.C. I’ve got to add that it has been very difficult finding a job but the experience in Brazil most pointedly stands out during job interviews. I’m now trilingual and can confidently speak of my fluency in Portuguese.

Moreover, I learned this sort of awareness about American materialism and values and certain attitudes. Now a 300ml soda drink is more than enough for me, for example – I did tell some about 7-Eleven’s massive Big Gulp cups. I’m also much more direct and open now than when I left, which is difficult to grasp because Brazilians are often known to foreigners as very laid back and relaxed. There’s plenty of stress now given the job hunt, but its healthy stress after a year of exploring and been adventurous in a foreign country and not really knowing anybody.

Home is also different. I’m back but busy and not in my most recent home, Davis. The city of Davis had been my home for a very long time now. Friends I saw regularly are far and away, with some in a different country altogether. I’m back in my family home, not in the new home I made where new and fond relationships were created. Plus, the country too has changed. Values and traditions seem upside-down, with old ideas at the forefront of political debates. The homeland has changed, my home has changed, I have changed, yet for the better we will only know tomorrow.

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How Riding Korean Trains Got Me into Graduate School

Of all things that Seoul, South Korea has to offer, from palaces to street markets to hologram shows and cow cafes, I spent a lot of my time on the trains. Coming from the great state of Texas where we have no subways (or great public transportation) and having not ridden on a train since I was 7 years old, the subways in South Korea fascinated me. To be able to avoid the traffic and hustle and bustle of the surface world for a quick underground commute all around the city was a great resource to have at my disposal. Every day after classes, I would head down the large hill from the dorms and head to Anam station and board the orange line to Myeongdong and Hongdae and Dongdaemun and Insadong. By the end of my 6 weeks in Seoul, having refilled my T-money card 10 times, I realized I had barely scratched the surface of South Korea.

Traveling abroad was a nice time off from the reality that I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, at least professionally. I entered college with the intent of studying dietetics but became discouraged after a disenchanting experience shadowing a dietitian. When I returned to America, my mind remained starved for new experiences but my body was stuck in my familiar surroundings. When an internship opportunity came along in a dietitian’s private practice, while pre-Korea me would have passed up the opportunity, post-Korea me, seeking new experiences, decided to apply.  I was exposed to a completely new perspective of dietetics than what I’d had before, and I continued to seek out opportunities diverse opportunities in the field.

By my senior year of college, my once empty resume was now full. When I decided to apply to a dietetic internship, the experiences that I had gained after returning from South Korea were instrumental in my acceptance. I am now one semester into my combined masters and dietetic internship program and enjoying every minute of it. Had my sense of my curiosity and discovery not been reinvigorated during my study abroad, I do not believe I would be here today.

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343 Days Later: The Return to the U.S.

The year I spent in Japan was one of, if not the best, year of my life. I learned and experienced more than I ever thought was possible in that amount of time. I met a lot of great people and formed many wonderful connections. Despite all this, I was excited to return back the the U.S. It had been nearly an entire year since I left, and I was ready to get back to my roots. There was a lot of stuff I missed about America while I was in Japan and I was really looking forward to all of it.

I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost four days now and there are a ton of differences that I have noticed. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, I constantly compare Japan and America. The very first thing I noticed, after arriving in Dallas for my connecting flight, was the size of the people. I mean, Americans are huge. I was average size/height in Japan at 5 feet and 6 inches, but over here in the states, I’m tiny. I then flew to Cincinnati and while on my way home, realized how spacious America is. There are fields that go on and on, and a lot of it isn’t being used at all, not for farming, housing, anything. This was surprising to see since, due to how mountainous Japan is, all arable land is put to use whether it be housing or agriculture.

Not only are the people bigger and the country more spacious, but just about everything in America is bigger and more spacious than in Japan: houses, cars, supermarkets, portion sizes, everything. I went to Walmart with my mother and it was the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. I mean it was actually almost unbelievable. Coming from the tiny supermarkets with narrow aisles in Japan to this super Walmart in America, I had a huge moment of culture shock. Not only this, but all the signs and product information was in English. I could actually read all of it! We went to a restaurant too, and I was surprised to be able to understand all the conversations around me. In Japan, I couldn’t fully comprehend all the speaking around me, especially when it was all jumbled together, so it was easy to ignore it; however, I found it difficult to ignore all the chatter around me at the restaurant. That’s something I never thought I’d experience.

Now that I’m back home, I will be finishing my final year of university. I plan to continue studying Japanese in my free time and while I’m not completely sure what I will do after I graduate, applying to graduate school in Japan is one option. I have also considered teaching English there as well. I’ve gained a lot of experience and abilities since my time in Japan and I feel that it has better prepared me for the real world. I grew a lot and am very grateful for everything I learned. I had a wonderful time and Japan and I am ready to finish up my schooling in America. Both culture shock and reverse culture shock affected me, and I recommend to anyone else experiencing these to fully embrace it and run with it, don’t try to fight it.

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