Greetings and Fears

Hello! My name is Justin Weeks and I am studying in South Africa at the University of Cape Town (UCT). In the United States, I am a junior at the University of South Carolina studying marine science and biology. I am honored to be a Gilman Writing Correspondent for the spring of 2020 and I look forward to telling you more about one of the most beautiful cities on the planet! First, I would like to tell you about how I felt before this journey began. I only felt it a few days before departure, a feeling of overwhelming dread that made me question every decision I had made for the past year. I was sitting in my living room with my clothes scattered across every piece of furniture, challenged with the task of consolidating to two 50 pound suitcases. I had procrastinated on packing for days until I had completed every other pre-departure task possible. Sitting there on the floor, I came to the realization that what I had been working towards for months was about to finally come to fruition. The semester before going abroad for me was easily the most difficult I had faced because of how complex a process it was but this complexity allowed me to distract myself up until this moment in my living room where I looked down to see my hands uncontrollably shaking with no clear explanation as to why. I believe that the difficulty with studying abroad for many is how outside of your comfort zone it forces you to be with no way of retreat to the familiarity many are accustomed to if things get rough. I had never done any significant traveling outside of the United States, but the fact that I would be 8,119 miles away from home never scared me until that moment. I sat down and realized I wouldn’t be seeing my family or friends for five months and that I would be starting with a completely clean slate. This is an exciting aspect of studying abroad but the pressure of starting fresh and not knowing anyone can be crushing. I was worried about not making friends who would be up to explore this wonderful city with me and since UCT is the number one ranked university on the continent of Africa, I was worried about how difficult the courses could be. Now, about a month into the program, I realize that most people here had the same fears. It is normal to be scared of something most people don’t do. The wonderful thing about this opportunity is that it is literally what you make of it. You have to be open; You have to take the extra steps to reach out to people and create relationships, and you pretty much have to be up for anything.

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Acquiring and Furthering Foreign Language Skills: German Edition

My Friday mornings begin at 6:30 a.m. to meet with my language tutor online, where we work on improving my legal German. Two years ago, however, I could barely construct elementary sentences in German. I credit where my language skills are today to my time studying abroad at Freie Universität Berlin (FU).

When I started studying at FU, I was barely at intermediate German (B2) but by the end of the year I reached advanced German (C1). While at FU we had twelve hours of German classes a week and opportunities to continue developing our German language skills outside of the classroom setting. Living with a host family, for example, was a major catalyst towards learning German because my host family and I spoke exclusively in German at home. In addition to my host family, I also made many friends in the city with whom I could speak German. I felt I was spoiled rotten with the sheer amount of opportunities I had to learn German while living in Berlin.

Precisely because I had so many opportunities in Berlin, returning to the States was a challenging adjustment as I sought similar opportunities to continue improving my German. What I realized is that there is no substitute for living abroad, there simply is not. However, because the world is increasingly digitalized and globalized it is entirely possible to further language skills even while not living in the target country where the language is spoken.

Currently, I maintain contact with friends from Berlin, meet with language tutors online, watch TV in German through online streaming services, listen to German podcasts, attend German meetups to practice speaking, and have befriended a few German friends here in D.C. I think the trick is to love the language one is learning and with that, it becomes natural to involve it as a part of daily life.

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Black & Abroad

According to the 2019 Open Doors Report published by the Institute of International Education, in 2017-2018 African-American students made up 6.1% of all U.S. students who studied abroad. This is up from 3.5% in 2005-2006. 

This discrepancy may be due to perceived barriers to studying abroad. Some common misconceptions are that studying abroad will delay your studies, you need to be fluent in another language and study abroad programs aren’t affordable. While every experience is different I’ll share tips below on how to navigate the process. 

  • Some of your required courses may be ineligible for completion at an international university but, working with your study abroad advisor will assure you find the perfect program for you! As a STEM major, I was able to complete a 4-credit hour Microbiology course while in Tanzania. 
  • While knowing the language of your host country is an excellent skill it is most likely not required. For better or worse, many college-level courses are taught in English. But, this does not mean you shouldn’t take opportunities to speak your local language.  Before I went abroad I watched cartoons in Swahili on Youtube to try and understand the basics. 
  • Studying abroad is not cheap! But, neither is college. Speak with your financial aid advisor about your financial aid and the department of your study abroad program about any scholarships or grants that may be available. My university had a $200 grant for students who had never been abroad before to purchase their passports. 

Another barrier I faced is the lack of representation. I had never seen anyone who looked like me in any of the study abroad information sessions I attended nor did I know anyone personally who studied abroad. This is why being a Gilman Scholar has been so rewarding! 

Aside from the funding I received for my trip, I have been welcomed into a network made up of people across the country in many different fields. The opportunities available to me as a Gilman Alumni and Ambassador have not only allowed me to speak to undergraduate students about my experience but, has also given me skills to use in my career. 

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A Teacher’s Guide to Interning Abroad.

Bienvenidos! Hello everyone! My name is Elsa López, and I am an undergraduate from Las Vegas, studying Elementary Education and French. I was given the fantastic opportunity of interning in San Ramon, Costa Rica! I am representing my school as the first primary teacher from Las Vegas, and subsequently testing the waters for future international teachers to come.

Tourist Las Vegas
Local Vegas (me with my 4th graders)

My semester in Costa Rica will be experienced on my terms, which is pretty exhilarating! My facilitators do not have a syllabus for me to follow, and my international study advisor does not have information regarding teaching abroad. In the face of uncertainty, there is nothing that thrills me more than a good plan—which is why checklists are imperative! Here is a teeny glimpse of what was my preparation process.

As an intern, I needed to bring twice as much for this trip. I was in full teacher mode as I packed a second suitcase full of books, a pair of foam dice, multiple sticker sheets, and more. I also spent weeks filling my google drive with pre-written lesson plans. My wardrobe consisted of business-casual wear, as expected for a teacher, and memory-foam trainers for obvious reasons. Aside from planning for my teaching duties, I delegated some of my personal tasks to beloved family members who were willing to help. My parents tend to my houseplants, and my dogs are cared for by my partner. Speaking of, it was my first time sustaining a long-distance relationship. I googled “Long-Distance Relationships” for ideas, and I came across the craft pictured here. Whenever your partner misses you, they can read a note from the jar! Do I consider spending an afternoon writing love notes on heart-shaped post-its to be worthwhile? Without a doubt! Preparing my relationship for the challenges of long-distance was a major priority.

Jar of Hearts

I want to finish this post off with a bit of vulnerability and emphasize how the preparation process goes beyond a packing list. My road to interning abroad actually started with a failure. In my sophomore year of college, I intended to study abroad in France. I had been saving forever and could finally afford the tuition. During this time, I was struggling with severe anxiety that seemed to worsen as the study abroad date approached. Ultimately, I canceled my dream trip and struggled with the impending feelings of incompetence. This was a difficult period in my life, but I believe it was necessary because it led to a lot of positive changes. Staying home meant I was prioritizing my wellbeing. I spent the next couple of years investing heavily in my mental health. This time around, I received the opportunity to intern in Costa Rica, and you better believe I was ready! Remember that the most important part of interning abroad is your emotional wellbeing. Interning abroad is undoubtedly stressful, but you’ll know you’re ready when the feelings of excitement and curiosity are what prevail!

View outside my classroom, aka my second home.

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Cats and Linguistic Diversity in Colloquial Arabic

The Arabic language has an impressive range of dialects that vary depending on country, geography, social class, gender, age, and environment. Even though there is a standard language used in the Arab world (Modern Standard Arabic), it is not a natively spoken language because each country has its own unique colloquial dialect.

These dialects form a geographical “dialect chain” where neighboring countries understand each other but the differences accumulate over distance so that widely separated varieties may not be mutually intelligible. For example, there is a mutual intelligibility between Moroccans and Algerians but an asymmetric intelligibility between Moroccans and Iraqis.

Let’s demonstrate the linguistic diversity across the Arabic colloquial dialects for the word “cat”.

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