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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