You’ve Got A Friend In Me

Yes you do :)

Yes you do :)

I would now like to take this opportunity to answer the most pressing question on my Mama’s mind other than safety: Are you making any friends? (*For the record, my Mama would like to state that she thinks I’m cool and no, she does not actually worry about this for me—BUT IT MAKES A GREAT SEGWAY!) I will answer this made-up question in three parts.

Part One: Friends from Gringolandia (Forty points if you knew there was such a phrase as Gringolandia.)

I’ve made some great friends from my program. I’m attending the University of Arizona’s first ever IDEAS-AVANSCO program in Antigua where we study a variety of different topics depending on our interests, all with a social and political focus. These lovely ladies and gentleman have been such a reassuring rock. We struggle together with plenty of things, whether it’s trying to speak in grammatically correct Spanish sentences, finding our way to new cafés, understanding the social and political climate of Guatemala while living in effectively a tourist town (a wonderful one though), or trying to get all of our work done on time. In a phrase, we’re all figuring out how to walk and talk like real adults. And like any true strangers-turned-friends, it’s amazing how much we’ve come to trust one another with the stories of our lives.

Part Two: Friends from Antigua

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about four special people from Guatemala who have been my friends when they really didn’t have to be. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the first friend: Claudia Alonzo!!


Claudia is our supervisor, La Jefa, and the General Manager of this non-baseball team we like to call AVANSCO. She arranges everything for us even when she doesn’t have to, politely corrects our mangled Spanish, and floods us with kindness. Last weekend at Semuc Champey would not have been possible if Claudia hadn’t arranged it for us, despite the fact that it was our independent trip and she had no obligation to us. From that same strain of kindness comes Stephany Montenegro!!


Stephany is right alongside Claudia, working at our school trying to make sure we get the best experience. She has maturity and grace that well surpasses her age, which is the same as mine—meaning she is oodles cooler than me. What struck me the most about Stephany, besides her general friendliness, was how genuine her kindness and concern for our well-being is. She must have called or texted me more than a pollster during election season to make sure that I was feeling better after my first-week-sickness. And I hope that metaphor doesn’t make it seem like she bothered me; to the contrary, she warmed my heart, extending me the same amount of care I’d expect from an old friend. The final double duo of friendship comes in the form of my host parents, Lucky and José Morales!!

Jose y Lucky

The second they opened their door to me nearly two weeks ago, they greeted me with shouts of joy and hugs like they were another long-lost set of cool aunt and uncle (to clarify uncles and aunts in my readership, I said another—you’re cool too). They hug me, pack me food, tease me, and remain patient with me when I stumble with my words. That last part, their willingness to talk to me, is something I treasure to an incalculable extent. We don’t think about it, but with our families we have the ease and comfort of knowing that we can relax and talk as much as we want. We know for certain that they care about us. We also know that fear with people outside of our comfort zone that we’re talking too much, that we could be disappointing or boring them. Every time I’ve had that fear, Lucky and José have dashed it. Their boundless care for others exhibited in even the smallest gesture like motioning for me to sit down and tell them about my day makes, as my friend Alessondra says, my heart full. For all of these wonderful friends who make my heart full, know that it’s my goal to return the favor.

Part Three: The Friend I Want To Have 

Juan Pablo

This week I met the coolest person that I’ve ever met. His name is Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes. Juan Pablo is from Jocotengango (just outside of Antigua) and runs a school called Los Patojos, which means The Little Ones, that he started out of his house for kids in a community rampant with indescribable and inequitable tragedies. His school has had thousands of students, and now stands in a new facility that looks like it came straight out of a children’s book or a dream. I get the privilege to intern there, and I had to stop myself from physically bouncing in excitement during the car ride over. On my first day at Los Patojos on Wednesday, the depth of care and intelligence with which Los Patojos approaches education floored me. They take care of nutritional, health, clothing, and emotional problems that face these kids so that it’s possible to clear those hurdles and actually learn. In addition to regular school subjects, Los Patojos kids can learn dancing, sports, music, art, cooking, and whatever else they can dream of learning. To learn more about the school and Juan Pablo, watch this video.  In person, Juan Pablo is even more hilarious and insightful than he seems in the video. His hospitality and openness to me and my fellow gringo interns made me feel like I belonged, which is an incredibly generous gesture to extend to a foreigner to the program, not to mention to the country. But that’s who Juan Pablo is. I hope that I get to call him my friend in the same way my sister hopes to someday call Taylor Swift her friend. It would be an honor.

Maybe you noticed a trend of effusive kindness and willingness to welcome amongst all my friends. (Twenty points if you did—I know it’s generous, but so are they. Much like my imaginary point system, their kindness is free and limitless, so their mindset is ‘why not give a lot?’) In the spirit of friendship, I am trying hard every day to treat everyone I meet with the same level of respect and humanity I’ve received. Let’s be honest: it’s easy to ignore every street vendor with indifference, to suspect and fear the guys standing on the corner, or talk without thoughtfulness to the people in restaurants or museums. But we have to remember that each person we meet is actually a person—a person with family, friends, inside jokes, a first grade teacher, and passions. Empathy is to indifference as smiling is to frowning: easier (here’s looking at you, SATs). It may take some effort, but it takes more effort to stifle humanity than it does to let it flourish.

Thanks for listening, friends. Hug someone you love today.

Comments Off on You’ve Got A Friend In Me

Filed under Abby in Guatemala

My Introduction to Europe via Prague

Hello, Readers!

My name is Lissette Hall, and I am very excited to be writing from Prague in the Czech Republic.  Thanks to the Gilman Scholarship I have been able to fulfill my dream of studying abroad and travelling to Europe.  As a non-traditional student who has used accommodations throughout my college matriculation, I was not sure if my goal of studying abroad was within my grasp.  Because of the support of Gilman and Columbia College Chicago, I am able to graduate with Honors and achieve my goal of international travel.

I am proud to be a member of the graduating Class of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Comedy Writing and Performance with a minor in Arts in Healthcare.  During my senior year, I was lucky enough to work at The Second City Training Center serving as their Wellness Programs Assistant.  My work focused on administrative duties for the Improv for Anxiety, Improv and Autism, and Improv and Aging Programs.  I was elated to be working in my field leading up to graduation before beginning a new challenge in marketing in a culture different than that of my home country.

I am currently serving as a Marketing Consultant for DraftFCB as part of Columbia College Chicago’s Global Marketing Program in Prague.  Our client is Hudebni Divadlo Karlin, which translates to Musical Theatre in Karlin.  Already we have had the opportunity to attend performances of The Addams Family and Aida.  I really appreciated that the theatre has subtitles in English that scroll throughout the performance above the stage.  Although the music truly brought me into the experience of the actors, it was helpful to be able to read the text to keep up with the story.  I felt lucky that I had already seen the original Broadway version of Aida, so I was able to pay more attention to the costumes and dancing throughout the show.

It was a small difference to be able to read English subtitles above the stage as opposed to reading subtitles on a foreign movie at the bottom of the screen.  This small contrast opens the door to sharing what other, larger cultural differences I have encountered in my travels thus far.  The language barrier and differences in urban planning have required the most adaptation for me thus far.

Growing up in the United States, it is so easy to assume that everyone values the English language as a necessity.  In the Czech Republic, there are quite a lot of English speakers, many of whom also speak at least one or two other languages.  It is refreshing to be in a culture where being multilingual is not an anomaly.  It is clear that having such direct access to other European cultures allows for greater opportunities to learn other languages.  I really appreciate this because I want to be a truly global citizen, and I aspire to learn as many languages as I can.

Besides the language barrier, I find navigating the streets of Prague to be difficult for me.  Living in Chicago, the grid of the city is extremely easy to follow. Not to mention it is in English thus easy for me to understand!  Here, everything is written in the Czech language and the beautiful streets are arranged in curves and roundabouts that are not entirely clear to me.  I get a little nervous to go exploring on my own.

Although navigation is difficult for me, I find a similar safe feeling in Prague like the safety I feel at home in my neighborhood.  I don’t fear walking to and from locations during the day at all.  At night, I am usually with a friend or in a group, and I have felt safe for the entirety of my stay so far.  It is such a relief to have safety be a similarity although it is much cleaner here than in Chicago.  I have had the opportunity a few times to see the nightly street sweepers.  What a beautiful city!

See you again soon,


Comments Off on My Introduction to Europe via Prague

Filed under Lissette in the Czech Republic, Video Bloggers

To Istanbul and Beyond

When I first arrived in Turkey, everything was very new and strange. However, all of that was expected because I was in a place I had never been. When I got back to the U.S., everything was strange, but since I have lived here my whole life I never expected it to be. I thought I would come back and I wouldn’t even think about it.

Obviously that was not the case. Of course I heard English everywhere, but I also heard English quite often in Turkey. The thing was all the American accents. The first day I was back I went to the mall in town and I heard American accents everywhere. I think I did a double take every time an American accent was in listening distance. I think my mind still thought I was walking around one of the massive malls in Istanbul.

Another thing that took me a while to get used to when I got back to the states were the flushes on toilets. The first time I had to flush a toilet it took me about thirty seconds because I could not locate the lever to actually flush it. Don’t worry, I am managing just fine now.

One of my favorite things about Turkey is the many different lifestyles you can experience. There are cities like Istanbul and Izmir that are busy, modern metropolises, and then there are very small, nearly self-sufficient villages. It is extremely interesting to visit both of these in the same day because then you can really see the contrast. On the other hand. the U.S. is completely modernized in that sense.

Something else that is different between the States and Turkey is the traffic. Turkish drivers are the best drivers and the worst drivers all at the same time. Their precision is near perfect, but that is only because they refuse to use the painted lines and end up coming centimeters close to the next car. When I was driving home from the airport in the U.S., the first thing I noticed was the amount of space there was between cars. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is exhilarating riding in a Turkish cab and it is going to be kind of boring not having to worry about my well-being. However, it is also nice not having to worry about my well being.

Since I have been back I have been asked, “What will/do you miss the most?” about fifteen times. That question is almost impossible to tackle. The first and foremost will be the amazing people I met while abroad. I met people that I hope to never grow apart from, which will be a challenge being that almost none of us share a home country. Another obvious thing I am going to miss is all the amazing Turkish food, especially breakfast food. Turkish people know how to do breakfast better than most. There was never any bacon, but they more than make up for it.

One of the things I am glad to have back now that I am in the U.S. are usable sidewalks everywhere. There were definitely sidewalks in Istanbul, but they didn’t always reach my apartment. There are extremely narrow streets in Istanbul that not only cars, but garbage trucks have to share with people. I have had many run-ins with different vehicles while walking home.

Like I said in one of my previous posts, I have become quite confused about my future, but in a good way. I want to seek out all the goals I had when I left, I just might want to push those goals back a couple of years to pursue other goals that came up this past year. I got the experience to teach English as a second language while I was abroad, and I may want to experience that. To be honest, I have no idea what I want to do right after graduation, and I am okay with that as long as it involves some kind of world experience.

Comments Off on To Istanbul and Beyond

Filed under Zachary in Turkey

Aerial Amalgam: Departure & First Impressions

Since this is my first time posting a blog for the Gilman Global Experience Blog, let me give you all you need to know about me: my name’s Garrett Schuman (or in Chinese, 许可儒); I’m an avid lover of all things edible, readable, and creatable; and I’m more than ecstatic to share my experience with you! At the moment I’m studying abroad in Kunming, China, through CET’s Kunming Summer Intensive Language Program where I’ll be learning the equivalent of one year’s worth of Chinese in only eight weeks. I’ve been in Kunming for close to two weeks now, however my experience has been full of firsts.

Like climbing my first mountain, 西山

Like climbing my first mountain, 西山

And finding the best wicker Spongebob ever while going down the mountain.

And finding the best wicker Spongebob ever while going down the mountain.

In order to get here I rode a plane for the first time in my life, and let me just say that the thing I was most worried about was riding the airplane. I’d already taken a year’s worth of Chinese classes, so I already knew the language semi-well, and back home I’d gotten a small glimpse into Chinese culture through my international friends, so I wasn’t extremely concerned about my studies, just my ride there. Going to the airport was kind of like stepping into the Twilight Zone: nothing was familiar, and albeit, really strange. There was all this commotion (I’m from a small farm town so the only ruckus I seem to hear at home are crickets) and I had an inkling of where to go, but of course I was like a lost child. Even though I was three hours early, I still managed to almost miss my flight. Once aboard the plane, I watched the tarmac like someone watches a final shot in a basketball game, waiting to see what exactly would happen next. In less than a millisecond, my anxiety mixed with this indescribable feeling of amazement.

It’s hard to let your anxiety get the best of you when you’ve got this kind of view.

It’s hard to let your anxiety get the best of you when you’ve got this kind of view.

One airplane tip that can’t be said enough: bring gum (and lots of it)! Takeoff for me was the easiest part, but when we were landing (I’m assuming it was the pressure difference) my head felt like it was being squeezed. After the first time though, it was perfectly fine and I slept all the way through my last flight. So to all you with wanderlust out there: don’t be afraid to fly! It’s a rewarding experience, plus you get a view of the world that you can’t get anywhere else!

Fast forward a couple days, and I’ve been in Kunming a couple days. This really doesn’t do the cultural differences justice but I think the biggest shock I’ve had so far is that the Chinese view on modesty is flip-flopped from the States. Here (from what I’ve gathered), if you’re complimented, it’s totally normal to deny it and insist that you’re not good at all. This exists somewhat back home, but it’s more common to thank the person for their kind words. American culture is very extroverted and focused on individual ability, while Chinese society values things like seniority and in general is introverted and strives for group harmony. I’m going to be extremely frank when I say this, but the thing I miss the most from the United States is our openness to the LGBTQIA community. I’m only mentioning this because I’m gay and for the two weeks I’ve been here, I kind of feel like I’m back in the closet. More than anything I want all of my Chinese friends to know me as intimately as possible, but there is a slight air of unacceptance that I’ve detected. This isn’t to say they’re homophobic; their attitude is gradually shifting as more and more Chinese people within the LGBT community tell their stories.

The thing that I’d insert into my life without hesitation is their tea. China’s culture is centered on tea, and one of my biggest goals is to be able to make Chinese tea (It doesn’t come in tea bags like tea in the US. They use loose ingredients.). All in all, the biggest challenge and benefit of studying abroad is realizing that every country (and even every person within that country) has their own way of life, tradition, and beliefs, whether or not they are amazing or terrible within our own cultural lens. For example, the following foods look kind of strange at first, but they were amazing once I got over my first impressions.

菠萝饭 (bō luó fàn), or simply “Pineapple Rice”

菠萝饭 (bō luó fàn), or simply “Pineapple Rice”

These are粽子 (Zòng zi), which are eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which took place last weekend.

These are粽子 (Zòng zi), which are eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which took place last weekend.

Once we cross our borders, we have the opportunity to learn what the rest of the world is like, all the while passing along our own torch as we become an ambassador for our home.

Until next time! 下次见!

Garrett Schuman 许可儒

Leave a comment

Filed under Garrett in China

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon I hardly believed was real when I set off for my study abroad. I could understand the waves of shock I felt as I studied in Thailand and half expected them before the plane even landed. After months I could feel the culture shock lessening and eventually it was relatively absent in my day-to-day life abroad. Two weeks have passed since I’ve returned home and I can say with absolute certainty: Reverse culture shock is real.

Not only is this strange type of culture shock real, it’s far worse than anything I experienced during my 10 months in Thailand. In the few weeks I’ve been home, I’ve found myself thrown into a sea of confusion, anxiety, and frustration.

My lifestyle in Asia was so scarily different from the average American lifestyle that for the first week I was actually anxious about a lot of things. Thailand is notable as a land of laid back attitudes and ‘Thai Time’ is a very real thing that I’ve gotten used to—patiently waiting an hour for a friend or even a teacher is commonplace in Thailand. America, in contrast, is so avidly impatient that I found myself anxious and confused at how quickly people raise their voice or get angry at the slightest inconvenience. This—paired with the general lack of politeness in the workplace—has made my first week back to work one of constant anxiety.

Of course, there are a mountain of things I missed while abroad that I’m happy to have back. Among other things, the wealth of creature comforts like reliable internet access, the ability to converse with anyone at ease, and more dependable transportation have been on my list of missed things. But of them all, my friends and family are definitively what I’m most happy about now that I’m home.

Looking forward, my time abroad has given me opportunities I want to expand upon in the future. I hope to be able to spread awareness of the positive aspects of studying, even for a short time, in another country and the educational advantages it serves. After college I wish to work internationally in Asia and continue my education beyond my home country. In a way, I believe studying abroad has opened my eyes to how integral an international outlook is in the modern era and I hope to be able to bring this to the table in my future work experiences. Ultimately, studying abroad has driven my need to grow as an individual and to help people internationally.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture Shock, Doug in Thailand

Farewell, England

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

It is unbelievable to me that my adventures while studying abroad in England have come to an end. It is a strange feeling. The feeling of coming back to the same place being a different person. My time studying abroad in England almost feels like a dream because it happened so fast. As I looked out the window of the plane coming back to Florida it felt like it was yesterday that I was leaving. I definitely have noticed myself experiencing the reverse culture shock and it is a more clear realization on how different Americans are culturally from the British. Although the differences may be small, the small differences are what make up the big difference. Yes, we are definitely friendlier. The British have mannerisms that we don’t. In America, I have the privilege of going to a grocery store and not having to bag my own groceries. The British and Americans may speak the same language, but we really don’t in terms of context.

While I do miss England, I definitely do not miss the food. I am so glad to be reunited with American food! Yes, I said it. Food in the United States is so much better. Hands down. On a serious note, I am appreciative to have the privileges of being an American. Part of the reverse culture shock that I had was just realizing how many privileges I have as an American and the opportunities the United States has to offer to its citizens.

I was sad to leave on a flight to go back to Florida, because frankly, I didn’t want to leave. I embarked on a journey and adventure of personal, educational, and professional growth when I decided to study abroad in England. I look back and I absolutely achieved my goals. However, as I grew in every aspect I realized that there is no limit to growth. True discovery means the understanding of always having more discoveries to uncover. By being abroad, I gained the understanding and knowledge of the world and myself. For me, my perspective on what I thought the world was and the people in it expanded and evolved. I advocate for everyone to go abroad and see the world, because to see only a small part of it is such a shame. There is a bigger picture to discover. Once you see the bigger picture you realize that you can impact it to make a change.

I miss England and hopefully I will be back one day. I created amazing memories with new experiences and great people. When I was in England I was able to make it my home. I think there are both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to living in the United States, United Kingdom, or any other country. I miss the small differences in England, but I miss the people I left behind more. I love traveling and I love going on flights, but I never wanted to go on a flight more until I had to get on a flight back to Florida. As I landed in Florida and looked out the window I saw a plane take off. Once again I found myself looking at a plane taking off and wishing I was on it back to England. Without realizing it, I made England my home. Coming back it didn’t feel like I was coming home. It felt like was leaving it. Farewell to England, but I promise, I’ll be back.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture Shock, Lily in the United Kingdom

Ben Franklin, We’re Not In Pennsylvania Anymore

Antigua Collage

Hi! Thanks for coming! Please, take a seat! Let me say that I’m just happy you came to hear about my summer study abroad in Guatemala. This origin story will only take a few minutes, I promise.

The only way I might’ve guessed two years ago B.C. (~before college~) that I’d study abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, this summer is if I had run my hand along a spinning globe until the bumps under my fingers slowed down and by chance I landed on it. Let’s be real, folks. I’m from a small Pennsylvania town outside of Valley Forge and Philadelphia, and I study English and Secondary Education–you wouldn’t have guessed Guatemala as my summer study spot either.

So then why, right?

Serendipity is the shortest answer. The Spark Notes summary might say that I signed up for a Latin American history class on a whim during my first semester in college, which sent me in a different academic direction than I had planned. In one semester, I felt my stomach drop in surprise like it was dropping down a canyon. My brain clouded with dust as everything I thought I had known about the United States’ interactions with Latin America swept away and new information settled. I know my professors got a kick out of how frequently my eyebrows shot up and I went, “Really? That happened?” To them, I was late to the proverbial party like a kid shouting the obvious, ‘Smoking is Bad For You,’ at today’s doctors. The history of Guatemala struck my heart more than any other, and I can’t express how much I really, really mean that.

Penn State Schreyer

My thesis at the Penn State Schreyer Honors College focuses on the U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup of the Guatemalan government and the subsequent thirty-six year civil war and half-century of corruption, violence, and economic inequality. Didn’t know that happened? Yeah, me either. [If you did: 10 points. Count your points at the end of the summer for a maybe-theoretical prize.] Turns out we’re not alone–most Americans have no idea about the coup or even where Guatemala is on a map. (It’s right here.)

Guatemala Map

Because of my thesis, I searched all over my friendly, neighborhood interweb for a study abroad program in Guatemala. In a way, all of my research and coursework over the past two years has been preparation for my summer abroad. I’m as “prepared” as one can be to step into a new world. I’ve got my multiple canisters of bug spray (you have to wear it all the time, from when you shower in the morning to when you get ready for bed). I’ve got my versatile clothing ready for hot sun, cool rain, or hot rain. I’ve read all the travel notifications, reviewed my verb conjugations, and packed my vitamins.

But man, oh man, you can bet that I’m anxious. I’ll miss my family and friends. I’ll miss French toast with maple syrup and knowing the best places to go running. Most of all, I’ll miss my sense of secure comfort. Ben Franklin, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Pennsylvania any more. In Guatemala I don’t have home field advantage and I know I’m going to need a generous learning curve. Guatemala also represents my “Big Plans.” It’s the essence of everything I’ve said I’m going to do for two years, so you can bet that now that the someday is tomorrow, there’s a small voice in me that can’t sleep that wants to whimper “just kidding” and curl up in my hometown. But it’s a small voice–nothing a little bit of humming and crossing my fingers can’t fix.

Tomorrow I go to Antigua, Guatemala, to study through the University of Arizona a whole new language, history, and culture until August 8th. I’m excited and terrified to finally step into the world I’ve read about for two years, and I know my time’s sparser than chips in a complimentary bag of Lays. I’ve got exactly fifty-six days and nights in Guatemala, and every week I’ll post my stories. Wish me luck as I head out. Like I said, I’m just happy you stopped by to hear what I have to say.


Leave a comment

Filed under Abby in Guatemala