Tag Archives: change

Different is Not Bad

My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.

 

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About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.

While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.

At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.

However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

Just like Bowie, I Turned Myself to Face Me

As I begin to write this blog post, I can already feel a numbing sensation trickle down my arms as my eyes that have seen so much these past four months fill with tears. I will proofread for any typos but can’t make any promises with my watered-down eyesight.

I am a little afraid that I have almost changed too much since studying abroad, and that the culture shock when I return home will be a really difficult experience for me, but there is no need to worry about that yet I suppose. It is difficult to put into words for me how much my time here has meant to me. I hope that this post does this beautiful country justice.

If you had asked me one month into my study abroad experience how I honestly felt, I would have told you that I did not think I would make it through these four months. I had never been away from my family, my boyfriend, or the U.S. for so long. And now, here I am, three months later, not wanting to leave this beautiful country and the diversity that fills it, and living tranquilly next to an active stratovolcano. 

 

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Doing touristy things in Quito before leaving at Parque Carolina, an incredibly huuuge park in the middle of Quito that has soccer fields, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a track, vendors of any food you might be craving or didn’t know you were craving….essentially Ecuadorian culture in a park.

 

Honestly, I am not sure when things changed exactly. I don’t think it was a specific moment in my study abroad experience, but rather an accumulation of several things. I began to become more independent and I was getting through days with a smile on my face or laughter throughout the entire day more easily and easily. I became stronger as things seemed to fall into place. I was going on more and more adventures with new friends and disconnecting myself a little more from social media and the things that connected me with the U.S. (Actually I left my phone in a taxi and my laptop charger broke so I didn’t really have much of a choice…but as they say here in Ecuador, así es la vida, or “such is life,” so I had to move on.) I also was enjoying time on my own more, which is something I never really enjoyed prior to this experience. When I decide to explore Quito on my own, I almost always encounter someone who is surprised at my Spanish level and thus wants to talk to me more- a conversation that usually comes from them first trying to sell me some jewelry or $1 seco de pollo from a cooler.

My alone time throughout the city has also helped me realize how much I have changed in terms of being a more observant and in-the-moment person. Being more observant has definitely come from necessity, considering pedestrians here do not have the right-of-way and buses will start driving/shut the door before you’re comfortably on the vehicle. And living in a city for the first time has also made me more aware of my things when I am walking or on public transportation.

It is pretty much impossible to make a plan and follow through with it completely here, but that is part of the fun. Buses don’t really have schedules (and even if they do they aren’t always followed), some places are closed because they don’t feel like opening, detours appear and change daily, the list goes on and on. Although this would have frustrated me in the U.S., here it seems like an opportunity to enjoy and explore wherever your trip ended up taking you. I have definitely become more open to change during my time here and have become less nervous asking for help from strangers, especially since Ecuadorians always want to help, even if they have no idea where you are heading, and thus just make up directions…but you can’t even get mad because they are so sweet. Despite these challenges, I have successfully made it to several different cities and towns in Ecuador, one of them being Guayaquil, the most populated city in Ecuador, where I went to a Barcelona (a huuuge fútbol team from Guayaquil) soccer game that was an experience I will never forget! 

 

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Just a taste of the support the fans gave to their team in Guayaquil. It was even crazier than the two Ecuadorian national games I have been to in Quito. Soccer games are a great way to experience the culture, get some delicious and cheap food, as well as learn some interesting sayings…

 

If I had to elaborate on one aspect of my life here in Ecuador that I am going to miss incredibly when I return to Massachusetts it would be the diversity here in Ecuador. Prior to studying abroad, I always thought of the word “diversity” as something that referred to cultures and people. Although this is still the case, I also have been introduced to the environmental diversity of a country so small yet so incredibly diverse in terms of its people as well as its flora y fauna. Even in the capital, with its stressful traffic and diesel-filled air, there are still magnificent views of the snowcapped Cotopaxi from afar or the just as incredible but closer to home Pichincha Volcano that is engulfed by Quito. There is also a National Park nearby called Cayambe Coca that is a popular home for bears and consists of a beautiful mountain range and lake. Before coming to Ecuador I had only seen views like this in National Geographic or on postcards.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciated nature. 

Now, I can tell you that I don’t think I can fully live without visiting mountains or waterfalls or something that is a part of nature at least several times a month.

 

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An incredible view of the Cayambe Coca National Park. I am definitely going to miss seeing nature like this everyday.

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The breathtaking sunrise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos. My friend Caitlyn and I got up a few times to go for morning runs and our last day in the Galapagos we got up eeextra early to see the sunrise.

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The unbelievable Quilotoa Crater Lake in Quilotoa, a few hours south of Quito.

 

Beyond the environmental diversity here in Ecuador, there is a pluriculturalism that exists within the identities that fill this beautiful country, shown through the clothing that people wear, the customs and music they have, the holidays they celebrate, and the languages they speak. On just a 20 minute bus ride to campus I can hear people speaking Spanish, English, and Kichwa, as well as see people wearing very modern clothing (probably from Colombia or the U.S. since clothing here is very expensive), more conservative or practical clothing, as well as indigenous clothing, which can vary depending on the indigenous community they come from in Ecuador. During the morning bus ride I can hear someone singing modern American music to a group of indigenous folks playing their traditional instruments, and also singing rather sad songs that portray the indigenous history of this country that they promise to never forget. I have even seen people walking on the highway for several hours to see the Quinche Virgin and profess their faith and dedication to her during El día del Quinche.

Before studying abroad, I would have told you that I appreciate diversity, that I am an open-minded person who appreciates differences across cultures as long as everyone is respected.

Now, I can tell you that I have an entirely new perspective of diversity, one that includes our beautiful earth that we have to appreciate and protect, as well as diversity through positive relationships I have witnessed between lots of different groups of people in one city, something that I hope our country will be able to reach in the near future.

 

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My beautiful friend Brittany and I with a past President of Ecuador, Lucio Gutiérrez!

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Just a bunch of gringos and Ecuadorians in the back of a pick-up truck. Nothing unusual for the countrysides of Ecuador!

 

Not only will I miss the diversity, I will also miss speaking Spanish daily and learning new sayings and Quiteño slang, as well as the connections with Ecuadorians, international students, my host family, and with myself that I have made thanks to my time here in Ecuador. But this is not goodbye. I know I will be back in Ecuador sometime soon, and I will see the new friends I have made who live in the States, and I will never forget the changes I have undergone as an individual throughout this experience.

Mil gracias mi lindo Ecuador

 

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A view of the Historic Center in Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for obvious reasons I would say.

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Ready for my next adventure, wherever it might be! (Taken in Cuenca, Ecuador.)

 

I hope you all enjoyed this post! As always, thanks for reading!

Hasta pronto Ecuador,

Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america, Uncategorized

Months of Growth

Hallo! Here in Leuven, Christmas is in full swing! Christmas markets are up, Old City Hall is decorated, and the old church bells have been ringing to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas is You”!

 

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Old City Hall decorated in lights.

 

I can’t believe 3 months have passed and now I’m getting ready to wrap up my time here in Leuven. I’ve done so much since I arrived in Leuven. I’ve made lifelong friends, immersed myself in various cultures, and visited cities that I never thought I would.

Studying abroad has taught me a lot about my strengths, my weaknesses, and quirks about myself that I never realized before. I’ve cultivated an appreciation for the smaller things in everyday life. The late morning breakfasts in the hall, the late night talks with friends, and the laughs shared on a daily basis. I’ve learned to take life slower, to love the simplistic beauty that everyday life has to offer and I know that all of these small things will be what I miss the most when I return to the States. As I prepare myself to leave a town and people I’ve grown so attached to, I’ve taken time to be self-reflective on how I’ve changed over the past 3 months.

One of the biggest ways I’ve grown over my 3 months studying abroad is that I’ve become more confident in my ability to travel and navigate an unknown situation. Travelling internationally by myself for the first time has definitely made me become more self-dependent and also pushed me to ask for help when I need it. Then travelling to different countries during the past 3 months, I’ve become adaptable to the different cultures of the cities and learned to take change in stride. I’ve visited London, Rome, Luxembourg City, Paris, and various other cities in Belgium, and each of those cities have different quirks and their own way of life and being able to adapt to those quirks quickly has been something that I developed during my travels and definitely something that I will take with me as I leave. Also, being an obvious tourist in those cities has made me become more assertive and strong-willed against hagglers and others I’ve met during my time travelling. It has also instilled in me a desire to travel more once I return home, whether it be within the States or internationally, I know this trip will not be my last!

 

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With my family at the Colosseum in Rome.

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Outside of the Palace of Versailles, visiting the beautiful gardens.

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Me and some of my friends in Luxembourg.

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A friend and I at the Roman Forum. It was so beautiful and unbelievable to visit.

 

The friendships I’ve developed during my time in Leuven have made me develop a stronger sense of intercultural awareness. Living in a hall with students from 6 different countries has made me realize the nuances of different cultures and how it effects someone’s view of the world and how they navigate through it. My interactions with my friends have made me grow in my appreciation for difference and ability to deal with uncomfortable situations when those differences come into contact with each other. Being bilingual, I have grown accustomed to switching between languages and had a love for the languages I didn’t know, but by living with my hall mates I’ve picked up small phrases in Spanish, Croatian, Dutch, and German. My hall mates have definitely taught me things about myself that I never realized and helped instill an even stronger sense of appreciation for diversity than I had before. None of us know if we’ll ever see each other again, we can only hope, but I am so grateful to have met these people. They have made me become a better person and have made my time here in Leuven unforgettable and filled with laughter and love.

 

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My hall mates and some friends.

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Meat and cheese party with the girls.

 

Leuven has given me the opportunity to grow so much and it will definitely be an experience that I will never forget and one I will always be grateful for. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave this beautiful town and the unforgettable memories I’ve made, but I know that this experience will push me to explore and learn more when I return home.

Now I’m off to study for my final exams. (Too bad I can’t escape from these!!)

Thanks for reading and I’ll write again when I return to the States!

Dag!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

Open Letter to Humility

I have literally just a few days left here in Florence. Saying time flies would be the greatest understatement to describe where the weeks went. Where the different trips, different countries, different types and tastes of food went. Where the memories with new and interesting people went. As excited as I am to go home and be a part of my home country again, it’s clear that no matter how much I try not to think about it, Florence will always be a home of mine. I will always have an attachment to this street, to this historic apartment (we have a mirror that was owned by the Medici family), and to this dirty but special room. There’s that saying you don’t know what you have until you lose it. But in some cases, especially in a case of studying abroad and becoming accustomed to the life you have here, you understand and know what you are losing before you really even lose it. It is through realizing and thinking about this that I have humbled myself and have thanked each professor, each café worker, and each restaurant waiter that I made friends with; thanked them for allowing me to come to this country and sharing a piece of their life with me…

Humble- As simply as I can put it, I am humbled by this experience. It would honestly be impossible to try to show or explain how great and unique this experience was through words or pictures. I know I would just leave so much out and it would not do Florence justice to do that. Being here for three months put my life in perspective in the sense that I’m not really sure what else I could do in my life that would compare to studying abroad here. These final days make me thankful that I made the decision to get on that plane, and it makes me sad knowing that soon I will be heading on a plane back, with the possibility that I may never come back.

When I say I’m thankful for this study abroad experience, I don’t simply mean just being in Italy or going to other countries. I mean enduring so much, stepping out of comfort zones, making so many mistakes and learning from them and just finding ways to be a part of a new environment. There are people here who did not experience Florence in this way, meaning they simply came here to study because they could. To me, the opportunity to study abroad was a gift that I can’t and won’t ever take for granted.

Humble- I am humbled by the personal and external confidence I have developed in myself throughout these 3 months. Back home, I did not do the traveling thing. I either stayed in New York or Connecticut. And if I did go outside of that, it was something for school and never on my own accord. So the confidence it took to get on multiple planes to fly to multiple countries by myself, the confidence it took to sit on buses for 3-12 hours heading to foreign lands by myself – it’s not like I took time to decide, “Should I do this… can I handle it?” I literally booked these trips and just went with it. I think Florence does that to you without you even realizing it. It makes you want to take risks and take on personal challenges, inside the city and outside of it.

When I’m home, my mother and I communicate here and there. We aren’t the overly affectionate family type, so we check up on each other sometimes, but I know she is always there when something is going wrong or I need help. However, for the past 8 weeks or so, my phone has been messed up and I haven’t been able to talk to her. So when I left my passport in Italy on a trip to Vienna, Austria and almost got stuck there trying to get back to Florence, that’s where this confidence came in. That’s when I didn’t freak out because I couldn’t ask my mom what to do, but instead I took the time to figure out my next move and what my options were, and I’m proud of how I handled  the situation with calm and collected maturity.

Humble- I am humbled by my accomplishments: First-generation college student, first in my family to get accepted and attend college, first in my family to have been to another country other than America, and now, first to have lived in another country for an extended period of time. I am truly blessed. Sydney Johnson, my basketball coach back at Fairfield loves to tell us the quote, “We are living the dream” and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing  – trying my hardest to live out each and every day and take advantage of any and all opportunities given to me. I visited 7 countries (well, 8 if you want to include Italy): Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, France, and England. I visited a museum and a church in each country and visited each of the country’s national monuments. I visited a good portion of Italy as well, seeing cities such as Venice, Milan, Capri, Pisa, Bologna, Amalfi, and even Rome. In Rome, I went to church at the Vatican and got lucky and saw the Pope give a speech. I visited an intense soccer game and saw Florence beat one of its storied rivals. I pushed through an advanced Italian language speaking class and have done well. My writing was also published in a monthly Italian newsletter, known as Blending Newsletter, here at Florence University of the Arts (FUA), and I was also recently published in the first issue of Blending’s semesterly magazine. I thought it made sense to use my Creative Writing major and utilize it in my academics here at FUA. It’s something that will be remembered here at FUA and it’s an accomplishment I can always look back to.

 

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My writing in the Blending Newsletter.

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My roommates and me at the soccer game in Florence.

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“I Am” in Amsterdam.

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A gondola ride through the river city of Venice.

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Beautiful view in Rome.

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View from the top of the Pope’s home in Rome.

 

I have also gotten really good at cooking. I mean, really good. Granted, I wasn’t that much of a chef before so any amount of cooking would constitute as something, but I think I have out-done myself on multiple occasions. I was lucky to have a roommate who is a Food Marketing major but also a chef in training, so I picked up on many things he did in the kitchen to understand what really goes into making a good dish. I’ve been exposed to a new economy, a new way of living, and a new way of building routines. I’ve grown a new understanding of currency and the smart ways of handling money on a big scale. I’m glad for everything I’ve done and how much of an impact these accomplishments have had and will continue to have on me.

Humble- Yes I’m glad to have endeavored on this journey on my own, but at the end of it all, I am humbled by the friendships that I have back home. And by friendships, I mean the real and true bonds that I have with people. I am a senior, and so I have been through that four year process of figuring out who is really there for you and who isn’t in college. So being here in Florence for three months without my close knit group of friends really made me think about the people in my life who mean the most to me. I reflected about this because I saw people planning trips together, visiting countries together, and making memories together, and a quick rush of feelings and emotions flowed through my head and body as I thought about who I wished was here for me to plan, make, and create memories with.

However, I have gotten really close with the roommates that I have lived with in the apartment here in Florence, and it has showed me how quickly new bonds can form. Now we are making to plans to visit each other at each other’s colleges. I was able to visit some friends whom I can consider brothers in Rome and in Austria and saw them playing the game of basketball that they play as a career. I value those times with them much more than I can really explain through words. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I was able to take this challenge head on and come out here by myself. But after having all of these adventures, I am a firm believer that experiences like these should be shared with those closest to you to create memories to look back on, talk about, laugh about, and maybe even cry about.

Humble- I am humble and happy for life. I’m humbled to have the three person family that I have and a mom who did all she could so that I could even jump into this fear of the unknown. I am happy I took this opportunity and came out the same person on the outside, but 100% different on the inside. From having multiple conversations about race relations, to dealing with opinions on America’s new president, to being stared at and always having a free seat next to me on the bus – the cultural perspective I’ve gained here is just so valuable. With the way our world is being more and more internationalized, it is necessary for Americans to understand and gain more knowledge on global issues and societies. I am proud to be able to bring these new perspectives back home and share them with the people around me. I am humbled that I will have memories like this under my belt to help guide me throughout my future relationships, future career, and the rest of my life.

I am humbled by Florence.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

The Inevitable Question: ‘So how is/was India?’

It is early in the morning, but everyone is awake. Cling! Clang! I hear my ammaa making breakfast downstairs. She is probably making idli (steamed rice cake) or dosa (thin pancake made with lentils and rice), with coconut chutney on the side. After getting dressed and eating breakfast, I walk to the bus stand where I always see the same three men sitting in front of Kings Department Store. Turning my back to them, I hail down a shared-auto rickshaw and climb in. The auto starts to move before I can sit down. Once I situate myself on the upper seat I realize I chose a bad auto. It was a private auto that had been converted into a shared-auto, which means that I had to hunch my shoulders and lean forward in order to prevent my head from hitting the ceiling. The other women seated next to me look perfectly comfortable. Their heads are not grazing the ceiling like mine. Standing at 5 feet 2 inches I do not consider myself a tall person; however, I felt like a giant in this cramped auto. Four women, including me, were in the upper seat and four women were sitting on the lower step. There was also a man sitting in the front seat with the auto driver. In total, there were 10 adults in the auto that was originally built for 3 people. Talk about a clown car. I cannot say this was my favorite auto-rickshaw memory.

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My last share-auto ride home from the SITA (South India Term Abroad) center. The cheap and quick mode of transportation that a share-auto provides will be missed.

I have been in India for the past 3.5 months now and it has been quite the adventure. Looking back at my first blog post I sound very naïve and somewhat innocent. In the beginning, the noise and the smell and the interactions with people were exciting. Now, it is tiresome. The loud and continuous honks push at my buttons. Trying to avoid stepping into cow poop, goat poop, dog poop, or even elephant poop is annoying. Everyday I get hounded with the question of whether I like India from strangers…and I do not know what to say. If I am honest, I run the risk of offending locals; if I lie by saying that I love India, I am belittling my time in India. India is hard to describe. It is difficult to explain the experiences I have had. It is frustrating that my friends, who are either studying abroad in Europe or back in the States, will never completely understand what India is like for a foreigner.

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Cow eating garbage for breakfast, and probably for lunch and dinner. Cows can be seen on every corner lounging, sleeping, or eating garbage/cardboard. I didn’t know cows could consume cardboard…until I came to India…

Since studying abroad, I have been able to better dissect my status as a foreigner and as an American. This is a skill I did not expect to gain. Because I am visibly a foreigner, I will never fit in with the locals, however, that does not mean Indians consider me to be American. According to many Indians, I do not fit the description of a typical American. I’ve had random people yell ‘Chinese’ or ‘Japanese’ while I walk past them on the road. (I’m Korean, a Korean-American to be exact.)

It happened while I was on a tour in Mysore. We hiked up to a Jain temple where I broke from the group and wandered by myself for some time. I walked past a group of Indians who belligerently shouted ‘Nepalese, Kathmandu, Bhutan, Thai’ at me. Rather than asking me where I was from, these people wanted to put labels on me that they deemed appropriate.

My status as a foreigner affecting my interactions with people does not end there. Every so often, I will get into a shared-auto and the people sitting around me will, very eagerly, ask me where I am from. Before I can answer the first question, a lot of people will ask ‘China?’ I tell them ‘No, I’m from the US.’ Their faces drop; they thought they had guessed right when they identified me as Chinese. The reactions I get from saying ‘I’m American’ shows me that they are disappointed. I was angry and still am angry. Was this a form of racism? When did being Asian mean I could only exist as Chinese in other people’s eyes? How do I react? Was it my place to teach people about the diversity of America? I was stuck. My program has a total of 10 students: 8 of the students are white; 1 of the students is multiracial; 2 of the students, including myself, are Asian. The other Asian student happened to be one of my best friends from Bowdoin and she had the same daily encounters. At the end of the day, our hands were tied; we had to put up with it.

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The SITA program celebrating Thanksgiving by enjoying a dinner buffet at Hotel Supreme. It’s not a home-cooked meal, but at least we have each other!

India was not wonderful or exceptionally amazing. The staring from both men and women never stopped. High school students, who would shout at me and sometimes even follow me, constantly harassed me. Every time someone tried to start a conversation with me, I was concerned they would try to label me with an ethnicity rather than asking me where I was from. Should I have spoken up against the men who stared, the immature students who did not know how to properly interact with me, or those who did not care how I identified myself? I know I should have, but my peers and my program told me that it was best not to attract attention to myself. ‘Since you’re a foreigner, try not to do anything or say anything that will attract attention to yourself’ is the best and worst advice I have received. I do not want to do anything that will put my safety at risk however that does not mean I have to put up with everything that makes me feel uncomfortable simply because I am a foreigner.

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Maligai Sweets, a tea and sweets shop where the space is primarily occupied by men at all times of the day.

I do not regret studying abroad in India. It was a period of time that I will never forget. Studying and living in India taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. India opened my eyes to the unique diversity of the United States that I had taken for granted. I learned different methods of self-care that worked for me. I know India has helped me personally grow as a student, a person, and a traveler however I do not think I will be able to fully comprehend the growth I have experienced until I return to the United States where I will have the time and space to process everything.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

The Great Impact

Since returning home, I have been experiencing some stages of reverse culture shock. I was initially very excited to return home, however, since returning home I have found it a bit difficult to adjust back to the lifestyle here. It has been particularly difficult because my experience abroad has impacted me so profoundly. While my friends and family have continued to move along through their everyday routine, I am still adjusting to life here and reflecting on my time away. I feel as though I must not quickly forget what I took away from this experience. It is so completely different here in the United States. I had not noticed how accustomed I had gotten to the Moroccan way and culture until returning. It was hard to see then the little things that had made such a difference in Morocco. It is shocking to me how different the culture here is and I was not anticipating that. Things have been very different than I expected them to be once I returned. They have been more sad than exciting, unfortunately. Adjusting back as an athlete has been somewhat difficult. The amount of  new teammates unintroduced to me has been shocking and incredibly overwhelming. School started so quickly and I felt as though it was a very quick turnaround and that I did not have much time to spend with my family and adjust. Although it has been difficult, I believe that I am slowly adjusting back to the ordinary here. Things are definitely different from the way they were to me before leaving. Nonetheless, I hope that they stay that way.

 

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A photo taken on my departing plane at the Mohammed V International Airport located in Casablanca, Morocco prior to our departure from the country after two months.

 

I very much miss the familiarity of Morocco. It was great being able to go to one restaurant or grocery store where you know people. I also miss being so close with the group of people I was living in Morocco with, as well as adventuring to different places in Morocco. Lastly, I greatly miss the laid-back and happy culture. On the other hand, I am happy to be reunited with my friends and family in the US, as well as the pool and my sport. I have noticed a lot of differences between the US and Morocco. It is mainly the little things, such as the way people interact, the way of life, the conveniences, the food, the regulations, etc. These are things that I didn’t know were so important to my life before leaving America. But while away, I came to realize that all of the little things lacking were actually all very important to my way of living, which greatly affected me.

After having this experience, I will continue on with my schooling, however I will not forget how I have been impacted. I hope to share my experience with as many people as possible, while also becoming a more involved individual. My experience abroad has only made me more grateful and more motivated to make a large impact for the good of others. I know that I will definitely be better about prioritizing my time to put the things that matter most first, and put others before myself. I know that this experience has made me love life and want to live each day to its fullest.

 

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A photo taken from a high point in one of the four mountainous regions of Morocco.

 

During my study abroad, I definitely came out of my shell. I became more open to unexpected situations and more adventurous and courageous. This was mainly a result of unanticipated conflicts experienced throughout the completion of my project, as well as trying to acclimate to the everyday lifestyle of the Moroccan people. It was also due to various weekend trips spent traveling and exploring the country in a very short amount of time. I definitely improved my communication skills, solely as a result of the high level of interaction with others. I definitely developed myself as an individual throughout my time in Morocco. It has become more clear to me the type of person that I want to be. I believe that this was a result of being in a foreign country disconnected from American society. It gave me a lot of time for reflection, all the while having such an amazing experience. It put things in perspective and allowed me to become more in touch with my inner self. Lastly, my experience abroad has made me more appreciative of everything that I have in my life. Just walking on the streets and seeing how the Moroccan people live was enough to evoke this change. They live the simplest lives and find the simplest jobs, just to get by in life. They also set aside time for the one thing that matters most to them, which is family. But the one part of my experience that made appreciation so much more prominent in my life was hearing the personal stories from families with autistic children that I interviewed for my project. They struggle so much to obtain decent lives for themselves and their children, not to mention proper education, treatment, and diagnoses. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories, all the while eye-opening to see how happy and grateful they still are for what they do have.

 

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A photo of the Ksour, a famous clay building depicted on the 50 dirham bill (Moroccan currency). The techniques used by the Moroccan people when creating such a structure allowed them to develop highly efficient architecture.

 

In addition, I definitely grew professionally while abroad. It was a new experience for me to complete this project while working with a sponsor. It was enriching to work with a group of students to complete a report, database, and present all of our information collected to our classmates, advisors, and sponsor. I learned how to deal with difficult team dynamics throughout the project and gained a lot of experience presenting my material in a professional manner.

One piece of advice that I would give to scholars interested in studying or interning abroad in Morocco would be to not set expectations, but rather to just enjoy the experience for all that it is and take the most from it. I can guarantee that any person studying abroad will get more out of the experience if they are able to avoid spending time worrying about how things should be. Whatever happens, they should be able to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience and not set their sights on the things that are not going perfectly as planned. I would encourage them to enjoy every moment of such an amazing opportunity while they have the chance, because it will be over in the blink of an eye.

 

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A photo taken at a village depicting the sun setting over the mountains in Morocco.

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Coming to America

As I boarded the plane from Shanghai, I couldn’t help but reflect on the memories I had made and the new friends I was leaving behind. Although I had only spent one summer in China, it felt like a lifetime had elapsed. I looked forward to seeing my family and friends back in America, but I wished that they could have shared my experience as well. However, my journey in Asia was not over, in less than three hours I would be reunited with my childhood best friend, Ryo. When I landed in Tokyo, I could hardly contain my excitement. I had not seen Ryo in 13 years and I did not know what to expect. I recognized Ryo immediately as he towered over the crowd beaming the same goofy grin he wore in the second grade. We made our way back to his apartment in Shibuya and spent the evening in Tokyo where we caught up over a traditional Japanese dinner. Japan was quieter and the people seemed more reserved than their Chinese counterparts. In the morning we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the airport to catch my flight back to Ohio.

This time, it was real, I would be home in less than 24 hours and back in school that same day. When I arrived in Chicago, I felt as if I had entered a foreign land. Surely, this was not the America I remembered. The people seemed…bigger. I was no longer a giant among my peers, I was no longer a “foreigner” or “mei guo ren.” I ordered a Chicago style pizza and waited for my connecting flight to Dayton, Ohio. I arrived in Dayton to find my beautiful mother and sister waiting patiently. I was overwhelmed with joy to see my family and share the countless stories that I had amassed over the past three months.

 

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Reunion with momma.

 

Now that I have taken the time to acclimate and get over my jet lag, I find myself missing Chinese food and the meals I shared with my good friends. It was nice to catch up with my college friends after a long summer apart, but it was hard to relate to their experiences and increasingly difficult to translate my own. Life in the United States is fast-paced and it is hard not to reminisce about a simpler time when life was challenging, yet unusually relaxed. I noticed that the news is completely different from what I had been exposed to abroad. Now the narrative has shifted: The East has become the focal point of danger and the West is a safe haven for refuge. As I prepare to finish my last semester in college, I have a pretty good idea of what I have to look forward to in the “real” world. Currently, I am applying for the Fulbright assistantship, graduate school programs in the United States and China, and jobs in the financial services sector.

After studying abroad in China, I have acquired many new survival skills that will enable me to adapt to a foreign environment. I can navigate complex metro systems to explore new cities, find affordable local produce for home cooked meals, and budget my provisions to meet my immediate needs. I have also gotten pretty good at haggling, however I have not found much use for this skill in America. At the risk of sounding cliché, I feel that I have changed as a person since interning and living abroad. I have gained a broader understanding of Chinese culture and built a deeper connection with the international students in my community.

 

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My Mindxplorer family (where I did my internship).

 

Additionally, I have a better understanding of the nuances that make China foreign to Americans and am using my experience to bridge the cultural gap for my domestic friends. My passion for school has become invigorated because I see the applicability of the theoretical knowledge that I am learning in the “real” world. I have expanded my professional horizons by working for Chinese and international firms abroad to learn the meaning of “Guanxi” and the intricacies of international business. My advice for any young scholars interested in studying abroad or interning in China is to come with an open mind and an open heart. China is a challenge but it is well worth the reward—this experience is what you choose to make of it. For me, it was a tasty, heartwarming, and surreal journey that I will treasure for life.

 

boss

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