Tag Archives: diversity

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

How to Live Your Life After Studying Abroad

This isn’t easy to explain. In the simplest terms, Chile has expanded my world.

Every week I encounter other people whose lives seem to be so far from the United States’ definition of career or success. People who make their living by telling stories to the passengers of the trolley cars. The man by the bus stop who sells his empanadas caseras (homemade) out of a little basket while quietly announcing to the passing crowds the day’s special.

 

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This man is giving a live performance of his music with his CDs for sale as well. At the Sunday market you can find musical artists on the drums, saxophone, rapping, and sharing their skills with the public.

 

This week I saw a truck driving through the city with its bed stacked with bundles of flowers. I saw a truck driving through the city with its bed full of drums, the instruments towering above the truck secured by a few straps. I saw a bicyclist taking a break, his hand latched onto the bed of a truck, soaring through the street. Little reminders that life is different for everyone.

 

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Pebre and chorizo served up on the street! A very Chilean combo of street meat and a type of salsa unique to this area. The street food here is a cultural factor. I’ve witnessed a man who bought a large fish tank, fastened it to a cart, and created a way to cart around his pastries for sale.

 

So if I had to describe how my experience in Chile has altered my ideas about my future, career wise or academically, I would say that it has given me a sense of calmness that has allowed me much more space to think. More important than establishing your career is ensuring that you’re seeking out the right grounds on which to establish it. And that takes a lot of time. It could involve a list of odd jobs along the way.

Before, I was a bit preoccupied with figuring out what all of my education is really amounting to. But being in Chile has helped me understand that if you listen to what you find interesting or what you are craving to know more about, you can and will lead yourself in the right direction. Right now I consider myself a student of Spanish, English writing, and philosophy. I have noted that I need to start setting intentions about which directions I’d like to be going in pretty much every aspect of my life….
In reading
In writing
In eating
In speaking
In being

 

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This man is selling birds at the Sunday market! There is also a booth that sells fish supplies and fish themselves. The market not only offers anything you need, but creates needs you didn’t know you had.

 

I would say that Chile has affected my career goals with the realization that life is constantly happening. Every moment of your day counts as your life. Envision a life you could be happy in. Look around at the lives the people around you find themselves in. Adjust yours. Admire others.

With only a set amount of days to spend somewhere, you are forced to come to terms with the concept of time.  But that is probably the way I should be living my life every day. I would say that Chile has renewed my understanding of the importance of immediacy. If there is something you think you need or want to do, don’t let the unknown next step leave you hesitating. It’s a bit scary, yes, but there is a lot of good to be found. Refusing to take that leap of faith is like refusing to play a game of cards because you don’t know what cards the other player has in their hand.

 

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Here is a photo of a woman who is selling her eggs outside the Unimarc grocery store.

 

So in an attempt to say something more concrete about my career and academic goals, Chile has helped me pick a direction because of the lessons I have learned about the value of time and the value of experience. I’m currently seeking out literary magazines to send out internship requests to and my reading list is growing a more specific focus.

My eyes are wider and my brain is more ready than ever before to seek opportunities, make connections with other humans, and live this life.

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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america

Tanzanian Bonds of Friendship

Has it been easy making friends in Tanzania? Well it’s certainly been a wild ride.
Tanzanian culture is by nature, very friendly. It is up to one’s self to decide which friendliness is genuine and what is simply good marketing to convince you to purchase souvenirs.

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Overall however, I found it was incredibly easy to make local friends if you were willing to give it a chance. Simply by practicing Swahili with locals they would think twice about selling their merchandise to me and instead strike up a conversation. By the end of the day, I knew that if I ever came back to that part of town a week later, that person would recognize me and greet me as a friend.

These occurrences of course are surface friendships, though this doesn’t mean that things never got deeper. Most notably during my month on the coast of Tanzania, in the small fishing village of Ushongo, making connections with locals was one of the highlights of my stay.

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Between my remedial Swahili and a local with decent English, a wonderful conversation could be had. I made acquaintances with the local bartenders, fisherman, fellow travelers, and NGO managers, exchanging with each stories of our lives thus far. After befriending the owner of a local beach lodge called Drifters, I realized how important making these connections were. Tuma first came off as a stern woman, but after she warmed up to us, she became one of our dearest friends, saving my butt with arranging a new computer charger to be sent from a bigger town via motorcycle, providing us with a home cooked meal, and sharing her experience and wisdom of Tanzanian and coastal culture. Her son was our age and he became a pal of ours as well, driving all the way up from Dar es Salaam to visit us during our second time at Ushongo. This family is one I won’t soon forget and I know if I ever return to Tanzania I have friends to visit.

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In terms of friendships within my SIT program, well that’s a story in itself. This program was made up of 21 students — 21 students who essentially spent 24/7 in shared close quarters with each other. We became a family. We had our ups and downs, like any big family, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t imagine a better group to spend these past 3 months with. It was impossible not to fall in love with each and every persons’ quirks, admire their drive and intelligence, or laugh and cry as I experienced the Tanzanian environment by their sides. Perhaps it helped that we were in a specialized program: wildlife conservation and political ecology–meaning we were bound to share some common interests. Yet, these students came from all walks of life: east coast, west coast, the south… private schools, public schools… majors in education, engineering, sociology, film, biology, and environmental studies. The diversity in our group only brought us together because despite our differences, we were all experiencing the triumphs and struggles of Tanzania… together. Without this group, without these specific, wonderful people, my time in Tanzania would never have been as amazing as it was. I will look back years from now and not simply remember the elephants and baboons breaking into our camp, the challenge of my Maasai homestay, or the difficulty of using a squat toilet — but I will remember these friends that I bonded so strongly with. The friends that challenged me to think deeper, sing and laugh louder, and cry harder than I ever have while saying goodbye. But with these friends, I know that that “goodbye” is really only a “see you later”.

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Cross-Culture Shock: Returning to the U.S. from Trinidad & Tobago

Rewind back to January 2013. I climbed into the sweltering heat of Trinidad, yanked off my sweatshirt, and peered into a blinding sunlight the likes of which I had not seen in a long while. The taxi driver pulled up to the curb and began loading my baggage into the trunk. “Hop in de front chile,” she invited. I opened the door beside me- on the right hand side of the car- and was surprised to see a steering wheel attached to the dashboard. “Ya not drivin dis time,” she laughed and directed me to the seat on the opposite side. Six months later I return to Maryland, USA and find that I am now struggling to remember the correct driving procedures. A left turn through an intersection seems all wrong. I walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk, try to climb up a down escalator, and hold on to the left side of a railing, bumping into people walking in the opposite direction.

The racial makeup of Trinidad and Tobago is vastly different from that of the United States. My first shock upon arriving at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia was caused by the racial uniformity of the people milling about the airport. Trinidad and Tobago is a culture made up of Afro-Trinidadians (of African descent) and Indo-Trinidadians (of Indian descent). On the rare occasion I would run into a Caucasian Trinidadian, but generally they had roots in Europe and it was not often that I met a Caucasian Trinidadian who lived in Trinidad (many of them were only there to attend UWI).

While the United States refers to itself as the ‘melting pot’, many areas are very concentrated racially. The city in which I returned to was another shock to my senses. After spending months in the company of mainly Afro-Trinidadians and students from other Caribbean backgrounds, I was suddenly thrust back into a city that is demographically 90% white and only 3% black— a complete feeling of vertigo!

The USA has a rich culture to offer, if we look hard enough. Trinidad and Tobago has a rich culture, which we can see and feel without having to actively seek it out. I miss seeing houses of a million different colors, shapes, and sizes. I miss the open air shacks, the dorms with windows that never close, and the strange shades of colors chosen for each part of a house- none of which matched the others. Flying over the USA, I was again reminded of the feelings of conformity to one standard as I peered through the plane windows at the suburban homes, all following one color scheme.

I miss walking to the Tunapuna market for food on a weekend morning, hearing music blasting whether it was 8 AM or 8 PM, soca blaring from the speakers of cars or steel pan drums beating out a tune from the nearest church. Trinidad and Tobago is a proud culture, driven by their love of music and dance. Soca music draws in armfuls of instruments that dance together to make a joyous tune to which you can shake every muscle in your body! Back in my city at home, I hear music blare out the car windows of the occasional teenage driver, but shopping malls and grocery stores do not take part in the tradition of music. Here, music scares away the older customers rather than inviting them to shimmy in the doors.

Nevertheless, I am ecstatic to be  home to the delicious food. Having a food allergy, it is a relief to be back in the USA where I can find any food imaginable at the grocery store… back to a culture that takes pride in eating as much as possible! I also have taken for granted, in the course of my life, the ease with which I have access to goods and services. In Trinidad and Tobago, I had to travel several towns over, to a small mall in the north corner of the capital city, in order to find a store that would fix my camera. In the USA, it is a simple matter of of driving down the road and there are innumerable shops available to help you with every need. A chain like Wal-Mart does not exist in Trinidad and Tobago. Instead, there are seven separate stores you must visit in order to achieve the same shopping wholeness that one trip to Wal-Mart allows us.

At the end of the day, the most tangible differences are the accents and the public transportation. The suburban area in which I reside nearly lacks all public transport, the only option being a public bus that drives through a few times a day. Trinidad and Tobago relied on the maxi-taxis, wild buses jam-packed with people, driving on several routes for a mere $3 TT (under $0.50 USD). Nothing can compare to the “sing-songy” lulling accent of the Trinis, welcoming you aboard a taxi or into a shop.

As I adjust to the USA, my heart longs again for the lush forests, the clear water, and the rich people of Trinidad and Tobago.

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Filed under Caribbean, Culture Shock, Sana in Trinidad & Tobago

AND LIFE GOES ON

It’s funny how the world doesn’t stop when you’re not attending to it. Coming home doesn’t mean coming back. Instead it means learning what has changed. How you have changed. In coming home you learn what old hang-ups are gone, and how many new habits you have developed that will take a lot of effort to erase… if you even want to.

When last I wrote to you, I said that I would be home in time for mother’s day. Indeed I was. My first day in the U.S. was spent with all the matriarchs of my family gathered together at a restaurant near my grandmother’s home. This was where I noticed the first difference: for the first time in four months I was wearing something that wasn’t floor length with sleeves at least half-way down my upper arms. I felt rather exposed and yet my outfit fit in with everyone else’s at the restaurant. I also found it much more difficult to sit still! I’d gotten so used to going places and keeping occupied after that frenzied month of ISP that the abrupt cessation of work left me frazzled.

The next step after coming home and reintegrating with my family was to go out into public. I feel sorry for the poor cable salesman at the grocery store who tried to catch my attention as I passed by. Instead of a nice typical return greeting and a polite no thanks, not today… he received a death glare. Apparently the inordinate amount of catcalling that occurred in Morocco left a much larger impression on me than I thought. Fortunately, by the time my birthday came around I was once again able to interact with men I met in public in a more civil manner!

Despite these interactions and readjustments however, I don’t believe it really struck me that I was home until I was leaving Colorado for Boston. When I stepped on the plane into my family’s arms, they were matter-a-fact about my arrival. I hadn’t been there earlier and now I was. Yes, they had missed me but they always miss me when I’m away. They asked about my semester but there was very little more emphasis placed on it than on any other semester. The local was more exotic but in the end they wanted to know about my classes and the people I met… which is also what they ask about when I return to Colorado each semester from Boston.

It was as I was flying domestically retracing a route that I’ve taken numerous times over the span of the past three years that I had my ah-hah moment as I spoke to the girl sitting next to me on the plane. She was on her way to Providence to attend a wedding of some friends and asked where I was headed. I mentioned visiting my college and she asked why so I told her that I was returning to wrap up my Junior year after being abroad for a semester. After learning that I had been to Morocco, she revealed that she had done a similar home-stay experience for her church as a missionary… to Boston. She had worked with the Spanish-speaking community which was according to her like another culture. She then told me that someday she would like to go to a foreign country. Hearing this I was reminded of a couple different things.

First, I was reminded of just how diverse America is. I remembered how shocked I was the first time I moved from my home where the nearest neighbor is a quarter mile away to Boston where not only do you have neighbors next to you, but they’re on top of you and beneath you as well. I remembered my first breakdown as everything was happening at warped speed around me and I didn’t think I could ever catch up.

The other thing I was reminded of however is just how special my opportunity to study abroad was. I’ve met so many students abroad and spoken with many others that have been abroad in the past that I forgot that in this I am in the minority. It was only through my study abroad program that I saw how a community abroad differs from the community at home. I formed much closer bonds much faster than I would have in the U.S. with my fellow students and found myself talking about issues that I only ever discuss with people I have known and been close to for my whole life. In Amsterdam when we met the Moroccan community, there was also a vast difference in how they performed their Moroccan identity. One difference that was very obvious was Friday afternoon. While in Morocco everything shut down on Friday afternoons as it is a religious day and the family gathers together for prayer and couscous from about noon until four or five in the afternoon. However, in Amsterdam the souk in the neighborhood I visited that was comprised of mostly Moroccan immigrants remained open on Friday. The Moroccan people I spoke to in Amsterdam were also far more vocal in wanting a democratic government in Morocco.

But onto a less reflective note! I promised you all pictures of the presents I brought back to me and here they are!

First for my grandmother: a Moroccan style teapot that serves eight people with a matching set of six teacups. The next two presents are hand painted teacups from Fez.I also got the hand-painted ceramic bowl with a lid from Fez. For my younger sister I got the beautiful little lucky knife (really more of a letter opener than a knife!) with a hilt wrapped in Camel leather. And finally, the last picture is a Hammam kit. The green powder is actually henna. Then there’s the traditional black olive soap in a cloth bag, and a bit of rhassoul… Moroccan lava clay that’s used in masks, as soap, and as a shampoo! The final piece is the rough scrubbing exfoliating mitt. I made several of these for family (personalized for what I thought they would enjoy the most) and friends… I also brought home caftans for my mom and older sister! My dad and grandfather (being difficult to buy for) got some candied almonds in caramel.

This has been an interesting ride. For the most part fun and amusing but also stressful at times. I learned much that I didn’t know and realized that I don’t know some of what I thought I did. I hope that I will always remember the lessons as I include them in my life and that as I share them in my stories, the people I share them with will take flight with me. There really is no comparison to real life. No TV documentary or novel can compete with hearing the sounds of a foreign language in your ear while feasting your eyes upon a wall older than an entire country. Someday perhaps I might go back… but for now? I must go forwards.

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Filed under Culture Shock, Danielle in Morocco, middle east