Tag Archives: international

From China to Texas

Stepping off the plane from China I know that I will have some problems adjusting being back in good ‘ole Texas. Flying in, all I see in every direction is flat lands and plenty of empty lots compared to towers and skyscrapers filling the sky. I knew being back home I no longer have to walk anywhere, but instead have to drive to get anything done. My story remains the same but the amount of information I give out varies from person to person. Everyone is so excited to hear about my story about being abroad, but the hardest thing for me to share is the moments that I experienced. I always end with the same line, “You have to experience it in order to understand what happened.”

The most I miss about being in the city is how easy it was to get around at any point in time. Meeting with other interns or friends I made along the way, we always had a new spot to discover while being in Shanghai or traveling on the weekends. Having a solid group of friends really helped me enrich my experience abroad. We literally did everything together after work. As soon as we got off work we were already arranging a table for dinner and an evening activity for us to unwind.

Being back in the States does have its perks like seeing family, friends and the opportunity to develop new friendships by getting the chance to share my story. Unfortunately, I do miss strangers taking my picture and wanting to practice their English everywhere I go. While in China one thing that I noticed that I really enjoyed was how open people were when bringing people into their group. No matter where you were from or what you looked like, people embraced you with open arms and never doubted their decisions. Here in the States I feel as if it is a bit of a process trying to break into a group of friends especially if you don’t match their thoughts, clothing styles, patterns, etc.

Starting my last year in college I am beyond excited to venture into the world of graduate studies. This experience really influenced me to focus more on a dual program that offers classes both in the U.S. and abroad. Having such a short time to take in the culture, I find that studying abroad long-term will allow for more personal and professional development. When applying to global programs, I know during individual interviews the Gilman Scholarship and my personal story will help me start a solid conversation.

Cheers,

AlexAlex Montoya in China

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My Internship with Fundabiem

This summer, I am in Guatemala with a Social Work program from North Carolina State University. As part of our program requirements, each of us participates in an internship working with the population of our choice. I have been interested in learning more about the special needs population. Therefore, with the help of my professor, I have chosen to intern with an organization named Fundabiem in Panajachel, Guatemala. My professor has previously spent a significant amount of time in Guatemala researching social work-oriented organizations around the area and has established good connections with several professionals. She has matched us with those which would provide the most experience.Clinica Fundabiem

Fundabiem is a unique organization because it works in partnership with Teleton, a non-governmental organization started to provide services for all special needs patients regardless of their economic means. There are about 25 Fundabiem locations in all of Guatemala. Each year, beginning in 1986 volunteers of Teleton have organized multiple fundraisers to supply the costs of therapy. At the location in Panajachel where I work, it offers occupational, physical, and speech therapy to approximately 150 patients. The clinic is not very large, but the employees utilize every inch of the building. There are seven employees at the clinic: a social worker, receptionist, bus driver, doctor, occupational, physical, and speech therapist. It is the only clinic for special needs therapy in the area and many people come from all over, as far as 1 hour and a half away, to receive therapy. It may not seem like a considerably long time for Americans with cars, but the majority of the people in Guatemala are indigenous and must use the public transportation system (aka “Chicken buses”, which are simply older school buses painted over).

My internship has exceeded my expectations because I have not only been fortunate enough to gain professional growth working with a speech therapist on a daily basis, but have had the privilege of listening to the stories of local, indigenous Guatemalans. Part of social work is learning to attend to the needs of others, which often times requires simply listening to what they have to say. One caretaker was the grandmother of a severely developmentally-delayed child named Norman. I inquired about the child’s mother and their relationship now, but the grandmother said that they did not speak anymore because together, she and her daughter would always fight. She told me that her daughter had made poor choices with a man from the streets and that she did not approve of that Araca 1kind of behavior, especially after she had more children since Norman. She wanted her granddaughter to grow up with better instruction and care and knew that her daughter would not be able to provide that at the time. It was difficult to hear this story and comprehend it in another language, but it shows the strength of Guatemalan families in times of need. The grandmother is the sole care-taker of the family and now has even more responsibility with Norman.

Daily, I see children with a variety of diagnostics ranging from paralysis to hearing loss and down syndrome. Some children only have trouble with pronouncing words in Spanish. Before I came to intern at Fundabiem, I had no prior knowledge of what kind of work speech therapy incorporated. Since it is a clinic for the special needs population, there is a much wider range of goals to achieve with each child. To help children without strong facial muscles move their lips and mouth better, we use blowing techniques such as bubbles through a straw or with soap and also blowing feathers. Marvin, the speech therapist, will spend time massaging their mouths to stimulate mobility. To encourage movement of the tongue, we use tongue depressors with honey or suckers to have the children practice using their tongues more. Next, we typically learn or review more vocabulary and practice recalling familiar nouns or verbs. To do this, we have many activities ranging from flashcards to puzzles and drawing pictures. We continue with more speech therapy activities until the 30-minute appointment has passed. It did not seem like much time to me at first because Marvin usually has two or sometimes three patients in the room at a time. There is usually not much individual attention given to each patient. However, he does a great job dividing his time among the patients and asking me to perform many activities and therapy with them as well.

Since working in a speech therapy office, I have thought more about assisting others with rehabilitation in the future. It is an important job and very rewarding to see even the smallest progress. Personally, I have been fortunate to work with a very compassionate, concerned, and joyous therapist while here who has impacted me greatly due to his passion for helping others. He attended college in Guatemala City and received his degree, but he still remains poorly paid because of the corruption of the government and the lack of finances here. Regardless, Marvin performs his job with great vigilance and passion. I still have two years left of my undergraduate career and I would like to investigate more about the educational requirements of speech therapy in the United States and how many positions are available currently. I do know that I would like to remain in contact with this agency because it has strong values and functions to achieve its grand vision of uniting the people together by assisting one another. In the future, I would like to network more with NGOs located in the United States in order to provide more outside connections with Fundabiem and Teleton.


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by | August 28, 2014 · 4:14 pm

Life’s What You Make It

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

This quote is the most accurate way I can think of to describe my feelings for this country. During my first few weeks, I was happy to be in a new country discovering another culture, but I was by no means head over heels in love with life here. A week or so ago, as I sat with some of my American and Kyrgyz friends on top of a hill overlooking Bishkek and watched the sun go down over the city, I realized something had changed. Somehow I had fallen in love with this country without noticing it, and I had fallen hard.

Watching the Sunshine

Watching the Sunset

During my orientation at school before departing for Bishkek, we were shown a graph of the stages that people go through when they study abroad. Culture ShockI’m not going to lie, the graph made me pretty nervous. Although I had never traveled abroad before, I had traveled throughout the US and I go to school pretty far from home, so I’ve experienced being separated from my family and friends for long periods of time. The thing is, home-sickness was something that had never been a problem for me, so I really had no experience dealing with it. Looking at this graph and listening to a presenter tell us that we would all at some point feel depressed and helpless was definitely intimidating. It also just didn’t sound like me. I think the presenter could see the doubt on my face, because she was quick to assure me that she hadn’t thought she would feel those things either, but she had experienced every single stage on the graph.

During those first few weeks in Bishkek, that graph was always in the back of my mind. I kept wondering when the frustration with the culture, the homesickness, and the helplessness would hit. Then, as I sat on that hill and looked out over the city I had come to love, I realized something. This graph wasn’t written in stone, I wasn’t obligated to feel things the same way someone else did. I’m not saying that there haven’t been times when I felt out-of-place or when I missed my friends, but, for me, these feelings never resulted in me wanting to leave or feeling extremely sad. I don’t think there is any model that can accurately predict how every single person will react to a situation and I think people experience different stages of this graph at different intensities and some may skip certain stages entirely. It doesn’t mean that some people are stronger or weaker than others; it just means we’ve all led different lives and react differently to situations. For me, I think I skipped the first stage, or “honeymoon stage” as its sometimes called, and just grew steadily more comfortable in this country until I realized that it was starting to feel like home. Perhaps, the fact that I didn’t have this period of overwhelming infatuation with Kyrgyzstan when I first got here helped me to not have a lot of negative or frustrated feelings down the road. I think what all of this comes down to, is that how we react to situations is completely up to us. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure that every single student in the history of students who have studied abroad has had some sort of inconvenient, frustrating, or scary thing happen to them on their trip. Of course, some things have more of an effect on us than others and are harder to get over, but for the most part, how you choose to react to these things will define how you feel about your experience and determine how much you learn and get out of your trip when it’s over. It’s an empowering, but also slightly scary feeling to realize that we have so much power over our lives. I’ve gained so much from my experience in Kyrgyzstan, but I think the biggest thing so far would be this realization that I define my life and that I don’t have to fit it into anyone else’s mold, no matter how tried and true this mold is said to be.

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Friendly adventures with a cup of culture shock

Shanghai has a way of making many foreigners feel very special. Everywhere you go people always want to take a picture with you, buy you drinks when you’re out, or attempt to snap a picture of you when you’re not looking. When I’m waiting in a metro stop or an elevator, people always want to practice and develop their English skills as well, sometimes even their Spanish! After a week, stage two of culture shock sneaks up out of nowhere. People keep asking for the same thing over and over, you start to become a bit irritated. Next thing you know, the only thing to do at this point is to blend in with everyone by popping in ear buds and walk with the beat.

culture-shock

A few day of ignoring people as you walk around the city definitely causes a case of homesickness and stage three of culture shock hits you hard. At this point I begin to remember the comforts of home and how I really needed them now. I kept questioning myself as to why can’t I navigate the metro station yet, why can’t you speak Chinese yet, and every other negative thought.

Having more of a positive outlook a few days later, I found a solid group of friends that are from the US, France, Singapore, China and a few other place around the globe. We have done so many things together; without them there would be no way I would have done such crazy things. Busy days are always the best, especially with others. Culture shock becomes a thing of the past, and you finally begin to feel at home.

I think the hardest part of being abroad for me is when one of your friends you have made abroad end up leaving the city for good. With mixed emotions and uncertainty of when you will see them again, this part always puts me back a step within the culture shock. As for now, I will enjoy every moment I have with them and not worry about anything else.

Cheers,

Alex Montoya

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Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Karly

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Karly Kahl-Placek. Karly was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent for the Spring 2013 semester in Jaipur, India.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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And then there was light…and breakfast

The differences between my world in America and my new world in Italy were apparent right way. With my modest-sized suitcase in my hand, I waved my key card in front of a panel beside my dorm room. I heard a magnetic click as my door unlocked. I threw my bags on my bed and I searched for the electrical adapter so I could recharge my phone. I plugged my phone into the wall but the life-affirming green light on my charger was not activated. I walked over to the light switch and I toggled between on and off. No luck there either. The only thing that resembled electricity was a dimly lit green arrow next to the door. With my key card still in my hand, I inserted it into the slot and I heard a faint click. The lights came on and I felt cooler air at the back of my neck. I was amazed that the Bologna campus was so progressive in being “green” and I wished that we could be more like that back home. As I left my room for a group meeting, I pulled the key card from the wall. The lights went out and the air conditioner went off. In some small way, I felt like I was making a small contribution in the global effort to conserve energy.

After a good night’s rest, I was ready to start my first day of classes. However, the first order of business was breakfast. As I ventured through the hallways to the dining hall and upon entering the room, my first impression was that the Italian students did not look that much different from the other students at the Syracuse campus. As I carried my tray of food, I became acutely aware of the incessant chatter emanating throughout the room and I realized I didn’t understand what was being said. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to endure this surreal moment of feeling out-of-place by myself since there were twelve other Syracuse students participating in my film studies program. As I sat down next to the other film students, my attention turned to my Italian breakfast. What lay before me was not my “breakfast of champions” that I was accustomed to back home. My tray contained a fresh-baked croissant (with Nutella), a banana, a yogurt, a cup of pear juice (from a box) and a tiny ceramic cup of espresso. I can’t deny I was a little let down. Where were my eggs, toast, bacon and my 16 ounces of coffee? I said to myself, “You are in Italy…do as the Italians do!” I took a deep breath and I devoured what was in front of me. I was a little surprised that bread, yogurt and fruit were actually quite filling. As I was leaving the dining hall, the server politely said something in Italian, which I didn’t understand. I didn’t worry too much since I was on my way to my first Italian language class!

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Embracing the Unexpected

Since the day I started my journey to Kyrgyzstan, unexpected opportunities have become a daily occurrence for me. I can never be completely sure what my days are going to hold or what new people I am going to meet. One of these unexpected opportunities presented itself during my second week in Bishkek. One of our program assistants mentioned that there were many opportunities to teach English if any of us were interested. Two other girls from the program and I told her that we would be interested and she responded later that day with a teaching opportunity for us. A few other people in our program had already started teaching English here, and all of their situations seemed to be teaching one or two small children at their homes once or twice a week. At first, we were under the impression that this was going to be the same kind of deal, but we slowly began to realize that what we were in for was going to be a very different experience.
We got our first clue when we received a call telling us that a taxi was being sent to pick us up. We got into the taxi with no knowledge of our destination and watched the city fly by as our driver maneuvered his way through rush hour traffic (driving in Bishkek is absolutely terrifying by the way, mostly because lanes and general traffic rules don’t seem to exist.) We finally stopped at a building that had the words ENGLISH ZONE emblazoned across the front and climbed out of our taxi. We were greeted by one of the managers and then taken into a room where the owner began to talk to us about our time in Bishkek so far. After a few minutes of small talk, he suddenly became very businesslike. “So you want a job” he said. “Before we go further, I want you guys to tell me about the most influential teacher you’ve had and why they impacted your life so much.” At this point, the three of us realized that we would not be giving one on one lessons to small children while their parents made us snacks, and that we had quite literally stumbled into a legitimate job interview. We scrambled to get into professional mode and somehow managed to get out coherent and decently intelligent responses to his questions. After the impromptu interview, he told us we would have a five-day trial period and explained the premise of English Zone to us.  English Zone is a school that is trying to revolutionize learning. Students are not given lessons on vocab and grammar directly, but learn it through learning other subjects in English. They give presentations on topics, debate controversial issues, watch videos, learn songs, and are just generally immersed in English the whole time they are at English Zone. “Moderator” is also substituted for the word “teacher” because the idea is that the moderator should facilitate discussion and learning more so than teaching information directly. I found these concepts fascinating and on par with my own feelings on education.
We began our trial week that day and observed a class. The next day we showed up for training and our supervisor said “Rachel and Alex you’ll be observing my class. Gabby you have a class in ten minutes that you will be leading.” I’m not going to lie; there was a moment of pure panic where my thoughts went something like “What. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve had no training. I should run…Or play dead… Is it possible to do both?” I managed to clamp down these thoughts however, and shakily walked into my class ten minutes later with a very sparse and haphazard lesson plan. That class was one of the most fun and eye-opening experiences of my life. All of the students were my age or older and were already at a conversational level. They were also hilarious and my nerves disappeared almost immediately. Since that day, I’ve been volunteering there Monday through Friday and loving it.

One of my friends told me once that he thinks that there are people we meet who are like puzzle pieces and that, throughout our lives, these puzzle pieces come together and help shape who we are as a person. For me, the students and the people I work with at English Zone are definitely some of my puzzle pieces. They have not only taught me a lot about Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan, but they have taught me about myself. They ask me questions that make me think and come up with answers to my questions that I have never considered before. They have taught me about an aspect of myself that I didn’t really know existed and helped me discover that I am passionate about helping people learn. They have told me about their dreams and ambitions and inspired me to follow my own. They are funny, smart and dedicated and make me want to strive to be better every time I moderate a class. Many of them have also become my friends and the time I have spent with them outside of English Zone has resulted in some of my favorite experiences here so far.

I had no idea when I applied for this summer program in Bishkek that I would become part of a startup company that is trying to change the education world. I didn’t know that I would find a new passion or that I would meet my students and learn so much from them. They have opened up parts of this culture that I would not have gotten a chance to see as a foreigner. Before going to English Zone and meeting the people there, I hadn’t really considered the possibility that I would come back to Kyrgyzstan down the road, this trip seemed like a once in a lifetime kind of deal. The unexpected friendships and connections I have made there have made me want to return and learn more about this country and become more involved in the work that English Zone does.

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