Tag Archives: #newexperiences

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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Relating to the Globalized World

My name is Tammie, and since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been an adventurous spirit. In every aspect, I enjoy the new, the foreign, and the unrelatable. I’m always down to try something novel, whether it’s food, places, or ideas. I enjoy people, because they allow me to experience things I might not always have access to like different cultures, ways of thinking, and lifestyles. This year I decided to study abroad so that I could experience an intense immersion into a different culture as an adult with responsibilities, expanding my horizon and my worldview.

I was accepted into a world renowned school for the social sciences, SciencesPo, located in seven cities across France, locations as diverse as the program content and its academic community. Before leaving the U.S., I don’t think I had a very good perception of France or its people. To be honest with you all, I admit that I had extremely limited knowledge of France and weighed heavily the opinion of others regarding French culture and attitude. 

 

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When I got to France, my fears melted into the void like a popsicle in the summer sun. I felt enchanted driving through the Northern French countryside, mesmerized at the number of vineyards and villages whose charming and old-fashioned aesthetic transported me into what felt like a romance novel. The city of Reims in particular dazzled me with its French classic architecture and symmetrical set-up.

 

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The basilique (church)

 

Any fear, any assumption, and any bias I may have had completed rescinded, and I fell in love with France. There has been really no culture shock, because I’ve lived in Europe before and sort of understand the dynamic of life on this continent, even within the different European nations. I believe coming to France with a biased perspective helped to ease my culture shock (usually the opposite happens), because I was so pleasantly surprised with what I’ve gotten to know, and how I’ve been received in this small, fairytale town. The grand cathedral in the center of town, visible from all around the city center and even beyond, is a source of comfort in my new home, and I am happy that my homesickness is minimal.

 

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Me and my friend’s mom in front of the cathedral

 

So far, I’ve been here (in Reims) for 22 days. Twenty-two days of gorging on French food, 22 days of struggling to speak French with my American accent, and 22 days of discussing my role as an American in global politics. 22 days of learning new things, 22 days of missing New York, and 22 days of self-improvement. In this era of new presidential leadership, we (as Americans) are trying to make sense of political change. I came here looking to get politically involved, understand more about my role in global politics, and expand my education to be a better advocate for the underrepresented and oppressed. Since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed many stark cultural differences between France and New York. I feel uncomfortable comparing my experiences here to that of the entire U.S. because many of these differences apply only to New York City as I know it and many regions of the U.S. are so starkly different from the Northeast. Some of the biggest differences I’ve seen are an emphasis on politeness in the French language (even if you don’t want to be!), a difference in embracing the “melting pot” culture (the French can’t stand to be separated by race or religion; even if this isn’t apparent – the oppressed groups will tell you that the French can be very racist, even if it isn’t bluntly so), and finally, a globalized understanding of the world and its politics.

The last point I mentioned is the difference that I came to embrace, something that can be argued for really most European countries, but particularly France because of its history. The French are incredibly aware of their imperialist history, and my school in particular celebrates the scholarly pursuit of understanding many global cultures and nations as they play a role in international politics. Although it has always been my dream to work in international politics, it wasn’t until leaving the U.S. for my education 22 days ago that I realized that this was feasible, though a long way away. The U.S. tends to be selfish in its political studies; though we embrace world studies and different cultures, the focus on American culture particularly is important and our geography allows us to be relatively ignorant to what’s happening in other countries, continents, and cultures. France is a hotbed of ideology from all around the world, with African, Middle Eastern, European, American (North and Latin) people milling around, interacting in the French sphere. The French just seem to pay attention to what’s going on, while Americans seem to have to go out of their way to be involved in global politics. In my opinion, this difference in the French attitude regarding global politics is critical to both my studies, and my experience here; globalization has never seemed more vital to my personal and professional life as it is here. This semester in France, I hope to delve into the French language and political culture, soaking up knowledge about global politics that will allow me to become a better advocate when I return to the States, and as I continue my education.

 

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Me with lights in Reims.

 

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

What Constitutes a Home?

Last week my study abroad program, made up of 10 students, went on a tour to Kerala. Kerala neighbors Tamil Nadu and a lot of Indians call the state by its nickname, ‘God’s Own Country.’ If I had to compare Kerala to a specific location in the United States I would say it’s similar to the Outer Banks because it seems to be where a lot of Indians and foreigners flock to for their vacation. Kerala was beautiful! The temperatures were much cooler (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and there was very little humidity.

Our first stop was Thekkady, a very popular tourist destination. Trees and greenery surrounded Thekkady; I felt like I was in the jungle. One of the highlights of my stay in Thekkady was visiting an organic spice farm, which was also a mini animal farm. On the spice farm tour I learned that almost 78 percent of the world’s pepper is grown in Kerala! Crazy! I’ll never look at black pepper the same. Another highlight of Thekkady was being able to run outside. I woke up early in the morning to take a long jog up the mountain and it was beyond fantastic! The morning fog was still lingering amongst the trees and the sun had yet to fully rise. The air was cool against my face and I could actually see my breath when I exhaled. The best part about my run in Thekkady was the peace and quiet that surrounded me. It had been a very long time since I was provided with a space and time to be consumed in my thoughts.

 

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I saw an emu for the first time in my life…at the spice farm….

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All of us were able to take a leisurely walk in the tranquil tea plantation.

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My friend Nora and I befriended an elephant!

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We were terrified of getting on an elephant (as you can tell from our facial expressions). Never again will I get on the back of an elephant.

 

Thekkady was filled with luscious greenery and calming, cool air. The visit to the spice farm was a stark realization of where my food came from. The visit to the tea farm helped me understand why my friend Hunter is in love and obsessed with tea. Tealeaves are planted in a way that it looks visually appealing. All the shrubs are evenly spaced out and grow along the side of the mountain; therefore, from afar the tea farm looks like a wall of green. In Thekkady I was one with nature (which is hard to come by in Madurai); however, in Cochin my experience was the complete opposite. We visited Cochin for the last 2 days of our tour. It was a bustling, hustling city. It felt like Madurai but on a greater scale. The streets were filled with automobiles, the nightlife was exciting, there was a humongous mall. I visited the Centre Square Mall a couple of times and for a split second it felt like I was back in the United States. The mall had stores that I was familiar with: Nike, Puma, The Body Shop, Levi, and so many more; however, I wasn’t interested in shopping. The real reason I visited the mall? It had a Baskin Robbins! Finally, an ice cream shop that I recognized! To be fair, I’ve had my fair share of ice cream in Madurai. Ice cream at iBaco is mediocre; they always have waffle cones, which helps make up for the lack of depth to the flavor of the ice creams. The mall around the corner from where I study has Coldstone ice cream but I find that they mash the ice cream one too many times. Therefore, finding a Baskin Robbins stand on the first floor of Centre Square Mall was a sign from the world that I needed to consume as much ice cream as possible. What are vacations for if you can’t eat whatever you want in huge quantities? I estimate that I had at least 7 scoops of ice cream during my 2-day stay in Cochin. In other words, the Baskin Robbins employee got to know me very well.

Although the existence of a Baskin Robbins could have probably convinced me to set up camp at the mall for the rest of my time in South India, I wanted to return to Madurai. I remember saying to myself, “I want to go back home now.” Regardless of Madurai being drastically different than my home in the United States, I have made Madurai my home. For the past couple of weeks I have struggled with establishing personal space and finding my niche in Madurai. Regardless, I call it home.

 

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Chocolate exotica from Puppy’s Bakery. It definitely satisfies my chocolate craving.

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Dark chocolate dessert jar from Puppy’s Bakery. I’ve bought so many I now have a growing jar collection in my closet.

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My mango milkshake from Zaitoon, an Arabian restaurant. Sometimes I wonder if I’m eating my stress away via sugar….

 

What constitutes a home? For me, home is closely related to familiarity. In Madurai, I can hop onto any ‘share auto’ at the end of my street because the drivers always go the same route. I can walk to Nila, a local grocery store, and pick up a carton of curd to eat with my oatmeal. Every evening my patti (grandmother) greets me with a huge smile as she hands over the house key. While it can be relaxing to get away from the city of Madurai, being able to come home to a welcoming host family at the end of the day is much more satisfying. After 2 months of being in India I feel like I’m settling in; I’m finally starting to call Madurai my home. With only 30 days left in Madurai (I have a short study abroad program) I hope to make the most of my time by spending more evenings watching movies with my ammaa (mother), getting to know the employees at Puppy’s Bakery, and whatever else Madurai has to offer.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

Mastering New Comfort Zones

Step out of your comfort zone. That’s what they tell you to do your whole life. And sometimes it’s easy. Making new friends. Trying new food. Trying new clothes or playing a new sport. Many things you do in your life involve an element of doing something different. But realizing that you are in another country on your own for three months…Let’s just say you think about your personal comfort zone much more deeply.

And you know, that’s why I took on this challenge of studying abroad. To see if it was something I could handle, a new “comfort” zone. But since being here, I have begun to wonder how different this new comfort zone is compared to the one at Fairfield University. Going to Fairfield, I was already forced out of my comfort zone. My home is located in the dangerous part of the south Bronx, where kids don’t go to school or work. Where boys like me don’t end up as seniors in college. Where opportunities are limited because of money. That was me; that was my comfort zone. Even though I pursued a better life for myself, I understood the people around me who didn’t. I understood there were certain things I couldn’t do or get because my family did not have money. Coming home from school, sometimes having a home cooked meal, but sometimes not eating because my mother was too tired from working two jobs. Then walking into Fairfield as a freshman and seeing a completely new world , I found myself out of my comfort zone pretty fast. Such as having to adjust to living on my own, being able to take advantage of any opportunity that I wanted. Seeing white people every day and understanding the effects of being a minority. Feeling uncomfortable in certain situations because you are so different from your peers. A lifestyle completely different from the one I grew up in for 18 years.

Now fast forward four years later and I have studied in Florence, Italy for almost 3 weeks now (wow). I’ve begun to realize that there is more to a comfort zone than just experiencing new people, places, and things. Because thinking about it now, I’ve already acclimated to the culture of Fairfield. All the things mentioned before that would be categorized as culture shock are a part of me now and I embrace them. And it is very similar here in Florence as well. Living on my own, seeing white people every day, being different from those around me, all things I am very used to. So when I decided to study abroad here, live here, and step out of my comfort zone again, exactly what would I be looking to step out of?

I think I touched on it this weekend. This weekend I traveled to the Island of Capri and visited the Amalfi Coast. I was beyond amazed. The pictures I took honestly don’t capture just how amazing this place is. “Who made all of this… and how” was what was going through my head every time I turned. A lot of it is really just incomprehensible. And I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Areas and scenery like the Amalfi Coast are just places to be admired. In the new mindset of embracing myself in this “new world” so to speak, I went around the coast just asking tour guides and people questions about its history, going into random stores and asking how long they have been there and why. I paid 20 euros and got on a boat with some friends and just went around the coast for an hour taking pictures, learning about the mountains, and the ancient legends.

 

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A selfie with the colorful houses of Amalfi.

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A beautiful view of the island of Amalfi from one of the mountains of Capri.

 

The Island of Capri was another amazing sight with amazing views. Taking a 20 minute walk uphill, I went to the museum to see old artifacts of the island and what it used to look like. I also decided to take a chairlift to view the island from high in the mountains while paying a few euros to listen to the history of its creation. I can honestly say that learning and understanding the places that I visited this weekend made it much more worthwhile.

 

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The view of the island of Capri from the chair lift.

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Welcome to India!

Greetings! My name is Michelle Jeong and I am currently a junior at Bowdoin College studying abroad in Madurai, India. Prior to coming to India, everyone wanted to know why I chose India as my study abroad location. Before I could even answer the first question, I was asked another question: “Why not go to Europe where you can travel and relax?” I wanted to study in India because I knew it was going to be a different experience: culturally, linguistically, and physically. To me, study abroad was a chance to live a different life in a different country. I am aware that I will face challenges but that made me want to go to India even more. I want to know what I am capable of.

 

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The whole group of SITA (South India Term Abroad) students attempting the Vrksasana (tree pose).

 

This past summer I interned for 7 weeks with a non-profit organization located in Ghana. I would be lying if I said it was perfect. It wasn’t, but that’s what I loved about it. When the power went out for 12 hours at a time I can’t say I was the happiest person in the world, but it made me re-evaluate my lifestyle. I needed to toughen up and accept that resources such as electricity and central air conditioning were not available to most of the world’s population. Being raised in the United States made me a weakling.

 

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Menakshi Temple.

 

Experiencing differences and difficulties in Ghana somewhat prepared me for India. I knew I was going to be the foreigner that was constantly stared at. I knew that brushing my teeth and consuming tap water was HIGHLY discouraged. I knew that I would be restricted in both dress and behavior. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for? The need to relearn everything. As soon as I stepped off the bus in Madurai, I was greeted by traffic: scooters, buses, motorcycles, cars, cyclists, trucks, and even pedestrians. I felt overwhelmed. There was so much traffic I didn’t know where to go. I essentially needed to relearn how to walk in a city. Being from Washington D.C. I thought I would have no trouble navigating a city, however I was dead wrong. Madurai is bustling with people. The roads are not only narrow but most of them have big intersections without any traffic lights or stop signs. Traffic laws do not really exist in Madurai, but drivers somehow understand each other and communicate with honks. Traffic is confusing and overwhelming as it is, but driving on opposite side of the road complicates things to a greater extent. It’s mind-boggling to me that while I hesitate to cross the road, locals will shimmy past me walking right into the middle of the road not hesitating for one second. While it is frustrating having to learn a new language (Tamil), eat food with only my right hand, and to use a hose instead of toilet paper, it’s exactly what I wanted from a study abroad experience.

 

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Grand entrance to Menakshi Temple.

 

At this point you may be asking yourself, “Why is this girl trying to be so positive?” Over time I have learned that being positive is the best way to adjust to a new environment. Why complain about it if it’s only going to make it worse? Yes, sometimes I don’t understand what my host grandfather is trying to say to me and yes, sometimes I’ll be squashed into a small auto-rickshaw with 6 other people. BUT that’s the fun! All these scenarios are entertaining and they make for great memories! Trying to look on the brighter side of things has helped me absorb the culture shocks that India has greeted me with. I’m already 2 weeks into my program but I look forward to the crazy auto-rickshaw moments, the insane road navigation, fresh coconut water, and delectable south Indian desserts.

 

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Cramming 6 people into an auto-rickshaw built for 3 (small) people.

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