Tag Archives: #perspective

Realizing the Bigger Picture

You could tell I was the only one on my flight back to the United States who was not prepared for the winter chill. As we all boarded the airport shuttle, I saw people wearing winter parkas, boots, sweaters, and hats. I then proceeded to look at myself. I was wearing cropped leggings, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Ha! Can you tell I had just returned from a semester abroad?

The change in climate was definitely my first experience of reverse culture shock. The voice of my host mother came to mind. “Indians would freeze in America; I know I would.” My inability to adjust to the cold climate made me feel more attached to India than I had in a long time. Without even realizing it, my body had adjusted to India’s climate, culture, and customs. For example, I hesitated handing the TSA officer my passport with my left hand because in India I would only use my right hand in social settings, for hygienic purposes.

The biggest reverse culture shock came during the holiday season. For the most part, people in Madurai were happy with what they had. The friends and host families I interacted with did not shop every weekend or buy an unnecessary amount of toys, food, etc. Indians are content. I returned to the United States and found the exact opposite. There were cars lined outside the mall’s parking lots. Cars had to park on the 5th and 6th floor of the parking garage because the lower levels were full. The traffic was insane; it was organized compared to the streets in India, but I could not believe the number of people out shopping. Suddenly I felt like America was materialistic. And we don’t have any shame in denying that we are! I simply wanted to crawl back to India where I was disconnected with certain parts of the world.

When I was India, I wanted to be back in the comfort of my home. Now that I am home, I miss the days when I could not do anything on the Internet because I would use up the monthly data; the days when I would take a 20-cent auto-rickshaw to Naina Sweet and order a plain dosa to eat by the street.



As much as I miss India, it’s nice to be home where I can enjoy views like this!


During my semester abroad, I wasn’t all too concerned about the “bigger picture.” I assumed that I would have an epiphany when I returned back to the United States. It may not have been an epiphany, but it did occur to me that living in India had a bigger impact than I thought it would. I felt a greater connection to India only after I returned home.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

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.



My writing in the Blending Newsletter.


My roommates and me at the soccer game in Florence.


“I Am” in Amsterdam.


A gondola ride through the river city of Venice.


Beautiful view in Rome.


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.


Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

The Hard Goodbye

Hong Kong is a beautiful place.



The view that taught me that I am capable of missing views.


I met so many wonderfully astonishing people here whom I will never forget. I did not think saying goodbye would be hard, but I also did not plan on connecting with so many different people.

How can I put into words exactly what I experienced abroad? This is a question I find myself pondering. In a way I feel detached from my home country even more than before I studied abroad. Now that I have experienced living and interacting with people in a different country, I am certain the United States will not be my dwelling for my entire life. My time abroad taught me that there are so many ways to live comfortably in foreign countries.

I tell my friends that I feel like I’m in the Stone Age because that is what being back in the U.S. feels like now. Some of my day-to-day activities feel so obsolete, like public transportation. In Hong Kong, I could travel all across the city with ease and in a decent amount of time. LA is the complete opposite. It may seem small, but I learned to appreciate and use my time more efficiently while in Hong Kong, so spending some much time on transportation is a nuisance. I am going to have to get used to the prehistoric ways of the U.S.

Upon my arrival to the Los Angeles International Airport, I found my heart sinking out of fear at the sight of security guards/police officers and their guns. I have traveled to four different countries during my time abroad and saw close to zero guns. I can’t say I was surprised because during my time abroad I was constantly reminded that people in the U.S. still find themselves becoming victims of violence by governing forces that are meant to protect.

During my second month in Hong Kong I began missing Western food, my friends, and family. As I type this, I have only been reunited with a handful of my friends since I am staying in LA until school starts again, but I am sure my reunion with my Berkeley friends will be pretty powerful. When my amazing friend picked me up, she surprised me with my dog and food from Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle. It was magical.

While I have my gripes with the U.S. it was therapeutic my first couple of days being back. Some areas of LA are truly a beautiful diverse melting pot, and it was nice not feeling like a minority in some instances. However I still miss Hong Kong greatly.



The hard goodbye.


I miss the amazing people I met who will never be forgotten. I met some truly incredible people that are worth the effort of remaining in contact with. I will miss the Hong Kong nightlife and all the colorful characters that come with being in those spaces. I will miss eating rice daily with my intermediate level chopstick skills (I became addicted to rice there). I will miss the friendly locals who were kind to me, the ease of getting around in Hong Kong. I am going to miss lunch time with my co-workers and not tipping at restaurants (because tipping is not a thing in most Asian countries I have learned).

Hong Kong is very Westernized, so there aren’t too many aesthetic differences or differences in how day to day life is lived, from my personal observation. However the way Hong Kong interacted with me is completely different than the States. I saw plenty of police daily, but not once was I stopped or questioned at all. I felt very safe, as opposed to the U.S. where I feel very uneasy whenever I see police.

I always fantasized about leaving the States to live and work in a foreign country. My study abroad experience to Hong Kong showed me that it is very possible. I learned that an American degree, especially from my university, goes a long way in Hong Kong. Hong Kong gave me new prospective post-graduate plans. Maybe I will work in Southeast Asia again before pursuing grad school or law school.

My study abroad in Southeast Asia was nothing short of an enlightening, humbling, life-changing experience that I will never forget. I have yet to develop the tools to fully express or explain how much my time abroad affected me. I learned so much about myself, traveling, Southeast Asia and its culture. My experiences in Hong Kong have extinguished the animosity I held towards the States. It has taught me how to cope with the issues in the U.S in a healthier, productive, and less stressful way. Hong Kong ignited a series of growth for me that will continue long into my life, and for this, I cannot thank Hong Kong enough.



My future looks brighter because of my experiences in Hong Kong.

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Filed under Sua in Hong Kong

A Walk Through the Plaza de Armas

A foreigner disguised as a native,

I take in the beauty of the scenery

captured in pictures by tourists before me,

my hands grip the bulging sides of the purse

that hangs heavy over my shoulder—

heavy from the ungiven soles that clatter

against each other in sync to the clapping

hands of happy tourists to music

that will never reach the ears of the small boy

with cupped hands who’s begging

I dismissed the first day I arrived

in this strange beautiful land.



Government palace at the Plaza de Armas in Lima, Peru.


A foreigner disguised as a native,

they take in my long dark hair

that frames my tan skin and think—

she is one of us. Someday. But for now,

I admire the historic buildings,

the cobble stone streets, the dog wearing

a sweater with matching shoes, and the beautiful

bridge that crosses over into dusty foot trodden

paths that lead to the towering mountain

with the cross that overlooks the shanty towns,

the dog wearing his skin tightly over his bones,

and the begging boy with his hungry family.



Beautiful cobble streets that lead to historic buildings and shops around the area.


A view of the mountain landscape against the gorgeous historic buildings.


They overlook—I imagine—the distant

glittering city of Lima and the place

where I stand opposite the beautiful bridge

that separates the us from them,

the rich and poor,

and the foreigners from the true natives.



The bridge that crosses over from the Plaza de Armas to the shanty towns and mountains beyond.


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Filed under Isabel in Peru, south america