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Interning Abroad: A Stimulating Undertaking

In late September I accepted an internship position as a research assistant at the BRICS Policy Center. Its name comes from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. They are countries with emerging economies and increasingly regional and international influence. At the BRICS Policy Center, administered by the Institute of International Relations of PUC-Rio, researchers perform short and long-term studies on the BRICS countries and their intricacies. Now more than a month since the internship began, the experience at the BRICS Policy Center has been stimulating.

I first learned of the center’s existence while attending an event on Brazil-US relations in Washington D.C. this past Spring; as soon as I arrived to Rio de Janeiro I began preparing to apply for the application and after it became available I immediately applied and heard back in September. I joined their Social-Environmental Platform team, specifically under an international relations professor working on a project to study the presence of China in Latin America. My research therefore has been to study why and how China has become such a strong actor in Latin America, one that to this day continues to invest and increase its economic and political partnerships with Latin American countries. The project is in its preliminary stages, but what I am learning has been captivating and though the reading is burdensome and time consuming, I thoroughly enjoy reading the various literatures on China in Latin America.

When I applied to PUC-Rio, I indicated to my study abroad advisor my interest in interning while abroad in Brazil, though I never would have imagined how difficult it would be. Difficult in terms of the large commitment of my time while having to also simultaneous commit myself to four courses, a completely new life, and the constant invitations of friends to go enjoy the experience of living in a foreign country. Interning abroad can therefore be draining, yet I have enjoyed the experience, and though it has limited my time substantially, I’ve organized myself in a way that I can make time for various activities while at the same time fulfill my duties. I spend around two to three afternoons working from home every week on various readings, and then meet once a week to discuss the literature with the professor and two other student researchers. The discussion takes place in Portuguese and I can understand most of it, though when it comes to explaining what I read, and I am personally not able to thoroughly explain my thoughts in Portuguese, I change to English.

Long having heard of the acronym ‘BRICS’ during one of my courses at UC Davis, never did I imagine I would be able to work alongside Latin American researchers looking at China and its presence in Latin America, specifically Brazil. BRICS no longer is an acronym, for these countries have and continue to amass significant influence worldwide, and at the BRICS Policy Center I hope I will continue to learn more about their relationships with one another. Students should consider completing an internship during their time abroad, I highly recommend it.

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by | November 9, 2017 · 7:33 pm

Where Are You From?

Two days into 2017 and I found myself on a long journey to the United Kingdom. After spending the holidays at home with my family in Mexico, I packed my suitcase and drove north for four hours, just me and my mom. We crossed the border and arrived in Tucson, Arizona – spending a brief night in a place that I had also once called home. Ever since my parents relocated to Mexico, I rarely have the opportunity to visit. Perhaps it was just the nostalgia, but it felt right to be in the place where it all started before flying to my college home again.

The next morning, I took in the lingering smell of the desert rain and kissed my anxious mother goodbye. Seven hours later, I found myself lugging my heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs to a mostly empty college apartment in Philadelphia. After two years studying at the University of Pennsylvania, it also felt like home to walk around my college campus and have late night conversations over noodles at the local Ramen Bar. Less than 24 hours later, I packed up my second suitcase and stumbled back down the stairs before heading back to the airport for another day of traveling.

By the time I arrived in London, I had passed through 3 different countries over 3 days of travel. Disoriented and exhausted, it was difficult to find the charm in London when I first arrived. My heater didn’t work, my phone service went out, and there was no logic in the placement of crosswalks. During orientation, I sat in the back with one of my best friends from Penn and we rolled our eyes at every cheesy presentation while introducing ourselves to an overwhelming group of new people.

What school do you go to? What are you studying? Where are you from?

 

5

First day out in the city in typical London weather!

 

Though the entire situation surrounding “Abroad Orientation” called for small talk and awkward introductions, my inconsistent response to every “Where are you from?” question made me uneasy. As I stumbled to simplify my complicated background and the different layers that compose my identity, I realized that home could take on different meanings. To other American students, I was mostly from Arizona, the place where I grew up. In awkward and somewhat incoherent sentences, I would also mention Philadelphia before quickly moving on. On the other hand, to my British classmates, I was clearly American. Yet, I would often find myself clarifying that I was Mexican too.

 

6

Strolls right at dusk down on Oxford Street.

 

It has been a month since I first arrived in London and as the days pass, introductions and “where are you from?” questions have become less frequent. Still, these past few weeks have encouraged me to look back and pinpoint the places that I call home and people that have inadvertently impacted and influenced who I am. At a time when the value of diversity has been questioned and undermined, I find myself embracing my background and the framework that it has provided as I find my place in this expansive and multifaceted city. Sure there is no place like home and there is no place like London but I have a feeling that the two aren’t altogether mutually exclusive.

 

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A rare day of sunshine near Tower Bridge.

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by | February 17, 2017 · 4:21 pm

Danish Hygge Food Culture

Smørrebrød, flaeskesteg, snobrød, risengrød, biksemad….herring. What the heck do these strange words mean? And moreover how in the world do you pronounce them? These were my first reactions to Danish food – it was something alien and bizarre – they put pickles and mayonnaise on herring for crying out loud! But as my host family in Copenhagen introduced me to the mouth-watering wonders of flaeskesteg (it’s like a savory juicy pork roast with a rack of crisp salty bacon on top, but better), the warm coziness of a bowl of rice pudding with a pad of melted butter flowing over the cinnamon and sugar you sprinkle on (risengrød), and, with much hesitation, to the way the weird combinations of ingredients in open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød) actually compliment and enhance each other, I learned to really enjoy them.1

Smørrebrød delight the Danes and remind them of Julefrokost (Christmas-day Lunch). But to Americans these open-faced sandwiches seem unappetizing at best. At first, they were enough to make my stomach turn, but then I forced myself to take a bite… It wasn’t so bad! It even tasted pretty good, in fact. Sure, it was a bit too heavy on the sweet-and-sour flavors like pickles and herring for me, but the chewy rye bread‘s sweet nutty flavor actually paired really well with the savory meats and crisp veggies piled inches high on top. My favorite is one made with a chilled, thick slice of pork covered in red cabbage and pickles. Ot   her varieties are made with liver pate, meat-jelly, and pepper, or fried fish (usually cod) and remoulade (tastes like a more savory mayonnaise), or mini-shrimp marinated in salt-water and mixed on the bread with lettuce, cold butter, freshly cracked pepper, and remoulade. And what’s more? They pair these with herring marinated in either a sweet-cinnamony sauce or curry and then drink snaps and beer with it!3

I would come to find over the next few months that this, at first startling, pairing of opposites makes Danish food interesting, scintillating, and unique. Sour with honeyed, crunchy with smooth, intense with mellow – during a group dinner, Dorthe (one of my host parents’ many close friends) told me with pride that she would never serve a dish without considering these combinations. High-end restaurants like Noma inspire the world with their unique creations– have you ever had a generous helping of beef tartar covered in ants? What about caramelized milk and monkfish liver… Yummmmm. But what these dishes all have in common is a pairing of opposites that excites the senses.2

“Hygge” – the Danish catchphrase, shibboleth, and in many ways formula for living – also plays a lead role in their food culture. Danes go out to hygge with each other, thank each other for a hygge time together, and try to make their homes as hygge as possible. Hygge is both a description and an action – you can call a night spent with friends or a café hygge, but you can also say you’re going to hygge. It implies a sense of coziness, being together with close friends and family, trust and safety, but also living up to a certain norm. You’re expected to participate wholeheartedly in conversation but not predominate, laugh and smile but not overreact. The ideal is someone who is “man hviler i sig selv,” or rests in himself. The Danes treasure an environment that lets people be themselves, and enjoy doing so, without thinking about their outside concerns. Food reflects this harmonious hygge atmosphere – it allows the Danes to come together to enjoy conversation, laugh, share experiences, and discuss their views in a safe, trusting, and cozy atmosphere. At least in my homestay and their group of friends, eating together makes them family. All of them live far from the small villages and farms they grew up on in Jutland, and so they rely on each other for social support, good “hygge” times, and of course for “laekkert mad” (delicious food).4

I think the best food experience I’ve had in Denmark was a light meal of bread cheese red peppers and olives that my friends and I shared at Ølsnedkeren – a craft brewery Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighborhood. The dinner wasn’t anything special, and there weren’t even any Danes there, but we enjoyed eating, drinking, and laughing together for almost 5 hours. Although the food is important, enjoying a cozy evening (“have en hyggelit aften”) together with friends is better.

 

 

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by | March 9, 2015 · 9:28 pm

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

Mi Llegada

I have been planning for this day all semester. I dreamt up many imaginations about Guatemala as a place where I could escape my everyday life and learn to truly live in the moment and trust God to help me navigate my way around. That has been true to some extent. Some things are easier than I imagined and others are more difficult. I knew before I came that I wanted to prepare myself for the culture by brushing up on my Spanish and practicing a little each day. However, life did not go as I planned and eventually all my time had slipped away with work and travel.

I have realized how crucial preparation is. As soon as I got off of the plane at the airport, I knew that I needed to hurry outside because my program had arranged for a shuttle to pick me up immediately. I rushed off and thought I should exchange some money first, in case I needed to tip the driver or buy something on the way (honestly, I thought, that I would be taken advantage of otherwise).  Then I had to collect my bags, which felt like it took an eternity. Several English-speaking people and others from my plane were waiting to pick up their bags, however, the place they told us to wait was not the right one. I finally decided to search further away and found my bags on another conveyor belt. I was a little frustrated at this point because I had wasted so much time waiting and not knowing exactly where to look or how to ask. Then, I rushed outside to look for my name as I was told by my advisor.

Outside, it felt like I was on a stage and everyone was watching me pace back and forth looking for my name on a piece of paper. Honestly, I felt rather silly squinting at people and carting all my bags around. In my mind, I thought the shuttle would never leave without all of their passengers, especially since I had paid for my ticket in advance. Unfortunately, I was wrong! A Guatemalan gentleman speaking English asked if I wanted to call the shuttle agency, so I gave him the number and he made the phone call. He spoke to the person on the phone but muffled my name and did not let me talk. Afterwards, the man said that they would be there shortly and then wanted me to tip him for the service. I told him I had no money and thought that it was rude of him to expect payment for a service that I would have gladly offered to do for free in America. He sulked and walked away.

I anticipated the driver arriving at any time. The more I waited, the more anxious I grew. I had faith that I would be okay, however panic situations will make you forget that truth. I silently said a few short prayers in my head as I waited and finally asked an airport employee to let me make a phone call to the company myself. Thankfully they spoke English, otherwise I would have been in trouble and the call would have been useless. They told me that the driver did not see me at 11:00 am and left shortly after. At this point it was 1:00 pm in Guatemala. I finally became assertive and requested that a shuttle pick me up immediately because I was outside around 11:30 am. He agreed and said the next one would come at 2:30 pm and told me where to stand.

All in all, I spent the whole first day in a confused state, mainly because I was not prepared. I realize that one is never going to be prepared for everything that happens in life, and for me this strengthens my faith. However, I do know that I had ample opportunity to work on my Spanish and to read more about the culture. If I could give any advice to someone preparing to embark on a journey it would be this:

1. Please buy a book about the country you are traveling to. As much as you hope to discover it all on your own, knowledge is essential to pointing you in the right direction.

2. Learn the language. Sounds simple enough right? I found that by preparing for some conversations, writing down questions you may want to ask helps make those awkward silences go much smoother.

3. Have a purpose and a goal in mind. For me personally, my purpose here revolves around my faith and beliefs and I hope to help others around me, including: the family I stay with, the group that I am a part of, and the community who I live among. It is surprising how easily one can be diverted in an unfamiliar place. The purpose and goals do not have to be faith-related of course, as not everyone shares the same religious beliefs, but having a goal for your time abroad and reflecting on how the experience may help you reach goals, develop talents, and broaden your horizons is essential.

On my long shuttle ride to Guatemala, I was fortunate enough to ride with two other English-speaking students. Both were here independently, but one came on a whim and told me many stories about how he had traveled and did not make many arrangements ahead of time. All of them concluded with him being miserable and only vaguely enjoying where he went. This is so common for those with no prior arrangements and it can make for a frustrating time. Now, I am spending my evenings planning out my next day and asking many locals about good places to see. So with a little preparation, let the adventure begin!

                                             

My weekend in Antigua in front of La Merced.

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by | June 24, 2014 · 7:37 pm