Welcome Sylvia & Some Lessons She Learned About Study Abroad

My name is Sylvia, and I am the new graduate intern at Office of Study, here at Wesleyan. I am currently in my second year of graduate school at SIT Graduate Institute. When I was in undergrad at the University of New Haven, I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru. After I had graduated, I worked at a 3M Distributor and then at a Community Foundation in Connecticut. In 2013, I took a month off and spent it in Cordoba, Argentina. In 2014, I applied to graduate school at SIT. I spent Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 taking classes at their campus in Brattleboro, Vermont. This experience gave me the opportunity to reflect on my study abroad experience and why I wanted to become involved in this field.

Sylvia at her campus in Cusco, Peru

Sylvia at her campus in Cusco, Peru  Photo by Becca Tiernan

My study abroad experience was strange or maybe just different from what others would expect. I studied abroad in my fall semester of my senior year in Cusco, Peru. I lived in a hostel with other students. The program was separate from the university, and there were only around twenty other students in the program from the United States and Australia. Cultural immersion was challenging. When most of my peers went out on the weekend, I stayed in. I had a boyfriend back home at the time, and I spent time with him. After class, I would go back and Skype with him for hours instead of exploring the city. I felt the compulsion that I needed to spend time with him. I had anxiety if I didn’t have internet access. Since I didn’t socialize with the other students, I became isolated. They did try helping me and now looking back, I am incredibly appreciative that they even reached out to me. I started crying a lot. I started not wanting to even go to class. I didn’t eat a lot. I realized that something was wrong, that my depression was becoming triggered and exacerbated. I finally reached out to the program director and asked about services they could provide. At first, he only told me to stop talking to people back home. I said I needed more assistance than what he was saying. Eventually, he was able to find me a therapist in the area that spoke English. I saw her for about a month. I don’t think she knows this, but I am eternally grateful for her and gave me that push that I needed to get better.

I ended up making a difficult decision. I went home for a week and a half in October. This decision came about because of multiple personal issues I was having. I had a break from my isolation in Peru. I talked to my study abroad office who were amazing and graciously helped me. When it was time for me to go back to Peru, I cried a lot in the airport. I knew people were staring, but I couldn’t fathom how I could survive another two months in Peru. When I returned, I knew I was still going to struggle. I became involved in a local organization and volunteered with four-year-olds every day of the week. It helped me immensely. It was still a fight for me. I was still isolated. I survived and learned a lot from it.

When I’m looking back now, I have an appreciation for it. It taught me a lot about myself. It pushed me. I made mistakes while I was there that I regret. I wish I allowed myself to connect with the other students on the Study Abroad Program. I wish that I didn’t go home for that week. I wish that I started volunteering sooner. I wish I took advantage of traveling in the area. I wish I were able to practice my Spanish more. But you know what, I didn’t. It is what it is now. I am currently getting my master’s in international education. It didn’t push me away from study abroad. Even with all my challenges and struggles I had, I would still recommend it to others. I believe in it. I do think that says a lot about the field and the experience students can have. I still struggle with anxiety and depression. I had struggled with it before I went as well. This experience taught me a lot. Here are some lessons I learned that could help others in the future:

  1. Practice self-care

Self-care has become an integrated part of my life. I think about it constantly. I reflect on the things that I do that make me feel well and I do my best to do them. Just because you are abroad, doesn’t mean that you can forget about taking care of your mental self. Take time to invest in yourself. If you are always moving and going, take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a step back. There are plenty of links to articles online that discuss this important topic. Take time to research and become aware of what you need.

Sylvia with a fellow student hiking around Cusco, Peru

Sylvia with a fellow student hiking around Cusco, Peru Photo by Becca Tiernan

  1. Become connected to the community

If I didn’t start volunteering in Cusco, I don’t know how my experience would have turned out. All I can say now, though, is that it helped me immensely. I finally started to feel connected to the community and that I was a part of something bigger when I was there. If you are starting to feel isolated or just that you want to become connected, take steps and learn about what is there for you to explore. Connect with locals in whatever works best for you. For me it was volunteering, but if you have organizations at the university where you are studying abroad, join one.

  1. Do what works for you.

While people are studying abroad, they may want or expect different things. Your peers will be taking different classes and investing and exploring topics different than yours. Others will want to explore nearby cities or countries, while you may want to stay in the city where you are studying and become fully integrated into that. Do what you think is best for you to be able to gain what you want from the experience.

  1. It’s important to prepare yourself for where you are going.

Every country is, of course, different. Studying abroad in Brazil or Italy, you will be getting two completely different cultures and environments. The food, where you will be staying, the people, the holidays, accessibility, diversity, etc., will all be different. It is important to have some basic understanding before you go so you are not completely caught off guard. While I was in Peru, even though I stayed in a hostel, the internet was scarce. Many times it would go out and wouldn’t be fixed for days. People who stayed in homestays had no access to hot water. These may seem like little things, but having to experience it a whole semester can be challenging if you are not prepared.

  1. The staff is there to help.

Maybe it’s my depression or anxiety or maybe this is normal, but I felt bad talking to the staff while I was studying abroad. I didn’t want to bother them. I thought my problems were not significant. I thought I would just be a burden. It is important to recognize that staff is there to help you. Talk to a staff member who you feel comfortable with about your concerns and questions, before, during and even after your semester abroad. It helped me. When I came back, I visited the office often, and it helped me unpack my experience and move forward with it.

  1. Don’t compare your experience to others.

My experience differs from others on many levels. Every student’s experience will be different. When I got back home, I heard other’s raving about their experience abroad. Talking about how many good friends they made and how much they experienced. I, on the other hand, was depressed for most of my semester. I didn’t become close to anyone. I heard others and I kept thinking how I was awful because I didn’t have an experience exactly like theirs.  I found that it was important to remember that my experience was unique. That it helped me get to where I am and that no one can take that experience away from me. It became a part of my story and I needed to own it and accept it. Listen to others, but don’t put your experience down just because you don’t think yours was good enough.

  1. Take classes that fascinate you and push your understanding of the world.

My classes abroad taught me a lot about the culture and the history of where I was in Peru. It was great to learn, and sometimes it was interesting, but it didn’t fascinate me enough. I loved being able to explore historical sites for my classes and see the history and architecture and connect it to where I was and what I was learning. But you know, if those things don’t connect with you, don’t feel like you have to take those classes. It can be interesting just to learn about a subject matter that is important to you but in a different worldly perspective. Be opened minded with your choices and get the best academic experience you can. It will be worth it.

 

Welcome Kia!

Picture of female with short black hair, orange scarf, and purple sweater standing in front of a sidewalk

Kia Lor

On November 14th, the new Assistant Director of Language and Intercultural Learning, Kia Lor, started work at the Center for Global Studies. Here is Kia’s introduction:

Nyob zoo! Hola! Nomaskar! 你好! Hello! I’m Kia (like the car)! I’m a first-generation, bilingual, Hmong American woman who is passionate about contributing to the development of international, multicultural, and diversity in education. My role is to improve campus climate for students by initiating, developing, assessing, and managing programs and services that enhance the language learning and diversity competency skills.

I grew up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, or as I call it, MinnSNOWta. During my undergrad years, I studied abroad in India and China where I discovered my joy of intercultural understanding. I have worked in Hong Kong and travelled extensively throughout Southeast (my motherland).

I still have a lot of learning and growing to do; I feel so privileged to grow here at Wesleyan! I hope my work at the Center for Global Studies will support everyone’s growth as well. Please stop by Fisk Hall to say Hello to me, too.

Welcome, Zehra!

On November 7, the new Study Abroad Advisor, Zehra Abbas, started work in the Office of Study Abroad! Here is her introduction:

I am delighted to be here as the new study abroad advisor in the Center of Global Studies at Wesleyan. I have been working in higher education in various advising capacities for the past ten years. Most recently I graduated with a Master’s in Counselor Education in Student Development in Higher Education. I am extremely passionate about working and helping students during their college years as I reflect back on how crucial these years are we transition from school life to professional/adult life. Having a global perspective for each individual is an extremely important part of this development process. In my last experience I was a graduate intern at Yale where I worked with the international population, students, scholars and spouses and found my own views broadening and being enriched just from working with them without having to leave the country.

 

Personally I have travelled extensively around the world from early childhood. I’ve lived and attended international schools in Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, South Korea, Seychelles and Karachi, Pakistan. I also spent a year in London a few years ago. My parents loved to travel and we ended up seeing most of Asia during short vacations and holidays. I speak three languages and am currently (trying to!) learn two more on my own. I am passionate about learning new languages as they offer perspectives that are not possible to gain as a monolingual. I wish to encourage all students to consider various study abroad opportunities so they can enrich their own experiences and understanding of the world. There are innumerable benefits of cultural immersion and most of which can enhance not just our skill set and knowledge but affect us on a much deeper and personal level. I look forward to seeing you all soon, my office is located in Fisk Hall in the Center for Global Studies commons area.

 

Zehra pic 2[3]

Teaching in Thailand: Tenzin Kyisarh, Fulbright

Tenzin Kyisarh, 2016, Anthropology

I am going to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Thailand next year. As a part of the fellowship, I will represent the country as a cultural ambassador while I am overseas, helping to enhance mutual understanding between Americans and the people in Thailand.

During my sophomore year at Wesleyan, I received the Summer Experience Grant through which I traveled to Thailand to teach English in the northern province of Chiang Rai. I got to meet a lot of wonderful people through that experience which also ignited my interest for teaching and deepened the love I have for the country. As a graduating senior, when I was looking for post-grad opportunities that would allow me to travel for a year to Asia, Fulbright looked like the ideal opportunity for me to do what I wanted. With my previous experience in Thailand that had already impacted me, I decided to apply for Fulbright Thailand.

I decided to apply for the fellowship because it will serve as a perfect blend of travel and work that I was looking for in my post-grad endeavors. It was also another great reason for me to go back to the country that initiated my self-reflection process. I hope to go to graduate school after my year abroad, but I am also open to the various changes that will come my way. I look forward to meeting the kids and interacting with them, and at the same time, learning more about myself.

One of the hardest things about the application process was actually waiting to hear back. Since Fulbright does not have an interview process and they recommend not to connect them after the submission, not knowing how your application was viewed or where you were in the process was very dreadful. However, though the semi-finalist notification does give you hope for your application, the waiting game after that (whether you are a finalist) is more difficult. With my experience, I realized that being calm and patient was key during the waiting process. Though you’ll be anxious and nervous about the future, being optimistic about the outcome definitely helps!

IMG_1648

 

Proyectos de grupo: Cómo sumergirte en la cultura española

By Thomas Dupont

Re-posted from the VWM Blog

En Wesleyan cuando elijo mis asignaturas, normalmente intento evitar clases que se caractericen por tres cosas: una hora de inicio antes de las 10:00 de la mañana, presentaciones orales y proyectos de grupo. Aunque hasta ahora he evitado clases antes de las 10:00 durante mi estancia en España, confieso que mi decisión de coger una clase que incluya proyectos en grupo ha marcado una diferencia enorme en cuanto a mi experiencia en este país.

Entiendo que esto pueda parecer simplista y banal en el contexto de todo un cuatrimestre, pero es verdad que trabajar en un grupo para un proyecto o presentación en las clases es una manera genial para conocer españoles y otros estudiantes en la universidad. Cuando escojas tus clases mira bien el plan de estudios y opta por las clases que más te interesen. Normalmente puedes ver el profe, los temas, y el tipo de trabajo que se pide en internet. Te recomiendo que cojas las clases que te van a obligar a trabajar y relacionarte con los demás estudiantes dentro y afuera del aula.

En mi asignatura “Información secreta y servicios de inteligencia: del espionaje a la seguridad global” (una clase superguay, ¿no te parece?) trabajo con otros dos estudiantes españoles que ahora son buenos amigos. Siempre hablamos cuando los veo por el campus, he estado en sus pisos cerca de la universidad para trabajar en nuestro proyecto, y ahora comemos juntos por la tarde sólo para pasar el rato.

Es fácil pensar que si eres una persona social y amable, vas a conocer gente naturalmente. Sin embargo, según mi experiencia es absolutamente necesario ponerse en situaciones en las que TIENES que hablar y trabajar en grupo con estudiantes españoles. También es necesario relacionarse con otra gente cuando no estés como una cuba en un bar o club.

Gracias a mi decisión de matricularme en una clase que me ha hecho hablar, trabajar y relacionarme con los estudiantes españoles he conseguido realmente sumergirme en la cultura española. He mejorado mucho mi español porque todas nuestras conversaciones y tareas se han realizado en español. He conocido tíos enrollados que me hacen sentirme implicado socialmente en la universidad, y porque paso mucho tiempo con ellos ahora tengo una mejor comprensión del sistema universitario de España y la cultura española en general.

Inspiring Language Barriers: Abby Gruppuso’s Fulbright to Taiwan

Abby Gruppuso, 2016, East Asian Studies

Next year I will be teaching English in Taichung, Taiwan through a Fulbright fellowship. The decision to apply for this fellowship was deeply influenced by my time abroad in Beijing in the fall of 2014. I studied in China through a six-person Middlebury language immersion program, complete with a semester-long language pledge. I found out that I was the only student who had never been to China, and I was the only student who didn’t study Mandarin in high school. I told myself that it didn’t matter; my language classes back at Wesleyan had prepared me well.  Although my Mandarin classes at Wesleyan provided me with the immensely useful skill of perfect tones, my vocabulary was lacking and my listening comprehension and conversation skills were nonexistent. During my semester in Beijing, I studied harder than I’ve ever studied before. I practiced characters for at least three hours a day, asked my teachers a million questions, and was constantly making conversation with my friends in order to catch up to the rest of the group. And after only a month and a half, I was confident enough in my language skills to go to the local 麻辣烫 (hot spicy soup) shop alone, to take the subway across the city, to give a ten minute presentation about 孔子的死亡观 (Confucius’ view of death), to take cooking lessons with a Sichuan chef, and to talk to a local man in the park about music.

Overcoming this challenge was the reason I decided to apply to teach English in Taiwan. There are students there who are facing, through a mirror, the same problem I was when I started studying Mandarin. I want to impart my experiential wisdom on them, because I know exactly how they feel. I want to teach them that no matter the height of the language barrier they face, they can climb over it. Through this fellowship, I hope to change a student’s life like the Middlebury program changed mine.

Preparing my application for Fulbright proved to be a difficult task, mostly because I wanted it so badly. I worked on my essays for many months, but was dissatisfied with every draft I came up with. It was just boring. I was under the impression that my application had to be formal, but that just isn’t who I am. The one thing I eventually did that turned the whole process around was reading sample essays from people who had gotten accepted. I discovered that I could approach the prompt in any way I wanted. And I’m a writer, so I told a story. Most of the first paragraph of this post is actually from my application. Instead of telling the committee why I wanted the Fulbright, I showed them through my experience and personality.

My biggest advice for writing fellowship applications would be to 1) read sample essays, 2) be patient, and 3) be yourself. Your essays will come together, so don’t stress. Start early and one day the inspiration will just strike. (I wrote my final personal statement in a half hour!) Don’t make yourself be something you’re not. Committees like that of Fulbright are looking for passionate one-of-a-kind people who will bring something valuable to classrooms abroad. And if they don’t want you for you, then it’s just not the right program. Apply to a few different things. Ultimately, each program is looking for something slightly different and you’ll end up with the perfect fit!

abby

Best,

Abby Gruppuso

Probar comidas raras

By Lydia Elmer

Re-posted from the VWM Blog

Todo el mundo dice que la mejor manera de llegar a conocer una cultura es a través de su comida. Pero cada uno tiene sus propios gustos y disgustos cuando se trata de la comida, así que puede ser difícil llegar a un país extranjero con alimentos y bebidas “únicos”. A mí me encanta la comida, y yo, esencialmente, como de todo. Así que he probado algunas de las comidas más especiales de España para vosotros. ¡Espero que pueda cambiar vuestra opinión y podáis probarlas vosotros mismos!

La morcilla:

oreja

La morcilla siempre triunfa como el plato más raro entre los estudiantes americanos. Para la mayoría, la idea de comer sangre es un choque grande. Sin embargo, la morcilla es un plato muy saludable y ¡puede ser muy rico también! Aunque hay muchos tipos y preparaciones de morcilla, la más común viene de Burgos, en el norte de España. Mi familia anfitriona viene de Burgos y comemos la morcilla tradicional por lo menos dos veces cada semana. La morcilla de Burgos es un embutido  de sangre de cerdo cocida y arroz. Aunque es un embutido, ¡la morcilla no lleva nada de carne! Si queréis comerla como un español, la mejor preparación es con pimientos fritos y pan.

Oreja de cerdo:

oreja

Después de la morcilla, la oreja de cerdo es el plato que normalmente da miedo a los estadounidenses. ¡Pero no os asustéis! La oreja de cerdo puede ser tan rico como un plato de beicon frito. Aunque existen varias preparaciones de oreja, la más común es oreja frita.  Se corta en rodajas finas que pueden ser freídas o hervidas. Se sirve con varias salsas como alioli o salsa brava. Oreja de cerdo es muy duro y correoso, por lo que la fritura añade una textura crujiente que crea un plato bastante salado y rico.Si os olvidáis de que estáis comiendo la oreja, podéis realmente disfrutar de este plato tradicional español.

Hay un montón de comidas españoles que son exclusivas de este hermoso país. Morcilla y oreja de cerdo son sólo algunos de los platos que valen la pena probar, incluso si pensáis que no os van a gustar. Con solo probar estas comidas ricas, he aprendido  y experimentado más sobre España que si sólo hubiera comido patatas bravas. Así que no tengáis miedo, y probad lo que podáis mientras estéis aquí. ¡Puede ser que echéis de menos la oreja cuando regreséis a casa!

Fulbright in Madrid: Leah Bakely

Leah Bakely, 2016, History, Hispanic Literatures and Cultures

Next year, I’ll be assistant teaching English at a high school in Madrid through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship program.

What inspired me to apply for Fulbright? I studied abroad in Mexico spring of my junior year and didn’t want to come back to Wes (I actually strongly considered doing senior Fall there), so I figured if living abroad made me so happy, I might as well try to get funded to do it in the future. I also absolutely love being immersed in Spanish and I wanted another opportunity to continue learning the language.

I applied for Fulbright ETA specifically because, after sixteen years of school, I wanted a break from research, a break from sitting at a desk, but I still wanted to be able to travel. I also thoroughly enjoyed being a writing tutor at Wesleyan, particularly for ESL students, so I thought assistant teaching English would be a good way to to combine my interest in teaching ESL with my love of travel and need for a break from school. Lastly, I wanted to be in one place for the entire year and Fulbright offered me the opportunity to do that–and to choose the place.

As far as the application, condensing my entire life and all my aspirations into two pages and carving out the time to work on the application during the very busy beginning of the semester was a difficult process. For students wishing to apply to Fulbright or to a similar fellowship, I offer the following advice:

1) Start working on your essays early (like in August)!!

2) Take your essays to the writing workshop. A writing tutor was the only reason I was able to condense my second essay into one page.

3) Get as many people to edit your essays as you can; the more drafts you go through, the better.

Best of luck!

Photo-for-blog

Following a Passion: Claire Wright, Keasbey Scholarship

Claire Wright

Class: 2016

Majors: COL, Psychology, French

During the summer before my senior year I began thinking about post-graduate plans. As I talked to my class Dean and several mentors, I increasingly recognized that I was passionate about policy aimed at reducing and responding to gender violence. Throughout my time at Wesleyan I worked intensively on re-designing some of Wesleyan’s policies for the adjudication and sanctioning of sexual misconduct and my senior thesis analyzed medical aid responses to sexual violence in postcolonial nations. I knew that, eventually, I wanted to translate my experiences at Wesleyan into a more focused study of cross-cultural policy intervention. After expressing my interest in this field of policy work, both my class dean and mentors suggested that I consider applying for graduate school. I spent some time browsing different academic programs and ultimately decided to apply for the Keasbey Scholarship, which covers a two-year masters program at Oxford University. This fall I am heading to Oxford to study for an MPhil in Comparative Social Policy, focusing specifically on international responses to gender violence.

Throughout this application process, I worked closely with Kate Smith and I cannot stress enough how much I valued our conversations and her advice. The application process for fellowships and scholarships can be incredibly long, so here are a few friendly tips:

1) Find something that you’re truly passionate about: when you’re on your 15th revision of your personal statement, what really matters is that you care enough to complete the process.

2) Start your personal statement early: it’s much more fun if you have time to play around with ideas and write when you have the inspiration to do so.

3) Stay connected with your mentors throughout the process: my weekly meetings with Kate, and conversations with my mentors, helped me flesh out ideas, prepare for interviews, and stay motivated.

There are so many incredibly opportunities out there – even if you’re not sure what you want to do, I’d encourage you to stop by the Center for Global Studies and explore the options. Have fun!

Oxford's-international-profile

Lost + Found

A memoir of things lost and found during one student’s study abroad experience.

By Sophie Breitbart ’17

Lost: An iPod bursting with constantly updated music.
Found: An iPod dominated by podcasts like RadioLab and Spilled Milk that cuddle my ears on the tube or on long walks around the city.

Lost: Trust in Google Maps’ directions via public transport, which has proven to be woefully inaccurate (mostly for buses.)
Found: Myself, deposited in many unintended locations. But it turned out alright! Which brings me to…

Lost: A nervous heart that beat rapidly upon boarding a bus that would supposedly take me to my destination.
Found: Greater confidence in my ability to ascertain my physical location without a smartphone, usually via one of London’s ubiquitous, helpful street maps. Sometimes, a real live Brit would set aside their reserved nature and help! (Also found: new hand muscles thanks to probably at least 50 lists of handwritten directions!)

Lost: Lots of money. (Maybe not lost… more like spent.)
Found: Lots and lots and lots of experiences. (DUH it was worth it!) I’ve seen quite a few concerts, eaten lots of varied cuisine, and visited a long list of new places. I think food, transport, and travels outside London have been my biggest expenses here.

Lost: It was waning by the end of last semester anyway, but nonetheless, much of the infatuation I once felt with Wes.
Found: Knowledge of what life can be like after college and a growing excitement to pursue that life. Even though mine will probably involve grad school, which is sort of like a continuation of college, it’s another step in the path to move somewhere I choose where I’m supported by a heftier income and therefore possess greater personal freedom. Now that I’ve been exposed to so much, my desires for my future have intensified and grown in number.

And lastly-

Lost: A habit of constantly comparing myself with my peers, usually via Facebook, that too often incurred unhealthy levels of self-doubt (don’t worry, it’s normal, I’m a Millennial.) Also, for that matter, my Facebook account (until June.)
Found: A self that was much more content with my identity and methods of living. The chance to be more self-centered than usual, stemming from my choice of technologically isolating myself from American influences pretty significantly and, well, having a huge new city ready to be discovered at my doorstep… A new type of introspection that came from a much kinder and accepting place than before. I guess it seems obvious now, but this extraction of my virtual persona from a massive judging block surrounded by some very intimidatingly witty and pretty peers (read: unintended competitors) yielded great inner peace. My temporary resignation from Snapchat also facilitated this transition from a state of mind plagued by constant questions of how I could best show off my life to a new mindset where I could live my life according to my wishes, take some pictures for myself and my blog readers, and everyone else would have to make do with stories later on. Honestly, it was an exercise in self-love. Much will change when I return to the states, including social media presence, but I hope I can continue to fend off the tempting gratification that ongoing peer approval infamously provides.