(den)Mark My Words

Hi! My name is Kalee Kennedy! I’m currently studying Art & Visual Culture in Copenhagen, Denmark with the DIS program. Here are my thoughts, musings, and photos from my time over there.

 

“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing here and I’m just figuring it out as I go along.”

The girl next to me in the Diverse Identities Social Club culture talk said this as she introduced herself and pretty much shocked the room, but I couldn’t help but feel kin to the feelings she spoke to.

I think before getting here I didn’t think this would be as hard as it is. Adjusting to an unfamiliar culture and an unfamiliar language is just as hard as they told me, but I figured because I had experience living with different cultures that it would be a piece of cake. Boy, was I wrong.

I left January 12th in the evening to make my connection to Munich. To say the least, my mom was more emotional than I was and my sister was practically pushing me to the gate lol.

 

 

I had a hard time sleeping on both planes, so I was majorly sleep deprived when I made it into Copenhagen. That being said, every DIS staff member I ran into was more than welcoming and accommodating. I was then driven over to my kollegium and given the keys to my room. Before I could let myself pass out until we had to meet back up at 7 pm to do a quick tour around the neighborhood, I managed to unpack my bags and take stock of what was provided by the program for me.

On the night tour, we found that the neighborhood grocery store was right at the corner and the mall was just a minute walk away. We also had the train and bus stops right near our doors. So, a prime location for sure. We then headed to the grocery store and woah. That was the greatest anxiety-inducing activity I had to complete. Even though I had studied Danish with some apps and a quarter course at school it didn’t prepare me for the fact that all the stuff that I would usually eat is not available in Denmark. Also, without an oven, the meals that I initially thought to make while I was here has changed greatly. I hope by the end of my stay I can say that I learned more stovetop recipes and managed to keep myself fed without utilizing takeaway and restaurant options.

The next day, Sunday, we were sent on a scavenger hunt to familiarize ourselves with the transportation and the offerings of our neighborhood, Nørrebro. My two person group ending up winning a gift card to this fancy dessert place. I can’t wait to use it.

At the start of the week, we went through our arrival orientation events. The opening assembly was in this beautiful space. It reminded me of an old burlesque room from Moulin Rouge. We heard some music from Jada, a Danish singing artist and some welcoming comments from the directors of the program.

 

 

Then we were sent on a scavenger hunt of some of the primary historical landmarks of Copenhagen. We found out some great information about King Christian IV and saw the Queen’s guards announce her arrival with a march and music. But, it was extremely cold, so we tried to get it done as fast as possible. Afterwards, we went to Jagger for lunch/dinner. That was a great day of exploring and getting to know new people.

The following days, I went to a couple of my classes and I’m really excited to get into them and learn alot.

Now back to the first quotation:

Although, I’m learning a lot about the country and the people. I still have a lot of fears. I’m hesitant to speak the language or even speak English sometimes because I feel for some reason it’s disrespectful almost. I also don’t know exactly how to navigate places which is a little scary as well. The etiquette is lost on me right now and I’m trying to discern from social clues what exactly is happening. Hopefully, I’ll be able to address my fears and really get involved with the program and the culture. That starts with the Activities Fair and my visitng host family.

 

To read more from Kalee’s blog, click here.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health and Study Abroad (by Sylvia DeMichiel)

Study abroad is often painted as an idealistic experience. Living in a new country. Making friends. Traveling. Eating new food. Having incredible new experiences. It is often marketed as the semester that will change your life. And for some, it could be just that, but that’s not always the case.

I studied abroad my fall semester of my senior year in Cusco, Peru. I was extremely excited. I wanted to explore, travel, eat all the food, and just be in this beautiful historical location, but I had a difficult time. I found myself wanting to sleep a lot. I didn’t connect with the other students. My appetite was minimal. I was no longer excited. I just wanted to go home. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I learned briefly about Culture Shock, but this lasted longer than Culture Shock was supposed to. I didn’t know who to turn to either. The program I was on just told me to get out more. I ended up figuring it out my own, and a lot later than I wish I did. I went to see an English-speaking therapist in Cusco and volunteered for two hours a day five times a week. Even though I was able to have a better time in the last month I was there, I still felt like I failed study abroad when I came home. I listened to others talk about their amazing experiences abroad, and I just never really said anything. It wasn’t until later that I found that this wasn’t an uncommon experience.

Looking back, I wish I knew what to expect and how to take care of myself mentally when I was abroad. Now, every study abroad experience will be different depending on who you are and where you want to go. I do believe that it’s important to go into this experience knowledgeable about how to take care of yourself mentally when you’re abroad because it can be different than when you are at Wesleyan.

First, I just want to briefly mention a few aspects of study abroad that can affect your mental health and experience.

Environment: When thinking of where you want to go, try to be mindful of the climate of where you are going. Does rainy weather affect your mood? What about how much daylight there is? Do you prefer colder weather?

Culture:  Learning a bit about it before you live there. Is it a masochistic culture? What does the culture think of other religions? Races? Clothing? There often is a lot of discussion surrounding culture in pre-departure so pay attention to that.

Living Situation: Depending on the program you can be staying in homestays, dorms, close quarters on a boat, etc. Do like being surrounded by people most of the time? Do you prefer to have the privacy of your own room?

These are just questions to ask yourself. Just because you prefer sunny weather, and you want to go to a place that has mostly rainy weather, I’m not saying don’t go- but be aware of how it can affect you before you go. By being aware you can create a plan and have an understanding of it. This will help. Also – these are just a few aspects of what can affect you when you go abroad. You also have just normal stresses that will also affect you at home: social life, academics, loss, etc.

As I mentioned, just being aware is a huge first step in understanding your mental health and being abroad. You also should be mindful of the resources that are available to you when you are abroad as well as your coping mechanisms. This can just be by understanding what you do to take care of your mental health at home. You may not actively think about it so thinking about what makes you feel well or happy.  Here are some examples of resources and coping mechanisms:

Medication: If you take medication to take care of your mental health – think about how you will be able to bring your prescriptions abroad – talk to your doctor and know the laws of where you are going.

Therapy: If you are currently attending therapy – can they still see you online when you’re abroad? Should you find a new therapist in the host country? Does your program offer help with this?

Coping Mechanisms: Does exercise help you? Team sports? Music? Cooking? Religion? Meditation? Whatever enables you to stay well, think of how you can adapt this to where you are going to study abroad. Look for team sports at the school where you are going. O for example.

To bring this all together, just be aware of it. I didn’t understand what was happening to me when I went abroad – I only knew of Culture Shock. If I was more aware of it, I could have helped myself sooner. I could have had some plan or idea. I may have had a more exciting experience abroad. I no longer believe I failed study abroad. I learned more about myself when I was in Cusco than I did on my home experience – but it wasn’t what I expected. I just wish I was more prepared or aware of what I could experience so I could have learned even more about myself and handle my mental health properly. Your study abroad experience probably won’t be perfect – but that’s okay. You may struggle with mental health, identity, culture when you are abroad – that’s okay too. Just be aware, and you will come out of this experience learning something new about yourself.

Deconstructing Difference on Politicizing Attention (by Mika Yaakoba-Zohar, class of 2019)

In the Fall of 2017, Mika Yaakoba-Zohar spent the semester studying abroad with CIEE in Hyderabad, a city in the South Indian state of Telangana. As part of the program, participants enrolled directly in classes at the University of Hyderabad, and spent most of their time on campus. Mika says it was a wonderful experience that she would definitely recommend, but like anything, it wasn’t always positive, and she always tried to think critically about many aspects of her experience. The following is a piece she wrote for her program’s newsletter, Hydertales, in which she attempts to analyze in a political light the attention she would receive as a foreigner.

 

 

If you’re in Hyderabad and you are white and female-passing, you will be stared at. I’m sure if you are in Hyderabad and you are a number of other things you will also be stared at, but I can only speak to my experience. And let me tell you, the experience is not always fun, especially at first.

During orientation, CIEE took its students, five white girls (coincidentally all blue-eyed, as one participant noticed) to the old city. Once ruled by the Muslim Mughal Empire, Hyderabad became an independent region when viceroy Asif Jah I declared its sovereignty in the 18th century and became its first Nizam. During British colonialism, the city continued to be ruled by the Nizams as a princely state. The city therefore has a strong Muslim influence, and the old city remains a predominantly Muslim area. So, as you might imagine, a group of five white girls walking through a very crowded street filled with burkas can draw some attention. Navigating the packed streets, as I stretched further and further outside my comfort zone, the weight of my decision to study abroad in India set in.

But it’s not only in these more extreme situations that the stares are palpable. Just standing on the side of the road waiting for a rickshaw every morning—let alone mornings when I walk to school—draws looks that even when I’m in a good mood are hard to ignore.

At first being constantly looked at was quite unsettling, especially for someone like me who is not only unaccustomed to but also pretty uncomfortable with receiving attention in the first place. And I found that actually a good way to cope with this newfound attention was regarding it intellectually, distancing myself from it, asking myself, Why is it so interesting to look at someone who is different from you? We’ve all had experiences in which we see someone different and can’t help but stare. It’s part of our humanity; we are wired to be curious about someone different. We want to see the human in them, to see that they are like us even though they don’t look like us. Our values are illuminated in the conclusions we draw from that difference, but the curiosity itself is not malevolent. Regarding it in this rather detached way helped me deal with a pretty uncomfortable feeling and encouraged me to sympathize with the people around me.

But it wasn’t long before I began considering the attention I was getting in a political light, especially as certain incidents became increasingly ambiguous in their innocuousness. For example, especially when we’re in a group, people often ask to take pictures with us. I’ve experienced this much less since establishing a routine, but the first couple of times I was confused and unsure what to do. After some preliminary thought my attitude about it was pretty casual, thinking, what harm could taking a picture with some Indian children do? But the more it happened the more uneasy I felt. It’s not just that people want to take pictures of you, which would be weird enough; they want to take pictures with you, as if you’re somebody not just different, but important. I couldn’t imagine a reverse situation in which a white person asked to take a picture with a black or brown person. I don’t know what this discrepancy really means, and it’s likely that for every individual or family that asks to take a picture the motivation is different, but it feels significant. And for me it feels like consenting to being photographed is accepting not only a way of thought but also a systemic reality that regards me as superior, one which I want to work towards resisting.

Other experiences are more clearly about the value of my skin color. Recently two other CIEE students and I went to a school for disadvantaged children. As we were shown around the school, in every classroom the lesson was stopped in order for us to have basic conversations with the children, all the while our host was taking pictures of us. And I don’t blame him; three white girls smiling down at eager brown children is really photogenic, and we’re flooded with these images all the time. But recognizing the harm in them is extremely important. Visually privileging white presence in such a way tends to eliminate indigenous work and activism, a representational omission that has real effects on the ground and often works to discredit the voices that matter most. After all, it is the teachers in the school, whose lessons we were allowed to interrupt, who are ultimately the ones making a difference, not us.

My intention is not to place blame or point fingers, and it’s important to remember that, globally, it is white people who have to do the serious work of unlearning racism. I’m still figuring out how to have these conversations with my Indian friends and classmates without getting frustrated at the wrong people. I’m still figuring out when my presence is political, or rather should be politicized, and when people’s actions in response to my difference should be politicized or just taken as human dispositions.

I also don’t intend to judge or shame any white person’s reactions to these situations. But it’s important to have these conversations both with similarly privileged people and with our Indian classmates because they matter, not only here but also in our communities back home, which are not immune to the valuing of white bodies over others’. I hope that in learning to better navigate these tricky situations of power and privilege we will continue to grow and maybe, just maybe, make a small difference.

Welcome to our new interim study abroad advisor!

Hi everyone!

I’m Beck, the Graduate Intern (and now interim Study Abroad Advisor) here at Wesleyan for the 2017-2018 academic year.  I’m currently studying my Masters in Counseling in Bridgeport (with a focus on higher education), and bring to this position a strong background in international education.

So, what would you like to know about me?  Well, I’m originally from Australia.  And I absolutely love life.  I love to do things, see things, feel things, and to simply be a part of this amazing, magical, wonderful world of ours, lapping it up like a thirsty camel and always wanting more 🙂  I love live sport, local music, photography, volunteering for local and overseas NGOs, Desiderata, riding my motorcycle, independent films and yes, of course, travelling the globe!

Actually, I’d probably consider myself a travel addict … I first travelled in 1999 on a 3-month trip to the USA (to CT, no less!) and since then have lived and worked in nine different countries (Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the U.S., Greece, and Iceland).  In between I’ve travelled … a fair bit!  In fact, seeing the globe – and indeed inspiring others to spread their wings to see it also – is my true passion in life.  And the more I travel (130 countries down, a few more to go!), the more I want to see, to feel, to experience…

I think this is how I found myself in international education (many, many years ago now…) – I’m drawn to those from other cultures who have found themselves here in North America, and to those wishing to step outside their comfort zone and to immerse themselves in another culture by studying abroad.

Me somewhere just outside of Cusco, Peru

This is usually best done through spending a decent amount of time in the one place (eg. a semester abroad), and more often than not, with the local people.  I personally prefer to get off the beaten track, down the back alleys, mix with the locals, and get away from all those tourist traps!

I look very much forward to helping students here at Wesleyan find their study abroad passion, and to support them in pursuing their educational and personal goals in a foreign land 🙂

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!

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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