My study abroad experience was absolutely life-changing, so it only makes sense that it’s having lasting effects now on my senior year. Last year, I studied abroad in Russia in the fall and India in the spring, and though unique to each other, both gave me independence, self-confidence, and a greater understanding of other cultures.
This semester I am sharing that understanding of other cultures with local schools through our Language in Motion program. This program links any student who has first hand language or cultural knowledge (so anyone who studied abroad but also international students too) with K-12 teachers. I haven’t visited any classes yet, as I’m still trying to find a time that fits both my schedule and the teachers’, but I’m excited to share my experiences with the students! Throughout the semester I have been planning lessons, ranging from teaching basic words in Russian to smelling and tasting different Indian spices. Language in Motion not only enriches students’ knowledge and encourages them to study a language/go abroad but also allows me to share my experiences and practice my public speaking and teaching skills.
In addition, I am writing an honors thesis this semester, which was heavily inspired by my time abroad. One similarity that both Russia and India has is its endemic nature of political corruption. This fascinates me (especially the overarching acceptance of corruption), and resulted in questions such as, “How are corrupt acts seen by those living in the society?” “How does external information and dialogue influence the behavior of those receiving the information?” “How is corruption talked about in media outlets?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this topic could easily get out of hand and become a PhD dissertation. That last question, however, was manageable and grew into my thesis project.
For several months now, I have been looking at a single political corruption case and through qualitative methodology, I have been analyzing the language that is used in news outlets. It has been a daunting task, and I still have a ways to go. It’s been keeping me busy, maybe a little busier than a second semester senior would like! This process has and will continue to be very rewarding, though, as I’m learning so much about qualitative research and at the end of April I will present at the Liberal Arts Symposium (eek!). Ultimately, studying abroad has opened up many different avenues and opportunities for me, and I will always be incredibly grateful for that.
In high school, and even in college, you work on projects that are hypothetical. They don’t play out in the real world, or really determine much in your life besides a grade. However, in college, I’ve found one project that really does make a difference.
As I have said in a few of my other postings, I am a member of The Wildlife Society here on campus, and we’ve undertaken a huge project. Every year, each region of the United States has a student chapter that hosts the Wildlife Conclave. Our chapter members decided last spring, “Hey! We can do this!” and signed us up.
When I signed up for Wildlife Conclave planning last semester, I wasn’t sure what exactly I would be getting into. It turned out to be a massive event – we have almost 150 people attending – that would require months of planning, budgeting, and long meetings.
In attending events, I never really thought about how much time and effort went into it. It was just something I would go to, enjoy, and go home. In planning an actual event, I have learned that it is a lot more than that. We have to think about site logistics, funding sources, workshop assignments, making nametags, planning meals… the list goes on forever. At first, it was incredibly intimidating. It seemed like the planning would never end, and that this event would never actually happen.
Now, looking back on the past two semesters, thinking about how the event is only a week and a half away, I’m a lot less intimidated, and I realized that I have learned a lot. I learned to make a vanguard to plan when things need to get done, how to make a budget, how to coordinate orders, and how to be committed to deadlines. None of this would get done without the amazing work of everyone in The Wildlife Society, and the motivation to do that work.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, there is something special in knowing that the project I’m working on is a real thing. The pens and water bottles I ordered for this event are tangible. The people are coming, whether we’re ready or not, so we have to try like crazy to be ready. My work matters here, and that is an incredible experience to have.
If you are interested in learning any more about the event we are holding, or The Wildlife Society at Juniata in general, always feel free to contact me or to like our page on Facebook!
A little more than a month ago, a sophomore student approached the Office of Student Activities and asked if it was possible to put on a production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” This is a collection of stories and monologues, turned into a play about women in every aspect. She was worried that it wasn’t possible, or it was inappropriate, or that it would be received negatively on campus. Yet she worked for one solid month, through organization, casting, rehearsals, marketing, and ticket sales to put on two performances on campus, and everyone loved it.
Julia McMurry, the student behind it all, wanted to put together the production in support of Huntingdon House, a non-profit organization in town that provides support for victims of domestic violence. She reached out to the student body and asked if anyone was interested in performing in the piece or working behind the scenes. I jumped at the opportunity to get involved, and auditioned (and was cast!). There were 18 women who were a part of the production, with three additional individuals helping with casting and rehearsals.
We quickly worked to put on the production in a month, working hard in rehearsals and taking time to reflect on what it really means to be a woman. Being in the production allowed me to meet students from all different backgrounds and POEs and really branch out socially. Not only was it an additional performance opportunity for me, but it was a completely different experience than performing in a show through the theatre department.
I’m so honored to have been able to be a part of this production, and the fact that it was entirely student-run and put together in one month brings me so much joy. We had a huge audience for both performances, and we raised $1,087 for Huntingdon House! I hope this becomes a Juniata tradition because I would love to be a part of this production again!
This spring break, I decided to participate in a community service trip to Bithlo, Florida. This was mostly because I had never had the opportunity to volunteer, and this was a chance to experience living conditions in other regions of the United States. Technically, Bithlo is part of Orlando, but unlike the booming and wealthy parts of town and the affluence of Disney World, Bithlo is an unincorporated and impoverished community. Bithlo has been neglected after the town went bankrupt in the 1920s, but along with UCF (the University of Central Florida), Millersville University, and other community members, we were able to provide some support to the community by cleaning the gardens, painting houses and aquaponics, and serving as mentors for the students at the local charter school.
When we first arrived, my first instinct was to be with the children, and the experience was wonderful. The kids ranged from kindergarten to 3rd grade and were so full of energy and enthusiasm. They wanted to learn all sort of things, from French to Spanish to Chinese, and even English! Luckily I speak both French and Mandarin and was able to teach them several words. The older students, ranging from 8th to 11th grade, had a great thirst for knowledge. Some of the students had been through many hardships and traumatic experiences at their young age, but I was able to relate to them nevertheless. I remember one student in particular, Stevens, with whom I shared a passion for astronomy, manga, and anime, and I encouraged him to attend college if he wanted to gain in depth knowledge and have access to books about astronomy. Other students aspired to be actors and actresses and video game designers.
One of my favorite memories was our time spent at Cocoa Beach, which was my first time ever to go to the beach! I went to the beach thinking that I would be able to purchase some coconuts, while relaxing on the sand, but there were no coconut trees nor coconut vendors in sight! Although I was very disappointed, I had a good time. At first, the water was very cold and I was scared of the waves because I cannot swim. However, with the help of my friends, I was able to relax and enjoy the gentle waves coming toward me. When I wasn’t in the water, I took a short nap and later convinced Melissa, one of the volunteer UCF students, to learn some pop-cultural dance moves using the “Bet You Can’t Do it Like Me” by DLOW. She quickly picked up the moves and so did the kids at the school!
Overall, the trip was worthwhile, as I was able to connect with various people and create relationships. I still miss the dynamic of our group: Nahui’s contagious laugh, Ray’s awkward remarks, Jacob’s boyish laugh, Jared’s sensual voice, Brad’s introversion, Savannah’s sassiness, Daisie’s shining smile, Thibault’s shocked facial and surprising verbal expressions, and Jess’ crazy anecdotes. Most importantly, I miss doing a dance move called “the dab” with Mike as our signature picture pose. I certainly will go on another service trip adventure!
Spring break is a time when many students travel to tropical islands for a week-long adventure, while several others venture back home for a relaxing time with family and friends. In the past, I’ve had both types of experiences, so for my final spring break, I decided to try something a little different. I had heard about an interfaith service trip to New Orleans, and while I’m not actively involved with a religious group at Juniata, campus ministry welcomed me with open arms.
Although I had always heard about the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, I thought that after 11 years the city would be restored. Although most areas of New Orleans have recovered nicely, the Lower Ninth Ward has not fully recuperated.
While in New Orleans, I, along with 17 other Juniata students, worked with an organization called Capstone, which aims to provide the citizens of the Lower Ninth Ward with free community gardens. To help out, we weeded, planted, and watered the gardens; constructed and painted boxes for honey bees; cleaned and fed goats and chickens; and helped with other jobs as needed.
Since this was also an interfaith trip, we explored and discussed different religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Unitarian Universalism. Additionally, we were able to learn about the culture of New Orleans by talking with local citizens, eating beignets at the famous Café du Monde, visiting a Mardi Gras museum, and touring the renowned Saint Louis Cemetery.
Lithuanian-American writer Ruta Sepetys once said, “New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture—even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels, and there’s a story lurking around every corner.” After experiencing New Orleans first-hand, I could not agree more.