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Unpacking Me: A Personal story of Identity and Passion

There are a lot of things if your life that you must learn how to unpack. The hardest will be unpacking your passions. Especially as a high school senior, college student, college graduate, and many times as an adult you are going to have a dark night of the soul when you have to ask yourself what you want to do for the rest of your life. Its normal.

 

For me, I came to Juniata and I knew that I wanted a career that would allow me to travel the world and get paid for it. However, after my trip out of the U.S. it took me a long time to unpack that experience and understand it in terms of my own passions. And to be honest I still do not fully understand the impact it had upon me as individual.

 

For a Juniata student, I think that it is even more difficult to admit that my study abroad experience wasn’t one of the best experience of my life, because at a school where most people study abroad, all you hear is “my study abroad experience changed me,” “It taught me who I am and what I want to be”. After a lot of unpacking, I can honestly say that my study abroad experiences were not the best experiences I have had over my college career.

 

My study abroad experience challenged me, it helped me grow, it broadened my horizons and it did make me understand what I didn’t want to spend my entire life abroad. However, unpacking my last 4 years here at Juniata. I can honestly say my defining moment that helped shape me as the person I wanted to be happened on October 30th, 2014. That was the day my grandfather died.

 

When he died, it was echo that pushed me outside of the reverberations. For me it was like superman died, and very slowly all I saw were cracks in my foundation. For so long I was convincing myself that traveling was my passion, but it wasn’t. When he died, everything started to crumble and it was in that suffocating mess that I realized the void he left.

 

Being raised by my grandparents I was raised in a legacy. We were farmers. We raised cows. We gardened. We canned. That was our identity. After his death, I was fighting for that to stay my identity. I grew a horrible garden, but I grew a garden. And in many ways I thought that maybe I could connect the pieces of my life that seemed to fall through the cracks, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t good enough. Because gardening wasn’t the only part of my identity I need to unpack.

 

Returning from Cork, Ireland

When I was walking around Huntingdon on my first day back at Juniata College, I couldn’t help but smile. Even if I had an amazing time in Cork, Juniata was still home.

 

Here is UCC’s most photographed building – affectionately deemed Hogwarts. I studied Old Irish (c. 600-900 AD) in the left portion.

Here is UCC’s most photographed building – affectionately deemed Hogwarts. I studied Old Irish (c. 600-900 AD) in the left portion.

I spent my entire junior year studying Irish language and literature at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland. Talking about study abroad is tricky – you don’t want to downplay the opportunities and experiences you had while there, but you also don’t want to sound arrogant or pretentious. In terms of school, UCC is much larger than Juniata. UCC has just under 20,000 students, around 2000 of which were international students like me. Compare that to the approximately 1600 undergraduate students at Juniata.

Most of the classes I took were within the Celtic Civilisation department (yes, civilization has an “s” instead of a “z” in Ireland). These classes had small, discussion-based approaches like at Juniata. This was not the case for other students in larger departments. I was happy to learn about Celtic linguistics, Old Irish grammar, and Otherworld literature as part of the 30-credit Certificate in Irish Studies that I earned.

This is me receiving my certificate for Intermediate Modern Irish.

This is me receiving my certificate for Intermediate Modern Irish.

The primary difference, for me, between Juniata and UCC was the workload. Juniata students are driven by a deep desire to learn that comes from somewhere within them. Most work abroad was done right before the heavily weighted final exams. I suppose they would think our structure was strange if they came here, though. Additionally, a huge difference upon returning is working. I have a few campus jobs, and I love working for Juniata. I couldn’t work at UCC because I didn’t have the paperwork to be eligible, and the shift from not working to working has been an adjustment these past few weeks. However, that adjustment is a welcome one. I really missed working in the Writing Center while abroad, and I made sure to meet up with some tour guide friends who were abroad to catch up with them.

UCC has an arch, too! No one storms their arch, though.

UCC has an arch, too! No one storms their arch, though.

One of my favorite aspects of Juniata is that it has offered me opportunity after opportunity, and one of the greatest has been the chance to study abroad at UCC. I came back with so much academic, personal, and cultural development, but I am thrilled to be at Juniata again. I’ve had so much fun (and I’ve learned so much) talking to other students who were here last year and who were abroad, and I love seeing the way their eyes light up when they tell stories from abroad, or talk about an event on campus that they orchestrated, or dive into the developments they made in their research. You could say that what I missed the most about Juniata was the passion in the students.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chorcaigh, ach táim sa bhaile anois.

Thanks, Cork, but I’m home now.

Francophone Fest!

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French Club members (Thibault de Prémorel, Marie Rouyer, Laure Monthuis, Maria (Masha) Golovinova, Yasmine Allaya, me, Océane Briffaut, Cécile Lee, Marthe, and Mathilde Doubrere) photo credit by Haruka Kamekaya and Futaba Asakawa

As the school year comes to an end, there are more and more activities and events on campus. Most recently, I was involved in the week-long Francophonie festival, which was organized by the French club. After having been recognized by the French embassy for its diversity and contribution to the French Language, the French club celebrated and showcased the various cultures of French speaking countries. The club members and I pulled our strengths together to make dishes, create performances and presentations, and promote Francophone culture.

The week-long festival started with short country presentations given to the public by students representing a particular francophone country, including Côte d’Ivoire (given by me!), Tunisia, Bretagne (a region of France), Burkina Faso, and of course, France! I even learned some fun country facts; Planet Tatooine from Star Wars is an actual town in Tunisia! There were also movie screenings such as Kirikou and the Sorceress, one of my favorite animated films, and Timbuktu, an Oscar nominee for best foreign film, which shows the effects of Jihadism on both the victims and culprits. I was very happy to see that some of the events were considered extra credit for various courses!

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Yasmine Allaya (right) and Marie Rouyer (left) serving couscous to audience members. Photo credit: Haruka Kamekaya and Futaba Asakawa

To conclude the event, we organized a dinner, with dishes from various francophone countries. As a result, I decided to make our famous alloco (fried plantains), fried sweet potatoes, and my own recipe called sardine fried rice. This dish in particular was a combination of a fried rice recipe, taken from my host mother during my stay in China, and Ivorian spices! The biggest challenge was obtaining ripe plantains two days before the dinner. Although it seemed impossible, we were able to find the ideal plantains in the local Walmart! Other dishes included Tunisian couscous and gratin dauphinois from France. In the audience, there were middle and high school students present, and they enjoyed the food as well as learning about the Francophone world.

Finally, the dinner came to an end with an energetic dance performance by me, Haruka, the French club’s president, and Joël from Burkina Farso, to a song called “Remanbele,” by Serge Beynaud. The dance moves were mostly based on an Ivorian dance and musical style called coupé-décalé! My friend, Yasmine, also performed an Arabic dance from Tunisia. Given the success of the festival, the French club and I look forward to making the event happen again next year, and every year after that!

The Multicultural Storyfest

Each year, Juniata holds a Liberal Arts Symposium—a day when all classes are cancelled and students have the opportunity to present their research to the campus community. Oftentimes, international students are not able to contribute to the symposium because many of them study at Juniata for only one semester. For this reason, Grace Fala, special assistant to the President for diversity and inclusion and professor of communication, developed the “Multicultural Storyfest.” This event takes place during the Liberal Arts Symposium and invites international students as well as other interested students to share parts of their heritage with the community.

This year, I am receiving two credits to serve as the intern for the Multicultural Storyfest. I have been working very closely with Grace and a few other students to help coordinate the largest one yet. We will have a total of 19 performances representing the following cultures and co-cultures: African, American Indian, Amish, Burmese, Buddhism, Chinese, Indian, Irish, Italian, Filipino, German, Japanese, Korean, LGBTQ, Maori, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Thai, and Vietnamese.

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Thida Win ’17 from Myanmar talks at the 2015 Multicultural Storyfest.

Personally, I will serve as the emcee for the event and also be a part of the performance representing Maori culture in New Zealand. One of my best friends studied abroad in New Zealand, so we are going to incorporate what she learned into our performance. We will be teaching about common greeting words and customs used by the Maori people. Other students will be dancing, singing, playing instruments, modeling, and reading poems.

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Andrea Morillo ’15 from Honduras performs at the 2014 Multicultural Storyfest.

All in all, I have gained so much valuable experience and many budding friendships from organizing this event. I have been able to meet and talk to people from all over the world!

If you’re interested in attending the Multicultural Storyfest, it’ll take place on Detwiler Plaza on Thursday, April 21st from 1:30-3:00 pm. I hope to see you there!

Extending My Abroad Experiences

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.

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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.

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Working at a non-profit in India exposed me to the functioning of everyday bureaucratic life, including the questionable, not so great aspects (but these kids were awesome)

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.

The Beginning of the End

As I walked upstairs to my room in Pink, I noticed that my resident assistant had changed the bulletin board. It read, “Celebrate the beginning of the end.” This certainly made me stop and think. My life had been so busy lately that I almost forgot this would be my last semester at Juniata College. I always thought that I’d be ready to graduate, plunge ahead into the “real world,” and then never look back. Well, I’m pretty certain this will not be the case. Although I’m excited for what the future will hold, I’m also more nostalgic about leaving this place than I ever thought possible.

The semester certainly started off differently than all of my previous semesters. During the first two weeks of January, I traveled to the Dominican Republic again on my third Cultural Learning Tour with Juniata College. Although this has been quite the pattern for starting out my spring semester, this particular trip was different in that my father came along, too! A few months before the trip, he asked me if he could go so that he could experience the beautiful country and meet the community members who had become my second family.  During the course of two weeks, we had a wonderful time and made sure not to complain too much about the extreme heat because we knew it was better than the alternative cold weather back home.

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My dad (right) saying farewell to his new friend, Santiago.

We braced ourselves for the cold, but we did not prepare ourselves for the insane amount of snow that would soon surround us. After our first week of classes, Winter Storm Jonas arrived. As the snow came down by the foot, I was at Dr. Will Dickey’s house babysitting his two little girls. By the time he and his wife, Katie, had returned home, the snow was almost a foot high, so they allowed me to stay overnight and wait to drive back in the morning. By the time I woke up, however, we had two feet of snow on the ground, so I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Surprisingly, though, this was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. We all made breakfast together and then ventured outside to play in the snow.

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Attempting to uncover my car after the snow storm.

All in all, the “beginning of the end” is going quite well for me, except for the fact I can’t tell if my face is still tan or if it’s wind burnt from the cold. Either way, I’m looking forward to what the rest of my last semester has in store!

New Students Are Always Welcome!

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Sirimon Kijjanukij and Warisara ChangKaew, students from Thailand (photo credit: Primrata Siripong)

 

After almost a month of winter break, spent mostly sleeping, I was back on campus in a flash, a week earlier than anticipated, in order to serve as an orientation leader for new international students! Meeting new students, international students in particular, is always an experience that I look forward to with enthusiasm, for I was in their shoes not too long ago.

On January 12, the new international students started to arrive and so did the snow storm. To assure their safe arrival on campus, Juniata provided them with various transportations, including Maidens Taxi, Juniata shuttle buses, and my supervisor’s own personal car. Once on campus, I, along with four other orientation leaders, were responsible for guiding them to their designated dorms. The students came from all over the world, including Mexico, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Czech Republic, England, and France. The next day was composed of helping them fill out required documents, showing them around campus, locating major academic buildings, and later, showing them around town, especially the Weis store, Standing Stone Café, and Sheetz! That was only the beginning of an amazing welcoming week.

In the days that followed, the new students were treated with some American food, which to some, was a mix of American cuisine and other countries’ cuisine. For example, María, a girl from Mexico noticed that the tacos in the States were hard and crunchy, but she believed it should have been soft like in her country. She concluded that this was an example of Mexican-American food. The Chinese students also came to a similar conclusion during our dinner at China Buffet after they noticed that Chinese-American food tended to be sweeter.

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The most exciting moment of the orientation week was when we went to see the 7th Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. To many of the students, including myself, this was their first time seeing Star Wars! Now, I plan on watching the 6 previous movies during my spare time.

To this day, the International Office and Juniata College as a whole continue to make new students feel welcome. Going glow-bowling this upcoming weekend, taking a trip to State College, painting, and discovering Central-Pennsylvanian dishes are future events planned for the new students! I believe that this is the essence of Juniata: always striving to create meaningful experiences for all of its students, and I am proud to be a part of it.

French-Giving: A Holiday like No Other!

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My friends offered my mother a basket of chocolate as a thank you! (photo credit: Yasmine Allaya)

 

After three months of school, it was time to return home for Thanksgiving. However, I did not go home alone; I invited my friends, all French speakers, to Germantown, Maryland, to spend time with my family.

My friends and I might appear to be an odd bunch to some people. However, although we speak French, we come from various parts of the world. Among those who came to my place were Joël from Burkina Faso, Élora who is half Turkish and half Algerian living in France, and Cécile who is French-Korean. We also have this particular habit, almost like a ritual—as Cécile would say—that involves mostly me preparing spicy ramen for everyone on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t know how it started, but when we are out of energy and have nothing else to eat, “ramen seems to be life.”

Being back in Germantown and seeing my mother felt comforting. After my friends were settled, I took them out to see what the city had to offer. Our ultimate goal was to find a pistachio flavored ice-cream, which was Élora’s favorite. They had the opportunity to see both my middle and high school, and in 3 hours, we ate at a Chinese restaurant, had ice cream at Cold Stone, and, as if we hadn’t had enough to eat, Karl, my cousin, offered us two pepperoni and cheese stuffed crust pizzas; we were so full to the point that even my mother’s delicious peanut butter soup could not persuade us to eat another spoonful.

Finally, it was Thursday, Turkey-day, and my mother spoiled us to bits. In addition to the roasted and succulent turkey, we had jollof rice (West African fried rice), sweet potato and spicy tomato soup and alloko (Ivorian fried plantains). To my friends and I, the food seemed inexhaustible, for my mother kept refilling our plates! With our belly full, we went to the living room after dinner to watch Stomp the Yard.

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(photo credit: Yasmine Allaya)

 

After Turkey-day came time for a make-over, during which Yasmine took the initiative to twist my hair into Bantu knots in order to condition them for crochet braids. The other girls used the opportunity to do some shopping at the mall on Black Friday. With our break coming to an end on Sunday, we packed our bags, and of course, my mother included some food to eat on campus. It was a Thanksgiving like no other that I will always remember.

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(photo credit: Élora Kerboua and Yasmine Allaya)

 

Juniata in Québec!

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Photo credit: Haruka Kamegaya

 

Fall Break finally arrived, and it was time for our trip to Québec, Canada. The French club and I left at 8am to hit the road. We had at least an 8 hour drive ahead of us, excluding bathroom and meal breaks. After being on the road for 9 hours, we finally arrived in Canada—specifically in Ontario province, where we were cleared by customs. At about 8pm, we arrived in our first auberge (youth hostel) in Montréal. It was raining heavily, but we were able find a very nice restaurant—called Cinko–to have dinner. In Cinko, everything was priced at $5, so I used the opportunity to taste the popular poutine dish—French fries topped with cheese and gravy. Instead of French fries, I ordered the sweet potato poutine, which was delicious! Our stay in Montréal was very short, as we left for Québec City the next morning.

My first impression of Québec City was amazing. With the fall colors settled in, Québec City was breathtakingly beautiful! The hills and houses reminded me of some European cities and yet, I was still in North America. The people spoke both French and English and were very much welcoming. Among our group, we would joke about Québec being like the States but in “French!” Things were going great; we had time to explore the city, eat delicious croissants, and do some souvenir shopping, including buying maple syrup.

On Saturday Oct 17, a day before our return on campus, we had a little dilemma; after having visited the Musée de la Civilisation (the Museum of Civilization), we could not find our bus. Our driver and mentor could not recall the parking space where he had last parked the bus. After searching the area on foot for about 30 minutes, we found our beloved magic school bus hidden in plain sight, across the vast parking space. Feeling relieved, we quickly got onboard, destination, le Parc de la Chute-Montmorency–Montmorency Falls.

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Photo Credit: Haruka Kamegaya

 

Seeing the waterfalls was very exciting. We took multiple selfies and helped each other take individual pictures as well. The waterfalls ran fast and strong, and walking across them on the bridge felt exhilarating. We had to take the endless wooden steps to go back down the mountain, which was not as exciting because my legs were shaking, and the height made me tense. However, I had the opportunity to see a painting of Montmorency frozen during winter, which made me decide to definitely visit this beautiful city and this site again.

Our visit came to an end the next day, and I had a hard time saying au revoir to Québec. We once again woke up very early to prepare for another 12 hour trip. This time around, we encountered a very harsh custom agent, who took two of our group members in her office for further questioning; we were stuck in No Man’s Land, for a good 40 minutes, waiting for our friends. Indeed, there was nothing wrong with their visas, so they returned with us safe and sound.

At 11:18pm, on Sunday Oct. 18, we “landed” on campus—as Professor Henderson announced—safe and sound, and went in our dorms, reserving the next day to recount our trip and its anecdotes. As I am writing this story, I am grateful for having gone on this trip and thankful to my teacher and the French Club for organizing this unforgettable visit.

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Photo Credit: Haruka Kamegaya

 

The Wildlife Society Travels to Winnipeg

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The group (photo credit: Zachary Adams)

When you’re applying to college, everyone will tell you about the size of classes, the statistics on graduating in four years, and employment after graduation, but that isn’t all there is to it. It’s also about the opportunities. Of course, when I applied to Juniata, they tried their best to convey to me the abundance of opportunities available, but I don’t think I really understood at the time. Well, I understand now.

Over Fall Break, I was given the chance to go to the North American Wildlife Society Conference. As a Wildlife Conservation POE, this was a huge opportunity. In attendance would be professionals, graduate students, and other undergraduate chapters of The Wildlife Society. To top it all off, the conference was to be held in Winnipeg, the capital of the Province of Manitoba. After some convincing from the other members, and some discussion with my parents, I was definitely going to go.

In total, there were nine of us going, including our chapter advisor, Dr. Chuck Yohn. We spent three days in the beautiful Canadian City of Winnipeg, two of which were filled with talks ranging from “The Importance of Evolutionary Adaptive Capacity when Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change” to “Indigenous People’s Involvement in Wildlife Management.” By the end of those days, my brain was sore. It was so much information to even attempt to absorb, but it was beyond worth it. I was able to hear from some of the most innovative and creative thinkers in the field today, not to mention we got to spend a whole other day exploring the area. If you’re wondering, Canada is a lovely country, and I highly suggest a visit.

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(photo credit: Zachary Adams)

When the year began, I wasn’t expecting to go anywhere but home for Fall Break, but plans can change, and sometimes they should. To tell you the truth, the thing that really convinced me to go was one of those messages in the Dove chocolate wrappers. It said, “Go anywhere but home,” and so I listened. That was one smart chocolate.

Truly, the rule with any situation is that it’s what you make of it. All of the opportunities here would make no difference in my life if I didn’t choose to take advantage of them, so when you’re here, or wherever else you may be, take advantage. Do something that might scare you. Introduce yourself to people even if they may seem intimidating. Go to Winnipeg last minute. When you’re there, eat at a Tim Horton’s and experience poutine. Most importantly, always remember to listen to your Dove chocolate wrappers. You never know where you might end up because of one.

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