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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.

 

Little Old Man on Top of the World

Two summers ago, I told myself, was going to be the best summer of my life – a whole summer in China. Being 20 years old at the time, the toughest thing about life is doing all the right things in order to ensure that after college you have some sort of job waiting for you. For most college sophomores and juniors summer is about trying to put something amazing on your resume. I was thinking of teaching English, interning or doing anything to make my resume pop. Before I hopped on that plane I was excited, because this summer was the summer that I wasn’t going to sit at home – I was actually going to do something that may land me a job someday. Little did I know at the time, I would be coming home a month early with little to nothing to put on my resume. However, traveling is not always going to be about another bullet point on your resume, but learning about yourself.

One of my greatest experiences in China was climbing Wu Dong Mountain. For everyone who hates the stairs or the steppers at the gym – ME- this is all out-of-shape people’s biggest fear – a 3 mile hike ALL UP STAIRS. 30 minutes into this hike when all of the track and field stars and gym fanatics wiz passed you – you feel the tenseness in those muscles from the hips down, and the burning in your abs. It’s one of those moments when you hate yourself for not taking the cable car. As you ascend, the steps get steeper and at some places you are pulling yourself up the mountain, the chains clicking with lovers’ locks. The sun has a chance to rise and peak through the trees, covering you in its unwanted heat. I made it to the top sticky, out of breath, and surprised by the shops around me selling tea eggs and starchy corn.

There is a mist covering the trees, making it feel like only the clouds and soaring birds were higher than I was. The view from a top takes the last remaining breath I have out of me. The view isn’t very clear at all. I found that no matter where you are in China- in the cities, on the mountain tops – you always have the feeling that China is hiding something from you.

Wu Dong Mountain View from the Top

Wu Dong Mountain View from the Top

Hidden here at Wu Dong Mountain for 20 years is a Daoist monk named Hermit Jia. He is a little old man with wrinkles and a huge smile that touches your heart. He lives in a cave overlooking the world in a place where it seems like time has stopped. There is no television, cellphones, jeans or T-shirts. If you’re a fan of Chinese movies you have seen his outfit, the black and white curled up shoes, loose pants and a traditional three button shirt.

He is befriended only by bees buzzing from inside of the cabinets with yellow honey comb shining through the cracks of the wood. A boy asked if he was ever stung by the bees – he smiled and everyone couldn’t resist to smile with him. No, he answered, I leave them alone and they leave me alone.

I traveled half way around the world, and I came upon this little piece of paradise and a smile that was so welcoming you didn’t need to speak the same language to understand the simple, simplistic but very powerful life you could have as long as you did what made you happy. Sheltered only by a dark cave this man on top of the mountain lived by one philosophy: being.

Hermit Jia

Hermit Jia

I wasn’t able to find a job or any “resume poppers” that summer; however, my discovery of a little old man on top of the world was the greatest treasure of my summer. In many ways this man reminded me of grandfather. Both men with heart melting smiles, and the courage to do what they loved most. For my pap it was gardening, for Hermit Jia is was simply being. In this big bustling world we live in we become human doings instead of just human beings.

 

From Lille to the DNC in Philly: A Summer Well Spent

Wow! I can hardly believe that it’s week 4 of college already. It felt like only yesterday that I was studying abroad in Lille, France, last June, and attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia the following month! As an Eagles Abroad Scholar for French, I am required to study in a French speaking country, which I started by participating in the European Summer Program (ESP) at The Catholic University of Lille or La Catho for short. I enrolled in a French level 10 course, which, as a Francophone, allowed me to improve my writing tremendously. My professor was very dynamic and gave us many opportunities to discuss our ideas and debate in French. We talked about various topics ranging from Francophone cultures and arts to racism and politics, given our various countries of origins such as, Burundi, Colombia, Syria, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, India, China, the Philippines, the US and so many more. In addition, I took an elective course called European Integration: Borders in Turmoil, which taught me about the functions of the EU and its potential future; the course was a great supplement to my politics studies as it provided me with a unique insight on the EU from an actual European, and particularly French perspective.

Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!

Figure 1A collage of my adventures in France with my Friends. The pictures were taken during our various travels!

Of course, I did not miss out on the amazing French cuisine. Every day, I got breakfast from the local boulangerie-bakery- right around the corner of La Catho: croissants, brioches, pain au chocolats and hot choco were life! Every so often, I would also visit an Ivorian restaurant called La Main Magique: Chez Josie, which I absolutely adored! Knowing the popularity of the appetizing attiéké dish of Côte d’Ivoire, I pointed the restaurants out to other Africans that I met in Lille. We visited the beautiful cathedral, Notre-Dame d’Amiens-Our Lady of Amiens-and ate some delicious crêpes! We also traveled to the beaches of Normandy, the Palace of Versailles and Mont Saint-Michelle!

While I was sad to leave Lille, I was also excited to come back to the States and attend the DNC in Philly, 2 weeks later! The DNC was indeed an experience like no other. I had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee, Leah Daughtry, an amazing and charismatic speaker. She inspired me with her saying “In their minds, this is not a ceiling. It’s a starting point.” I felt empowered to pursue endless opportunities knowing that the sky is not my limit but rather my starting point. Daughtry also made me appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of those who paved the way in order for me to be successful.

Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University

Figure 2Leah Daughtry, First African American CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC), and I at Temple University

I had the chance to work with the State Department Foreign Press, which gave me access to the convention hall every nights. I had the opportunity to meet various foreign journalists whom I interviewed for my article assignments. Indeed, the work load was very demanding, but I had fun doing interviews, visiting the city of brotherly love, networking and meeting my favorite journalists, The Young Turks! I will never forget the moment when Hilary took the stage on the last day of the DNC. The crowd roared and cheered and I never felt more fortunate in my life; I was witnessing history in the making and breathing the same air as the first woman presidential nominee in the history of the United States!

Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!

Figure 3I watched the ball drop at final night of the convention!

My summer experiences make me so proud of being at Juniata and thankful for such wonderful opportunities. I am happy to announce that after the DNC, I will be attending the 2017 Presidential Inauguration and witnessing history in the making once again, regardless of whom she might be!!!

Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!

Figure 4Dr. Plane (far right) and me among other Juniata students at Temple University for the DNC!

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.

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.

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.

international students1

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.

My Senior Year Bucket List

steph study abroad

It is officially week 2 of my final year at Juniata College, and let me tell you, I’m already feeling pretty nostalgic.  I spent the entirety of last year studying abroad, first in Russia and then in India, and though it was an incredible year full of adventures and new experiences, I am so happy to be back at Juniata.  Everyone tells you about being homesick, but no one really warns you about being campus-sick.  You really do start to miss your college once you’re gone for a while, but thankfully I still have one year left!  Here, I have created a bucket list of things I will endeavor to complete during my final year here.

  • Attend every single tradition. At which other college are classes canceled on a random day and everyone picnics at a lake in the mountains?  And only at Juniata is there an event where freshmen risk bodily harm by charging at the rest of the student body, trying to fight their way past them. Juniata College has many unique and fun traditions, and I was insanely jealous every time I saw pictures of my friends participating in fun activities, such as eating lobsters at Lobsterfest and pitching tents on the lawn for Madrigal.  This year, I am not going to miss out on any of the events and activities at JC.
  • Find the secret spots. Because Juniata is located in the mountains, there are many different places to explore around campus.  One of my favorite spots is the Cliffs, only a 10-minute walk away.  The views are incredible, but another little known fact is that there is a rope swing at the bottom (how cool is that?!).  No one really knows where exactly it is, but it can’t be too hard to find.  In addition, there are great hiking trails not too far from campus, including 7 Geocaches within a mile (a Geocache is a container filled with an unknown object that you find using GPS coordinates).  I have never been Geocaching but who doesn’t love a huge treasure hunt?!  Before I graduate, I will leave no stone unturned.
  • Make lasting relationships. This may sound cheesy, but one of my goals is to make sure I leave Juniata having made enduring friendships. Juniata is a small community, and I know everyone here has my back and wants the best for my future.  I know I can rely on my professors and advisors to guide me both in my final year and after I graduate.  In addition to becoming closer to my mentors, I am also looking forward to meeting new people and getting re-involved in my favorite clubs, like Circle K and PAX-O (a Peace Studies club).  It’s my last year to really make an impact, so I hope to be as involved as I can!  Finally, I know I’m going to miss all of the friendly faces on campus, from Laura who works in Baker to President Troha.  These sorts of people make Juniata a happier, brighter place, and ultimately a college that is unique and irreplaceable.

As much as I don’t want it to, senior year is going to fly by.  No matter what I’m doing, whether I’m canoeing on Raystown Lake during Mountain Day or debating the meaning of life with a professor, I’m happy to be back home at Juniata.  I can’t wait to start checking things off my bucket list!

Juniata College and the Gambia

Being a participant of Juniata’s Gambian study abroad trip, one of the things you hear when you tell people I am going to Africa is:  “Why”?

Art in the Gambia

Art in the Gambia

 

In my opinion, Africa is often very difficult for people to understand, because it is not white and it is not a utopia. The media provides the average individual with only the worst possible news about Africa to shape these very negative misconceptions. Misconceptions that lead to the construction of the enemy. Having gone to The Gambia, one of the things that strike people is all of the smiles. Being able to form a relationship with someone half way around the world helps deteriorate these negative misconceptions, because the whole of Africa is not a terrorist or diseased. However, culturally some things like FGM are practiced but the amazing and motivating thing is that there are Africans (Not Americans or British) working to stop the practice. They are working to change a hurtful cultural practice by changing the mindset of the people.

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Traveling to The Gambia was a unique Juniata experience, because it pushed you out of your comfort zone and shows that things such as WIFI are truly a first world problem. The Gambia is a very poor country whose main commodity is peanuts. Being there helps me better understand Carl Wilkens who visited Juniata and gave a talk entitled I’m Not Leaving-One Family’s Decision against Genocide, about the Rwanda genocide. This talk encompassed not only the tragedy of this small Africa country, but one of the biggest recoveries stories in history. My trip to the Gambia helped to explain his energy when he bounced around the room talking about his friends that he risked his life for during the Rwanda

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A big take away from Wilken’s talk was that no matter what the circumstances are you have a choice. For him the choice was staying in Rwanda during the genocide in order to protect the two Africans that worked for him, and he had called friends. These relationships and the Rwanda genocide helped Wilken understand the important of a building a relationship VS building a school. Wilkens states that he “wanted to build something that lasted”. One of the things that really sold me on Juniata was the international experience they promised I’d have. So much of learning happens outside the classroom, and it was great to have my international experience linked with a guest speaker on campus.

International Film Festival

The international movie festival hosted at Juniata College helps prepare students for their study abroad experience. From May to December, I will be studying abroad in China. Watching the movie Farewell My Concubine, about the traditional Beijing Opera, helped me visualize China and begin thinking about all the aspects of Chinese culture that I was going to experience.

This movie left me with more questions than it did answers. In all honesty I do not know too much about Chinese history. The movie left me fascinated by the Chinese revolution, and how jade tea cups could change the course of a nation. Once in China, I will be able explore topics like this a lot more in depth, but since the movie was able to inspire my interest on the subject I will be able to add that to my “Before I Go to China Research” list.

I would compare the beginning of the movie to Charles Dickson’s Oliver Twist, about a boy’s life in the orphanage in London. It was very similar, but very drab and painful to watch. When we think of actors we think of someone with a glamorous life, that is not what was portrayed. Instead this movie gave us the honest truth behind what it takes to make an opera star. The movie explored the Beijing opera, and gave a glimpse into what art and culture is like in China.

I liked the movie overall, and the festival helped enhance my international experience. I look forward to seeing the Beijing opera in China as well as all the other cultural and historical marvels China has to offer

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