Sunday, June 26, 2011

A New Face at CIE

Greetings from CIE's latest addition! My name is Laura Smith, and I'd like to introduce myself as the new International Education Intern. I am interning as part of my practicum with the SIT Graduate Institute (formerly the School for International Training) where I am earning my Master's in International Education. You can find me on the first floor of the International House for the next year. I am excited to be here and even more eager to meet students this summer and fall!

How does a girl from rural Pennsylvania end up working in the international field at a college in East Tennessee? I blame my travel bug and passion for all things international on Rita, my high school art teacher. Rita strongly advocated for international education at my tiny high school. I was fortunate enough to join her on two spring break trips she led to Italy, Ireland, and England. Most teenagers beg their parents for cars or credit cards, but after being abroad, all I wanted was a foreign exchange student. Mom and dad finally gave in.

Katya, a FLEX student from Ukraine, came to live with us my junior year of high school. I still give her tremendous credit for leaving her family, culture, and native languages at 15 to live in the middle-of-no-where Pennsylvania with strangers for a year. We all had our ups and downs: I learned what it was like to have a sister, for better or worse. My parents quickly developed coping mechanisms to mediate between two hormonal teenage girls facing cultural challenges. Bless them. Katya cheered at football games, dressed up for prom, and sang Ricky Martin songs in the shower (loudly and off-key). We've stayed in touch over the years. Katya even came back one year with her fiance to spend Christmas with us. Ultimately, she was my inspiration to study abroad. If she could do it in high school for a year, surely I could do it for a semester in college!

I attended Lycoming College, a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, and graduated with degrees in International Studies and Spanish. I spent a semester in Spain and backpacked around Europe. I spent my summers during college working at a summer camp in North Carolina, where I worked with a plethora of international staff, many Brits and Kiwis. I always went back North saying weird things like, "Don't forget your jumpers, y'all".

After college, I debated doing international volunteer work, but decided to focus on issues in my own country instead. I volunteered with AmeriCorps for two years. In AmeriCorps NCCC, I spend most of my time doing Hurricane Katrina relief work in the Gulf Coast. I spent my 2nd AmeriCorps term with the VISTA program at Chicago Cares, organizing and training volunteers for large-scale service events. After that, I worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for Travelers Aid at O'Hare International Airport. My volunteers were the sassiest, most committed group of globe-trotting senior citizens I have ever met. They gave directions, escorted international adoptees to their new families, met Haitian evacuees arriving days after the earthquake, advised passengers who accidentally flushed their IDs down the toilet--you get the picture. The volunteers have collectively been to every continent in the world, including Antarctica. Two of them have been volunteering at the airport longer than I have been alive. I aspire to live life as fully as they do. I most recently attended grad school at SIT in Vermont to return my focus to international education. Between my stints in school, volunteering, and work, I travel every chance I get. I spent last summer backpacking in Central America. I practiced my Spanish and lived in the mountains of Guatemala with host families to learn firsthand about their experiences working on the coffee plantations. This January, I participated in a graduate field course in Mali, where I did strategic planning for Camp Kungoso, Mali's first youth leadership and outdoor education camp. I made my way across the desert to spend a few weeks on the coast of Senegal and practice my broken French, which is kind of like trying to win a bad game of charades.

My experiences at home and abroad led me to East Tennessee. I am thrilled to be part of the small, tight-knit, international community Maryville College offers. I decided to come to MC because I believe in the power of small liberal arts schools to shape open-minded global citizens to look critically at issues that matter. CIE is an outstanding program that is unique for a small college. My desire is to provide support for students to create their own meaningful international experiences, either on campus or out in the world. Please stop by I-House to introduce yourself and chat! I can't wait to hear about your interests, country, favorite places in the world, awkward travel moments, etc.! I am honored and excited to continue my journey with you at Maryville College.

*When I'm not at work or traveling you can usually find me at a farmer's market, running, cooking, singing, practicing Spanish, baking pies, doing yoga, hiking, and plunking on my guitar--but not simultaneously. I'm a multi-taker, but I'm not that good!

**Find me on facebook through the CIE facebook page!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This post is quite late, but no worries mates :)

So....I know in my last blog post I said I would be talking about mine and Seth's adventures in Sydney. That was back in March, didn't think it would take me til June to actually write another update! Anyways, Seth's visit was a blast! We went to the Blue Mountains and all of the must-sees and do's in the city of Sydney as well. He also got to experience a taste of my res life, as we nominated him to be our driver to a night out at Panthers, a local RSL club in Penrith. Such a good sport, finding time to hang out and socialize between bouts of writing an essay he had due at Melbourne!

Since then, lots has happened, as you would assume. I continued my job search in vain, although I did finally get hired by the YMCA, and later at a shop called Blooms the Chemist. Since it's been so long that all of this is happened, I'll go ahead and tell you that I made what money I needed at Blooms, and have finished my employment with them. Still with the YMCA, more of that to come later.

Big event that I almost forgot to mention, I travelled to Cairns! I flew up alone but met a friend at Nomads Hostel in Cairns. For the next few days we did fun touristy things such as going to Rainforestation, Kurunda, the beach, and having a night out or too at the popular Woolshed and Gilligan's club/bar venues. Regular backpacker bars. I won't describe them here, you can google it if you're interested though. Also, Kristin went skydiving. I tagged along and took pictures. No way would I pay money to jump off a high tower.

After Kristin went home, I hung out with a German girl named Tamara that Kristin had met snorkelling the day that I arrived. We chilled out by the lagoon at the esplanade and had another night out together. The next day I met my friends from UWS (Audrey, April, Maggie, and a Canadian traveller they met named Lewis) and we all rented a car to drive to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rainforest. The Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world, and it was amazing to see. Cape Tribulation was also breaktakingly gorgeous. If I remember I will add a few good photos I took, if not just check out my facebook photo album of Cairns, they're all there! The beach there reminded me of the island on Lost, which made it even more exciting.

After that excursion, I decided it was time to do some solo travelling. So I bought a bus ticked and hopped on a Greyhound to Magnetic Island. Luckily I made friends on the ferry ride over, who were also on my bus. We were all staying together at the Bungalow Bay YHA, since we had bought a package deal that had been advertised at our hostels. Meeting new people while travelling solo is amazing, I really enjoyed the experience! The hostel had people from all over the world, but besides one of the bartenders I was the only American. That felt different for sure! I tagged along with a lovely young Welsh couple that I met as well as an English girl who was doing a long-term solo trip (admire her greatly!). We all rented a moke (tiny, puttering, almost go-kart of a car, with the image of Oscar the Grouch plastered on the front) and went on a self-guided tour of the island. We did a bit of snorkelling, sightseeing, and hand-fed rock wallabies, who were very used to tourists (not exactly a good thing for them) and were quite aggressive in approaching us for food. This solo trip was only 2 nights long, but it was a good taste of travelling on my own and made me more confident and less wary of going to new places by myself.

For the last leg of the trip, I met back up with the UWS gang for a Liveaboard Snorkelling trip. We went with Cairns dive centre to spend two days and a night way out in the ocean, right next to the Great Barrier Reef. First we had to take a large, fast boat to the main touristy spot for snorkelling. This boat rocked violently and we witnessed many sick people. Thank you dramamine for saving me from that we boarded a glass bottom boat, which took us out to our main boat from which we would snorkel and dive, called the Kangaroo Explorer. We had an orientation and met the crew, who were absolutely lovely in every way. The staff really made an effort to make sure that we felt safe and comfortable while on the boat and in the water. Not to mention most of them were charming, attractive young Aussie men :) Snorkelling the GBR was definitely a life experience, and I am so grateful for having the chance to experience it. I attempted to do an intro dive, but my mask came off as soon as I jumped into the water, and unfortunately all of the salt water I ingested coupled with the image of the fairly rough waves in the still almost darkness of the early morning turned me off to the idea, as I began to panic and become too nervous to continue. While I am disappointed that I didn't have the nerve to do my dive, snorkelling was enough for me at the time and I hope to try an intro dive at another point of time in my life.

I could write all day about Cairns, but I would rather tell you all in person, so be sure to ask me when you see me this fall at MC :)

Oh and yes, I did skip a week of uni for my trip to Cairns, as flights were too expensive for me to go over my mid-semester break. I did finish all my uni work, though! I guess that kind of brings everything back up to this point. After Cairns my life was uni work and working at Blooms and occasionally the YMCA. Thankfully all I have left now is one exam next Tuesday, and then I am done with my junior year :)

I have made quite a few new friends since I last posted, some of which live in the apartment above me. I have dinners and chill outs with them quite often now, with the occasional night out to Newtown (a sweet indie, alternative suburb of Sydney, one of my favorites). My new friends and I planned a roadtrip several weeks ago, which I am very eager to begin in just a week from tomorrow. Audrey (American), James (Australian), Tim (Australian), Zena (Australian), and Christina (Chinese), and I are going to do a roadtrip from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and back. We'll be taking the Great Ocean road and hope to stop by Broken Hill, the Outback of NSW. To cut down on cost, my friend Tim (who is amazing, I don't think I've ever had a friend who has gone out of their way for me quite so much as he has, definitely feel blessed to have made such an awesome friend!) has agreed to drive his car to Melbourne, where we will pick up a Wicked Camper Van to drive the rest of the way, in addition to the car. James and I will fly to Melbourne instead of riding in the car, since he has an exam and there isn't enough room for 5 people in Tim's car so I will be flying as well. More stories to come after the roadtrip actually takes place, I feel like there will be many!

I've shared quite a bit in this post, and that's hardly half of what I've been doing in Australia this semester. More recently, I have decided to postpone my leaving date for 2 extra weeks. Mostly because I want to work YMCA daycamp which runs from July 4-15, but also because I want as much time as I can get with the people I have met. Same problem as last semester, I supposed. Knowing I have to leave gives me a panicky feeling, as I know but would rather not admit that I will likely never again see some of the wonderful people that have been introduced into my life. It is hard not to get attached to places and people, and no matter how hard I try emotions take hold and make me worry about the potential of losing important relationships when I leave. Several people have made quite a difference in my life and have changed the way in which I see certain things or act in certain situations.

So, I have a month and about a week left in this place that I have called home for pretty much the entirety of my academic junior year. I hope that I do my best in making the most of it while I still have the chance :)