Friday, October 21, 2016

Studying Abroad as a Minority


This autumn, pensive morning is evoking a reflective mood within me. As J-term study abroad sessions are approaching, I thought I would share some of my experiences studying abroad as a minority.

Studying abroad as a minority was an interesting and fulfilling experience for me. As a student of color, my identity as African American stayed at the forefront of my mind, acting as a filter during my destination decision process. I was fortunate enough to choose a study abroad program to Ecuador during my January term.

As I prepared for departure, I worried about things like my hair and my skin tone causing me unwanted attention or curious stares. I was brave despite my hesitation, and pressed on.  My first night in Ecuador we landed outside of Quito. We were met by our tour guide, Ivan, who was of a similar skin tone to me. I looked around at other Ecuadorians and realized that brown skin was dominant everywhere! While I didn't specifically look like locals, I felt normal compared to my American day to day racial experience.

One day after many hours swimming in the ocean, making new friends, and riding a boat on the lovely Pacific Ocean, I exhaled a sigh of relief. Ecuador was allowing me to be a global citizen beyond the barriers of my racial, American identity! I was genuinely enjoying myself.

The people of Ecuador are warm and accepting. Perhaps it is the humbling effect of being surrounded by such overwhelming beauty, whether it be the deep ocean or the luscious jungle, that causes these people to understand humanity better. Whatever it may be, my experience in Ecuador allowed me freedom regarding understanding of  myself and of others in new and seemingly unregulated boundaries.

To all my minority sisters and brothers, if you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it! You might be surprised how much you can give and receive when you cross borders.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being sick abroad and other stressors

I quite possibly have the worst immune system of anyone I know, not counting my sister. While I have been here, I have had three different colds, something almost flu-like, and a throw up bug. It has been a wild wild ride. I should drink plenty of fluids and have copious amounts of rest, but instead I find myself dragging my sick body through the cobblestone streets of Prague. I can't stop traveling. My past self (stingy and timid) would be in shock about the amount I have spent and the multiple times I've been spontaneous. I have talked to many strangers, everyone here is practically a stranger. Last weekend I found myself having Tex-Mex in Prague with an Australian, Indian-Canadian, and Filipino man, all hostel-goers that my roommate met. They, and others, are all wonderful people that I wouldn't meet if I stayed in my bubble.
Balancing school and fun is hard. It was hard back at Maryville but it is much harder here because all of Europe is calling. I plan when I will study and when I will go to Sweden at the same time. I recently made a trek to the end of the metro-line in Milan to find an obscure Steak and Shake with my roommate (the fries are different, but still delicious). I did this while ignoring the fact I am semi behind on all the readings I have to do my next week. Ah yes, exams are upon me....weeks after they struck their terror at Maryville. Let me tell you, I am nervous. There i no such this as a study guide here. We just have to know EVERYTHING. In a class where we have three readings per class, that is downright scary.
I promise I am full of happiness despite these issues. After Midterms, I am going to Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. This weekend I am going to Florence. I will be in Paris by Christmas time. What the h*ll. I never thought I would have such opportunities.
I am overjoyed and overwhelmed and signing off for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life at Kansai Gaidai thus far

My time so far at Kansai Gaidai has been pretty eventful. My first couple weeks were composed almost entirely of paperwork for the school and communicating (arguing) with the three airlines that were supposedly responsible for my lost baggage. Though all the paperwork got completed and my baggage has been returned, it was definitely a hectic start. The CIE office was amazingly helpful. They helped me deal with the language barrier by talking to the one Japanese airline involved, as well as the various Japanese airports on my behalf. One of the best pieces of advice I have for people experiencing difficulties is for them to ask the people in charge of their program to help. Ask however many people from your program you need until you find one who can, and makes sure that they understand what you need (especially if there is a language barrier).

Kansai Gaidai student area/ food court 
Kansai Gaidai Center for International Education
After this rough start was over, I was really able to take time to appreciate Kansai Gaidai's campus. It is really very beautiful.  A majority of my classes are contained in the CIE building (shown below, behind the flags), though there is one other building I have a class in. That building has multiple levels, and a terrace with skylights, and greenery growing out of the concrete. The entirety of campus is just so well thought out.

Through campus sponsored events and from my own trips, I've seen a fair bit of both Osaka and Kyoto. I've seen the Yasukuni Shrine, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Kiyomizudera Temple so far. All three were lovely, but Kiyomizudera is the most beautiful place I've been to yet. When travelling, I think it's best to see as much as you can (within your budget, of course). I've attended a events that didn't even particularly interest me, just to me able to go see a new location with a group.

Fushimi Inari

Kiyomizu dera temple
Some cats in Makino City
Not all the things I've seen have been grandiose either. Sometimes it's good to look at the area around you, to see what life is like in the city you're staying in. If I hadn't, I'd never have found these kitties in the neighboring city. I've found adorable cafes, lovely walkways, beautiful parks, and adorable old ladies who give out candy ( That's a thing in Japan, apparently.  Little old ladies just carry around candy to give to kids and people who stop to chat.). Always take the time to appreciate your surroundings, especially since you never know when you'll be able to go back. 

I especially like exploring now that the leaves are changing. In Japan, the period in which the maples (momiji) turn red is called kōyō( 紅葉 ). The kōyō period is famously beautiful in Kyoto. Japanese maples have slightly different leaves than the ones we have in the states. They almost look like a certain kind of illegal plant leaf, but with slight differences in the shape of the arms of the leaf. They turn a very bright purpley red. They are often quite a bit smaller than American maple leaves, and so when you look up at a canopy of them the leaves look like little stars.

Leaves turning red at Kansai Gaidai
This is also the Halloween season, and though trick or treating is pretty uncommon, decorations,candies, costumes, and parties are. And, because this is Japan, all of the food items are absolutely adorable. They make your heart sing and your wallet cry.
Halloween ghost bread
By: Ray Cleavenger

Monday, October 10, 2016

Looking to Immerse Yourself into Your Host Culture?

Immersion is probably the #1 thing someone hopes for when they study abroad. In theory, it's easy - all you have to do is hang out with students from your host country! But in practice, it's anything but.

Some of the friends I made in Sweden were Swedish,
and some of the friends I made were international,
and that's okay!
Make no mistake - immersion is totally possible, but it's not an easy thing to accomplish in the slightest.

There's a lot of reasons for this.

A large reason can be a language barrier. I was very fortunate to be in Sweden, where almost every spoke English as well as they do their own language. However, if you go to a country where a large
portion of the population doesn't speak English and you don't speak the local language, this can pose problems.

Another thing that can hinder immersion is the fact that exchange students typically tend to hang out with other exchange students. There's no problem with this and it actually makes a lot of sense! You're all in pretty much the same boat. You're studying abroad, probably don't know anyone other
than each other in your host country, and the easiest thing to do is hang out with one another because you likely all have similar schedules. At the same time, local students already have their own friend
groups established, and even if they do ask if you want to hang out with them and their friends, you'll often feel like an outsider if you decide to join them.

This, and many other reasons, is why immersion into the host culture is a pretty daunting task, although it's almost always a student's goal when studying abroad. Lucky for you, I have a few hints and tricks on how you can better immerse yourself in your host country's culture!

Let's start by again addressing the issue of language. Speaking the local language makes immersion a thousand times easier. So if you go abroad and know the local language, don't be afraid to speak it! It's good to challenge yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone because that's the best way to learn. Locals won't laugh at you if you make a mistake; they'll respect you for trying to speak their language.

If you don't speak the local language, your host university will most likely offer classes to learn the language, and you should definitely take those classes! You probably won't become perfectly fluent during the time that you're there, but it'll give you the basics you need to know about the language, which is obviously helpful.

Additionally, try to take some classes with local students! In many schools, there are classes specifically for exchange students, and in these classes, you won't get any interaction with locals. Taking classes with locals may seem hard to do if you're in a non-English speaking country and don't speak the language, but you'd be surprised at how many people take English language classes or even complete their degrees in English! In some cases, it may be easy to figure out which classes are for fexchange students and which classes Swedish students take (for example, I took a class called Swedish Society and Culture, which obviously a native Swede wouldn't take, but I also took a class called Hospitality Management, which had a lot of Swedish tourism students completing their degree in English!) so if you're not sure, don't be afraid to consult your advisor at your home university and ask for their advice.

And once you get into classes with local students, don't be afraid to interact with them! More often than not, local students are just as excited to meet international students as you are to meet local students. 

Remember that time my professor straight up
forgot about class so we tweeted him to
get to the bottom of things? Because I do.
Which leads right into my next piece of advice! Don't take the local students that show up to all of the functions for international students for granted!!! They're there because they want to meet you and get to know you. They're also really good people to ask for advice whenever you need it. So these people can be very, very important to you if you just let them be.

My final piece of advice is to try to find some activities to do outside of school that locals participate in. I tried a lot of weird things I never would have tried at home, such as pub crawls and stand up comedy in the basement of a sketchy looking building, and I had the opportunity to meet and interact with locals during these times. And, if you can, volunteer or get an internship! You can do this in English almost everywhere in the world, so if you don't speak the local language, don't let that hold you back!

There's a lot of difficult things when it comes to studying abroad, but immersion into the host culture is perhaps one of the most difficult. It's something that takes a lot of effort and certainly doesn't happen overnight. But immersing yourself into the culture is so incredibly rewarding. Once you accomplish that, you start feeling a bit like a local yourself, and when you go home, you'll find yourself referring to your host country as "we" or "my country!" :)

Friday, October 7, 2016

5 Things Every International Student Should Know Before Coming to MC

I still vividly remember the day I packed my stuff, and came to the United States to attend Maryville College. It was literally flying towards unknown; I was terrified, yet the thought of new discoveries was thrilling. I did not know what to expect from an American college, how to study, how to meet new people and of course, how to survive on my own. Therefore, for every international student planning to attend Maryville College, I assembled a list of 5 things (advice) that they should know prior arriving:

1) International Students Are Minicelebrities

As international students, we all have those thoughts about fitting in, and making new friends. It was the same case with me, but as soon as I walked intomy first ever college class, a girl introduced herself and we clicked right away. She (#BrookeCummings) was so excited to know that I was from a different country, and her first question was "Do you know how many questions I have for you?" Even though she sounded detective-ish, it made me feel home. Soon everyone I met were genuinely interested in me, my background and thought my stories were cool. Therefore, I want to tell incoming internationals that don't worry about finding friends, they will find you.

2) Professors CARE About YOU!

Unlike in big universities, the class sizes in Maryville College are small (10-15 people). Your professors will get to know you, and if you end up taking multiple classes with them, they become your life coach. If you tell your professor that you are and international student, they will be happy to help you not only with classes but also with adjusting. My favorite professor is Dr. Gibson, who is also my thesis advisor, is always there to help me in academics and just life in general. I remember coming to her office after my General Chemistry lecture and having a two-hour conversation about my career goals. Thus, your professors care about you as a student and they truly want to see you be successful.

3) MC Has Rigorous Academics

Maryville College is considered one of best colleges in southern United States. It is for a reason: classes are hard and professors expect high performance from the students. From the fist day of classes, professors make it clear that you need to work HARD for that grade, and there are no shortcuts. I still recall studying for my first exam freshman year, when I spent hours studying and feeling guilty for going to sleep.

Image result for no time to be dead got to study
This was literally me before my exams and made me realize that MC is no joke. Although I have been feeling like
 for four years during finals week, I know that MC prepared me very well for my future career.

4) There Are Lots of Resources Available

MC faculty and staff recognize the intensity and the workload for the students, hence, there are a lot of support to help you succeed. I am a big fan of MC Writing Center; I literally worshiped them during my freshman English Composition class. I was certainly camping in their office, they helped me to get an A in that class. Also, every class has a group study leader that prepares study guides before exams (and brings food) and helps you get through the class. There are also services available for time management, planning out your college degree and finding internships and even counselors when you are in need of therapy (especially during finals week).

5) The Location is GREAT

Maryville College is located 30 min away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and 30 min away from Knoxville Metropolitan. Whether you are seeking alone time to reconnect with mother nature or go all out on Friday night, you don't have to go far. Furthermore, downtown Maryville is within the walking distance from the college, there are lots of places to eat and to see.
s1 11 connor temple im not really outdoorsy
Here is the wrap up of my list of things I wish I knew before coming to Maryville College. These are the things I learned during my four years in Maryville College (you can call me an expert), and by the way, YOU ARE WELCOME!