Dom in Amman: Finding Family- Sisters From Another Mister

March 5, 2019

Hey everyone! I met my host family and they are wonderful!

While students back at the University of Richmond are gaining sorority sisters and fraternity brothers to complete their families, I have gained three new sisters and two new parents. My sisters are 6,7, and 17 years old. The night I was welcomed into their home, I did not know what to say or do. I started out by giving my host mom Rana the gifts I brought for her and her family. She was very excited and added the refrigerator magnet that I gave her to her collection. For students going abroad, you should always bring your host family a gift to thank them for their generosity and to share with them a part of your life. My host family is originally from Iraq and I recently discovered that my host mom is an amazing cook. In the morning, I start my day with pita, labneh, and cucumbers. For lunch, I consume some form of rice and meat. Usually, my lunch is leftovers from the night before and in the evening, I eat dinner with the girls if I am not out late studying.

Uno with Judi

Uno with Judi

My favorite thing I do is go to family dinner on Thursday evenings. In Jordan, Friday is like the American Sunday. It is set aside as a religious day and most families will gather together and share a lunch after Friday prayer. Instead of Friday lunch, my host family goes to dinner at my host father’s mother’s house. We call her Mama Shireen. These gatherings usually equate to 10-12 people over for dinner. We hang out, eat, drink coffee and catch up. The last time I was over my younger sisters pulled me into a room and challenged my roommate and I to a singing competition where we belted out Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber songs. This was followed by a pillow fight where I had to defend myself against three rambunctious seven-year old girls. Considering the odds were not in my favor, I lost.

In all honesty, something that I have noticed in Amman is family is very important to a different extent than in America. Here in Amman, there is no emphasis on the individual. You are always part of a unit or team for lack of a better word. For example, students in the U.S. will leave home at 18 to go off to college or begin their lives, but here most young adults remain at home until marriage and even the concept of marriage is partially a family matter. For example, you would not propose to a woman here without asking her father for permission. Additionally, family is not limited here to the people who live in your house. There are no boundaries between the extended family and the immediate. Sometimes when friends great each other they call the other “my sister” or “my brother”. This is a result of the nature of Jordanian people and the Arabic language.

Kadi the Fashionista

Kadi the Fashionista

Because of my family and roommate, I really feel at home here in Amman. There are days and moments that feel foreign and strange to me, but with the support of my host family, I am practicing Arabic, learning about Jordanian culture, and finding family.


KrissinKorea: 14 Hours Later

March 1, 2019

Take Off

My flight was set to take off at 12 p.m. on Thursday, February 21st and land at Incheon airport at approximately 4:30 p.m. Friday, February 22nd. My dad drove me to the airport and helped me get my bags checked in. Everything was happening so fast–– or so it felt. He followed me until we got to security and then we said our goodbyes. I already miss him. I felt pretty sad waiting for my flight but I kept reminding myself that this experience will be good for me and I know deep down I’m excited, but change is hard for me sometimes.

When I got on the plane, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the seat next to me was empty. I had so much leg room! The seat itself was pretty stiff, but it reclined a decent amount. When I booked my ticket, I made sure to have a window seat because I love to look out the window during airplane rides. The in-flight entertainment was pretty cool. They had a bunch of music to listen to and different arcade games. I played Pac Man like 20 times! Also, I know people are always bashing on airplane food, but Korean Air knows what’s up. The first meal I had was traditional Bibimbap, which came with a side of rice, seaweed soup, pineapples, and pickles with chili sauce. They also provided sesame oil and chili paste to make the Bibimbap extra yummy. I feasted to say the least, but they ran out of ginger ale when I asked so I opted for a beer. They’re basically the same thing, right?

airplane food

YUM

We flew over areas that I have never been to or seen in my entire life. Since I’m used to flying South to Ecuador, I’ve never had the opportunity to cross over the North Pole, but it was amazing. I couldn’t stop looking outside at the beautiful colors in the sky and at the ice below.

NORTH POLE VIEW

My view of the North Pole

I also really loved the view of New York when we were leaving. Everything looked so small and crowded!

NEW YORK VIEW

My view of the Concrete Jungle

At one point we flew over land that looked like it didn’t belong to Earth and was out of a science fiction film. The terrain was rugged, grey, cracked, and had many river-looking pathways that intertwined through the ridges of the hills. It was crazy. If you’ve ever watched Interstellar, Mann’s Planet looks exactly like what I’m talking about!

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Interstellar reference photo

After about five hours I realized that I would have no butt when I landed in Korea. I was sitting for 14 hours guys! I was losing it! On top of that, I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know what was wrong with me because if I know anything about myself, it’s that I can fall asleep anywhere at any time. I am a high functioning sloth, for real. So for most of the flight, I played Pac Man, listened to music, read my book, and pouted about not being able to sleep.

When we landed at Incheon Airport, I wanted to kiss the floor beneath me. I was so grateful to finally be off the plane. During the luggage claim I ran into a few other people that were heading to Yonsei and we buddied up to try to figure out our way to the dorm buildings. We took a bus and got off at the Ewha Woman’s University back gate stop, which put us at about an 8 minute walk to SK Global where many of us were staying.

Now comes the tricky part.

I brought two big suitcases, a carry-on, and a book bag with me (not the best decision I’ve made in my life). That’s a total of 4 items that need to somehow get from the bus stop to the dorm rooms. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Korea is extremely hilly and Yonsei itself was built on the side of a mountain. Do you know what that means? It means I have to drag everything up one giant hill! Four pieces of luggage and two arms–– that’s what I am up against. Anyway, after numerous stretching breaks, a lot of panting, and a few internal, moral-boosting conversations, I managed to get my luggage into SK Global. I almost cried when I made it, let me tell you.

 

 

Once I checked in, I handed in my tuberculosis test results and grabbed a bag containing my bedding for the semester and headed upstairs. I was lucky enough to get a room on the top floor because the view is great!

VIEW FROM DORM

The view from my dorm

After finally unpacking everything, I walked down to the convenience store to buy some food. I decided on a kimchi rice with tuna triangle kimbap–– my first meal in Korea! So far I’ve been having a great time. I’ll tell you guys about a few of my outings in my next blog post. Take care everyone!


KrissinKorea: Preparing For the Big Leap!

February 20, 2019
 

Hey guys! My name is Kristen and I am a sophomore journalism student at the University of Richmond. This spring semester I will be attending Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. I leave in a few days and I am totally freaking out. Recently I have gotten into the habit of making lists of the things I should buy before I leave and what I should bring in general. I am planning on packing only the essentials because I want to bring back a lot of stuff! Since I am a procrastinator down to the bones, I’m a little behind on getting everything ready. I am working both my jobs for these last 2 days that I will be here and I am navigating that while trying to prepare for my trip, but I am remaining positive! My family surprised me with a “going away breakfast” this Sunday and it made me realize how much I am going to miss them. I am extremely close with my family and I know they’re wishing the best for me, so I want to have an amazing experience for their sake as well. I experienced a big change in my life during the period of time that I was waiting to study abroad and it made me eager to start over. I want my experience in Korea to clear my mind and to allow me to reset and come back with a whole new outlook. I am looking forward to studying my hardest, making friends, experiencing new things, and growing as a person. I can’t wait to talk to you guys again and let you know how I’m settling in. Talk to you soon!


Dom in Amman:Before I Embark

February 2, 2019

2 February 2019

**Hi everyone! My name is Dominique Cressler and welcome to my blog!! Just so everyone knows I have already arrived in Amman, Jordan for my study abroad experience and everything has been great. I have been here for three weeks. One week of orientation and the other two taking classes at Amideast. Therefore, I will be back to back posting at first to catch everyone up on Dom in Amman. Enjoy my quick journey back in time!**

I have been dreaming of Jordan since I first decided to study Arabic and now it is finally happening! I cannot even conceal my excitement. This is probably the biggest step toward my educational goals and the first step toward my future career. In the future, I hope to become a professor of Arabic studies as well as continue to work with refugees.

I started studying Arabic because of the Syrian refugee crisis. At the time, I did not know what Syria was or where the Arabic language would take me. This was the consequence of a high school education that shelters its students from the rest of the world, but I was determined to learn and become involved. My journey began at the University of Richmond where I am a double major in Arabic Studies and Global Studies: Middle East. There, I started volunteering at a local refugee resettlement agency and began my studies. In a university setting, you study Modern Standard Arabic which is understood by most Arabs, is used in Middle Eastern and North African media, and for reading the Qur’an. At the university level many people do not get the experience of learning the dialectal Arabic. Each country communicates in its own dialect. This is called Ammiyah. Unlike the Moroccan dialect that is heavily influenced by French, the Jordanian Ammiyah is closest to that which most Arab refugees speak. This made Jordan the perfect country to study abroad in. I have known Jordan was the place for me since my freshman year and now I leave in three days for the airport.

I leave for Amman in three days and I am feeling slightly overwhelmed. I am about to venture to a country that feels completely different from my past travels and, despite studying the region and doing research, I still do not realistically know what to expect. I think the hardest thing about this experience will be the language immersion. During the first two weeks my favorite phrases will probably be “I don’t understand” and “Do you speak English?” Once I learn how to navigate Amman and better communicate with the people, I should be fine. Despite immersion, I am also nervous about getting to school and if I will like my host family.

I do not even know who my host family is yet. At this rate I can just imagine the introduction:

Me: Hey, I’m Dom. I don’t know anything about you or your names, but thanks for giving me a bed to sleep in for 4 months. Oh and I brought you Twizzlers and a book of Lancaster because that is where I am from and I like Twizzlers. Lastly, I am from Lancaster, but I am not Amish. Here is a small horse and buggie decoration.

New Family: ….. Hi and welcome to our home. I’m (insert names of new family here). Thanks… What are the Amish?

From there, I will have run out of Arabic to explain the Amish community and why Lancaster, PA is known for it. This explanation was not something I exactly prepared for in my Arabic classes. In reality, I think my host family will be great. I only wish I knew more about them, but I do not meet them until in-country orientation begins. Despite this, I am most excited to connect with people from Amman including my host mom. My goal for this trip is to foster strong connections, finally become comfortable speaking Arabic, and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

Well I must return to packing! For those who are curious about what Jordan is actually like or want to know more about Abroad in the Middle East or the Amideast program, stay tuned, post questions and I will be happy to answer. Additionally, below is a link to a video about Jordan for those who are interested in knowing more about the country.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC4t3fP1vhY


Brooke Goes Global: Thank you

January 30, 2019

“Women hold up half the sky.” — Chinese Proverb 

I sat, hot and sweaty, in a large concrete room in the country of India. Across from me were 62 middle schoolers wide-eyed and smiling. Skin a golden brown and hair as dark as the night sky, but as shiny as the stars that graze it. I watched as a lanky girl in a red skirt and white polo stood up and introduced herself as the peer-elected 6th grade president of her class. She and 5 other elected middle school peers act as this community’s cornerstones of sex trafficking education.

During my International Honors Program Semester Abroad, I had the opportunity to visit a rural village in India, where this 6th grade girl lived and empowered her entire community. There, families are so impoverished, starved, and desperate they sell their daughters to sex traffickers. Gangs and thugs creep about looking for innocent and naive girls to kidnap. Girls, young and illiterate, are forced victims to the interconnected, corrupted scheme of sex trafficking. More than 2 million young girls disappear off the face of the earth each year. They are kidnapped, sold, objectified and forced into sex trafficking. Hour after hour, day after day, they are raped, beaten, scolded, dehumanized. Their bodies and minds broken by the vicious world around them.

A lot of things contribute to the vicious and hideous crime of sex trafficking across the world. Police corruption, poverty, oppression. But as someone with a passion for public health, my concentration is on the upstream solutions because a temporary Band-Aid fix is not the appropriate treatment for a gashing, oozing, bloody problem. This solution : education. When the entire community is educated, the force against sex trafficking grows. It becomes unacceptable. It emerges as the terrible monster it is. But this only begins with education. Educate your children, your daughters, the community. With education comes empowerment. Empowerment breeds success. It lifts people out of poverty, and its long term payoff is priceless. 

The public health issue I feel especially passionate about is an intertwined complication of all of the above. It centers around the misconception that women only have their vaginas to offer the world. That is why millions of girls are kidnapped, sold, and trafficked for the delight of perverted, satanic people — because they believe women are just their vaginas. That is why countries like Syria, Iraq, and India encourage, promote, and sometimes put into law the covering of women’s bodies — because they believe women are first and foremost sexual beings. That is why, in the United States, women still make 70 cents to every one dollar a man makes — because a woman’s body is to be sexualized, forget the respectability and dignity of her mind. But I am here to tell you that women are the backbone of this country, of foreign countries, of this world. God help this world if women were to disappear. I have spent the last 21 years of my life being raised by a strong, single, independent mother. I have spent the last 15 years of my life being sculpted into an intelligent, courageous, and passionate woman by the American education system. And I have spent countless years, learning from, listening to, and being mentored by groundbreaking and influential women. 

Gender inequality is a public health issue. It leads to oppression, poor health outcomes, and structural violence. I have seen how gender inequality leads to obstetric violence in South Africa. Young girls, often rape victims, are taunted by nurses and doctors. In worse case scenarios, episiotomies are performed without medication, consent, or explanation. Gender inequality perpetuates an unbelievably high rate of Caesarian sections, 80%, in Brazil when the World Health Organization suggests a 10% rate. Gender inequality is why female infanticide still occurs in India, despite laws deeming sex selected abortions illegal. Gender inequality is why 23% of the world’s females are illiterate compared to only 13% of the world’s males. 

The solution to this ominous and fatal public health priority is a complicated assemblage of various social factors, determinants of health, institutions, and autonomy. But it starts with education. 

For example, an essential part of India’s healthcare system are the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs). Each ASHA is a woman and contributes greatly to a healthier, happier population. After basic health education training, she becomes the neighborhood health educator. An ASHA holds after school programs to teach neighborhood children the importance of education and healthy habits. She visits homes to distribute iodine tablets so the household has clean drinking water. She educates families about the importance of a balanced diet on a tight budget. She walks pregnant women to the hospital. Holds their hand while they give birth and, after, provides unconditional support for the infant and new mother. These examples only scrape the tip of the iceberg in regards to her health reform in the community. For her hard work, she is paid modestly so she is able to support a family of her own. Now, many Indian women are using their education to positively contribute to the nation’s health, economy, and safety. 

Gender inequality is why I was abandoned by my birth parents in China. But because of education (and other extraneous factors) I am who I am today — someone who will shake the world, who will make a difference. Education breeds empowered, smart, opinionated, and strong women. Women that come together as one unstoppable and uncompromising force.  Thank you International Honors Program and the University of Richmond for granting me the opportunity to study around the world, as an empowered, intelligent, confident woman.  

Featured are some of my favorite pictures from the semester:

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India was filled with beautiful stands of colorful trinkets.  It was hard not to stop and browse for some souvenirs

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We made a quick stop to Jaipur where we visited the Pink City.

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I have never seen a more beautiful coast than the South African coast.  It might have also helped that I was hundreds of feet in the air hanging from a parachute.

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A better view of the coast line where you can see the infamous Lion’s Head mountain on the left and the start of the 7 Apostles mountains on the right.

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Causally jumping from rock to rock as I climb Lion’s Head.

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Our rural stay in Zweletemba, a formally blacks only township, was a life-changing experience.  To be able to live with a woman, an activist, a hero who truly changed the world for the better was surreal.  If you see me around campus, ask me about Zweletemba.  I love talking about it!

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The city of São Paulo was filled with beautiful street art like the one pictured above.

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We took a weekend trip to Rio de Janeiro and saw the World Wonder Christ the Redeemer Statue.

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I am beyond blessed to have experienced this life changing abroad semester.  Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way.

 


Bryan in Taipei: Final Thoughts and Reflections

December 30, 2018

For my final post, I’ve decided to only include pictures from Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. since it was very close to my apartment in Taipei and I passed through it every day. On my last night in Taiwan, I went there to watch the sunset and the flag-lowering ceremony, which seemed a fitting ending to my semester abroad. Keeping that in mind, I wanted to use my final post to reflect on my experience and what it’s taught me.

palm trees

Palm Trees alongside the lake that’s within the memorial grounds

I ultimately decided to study abroad in Taiwan because I was drawn to the relative independence of the program and its allure towards Chinese learners who already had several years of language study under their belt. In these two regards, the program lived up to my expectations. Given the structure of the classes being once a week for 3 hour sessions, I found myself with a great deal of free time even when taking 5 classes overall. For this reason I would not recommend the program to those only at the basic or intermediate levels yet serious about learning Chinese, unless they opt for the Intensive Mandarin track and are willing to stay throughout the entirety of the semester (from September to mid-January). The vast majority of my learning came from immersion outside of the classroom, which is easier for higher levels. In fact, any study abroad program – especially one with as much autonomy as this – is as intensive and immersive as you make it (in terms of language learning). This became far more apparent to me during my time in Taiwan.

sys memorial

The main memorial hall building. Inside is a large statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen somewhat reminiscent of the Lincoln memorial.

One thing I was surprised to find was just how different several aspects of living in Taiwan versus Mainland China were. Though China in the past two to three decades has undergone rapid modernization and development, it did not seem as widespread and, frankly, Westernized as Taiwan. This could be for any number of reasons, be it comparative size, governance and policies, etc., but Taipei was a city with all kinds of Western influences present. I was even more surprised by the pervasive Japanese influence. Having just studied in Northeast China the summer before, it was immediately apparent how markedly different the sentiment towards the Japanese was in that region versus in Taiwan. The latter seems to welcome cultural, technological, and other influences from Japan quite openly, while I noticed a bit of animosity still lingering in China in some regards. Learning about these distinctions and attempting to unwrap cultural identities within Taiwan, China, and Japan was a major part of my experience. I also learned far more about China than I had expected, which is invaluable for me as a Chinese Studies major.

ancient characters scroll

A scroll featuring ancient Chinese characters. Rotating art and culture exhibits are located inside the 2nd and 3rd floors of the memorial.

 

No matter where you go, studying abroad will place you in a new environment completely different from Richmond and teach you a lot about yourself in the process. I learned how to cook for myself and plan my meals entirely on my own, though in a grander sense I also learned how to navigate in unknown and unpredictable environments and became a far better traveler. This is my 3rd study abroad experience, and each one has taught me something different about the host country and about myself. On my first two trips, I was the only student from UR, and on this one there was only one classmate and close friend also in the program. While not being around many other students from UR is not at all necessary to have a meaningful and impactful experience, it nonetheless pushed me to further breach my comfort zone and establish new friendships and connections along the way that I otherwise might not have sought out as openly. Studying abroad isn’t all easy and things will undoubtedly be frustrating and difficult, but it’s something totally worth it if given the opportunity, regardless of it’s whether its for academic reasons or to experience a new culture.

flag ceremony

After sunset, I stumbled upon soldiers performing a ceremonial flag lowering ceremony. I am not sure if this is done daily, but it was a nice last-memory of the memorial.

I want to say thank you for reading my posts throughout the semester and allowing me to share different aspects of my abroad experience. I’d encourage people to look into Taipei and other less-mainstream study abroad options because living abroad for 3-4 months is not something most have the opportunity to do and choosing to immerse yourself in a completely different culture has lots of amazing benefits. I’m excited to take my perspective back to Richmond and hear all about others’ time abroad as well.

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Taiwan’s Natural Beauty

December 28, 2018

view from plane

Mountains of Taiwan from Above

One aspect of my time in Taiwan that has continued to surprise me is its natural beauty. Not necessarily in the white-sand beaches, tropical island sort of way, but in its mountainous and jungle landscapes that I otherwise wouldn’t have associated with a small island. I was not expecting such an abundance of options for outdoors activities or such well-preserved park systems open to the public. During my time there, I was able to go hiking, biking, snorkeling, and more, all easily quite inexpensive and accessible via public transport. With the weather for the most part remaining warm throughout my time there, I had plenty of opportunities to escape the big-city life, even, paradoxically, while remaining in the city limits. Taipei did an excellent job at designating parks for the public and creating large zones for recreational activities and hiking/bike trails.

yangmingshan national park

Yangmingshan National Park

Yangmingshan (陽明山) National Park was located directly north of the city and offered all kinds of activities – including hot springs – for solo and group visitors. From waterfalls to wild water-buffalo, the park was filled with interesting things to do and see that I would not expect from somewhere such a short metro and bus ride away from the city.

dragon cave

Dragon Cave

I also enjoyed Dragon Cave (龍洞) on the eastern coast of the island. We went at the end of November when the water was pretty chilly, but still decided to go snorkeling and saw a lot of fish. There were some really impressive rock formations as well and, since it was off-season for tourists, the place was completely empty. This was in many ways the perfect day trip from Taipei and one that few people really know about.

lion's head mountain

Lion’s Head Mountain view at sunset

Lion’s Head Mountain (獅頭山) was definitely a spontaneous, day-before kind of decision, but I’m glad I went and, once again, surprised it isn’t more well-known. At this spot, Buddhist temples line the central mountains and are interconnected by hiking trails. It was interesting to see real Buddhist monasteries that were self-contained and secluded from most of society. Some temples were modernized while others kept to traditional styles.

These three sites are just a small sampling of natural beauty in Taiwan, which is far more extensive than simply Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake. The best part that is probably unrivaled in most other places in the world is the fact that the entire island can be traveled with relative ease by public transport, making it that much easier to take a day trip from Taipei or a long weekend around the island. For anyone interested in studying abroad in Asia, this is definitely something that stands out and makes the experience that much more engaging.

Bryan


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