Brooke Goes Global: My experience as an Asian Woman Abroad

November 4, 2018

“I pick you” shouts a tattered, stranger man from across the street.  I look up to see his scraggly finger pointing in my direction.  He stepped off the opposite curb and began moving towards me.  “But I don’t pick you,” I shouted back.  My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to her.  She said jokingly “sorry, but she’s mine.”  In my blue dress, I continued to walk down the sidewalk with five other girls by my side.  To him, I was nothing more than a body.  The body of a woman he felt justified to sexualize and objectify.

I arrived back to our hostel.  I looked in the mirror and saw my exposed arms and legs in my short, blue dress.  I changed quickly into joggers and a long sleeve tee, an outfit that covered my skin and my feminine curves.  Now, looking back, I hate that I did that.  I hate that I let the sleazy man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of a woman.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

“So where are you from?” asked my tour guide.  “The United States,” I responded.  His face said it all.  My answer was not adequate.  Where was my light skin, my pointy nose, my wide eyes?  “No but where…”, before he could finish I cut in.  “I was adopted from China”.  This answer was satisfactory.  He only stopped when his ethnocentric ideals were proven.  I fit the stereotypical mold of an Asian.  I, however, did not fit the stereotypical mold of an American.  Despite me living in the United States and holding an American passport, he would not accept me as an American.  The tour guide proceeded to take out his phone and show me pictures of himself with Asians.  “This is my brother’s girlfriend from Taiwan.  Isn’t she pretty?”.  In my head, I was taking out my phone and showing him all my photos with white people.  But on the outside I humored the bigot’s microaggression and smiled like the passive woman of color I was expected to be.  Now, looking back, I hate that I didn’t speak up for myself, for Asians, for people of color.  I hate that I let the ignorant man affect my mind and my behaviors.  Because in that moment, I saw only what he saw — the body of an Asian.  Nothing more, nothing less.

In these instances, I felt like the only thing I had to offer the world was my body.  My body that just so happened to be female and Asian.  My mind was of no importance.  My personality was of little interest.  And my opinions, perspectives, and experiences — all irrelevant.  

It’s fascinating and heartbreaking to travel across countries all with the binding construct of a social hierarchy.  The amount of respect, dignity, and humanity you receive is based on your placement on this hierarchy.  You have no control.  You have no influence.  Society has the final judgement, labeling you as a superior, equal, or inferior.  Why is this the accepted norm?  Why is this okay to nations, communities, individuals?  I share my stories to demonstrate how rude acts of ignorance, even if small, perpetuate dehumanization.  

There’s growing popularity of the false notion that the way you dress can, will, and should affect the way you are treated.  As I walked down the streets of Cape Town, my blue dress caught a particular man’s eye.  My blue dress caused distraction and attraction.  My dress allowed him to label me as property.  Property that could be easily chosen and then discarded.  I should be obedient and honored that he would “pick” me.  My dress demoted my human status to object status.  If I hadn’t worn such a “revealing” outfit, I would have been treated as a proper woman.  I wouldn’t have been catcalled.  I wouldn’t have been objectified.  As the woman, I am the one to accept the blame.  It is my job to behave within the standards of appropriateness and sophistication.  This idea is ridiculous.  Clothing is not the perpetrator.  My actions, as a woman, should not be dictated by the limited self-control of a man.  Patriarchy and misogyny is excused while women are blamed — while I am blamed.

My program, thankfully, is not short on feminist women and their allies.  I have ample support from intelligent, creative, beautiful women with different perspectives across limitless topics.  Nonetheless, my support falls short in the area of race.  In a group of 25 students, over half of them are people of color.  Nonetheless, I am the only one who identifies as Asian.  I did not understand how much comfort and support my Asian friends provided until they were no longer there.  Within the group, I have sympathizers but no empathizers.  On days when the world seems to grab at my feet, pulling me backward, situations like these make me feel like a blank canvas, an empty body.  My self-confidence diminishes and my accomplishments are forgotten.  These seem to slip my mind but, thankfully, are fully appreciated and vocalized by my peers.  Those days do inevitably come but seem to be few and far in-between.

The past 12 weeks of my life have been hard, but they have also been so full of joy and growth.  I would not trade a single moment of my abroad experience.  It’s been a main contributor to the development of the individual I am today.  I am a woman.  I am Asian.  And I am proud to say that I am both.  However, I am also a daring adventurer who flew over the coast of South Africa, ziplined over waterfalls, and snorkeled with seals.  I am also a vulnerable and compassionate individual who studies with the hope of promoting and progressing health as a human right.  I am also a sarcastic ass who will not pass up an opportunity to make a joke.  These are all things my body cannot show alone.  These are all things society cannot come to understand when they limit me to a spot on a hierarchy.  But I have come to understand, societal constructs are not my loss — it’s theirs.  

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Despite the ocean temperature barely reaching 50 degrees, snorkeling with seals was a great experience!

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True friends cheer you on as you fly over waterfalls.

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We went dwelling in the Congo Caves that were formed millions of years ago from something as simple, yet as powerful as water.


Olivia in Sweden: Ducks and a Birthday!

April 3, 2017

I have been sick this past week so I haven’t been as active as I’ve wanted to be.

However, I was able to briefly enjoy the last bit of snow with some friends I made.

 

 

A herd of ducks swarmed me down by the river. What a delight!

 

I also couldn’t miss a birthday dinner with my international friend from Japan. We decided to give her a taste of home and took her to Yukiko’s Sushi, a popular restaurant here in Uppsala.

 

 

When we got home there will still surprises to be had! Look at this beautiful cake adorned by friends.

On the cake is written: Happy birthday Haruna! (in Swedish, of course!)

 

 

Hopefully, I’ll be better soon.

 

Til next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Flogsta Cat and Chocolate!

March 14, 2017

I’ve met a celebrity here in Sweden!

His name is Ingefära, which means “ginger” in Swedish.

 

 

He is a cat that lives here in Flogsta and he is known for traveling. He even published a book about his travels and he’s only 2 years old! What were you doing when you were 2?

 

 

We were pleasantly surprised to open the elevator door outside our corridor only to find him waiting inside! We played with him, fed him, and provided him time to sleep before he took off on his next journey. I look forward to seeing him again.

 

 

Since he’s been gone, I’ve kept myself busy with a new job. Last week was my turn to take out the trash! Sweden is very environmentally conscious and we have 6 different containers depending on the type of trash being disposed of: plastic packaging, colored glass, metal packaging, newspaper, cardboard, and clear glass.

Looking forward to not having to deal with that for a while!

 

 

Thankfully I didn’t have to spend too much time wallowing over Ingefära’s absence or my trash duty. Last weekend, a nation hosted a “Chocolate Gallop” with over 40 different chocolate treats. We arrived late but were still able to make off with some delicious treats. Woo-hoo! Until next time!

 


Karaoke and the Flogsta Chef!

March 1, 2017

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There is a stereotype that Swedes are very reserved and don’t like to let loose. Au contraire! Saturday night, some friends and I trekked to the nearest karaoke bar! Volunteers sang many hits that were very familiar to my American ears. I also heard some Swedish songs that all of the locals seemed to know! Very talented performers remain to be discovered in little Uppsala.

 

 

I, of course, am one of them. Before I get embarrassed and take this video down, take a peek at us revolutionizing “Oops!…I did it again!” by the incomparable Britney Spears. (I’m the one in green)

 

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I also had the pleasure of being served food by the Flogsta chef. Yes, there is a chef that has lived in the typically student residential dorms since the 1980s. He likes to live here because he travels often and doesn’t need a lot of space to feel at home. Students are encouraged to text him in advance of their arrival and share the level of spiciness they are comfortable with. Then that very day, they can come by for dinner and eat to their heart’s desire.

 

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My dish had a 50% spicy level. It’s an Ethiopian dish! Funnily enough, that’s one of the few countries the Flogsta chef has never visited, yet it’s his favorite style of food to produce. This is injera bread, which is used as a vehicle for the sauces, meat, and lentils on top.

 

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Finally, we got our last wave of snow! Ain’t she a beaut?

 

Until next time!


Olivia in Sweden: Joining a Nation!

February 13, 2017

I joined a nation!

As a student attending Uppsala University, it is crucial to join at least one.

Nations are made up of students, and the organizations hold events and offer a large variety of clubs so one can get involved with other students.

There are 13 nations, which are named after regions in Sweden. They have been around for centuries, and while previously students were only allowed to join the nation that represented their region, now the rules are much more relaxed.

I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation, nicknamed Snerikes. Founded in 1595, it is the oldest nation of Uppsala University.

I attended the Recce Reception where there was a mini fair with tables promoting the activities they offered, followed by an informal dinner.

 

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Shown above is the appetizer provided before our dinner. Some crackers with the option of butter or cheese as a topping! By the candles were some mustard, rosemary, and oregano to have with our yellow pea soup.

 

During the dinner, they showed us their choir, their improv group, and their band. All three are open to any students, regardless of the nation they chose to join!

 

Here are two videos of their band because I couldn’t pick between the two:

 

 

This song may sound familiar for any Aladdin or Broadway fans!

 

 

This is more of a traditional song played by the Swedes. It’s also common to start ball-room dancing while they play!

 

This week I went to two activities sponsored by the nations.

Kalmar nation holds a mixtape circle every other week. For the mixtape circle, the group picks a theme. For the next meeting, each person has picked a song that they feel goes with that theme. We all share and discuss the music. Because we are all so different, the mixtape circle is a great way to discover other music that maybe you wouldn’t usually listen to.

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To the right is a journal that is passed around as each person shares a song. We all write down the name of the song and the artist, and this list is then shared through a Facebook group. The big sound system to the left is the magical box that we hear it from.

 

I’ve also started attending an improv group hosted by my very own nation. I fell twice during the acting exercises and am currently recovering from the pain.

 

I have to bounce back quick because there’s so much to do!


Tori in Spain: Saying Yes to Hard Things

February 2, 2017

“How was abroad?” “Did you love Madrid?” “Your semester looked amazing, tell me about it.”

These are the questions I returned to. I have found it incredibly hard to sum up such an impactful experience, and honestly since being on campus abroad has felt like a distant dream. I lived in a faraway land for 4 months, got to learn a different language, and developed friendships that I wasn’t quite able to pack up in my suitcase and take home.

The one theme that has permeated my thoughts and reflections on abroad is how rich life is when we say yes to hard things. “Say yes to hard things” has become my slogan of the semester, and it is my biggest take away.

Showing up at a Spanish speaking church alone was not the most comfortable thing in the world. The prospect of leading a group of students, into a city I barely knew, to speak with strangers living on the street, in a foreign language, left me feeling unequipped and frustrated. Walking into the little bar next door to Amalie & I’s apartment on our last night in Madrid felt very inconvenient due to the flight I had to catch in the morning. Stopping to chat with Karrol when I was late to class seemed unproductive. Initiating conversation with the woman next to me on the subway felt awkward.

None of my sweetest memories abroad came from choosing to do what was the most convenient, socially acceptable, or comfortable. Life begins when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves. This can manifest itself in big ways or little ways, but it always involves leaning into the moment and being present. Even when I said yes to hard things begrudgingly, it lead to really special times. I need to ask, Lord, what do you have for me here? And it will lead me to love and think in a way that is more people-conscious, out of the knowledge that God is enamored with every soul I encounter on the street. Every little human bopping along in Madrid, Richmond, Winston Salem, or wherever I am, is created in the image of God and so in my every interaction I am interacting with one whom is dearly and sacredly loved by God.

 

 

 


Janus in Singapore: On the First Weeks

January 27, 2017

“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.”

It feels a little strange writing about my “feelings, anxieties, or excitements” about studying abroad in Singapore when I’m already three and a half weeks through my semester. Singapore Management University (SMU) has this strange schedule where exchange students are encouraged to attend a student orientation on December 29, and classes start as early as January 2, so while many of my classmates were still enjoying the final trips of their study abroad programs or tucked into their comforters back home, I was already on the other side of the world, roaming the streets of Singapore looking for a hostel that had open beds on New Year’s Eve.

Then again, it’s still quite early, and the first three weeks have really been a frenzy of getting my immigration formalities done, attending student orientations, adding and dropping classes, and of course, turning my new flat into a something that resembles home. There hasn’t really been a lot of time to “feel” or “be anxious.” Writing this entry feels like my first real opportunity to reflect on what’s already happened and what I think will happen.

I spent my last semester abroad, too, in Beijing. When I hear about study abroad, usually I hear that students will do significantly less work than they do back home, spend a lot of time traveling or exploring the city, and generally have a lot of time to relax. In a way, it’s a lot like a vacation to another school. My experience was the exact opposite.

I participated in a language immersion program that required me to speak Chinese on weekdays, and classes were from 8:30 to 4:30 daily, and each of us in the program did at minimum 3-4 hours of homework and studying each night. Somehow, there was still ample time for most of us to enjoy the semester and bring home stories that weren’t just about being locked up in a classroom. We still managed to explore Beijing, travel all over China, experience the Beijing nightlife, and even fall into study abroad romances. It was a complete semester, but it definitely came at the expense of sleep. By the end, many of us sported the deepest eye bags we’ve ever had.

I expect that a semester at SMU will be more of the “traditional” study abroad experience. I’m only taking four classes (7-12 hours of out of class work rather than UR’s “10-15”), and they’re all on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I expect I can use this semester to sleep in to catch up on all the sleep I missed in Beijing. Given my five day weekends and Singapore’s proximity to many of Southeast Asia’s tourist destinations – Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, or even a trip home to the Philippines – I wholly expect to drain my bank account by the end of the semester taking flights out to a few of these places.

For now, though, I plan on figuratively walking every street in Singapore. Strangely enough, a lot of students who study abroad in Singapore say that their biggest regret is not exploring Singapore enough, because the presence of all these other destinations makes the city-state a practical home base, and something that you can always say “next week” to, until there aren’t any weeks left. It’s only a little bit bigger than Manhattan, so the process shouldn’t take that long.

Anxieties. I think, given that this is my second semester studying abroad, that Singapore is often described to me as “An Asian New York,” and that I’m used to moving around a lot, I don’t have the usual fears of culture shock or “will I fit in?” or “will I find my group of friends?” Instead, I’m worried about people back home. A semester away isn’t too bad because just about everyone does it at some point. Two semesters, however, seems a bit too long, especially since I spent the holidays in the Philippines instead of New York. It’ll be a full year before I’m back in the United States. I already feel myself losing contact with many of my friends, even close ones.

But that’s something I should worry about after Singapore, I think. For now – enjoy the semester to its fullest.


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