Madelyn In TCI: A Morning Dive

September 16, 2019

Hey y’all! So far I’ve been on the research base for nearly a whole week. Our actual classes begin on Monday; this week has been dedicated to tours of the island, the water front, and swim/snorkel/dive tests. Our schedule is usually packed with activities from 7am to 8pm, Monday through Saturday. Saturdays are particularly fun though! This Saturday I woke up at 5:30 am (it was still dark!!!) and enjoyed some quiet time to read until breakfast at 7am. I usually sit on a bench by the conch wall, which drops down to the ocean about 30 feet below, and the sound of the waves on the rocks is very soothing. After breakfast a group of us headed out onto the boat to scuba dive for the first time of the semester. We went out to a dive site where a plane had crashed and formed an artificial reef for many different and colorful fish to congregate around. From the boat, we sunk to the sea floor, which was about 60 ft. down. There were little patches of coral with all sorts of organisms. I saw a giant Caribbean Sea Anemone and the invasive Lionfish almost immediately. I’m currently having some issues with my underwater camera but will be including pictures in future blogs, so stay posted!

On the boat to explore the ocean.

We followed our dive leader to The Wall, where the seafloor drops from 60 ft. to about 300 ft. We felt like Nemo, going to the edge of the coral reef to stare out into the great expanse of open blue water. Along this edge a Great Barracuda saw me and began swimming directly towards me, probably curious. Their scales flash black if they’re truly being aggressive and this one remained silver, but it was still a little unnerving and I was relieved when it turned away. As the group meandered our way back to the boat, I saw a Green Sea Turtle swimming through the coral off to the side. I’m always fascinated by how unbothered and relaxed sea turtles look while they swim. A bit further on in the dive, a huge black fish took an interest in our group. It was about two feet tall and long and kept swimming around all of us and getting very close. Our dive leader and interns didn’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was very cool to get checked out by a fish. The experience just emphasized the idea that we were visitors in another creature’s home.

One of my favorite parts of diving and snorkeling is experiencing such a different world without harming it. We will be doing a lot of this for my classes this semester and I’m very excited to learn more about the marine environment and the creatures that inhabit it! I’m also excited to become more comfortable and skilled underwater with all of the practice. It’s going to be a very fun semester!

Watching another beautiful sunset over the ocean.

A Caribbean sunset.


Camellia Travels the World: Human Rights vs. human rights

September 13, 2019

It has been a week since the program started, and we have been contemplating the concept of “Human Rights” vs. “human rights”. In short, Human Rights is a regime of governance working to advance it from the top-down level, while human rights is an array of struggles against oppression from the bottom-up. This is the guiding rubric of our whole journey; we do not only compare countries and their human rights issues, but also learn different forces that promote and defend human rights.

For that purpose, we are constantly dipping our toes into both waters, and I have to say, I am caught in a maze by the diverse range of organizations and their fascinating works fighting for human rights from all levels:

These are our “classrooms.” On the left is the renowned LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, and on the right is a multi-purposed building called Mayday Space in Brooklyn. Even though both buildings are associated with human rights, there is a distinctive disparity of influence and resources.

Visits for Human Rights. We paid a visit to the U.S. Mission to the UN, speaking with a senior adviser of Human Rights and Social Affairs and learning the U.S. efforts on promoting Human Rights around the world. We went to the office of elected officials, studying their contribution for the people of their districts; we talked with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, learning their specific work in defending Human Rights as International NGOs. Apart from these organizations who directly lobby for Human Rights, there is one organization that astounded me. Witness is an organization that teaches and uses the power of video and technology to promote and defend Human Rights. It does not directly lobby for human rights, but they help others to produce more effective videos and avoid potential harm. The group has offices around the world and its work consists of three layers: on the ground with activists, working as guidance for movements, and connecting with big tech platforms. Besides their unique approach for advocating human rights, their ethics impressed me as well. As we were talking about blurring faces in videos in order to protect victims and activists, our speaker also brought up the issue of privacy of perpetrators: should Human Rights apply to all humans, even if one is a violator or abuser of these Rights? This is a very complicated question to ponder. (To learn more about Witness: https://www.witness.org/).

The Twitter Post of U.S. Mission to the UN about our visit.

Visits for human rights. We met with many grassroots activists and organizations fighting for different rights, criminal justice, labor rights, economic justice for Jews, and housing justice. To explore more about grassroots organizations and their work, we were invited to a celebration dinner for housing justice at Mayday Space. We met many organization leaders who fought for new rent laws in New York. For many years, the tenants of NYC had been suffering from landlords’ violation of rights for just housing: shortly-posted evictions, constant rent increases, high deposits, inadequate repair services, and so on. They had been suffering for twelve years, and finally, they won the battle. After months of demonstration outside of the capitol and sixty-two people mass arrests, they have changed the rent laws. One elder lady also told us an anecdote of her victory: “A few of us went to the landlord’s house on a Sunday morning. We knocked on his door, and after a few minutes, he opened the door without checking who is outside. Then, we handed him an eviction notice. He was so mad, and he called the police. We ran to the yard and stuck the eviction notice everywhere onto the fence before the cops got here.” The event truly showed the solidarity of communities; the group is very diverse: different age groups, different races, different languages, etc. Yet, they united to fight for their own rights as well as all the tenants of New York. (To learn more about new rent laws in New York: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/nyregion/rent-laws-new-york.html). I am truly inspired by their courage and action to challenge the system and gain their rights.

Even though it has only been one week of learning and unlearning, I am overwhelmed by the depth we have gotten into, and I am grateful for all the opportunities to talk with different organizations and workers dedicated to human rights. This is truly an experience one can never get in a classroom. Alright, one week done, fifteen more to go!

Parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.


Madelyn In TCI: Starting the Next Adventure

September 12, 2019

Hey folks, I’m Madelyn, a junior and studying Biology with an Environmental Studies minor. I’m currently on a plane from Milan to Toronto. I’m actually studying abroad in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), but I have two 7-hour layovers in Toronto and then Montreal before heading to TCI. That’s just what happens when you buy the cheapest plane ticket, I guess! Anyways, I spent all of my summer in Greece WWOOFing (definitely look this up if you’ve never heard of it; it’s a great way to experience new countries). Then I took a terribly long ferry ride and spent five days in Bari, Italy, with my Italian host family from high school. It was really fantastic to be able to see them and my friends there again! And the food… my host mother is the best cook any of her friends know, which in Puglia, that’s saying a lot. I learned how to cook focaccia, panzerotti, fresh seafood, and so many different types of pasta. At least in southern Italy, the pasta stereotype is not much exaggerated! I also tried squid raw, which is something very unique to Puglia. It was surprisingly good with just some lemon, olive oil, and pepper!

Fresh squid from the local fish market.

So, after a lovely few days in Puglia, I took a flight to Milan. I can’t begin to explain the amount of struggle it took to make all of my suitcases fit the weight restrictions for this flight. You see, I had to pack everything for 6 months into one big suitcase, one carry-on, and one back pack. This includes my scuba and snorkeling equipment, because I’ll need it for my fall program. This flight to Milan was through Ryanair, which is usually very strict about their baggage allowances policies. By the time I was done organizing all of my stuff, I was dripping sweat and my back pack was quite possibly heavier than my suitcases. But guess who didn’t have to pay extra baggage fees!

In Milan I stayed with an old friend for a few days. Ironically, we were both neighbors in a rural Pennsylvania town, meeting up several years later in Milan. Not only did we explore the city of Milan together; we also took a train up to Lake Como, which is absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance to go there, definitely take the ‘funicolare’ up the mountain to the town of Brunate. It’s a quaint little town with many places to walk and enjoy nature. There is also a lot of folklore there about gnomes and fairies and it seems quite natural to imagine little mischievous creatures hiding behind the ancient trees of the mountain.

The tram station going up the mountain from Como to Brunate.

 

Walking through the forest by Brunate.

 

The Duomo at midnight.

So that is the story of how I ended up on a flight from Milan to Toronto as an American studying in Turks and Caicos. My study abroad program is a bit abnormal. It’s actually a marine biology research program, where I’ll be studying the marine environment and learning about how the population and tourism impact the ecosystem, as well as helping to develop policies to minimize the harmful effects. Most of my courses will be science-oriented, and emphasize really getting into the area of study, hence why I need my scuba equipment. My classes should spend a lot of time outside, whether it be hiking around to explore the various ecosystems on different islands, or snorkeling in the coral reefs to see in person the species that we learn about in the classroom. This sort of thing is exactly my jam, so I’m really excited to see how it goes! I’ll keep you all updated on whatever weird stuff I see or do!


Camellia Travels the World: An Extraordinary Journey Begins

August 28, 2019

Hello, everyone! I am Camellia, and I am a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in International Studies: World Politics and Diplomacy. I am from Chengdu, China, and fun fact, it is also the hometown of Giant Panda. At the age of fifteen, I boarded the plane from China to the United States to pursue education. During these six years, I have not only learned critical thinking and empirical reasoning, but also Frisbee playing and Netflix binge-watching. In other words, I think I have taken my root on the other side of the world; and, I decided that it is time for a new challenge.

Therefore, I applied for the International Honors Program with SIT. This has been my dream program since freshman year; it is unique because IHP gives me an opportunity to contemplate with one theme on a global scale. Gladly, I will also be with thirty other fellow enthusiasts and a director throughout the program. We are from different universities, we represent different cultures, we have different hobbies, yet we are all coming together for our shared passion for human rights. Over the next four months, we will closely examine the causes of struggles for human rights, the relationship between human rights and activism, and the comparison of “Human Rights” and “human rights”[1]; Moreover, we will travel to four drastically different locations: New York City, USA; Santiago, Chile; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Amman, Jordan. At each location, we will take classes with local faculty and stay with host families to learn and experience the authentic culture.

This journey is deemed to be extraordinary even from the prequels of my traveling. Long story short, I had to go to Boston for my Chilean visa, therefore I came back to the US a few days before my program. Everything went smoothly until I found out my flight from Newark to Boston was cancelled. It was already 8:30 pm, and all the other United Airlines flights were completely full. At that moment, my heart was filled with despair and my eyes were full of tears. All I had in mind was that I have to get to Boston in time. Thus, I cancelled my plane ticket and made up my mind to rent a car and drive, even though I had been tirelessly travelling for the last 20 hours. When I went to the carousel, I noticed another lady waiting for her baggage. I collected my courage and asked her if she was interested in carpooling with me. Amazingly, she agreed, and we even found two other girls wanting to share the ride. In the end, we embarked for our road-trip to Boston. We talked non-stop for almost four hours and learned a lot about each other: Elisa is from Italy, and she comes to the US to visit her high school host family in Boston; Sneha has just gotten her Master’s degree, and she is going to Boston for a job interview; Erin is on her way back to Boston for an important meeting the next day and her husband’s birthday… Now that I reflect on it, I would never have met these incredible people if I only sat quietly on the thirty-nine-minute flight; maybe the cancellation was not so disastrous after all. 

On our way to Boston. Elisa could not believe how much traffic there was at 11 pm in NYC.

There is an old Chinese proverb: “A good gain takes long pain.” I have finally got my visa after everything, and I am ready to start my journey, hopefully without any cancellations or delays. I will be sharing fun stories, travel tips, personal thoughts, and anything you ask throughout my trip. So stay tuned and wish me luck!

Me trying to paint my “selfie”.

 


[1] Stephen Hopgood delineates the two spheres of human rights in his book, The Endtimes of Human Rights, where “Human Rights” represents “top-down” influences while “human rights” relates to “bottom-up” movements.


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!

mann planet

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


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