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Blogs from Abroad

Blogs from Santa Clara University students studying abroad.

  •  A Win Win Situation

    Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010 10:47 PM

    Hi! This is Diana in El Salvador and here is my second blog! Thanks!

     Most Salvadorans claim to have pena, or a fear of being known. From what I understand, this translates to reserved modesty and an awareness of your presence in any given social situation. Children have pena when they peek out from behind doors as they first meet you. Women have pena when they hide their opinions for the sake of being gracious. Even street dogs have pena when they sneak under parked buses as you pass. Pena is what controls every person of El Salvador, prohibiting them from expressing themselves and forcing a false air of formality. But...we have yet to experience pena. Perhaps there is a confusion in translation or cultural understanding, but from what we have seen thus far, all it takes is one question as to the number of siblings a Salvadoran has to compel the retelling of their life story--traumatic deaths, life changing moments, political affiliation and all. It's more than just hospitality and openness, it's a full on upchuck of the soul. Add some tears, a couple of chickens, and Spanish, and you've got quite a confusing situation.

     But, I guess this is just another reason why Salvadorans aren't Americans. Despite the fact that they listen to Lady Gaga and scream for cake on birthdays, Salvadoran social rules are so drastically different from ours. While it is impolite to pass someone on the sidewalk without a con permiso or buenas, if you are in the street during rush hour, you are asking to die. In fact, there are barely any rules regarding roads-pedestrians have no rights, you can go any speed you please on any side of the road or sidewalk you find appealing, and there is no expectation that you must actually be in the car. I guess pena is lost once you enter a car. It is also lost at some religious services. The church across the street can be heard ever evening and all hours on Saturday and Sunday, praising God as if he is hard of hearing.

     But, actually, I don't think it has anything to do with social norms at all, but instead, has a lot to do with the fact that we're Americans, or not Salvadorans. We met with Trena tonight, one of the directors of the program, as we were overwhelmed and not quite sure we understood the life story of one of our praxis hosts. We had been taken by surprise on Wednesday when, seemingly out of nowhere, our praxis host divulged her entire past, leaving us wondering why she felt the need to be so open so quickly. The problem is that El Salvador is a place where many of the people have traumatic pasts. And, as these histories are usually bound up with political sentiment or affiliation during the war, it could potentially be dangerous for Salvadorans to expose their back stories to just anyone. Therefore, as Trena was telling us, Salvadorans welcome the opportunity to openly share their stories with people that won't come in with a bias, making our presence a benefit to their livelihood even in a small way. Our naivety gives them an excuse to drop their pena, and simply by listening without judging, we gain their full trust. There aren't too many perks to being a foreigner, but this is definitely one of them.

     

  •  Watch out for your carbon footprint!

    Sunday, Sep. 26, 2010 10:38 PM

     

    I have been in Barcelona for a few days now and I am surprised at how conscious this city is in reducing one’s carbon footprint. There are a few rules in my homestay regarding energy efficiency and living "green."
     
    Rule #1: Turn off the lights whenever you leave a room. It is not ok to leave the lights on in your room while you are going to the bathroom (or any other place in the house that is not your room) as this is considered wasting energy.
     
    Rule #2: No more than 10 minute showers. Do what you got to do as quickly as you can in order to save water. Even the toilets save water! There are two buttons to flush the toilet. One to press if you have done #1 (less water comes out) and another one if you have done #2 (more water comes out to flush). Never had I seen such a button in the US and it makes perfect sense! 
     
    Rule #3: Recycle appropriately. There are three different trash cans: one for regular trash (food wastes, napkins, etc.) another for paper and another one for plastic. Our señora said if we do not know where a piece of trash goes, just to leave it by the sink and she will take care of it. At the end of the week, the trash is taken to different dumpsters located at the center of the barrio so all the households can take their trash there and recycle appropriately. 
     
    Rule #4: Take public transportation or simply walk. There are announcements constantly in the metro mentioning that 3566 citizens who take the metro or bus save 238,604 pounds of CO2 (as seen in the picture). The transportation company does a good job in promoting public transportation through these announcements, flyers, and posters all over the city about how taking the metro is helping the planet. I take the metro everyday to school and it is all a brand new experience for me since the closest thing we have to a metro in the Bay Area is BART, yet I prefer to just drive my car everywhere I go.  
    Taking shorter showers, knowing what to recycle, & riding the metro everyday are just the basics of “green living” I will be experiencing at my home stay.

     

  •  First blog from Tanzania

    Friday, Sep. 24, 2010 8:09 AM

    Hello from Rhotia (village), Karatu (District), Arusha (Region), Tanzania (Country)!

    I am heading into week four of my experience abroad. The last three weeks have been full of adventures and memories. Our campsite is located in the middle of a village (Rhotia); we are fenced in and well protected from wild animals and other intruders. Within our first week, we were able to venture out into Rhotia, meet the people, and attempt to speak the Swahili we had learned. Everyone was so incredibly welcoming. “Karibu (welcome),” they would say as we passed by them with huge smiles across their face. Here, in Tanzania, it is a rarity not to be greeted by everyone you see. Even the children are very upbeat and very excited to see us. They grab our hands, tell us hello, and walk with us around our camp.

    There is a secondary school located nearby; a week ago we were able to attend their graduation ceremony and it was such a great celebration. Of course, the ceremony was typical in some ways; boring speeches and proud parents, but the students sang and danced as did some of the older community during it all. The people were very happy to have us there supporting the students and congratulating them for their hard work; however, every time we leave camp we are very, very noticed. You can just feel all the eyes staring you down. Although, I feel that the recognition of us in their village is a positive attribute to their culture; not because we are the “tourists” with money to spend on their beautiful paintings, jewelry, or cloth, but because they know we are here to study their culture and be apart of and contribute to the peacefulness and happiness in Tanzania.

    Tomorrow we are heading to the primary school to play some soccer (net ball) and read with the children. The teachers are very excited for us to come and of course, we are very excited too. Living in Tanzania has already been a beautiful experience. Tanzania makes you believe in the beauty of simplicity and soak up all of the life that is around you; not just the incredible vegetation, sunsets, and wildlife, but especially the people. Tanzanians are people who go to bed with a smile on their face and wake up with that same smile on their face; being in their presence is simply a blessing.

    -Katie

  •  Being Respectful in El Salvador

    Wednesday, Sep. 22, 2010 4:03 PM

    Once you get a Salvadoran talking about something they're passionate about, it's hard to get them to stop. As Dean Brackley, a renowned Jesuit in El Salvador, told us one evening, in a life that is so volatile, all the Salvadorans have are their stories and the mere act of listening is often the greatest sign of respect. The women of La Valencia cannot stop the rain, but talking about it gives them a sense of control. The comfort that seems to come from the Salvadorans' power over words and their ability to share that has been apparent in every town we have visited. The best example of this would have to be our visit to San Ramon, where we spent time with a group of women who practice liberation theology. In a culture that struggles with machismo and religious systems that give preference to men, these women have redefined faith. They strive to follow through on the Gospel's mission to promote justice and equality, trying to eliminate the hierarchical system they often see in the church. Therefore, they don't have any central priest figure and their services consist of an equal sharing of lives, stories, and food.

    And speaking of food, although Salvadorans are more than hospitable, this is often shown through the generous portions they often give. Boy, we're eating a lot of tortillas. And, as it is not socially acceptable in El Salvador to decline mountains of food, we have become quite dedicated to our running group, No Gringo Left Behind. Yeah, we're quite a sight-eight to ten Americans running through the streets of Antigua Cuscatlan at the beginning of the workday. However, despite the ridiculousness we sometimes seem to cause, Salvadorans so far have been nothing short of welcoming. Every drive through town we find ourselves constantly waving to kids on the streets and most greetings are filled with hugs, kisses, and gracias a Dios. And in most cases, it is the people with the most tragic stories that see the most hope and inspire the greatest happiness.

    On our first day of traveling, we visited Giovanni and his family in the hills of Tepecoyo. Their home is typical of those in that region—dirt floors covered by tin roofs with clothes lines overwhelming the walking space. And of course no Salvadoran home would be complete without a handful of aimless dogs, chickens, and toddlers. We sat around Giovanni's wheelchair, watched him smile and listened to his mother's account of his story. A couple of years ago, Giovanni decided to leave school in order to work and pull his family out of economic trouble. However, just last year, Giovanni fell, putting him in the hospital for a great deal of months and leaving him wheelchair bound. Now, not only is Giovanni not able to support his family, he has become their greatest economic burden, making it impossible for them to feed themselves and pay for his treatment. Giovanni's wheelchair is too big for him, leaving his limbs contorted, and as they cannot drive to the city for physical therapy, Giovanni sees a future of dependence on his mother. However, despite their circumstances, as his father put it, Giovanni's smile makes it all worth it. Giovanni loves to talk. He told us of his passion for music, his dream of being able to dance again. He loves working with the kids of Tepecoyo and hopes to some day find a way to resume a somewhat normal life. But despite his troubles, we saw how much love he had for his family, a love that was extended to us, not because we offered financial support to the family or taught Giovanni to walk, but just because we took the time to listen. To Salvadorans, a willingness to listen is often the best thing you can give them and the best way to win their respect.

     

    “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time...But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” Lilla Watson

  •  Maori Spirit

    Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2010 11:15 PM

     

    After much correspondence with my parents, and phone calls, I arranged to meet some old family friends of my grandparents. Before I get into much detail to roughly explain a Marae is a type of Maori meeting area. From what my grandparents had told me my family friend was a good-hearted Maori, overflowing kindness and generosity. In Hawaii we refer to those values as Aloha Spirit. As I walked to my university’s Marae, it dawned on me that I was going to be representing my entire family, not just my mom and dad, but my grandparents as well. I had never seen these family friends and my grandparents hadn’t seen them in at least twenty years. I had to make a good impression. Upon meeting my family friend and his son, we embraced in the traditional hongi, or the touching of noses and exchange of breath. To my surprise it felt incredibly natural and went without any awkwardness. We spoke much about my grandparents and the old days, laughing here and there. Our talk drifted toward the parallels of both my Hawaiian culture and their Maori culture. They explained to me many of the contemporary problems the Maori people faced in this new age, and how their culture had revitalized itself. My grandfather, while traveling in the South Island had seen how the Maori culture was on the rise, he looked for ways to bring that spirit back into the Hawaiian culture, which lead him to befriending the man standing before me. As the family friend returned to work, the son and I stayed a while longer talking about Hawaiian and Maori identity and how to preserve and perpetuate it by uniting Polynesia in a cultural pride. It was here that it dawned on me, that I had only been in Hawaii for six weeks out of the whole year and how much I had started to lose touch with my roots or whakapapa, as the say in Maori. Learning about how much my family friend had done to help the local Maori population inspired me to reconnect with my Hawaiian side and to try to help perpetuate the Hawaiian identity.

     

  •  Experiencing Diversity in Spain

    Monday, Sep. 20, 2010 12:00 AM

    While getting to explore (and get lost in) Barcelona for the first time, I noticed that there was a lot more diversity in the people than I had originally thought. I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of Chinese, Pakistanis, and Africans who've immigrated in the past decade. Additionally, because homosexuality is generally accepted in the city, it's not uncommon to see openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people being as affectionate with their partners on the street as straight people are (there's a lot of PDA here).

    I think that this increase in diversity in Spain has contributed to the common usage of the question: De donde eres? As an African-American who's family is far-removed from our African roots, I'm mostly identified by locals as American, "la chica negra" (the black girl), or "la chica morena" (the brown girl). I've also randomly been mistaken for being French. My roommate, who's Vietnamese, has been called "chinita" (Chinese girl) countless times and has also been mistaken for being Filipino or Japanese.

    The fact that the people here are so curious to find out where you're from is not that different from what I've experienced in the States. However, the approach is different. In the States people tiptoe around the question of race or ethnicity. People ask "Where are you from?" and when my reply, "California", doesn't satisfy, they ask "Where are your parents from?". Of course my next answer, "Ohio", doesn't help them any, either. So, as a last resort, they'll just say "Are you mixed with something?" In Spain, people get straight to the point and simply ask: "De donde eres?" or make a guess of their own instead of fishing for answers.

    In one of my orientation sessions, the professor explained that describing people by their physical appearance is a social norm in Spain. So, terms like "la chica negra" and "chinita" aren't viewed as impolite or rude. When asked what Americans are viewed as by the locals, he jokingly said, "You walk around wearing flip flops with your short skirts or shorts and your Starbucks...You need Starbucks to survive. You wear the big North Face backpacks and fill them like you're going hiking in the mountains, but we all know you're not because you're wearing those flip flops!" On a more serious note, he warned that American women are often seen as being "easy" or "slutty" because young Americans often drink excessively when visiting because it's legal. And this paired with the short skirts can give off the wrong impression.

    Nonethess, my experience with the Spaniards I've come in contact with has been extremely pleasant. Due to my tendency to get lost, one of my most used phrases has become "Donde esta (insert street name here)?" Everyone I've asked, whether they reply in English or Spanish has tried to help. And when someone does ask me, "De donde eres?" they are genuinely interested in knowing something about where I come from.

  •  Guests are God

    Thursday, Sep. 16, 2010 8:13 PM

    Many people have expressed the urgency to always be cautious of your surroundings and smart about your money when traveling to a country such as India.  They give advice such as, keep your money hidden and close to your body, suggesting the use of money pouches/ fanny packs.  They believe that there is always someone who would want to pickpocket or cheat people out of my money one-way or the other while in a foreign land.  They expect the worst out of people.
           I got similar advice from parents and neighbors before I left for India, but I have seen the opposite.  I have been here for two months, and have yet to get anything stolen from me.  Merchants on the streets and drivers aren’t trying to take all my money, just what they deserve.  Granted, some of the prices can be a bit steep (in India standards) at times, but they never gave me any reason to feel threatened or worried that I am getting taken advantage of.
           Many people who own or work for a business here in India have a notion that “Guests are God.” I feel like I am always welcomed where ever I go, and am treated very hospitable.  There have been times that the shop owner/ driver has reduced their price to my asking, and there has been a few times when I gave too much money and they returned it with out hesitation.  One shop owner chased me down the street when he realized I dropped my wallet (full of money).
           Maybe I have just been extremely lucky, but I don’t think its luck.  I feel that the fears others had expressed to me were stereotypes.  Not every person in India is  pick-pockets.  Not every person is looking to find ways to make more money.  Not every person is looking to cheat you.  There may be a few bad apples, who do pickpocket, steal, and cheat; but we have that in America too.  Why is it foreign
    countries we are more worried about?


    Brigitte M. Clark

  •  Stereotyping Americans

    Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2010 8:08 PM

    Stereotyping is something everybody does.  Just because a person is a certain height, gender, race, ethnicity, or anything else that can define a person, these defining qualities allows other people to assume they know something about a person without taking the time to get to know them.  Today, I came across the stereotype for the typical American college student.
           I was waiting in Nizamuddin Park for the kids participating in the NGO I’m volunteering at, and a boy around my age, asks if it would be okay to sit down and talk with me.  Eager to make new friends, I agreed and we began with the basic getting-to-know-you conversation.  As always (or so I believe) in a conversation between a girl and a boy in India, he asked me if I had a boyfriend.  He then proceeded to ask if I have sex with my boyfriend.  Shocked by his upfront and personal question, I just replied that was inappropriate to ask someone you just met.  He apologized and told me that he thought all young adults in the US, in their college years had sex all the time.
           I was ashamed that he had this view on the American society, but sadly I could see his point.  How many movies had I watched that have sex scenes in them?  How many songs that we listen to on a daily bases that have references to sex?  Not only is sex everywhere in the media, but also it is in real life.  How many times have I seen “walk of shames” in the mornings on my way to early classes?  How did we let it get this far that we are stereotyped into people who have sex for a hobby?

  •  Arriving in a Multicultural London

    Monday, Sep. 13, 2010 8:00 PM

    As I boarded the plane at San Francisco International Airport and headed to London I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been planning to go to London for the better part of a year and dreaming of this moment my entire college and high school career. Now that it was happening it still did not seem real to me. It felt as if I was going through the motions of getting ready to study abroad without having it
    sink in that I would actually be studying in another country for 3 ½ months.
           Everything began to seem all too real as I got off the plane at Heathrow Airport and was expected to make my way down what could possibly be the longest hallway ever. As I struggled to find all of my suite cases and find my group of fellow Santa Clara students I was amazed by everything around me; the sights, the sounds, the accents. It was clear that I was no longer in the United States and that I would
    have to get  use to all of this soon.
           While making our way through the busy streets of London towards our flat I couldn’t help but marvel at the differences between the U.S. and England. The city clearly had modern touches everywhere but still had what could only be classified as traditionally English. With older building modified and nestled in between newer buildings, people would be able to enjoy both the new and the old no matter where they were.
    When I entered my flat I quickly unpacked my belonging and headed out the door to explore my neighborhood and the amazing sights. It was overwhelming being here for the first time. Seeing sights I’ve only read about before and now I was getting to see it firsthand.
           A few days later going on a coach tour around the city only increased my love for London. In the 2 ½ tour around the city we were still unable to see all the major locations of London. The tour guide was taking us around and pointing to so many different locations and buildings that he would be pointing at ten buildings in a matter of seconds and your head would be turning so fast that you wouldn’t even know what you were looking at nor would you have enough time to take everything in. You would see a tower and castle with a moat from the 11th century right next to a building built in the last 10 years and another shaped like a car's headlight. The eclecticness of this city just added to its character and made it more fascinating.
           Over the last few days I have been exploring the city and learning about all the other areas of the city. I hope to know this city well and see all that it has to offer and take part in the countless activities while I am here. I know that an opportunity like this rarely comes around and I will not let it slip by. With luck I will be able to
    do all that I want to do while here and adopt this city as my second home.

 
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