Sankofa: African Students Association 20th Annual Culture Show

On behalf of African Students Association (ASA), I want to deeply express my gratitude to BLI for the financial support of our 20th Annual Culture Show. The Akan word, Sankofa, which translates to, “go back and get it” was brought up by an ASA executive board member during one of the meetings, and served as a centerpiece for the theme of the show. Giselle Uwera, an ASA executive board member that served on the fashion, styling, and visuals committee for the show, described the show eloquently– “ Sankofa was a beautiful space for ASA to showcase so many different cultural aspects (fashion, dance & music) from all regions of the continent of Africa. With its theme of knowing one’s past and how it impacts one’s future, ASA told the story of a member of the African diaspora who is torn between their past, present, and future. Throughout the show, ASA’s goal was to make sure our audience followed the storyline that our [ASA] members relate to, and my favorite part was seeing the beautiful story brought to life in the form of Sankofa. ”

Sarah Samsundar and Jeremy Kwame posed in Ghanaian Kente cloth

One way this storyline unfolded was through a fashion show. This year, there were four scenes with clothing ranging from traditional to contemporary, from different countries. Members of the styling committee were intent on highlighting as many regions of the continent as possible. This year, 30 students were models, led by our two model coordinators and ASA executive board members, Megan Manu and Sophia Akatue. Megan and Sophia were in charge of holding model calls, planning walks, and running

Megan, one of the model coordinators and ASA’s secretary, had a few words to share regarding the show– “The culture show was definitely something to look forward to. We literally built the event up from the ground. Planning and executing the event became all of the executive board’s priority, sometimes even taking importance over school work… that’s how much the culture show meant to us. But I definitely want to emphasize how amazing the show turned out and how worth it was!”

Jade Kissi dancing her way down stage in wax print cloth.

Music, dance, and Spoken Word performances expressed our theme of reflection as well. This year, we had a Rwandan Dance group one of our members used to be a part of, perform, as well as the Sun Drummers, Amala Dancers and two students, Dania Harris and Arwa Gayar, with Spoken Word pieces. All the performances contributed to a collective energy in Crisler, one that I looked forward to taking part in for the second time, this year as an executive board member of ASA.

Jeremy Kwame, a freshman who modeled in the show reflected upon the show as well– “Participating in Sankofa, this year’s edition of the University of Michigan’s African Students Association’s Annual Cultural show, was one of the highlights of my first year. There was a creative ambiance to the show which encompassed a multitude of setting and eras from traditional to more liberal and contemporary. I believe this catered towards the interests of the different generations and diasporic backgrounds present”.

Rwandan Dance Group mid-performance.

The BLI Habit we utilized the most was, “Start Small”. Once we had the idea for the show, we had to contact performers, create many, many, to-do lists, contact and follow up with sponsors and performers, and finally, publicize the show! Starting small allowing us to not feel too overwhelmed, and reframed our ideas into tangible goals. For example, once we had the idea of a scene titled, “When I was,” dedicated to one’s past, we started small by collecting recordings of ASA members’ parents describing their life growing up on the continent and life lessons they had for their children. Then, our talented Arts director and Co-President, Jacklyn Thomas, cut the recordings together to serve as a background for the fashion show.

One BLI Habit we wish we could have utilized more during this experience was, “Expect Challenges”. The day of the show, that started at about 7am for some ASA members who set-up the stage at Crisler Center, there were many unforeseen challenges. One challenge included not clearly delegating people to table before the show to sell and collect tickets, as well as when to stop tabling. Many people arrived well into the show, yet we had already stopped tabling. Communication among members could have been improved as well.

Although, there were challenges, the BLI Habit “Pause and Reflect” allowed us to grow as an organization. First, we incorporated this habit within the show, by inviting past executive board members to walk with the current board in the final scene of the show. We wanted to reflect upon all the hard work previous boards have put into the organization and give these past members well-deserved recognition. Second, the next few meetings after the show were dedicated to discussing what went well, what didn’t go as planned, and how to improve for next year. Overall, we were extremely pleased with how the show came together, and are excited to see what the next executive board has in store for the 21st Annual Culture Show.

By Tosin Adeyemi

Vinita – Virya Mobility 5.0 (Bangalore, India)

The Start-Up Environment

Interning at a start-up has been a completely new experience for me. The work culture is very much how one would expect a start-up to be – quiet, small and scenic. In fact, my first day was also the first day of the first employees they hired, and it was the first day of the new office. It has been a busy first two weeks. The work pressure is high; it’s all-hands-on-deck where everyone is helping out with each other’s roles. Everyone works 6 days a week, and most people stay back till quite late in the evening. It leaves me with little time after work, but I’m hoping this will improve in the coming weeks as everyone gets settled in.

Bangalore in synonymously known as the City of Gardens, of which the location of my office is a living example. Replacing two walls are two large window panes showcasing the famous palm trees, sunny skies and colorful flowers Bangalore is famous for. The greenery provides a calming effect, allowing creativity to flow and brighten the atmosphere. I personally really enjoy the casual atmosphere – be it the dressing attires, the friendliness or our daily debates on which restaurant to order from. Plus, everyday there is some new addition to the office, from the coffee machine to paintings and plants. It’s interesting to witness the company and office being constructed piece by piece.

While there is still an element of hierarchy within the company, I have really bonded well with some of the new employees. We’ve even planned to go to an escape room this week, and soon go on a scuba diving trip nearby! I’m excited to build friendships alongside learn from my co-workers.

Mid-Point Reflection

It has been three and a half weeks into my internship, and it’s been a steep learning curve. I had hoped to get exposure to the fields I would be working in after graduation. With interests in Business/Economics and Computer Science, I wanted tasks that covered all these 3 subject areas so that the experience would solidify my decision to pursue these areas, through a more informed decision on where it would lead my future. As I progress through the internship, I think this goal still accurately describes my experience.

Goat 1The tasks I have been given are very interesting and varied, giving me exposure on different avenues of business. I have been involved in things from market research, to consumer in-sighting and developing job descriptions. Currently I am working on developing financial models to provide a recommendation whether they should full own or franchise the product, and this is something I am particularly enjoying. I have never been exposed to financial data and to dive into modelling has been a fun, steep learning curve. The experience is creating a growing interest in finance that I want to further explore academically. My work has an immense impact on the direction the company does to go in, and I’m glad that I’m contributing in a meaningful manner to the firm.

My co-workers all have an engineering background, which does make me stand apart – I do not have an engineering background. Occasionally while it does create a drift that I do not necessarily understand their discussions, I am slowly overcoming my hesitancy to ask questions and clarifications. I am increasingly being more questioning, and I have learned exponentially on the physics behind systems and how that can be applied to daily life. Our differences turned out to be a blessing in disguise!

I would be able to explore the Indian work culture and gain a better understanding on how leadership skills can be transferred between different types of projects. This would allow me to both develop my skills and also gain a deeper understanding on how to employ leadership skills effectively in a global context. In an organization that will scale up alongside the emerging economy, I look forward to learning how leaders adapt to an evolving economic climate, in order to have the most impact and be successful. Especially in the technology hub of the country, this experience will provide valuable and a unique insight into the electric vehicle market in a developing country.

The month has been a phenomenal learning experience, where I have grown in both knowledge and also as an individual and my leadership skills. I’m excited to see what the next month have in store for me!

Overcoming Obstacles

One of the most valuable experiences I have had in the internship was conducting financial modelling. The final goal was to provide my recommendation on whether the company should own or franchise their large-scale product. While it was my most favorite task, it has simultaneously been my hardest task.

What made this such a phenomenal experience is the fact that prior to this internship, I have never been exposed to financial data nor any form of financial modelling. When given my task and goal, it initially felt quite overwhelming and a monumental challenge to carry out. Where do I even begin to build a financial model?  What does it comprise of? What do I even model to derive results and an eventual recommendation? It seemed that I had more questions than answers. And yet, after a week, I managed to achieve a conclusionBangalore

As I began to attempt this large task, I initially strived to study financial models previously
developed by the firm and understand them thoroughly. Asking more questions from the models, I employed online resources and started to self-teach the basics of financial modelling. Before I knew, I was progressing through my modelling, learning exponentially about how to build them – but more importantly, how they were relevant and would help reach and prove my recommendation.

Although learning through YouTube and Google has left gaps in my understanding, I’m excited to explore this new-found interest. As I take a class on these very concepts next semester, I look forward to being able to apply my modelling experiences to class and develop a thorough understanding of the field. My work has an immense impact on the direction the company does to go in, and I’m glad that I’m contributing in a meaningful manner to the firm.

Pantanal Partnership Solar Team – Mato Grosso, Brazil

Pantanal’s Solar Project





Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world, where Pantanal Partnership travels to implement sustainable technology.

Shift in Leadership Perspective



Many families live along the rivers in the Pantanal. We chose this family along the river to install the solar-powered refrigerator.

While in Brazil I learned that culture plays a big part on roles, especially in terms of gender. In the community where we installed the solar powered refrigerator, women were in charge of cleaning and cooking, whereas the men were responsible for protecting, constructing, and providing for the household. This did not affect who or could not be a leader but where someone could take a leadership role.

Therefore, when installing the solar-powered refrigerator system the men of the community helped construct the platform for mounting the solar panels and maintaining the technology system. Whereas, the women filled and organized the refrigerator to their liking since they were responsible for cooking all the meals.

In addition, their culture affected who they perceived as the leader of our team. Rianna was the technical leader of the team. However, when any of the community members had quest27440444215_44cdf2c27c_mions about the system, they would ask Guillermo. Guillermo could usually not answer the questions without consulting Rianna first. Rianna and Susan (another technical leader of our team) would even try to explain the system with the men of the community. However, the men tended to trust the men on our team more. This is because it is more common for men to be more technically knowledgeable than women in their culture. Thus, it is hard to be a technical as a woman in their culture without taking great leaps of earning their trust and respect.
In the future, I will keep in mind the gender roles in a community where I plan on implementing technological systems. I can strategize ways to gain members trust and maybe encourage the men on my team to encourage the community members to trust the women leaders on the team.

Leadership Growth

27406314536_c01b806a1b_mAs a leader I tend to want to help with everything. It is not because I want to do everything but because I want everything done correctly. However, micromanaging is not a quality of a great leader. Therefore, during this project I have learned to trust my team members. This not only made my job easier but encouraged others to take the lead.

When we decided to install florescent lights for the community, I let Guillermo lead the community members in the installation. He would ask the technical leaders for help when he needed but for the most part guided the community members on his own. This allowed Guillermo to grow as a leader in terms of communication and management.

Additionally, as a leader, I was able to instill confidence into my team via trust and letting them lead parts of the project by themselves. Eventually, they will not need my guidance and will able to be leaders of future Pantanal Partnership projects.

Bridge between Leadership and Teamwork


Susan Rusinowski plays with orphans at the Nazare Orphanage in Brazil after testing the solar technology system.

Leadership evolves when teams are formed. Teams naturally have members that have varying strengths that are constantly evolving. A team member will become a leader when the strength plays a key role in the accomplishment of a task.

Susan had a brilliant idea of making the solar lanterns more user-friendly. She gathered the team together along with the necessary supplies to make the adjustment. After explaining her idea, the team was able to provide further input and work together to make the technology easier to use and maintain for the communities.

Teams are useless without a leader and leaders are useless without a team. However, not one person needs to be a leader at all times. Any member should feel free to leverage their strengths or ideas to take the lead.

Yazmyn – Oaxaca, Mexico

Hi everyone! My name is Yazmyn and I’m a Junior studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience with a minor in Community Action and Social Change. This past Spring I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico with the Spanish for Health Professionals Program through the UM School of Nursing for a month.

Going abroad to a foreign country for a month left me with mixed feelings before and after. All the time before I departed I did my best to prepare, reading blogs, quadruple checking my packing list, as well as talking to any and everyone who has left for an abroad trip. At the time, I thought I knew everything I needed to know, and still felt prepared, but little did I know what I was in for. Being dropped in any foreign country for a long period of time is nothing you can ever prepare yourself enough for. When I landed, under all my excitement was an underlying fear of the unknown. I was in a country where I was obviously the minority, (which really opened my eyes to how truly America is a melting pot) as well as I barely knew the language. Even the most trivial things we’re challenging.

Last day of Classes with our Maestros

Communication is something that is very key in any situation, and me not being fluent made it very difficult. Through out my time I learned to communicate in different ways with the locals as well as with my fellow participants. Being forced to fabricate different ways to get your point across, really helped me when it came to solving problems, as well as everyday conversation.

Overall as a leader I grew in a plentiful amount of ways. Lastly, the way I think I improved most would be my overall confidence. Being around people I am not comfortable with makes it hard to open up. And within the month I felt more comfortable and my confidence increased tremendously. Through this experience it empowered me to take control of the situation and always be confident in myself. Confidence is a key trait to being an effective leader, because people don’t like to follow uncertainty. And I’m glad I was able to be challenged and in the end over come.

Tacos con Quesillo

During this time I was able to experience all different parts of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is known as the food capital of Mexico, and during the time I took advantage of trying all the different types of cuisines. Including their delicacy Chapulines, which we know as cooked grasshoppers. All through out the markets people sell different types of Chapulines, tiny to giant, seasoned with different spices to no spice, and either grilled, fried, or broiled. It was common to just snack on (like Sunflower seeds to us), or use as an ingredient in cooking (adds a little crunch). Being the food capital comes with so much more than cooked grasshoppers. My favorite was the Oaxacan cheese (Quesillo) , it was put on top of most dishes as you can see on the left. But other foods Oaxaca was known for include Mole, Tlayudas, Chocolate, Tamales, to start.

During the week when I wasn’t enjoying all the delicious food Oaxaca had to offer, I was at class at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca (ICO). Anyone is able to enroll in there classes and programs, and because it we had very diverse classes. ICO is where we took all our classes, left for our cultural excursions, and more. A typical day for the first 2 weeks consisted of an intensive Spanish Class for 3 hours then conversation hour in which we spoke with our group about any topic as long as it was all in Spanish. Then we would have 2 hours for lunch, in which I got to try all the cuisine, and sometimes take a nap. Next we had Intercambio where we were assigned a local, who was trying to learn English. We would then split the time up, half speaking English, and the other half speaking Spanish. And lastly we would spend the last 2 hours of our day in Medical Spanish course where we covered all different aspects of Medicine in Mexico (from traditional medicine, type of health facilities, and more).

After classes, we would eat and explore the town. Since we all stayed in homestays, we learned from our Oaxacan families where the safest places to go were. My go to spot would have to be the centro, Zócalo, which was a market full of food, handi

Church of Santo Domingo

crafts, and clothing just to name a few. Outside of the centro of Oaxaca, many people live in the surrounding villages where their indigenous culture were still maintained. It was common for people to travel daily to these markets in order to sell their craft, and make the money needed for them to provide for their families. In the centro there were also more store fronts, restaurants, and beautiful churches. On the right is the famous Church of Santo Domingo and a glimpse of a customary wedding ceremony.

Last day volunteering at Cuidando Ángeles

Cuidando Ángeles

For the second half of the month instead of going to intensive Spanish in the morning, we volunteered. My volunteer sight was Cuidando Ángeles (Caring for Angels), which was a physical therapy facility which specialized in children with cerebral palsy. Through this experience I got to utilize my Spanish skills, as well as help and engage with the children at the center. While there, we would help the kids with the the activities everyday, from dancing, to painting, to stretching and sense stimulation.

On the weekends we went on excursions to different cultural sites. And during this time I think I grew the most in my leadership skills. Being in an unfamiliar environment with out structure provided ample room for growth, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to participate in this program. Wherever you go, Go Blue!

‘Block M’ on the step of the Mitla Ruins

Julia Snider – Copenhagen, Denmark; Amsterdam, the Netherlands

With the help of the BLI Global Scholarship, I was able to spend six weeks of this past summer studying abroad–five of those weeks were in Copenhagen, plus a week-long class field trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This was my first time in the Eastern Hemisphere, and I’m happy to say I returned home with an increased sense of self-confidence and willingness to try new things as well as a more nuanced understanding of perspective, morality and compromise, both of which will continue to contribute to my success as a leader.

Getting off the plane at Copenhagen Airport, I was both nervous and excited. I knew I was going to be living in an apartment with 11 other girls (and one Danish Student Resident Advisor), but I didn’t know who any of them were. I knew I would be taking two classes that counted toward my majors in Psychology and Women’s Studies–Psychology of Human Sexuality and Prostitution and the Sex Trade–but I didn’t know much about these classes or about the cities they took place in.

Luckily, Copenhagen is easy to love. With its colorful canals and narrow streets filled with way more bikes than cars, it feels comfortably small for a capital city. Here are just a few of my favorite canal-and-bike-related Copenhagen snapshots:


Check out those views! I realized early on that although my school work was important, the most valuable thing I could do for myself on my study abroad trip was to go out an explore the world around me. However, such adventures take a level of self-confidence that doesn’t always come naturally to me, especially considering my peers were a group of girls I had never met before and who were all from different schools than I was. Being away from my friends and family at home wasn’t always easy, but I’m delighted to say that in my time with these girls, I went on a number of adventures that I might not have gone on alone. Best of all, this trip challenged my self-concept and brought me to realize just how closely self-confidence, enthusiasm, and leadership are intertwined. I now think more deliberately about how closely connected my confidence of my own abilities is with others’ confidence of my abilities, and I know the risk of looking foolish can easily be overshadowed by a good sense of humor and some enthusiasm. This self-reflection and self-confidence will undoubtedly enhance my leadership abilities.

Here are some pictures of some of my post-class adventures!


pictured: Tivoli Gardens (the inspiration for Disney World!)


pictured: Island’s Brygge (kind of like a beach, but without sand and in a canal?); a small child whom I do not know (blue trunks) pushed me off of this platform (funnier than it was scary)

img_20160807_184809     img_20160619_015205

Finally, these two were taken on a weekend trip to Mons Clint, Denmark–just a (two hour) train ride from Copenhagen!

Inside the classroom, my biggest learning moments came at times when my morality was challenged. For instance, in Psychology of Human Sexuality, I was challenged to think critically about a number of controversial issues, such as the difference between pedophilia (as a mental disorder) and child molestation (as a crime). Then, the fifth week of my study abroad program was spent with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class in Amsterdam. There, we attended a number of presentations, each involving some aspect of sex work in Amsterdam. Presenters included a former prostitute, representatives of NGOs, and even a sex buyer. I said on my first day of Prostitution and the Sex Trade that I wanted to decide once and for all what my opinion on prostitution was and what policies were best for a country to implement; instead, I left the class with a much more nuanced understanding of a social, moral, and political issue and of the ways that it can effect different individuals and groups. To my surprise, this mission to expand my perspective (especially morally) was furthered when I read a book that none other than the sex buyer recommended to my class: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Between the moral challenges of these classes and the insight I’ve gained from Haidt’s book, I can genuinely say that I’ve come away from this summer realizing that not only does everyone have their own truth, but also that the best way to reach compromise in a world of differing–and sometimes conflicting–truths is to lower your intuitive defenses and genuinely make an effort to hear and understand the opinions of others–even if you find them offensive or morally wrong. I expect this purposeful effort to relate to others’ views will not only help me to make forward progress in personal relationships, but in group conflicts as well.

Plus, we took a canal tour! What a cool canal!


Once the program was over, and it was the night before I left my apartment in Copenhagen for the airport, I wrote in a small book for future study abroad students that they should “get ready to fall in love with [their] own lives.” It’s SUPER cheesy, and I knew that while writing it, but I also meant it. Studying abroad plopped me down in an inherently challenging, new environment, and the insights that I gained while there have positively affected me as a person and as a leader.

Aries – Kampala, Uganda


My name is Aries Rutledge and I am a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. This spring, I studied abroad in Uganda with the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) Program. As I began this experience, I knew very little about Uganda, the language, customs, and what was to come during the (4) weeks I would be there.  I was both nervous and excited to embark an intercultural experience in which I could learn from being an active member of the community, as opposed to reading textbooks and observing from the outside like in a traditional classroom setting.

A picture I snapped in Kampala while doing a bus tour of the city!

Kampala, Uganda

Uganda is one of the most beautiful and underrated countries in world. The program was located in the city of Kampala, which is the biggest city in Uganda and known as the city built on seven large hills.  Kampala is also known for being rich in history and contains some of the most diverse cultures in the world. To my surprise, Uganda did not fit the typical depiction of Africa that I have always seen in media. While the country maintains the rich natural beauty of Uganda, it still has some modern attributes that resemble many American cities. Kampala, known for its crazy taxipark, was full of heavy traffic jams and people zooming by in “bouda boudas” (which are like dirt bikes).  One noticeable difference that took me by surprise was seeing monkeys running around the lawn instead of squirrels! The local markets are outdoors and very busy with people selling many items including clothing, fruits, and live chickens.

Pushing our van back on the road during the safari!

Pushing our van back on the road during the safari!

One of my favorite moments during this experience was when our group visited the Murchison Falls National Park. We went on several game tours, which allowed us to drive through the safari and get up close and personal to the animals. At one point, our tour guide’s truck got stuck in a ditch and several of us had to get out and push it (right after a lion walked by)! It was astonishing to see all of the animals in their natural habitats, as opposed to behind the enclosed gates at a zoo. Additionally, we took a boat tour on the Nile River and saw one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls!


My host mom Miriam and I!

Through the program, I had the great fortune of living with a host family.  I was anxious to learn as much as I could about the Ugandan culture to have a better understanding, but I also didn’t want to appear too intrusive or ask a question that would offend my host family.  To my surprise, they were equally interested in learning more about living in America, so it turned into a mutual learning experience.  Everyone understood that the questions derived from our lack of knowledge of each other’s culture.  In addition, living in my host family’s home was my first time living with someone other than my own family, so at times I felt uncomfortable, but I learned that being a leader is all about being able to take on roles you are unfamiliar with and making the most out of them.

Views from Watoto - Suubi campus, where we worked and lived for the majority of our stay.

Views from Watoto – Suubi campus, where we worked and lived for the majority of our stay.

While in Kampala, my peers and I volunteered at Watoto’s Village of Hope, which is an organization that aims to decrease the number of abandoned children in Uganda and give them a place to call home and the skills to become future leaders. Our role in the community was to work in the Baby’s Home, which consisted of children from newborn to 2 years old. On my very first day, I quickly realized I didn’t even know how to change a diaper! Throughout the day, I faced several obstacles while caring for the babies, including getting puked on! Although I was inexperienced in caring for babies, I would not let frustration get the best of me and knew I had to overcome this challenge. This experience has taught me the value of patience and persistence because over time, I became much more comfortable in my new role. During our free time, we often took walks around the neighborhood and visited the playgrounds and basketball court to play with some of the older children in Watoto. Interacting with the children and mothers of Watoto taught me about the effortless joy of life and they showed me how to take advantage of opportunities to create stronger bonds with the people around me.

Taking some of the babies we connected with to church!

Taking some of the babies we connected with to church!

In the past, I have had the pleasure of touring several countries; however, those experiences simply do not compare to the extent of learning I gained through living as a Ugandan. Through this wonderful opportunity, I feel like I came back as a new person and gained valuable lessons on leadership that have a lasting impact on my life.  I learned about being comfortable with the uncomfortable and pushing myself to learn outside of my comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I experienced true feelings of gratefulness and realized how very fortunate I am. Above all, my time in Kampala has been a life changing experience and has shown me how gratifying it is to give back.

Darian Razdar – Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, Japan

Hello everyone,

Early this summer (well, technically spring), I had the opportunity to travel to four of the largest cities in the nation of Japan.  Specifically: Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Hiroshima.  During the month of May, I traveled between these cities with a class from the University of Michigan, investigating postwar cultures of Japan.  The course during the winter semester looked at histories, literature, film, and studio arts produced during the years and decades prior to the end of the Pacific War.

Elaborating upon our lengthy academic knowledge of these cultures, my class traveled to Japan to delve into different topics—those we could only explore through touch, sight, personal relation, and immersion.  For three and half weeks I learned about cultures of urban development and war memory in the hearts of Japan’s major cities.  

Picture from Senso-ji, in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.

Senso-ji, in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood, is a large Buddhist temple and site of many community events and a shopping area.

Now even though this course was strictly academic, I pursued the study abroad portion because its syllabus clearly reflected my major passions, namely local-global struggles for social justice and peace.  As we made our way through Japan, we continued to come face-to-face with legacies of the war.  Those which most interested me, which we fortunately spent a majority of our time studying, were legacies working themselves out on the political-economic-cultural field of Japan’s urban landscape.  

In Yokohama, the 2nd largest city in Japan and neighbor to the larger Tokyo, we met up with a group of University students from Wako University with their professor—a professor of politics and English who has been involved in radical leftist politics for the past few decades.  In Yokohama, we were given a tour through an urban terrain that expresses dichotomies that we are far too familiar with in the United States.

 Yokohama is populated with massive buildings that denote the wealth concentrated in its downtown.

Yokohama is populated with massive buildings that denote the wealth concentrated in its downtown.

The Wako professor guided us between the downtown populated by massive skyscrapers and well-developed harbor promenade, ‘slums’ home to historically Chinese populations, a touristy Chinatown, and a gentrified boutique district eerily similar to Brooklyn streets I’ve spent time on. This professor educated us on what most tourist, and even students abroad, don’t have the opportunity to engage with. He and his students spoke of the changing nature of the neighborhoods and parks we saw—painting a fluid, rather than stagnate, portrait of the city.  Here, in a city I hadn’t heard of before departing for Japan, I found connections to dynamics with which I have become familiar in college.  The gentrification going on in US cities must be tied to what’s going on in Yokohama.  There must be a common cause.  The trends toward globalization here and in this city, too, must be related.  As someone intent on engaging with issues of capitalism, I found this experience enlightening, to say the least.

As far as Yokohama led me to make connections regarding global capital and common struggles for equity, our time in Hiroshima stoked my interest in global efforts for peace.  Arriving in this beautiful city, tucked between mountains and sea, I could not help to think, “The worst event ever experienced by humanity happened here.”  Civil and military experts expected no organic life to grow in the city for 75 years after the A-Bombing.  However, visiting the city 71 years after the bomb dropped, I was astounded by the vitality of Hiroshima.  Over 1 million people populate it still, and it’s full of plant life despite what experts predicted.

Hiroshima's Peace Park. A photo looking across the memorial park from the museum toward the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Hiroshima’s Peace Park. A photo looking across the memorial park from the museum toward the Atomic Bomb Dome.

In Hiroshima our group was lucky enough to stay in the World Friendship Center, a pacifist co-op which formed in the years directly after 1945 with the intent of providing housing and peace-based education to visitors, and English language courses to Hiroshima residents.  Here our class discussed the re-building and branding of Hiroshima and its famous Peace Park.  Importantly, we spent time learning about legacies of grassroots anti-nuclear and pacifist activism in Hiroshima since the bombing.  Thanks to the World Friendship Center we were given a tour of the Peace Park by city residents and met with a survivor of the attack.  I think of this as a cultural and political exchange where our class and the Japanese volunteers shared our experiences learning about the A-bombing and aspirations for future realities.  Hearing from the A-bomb survivor—hibakusha in Japanese—placed what happened there in human terms.  There are still people alive who experienced this attack.  There is potential that nuclear fallout will occur in the future.  Peace, though, I believe, is still attainable.  If this woman—a hibakusha—can believe peace is possible, then why shouldn’t I?

Learning in these cities, from and among their residents, was an experience that certainly grew my leadership skills and added to my interest in local-global struggles for equity and peace.  In the Barger Leadership Institute, we learned how to hone our leadership goals and sharpen our understanding of what it means to be a ‘leader’ on campus and in the world.  The word ‘leader’, in all honesty, is pretty null—a buzzword usually.  BLI worked to give back meaning to this role, and my experience in Japan—and my drive to truly have both an academic and leadership experience—revealed to me more of what I consider leadership to be about.  Leadership, I think, is a process of knowing the world (or some of its parts) and working with others to solve problems that arise with acquiring that knowledge.  Certainly, I was faced with political and ethical problems in Japan: nuclear proliferation and gentrification, for example.  Back at school, now, it’s my job to put the pieces back together so that I can begin to affect that change.

A post from Hiroshima's world Friendship Center. "May Peace Prevail On Earth" is written in several languages on its sides.

A post from Hiroshima’s world Friendship Center. “May Peace Prevail On Earth” is written in several languages on its sides.

Faith-Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I cannot fully express my gratitude for the opportunity I had to study abroad in Santiago de Compostela, Spain this spring. Though those six weeks flew by more quickly than I could have imagined, I learned much more in that time than I could have in a classroom at home.

Santiago de Compostela is a wonderful town. With a population of 100,000 it was the perfect size to feel safe and be able to comfortably navigate the city (once I deciphered the maze-like streets of Zona Vieja) while still having plenty of concerts, festivals, museums, coffee shops and parks to explore.


A girl wrapped in the Galician nationalist flag during Letras Galegas

One event that I remember particularly fondly as a genuine intercultural experience was attending Letras Galegas, a celebration of, and demonstration in support of Galician language. School was cancelled, businesses were closed, and everyone got a day off to flock to Santiago, the capitol of Galicia. Displaying nationalist flags and political banners, the whole town marched through Zona Vieja and gathered in a plaza of the cathedral to hear poems recited, songs sung, and a speech given, all in Galician. I enjoyed Letras Galegas because being surrounded by a language I haven’t studied reminded me of how much I enjoy learning languages and the passionate expression of Galician identity and nationalist sentiments reminded me of the complexity of cultural and social identities. I believe an awareness of such complexity is necessary to be a leader in the diverse communities I hope to learn, live and work in.


My host family: Suso, Miguel, Josefa, myself and María

Reflecting on my experience in Santiago, I would undoubtedly say the most valuable part of the program was living with a host family. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know the wonderful family that I did while living with them in Spain. We had countless interesting conversations during sobremesa that covered subjects ranging from family, to music, to politics. After six weeks of unforgettable memories we tearfully exchanged gifts and hugged goodbye. Without Josefa, Suso, Miguel, María and their willingness to share so much with me, my time in Santiago would not have been nearly as valuable as it was.


A group photo during our excursion to Finisterre

My UM classmates that I traveled with and studied with in Santiago were also wonderful. Our group was large with many exciting, interesting people to spend time with. I had countless conversations in Tia Vincenta (our favorite cafebar), along El Camino (the pilgrimage route we studied and hiked a portion of), and in albergues (hostels along El Camino) from which I learned a lot about the life experiences of my fellow study abroad-ers. From these conversations I learned how important it is to listen. Although we often do, you can never assume to know the reality of someone else’s experiences. From the conversations I had with my diverse, intelligent, inspired classmates I learned the importance of listening. For a leader who hopes to foster a creative, progressive community in which the experiences and skills of their coworkers are used to their full potential, the skill of listening and thereby knowing the limitations of one’s own experiences is necessary.

My entire study abroad experience was an array of lessons and exercises in getting to know a nation, a community, and individuals in all their complexities. I was constantly reminded that there is always more to learn; a humbling fact I hope to keep in mind in every leadership position that I work in.

I have many people to thank for the lessons I learned and the wonderful memories that I now cherish from my time in Spain: my parents, for always encouraging me to broaden my horizons and for fueling my curiosity about the world; my professors at the University of Michigan for helping me improve my Spanish skills and for inspiring a passion for language; the program coordinators in the CGIS office and at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela for their logistical work behind the scenes; the generous organizations that provided funding making an otherwise extremely costly experience accessible; my wonderful classmates that I now call friends for making the experience one to remember; and, of course, my host family for welcoming me into their home and sharing so much with me. ¡Gracias a todos por las experiencias y los buenos recuerdos!

Sarah – Amsterdam, Netherlands and Berlin, Germany

This past summer, thanks to Barger Leadership Institute, I was awarded Summer 2015 Global Scholarship for my Global Course Connections trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Berlin Germany. With fellow students from diverse backgrounds and academic interests, I was able to explore ways in which organizations and agents in various countries engage community residents in social and political acts. This experience exposed me to various narratives, provided me many opportunities to get to know others, and helped me foresee my future goals as a scholar and a leader.

In both countries, I had many opportunities to engage in conversations with various people and learn more about the countries through different narratives. In both Amsterdam and Berlin, gentrification is rampant. Areas where immigrants and people of lower socioeconomic status used to reside were being transformed into newly painted houses and fancy coffee shops. Every corner I turned I saw a battle against the poor ­ the people who really do need a community dedicated to themselves were being wiped out in the names of creativity, innovations, and money. Erasing the graffitis on the wall meant erasing the narratives of the marginalized.

Acts of gentrification in Amsterdam and Berlin are very similar to what is happening in Detroit; masked by the word “revitalization”, Detroit is currently being exploited by young, creative individuals who are seeking to make a lot of money. However, when a community is being revamped and turned into a cooler, more “hip” place, housing prices go up and the residents of such communities can no longer afford to pay rent. They are being displaced.
Gentrification not only leads to physical displacement but also “cultural displacement”, which Meagan Elliott, an urban planner and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, describes as “a loss of a sense of place and community and [your] right to [create] the vision for that community’s future”. Even if the people are still able to live in the area, cultural
displacement strikes an imbalance between community representatives, leading them to lose their attachment to their communities.

When I saw gentrification with my own two eyes in Amsterdam and Berlin, I began to question people and their underlying motives: Why is it okay for some to change other people’s communities without meeting eye to eye, without considering their positions? Is everyone so blinded by their own gains that they do not see the pain reflected in others? Are we that selfish?

Then a voice in my head asked me quietly. Am I that selfish?

As someone who loves to explore and visit new places, I too may partake in gentrification. I can’t say that these creative processes are always bad or unwelcomed; people always crave the “next best thing”. Moreover, new businesses can sometimes also help stabilize the city’s tax base, which means more money for the city for essential services like garbage pickup, cops, and firefighters. But the working­class and low­income residents who are outcompeted by newcomers almost always end up falling through the crack. Prison­industrial complex (overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems) and the overall disproportionate impact on minorities become more and more noticeable. So the real question is, how can we continue to make money to sustain the community without kicking out the original community members? How can we benefit everyone and make sure we are listening to everyone’s voice?

On this trip, we were encouraged and pushed to analyze how various countries use different approaches to mobilize people for collective action, challenge oppressive structures, and build cohesive communities. Disruptions in the communities due to international flows of labor and education were especially analyzed to address concerns regarding globalization and immigration. Engaging in such conversations lead me to realize that it’s everyone’s job to help a community sustain itself on its own account. People have their own cultural upbringing and history, and that shapes who you are as a community member. Therefore, outsiders should not infiltrate that space. When others try to disrupt that space, no matter how well­meaning they are, the place is no longer the same. As an aspiring community social worker and leader, I was reminded to always value people’s individual identities and narratives, no matter how beneficial my work may seem. As a leader who wants change, I need to take a step back first and ask: Am I here to help or to intrude? Are my actions invited or disapproved?

Hear people’s voices. Respect their existence. This is a lesson I can apply to any part of my life, in any relationship, and I am thankful to have been selected as one of the students to learn such important message.

Mandy – Beijing, China

For three weeks in May, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and travel across the globe to China, a country I never thought I would experience. When I registered for the GCC Course Psych 457: Research Methods in Educational Settings, I knew I was getting closer to completing my psychology major, but I didn’t quite realize that I was also getting closer to embarking on the most influential trip of my life. In the course, we conducted cross-cultural educational research and looked at how cultural differences influenced child development. At Beijing Normal University in China, there was a group of students taking a similar course, and the trip in May allowed us to collaborate with them in the analysis of our comparative data. Through this trip, I learned a great deal about research, but I learned even more about myself as a leader.

In a world undergoing rapid globalization, today’s leaders need to be even more adept at understanding multiple perspectives and communicating effectively across cultures. They can’t fear that which is different, they must embrace it and enjoy it. They must face every situation with a positive and open mindset, excited by the idea of diversity and change. They must listen to others to understand and make no judgments. In the end, leaders know that inclusion means everyone has a voice and something important to contribute. During my time in China, I developed such skills to propel my own leadership journey.

I’ll admit that when I first found out I was accepted to the abroad portion of the course, I was a bit nervous. What little I knew about China was that the culture was quite different and that it was often spoken about with negative connotation. I was worried about whether I would be able to adapt and fully immerse myself. What I found was that Chinese culture isn’t all that different, and that those who speak negatively about it probably haven’t had the chance to experience what I did this summer.

For the time I was there, I stayed on the campus of Beijing Normal University, a college much like the University of Michigan, thriving with ambitious students who take many courses, join many clubs, and have a lot of fun. I interacted with the psychology students we were collaborating with and formed unbelievable friendships. We learned so much from each other, and the language barrier was no stopper. We had meaningful conversations about our lives and how they were similar yet also quite different. We traveled to historic cultural sites together and ate lots of good food together. At the end of trip, we presented our research together to an audience made up of Beijing Normal University professors and other students. I even had the chance to visit a family and help cook a traditional Chinese dinner. I was completely immersed and welcomed into the Chinese culture and I appreciated it even more as a result.

I went into my abroad trip with some reluctance and reservation, and came out of it with excitement and inspiration to be a better leader. I want to be the kind of leader who faces new situations with enthusiasm and determination, with open-mindedness and sensitivity, and my China experience was just the beginning of my journey to becoming that leader.

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