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

Kate – Squirrel Financial Wellbeing (London, England)

This summer I was an employer engagement intern at a financial technology startup company called Squirrel in London, England for two months. The team consisted of about 10 people which was very unique in that I had direct contact with every ‘department’ of the company within one room. I was given large responsibility from the CEO to brainstorm, plan, and execute new plans on the marketing and sales fronts. My professional skills were tested in each of these areas for projects I worked on for the company. I was able to successfully bring on new customers and companies to the platform through my growth plans. The environment of my internship was conducive to my ideas and projects and I’m grateful for the experience to be able to play such a crucial role in a company at my age. My leadership skills expanded much more that I could have imagined as well. From holding company meetings to present my projects and reporting on my research of competitors and growth strategies, I have matured and am confident in my abilities to conduct myself appropriately in a professional setting.

I learned so much at Squirrel in the fast paced environment of the financial technology startup world. My team was knowledgeable and welcoming that it motivated me to push myself to produce the highest quality of work for the company. I have grown tremendously professionally and personally through the experience of immersing myself in a completely new city, home, job, and culture.

I lived in west London with two roommates who both attend different colleges across the US. When I arrived on the first day, I was slightly nervous to meet the friends I’d be living with for two months. It was a very unsettling feeling to know I’d be in a city, essentially alone, unless I made friends and made the most of my time and internship. Not only was I able to adapt to the cultural aspects of London, but I was able to explore beyond this city to different countries nearby. 

Through this experience of going abroad to intern at a fintech startup company, I have gained more knowledge about the world I live in. I have gained a sense of independence knowing I am able to live on my own and thrive in a completely new environment and country. I have also become more socially and culturally aware. I have learned how to research different cultures and be appropriate in conversations and professional situations. I have learned to adapt and keep an open mind in new situations that I was immersed in almost every single day. 

Being so far away from family, friends, and home it was difficult to adjust at times, but I have learned a lot about being independent and self-sufficient across the world.

Through having constant access to the CEO to bounce ideas off of and innovate new growth practices, I was able to see his critical thinking as the leader of Squirrel. By observing and interacting in this environment, I was able to see how to motivate people to do better.  Successfully delegating tasks, handling multiple personalities, applauding work, and criticizing practices in an approachable are examples of leadership skills I observed. Working under great leadership taught me skills I want to emulate as a leader.

The personal and professional experience I gained from this summer is priceless. I am extremely grateful to have earned this opportunity and am proud to bring my skills back to the University of Michigan.

Wimbledon Tennis Championships

My visit to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships!

Enjoying some traditional British tea!

Enjoying some traditional British tea!

Exploring the sights in London.

Exploring the sights in London.

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.