Yazmyn – Oaxaca, Mexico

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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

Aries – Kampala, Uganda

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Greetings!

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!

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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.

Jessica – Amristar, India

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I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to go to India to learn from such amazing people and the inspiring institution that Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) is. I am indebted to the Temple for all of the knowledge that I acquired while there. I did not know that working with hundreds of other people to cook a meal for thousands of people could be so cohesive and easygoing. Stress and chaos is nonexistent in the Temple even though they are accomplishing near-impossible tasks daily. This taught me that there really never is reason to stress out because it only inhibits one from performing at his or her best level.

The Golden Temple is the best example of sustainability that I have ever seen and I am enthusiastic to implement what I learned from being there. They have nearly zero food waste because what is served there is considered to be “God’s food” so it is shameful to throw any of it away. Viewing all food as holy would be a great way to help curb waste here in the United States. Additionally, the only utensil that is used at the Temple is a spoon. Here in the U.S. we usually provide forks, knives, spoons, and napkins without making the effort to think about if they are necessary or not. I am definitely going to incorporate this thinking when I make decisions about planning events with food.

Something that really surprised me is that Hindus consider the Harmandir Sahib their second home. Many poor Hindus slept at the Temple for up to a few months and it is not common in American culture to feel so welcomed in a religious place that is not of your own faith. One thing that I really wish I could explain to my family and friends is that all religious facilities here should be as open and welcoming to those of other faiths are in India. The poor would be much better off if free community meals were not contingent upon being a part of the religion or hearing a sermon. Recognizing everyone as a child of God and treating them accordingly is an aspect of most world religions, yet practice of this idea in Western religious spaces is shaky.