Skip to content

By tinavisc

A day or two will go by and I’ll barely remember that I’m living 5,000 miles away from home until I notice the quirky yet routine differences between Cape Town and Washington DC. I’ve put together a short (fun) list on some culture shock triggers that always remind me I’m far from home:

1.Wearing shoes in Cape Town is entirely optional. On nice and sunny days, you’re sure to find a handful of students on campus going about their business barefoot. The closer you get to the beach, the fewer people with shoes you’ll see. I tried this one custom out for myself today. I went to the city’s botanical gardens barefooted and delighted. I didn’t get one strange look on the way, and feeling the grass beneath my feet was incomparable, but the soles of my feet sure did hurt when I got back inside.

2.Minibus drivers will yell at anyone and everyone to get them on board. They’ll even yell amongst themselves when driving close by to each other (all friendly, of course). Main road in any part of Cape Town is laden with minibuses and the persistent hollering so quintessential to the minibus industry.

3.Barbed wire around every single wall serves to remind us of the crime so present within South Africa. I remember how uneasy the barbed wire made me when I first arrived, but it always prompts me to be careful and aware of my surroundings.
4.Traffic light’s are called “Robots.” I still can’t stop chuckling when someone asks to turn at the “robot.”

5. Greetings are of the upmost importance to Cape Townians. Almost every interaction begins with, “Hello, how are you?” to remind everyone we’re all human.

By nharnish

اهلان!! Hello again form Jordan

My time here has been quite the adventure, and my research on water development in the region has been fruitful indeed. Oe of my first milestones to gaining access to the world of water scarcity around me was o find a quality internship within the development field. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted as an intern with the USAID project PAP, or Public action Project with water, energy, and the environment.

The oppurtunaties that have arisen from this internship have given me the chance to see and interview numerous official I would not otherwise have access to. For instance, the PAP hosted a conference in Wadi Rum a few weeks back and I was able to attend. The conference was a chance for the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to show off the new DC Aquifiers. This short term water solution taps into underground water to provide the city of Amman with clean drinking water for a short time until the government is able to find alternative water sources.

The Aquifiers will take a large part in my research, and I plan to explore them fully while I'm here. My own opinion on them is one of concern. I believe that the DC Aquifiers are a great way to ensure that the people of Amman aren't without water, but I'm worried that this short term solution could be viewed as as a long term solution in the eyes of many who are not knowledgable about what exactly the Aquifiers can do and how much water is available through them. I believe that the Ministry of Water and Irrigation must do more public media campaigns to ensure that individuals conserve water one the Aquifiers start pumping, and continue to do so until more solutions are found. Furthermore, it is imperative that the government agencies continue to strive for alternate water sources and solutions.

Another great oppurtunity the USAID has given me is the current project I'm working on. This project is a grant given to a local water company and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to spread awareness about using water valves in water holding tanks within the households. There is a common misconception int he city that the valves reduce the amount of water that goes into the tank with every refill, and this is obviously not true. The campaign is directed to families and households who have cut their valves or do no own one to explain the necessity of the valves and provide information on where to find the right type.

More recently, I've been looking at the very real concerns over refugee camps and their impacts on water sources nearby. There is a large concern in the region that refugee camps are poisoning nearby water sources and drawing too much from clean sources. The illegal wells within the camps draw unregulated water and are done without proper guidence of foresight. So far the government has not addressed this issue, and I'm interested to find out when they do.

Lastly, in the coming weeks I will be given the oppurtunety to sit in on lectures by local water experts both within and outside the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. I've been working on my questions for them these past few days and I'm excited to see what they have to hear.

Jordan remains a beautiful paradise within a region known to be plagued by unrest. I'm confident in its future and the water issues I once thought to be immensely dire seem to be challenges that the Hashemite dynasty can overcome.

By arosema93

Canberra has a reputation throughout Australia as being boring, dull, and otherwise not worth visiting let alone living in. Internationally it would have a similar reputation, that is, if anyone knew it even existed. Its small. At only 300,000 residents, it is no large city, but it is very unique in that it is a planned city. Therefore, the city tends to at times be very spread out, but at other times feel almost like a real city. Unlike the grid system of most American cities which is taken to an extreme level in Washington D.C., Canberra is built with triangles and roundabouts and circles and squares and somehow it is all supposed to make sense. Granted though, while D.C. is functional and built to make sense, Canberra’s low population makes the city feel like it was built for a population four times the size. There is almost too much infrastructure in places. It never feels dirty, cramped, or unsafe.
An interesting article I read the other day attempts to explain away part of the negative feelings towards Canberra. The point it made is that the only thing really here that it is known for is the government and the capital. Ninety percent of when Australians hear the word Canberra, it isn’t referring to the city so much as the government. For example, Canberra passed this law today, or Canberra is making us pay more taxes this year. Much the same thing happens with Washington D.C. However, Washington has a lot more going for it outside of politics. As a result, people end up with a more negative view of Canberra; the majority of Australians have never even visited.
Another interesting fact about our small city is that despite the tiny population, it is the 8th largest city in the country. That gives a little bit of perspective to how small of a country this is, yet it still occupies the same land area as the continental United States. The entire population of Australia would be capable of fitting into New York City! Canberra does have its upsides however. There is still quite a bit to do here. It isn’t devoid of life as some make it out to seem. For example, last weekend I was given a fantastic opportunity through one of my courses to have a one-on-one interview with the ambassador from Brazil! He was a great guy and talked to me a lot about the diplomat life and what it is like to be an ambassador in a foreign country. Sounds like lots of positives and negatives. His biggest one is that he has a fear of flying. I don’t know how well that goes with the job haha. We talked for about 20 minutes after which two other men walked in and they conversed momentarily in a Spanish/Portuguese mix before he turned to me to introduce me to his best friend, the ambassador from Argentina! It was a great surprise and turned out to be a well worthwhile experience. Good opportunities are everywhere if you are lucky, know where to look, or are willing to get out there are find them.

By fdecristofaro

A lot of the research I do for coastal ecology and natural resource management in my program is based on field work. SIT prides itself on experiential learning and I have found this very accurate. We have lectures and classes, but the structure is very different and I find myself learning more when I go out into town to talk to people or observing the idiosyncrasies of the unique ecosystem here. So I learn more out of the classroom. One hard part for me is that I am unused to writing up quantitative data that is required of me in this scientific based program. But so far our projects have both been group work; one project was in Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park describing density and behavior of the endemic Red Colobus monkeys the other was researching the use of water for agricultural purposes in a small fishing village. This tactic helps me adjust to the style of reporting that science based reports require because my peers are more familiar with this format that includes methods, data, and a discussion of the graphs and calculations, and end with further research topics. I am confidant that I am benefiting my peers because I have a good handle on Kiswahili and because many of our subjects speak the local language it is vital to our success in research here. Being confidant in Kiswahili helps me try to go out of my way ask questions and get the answers necessary to complete our work.

By meaggymurphy

One of my favorite words in Spanish is "vergüenza," or embarrassment. This is a feeling that I've become quite comfortable with since arriving in Spain. Especially in my classes (oh yes, I have examples).

So far in Spain, I've discovered that I can almost 100% guarantee that if a professor is going to ask for volunteers or give a surprise oral pop quiz, I will be chosen to answer first. I am a person who prefers to go to class, listen, take notes, and participate when I feel that I have something to contribute. I know very few people who relish being called on to speak in front of the class. By the end of my time here in Spain, I will never again feel uncomfortable being called upon to give an opinion or answer a question because it happens in every class here, everyday.

For example, last week in one of my classes we had a surprise visitor: a magician! How fun! Who does he chose out of everyone in class to be his assistant? Me. At one point, he has a coin and asks me to blow on his hand to make it disappear. This is confusing to me. I panic. I know what I heard him say, but what if I misheard?! Why the heck would I need to blow on his hand to make the magic happen? I'm afraid to ask and sound like a dumb foreigner. So what do I do instead? I fist bump him. It was the most awkward fist bump of my life. The class erupts in laughter. I cringe. Two lessons here: Don't be afraid to ask questions, and sometimes the best thing to do is laugh at your mistakes.

Another example was a surprise oral quiz in my Geography class. I am chosen first to answer. I answer correctly (PHEW), except for the professor is looking for one word specifically to describe the geographic structure we're studying. In my panic, I can only think of how to say it in English, and I know it sounds nothing like the Spanish equivalent. So I just say I don't know and move on. Looking back, it probably wouldn't have hurt to say it in English. But lesson learned: always be extra prepared for class with all of the proper vocabulary, just in case.

On the bright side, these moments of panic always result in me making new friends. After the Magician Incident, a few students from my class approached me to say I shouldn't be embarrassed because it was the best part of the entire magic show. Ok, I'll take it. And after the geography quiz, I'm approached by other students who tell me that they didn't know the word either, so I shouldn't feel bad about it. At least I wasn't the only one!

I'm learning that during my time in Spain, as a foreigner, I'm always representing my country to the people here. This is something that they tell you at orientation, but it really becomes a reality upon arrival. Professors aren't trying to embarrass me when they ask what I think in front of the class; they just want to know what someone who isn't from here thinks! At the end of the day, it's worth the occasional embarrassing situation if 9 times out of 10 I can add something constructive to class discussions. So, vergüenza only exists if I let it. Besides, no one ever died from an awkward fist bump.

By kathleenmccarthy1

At NUIG, you spend a lot of time trying to get away from the other American students. With such a high international student population and a heavy presence of American study abroad programs on campus, the opportunity to be surrounded by only Irish students even for a short while does not come around often. This is why I believed that there would be a considerable number of American students in the sociology seminar that I registered for. However, when the class, entitled: Contemporary Irish Health Care Policy in a Comparative Context, began, I discovered that apart from a German student who was also taking it, everyone else in the class was Irish.

My health care policy seminar is the only class in which there is not a large population of visiting students. In fact, with 13 students in total, it is the only one that doesn’t take place in a large lecture hall. This means that the professor will actually learn our names and get to know us as individuals instead of just talking at us for the entire lecture like the professors in Ireland typically do. Obviously, since it is still relatively early on in the semester, the professor does not know all of the students’ names yet. He has, however, known one student’s name from the first day of class and that student is me. The reason for this is that, as the only American in the class, I am the go-to girl for questions about free market health care policy.

Even at GW, it is unusual for a professor to address me directly and know my name during the first lecture. This is why it took me back when, during our first class, the professor looked right at, called me by my name and asked me about public health care options in the US. Getting questions like this one would have been intimidated to get even back at GW, but in the states it would only be out of fear of embarrassment or concern over having it reflect poorly on my grades. In Ireland, my answers to these questions will shape my classmates’ understanding of American health care policy and, subsequently, their understanding of global health care policy. I feel as though I have essentially become a guest lecturer in my sociology class, completely by accident.

With my health care policy class meeting on Thursday mornings, my Wednesday nights have essentially turned into a briefing session on new developments in American health care policy. This might seem excessive and unnecessary but anyone who has been on Twitter lately can attest to the fact that this topic is not one that you want to ignore for a few days if you have any intention of discussing it with someone. I basically need to prepare for a class presentation on American health care policy every week, but I’m never really sure of the aspect of health care policy that I will be presenting on. Fortunately, both the professor and the other students in the class are incredibly warm and understanding and seem pleased that there is an American in the class to contribute to the discussion. Even though I’m sure they would be really nice about it if I had nothing to say, I’m going to be asked to contribute whether I like it or not. So, I might as well give 110%.

By DandyLion


¡Buenas tardes de Santiago!

Today was another beautiful day as spring is quickly approaching us! In fact, today I spent the afternoon riding around Santiago giving a tour of the city - which is what I am doing as my volunteer work here. Doing tours has proven to be such an entertaining, effective, and educational way to learn about the city better. For the past month, I have been learning the different routes that we take for the tours and the information that accompanies each, as the tours are also focused on learning about the city.

As it turns out, these have been my only really primarily challenging tasks at La Bicicleta Verde. Santiago is an enormous city which holds anywhere between 6 to 9 million people on any given day, due to commuting and residency differentials. Therefore, it is apparent that the city is rather large in terms of land mass and that it takes a while to learn the routes. Although Santiago, like DC, is a very organized city, there are some major differences that make travel significantly more complicated by foot or by bike. For example, many of the major streets here only permit you to cross on either the left or right side of the street, not all four sides of an intersection as we are given in DC. What this means is that if you need to cross from one corner of a street to the other, you need to be attentive as to where the sidewalks are located so that you don't accidentally cross to a side without a crosswalk and have to turn back! It's a bit complicated to learn the bike routes this way, but as the saying goes, with practice makes perfect, and soon enough I will learn them all indubitably.

The other major challenge is memorizing all of the history and information which I can share with tourists. Santiago has such a rich past - not to mention the present nor the future - but Santiago is not the only topic of which I need to discuss with customers! There are numerous landmarks that were, for instance, given as gifts from other countries to celebrate a specific occurrence in time because of whichever various historical contexts. We aim to discuss everything from parks to politics to culture to markets and so forth. Furthermore, every person has a different mind and therefore asks different questions depending on the direction in which the conversations that we have goes. Because of this, I constantly feel like I need to achieve practically an encyclopedic memory, which so far hasn't proven to succeed. However, I have been accompanying many tours with my fellow coworkers and being especially attentive so that I can learn the information better. Fortunately, the Spanish-English language barrier is not an issue!

I definitely feel like I am already making a difference with my company. This morning, for example, I translated a very important text from Spanish to English for the owners of my company who needed to send a very clear message of thanks to a group of English-speaking businessmen that recently took tours with LBV. In the office, I have been making various phone calls and responding to countless emails that are necessary to maintain the business as well as helping in the bike shop to organize the various equipment for tours. During the tours that I do, the tourists feel comfortable asking me questions about Santiago, which I can answer! I have also been able to give various recommendations for restaurants to eat at and activities for them to do based on my own personal knowledge and understanding of the current events in the city. It has proven quite rewarding.

Although there are always challenges, there are also always solutions, and I know I can continue to find them!

Until next time,


raft over waterfall
Rafting over the falls

What's up mates? Ready for another installment of the Epic Adventures of Merideth? Well aren't you in for a treat.

Last weekend, my study abroad program (IFSA-Butler) took a group of us on an adventure weekend. So you're probably thinking, adventure, I wonder how intense it was. Well, it was crazy. I like being adventurous and exploring, but I'm not an adrenaline junkie in the least!

We did mountain biking, luging, and white water rafting. Everything was incredible, but I'm going to focus this blog post on the rafting.

Our group did level 5 rapids, which is the highest level you can commercially raft in. To make things even more nuts, the river we went down had a 23 foot waterfall we had to raft over. I may have peed my pants a little when we went over, not gonna lie. Our raft flipped over and I thought I had drowned, but turns out, life jackets work really well!

This post was not designed to brag about how awesome my weekend was. Instead, it is a gentle recommendation that when studying abroad, don't be afraid to try anything new. Chances are, you'll regret it later on. I almost chickened out and didn't raft over the waterfall. I'm so glad I stuck with it though. It was incredible. That waterfall was also the largest waterfall in New Zealand (and I'm pretty sure the world) that you can commercially raft over. While things may seem scary, probably even terrifying, just try it. I'm a pretty wimpy person, but here I am, living proof that you can raft over a 23 foot waterfall and live to tell the day.


By dpmitchel

On my SIT abroad program, our schedule and classes are focused around building up our final independent study project (ISP).  We can choose from any topic that we like, and it’s been hard to narrow it down! Everyday we have speakers from the local university, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, or from health leaders around South Africa. Coming into the program, my original idea was to compare the rates of HIV transmission from mother to child in private versus public clinics.  However, after discussing the idea with my Academic Director, completing primary research about that topic in such a short amount of time is not realistic.  Also, from discussing health issues with local South Africans and observing health in my homestay, there are so many other cool topics to choose from!

In one of our classes, our lecturer was discussing emergency medicine in South Africa. As a certified EMT-B, I listened intently.  He said “everyone is really critical of ambulances,” and as to their reliability, it boils down to questions of will the ambulance come? Will it not come? When will it come? What happens if the available ambulances don’t work? What if road conditions in rural areas become unfit for driving? All of those seemed very relevant questions to consider.  These ultimately become questions of access, which I think would be really great to study for my independent study project. Plus, I’m curious to talk to some South African EMT’s! I’ve talked to my Academic Director and it’s a large possibility that I can do ride-alongs in the local Durban ambulances.  That way I can get perspectives on care from the EMT’s firsthand.

As part of our SIT curriculum, we created and conducted Family Health Surveys for our homestays. We are currently staying in Cato Manor, a lower income (relative to America) area in the outskirts of Durban.  Interviewing them to get their perspectives on ambulatory care was very interesting.  From their accounts, emergency care in South Africa is very hit-or-miss.  One of my family members said that for children, the ambulances arrive very quickly, but for older people, they come very slowly. I’d be interested to investigate the triage system in the public emergency services systems, especially because public EMS here is often under-resourced and understaffed.

The main challenge I will have in gathering data for my ISP will be the language barrier.  We are taking Introductory Zulu, the primary language of KwaZulu-Natal, and although we can speak a little bit, it’s hard to conduct interviews with potential miscommunications. SIT is preparing us for this challenge, however, with our immersions in Zulu-speaking homestays. Overall, I’m excited to keep researching and investigating my research project while enjoying my time in South Africa.

By meaggymurphy

The first thing to know about eating in Pamplona is that tapas are NOT a thing. Everywhere else in Spain, it's common to go out to a restaurant in a group and order tapas, or the Spanish version of artfully constructed appetizers. Not in Pamplona. What a shame.

EXCEPT. In Pamplona, the bars and cafes in the Casco Viejo, or "Old Quarter," do the residents of the city one better. They have "pinchos" in place of tapas. The only real culinary difference between tapas and pinchos is the name. However, there is a big difference when it comes to the experience of eating pinchos.

The best time to go for pinchos is on a Thursday night for "juepincho" (Spanish for "Thursday" is "jueves," hence "jueves" + "pinchos" = juepincho. Logic). On juepincho, the narrow cobblestone streets of the Casco Viejo are buzzing with people doing the Pamplona equivalent of a bar crawl; first, you enter a restaurant and order an artfully decorated pincho with cerveza or vino for a mere two Euros (this deal is only on Thursdays, which is what draws the crowds). Next, you bring your spoils out to the street, which is lined with tables (standing room only) and get to enjoy the people watching while you eat. Everyone in Pamplona, from university students to elderly couples to young couples pushing strollers through the crowds, turns up on Thursday nights for the festivities.

If you though the experience was over after the first pincho, think again! I believe the formula for juepincho goes something like four pinchos = one dinner. This means that you get to stroll along to another bar, order another pincho (NO TAPAS, remember?), and repeat the process all over again. The people of Pamplona are big fans of this tradition; I've been told that during the winter, despite the chill/rain/snow, juepincho goes on as normal.

Of course, it doesn't have to be Thursday for you to enjoy pinchos. These restaurants have the snacks prepared daily. And vegetarians beware-- chances are, a pincho that looks like it's topped with innocent vegetables probably has ham hidden in it somewhere. The other thing about pinchos in Pamplona is that there is intense competition between bars to have the best pinchos in the city. In my opinion, I don't know how anyone would ever be able to choose. There have to be at least 100 restaurants that participate in juepincho, and I have yet to try a bad pincho!

Pinchos aren't tapas, but they are uniquely from Navarra (the provence in which Pamplona is located), and definitely one of my favorite things about this city. ¡Buen provecho to anyone who comes to Pamplona and participate in this delicious tradition!