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By clairemac93

In skyping with my parents tonight, I finally put to words something that has been building within me since I arrived in South Africa last January. It was under the context of, with less than two months to go here, what will potentially give me reverse culture shock when I return to the United States. Though there are expected potential culture shocks such as the proportion of black people to white, the presence of interracial couples, or lack of intimate daily contact with extreme poverty, the biggest issue I can see myself facing is the idea of consumption and the idea of deserved consumption.

I dealt with this in Germany to an extent too. You walk in a grocery store, and whereas in America there might be 20 cereal brands to choose from (this is a conservative guess) in Germany there would be 2-3. This was not thought of as abnormal, as “how complicated can cereal get?” Additionally, Germans just really like musli, so there’s that. Here in South Africa it is something similar. Though South Africa is certainly much more developed than I think the Western world gives them credit for, the average yearly income being $1,164 (as opposed to $60,526 in the States) does not inspire consumerism for the sake of consumerism. As such, at the grocery store there are a couple options for each item. Nothing deprivational, just food. You can find things in season, and you can suck it up when they aren’t. The most purchased good food-wise is a loaf of white bread, as for many that alone serves as nutrition for the coming day.

So in evaluating what might shock me in coming home, I realized that pure consumption- much of it for consumptions sake- will be the hardest to witness coming home. The idea in the United States that every product must be exactly personalized to every preference and need- gluten free, low fat, low sugar, high fiber- is slightly ridiculous after spending time here. We have grown up to believe that these products which we like, these things that we regularly buy, are parts of our very character- as if without these items we, as a person, will cease to be 100% us. We tie our personality to our product choices, and feel deprived when those products are no longer offered. We import for year-round fruits and vegetables, as to prevent ever being “deprived” of these foods we love. We buy that new product simply because we’ve never seen it on the shelf before. We pack our kids lunches with the snacks that have been branded to them or serve them Spongebob Mac n’ Cheese because they believe it tastes better when its shaped like him—I myself am guilty of this specifically!

But the problem I have is not in our desire to consume, but in our feelings of deprivation. We, in reality, require very little to survive. We do not specifically need those avocados. If that store went out of business, I would find other clothes. If my favorite cereal went off the shelves, I will find something else to eat. However I know many who get truly upset at the thought of these products disappearing. We are taught to believe that lack of choice is against human expression, but much of the difference in products we consume are small and inconsequential- only to the benefit of the producer/marketer for the product.

In thinking of home I can already see the long lines of items on shelves at grocery stores, and I can feel a sense of confusion of why its all necessary. If more choices were the key to happiness or health, America would be the happiest healthiest place on earth. But it’s not. So why do we think all the hoopla is necessary? Is it a distraction? Are our lives, down to every product we eat, meant to be so personalized? And what does this constant personalization teach our citizens about what they deserve and what is necessary for living? Does it make any difference?

I don’t know. What I know is that in comparing myself to the average South African here I am happy to eat what is provided, and having not been exposed to the choices that are provided in the U.S., many here are happy with a smaller amount of choices and never stop to ask why there aren’t more. Though a couple of years ago there was a phenomenon of youth burning money and cars to show they “didn’t need it” as to indicate wealth, on the whole I find South Africans much less apt to shamelessly display wealth and much less apt to ask for more. This is humbling. However, my stepmom once asked me, “If America is perfectly capable of providing these products and importing goods in season, why shouldn’t they?” And aside from the environmental ramifications of the transportation of these goods, I still don’t have an answer. In this way, my culture shock will be more of confusion, than anything, about how I feel about the contrast between the two countries and how they define what they need.




By rosessupposes

One of the largest adjustments that I’ve had to make here in Senegal has been in the manner of interaction with others in a variety of contexts. Different food and styles of houses and dress are easy to adjust to with time – having to constantly second-guess how you relate to others even as continue to fumble with a second language. Some interactions have become much easier. I know to find and greet all my family members when I re-enter the house, I know how to politely tell the talibes that I can’t give money or food today, and I know how to behave around the bowl at meal times.

And yet, there is a one genre of interactions that continues to be confusing and very frustrating, and that is the myriad of interactions between genders. ...continue reading "Impressions of Americans vs the Patriarchy"

By kcampbell94

During the month of November, most of us moved out from our host families’ homes and moved into our own house to do our ISP (independent study project). Eight of us moved into a house in Kimironko, very close to a well-known restaurant called, New Hello’s Corner. Four of our other classmates lived down the street, and the remaining three chose to remain living in their homestays. The ISP time is usually used to do research. Usually, one chooses a research questions and then interviews many people who are familiar with that area. Some of the things my classmates researched are as follows:

  • PTSD treatment in Rwanda (or lack thereof)
  • Gender based violence in post-genocide society
  • Art therapy as a coping mechanism for genocide survivors
  • Ethnic identity

Since my arrival, I had known that I wanted to get involved in an NGO here. Originally, I had planned on doing a case study, comparing a few different NGOs in Rwanda. My academic advisor, however, told me that it would be a better idea to pick just one. Somehow, this quickly spiraled into me finding Never Again Rwanda, or NAR. Its focus is exactly that which its name tells you: to reconcile Rwanda and prevent genocide from ever reoccurring. Their goals are sustainable peace and an empowered youth. I ended up securing an internship with NAR for three weeks, eight am to five pm every day. Immersing myself in the work place here was an entirely new experience. It was difficult at times with cultural differences, but I ended up getting very close with my coworkers, which of course, was making my quickly dwindling time here harder and harder to accept. With NAR, I went on many excursions such as high school debates about unemployment, debates about early pregnancy, and a mobile exhibition. In the end, I wrote my ISP as more of an internship report, discussing the incredible success of this organization.

With my leaving on December 7th, I have less than a week left of this experience. It’s unfathomable. It has undoubtedly been the smartest decision of my life. To wrap up this post, I’d like to list some of the highlights, or peaks, if you will.

  • Our Thanksgiving (comprised of going to Kieran’s home stay family’s house to feast and then watch The Lion King 1 and a Half and later having a dinner together completed with Pringles, Nutella, and pasta)
  • My revisiting of my home stay family one Sunday afternoon, where I met my extended “family” and resumed card playing with my host brothers
  • Going to different art exhibits with two of my NAR coworkers to see how we should set up our mobile exhibition
  • A trip back to Butare with Kat to attend the mobile exhibition, full of adventures, split Chinese food, and Rwandan ice cream
  • Halloween, when we had dinner at my homestay and then had a Halloween party at our new house with our Rwandan friends

With these memories, the friends, and the immense knowledge I have gained, I find myself on the daily asking, “How can I leave? How can I possibly leave?”

By Hannah Radner

Whether or not one celebrates, Christmas time is joyous. Here in London (and, I suppose, everywhere else in the world that isn't America), Thanksgiving does not exist. In the USA we know it's coming on November 1 when Starbucks exchanges the PSL for the Peppermint Mocha and red cups; however, Thanksgiving is just the road block to full on Christmas hysteria. Here, thanks to the absence of Thanksgiving, Christmas starts on November 1, and I am all for it. The only downside to spending the holidays here is missing them at home. This is the first year I didn't see my family for Thanksgiving, which would have been a lot harder to handle had it not been for GW England. That's right, kids, I'm about to make a pitch, so get ready.

I chose a program on GW England because I was only vaguely aware of the resources that would be available to me; I knew we would have some sort of GW advising in London, and I liked knowing that I would have someone to fall back on if I was having any trouble. We do have an advisor here, but this is only the beginning of the benefits of GW England. The advantages of the program were already apparent nearly as soon as I got here, as we GW students at LSE all moved in early so we could go to our GW England orientation events. For starters, my flat mate is also from GW. Second, we got to meet all the other GW students who would be with us at our school and throughout the city. On our first day, we got breakfast at Café in the Crypt, took a walking tour, took a boat cruise down the Thames, had lunch and explored the Tower of London, and then were free to explore the city as we so chose. About a week and a half later, we had the opportunity to see a play at the Globe theatre (yes, the Shakespeare one). Our advisor, Geeta, has taken us out to lunch by school; those of us at LSE were fortunate enough to go to Nando's. One day in early November we took a day trip to the town of Bath where we took a walking tour, had lunch, and explored the Roman Baths and the town itself. That day I ate at Sally Lunn's Historic Eating House, where I stuffed myself full of delicious buns and tea. Our last event of the term is afternoon tea at the National Portrait Gallery, where I intend to stuff myself full of more bread and tea.

Being Americans abroad, perhaps the most meaningful event put on by GW England was our Thanksgiving dinner this past Thursday. Thanksgiving break is often a welcome respite from school. In high school, we had a pep rally and a football game between celebrated rivals. At GW, it is the calm before the finals storm. On Thursday, Thanksgiving did not feel like Thanksgiving because I had a paper due in class that day. I usually have classes from 4-7 on Thursdays, but due to the abundance of American expats at LSE, my professor was very kind and understanding and excused me from my last one so I could be on time for dinner. For this I am thankful (see what I did there?). The LSE runs its own Thanksgiving dinner for General Course students, and my building had a Thanksgiving potluck, but I am glad I chose to do Thanksgiving with GW. It was catered in a function room at a nice hotel, and it was cool to see the majority of GW England students all sitting at the same table. While I wasn't surrounded by family as usual, I was surrounded by friends; it finally felt like Thanksgiving, aside from the fact that I was full after only one plate of food.

The holidays are here. The twenty five days of Christmas are upon us. The festivities are in full operation, from Hyde Park Winter Wonderland to the South Bank Christmas Market to ice skating at Somerset House to the posh Oxford Street department stores having a silent war over who has the best Christmas window displays (I am biased towards John Lewis because of the penguins and the commercial that made me cry). I've had my Thanksgiving, and I have two weeks left until vacation. That's one essay, sixteen class hours, and a few hundred more pages of reading. The reward is sweet: I am going to Spain for a week, and what a relief it will be. This is definitely the most wonderful time of the year.

By anuhyabobba

Time went excruciatingly slow in the first month and a half of studying abroad, or what I want to say was my adjustment period to living in Argentina. Soon after having one of the most beautiful times in San Pedro de Atacama, the last two months flew past like none other. I always saw myself on the last few days to have this urge to do all that I did not do in these four months. But, my last week in the city was a bit more peaceful. I was content with what I had done, and I spent that week -- in my own way -- saying bye to Buenos Aires.
I found myself starting to miss the routine of it all. Waiting for the 10 or 59 colectivo, walking to Havanna and buying myself a coffee "para llevar" before class, heading to Pollo Trak for a Suprema de Pollo sandwich for lunch, and then walking home to have dinner with my host mom -- I will miss it all. I lived a block away from the haunting but beautiful Recoleta Cemetery as well as the gorgeous greenery that surrounds it. I walked there every weekend to soak in the sun or I headed over to Palermo to spend time with my friend who lives there. Regardless what I had done, these actions constituted my life here. Actions that I did not see as particularly significant in the moment are the ones I see myself already yearning for.I still have a month left on this continent, however. I will be traveling independently to Patagonia. Then, I am headed off to Peru. But, what I am most looking forward to returning to the US is seeing my family. Without a stable way of getting a hold of them or with connection cutting off when I am able to speak to them has made me miss them dearly. Having my mother's tomato and egg curry alongside her will bring me so much love (already asked her to have that prepared by the time I land), and relaxing in the apartment as it snows outside watching Netflix will be all the more comforting. Returning to DC and that first hug with a friend I have not seen in months is also what I am eagerly looking forward to as well.Buenos Aires has given me four months of happiness, internal growth, and a lot of meaningful friendships. Even if it is time to say bye, all I can say is that I hope to return one day.

Thank you so much, and I apologize for the inconvenience caused.

By marisalgado94

As classes for my program have ended and we have moved into the field learning portion of our program, I had the opportunity to spend the last two weeks travelling to different parts of Bahia, live in a few different settings, and see the public health system in Brazil, the good and the bad, in action.   This last week, we spent time in Ilhéus, a city along the coast about 10 hours south of Salvador.  While on the outside the city seems like another one of Brazil’s beautiful tourist destinations, there is much that lies below the surface.

After learning about the history of the city, the influence of cocoa plantations on income disparities, and becoming acquainted with different neighborhoods that we would be observing and visiting, we got to participate in one of my favorite conversations that we have had: talking with a Cuban doctor who is a part of Brazil’s Mais Medicos program.  One of the downsides of SUS (Brazil’s medical system) is that there is a lack of doctors, especially for lower income communities.  The basic health centers are broken down into teams that serve specific communities; a team consists of community agents, nurses, and a doctor who oversees them.  In Ilhéus, there are many teams of community agents who do not have a doctor, causing long waits for patients.  That is where the Mais Medicos program comes in.  The Brazilian government has a contract with the Cuban government through which Cuba sends doctors to Brazil for a 3 year period in order to fill the gaps that Brazilian doctors cannot or do not want to fill.  Part of the requirement is that you have been practicing medicine for 10 years and have experience working outside of the country in the field of medicine.  The doctor we were able to speak to had been a doctor in Cuban for over 20 years and had spent 3 years in Venezuela on a similar program.

I had many questions about how this program worked.  Did the community receive the doctors well?  What was it like having to learn an entirely new language and practice medicine in that language?  Was leaving your family for 3 years worth it?  She explained to us that many of the patients she worked with had not been to a doctor in years and had no idea in what shape their health was; they were extremely excited that finally something was being done to get them care and that there was someone who wanted to do whatever they could to help their community.  Although she had never spoken Portuguese before coming to Brazil, our doctor said that she had amazing support from other Brazilian doctors that she worked with and they were extremely helpful in teaching her in any ways they could.  Although she missed her family, she explained to us that she felt she was where she needed to be and she was doing something that she loved. Although the Mais Medicos program and other Cuban doctor exchange program like it are somewhat controversial, from my perspective it is providing communities with resources and care that they otherwise would go without.  These doctors see a need and they do what they can to fill it. Since the doctor we spoke to had entered that community, she was able to see roughly 35 patients a day, work with community health agents to get people's diabetes and hypertension under control, and has delivered multiple babies over the last 6 months with zero complications.

While this program is working well, why is it that doctor's need to be brought in to begin with?  A big issue is that since medical school in Brazil is extremely expensive (so expensive that many doctors chose to leave the country in order to attend medical school), doctors who do invest in their education have no choice but to search for higher paying jobs in order to pay off their schooling.  The lack of willingness of doctors in Brazil to go and work in lower income communities speaks to a need for restructuring the system and allotting greater resources to medicine in these areas and creating incentives for doctors to want to work there.  Once again, while SUS is a great system in theory, there is much that still needs to be worked out in practice.  Hopefully through my next few weeks of research, I will be able to see how community organizations are taking the health of their communities into their own hands and, doctors or not, finding ways to make life healthier for themselves and their families.

I am spending this next week prepping for my research project and setting up my interviews, so look forward to my next post as it will likely have some great stories on my challenges in interviewing in Portuguese, what I've learned from the organization I am researching, and some reflections on the implications of my findings on healthcare in Brazil!

By rbhargava

Continuing on from my last post… after a memorable night in Chintsa, the six of us left for Coffee Bay – much further up the East coast of the country. The several hour-long drive was possibly one of the most memorable as we left the “developed” part of South Africa and entered into the Transkei, which was a Xhosa homeland during the apartheid era – and thus was left out and neglected from the western development of much of the rest of the country. It was an interesting scene to cross from one side to the other – and we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Transkei and the circular huts that were seen across the landscape as far as the eye could see. During our drive, we stopped in a town to eat lunch and buy groceries, and found ourselves the only non-black people in the entire town. It was an experience like no other – as for the first time – all of us really felt out of place and in the minority.

Moving on, after a flat tire in Qunu (Nelson Mandela’s hometown) and a mostly cloudy day on the road – we arrived in the evening in Coffee Bay at the Coffee Shack backpackers. The next day we went on a beautiful hike along the coast to the underwhelming “Hole in the Wall” – which is a small island just off the coast with a hole in it in which water crashes through. Although our 3 hour hike to the Hole in the Wall was not the most exhausting, we decided that the overcast weather was a little too much and we were able to ride on the back of a pick-up truck back to our backpackers. That evening was a full moon, and the backpackers arranged a nice little party for all the backpackers there. Talking to people at backpackers, one will find the most interesting people – and I was treated with great conversations with a French man traveling around the world for 2 years, a British consultant working in Joburg, Danish high school graduates traveling before university, and many more people.

After Coffee Bay, we drove almost all day to get to Port Shepstone, a town 2 hours south of Durban. Here, we stayed a the Spot Backpackers where the Britisch couple managing the hostel told us about how they traveled across the world on motorcycle. Starting in the UK, they had motorbiked all the way down to South Africa, shipped their bikes to Southeast Asia, biked there, then did the same in Australia and South America. Fascinating!

The next day we all woke up for the sunrise at 5am – but were greeted with a cloudy horizon on the beach. Nonetheless, the sunrise was beautiful and it was quite the treat to be able to walk out of our backpackers directly onto the beach to watch it. Later on we went to the nearby Oribi gorge where three of us went zip-lining across the gorge on 15 or so different lines. It was quite the experience and we were lucky enough that the weather kept sunny the whole day. In the afternoon we enjoyed the beach and went kayaking up a stream near the beach. As another fun day came to an end, we prepared to head to Durban the next day – our last stop on the trip before all of us would go on our different ways.

By marisalgado94

Last week was week one of my research project.  I am spending my 3 weeks researching the effect that community organizations have on reducing risk factors for drug use among teens in a low income community in Salvador called Nordeste.  My goal is to spend time with a body boarding program that works with kids from that area, interviews parents and coaches, and use the Center for Study and Treatment of the Abuse of Drugs that is at the Federal University of Bahia to get information on the history of drug use in the community and what sort of resources are available, how the community takes advantage of those resources, and what the challenges are in treating and reducing drug use in the community.

Let me tell you, conducting research in a foreign country is full of challenges.  As this is more of an ethno- grafic research project and most of my information will be coming from primary sources and interviews, my biggest concern was getting the contacts I needed and making the connections to be able to carry out these interviews.  This last week, I had a really hard time getting in touch with people and getting them to commit to an interview or to a meeting time... Brazilian's definitely have their own concept of what doing something in a timely manner means and that has been a cultural difference that I have learned to accept and work around in my research.

Another challenge that I am facing is the language.  While my research adviser speaks English fairly well, most of my contacts, interviews, my background readings, and any prior research I am drawing from is all in Portuguese.  While my comprehension of written Portuguese has come along quite well in the last 3 months and I speak it well enough to get by in day to day life.  However, when interviewing people, I have to simultaneously listen, take notes, understand what they are saying, and then process and come up with follow up questions.  I have been able to do it with the few interviews I have gotten so far, but at the end of the day, you're brain is definitely exhausted.

Although the project started out slower than I would have liked it to, I am really enjoying this.  I have never done field research before and this is a great experience.  I feel like I am learning so much about a topic that is relevant not only to Salvador, but the places all over the world.  It is opening up my eyes to how drug use here in Salvador isn't just a disease or an addiction in and of itself, but rather a symptom of a greater underlying issue.  My hope is that in this next week of interviews and research, I will continue to get a greater overall picture of how drugs impact the community of Nordeste, the ways that the Amaralina Kids Body Boarding Team is working to get these kids off the streets, and explore ways that the government can begin to provide more support to community organizations such as those that are here in Nordeste.

I'm excited to continue learning and hopefully, this research is the beginning of something that I can continue in the US, back here in Brazil, and in other countries as well.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting on a train to Casablanca when a woman sat down next to me. And a very matter-o-fact way she began telling me about her life, sharing pictures of her daughter and questioned me without inhibition my life. Like every other encounter I had this past semester, I had to carefully explain my identity to her. I was American, my ethnic identity was Indian and so forth. Hearing my explanation her facial expressions turned quickly from the confusion I was so used to, and instead lit up:

“Ah, baledeen.” she remarked. ...continue reading "بلدين"