As my semester abroad comes to an end, I write this last blog post with a heavy heart and a great load of wonderful memories. Reminiscing on my first post, I realize my identity has not changed much but it definitely grew stronger and by that I mean that my pride in it has multiplied. Experiencing such a diverse and welcoming scene where people from all over Asia and many European natives, now expats, have built an environment of respect and discipline and have proven that this cohabitation is not as difficult to achieve as other areas of the world have portrayed. I have realized that my identity as a global citizen has deepened and affirmed further than ever before thanks to my several opportunities to travel, explore and familiarize with such different cultures. I have been around so many nationalities and languages such as regional Malay, Mandarin, Bahasa, Tagalog... Moreover, I have had the incredible honor of visiting some areas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Australia and Thailand. This thirst for discovery and wanderlust has grown insatiable as I constantly battled between classes and expanding my array of foreign visits and cultural knowledge to learn from. The hardest part about returning home would definitely be leaving this City-State hub called Singapore—connecting you to so many other amazing places, a literal door for travel lovers as myself. Another hard reality is putting an enormous distance between friends that you developed special bonds with but will become dispersed all over the world. The good side is that I now have a global network of friends and we can visit each other. Indeed, plans and dates have already been reserved for reunions in the coming future. I have also shared contact information with my professors to keep in touch with. Although I have had an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world, I’m happy to find the comfort of home in Morocco for a few weeks before heading back to GW and finding a certain stability for one last semester where my weekends will look like Gelman library dates and not Singapore Changi airport meetings en route for yet another adventure.
In all honesty, the food has not exactly been the highlight of my trip. I don’t want to say it's been all bad, London is an amazingly diverse city with a wide array of options. All of the Indian food I’ve tried has been unmatched to anything I’ve ever had at home, similar to the Caribbean and Chinese food. Before I came to London all I would ever hear once I told people I was going to London was that the weather was bad and the food was even worse. Well, thus far the weather has held steady and it hasn’t been until recently that a dreary and dark sky has been the constant state of the city. Well, unfortunately, I finally understand what everyone means when they talk about London food. Now, I don’t at all want to say the food is bad. I think its horribly ignorant and rude to say that all of the authentically British food is bad and to be avoided at all cost. That being said, it’s definitely been much different than the food I’m accustomed to eating at home.
When one thinks of London, you don’t normally think of it being a place that's drastically different than the US, and in many ways that's true. There are times when I can completely forget I’m in another country at all and feel completely come home, and then I’ll walk past Buckingham Palace or I’ll ride atop on the many red double-decker buses and I’ll remember how far from home I really am. I only have one week left to try and soak up as much of London as I can, so I’m going to vow to every day see something I haven’t before.
This past weekend I finally got to cross off one of the top items on my New Zealand to-do list: the Bay of Islands. Located about 3 hours north of Auckland, the Bay of Islands is a collection of 144 islands and features towns of Paihia, Russell and Waitangi, where the famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
Along our drive up we stopped at Abbey Caves, a set of three caves that are home to the glow worms found all over the North Island. Moss-covered geometric rocks framed and formed the caves, making the trip down into them a slippery one. The first two caves were difficult to get inside of but the third we decided to attempt. Forming a single-file line we descended, careful not to step into the water or cut up our legs. We moved on all fours into the depths of the cave, holding each other’s bags and hands when needed. Crawling into a small side section of the cave, we turned off our flashlights and waited for them to appear. Looking up, we saw the white-blue glow of the worms, like stars in the sky. Having only my phone with me and not my camera, I wasn’t able to get a picture of the worms we saw but I’ve pulled one from tripadvisor.com.
After consuming the lunches we’d packed we got back in the car and headed for AH Reed Memorial Park. We arrived at the park and read the map, which showed a 45 minute each direction walk to our next destination, Whangarei Falls. At this point in the semester waterfalls were nothing new, but this one was three times the size of any we’d seen before. Perhaps not the tallest, but the widest and most vivacious. The path lead across the top of the fall, providing a steep but breathtaking view down towards the the lagoon where the waterfall gathered. Following the path down to the base, we took in the scenery from all angles and heights. At the base a family was having a picnic, the little girl exploring the edge of the water, watched closely by her father so that she wouldn’t fall in. I took a moment, thinking, “this is someone’s everyday life. My paradise, my other-worldly beauty, someone lives here always.” That thought permeated many of my experiences throughout the semester.
Our next stop was the Mermaid Pools near Matapouri. At this point we had lost the other car we were meeting at the Bay of Islands, and the urge to see and swim in these pools was far stronger than our desire to track them down. We pulled up to an absolutely surreal beach. The sand was pure, soft in texture and light in color. The waves weren’t crashing, but discreetly rolling in. The water and sky displaying idyllic shades of blue. Slowly, we walked across the beach, following a map we found online to the pools. The way to the pools was first up a steep hill - steep in the way that it was almost 90 degrees vertical. There was a rope secured into the ground to grab and use to pull ourselves up. Equipped with flip flops and massive cameras, we were ill prepared for this type of climb but persevered nonetheless. A short walk awaited us at the top, taking us down an equally steep rocky journey to the pools. They looked exactly like what I pictures something called the “Mermaid Pools” would look like. Rough edges framing emerald water that overlooked a view of the ocean and islands in the distance. Without hesitation we dove in. The water, as per usual, was freezing. That didn’t stop three of the four of us from spending over an hour splashing and swimming around, living out our childhood mermaid fantasies.
From Matapouri we finally made our way up to Piha, the town we were staying in. The next morning we took a ferry from Piha to Russell, a small town well-known in the Bay of Islands. We hiked up and over the town, reaching the summit and taking in the views before descending to a small, hidden beach to relax for a few hours. Just around the bend from where we sat we found a tire swing that stretched across the rocky shoreline just out over the edge of the water. We soaked up as much warmth from the sun as we could, as it was difficult to catch a warm day in the winter. Piling back on to the ferry to Piha and heading back to Auckland we were all satiated with the number of adventures we’d found on our way to and around the Bay of Islands, one of the must-do locations for New Zealand visitors.
By Chizuru Uko
Since I got back from fall break Lisbon has started to feel like home, I find myself falling into a routine here and working towards set goals. While I was away I missed a sense of home because I visited so many places and bounced from hostels to staying with friends.
It is also a bitter-sweet feeling because it is my last month in Lisbon and I am not ready to leave Portugal but I am also excited to get reconnected with my family and friends in Nigeria. I am in Nigeria only twice a year and miss being around the people I love so much. I think going to London and getting a little of the warmth and familiarity of home and travelling with my Nigerian friends also made me miss it more. However, I am very grateful for all the lifelong friends I have made here and for the experiences and actually chose to extend my time in Portugal by a week.
I am becoming so much more appreciative of the little things like having conversations with locals in Portuguese and getting to familiar places through muscle memory. Lisbon will always be a special city in my heart, I hope to be back here and spend more time here, also hoping I remain disciplined with Portuguese after Lisbon. Até já.
By Joy Kayode
مرحبا بكم في رسالتي الأخيرة!
Welcome to my last post, friends! Thank you to everyone that has followed my study abroad journey in Amman, Jordan throughout the past three months. There are no words to describe how much I have enjoyed my time in Amman!
I have already discussed the volunteer project I completed in the United Arab Emirates with the Al Ihsan Charity (see blog 3). On Tuesday, I will complete my final volunteer endeavor. We’ll be working at an all-boys school about 45 minutes away from my program site and the overall theme of the day will be grounds beautification. We’ll have two main teams: one for gardening and one for trash pickup. The gardening projects will include soil preparation (mixing manure into their soil), planting things, and trimming trees and overgrown bushes. We’ll also be picking up trash and hopefully installing some permanent trash cans in the courtyard area. This is a mandatory day of service for SIT students. I am happy that this is a mandatory project. I don’t think there could be a better way to leave a positive impact in the country that has so generously hosted us for three months. To be in service to others is to be in service to oneself. We will also have the opportunity to work closely with local residents of the Badia as some students from the school will also be helping us with the work. With this upcoming community service project, I do believe that I will be making an impact on the community that we will be assisting. Our program director let us know that at the school we are going going to, there are many things we consider basic that they have simply forgone. For instance, there are no trash cans at the school. It is my desire that by supplying the school with trash cans and decorating them to look more attractive to grade-school aged boys, the students will then feel compelled to throw their trash in the bins and continue to keep their learning environment clean. As I stated before, I don’t participate in community service for a sense of gratification or to feel like I am making a difference. However, I know that the students and faculty will be appreciative of the work that we are doing because this is the Jordanian way. Jordanians are extremely appreciative people and this is embodied in the way they live their day to day lives. I take solace in knowing this and having seen this culture of appreciation and gratitude for the past three months.
As I described in my first post, completing an internship or an independent research project are the final components of SIT’s curriculum. I elected to participate in a month-long internship of my choosing. Through the help of my program’s academic director, I was able to secure an internship with Former Minister of State for Economic Affairs H.E. Dr. Yusuf Mansur. Dr. Mansur is the founder of an economics based consulting firm that provides a wide range of research and consultation services for independent, public, and private sector corporations throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa region. At EnConsult, I work primarily as a research intern. Throughout the internship, I conducted research for two projects pertaining to the Jordanian film industry and the decentralization of Jordanian environmental protection programs.
I am happy to report that I did not encounter any notable challenges, obstacles, or hindrances throughout the course of my research/internship period. This might sound unlikely, but it is the truth. Any challenges that I faced have been too miniscule for me to recall now. I can’t express my gratitude for the ease surrounding all elements of my research endeavors. For the challenges that I did encounter, I am confident that I employed the advice that I gave in an earlier blog post.
There are several things that I am extremely proud of myself for accomplishing while abroad. Last week, I had the opportunity to represent the United States as a delegate from the Young Democrats of America while I attended the 44th General Assembly of the International Federation of Liberal Youth in Barcelona, Spain. The most important things that I took away from this conference were the connections I made with individuals from all across the world. From Sweden, Germany, and Russia to Senegal, Lebanon, and Jordan, I am sure that the friendships that I developed during this conference will last a lifetime.
Another reason I came to Amman was to learn more about how Jordanian youth and youth around the world view certain principles like: democracy, liberalism, freedom, and equal justice/liberties etc. I have never been one to have an opinion about an idea, an individual, or a group of people, based solely on the opinions of someone else. I have always liked coming to my own conclusions. Therefore, I wanted to hear straight from the mouths of my peers, while I was amongst such incredible and beautiful diversity. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with two Jordanian delegates. Long story short, these delegates were former students of my current boss, Dr. Mansur! It’s EXTREMELY funny how coincidences work. Things like this just make me realize how small the world can be. Fast forward a week, and I had the opportunity to attend the 13th Regional Conference on Economic Freedom of the Arab World this past Friday. This conference was hosted by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The Jordanian delegates that I met in Spain work for this company and my boss was the keynote speaker for the conference. Like I said before, it’s crazy how connected things and people are to one another! Through this conference, I was able to meet politicians, scholars, and economists from Iraq, Tunisia, Oman, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, and several other nations.
Another recent example of one of my accomplishments is attending the art exhibition of Jordanian artist Mohanna Durra and meeting His Excellency Prime Minister Omar Razzaz. I must say I have a knack for meeting and speaking with politicians and political figures alike. So me thinking about approaching the Prime Minister was second nature. However, another unfamiliar consideration arose while I debated what I would say to him, if I got the chance to say something. Language. There has only been one other instance where I met a politician whose primary language was not English. Given that among the top reasons why I am studying abroad in Amman is to strengthen my Arabic language skills, I figured that there was no better place to flex Arabic with native speakers whom I had never met before. My confidence in this matter was at an all time high so why not, right? I approached the Prime Minister and semi-gracefully uttered “Masaa al khayr sa3adatak! Ya3tik al 3afya!” (Good Evening, Your Excellency! May God give you health!). This is all I had time to say before motioning to take a selfie (included below). Being Prime Minister, you can probably imagine how busy His Excellency is. Many people wished to speak with or take pictures with His Excellency. I am proud that I was able to articulate myself in Arabic and communicate with the foremost politician in the country. As I plan to continue in the international relations field, I presume that these encounters will eventually become commonplace. Therefore, I am so grateful to have opportunities to practice my demeanour in such instances now.
Overall, I am proud of the way that I branded myself and networked last week. To estimate, I met roughly 300 people. I hope to maintain contact with these individuals and broaden my professional network so that these connections are well developed past my graduation from GW and throughout my continued studies and career.
I could not have selected a better organization to work at and I definitely could not have picked a more experienced and accomplished individual to assist. I truly believe that working with Dr. Mansur enhanced my study abroad experience in ways that would not have been possible if I were at another institution or organization. Dr. Mansur is the one who encouraged my colleagues and I to accompany him to the art gallery where I met Prime Minister Omar Razzaz. However, this is just one example of the cool things I’ve been able to do because of him. I cannot thank Dr. Mansur enough for the wealth of knowledge he has provided me through his academic knowledge and personal life experiences. There is only one Yusuf Mansur, and I will miss him tremendously.
Upon my return to GW, I plan to continue to studying the Jordanian economy and the other political economies of the Middle East. I plan to do this through my formal coursework and through independent study. There are very capable and resourceful professors that I hope to consult to further assist me in this quest. Additionally, I plan to remain engaged in community services projects through my involvement in GW NCNW and The Pantry, just to name a few.
With this being said, I cannot be more grateful for the opportunity to speak with you all over the past three months. As cliche as it might sound, living in Amman has changed my life for the better. What I’ve encountered in Jordan, I could not and will not encounter anywhere else. Jordan is unique. Amman is rare. SIT Jordan’s Geopolitics program is a treasure that I am pleased to have found. With that being said, I am signing off for the last time. Thank you all for reading!
شكرا كتير، يعطيكم العافية و مع سلامة،
Around this time of year, my parents normally send me one simple text message for the holiday season: “email me what you want for christmas so I can order it on time.” It’s rather straightforward, and indeed a little bit abnormal, but provides the best representation for how my family views the holiday season. Specifically: we’ve never really been big fans. It’s not that we don’t celebrate chirstmas, but the only holiday tradition that avoided falling to the wayside was our visit to a family friend’s christmas party. OF course, that fell apart this year, when my parents traded out California’s great, smokey sunsets for the slightly less smokey sunsets of Oregon. We just don’t “do” christmas well.
In contrast, the minute mid-November hits, the Dutch enter a holiday frenzy. The streets are decorated with intricate, twinkling lights that illuminate the cobblestone and symbolise the welcoming of the new season. Beginning in mid-November and lasting through the first week of January, Dutch city centers and squares are transformed into Christmas markets. Each town has their own unique array of edible goods and non-edible gifts, ranging from scarves to rubber ducks to kettlekorn to loempia. Maastricht even has it’s own ice rink and Ferris wheel!
While the Christmas markets bring together the dutch, in recent years, the holiday season has been marked by a debate regarding one controversial holiday figure: Zwarte Piet. For those of you who don’t know, Zwarte Piet, or “Black Pete," is, explained in simplified terms, the dutch’s racist answer to Santa’s little helper. In more detailed terms, the Dutch Christmas holiday focuses not on Santa, but on Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas. Instead of having multiple “elves" who help him deliver presents, he has multiple helpers, who undeniably look a lot like racist caricatures of black people. Piet has an afro, a black (literally black) face, and large, red lips. Beyond that, Piet also wears “moorish” dress, based off of 16th-century noble attire, and a single earring. Zwarte Piet originally was portrayed as an unintelligent helper, however, since the 19th-century origins, he’s now grown into just a lovable, absent-minded character.
And oh boy, do the Dutch love him. Zwarte Piet is inescapable. He’s there, staring at you while you walk from class to class, peering out of the windows of hairdressers, children’s toy stores, and coffee shops. Furthermore, people love to dress up as Zwarte Piet for part of the holiday—donning wigs and drawing on big, red lips on top of blackened faces.
As an American, this holiday tradition scares me. It’s made me feel lucky to live in a country where the work of black civil rights leaders have changed the norm so blackface is, for the most part, unacceptable. You, for the most part, won’t get egged for calling some frat boys interpretation of Kanye West racist—rather, it’s more likely that that frat boy will be fired from his job.
The Netherlands is something else, completely. As of 2018, 88% of the Dutch public did not perceive Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery. While interpretations of Zwarte Piet now include just rubbing coal on your face, the fact that the character is so widely accepted represents a larger issue with Dutch society. It’s something I’ve noticed while living here, especially when visiting museums or talking to other university students about problems within American society.
While racism and sexism are something that people in America openly talk about, Dutch people just don’t really do that. The reason for this boils down to how we view multiculturalism in our construction of nationalism. In America, multiculturalism is relatively good. We’re the melting pot; our differences boil together to make the cheesy, artificial goo that is America. In a way, this recognition of multiculturalism allows us to talk about our differences. We’re not perfect, and we have a lot of problems, but we do have a large, multi-varied, and constant discourse regarding these problems.
Europe in general views multiculturalism as "niet zo goed." The concept of sameness is intrinsically linked to the concept of equality — you become equal by being the same. But that emphasis on sameness doesn’t create equality—it just tries to pave over the impavable, and by doing so ultimately reinforces problematic power structures and denies social progress. SO, although some of the Dutch I’ve met have claimed they “don’t have racism, unlike America,” my response has always been “you do, but you don’t talk about it.”
One of the easiest ways to see this, outside of but connected to Zwarte Piet, is through how various museums address colonization. While the Dutch may not have dealt with the civil war, the Dutch have had a long history of colonization and enslavement. They were heavily involved in the slave trade, shipping kidnapped African people to Spanish colonies in Brazil. They colonized South Africa and the East Indies, murdering indigenous persons and forcing enslaved Africans and Pacific Islanders to the same horrific treatments that Black Slaves in America had to deal with. And Zwarte Piet is undeniably connected to this history—he is, no matter how the culture tries to gloss over it—Santa's slave, not helper.
My interaction with the Dutch education system is limited. But based off of what I know from visiting museums, the history of colonization is portrayed as a “G” rated joke. Stolen objects and dioramas of apartheid settlements and Indonesian sugar farms are encased in glass, next to descriptions that avoid addressing the kind of orientalization and dehumanization that accompanied the actions. Importantly, Black and indigenous perspectives are missing from these narratives—rather the narrative acknowledges some bad stuff happened, but it’s ok because that was a while ago. Tackling this history means avoiding the white-washed, G-rating. And effectively tackling gives everyone the basis to have an easier discussion on Zwarte Piet.
There are a plethora of other issues Zwarte Piet symbolizes, importantly including the removal of voices of color from Dutch discourse. And, indeed, it’s by centering these voices of color and acknowledging difference that the Dutch can actually begin this process. That might start with museums, or it might start with the education system—as some Dutch teachers are already doing. But either way, white Dutch people need to listen to the people of color who’ve been angry with Piet for decades. The racism needs to be addressed, and Zwarte Piet needs to go, soon.
While searching for a study abroad program, there are so many universities to choose from. Since I had always dreamed of visiting Australia, I was able to narrow the long list of potential universities. After researching various universities in Australia, I decided to apply to the University of Sydney (USYD). USYD was the first university to establish the study of politics and international relations in Australia and continues to be a world-leading institution in political science. Since I am a political science major, I believed that the university had the best curriculum and overall environment to help me achieve my study abroad goals.
Courses like International Organisations, Emotions and Public Policy, Media Politics and Political Communication, along with Youth and Digital Culture were perfect fits for my interests and complemented my academic growth. By taking these classes, I was able to stay on track with my political science curriculum and had the opportunity to learn about politics from a different cultural perspective. Studying abroad at USYD was an excellent, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore career options, hone my academic and professional skill set, and embrace the vibrant culture of Sydney. During the semester, I was able learn more about politics in Australia and the rest of the world through classes, while simultaneously developing long-lasting relationships with a peer-network that shared my passion. In addition, I had the opportunity to travel and explore the East Coast of Australia.
If you are unsure where you should study abroad, I highly recommend that you choose a region and then begin researching the various universities that best suit your personal and academic interests. Once you have selected a university, it is time to decide where you are going to live. Will you live on campus or off campus? In a dorm or an apartment? If you decide to study in Australia, I strongly encourage you to reside in an academic residential college.
If you are interested in learning more about living in a “college,” make sure to read my final blog entry regarding my time and unique experiences at St. Paul’s College. Till next time.