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The first thing you notice when you touch down in Shanghai is the complete lack of personal space. I say this as someone who is usually comfortable cramming into a packed subway car in Manhattan. We were warned of this cultural difference before we left for the semester, but there is nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself. What I’ve come to realize, however, in the last few days that I have been in China, is that this cultural difference is actually one that forces you headfirst into the local community. The people in Shanghai live in a level of comfort with each other that I have never experienced in any of my travels. There is unique a sense of camaraderie and tradition that the entire community adheres to. The ancient cultures and practices that are the foundations of Chinese life are clearly ingrained in every individual I have come across in my short time in Shanghai.

On our scavenger hunt we came across an adorable woman leading a board game in People’s Park and we were all enamored by her charisma. Although we didn’t understand the game, we were positive she was winning.

An amazing example of this sense of community is the Shanghai marriage market in People’s Park. We experienced this practice firsthand on one of our initial activities as a cohort. The Shanghai marriage market is a tradition that has been going on for generations. Essentially, parents gather around in the “blind corner” of the central People’s Park, and hold a sort of showcasing for their unwed sons and daughters. On opened umbrellas, advertisements can be seen boasting good looks and successful careers, as the actual bachelors and bachelorettes are nowhere to be seen. This practice is a clear indicator of the tradition and culture surrounding marriage in China. Parents see it as their duty and right to make sure that their children find the perfect match. This is a very traditional practice that makes me thing of the way marriage is viewed in India as well. I find it so interesting that ancient cultures can bring their value systems into the 21st century unbothered by the global culture of the modern era and pass these traditions down to their children. This is very clear in Chinese culture and I look forward to discovering more of Shanghai’s hidden cultural gems in the months to come!

The Shanghai Marriage market was such an interesting event to walk through. Parents swarmed us to find out if we wanted to marry their children and even pulled out pictures to show us and convince us to say yes. It was definitely a memorable sight.

Before I got to Barcelona, I already knew that service was something I wanted to partake in. My program, IES, was able to help me figure out what kind of service I wanted to do, and luckily, it works out perfectly with my schedule. I volunteer at a school called Dolors Almeda with kids in the kindergarten to first grade age range. I love kids, so I absolutely love volunteering with them, but it is a little hard at times because of the language barrier. I feel very confident in my Spanish skills, but at the school, the children are taught in Catalan. Catalan is very different than Spanish, so there are times when I am very confused as to what their teacher is asking them to do, which can make it harder to be helpful. Also, the class sizes are really big, so it's hard to really get to know the students because there are so many, but I love getting to meet and interact with so many different kids, so there are definitely pros and cons to it. One thing that I find absolutely amazing though, is how a lot of the kids are trilingual. At home, they grew up speaking Spanish, but at school, they are taught in Catalan, and a few of them even speak a bit of English, most of which they have learned from watching TV. Getting to volunteer with these kids gives me chance to help them learn more English, while they simultaneously teach me Spanish, I absolutely love it.

Labas? Labas L'Hamdulillah!

How are you? Good, Praise be to God!

It was an exchange I made with almost every Moroccan on the street. Whether it was my host dad, my professors, or my hanout guy, it wasn't uncommon to say L'Hamdulillah after almost every greeting. At first I felt like I was appropriating a culture, a culture that I was new to. I was a foreigner still, with a target on my back for all the merchants and vendors to try and scam me out of a few Dirham. But I was assured by almost everyone in Morocco that speaking Diriga (their country's dialect of Arabic) was necessary if I truly desired complete immersion and inclusivity. Everyone says l'Hamdulillah proudly because it ties together a love for country, Islam, and family. After I sneeze. l'Hamdulillah! The food was amazing. l'Hamdulillah. Barça beat Real. l'Hamdulillah!

l'Hamdullilah! l'Hamdulillah! l'Hamdulillah! I loved the phrase. Taxi drivers would chuckle to themselves and politely say it back. My hanout guy would spread his arms out wide and shout it to the skies whenever he saw me. Two Dirhams for a Snickers. "Everything in Morocco is so cheap," I would say, "l'Hamdulillah!" Everyone praised God because there was so much to be thankful for. Healthy families, good weather, and cheap foods. As a student from the States, Morocco seemed too good to be true. My first week in the country was otherworldly, l'Hamdulillah! Only, it took the novelty to wear off for me to realize that not everything was good food and colorful markets. My daily walk to the IES Center took me through the markets of the old Medina. Day in and day out I would make the thirty minute walk, breathing in salted cod and drying clay. The sights of the colored scarves in storefronts dancing in the wind, and the banners of makeshift umbrellas reflecting vibrant colors over the sandy paths made for a distracting spectacle. So distracting that I never noticed those in the shadows, tucked away behind the crowds of people hoping for a few Dirhams to be tossed their way. If everything was so cheap then why were people so hungry. If you maneuvered yourself through the hagglers, and sidestepped the future football stars of Morocco, then you would see that the beggars and the homeless were disabled, handicapped, and ill.

In my IES program I am a member of the after school Service Club. Our first meeting is next week, and we are supposed to bring in ideas on how to improve the community in Rabat. My experience so far in Morocco has shown me that there is much deeper socioeconomic issues that are facing the country. I hope to pitch my idea to help the handicapped, disabled and homeless on the streets of Rabat to my service club and hopefully rehabilitate those in poverty.

One day, on my daily walk home from school I passed by a paraplegic man, begging on the ground. Unsure of how he would react knowing that I was a foreigner, I slipped him a ten Dirham coin. "l'Hamdulillah," he smiled.

This cold, sunny day marks the end of my third week in Amman. Each day has brought new adventures, amazing views, new friends, and delicious food. From the moment I arrived, Amman has kept me busy with its beauty and incredible people. I have seen Jordan’s well-known hospitality in every corner, beginning with my first day in Amman as my host mom welcomed me home with a big hug and a warm meal. I live with a small family and have a new little sister.  We’ve become close really fast and have little dance parties every day when she comes back from school. My mom’s cooking outshines any other and her mom instincts are to feed me three times as much as I usually eat. My family has definitely been one of the highlights of my time here thus far.

Traveling has been another highlight from this trip and Jordan offers countless places to explore. My favorite has been Jerash, a small city just North of Amman. Along with a great group of friends, I explored the Greco-Roman settlement of Gerasa and admired the arches and columns of the Temple of Artemis. After enjoying the city’s history, we headed further up into the mountains and stayed in a small villa. Here, I witnessed the most beautiful sunset and views of the city. This charming place allowed me to take a peek at Jordan’s rural, peaceful way of life.

Classes have already begun and I have enrolled in thought-provoking courses as well as extensive Arabic learning classes. The professors are all extremely qualified and passionate about their work, which creates an even more intriguing learning environment. My favorite class, thus far, is Islam in the Modern Context, where my professor has created an open-discussion learning setting and encourages us to open our minds to controversial topics. CIEE has truly impressed me with its selection of great courses and professors.

While my experience here has been mostly positive, there have been some challenges. The language barrier has definitely been something to get used to. However, even though I have only been here for a little bit, I can already feel my Arabic skills improving and feel more confident in my speaking. Another challenge has been getting around the city and knowing where I am. The first week, I got lost every time I took a taxi and that created lots of anxiety. However, I have overcome this and can now direct my driver without a problem. While it was complicated at first, I can already say that I feel at home here in Amman.

For my next blog, I hope to share more of my travels around Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. I also hope to begin my research and learning on immigration and identity in Jordan.

Min shufak!

By Dom Reynoso

Over the past few years since moving away to college, I have been on a journey of discovering how my different identities and parts of myself interact with each other. I typically identify myself as a Latinx gay man, which are two identities that have combined and contradicted each other throughout my entire life. It has led to a lot of confusion growing up, and it has been an experience of slipping through the cracks. I’m not always seen as “Latinx enough” to operate in those spaces, and at times not “queer enough” to operate in queer spaces because of my race. I think it comes from the reality of how our communities are represented and marketed to the world. When I’m at home in the US, it’s often a struggle to express my identities to people in a way that doesn’t detach them from myself. People typically want an explanation that is coherent with their perception of the world; they want an explanation of “Latinx” that sounds like what they’ve seen in the movies, or a definition of “queer” that can be explained to them without their discomfort. As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to parcel myself out in this way and explain my identities so that they feel lived-in instead of hollow.

Pride in identity is something that I have been challenged with since coming to college. Before that, I had never understood that I could express pride in something that wasn’t normative. And, when I grew to love and express my identities in college, I think it sometimes confused some people. It evoked a sense of disruption when I talked about the intersections of my identities around people who didn’t expect me to. But slowly over time, I got more and more comfortable with the fact that I can claim my identities without shame or fear. Going abroad is such an interesting experience because, in many ways, it is like starting all over learning how to express yourself. What seemed so easy before now exists within the context of an entirely different culture and language. In Italy, people claim their identities in a very different way that continues to change my perception of identity. For many Italians I’ve met, they have a much stronger sense of regional identity than we might find in the US. People classify themselves by their hometown/region first, and then perhaps by being Italian, and in extremely rare cases, as European. It creates a very different aspect of identity than I’m typically used to, but it has a historical reasoning. For many Italians, they remain in the regions that they’re from, and different parts of Italy even speak different dialects (that, according to my host mom, she herself can’t even fully understand when she travels to different regions). This kind of construction of identity is vastly different than what I’m used to, but it is refreshing in the sense that people here are just used to claiming their regional identities more frequently and with more enthusiasm.

It is interesting how a culture and language shift changes your perception of how to think about yourself and the different parts of you that you show to the world. It’s been about a month since I’ve arrived in the country, and I’m surprised everyday about the different things I pick up on. There’s still a lot to be discovered here, and little by learning I’m learning how to define myself again (and maybe this time in Italian).

Shalom again! I’m back with some more updates! It is now the middle of February and we just finished our ulpan for the semester!! Ulpan was such an incredible experience because I went from knowing no Hebrew to being conversationally fluent in Hebrew. Now that our ulpan is over, we have a 10-day break! Many students are headed to Europe and I am too! I will be traveling within Spain and visiting some of my other friends that are abroad. Once we get back from our break, we will finally start classes which is really exciting. 

Now that I have been in Tel Aviv for 5 weeks, here are my top 5 favorite things to do in the city:

  1. The beach: As I mentioned in my last blog, the “winter”
     in TLV has been exceptionally warm! Many days after ulpan we would hop onto the bus and go straight to the beach. There’s nothing better than friends, sun, and good food!
  2. HaCarmel Market: also known as a “shuk”, these open air flea markets are where many Israelis will buy their groceries. It is by far my favorite one— mostly because they have the best Venezuelan arepas in the world! The food that you find in this shuk is unmatched. 
  3. Nightlife: The nightlife in TLV is incredible! TLV is such a young, diverse city and you can meet different people from all walks of life just on Dizengoff Street. 
  4. #FoodieLife: I am a HUGE foodie! I love to eat, cook, look, and talk about food! Many people would think that there’s only Israeli-style food here (falafel, shwarma, hummus) but they would be wrong. TLV has such a diverse cuisine scene with Japanese, Chinese, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Mexican, etc. In fact, outside of Tokyo, TLV has the most Japanese restaurants.
  5. Shabbat: My friends and I love to cook a nice Shabbat dinner every other Friday night. We will buy fresh challah and other fruits/veggies from the shuk, hang out, watch a movie and relax like you’re supposed to do on Shabbat!

I hope you all get to experience all of these things in Israel as well! So long for now!

Shalom! My first few weeks in Israel have been so incredible and I couldn’t wait to share! I landed in Tel Aviv two weeks ago with so many emotions running through me. I was excited to be in one of my favorite cities, anxious about making friends, and naturally slightly concerned about safety. However all of my fears have been settled over the past few weeks. Tel Aviv is such an incredible city with a lively nightlife scene, picturesque beaches, and security measures like I’ve never seen. I am also fortunate to have the greatest roommates. We spend almost every weekend on the beach, eating hummus, and doing ulpan (intensive Hebrew) homework! Although life has been mostly carefree, I have stumbled upon some challenges in these past few weeks. The first challenge is the schedule of our ulpan. Our intensive Hebrew class is 8:30am-1pm from Sunday-Thursday with a test every week for four weeks. The teachers are incredibly talented and I am shocked at how great my Hebrew has gotten since I’ve been here. However, the schedule is very demanding and the amount of material can be overwhelming at times. The second challenge has been budgeting for city life. As we all know, DC is one of the most expensive cities and I assumed that TLV, like some other major Middle Eastern cities, would be relatively inexpensive and affordable. In reality, Tel Aviv is definitely comparable to Washington DC in terms of living expenses, which is something I wish I budgeted more for. Lastly, one of the biggest differences between Israel and America is Shabbat. Shabbat is observed from Friday afternoon-Saturday afternoon. Because of Tel Aviv’s secular society, some stores and restaurants are still open, however most of the city does shut down which makes travel and social gatherings very difficult. Despite the smaller challenges I have faced, I am looking forward to traveling within Israel and to other countries, starting regular classes, and continuing my education on Israel and all it has to offer. Lehitra’ot!

By Deah Dushyanth

I have always defined myself as a global citizen. Yes, I grew up in New York and sound distinctly American, but my passport will always display the trio of lions that make up the State Emblem of India. In fact, until very recently, I was a complete foreigner in the place I’d called my home my entire life. After twelve years of waiting, I received my Green Card a few days after my 17th birthday in 2016. Officially receiving that small piece of plastic meant that I was finally entitled to most of the same rights as any American citizen. In my mind, it meant that I had as much a reason to be here as any one of my friends. Still, did this finally make me American? But even more importantly, did I even want to be American?

If there’s one thing the immigration process taught me, it's that there are certain passports you want to have, and others that will result in waiting. A lot of waiting. Growing up, I likely spent just as much time at the USCIS building in Manhattan as I did on the playground with my friends. I’m not here to spin a sob story about my lost childhood in my family’s pursuit of the American dream, because that would be a lie. Yes, I missed out on a lot of the carefree aspects of being a child that my peers were able to enjoy, but growing up immigration office-hopping was actually an incredibly rewarding experience for a kid. I learned how to tell where a person was from based on the color of their passport, which helped when I trying to decipher people’s conversations in every language I would hear in the waiting room, consumed by boredom. Even then I was incessantly nosy and annoyingly friendly. I learned the importance of patience, protocol and attention to detail, watching my parents fill out every form in the known universe, and failing, on many occasions, to do so correctly. Most importantly, I learned resiliency and the art of getting through to people who only see you as another face in a sea of individuals who want the same thing. My particularly unique childhood was simultaneously foreign and inherently American, something that every immigrant child grapples with.

My identity has always been something that seemed to be working against me. I festered over it all: my cultural identity, my identity within my family, and my duty as a member of a global community. For a long time, I was ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have roots in the place I called home. I often found myself wishing I’d won the geographic lottery and stuck the landing in New York instead of Bangalore, India. Conversely, I wished that my parents had never left India, saving me the energy of understanding how to grow up in a completely new country. I came to understand, however, that my cultural bipolarity is an integral part of my identity. The Indian side of me helps me understand things on a global scale, and see beyond the idyllic cultural bubble of the northern hemisphere. I understand that people lead different lives in every part of the world because, for a time, my life wasn’t what it is now. But I would be lying if I said there isn’t a big part of me that is completely American. I credit my sense of agency and often bull-headed inability to accept failure to the country that I grew up in. The combination of these value systems is what makes me believe that everybody should be a global citizen. In an effort to not sound like a broken record, I urge people to take the advice of those PSA’s on getting little kids to eat vegetables: you won’t know what its like till you try it. It's exactly that approach that leads millions of people to immigrate to the United States and millions of others to set out around the world to explore how they can be members of a global community beyond geographic and cultural borders. Its why I cherish my annual summer visits to India, and why I am skeptical of forfeiting my Indian passport when I am up for American citizenship in a few years (don’t worry this hasn’t all just been a ploy to get India to offer dual citizenship). Finally, it is why I made a conscious decision to make studying abroad a key component of my college education. What better way to learn how to be a universal thinker than by exploring the way people think all around the world?