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I didn’t realize how distinctly American I was until I began my study abroad experience in China. I knew I was an outsider when I was walking through YuYuan Garden and was met with deadlock stares. I was aware that going crazy in arcades garnered the stares of people who did not realize that the avid arcade culture is something that is unique to China. However, this became especially apparent when I began my classes at Fudan University. There is something unique about the way that American students perceive their presence within a classroom that can be categorized under the characteristics that seems to define all Americans abroad: loud and obnoxious.

YuYuan garden during the day (left), when entry costs around five dollars a person. The same garden area during the annual lantern festival, this year in celebration of the Year of the Pig. Pig decor and memorabilia are especially common in Shanghai this year!

On my first day of class my friends and I arrived at Fudan University fifty minutes before class began, purely driven by first day nerves. What could barely be defined as a crowd of American students, three or four at best, had now become the sole source of noise in the hallway outside the classroom. We complained about the commute, passionately expressed our interest in acquiring breakfast, and constantly messed with the touch screen tablet that is stationed outside every classroom. Putting it not so delicately, we were being loud and obnoxious. Enter another foreign exchange student, headphones in, eyes averted to the ground, clearly not in the mood to talk. Naturally, we asked her what her name was and where she was from. When she responded that she was from the Netherlands and returned the question, four scattered and equally jarring voices responded “America!” She then did what most people do when they see a crowd of loud and obnoxious foreigners: she smirked, nodded mockingly, and said, “yeah I figured.”

Fudan University in Shanghai. This is one of Fudan’s two campuses, were most of my classes take place. Students enjoy many locations to relax within the traditional campus setting.

That was an interesting experience for me, to say the least. I had never identified myself as an American. According to my passport, I am not. However, there is a level solidarity that I now feel with my classmates. Regardless of our own cultural backgrounds, we had all been somehow influenced by our time in America; it effected our behavior, our mindsets, and the way we viewed our responsibilities as students. American students are more rambunctious, both in their behavior and their academic ideas.

(From left to right) A Chinese vintage store in Tianzifang, Shanghai. One of the many gigantic arcades located around the city, this one was also in Tianzifang. “Fried Ice-Cream” from a small fried foods stall across the street from our apartments. These turned out to be fried deep purple balls of custard and not ice-cream at all. They were still absolutely delicious!

This became clear to me in my business class. When asked to pitch a technological innovation that would improve student life, there was a clear division of groups: Americans and other foreign exchange students. The American students went wild, we pitched a cafeteria app that would eliminate language barriers, account for dietary restrictions, and even tell students how busy the cafeteria was before they got there. Ambitious, as expected, but also, as our teacher  explained to us, very difficult to implement and coordinate. The other group came up with a feasible library cataloguing database for which the technology was readily available. The teacher loved it.

This made me question whether or not this blind ambition was beneficial to us as students. Perhaps it would be better to stick to safer options. I have come to the conclusion that neither option is superior, they are just starkly different. They are reflections of the diversity of human thought, traditions, and culture. My academic experience has been opening me up to facets of educational practice, student culture, and social etiquette that differ drastically from what I am used to. I am very excited to dive into this new type of student life and gain different perspectives on what I had previously understood as the accepted order of things.

Two incredible views of Shanghai. The first is from my apartment (left) and the second if from the YuYuan Garden metro stop (left) which is the starting point of our forty-five minute commute to Fudan University.

Shalom everyone! I'm back with another blog entry, however the topic is a lot more serious. Last night was the first night that I truly felt unsafe abroad.

Israel is a very modern country that contains some of the world's most advanced technological systems in the world--particularly in the defense sector. Because of this, Israel seems like a very Westernized country, and most of the time it feels like I am in Europe. However, last night reminded me that is not the case.

Last night, Thursday, March 14, I was eating dinner with my friends at a market similar to that of Union Market in D.C. We heard a loud crash but did not think anything of it because there was a lot of construction going on around the area. However, immediately after, we heard the red alert sirens all across Tel Aviv. The red alert sirens warn Israelis to get to the nearest bunker/safe space because of rockets and missiles being fired into Israel. The security guards at the market immediately ushered us into the market for safety precautions. Thankfully, no one was harmed by these rockets shot from Gaza because they were immediately shot down by the Israeli army.

This experience made me realize exactly where I was in the world. It is very rare for there to be rockets fired towards Tel Aviv, so it put many things into perspective:

1. I am extremely grateful to be alive, healthy, and safe.

2. Download a local news app to get notified of important day-to-day activities going on in your host country.

3. If you are in a similar situation, wait until it dissipates and you have all of the facts before calling any loved ones. Calling your parents on the phone while you are in a panicked state will do more harm than good.

4. Always travel with at least 1 friend in case you ever feel like you are in danger.

5. Keep all important phone numbers for your host country/school in one, organized place! You should NOT wait to do this after something dangerous happens (ex. over 75 students in 20 minutes joined the TAU Emergency WhatsApp group AFTER the rocket incident).

Like I said earlier, I am so grateful to be alive and safe, and I am so thankful to be in a country that prioritizes safety and security over everything! This experience did not make me afraid of this country, in fact, it made me more appreciative of it! I'll talk to you all next time! Shabbat shalom!

I am about halfway through my time to study abroad in Barcelona, and I have no idea where the time has gone. I have continued volunteering at the local elementary school called Dolors Almeda and I feel like interacting with the students there has continued to teach me a lot and make Barcelona feel even more like home. For me personally, volunteering has had its moments when it was a little harder due to the current political climate in Barcelona. With the big trial going on and Catalunya wanting its independence from Spain, there have many protests and demonstrations throughout the city. This causes a great impact on the metro and other means of public transportation, which makes it harder to get around. Also the fact that you never want to get caught up in the protest, so just being extra aware of where you are at all times has become increasingly important. Either way, volunteering has given me a chance to really get to know some of these students, and I think it has helped a lot in terms of their perspective of the United States and what it means to be American. With the students being so young, a lot of them have very big and grand ideas on what the United States is and it is so funny to hear the things that they associate the United States with the most. I feel like I've been able to give them more and more information on a place that a lot of them hope to go and visit one day, so I really hope that it lives up to what they are expecting. I also think that volunteering with these students has changed the way that some of their parents look at and see Americans. I feel like there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding Americans and this idea that we come here just to enjoy the beauty of their home without really getting to know it and contribute to it, and I feel like me coming in and helping teach their children and me trying to learn and understand their language and culture has truly gone a long way. I am very sad to see time going so quickly because I absolutely love it here, but I am very excited to see what these next two months have in store.

We travelled four hours by van to the point where the asphalt became dirt, and the dirt became rocks. The van had been rocked side to side, like a boat fighting a storm, teasing a capsize. Lilah was huddled away in the back of the van, stomaching her throw up. Four hours in a van with closed windows and interminable traditional Moroccan music (you know, the heavy drums, flutes, and whistles) made us all a little sea sick.

            “It will be worth it in the end,” we were promised.

And it was. L’Hamdulillah.

We were heading into the Atlas Mountains in the east of Morocco. A place on the outskirts of Ifrane National Park, where the typically hot and flat Moroccan terrain became hoards of Atlas cedars casting cold shadows in the already freezing climate.  I wanted a jacket. Lilah wanted to puke.

In the heights of the Atlas Mountains was a village called Ben Smim. Our weekend excursion was a cultural immersion experience through a homestay with an Amazigh family in a true Amazigh village. The Amazigh population, also known as Berbers, are the indigenous ethnic group to Morocco, predating the Arab population that came to Morocco centuries later. They are often left out of the political system in Morocco, forgotten in the Moroccan mountains, where they reside in rural villages and towns with poor infrastructure, and less job opportunities. But that doesn’t make them unhappy. If the lack of economic benefits made them unhappy then they wouldn’t have greeted the incoming students with a traditional Amazigh concert and dance party! We were swarmed by children and hugged by mothers. We couldn’t speak their language, and they couldn’t speak ours, but never before has language been so unimportant. It’s amazing how quickly humans can bond through the words “Eat,” and “A lot.”

My roommate, Noah, and I fell asleep on our couches to the howls of dogs, and we awoke early in the morning to the cries of roosters. Animals were key to every household in Ben Smim. Almost every family owned a couple chickens, a cow, and maybe a cat or dog. Most of the food prepared came from the animals that the family had owned or from whatever the neighbors were willing to sell. And even though the economic conditions were weathered, each morning and each night Noah and I were presented with plates of the most delicious, farm-to-table meals.

It was a no-brainer when we were asked if we wanted to give back to the community. When they would provide for us, the Amazighs of Ben Smim asked for nothing in return. So when we began planting a garden in their one elementary school, we were thanked graciously. A number of us took it into our own hands to organize a soccer game with all the local children. I was shocked when an audience came about to watch the Moroccans face off against the Americans. It was a fun day filled with giving back to the Amazigh people.

However, the acts of service I wanted to do involved truly giving back to the community. I wanted to repair houses, pave the roads, and fix street lamps. It took a hearty dinner of laughs and bad Arabic for me to realize that the Amazigh people of Ben Smim didn’t need our help. They were happy just to host us. In the future, a true act of service that I know I will commit to would be to spread the history, culture, and problems of the Amazigh people. I want to share the stories of my host mom her husband and their two children. I plan on lending my voice to theirs, making their voice louder, to hopefully make them heard in Moroccan politics, and around the world. This blog post isn’t a bad start: