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kierstead 2
My neighborhood of three days.

Homestay number one of six is complete. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to stay in a slum here in Khon Kaen for three nights. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

We rode song taows to the communities that we were staying in. As I prepared to go I tried not to think too hard about the fact that I was about to live in a slum with a family that I had never met that spoke a language that I hardly speak. If I did, and I’m honest, my stomach would drop a little bit. When I arrived, my nong sow (younger sister) named Som (which means orange in Thai), picked me up from the community center and used the few English phrases she knew to engage me in conversation, asking my name and age. She led me across a busy downtown Thai street to my home for the next three nights, right next to the train tracks. My Meh (which means mom in Thai) waited for me towards the front of the house which doubled as a store front, selling small snacks and drinks to the community. When I walked in, Meh immediately asked if I was hungry, practically before I set my bag down. She was making Som Tham, or green papaya salad. I sat on a mat on the floor with Som and was introduced to the many people coming in and out of the house to meet the farrang (me, the westerner). I started to get the impression that everyone was related, because each person who walked in was introduced to me with familial pronouns. ‘This is Yaye’ (grandmother) my Meh said about an older wrinkled woman who walked into the living space. She actually was related to the family next door, but would walk me around holding my hand all the same. Dinner was served to me on the floor, and we ate family style. My younger brother (nong chai) named Captain (a nickname), Som, Meh, and I ate, while Pa looked on. It seemed to be tradition that we would always eat before Pa. After dinner I watched a few minutes of Thai soap opera, and didn’t understand a second of it, while also making friendship bracelets with Som.

In Thai culture it is customary to shower often, however, our home didn’t really have a bathroom. We had a spigot in a very wet area of the house where dishes and laundry were done, and showers were had. I termed it the wet room, or the wet hallway because that is effectively what it was. There were no doors, so when my family asked me if I wanted to ‘ab nam’ (take a shower) before bed, I didn’t know what to do. I ended up wrapping myself in a sarong and splashing cold water on my feet. They gave me weird looks when I came out of the wet room with dry hair. Sheepishly I went to bed underneath my pink, quite hole-y mosquito net.

I woke up the next morning with four bug bites on my forehead, one on my cheek, and one on my right eyelid- which resulted in an eye that was swollen shut for the whole day. My Meh turned on the light in the room that I shared with my siblings, and pushed her face up against my mosquito net asking ‘Mah-gieeeee! You eat Breakfast?!’ I did, and she made these marvelous home made Thai doughnuts. Paw crouched in front of me with curiosity on his face as I read and journaled in the family’s living space.

kierstead 1
Meh weaving baskets out of recycled plastic

After classes that day, I returned for the second night with much less anxiety. I knew what to expect as I returned that evening to the community. My sisters both worked until late at night, and Paw was feeling sick, so he was asleep in the back room. It ended up being just meh, Captain, and I the whole evening. Because conversation was not an option, I resorted to pulling out my Thai textbook and asking my Meh ‘Pud yang nye’ which means ‘how do you say…?’ We spent about an hour like that, with her half watching the Thai soap opera and half responding to my question of ‘pud yang nye.’

The final night was full of tender moments. Though I had stayed with this family for only three nights, they had shared everything they had with me. It was really sweet to see how relationships were built around generosity, community and sincere thankfulness rather than language and other commonalities.

In the morning before I said goodbye for the final time, Meh chirped “Maggieee, forget me not?” and I certainly won’t. Both the family and the place will be remembered long after I leave Thailand because of their big, big hearts.

By makenadingwell

My birthday always falls during finals week. Usually by the time the day comes, some friends have gone home and some have locked themselves away in a library, fighting off Facebook and other temptations. However here I face a different set of obstacles. Everyone is still in Madrid, but it’s the beginning of our last week, finals are just beginning, and I’m turning 21 abroad.

However, this day can be filed under ‘why homestays are the best.’ I woke up early and received messages from caffeinated friends in the U.S., still awake and studying in Gelman library. Shortly after breakfast my host mom woke up and greeted me with a little gift. “¡Feliz cumple!” It was simple silver and leather wrap bracelet and was such a lovely surprise.

For lunch, my host mom cooked her famous paella, accompanied by morcilla, toast with tomatoes, and delicious sangria for two of my friends and me. The night before I went to dinner with a group which encompassed a magnitude of mojitos and tapas and dim lighting. Despite being so far away, my birthday this year was probably the coziest I’ve had in years. Later in the afternoon I went on a walk, despite the cold and drizzly weather, with a cappuccino in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. After drifting in and out of a couple stores, most notably a Real Madrid store, I bartered with a family of florists to buy a bouquet of flowers to bring back to my host mom.

Even though the directors forgot about my birthday, this weekend highlights the benefits of a homestay and the kindness of the family you have abroad. Whenever my friends and I spend time together, we always chat about our host families and their antics. I know all about the architect dad and his rambunctious sons, the mom and her cool CD and teapot collections, the host brother and his nameless band, and the housekeeper with her teething toddler. At the end of the day, we all go back home to our families, chatting away in Spanish, about our friends and our city adventures. I’ve learned Spanish words for clumsy, cheesy, and such, all because of my friends and their host families and I wouldn’t have it, or my birthday, any other way.

beautiful south
Beautiful South- Curarrehue, Chile-This breathtaking landscape can be found in the southern area of the Andes Mountains in Mapuche lands. It is part of the lake and mountain range formed after the volcanic eruption

Wow, what an incredible journey so far—I have traveled 8,000 more miles since my last blog post! In fact, I am writing to y’all from my host home in Amman, Jordan. My last weeks in Chile were incredible and introduced me to undiscovered areas of my human rights interests. I would like to share a particularly insightful journey I had in southern Chile (nearly 13 hours south of Santiago) in the indigenous Mapuche town of Curarrehue.

Mapuche mural activity
Mapuche Mural Activity-This image signifies the strong relationship my SIT group established with local students at the ecocentric primary Mapuche school. Students painted a wall representing how their school's mission mutually coexisted with their natural surroundings.

My human rights focus group had the opportunity to travel to Curarrehue as part of our culmination experience on the crossroads of environmental and indigenous rights. I was uninformed about the degree to which the decisions of large transnational corporations, which operated in the international economic dimension, directly affected the quality of life of local Mapuches. Mapuches are a group of the first and native people of Chile and have inhabited the lands for millennia. The introduction of neoliberal capitalists and economic gain, however, disrupted their natural way of coexisting with the area and began to exploit the resources around them.

Based on this understanding, my group was briefed on the situation from Mapuche perspective—what did water scarcity mean to the village? How would new construction disrupt ways of life? And, how was the younger generation bearing the burden of “modernization” at the expense of losing cultural heritage? These questions were answered through our host family interactions and excursions to local natural landscapes.

host family of mapuche leaders
Host Family of Mapuche Leaders-We had the honor and privilege of living with the eldest leaders of the Mapuche community. They imparted their wisdom and inspired us to join their resistance movement.

Our host families shared their lands with us as part of an educational eco- and ethno- tourism initiative of the Mapuche peoples. They were eager to impart their knowledge of the area and teach us about how they had lived in unison with Mother Nature. Unfortunately, the natural beauty that they had sought to protect over centuries was at odds with the economic projects that large companies brought to the area. The leaders of the Mapuches noted that these projects significantly reduced their livelihood and stripped them of their resources. We struggled to reconcile these points of view but living with the Mapuche enlightened us on their genuine desire to cohabitate with their environments.

Volcano hiking
Volcano hiking-This excursion was part of our ecotourism unit, allowing us to see firsthand the humbling yet majestic peak of the volcano. During our tour we learned about why protecting this natural symbol is important to the Mapuche people.

Through our time in Curarrehue, it became evident that there was an inextricable connection we have with nature. We cannot isolate our human rights from care of the environment. The Mapuche people struggled everyday to show to large corporate powers that there existed a sustainable approach to development. Their model of development did not damage the environment. Rather, it contributed to this betterment.

Water for the dam
Water for the Dam: This shot capture the crystal-clear, fresh water that is coming from the mountaintops as the snow melts. Sadly, this river is one of the rivers selected to be dammed in the upcoming fiscal year. If this process occurs, so many members of the village will be left without access to irrigation and drinking water.

The Mapuche challenge is a microcosm for the constant issues of environmentalism, human dignity, and economic development that we see all around the world. Curarrehue does not provide a simple solution. Rather, this experience challenged my peers and me to reconsider how we approached the human, environmental, economic costs and benefits of hydroelectric damming.

This trip has left me with more questions than answers, and I hope to continue this critical analysis in Jordan too. Ma’salaama wa bashoofkum! (Goodbye and see y’all in Arabic) Thanks for your interest!

Only a week after arriving, and it's already been jam-packed with new and interesting things

By rosessupposes

It feels a little strange to be blogging in English- here at CIEE Dakar Development Studies, we take a challenge to speak French (or Wolof) all the time, unless we absolutely must speak some English. I arrived on the 24th of August, but it already feels like my French has improved from constant use.

This week, we’ve covered all the orientation material you’d expect- like proper hygiene, safety, local transportation, cultural differences – and some you’d probably not expect. Like how to eat ‘around the bowl’, eating the national dish of Senegal, Thiebou jen, with our hands out of a communal bowl. And since I’ve been at my homestay, I have eating every lunch and dinner in this way, though with modifications, like using spoons or pieces of baguette.

But eating here is not the challenge. Living with the Diallo (pronounced like Jell-O) family has redefined the term ‘language barrier’. English is incredibly rare here- my family members have bits and pieces, but nothing substantial. I know only some greetings and polite questions in Wolof, which is their first language. So French is our primary means- and that is by no means smooth. No amount of worksheets at GW could give me the knowledge I need to completely live en français . I suppose I was being a tad overoptimistic when I envisioned communication being less of a worry than cultural adjustment.

Unfortunately, I know that my French can only improve with time, which is frustrating when I was to talk to my host sister and all the words I want to use seem to be fleeing from my mind. But my continuing studies in Wolof delights all of my family, and my brother Papi is especially enthusiastic, volunteering to help me review what I learn at school once I’m home. It is hard, and often frustrating, but staying optimistic on average really isn't difficult- there are new things every day!


By kcampbell94

A Few (out of many) Things I’ve Learned During My First Week In Rwanda:


  1. How to chew sugar cane while simultaneously watching Nickelodeon in French
  2. Monkey in the middle is so important. As is an old deck of cards
  3. How to use a toothpick after every meal
  4. French fries are also called “chips”
  5. Fancy airlines give out very comfortable complimentary socks

And lastly, something I thought I had known all too well,

  1. Life is a very funny thing


Among the very many funny things, I’d say the funniest turn of events since I’ve gotten here is this: My homestay is in a beautiful mansion. There I had been, since I first applied to SIT Rwanda, taking note on the art of bucket showering, laughing at my mom in BJ’s when she asked if I’d need laundry detergent, thinking, “Oh mom, don’t you know I’ll be washing my clothing in a river?” I guess it goes to show how ignorant I had been while I was scoffing at everyone else’s ignorance.

When I had arrived last Monday after a very luxurious plane ride with Qatar airlines and after I had experienced the flesh-melting heat of Doha, Qatar if only for five minutes, Kelsey and I were taken to the hostel our group was staying at where we took a very disorienting nap. After, we met the other people on our program and for the week we had orientation. This meant a lot of lectures and learning about what not to do here (eat in the street) and what to do (first hug then shake hands when meeting someone new). We met our enigmatic language teacher, Master P, who has the type of smile that immediately makes you smile even if you didn't want to. Always bursting into a fit of laughter with an almost musical laugh, Master P has no problem with engaging us in learning Kinyarwanda. We also met a doctor who explained to us kindly that “Africa is not a zoo” when he told us a story about someone who asked him if he rode lions in the street.

We took walks around the outskirts of Kigali, observing the rush of people as they called out, “Muzungu!” or white person as we passed. The streets look and feel like a rusty clay and you can see the hills upon hills of houses and buildings and plantations on the horizon. When I tried to run up on of the steep hills near the SIT office one morning, it felt as though my lung was made of lead, and I realized the altitude was something I would need to get used to. During this past week, I also grew very close very quickly to the other students in my group. It was stunning how similar, especially in values, they are to me. It was on Friday that we were to be picked up by our homestay families to spend the weekend with them. We spent hours discussing how we should respect the Rwandan culture and what we should expect. Come 2pm, when we were expecting the families, we all sat outside our hostel, feeling like puppies about to be adopted from the pound. Finally, a young girl came and was looking right at me, and said, “I think it’s you.”

Her name is Clemance, but she goes by Bebe. She is 20 years old as well, and she lives with her sister (my host mother) and her three children. The three children are named Miquel, Ganza, and Mikah. Miquel is 9, Ganza 7, and Mikah 1. When I first got here, I was stunned by how nice the house is, which is nicer than most homes I’ve been to in America. I have my own room and bathroom. No bucket showering whatsoever. The family’s meals are prepared by people working in the kitchen and there is a cleaning crew constantly wiping up this and that after everyone. Today, I went into town with Bebe to get school supplies for her nephew, which was really fun and made me realize how similar people are no matter where they are from. At first I had a hard time getting to connect with the boys because they were very invested in watching movies and TV, but today, I taught them monkey in the middle and crazy eights, and we bonded big time. My host mother referred to me as Ganza’s older sister before dinner, which really made me feel welcomed. I realized during dinner how normal it all felt. I felt very at home and at ease. No, I am not bucket showering and I am not playing hide and seek with my host siblings out back with the chickens. None of this is what I expected, but that makes this experience all the more valuable. Life is a very funny thing, through which I know I have to keep laughing and learning.