Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lorena Ulloa On Her Time in Chile


             After a semester abroad in Santiago, Chile, Lorena Ulloa’s vernacular was adjusted to include Chilean slang.  With “Po!” and “Filete” included in her Facebook photo captions and in her everyday Spanish, Lorena has transformed herself to become a much more versatile Spanish speaker.  However, along with the slang words she adopted, Lorena also adopted valuable life lessons, which she now implements in her daily life at Grinnell.
            Lorena, a fourth-year, biology and Spanish double major, attributes the majority of her love for Chile to her host family, but confessed that the experience, as a whole, could never be replaced.
            “Chile, as a whole, was wonderful,” Lorena said in an interview. “My host mother, the friends who studied abroad along with me, and the friends I made in Santiago all contributed to my newfound love for Chile.”
            In Santiago, Chile, Lorena lived in Providencia, a comuna part of Greater Santiago.  A comuna, like several U.S. cities, is like an American version of a district, Ulloa said.  Providencia is ridded with plazas and parks, which Lorena took advantage of during her downtime.
             However, Lorena's Mondays through Thursdays started very early in the morning. Her love for 8 a.m. classes did not change while in Santiago.  Thus, Lorena usually woke up at 6:30 a.m. to get to class on time.  Because her classes were on the opposite side of the city of where her host mother worked, Lorena relied heavily on public transportation.
            “I remember the buses always being packed.  Sometimes the buses pulled away from the bus stops with people hanging out of the bus because it was so packed inside,” Lorena recalled with a smile.
            Weekends in Chile were longer than in the States because she didn’t have classes on Fridays. With their three-day weekends, Lorena and her friends sometimes took the opportunity to escape the city and explore the world outside of Chile.  But when she did stay in the city, Lorena spent a lot of time cultivating stronger bonds with her host mother and her extended family. 
            Her host mother indubitably changed the way Lorena perceived her world.
            “Being at Grinnell, I lost contact and became out of touch with my Latino roots,” Lorena admitted. “But my host mother taught me why I love being Latina and she taught me the value of my Latino roots.”
            But her biggest challenge was to open up to strangers.
            “Chileans are very open and warm and they want to make people feel part of the group even if someone may look or act differently than the norm,” she said. “In the beginning I felt really uncomfortable with people being too nice. I always asked myself what people’s true motives were for being nice. But my time [in Chile] really taught me to talk to people regardless of their age, but it ultimately taught me how to really develop stronger relationships with people.”
            Since her arrival, Lorena has noticed a difference in her dynamic with other Grinnellians.
            “I definitely participate a lot more in class and am much more vocal now than I was before Chile. Also, as a Grinnell Science Project (GSP) Student Assistant, I had to show some level of enthusiasm, which, at times was hard for me to explicitly show because of my [introverted nature], but I find that it was much easier than if I wouldn’t have gone to Chile,” she said.
            One of Lorena’s priorities now is to find a way to get back to Chile once she graduates from Grinnell and maybe study at the graduate-level in Chile.  But if she can’t go back to Chile, she definitely wants to give back to her community through teaching. She attributes her success thus far to her teachers and she wants to offer what other people gave to her to other people.
Lorena (right) takes a picture with her host mother (left).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Amy Flores on Studying Abroad in Hungary

            Amy Flores, a third year at Grinnell College, is currently studying abroad in Hungary as part of the Aquincum Institute of Technology (AIT)-Budapest program, which is directed at students interested in computer science and software engineering. As more of a math person, she was intrigued by the “creativity” portion of the program, since she could take more math-focused classes at another program in Budapest while still getting an intensive look at computer science and its applications at AIT.
            Amy did not speak Hungarian before studying abroad, so, although there are many English-speakers in her program and in Budapest, learning some of the basics (hello, bye, sorry, thank you, etc.) made her feel much better. She feels uncomfortable demanding English from a study abroad experience that is not in an English-speaking country, so she uses Hungarian as much as possible. Although the courses are all in English (except for the courses in which Hungarian is taught), Amy is able to interact with native Hungarian speakers that are also in the program. So she has been able to experience the Hungarian language in a social context, even though there are English-speakers in all the touristic places.
            In addition to the difference in language, being a Latina woman from the U.S. has also played a role in her study abroad experience. She has found that she is considered a tourist in many people’s minds, given her race, as she is stopped more frequently by ticket vendors for touristic places. Sadly, she has also found that people seem to feel weird about the color of her skin “as if those that have a darker skin tone will be the ones to rob you.” In addition, she feels that many people believe Americans, especially those who can afford to travel to Hungary and stay, are educationally and financially privileged, so she has a slight sense that others think she is elitist for being American. Besides differences in language and culture, the main difference that Amy finds between the U.S. and Hungary is that there is a greater preservation of architecture and parks so that people can “sit and appreciate the beauty of Budapest.”
Although living in a foreign country has been a challenge, Amy has been adapting relatively easily, especially since her roommate is also new to the culture and language, so they have been able to adjust together. She has also had other international experiences, living in Bolivia and France as well as visiting Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Belgium, and Canada, where she visited or was traveling with family. However, given that this experience abroad is her first international experience on her own, it has posed a new challenge. Amy has learned so much with each of her international experiences and wants to be an open book during her interactions with others internationally in order to learn and give as much as possible. She has found that the skills she is acquiring to help her surpass cultural barriers will also be useful in her post-graduation plans in the U.S. as they allow her to be a more well-rounded person. Although Amy does not yet feel that she can call herself a global citizen, she is well on her way and hopes that her international experiences do not end with her study abroad program in Budapest.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Assistant Director of Off-Campus Study, Jonathan Larson, on Grinnell-in-Washington

                  Fostering the internationalization of faculty at a small liberal arts college such as Grinnell is bound to differ from how it looks at research and comprehensive universities. At Grinnell it is often done in tandem with off-campus study, thinking of how the network formed by where we send our students opens opportunities for faculty. At many institutions my office would have “study abroad” in its name, but at Grinnell we put programs from the U.S. in the same field of consideration and management as programs outside it. What are some unexpected ways in which a domestic off-campus program on which our faculty teach, such as Grinnell-in-Washington, contributes to the internationalization of the faculty as one might expect for teaching in places such as London, Tanzania, Korea, or Brazil?
                  My visit at the end of last week to Grinnell-in-Washington (GIW) offered food for thought.  To begin, it is worth thinking about how operating GIW out of an office that focuses primarily on non-U.S. programs forces Grinnell College to think of the U.S. and Grinnell within a shared field of “the international,” which breaks down how we classify programs. As one measure of how GIW has contributed to the formation of international expertise for our faculty, a surprising percentage of Grinnell faculty who have taught on GIW—by my count about 60%--have also taught on Grinnell-in-London, taught on another program abroad, or spent time doing research abroad.
Grinnell-in-Washington can serve faculty not only as a milieu par excellence for meeting other actors engaged in work of global scope, but as a laboratory for mentoring and scholarship on the Grinnell home campus. For instance, faculty can enrich their own networks and reflect on their departments’ professional mentoring of students by observing our pilot alumni mentoring program. Relatedly, while teaching the internship seminar and learning from students about how their experiences as interns are shaped by host supervisors, faculty can learn more about the increasingly important role of mediation and brokering in students’ off-campus experiences. Students, faculty, and staff at Grinnell develop international knowledge that is shaped by people who help plan our trips, arrange contacts, and summarize important issues for us. Students on a domestic internship-based program in Washington, D.C. for a single semester are subject to similar influences.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Professor Valérie Benoist on Life in France

            Having lived in France, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United States, Valérie Benoist, professor of Spanish here at Grinnell College, has had diverse international experiences and identifies as a tri-cultural person. She is currently on leave and living in France on the border of Spain with her husband and son while she writes her book, which focuses on the representation of Blackness in the biographies and autobiographies of three XVIth to XVIIIth century Black nuns of Spain and its colonies (Mexico and Peru, in particular). These three women were able to break the rule that Black women were not allowed to become nuns in colonial Spanish-America, so Professor Benoist is interested in the construction of Blackness in these three spiritual narratives. One of the main reasons Professor Benoist and her husband chose to move to France, where her parents and brother live, was to give their son the experience of living in France and learning French at a young age, and to make it possible for him to see his grandparents more often.
            Valérie Benoist has lived and studied in France, Mexico, and the United States, but has now lived half her life in the United States, which makes returning to life in France for a year, especially as an adult rather than a teenager, a learning experience. One of the greatest differences she sees between life in the United States and life in France is the way relaxation and family time are valued. In France, there is a much greater focus on time spent with family and relaxing. Elementary school children do not have class between noon and 2 p.m., so they often go home to eat lunch with their families. Most businesses often close during this time as well. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, where sayings like, “Time is money” are common and there is a huge emphasis on work.  
It might be expected that adjustment to life in France would be a greater challenge for Valérie Benoist’s son, who didn’t speak French before moving to France this summer. However, he, like the rest of the family, is adjusting very well to life in France. Professor Benoist attributes a lot of the ease of this adjustment to the extremely helpful people they have encountered and the speedy and painless process of establishing phone lines, bank accounts, school registration, and the like they have faced. Although her son is the only non-French speaker in his class, the teacher assigned to work with him has had a lot of experience working with non-French speaking students and has designed a plan to help him adjust to the school. This extra assistance combined with her son’s involvement in Judo and soccer have made his transition go far more smoothly. Overall, Valérie Benoist and her family are adjusting well and enjoying the slower pace of life, the people, the food, and the warmer climate of France.
We will also be hearing from Valérie Benoist’s husband, Andy Mobley, professor of chemistry here at Grinnell College, in a few weeks!

Assistant Director of Off-Campus Study, Jonathan Larson, on the Grinnell-in-London Program

                  It is important to be aware of how international experience, and the formation of international knowledge, is brokered and mediated by various experts who shape our itineraries, translate local behavior, frame relevant categories for understanding a place, and more. So how does Grinnell’s own program in London help orient faculty to London, Britain, Europe, and a different vantage point on the globe? How are the structures and approaches of the program evolving?
                  Grinnell-in-London (GiL) has long served faculty quite well as a vehicle for exploring the above locations through their teaching. Faculty offer courses that they have typically not taught at Grinnell, and anchor these courses in sites that they come to know more intimately with students particularly through field trips, but possibly as well through guest lecturers.  The program’s longtime resident director, the American-born and Harvard-trained Dr. Donna Vinter, has earned wide acclaim from past faculty for her efforts to help faculty across the disciplines translate questions about place, people, and artifacts into academic discovery for Grinnell faculty and students. Faculty have also forged and developed local academic and other professional ties, and have benefitted from the research they do prior to arriving in London that draws on a typical array of academic resources (such as the library and Internet) as well as advice from colleagues.
                  In 2014 GiL will mark its fortieth anniversary with a new chapter in the production of international knowledge: the program will incorporate the option for students to take a course at Queen Mary College, University of London. The change’s primary aim is to offer students a new form of cultural integration. However, one question of relevance for the Center for International Studies is whether a flow of peer faculty contacts with Queen Mary will follow from where our students venture. This model for shared student and faculty engagement with different milieu has been explored in other parts of the world: it is Grinnell’s opportunity to leverage localized investments in global knowledge made through off-campus study. Initial faculty exposure to Queen Mary has yielded positive reports.
                  This change to the program comes with other questions. For instance, is GiL the type of program that can or should encourage ties with a single British institution? Is a semester sufficient time for faculty to meet peers at Queen Mary alongside other personal and professional needs on the program? Is Queen Mary the right partner for this kind of modification to the program? For better or for worse, Grinnell-in-London is diversifying its reliance on local translators of cultural knowledge. The college is currently taking applications for faculty to teach on the program in 2015, and hopes to make appointments eager to discover the possibilities and limitations of this additional feature to one of its own administered international experiences.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Multicultural Experiences of Student Frank Zhu

            After living in Nanjing, China, attending Grinnell, and now studying abroad in the Grinnell-in-London Off-Campus Study Program, Frank Zhu has a unique perspective on the role culture has played in his international experiences. Although he has felt welcomed by the Grinnell College community and recognizes the importance of the college’s “student diversity and openness” in his ability to feel at home and not like an outsider, he has also experienced ways in which the culture he was accustomed to in China and his native language have posed challenges to his adjustment to life here in Grinnell.
            Frank knew from early on that Grinnell College was the college for him. He attended the Grinnell College Preschool at the age of five when his parents were professors here teaching Chinese and he has always loved the college’s environment, appreciated the friendly students, and admired the knowledge of the professors. Given his past experiences in the United States, Frank always had a positive view of Americans, particularly those in small towns like Grinnell, regarding them as friendly and independent, with some of the best personalities. When asked about the common Chinese view of Americans, he said that “evil Capitalist stereotypes” might exist in older generations, but that the view of Americans is probably the opposite for the younger generations. He discusses his understanding of the American view of China by saying that the media portrays a mostly positive view, but one that it is not actually reflective of the conditions in China.
            The role of culture is one that has influenced every aspect of Frank’s experience at Grinnell, both inside and outside of the classroom. He describes the conservative and collectivist culture of China and how this has made achieving independence and self-knowledge challenging, since he grew accustomed to being told what next step to take. Cultural differences have also posed new obstacles in adjusting to a new social life in Grinnell. Frank mentions that while many Chinese college students spend much of their time playing games online and studying, many American college students spend a lot of time partying. This was something he had to adjust to, so it was awhile before he learned to let go and begin enjoying parties. Frank has noticed that Chinese and American individuals place greater value on different things: “Chinese more on study, grades, and superficial evaluations” and Americans on “sports, clubs, friends, hanging out.” In addition, friendships and relationships work differently here in Grinnell compared to China. He has found that, due to decreased competitiveness and a more open expression of emotions, friendships are simpler here in Grinnell than in China, while relationships are more complicated. Lastly, both body language and spoken language are central to his cultural experiences. Frank mentions the increased eye and physical contact that Americans utilize in conversation, which he made sure to learn and use, even though it made him very uncomfortable at times. He recalls spending hours trying to catch up on current American slang, since “people will hardly respond to you if your word selection is standard and dictionary-like.” In addition, he discusses how the language barrier can also be a barrier in deepening friendships. 
Of all challenges Grinnell has to offer, Frank felt that he was most prepared for the rigorous academics, as his high school was extremely intense and he spent most evenings doing 4-5 hours of homework. At the same time, language has created a new struggle within the classroom, where he worries any misuse of the English language could lead to the professor looking down on him. When I asked whether or not, given his diverse international experiences, he looked at himself as a global citizen or primarily as a citizen of one nation, he responded by saying that he identifies himself as a global citizen with a citizenship of China. Overall, Frank Zhu has found that his international experiences thus far at Grinnell College and at Grinnell-in-London have made him a better person, because he has learned to openly embrace other cultures and values.

Monday, October 14, 2013


The Center for International Studies fosters learning and inquiry through global connections and engagement. Concretely, the Center supports course-related travel for students and faculty, visits by prominent international scholars and artists, faculty development travel experiences across the globe, global research and service opportunities that emphasize an international perspective, and the promotion of internationalization across the curriculum. The Center oversees the College's partnerships with other educational institutions across the globe such as Grinnell's 20-year partnership with Nanjing University in China, which allows Chinese scholars to come to Grinnell, and Grinnell students and faculty to teach in China. The Center also sponsors numerous on-campus events that address international issues or feature international performers. In conjunction with the Office of Off-Campus Study, the center works to give Grinnell students many opportunities for study, research, internships, and volunteer work in Asia, Australia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

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