The Countdown

It is a beautiful day here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And here I sit, stressing about the next few months because, well, I leave in July to go study abroad! I am excited and terrified and so, SO pumped to go. It has been a dream of mine to study abroad since I was very young. Spanish is not my first language, but it is pretty close to being my first. I went to a Spanish immersion school from kindergarten through high school. Basically, I studied all the academics like a normal kid, except I learned it all in Spanish instead of English (until middle school, when I had some classes in Spanish and some in English). I consider myself very blessed to have had that opportunity. And while I have had a few practical uses for Spanish here in the States, like helping out at food kitchens or with the ESL program at Hope, I cannot wait to fully apply my Spanish that I have worked so hard to learn!

Getting to this point has not been easy. I am so thankful for everything my family, friends, and even professors have done for me. They have written me letters of recommendation, helped me with endless paperwork, and have supported me through this slightly stressful time. I would not have gotten to this point without them.

And now I am playing the waiting game. I want to just hop on the plane and go now, but I have a lot to do in the meantime. I will be doing summer research right up until I leave, and packing will have to wait for later. I have some essentials that need purchasing, and some lists that need writing, so I suppose that is all for now!

The Cyclops: Greek Theater in Center Stage

Getting ready for our big debut!
Getting ready for our big debut!

The semester is finally winding down, and that means due dates of final papers, exams, and projects and looming closer by the day. One of the more enjoyable final semester projects has been the ancient Greek theater performance for my Attic Tragedy class. Throughout the semester, we have been reading through the works of famous ancient playwrights like Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. While there are a couple classes at CYA that work on just translating these works from their original ancient Greek script, our class instead reads the translated versions of these plays and focuses understanding the breadth and variety of performances that survive today. Tragic performances usually tell the stories of Greek heroes and noble characters who experience misfortune upon misfortune, usually culminating in death. If you think this sounds particularly depressing, you would be right, it is. To balance out the sadness of tragic performances, ancient Greek theater competitions also included a satyr performance. The main difference between a satyr play and a tragedy is the in the supporting cast. While tragic plays used a chorus, or group of singers that had a theatrical role, sattr plays instead relied on a band of satyrs which would provide comic relief in otherwise serious situations. These creatures were often depicted as half-man, half-animal, often intoxicated and always up for a party. Though satyr performances were a key facet of ancient Greek theater, Euripides’ play, the Cyclops, is the only play of this genre that we have in its entirety. It was this work that our class chose to perform in front of the whole CYA program as our final project. .
Though our professor told us at the beginning of the semester that we would understand the plays much better by actually performing them, I did not fully appreciate his words until we actually got to try it out. There are so many aspects of the play that you don’t think about until you have to put on the performance. The chorus is a perfect example. When you just read through a play, you skim over the chorus’s lines as ordinary dialog of a story. For a performance, however, you have to considering if you want the chorus to take turns saying the lines, or all speak in unison. Even the tone of voice used, whispering, shouting or speaking, can dramatically alter the overall effect of the lines. Since the chorus also danced, there is also extensive choreography to plan out and stage directions to take into consideration. By acting out the Cyclops, the story suddenly becomes 3-dimensional and ancient Greek culture opened up in a way that it couldn’t by simply reading words on a page.
Even though I am absolutely not an actor (and never will be) I had so much fun playing a sailor that got eaten by the Cyclops. This has definitely been a semester for trying new things and hands-on, active learning. I am so thankful for opportunities like the play that have enabled me to experience Greek culture in a very tangible and memorable way.

Our Cyclops backstage waiting for her cue
Our Cyclops backstage waiting for her cue


Overlooking Meteora  One of the biggest things that people tell you to do in Greece is to visit Meteora. Because it is such a must-see destination in Greece, I was waiting for a time to go almost since the beginning of the semester.
So what is Meteora exactly and what makes it so amazing?? I’m glad you asked. Meteora is a town in the Northern part of Greece (about 4 hours away from Athens by train) that is nestled in the mountainous and rugged Greek countryside. However, the peaks of Meteora are not your average mountains. The foothills that immediately surround Meteora are more like rectangular columns that jut out of the earth in unexpected places, creating rock formations that seem to be carved by a giant. In fact, the entire landscape looks more like the setting of a fairy tale than a humble Greek town in real life. Nevertheless, the most notable part of Meteora are the monasteries and churches dramatically perched on top of the rock pillars. Many these buildings are built so directly on the side of the vertical cliff face, that you can’t help but wonder how any human builder could safely do any construction. In order to get to these monasteries, you can either take a bus from the town in the valley up the road that winds skyward along the meandering rugged landscape, or you can experience some of the world’s best hiking and walk through the woods to see all of the sites. For me, the friends that I traveled with, the choice was obvious. Though it was raining and cloudy for the few days we were there, the adventure of trekking up the steep slopes and down the valleys of Meteora (while occasionally getting poured on) is one we will never forget.
The larger Meteora site has 7 monasteries, and, though we at least saw all of them from a distance, we only actually went in 3. The insides of the monasteries are covered with beautiful Byzantine paintings and icons, portraying Christ, the saints, and various scenes from the Bible. One thing that struck me in particular is how similar these pieces are between all the Orthodox churches. The artwork in these monasteries provides a perfect example of how widespread and uniform the images of Byzantine Orthodox art were, across Greece as well as Europe at large.
As if the incredible hiking, landscape, and monasteries weren’t enough, we also managed to find a few restaurants in Meteora with absolutely incredible Greek food. After hiking up mountains all day, you work up quite an appetite, and the gigantes (giant beans in tomato sauce) and Greek eggplant certainly didn’t disappoint. All in all, everything about the trip to Meteora just made fall in love with this country more. ☺

A Meteora Monestary

Time to Say Goodbye

This past weekend we went on our last excursion to Ampefy. It was really beautiful – we stayed in bungalows with an amazing view over a huge lake surrounded by rice paddies and hills that used to be volcanoes way back when. We had a number of opportunities to go hiking in the countryside, and it was a really nice peaceful way to end what has been a truly incredible 3 and ½ months in Madagascar.

While at ampefy we convinced our program director Roland to take a selfie with us!
While at ampefy we convinced our program director Roland to take a selfie with us!

I feel so blessed by this whole semester – the caring staff, the unbelievably good group dynamics between all us students, three amazing host families, and the million unique opportunities I had to see and learn things. Looking back, I’m realizing that there’s no way I could have experienced this country in the same way, and in as much depth, if I had come for any reason but this study abroad program. Not in such a short amount of time, in any case. In a way I feel ready to go, but only because we’ve been talking about leaving and saying our goodbyes to various people and places in stages for a while now. Two weeks ago was the last time I saw my Betafo host family. Last week I moved out of my Tana host family’s house. Last night we took the staff of our program out to dinner to say thank you and farewell. Today I waved goodbye as 3 of the students in our group took a taxi to the airport. The end is imminent, and everyone can feel it. I imagine this is kind of what graduating feels like, but it’s different in that it seems more permanent, more final. When I leave Madagascar, I’m not just leaving a country, but I’m leaving a way of life, a language, and all the people I’ve met here, potentially forever. I really want to come back, and if it’s in my power I will. I won’t deny I’m already thinking of ways I might be able to spend a gap year here after I graduate. Of course, regardless of whether I come back or not, next week at this time I’ll be the US. I’m sad to leave my new family and friends, but excited to see old my family and friends back in the states.Veloma, Madagasikara. Amin’ny manaraka indray.

Shadowing Doctors in Madagascar

It’s been a month since my last update, and there is so much I could tell you about, it’s difficult to decide what to write about. I spent 3 weeks back in Betafo (the rural area I stayed in for a week in March) doing field work for my independent study project, and then this last week I spent back in Tana (the capital) writing up my findings. Although I presented my project last Friday, the paper is still on my mind since I still have some editing to do, so I think I’ll use this blog post to give you an overview of what doing the project was actually like.

In the beginning it was difficult to explain to my host family that I was there to do an academic project, not just on vacation. The previous time I stayed with them I had absolutely nothing I needed to get done, and  never went anywhere alone, so this time, when I told my host dad, in broken Malagasy, that I wanted to go into town by myself to talk to doctors, it caused much confusion. None the less, he did let me go, and after a few days my family got used to my new schedule. Most mornings I would walk into town and spend a few hours at the CSB (Centre de Santé de Base, i.e. basic medical clinic) or district hospital, observing and chatting with the doctors and midwives. When consultations ended around noon, I’d head home for lunch, and spend the afternoons writing down what I’d learned and interviewing residents and local government officials. My time in the clinic/hospital  was pretty much the same as shadowing doctors the way I’ve done in the US and South Africa in preparation for med school, except that in Madagascar gaining access to do so was much easier.  I could literally just walk into the dentistry, or maternity, or laboratory, or any other section of the hospital, explain to the person working in that department that I was a student doing a project related to public health, and be allowed to stay and watch everything going on.  The staff was really friendly and helpful, and in fact, the doctors at the clinic were quite ready to let me take part in examinations and even administer injections. Although I was tempted to try, you’ll be relieved to hear that I refrained! In the US it’s very much taboo to perform procedures like injections without training.

The project culminated in a 40 page paper, so I couldn’t possibly share with you everything I learned in this post, but I will say it was fascinating to see how the practice of medicine changes based on the resources available and the local context in general. For example, in Betafo there is a program for malnourished children. Community agents identify at risk children (0-5yrs) on a neighborhood level, and send them to the CSB on Tuesday morning. At the clinic they measure the height, weight, and circumference of the arm of the child, and based on these measurements determine if the child is undernourished or not. If he/she is, the parent is given enough “plumpy nut” specially formulated food to supplement the child’s food for a week, and told to return every Tuesday for a check up until the child is better. All this is completely free, and for this reason the parents have to bring back the empty plumpy nut packages each week to prove that the food wasn’t sold but rather consumed by the child. What an interesting contrast with the US, where the focus is on preventing obesity, not undernourishment!

The road to town I walked everyday
The road to town I walked everyday
My 20 yr old host aunt and I  - she was a great friend and very helpful in my endeavour to learn Malagasy
My 20 yr old host aunt and I – she is a great friend and very helpful in my endeavour to learn Malagasy

Visiting “Africa”

People assume and learn certain things about “Africa” from society and predispositions in the United States, but I find many of these “facts” to be unfairly assumed or slightly ridiculous. When I decided to study abroad in Botswana, I kept saying I am going to study abroad in AFRICA! Well, guess what guys? I wasn’t able to visit every place on the continent. I did visit five countries in Southern Africa, but I find when people ask, “How is Africa?” I want to tell them well, my time in Botswana is great, and I am not sure that I can generally speak for all of Africa. So here are some facts that I think are important to note:

1. Africa is a continent not a country
2. There are many things in Botswana that do not pertain to the whole continent
3. “African” encompasses SO MUCH
4. We do not say yea I’m going to North America!

I have talked to my program director about this specific topic, and she agrees that people generalize the whole continent too much, but I grapple with this issue because people from Botswana do it too! Multiple Batswana have said, “I hope you enjoy Africa” or things similar in nature. Is this their doing or their acceptance of the Western view of grouping the whole continent together? I don’t know, but I do know Africa is the second largest continent, and we need to give it the distinctions it deserves.

Evolution of Learning a French Word

As the semester draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on how far I’ve come in language acquisition. While my classes are without a doubt helpful in acquiring new vocabulary, I’ve found that just living in France is indispensable when wanting to learn new words and phrases. Picking up vocabulary through context is far easier than memorizing a list from a book. Not only that, but sometimes not having a direct translation makes the words come easier.

Seeing the same words on signs is one way of learning them--"sur place" means you sit down and have your food. "à emporter" means "to go."
Seeing the same words on signs is one way of learning them–“sur place” means you sit down and have your food. “à emporter” means “to go.” Also, milkshakes are not milkshakes.

One of the things I discovered upon arrival to France was that I didn’t know how carry a conversation. I knew mostly how to uphold my end, but when another person–my host mom, for example, was talking, I didn’t know how to indicate that yes, I was attentive and involved. When living in a homestay, it’s important to let the other party know you understand and you’re not just smiling and nodding. But saying, “Oui, oui” all the time gets boring and starts to sound like you don’t understand after all. So what do you do?

1. Recognize there’s a word you need that you can’t replace with other words.

There are a lot of ways to get around not knowing something. Every week or so, there always seems to be a word popping up often that nobody knows (a few weeks ago it was “sneeze”–éternuer). You can say “I did like this,” fake a sneeze, and continue on. You could say, “that thing like a cough, but not a cough,” and people would guess what you meant. However, doing this frequently usually brings you to the realization that this really is a word you ought to know. Why say five words when you could say one? And what happens when the word or phrase you need isn’t something you can look up in a dictionary, like “stuff to say to let someone know you’re listening?”

2. Ask, Look up, or Listen.

Asking is usually the best way to go if I want a quick answer. Looking it up is all right too, particularly if I’m alone, but asking means I’ll have a more tangible memory of my question. It helps to have a better context in which to remember the word. Describing it, acting it out, or pointing to it are all viable options. But what about words or phrases that aren’t so concrete? In that case, I usually listen. For this example, I started listening to things my host mom and professors said that I’d brushed over as “filler” before. Turns out I needed it! I started noticing that one of my professors said, “Ah ben, dis donc!” often, to let a student know she was listening to what they had to say–and that she agreed with them. I’m guessing an English translation might be, “Wow, yeah.”

3. Try it out

This is the hardest part for me. What if I’m wrong? Even after being here 4 months and making a mistake a minute, I still have a hard time going for something and knowing it might end in a correction. But it’s always worth it. Even if you’re wrong, you either get an explanation why, or an alternate thing to say–and context to remember it by! Sometimes, something wonderful happens and you don’t even realize you’re going for it. The other day, when my host mom was talking about something, my mouth opened and out came “Ah ben, dis donc!” Except it came out more like: “Ah, ben…dis…donc?” At first I was confident because after hearing the phrase so long, my subconcious knew what to say. But by the end, I was surprised to be saying it! I hadn’t planned it.

4. Repeat with confidence!

The best way to remember anything is to keep doing it. “Ah ben, dis donc” is probably going to become my “thing to say” for a couple weeks.

And that’s it! A quick little progression to show how I’ve learned some of my favorite day-to-day lingo. I hope there’s lots more to come during this last month!

Found in Translation

20140114_131535Way back in January, I opted to take a French-English translation class at Rennes 2. This means I got graded alongside native French students. Who speak French. Natively. This suggested two possible outcomes:

1.) I would perish in the ocean of French vocabulary I did not know. Aware I was going waaaay in over my head, I almost decided I couldn’t go through with it.

2.) I could exponentially improve my vocabulary, meet French students, experience the French university system firsthand, and better understand the inner workings of my two favorite languages.

I recently finished that class, as it was a Rennes 2 course and not with CIREFE, and I can confidently say that I experienced…both!

CIEE set up the class for us Americans, which was very helpful. We took two different sections: French-to-English at the License 3 level, and English-to-French at the License 1 level (easier, as it’s much more tricky to translate from your native language into a foreign one and make it sound good). With French-to-English I could often guess at what to say in English because the words look similar. Another plus to having the class split into two different levels was a genre change. In French-to-English, we translated newspaper articles about the economy and political protests. The other class focused on literary texts and had selections from Animal Farm and Little Women.

My homework after I correct it.
My homework after I correct it.

Both classes were easily my favorites, despite constantly getting everything wrong.Even though I try hard, it’s easy to laugh at how ridiculous my translations into English can be. Sometimes, I wrote things like, “According to Alex Salmond’s idea, the referendum of self-determination would be a consultation and would be comprised of the subsidiary question ‘a maximum devolution,’ blurrily outlined, but that could in short be a nearly complete autonomy (notably in taxes).” Grammatically correct, sure, but otherwise nonsensical!

A challenge of the English-French class was our obligation to use the dreaded passé simple. As we’re translating literary works, using this rare tense makes sense, but after having been told that we don’t need to worry about it by high school, college, and even the French professors who teach us foreign students, it was hard to get used to!

An added bonus, since our professors were from Great Britain, was a crash course in British journalistic jargon. Residences are dwellings. Substantial budget cuts are referred to as swinging cuts. The noun leader, when not referring to a person, should be changed to leading.

However, even though I struggled in the class, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve grown leaps and bounds from taking translation. Obviously, I learned a lot of vocabulary, but I discovered other things as well. You start to learn that it’s okay to omit certain words from your translation, if they don’t mean much and would detract from the auditory aesthetic. You also begin to grasp the danger of translating too literally. It might be right, but by translating “calcul” as “calculations”, you might miss out on some nuances in the sentence. “Way of calculating” might be better, if you’re talking about a change in retirement pensions. And don’t get me started on the multiple meanings of words! Context is indispensably important in translation. As it is in daily life! But really, the most important thing I took away from the class is that there’s always more than one way of saying things. Everyone has a personal style and way of respecting the original writer’s work.

I’m so sad the class is over and am ready to raise funds for a translation club at Hope. All languages welcome!



Coming home to Greece and Final Thoughts on Jordan

Although the adventures in Jordan were incredible, by the end of the trip I was definitely homesick for Greece. I really feel like Greece is my home now and I have no idea how I will ever be able to leave at the end of May. Here’s a quick recap of the end of the Jordan Spring Break trip.
After leaving Dana Nature Reserve, we headed north to the Dead Sea where we made a brief detour at a canyon called Wadi Mujib. Even though we only stopped to take pictures, my travel buddy Shea and I ended up making a spontaneous decision to adventure into the canyon. What you need to know is that Wadi Mujib is not like any ordinary canyon. Instead of a normal dirt trail leading you inland, there is a river with big rocks and rapids that you have to swim climb up and rappel down in order to get to the waterfall at the end. After all was said and done and we emerged from the canyon soaking wet, Shea and I agreed that this was hands down our favorite part of the trip: We loved the adventure of fighting through rapids and pulling ourselves through the water with the safety ropes to reach our final destination.

After the Wadi Mujib, we continued on our way to the Dead Sea, where we got to experience the famous mud baths that the area is famous for. To clarify how a real mud bath is done, you wade in the shallow water of the sea, scope out a pocket of the thick, goopy mud, slather it all over yourself, and wait 10 to 15 minutes before washing it all off in one of the beach showers. After the whole experience, my skin felt prickly, but very smooth. ☺

I also got to enjoy floating in the water with some local Jordanians. Since the concentration of salt so high, it is impossible to completely submerse yourself. It felt bizarre to try to push myself underwater only to spring back up like I was on a trampoline. Floating in the Dead Sea is something I would definitely recommend to anyone traveling to Jordan.

Finally, we finished our travels in Amman, where we stayed two nights in the city center. While there, we met up with a friend who has been studying abroad in Amman for the past year. Hearing about his experiences helped me appreciate some of the main differences between Greece and Jordan. For one thing, my friend said that the strongly conservative Muslim influence made his adjustment from the US to Jordan harder for him than mine was into Greece, where Greek Orthodoxy is practiced loosely, but the people are more western. A particularly obvious example of the conservatism is in dress: Jordanian women are expected to stay fully covered, despite the hot weather. Also in Amman, I felt very acutely that I was in the minority, something that I am not used to feeling in America and Greece. Just walking down the street, my friend and I were stared at, talked to, and asked to take pictures by nearly every person that passed (all men). It was a strange feeling, to say the least. The whole experience made me really appreciate what it feels like to be an outsider. As a pre-health student, Prof. Prokopow has often mentioned the importance of cultural sensitivity in caring for patients. After my experience in Jordan, I will definitely see minorities and other cultures with a new appreciation and understanding of how alienating it can feel to be different.
Until Next Time!

Easter Travels

Finding time to travel can be a challenge while studying abroad because there are times when school work is overwhelming and there is lots to do!  So every time there is a break during school — GO SOMEWHERE!

My friends and I decided to go to Durban, South Africa for Easter break.  Unfortunately we didn’t buy bus tickets to Pretoria far enough in advance, so the bus to Pretoria was full and our combi rental to Durban fell through, but somehow we made it!   Even though some travel issues arise, I have never had to cancel a trip and everything turns out fine.

Our journey started at 5:30am when the combi driver picked us up. While I was waiting a couple minutes from my host family’s house in the dark for the driver to arrive, two guys pulled over and decided to wait with me to make sure I was safe. I have encountered this frequently in Botswana throughout my travels, making it evident that Batswana care for each other. When we arrived in Pretoria, we went to the Union Buildings. I would highly recommend going, as you can high-five Nelson Mandela (his statue), take pictures of beautiful flowers and architecture, and lay in the grass! OH THE GRASS! I missed grass so much; I took off my shoes and rolled around in it.


Then we were off to DURBAN! On Saturday we ended up just walking around, looking at street vendors and cool city buildings. We also went to a rugby game, the Durban Sharks against the Cheetahs! The game was really fun, and a couple people I was with knew how to play rugby, so I was able to learn much about the game. After the game, we ate Indian food by the waterfront. Durban is known for an Indian street food dish called bunny chow. It is curry that is served in a portion of a loaf of bread.

Bunny chow-YUM!
Bunny chow-YUM!
rugby game
rugby game

Easter Sunday we went to a market with both African and Indian shops. We were recommended to eat at an Indian restaurant nearby. We looked up the address, but still got lost! Apparently they changed the road names and we were going in the opposite direction. This is also a common issue I have encountered while traveling: getting lost. When there is a certain place you want to go to, many people may not know where it is, and some people may give you wrong directions just to be polite, so ask often, get directions, and get a map. We ended up going to a different restaurant, and then spent the afternoon at the beach which was wonderful!