Back to Business

Friends, I’ve moved! The city lights and seaside views are no more in this small, interior town called Ibri. The desert dust seeps into my apartment and my sense of direction is all turned around – although if you know me, it may not have been there in the first place. I know that Saudi Arabia is one way, and Yemen the other. Needless to say, shifting from Muscat has been a bit of a challenge. But, the prayer call remains the same and I am more certain I will have more and more conversations with Omanis and others who have settled in this rocky, traditional town because of the language skills I will be learning here.

Side of the bus I take to school in the mornings

The next six weeks I will be studying Arabic at an institute about a forty-five-minute walk away. I’m sharing an apartment with three other students from the United States and a wonderful Irish woman who has just spent the last seven weeks in India. We are all so passionate about learning the ancient language, and as we walk from place to place with our hair flowing wild, it is painfully obvious that we don’t necessarily belong here. Yet, having a bit of a crew has been refreshing.

On the first day of school, we were picked up at 8:00am and driven by bus to the institute. We had some Omani style Cardamom coffee and Karak tea (sort of tastes like sweet chai—yum!) and settled into the space before those who have some experience with Arabic took a placement exam. David, another Hope student, Éabha, my Irish roommate, and I skipped out because we had too little or zero (me) Arabic experience and decided to venture about outside.

We marched down the road and came across a group of Omani men standing in a circle under a roofed ring. As we approached, the bleeting of goats and the booming shouts in Arabic revealed we had entered an auction. Goats of all sizes were being dragged, tugged and carried about by men of all ages. One man welcomed us in with a crooked-toothed smile and invited us to take a picture of his prized goat. I was distracted by the baby goats running after their mothers and whining for their morning snack. Older men smiled and joked with their neighbors, while the man in charge of it all recorded prices and names in his book.

Goats watching the madness

Every morning this business goes about in Ibri. These goats aren’t pets, rather the next meal, but it is remarkable to think that this trade has been going on for centuries. Maybe, it has been happening in this same spot near my school. I think one of the highlights of living here will be to walk through the community near the school and remember how old the world truly is. We are surrounded by mountains that were once flooded with sea water. Now, they boast beautiful layers of color from oranges to purples and greens. A geologist’s paradise—and now my new home! I cannot wait to soak up the details of it all, although it’s going to be pretty dry for the next six weeks in Ibri.

Another Semester, Another Campus

My morning began with a beautiful hike through the tropical dry forest here in Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica. It’s surprising how quickly that became a normal part of my routine; between the nature walk lectures, the field research, and the insect identification assignments that force you far afield in the name of homework, my days have become linked to the outdoors from start to finish.

       My morning ended with me winded and massaging sore muscles after wildly sprinting away from an angry horde of white-faced capuchin monkeys. Twice. That’s not exactly a normal part of the routine, but in retrospect it was as delightful an encounter as it was hazardous. It certainly revitalized my prayer life for a few seconds.

       To put it mildly, this semester isn’t quite like any I’ve experienced before. On a typical day, I emerge at 6:00am from my bed’s mosquito net (my new favorite possession), take a bracingly cold shower, wade through the swarms of black iguanas on my way to the dining hall, and devour a delicious plate of rice and beans. After that 6:30am breakfast, my classmates and I attend lectures on biodiversity, local research, local culture, and participate in other scheduled program materials which integrate the classroom experience with the Great Outdoors (believe me, the capitalization is due here). Even on the days when we remain inside, classes are frequently interrupted by the little house geckos that somehow sneak inside and run up and down the walls behind the lecturer. Nature is thoroughly inescapable, and I could not be happier.

       I sleep and wake with the sun, eat healthy and locally grown food, limit computer and internet use, and generally find myself keeping a more responsible schedule here than I ever have at Hope. I expected a semester abroad to be stressful and different, and while it is certainly the latter, I think I will emerge with a better appreciation for natural rhythms and simple living (i.e., I am embracing my inner hippie: fear my return).

       Returning to the academic side of things, this semester is highly research-focused, and we’ve started off strong with a couple of studies already having been designed, executed in the field, analyzed, and written up. I will be (co-)designing and leading a project with my own group in a few weeks, and – spoiler alert – I hope to write a rather extensive post about the research aspect of this program. The work is hard, but rewarding.

       Now that I have this routine down, it’s time for a change. In the morning we’re off to Estación Biológica Cuericí for a week, where the páramo is and the internet isn’t. ¡Hasta luego!

Note on the video below:
The male iguanas here are hilariously full of themselves. They swagger around and do little lizard push ups and emphatic head bobbles to demonstrate dominance to all the beautiful ladyguanas, or anyone else who bothers to watch. One fellow decided to put on a private show for me. I’m mostly flattered, but also a bit concerned that I’m attractive by lizard standards.

Though it’s the dry season and many trees have begun leaf drop, something beautiful is in bloom everywhere I turn.
Sometimes the science escapes.
This is a flower produced by Pachira quinata, a large tropical tree. The wacky multistaminate design is perfect for smearing pollen all over bats’ faces when they lap at the nectar sacs in the ovary at the flower’s base. The scent is more pungent than floral, as bats tend to prefer mushroom-like scents.
The TA wasn’t kidding about the sunsets here. They’re pretty spectacular over the marsh.
Check out my filthy hands! And when you grow bored of staring at those, take a look at that little anole in them. I think I’ve found heaven. Photo credit: the incomparable Emily Arendsen.
Black iguanas are the local black squirrels. These skittery little (or sometimes quite big) critters scatter before you in droves wherever you go. Their claws dragging across the metal roof at night are quite the lullaby, too. This one is part of a long-term behavioral study, so he’s been given a house name by the local researchers.
This is a Crescentia alata flower exhibiting cauliflory, a fancy botanical term for when the flowers and fruits shoot right off the trunk. It’s pretty neato.

Que será será

I have always been that kid who reads the syllabus online before the instructor goes over it in class. I’m the kid who buys all the textbooks early to get an early start on the reading. I’m the kid who has her course schedule printed out and memorized well before the start of a semester. Education is my life, and I pride myself on being over-prepared.

But this semester, I could not be further removed from that element. There is no semester schedule or program itinerary provided to the students, so every day is spent waiting on the word of the program leaders about what we will be doing. We did receive and review this semester’s syllabi today—so I have an idea of what to expect—but much of the next four months remains a mystery, revealed only in tantalizing tidbits a day at a time. It’s unlike anything that I have experienced before, save perhaps in early childhood.

I can already tell that this semester will stretch me in more ways than I knew possible. I had an inkling of that going in, but somehow I assumed that the immersive homestay, or the close quarters at the remote field stations, or the rigor of the long days conducting field research would be the most challenging part. I’m sure those will all bring challenges of their own, but for the time being, I’m learning how to comfortably not know everything. It’s surprisingly liberating.

Here’s a quick country map. We’re in San José at the moment, but we depart for Palo Verde Biological Station (in the northwest) bright and early tomorrow morning. I hear that it’s famed for the sunsets. I can’t wait!
Our hotel is a beautiful blend of rooms and gardens. I’ve spent much of the last two days investigating the exciting and unfamiliar plant species.
Passion flower! I believe it’s Passiflora edulis, a vine which is not native to this area but is often cultivated for both its tasty fruit and pretty ornamental properties.
Mimosa pudica, or “sensitive plant.” A light touch is enough to make those little leaflets fold along the stem in a thigmonastic response. See the real-time video below!
There was a steady stream of leafcutter ants spanning about ten feet of a sidewalk in San José, but this fellow was the only one moving slowly enough for my camera to focus. Sluggard.

 

Sunset over San José viewed from the roof of the hotel.

My First Assignment: Getting to Class

 

Before I left for Hyderabad, India I did everything I could to brace myself for a good deal of culture shock. I was prepared for the food to be different, I was prepared to wear more conservative clothing, and I was even prepared for the wild traffic. What I was NOT prepared for, however, was the way Indian culture views time and scheduling.

 

I could spot the difference between America’s pre-planned culture and India’s more relaxed vibe as soon as I began to register for classes. Unlike American schools such as Hope, Indian students do not necessarily know their schedules before they arrive on-campus. In fact, they might not know what classes will be offered, when the classes will occur, or where the classes will meet until a week or so into the start of the semester. Rather than have a distinctive schedule in this time, students just audit classes when they can and form a schedule out of habit rather than written confirmation.

 

As someone who writes “make a new to-do list” in all of her to-do lists, this system has been somewhat difficult for me. I keep finding myself asking for hard deadlines and due-dates even though I know they don’t exist—it’s like a compulsion and I am not the only one who is obsessed with time. All the Americans in the CIEE program are stressed out and no amount of being told “that’s just the way things work here” seems to ease our nerves.

 

What DOES make things easier is knowing the Indian values that created this sense of time. When my classmates and I expressed our frustrations with scheduling, our program director reminded us that India is not a documented culture like the United States. Basically, India values face-to-face conversations far more than they value anything written down. In their system, relationships are the basis of communication and I really admire that.

 

What this has taught me is that I need to be willing to embrace my discomfort. Sure, I may cringe at the idea of a loose schedule now, but I am excited to see what it teaches me about myself. Until then however, I will just have to go with the flow.

Disability from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

Part of my course load abroad was an internship to finish up my psychology major at Hope. The placement process began months before my arrival in which I was able to express my desires and qualifications for an internship in Santiago. Quite honestly, I did not feel equipped to actually contribute to a workplace environment, attributed  to a limited vocabulary and the fear of not being able to understand the directions and responsibilities given to me. Looking back on this semester, my internship challenged me in multiple ways, but more than anything it motivated me in the pursuit of my intended career path.

My main goal for an internship was to be involved with a population with physical and intellectual disabilities. I have always had a passion for working with people with special needs, and I wanted to see how that could grow and be challenged in a new culture. I was placed at a national foundation that offers many services to those with various types of disabilities. I chose to intern at a location that provides a home, schooling, and medical attention to a population who had been abandoned by their own families. There were 93 residents, nearly all of which had cerebral palsy, used wheelchairs, and were nonverbal. From my first visit, I knew this would be a challenging environment to be in, but I felt that my prior experiences had prepared me well.

I vastly underestimated the differences that existed between the rights for those with disabilities and how they vary across countries. Chile is a developing country, and the rights for the disabled populations are very far behind those of the United States. Furthermore, it was a difficult transition from working with privileged families who could send their children to summer camp or hire nannies as simply “an extra set of hands,” to working with an overcrowded foundation of residents who had no contact outside the walls of the residence.

As an intern, I was able to contribute to the building upkeep and supported the teachers and health professionals in their work with the residents. I can’t quite say that I made much of an impact on this organization, but to be a fly on the wall in a completely unique setting offered a cross-cultural perspective on disability that I would not have been able to find here in the States. I learned that empathy, joy, and friendship can be communicated without a common language or even the ability to speak. I also learned how privileged we are to have the facilities, legislation, and compassion for those with disabilities, and this is distinct in comparison with the rest of the world. As a global citizen, it can be difficult to see the injustices and imperfections that exist across cultures and people groups. However, this newfound passion is what motivates me in my studies and in future career, and will be an experience that will always remind me to be an advocate for others.

 

Study in study abroad?

Wait, what? There’s studying in study abroad? Yes, there is! Let me assure you that school does not go away. However, even though I still have homework, projects, and exams, it is definitely different from Hope College. To begin, all of my classes are in Spanish. This was a big transition for me. During the first few weeks I felt overwhelmed and frustrated that homework took longer than normal and I couldn’t fully understand the lectures, but since then, I have adjusted to the constant Spanish. Second, the hours are not what I am accustomed to. During the first 2 weeks in Sevilla, all CIEE students were required to enroll in a mandatory 2-week intensive Spanish grammar class which lasted 3 hours every day Mon-Fri. My class was from 6-9pm, the best time to have class according to my professor. There’s nothing more exciting than conjugating verbs in the vosotros subjunctive at 9pm on a Friday night, as long as it is celebrated afterwards with a trip to La Abuela ice cream.

The first day of class, my professor introduced herself using her first name. It’s interesting that in Spain, when a student addresses the professor, it is normal to use his/her first name. There is no formality of using señor/señora or profesor/a. In the United States, it’s customary that students speak to professors using “professor” or “doctor” followed by their last name. Even by the end of the 2 weeks, I couldn’t bring myself to call my professor Ana.

One aspect of study abroad that I am incredibly grateful for is the amount of outside of class activities assigned. Throughout the 2-week course we were required to do three activities outside of the classroom and write an essay about each one. The first activity was to conduct an interview of students at the University of Sevilla. This definitely ranks in the top 10 most awkward study abroad moments. But I’m glad I did it. I basically walked up to random students and asked them questions, in Spanish, about their goals and aspirations for after college, the cost of tuition (which I discovered is very inexpensive, around 800 euros), and study habits. All of the students were very nice and willing to share some information about their lives. The second activity was a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) and the third was a visit to the Flamenco Museum. Both were amazing but I think the flamenco was my favorite! I learned all about the traditional Spanish dance including its origins, its many varieties, and the clothing. I was even able to see a flamenco show! The singer, guitarist, and dancers were fantastic! I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to learn how to dance flamenco in the future!

 

A Week in the Life of a Newberry Seminar Student in Chicago

What is the typical week of a Newberry Seminar student like?

Monday

Classes ran on a MWF schedule at the beginning of the semester. As the semester continued, the seminar tapered off. Encouraged to begin their individual research, students explored the Newberry Library. The Newberry staff worked right alongside each of the 16 students. Individual attention and interest from the staff encouraged each researcher to delve into unique areas of study.

Georgia Armitage (pictured in the back and center), developed one of the more unique projects this semester. Interested in architecture, She devised an in-depth case study on First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, Illinois. She evaluated the church’s explicit use of nature within the frame of Neo-Gothic architecture.

With plenty of one-on-one guidance from our seminar professors, Bill and Eric, projects like Georgia’s thrived. When we weren’t in class on Monday’s, our Tuesday’s were spent exploring the city of Chicago.

Tuesday

Available daily, Chicago runs free events all around the city. From winning free prizes in marketing campaigns in Millennium Park to strolling through the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoo Light Festival, we remained constantly entertained.

When Tuesday’s adventures would come to a close, Wednesday led us back to the library. Wednesday nights my roommates and I would bake. A lot.

Wednesday

After a long day at the library, carbs were a must. My roommates and I often bonded over food. A recurring delight of ours? Pretzels. With limited diets, homemade pretzels were among the few things we could all eat. That being said, our pretzels did not disappoint!

On Thursday’s we would present our research process to Newberry and the Chicago public.

 

Thursday

Our professors–exceedingly present in our research–would schedule time for the class to present their research findings. Presenting throughout the semester kept us in line. Although the checkpoints were few, we were expected to present substantial work. Personally, my public speaking skills drastically improved.

 

Alas! The weekend has arrived. One of my most favorite times, and below, you can see why!

The Weekend

I know many will say that Friday is not a part of the weekend. But with this off-campus semester, you made your own schedule. Boy, was I thankful for that! On the weekends, we could explore Chicago with complete freedom. From eating at hole-in-the-wall breakfast places to eating at high-end sushi restaurants, I was well fed!

 

 

 

 

My friends doubled as my adventure team! Walking around Chicago was one thing, but with our free public transit passes, the possibilities were endless. But, there were times where we just wanted to stay in the apartment. Relaxing in Canterbury Court Apartments was easy to do. The already fully-furnished apartments were comfortable and became a second home to me!

 

 

 

This semester was extremely difficult. I cannot express that enough. The intensive seminar and independent research study left you wary at times. But the end results were worth the long, tireless hours. I would not have traded this semester at the Newberry Seminar for anything. I will always cherish the people I met and valuable skills I learned.

Thank you, Chicago.