The Experience, International
February 20, 2015
The academic structure was one of the reasons I was excited to start my spring semester at Conn, following my semester abroad at the University of Edinburgh. The British education system is very different from what we're used to at Connecticut College, and the idea of coming back to a school where I actually understood and liked the education system was relieving.
At Edinburgh, I was taking three classes, and they only met twice a week for 50 minutes. The courses were 100-person lectures where there was no discussion or student input. Outside of class, we did have tutorial — a small discussion of 12 students — but instead of being led by a professor, it was led by a graduate student. None of my professors knew my name or who I was during the entire semester.
In total, my educational commitments were three 50-minute sessions, three times a week, with no homework. None.
My grades were determined by an essay and a final exam, and that was it. One might think that this sounds awesome (and it was for a while), but the lack of structure and the stress of having only two factors determining a grade started to take its toll by the end of the semester. At Edinburgh, the courses were not within a liberal arts system, and students are generally expected to take courses within their major (or degree, as they call it). Students might take an occasional course or two outside of their degree but, unlike at Conn, interdisciplinary is not a regular concept.
All in all, this experience did give me interesting insight into how different countries' education systems work, but it also gave me an appreciation for my liberal arts education that exceeded the appreciation I already had.
Just so no one is confused: I loved my study abroad experience and would not have changed it for the world, but in going abroad, I was able to better understand how I prefer Conn's education system to that at the University of Edinburgh’s. As someone who is combining science and English in her education, I've come to realize I would not have been able recreate the connections between my studies like I get to do back in New London.
February 16, 2015
You guys, my binder has become kind of an issue.
It's not ugly or anything; it's a plain blue one, with the syllabi and notes and doodles from all my classes clasped securely within it. It's a regular binder. But every time I open it, I want to shuck off this winter coat, put on some short shorts, and just talk to people from all over the world. The shorts just come with the territory. My binder is giving me serious wanderlust.
To be fair, it's not the binder's fault; it's the syllabi and the classes I'm taking. There's a prominent global theme amongst my studies this semester, not a surprise to those who know I'll be studying abroad next semester.
Still, the theme of courses was partially happenstance. Let me share some examples: Yesterday, I watched "Lagaan" for my Bollywood and Globalization class, after which I read about Muslim women writers in the early 20th century for my Global Islamic Studies class, after which I chose my presentation topic for my Theorizing Race and Ethnicity class, which has a specific focus on Latin America. In four hours, I covered South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Not to mention that one of my other classes, Global Queer Histories, is metaphorically travelling through various regions of the globe to analyze queer history, traditions and prejudice. We started with the Middle East and we're moving on to Native American two-spirit traditions next week.
Oh, and I must mention my CISLA class, a required course for scholars like myself who were admitted into the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, one of the College's five centers for interdisciplinary scholarship. That course is giving me an entirely new experience: a rotation of different experiences every two weeks, from departments like geology, art and classics.
All these travel thoughts permeate my mind and I end up daydreaming half the time, reading intensely the other half. Is it a wonder, then, that my binder stresses me out? It's got half the world in it, and I couldn't be happier.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go finish a non-fiction piece about Puerto Rico for my narrative non-fiction class. Wanderlust has seeped into everything.
February 7, 2015
One of the great things about college — besides the interesting classes, independence, etc. — is the time off. It's the epitome of the "work hard, play hard" saying. After short periods of intensive study, there are so many ways to spend our month off in winter and three months off in the summer, from internships to traveling. For me, I received the good news that I was accepted into Connecticut College’s Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, or CISLA. The goal of this center is to internationalize one’s major. Mine being history, my research proposal involves studying art that was produced under the strict censorship policies of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, exploring topics such as propaganda as art and “cultural wastelands.” So next year, I will be studying and interning abroad in Spain. This means, however, that I have to get my Spanish in gear. My favorite part of the program is its emphasis on language learning, which inspired my recent trip to Guatemala.
Not having spoken Spanish in about a year, it's safe to say my language skills were pretty rusty. So for winter break, I headed off to Don Pedro de Alvarado language school in Antigua, Guatemala. Trying to play catch up, I studied for six hours a day with two different tutors. Contrary to what you might think, the time flew by, especially since the emphasis of my one-on-one tutoring was conversational skills. Every day, I simply spoke with my teachers about my life, their lives, and everything else in between. By the end, I can safely say they became more than just my teachers, they became my friends. They would take me around the city and show me cool art galleries, restaurants and church ruins. My afternoon teacher, Lidia, and I even took a day trip to El Lago de Atitlan. A three-hour trip on Guatemala’s famous “chicken buses,” the day was certainly an experience, from riding on a boat across a beautiful lake to having the man who was sitting next to me on the bus try to baptize me.
During my time in Antigua, I was staying with la familia Darce Pineda, my host family. I was one of five students staying with the family. The atmosphere was so warm that all of us were truly welcomed into the family — from attending their 3-year-old son Renecito’s birthday party to supporting them at their gigs (they are a family of musicians). The picture at the top left of this post is the view from their house’s terrace. In the background, el Volcan de Fuego (the volcano of fire) is erupting. Not to worry — it wasn’t a major eruption, but it is highly active and spurts smoke and ash on a daily basis. Pretty cool, huh? The second photo is of me and some fellow students at the top of Pecaya, another nearby active volcano we climbed one Saturday. While Pecaya is also not majorly active, we did get to roast marshmallows over lava. Yes, I know it sounds a little far-fetched, but really it did happen. It was also probably the best smore ever. While the lava has cooled and hardened, there are cracks that run though it, exposing hot coals exactly the same as what we would see in a dying fire, making for the perfect place to roast a marshmallow.
If I were to ever give advice to a college student, it would be to take advantage of all the time off. It gives us a freedom to study, travel and explore in a way that a full-time job does not. I got to connect my studies at school with an incredible culture opportunity. My Spanish improved greatly, I can happily say I feel more prepared for CISLA, and I got to have some cool adventures along the way.
December 10, 2014
One of the things I absolutely love about Conn is the sheer disregard for class year by the student body. Let me explain; I was a first-year student last year, and by the end of my second semester, most of my friends were seniors. Frankly, I don't quite know how this happened, but it did. While I was attending their graduation, it occured to me that I'd be losing a lot of my friends.
Well, I didn't. Two of my best friends from last year are still around; one in Boston, the other in Waterford — one town away from New London. As I couldn't go back home this holiday (I'm from Pakistan; home is 8,000 miles away) and I've never really celebrated Thanksgiving before, one of these friends, Evelyn, invited me to her house. I drove there with another alum, Ben, and we were all seated around her table by 4 p.m.
Evelyn, like most people on Thanksgiving, had extended family over, and I got to meet some really amazing people. One of the perks of the night was us setting up a kids' table for those who were under 25; it was a riot. Amongst the amazing food (seriously, we don't have turkey back home and I think it ought to be a trend at this point; it was so good!), reconnecting with people I don't get to see as much, and laughing uproarously most of the time, I didn't at all feel the absence of my own family.
I got leftovers; it was great!
November 25, 2014
One of the hardships of coming to a college so far away from home (I'm from Pakistan) is the strange limbo I find myself in during holiday time. I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah, and I knew my peers wouldn't really celebrate Eid or Diwali, which is the Indian festival of lights.
Well, I was wrong.
This year, ATLAS, the international student organization, organdies a Diwali celebration in The Pink House, which is home to the Gender and Women's Studies Department. Religious studies professor Dean Accardi explained the festival and ATLAS provided Indian food for everyone to enjoy — some of which was home-cooked, the rest ordered from a nearby restaurant in Groton. I ran into the most unlikely professors there: from Sunil Bhatia in human development, to Priya Kohli from mathematics (whom I had never met), to Blanche Boyd, my fiction teacher this semester. The event seemed truly familial. The students argued loudly — in Hindi and Urdu and Punjabi and English — on who had to serve the food, who could lounge around and who got cleaning duty. It was a truly south Asian experience, with multi-linguality, camaraderie and a good amount of fun bickering.
November 21, 2014
As part of the Connecticut College experience, it is common for students to study away during a semester or summer. Last week, I was accepted to study abroad in Milan, Italy, for the spring semester! I will be spending the whole semester abroad, studying at the Universita Boccini and living in an apartment in northern Italy.
I grew up in an Italian household, so I am looking forward to being further immersed in my heritage. At age 4, I learned my first grammatically correct Italian sentence — maí basta. It translates to "never enough" in English. Between the ages of 6 and 8, I was trained to taste the difference between Swedish and Italian meatballs.
As a self-designed new media studies minor, I am looking forward to taking full advantage of multimedia courses and opportunities outside of Conn. As a part of the business studies program in Milan, I will be able to attend Milanese Fashion Week in March and a taping of a Milan TV news series. I have even registered for the course "Culture and Cuisine of Italy," which includes cooking lessons led by the Casa Buitoni chef at the Buitoni headquarters, a major pasta trademark recognized around the world.
I am most excited to immerse myself in the culture and travel around the rest of Italy and Europe. My study away program has already planned two field trips, including skiing in the Alps and swimming off the coast of Cinque Terre.
When I return, I'm sure that I'll bring new perspectives to my class discussions and assignments at Conn but, for the moment, I'm just excited to go on this new adventure!
October 29, 2014
Recently, professors, community activists and service members from our neighbors at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy recently met with Conn students to discuss a wide range of topics related to immigration in the United States. After giving a brief description of their role in the issue, the panelists met with students to hear their perspectives on immigration in a more casual environment, fostering dialogue and sharing of ideas. I spoke with Dr. Evan Haglund of the Coast Guard Academy. Working as a consular officer at the American Embassy in Ghana, Dr. Haglund was able to offer a unique perspective on being on the front lines of the immigration process into the United States. It was a great experience to have roundtable discussions with people holding such varied backgrounds and experiences with immigration.
October 20, 2014
Fall Weekend is one of the busiest weekends on campus, with no shortage of events, lectures and activities. The East Asian Studies Department hosted renowned Japanese floral artist Yuji Ueno, ateacher at the Nagaoka Institute of Design in Tokyo. Ueno demonstrated his craft for courses during the day and then in a most unusual location: President Bergeron's front lawn. The event drew a large crowd of onlookers who watched in silent amazement as his stone sculpture grew to be even taller than he is.
October 15, 2014
Last Wednesday, I was one of a few lucky people invited to have dinner with Rob Richter, director of arts programming, and Khumariyaan, the band that he helped bring from my home country of Pakistan to perform in the U.S. I ran into quite a few familiar faces at the dinner, including friends and faculty, and I was introduced to some new professors and the band members themselves.
I was excited to meet the artists from back home, and I asked to go to the dinner because I couldn't attend their onStage concert during Fall Weekend. In Lahore, the city that I'm from in Pakistan, I'd only heard of Khumariyaan in passing; they usually perform at a city about five hours away from mine and they sing in Pashto, a language I don't speak.
It was kind of surreal to be introduced to this folk-rock band that I'd only heard of — not from my friends back home, but at Connecticut College — 7,000 miles away. Rob told us about the process of finding bands and artists in different countries and how this international program was sponsored by the State Department to bring in artists from other countries to broaden the American perception of that country's people.
What's strange to me is that the program brought a culture that I probably would not have been introduced to. I don't usually listen to folk music and I rarely visit Islamabad, the city this band is from. I am kind of giddy over what a treat it was. Having dinner with the band and their awesome tour manager, as well as a several friends, a professor who's probably going to be my adviser, and another professor whose work I'm very interested in felt like a personal gift.
To anyone curious about Khumariyaan, I'd definitely recommend them. Their music will make professors and parents dance, as I witnessed that evening, and it'll probably make you dance, too.
October 6, 2014
Following the success of a community discussion about issues of race in Ferguson, Mo., our Office of Residential Education and Living (REAL) decided to continue the conversation, this time bringing the discussion closer to home. The event, titled, “How Not to Talk About Race at College,” included a panel led by professors Sunil Bhatia (human development), David Kim (religious studies), and Rosemarie Roberts (dance), as well as students Ramata Diallo '17 and Maurice Tiner '17. The discussion sought to answer a number of questions: Why do conversations on race become deadened in the classroom and amongst students? What is that block that’s created that prevents people from expressing their feelings? How do we generate a more open environment in which race can be talked about, not as an abstract concept but as a real, human experience that a lot of people have to deal with.
I don’t know if the panel completely answered all these questions, but the audience was spirited and engaged on that Wednesday evening. As 70 students and faculty members informally gathered in a circle, students shared personal stories about experiencing racial prejudice in their lives.
The event was illuminating on so many levels. After the event ended, I was approached by a professor I’d never met — she teaches French and Africana studies, departments I've never taken courses in. She stood next to my friend and I, put her hands on our shoulders and told us that although she had to run, she'd love to continue the conversation, passing along her name and email address. David Kim also made himself available after the panel so students who didn’t have a chance to speak would be able to in a more personal way.
Professor Audrey Zakriski from the Psychology Department had some choice words to say about approaching one’s own racial biases and confronting them, and Dean of the College Caroline Denard proposed a “color-brave” narrative performance piece, that would bring together art, dance, music and monologue to share stories about discrimination and acceptance. Another student proposed “issue-tables” in the dining halls where you could move to and from different topics of discussion. I suggested there be a disclaimer in every class' syllabus about any incident of prejudice a student might face and a third party to contact — just as the syllabus already has an addendum about sexual misconduct, resources available in the Office of Accessibility, and the drug and alcohol program.
On our campus, the difficult issues of sexual violence prevention, disability and personal health are already part of conversations we have openly and often. The leaders of offices that work with students on these topics are are incredibly engaged, and are often on a first-name basis with most of the campus, helping to create a lively, open and honest community. This event was an attempt to do the same with issues regarding race.
September 17, 2014
This semester, I am studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. While most of my friends at Conn have been at school for almost three weeks now, I have only just completed my second day of classes. Not only am I studying in a new setting, but this new environment may or may not become its own country in just two days.
Scotland is holding a referendum that could result in its separation from the rest of the United Kingdom (made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.) Since arriving, I have made sure to look at all the campaigns with an open mind and purely as an observer.
I see campaigning every time I walk outside. There are signs for both parties in the windows of houses, and people are handing out leaflets in the squares and on the streets. Recently, there was a march for the "No" campaign on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, and a booth was set up on the university campus encouraging undecided students to ask questions and get involved.
The referendum is mentioned frequently on campus, but many of the students here aren’t even Scottish and those who are have already cast their vote. Yesterday, there was a referendum debate at the Student Union (the Scotish version of our College Center at Crozier-Williams) and this week I have seen quite a few students with pins and stickers on their jackets.
The referendum has provided an exciting environment for learning. This semester, one of my courses is economic and political geography and, on the first day, my professor joked that she might have to change a section of the course depending on the referendum's outcome. Being here at this exciting and politically important time is only confirming that I made the right decision to study in Scotland this semester.
Marina Stuart '16 is currently studying away at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Throughout the semester, she will occasionally provide updates on the experience of studying away from campus.
"No" and "Yes" signs supporting and opposing Scottish independence dot windows in Edinburgh, Scotland.
May 2, 2014
Kurt Reinmund, a videographer for the ConnCollegeLive Experience, is currently spending this semester abroad. He is studying at the CET Film Production program and producing a movie through the FAMU film school in Prague. Kurt took a moment to write about his experiences away from campus.
“Dobrý den. Jsem Kurt. Promi?te, nemluvím ?esky.” In case you do not speak Czech, I just said, “Hello. I am Kurt. Sorry, I do not speak Czech.” After living in Prague, Czech Republic for the past three months and taking Czech language classes twice a week since my arrival here, I’m embarrassed to admit that those three sentences are the extent of my Czech speaking abilities. I did not come to Prague to learn a language that only 10 million people speak; I came here to make a film.
As a film studies major with a concentration in production, I knew I wanted an abroad program that allowed me to make film. It turns out, making a film in a foreign country whose language I don’t speak is extremely difficult and often times awkward. My film is titled Jirí, and the actors and crew in my film spoke about as much English as I speak Czech. Luckily, I’m a master of the “point-and-grunt” technique when trying to tell Czech people what I want, so I found a way around the severe language disparity. For example, if I point and grunt at the couch while making eye contact with an actor, that means I want him or her to walk to that couch. The “point-and-grunt” technique is universal; Francis Ford Coppola used it when filming Apocalypse Now.
I have not spent all of my time relentlessly working on my film; between my numerous meetings with very important film people, I have found some time to explore the city in which I live. Upon first arriving in Prague, I noticed that no building, church, park bench, traffic sign, nor playground was safe from the copious amounts of graffiti that plagued this once-Communist city. But as the weeks flew by, I realized that the graffiti is what makes this city so delightfully unique. While some people may see the graffiti as vandalism, I choose to believe that the graffiti serves as a rebellious reminder to the Czechs that they are no longer under Communist rule. While this belief may just be one of my pretentious theories, there must be some reason why the city does not clean up the graffiti, and I do not think it is out of laziness.
I only have a few weeks left here in Prague before I return to the States, and I must say that I am going to miss this city. Prague may be a permanently overcast city with people who never smile, but there is an irrefutable energy here unlike any I have ever seen. Founded in 1993, Czech Republic is still a new country. I know I’ve only lived here a few months, but I can tell that the Czech Republic has a very bright future ahead of it. I’m just glad I was able to capture its culture on film.
Kurt poses with his star actor, Miroslav Hrabé
April 30, 2014
Last week, the East Asian studies students hosted a poster session -- where students share their research and answer questions about their work. I went to support a friend, to cover the event for The College Voice and, in large part, because of my own personal interest in studying abroad.
Two East Asian studies classes presented posters about their spring break trips to Okinawa and Taiwan, respectively. While in Asia, each student conducted an individual research project.
As I wandered around the room, notebook in one hand and sushi in the other, I asked students about their experiences. I was struck with how much these students were impacted by their trips abroad. When I asked a friend what her favorite part of the trip was, she responded with, “Can I say the most profound part?” She went on to describe the moment she met a survivor of the Battle of Okinawan who worked as nurse in caves that were constantly being bombarded by bombs and gunfire.
These stories make me even more excited about my own study abroad plans for next fall. The stories also remind me that opportunities like spring break trips allow students who might not spend a whole semester abroad to experience life-changing opportunities around the world.
April 18, 2014
Last Wednesday, I woke up at 5:20 a.m., destined for the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Giddy with fatigue and excitement, a group of us from Knowlton House met in the foyer and jaunted over to our bus, complementing one another on our business-casual attire on the way.
I sat with my friend Leela. Both French fanatics, we chatted in French as we ate a breakfast of bagels, muffins and croissants. A snooze and a few traffic jams later, we arrived at the United Nations.
We first entered the building for the United States mission to the U.N. There, we met with Alexis Wichowski, a Connecticut College alumna from the Class of 1993. She transitioned from a Chinese major in college to a graduate program in information technology to a job at the U.N. related to IT diplomacy. She also works as a professor at Columbia University. In addition to describing her career path, she quizzed us on the U.N. How many member states compose the U.N.? 193! When was the U.N. founded? 1945! She insisted we understand the U.N. as a collection of entities that include its six deliberative councils and non-governmental organizations among others.
Isaac, an intern at the U.S. mission to the U.N., left us with a final note: “Don’t start at the bottom, start at the top.”
Some people took Isaac’s advice when attacking the buffet at the Delegates Dining Hall, starting with dessert and ending with lunch. No matter our dining approach, we ate more like kings and queens than like delegates.
Fortunately, a grand tour of the U.N. helped us work off the decadence. A Swedish tour guide led our group, which pleased Julia, a Swedish Conn student studying human rights and the media. Our guide showed us the rooms where the General Assembly and other branches of the U.N. convene. In fact, we witnessed the Economic and Social Council in action!
We also had time to engage in conversation with delegates while visiting the Iranian Mission to the U.N. After an informational video and some Iranian snacks, we showered the Iranian delegates with questions: How does Iran portray women in the media? What is Iran’s stance regarding the war in Syria? What would Iran prioritize in a security council meeting? Do women participate as actively in society as men? In response to our questions, one of the delegates urged us again and again to visit Iran and to discover the answers to our questions first-hand and individually.
After collecting food-for-thought at the Iranian mission, we headed out for a delicious French meal and met up with some NYC-based Conn alums.
After a day like Wednesday, Conn’s commitment to an international education certainly takes on a magic meaning for me.
April 4, 2014
I met Jana in the south of France. We were both working as Au Pairs for a summer. Over spring break, she flew from her home in Germany to visit me in the States. We spent two weeks museum-, art gallery-, concert hall-, and theater-hopping in Boston and New York City and then relaxed in Maine. Instead of returning to Germany at the end of spring break, Jana accompanied me to Conn for a week. Given the excitement of our first two weeks, I was initially concerned that Jana would find the week at Conn boring, especially in the moments when I was doing homework or at track practice.
To my relief, Conn entertained Jana fabulously. She attended classes and practiced piano and sang in the music practice rooms. She attended a lecture on East Germany, studied Mozart pieces from Greer Music Library and watched French films in the Language Lab. Jana even took the Camel Van—our shuttle van—into New London and went grocery shopping, then cooked ratatouille in the Unity House kitchen. She took photographs in the arboretum, attended a concert in Cro, befriended a German student, helped another student studying German, and more. Here is her take on the week:
It’s been almost a week since I arrived to Connecticut College and I enjoy being here a lot. After some sightseeing in New York City and Boston, I was quite excited to get to know the “real life” of American students. On the first day, I sat in on international relations and French classes. The classes were interesting, the professors enthusiastic and competent, and the students very ambitious and attentive. Soon enough, I observed differences between studying at Conn and what I know about studying at German university. At Conn, students and professors establish close relationships and meet for lunch whereas, in Germany, students attend lectures with over a hundred students and the professors often don’t even know their students’ names. Another difference between German university and Conn is that students stay on campus almost exclusively. They go to classes, work in the library, have dinner at the dining hall and sleep in the dorms. In my hometown, students live in apartments in the city, take the subway or bike to attend class. Lastly, I was impressed by the huge variety of clubs one can join and the extra activities offered here! All in all I am glad to get to know this campus. Maybe I’ll come back one day for a semester abroad! ;)
I sure hope she comes back to Conn, since hosting her spurred me to enjoy Conn in new ways. In the meantime, I look forward to next spring when I study abroad in France and can visit her in Germany!
March 5, 2014
When I was visiting colleges a tour guide asked, “Who plans on studying abroad?” my hand always flew into the air. This goal has stayed with me through college, and, after a nail biting two-week wait, I recently found out that I’ve been approved to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh.
Next step? Actually going about the process of applying to the program. This involves getting a visa, making travel arrangements and submitting additional personal statements and letters of recommendation.
It was only when my mother said, “Great, now I can plan my trip to Scotland to visit you,” did the realization that I am about to live in another country by myself actually hit me.
Even though I am slightly nervous, my head is full of plans to travel around the Scottish countryside, visit other European countries, and have an international academic experience, all while having A LOT of fun. I can’t wait.
November 27, 2013
A few days ago, professors Tristan Borer and Afshan Jafar hosted a discussion about Saudi Arabian human rights issues. Both professors are experts on the topic and, at the invitation of the Women’s Center, Think SAFE Project and Yalla Bina Arabic Club, led a conversation that was sparked by a viral video about female drivers in Saudi Arabia. I was one of 40 students who joined the chat while enjoying some free coffee and pastries from Coffee Grounds.
November 22, 2013
I have always wanted to study abroad in Australia. I imagined studying marine biology in the Great Barrier Reef while exploring the coasts. I'm a planner: I like things to be scheduled far in advance with few variations in the plan. Let's just say things are always subject to change.
I intend to be an environmental studies major and an Italian minor. I recently went to an event where several students presented about their study abroad experiences in Italy. Everything from the food to the scenery made me want to be there. As the students discussed what they enjoyed from the country's rich culture, I began to rethink my plans. What if I did a summer abroad in Italy? There is so much to learn about the country’s history and culture.
These presentations piqued my interests so much that I may change when and where I would like to study abroad. While this sudden desire for change surprised me, I can't say that it is unexpected: College is all about exploring. Why not change your mind a few times? Who knows where you might end up.