Brett Stirling ’21 is majoring in Economics and minoring in Finance and Government at Conn. He is a member of the Entrepreneurship Pathway and is also a member of the Connecticut College men's ice hockey team.
It was a Sunday morning in early July on the southeast side of Hong Kong Island. I jumped on the MTR (the subway) and headed toward Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the busiest districts in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Upon arrival, I noticed the MTR was a little more crowded than usual. Thinking perhaps it was just a busy Sunday, I continued on my trip to the Ladies’ Market in search of a knockoff designer belt that my younger sister was in desperate need of. After spending an hour bartering with the locals and sweating in the Hong Kong heat, I decided it was time to lick my wounds and head back to Aberdeen, on the southwest side of Hong Kong, for the afternoon.
Last fall, prior to my arrival at Conn, I spent weeks browsing the College’s course catalog and reading the various major descriptions on the website. There were many interesting classes, but my curiosity was piqued by the College’s language requirement. Every student must complete at least two semesters of a foreign language, regardless of how many languages they already know. Over the summer, we received emails with a language study brochure (Connecticut College Language Study Brochure), which I read multiple times. The Dean of First Year Students, Emily Morash, told us that we were not required to take a language course in our first year but it is recommended so that we don’t have to worry about it in our junior or senior years. I studied French for five years and knew I wanted to start something new. But the question was: Which one? Currently, Conn offers courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian and Spanish.
During spring break, most people want to go to a warm place to get away from the cold winters in New England. Rather than flying this typical route south, I went east to London with my senior seminar for spring break. My senior seminar in the English department is on Jane Austen. When I signed up for the class, taught by Professor of English Jeff Strabone, I knew that there was a trip to the United Kingdom planned for our two-week spring break. While this was not a determining factor in choosing the class for me, it certainly did not hurt.
Like many people my age, I can usually be found on my phone, texting, calling or staying updated on the lives of my Instagram followers. But when I was studying abroad in Havana, Cuba, I was rarely ever on my phone. Due to the Internet connectivity in the area where I was living, I was only able to communicate with my parents and friends by purchasing wifi cards and traveling to a wifi hotspot. The lack of Internet access was surprisingly one of my favorite aspects of studying abroad because I found myself experiencing each moment more. The downside was that I started to become a little homesick after a month of not being able to communicate consistently with my family and friends. My host family made me feel at home and like a member of their family, but I naturally still missed my friends and family.
For international students, choosing a college is a lot like throwing a dart in the dark. We don’t know what the college atmosphere is like. We don’t know how accessible the location is, and, most importantly, we don’t know what the weather is actually like. Why? Because we’ve never had a campus tour. Chances are the average international student has never visited the United States before either. When trying to find the right college for us, we’ve had to depend on the College’s website and whatever location-based information Google can provide. I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in an international high school in Swaziland that was on the visit list for a number of liberal arts colleges. I got to hear from admissions directors about their school’s programs, how each college environment differed from others, and what student life was like on campus.
On a beautiful, sunny day in Sydney, Australia, I met some of my greatest friends. While I was studying abroad at the University of Sydney, my friend Isaac from my program knew other Americans studying abroad nearby and we made plans to converge at Watson’s Bay, a popular island near the University. It was the first warm day we had seen in a while and we felt there would be no better place to spend it than at the beach. The crisp water, fish and chips by the shore and breezy ferry ride to and from the island made it was one of my favorite days abroad.
Growing up bilingual, I don’t remember learning to speak either English or Bengali. I don’t know if I learned the alphabet first or how I knew to tell the difference between the words for a lamp and a lightbulb or how the two languages differed phonetically from one another. I don’t know how I learned and I could surely not advise someone trying to acquire a new language.
Each time I walk into an airport I get scared–heart-pounding kind of scared. I get nervous about all the possible things that could go wrong, like losing my passport, missing my flight and the inevitability of forgetting a full water bottle in my bag before going through security. I also don’t have a ton of experience flying; I can count the number of airports I have been through on one hand. Despite these things, I have loved the idea of traveling since I was a little kid. As I get older I have wanted to see more of the United States (outside of the North East) and also to travel outside the United States. My choice to study abroad in Latin America and the Caribbean was an easy one. I have always been curious about my mother’s experience living in Colombia before she moved to the United States.
I did not grow up speaking Spanish, but my household was always full of the Spanish language. My aunts, uncles, brother and grandmother, all of whom were born and raised in Colombia, were always around. Because of this, learning Spanish has always been a goal. In an attempt to combine my Africana studies major with my desire to learn Spanish, I applied to study abroad at the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM) in Havana, Cuba. The program adopts a social justice framework for learning abroad. An integral component of the AUSM study abroad experience is the homestay with Cuban families, which was my favorite part of the whole experience.
After facing my fear and making the relatively short flight from Boston Logan International Airport to the José Martí International Airport in Havana, I was met by the director of the Cuban program Daisy Rojas who told me and my roommate, Essence, to follow her to a taxi outside. Essence and I were both wide-eyed during the short drive to the municipality Marianao, where we stayed for our whole trip. In Marianao, I met my host family. My host family was big. Not only did a lot of family members live in my house, but my host family was so popular that there was a constant influx of neighbors, relatives and hairstyling clients.
My host family consisted of nine people: grandparents Lidia and Ariel; their son Wilfredo and his partner Isver; Ariel and Lidia’s daughter, Mercedes, and her husband; along with their sons, Dariel and Liam, and Liam’s wife, Leidi. Almost every day I spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with my host family. At first, my roommate and I spoke minimal Spanish and although my host family was extremely welcoming, it was sometimes awkward not being able to communicate. I was encouraged every day to practice my Spanish, and eventually I was able to understand almost everything in my day-to-day conversations. After a couple of weeks, I truly felt like a member of the family. Not only would we eat meals together (the home-cooked meals were the best meals I had abroad) but we also watched TV together, walked along the streets in our city together, picked up groceries together, or just chatted about life and politics. Essence and I would often joke and say “Somos Cubanos!”, which means “We’re Cubans!”, to which the host family would reply “Somos Cubanos!”
My host family and I laughed together, cried together, danced together and celebrated birthdays together. We threw a send-off celebration for our host brother when he left to live in the United States and told stories about our lives. Although it is difficult to describe in a short post how much my Cuban family meant to me, I am certain that they are some of the biggest-hearted and hardest working people I have met. They are always there for each other, their neighbors, American students and whoever else happens upon their house on 100 and 61st Street. Leaving my host family, without knowing for certain when I can return, was difficult, to say the least, but I now feel that Soy Cubana (I am Cuban) and I can't wait to travel back soon.
Left to Right: Wilfredo, Isver, Leidi, Chino, Merci, my dad Charlie, my mom Martha, Me, Essence, Lidia, and Ariel
When I first came to Conn, I thought I was going to double major in theater and psychology. I love acting, wanted to understand how people worked to better inform my characters, and most of all wanted to bring those two passions together.
Last semester was the first time in two years that I spent the fall months away from Connecticut College. I was anxious to embark on a new adventure but nonetheless ecstatic to explore a new country and schooling system at the University of Sydney. My semester was atypical from the start—I left for my semester abroad on July 19 and returned November 18. A typical fall semester at Conn begins in late August and ends in the third week of December. When I returned from Australia, my peers back at Conn were still engaged in their studies. I had some time to reflect and anticipate what was ahead of me. It was not easy to return from studying abroad. Life had gone on and people expected me to be the same, but I wasn't. My transition period from Conn to the University of Sydney exemplified and elucidated the ways I changed and the things I missed.
Sitting on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, I was frustrated, tired and jetlagged. I had been traveling for nearly 27 hours and plane food has never cheered me up. I was heading back to Conn after one month of winter break and my plane had been diverted to Philadelphia because of the winter storm. I was supposed to land at JFK by 8:30 a.m. and catch the Flying Camel (the College bus between JFK International Airport and Conn) at 1 p.m. It was now 11 a.m. Would I even make it?
When I was packing to move from Bangladesh to Connecticut College, I mentally prepared myself to choose classes for my first semester, make new friends, be a good roommate and most importantly, adjust to a new country. I arrived at Conn and these four things happened smoothly with minimal bumps. I thought I was doing great at this “being an adult” thing. I even boasted about it to my mom.
Unfortunately, the saying that “pride comes before the fall” is true. In my fifth week at Conn, I got an email from Student Health Services (SHS) stating that I needed to get a Tuberculosis (TB) test because Bangladesh was still considered to be on the list of countries with TB prevalence. Now, I had no problem going in and doing a test. But then I saw that it was actually a blood test they wanted me to do instead of the usual skin test that TB required. I remember frantically rereading the email and telling my roommate in Bengali about my fear of needles, which she obviously didn’t understand. But my panicked speech in a foreign language helped her comprehend my intense phobia. After much reassurance from her and after my mom laughed at my fears via WhatsApp, a free call/messaging app that I would recommend for all international students, I called SHS to schedule my appointment. On the day of the actual blood draw, I forced myself to sit in the chair with encouragement from my friend Anne and my roommate. All in all, it was my worst moment at Conn but I’m proud of myself for not fainting. This was my first proper step into the world of ‘adulting.’
Four other adulting moments I’ve experienced in the last two months:
Fall Weekend is Conn’s version of a parents weekend, homecoming and alumni reunion rolled into one. It’s the most recently graduated class’s half-year reunion and it’s the first weekend parents of first-years can come and experience Conn without the stress of Move-In Day. However, what happens when your mother lives a 24-hour plane ride away?
Many news articles told me that culture shock has four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. I think I skipped over the first two, disregarded the last two and created my own label: panic. I knew it was coming. But I thought I would be able to handle it as I had already lived in an international boarding school in Swaziland for two years.
Studying away in Vienna was my first experience living in a big city. Although it’s among the world’s most livable cities, I often found getting out of Vienna satisfying and part of what makes it livable. I chose to study away at IES Abroad’s Vienna Center in part because of the great musical and cultural offerings, but also for a personal reason: I am half-German and grew up in a bilingual German-English speaking household. My family regularly vacations in Bavaria and Austria with the German-side of my family. Given my familiarity with German-speaking areas, I wanted to make my travel experience more than the stereotypical city-hopping on budget airline flights every weekend. On days off I would take a train an hour or two outside the city just to explore a new town.
Maryum Qasim '20 is an international student from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She is an International Relations major on a pre-law track and is also a CISLA scholar. Maryum is the Student Government Association's Chair of Equity and Inclusion and is also an executive board member of the Muslim Student Association.
Little did I know that a research paper for my first-year law class taught by professor Peter Mitchell would eventually take me to the tribal areas of Waziristan, a military controlled drone warzone cut off from the rest of developed Pakistan. My primary research paper for the class explored the legality of the employment of drones. I felt so passionately about the subject that when I became a scholar with the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) I decided to conduct my senior project on it. My CISLA project, guided by former CISLA Director and Professor of History Marc R. Forster, aimed to explore the psychological impacts of drone strikes on young adults. This summer I was awarded the Stephen and Pamela Rearden '67 Travel Fellowship to conduct research in Pakistan on the psychological impacts of drones for my project. I arrived in Bannu, a city about 200 kilometers away from the military-controlled areas of Waziristan. These areas are highly secured with multiple military check posts monitoring any and all movements in and out. Due to security concerns, I decided to stay in Bannu to meet my point of contact Farooq Mehsud, a local journalist from North Waziristan. Mehsud coordinated interviews for me with other journalists and university/college students in Bannu.
Jai Gohain '19 is an international student from Kolkata, India. He is a classical studies major, with minors in dance and mathematics. He is also a member of the Connecticut College Dance Club and Connecticut College men's rugby team.
No puedo hablar español fluido porque mi madre no me enseñó. (I can not speak Spanish fluently because my mother never taught me). My mom and her entire family are from Bogotá, Colombia, which means that half of my family speaks Spanish (some only speak Spanish). Meanwhile, I only speak English. All through middle school and high school, I tried to learn Spanish to be able to communicate with my family but I never became proficient. That's why I was excited to learn about The Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, lovingly referred to as ‘CISLA’, at Conn. CISLA is one of the five academic centers on campus; it focuses on the globalization of citizenship through language fluency and study abroad opportunities.
It wasn’t a hard decision to study abroad. I always knew that I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking place at some point in my life. I also always knew that I wanted the chance to explore Europe while I was still an undergrad and the severity of life’s responsibilities were not yet going to deter me from traveling around for four months. Conn’s study away options are plentiful, so I had many different choices. But, when it came down to it, I was drawn to Barcelona, Spain.
On the morning of Feb. 10, I awoke with nerves the size of the Boeing 777 plane I was about to board. My fears might have been large enough to hold me back, but now I see that my plane-sized anxiety came from fearing the unknown. That day, I left for a four-month semester abroad in Haifa, Israel. It did not occur to me then that spending time away from Conn would be an opportunity to grow in ways I had not imagined.