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On Accents and Speaking a Foreign Language

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Have you ever felt frustrated when nobody understood you or slightly annoyed when someone made fun of you because of your accent? I have seen that frustration among my international friends. Sometimes I experience it with refugee clients of mine in my current social work internship. And yes, I have been there myself as a foreign student. Not only are we asked to adapt to a different culture and academic system, we have to master our conversing in a foreign language in a way that people understand us. My self-consciousness about my accent and way of speaking got me to the point that I would fear doing presentations in front of the class.

How did I overcome that anxiety? For one, I often asked myself why there should be a subtle emphasis on conforming to one unique way of pronouncing and speaking in a foreign language. Wouldn't it actually be boring if we as international students all spoke the same way in a foreign language? Instead we should embrace our way of speaking because our accent and culture make us who we are. Why should we deny something that is part of us and makes us unique?
To give you a personal example, it was a running gag among my best American friends for some time I that I couldn't pronounce the word squirrel. My friends helped me realize that I shouldn't take the pronunciation matter so seriously and instead take it with a sense of humor. Eventually, I laughed with my friends whenever they were amused about my accent because my pronunciation mishaps made them happy. After all, I was there to learn a new language and making mistakes during the learning process is normal. Moreover, learning and speaking a foreign language should be fun and never a chore.

I also realized that in the end I shouldn't focus so much on my accent, but on the overall message I want to get across in my communication. This important point is best summarized in an essay by Chinua Achebe about African authors writing in a foreign language: "So my answer to the question: Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it like a native speaker? I should say, I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience." Consequently, always keep in mind that there is diversity in the English language of how you can communicate and express yourself.

Now I am not saying that we as international students shouldn't improve our English proficiency or if we want to work on our public speaking skills, by all means, we should all go ahead and seek out opportunities to do so. I remember an important lesson from a French teacher at my German high school that one of the key parts about learning a new language successfully is the courage to speak and practice it with others in public. We have a great German saying for that: "Uebung macht den Meister (A master arrives where he is at through exercise)."

But if you are still in doubt about yourself and your way of speaking, then please stop for a moment and give yourself a pat on the back. We all need to remind ourselves that we are making an effort in speaking another person's language in order to communicate with them. It says a lot about us that we are putting a lot of work into learning other people's languages and cultures, it reveals that we care deeply about communicating with the people in the host country and that we respect their language and culture. So...never forget this.

This is all from me today. Embrace the opportunity to learn and converse in a new language, make it a fun experience and laugh about your mistakes because they make you human. Also, please do me a favor and check out the following clip, you may or may not have walked in this guy's shoes before. Bis demnaechst und haltet die Ohren steif, my friends.

Dedicated to Dr. J., all of my international friends and all international students

Unique Places in Minneapolis

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Hola a todos! We have been talking about things regarding to the U of M. This time I will introduce you with some of my favorite spots in Minneapolis and some info that could be helpful. Since winter is coming and my mood is shifting with the rhythm of the cold, I decided to remember all the places I find unique here. When you have time, you should definitely check them out.

1. If you are in the mood for a cultural vibe, go to Walker Art Center: This museum located on Hennepin Avenue is one of the most important cultural attractions in Minneapolis. The architecture is exceptional. If you go on Thursday you can get in for free. Here's the link http://www.walkerart.org/

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2. If you want to read, or grade surrounded by different kind of people you should go a coffee shop located in Uptown called 'Spyhouse'. You will find independent music, a tasty coffee, mocha, latte and so on. At the same time you'll see a lot of students doing the same thing like you do, so you will feel related, connected, linked, associated to them. If you want more information here's the link http://spyhousecoffee.com/


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3. One expensive but interesting place in Minneapolis is Guthrie Theater if you want to see a play that you'll remember for a long time. This place will let you see the Mississippi river from an exceptional yellow lens. The performances at the Guthrie are qualified and outstanding. Save some of your money and go to check one of their productions once in a while. I just got a Facebook comment from a college who literally says that Guthrie has student discounts and/or rush tickets (cheaper tickets, if you get them a few hours before a performance). Find out http://www.guthrietheater.org/


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4. If you want to go to a 'college' pseudo-cultural club you can go to Kitty Cat Klub, which is a place really close to the U. You will see local bands and you can try decent drinks. The decoration of the place is attractive. You can give it a try on Fridays after class to relax your busy mind. Website http://www.kittycatklub.net/


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Enjoy and let me know what do you think. Hasta la próxima!

An Ambassador's perspective on the presidential elections

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Everything got quiet suddenly with everyone seeming to hold their breath. We were tightly packed together in a gym hall with blue signs of "Hope" and "Change we can believe" flaring across the crowd. Then out of the speakers blasted U2's song "City of Blinding Lights" and the crowd of students and community members erupted into a jubilant choir of cheers upon his arrival: Barack Obama.

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Back in February of 2008 I had the opportunity to hear Obama speak during his campaign trail for the Presidency. It was a surreal, cool event to see a charismatic political figure give an eloquent speech only several meters away from you. Of course, one couldn't help but being taken in by the crowd's passion along with Obama's charisma, charm, humor and outstanding oratory skills. At the end of his speech Obama made the rounds toward the crowd and fortunately, I had the chance to shake his hand twice (I still enjoy bragging about it to my American friends :)). To this day I think that that was one of the coolest events in my college career.

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In my 6 years of being here I had the privilege to witness two presidential elections. Overall, I have always found the time of elections here very interesting, in particular when it comes to the expression of preference for a candidate. It's not like every day that you suddenly see yard signs with political slogans or candidates' names decorating peoples' front lawns and properties. Whenever you drive or walk through the streets you can't help but noticing the multitude of bumper stickers glaring at you from passing cars. In addition, it's a time when you can encounter many political ads in social media, TV and radio and it's always fun to see how creative both campaigns tend to get with their messages.

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Apart from the candidates and slogans, I also enjoy the effects that the elections have on the people. One thing I have always appreciated deeply about the elections is the amount of passion and energy that is emanated from campaign volunteers, mostly consisting of students and community members. Often you see them on campus or in the community, spending countless, unpaid hours handing out literature or encouraging fellow citizens to register and vote in the elections. Back In 2008 I volunteered along some of them to knock on people's doors to remind them and obtain their pledge to vote in the election. It was a great feeling to do something for the common good with other Americans.


One may wonder then why as an international student who can't vote in this country I care about the elections here. For one, it's the fact that the selection of the next president will also affect the relationship with the leaders of my country and will have an impact on foreign policy in general. More so, I come from a household where being informed and having discussions about politics is important. Consequently, I enjoy hearing peoples' opinions and take on the politics that occur in their country. I remember having some of the best, profound conversations about politics with American friends of mine because they often asked for my opinions and views on the elections. Sometimes these conversations could become heated and emotional when disagreements occurred. But with all fruitful and healthy debates, we could all agree at the end of day to respect each other's' opinions and appreciate the opportunities for an enlightening discussion with insight into another person's beliefs.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that if you have a chance to talk politics with people here don't hesitate to do so because it's a great way to explore people's passions and beliefs. My experience has always been that they also like to hear a foreign perspective on their elections or on politics in general. And if you have the chance to see a politician or candidate speak, don't hesitate to do so because it can be another insightful American experience for you. Make sure to check the news on Tuesday because it's probably going to be one of the tightest and most exciting elections in U.S. history. Until next time, my dear friends.

College is not always about attending lectures, sitting in class, doing your homework or assignments and getting good grades. College is the time when you can do other neat and cool stuff like join student groups, participate in projects and join competitions which is what I am doing now. At the end of last spring my classmate asked if I wanted to join a student group called Tesla Works and without hesitation I said yes.

Tesla Works is a project based student group and is a diverse group of people from different educational backgrounds: physics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, architecture, aerospace engineering, design, chemical engineering and a lot more. This group of diverse students work on different projects that stimulates creativity and innovation.

I am currently working on a project called the Barbershop Quartet, which is a four animatronic bust figure of President Kaler that sings like a quartet. I chose to join this project because I would like to learn more about how animatronics work and get involved in sculpting the busts (which is fun for me since I am into arts and craft). Projects such as this, where interactions and convergence of different disciplines is what I am interested in and is always a good place to learn more about other things aside from you major and get hands on experience.

Personally, I think getting involved in activities such as this is really important if you are an international student. One of my purpose of studying here is to get to know more American students and learn how to socialize with them. If you are studying in abroad you might as well dive in to the culture and mingle with the locals. This way it will broaden your mind and will definitely change your perspective of the American stereotype. So for you new international students out there, I encourage you to get involved in student groups and other form of campus organizations as soon as possible! Arya out!

What I did not know about MN before coming here..

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Here are the top 10 things I did not know about Minnesota before coming here!

10 - Minnesota's capital is not Minneapolis, but Saint Paul
9 - Bob Dylan was born in Duluth - I did my undergraduate studies in Duluth!
8 - Phở = best soup ever!
7 - Bubble tea = best fun tea ever!
6 - The weather ... Let's be honest... oh, and driving in the snow!
5 - The variety of foods and vibrant cultures in the Twin Cities
4 - Our mascot, Goldy, is not a squirrel nor a beaver... but a gopher
3 - Football and FUTBOL, ehem, are not the same sports...
2 - People have a hard time understanding that I am from Argentina.... hmmm... looks may be deceiving here....
1- In MN and all other states, when you have a "STOP" sign, you actually have to stop. Looking both sides of the street while driving through a STOP sign and blinking your lights may not be the smartest idea (thanks Dad.....^.^)

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra!

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This weekend I went to the Ordway center for performing arts!We were invited by a couple of friends.We attended a concert and I really liked the performance.Since I am in the middle of my assignments,I will keep my blog as short as possible,however I would like to share something interesting with you.As you know the routine ticket price for the shows is around $40,it may not be a good option for those interested.I found about this great option:

http://www.thespco.org/concerts-tickets/club2030

If you are 18-39 year of age,you can sign up for the club 2030,and receive coupon codes which will allow you to buy the concert tickets(for unto two people)for $10.Isnt that great?This season some great artists are coming to St.Paul.Even if you don't want to be a frequent visitor,I must insist you all must experience this live music experience once.Let me know how it goes:)

Take care

Boo! Halloween is right around the corner...

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Boo! Did I scare you? Probably not...

I was trying to figure out an interesting topic to write on, as I was reading the other ambassadors' very interesting blogs.

I was driving the other day, and noticed that many houses already put their Halloween and pumpkin lights on their front yards, and it made me realize that Halloween is right around the corner!

But what is Halloween you may ask? Before I came to the U.S., my concept of halloween was based upon what I had seen in the movies, as we only celebrated All Souls' Day.

The only time I dressed up for Halloween, I ended up looking like this...I was supposed to be a (very scary) Oompa Loompa!

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Still don't know what Halloween is? Halloween is celebrated every year on October 31st, and includes trick-or-treating for children (and even adults!), costume parties and carving pumpkins. Of course, you do not need to dress up, but it is so much fun to see everybody in their creative costumes! I heard someone saw someone dressed up in a pacman costume being chased by the pacman game ghosts down the street one time!

I found this very funny comic regarding Halloween ... and maybe Thanksgiving!

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Do you have questions about life at the University of Minnesota? Click on here to contact any ambassador!

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Calling all students! We want to tell you about an exciting opportunity to explore more of Minnesota. Do camping, canoeing, campfires under the stars, making great new friends, and going to see new places sound fun to you? If so, ISSS invites you to join our Wilderness Week program to northern Minnesota.

Dates are August 18-22, 2011. This will be a great chance to meet students from all over the world. All international and US students (new and returning) are eligible. This is your chance to try (or try again) canoeing, hiking and camping in Minnesota! Enjoy campfires, stories, and time to meet new friends before the semester begins.

The cost of the trip is $395.00 per person. This price includes transportation, meals, group equipment, and guides.

For information email isssww@umn.edu, visit http://isss.umn.edu/programs/wildernessweek/ or call 612-626-7100.

Don't delay and miss your chance! When we talk with graduating students about what they wish they had done while at the U, exploring other areas of Minnesota and especially nature are top on the list.

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Homesick? No, I have USsick!

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Spring has come here in Minnesota!

I am happy and excited but simultaneously have complicated feeling, because Spring means it's almost the time to leave here for me. I will miss my life in the University of Minnesota...

1 year and 8 months passed unbelievably quickly, and I have only several months to stay here. I had not thought that, but actually I feel, "I don't want to go back to Japan yet!"

Wait, I still love Japan. But I have too many reasons that try not to let me go .


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My Life in "Minnesota Cold"

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Happy New Semester, readers!

Spring semester 2011 is here! I'm happy to come back to this blog.

Actually, this is the busiest semester for me ever, but I'm doing pretty good. A lot of study, work, but many fun events as well. Are you wondering how come that I enjoy the winter in "Minnesota Cold"?

Here is what's going on here... :)

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