University of Minnesota Morris

Academic Center for Enrichment

February 16, 2014

Perceptions of Immigrants

I had an important realization about the situation of foreigners and their experiences in dealing with the native culture.

Earlier today, on my way to the grocery store, I saw a lone stroller lined up along the bike racks outside of a local restaurant. The weather is relatively mild around this time of year in Oslo, but it certainly does not make good conditions for an exposed infant. With no one nearby, a thousand thoughts immediately rushed into my head regarding my role in the situation: "If an infant is in the stroller, should I go into the restaurant and ask to whom is belongs?" "Is my Norwegian good enough to communicate that I am looking for the guardians of the baby I'm holding?" As I was walking over to check on the stroller, I started worrying about whether I would need to contact authorities. "Will I sour the mood with the police by requesting they speak to me in English?" "How will I appear to others walking into my dormitory with an infant?" "If I'm approached, will my difficulties with Norwegian lead to me being misunderstood, perhaps even considered a kidnapper?" As I was approaching the stroller, I felt a hesitation that I never expected. I am going to help a child that might be in danger. Why should I hesitate?  

No infant was in the stroller. I was relieved that this was likely just the solution of some restaurant patrons of what to do with a bulky stroller and that the infant was warm inside the building. However, I was also relieved because I wouldn't be forced into a situation where my foreigner status might work disastrously against me. This experience made me realize how foreigners might be misunderstood in native cultures for being hesitant to help in these sorts of situations. I was aware of the gaps in my understanding of the culture and the language, and I feared that by trying to help an infant find its guardian(s) that I might make the situation worse for the infant and for myself. This apprehension to help others might in other contexts be perceived as coldness, inappropriate reticence, or even hostility. Importantly, I was experiencing this apprehension as a Scandinavian-looking white person in Oslo; I can only imagine how much more hesitation a black immigrant from Uganda might feel in this circumstance.

I walked back into my dorm feeling much more empathy toward the immigrants in my home country. The large influx if Hispanic expatriates in the USA likely experience similar issues, especially if they have a limited grasp of English. Indeed, considering the monolingualism of many US citizens, there may not be a common language between the immigrant and the native. It is easy to criticize the Hispanic immigrant for ignoring an injured man on the street when natives flock to his aid. The immigrant, though, could very well fear that their intentions would be misconstrued and that they might make a bad situation worse, especially if the language barrier is strong.

I am a stranger in a strange land. I am of course familiarizing myself with the culture and feeling more welcome every day. However, the experience of being an immigrant is a unique one, and I intend to take the lessons I learn as an immigrant back with me.

February 11, 2014

Full Year?

February 11, 2014

I knew that studying abroad for a full year would be a much different experience than just a semester. While I'm glad I chose to be at the University of Glasgow for a full academic term, it has come with its new experiences and drawbacks that has challenged me yet again to be adaptable to change. 

Over my winter break I was able to go back home to Minnesota, however, I wanted to spend New Year's in Glasgow, so sadly, I was only home for 6 days. When I returned to Scotland I celebrated the New Years with a friend and then almost immediately after that I traveled up north to the Orkney Islands. I barely had any downtime during my winter break, and it seems as though this entire year I will not get to enjoy that luxury. 
When I arrived back in Glasgow to start up the new term, I had gotten a new roommate, who, to my surprise, happened to be a fellow Minnesotan. Classes started almost immediately and I started cracking down with my studies, as my impending 9 exams and 60 page portfolio in May are closing in. 

I have been told that I am quite adaptable, and thankfully, I think I am, otherwise this semester would be a lot harder. For example, when I started my study abroad experience in September, it seemed as though I immediately had friends, throughout the semester the same people I met in the beginning had become my core group of friends that I did almost everything with. Most of them were only studying abroad for the one semester. So, I knew that at the beginning of second term I would have to face change yet again and make new friends. The experience of making new friends in a city that you feel is home is interesting and worthwhile, but it can also be exhausting. (However, I blame most of my exhaustion on studying relentlessly, pouring over textbooks that are just "suggested reading").

I am missing home much more this semester than last semester, I miss UMM and the teaching and learning styles. Honestly, what I think I miss most though is Briggs library where I used to spend hours everyday. I never thought I would say that. :)
To anyone reading this who is struggling between studying abroad for a full year or a semester, let me try to give you some pointers from my own experiences.
1. Studying abroad for a full year is definitely worth it-
2. Studying abroad for a semester is definitely worth it-
As someone who is only taking psychology (my major) classes in her time abroad-that's 12 psych classes for me- I would never recommend that because that means 12 exams, most in the period of 1 month:
3. Choose your classes wisely no matter how long you're there for-
4. You will make friends, if you try, no matter if you're there all year or either semester-

I have come to some conclusion that my two semesters here are going to be entirely different experiences of study abroad, and when I eventually come to the end of my time here, I will think of them as separate, yet cohesive, parts of my life.
I know when I conclude my time here I will have even more advice. I just wanted to put some of my reflections and thoughts down now. I am going to get back to reading my wonderful Physiological Psychology textbook. 
Cheers!

-Rachael Blais

December 8, 2013

Friendships

December 8th, 2013

While my first semester is winding down here at the University of Glasgow, I have become more and more frantic about my friendships I have made here. That may seem odd, however, my life here has granted me the opportunity to meet other wonderful study abroad students, and be that as it may, many of my friends happen to also be American. Most of them are only here for the one semester, and so my journey to meet new people will begin all over again come January. 

I have loved being able to get to know other international students, whether they are study abroad or full time students, because they know exactly what I am experiencing during my time abroad. They have also been great companions on trips and journeys exploring Glasgow and different towns and countries.

It's a little odd to not have many Scottish/British friends, however, but I have pondered the reasons. 1. The University of Glasgow has literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of international students. It has become very common for me to be in a class of 50, and half of them being international students. 2. I am taking level 3 and 4 courses in Psychology, most students already have friend groups, they are no longer freshers and are less apt to finding new friends as their last years wrap up. 

I said from the beginning I would try to make friends with whomever came my way, whether it be other Americans (even some Minnesotans), other international students, or British students. I am so grateful for all the people that I have met and became close with, and am looking forward to, and a little reluctant to, meeting new study abroad students and making new friends next semester. 

On an earlier post, I mentioned that I have not felt the effects of the "W-Curve." I still haven't really! I only have 2 exams this December, which may not seem like much. Looking into spring semester, I have 9 exams and a 60 page portfolio- how's that for different from Morris? 
I feel that once spring semester begins, I will  be in a whole new whirlwind of my study abroad experience.

-Rachael Blais

November 6, 2013

Keeping in Contact

November 6, 2013

During my 2 months here in Glasgow, I realized that I was not phoning/emailing home as much as I should have been. The experiences that I have been having here are wonderful and amazing, but they take up most of my thoughts. A little advice for anyone planning on studying abroad- when you email or phone home, don't just talk about yourself and your experiences. Yes, your family will of course want to hear about them, but keep it to the really important things you want to tell them, otherwise your family may feel entirely disconnected from you.

On to other news, Scotland is a great place to travel to. I've been to so many different places while I have been here, including: Loch Lomond, Glen Coe, Isle of Skye, Loch Ness and Inverness, just to name a few. These places are all in the highlands of Scotland, and the beauty of it is hard to put in words-so I'll post some pictures. 

It's called Study Abroad for a reason. Yes, the obvious reason is that you are studying somewhere other than your home University. The other reason is that while you are studying, you can also travel around. I get to travel around Scotland, the UK, and Europe. I am taking full advantage of my time here because I will never be able to afford this again. Plus, most of my friends that I have made here also want to travel, which can make everything even more fun. University life in Scotland is a lot different than the U.S. I get a lot of free time on my hands, while I continue to attend my lectures and finish my readings, I also have a lot of time to take day trips and explore the city. Another piece of advice: take advantage of the country that you are living in, there are so many sites to explore there instead of galavanting off into different places.

-Rachael Blais

September 30, 2013

Waiting for that W-Curve

30th of September, 2013

It has been a full three weeks since I have moved to Glasgow, and unsurprisingly, I'm still having loads of fun experiencing the differences between Scotland and the United States. 

As a third year study abroad student, I have found it rather difficult to make friends with local students. I have made quite a few other study abroad friends because we are all going through similar transitions. A word of advice on my part, however, is to make friends with anyone/everyone that comes around. Even though most of the people I have met happen to be American, there are still many cultural aspects I am learning through and with them. Since it has only been three weeks, and I have high hopes of meeting local and more international students throughout my year here. 

I am (gladly) still waiting for the ominous W-Curve slope to set in, but I don't think it'll happen until the holidays! Getting involved is the best way to transition oneself into any university, and thankfully I have gotten involved with the University's feminist society, but if I didn't have something to go to to meet new people, I think I would be sitting in my dorm, not quite sure what to do with myself. 

The University of Glasgow hosts what is known as fresher's week every year, where new international students and first year students can get to know the life on campus and in Glasgow, as well as have many opportunities to meet people. To keep it short, my favorite events have been a headphone disco-where everyone is given a pair of headphones and can switch between two DJ's all night. Most of all, I have enjoyed going to a couple of Ceilidhs (kay-lay's), in which we were taught how to dance traditional Scottish dances, usually with a partner and in groups. They have been some of the best nights I have had in Scotland. 
The nightlife is incredibly different than my time at Morris, and it is definitely (semi)encouraged.

Since I am majoring in Psychology, and still want to be able to graduate in four years, I decided to take, full-on, psychology courses at both levels 3 and 4. I have met very few other study abroad students doing similar. To compare to UMM, my course schedule is very different. I am only taking three classes for the first five weeks of my semester, all 2 hour lectures, and then I take another three classes for the last half of the semester. On top of that, most of my grades are based on my end of term exams; meaning that most of my learning is independent.
 
I think an important note for anyone studying abroad, and college in general, is learning how to balance out social time with academic time. One of the reasons I chose the University of Glasgow is because I wanted to see how Psychology differs in the U.S. and the U.K.; which I will delve into later on. On top of that, though, was to make connections with people I would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. So far, I am enjoying both aspects! 


-Rachael Blais

September 10, 2013

Initial Reaction

10th of September, 2013

This year I am studying abroad at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I have only been here roughly 3 days, but so far I have been having a great time. It is an experience in itself when people from all over the U.S. get together and talk about culture. I went out with about 5 people-all American study-abroad students- on my second night in the city, and after a while we ran out of things to talk about. Somehow, we got on to the topic of what are appropriate reactions and sayings in Scotland. One kid even asked how are we to respond when someone says "cheers." Since we were all from different parts of the state we all had different answers, from saying nothing to giggling or giving a response. While none of us really know yet, in due time we will, an may possibly even be saying "cheers" ourselves. 

Some things I've noticed in my incredibly short time in Glasgow:

1. Sometimes, when conversing with the locals, it can be extremely hard to understand their English, the accent in Glasgow is very thick; however, almost everyone I've met have been extremely accommodating in slowing down when they talk. It's a very sociable city.

2. About half of the study abroad students are American, that's 250.  I am overwhelmed by the number of people I am meeting, but it's easy to make friends just walking down the street. As someone said during my orientation, "all of you have a stamp on your forehead that says you are a tourist/(American)." It's easy to spot the other study abroad kids, because they are just as lost as I am!

3. The nightlife/pub scene is unreal...even on Sundays.

The University of Glasgow, as confusing as registration was/is, I am so excited to start my  psychology classes and actually begin classes; but first, I have two weeks of orientation, this week is international student orientation and next is Fresher's week. 
I am excited to learn about Scottish culture, and even though I haven't met any Scottish students, I am overjoyed that I have been able to find comfort in fellow Americans and other study abroad students who just want to meet people and make friends.

Cheers!
-Rachael Blais

September 4, 2013

Perspective and Paradigm

September 4, 2013
     One of the most valuable gifts granted to me in my time in Norway so far is the expanded perspective. It's platitude to say that the world is much greater than most of us realize and that "broadening one's horizons" is very enlightening. Similarly, it is trite to respond that one does not realize how important gaining perspective is until they experience it for themselves. However, experiencing the new culture, the new ways, the new people, the new ideas for myself, subjectively, brings about an understanding that I have never quite felt before.
     This became the most apparent in my Psychology of Religion course yesterday. I grouped myself with some fellow students who will present on religious fundamentalism and its psychological underpinnings. Our conversation abstractly enough, but when the (European) group members started giving concrete examples of fundamentalism, every one that they gave was of Islamic fundamentalism. I thought that certainly we would be covering Christian fundamentalism first and foremost, as this sort of tradition is the one I am familiar with back in the US. When I brought up the Christian side of fundamentalism, the group members were really excited to hear my perspective, eager to learn information about Christianity that I considered obvious. As clueless as I am of Islamic fundamentalism, they are the same of Christian fundamentalism. This made me realize just how disparate our formative years in our cultures must have been in order for such different paradigms to develop.
     I am finding myself more sensitive now to the subtler differences between this culture and my native one, especially the small differences in acculturation that yield such different perspectives in our adult lives. It is my hope that this experience is only the tip of the iceberg in my cultural training. I hope, of course, but it is more to say that I will act.
     And I certainly intend to act.

August 20, 2013

Academia, Near and Far

August 20th, 2013
     The first couple of weeks in Norway have been kind of tough (especially with the recent bedbug outbreak in my apartment), but being in a culture not unlike but so far removed from my own has given me a much different perspective on the way that nations relate to each other. The vast majority of international students, surprise surprise, do not come from the United States. Most do not even come from countries where English is the predominate language. While English has been a comfortable safety net much of the time, I am thankfully becoming more reliant on speaking Norwegian, the common language that many of us aspire to learn.
     The class structure at UiO is peculiar but not entirely foreign. Of my three courses, one started yesterday and ends early October, one does not start until September, and the other has a day-long lab on Wednesdays (though the actual labtime we are expected to use ranges from one to three hours). This university also expects a lot of independent learning from students which, while similar to the goals of the University of Minnesota Morris, makes me feel that there is a distance between student and professor and student not present at Morris. The huge student body probably also factors heavily into this, though. Either way, I don't think I'm going to be invited to a barbeque at the local ethicist's house in my time here (and not for lack of trying).
     I took another long walk through Bjerke today and snagged some really good pictures. I'm pretty sure I'm the number one bird harasser in Oslo at this point, and the courts have plenty of photographic evidence to convict me.

---

     Fugler er så pen her. Jeg tror at deres skjønnhet er på grunn av den unike urbane område samt deres fremmenhet til meg. Også, graffiti her er like pen som i USA. Jeg liker ikke vandalisme, men jeg liker kunst av by.

IKEA, Here and There

August 8th, 2013
     "Bruised and sullen stormclouds have the light of day obscured." - Rush
     It's been cloudy and rainy since I got to Norway. The rain has not been too oppressive; only sudden, light spurts here and there. Still, I really want to get out and take some pictures of the city in the sunlight. Gray does not lend itself well to showing off Oslo.
     It's my third day here, and I'm feeling much better situated. I've also come to a bit of a realization; though I felt pretty miserable and lonely my first few days here, the feeling was not nearly as bad as I would expect from being a world away from everything familiar. It might help that Norwegian culture is not drastically different from Minnesotan culture, but I feel a sense of worldly confidence developing already, that I will be able to survive no matter where I end up. It's still much too early to say if this feeling is warranted, but for the sake of self-fulfilling prophecy, I like to think that the feeling is justified.

---
     Alltid var jeg så nær hjemmet. Ingen mer. Jo, jeg håper som jeg kan lage et nyt hjem her. Det skal være vanskelig, men jeg vet som jeg kan gjøre det.

Small Beginnings

August 7th, 2013
     Confident but confused, I step off the plane into Norway yesterday. The trip to Oslo, itself, was fairly simple. The Flytoget system is very straightforward, and I got my student discount. The rest of the day, however, was pretty exhausting. I ran myself ragged moving nearly 100 lbs of luggage around the city for four hours, and I don't think the anxious sweat smell will ever leave that outfit. Nevertheless, I am now settled into a reasonable (though not ideal) apartment in Bjerke Studenthjem and am fending for myself pretty well. A residence change might be coming in the near future, but I think I could learn to deal with where I am living now. Also, I bought over a week's worth of food for less than $50/300NKR, an excellent deal given what I've heard about the cost of living here. I'm not worried much about the food situation.
     It seems the rumors are true: Norwegians are taller than most America-folk. Luckily, compared to the average American, my shoulders are broader than the natives are tall, so I don't look like too much of a meek little foreigner. A good number of other international students are living in Bjerke, so I don't feel so alone in my loneliness. My neighbor is also very nice and has offered me a lot of advice on cheap food and transportation around the city. She's been a life-saver.
     Yesterday was a tough first day, but things have gotten easier. Tomorrow I will be shopping for bed furnishings for my stark bed and curtains to make up for the lack of privacy in my first floor apartment. I will also get a renewed-monthly travel card to deal with all the intra-city transportation. It should be a good day.

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     Jeg håper som jeg kan finde en bilige kort på Jernebarnetoget. Jeg er student, så jeg må gør noe. Jeg vet ikke hva jeg skal gjør. Også, I håper IKEA er bilig. Min penge er bra, men jeg vil gjerne ikke kjørpe mye.

Hopes for the Future

August 4th, 2013
     An unintended word of caution was sent to me earlier today by my father in the form of the following <a href="http://youtu.be/e0FHpkiioXs">video</a>.
     In the video, a group of international students attending UiO finds difficulty in branching outside of their circle of foreigner friends. While the students express their love of the nation and its culture, the video ends on a more doleful note with the main narrator expressing his regret of not immersing himself more fully into the culture.
     It was not until I finished the video that I realized how strongly I want to avoid this trap. I intend Norway to be a transition for me, some journey of self-actualization with me coming out the other side a fuller, better person. I anticipate that I will be unable to do this if I lock myself into the comfort zone to which the students in the video had fallen prey. While I certainly understand the importance of a safe haven abroad, especially with the looming threat of culture shock in the coming weeks, I don't want to lose myself in the succor of the familiar. I need to explore. I will explore.
     One of the major failures mentioned in the video is the poor language skills of the main student. In the past six months, I have done my best to learn the language, and I hope that my current (growing) knowledge will be a sufficient baseline to experiencing Norway.
     These tiny revelations have steeled my resolve to making the most of my days in Oslo preceding my first semester at UiO. One of the ways I will make due on this promise will be to familiarize myself as much as possible with the local supermarkets, particularly the grocers and butchers who work near Bjerke (jeg kan ikke spiese karbohydrater, dere vet). It's my hope that my initiative to meet and befriend some of the locals will make them more sympathetic to the gaps in my understanding of the language. In Norway, I will do my best to use Norwegian as my default over English, and I beg the patience of native speakers and foreign, more skilled speakers alike in my coming to understand this new culture.

     (Note: At the end of each blog post, I will attempt to express what I am feeling using only the Norwegian that I know. I will not to look up any words or grammar until after I am complete. Also, I will not correct what I have written in earlier posts so that I will have a record of my progress in learning the language.)

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     Jeg er lit tret alrede, men jeg vil gjerne jobbe veldig hardt å studere den norske språk. Jeg må ikke gleme som jeg kan gjør dette. Jeg snakker norsk bedre den jeg shreibe den språk, men jeg vil bli bedre på beide i futur.
---

     This week, I've done okay in expressing my thoughts, but I'm starting to realize how different Norwegian is from its distant cousin, German. I noticed when writing that, when I was unsure of a word, I would search back into my understanding of German in the hopes of finding some cognate. It turns out that "schreiben" and "Futur" do not have Norwegian cognates. A few other errors litter this short piece, but I'm content with how this turned out.

April 21, 2012

Todo es Posible en Granada

¡Buenos Días!
Today I have a small story of inspiration, and I want to write it down, but I'm not in the mood to sit on my computer so it's going to be short, sweet and poorly written. ¿Vale? Vale.

So it goes: I've signed up to take Flamenco lessons here in Spain! Amazing, huh? I'm stoked. But I'm also nervous because the first two lessons have been a struggle, on account of... dancing isn't a strong suit of mine.  Anyway, yesterday I went to go purchase the shoes {which are going to come home with me by hook or by crook} and as I walked towards class I couldn't stop thinking about what a cool experience it is that I'm in Flamenco classes here. Passing the city hall, I happened upon what looked like a dance recital of sorts.   There were multiple groups of uniformed women in vestidos gitanas (flamenco dresses), a circle of spectators, and in the circle a belly dancing group of abuelas (grandmas)!! They looked great! The dancing abilities ranged from pathetic to passable, but they all had smiles and were flaunting everything they've got.  It was such a fun performance, they got the audience involved in a dancing snake at the end even.  As I watched these 70 (?) year old women (who grew up under the dictatorship of Franco) learning to BELLY DANCE I got so much inspiration to go learn Flamenco.  If old ladies can sexy dance, this giri (Spanish version of Gringo/a) can learn the gypsy dance.  There's an old Spanish film called 'Todo es posible en Granada' and that group of 'young' women showed me so.  I love this place! You should all come visit.


If you're interested in hearing some real good Flamenco music, check out Camarón de la Isla.  Do yourself a favor and wikipedia him and listen on Spotify or YouTube.
Here's a sample:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I1Yf8RHsZc

Hasta Proximo!å

March 23, 2012

Mid-way? NO WAY!

As you may or may not have guessed from my super duper clever title, I have just finished my mid-terms here in Granada at the Centro por Lenguas Modernas, o CLM.  That means that in just about 2 more months I will be DONE with classes. WHATTTTT? That is crazy. Luckily, I've extended my travel plans until mid-July so I can have a chance to explore more of Europe and maybe even  work on a farm in Spain!
Some of you reading the blog may actually be curious in what I'm doing at school, so I'll briefly touch on the tests. I only had 3 because one of my classes is for speaking and therefore we aren't tested on paper but 'performance'. I'm sure that if you know me at all, you also know I really struggle in that class... Another class is a film class for which we have an ongoing film journal and a final project.  My Islamic Culture in Spain class was my first final, and it kicked my butt. I studied all weekend prior to it and during the day on Monday. Showed up to class at 6:30, prof rolled in late, asked when the test was, then proceeded to write the test on Word as we sat there.  There were 2 essay prompts that vaguely said write as much as you know about this general 100 year span. Include every detail imaginable, clothing, art, politics, war. HA. Was not prepared for that format. Also, he's the Center's hardest grader. Perfect. On the upside I cleaned up in my Spanish history test about Franco and the Civil War in the 30s and also in my Art History class. Goya's got nothin' on me.  So those are done, and it's very much relieving.
Now for something a bit more interesting, I thought I'd share something about who I live with, get into the nitty gritty of living with a typical Spanish family. You may find they're a lot like the sitcom families we watch on TV:
1) I live with a blind abuela, or Granny, as I call her.  She spends all day everyday sitting in her chair rosary praying and listening to the TV or radio.  She much prefers music than listening to shows or documentaries.  Granny sits at her table all day, moves from her arm chair to the wood chair when it's time to eat and bangs her way down the hall when she needs  a potty break.  When she hears you enter the room she never fails to tell you how bored or lonely she is, all the while refusing to go sit on the terrace to take in the fresh air and sunshine nor will she go for a walk.  She's a very sweet woman who grew up a youth of Franco but since he's been out of the picture she's a proud Socialist.  Quick story: I went out for a few hours to run some errands today when I got back, I was starving so I went into the kitchen to warm up lunch. Granny heard me and called to me so I walk into the living room. BAM. Granny's diggin in her pants. Like she's standing up, skirt pulled up around her waist, granny panties around the ankles while still another pair of granny panties are in proper position as she is fishing around fixing her over sized adult diaper pad.  All I can say is sweet baby jesus thank GOD she's blind. Because I can't even start to think about the look I had on my face. I was definitely taken aback, but she didn't seem to mind, it's possible she thought I was still in the kitchen. Where I fled to as soon as possible.  So that happened.
2) Marieta is my mom. Probably one of the looniest people I've met. She is always stressed about her daughter and about money (she's an architect and no architects are working in Spain currently due to shitty economy). However, she still goes out for hours on end with friends and is constantly persuading the daughter to buy more clothes. No idea where this money is coming from. She also hires a maid to come clean and do all the house chores she ALSO complains about doing but never actually does.  This being said, I do really like her. She's spunky and into get-rich-quick schemes. Hardly ever a dull moment. She is also very helpful as an anti-smoking campaign. I awake nightly from her gut wrenching smokers coughs. I can't believe she hasn't quit or died yet.
3) Claudia. 18 year old princess who refuses to go to school, nor will get a job. Her favorite past times are coddling the puppy, shopping, whining, yelling at Marieta and being gorgeous. She is very shy and I can't really relate to her. Though I've tried.
4) Chanel. The puppy. She loves me. She's always around to greet me and never misses a chance to get my pants dirty with her nasty mouth that traps all sorts of bogus particles. Ick. But she's cute so whatever.

Congrats on making it to the end of my family album! I hope you feel your life is enhanced now. If not, I'm sorry, listen to this song to try and get any sort of joy out of this entry:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tSvOiaDVMc&feature=related
By artist Francisca Valenzuela, I'm diggin it right now.

Caio y besos!

March 1, 2012

Problems in Guediawaye

Asalaam Maleekum! I know I promised to post about ataaya in greater detail, but Guediawaye is on my mind and perhaps a little more important, so here we go. Last week I went on a field trip with my Environment and Agriculture class to Guediawaye, a suburb northeast of Dakar. Suburb here does not have the same connotation as it does in the Twin Cities. In general, the suburbs are the less well-developed areas where too many people live in less-than-sufficient conditions; Guediawaye, unfortunately, is a strong example of this. The focus of our field trip was to see the environmentally-related development problems in this part of town. And we really saw them.

Like any other part of Dakar, sadly, the sides of the roads were covered in garbage. People here are not in the habit of holding onto their garbage until they find a trash can. This might be because the trash bins are often full or have piles of trash around them, or simply because people don't consider it a big enough issue to attempt to change their lifestyles. In either case, dropping your Kafe Touba cup on the sidewalk after you finish is normal in Senegal, and Guediawaye is no exception. As we walked through the town, we discussed some difficulties that the town faces because of poor planning by civil engineers. For example, construction waste left unattended combined with a rocky and sandy terrain leaves water unable to penetrate the ground. Similarly, the way the land levels out--or doesn't, really--prevents rain and other waste water from flowing properly, creating dryness in some places and stagnant standing water in other. Not only is this a poor system for the environment because it does not function with the natural needs of the area, but also it creates health and safety concerns.

All of these problems were amplified tenfold when we walked down a hill into the heart of the town to see the worst of the situation. At the bottom of the hill was a street with houses, stores, and schools on either side, and a large neon green lake in the middle of it, lined with garbage. Construction vehicles and people stood there idly, watching as we wandered and discussed what we were seeing. Apparently, because of the impermeability of the ground on the hill, all of the rain and waste water pools at the bottom in the street. There too it is unable to soak into the ground, and thus it stays and rots with the garbage and the waste. Not only does this prevent transportation in this part of town, but also it causes health hazards for those who live there and for anyone who passes through. Some houses and schools along this stretch have even been abandoned because of the problem.

As we walked along the shore of this neon green pond, our professor pointed out a small makeshift bridge for us to cross, calling it the "Golden Gate Bridge" of Dakar. After crossing, we talked about the efforts being made toward improving the situation:  drainage canals, some construction, but nothing that will really suffice in the long run. The water needs to be removed and prevented from returning, but such a project would be too big, too expensive, and too futile for a place like Guediawaye.

The reason it would be futile is because Guediawaye is situated on a water table and is gradually sinking into this underground lake. Any changes, repairs, or improvements that we make now will be useless in a few years. This was extremely evident when we went deeper into the residential part of town. There we witnessed quite the phenomenon:  quite a few houses were slowing sinking into the ground. There was one house whose window base was about a foot from the ground; we looked inside and saw the entire building filled with water and garbage. The house had literally sunk about three fourths of the way into the ground and filled up with water at the same time. It had been abandoned, naturally, but no one took care of the electricity there so there is a really big danger with this and other houses in the same condition. People who choose not to abandon their houses when they begin to sink instead add new parts on top of the walls that already exist. This helps for the moment, but it doesn't fix the real problem or do any good in the long run. However, the people of Guediawaye can't afford to move away, nor can they--or the government, for that matter--afford to make the changes that would be necessary to actually fix the problem. And, realistically, I don't know if this problem can be fixed. The weight of the town is such that everything will continue to sink into the water table regardless of any temporary improvements made today.

I wish I could say that I had a solution. I wish I could say that moving all of the residents was possible or realistic, or that we could build lightweight styrafoam houses for everyone in place of the concrete that they currently use. However, as it stands, there really aren't a lot of readily available solutions, so at the moment we simply have to hope as much as we can and put on our thinking caps for a better solution.

February 20, 2012

Getting into a Groove

¡Buenos días!
I'm starting the third week of my full on semester classes, and they are going increasingly well.  I think that Morris ought to offer non-language courses in foreign languages, because let me tell you- I have yet to doze off because I'm constantly on my toes being lectured at in Spanish. Even my film class demands constant attention! Needless to say, I am loving school.  My schedule's a lot different than any I've ever had in Morris.  I've got plenty of free time to wander the city, chat with my senile Spanish Granny or play with the puppy my host sister bought with Scholarships money. What the life! My classes are really interesting, and it really helps that I can talk to my host family about the material covered in class to get other opinions about it and for further clarification. For instance, I'm learning about the beginning of the Guerra Civil of the 1930's here, which was the end of the Segunda Republica and the beginning of the Franco Era.  I heard some stories about the war from Maria Luisa (Granny) who was 12 when the war broke out.  She lived with her older sister at the time, who was married and I guess lived in a safer house.  Granny's blind and even though it's not the most Christmas-y of stories, blind old ladies telling stories that involve finger guns are awesome. *pew pew pew* Marieta, my host mom is a good source for stories about growing up in the later part of the dictatorship.  She studied in France for some time as a young woman, but couldn't get her own passport without her dad essentially co-signing for her.  She is an adamant socialist now, and I'm looking forward to the political discussions we'll be having.  My professor in this class specifically said she would be assigning minimal homework so that we could get ourselves out into the Spanish culture to learn for ourselves what it means to be Spanish.  It is really fascinating, as I learn new things everyday, that this country not so long ago was ruled by a dictator. I think the reason that people don't talk much about this bloody dictatorship is because many Spaniards are also not talking about it. It's as if the country's taken an oath of silence.  People are still wildly divided on the issue as well, there are many people who will defend Franco, and just as many who want to see his memorial tomb destroyed.  I highly recommend reading the book 'Ghosts of Spain' by British journalist Giles Tremlett for a more in depth history, it's a great read.  My history geek is having a total hay day here because all of my classes, except one are historical in one way or another.  I'm by osmosis learning a bit about the royalty of the Enlightenment era through the paintings of Goya in Art History, learning about the much more ancient history of the Iberian peninsula and Arabic culture from my Islamic culture class, and in my film class we're watching movies about the second republic and the history of Flamenco.  WOOOHOOOOO Can anyone say Liberal Arts student?  Someone should pay me for this.
Now that school has started, as this entry's title suggests, I am indeed finding my groove.  I had a few ups and downs of adjustment and culture shock over the past month, but I think now I'm finally feeling at home.  I go running every morning, whether in Parque Federico Garcia Lorca or alongside the river that runs through town or towards the gardens near Alhambra or in the middle of all the streets where the ladies in heels and fur look at me like I'm the devil... It's pretty fun. I have discovered a few really great bands from Spain and put their music on my iPod so even my running soundtrack is Spanish! Which is good, because it's like pulling teeth to get my American friends to speak Spanish and I can't find Grey's Anatomy online in Spanish. (if anyone can... please tell me!)
The food situation leaves something to be desired for me... my host mum's not a real culinary genius (Mama Jo- I am CRAVING your enchiladas right now.) and the portions are about what I would expect for weight watchers or geriatrics (on the bright side, now I'm not so worried about gaining weight) I get a lot of weird bean mixtures and bony meat... but the Paella is wonderful (I eat shrimp now I guess).  I have an intercambio (a Spaniard who I hang out with to practice my Spanish and they practice their English) named Sara who has promised to teach me how to make Tortilla Española and some other staple foods.  She was my friend's roommate and is SO helpful to talk to! We get along pretty well so I think we're going to be good friends by the time I leave.  Back to food, because I'm waiting for dinner and starving, I haven't had anything remotely spicy since I got here. The Spanish are not real hip on that I guess. I even broke down and ordered off the spicy menu of the Mexican restaurant. Tasted like Aunt Marge's Tacos, spicy to Norwegians and laughable to Mexicans. I was thoroughly saddened. A friend of mine found a corner store that sold Siracha hot sauce, probably going to get myself some.  There are bountiful amounts of chocolaterías, pastelerías and cafeterías with the most delicious pastries and desserts I've had the pleasure of eating. They're cheap too. That is dangerous. But I walk everywhere and have a good running schedule so who gives a rip! My favorite thing in the whole world is a chocolate Neopolitino- think chocolate filled croisant but even better. Heaven you can buy for 50 centimos if you know where to go.

So now that I've perhaps got you a little hungry for a snack, I bid you farewell.
Hasta Luego!

ps: more Music to share!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9wGBPAj6nU&list=PLCFAC2AE7E02EBE40&context=C3c9c4e3ADOEgsToPDskJlmI_tU677Zq3teJQTKoDj
pretty great if you ask me!
the book I mentioned: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghosts-Spain-Travels-Through-Countrys/dp/057122167X



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