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Designing a Yoga Program for Children in South Africa

“I knew I wanted to study abroad since going to college. I knew right off the bat that was something important to me.”

These are the words of Haley Brown, a senior English major in New York who studied abroad in the spring of her junior year in Cape Town, South Africa. She enrolled in an IES Abroad program, where she took a social work class at the beginning of semester that focused on issues of service delivery in South Africa. The students discussed why issues of service delivery were different between races, the impact of apartheid, and how to put what they had learned in the classroom to practice. Each was to work at a specific social agency.

Brown visited a few different sites until she decided to volunteer at the SOS Children’s Village in Cape Town. The agency was for orphans were displaced. They lived with “mamas” and “aunties.”

“Working at SOS really allowed me to feel as if I had a different sort of cultural experience then my scholarly one at the University of Cape Town because the children, a lot of times, had come from impoverished settings, situations, and being able to interact with children who have been affected by poverty is really interesting,” noted Brown.

After observing the organization for some time, Brown approached them with a project. The project revolved around a yoga class for children between the ages of six to ten who were diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectral Disorders. She designed a fitness-based program that would increase the kids’ energy, improve their listening skills, and give them opportunity to interact in different poses and feel personal success.

“I was interested in ways that yoga could help improve the growth and fine motor skills,” explained Brown.

Brown led the class for a month and, before she returned to the United States, she left a set of instructions for the organization to continue the work that she started. She hopes to be able to return to Africa one day with her mom and show her some of the things that she experienced. Brown also credits the volunteer experience with teaching her a lot more about patience and having back-up plans.

“It takes a lot of patience to work with very energetic six to ten year olds,” said Brown. “It teaches you if you go in with a plan, you’ll have to abandon it and end up doing something different. That was huge, that was the big lesson I continue to carry, that you have to sort of have to have a plan B. You have to be okay with making changes. As a college student, that comes in handy.”

Based on her volunteer experience in South Africa, Brown hopes to pursue a career in service.

“Being involved with SOS and my time in cape town solidified that I could do it for an extended period of time and work through all of the frustrations that might be involved,” remarked Brown. “It gave me confidence and showed me that when you work together with the people that you’re trying to serve, when you work together as opposed to imposing an idea, really great things can come about.”

Haley Brown is a Senior English major with minors in Honors and Women’s Studies at Ithaca College. In spring 2011, she studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa as part of the International Education of Students study abroad program. She also worked on a service learning project at SOS Children’s Village Cape Town, creating a yoga exercise practice for children with Fetal Alcohol Spectral Disorders. While in Cape Town, Haley bungee jumped off the Guinness Book of World Records’ World’s Highest Bungee Bridge, went on safari at Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, backpacked through Namibia’s Namib Desert, and ate samoosas for breakfast almost every morning. When she is not traveling, Haley enjoys writing poetry, taking photographs, and yoga. After graduation, Haley will be working for Simply Smiles, a non-profit that works towards “building bright futures for impoverished children” in Oaxaca, Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota.

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April 30th, 2012 | Leave your comments

Student Spotlight: Serving In India

What can I say? India captured my heart. This experience changed the way I see the world, how I see myself and how I am starting to envision my future. This may be my first time inIndia, but I can tell you this for certain, it will not be my last.

Where can I begin? Well I guess the beginning is always the best place to start.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to go toIndia. There was something about this faraway land that was calling me from across the ocean. I was fascinated by the deep, rich history that defined and continues to define this sub-continent. The ancient wisdom of the Vedic texts still alive in gurus, sages, monks and spiritual teachers; who continue to guide a nation of people just like their ancestors were for well over five thousand years. The food, with its mind blowing colours, flavours and aromas, proving the people are just as diverse as their food.

Before I left, people were telling me that you must takeIndiafor all that it is. You will either love it or hate it. There were people in my life who understood completely why I wanted to go and they knew I would fall in love, but there were others who were convinced I would hate it.

The SAGE Program was extremely thorough throughout the whole application process. My inbox as well as my mother’s inbox was primarily correspondence with the SAGE Program Coordinators at one point! Both my mother and I really appreciated the help of SAGE; otherwise I’m sure we would have found the whole process daunting. It was so much better that we had someone who had gone through this before and was guiding us through the entire preliminary checklist. The SAGE Program wanted to make sure that when I got to India everything would go smoothly.

When I first arrived in Chennai airport I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that my luggage didn’t make it. I must have waited an hour for my luggage. Now that I think back to it, this was the only thought in my head, not that I was inIndia, but where my luggage was. I didn’t register the heat or the time or even the people around me. I had been travelling over 24 hours, and it wasn’t even over yet. Kodaikanal was still a ways away.

I was exhausted, I needed sleep and I needed to find the coordinator that was supposed to meet me at the airport. I exited the main building to find hundreds of people waiting outside. It must have been one or two in the morning, but by the number of people it could have been the middle of the afternoon. The next thing I noticed was the wall of rain in front of me. I had never seen so much rain in my entire life; of course I would be seeing more of this once the monsoon hit Kodaikanal, but in that moment I was stunned.

Finally the rest of the exchange students arrived and we went to a hotel to sleep for a few hours. Of course no one slept; we needed to be up in a few hours anyway to catch a plane toMaduraiwhere we would drive up the mountain to Kodaikanal.

The whole ride up the mountain I was absolutely terrified. I had never experienced Indian driving before, so that in combination with them driving on the opposite side of the road and the fact that I had now been awake for more than 30 hours, I thought we were going to drive off the road at every turn. Needless to say we arrived safely in one piece. Surprisingly I did not experience jet lag; which made adjusting even easier.

The next few days were spent exploring my new domain. Yes, it was extremely scary. I was thousands of kilometres away from my home, my family, my comfort zone. I was in a part of the world that was completely new and different from anything I could imagine. I felt like a baby, everything was new, the sights, the smells, the animals. Even though it was scary I was extremely excited. I was in India, the place that I had dreamed about for so many years. This was the beginning of the beginning.

School was easy for me as I chose subjects purely out of general interest. My priority wasn’t to get the best grades necessarily; I just wanted to come out of the experience having learned something. My classes included cooking, baking, introduction to Hindi, Hinduism and Buddhism religion, political science, environmental science, Social Experience and physical education. In my spare time I regularly sat in on some Christianity basics lessons. To be honest I was a little hesitant at first about it, but it was nothing like I expected, we were free to question everything; which made for very interesting group discussions. I also spent a lot of time exploring the campus, finding my own little spots where I could sit and read or draw. On rainy afternoons you could find me in the piano block trying to teach myself piano or at the library. For a while I read on average a book a day. I definitely re-ignited my love of reading while at KIS.

KIS gave me the opportunity to do a lot of things I never would have been able to do on my own. I was introduced to some amazing people who will hopefully be a part of my life for many years to come. I went on a camping trip in July to the school’s beautiful camping ground in Poondi where we got to go hiking, zip lining, play Frisbee, volleyball and even practice archery.

I had a wonderful opportunity to go to Bethania orphanage in Kannivadi with a few other students. We experienced a little of their daily life and had a lot of fun at the same time.  We learned to make palm leaf brooms and helped to level out the dirt road leading to the main buildings. We ate with the kids, did chores together but we also played cricket, went on a mini hike up a rock face, and they picked fresh guavas for us. This was the first time I had done any of these things. Now that I come to think of it I did a few things for the first time in August.  I wore my first sari on Independence Day, I went to a Hindu temple to be a part of the daily puja (offering), I saw giant grizzled squirrel and a greenhouse full of extremely rare plants.

The fun was just beginning, especially with September right around the corner; the most anticipated month of the semester.

On the long weekend, I went to Chennai to stay with a school friend and her family. I got to experience a different kind of family atmosphere while seeing different sides of Tamil Nadu’s capital city. We went swimming, ate some delicious and extra spicy curries, we even drove toPondicherryone day to do a shopping trip. In one week’s time I would be inPondicherryagain to kick off field trip week. I decided to go with the Green Team to an intentional community nearPondicherrycalled Auroville. I was blown away. I knew eco communities existed but I had never been to one so large and so functional before.

It was a bustling community; everyone was there because they wanted to be there. I feel this puts a sense of responsibility on all the members of the community to help make Auroville the best it can be. Everyone wants to work together to make something bigger that benefits everyone. Too often in modern society we are disconnected from our community and the people we live close to. Auroville aims to eliminate that feeling of disconnection, and brings all it’s members together. It made me think of my new Kodai community, as well as the one I had left behind inToronto. I feel I want to become a part of a movement or a way of living that contributes positively to the world we all share and live within. I returned back to Kodaikanal with a head full of ideals and once in a lifetime experiences.

The semester finished in late November, but this was not the end of my journey; in fact I was about to start another; the Winter Tour: 9 destinations in 24 days. Kodaikanal à Mysore à Goa à Rishikesh à Corbett National Park à Delhi à Agra à Jaipur à Hyderabad à Chennai.

How could I begin to sum up nearly an entire month of travels throughIndia, the task is honestly quite daunting; so here are the highlights.

Mysore:  The 1001 step Hindu pilgrimage up Chamundi hill

Goa: Beaches, beaches and beaches

Rishikesh: Rafting the riverGanga

CorbettNational Park: Wild elephants

Delhi: Market shopping (the greatest shopping I have ever encountered).

Agra: The Taj Mahal!

Jaipur: Elephant ride up to the Amber Palace

Hyderabad: The world famous Hyderabadi Biryani

Chennai: Spending time with my good friend

The impact of a trip like this never fully hits you until you’ve come back home–this is when you have time to reflect and think back to everything you did. I read one of my journal entries the other day and I had written “I have changed; I wonder how many people will notice it.” The fact remains; India has changed me deeply, more than I thought it would. My thoughts are globally minded. The more I travel and the more I talk to travellers, I have come to realize we are all very similar in this world. A lot of us have the same hopes, dreams, wants. People have asked me since I’ve been back what the people are like in India. I reply ‘they are people’, you could find them anywhere in the world, they just happen to be in India. The only thing that separates us as humans is the distance and our own self-imposed statuses.

The global society too often thinks in terms of me and you, us and them. There is always something there to isolate us from the rest of the world. I have learned to break down barriers between myself and the rest of humanity. We have a different kind of kinship, unique from other animals. We have the potential ability to connect with every individual on the planet; creating a global family, a global community.

If I could describe this trip in one word, it would be expansion.

For more details of my trip I encourage you to visit my blog, where I kept detailed accounts of my volunteering, daily life and my travels. www.motherganges.blogspot.com

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April 23rd, 2012 | Leave your comments

Student Spotlight: Volunteering in Ecuador

Sex: Female.

Age: 29.

Children: 3.

Status: Married.

Income: $600 per month.

Primary/Subsequent: Primary.

Diagnosis: Tentative. Breast Cancer, Stage 4.

Recommendation: Immediate visit to oncologist, Hospital of Tena.

Filling this chart leaves me empty. My pen drops.

Because how much can you see in the statistics, even when the notes are well-enough detailed? How much does it tell you about her face crumpling and shoulders sagging when she hears the word “cancer” being whispered to me by the attending physician? Facts don’t cover the pain that welled up in thick tears as she removed her blouse and indicated the contorted, malignant bump that is growing in her right breast. And none of the notes I took are going to give her children their mother back, come one year’s time.

How painful it is, when not only are the notes useless, but one must also face the fact that there is so little medication that will help her, and even less that she will ever be able to afford. Yes, the government subsidizes basic treatment, but she has never been to see a doctor about this problem before. And now just seems too late.

– Anomaly for a woman of her age.  I note.

Dr. Sandra behind me has her hand on my shoulder, and I can feel the movement of her sympathetic headshake, reserved for only the most serious cases we see. I reach for the patient’s trembling hand, and admire her for not letting a single tear spill over.

Her youngest child is still breastfeeding, the reason she finally came to see the doctor. Just short of a year old, she is crying at her side on the examination table. The hurting mother looks at the little girl blankly, tugging at the hem of her shirt with her free hand. I watch the baby stare at her, mouth open in a constant scream, confused.

– Return for consultation after specialist visit in one week.

The patient nods, still strong faced, and I can feel the steady pulse in her wrist as we finish explaining, and she picks up her child. She says she will come back with her husband, after they go to the hospital.

I wave at the little girl over her mother’s shoulder.

– One week consultation, post-tentative diagnosis.

She is smiling. This stuns me. I try to mimic that easygoing smile, but can only manage a nauseous-looking grimace.

She is smiling at her young son, and laughing at his antics as he hides his improvised gum-wrapper-toy behind red personal-hygiene bags. And she doesn’t seem concerned at all about the words in front of me on the page.

– Diagnosis confirmed. Patient to be entered into immediate care.

It was well enough that she didn’t want radiation. Her reported family income could not have supported it and the government couldn’t shell out for chemotherapy. Her husband’s face was graver than hers, but neither looked lined with worry, as I felt in my forehead and pursed lips. From whence this amazing strength to take everything in stride arises, I have no idea.

It is a result, in part, of the general attitude in Cotundo, Ecuador, I think.

She began talking to me in Kichwa, of which I could understand very little. She talked about surviving, and then she said my name. Several times, in a cluster of other words.

When our patient left, still smiling, all of her children in tow, I asked a Kichwa nurse what all of her words had meant. From under her crisp white cap, the nurse smiled sweetly.

“She said it’s okay. Be calm. She was telling you to have faith, as she does. That’s what ‘Kirin’ means in Kichwa. To have faith.“

Having lived and studied in India, Oxford, and Washington, D.C., Kirin has learned firsthand the value of international education outside the classroom. She has been a world traveler for much of her life, and is relishing her gap year experience before heading to Harvard in the fall of 2012. Kirin is currently on a Global Citizen Year in Ecuador, where she is working in a medical clinic.

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April 9th, 2012 | Leave your comments

Student Spotlight: Serving in Brazil

After a rocky, bumpy thirty minute truck ride into the dry, arid Chapada Diamantina region, we finally arrived at our destination, a town called Ouricuri II. What seems like an average small town is actually a comunidade quilombola. These communities, scattered around the northeastern region of Brazil, are the legacy of fugitive slaves who ran away from harsh plantations in search of freedom. Today, towns like Ouricuri II hold some of the poorest members of Brazilian society. In the past, the government had no desire to aid quilombolas. Today, bureaucracy and lack of government interest cripple these communities. As a result, many lack basic services like health posts, adequate education, and nutrition.

The most pressing problem that Ouricuri II faces today is water shortage. While the community wants to build a well, the costs – at least $30,000 for a community in which most people don’t have a salary – prohibit the families in the town from getting the most basic needs every day. That means that the 84 families in this town are often left without water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing. Jokingly, one community member said that people used to only shower once every eight days, but now it’s only once per week. The government sends just one truck per month to Ouricuri II and other quilombos to deliver rations, as a cheaper alternative to building a well.When the rations run out, most people have to walk to other communities more than three miles away and lug 200 liters of water back to Ouricuri II. Despite these circumstances, there is currently no active campaign to create change in Ouricuri II.

How is it that the descendants those courageous enough to form their own communities just two centuries ago are now subject to the most inequality? How do communities like Ouricuri II emerge from years of disregard? What should an outsider’s ethical response be in the face of such immense problems?

Caught by the worldly mission and values of Global Citizen Year, Winson Law wanted to learn Portuguese, a language not often taught in the United States, and to learn more about Brazil as a rising global power. Winson is currently in Brazil, where he is teaching English to adults. He will be heading to his first year at Middlebury in the fall of 2012.

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April 2nd, 2012 | Leave your comments

Student Spotlight: Volunteering in Senegal

Silhouetted against a crackling fire, the children chant. To me, the words are a song of dynamic gibberish, though I know them to be beautiful verses of the Koran. The recited text is passed around the circle of restless brothers, sisters, and cousins, one child reading at a time while the rest provide a fervent background chorus.

My toes wallow in the cool sand as I stare out at the village plaza, mesmerized and calmed by the choir. It is the same ubiquitous sand that I often run across on the endless white beach or trek through to reach neighboring houses, the primary school, and the health post. Pressing onward, I often march across wispy, rolling dunes, following my brother home from an outing. Each step leaves a footprint, a merely ephemeral mark of my having passed, among the trails of many travelers of past and present.

My older brother recounts for me, one evening, that just like these children gathered around the campfire, he and his siblings once followed the same exact Koranic school tradition. In fact, so did his father’s and his grandfather’s generations. And so, as I gaze out at the flames flickering across their concentrated faces, my mind wanders to how the backdrop of this decades-old rite of passage must have changed. Occasions often arise when I start to piece together how my older brothers or even my host father – the chief of our village – must have grown up. Just as I am now accustomed to doing at the houses of cousins and friends, I look through the stacks of photos – treasures to be shared with and showed off to whomever passes through – and I admire the outfits they’ve worn, the way their looks have matured, and the people they’ve met.

Even more fascinating are the tidbits of history that I catch in the discussions that are held, because as much as frozen images are dear tokens and reminders to them, tales passed on orally from generation to generation carry the most meaning and most encouragement to imagine the world all around me. For instance, on one sweltering morning, my father pulls out the few weathered suitcases that he owns, dusty vessels that hold all his life’s possessions, and my curiosity is immediately sparked. Drowning among stacks of photo albums, elaborate boubou’s (African robes), and collections of Muslim trinkets, I listen intently to the story of my father’s pilgrimage to Mecca in the mid ‘90s. During other tranquil moments I hear the legends of other toubabs, notably the American missionary who landed his damaged boat on their shores and, more recently, Jeffrey Sachs (the renowned economist and head of Millennium Promise), whose footprint – through the work of the Millennium Village Project – is truly something to behold.

From what I can tell, the Millennium Village Project (MVP for short, in English) has indeed been one of the grandest developments in the region’s history. The more I travel out of our collection of villages to places that are more untouched and neglected, the more I realize how my little sibling’s generation has the opportunity to live a life considerably different than the generation of my grandfather or even my father. My brother often praises the project, once saying, “Avant il n’y avait rien” : before, there was nothing. Even though he may be mildly exaggerating, it is remarkable to think that in the span of about four years, the community has gained a capable health clinic, a new primary school that serves 150 students, clean water from a communal tap, an electric grid that lights up the village square, and relatively effective latrines. Yes, they are the basics, but compared to the unfortunate villages that sit in the dark every evening, lack any evidence of sanitation, or are hopelessly out of the reaches of a health post, they are infrastructural and foundational achievements, they are progress.

And so, as I stare out at the children swaying in united prayer, wondering what they may become or what world their generation may inherit, I remind myself that they have hope to cope with or even overcome rural poverty in a way that their parents and ancestors haven’t been able to. Even as I – an anthropologist-in-training – continue to dig up what life was like and what was accomplished, I increasingly move my attention to what can and will be accomplished because my sisters are going to school or my peers have access to primary care and family planning. My camera may only capture the environment and the services as they stand now, but looking through my photos I am able to envision a brighter path forward through the sands.

It was with this eye on the future that we recently celebrated Tamkharit, the Muslim New Year, following another decades-old tradition of gathering as a family (over fifty people in total) in the village plaza just before midnight. Chilled by the brisk evening, we huddled together in the customary circle, each, as we entered the ceremony, threw a few handfuls of sand onto the growing mountain in the center. Beyond physical warmth, I began to discover a real comfort in spirituality and unity of the circle ritual, as I sat between mothers, brothers, and cousins. The ceremony commenced and absorbed us into the recitation of the Koran, soon followed by a joint prayer, a chant calling for salaam – peace – harmony, and prosperity in the coming year. Bathed in moonlight, we asked for another tolerable year, a year of good harvests. We close, giving each other relieved smiles, asking “Accenam hakke?” – Forgive me? – and responding “Ay, me accenima” – yes, I forgive you.

The evening is an occasion for optimistic renewal and joyous celebration, yet I can’t help but wonder where I come into all of this, what sort of footprint I will leave on the road ahead. Surely, rather than simply being washed away by the tides of la mer, my mark will remain on this place, a community that I sense will, inshallah, welcome me back as its son for years to come. But I won’t set rigid or wishful expectations, and truly only time (the next four months, and beyond) will tell. On the other hand, I realize that – in the process – my new home, complete with its rolling sea breeze and radiating hues of tan and sandy orange, has left an undeniable imprint on my heart.

A German-American, Elias Estabrook embraces his bi-cultural background during his travels, using his fluency in German, Spanish, and now French to make cross-cultural connections. Elias is spending his bridge year on a Global Citizen Year in Senegal, where he works with the Millenium Village Project. He will be heading to Yale in the fall of 2012.

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March 26th, 2012 | Leave your comments

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Medical Student Participates in Mobile Clinics in Peru

Move over Indiana Jones, here comes Tiffany Tam. Tiffany Tam, a medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, first visited Peru as an undergraduate to study archaeology. Since then, she has returned to help Peru in other ways–it’s only fitting to say that she has one up over Jones as someone who has contributed to both the archaeological and medical communities.

A few months ago, Tam volunteered with the Lamay Clinic Project, an international medical school elective organized by medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.  The group of volunteers consisted of medical students and physicians who would provide basic medical care to people in the surrounding villages of Urubamba. They worked in collaboration with nonprofit Peruvian Hearts.

To prepare for her two-week service learning trip, Tam completed a number of tasks beforehand. She enrolled in the Applied Medical Spanish Program (AMSP) at Case Western and participated in various aspects of the Lamay Clinic Project in the greater Cleveland area.  She also attended training sessions for back pain, infant CPR education, and eye exams.

Arriving in Peru, the participants had a jam packed schedule, starting from seven in the morning with breakfast to medical meetings at six at night. Two days of each week were spent at Puesto de Salud de Lamay, a health clinic run by a local physician.  At the clinic, Tam assisted by taking basic information, performing physical exams, and then presenting findings to faculty members.  The rest of the time was spent in remote mountain villages, seeing patients who have limited access to medical care and running workshops on health education topics such as proper hygiene, infant CPR training for mothers, and back pain relief.

One of Tam’s initial fears was the ability to be able to speak with villagers; all communication was to be done in Spanish, apart from a few locations that would utilize a translator to help understand the indigenous language Quezhchuah. Tam’s goal was to assist workshop on exercises to aid patients who spent a majority of time hunched over or sitting down at work.

“At first, I was really nervous about teaching the villagers back pain exercises because my Spanish was really rusty and I didn’t know how I was going to explain something complicated,” remarked Tam. “But I got more comfortable with it. I remember I was once at the top of a hill, sitting there and working with an old indigenous Peruvian lady, and a group of them became really excited to learn and they understood me.”

Traveling to the villages surrounding the town of Urubamba was quite an adventure for Tam. The buses had to traverse narrow, hilly roads that were built on mountainsides. Tam recounts a trip to Amparu, a town high up in the mountains in Pisac where she was greeted by a number of chickens and cows walking by the dirt roads. A group of village women, dressed in colorful woven cloths, also welcomed the team of volunteers by sprinkling flowers over their heads.

On that particular day, the volunteers saw 70 patients. One of the highlights of the visit was a pregnant lady who found out she was having a boy from a doctor’s ultrasound and help from a local obstetrician. Tam felt honored to be able to witness this moment.

“It felt weird because they were really appreciative. I had just finished my first year of medical school and I felt under-qualified and undeserving,” said Tam.

Back in the U.S., Tam believes she has a better understanding of the career path she wants to take.

“Continuing with the rest of medical school, I want to make sure to take a specialty where I can help out developing countries. I learned that I like to do this kind of work and I want to do something that has more of an impact in the future,” commented Tam. “I’m interested in ophthalmology. During the trip, there were a lot of older people with cataracts and I want to look into cataract surgery.”

Tam reminisces on her trip every once in awhile, as it was her first experience in global health at medical school.

“It was really cool being with other medical students and to be with doctors who volunteer their time and money to help these people,” said Tam. “I had a really great experience and was really happy to go back to Peru as a medical student.”

Tiffany Tam is a second year medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Before attending medical school, she was a biology student at the University of California, Los Angeles. On her free time, she likes to go trail running, traveling, and trying new cuisines.

 

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March 19th, 2012 | Leave your comments

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Student Spotlight: Serving Communities in Italy

My Italian study abroad experience in Sienna was nothing short of amazing. As a student learning Italian at an American school in Switzerland, I had my eye set on an Italian immersion program that allowed me to see all the elements of Italian society and culture. I chose Sienna Italian Studies (SIS) because it fit for what I needed out of my study abroad program–a small student body with a close faculty/student ratio, an Italian immersion program, an Italian home stay requirement, and a service learning component.

The first weeks of intensive courses, tours around the city, and social events with the faculty and students fostered a great rapport among the people within and outside the program and provided a satisfactory introduction to Italian society and identity. The International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership (IPSL) was the venue in which I learned the most in all aspects of my experience. I typically volunteered 15 to 20 hours a week in three different sites. Each place had a unique set of individuals and different goals, which made each day  engaging and exciting.

In the soup kitchen, I worked three hours each day four to five times a week. This would include coming a half hour before service and setting the tables, cooking the food, running small errands around the convent, and ensuring everything ran smoothly. The most rewarding and relaxing experience was after service when the helpers, volunteers, and nuns got to eat lunch together. We would discuss anything and everything from religion, politics, economics, social welfare, current events,and pop culture with such diverse views (one lunch there was a discussion with Tunisian, Belgian, Italian, Albanian, American, Dutch, Spanish, and Moroccan views).

I also taught English twice a week for two hours. I loved helping people speak and learn a new language because it inadvertently taught me things about my own language and culture from another perspective. By discussing what we take for granted in the U.S., I learned more about my culture, and beliefs. Through this class, I met people who I still keep in contact with to this day.

Overall, my service learning experience has afforded me a more global view of the world. After studying in Italy and living with an Italian home stay family for four months, I have achieved Italian fluency. Not only does this look great on a resume, but it also shows I can adapt and assimilate to a foreign society without reservations. I hope with my Italian proficiency, I will be  a more unique and outstanding candidate for my future career aspirations in foreign policy.

I also learned how to truly live in a different culture from my own. I traveled to school on the bus everyday with my Siennese neighbors who made me feel like part of the community and a true Sienna resident. One day, I was walking around with one of my professors and I was stopped on four different occasions by people I knew. My Italian professor looked at me said, “Guarda, sei gia’ un Sienese proprio!”–meaning “I am already a resident of Sienna.” It was in this venue, I learned to bridge the gap between my cultural views, ideas, customs, and beliefs with those of Italy.

As I was leaving Italy and reflecting upon my service, I definitely can say I would have not done any other program nor would have exchanged my service learning experience–the experience was nothing short of priceless.

Joshua Miller attends Franklin College Switzerland and is majoring in International Relations with minors in Italian and History. He hopes to pursue a career in foreign policy with aspirations to utilize foreign language skills he has acquired through a lifetime of language learning. He loves traveling, reading, movies, sports, and experiencing new things everyday.

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March 12th, 2012 | 1 Comment

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Japanese Exchange Student Helps the Homeless in San Francisco

In March 2011, an earthquake of tremendous magnitude hit the eastern coast of Japan. A number of countries rushed to support Japanese residents with an outpouring of financial and material assistance. A year later, a Japanese exchange student returns the favor with her own volunteerism in southern California. Emiri Shigeoka, an exchange student from Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, recently attended a week-long service learning trip in San Francisco where she learned not only about the American culture but also worked on projects that focused on alleviating poverty.

Shigeoka, first heard about a trip from a student who lived at the International Peace and Conflict Studies house at the University of California, Irvine. She was immediately interested in participating when she heard that the trip would be focused on youth homelessness. With the service learning initiative of homelessness, the Economics and International Studies major hoped she would learn about the social issues in the U.S.

During the week she was in San Francisco, Shigeoka had the opportunity to work with seven different organizations. She  engaged in a number of activities including attending presentations about the homeless populations in northern California, assembling boxes of food to give away at a shelter for low income families, and working at a food bank. The experience was humbling.

“There were so many more people in need than I expected, I was surprised,” said Shigeoka. “I felt the need to do something to help people. In Japan, community service is not popular. It was a very good experience for me to join this program.”

While volunteering, Shigeoka had a particularly poignant experience. Towards the end of the week, she volunteered at the Glide Foundation, a group affiliated with St. Anthony’s, where she served lunch to poverty stricken residents. She describes a conflicted moment where she spoke to a 58 year old female, who was recently injured but wasn’t able to secure medical treatment.

“I was moved very much, I don’t know how to express everything that I felt, compassion, admiration, and more. I was really happy when people told me ‘Thank you’ because I realized I was helping people,” remarked Shigeoka. “But I was really sad because I realized that there were a lot of people who didn’t have stable lives and it made me sad. I have pleasure helping people, but at the same time I feel so sad because I realize the seriousness about their situation. I had so many feelings at the same time.”

Based on her experience in San Francisco, Shigeoka would recommend that other international student participate in similar service learning projects to learn about their host culture.

“Through volunteering, I was able to learn about the American culture, learn how to help people, how to contribute to society,” explained Shigeoka. “We can help people and, at the same time, we can learn for ourselves. We can learn many things from volunteering.”

Emiri Shigeoka is an exchange student originally from Kanagawa, Japan. She studies at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan and also at the University of California, Irvine as an exchange student. During her time as an exchange student, she has traveled to numerous places including Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York.

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March 5th, 2012 | Leave your comments

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Student Spotlight: Kickstarting Medical School with a Health Internship in Belize

As often as you hear pageant queens say they want world peace, you will hear pre-med students say they want to help the poor in the world with their medical degree. The truth is, only about five percent of pre-med students actually make it to medical school, let alone dedicate their time and money to the impoverished of this world.

For me, helping those in desperate need is something I am passionate about and not something I just say because it sounds appropriate. One of the toughest battles the poor of this world face is their extreme susceptibility to disease and malnutrition. When deciding to pursue a career in the field of medicine, I decided so because I knew this career would be the best fit to fulfill my flaming passion to make a positive change in this world.

There are not many days that I do not find myself thinking about how I want to use my knowledge and resources to make lasting changes in areas most affected by poverty, so it is only understandable that I was impatient to get my first taste of clinical work in rural areas. Through ProWorld, an organization that matches volunteers and interns with projects in developing countries, I found a health internship that allowed me to pursue my interest as quickly as possible.

I took part in ProWorld’s health internship in Belize because of the extensive work they do with diabetes outreach throughout the country and their placements in emergency rooms and triages of local hospitals. They also have a great philosophy of immersing their participants into the culture by placing them with great local host families. I took this opportunity to further my interest in healthcare and also survey professional life in an exotic area.

Professionally, through this experience, I learned what it really means to be a medical expert. I was able to work one-on-one with many kind doctors and nurses in the local community hospital and get direct patient interactions. I witnessed my first birth, assisted with suturing a patient, inserted a few IVs, changed surgical dressings, and many other procedures over my time in Belize. The most valuable experience for me was getting the chance to talk to so many different patients and ask what they struggle with when it comes to healthcare. I learned firsthand how poverty not only prevents people from eating properly and affording needed medication, but also causes an intense amount of stress that can be extremely harmful to the body.

I took part in a diabetes public health project with ProWorld where I educated hundreds of participants about proper nutrition, preventive diabetes practices, and screened for the deadly disease. I measured enough blood pressure and blood glucose levels for a lifetime, but I was glad to do it.  ProWorld also allowed me to add on a personal dental project I designed, where I promoted healthy dental habits and hand out donations from friends and dentists from home.

Although it is common knowledge that getting into medical school is extremely competitive and every applicant needs any edge they can get, I didn’t do this internship to spice up my application. This experience may look great to medical schools but this experience, for me, was a way to do three important things:  experience a new culture, further understand medicine and public health in rural areas, and most importantly, help my fellow citizens of the world. This internship did just that. This experience will give you as much as you want to get from it. If you spend your time talking to locals, being open to new experiences and not being afraid to assert yourself in the placements you are put in, you will be sure to find yourself changed in a very positive way.

Prabjot Kaur Batth is a Bio-Medical Physics student at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.  Upon graduation, she hopes to attend medical school to continue her passion for global healthcare.

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February 27th, 2012 | 1 Comment

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Music Student Serves in Mozambique

Houses made of sticks and mud stood in a barren patch of land. Dust and soot filled the air from trucks flying down dirt roads. These were some of the images that welcomed Carol Chun to her service learning trip in Mozambique.

Chun, a music student from southern California, visited Mozambique to work on a number of projects, including building a children’s center. Before arriving in Africa, she had anxiety that she wouldn’t be able to communicate with the villagers of Beira and Dondo, rural villages near Mozambique. She quickly got over her initial fears.

“I was really nervous not being able to talk there because I don’t speak Portuguese,” remarked Chun. “But, with people, wherever you go in the world, you somehow find ways to be able to communicate.”

For two weeks, Chun focused on fostering a relationship with a little girl by the name of Bernice.

She hoped that her interactions with the girl would inspire her to pursue education as well as to stay away from gangs and prostitution.

“I always saw myself working with orphans, putting it into action,” said Chun. “I felt ready to try it out and see what it’s like.”

In her interactions with Bernice, Chun had the opportunity to visit the girl’s home, meet her family, and play games like tic-tac-toe. They found common ground in their mutual love of Disney, their passion for the color of pink, and an interest in singing and dancing.

In one instance, Bernice and local villagers taught Chun and other team members how to perform a tribal dance. Chun found herself at a zoo, dancing on an open platform stage made of wood. She was surrounded by the rhythmic thumps of a drum circle, and she couldn’t help but laugh as she moved her arms to the beat of the music.

Looking back on her trip to Mozambique, Chun believes that the experience showed her how she could help one person at a time. She believes that she can utilize the resources that are available to her to assist others.

“I learned that life is not just about me or the things that I want to do–it’s about helping other people,” commented Chun. “I learned that I need to be grateful for what I have. I was so distracted before by a lot of things that don’t matter–getting the latest clothes, living a life of making money so I could spend it on myself, focusing on having fun. But there’s more to life– there’s people to think about and people to be helping.”

Carol Chun is currently pursuing a second B.A. at the California State University, Northridge as a Music Education major. She graduated in 2009 from the University of California, Irvine as an International Studies major. Carol enjoys working with children and hopes to work with orphans overseas in the future.

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February 20th, 2012 | Leave your comments

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