I have been studying abroad for more than a month this summer in Copenhagen, Denmark. During my time here, I have had amazing experiences that have left me with beautiful memories and have taught me a lot. For my first post, I would like to share the differences I found between Denmark and the USA regarding the time, weather, clothing, and transportation. These are things I personally experienced during my summer in Denmark; however, each person might experience something different.
The time in which the sun rises and sets is different from what we are used to in San Diego. It starts to get dark at 10 pm, and it starts to get bright around 4 am. When I first arrived, I woke up at 5 am, thinking it was already 9 am, but when I checked my phone, it was so early, and it was hard to fall asleep again because it was so bright outside.
The weather in Denmark sometimes is a little crazy because it changes as time passes. In the morning, it might be cloudy, then it starts to rain for a couple of minutes, and then it is sunny. YES! It rains during the summer, and an umbrella is not the best choice to avoid getting wet. Most of the time, it is windy with or without rain. The wind is so strong that it makes it hard to bike fast. I would say a raincoat would be the best choice, especially if you bike to school like me.
Coats and sweaters during the summer are very common. The summer here is cold, especially at night. Sometimes when it is warm, the weather is perfect weather to be at the beach, but it isn’t as hot as in San Diego. Long dresses are also typical because of the strong winds. I would not recommend wearing a short dress.
My main form of transportation around the city is biking. I would say that it is the most common one since I have seen more bikes on the streets than cars. Also, I have not seen as many parking spaces for cars as in San Diego. Biking is one of the best experiences I have had. I can go anywhere anytime and feel safer riding my bike at night than waiting for the train. Many train stations are underground, and at night it could be a little scary if you ride by yourself. To ride the train and the bus, all you need is a card that you get at a machine located at the train station’s entrance.
My program has ended, but my adventure in South Korea has not. My summer program ended July 22nd, but I plan to stay in Korea until September. Thankfully I have a friend with whom I’ll be staying now that my program has ended and so I still have more time to explore and do what I’ve wanted to do here. My program has ended, though, and I have learned so much since then about South Korea and about myself.
A few things I’ve learned:
First, Naver Map is my savior. Navigating through South Korea would not have been as simple as it was with it. Navigating through the complex Seoul subway was made so much easier than it would have been trying to do so alone. It provides the times the subway will arrive, the station you need to go to, the exit you will need to leave from to arrive at your destination, and so much more. Basically, if you are coming to South Korea, I HIGHLY recommend you download Naver Map to get around.
Second, you will spend a lot more money on simply getting places than you think. The easiest and cheapest way to get around is by using public transportation. However, it will cost you more than you may think. An absolute must is the T-Money card, which will allow you to use public transportation in Korea. You will use it to scan and pay for every trip you take, whether that be on the bus or the subway. You can also use it to pay for taxis and even in convenience stores. You can put larger amounts into it with cash at the different re-charging kiosks at the stations or smaller amounts. I recommend you put in at least 10,000 won at a time because it is quite easy to run through 5,000 won simply by going between two places as the base fare for the subway is about 1,250 won with additional charges depending if you go further. This base fare also varies between cities which is something you should take into consideration when budgeting.
Third, having a list of things that you may want to do is more helpful than not having anything planned at all. Even though coming with minimal concrete plans is fun because it allows you to simply explore and do things at your own pace, having a list of things you may want to do that you can reference is really helpful. There were many times when my friend and I wanted to go out somewhere but didn’t particularly have any destinations or places to go. That made it difficult to decide what we wanted to do and so we ended up just wandering a lot of the time, then realizing there were some cool places we’d seen online that we could have visited and made better use of our limited time here.
Fourth, DO NOT TAKE THE FULL COURSE LOAD! I took three classes, the maximum you can take, during my program at Hanyang even though they warned us not to. After the first few days, I regretted not having dropped one. Each class was three hours long, and we had a one-hour lunch break, but I did not take into account how tiring it would be to actually attend all nine hours of classes plus the commute from my accommodations to the university. All in all, I spent about 12 hours going to class and commuting. This meant that I was usually so tired when I returned from class that I only really had the energy to get dinner and rest. The only saving grace was that we only had class from Monday to Thursday, so there were no classes on Friday. I could still get plenty of exploration in on the weekends, but I do wish I had only taken 2 classes at the most to fully enjoy my time in Seoul.
Aside from things I learned while in Korea, I also have grown more comfortable with myself, with who I am, and my likes and dislikes. I think coming here helped me understand my limits and how to move past those. I was able to spend time outside of my comfort zone without the people I know and love back home, which forced me to be myself around so many different people. I found out things I hadn’t realized about myself before, for example, I am a great Korean BBQ cook, according to my friends, and I’m also pretty good at navigating through places even if I’ve only been there once before. I even became the guide for a group of friends in Hongdae even though I myself had only been there once before. It was quite a confidence boost to know that I could easily lead a group of people around and decide where we could go while ensuring everyone’s safety and making sure they were enjoying themselves. I hadn’t really had the chance to lead a group of people like that back home, but now I know I can.
All in all, this has been a fantastic experience with the program and being a student in South Korea, and I would gladly do it again. I would encourage anyone who’s considering studying abroad even slightly to do it. Even if you think you can’t, look into it a bit more, and there may just be an unexpected way in which you can study abroad! I myself was only able to study abroad because I received two scholarships, so exploring your options and talking to someone about studying abroad can bring into perspective how it can be possible.
Now my adventure in South Korea continues, and I hope everyone can begin their journey!
I’m searching for something stable, and I’ve found it. The surf is my crutch in these times of change. The tides of Gqeberha are different than those of the Pacific West Coast. South Africa’s Indian Ocean is a new beast, untamed in the landscape of my mind. The waves behave in a different process, but not an unfamiliar one of the home waves I once knew. The swell, the producer of the wave sets, and its energy is constant. Driving forward over and over again. Unlike San Diego, there seem to always be waves, granting me the freedom to leave behind life’s futility on shore and enter a pure state of mind. However, the wind dictates my quality of surf. It is my greatest enigma. One day it is onshore, blowing from sea to land, creating a chaotic mush leaving frothing surfers only with a bit of windburn and a lot of disappointment. However, as it seems, at amoment’s notice, fortunes change. The winds within the same day will flip 180 degrees. As a result, I am treated to vacant perfect waves. Well, the wind changes, but one thing remains constant: water’s unrelenting power.
The learning curve of the ocean is grand. At home, I am a novice, but here I am in infancy within my knowledge of the water. I know nothing about anything, but I have learned before and will learn again here. See, well, these waves are new; they are not unfamiliar. I know the feeling of riding down the line. I know what it’s like to wake up with friends at 6 am and get there before sunrise. However, here, in this place, it is different. My life treads a new direction, one I’ve never experienced before. In South Africa, every person, place, and thing is new. Every fear is 10-fold. Every shortcoming is exacerbated by uprooting my life and the subsequent loss of all comfortability. However, every moment pushes me out of my tight box, farther and farther. Until I feel I cannot go another inch. But the waves and my board stay by my side through it all. Acting as my tether to the ground as the storm of culture shock, pressure, and social anxiety whirls around me.
The ocean, through it all, calls me. When I am lost, it, no matter the upheaval in my life, shows me the way. My identity is mysterious at this moment. Like a mouse trapped in a desert, finding shade and protecting in the company of an oasis, that oasis, my life in San Diego, has dried up. I have nowhere to hide from the scorching sun. It looms on the horizon. My identity longs to hide, but I must face reality’s piercing rays. My life is gone. Nothing is normal except the peace I find in every breaking wave. The ocean and its graces have delivered me what was lost but not forsaken. Friends and a circle of positive individuals whose lights burn far greater than mine. They are new, yes, but not unfamiliar. They are foreign, but here in this new land, we are a part of the same nation. We are people. We are human beings bound by the same love of life. As a result, the storm has no power here. This land of South Africa has quickly become my home, and I am embedded within it.
The ocean, it calls me once again. We go at it together with my friends and companions on this new journey, reminding me home is not a place. It is a feeling, and when in that water surrounded by new friends, I feel at home.
The last 4 weeks have been full of adventure and deliciousness! A big goal for me on this trip has been to eat as much delicious food as I can. I have definitely eaten a LOT of amazing food, yet there’s still so much to eat and do. I highly recommend all of the food and places I show below. So, if you’re in Seoul and want some recommendations, maybe some of these will catch your eye!
First Korean BBQ in South Korea. The staff cooked it for us, and it was really delicious with plenty of side dishes like lettuce, bean sprouts, 3 different types of kimchi (cabbage, chili, and chive kimchi), garlic and plenty of sauces.
A couple of pieces of bread I bought at a subway station vendor on my way home. The one on the right was a cream bread, and the one on the left I chose at random! It had a marmalade filling with, I believe, chestnuts and raisins. It was so large it took me a couple of sittings to actually finish it all, but it was definitely delicious as well. Both of them together cost me about 6,000 won.
Some friends and I visited a restaurant owned by Jin from BTS’s brother called Osseu Seiromusi, which specializes in Japanese cuisine. Specifically in seiromushi (せいろ蒸し) style dishes which is when dishes are steamed in a wooden, usually bamboo, box. It had a really nice atmosphere, and the food was absolutely delicious.
These are some of the dishes we ate at the restaurant. The vegetables were especially delicious after a week plus of eating mainly meats. Vegetables are quite expensive here, so having some steamed vegetables was really refreshing. The roasted sweet potatoes with butter were incredible and definitely a must-have!
A friend and I went to a bingsu cafe called Sul-bing near the university and got injeolmi bingsu(a Korean shaved ice dessert) and some honey butter toast they had. Both were amazing! The bingsu had layers of injeolmi powder, which is finely ground roasted soybean flour. This meant that the entire time we were eating, the flavor stayed and left us satisfied. The honey butter was also very delicious, and the roasted almonds added the perfect nutty flavor.
My roommate and I went to Hongdae, an area nicknamed after Hongik University that is always bustling with live performers busking, shops, clubs, bars, and more. We went to a vegan cafe called The Blue Bread and got their burgers which were also delicious. Though it didn’t taste much like any burger you might think of, and the patty wasn’t an attempt to recreate meat, it was very much so a bean patty, but I still really enjoyed it. There were some pickled onions inside that intensified the taste and made it delicious. I may not have liked it as much without them.
And then, the fried chicken! Fried chicken is a must in Korea. It’s in a different league of its own, and I had the chance to try different kinds at multiple places. The one above is from a chain branch called Kyochon Chicken. We were recommended the honey chicken, so we got that along with the soy garlic, original and yangnyeom chicken. My favorites were definitely the honey chicken and soy garlic, which are very popular for a reason. (Sorry for the meh quality picture, we were very hungry, so this is all I got before we dug in!)
More fried chicken at NooNaHolDak in Hongdae! This one is a bit different. It was bulgogi flavored and had rice cakes in the sauce with fries on the side.
Some budae jjigae (Army stew) we ate near the Dongdaemun Design Plaza(DDP). A spicy stew that has a variety of hams and sausages, ramen noodles, beans, corn, and more. It may sound like a strange combination, but it really is a must-try if you ever have the opportunity!
A staple of Korean cuisine bossam (sliced pork boiled in spices). It’s typically eaten in a leafy wrap, often lettuce, napa cabbage, or perilla leaves, with a variety of ingredients inside. For example, raw garlic, kimchi, ssam-jang (a spicy paste), chilis, and much more.
Of course, you can’t miss out on cafes when in Seoul, and here’s one I went to! The first two are from a cafe called Geurim Cafe (그림카페), where everything looks like it came right out of a sketchbook. The drinks were great, and the triple chocolate cheesecake I had was even more delicious!
Another dish I highly enjoyed is actually one from an upon restaurant near my accommodations. This is the spicy chicken mayo rice bowl. It is a perfect, super filling dish that was also super convenient. The restaurant is 24 hours, and you can easily order from the kiosk that has an English option, which is perfect after almost 12 hours of classes and commuting. Ready quickly and only ₩6,500! A definite staple in my diet this past month.
Now a few of the places I’ve been!
Hongdae, so many things to do and see! Hongdae is very much one of the places that never sleeps in Seoul. You could go at 2 am and still find places to go. Definitely somewhere you can easily spend a lot of money on everything from clothing, accessories, street food, restaurants, clubs, photo booths, makeup stores, phone cases, etc. Definitely, a must-visit area in Seoul!
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is a beautiful piece of architecture in Seoul. It flows wonderfully and is easy to explore. Definitely many photo opportunities! We explored for about 5 hours and didn’t even have to go into the museums!
Super excited to continue eating and exploring South Korea! Until next time!
Art by Milo Stibor, the homie*, follow him @milo.stibor13
I have been very desperate lately. I reach for a string to keep myself out of the all-consuming abyss of worry. The strings wear thin. I think soon I could fall in. Going overseas for an entire year is not a decision. It is a calling. Maybe even beyond a calling, more like a road from which I am irreversibly connected. The road leads into a murky cloud of uncertainty, a frightening but endlessly fascinating darkness. Now that I am departing in less than two weeks, I am closer to that dark cloud. I can begin to hear sounds radiating from its contents, laughs, cries, and everywhere in between. My consciousness fills in the lines in these waning hours in the States. I project memories onto that cloud, fantasizing about future moments for myself. However, my imagination and life experience are weak. I feel the gaps in my understanding and don’t know what will happen. Those gaps scare me as much as they excite. Gaps make room for questions. What will come of me when I am gone? Who will I lose in my life when I am overseas? Will I ever be the same again? Questions fly around my head like flies trapped in a jar, buzzing with incredible speed only to meet a glass wall. My thoughts, they too repeat this motion, hurling towards answers where there are none. The subsequent anxiety from the unknowables. It is strong. It is painful. But I am alright, remember, just breathe.
The cloud of uncertainty lies across the ocean in South Africa, specifically the port city of Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). I know nothing of this place. I have never crossed an ocean for travel in my life. I am not familiar with other cultures on a personal level. I am not well versed in the schools of thought outside of America. In many ways, I am just another copy of the “Dumb American” archetype. However, where I see the difference within myself is my openness. I love people. They are fascinating and beautiful in their uniqueness. The discrepancy in people is what makes humanity the grotesque yet ethereal beauty that it is. I want to pursue this disparity, and I will go as far out on a limb as I must to get a piece of it. So I set my sights on South Africa, a place with a history and culture that mimics the enigma of us. From apartheid to the gracious heat of Nelson Mandela and all that is between. I want to come as an outsider and witness a life lived absent of the west’s supreme influence. I will record this journey here on this platform and within these words. To my loved ones, thank you for what you have done for me. To my friends, you inspire me every day to be better than I was the day before. God bless you all for putting me in the position to make a leap forward in the story of my life.
Something Small Right Now
Winds move across the desert, shifting the barren landscape side to side
Mountains rise tall, their peaks connecting this world to that of the divine
Rivers flow with crystal clear water, running and rumbling day and night, all the time
The ocean, vast and unmatched, housing the essence of life from where we came and from which we shall go, forever in a bind
There always was, and there will always be
For me, I am light amongst the endless cosmos, one single piece in the grand landscape of space and time
Yet I am changing
I am not going to be the same
I yearn for something, some assistance in this time of upheaval in my life, but there is none
I return to my breathe, I know my decision is the right one
I turn my head, looking up at the stairs, I am at peace
What I felt before I wrote: A different Age by Current Joys
How was your study abroad experience? My friends and relatives have continuously asked me this after my 4-month expedition to Morocco to study Arabic and migration in the region. This is a loaded question, and I have, in many instances, struggled to answer it precisely. My study abroad experience was filled with every emotion under the sun: extreme joy, shock, frustration, anger, gratitude, anxiety, and love, to name a few.
For some time, I was upset that my experience was not the all-consuming happiness and joy I had always heard when people referred to their study abroad semesters. But, what I had heard, and what many hear, is unrealistic. If an international experience is going to be truly valuable, you must be open to the positive and negative experiences you may have in order to benefit fully from the lessons it can teach you.
When I traveled to Morocco in February of 2022, I was filled with anticipation, anxiety, and excitement for what my next four months would entail, all the people I would meet, and the lessons I would learn.
I started my journey in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. On my very first night there, I learned an important characteristic of Moroccans, one that I would continuously be reminded of throughout my time in Morocco. I was first introduced to the genuine, incomparable kindness of Moroccans when I was walking down the street and locked eyes with a Moroccan who shouted from a distance, “You speak English, you are welcome in Morocco!” This interaction was preceded by the hotel front desk worker giving out flowers to my friends and me on our first night after we casually commented they were pretty. I was unaware that these interactions would become common in my daily life while living in Rabat.
A huge component of my program in Morocco was the homestay aspect. I was most excited about this part of the program and had imagined how I would meet my new family for months before arriving. However, the nerves and all of the “what if’s” circling in my head took precedence over the excitement. What if they didn’t like me? What if we couldn’t communicate because of the language barrier? What if I felt uncomfortable with them?
I had three sisters, a mother, and a father in my new family. My sisters were all around my age, but only one spoke English fluently. My mother spoke some French and Spanish, and everyone else only spoke Arabic. I remember feeling angry at my academic directors for putting me with a family where only one person spoke English.
What would I do if my sister, who knew English, wasn’t there? How would I communicate with the rest of my family?
I thought it would be impossible. But, it taught me an important lesson, one that I was not aware I would learn at all. Communication is so much more than language. It is touch, it is eye contact, it is a feeling you get when being around someone. Although I learned a good deal of Arabic, and it aided me in communicating with my family, I primarily communicated with them non-verbally.
This was a lesson I probably would not have learned if I had studied in Europe. In Morocco, I was literally forced to learn this lesson in order to communicate with the people I had grown closest with, my host family.
I remember being able to look at my host sister and know exactly what she was thinking. She would constantly use physical touch to communicate her love to me, and I would do the same in return. There was something extremely special about these relationships with my family, something I can not even find the words for, but am eternally grateful I had the opportunity to experience.
Another lesson I learned, and one of utmost importance in getting the most out of my homestay experience, was the value of vulnerability. I learned that there is an unwavering vulnerability a person must have when immersing themselves wholeheartedly into a new culture completely unlike their own. In order to truly get to know a different way of life and the people in it, you have to let go of everything you think you know about yourself and the world and open up. It sounds a bit cliche, but it is so important if you really want to get the most out of your experience. Try EVERYTHING, even the food that makes your spine curl, ask questions, even if you think they are stupid, and most importantly, be present.
There were many aspects of my overall experience in Morocco that did not go according to plan, but meeting my host family and the relationship I had with them exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds.
It was in Rabat where I became aware, first-hand, of the difference in the treatment of women in Morocco compared to the United States. I had been told that catcalling would be something I would have to become accustomed to, and that it was just a part of life where I was choosing to study abroad. However, I was not fully prepared for what I would experience.
When I left my home in Rabat, I left the shelter and protection that came along with it. In the street, I became an object, an object that was constantly being watched and objectified by most men I walked by. Although I was never physically threatened, I was slowly beaten down by words and began to believe, a little more each day, that my worth was determined by the comments men shouted at me.
It sounds backward, right? I consider myself confident with who I am and at peace with my inner self. But somehow, after hearing comments about my appearance shouted by every man and their son on the street, I slowly began to believe that I was, like they had been saying, just my appearance.
Going to Morocco, I never really believed this was something I would have to deal with. I expected my journey to be largely positive and uplifting, filled with memories of joy and excitement rather than exhaustion and frustration. But, because of this, I dealt with extreme anxiety that I had never experienced before.
The true lesson I learned from this had nothing to do with me or how I dealt with this anxiety but everything to do with Morocco itself and the gender norms present in this country.
The feeling of anxiety I got when walking down the street, being sexualized by men who I had never met before, was a norm in this country. My host sisters had grown up not knowing anything different. I speak from a privileged, white perspective and know that this street harassment is multiplied tenfold in severity for Black women. Black women in Morocco are subject to harsh harassment. They are often assumed to be sex workers just because of the color of their skin. As a white woman in Morocco, I did not experience anywhere near the same amount of harassment. Nevertheless, it is the norm.
How could something so culturally entrenched in a society ever be changed? Would my host sisters grow up and have daughters who were subject to this same kind of treatment?
I had learned about gender norms in multiple classes before coming to Morocco. I learned about countries signing agreements like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (which Morocco signed) and, in theory, how to diffuse more democratic, gender-equal norms in countries that are currently patriarchal. But what does this actually mean in the context of my experience in Morocco?
Although I still don’t have an answer to this question, it taught me an important lesson that I would learn in the context of studying migration as well. I, along with other Westerners, can not go into a country like Morocco and simply change these norms. Although many Westerners and western organizations may like to think they can, this is not how it works. The ability to change norms is done by community building, organizing, and true change coming from the people themselves. I learned that Westerners hold no secret ideas, weapons, or skill sets that make them any more valuable in helping women gain rights around the world. This experience gave me a glimpse of my positionality as a white, educated woman from the United States criticizing the treatment of women in a country that is not my own.
Where does that leave me? I struggled for a bit with how to process this new lesson I had learned, one that at first caused me massive anxiety. But, it helped me gain a new perspective, reshaped my views on gender norms, and gave me a new appreciation for my ability to speak up for myself in the United States. It has given me a newfound motivation to use my voice in the US whenever necessary, as my host sisters, in many situations, aren’t able to use theirs when faced with harassment and catcalling.
This lesson has given me a perspective on global human rights issues, one that, before I came to Morocco, was privileged and in essence, perpetuating white saviorism ideals. I would soon realize I was perpetuating these ideals in my rhetoric when studying migration too.
After 6 weeks spent in Rabat, I had the opportunity to do research or to partake in an internship of my choice, using the vast connections and resources SIT (my program provider) had throughout the country. I chose to intern at Diocese Delegation Migration (DDM), an organization funded in part by the Catholic Church that provides basic services to migrants, specifically Sub-Saharan migrants. The organization is located in the strategic position of Tangier. Tangier, right across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, is a large crossing point for migrants, as you can reach Spain on a speedboat from the Tangier shoreline in around 12 minutes. This is an extremely dangerous route but, in many cases, the only option that migrants have in hopes of securing a safe, meaningful life for themselves and their families.
I had the opportunity to work with Moroccan staff at DDM, as well as staff members from all over Sub-Saharan Africa. I taught English to the staff after the workday was over and assisted staff in providing services to migrants during the day.
I learned more about the world and migration at DDM in four and a half weeks than I had learned in my entire college career.
At DDM, I became aware of how Moroccans view themselves in terms of their positionality on the continent of Africa and the world. They view themselves not as Africans but as Arabs. They dissociate entirely from the continent of Africa and consider it a foreign land. My host sister once asked me if I had thought all Moroccans would be Black, like the rest of Africa. And Moroccan guest lecturers, professors, and others I conversed with constantly referred to migrants as “Africans” coming to Morocco.
I was deeply confused by this at first. How could you dissociate so much from your own continent? But then I realized that this is not dissimilar to the way Americans see their Southern counterparts. Latin Americans are not treated with a sense of comradery and community by citizens of the U.S. because we are all living on the same continent, but instead are villainized, dehumanized, and made out to be different from us, “Americans.”
This sentiment is deeply ingrained in the rhetoric surrounding migration in Morocco and informs the way migrants from all over Sub-Saharan Africa are treated.
Although I was not able to speak with many migrants coming in for services at DDM because of the language barrier (most of them spoke French along with their native language), I was able to converse with Nigerian migrants, who spoke English, and some Cameroonian migrants as well.
These migrants would often tell me about the discrimination they faced as a Black person in Morocco, and some went as far as to say that they wished they could return to their home country because it was too difficult for them to handle.
Specifically, one man from Nigeria made a lasting impression on me. I accompanied him and his son to a doctor’s appointment, and he opened up to me about his life and how horribly he had been treated in Morocco. He experienced this treatment not only as a Black man but also as an English speaker who does not know any French or Arabic (almost all Moroccans speak French, as it is a former French colony).
I was used to English being a colonizer’s language and a language of power. But, in this context, it was just the opposite. English excluded him from fully integrating with other migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa and made it difficult for him to receive services in Morocco.
He told me that he had not had a conversation with anyone (outside of his family) in 4 weeks before speaking to me because no one around him spoke English.
He told me about the shame he feels, waking up every morning and begging on the street for money. This is his only source of income to provide for his family. But, he said, it was worth it to be in Morocco because, “If I make it to Europe someday, I have fulfilled my job for my children.”
This sentiment was shared among a large number of migrants I interacted with. After going through unimaginable hardships in their home countries, and making the journey to Morocco, the promise of what Europe can provide for them is their only hope.
I learned so much from speaking with migrants at DDM and am so thankful for the relationships I was able to build with them.
At DDM, a majority of the staff are migrants themselves. There were staff members from the Congo, Senegal, Madagascar, and Cameroon. While teaching the staff members English, I grew extremely close with them and was able to learn about their background and their cultures as if I was visiting these countries myself. I was able to attend a Senegalese religious celebration and eat Senegalese food, and my coworker from the Congo showed me videos of traditional Congolese dancing.
These conversations and relationships opened up my eyes to the diversity of cultures there are on the African continent.
Overall, the most important and impactful lesson I learned in Morocco was about my privilege and positionality as a white American studying migration.
I grew to understand the power of the American passport. I had no idea the privilege I held with just a tiny, navy-blue booklet. Americans virtually have the power and discretion to travel anywhere in the world, whenever they please, for however long they wish to.
This is something that can not be said about most other countries. My DDM coworker from Sub-Saharan Africa has been living in Morocco for over 15 years. He has never left the African continent and has been applying for a tourist visa to visit Spain (just 9 miles away) for years. He told me he worries he will die never having left the continent of Africa. He dreams of being able to travel around the world and experience new cultures but is currently unable to do so just because of the country he was born in.
He is by no means less than me or any other American with the power to travel freely. But, in the eyes of the law, he most certainly is.
How can this be, and how had I gone my entire life, even while studying international human rights, without considering this?
What gave me the right to intern at DDM without knowing the primary language of communication (French) and never having to know or confront any of the struggles these people are facing every day? I slowly realized I will never be in the same position as the people requesting services at DDM because of the immense privilege I hold. Even learning about all these different cultures and having the opportunity to write about them, is a privileged act in and of itself.
Before I studied in Morocco, my plan within my program was to come back to the US and tell the stories of the migrants who are often silenced and victimized. But what I realized is: that these are not my stories to tell.
Stories of migration should be told by those experiencing and living it. My role is not to tell the stories but to help amplify migrants’ voices and implement change in whatever way I can, using the direction of migrants themselves.
Before my experience at DDM, my aspirations in the context of migration were rooted in white saviorism and American exceptionalism. I thought, somehow, I was in a superior position to these migrants and could help them without ever going through, firsthand, the daily struggles they face. As a Westerner, I thought I held special power to go to Morocco and “help.”
I was taught these messages through the media I have been consuming since I was a child. I learned that Americans and the western world are more developed and, therefore, better equipped to help those in need, which clearly is not factual.
Being in Morocco taught me that I was perpetuating these beliefs in my thought processes and in my aspirations to “help.”
Morocco taught me a lot of things, but this was by far the most important lesson I learned. A lesson that will guide me and impact all avenues of my life going forward.
(Thank you to everyone at DDM, the SIT staff, and the SDSU Global education office for giving me the opportunity to have such a transformational experience. I will carry the memories and lessons I learned in Morocco with me for the rest of my life.)
When am I going to be free? What is freedom anyway? When am I, Jared Rowlen, going to be free from everything that holds me down, holds me back, holds me from doing the things I should be doing? I’m twenty now. Old enough to call myself a man, old enough for others to look and see the flesh and bones of a young adult. But when I look inside, what do I see but a young, ignorant fool hoping to achieve the impossible. I want to be free from this ignorance. I want to feel like I am the man I hope to be. The confines of my self-doubt and the intense external pressure of family, friends, and life often seem too great to surmount. But deep down, I know, somehow, I can and will be free.
In five days, I will depart for the country of South Africa for a year. A place that I know nothing about. However, I know that it is a place where the comforts of western society crumble. In 5 days, all this will be gone. All of this will be gone. My entire life will fade into the backdrop as my plane takes off from the ground. Family, friends, and the daily comforts of the west will slide away as I take on a new challenging adventure thousands of miles away. Sadness and a bittersweet taste have lingered on my tongue for some time now, as every time I see a face or location that has meant anything to me, it ends in goodbye. But today, that is not how I feel. Today something else has taken the melancholy place in my heart.
This morning as I said goodbye to my brother at the airport, I drove home thinking about the time we spent together. The memories of youth flooded my memory as tears began to swell in my eyes. Like a coward, I ran from these emotions. I grabbed my phone and looked for solace in music, a habit I implore often. However, when I hit shuffle, a song, Free Bird, by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on. As the song played, all the sadness inside swelled, but then quickly, to my surprise, faded away. Replacing it was a feeling of love. I remembered listening to this song with my mother, as she told me it was this very song that was played at her high school graduation. Her words stuck with me and gave new meaning to the song. For the longest time, this song resembled a finish line, the anthem of when I would finally break through the clouds and chains that confine me. The moment when I leave the chaos to enter the much greener, grassier plains of self-worth and success. But that changed.
I suppose my mother felt that same feeling I did when she heard the song all those years ago. Finally, she was the free bird and was posed to score high and leave all the problems and inadequacies on the ground below her. But, as life has it, it has a way of grounding you. Divorce, tight money, and the daily stresses of life can clip even the strongest bird’s wings. However, against the odds, she faced down the obstacles that plagued her and charged forward, moving to provide a life for her two sons so they too could have the opportunity to fly. But in doing so, she lifted off the ground again, catching a second wind off the backs of her two creations. She flies again.
Now she sees me off, that in five days, I too will be gone. It brings me back, back to where I began in this piece. I am looking for salvation in Africa but will not find it there forever. Nothing is good forever, but what I do hope to find is something pure, something that transcends my inadequacies in manhood, abilities, and career. I look forward to the opportunity to love. To meet different people but connect solely on the one thing that makes any person unite: love for one another. In love, one can soar forever. They can fly high above the challenges of life. Love for your fellow man or woman is the only true finish line. Love and human connection, when I fail at it, I am at my lowest. However, when I succeed at it, I truly become that free bird. Like my mother, who loved me so dearly, she put her life on hold to see me fly. Now I head to Africa to test my wings, but with my mother’s grace in my heart, I know I will find the connection I desperately desire. Thank you for reading, may love tread in your heart every day.
Oregon countryside, near my father’s farm, where the desire for something different was born
Hello and welcome to my month-long adventure in South Korea!
Oh, what a long ride it’s been to get here. I’ve been trying to study abroad for many years, even before attending university. Getting here was a process, but it all became irrelevant once I arrived. I had made it! 18 hours of travel, and I’d landed in South Korea, my first international travel experience, and I did it alone. That in and of itself has honestly increased the confidence I have in myself by quite a lot, but being here these past three weeks, I think I’ve changed for the better, more than I have in a while.
One of the first things I thought once I landed, after “Woah. I’m in a completely different country halfway across the world now,” was just “It is. So. Hot.” I was definitely not prepared for the humidity in Korea, and it doesn’t help that I arrived right at the beginning of the monsoon season…yes, right at the start of the weeks-long monsoon season. As you can imagine, the humidity has been very present and inescapable since I arrived. When I first arrived I was wearing not only a windbreaker jacket and a hoodie but also a long sleeve shirt. Mistakes were made. I did not look at the weather before coming, and that definitely made my first hours in Seoul an interesting combination of desperate fanning, sweating, and being lost. Disoriented was very much the word I would use to describe my first few hours in Korea. Starting in the airport, though, I learned that communication really is KEY. From getting to the right booth to picking up my Korean SIM card to finding the subway so I could get to my accommodations, I could not have done it without the help of many amazing airport employees. I discovered many kinks in the rough plan I had made to get to my accommodations, but the many sweet employees helped me get there.
My second day in Korea went much smoother. I arrived late Saturday, June 25th, and my program began Monday, June 27th, so I only had one day to explore, but I definitely did. My friend who lives in Busan came to Seoul to hang out and help me get things I needed that Sunday. We went around my new neighborhood and ate some of the most delicious pajeon 파전 (Korean green onion pancake) I have ever had. It was my first meal in Korea, and I am very glad it was because it was huge and just the perfect amount of crunchy and savory. If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to eat a Korean pancake (jeon 전), I highly suggest you try it. There are many different types like seafood jeon and potato jeon, so there’s something for everyone. I also explored my neighborhood and took some pictures at a photobooth shop with my friend and roommate. All in all a fun, fulfilling day.
Monday came, and so did the beginning of classes. I’m taking 3 classes; each is 3 hours long, so I’m on campus from 8:30 am to 7 pm. My favorite class is hands down, my evening ceramic arts class. This ceramics class is one of the main things I wanted to do with the program and it has been amazing. The professors and student assistants have been wonderful, so patient, and helpful. Working with my hands has also been amazing; I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It takes my mind off of anything else, and I can just focus on working with the clay to create something. Having to take the time and be patient with the clay and myself in learning has really helped ease some anxiety I had coming here. I’ve also learned to be more patient with myself because of this. I’m learning to do something I’ve never done before, so of course, I’m not amazing at it from the start! However, I have really learned to be more patient with myself and to see myself in a more positive light since coming to Korea.
An activity we went on, which is basically a field trip included with the program, was to a rail park where we peddled our way across the countryside of a mountainous area, ate dakgalbi (spicy stir-fried chicken), played a survival game with bb guns and drove ATVs by the river. The rail park and ATV ride were definitely the highlights of this day because I got to see some of the beautiful scenery Korea has, and simply being out in nature helped me to just exist in the moment and take it all in. Below are some pictures I took of the scenery.
Now I haven’t experienced a lot of culture shock since arriving, but one thing that was a definite shock was how sweet and/or buttery chips are here. I bought some garlic bread flavored chips expecting them to be well, garlicky, but when I ate them, they were very buttery. So buttery and sweet that I couldn’t eat more than a few pieces before needing to stop. The butter was so overpowering I didn’t taste any garlic. Similarly, I bought some nacho cheese-flavored Doritos, hoping they’d be more savory, but when I ate them, those too were sweet. I personally prefer savory and salty foods, especially in chips, so the fact that so many chips are sweet was really shocking. It honestly made me crave chips and snacks from the U.S. a lot more than I ever expected.
This time in South Korea has not only helped me learn about the country and culture but also about myself. I’ve learned much more about myself these past few weeks in South Korea than I expected. I knew that this experience would help me grow as a person, and it truly has. I’ve discovered once again that the world is really just full of people, people whom I can communicate with regardless of language barriers. One day as I was heading back to my accommodations by myself, I was passing by this little bakery inside the subway station, and it smelt so delicious. Specifically, it smelt like glazed donuts, and I just had to have some. It smelt way too good to pass up, so I didn’t! I went up to the lady and asked her in broken Korean what flavor each bread was, how much they were, and I got a couple of bread pastries! It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as it first seemed. When I first arrived, my roommate and I went together to most places, but now I can easily go around by myself, and navigating using the subway is simple. I’ve learned that I am a lot more capable than I’ve given myself credit for, and it is a lot easier to simply do things now. I don’t have to quadruple-check with myself and others to be sure, I’ve definitely grown to trust myself more these past few weeks, and I’m looking forward to even more growth and experiences!
As I sit here in my seat looking out the window, soaring above the Pacific Ocean on my way home, I can’t help but to reflect on the past 9 months. Coming home and leaving my study abroad program early wasn’t part of my plan, but over the past couple of weeks it had become the plan of many of the exchange students at AUT. With the current situation with COVID-19 at home in the US, it was safer for me to stay in New Zealand, which was what I was planning to do. But with the escalating situation at home, my parents and I came to the conclusion that long term it would be safer for me to leave New Zealand now rather than later, when there could be a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make it home for a while. That was about a week ago.
After getting off of the FaceTime call with my parents I booked a flight for today, March 29, 2020. It wasn’t until later in the week, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation on Monday that New Zealand too was beginning the process of social distancing and quarantine/self isolation beginning Wednesday night that I realized how serious the situation was getting because up until that point, New Zealand had relatively low numbers of cases of COVID-19. This past week has been pretty hard and stressful for me. School was suspended for the week with uncertainty of how the semester was going to progress. I was emailing my professors trying to see if I could continue my classes with them online, emailing advisors of both AUT and SDSU about my plans for coming home and what I was trying to do about my courses. Trying to contact student accommodation to figure out how to cancel the rest of my stay, and get a partial reimbursement for the rent that I would no longer need because I was returning home. Constantly checking my flight status as more and more flights out of Auckland were being canceled due to countries trying to restrict travel. Canceling travel and accommodation plans that I had made for my mid-semester break and a last minute overnight trip before I left, being on the phone with airlines to get my flight canceled last minute due to my other modes of transportation being canceled for safety reasons. And lastly having to say goodbye to the friends that I had made both last semester and this semester, as well as packing up my things and trying to get everything that I wanted to bring home to fit into my suitcases.
Emotion wise I feel sad, but appreciative. I feel sad and disappointed because I don’t want to leave yet because I had so much more that I wanted to do and explore, but also because Auckland had come to feel like home, and my “new normal.” I had figured out my routines, made solid friendships, was enjoying the majority of my courses, and just had a settled feeling of being and living in Auckland. I am also feeling appreciative and understanding/accepting, because I know that no one could have predicted how this was going to blow up and take over like it did when it did. I feel appreciative because I was lucky enough to have had an amazing complete first semester here at AUT, because the exchange students that came this semester, particularly the exchange students from the US only had a month here before they returned home. I am also, in a way, appreciative that I am able to come home relatively easily. A couple of my flat mates from Europe decided to stay because of the risk that they could get stuck in the transfer airport location, as slowly but surely the 5 major transfer airports that they could fly through on their way to their home country were closing.
So as I am halfway through my flight back to the US, I am grateful to be able to reflect on the friendships and the incredible memories that I have made in New Zealand, and I already know I will be back sooner than later, because while it was cut short, my journey in this beautiful country is far from over. New Zealand, AUT, SDSU, Fowler College of Business, and everyone connected to my study abroad experience- Ngā mihi nui ki a koe! (many thanks to you!)
Today marks Day 14 of self-quarantined isolation since I have returned back to the States. Since coming home to Colorado, I have, on 5 different occasions, caught myself having a full-on conversation with myself, which is most likely a sure sign that I am, in fact, going insane.
On a positive note, school is rather simple now. In fact, I am almost done with all of my abroad classes due to the fact that I have had so much time to spend getting ahead of the curve. Some of my teachers from Spain had a little bit of trouble adjusting to teaching online, but since then, they have adapted, and honestly it has made things a lot easier on us as students. SDSU also offered to the study abroad students the opportunity to participate in some no-cost 8-week classes for credits within our majors, so I jumped on that and have tried to stay busy so I don’t think about everything that I could be doing had my semester progressed as planned.