The last four weeks have helped me learn a big lesson; a lesson I didn’t realize I was getting. I couldn’t pin point it until after a few of our group discussions and then it became more clear and it is cultural competency. In our small groups, we were able to share our frustrations with the language barrier we were having as most of us did not speak the local language (Italian). One student compared our lack of cultural competency with the Italian culture with how immigrants and refugees must feel when they go deal with the culture of their host country without knowing the Italian language. It made me realize how frustrating it must be for them to deal with officials about their papers and/or if they needed help on health services, etc., without knowing any Italian.
On another note, all of us on this program were expected to do some ethnography work for our video project and yes, we had translators with us and everything, but it still wasn’t easy. The language barrier is not just about loosing a few words here and there. No, it has been about loosing crucial information needed for our supposedly “authentic” research. That lost information is sometimes done unintentionally while other times it gets me thinking if it was done on purpose. Why do our translators give us the sweeter and milder version of the truth? It’s a bit upsetting. We are not getting accurate information. This has happened very obviously during our meeting with the Mayor of Castelsardo town when we asked him if he knows anything about the Roma population living in his town. He said “there are no Romas living here. I know everyone in this town” thankfully Vicente (a famous Roma activist, who was visiting us that day) asked the mayor “how do you know there are no Romas here?” he was implying that the mayor was using skin color and certain ideas of how Romas look like for making that judgement call. Vicente can pass as a white man, his skin is as white as a white person’s but he is a Roma man. And Roma people usually have a darker complexion but some are light skinned. Vicente later told us that the mayor was being racist in labeling Romas as dark people. Even though the progressive Italians, like this mayor have good intentions and want to help immigrants integrate into the society, unbeknownst to him and the others, they perpetuate the same racism and power structures that they are trying to demolish.
As I’m slowly packing my things and preparing to go home, I’m going to miss the island. One moment I was swept off my feet with its beauty and charm. The next moment I would look at it and feel sad, sad about the many lives that tried to reach its shores, but they couldn’t make it. Overall, I really enjoyed my stay here and I’m leaving with a lot of lessons and memories made. Thank you Italy for your warm welcome and hospitality. Grazie mille! (Thanks a lot).
It’s been one week since I’ve been in Alghero, Sardinia. I’ve learned so much already, from trying new foods, experimenting with preparing food for yourself, doing new activities with other, living with house mates.
This week we learned about Roma population (informally known as Gypsies), Bangladeshi and Cameroonian refugees which was an eye-opening experience. To be honest, hearing their tragic stories about why they fled their country was unsettling for me. I was surprised by how I felt about it because my own parents have been through forced migration from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan so I should be familiar with how that experience is like. But Later that day, I realized that the reason I could not relate to these refugees is probably because my parents never really shared details or their feelings about their migration. Meeting the refugees has motivated me to try and approach my parents and see if they’d be willing to share their experience with migrating.
Since we are abroad and we don’t have our personal cars and we are not so confident in using public transportation, we walked. A lot. Our school was 20 minutes of walking from our apartments. We walked there and back every day which isn’t that bad but it gets tiring. I cannot remember the last time I’ve walked so much on a daily basis because We don’t walk much in the US. In Uzbekistan, I waked a lot but I was just a kid back then, it’s different now.
Since we, my study abroad group, is studying about refugees right now, I can’t imagine how much walking refugees must have done and how tired they must be because of carrying either their bags or their children. They would be walking from the loading docks to the refugee camps, or to the border. I had water on me when I went walking but these refugees probably didn’t, or had very little of it. I had bandages… for my blisters, I bet they didn’t. If one person’s feet are wounded without protection, since there are many of them, the infection can multiply and increase. I’m grateful for all the volunteers who stand to welcome the refugees because they not only hand out food and water, but they give medical supplies too. Those volunteers are the true heroes in this crisis.
From living in Kyrgyzstan I’ve learned that it’s a beautiful country, in many ways. The Kyrgyz people are the most hospitable people I ever met; they would strike up conversations with you, even when they don’t know you, and they can get very person very quickly, but that’s because in their culture it shows they care about you, while if that happened in the U.S., most people would get agitated by such questions. The Kyrgyz food is delicious – it includes everything from dumplings to soups to rice and everything in between; and they often use organically grown products rather than processed foods or genetically modified foods. Kyrgyzstan is a developing country and though a lot of the things were wonderful there, I began to appreciate the amenities I had in America.
I would advice other students to study abroad. The money shouldn’t be a problem, because there are a lot of scholarships out there just for college students who want to study abroad. This experience will teach you many things about yourself, it will help you grow and it will teach you some type of cultural awareness/sensitivity which doesn’t hurt since our communities are becoming more global ever day.
I have definitely learned a lot from this 2-months-in-a-foreign-country experience. I feel very grateful for all the scholarships that helped me pay for this, without them I don’t think I could have been able to afford this program. I made a lot of good friends in Kyrgyzstan – both local and Americans, and I’m going to miss them a lot. I’m going to miss my host family: my parents – who gave me lots of love and freedom to explore the city even if that meant I would come home at 11pm sometimes. I’m going to miss my Russian grammar, reading teachers – they were the most friendliest, sweetest and intelligent young people I’ve met in my life. I’m going to miss Bishkek, the capital city where I was living and its beautiful scenery.
As I’m preparing to head back to States- to American culture, I’m not worried. From being immersed in this new, Kyrgyz, culture, I feel ready to be back in America. When I get back to States, I feel like I will be more comfortable than ever to be living in a country where multiple different cultures/ideologies exist.
I feel bitter-sweet about departing. I’m glad for all the knowledge and eye-opening experiences that Kyrgyzstan has given me, but I also feel sad to be parting with the good people that I connected with here.
The city I’m studying abroad in is called Bishkek. The city is beautiful. It has everything you can think of: beautiful tall mountains, lakes, parks, good restaurants and malls. It’s a blend of a lively metropolis and beautiful nature.
The daily life for me is Russian classes in the mornings, for five hours. Then, some students who live in the dorms (which are located inside the school’s building) will usually take an hour-long nap and then do other things. Some of the students work out in the gym afterschool. Others will go to Sierra coffee shop, which is the most Western coffee shop around, to relax and study.
I live with a host family. Both of my host parents work Monday through Friday 8am – 6pm. They usually get home by 7pm and we eat dinner by 8pm together. During dinner time, they would ask me how school was, how were my classes and this opens up the chance for me to talk Russian. Occasionally they would go outside in the evenings, for a walk. They invited me and I went with them a few times. Those evenings walks are my favorite because not only do I get to practice my Russian, but I also get to know about their life and their cultural/personal beliefs.
The academic experience is great as well. I thought, prior to coming to Bishkek, that I would be in a class with at least five other students. But, when I got here, my program coordinator told me that based on my Russian Placement Test, she organized one-on-one classes for me. And this works great because the teachers teach by my pace and they focus more on things that I need help on rather than teach extensively things I already am familiar with.