About ISSA

International Student Services & Activities, also known as ISSA, supports and advises the international student community at the University of Notre Dame. ISSA staff members are deeply committed to fostering a campus environment that welcomes the international student community and promotes cross-cultural interaction and understanding.

Nostalgia for Folk Dancing

by Elizabeth Leader

As the weather warms and the daylight stretches long into the night, I find myself nostalgic for folk dancing.

I was fifteen the first time I went walking through the Vilnius Old Town with friends and followed the growing sounds of music and laughter into an oft-ignored inner courtyard. Coming through its archway, we encountered a swirling crowd of people dancing to the beats of half a dozen Lithuanian folk musicians’ instruments. There were fiddles, a cello, pipes, an accordion, and a drum, all carrying an even oomp-a oomp-a rhythm that echoed up and out of the courtyard’s neoclassical walls. Though the tune was unfamiliar, there was a decidedly inclusive quality to it—a welcoming warmth that seemed to accompany its notes and fill me from top to toe with anticipation of the dance.

Beside me, my friend Lorena grabbed my hand. “Come on!” she smiled, breaking my reverie as she tugged me over a trampled flower bed and onto the cobblestone square. We paused on the edge of the circle of dancers and watched as two twenty-somethings bounced by, kicking their legs out in time to the music. They were followed by a little girl reaching up for her grandfather’s hands as they spun–not quite as on-tempo, but done so with enormous enthusiasm. That’s the thing about Lithuanian folk dancing: it doesn’t matter whether someone is five or ninety-five, a professional folk dancer or the owner of two left feet, everyone is welcome to join in the dance if so inclined.

Having observed enough to have a sense of this dance’s basic steps, Lorena and I joined the whirlwind. Our feet were clumsy at first, but we soon settled into the music and found ourselves laughing and turning in time with the couples beside us. As one dance flowed into another, as dancers left to catch their breath only to have the music entice them back into the circle, we all danced on into the night. And we were utterly and completely happy.

Surprise Culture Shock, Eh!

by Patrick Carrique, Canada

Hi, I’m Patrick Carrique, a proud Canadian citizen and an avid defender of the “True North, Strong and Free. ” My voyage to Northern Indiana takes a grand total of six driving hours. I live within 60 minutes of The United States, speak English as my first language and have been immersed in American culture since birth. Before travelling to study at Notre Dame I expected very little to be different from home.  In fact, “Culture Shock” was not something that even crossed my mind. Upon my arrival however, it took no more than 10 minutes for that to change.

While generally accepted with open arms, I soon realized that being Canadian would become an unexpected and unavoidable identifier for me. As I introduced myself (even to the people who soon became my closest friends), I couldn’t help but notice a kind of wide-eyed excitement.

You’re from Canada??” Like, actually CANADA?!”

As soon as my nationality was brought up I found myself bombarded with questions. It is kind of a fun social experiment when meeting new people here.

“Okay, not to be rude, seriously, don’t take this the wrong way, but how important is hockey in your life?”

“So, how does it feel having a Queen still? Don’t you guys want to become your own country one day?”

“Would you just say “Eh!” for me? Or “ABOOT”?

“So if global warming gets really bad, what will happen to your house? Will it melt?”

These are questions I hear on a weekly basis, even now in my sophomore year. I don’t take any real offense to them (for the most part), and I believe that most of them are asked in a light-hearted and truly interested manner. I simply did not expect this kind of response though. Our countries share the world’s longest land border, have one of the most active trading relationships on Earth and generally follow pretty similar cultures. For these reasons, I did not prepare myself for any type of cultural adjustment; I soon learned that this was a misguided mentality to follow.

In truth, Canada and the United States are different. Perhaps not always explicitly visible or universally recognized but these are two distinct places, offering unique and fantastic experiences. We are different people, with different cultural values, different customs and varied identities.

Alike to most college students, my identity changed coming into my freshman year. I was now the Canadian, “the almost-fake international student”, a man of skewed vowel sounds, a tendency to over-apologize and a charm that can only come from a Canuck upbringing.  My advice to incoming international students, whether from Canada or anywhere else is to realize that regardless of where you come from, culture shock might just rear its head. It does not have to be a negative experience though.

So if a nationality identifier gets tagged on you, rock it. Show them pictures of home, stay true to who you are and try to not take any stereotypical questions too seriously. If you’re Canadian, get ready for some questions about moose, keep using Celsius and make sure to get together with some friends to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving.

An International Experience in Hong Kong

by Charles Xu, USA/China

The University of Notre Dame and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have an international exchange program where two students from each university undertake studies at the other university each semester. This past year, I was fortunate to participate in this program for both semesters of my junior year. It was an incredible and nearly indescribable experience on so many levels. While my own study abroad experience was uniquely personal for reasons of family and return, there were also the typical stories of study abroad, though typical does not in any way mean less meaningful.

They say Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city and the menagerie of foreign exchange students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong reflected just that.  I became friends with countless people from all over the world, each with their own story of where they came from and where they were going. Everyone had a different reason for being in Hong Kong. Some came for the local Chinese culture, some for a taste of the fast-paced Asian New York City, and some just to try something different, something new, something bold. And of course, some for Lan Kwai Fong, the infamous bar district of Hong Kong. But for some reason or another and by the luck of sheer coincidence, we had gathered from all corners of the world in one place. The diversity of thought and opinion on nearly every single issue from world politics to cuisine to fashion was disorienting and exhilarating. What kinds of clothes do the Swedes prefer? How do the Chinese and Japanese feel about the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands? What different kinds of dim sum (traditional Cantonese style of serving food) did the Dutch and Koreans prefer? It was quite the miniature United Nations we had. Yet we were still able to bond as close, genuine friends. Because we were all simultaneously dealing with the culture shock of a new environment, and one as intimidating as Hong Kong with its overly crowded streets and subway stations and walls of towering apartment blocks, we were all foreigners in a foreign land. This probably drew us closer than we knew. Thanks to a couple of our friends, our group organized pancake parties where once every few weeks, someone would make a variation of pancakes from their nation. Everyone brought snacks and drinks and a jolly good time was had. I think by the end, a total of 7 pancake parties were organized and countless pancakes consumed. Towards the end of the first semester near Christmas time, one of our Dutch friends, Thomas, suggested we do a secret Santa as well as write a poem for the giftee. As many of our friends were about to depart the shores of Hong Kong, needless to say, there were not just a few soggy eyes. Alas, everyone has now separated, each returning to their respective universities and countries. Yet, we will always be able to remember back onto our exchange time in Hong Kong with fond memories. Not just of the city and its lights, but of the people and experiences. Though there was not an IHOP in sight, as silly as it sounds, whenever I chance upon a waft of pancakes in the air, I’ll be brought back to Hong Kong, to the Chinese University, to International House, and wonder where my friends might be in the world and hope that we might once again share another bite.

Making Pancakes

Charles and Friends

My poem to Sabina

I still remember when I first met you at super seafood.

Super short and super nice was what I conclude.

A Chinese girl with a Viet touch

Born and raised in Sweden and spoke as such.

Your diverse background was one of the first to open my eyes.

That there is truly a big world under these skies.

In your time here, I know there were a few bumps in the road.

But keep in mind that everyone saw the kindness you showed.

I will definitely miss you as you return home in just a few weeks.

I am sure there will be tears on many a cheeks.

These friends you have made from all over the world are people you can count on.

Never forget the good times and keep them as fond memories to look back on.

And don’t forget to always remember pancakes in Hong Kong.

For these memories will be with you lifelong.


The Multivarious Dimensions of Culture

by Theodora Hannan, USA

When I was little, we used to go to Summer Shakespeare every year as a family; I remember thinking how gorgeously grown-up and palatial Washington Hall seemed, where all productions took place before DeBartolo Performing Arts Center was built. Entering the building was like a precursor to the suspension of disbelief that the imaginary world requires, and my childlike self was all too willing to be scooped up and flown away for an adventure.

The second to last Saturday night this August I did not have this attitude when I entered the theatre in DPAC. It was a long month of hosting orientations for school, I had just gotten sick, and classes were right around the corner, but there I was about to see Richard III with my sister. We had both been keen to see the play in the spring after the excavation of Richard III’s bones in Leicester, but it was now with a sigh that I settled in my chair.

As the house lights dimmed and the tinny prerecorded announcement to silence cell phones ended, however, the anticipation of the theatre began to buzz. I am a self-professed lover of Shakespeare: I have taken multiple classes on his plays, I own his collected works, I recite sonnets every year on Valentine’s Day in O’Shaughnessy Hall. The familiarity of and affection for his work is always able to claim my attention, and this night was no different.

We are greeted, of course, with Richard himself, opening with one of the infamous soliloquies: “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York;/ And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house/ In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” This particular Richard was eerie not for his grotesque characterization, but rather for his more charming nature and dashing countenance, as we see in his manipulative courtship of the widow of a man he has killed. The act closes with another soliloquy from Richard, this time much more intimate with the audience, as the actor sat on the very edge of the stage twirling a rose he had taken from the lady’s mourned husband. Enraptured, I was caught entirely off guard when Richard gazed in my direction and tossed me his rose before exiting the stage.

I was enchanted. I was charmed. I was smitten. Here I was at the theatre, always full to brimming with magic and wonder and joy, and a pretty boy saying sweet nothings had just broken the fourth wall and given me a flower. I fell in love with the theatre all over again that night, as I do in some small way every time I go. This, it occurs to me, is what “culture” in all its multivarious dimensions is all about. Culture is being spellbound by actors on a stage for two hours and going to see a German band in Chicago next month and walking aimlessly through Central Park for hours on a Sunday afternoon. Culture is the light in the eyes of a child exploring a world of possibility and promise and the renewed hope of the jaded twenty-something. Culture is how we engage the world, by seeing all the most beautiful things it has to offer, no matter from where or with whom.

A Permanent Sojourn: The Chinese Born American Perspective

University of Notre Dame undergraduate student Charles Cong Xu won first place in the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s  (CUHK) 2012 Study Abroad Writing Contest. Xu, an undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Chinese, is studying at CUHK for the 2012-2013 academic year. Xu’s winning essay is posted below.

A Permanent Sojourn: The Chinese Born American Perspective

Day 35 in Hong Kong: That preserved duck leg I had for dinner was way too salty. It was too bad they ran out of spicy chicken legs. *Yawn* Man, I should really stop Skyping home at 3 in the morning, but it does make me feel less homesick. Now, here I am in the 24 hour study lounge in central campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong pondering upon the last 19 some years of my existence, trying to make sense of my “story”. I feel like there is too much to say, too much for it all to make sense, for it all to mean something. Practically my entire life has been an international experience and they expect me to condense it down to a mere 2000 words? Impossible I say, but I suppose I should start from the beginning.

I was born in the city of Wuhan, China and grew up within the grounds of Wuhan University. From the few pictures hanging on my wall at home to the scattered stories told by my parents, my memories of Wuhan and of China are left vague and surreal. I remember the hot humid nights when I couldn’t fall asleep and all I could do was listen to the chirps and buzzing of insects outside. I remember going out with my parents at night to find the watermelon vendor and slapping countless melons until we found our prize. I remember cutting the watermelon into halves and the three of us would dig in with spoons as if nothing else in the world mattered. I remember the joy of chewing on bite size chunks of fresh sugar cane that my mom had just peeled and cut. I remember my extreme sadness when I learned that my mom was going away for a while, to the United States of America to study.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my mother had successfully applied for a Ford Foundation scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It mattered little to me. All I knew was that at the age of 5, my 妈妈 was half way around the world and I didn’t know when would be the next time I could see her. 6 months passed and all the legal documents had been filed, the visas applied for, and the flight tickets booked. My first international experience was not by choice, even though I wouldn’t have chosen to stay. My family meant more to me than my hometown; my family was my home. The three of us were again reunited, but this time in a strange and bizarre world that none of us had any experience with.

When I first came to the United States, I was distinctly Chinese. I did not know a single word of English and the first thought I had when I saw a McDonald’s was “They have McDonald’s in America too?”  I was immediately enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) class at my elementary school. Although I picked up the language rather quickly, I remember I still felt very different. I could not communicate with my classmates or my teacher. I had to point in order to tell the teacher I needed to go to the bathroom. In a town of only 30,000, being Chinese is something special – sometimes good, sometimes bad. There were those who were genuinely interested in learning how to say pencil in Chinese. There were also those who assumed all Chinese people knew Kungfu. Getting picked on and having pieces of paper thrown at you without being able to retaliate without getting physical tends to get you into trouble. I can’t say it wasn’t worth it though. Within a year and a half, I had “graduated” from ESL and moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Language became less and less of an issue, but the cultural differences remained.

They say “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, but I guess I never took that saying to heart. I remember thinking that Americans were quite primitive for eating vegetables uncooked, and it has taken me many years to get used to salads. One of my favorite snack foods in China was干脆面 or dry crispy noodle snacks for kids that are made to be eaten uncooked. Although they are extremely common in China, they are very rare in the U.S.  So instead, I started eating uncooked American style ramen as a snack. I even brought it to elementary school with me to eat during break time. I remember it took a lot of convincing to get the first kid to try it. A few weeks later, literally half the class brought their own little ramen bags. The practice even popped up in other classrooms by kids who I didn’t even know. When I look back on this, I’m beginning to realize that I was not just eating uncooked ramen because I enjoyed the taste, but I was reminiscing about my life in China along with all the kinds of food I had grown up with. Yes, I started to like pizza and pancakes after moving to the U.S., but I also brought my home culture with me in the form of uncooked ramen, which was apparently embraced by the local Americans. Little did they know, not only where they enjoying a new snack, but by adopting the practice of eating uncooked ramen for snack, my classmates had helped me feel more accepted as an American. The metaphor of the American “melting pot” was never truer as 干脆面 was added to the pot.

Growing up in the U.S., I had a disproportionate amount of Asian friends. Although Asians probably accounted for less than 10% of the population, more than half of my friends were American born Asians or immigrants like me. This is still very much true today, even in my university life. Perhaps the reason is because we have all shared similar experiences of being excluded from the mainstream, of enjoying the same activities, and of having similar issues at home with often overbearing parents, at least compared to our American friends. Communication and mutual understanding is much easier, and you don’t have to explain why you eat rice all the time or why you can’t come out to play because you’re too busy studying or practicing the piano.

Fast forwarding some years leads my family and me to South Bend, Indiana. By this time, I had spent more time in the U.S. than in China, and my English had far surpassed my Chinese. Today, although I am able to speak Mandarin conversationally, my reading and writing skills have regressed past what I knew as a first grader in China.  Somewhere along the way, I had transformed from being distinctly Chinese to at least moderately American. When my family and I eat watermelon these days, we do so half the time with spoons and half the time in slices. Perhaps all of these things mean that I have assimilated to American culture and have forgotten my roots. Perhaps this is true, but I actually know of many people who have moved to the U.S. like me who have completely forgotten their native tongue. In fact, their parents may not want them to learn Chinese because they feel it would be harder to become “American” that way. I completely disagree and am proud that I can still speak Mandarin. I think there is value to all cultures and being able to transverse between cultures is anything but a disadvantage.

13 and a half years passes faster than one would think and I had not had the opportunity to return to China. I felt like I missed out on all those family gatherings, all those missed birthdays, mid-autumn festivals, and especially Chinese New Years. Some days, I wonder how much closer I would be to my grandparents had we stayed in China. I learned today that one of my cousins is about to have an engagement party in the next month. I didn’t even know she had a boyfriend. I had forgotten what real 干脆面 and I couldn’t even tell you how many provinces are in China if you asked. In a sense, I had forgotten what it meant to be Chinese and was left clinging to my uncooked ramen. I desperately wanted to rediscover my roots, the parts of me that I had left behind.

Thus, when I learned that my home university, the University of Notre Dame, had an exchange program with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I applied immediately as I knew this would be the perfect opportunity for me to return to China. I am the first year-long exchange student from my university, and so far it has been a rollercoaster of an experience. Being truly independent in a different country has brought many difficult and unexpected challenges that I have learned or am still learning to deal with. However, I am beginning to understand the local Hong Kong culture and am also meeting many new faces from literally all over the world.

Hong Kong has made me realize just how American I have become. Although I still do not fit into the mainstream culture of America and probably never will, I feel much more out of place in Hong Kong than in Indiana. My homesickness is not of my hometown of Wuhan, but of my friends and family who are all in the U.S. I miss the pizza and I miss the pancakes. However, there are bits and pieces of Chinese culture around Hong Kong that I can still identify with. A few days ago, I bought my first package of 干脆面 at the Park N’ Shop on campus and crunched on it proudly as if my quest of nostalgia had been completed. I’m even more excited about when my parents will come with my little brother to visit me in Hong Kong. We will then return to Wuhan as a family for the first time in 14 years, a once in a lifetime opportunity that will surely bring much joy and tears.

You may want to ask me what I have learned from all my experiences or if I have gained anything concrete that I may be able to list off. It is really not like that. I am the result of all my experiences. My personality, my values, and my beliefs all embody my time spent in China, in the U.S., and now in Hong Kong, and they will continue to change as I spend more time here. Reflection is important, but it is only important because it helps encourage learning and personal growth. To me, internationality is not just a label or a point on a resume. Rather, it is a way of life, a way of thinking, a way of interpreting the world. Today, I identify more strongly with the world than with either Chinese or American. As the world becomes smaller and smaller due to the shrinking effects of globalization, more and more people will have significant international experience and be able to identify with not just the community in which they were born into. Internationalism is the way of the future. It doesn’t matter if you are Chinese, American, American born Chinese, or even Chinese born American. You are human, you are you. Embrace the positive experiences and learn from the negative ones. The world is big; the world is inspiring, go.

A Life on the Other Side of the World

by Nikita Taniparti, India

Every August for the past two years now, I’ve left my family halfway across the world, to be reunited with my Notre Dame family once again. It was definitely a struggle learning to adjust in a new world, but Notre Dame made that experience that much more memorable and enjoyable. From the professors who adopt you as their children each semester, to the support system in the dorms, the dining halls and the Dean’s Office, this University has given me all that I could ask for and more.

As an international student, recreating a new life on the other side of the world takes time and effort; by defining a perfect set of contacts and a fostering environment, Notre Dame has helped me and my friends grow into the best possible adults we can be. I’m proud to say that I grew up at Notre Dame, learnt about life and have met people I will be with for a lifetime. Initially unsure about my decision before arriving at school, now having spent half my time here already, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Notre Dame definitely has a huge part of my heart, now and forever.

What the ESL Classes Taught Me

by Hyewon Yun, Korea

Writer David Sedaris said that he felt like the “the lowest life form” while he was discussing on NPR his humiliating experiences of learning French in Paris. The statement might be extreme, but it does hold some truth. I worked as a translator back in Korea, and helped many English-speaking business people and professionals communicate with their Korean counterparts in mutual interactions.  My best efforts to change one language into another failed me sometimes because as foreigners, English speakers could not fully understand what was going on without a basic awareness of Korea’s cultural and social contexts. In this situation, they first floundered in a deluge of words, then abandoned themselves in a pool of loss, and finally had this I-have-no-idea look on their faces. This made them look not very smart, at best. However, the tables were turned when I came to America with my husband, who had been accepted as a business graduate student at Notre Dame.

I started to learn English at the age of 13 in school, majored in English education at college, and was trained and worked as a professional English translator. I often watched CNN and PBS, read Time Magazine and the New York Times, and loved Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and Iron Man; however, as soon as I landed in the middle of Midwestern corn fields, I immediately became a “foreigner” who had no idea about America and American life.

When I came to Notre Dame with my husband, I began participating in International Student Services and Activities’ English as a Second Language (ESL) for International Spouses Program. Part of my journey in the ESL classes was the process of better understanding American culture and history. One of the insightful topics during the classes was tall tales, which extoll courage, resourcefulness, as well as physical and mental strength of the grassroots heroes and heroines who pioneered this country long before Hollywood, New York fashion, Michael Jackson or Coca Cola. I could see the painful struggle of those people who crossed treacherous waters from around the world, endured hard labor to survive poverty or slavery, or took one tough step after another to build a better life in the New World behind these funny or exaggerated stories. I believe that this heroism, unsung outside America, has served as a basis for this country’s entrepreneurship, country music, hard-to-pronounce street names and beautiful national parks. Those tales helped me to understand the formation of this country a little more.

The ESL Program opened my eyes, not just to America, but also to the world. In celebration of Valentine’s Day every year and in the middle of busy presidential primaries this year, two different classes under the program had joint sessions to discuss love and wedding customs as well as presidential election systems in the students’ home countries. The students in the class represented almost the entire world: China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan from East Asia; India, Iran, Israel and Sri Lanka from South Asia and the Middle East; Armenia, Russia and Spain from Asia and Europe; the Dominican Republic and Mexico from Central America; Brazil, Chile and Uruguay from South America; and Cameroon and Mali from Africa. I was sometimes shocked, and at other times amused, by the stories. For example, Islamic Chinese hold a family-oriented hour-long wedding ceremony, which seems to be the combination of the Islamic faith and Confucian values. Iran surprised me with its great status of women and high divorce rates. Africa and Asia have similarities in putting communities and families before individuals. I never expected to meet a passionate Iranian feminist or modest, silent Chinese career woman (Chinese people are considered assertive and outspoken to many Koreans). I also learned what roles religion plays in American and Iranian politics, why the Chinese do not bother to vote, and how totally different countries have so much in common.

These experiences reminded me that I had a mold to break, which required more sincere effort and commitment than expected. It is true that I have learned things from CNN World Reports, BBC World Service, and The Economist, but they often cannot beat five minutes of small talk with real people from the regions that news media touch upon. The ESL student body is a microcosm that provides many chances for such interactions as it represents a big world across diverse countries, regions, skin colors, ethnic groups, cultures, and religions in a small classroom. This English-learning program encouraged me to break down the walls of preconceptions and misunderstandings and to see the world beyond the endless cornfields of the Midwest.

Some might say it is an exaggeration, but I believe these eye-opening moments help build trust, harmony and peace in the world. The lack of understanding often produces prejudice and discrimination. I couldn’t have learned this lesson living a comfortable life as a non-foreigner in Korea, nor did I expect to learn this lesson when I first signed up for the program. This is the education this unique and precious program can deliver – I couldn’t have learned it from any other part of American life. This is what the ESL program for international spouses taught me, and how it helped me grow out of feeling like “the lowest life form” in America.

My Trip to Appalachia

by Tara Lucian, USA

Every fall and spring break the Center for Social Concerns hosts seminars throughout Appalachia, a region of the United States that surrounds the Appalachian Mountains and includes counties in 13 different states.  This region is one of the poorest in the United States, with some of the highest levels of unemployment and lowest levels of education.  The people you meet in Appalachia are usually very different than the people you will meet at Notre Dame; they have different backgrounds, expectations for the future, and perspectives on life.  There are some similarities though: they are friendly people who are willing to lend a helping hand and work hard for what they want.

This spring break I went to West Virginia with fifteen other Notre Dame students. The beginning of the drive down was boring.  We spent hours driving through flat Indiana and Ohio cornfields.  Once we hit the foothills of the Appalachians, the scenery took a turn for the better. There was something eerily beautiful about the tree-covered mountains.  It was too early in the season for leaves, but rather than the normal brown or gray that you would expect from leafless trees, they almost had a blue tinge to them.  Driving through the mountains with the bright sun and blue sky overhead, and country music blasting on the radio, we made our way deeper into Appalachia.

We spent most of our time working with Park Ranger Eddie Hatcher, readying a state park for summer visitors while Eddie imparted his ageless wisdom on us. When geese fly in a “V,” why is one side longer than the other? Because there are more geese on that side!

When we finished work for the day, we would go hiking in different state parks.  Wading through fallen leaves next to trickling streams and babbling brooks, crawling behind waterfalls and under rocky outcrops, we wondered at the beauty of the nature around us.  Every walk was an adventure as we often went off trail, never knowing where we would end up next.  I have vivid memories of staring down at our car from a 40 foot cliff, wondering how on Earth we were going to get down so we could return in time for dinner.

Of course, there was an educational aspect to the trip as well.  There were several cultural events at the Folklife Center: Ranger Rudy taught us about the history of coal mining, Nancy spoke about preserving West Virginia and its culture, and Will treated us to a haunting coal miner’s song.

“It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew/Where danger is double and pleasures are few/Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines/It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.”

Even listening to the radio was an experience.  Most strikingly, I heard a commercial about looking for a job after high school, with no mention of college, no suggestion that it might be an option.  For many people in Appalachia, it’s not.  As someone who was raised assuming that I would go to college, this commercial made a strong impression.

If any undergraduate student is looking for a new experience to fill their fall or spring break, I highly encourage them to take part in an Appalachia Seminar.  I had the time of my life on my trip: I worked hard, recharged, met new people, and explored the outdoors.  I learned so much about a region of the United States that I had only ever driven through before, and I felt honored and privileged to have done so.

The University for Me

by Yiwei Shen, China

My name is Yiwei Shen and I originally come from China. My hometown Chengdu is located in the southwest of China. The weather in Chengdu is so different from here. We have endless cloudy days and are always expecting the precious blue sky. It’s so exciting to have plenty of sunshine here! In addition, Chengdu is said to be a city that “teaches you how to waste your time correctly” and “you never want to leave once you come.” It is a place with a slow and pleasant pace, resulting in satisfaction about life.

At Notre Dame, I live in Lewis Hall and I find it a super nice dorm for me.  (We enjoy the beautiful lakes!) Technically speaking, it is not far from anywhere; it’s just not close enough to everywhere. It takes me some time to get to class, but why not regard it as a little exercise?

As a freshman, I want to double major in business and psychology, but I won’t make a decision until next year. Many people have asked me why I chose to attend Notre Dame. The simplest answer is that Notre Dame was the best choice for me compared with other universities. But now I’d like to say I was led to Notre Dame by life. It doesn’t sound like an ambiguous answer, does it? However, I do believe ND is THE university for me.

We’re All Irish

by Tanya Alconcel, Hawaii, U.S.A

Leaving my home state of Hawaii to come to Notre Dame was the biggest culture shock of my life, which isn’t something you might expect since Hawaii is still part of the U.S.  But the environment, the people, and the culture at Notre Dame was completely different from island life.  Although it was extremely disconcerting at first, I think it was my curiosity and excitement of being in a new place, experiencing a new culture, and meeting new people, that helped me overcome my initial fear and thrive in this new environment.  I stepped out of my comfort zone to talk to lots of different people, join lots of different clubs, and even try several different majors to learn and experience lots of different things, and that would be my biggest piece of advice to new students today.

Meeting and connecting with new people who were ethnically, religiously, and even economically different from me was a challenge.  But instead of letting my differences hinder me from connecting with people, I used it to my advantage as a great token of interest in conversation, because people were really interested to hear about Hawaii and my culture.  Be proud of yourself and where you come from, because I think people at ND really appreciate diversity and want to learn more about you!  And remember that despite any ostensible differences, we’re all Irish.