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These entries keep getting longer…

by Theodora Hannan, USA

Hello! I’m here to awaken you from your post-Thanksgiving slumber. This is a bit strange for me, because I’m an American student, and I’ve spent the last nineteen years having a Thanksgiving blowout meal every third Thursday of November, and to me it just seems normal. But being an International Ambassador has provided constant mental kicks to my default mode, and I spent quite a bit of time this week thinking about all of you.

I know for certain of a few countries that most definitely have a Thanksgiving Day, but I don’t think it’s a safe assumption to suppose that each one does. And when I begin to think about it more and more, what is Thanksgiving really for here in America? It’s Turkey Day, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (which, for the record, I did watch, and I swear it had more international music entertainers than Americans, doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? Maybe just me, but I wasn’t expecting Carly Rae Jepsen), it’s the day before Black Friday, the most profitable day for the US economy (followed closely by the upcoming Cyber Monday). As I stopped and stuttered every time I wished one of my international friends a happy Thanksgiving, I had to wonder: what is this day about?

There are plenty of other national holidays here, many of which are official days off: Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day…. And this seemingly random day in November is just another day, after all – in fact it was one of my new international friend’s birthday on Thursday! Life goes on living, the world goes on spinning – what’s so cool about today?

I have a pieve of family lore that makes me laugh and roll my eyes every year. My mother’s side of the family is actually related to some of the original pilgrims who came to the New World way back when. Now, according to their stories (corroborated by a library book when I was about twelve), one of my ancestors was a little kid that first year, was a right little terror, and got himself lost and picked up by the Indians (ahem – Native Americans, to be politically correct). They returned him safe and sound to the colonists, and began the peaceful first interactions between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims.

Now, I don’t really know how true this is (cute children’s library books aside), and frankly, I don’t really even care. Because the point is that it’s supposed to be a happy celebration, about friends who are friends even if they don’t particularly want to be (that little kid really was a handful according to the stories, I wouldn’t’ve blamed the Indians or the Pilgrims for wringing his neck). My family has never gone around the table and had everyone say what ze is thankful for, and I’m sure it’s due to the extreme strangeness of my family (don’t ask), because most people in America do this. And I for one think it’s nice: a time to be grateful to others, to share what makes you happiest, to take joy in others’ joy. That kind of mutual concern and love has nothing to do with nationality, an dI hope each and every one of you experienced something like that this week.


by Theodora Hannan, USA

In all fairness, I should mention a disclaimer that I’m not at all scary in real life, nor have I ever dressed up as anything in the least bit frightening for Halloween. Let me pretend, all right? I hope you’re all enjoying the festivities, or even if you aren’t doing anything exciting tonight – which would put you in good company, because I’m certainly not – that you at least got free candy from someone today. But that’s the point, yes? The free candy?

That’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, actually. One of my professors this semester is a dignified, polished British man in his sixties: he isn’t stuffy (quite a nice chap, really, and I hope you read that in an English accent) but he’s just so British. Does that make sense? Anyway, a few days ago, he was marveling at the concept of Halloween, wanting to know what the fuss is all about. Now, I am well aware that different countries have different holidays, and I guess I distantly knew that Halloween was a pretty American thing. But surely, even if one doesn’t celebrate, one can surely see the point? (cf. the above FREE CANDY.) For whatever reason, I was feeling particularly cheerful and peppy that day and went about attempting to convince him of the innate goodness of Halloween, only to be met with resistance. My selling points? Free candy, cute kids in fun costumes, no classes (because in American public elementary schools you spend the day doing nothing but looking adorable in your costumes), free candy, neighborly camaraderie (which is ridiculously difficult to spell), and, oh yeah, free candy. Sensing a theme?

But my professor just doesn’t get it. He goes out somewhere with his wife! Shocking. Well, not really, considering my parents conveniently live a condominium association with very few young families and therefore have not given out candy in quite a few years. Well, I for one miss it. I know that American consumerism culture is tedious, that Halloween evolved from a combination of pagan fears and a Christian holy day, that the focus on five-year-olds can be incredibly annoying. But as a five-year-old at heart, I love the fun of Halloween, its lack of seriousness. We have plenty of serious holidays, and most of them are mandatory, one way or another: Independence Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, winter holidays are all actually quite serious, if you pause and consider. But Halloween is pure fun, that we Americans do completely voluntarily and with great mirth. This is the opener for the holiday season, which will now begin at breakneck speed and sweep you up and off your feet for the next two months. So why not it start it off with a little bit of fun and a lot of free candy?

Now, while all the little kiddies count their bounty, I’ll be quietly sitting in my corner preparing my Christmas playlists for the stroke of midnight . . . but more on that later. 🙂

“If you feel discouraged, that there’s a lack of color here, please don’t worry lover…”

by Theodora Hannan, USA

I’m sitting, rather uninspiringly, in my dorm room, cuddled up in bed with pillows and layers and blankets. Now, you all don’t need a description of my snug little single in Lyons, but I bring it up to set the scene for the shocking news that everyone currently abroad needs to hear: it is fall in South Bend. I know, I know, that’s silly, of course it’s fall, Theodora, it’s October — but you forget, my friends, the bipolar nature of South Bend weather. On Thursday it was eighty degrees and sunny, but it’s been raining and overcast and downright chilly for the last two days, and it’s safe to say that there’s no going back. Worst of all, I looked out my window two weeks ago to find just one tree had decided to visit the stylist and was looking a little bit on the auburn side; walking to breakfast Thursday morning, with the trees and walkways darkened from the rainstorm the night before, and the leaves falling in halos around their previous owners, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect fall day (until it hit seventy degrees by 11 am, good old South Bend).

I tell you this, not out of any sadistic desire to make you yearn for your college habitat, or to make you cheer that you are currently grazing in better pastures, but because you aren’t here. You are far away from heart and home, off on grand adventures, living and breathing and growing and becoming. You are experiencing things I never have and in a great many cases never will, and I am here, at Notre Dame, also doing things without you here with me. Each time I think about you, want to text you or tell you what’s going on, I have to pause, realize yet again that you’re not here and that you won’t be for another few months. That barrier, that separation, never feels more real than in those little moments when I just want you here.

There has been plenty of time for me to dwell on this in the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until I sat down for a long talk with one of my new international friends this weekend that I felt how real this feeling is for those of you in the opposite position just by being here. It made the word “international” much more real to me, to hear my friend allude to his family across the universe from him, to realize that it’s exactly how I feel. How people in long distance relationships love and hurt when distance does not make the heart grow fonder, how family members spread across the globe for years lose the domestic closeness that had once bound them together, how once-friends look across the bridge of the lost years and find it too difficult to brave spindly wooden boards to close the gap.

Fall here is a beautiful time, and I hope all our newcomers enjoy it before it disappears in the blink of an eye. I hope to hear stories of falls in different climes and countries in just a few more months, but until then, we must content ourselves with the worlds we are each of us living, and wait in anticipation of better things.

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

It’s that time of year again….

by Theodora Hannan, USA

Good morning!

I sit writing this on the first home football Saturday this year, having been awoken by the dulcet tones of some of my fellow undergraduates’ wake-up reveille. Greeted by a little bit of rain, a little bit of sun, and a whole lot of fun, today brings back memories of my first two years here at Notre Dame. Even though I’ve been surrounded by a lot of Notre Dame spirit all my life (I am a dreaded “townie,” from South Bend, after all), my initial reaction to the Irish football weekend was pretty much “overwhelmed.” Huge crowds, loud noises everywhere, football stuff everywhere? I don’t think so. I went to most of the games freshman year, and had a pretty good time, but still didn’t fall in love with the whole process.

I’m as American as you can get: I grew up in the Midwest, I’m from a middle-class family, I’ve spent very little time out of the country. But I’ve also spent a lot of time with people less stereotypical than myself, not the least of whom are my international friends here at Notre Dame. I’m so happy this year to have that group of people grow exponentially by meeting all of you, to learn more about you and where you come from and where you’d like to go. I still don’t necessarily understand just why everyone here is so obsessed with football, but I can see how that love plays out here on campus seven weekends every year, as alumni and students and (quite probably) future students come together to celebrate. So whether you’re in love with football, encountering the Irish in all their glory for the first time, or missing us today from far away, know that there are people here who love you very much and can’t wait to experience these days, and many more, with you.

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.

Fiestang Filipino: A Club’s Annual Song to its Beloved Culture


Having participated in FASO’s signature event, Fiestang Filipino (see this interview from my freshman year ), the entire time that I’ve been an undergrad, it was a bittersweet experience taking my final bow at the Stepan Center this past Saturday. I look back at the last four iterations and manifestations of the annual dinner-dance/culture show/party, and remember the great effort and exposure it means for both Filipinos and lovers of Filipino culture at the University. The themes have changed (2011  and 2012 , for example) and the particular personalities and challenges of the organizers, performers, and audience members have changed and will continue to change. But, seeing how the devotion of each welcoming individual – and how a true love for what the event represents- are what continue to emerge as the lasting impressions for all who are affected by Fiestang, I know that in that way this has all “been worth it”.

Fiestang at Notre Dame has become an event much anticipated on campus and in surrounding Michiana communities. It owes a lot to the advisers and officers that have guided its development, as well as to its longtime caterer Tito Nane and to unwavering support from MSPS and FAAM. Throughout its existence, one thing has remained clear: Fiestang is a labor of love for a club that navigates major fluctuations in budget, facility availability, audience size, and many other parameters. It is a powerful testament that 18 graduating classes and counting of busy Notre Dame students have found the energy to put on such a show, and to bond in such a unique way. But beyond that, what I will remember from it most is how Fiestang epitomizes FASO’s opening up and inviting of so many others to join in- join in and discover what’s so great about this we call “Filipino”.