Post- China Reflection

Having only taken one year of Chinese, living in China and trying to navigate life only speaking Chinese was very difficult at first. Simple tasks became more difficult and a lot of thought went in to everything that I tried to say. However, as the summer went on, I became more and more comfortable using Chinese to speak to locals. Being immersed in a language really helped me learn unfamiliar words and phrases. I would often listen to people’s conversations and try to figure out what they were talking about. I think I made a lot of progress during the summer. I can now discuss multiple different topics in Chinese and feel relatively comfortable doing so.

Although I believe my Chinese language education is extremely important, I feel like my exposure to Chinese daily life and culture is one of my greatest takeaways from the trip. As someone who has lived in the same small city for his entire life, seeing one of the largest cities on the opposite side of the world was a once in a lifetime experience. China is so different from America. It’s almost so different that it is difficult to explain, so I am extremely happy I had the opportunity to experience it for myself.

I am continuing my Chinese study back at Notre Dame. I plan to major in Chinese and use it to get an International Business Certificate. I am excited to take Chinese culture classes and discuss issues facing the country in my Chinese class.


Final Post: Thoughts and Goodbye


As I wrap up my time in Alicante, the predominant thought I have is where did all the time go? I have grown to love the experience of living in a country with a second language, as it is a constant puzzle to figure out what people are saying, and constantly keeps me on my toes. I feel that I have grown and developed so much since coming to Spain, both in my language skills and my identity as a global citizen. Although I have only cracked the surface on the amount of cultural experiences that I needed to have in order to consider myself a citizen of Spain, the amount that I was exposed to certain proved to provide a taste of the many subtleties that differentiate Spain.

One of the only things that I would change about my experience is that I would have spoken more in Spanish with the other study abroad participants. Although we tried to speak in Spanish at all times, often times it was easier to convey the message in English, so we relied on the crutch instead of making use of all the resources available to us. That being said, the experience of living with my host mom and constantly speaking Spanish with her made up for a lot of the other time, because there was no other option when conversing with her.

My biggest takeaway from the summer besides the language would be the ability to immerse myself in a situation in which I felt uncomfortable. I went to Spain not knowing anyone or anything about the country, and was able to make it through the difficult situations with relative ease. Even though there were some times when I wished that I would understand the language perfectly, learning new words and the colloquial language was constantly exciting and provided new revelations. I hope to visit Spain again soon.

Las Hogueras

I was fortunate enough to be able to witness the primary holiday of Alicante, which is called Las Hogueras. This day celebrates the feast day of San Juan, or Saint John. Over a million people attended the festivals, and the festivities lasted a full two weeks. During the first week, there were displays of las hogueras, which are giant art displays that cost 100,000 euros to make each. Every neighborhood creates and then displays their own hoguera, which gives the character to the neighborhood. In total, there are over 30 hogueras on display in the city. Every day, firework-like bangs called las mascletas go off in the center of Alicante during the day, which leads to a full day of partying and drinking through out the streets. Then, on the weekend, people head to the beach to make bonfires and jump over them. One of my friends actually got burnt while trying to jump over the fire.

The biggest night of the festival is the night of San Juan, when the hogueras are burned to the ground one at a time. People proceed through the streets until they are all burned, which lasts until 5 or 6 in the morning. Overall, it is a huge festival and there is partying, drinking, and tons of tradition throughout. The night used to be more focused around religion, but as the country became more secular, so did the festival. Now, El Día del San Juan is only the name of a day, which doesn’t bear any religious significance to the largely

non-practicing country. On all levels, the citizens of Alicante see the festival in the same way. Although some know more about the history than others, the intent and cultural practices are what stand out for mostly everyone living there.

I had a lot of fun participating in the largest festival of Alicante, and surely enjoyed learning more about the development and significance behind it.





The Role of Food in Alicante

One of the most significant experiences I have had in Spain is the difference in cuisine and the importance of food. In Alicante, food plays a huge role in ordering the events of daily life, and people take great pride in creating dishes that are to taste. While here, I have participated in many different cuisine experiences, including two different cooking classes. The first was a tapas preparation, where I learned how to make ensalada rusa and tortilla, which is the Spanish omelet. This was very exciting because I learned all about the ingredients and preparation, as well as the rationale for the importance of each of the dishes. When it gets very hot in the summer, cooler dishes are needed that require minimal use of the oven and are lighter to eat. These tapas that we created served exactly that purpose, the ensalada rusa required no cooking whatever, and the tortilla did not take long to create.

More importantly, the second cooking class I took was to make arroz a la banda, which is a very traditional rice dish and a specialty of Alicante. The dish contains a variety of seafood, which reflects the location on the Mediterranean. In addition, the preparation is very specific and related to paella but with a richer paste as a base. Overall, Alicantinos feel a connection with this dish because of the generational connection, and the influence of their own society on its preparation. My host mom has spoken multiple times about food preparation, and always emphasizes the health of the food she makes through the use of olive oil. Food is not just food but an identity for the region and helps the family to come together socially during mealtimes. In addition, since it is not common

for people to invite others to their house, they instead meet up for tapas or drinks, which reinforces the importance of food in the center of Spanish culture.

Opinions on Los Toros

            For class, we had to go interview people on social questions to see the contrasting opinions between Spain and the United States. One of the most important cultural issues in Spain is the role of los toros, or the bulls. It is a very controversial issue in Spain because there are strong cultural and historical ties to the killing of bulls in bullfights, as well as the running of the bulls, but many people are against these practices because of animal rights practices. In Catalonia, they have outlawed bullfights, but all other regions, including Alicante, have legal bullfights at least once a year. I witnessed both a bullfight and the running of the bulls, in order to gain a sense of what actually happened at these events before judging them.

After learning more about the toros, I went on the streets and asked people what their opinions were of the bulls. Most of the people were against bullfights to varying degrees, with a few people saying that they did not have an opinion on the issue. There was one older man that said he was in favor and regularly attended. My professor herself was in favor, and said that she had been influenced by her father, who was a huge bull supporter.

It is very hard for me to evaluate the opinion on los toros because I do not have the influence of history in my opinion; I only see the issue as an animal rights one, not one of the identity of Spain. Therefore, I am biased in my analysis of whether it should be allowed or not. Some of my friends that also saw the bulls for the first time were excited by the prospect and were not against the practice, which shows there is still a draw to watching a bullfight beyond just the historical significance.

Mademoiselle in town, Mademoiselle in country

Thirteen weeks, three apartments, and ninety-one shots of espresso brought me to my last weekend in France. I  left Paris city limits and spent the weekend in the countryside, where I slept in-cabin, biked through cornfields, and breathed forest air. Inhale.

My French acquisition through SLA was a blessing and a challenge. Though my coursework was interesting, I found that it was too “read and discuss” based. I realized that I learn languages best through grammar rules and militant drills. My reading and writing improved a little, but it was my speaking that made the most progress.

While I learned some French within classroom walls, it was the community engagement that was truly effective, inspiring, and satisfying. Each Thursday I went to a “Franglish” MeetUp group in the heart of Paris. I met wonderful people who were curious about American culture and eager to help me with French. It was there that I made my closest friends–friends who showed me the parks, theatre, swimming pools, rock climbing gyms, and outdoor markets. I have fallen in love with the language, the city, and the people, and have every intention on returning.

I am applying for a Fulbright Study/Research grant at Center for Research in Economics and Statistics in Palaiseau, France where I will model ethnic clustering in French communities. Following the Fulbright, I aspire to be a data analyst in a non-profit organization that evaluates socioeconomic policy. I hope to solve socioeconomic problems with data driven solutions, and promote understanding across languages and cultures. Exhale. 

Back from Bosnia

I want to start by saying how much I appreciated my time in Bosnia. I gained a new level of insight into the culture and social problem facing the Bosnian people, and with that I have gained a new level of empathy. So, I found this experience to be deeply satisfying on both a personal and academic level. As part of this new insight, I developed a deep appreciation for the complexity of the language. Having not been exposed to the Bosnian/Serbo/Croatian language in any kind of formal setting, I had no idea how complex the language actually is. The Structure is such that it makes use of 7 cases, and the endings on of adjectives, verbs, and nouns must all transform depending on the case. Having no equivalent in English, this was a concept that remains very difficult for me to grasp. It also means that though you may understand every word in its infinitive, the act of transforming the constituent parts of the sentence renders its final form unintelligible. The net result is that, while I believe I have made mch more progress than would have been possible without an immersion program, I did not achieve the level of proficiency that I had hoped. That said, I do believe that I know have a foundation that will enable future study and that will equip me with the necessary skills to continue my studies without access to formal classes.

In terms of personal development, the summer was a profoundly eye-opening experience for me. Although it have spent a few months in Bosnia as part of a non-linguistically focused study abroad program the structure of that program prohibited me from engaging with the culture in a deep way. I was there with other American students, being taught in English, and we would hang out together then go back to our hotel at night This meant that though we were in Bosnia, I never as though I were actually experiencing the culture. This summer, in addition to daily intensive language classes, I also received peer tutoring and lived with a host family. This enabled me to truly understand the critical role that family plays in this culture. Nearly everything is centered around familial experiences and children generally live with their parents until they marry. After marriage some even live on a different floor of a family house or in close proximity to their family. This type of communal mentality emphasizes the collective rather than the individual, and provides a very different understanding of the role and important of the personal. While this can undoubtedly be a beautiful thing, there were also many times that I found this dynamic challenging. A primary reason is that this norm of community is accompanied by very strong gender norms that can be difficult to accept. As a result I came away from this experience with a renewed sense of gratitude for the relative progress that has been made around gender equality in the US.

The experience of chaffing against gender norms provides that basis for the most important piece of advice that was given to be before I left: be flexible. While that can be a hard ideal to maintain in a foreign context, I have found it essential to remember that what makes foreign travel so compelling that you learn a great deal about yourself when outside of your normal comfort zone.

It is hard for me to overstate the benefits that I have derived from the SLA grant. Without it I would not have been able to spend a prolong amount of time in the region, and as a site for future research this will be critical to the long-term acquisition of my PhD. My dissertation question focuses on the way states use monuments to craft narratives of conflict in the absence of total victory. My experience this summer has given me greater insight into the location and function of monuments in Bosnia. It has also ensured that, while nowhere near fluent, I possess enough knowledge of the language to be able to read many of the inscription prominent on the monuments. This is critical because the function of monuments is often emblazed on the material structure. This program has therefore been critical to development as a scholar and human being. Thank you for this incredible opportunity!

Post-Program Reflections

As my summer in China comes to an end, I look back and see how much I’ve learned in the past two months. With a course as intensive as the Chinese Program at Peking University, my Chinese has improved immensely. Not only have I picked up new terms and grammar patterns, but I have also grown to feel comfortable speaking Chinese, at times even preferring it over English! But beyond my language acquisition, I found myself learning just as much in the subject of China’s culture. Although I’ve grown up in a Chinese household, nothing compares to living in Beijing, surrounded by locals 24/7. I truly felt immersed in a different lifestyle during my time in Beijing.

Coming back from this experience, I really realized the value in studying abroad. Not only can you learn about the subject of your interest under different methods, but you can simultaneously learn about different cultures which in turn enhances your learning process. There’s so much to learn from people that come from a different background from you, and experiencing at a substantial degree is only something attainable through study abroad. If someone was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study, I would highly encourage them to go through with it and go all out. It really is an experience like no other.  (290)

So where do I go from here? I certainly hope to maintain the Chinese I’ve learned by consistently practicing it, and hopefully over time, I will continue to grow more and more comfortable with the language. I will keep everything I’ve learned from my SLA Grant experience during the rest of my academic career, as I’ve learned not only new ways to learn, but also new perspectives I should hold as a continue my education. One of the most interesting things that I learned about in China regarding education was the different values they put on different aspects of education. That is something that I will keep in mind as I continue my own education, remembering what truly is important.

This summer really has been one that I will never forget. I have to thank all the teachers, organizers, and fellow students that were involved, and of course SLA, for allowing me to participate in this amazing experience!

Post-Travel Reflection: Back at Notre Dame

My Overall Experience: I have now been back at Notre Dame for a few weeks and have returned to the routine of reading, dissertation writing, and translating that characterizes my usual life.  I was surprised to return to South Bend and feel a little bit of reverse culture shock.  As I was not in Iceland for a particularly long stretch of time, I did not think that South Bend would feel different when I got back- but it did.  There are some things about Iceland I do not miss, like the high prices and the mild food (I like my dishes super spicy!).  But there are many things I do miss: the gorgeous nature, the delicious coffee, the omnipresence of bookstores, and the distinct music.  I miss the striking, volcanic hills and the adorable horses and the grazing sheep. I miss living on the coast, in a town with such crisp, fresh air.  I miss some of the amazing and unique individuals I met in my program.  I miss seeing Viking paraphernalia everywhere I go.  Last week I ran into an acquaintance of mine from Iceland and got to talk to him about my trip to his home country.  It felt really special to share my thoughts with someone who had lived there much of his life.  It also made me eager to go back.

My advice for those considering learning abroad: don’t be afraid to go to a place you’ve never been before!!! My time in Iceland reminded me that there are so many places I haven’t been to which I really should venture! I definitely encourage other students to apply for an SLA grant- it’s a rare change to get truly immersed in language learning, and intensity will definitely pay off.

My Language Learning: Most of all, I miss that feeling of learning a new language, when all of your neurons feel activated and teeming and scintillated. It’s that sense of constant discovery, when you can feel your brain working and learning and striving and growing, that I miss the most.  I had not been in this kind of immersive language experience for a few years, and it was really stimulating (but also exhausting).

Since my return I have watched some videos and movies in Icelandic, read a few things in Old Icelandic, and spent a few hours reviewing notes from the program.  My hope is that with a little effort here and there I will not forget what I learned.  Overall, I think that I met my learning goals for my time in Iceland; Icelandic is an extremely difficult language to pronounce (and definitely not the easiest to speak), and I will need more time in Iceland in the future to become truly competent. However, by the end of my time in Iceland I could hold conversations in Icelandic (albeit fairly simple ones).  I was also reminded of how frustrating it can be to attempt to speak a foreign language and not be understood.  I haven’t read a novel in Modern Icelandic yet, but I also haven’t given up on that (ambitious) goal.  I’ve have been reading fairy tales in Modern Icelandic, though.

The Future: My dream is to return to Iceland for conferences, manuscript workshops, and other events over the coming years. Because of my SLA experience, I have enough confidence speaking Icelandic to greet Icelanders and hold conversations in their native tongue. My Icelandic pronunciation improved immensely, giving me more confidence when I have to read Old Icelandic aloud at scholarly events. Now that I’m back in the States, I’m eager for my next Icelandic adventure and another opportunity to continue my study of Modern Icelandic. Someday, I would love to drive all around Iceland on Route 66 (“the ring road”).  I hope (and plan) that this SLA Grant will just be the beginning of my adventures and learning in Iceland. I sincerely thank all those who made this adventure possible!



My name is Marie-Anne Roche. Minoring in Chinese, I want to go to China this summer to improve my Chinese level and learn more about its culture. I love travelling and I am very excited for this adventure.

I originally contemplated the idea of going to Shanghai to take classes or do an internship. But after talking to my professors, I decided to go to Beijing because it will give me a better opportunity to speak Chinese.

I went to China twice. The first when I was eight years old. My dad had a week long conference and decided to bring me with him. I spent a solid part of my week with Beijing Da Xue’s, Beijing University’s, students. It’s funny to look back on it today, because I am heading to Beijing University, for two months. The first time I came here, I was overwhelmed by Beijing immensity. I thought it was crowded, and didn’t feel modern at all. I was chocked by people spitting everywhere. I later went to Hong Kong, which I enjoyed a lot more. I thought, it was cleaner and I love the city’s architecture. I don’t really know what to expect of Beijing, how it will have changed since 2004. I don’t think I will recognize the city and I am very happy to be able to go back.

I am a little nervous with my Chinese level. I hope I will be able to speak with people. Hopefully, by the time the end of the semester comes around I will be able to hold a conversation with Chinese people.

Yesterday, I bought a travel guide of China and started reading all there was to know about Beijing. It sure sounds like an exciting place and I am excited to see what these two months will be like.