Goodbye, for now, China

Yellow Mountain, 6:30am

I have a hard time realizing that my time in China is over. After classes ended last Friday, I travelled down to Shanghai, Huangshan and Hangzhou.

Shanghai, skyline

I am glad I was able to stretch my Chinese trip a little longer. The South is indeed very different, quieter, less polluted and greener. I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen on Huangshan, the yellow mountain, the beautiful skyline of Shanghai and the peace and tranquility of Hangzhou’s West Lake.

These nine weeks in China have been such an enriching and fruitful experience. First of all because I was able to drastically improve my Chinese level. Second because I was able to discover and learn so much more of the Chinese culture. After visiting Shanghai, I am very glad I decided to stay in Beijing. Shanghai is comparable to New York, I really enjoyed walking around the city which was less crowded than Beijing, but people’s accents were very different from Beijing and very hard to understand. The number of foreigners was also a lot higher, when I spoke to local in Chinese, most didn’t understand what I would say or would immediately answer me in English. It was almost frustrating to have them answer me in English after going through the effort of speaking in Chinese. It was more rewarding to speak Chinese in Beijing because there, people would only speak in Chinese, communicating was harder but also funnier. Seeing how much my conversations improved over the eight weeks of the program was very gratifying.

Beijing Da Xue

I was also amazed by Beijing’s culture. I loved how the old mixes in with  modern architecture. And how, the neighborhood of Beijing Da Xue and Wudaokou where we leaved was so different from Tiananmen or Sanlitun or the Hutongs. Beijing offered endless possibilities to explore and discover different people. Among my favorite were the Hutongs were you could witness an older culture and Sanlitun where I was able to meet many expats.

I am also very grateful the program organized so many activities, our trip to Xi’an or the afternoon at the elementary school for example.

Middle school students, Beijing

I can’t even start to explain how thankful I am to Notre Dame for organizing such a program and for the CSLC and the Liu Institute for helping me fund it.

I am also thankful for this trip because it opened many more opportunities. I realized I wanted to go back to China, to travel and potentially to live. For now, I say goodbye to Beijing and China but I know I will be back shortly.


Stranger on the bus

Beijing, China

I think the most common encounters with Chinese people are made through stares. When we walk around Beijing, we often catch people starring at us, people ask to take pictures, or just randomly sneakily take pictures. Sometimes people start talking to us. Most of the interactions are a little odd because I feel observed and it is a little uncomfortable.

One day, I was taking the bus with two friends to go from Beihai Park to Sanlitun, the modern, business district. The bus is very convenient, when there is not too much traffic, which is not a common occurrence in Beijing. It is often pretty crowded and a little slow but when you have the time, it is an easy way to watch the Beijing landscape. That day, we struggled to find the bus stop; it was hidden further away than Maps indicated. We finally got on the bus. It wasn’t too crowded that day. We were standing on the bus, talking in our broken Chinese, as we would usually do. After a couple minutes, we felt the stare of an elder man, sitting in the seat next to us.

Nanluoguxiang Hutong

He started talking to us, asking us if we had gone to Nanluoguxiang, the newly renovated, most famous Hutong in Beijing. When we said yes, he asked us where we had gone and if we liked it. I thought it was very pretty, although very crowded and a little too pretty to be an accurate description of the typical Beijing Hutong. Hutong are traditional neighborhoods, made up of one story houses, with a square courtyard on the inside. They are the image of an older Beijing, which is a nice step away from the noisy and busy streets of the city.

Street vendor at night, Nanluoguxiang

Most of the time they don’t have bathrooms integrated so they share a public bathroom on each street, easily recognizable from the smell, meters away. The man told us he used to live in one when he was a kid. From the looks of it and the words I understand in his sentence he didn’t like it. ‘太小,没有空间’, it was too small, there was no space, too crowded. He thought they should be destroyed to build new housing. Luckily for us, we had studied construction related vocabulary so we were able to express ourselves. I told him I thought they were pretty and they created the charm of Beijing, the mix of old and new, that makes Beijing so peculiar. The man seemed very amused by our conversation and attempted to convince me to move to Beijing to live because opportunities were endless for young foreigners.

For some reasons, the conversation drifted to beauty standards. Our friend group  was made up of a Vietnamese American girl, a White American guy and me, a White French girl. The man seemed to think Elliott and me, looked very similar. He thought we were brother and sister. That sounded very odd to the both of us because Elliott is blond and I am a brunette. In my opinion, we look nothing alike, but in the old man’s opinion, all White people look

The man on the bus

alike. Our stop was approaching and we had to say goodbye to the man. As I stepped of the bus, I was struck by how different perspectives are in different countries and I was glad this old man started talking to us because he allowed me to see from his point of view for a couple minutes.

les fr-olitiques

Most people like politics more than I do, but I was still pleasantly surprised when Barney, we’ll call him Barney, asked me

Veux-tu venir au défilé comme un guest de Macron?

Yes! Of course, yes. I accepted without hesitation. You didn’t have to like politics to attend the 14th July military parade. Barney boasted the paramount and exclusivity of the event. I liked Barney and I liked French. I was sold.

That sunny and crisp Friday morning, I woke up at 6 am and dressed in my “casual but not too casual” best. I was forewarned to arrive early, and to expect a classy event populated by The Important, The Posh, and The Official French Government Ambassadors. Barney hadn’t a single stain on his white collar, and Goodness forbid if I allowed one on mine.

The parade was indeed crowded, but filled with as many non-government workers as government. We watched soldiers, tanks, and airplanes crusade by. Barney embodied the French political spirit, and gushed over the “beautiful” soldiers. At the end of the afternoon, we waited hours so that Barney could shake the hand of Macron.

Though I enjoyed the parade and the sunny weather, I realized
that I did not share the love of politics nor self-importance. I was no guest of Macron, but just another civilian; I should have figured. Additionally, it was difficult to practice French with French Ambassadors–English game too strong! Optimistically, I am wearing an entirely French-made outfit.

Post-Program Reflections: Tours, France

One month has passed since returning to the United States from Tours, France, enough time to consider my study abroad experience and pass along advice to future applicants who might stumble upon this page.

My first suggestion is this. It’s important to have your language skills as sharp as possible before you study a language abroad, both in terms of general advancement and in terms of freshness of mind. The Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures is right to demand that students possess language skills of a certain level in order to be eligible for the reward, because you need a certain language capacity before beginning to reap the particular benefits of studying abroad.

La Mer Méditerranée

At the Institute of Touraine, where I studied, there were many complete  or almost complete beginners who were having a miserable time of it. That shouldn’t happen with a study abroad experience. You should be uncomfortabe, even exhausted after each day of communicating in your foreign language, but you should also enjoy the difficulty because it is the good kind of difficulty, the type where you know you’re working on something challenging but which will bring its own satisfaction in the end. You can’t work through the tough times when it’s all frustration and no glimmer of future satisfaction.

In certain cases, as with languages not offered at Notre Dame, this requirement can’t be met. But even then, I believe it important for students to have some familiarity with the language before studying abroad. You’ll get the most out of every experience in your chosen country.

Un littoral des Îles d’Hyères

In terms of practical considerations, it really is necessary to research your language school beforehand and to understand their specific manner of teaching the languge. The Institute of Touraine has a longstanding reputation, and many Notre Dame students have studied there in the past. Still, I should have researched a handful of things more deeply before committing to Tours, including the number of national holidays that would coincide with my time in France (not the institute’s fault, of course). I lost about three or four class days due to the French refusal to work more than is absolutely required. I wish that I would have familiarized myself with the specifics of the afternoon activities offered by the institute, however, because they cost a pretty penny and were not very helpful.

In the end, much of your experience will be a result of the luck of the draw. I was moderately happy with the languge instructors my first month in Tours. I learned at a steady pace that month, but at the time I was disappointed that I was not progressing faster. That changed quickly once I moved to the next month’s session and gained new professors. These two professors were among the best language instructors I’ve ever had. The students in this course were also exceptional. There were fewer Americans, and they were more serious about learning the language instead of sightseeing (there may be a connection between the two clauses of my sentence).

I believe I learned more in the two weeks I spent in that second class than in the entire month I spent with the first class. Some of this can be attributed to having been “warmed-up” to speak and think in French that first month, but more, I believe, had to do with the specific elements of that second classroom. I wish I could have stayed another month with those professors and students.

Une Baie à Coté de la Mer Méditerranée

In closing, I’d like to explain that the images between the paragraphs in this post were taken on a trip I made to an island near the Côte d’Azur in Southern France, where a very good friend lives (il est français), after my studies in Tours were completed.  I would also like to thank the donors for making this experience possible.  My French is better than it’s ever been, and, most importantly, I now know exactly how far I have to go. I think that I can get there, too.

Merci bien, mesdames et messieurs, et au revoir.

Post-Program Reflection: Thank you!

Learning a language is hard, takes guts, and takes conscience efforts every minute of the day. I would go to bed absolutely exhausted with my head spinning at the end of the day but gradually found that the original confusion of constantly translating turned into intuitively understanding and responding in Spanish. One of the largest challenges for me, that I anticipated in my pre-program blog posts, was the intimidation of speaking to native speakers. Especially in a city that receives such heavy traffic from foreigners because of tourism, I was worried that my attempts to speak Spanish would be scoffed at. However, I found that people of Barcelona to be very warm and appreciative. On one occasion our waiter at a restaurant actually commented how wonderful it was that an English speaker was making efforts to practice Spanish and even help correct some of my grammar and vocabulary. Overall my fluency greatly improved in part due to the fact that I was receiving formal instruction in class side by side with my own experiential learning every day. Because of this I was able to put the new grammatical structures, colloquial phrases, and vocabulary that I was learning to use in daily conversations

One of the largest impediments to my language acquisition was my fellow american students. I spoke Spanish during my daily classes, in shops, restaurants, taxis, while shopping and with my host family, but when I would spend time exploring the city or on weekend excursions with my American friends, as much as we intended to speak Spanish, we always ended up reverting back to English because it is our shared first language. This constant flipping of Spanish and English possibly held me back from making even more strides towards fluency. To someone who is considering applying for an SLA program, I would recommend finding a program where you are living alone with a host family or with other international students rather than being surrounded by like-minded Americans.

In addition to the development of my language skills, I also deepened my understanding of how to interact with and live within another culture. In order to engage and understand cultural differences I first needed to form relationships. Although you can learn much through observation I found that my true cultural understanding came from conversation built on trust and mutual respect. In order to engage sometimes fragile or loaded cultural topics, I first had to build relationships with my host family, teachers, the local coffee shop owner, museum tour guides, etc on different levels. By approaching their culture from a humble human level rather than as an american comparing a “superior” culture to “inferior” one, the natives could sense my legitimate interest in learning and understanding and responded positively to that.

This experience definitely opened up my eyes to the importance of learning language. In the United States there is not a necessity to speak another language in order to communicate, get a good job, be successful, etc. However, by being monolingual we limit ourselves so much. A simple example: In my art and architecture class we covered the work of Antoni Gaudi in depth. One of his most famous techniques is called “trencadis” in Catalan, however because this artistic technique is unique to the region of Catalan, the word does not translate. Because I do not speak Catalan I could understand what this technique was in theory but never fully capture the meaning, essence, and etymology of the word.

On a larger scale, by limiting myself to just English I would never have gotten to meet and know my namesake, Fabiola, on a deeper level. I never would have formed relationships with my spanish host family. I would miss out on friendships and life-shaping experiences because of an inability to communicate.

This experience shifted my worldview from a very american-centric view to a broader more global view. It is important that we make ourselves a bit more humble and attempt to learn and appreciate other languages and cultures rather than imposing English on those we encounter.

I hope to use my Spanish abilities to volunteer in South Bend on a weekly basis with the local latino population, excel in my Spanish literature classes, and connect with and understand the stories of immigrants as I travel to the US-Mexico border this winter with a CSC seminar. This experience has solidified foreign language as an essential and central aspect of my academic pursuits. I will now be able to engage Spanish literature, political problems, and current news in Spanish rather than in translation. It has also given me the inspiration to begin learning Arabic in order to more deeply studying the middle east as well as the complex relations between Spain and Morocco.

From a personal perspective, the SLA grant helped me to engage with family friends who I otherwise would lack relationships with. During my time in Spain I was able to connect with my mother’s friends, mentors, and hosts who were so important in the formation of her identity when she spent several years abroad, and now also mine own.

To anyone that is considering applying for an SLA grant, there is no reason to not do it. The best way to learn a language is through immersion. You get to constantly practice, begin to pick up patterns, watch yourself because more functional and independent, and make noticeable improvements every day. Foreign countries need to see more engaged and passionate students who have a genuine interest in language and culture in order to counter growing anti-americanism. Whatever your level, being immersed in a language will help you make incredible strides and being able to communicate and understand linguistic nuisance to better connect a culture and its people is invaluable.

Thank you so much to the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures and the Summer Language Abroad Grant program for continuing to provide incredible opportunities for students linguistic, academic, and personal growth.

Post-Trip Reflections

  1. Since this was my 4th year studying Chinese, I was more or less already prepared for what the language learning experience would be for this summer. However, there is an undeniable advantage to learning a language in its native country: exposure. Learning a language when you are forced to utilize it in your every active moment reinforces what’s learned in the classroom in ways that cannot be replicated in another country. Furthermore, learning language in the culture where it is spoken provides the student insight into how language is used colloquially, the subtle differences between learned speech and practical speech. The opportunity to learn medical terminology in China absolutely satisfied my goals going into the program, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  2. As a result of this experience, I am more informed and eloquent about matters relating to Chinese culture, society, history, both in Chinese and in English. I find that I can comfortably discuss social issues that before I not only had no opinion about, but perhaps did not even know. My worldview is more aware of how culture influences one’s attitudes towards foreign topics, as I had many discussions with Chinese individuals about America, and vice versa. For someone interested in applying for an SLA grant, I would highly recommend doing some preliminary research about relevant and current social topics. In day-to-day interactions these might not be relevant, but once your language fluency allows you to engage in higher level discussions, these topics are by far the most informative and interesting.
  3. I hope to apply the language and cultural competencies I picked up in China to my medical education, research, and medical career. I am particularly interested in how cultural attitudes inform or influence social attitudes and behavior relating to healthcare. For example, Chinese physicians face the risk of personal injury/death from disgruntled patients or families. This phenomenon is nonexistent in the US; why? What are the underlying social factors that determine the physician-patient relationship and influence their interactions? By studying Chinese language, culture, and healthcare in China, I have a stronger background from which to engage in multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural research to understand these phenomena.

Post-program Reflection

1. Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA Grant experience.

This Japanese summer language program experience really exceeded my expectation. In as short as six weeks, I can say I learned even more than one year of language skills in America. Before the program began, my goal was to acquire basic communication skills so that I can travel through Japan by myself confidently. Through daily classes and lots of small trips on weekends, I not only learned how to buy things, order food and ask for directions, but also tried to do some small conversations with local people. For instance, I visited a Japanese architect who graduated from ND long ago and chatted with him about his working experiences in Japan and his memory of ND architecture school. I also talked to some artists while I was visited art galleries in Ginza. My courage of talking in Japanese is accumulated through conversation practices in class and chatting with professors during tutorial sessions every week. Japanese people I met were all very kind and patient, and it felt good to be treated with smiles. I think I am also kind of influenced by the Japanese culture of being polite that my parents also find me talking more gently after I returned.

2. Reflect on your SLA Grant experience overall

Thanks to the SLA Grant, I was able to fully engage in my language experience. Although at first I thought the required tasks in SLA blogs was a burden, I soon found out that it helped me enjoy my program more. There were lots of Chinese students in the same program as me and it was easy for me to stay in the small friend circle. However, the interesting tasks made by SLA Grant pushed me forward to make Japanese friends and immerse myself in the Japanese culture. I actively participated in the cultural programs and conversation tables offered by my university in Japan after class and got to know many local and traditional beauties of Japan. I highly recommend my fellow ND students to apply to SLA Grant and try a summer language program. Studying language in the target country is a lot more fun because you can see your progress everyday while using the new language skills.

3. How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future?

I started learning Japanese as an interest outside of university requirement, and I will keep this interest in the future. Since my major is architecture and there are many Japanese architects whose styles I admire, I am planning to go back to Japan on either personal travels or other interesting program opportunities. The Japanese culture also gives me many artistic inspirations. I will keep learning Japanese language classes and literature classes when I return to ND campus. I will also actively participate in Japanese related activities in ND. In the future, I wish to make more Japanese friends and find any internship collaborating with Japanese firms.

So Thai

NINE things that are indeed, very Thai.

  1. Durian
  2. Tuuk Tuuk
  3. Muay Thai
  4. Spirit Houses
  5. The Wai
  6. Night Markets
  7. Buddhist Monks
  8. Bagged Food
  9. Images of the King      (I chose nine things because the number 9 is lucky according to Thai superstition, and it is an important number in Thai culture. Many Thai people continue to show reverence for Rama 9, the late King Bumibol Adulyadej by wearing a thai number 9 on their clothing.)
    Thai numbers – 9 is on the bottom right and looks like an elephant.

    I continued to take Thai language lessons all the way until the day before my flight. I’m very grateful to my 3 Thai teachers: Kruu Simon, Ajaan Lah and Kruu Kaan. Each one of them helped me tremendously on this journey.

    Post-Program Reflections

    Through Thai language I am able to grasp better understanding about Thai thinking and ways of operating. Memories resurface from my childhood and now make more sense.

    Surprisingly, I met the language goals I set for myself before starting off on this trip. My language learning went through many stages during the trip. At times it was easy, fun, dizzying, rigorous and tough. I did not expect the rollercoaster range of emotions that go with language learning and living independently in another country for a length of time. Two months is short, yet Thai time is very different than American time, for sure.

    One thing I have brought back as a result of this experience, is the idea of “Mai Bpen Rai.” It’s a phrase that is similar to ‘sabai sabai’ and loosely, it means never mind, no problem, it’s OKThat’s something I repeat internally to myself, in or out of Thailand. Like many other things, language learning is a life-practice, and this mantra allows me to accept the process. I apply it to many aspects of my life, and it expands my heart.

    Where do I go from here? Well, I continue to study Thai. I watch videos, do exercises in my workbooks, and am setting up weekly Skype lessons. (I actually feel a bit of withdrawal!) I remain connected to the dear friends and professional contacts that I’ve made. I anticipate returning in the near future. This experience has helped me on my way towards building an exchange program between Thailand and the US.

An Ika (Squid) Town


The time has finally arrived to tell you all about the tastiest part of my study abroad adventure–Food! Being from Hawaii, I grew up eating many of the popular foods in Japan. That being said, nothing compares to the amazing food I was able to eat in Japan. Though I would love nothing more than to explicitly explain each dish I ate, for both of our sakes I will focus on the best and the most unique parts of Japanese cuisine.

Sukiyaki (

By far, my favorite food is a fairly famous Japanese dish that goes by the name sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a popular communal dish where we sit around a hot pot to braise beef, tofu, clear noodles and various spices. A delicious and simple dish, Sukiyaki’s sweet and salty taste will satiate your taste bud every time. Though it is easy to find a Sukiyaki restaurant, in my experience the style made within a home is easily more tasty.

The next food, a Hakodate specialty, may be the most interesting food I have tried. This food is so unique even many well travelled Japanese people have never heard of it. Its name, is Ikameshi. Ika(squid) Meshi (cooked rice) is a dish made by cutting the legs off of a squid and stuffing it with cooked rice. From there, it is then braised in a shoyu broth and then cut into slices. Though this wasn’t the most appetizing or tasty food I have ever had, it is definitely representative of Hakodate.

Lastly, this last food needs no real explanation. Hakodate being a squid fishing town, there was no way I could leave before I had this famous Hakodate dish. Ika Sashimi. A delicious plate of fresh squid, this delicious food is served with the squid’s legs still wiggling. Truly an amazing food.

go raibh maith agat

Since I left Ireland almost two weeks ago, I have had so much time to reflect over the incredible month that I spent there. Leaving was difficult; the country and people felt like my home after only four weeks. I had to catch myself at the airport in Boston because I was so close to saying “thank you” or “excuse me” or a million other phrases in Irish. I came home and had to explain to my family all the Irish jokes and phrases that I am so accustomed to saying now. It was hard to get myself back into the rhythms of home. I had my first Irish class of the semester today and it really put into perspective how far I’ve come in my mastering of the language. I am so grateful that I had the time that I spent in Ireland because if I had taken 4 months off, my abilities would have suffered. Instead, I feel very confident in the coming school year. I understood my teacher completely and am feeling motivated for the rest of the semester. I feel as though I am right on track to make my learning more efficient and effective. I won’t have to waste time relearning grammar or basic conversation skills. I can focus on going into greater depth so that I can hold more complex conversations. Not only have I reflected on my improved Irish, but also on the experiences that I had over the course of the month. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend a month in the most beautiful country I have ever seen and to meet people from all over the world. It was such a unique experience to take all of these different people and immerse them in a culture that is foreign to all of them. We were all learning how to be true Irish locals together. I had so much fun learning about everyone else’s background and their interpretations of the study abroad experience. It was a small group of people and we were all experiencing a new culture for the first time together so we became close quickly. I love that I have friends all over the world. Being so far from home also made me reflect on what I really want to do and what’s important to have in my life. I want to be able to experience more cultures like I did in Ireland. I think it’s really important to meet a diverse group of people and to actually live with them. I definitely have a special place in my heart for Ireland; I would love to someday move there and raise my children with Irish. I recommend that everyone apply for the SLA grant because I know that the month I spent abroad will be with me forever. It is so important to expose yourself to new people, experiences, and traditions. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of Ireland!

Thank you again to everyone who helped me get to Ireland, especially my parents, Notre Dame, and the generous donors. I am incredibly grateful for everything you have done for me!

the coast in Carraroe

Carraroe from the top of a hill!
top of Croagh Patrick
my friend Rachel and I on Croagh Patrick
my friend Bridget and I at the Cliffs of Moher