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.


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. 

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 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.

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

Making Art in Japan

In search of local experiences, I took a sequential pottery class during my time in Kanazawa. I luckily learned pottery-making with an experienced pottery master, Lida Sensei, at a beautiful wooden house located at a serene garden dedicated to a Zen philosopher.

Our first class included a brief introduction to pottery-making, and shaping clay into a bowl shape. Even though this seemed to be an easy step, it involved many techniques and procedures to define and refine the shape. We started off with pressing the clay multiple times to soften it, and then molding it into a circular bowl-shaped by using a rotating tool. Following that, we carved out the inner parts to make the bowl thinner and lighter.

In the second class, we worked on refining the bowls by making them even lighter and adding patterns. I went for a simpler style and carved a few lines that resembled tree branches, and wrote down my name in Chinese at the bottom.

In the third class, I colored the dried bowl into a lighter blue on the top part and a darker blue on the lower part. It turned out to be really fascinating one.

Unluckily, I dropped the bowl on the way to Tokyo, but this experience was definitely a memorable one. The seemingly-easy pottery making involved much care for details and sense of art and design. It was also one of the very few times where I had a hands-on experience with Japanese art. I will definitely go back to visit the sensei, and hopefully, will make a better bowl to carry home in the future 🙂