Back at it Again!

Hello Friends,

Due to some confusion on my part, I accidentally completed my Post Reflection prompt in my last post in August. So, in this blog, I’ll just be explaining how it feels since starting up school again.

It’s been about a month since I started my junior year and I can honestly say that I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. Junior year has been treating me well, but it has been quite an adjustment since life in Korea. My program ended about two months ago, but it feels like I’ve been gone for much longer than that. I miss my friends, for the most part, I miss our group dinners, I miss complaining about walking up the hill to get to our dorm, and I miss going to class at Yonsei’s Korean Language Institute. My time in Korea was absolutely amazing, and the memories that I made there will honestly stay with me forever.

Since starting Second Year Korean 1, I feel a little more confident in my abilities. I feel that my writing has improved a lot since my time in Korea, but learning Korean at Notre Dame is more challenging than learning it in the KLI program. In Korea, I had more time to focus solely on learning the language. My class would last for four hours, and then I would have the whole day to study and review. At Notre Dame, the classes are much more condensed, which challenges me to learn at a quicker pace. While at school, I also have to juggle studying Korean with my four other classes.  It’s been harder to devote my time to practicing Korean, but I am still motivated to learn the language.

In the spring semester, I’ll get to go back to Korea. Being back in Korea will definitely help me to improve my Korean. I’ll be there longer, 4 months instead of 5 weeks, so I’ll learn more. I honestly can’t wait to go back to Korea! Once again, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had this summer to go study in Korea. It was a rewarding experience that I can’t wait to replicate once I return to Korea.

Until Next Time,

Sydney Porter 

Blogpost 6: Leaving HCMC

It is difficult to believe that I am leaving HCMC. For the last few days I am there, I will have to sell my motorbike, a 1979 Honda Super Cub named Maude. Just last weekend, I was convinced that Maude was dead. I had driven Maude to a buddhist learning center which was approximately 10 km away from my apartment. Given Maude’s capricious and geriatric constitution, this meant a 30 minute drive filled with a general sense of uncertainty in the best way possible. The buddhist learning center was called Tu Viện Huệ Quang, and once we arrived, I ducked into the bookstore searching for copies of a philosophy book my grandfather (father’s father) had written when he was a teacher/poet/humanist in Vietnam. I found a stack of my grandfather’s book (which happened to be on Descartes and Eastern philosophy). The bookstore within the learning center was situated at the bottom floor of a narrow two-floor building. We did the obvious thing and climbed up the stairs to the second floor.

On the second floor there was a group of monks enjoying an afternoon tea. Our presence was confusing and ambiguous. In my much-improved Vietnamese, I explained to the monks my purpose for visiting–to purchase copies of my grandfather’s philosophy book. The monks then became incredibly hospitable and generous. We were asked to join their teatime, which featured a lovely display of teas, fruits, and candies. We were given a tour of the library, which was in a different building than the building which housed the tearoom and bookstore. The library was a real treat. Shelves and shelves of Vietnamese literature and non-fiction from various decades. Seeing this was inspirational and motivational. At this point, we were struck in a heavy downpour and accompanying deluge. Feeling like we were overstepping our stay, we decided to leave. However, Maude would not start. I tried every trick I had learned from riding her the past two months, but to no avail. In yet another expression of generosity, the monks at the learning center called us a cab and we temporarily abandoned Maude. I seriously thought this had signified the end for her.

Two days later, I return to the learning center to retrieve the Maude’s remains with the qualified hope that she would come back to life. But any kind of hope was overly optimistic. One of the monks saw my second sad attempt at resuscitating Maude. She called her brother who arrived with an improvised toolkit and a natural instinct for fixing motorbikes. He changed the spark plug and used one of the screws on his bike to fix mine; Maude was alive again and in a melodramatic way, so was I.


 This summer, I had the opportunity to study Indonesian intensively. I studied daily and one-on-one with several different teachers. By program’s end, I came to understand a truism about language-learning that I had heard before: there are peaks and valleys, and the lots of little plateaus in between. Some days were exciting because I noticed a difference between whatever “before” I remembered and the present. I registered these shifts under the guidance of expert teachers. My ability to understand and use Indonesian seemed to move forward. Other days expanded horizontally in all directions. Those days, it was not clear what was happening, though whatever it was (or wasn’t) also occurred (or didn’t) under the guidance of expert teachers. I wish to conclude this blog by acknowledging and thanking them.


This summer, one of my Indonesian teachers and I read an article about jamu. That day another teacher had brought in a bottle of jamu to the office, so during a break, we drank it from small cups. Its flavor was mellow-bitter, and faintly sweet.

Medical anthropologist Julie Laplante, writing in Medicine Anthropology Theory, describes jamu in this way:

Jamu elixirs are lively compositions of fresh plants, rhizomes, fruits, and spices of all sorts, which both invigorate the body and offer possibilities for unblocking anxieties and treating disease. Unlike modern pharmaceuticals, jamu’s potential efficacies are not reducible to the molecules of the plants each elixir contains. Rather, within a Javanese philosophy that understands the body to be in a fluid and emergent relationship with the surrounding world (Ferzacca 2001), it is the liveliness of plants entangled with the human liveliness of movement required to create the proper combinations of textures, juices, and powders that make the elixirs’ healing potentials very real.

According to the piece I read with my teacher, jamu can be made from a number of rhizomes, including jahe (ginger), kunyit (turmeric), and kencur (galangal).

It is no surprise that the global wellness industry has grabbed hold of jamu as something to market and sell, particularly in a place like Bali. In this post, though, I explicitly draw attention to jamu practices that circulate in their own spaces. To that end, I also share the film Jamu Stories, about jamu cultures in Java, which can be watched in full on YouTube.

Post-Program Reflections

I’ve been back two weeks now, and the semester is going in full force. As I reflect upon my time in Kathmandu, I’m filled with many emotions – from love to nostalgia to fear of losing the language I worked so hard to learn. Sometimes I dream I’m back in Nepali class trying to form the best sentences I can. ‘Is this how to say ‘Even though….’?’ my sleep-filled brain asks itself. I wake up realizing I’m back in my own bed in South Bend feeling bewildered and amused.

Post-experience reflections can be an important way to incorporate new experiences into our every day lives, which is why I am happy to do this final, SLA reflection blog post. I’m honored to have participated in the RYI Nepali program with the SLA extended network and the Kathmandu communities. I look forward to going back to Nepal and meeting all the friends I made there again.

Reflect on your language learning and acculturation during your SLA experience. What insights did you gain into the language acquisition process? How did you engage and understand cultural differences? Did you meet your goals for language learning that you articulated on the blog before you started your program? Why or why not?

I found that learning a language is hard, especially with the summer heat, mud up to your ankles, monsoons pouring down, and, of course, the summer flu that’s had been going around. I learned that there’s more to a language than the grammar. There’s the formalities, the informalities, the culture, the slights, the friendship in each phrase, interaction, and exchange. While I reached my goals for learning Nepali technically, I quickly realized how much more I have to learn. I found that volunteering and watching Nepali songs with my homestay sister took time away from my studying, but they also taught me about the culture that the language class couldn’t. I also learned that it’s ok to be tired and to make mistakes. Friends and teachers will still be there and there’s nothing like a good tea and snack to make studying for that test go a little bit better.

Reflect on your SLA experience overall. What insights have you brought back as a result of this experience? How has your summer language abroad changed you and/or your worldview? What advice would you give to someone who was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study?

I had breakfast with one of my teachers the day after the program to get some feedback on the next steps for my language learning. Other than telling me I need to work on not mixing up my vowels (which came as no shock), what he said next surprised me. ‘I really appreciated your class’s ability to take criticism and not be defensive.’ Defensive? I guess it makes sense – learning a language and being immersed into a new culture is hard. I’ve lived abroad before for extended periods, but this was my first time in a homestay, and I can say that while rewarding, not having personal space or control of one’s schedule can also take some getting used to. This on top of all the studying and adapting to new food and a new environment – it adds up to a challenging experience. While I accepted my teacher’s complement on our lack of defensiveness, it made perfect sense that being defensive is a natural response. For this reason, my advice to someone applying for an SLA grant or preparing to start their own summer language study is to know that these challenges exist, but that the rewards will come in turn. It’s important to be kind to yourself and others. Take a break, splurge on a nice cookie when the studying is tough. Make friends and rely on their support. It’s a hard – and incredibly rewarding – journey.

How do you plan to use your language and intercultural competences in the future? Where do you go from here? How will you maintain, grow and/or apply what you have learned? How might you use your SLA experience during the rest of your academic career and post-graduation? How will your SLA experience inform you as you move forward academically, personally and professionally?

I’m lucky to have found a Nepali language partner here in South Bend that I will begin meeting with soon to keep up the language. I want to chat with her informally and translate articles about the earthquake or politics so that I can hone in my vocabulary. This experience taught me that learning a language warrants one’s full attention, and I am hoping RYI offers intermediate Nepali next summer so that I can give it another go. This past summer, I fell in love with Kathmandu all over again, and I can’t wait to visit again, whether that be for a language course or my dissertation fieldwork.

Academically, I hope my language skills help me connect with the Nepali communities as I do my research so that my research reflects the country and citizens I’m studying. I want the voices of Nepali citizens to shine through my work, and I want my work to be relevant and useful for those affected by the disaster and for those who want to encourage political participation. Personally, I want to use my language skills to connect with people, to make friends and expand my personal community. Professionally, I hope to be able to become even more connected to amazing Nepali research community.


This summer, I learned about The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Poetry. It is a large volume, presenting the work of almost two-hundred Indonesian poets. Although I will not explore them in this post, I must acknowledge the complex language politics of Indonesia, and point out that Indonesian (“bahasa Indonesia”) is the official language of the Republic of Indonesia. Hundreds of other languages are also spoken across the archipelago.

The Lontar Anthology does not present each poem in the original Indonesian alongside its translation, but I was able to find the poem I share below in its original form, too. The openings in this poem, by the poet and journalist Sugiarta Sriwibawa, suggest something about processes of coming to understand, of moving in directions like the river evoked throughout.


School on the riverbank
Children search reflections
For origin and direction of the flow

School on the riverbank
Thoughts of boats
Dreams of the sea

School on the riverbank
The teacher helps paint the scene
The children work hard to color it in

Translated by Marjorie Suanda



Sekolah di tepi sungai
Anak-anak mencari banyangan
Asal dan arah yang mengalir

Sekolah di tepi sungai
Berpikir perahu
Bermimpi laut

Sekolah di tepi sungai
Guru menolong melukis tamasya
Anak-anak tekun memberi warna

From Garis Putih, Sugiarta Sriwibwa; Balai Pustaka, 1985.


This summer, I came to understand more clearly two Indonesian words that indicate something about social relationships and bringing others into a shared world: kami and kita. These words translate, roughly, to we. Although I could grasp a general distinction between the kami and kita, this did not mean that I could select the more appropriate word in practice. Whenever a conversation required me to refer to myself and the person I was talking with, I stumbled. Sometimes I would construct elaborate detours around kami and kita or would instead refer to myself and the other person(s) by name.

In short, kami is a “we” that includes others, but excludes the person being addressed, while kita includes the person being addressed. Using kami, though, does not merely erect a roadblock between a distant “we” and the “you” you are talking to: it can also invite that “you” to join the “we.”

These difficulties–glints of meaning–can trip us up when we are attempting to make our way in a language new to us.  Kami, kita, and we can move us toward connection. For me, they also became points of “friction” in anthropologist Anna Tsing’s terms: “the awkward, unequal, unstable, and creative qualities of interconnection across difference” (2005, 5).

Tsing, Anna. 2005. Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Post-Program Reflections

Since I began the study of the French language at Notre Dame, I never actually enjoyed the idea of learning in a classroom setting. For me, I was never that enthused, and I was actually quite timid about speaking in class. Alongside my other American counterparts, it was quite evident that we had mastery over the written portion of the French language—or at least with regards to the things we had already learned. But it was easy to evade the oratory requirement, and I think our dissatisfaction with it became clear whenever prompted to speak and all we could really do was exchange looks with one another. However, going to France changed that for me—as times of desperation often forced me to use the French I knew. Some days, sitting in class, moving slowly through the textbook was a dreaded experience—one that typically left me longing to leave class so that I could at roam the city and test my skills in French that way. Nonetheless, over the course of 7 weeks, I learned that the language acquisition process is a slow one accompanied by days of success and days of defeat.

I had come up with 5 goals for myself—all having to do with improving my oratory skills. I wanted to be able to navigate my way through a French town without having to rely upon a GPS. I wanted to be able to ask questions, if necessary; I wanted to be able to read all kinds of texts in French—newspapers, magazines, novels, etc. I hoped to even learn a little French slang, but during my time in France, I was not fortunate enough to accomplish all of the goals I had established for myself. I became comfortable with speaking the language, but I was not able to increase my linguistic abilities within a 2 month time span that would allow for comprehension of all French texts at full proficiency. I am confident, however, that with continued practice, I will be able to do so.

After such an experience, I would definitely say that I am more “open-minded” to trying new things and interacting with new people. During the first weeks of my time in Tours, I found it a little difficult to grow accustomed to the unfamiliarity around me. Many of the American students whom I had met were with their own universities, and while being alone was something I had to confront, I realized that I could use it to my benefit. Ridding myself of the comfort of having English speaking friends, I forced myself to befriend students from different countries—which really afforded me the opportunity to truly improve my French. Aside from my academic experiences, I was always pleasantly surprised with what my host family had to offer. I often recall one interaction with them at dinner where I said, “Every evening is a culture shock”. My host mom-laughed, replying that it didn’t matter as long as it was a good culture shock—which it had been. Prior to my time in France, I was never as open to the idea of trying new foods, but I was always so surprised to see and taste the renditions of other cultural dishes made by my host father. Discussions at dinner were always versatile—ranging from more contentious topics like politics and religion to things like soccer, but nonetheless, my host family was always respective of the views held by their residents, and conversations such as these became an eye-opener to what life was like in places like Taiwan, France, and the United Kingdom. With that being said, I have definitely taken a new approach to the things we consider “culturally normative”, and I have developed a desire to learn about parts of the world that are often ignored in the discourse of the “liberal world order”.

For anyone considering applying for an SLA grant or partaking in their own summer language study, I would say do it. I think that when given the opportunity to travel abroad, often people devise this plan to see as many countries as possible within a given time span. While this remains a possibility, I didn’t partake in any trips outside of France, but I had the pleasure of learning so much about other European countries from the French perspective. This trip has afforded me so many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. With the SLA grant, I was granted the opportunity to travel alone for the first time outside of the United States, and while I was met with some moments of discomfort, it was truly an empowering experience.

Since then, I have taken an interest in learning other languages. Without the presence of an instructor, I have been able to utilize the resources given to me during my time in Tours, and I have grown mindful of the processes taken to learn a language. After experiencing this and reaching a level of limited proficiency, I am eager to practice with those around me. Although unaware of what I may do post-graduation, I have intentions of visiting other Francophone countries and one day merging my interest of Public Health and Public Policy with language acquisition and language learning.

An Experience of A Lifetime

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

Language learning is all about practice. At first, I was quite nervous to speak German. I was afraid that I would make a mistake and no one would be able to understand me. But after a short time, I realized that I should not perceive my mistakes as failures, but rather as opportunities for growth in proficiency. By changing my perspective, I was able to overcome my fears and more actively engage in German conversations with my classmates, roommates, and locals. I began to notice significant improvement in my understanding, proficiency, and pronunciation of the language. I was surprised to learn that by the end of the first month, I was able to skip the B1.1 language level at the Goethe Institut! This experience surpassed all of my goals for language development and I cannot thank the Notre Dame community enough for making it possible.

Reflect on your SLA experience overall.

The SLA experience has changed my life forever and for the better. I noticed significant improvement in my pronunciation and proficiency of the German language; developed a greater understanding and appreciation for German politics, history, and culture; and made friends from all over the world. Not only that, but I learned that I could survive in a foreign country by myself and in my attempt to do so, I developed a greater understanding of and appreciation for immigrants all over the world. It takes incredible courage to leave everything and everyone that is familiar and adapt to a new land, culture, language, and laws in hopes for a better life.

I would encourage everyone to apply for the SLA Grant. The SLA Grant offers the unique opportunity to travel across the world to learn almost any language of interest with complete financial support from Notre Dame. Take advantage of it because such an opportunity is unlikely to recur.

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

After my two months in Germany, I am still considering a career in International Law and Human Rights. Upon my return to campus, I will continue to take German language courses and participate in as many German-related extracurricular activities as possible. I also plan to give back to the Notre Dame German Department by tutoring younger students in German at the Center for Languages and Culture on campus. Furthermore, as an intended political science major, I plan to write a senior thesis that would require advanced language skills. The SLA experience has helped me navigate how I would like to continue my educational career both at Notre Dame and beyond. 


a review of my sixth week in tours, france

“Je m’en vais chercher un grand peut-être // I go to seek a Great Perhaps” – François Rabelais

Batiment Rabelais // The Rabelais Building

I did not know what I was going to find at the Institut de Touraine, except for maybe a little French. At the end of six weeks, I can say that my time here came to an end much more quickly than I expected, and while I was busy with classes, going to the local nursing home to engage with residents, having dinner with my host family, and exploring Tours, I really only scratched the surface of the wonderful French culture. I’m glad I got to go to some areas outside of Tours, and I really would have liked to visit more, but there is so much to see and experience that it really would take a lifetime to do it all. Going back home and back to campus, I will miss the easily accessible markets, beautifully manicured gardens, and the riverside hang outs that became the basis of my daily routine. I wish I could take all of the things I loved about the last month and a half back home with me, but I don’t think my checked bag is large enough, so I’ll bring all of my experiences with me and all of the progress I made in French. There has definitely been an increase in my confidence in French conversations in and out of class after these weeks of immersion; I am much more at ease with using slang and the common phrases that the native speakers use and I’ve finally figured out exactly what kind of sandwich and pastry I like to get for lunch from the boulangerie around the corner.

From a market…
… in a garden…
… by the river.


This past week, we’ve really started covering some more interesting topics about health and society in class, which gave some variation from the more ecological or literary topics that had been the precedent. I was particularly invested in the classes this past week, given that it would be the last time for a while where I would have so much exposure to French and also because I presented on the trafficking of blood plasma between the United States and Europe for my final project. After that, my professor gave us a little more information on the French healthcare system since we are all fairly unfamiliar with it. It’s a system of socialized medicine meaning that everyone’s taxes go into a healthcare fund of sorts to pay for medical expenses. Ideally, no one has to pay for out of pocket medical costs at public hospitals and clinics, but it is subject to lots of abuses that have put the country in debt over the past few years. More privatized insurance policies are coming to the forefront like in US medical care, but at the base French residents need only the carte vitale (a card with your health information and any supplementary insurance policies) for going to the doctor or picking up a prescription. We also talked about the issue of homelessness (les SDF: sans domicile fixe) in France. Just as with most cities, there were quite a few homeless people in Tours, and while I’m not very educated on the systems that care for the homeless in the States, I think both countries are on the same page. That is to say, there are programs that exist to care for people living on the streets, but they are few and far between and don’t always effective in their attempts to address this problem. So I’ve been learning about more than just french in class, and I really enjoy now being able to use a more technical vocabulary when talking about complex topics.

My dome away from home 🙂

As I’m finally getting acclimated to life in France, it feels harder to leave, but I’m excited to get back to friends, family and my French classes at Notre Dame and share the perspectives I’ve gained and greater understanding of the French language.

I was not ready for this picture or my last day at the institute


Au revoir ! // Until we meet again!