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.

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.

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!


In Japan they have a saying, “Ichigoichie,” which means, “once-in-a-lifetime encounter.” I can’t think of a more perfect phrase to sum up my entire experience in Japan. I made so many wonderful friends, had the chance to live as a Japanese person does, improved my Japanese language skills and so forth. The list could go on forever and ever. I know I’ve said this over and over again but I truly believe that the interactions I had with the people were truly the most amazing part of this entire study abroad experience, especially (you guessed it) my host family. So, I want to share a bit of the last conversation we had the night before I returned to America.

My host parents and I were all sitting at the table in silence with the slight chatter of the TV in the background. Finally, I let out a short sigh. “本当にアメリカに帰りたくない,” (English Translation: I really don’t want to go back to America.) I said, my voice already beginning and tears beginning to well up in my eyes. They looked at me with tear filled eyes. “私達もシエラに帰られたくない,” (English Translation: We don’t want you to leave either.) my host mom said.

As I said before in a previous post, I have never felt that feeling for home or family in my entire life. Growing up, when I would hear my friends talk about their families I never really understood why they were always so elated, until now. I can now say that I understand the value of family and why many view family as so dear to them. After having met my family I finally feel like I have people who I can depend on, who will give me endless love and comfort. The love of a family is so much more beautiful than I could have ever imagined and I am so eternally grateful for having met them because it truly changed my life.

We talked on and on for hours on end, reminiscing about memories made. At the end of the night, as I was about to make my way back to bed my host dad said one last thing that truly moved me, “Remember, your happiness will always be our happiness. You will always have a home here with us.”

One Last Family Outing

The time has come. We’re finally in the homestretch of the program. One. Week. Left. Crazy, right? With this in mind my host family decided we should have one more big family outing before I return to the USA, so off to an amusement park we went!

The amusement park was about three hours from Hakodate so we ended up going on a bit of a mini road trip. We bought snacks and then we were off! Honestly, I fell asleep for the first half of the ride so I’m entirely sure what happened then but I do know that when I woke up we were making a pit stop for some ice cream, yum! すごくおいしかったです。It was super delicious.


(My host sister Yuzuki! So adorable!)

After this we were off again and eventually we arrived at the amusement park, Resutsu Resort.

There are no words that can truly describe how much fun this day was so instead I will gift you all with a series of pictures that do all the explaining for me.

As you all know, my host family means the absolute world to me and this trip was no exception to how amazing of a time I have when I spend time with them. We spent the day riding various roller coasters, eating DELICIOUS food and ended the night with a magnificent fireworks display. I truly could not have asked for a more perfect day.

A Serious Talk: Perverts

As we know, all over the world there are issues with perverts. When thinking about Japan the first word that would often come to mind is safe. However, Japan is no exception to the pervert problem which I unfortunately experienced first hand.

It was a typical day after school. My friend and I were waiting at the bus station as we always had. As we sat there waiting we decided to watch a short three-minute video. Within this short time span a strange man dressed in all gray squatted near our bus stop and began recording us. In the beginning we did not realize this was even happening, but midway through the video my friend noticed. She turned more towards me and informed me of what was going on. I turned to look at the man, looking straight at him thinking he would stop when realizing he was caught. However, he didn’t. He didn’t care that we knew he was recording us. We quickly got up and moved away from him. After doing this the man stopped recording and ran off.

There were many things that were disturbing about this experience, but there are two in particular that really disturb me. First off, the fact that he did not care that we knew he was recording us. After this event happened we both made our way home together and informed out host families of what happened. During this time my host mother explained to me a bit more how things like this happen to women often in Japan and even shared her own experience of a pervert taking a picture of her. The fact that this happens so often that it is seen as normal is a problem to me. It did however clear up why the man had no issue continuing to record us despite our apparent awareness of his presence. It’s so normal in Japan that I believe he felt a sense of security. He knew that it didn’t matter if we saw him because more than likely nothing would be done. Furthermore, I believe it shows, in a way, Japan’s views on women at least in regards to perverts. In their eyes I truly believe that they view women as nothing but sexual objects, as all perverts do in the world but there is something about this  confidence in knowing he would not get caught and that the women he was recording were powerless and weak that disturbed me.

Secondly, although this event happened in a big and openly public space no one said anything.

There were many people at the bus station and the man wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he was recording us so I am almost certain that there were others who watched as the pervert recorded us and said absolutely nothing. This is undoubtedly a problem. In the USA, I believe there is a general consensus that if one views something bad happening to someone else then they try their best to do what they can to help them. That was not the case in Japan. I wasn’t expected anything extreme like someone to tackle the man or anything along those lines. However, a simple yell or tap on the shoulder to inform us of what was happening would have sufficed, yet nothing happened. No one did or said anything and that’s an issue. I also discussed this issue with my host mother and she explained to me that in Japan when those kinds of things happen people usually do not say anything because they often feel it isn’t their place to get involved. In addition to this, they also consider their own well being and just think it best not to get involved. Although I can understand to an extent the consideration of one’s well being I still believe that there is always something that can be done, specifically in situations like this. It truly disappointed me that out of a whole station of people no one said a word. Japan is a wonderful and beautiful country but every country has its issues, including Japan. Let this be a warning to those studying abroad in Japan. Japan is overall a wonderful place, but please stay alert and if you see anything like this happening I encourage you to please take action.

We’re Half Way There!

Hello all! We’re on week 5 of the HIF program here in Hakodate, Japan. There are so many things I’ve experienced already. I’ve met so many amazing people, seen so many amazing things and created so many wonderful memories. It’s pretty amazing comparing where I was mentally in the beginning of the program to where I am now. In the beginning, although I was (and still am)so grateful for the opportunity, I felt a bit out of place. Everything was new and foreign to me; even daily simple things such as eating and grocery shopping. It was almost a bit overwhelming and at times made me want to hop back on a plane back to the comfort of the USA. However, as the days go on I can feel myself become more and more attached to this lovely country and all it has to offer. Today though, was a pivotal moment that really showed me just how much I have come to love Japan as I visited the well-known Goryokaku Tower.

In Hakodate this tower is very well known for the beautiful view it offers when inside so my friend, Kathleen Lor, and I were thrilled that we finally had the time to visit. I remember walking in, the first floor swarming with locals and tourist. At first it just came off as a typical tourist spot: overflowing with people and excitement. After we purchased our tickets to enter the tower we headed towards an elevator that would take us all the way to the top to the viewing station. The gentle mumbles of visitors and the voice of the tour guide could be heard but all was drowned out by my excitement. I smiled with anticipation was we waiting to arrive at the final destination.

The doors opened and people flooded out. Kathleen and I quickly made our way to the edge of the room where the view of Goryokaku Park could best be seen.

I looked upon the park and entire view of Hakodate in awe. It was gorgeous. But then, as I was watching, tears began to well up in my eyes. I was quite taken aback. I knew they were tears of sadness, but I didn’t quite understand why I was sad. I stood there and reflected for a moment over the entire program thus far and then it hit me. I’m leaving in two weeks. Time was quickly passing and I realized I didn’t have much time left. There were still so many things I wanted to do and experience. Most of all, I didn’t want to leave my host family.

Of the time I have been in Japan so many amazing this have happened to me. But, of all those things I believe that meeting and connecting with my host family is by far the most amazing thing to have happened at this program. Growing up, it was often just my two siblings and I taking care of ourselves. As much as I love my siblings I never quite felt that complete feeling of family. That has all changed now. My host family not only makes me feel comfortable in being how I am but they make me want to expand my Japanese even more just so I can communicate and connect better with them. I know this is so much when taking into consideration that we have only been here a little over a month. I was surprised myself, but its true. I have come to love Japan and my host family so much more than I ever thought I would. Though it’s sad to think I am leaving soon, I can’t help but also smile and rejoice in the fact of how life changing this program has been for me.