Why did you decide to study abroad?
I chose to study abroad first of all because I have dreams about traveling the world and it was always just that, a dream until the opportunity came for me to study abroad. The second reason is because I like to learn about other people's cultures and there was no better way than by immersing myself in the cultures I wanted to learn about and study abroad helped me do that. I was a little bit nervous in the beginning because at the time, the idea of me traveling without my parent's supervision seemed too big for me to handle and I was looking for any reason not to go. But then I thought deep and realized how much I would regret not going because the opportunity to visit the countries I studied at may never come around again, or for a very long time.
If you could tell someone one reason why they should go, what would you say?
Studying abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime! If not now, when? When we are younger we tend to believe that we have enough time sometime in the future to take chances but the harsh reality is that it is not always the case. I believe that many conflicts that we have in our society today arise out of ignorance towards the differences that we have as humans, and that later leads to misunderstandings. Traveling provides us with a better understanding of the world and its people; the chance to study in a new country where customs and traditions are different from ours help us better understand why things are done differently by people of a different ethnic background. Traveling opens your eyes and you get to learn that the world is truly a big and place amazing and we can only get to experience that if we will ourselves to become a part of it.
What did you accomplish while you were abroad?
While studying in Thailand and Vietnam, I was able to pick up the languages even without previous knowledge of it. I do not have much fluency now since I have not had much practice. Once in a while I remember phrases that I use with friends back in Thailand and Vietnam and even while at my service learning site where I have met some Vietnamese people. Also, I feel like I have become more patient, understanding and more adaptable to the different situations that I find myself in.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to face while studying abroad?
The biggest obstacle for me was finances. I had saved quite enough money before studying abroad but during my semester away, I was not working; money was coming out of my account but not going in so as a result I did not travel as much as I wanted to. I did not draw out a budget with the little I had before I went abroad so I will advise anyone to make plans for what they would want to do and how much they may cost.
What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?
My most memorable experience was when I went back from Vietnam to Thailand during spring break for the New Year Festival known as "Songkran". This is a traditional New Year festival celebrated in Thailand. Thailand and many Asian countries follow the lunar calendar (the lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon phases) so the festival is often celebrated from the 13th to 15th of April. Buddhists celebrate this festival as a religious one. They visit temples to pray, make merits to monks by giving them food, clothes or money as well as paying respect to Buddha statues. People pray for good luck for the New Year. It is also a time to visit relatives and friends. In some cities, Buddha images are paraded in the streets. Similarly to the way Americans celebrate New Year, Thai people make resolutions to refrain from bad habits in the coming year.
The throwing of water during Songkran first originated as a way to wash away all the evils and bad luck from the last year in order to welcome the good luck of the New Year. Although Thailand does not have four seasons, the festival usually falls on one of the hottest months of the year and the act of throwing water on one another is a way for people to keep themselves cool. It was a lot of fun getting water splashed on me for three days.
If you were involved in any clubs or sports at Saint A's, did you feel like you missed out by studying abroad?
I did miss playing rugby and intramural basketball in the spring but I made up for them in other ways; I visited places and experienced things that I would not have been able to visit otherwise. If I have the chance to do it all over again, I will take it because I can get the chance to play sports anywhere whereas the opportunity to study abroad is limited and an opportunity of a lifetime.
Was your experience abroad more, less, or equal value to a semester at Saint Anselm? Why?
My experience abroad added more value to my education at Saint Anselm College. Saint Anselm College has opportunities for me that I did not have access to while abroad and vice-versa. Here at school, I have a work study position, a payroll job, volunteer, join clubs and play sports. While I was abroad I was not allowed to work, hence I did not have enough money to do more traveling since I was spending what I had saved and there was none coming in.
On the other hand, I was exposed to new cultures that I normally would not have access to on campus on a regular basis. The weekly adventures and excursions while studying abroad is not part of the curriculum here and that contributed to our learning in class. I got to volunteer while in Thailand, although it was brief but it was different and served as a learning experience.
What were your most positive and most negative experiences as a participant in this program? What did you learn from these experiences?
Negative: For me, I was baffled by the stares I got from walking on the streets. I read and listened to people's experiences (both positive and discouraging) about being people of dark skin traveling in Asia and I thought I was well-equipped. I found out while living there that I could not have been prepared enough until one is faced with the experiences first-hand. In Vietnam for example I saw people staring, pointing and giggling at me when they saw and for some time it made me very angry because I felt uncomfortable and very tiny being able to stand out. With time, I was able to let the anger go and let myself relish their amusement. Most Asian cultures are homogeneous so it was understandable that some were in shock when they first saw me and their reactions afterwards, but I was only able to understand this after stepping out and looking at it from a logical point of view rather than being emotional and taking it personal. From then on, I would make eye-contact and giggle along with those who stared and giggled when they saw me.
Positive: In Vietnam, motorbikes are used as a public form of transportation so when the motorcyclists see you walking by they try to get you to ride. I always walked to and from school so I refuse their offer as politely as possible. There was this man who I notice stays in the same location on my way from school and he always tries to talk to me but because I did not speak fluently, I would tell him I did not understand (in Vietnamese), but with time, I was able to tell him things about myself.
Did you interact with host country nationals? If so how often?
Yes, I interacted with the locals. During my orientation in Thailand, we spent five days and four nights in a Thai village where no one spoke English and we the students spoke no word of Thai besides "sawadee" which means "hello". I was anxious at first but at the end of our stay, I had fallen in love with the village and the people, especially my host family. We lived with local students who attended our host university in an apartment complex not far from school.
In Vietnam on the other hand, we lived among locals (not with local students). The other two students (who went from Thailand to Vietnam with me) and I lived in a house by ourselves for some time before other tenants (also foreigners) later moved in towards the end of our stay there. There is a club at the school in Vietnam called "Amity Club" and the goal is to promote relationships among the students at the school and international students who come there to study. They took us on trips (museum, waterpark, restaurants, temples, sightseeing etc.) and wanted to learn more about us as much as we wanted to learn about them.