A World Away: Rural India

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I set out for India, to a rural village called Loni in the province of Maharashtra (the same province which contains Mumbai), with a lot of preconceptions, a lot of ideas about how it would be, and a lot of curiosity about how the people live. Some of my thoughts on how things would be were correct, but there were many things which broke my preconceptions.

My Franke GLI global theme is Global Public Health, and my challenge is related to mental health treatment, perception and stigmas, and how it relates to physical health and society. Considering that around 99% of the population is religious in one way or another (with over 80% being Hindu) and the primary occupation is agricultural, I thought this experience in Social Health and Development at the Center for Social Medicine (CSM) would fit nicely with my own interests and studies. The CSM organization is a locally started NGO which has totally transformed the local and surrounding areas of Loni. As a branch entity of the Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences – Deemed University (PIMS-DU), the CSM works to expand the rural and tribal populations’ access to healthcare and livelihood services. This comes in the form of primary healthcare centers, mobile medical outreach, HIV/AIDS migrant worker screening camps, school health education programs, partnerships with government and NGO organizations to rescue children and women in compromising situations, and much more. They are constantly working to promote the health and welfare of the rural population, women, and vulnerable groups to achieve the best outcomes possible. The work they have done in rural India is truly amazing and inspiring.

Rural India is a place of chaotic fluidity. Many people of different religious beliefs live together, oftentimes within the same village, and are mostly non-contentious with one another. Traffic laws seem to be non-existent (though that is a common attribute I found in rural and urban areas), and yet there is a flow that somehow manages to work despite this. This flow appears to extend into the medical arena as well. Doctors at the local hospital operated quite differently to the states. Many rural farmers and workers are still illiterate and, despite the reach of technology, run off a more relaxed perception of time. There is no making appointments. This means that through the day there are times of high-volume and times of no-volume. It really keeps you on your toes. This combined with the variety of extremely progressed and “rare” cases made it very interesting to be around. I had many opportunities to witness interactions, treatments, and cultural norms which you don’t see in documentaries. I also got to know the more minute aspects, since the slow times gave me ample opportunity to have discussions with the doctors and students. All around, my clinical experiences were ones I could only have had in rural India.

 

The public outreach work and rural postings were quite rewarding. Being able to see the people and the children in their normal, daily routine was both intriguing and fun. The children were all so cute! It was inspiring to see what is being done by both the government and private organizations to help elevate the health of the people. The number of experiences are far too many to write about in just one blog.

All I can really say is this: Go see it for yourself! Experience the challenges, the successes, the food, the people, the weather, and the wonder! It wasn’t an easy experience, but I’m so thankful for all the support and assistance I received to go on this life-changing journey!

Joseph | Exercise Science & Global Public Health | Summer 2018

Learning to Communicate in Latin America

 

 

A defining moment for me in my out-of-classroom experience was when I had a lengthy conversation, fully in Spanish, with a guide from UNESCO World Heritage about moss. Specifically, we spoke about the moss stuck to some ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru, but the moss was the focus of the discussion.

This conversation about a mundane plant (albeit in an extraordinary place) will stick with me because it made me realize that I had accomplished my goal. When I arrived in Santiago, Chile for my semester abroad, I struggled to ask for directions. Speaking Spanish was terrifying—what if my accent was horrible? What if I couldn’t conjugate my verbs correctly? Well, I learned very quickly that my Spanish accent is just awful, and my conjugations are rarely correct, but it doesn’t matter. The guide at Machu Picchu did not care that I didn’t use the right subjunctive tense, he cared that I asked about the ecosystem of the site and was happy to answer my questions. Gaining the ability to exchange ideas and communicate in another language was the reason I wanted to study abroad.

After taking years of Spanish classes in the U.S., my capacity to have a one-on-one conversation with a native speaker was embarrassingly limited. I don’t fault my teachers or professors for this, it’s just how our education system works. In a typical classroom setting, a teacher lectures and students listen. This is effective to teach a mass of students proper grammar and it helps them understand the language. However, having to produce that language, out loud and in real time, is a whole new ball game.

I chose to study in Chile for its incredible nature (think Andes Mountains, Patagonia and the Atacama Desert) and its interesting political history (think Spanish colonization and Pinochet dictatorship). Luckily, it also turned out to be the Latin American country known for its extremely difficult accent and dialect. I say this is lucky because if I am proficient in Chilean Spanish, I’m can speak it anywhere. After four months of living with a host family, taking classes at a Chilean university and having to accomplish everyday tasks, like taking the bus or buying a coffee, my Spanish is exceptionally better. Although I do have more to learn.

I’m a journalism student and the ability to communicate is key for my future career. I want to ask lots of questions, investigate important issues and inform people about their own communities and those on the other side of the world. I can only do that job justice by communicating with a wide variety of people living diverse experiences. People should know that as Machu Picchu continues to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru, its ecosystem is changing, which will require visitation restrictions in the future. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t been able to speak Spanish with the guide, who was friendly and eager to tell me more.

I could write about hundred stories, just like my experience at Machu Picchu, from my semester in Latin America.  I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to have had these interactions, improve my Spanish and learn more about moss in Peru.

Life in the Capital of New Zealand

This last spring semester of 2018, I left the classroom to set out on a new exciting adventure. I headed down south to spend the semester studying in Wellington, New Zealand. I arrived in the capital of New Zealand, a city bigger than I had ever experienced in my life. Living not only in a new country, but in a large busy city was all new to me coming from the quiet city of Missoula.  Wellington is a unique city in the sense that it contains multiple different enviroments. For example, I could walk from city central, to the harbor, and then to the hills—home of their famous botanical gardens, within minutes. Everything I could possibly want to explore, was just a few steps outside my flat. While in New Zealand I was able to experience the real “kiwi” lifestyle. This lifestyle involved drinking lots of flat whites, site-seeing the breathtaking countrysides and crystal clear rivers with monstrous brown trout, and of course tramping through the land of the Lord of Rings. The exploration was endless. However, through all this exploration I gained something more than just experiences—I gained the skill of leadership. Traveling alone allowed me to gain confidence in my independence, which in return allowed me to be confident leading others when traveling in groups and while working with other students for my courses.

While in New Zealand I not only explored a beautiful country, I was also able to study in a country that taught differently than our home University at UM. Gaining more knowledge on my global challenge of mental health, I took different psychology course at Victoria University of Wellington. These courses allowed me and pushed me to think more critically about not just how the mind works, but also the issues that arise in the psyche as well. By studying psychology in a different country, I was able to experience cultures from all over the world and come to a conclusion that mental health is a leading problem worldwide. On top of my studies, I attended several mindfulness workshops on how important it is to be present and not get caught up in the material world. With the combination of experiences through the psychology courses and workshops, I’m excited to be able to apply what I learned into our GLI Senior Capstone project on different mental health issues at a local level in our very own town of Missoula.

Studying abroad was one of the most challenging, yet, rewarding experiences this far in my academic career. It allows you to open your mind and experience things you never thought you were missing out on. It’s an experience of a lifetime and one everybody should take advantage of.

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My study abroad experience in Aix-en-Provence was one that has shaped me into the person I am today. I was able to experience different lifestyles, cultures, and ideas all in a short period of four months. During my first three years in Missoula, I watched as the political climate of the US changed drastically and I wanted to discover how other countries viewed the political side of religion. For my GLI experience, I planned to take a deeper look into immigrant and refugee issues.

My host city, Aix-en-Provence, is situated in the south of France, only thirty minutes from the second largest city, Marseille. Marseille is starkly different to the rest of France. Because it is located on the Mediterranean Sea, it has become a new home to many immigrant families, many from Syria, Libya, and Northern Africa.

From the bustling cities of Paris and Nice to the small villages of Arles and Avignon, the French love to spend time together. Sharing a meal, having a cigarette, or drinking a glass of wine is necessary to every day life. Their culture is based on tight knit relationships: young people often live with their families much longer than in the US, and even after moving out, will still visit regularly to spend time together. I really appreciated this part of the culture, whether it be a couple walking in the park, old men playing “pétanque” every Saturday, or a group of young high school boys eating pizza at their usual spot at lunch. This also made it difficult to understand the French view of the “other”. Their perception of foreigners can be negative, and I struggled to find acceptance as an American. I can understand that sometimes people associate stereotypes and political leaders with the people from that country. But it made me wonder how they perceive immigrants and refugees? Through research, I learned that France has struggles to define who the “French” man or woman is, with immigration being a major political issue throughout the years. I believe it is deeply rooted in the French history, dating back to the French revolution and the freedom from religion. France is working towards a more tolerant view of other religions and others in general. I hope to bring to the US a new perspective on religious tolerance and immigration – two issues that have shaped the political climate today.

We have seen in these past few months, the detainment of immigrant children in the US. I think this issue is more prevalent that ever and is fueled by hate, not reason. As Americans, I do believe it is our responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world. We not only are privileged to have the freedom to do so, but the resources as well. GLI has given me the platform to make a difference in our community, to what I hope leads to a difference in our country.

My Abroad Experience- Melbourne, Australia

If you’re looking for an urban adventure filled with culture and kangaroos, Melbourne Australia is the place for you. Although it is the second biggest city in Australia, it’s easy to get lost in the beautiful outdoors that surround it. The Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island, and countless national parks are just a few of the adventures that one may come across. Not to mention the city itself, being the art and culture capital of Australia. The streets are filled with people from every country imaginable. Because of this beautiful mix of new humanities and adventure, I decided to go to Melbourne for a semester as my out of the classroom experience.

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The choice of where to study abroad wasn’t easy. I wanted to find a place that would focus on my GLI theme of humanities, but I also wanted to be somewhere that I had no great knowledge of because I craved adventure. I have traveled to many countries, but after thinking about it, I decided Australia would be a new experience that I may not have the chance to do again. Melbourne is named the culture capital of the country, and also was a bigger city than I’ve ever had the chance to live in. It was perfect.

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Upon arrival, I immediately noticed that there were more people from different nationalities than I had ever seen in one place in my life. This was just at the airport. My school I attended, La Trobe University, is actually one third exchange students, creating a comfortable space to meet and greet students from all over the world. My first night I ate dinner with a girl from Malaysia. This was a memorable experience due to the fact that I had never had a chance to learn about Malaysia’s culture. I went to bed with thoughts of how different it would be to live in her world rather than mine in the United States.

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Throughout my time in Australia, I attended many different cultural events in the city. Whether it was a Holi Festival, an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant, or even just surfing with Australians, each experience left me with a better understanding of how truly different the values and customs are from each culture. This gave me a grasp on my GLI theme and challenge that I hope to apply in class this year. I now have first hand experience on how important it truly is to become knowledgeable about as many different nationalities as possible. It not only opens one’s eyes to the endless world that is outside of the United States, it also puts a new perspective on how important it is to honor and celebrates every individuals culture.

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All in all, I am proud of my experience in Melbourne Australia. I had to take steps that I have not before in my life. Being alone in a country you have never been to and don’t know anything about isn’t easy. I knew that I had to buck up, enjoy whatever experience life threw at me, and make decisions for myself that would create the best abroad experience I could have. Although the United States isn’t the most respected country by the rest of the world, (I had a few experiences where that was proved) I pushed myself each day to go to class, share my voice, and show that Americans can be open minded and leaders.

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Studying abroad is an experience that I believe everyone should take part in. Of course it is fun, but it also creates a more open mind, a more confident leader, and an endless desire for adventure. I am now prepared to start my senior year in GLI. I want to use my theme and knowledge to create a program giving students in grade school a taste of different cultures so they can learn what I learned in Australia, even if they don’t have the opportunity to go abroad. My out of the classroom experience was a life changing one, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain

This summer, I spent three months living and working in Barcelona, Spain for my Beyond the Classroom experience.  I was an intern at a non-governmental organization that helps women start their own businesses in countries around the Mediterranean.  As an intern, I helped translate documents from Spanish (and sometimes other languages) to English, planned programs related to entrepreneurship for young women, and helped apply for grants from various institutions.  I learned a lot about the day-to-day operations of an NGO and how they interact with governments, businesses, and other organizations

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Spanish and Catalan independence flags in Barcelona

For my global challenge, I was interested in how political systems can address people of varied cultural practices and beliefs.  My time in Barcelona provided me with the perfect opportunity to examine this question. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain, which has its own language and many of its own cultural traditions.  The Catalan independence movement has a long history that continues today. While I was in Spain, the former Spanish president was removed and replaced, a new president of Catalonia was approved, and there were several demonstrations throughout Barcelona and Catalonia, both for and against independence.

I lived with a host family for the three months of my internship, which was an important part of my cultural education.  They were Catalan from small towns outside of Barcelona and spoke Catalan with each other. Because I only speak Spanish, or castellano, as they would say, the family had to switch languages when I was around.  Pretty much everyone in Catalonia also speaks Spanish, but I was aware of the different ways people would switch between languages.

As a political science student with this global challenge, I had many chances to have discussions and learn from the people I met.  Many of the Spanish people I interacted with were very interested to hear from an American, both about US politics and what was happening in Catalonia.  I watched Catalan television and attended pro-independence events with my host family and discussed the concerns of the business community and international groups at my internship.  One night, we went to an event where a representative from Finland and a lawyer from Scotland were translated into Catalan as they talked about their own countries’ experiences with independence and their identification with the independence movement.  My internship also provided an interesting way to compare countries, as I prepared reports on the status of policies about women and entrepreneurship in several Mediterranean countries.

Overall, I could not have wished for a better out of the classroom experience from my time in Spain.  My language skills have improved so much from living and working in Spanish, and my Catalan is coming along.  I feel confident and capable, and I can’t wait to return to Barcelona.

The City of Bells: Córdoba, Argentina

Welcome to Córdoba, Argentina, also known as the City of Bells because of the vast amount of churches that reside every few blocks. Around you are rolling hills known as sierras, and kioskos, or mini marts on every corner. You hear honking coming from the colectivos, or city buses trying to stay on their schedules which they can’t ever seem to keep. You smell freshly baked criollos coming from the bakeries as a stray dog follows you on your way to school. Most importantly, you are always greeted with a friendly kiss on the cheek and a smile.

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Cathedral in Córdoba city center

I arrived in Córdoba in February which is during their summer. I was welcomed with 100-degree weather and humidity that helps you stick to your sheets. Over the course of my first week I was introduced to my social tutor, Juli along with some other tutors assigned to my fellow UM classmates. Our tutors were not to help us academically, rather to help us figure out the bus system, get to the city center, find a good restaurant and of course, be our friends. We would find ourselves at the tutor’s houses hanging out after school and having asados, or barbeques on open grills. Our tutors were the ones who really helped us get in touch with the Argentine culture which helped us acclimate faster as well as more comfortably.

 

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Salinas Grandes, Salt Flats

Our classes were given completely in Spanish. We learned about the culture, the literature and were even taught by two highly recognized and published authors. Our classes gave us the opportunity to understand why Argentina is the way it is today as we learned about the dictatorship and the hardship the people had to go through not even 50 years ago. We learned about los desaparecidos, or “the disappeared” as during that time, many people who opposed the dictatorship mysteriously disappeared. Unfortunately, many people of that generation are still missing including children who were taken away from their families at birth. While in Argentina I learned how this tragedy is still affecting everyone from those who benefitted from the dictatorship, to those who don’t even keep their money in the bank anymore because of the insecurity.

 

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Boat tour in Iguazú Falls

One of my most treasured experiences was when some friends and I traveled northeast, right on the border of Argentina and Brazil to Iguazú Falls. The town itself was small and was comprised mostly of hotels and small tourist shops because the real attraction was just a short bus ride away, the waterfalls. In the Iguazú Falls Natural Park, jungle surrounds you as well as native species of both plants and animals. In the whole park there are over 200 waterfalls and metal or wooden paths to lead you all around. We were lucky enough to even take a boat tour and go underneath the falls! Gallons of water were dumped on us; it was an experience like nonother. People come from all over the Americas to see the spectacular waterfalls and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see them for myself. This was just one of the aspects that enhanced my entire study abroad experience, but I feel that I am forever changed and extremely lucky to have had this chance to live in Argentina.

A Summer In Fire

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After months of planning, weeks of grant writing, and days of organizing I was ready to start off on my summer experience. Only upon reaching the area I was to be working in for the rest of summer did I realize the enormity of the task I had gotten myself into.

I spent my summer in the Alice Creek Basin and on Wolf Creek Ranch, about an hour from Lincoln, Montana, setting up and moving around 30 cameras in a high severity burn area, and healthy unburned-growth forest. The Alice Creek fire burned over 20,000 acres of land in the summer of 2017. I was conducting my own original research focusing on wildlife presence in burned and unburned areas and how the areas compared to one another.

When I first arrived at Alice Creek I only had a faint idea what to except. If you’ve never been in a high severity burn site, the first time is quite a breathtaking experience. The area looked like something out of an apocalypse movie. The ground was pure black, with the skeletal toothpick remains of 30-40ft trees towering above head. Absolutely no green could be seen. The air was quiet and still, completely devoid of any life. The whole feeling was ethereal, like we were pioneers, the first life to set foot in the area after the fires had ravaged the basin the previous summer.39515360_1997903856897890_191056118309453824_n

We spent the rest of the day traversing up and down the steep slopes and ravines of the immense basin, placing cameras and conducting vegetation sampling as we went. It was hard work, and on that first day, a flicker of doubt crossed my mind multiple times. It’s always been a dream of mine to conduct my own research, but as more and more small problems arose, I contemplated if I had been too ambitious. Doubt was replaced by concern, and I feared that all my hard work to get to this point might have been for nothing. It was around this same time we came to the summit of the basin, after hours of nothing but uphill hiking we were finally at the top. As I stood overlooking the breathtaking view, my fears started to melt away. I had made it this far, over half of the cameras had been set up and there was no turning back. As in any type of research, problems will always arise, but now I was ready to face them. As I stood on the top of that mountain, I knew everything was going to be okay.

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Now the summer is coming to a close. Pretty soon I’ll be heading up to Alice Creek for the last time. The cameras will be collected, the data will be sorted, and I’ll start the next step in my research and start writing my paper. I had an amazing summer. My research, for the most part, went smoothly, I conquered my anxieties and reinforced the love I have for working in nature. Over the last couple of months I watched the Alice Creek Basin slowly transform. While scars left by the fire will remain for the next century, life is slowly returning. On my last visit the ground was carpeted with yellow glacial lilies and pink fireweed, rejuvenated by the nitrogen-rich soil. Birds were singing and surprisingly enough I found several nests tucked into overturned trees roots, the gaping mouths of newborn chicks staring at me. Although fire is destructive, it can be healthy for an ecosystem. While I was saddened by the loss of this once magnificent forest, I saw a poetic beauty in it. The fire wasn’t an end, as so much as it was a chance to start again.

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My Experience in Senator Tester’s Office

For my Beyond the Classroom experience, I had the opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C. in the Office of Senator Jon Tester. I started my internship with very brief knowledge about the legislative process and the operations of a legislative office. However, within a couple of weeks of intensive training, I have come to learn the vast amount of accountability that a legislative office owes its constituents.

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One of the most exciting aspects of my internship was having the opportunity to conduct legislative research. On my first day, I got assigned to work with a legislative assistant who specializes in foreign affairs issues. For that reason, I’ve attended several Foreign Relations Committee hearings and completed some research on issues like the Russia investigation and U.S. tariffs. Specifically, I wrote a number of briefing memos about the updates on Special Counsel Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation, the dangerous effects of President Trump’s tariffs on Montana farmers, and President Trump’s recent Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I am glad that I had the opportunity to study and research issues that are currently causing extreme conflict in the global arena, as this relates to my Global Challenge. My Global Challenge focuses on reaching global cooperation, despite the fact that many nations experience intense political and cultural differences. Overall, this internship has provided me insight on how the U.S. approaches global issues through the legislative process.

Additionally, a large portion of my internship consisted of constituent work like logging correspondence, giving visitors tours of the Capitol building, and answering hundreds of phone calls. Constituent calls were difficult to handle at times due to several controversial issues and bills at the time. The most difficult part of my internship was probably dealing with angry callers who simply did not want to hear the Senator’s point of view at all. However, it was my job to assure constituents that their voices mattered and that I would definitely be relaying their messages to the Senator.

Through the process of logging constituent calls and letters, I also learned about the diverse perspectives of Montanans. Although the current population of Montana is just over one million, the political positions and perspectives of people in the state varies on such a grand scale. Because Montanans have such differing stances on political issues, I began to understand the benefits of being a “moderate” within politics like Senator Tester. Although the Senator does not always vote in a way that will appease all of his constituents, he values the voices of Montanans and tries his best to reflect those voices in Congress. Also, through learning more about the Senator’s tenure in Congress, I soon realized that he is willing to work across the aisle in a bipartisan way despite the current polarization in the U.S. political sphere. As my internship progressed, I started to appreciate the Senator’s ability to put aside partisanship in order to enact legislation and effectively do his job.

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On a broader scale, I feel as though my internship experience also contributed to the working of our democracy. One of the key components of a democracy is the guarantee that the voice and will of the people with be reflected in government. As an intern, I was the intermediary between the constituents and the Senator. For this reason, logging constituent calls was fundamental to ensuring that Montana voices are heard by the Senator and reflected in his decisions within Congress. Overall, I’ve learned so much about the legislative process during this experience and I am hopeful that it will help me become a more effective advocate in the American political system.

Taiwan: First Three Weeks part 1

Every country is considered to have their own culture that is composed by their beliefs, society, and ethnic group. With the opportunity to travel to four different countries in my life (Mexico, Thailand, China, and Canada), I have been able to firsthand experienced many different and unique cultures. I believe Taiwan, however, has been the most unique culture I have experienced so far.

 

For the last four weeks I have been studying Chinese at 國立成功大學(National Cheng Kung University) in Tainan through the Taiwan United-States Sister Alliance (TUSA) Global Ambassadors Scholarship program. I arrived in Taiwan on June 7th, a few days before the program began, and will depart on August 8th. The two-month Chinese learning program includes many cultural excursions and a very intensive workload. Every day I wake up at 8:00am to attend my two hour Chinese class and then attend a one-on-one drill session from 11:00-12:00pm where I speak solely in Mandarin.  Also twice a week, I meet up with my language partner for two hours to practice speaking and listening to Chinese. While the language partner helps me improve my Chinese, I help her improve her English. Along with nightly homework, I have two quizzes a week along with a 報告(presentation) at the end of every lesson. Each week we cover approximately one lesson, which consists of two dialogues, 4-5 sentence structures, and 30-40 new characters. Over the past four weeks, this program has allowed me to increase my ability to speak, listen, read, and write Chinese.

Even though the Chinese coursework is intensive, the TUSA program also takes us on three culture excursions. Besides arranged trips, I also had the opportunity to live with a host family for a weekend in Kaohsiung. I have also taken several different trips with my classmates. Each trip I have taken so far has been filled with new experiences and has opened my eyes to different ways of thinking or doing things.

 

The first weekend in July, the TUSA program took us to Pingtung to visit a rural area school where Taiwan indigenous people live. These indigenous people used to live on top of a mountain, but in 2009 typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon to hit Taiwan, destroyed the villagers’ homes and forced them to move down the mountain and build a new life. Three tribes were displaced due to the typhoon and built their new homes at the bottom of the mountain in the same community as each other. This new sanctuary with multiple cultures meshed together created a charming village in the hills.

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Lilly Evergreen Elementary School principle showing us the outside classroom which shows the children the importance of nature and allows them to learn in a new environment

Our project in 屏東(Pingtung) was to teach English to middle-school students. My group, which had 5 people, was in charge of  12 kids from age 8 to 12. All but one of the kids we taught already had English names. The first time we met the kids we decided the best way to get to know them was to play games. Due to the language barrier, we played simple games that could easily be explained and played; we played multiple name games, including my personal favorite, the blanket game. Seeing the kids having fun and getting closer to us as time went by is something that motivates me to talk to more Taiwanese people. If I can connect with little kids through broken Chinese, I believe I should be able to express myself enough to hold a meaningful conversation with adults back in Tainan.

 

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Day one Morning Class; Lilly Evergreen Elementary School

Reading and writing English did not seem to present a problem to the kids; however, speaking seemed to be a challenged for everyone. I was very surprised to learn that most of the kids could write clear, fluent, and correct sentences. Just like a middle school student in America, these kids could write easy English sentences without any help, aside from the occasional questions on how to spell a word or two.

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One of my students introduction

After the kids wrote down their self introductions, we began teaching them how to say the sentences they had written down. My first student Kevin (intro pictures above) was the best English speaker of the entire class. He only struggled with some words such as volleyball, steak, and brother. Other than these few words, he was more confident in his speaking than in his spelling. For the other students, it was the opposite. They could write really well, but when it came time to speak, especially in front of a camera, they struggled. This is is not only understandable; it’s also expected. If you put me in front of a camera and told me to recite everything I just wrote in Chinese, I would become a deer in a headlight that doesn’t know a speck of Chinese. Only having a day and a half to learn, write, and speak a different language is very impressive and brave.

One of the most rewarding thing from this whole 屏東 (pingtung) trip was teaching the indigenous kids how to speak English and one of the most fulfilling parts was the chance to learn traditional Taiwanese culture through the eyes of a 8-12 year old. The experience I had wouldn’t have been possible without the TUSA program arranging the trip for us.

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A model of a traditional Taiwanese home made by the children attending Evergreen Lilly Elementary School

To be able to understand a culture better you can do many things such as travel that country, taking classes, and living there. However, I think that in order to understand a culture in depth you need to have some contact with children. Children are still mostly influenced by their parents and the schools they attend. They haven’t had the chance to explore the world and be influenced by other cultures, just like the kids in Evergreen Lilly Elementary school. These kids are in the mountains miles away from any big city so they are reliant on learning things from the people in their tribe. Also because the school is passionate about preserving the culture, they teach the kids about their tribe’s traditions in class. In addition, they provide projects (like the one pictured above) to teach them about their culture.

As I reflect on the beginning of the first three weeks in Taiwan, I realize that I have experienced and want to share more than I thought I would. Through the TUSA scholarship I was able to experience a elementary school attended by indigenous Taiwanese people. Through playing and teaching the kids, I also learned a lot about their culture. So far, I have experienced many new things, which has made this trip to Taiwan very unique.