Category: Blog

Studying Abroad in Brazil Let Me Gain Confidence In Exploring Other Cultures

I participated in SUNY Oswego Global Laboratory program in Brazil. I chose Brazil because I wanted to experience something that is completely out of my comfort zone, and wanted to challenge myself mentally and academically by placing myself into an unknown environment. At first, I knew nothing about Brazil. It was intimidating – studying in a country that most believes is a dangerous place. However, after my two months in Brazil, my perception changed; anywhere you go can be dangerous, but as long as you’re careful, you’re safe wherever you go.

My biggest and only struggle was not knowing Portuguese because very few people I met in Brazil spoke English. If I had a little more knowledge in Portuguese language, then it would have made my experience better. I was struggling to understand Brazilians who did not speak English, but I was slowly adapting by learning some Portuguese words. I got to meet interesting people who made my time in Brazil more enjoyable. We were able to travel around cities in Brazil to enjoy different activities such as zip lining, kayaking and viewing landscapes. I was amazed most by their culture of music and celebrations. Brazilians would invite anyone to join their festivals to enjoy the time together. This was quite a surprising experience for me, who is a resident of New York City, where most people would not invite strangers into their homes to celebrate holidays. It was refreshing to see the differences in the Brazilian and American culture. Another different cultural aspect is that, I tend to work fast and try to finish work quickly in New York City. In Brazil, however, I was able to take my time and calmly finish my work. It was a different way to do things, but an enjoyable experience..

While enjoying their culture, I was also able to gain more hands on experience with animals. Because I am on the pre-veterinary track, I was looking for opportunities where I could gain as much veterinary experience with animals as I possibly could. The Global Laboratory program places students to their field of interest, and I was able to work in a wildlife animal rehabilitation clinic, which is a rare opportunity to find in the metropolitan cities in the United States. I am thankful that I was able to participate in this study abroad program. I would strongly encourage other students to definitely try applying for the Global Laboratory program – especially in Brazil. It was an enriching experience both academically and personally, and I definitely want to visit Brazil again!

Winnie Chen, a Binghamton University undergraduate student who studied abroad in Brazil through SUNY Oswego’s Global Laboratory Program and a recipient of the Myers Family Scholarship

Celebrating Christmas in Copenhagen!

When I first committed to studying abroad for the fall semester, there were only a few things that I was anxious about. I would say that most students are nervous about traveling alone, making new friends, and having to get accustomed to a completely new culture; I on the other hand was a little anxious about missing the holiday season that I enjoy spending at home with my family each year. Rather than thinking about the new traditions that I would learn, I was dwelling on missing out on cookie-baking, shopping and wrapping, buying a Christmas tree, and decorating my house. Little did I know, experiencing a holiday in a different place, through the lenses of a different culture, can be just as fulfilling as spending the holiday season at home.

It was in early November when the first signs of Christmas appeared in Copenhagen. My friends and I had heard about a celebration called “J-Dag,” or “J-Day,” when translated into English, that is apparently big there, and of course, we didn’t want to miss out. So I did some research: J Dag always falls on the first Friday of November and is when the Carlsberg Group’s Christmas beer, Tuborg Julebrryg, is brewed and launched to the public for the first time each year. I read that in order to see the celebration we needed to be in the city at 9pm.

When J-Dag came, my friends and I went straight to the familiar bars that we had been going to all semester. But that night, they were different. The bars were decorated for Christmas with lights, trees, ornaments, and fake snow around them. Snow machines filled the streets, so although it wasn’t cold enough for snow, it appeared to be snowing. At around 9pm, trucks and horse-carriages arrived with men and women dressed up in blue, which is the color of Christmas in Denmark (due to the Christmas beer having a blue label). The workers sang, danced, gave out blue Christmas hats, and brought the Christmas beer into each bar, not only into the bars on the street that we were on, but throughout the entire city center. Christmas music was playing in the streets and in each bar, and although it was only the 8th of November, the Christmas spirit was well in the air.

Melissa Lawrence, a Binghamton University undergraduate student and the Study Abroad Ambassador Program manager

Experiencing “Authentic” Italy Through Study Abroad

I studied abroad this summer in a small town in Italy, south of Naples, called Pisciotta. I chose this specific location because I wanted an “authentic” Italian experience. While abroad I was posed with the question of what “authentic” actually means. This question, along with many discussions in my sociology class for the summer, made me think. I caught myself wondering why I really needed to buy so many souvenirs. Was it because everyone else did, so I felt pressured to do the same? Was it because I genuinely wanted these souvenirs, or because I wanted them for the memories? Or, simply because I wanted them to probe to my friends and family back home that I was there?Amanda

After pondering these ideas, I realized that there was really no reason for all of these excessive material goods. This is why my favorite “souvenirs” were the ones that didn’t come from tacky gift shops. Instead, they came with memories that I cherish far more than any expensive Italian leather or Venetian glass I could have bought.

The first of these souvenirs was a journal that I kept during the course of my trip. For anyone anticipating on studying or traveling abroad I greatly recommend keeping a journal. I saved all my ticket stubs from museums and metro cards to tape into my journal along with flowers and leaves that I would press into it.

As you can see the binding of my journal is about to burst because I filled the pages with so many additional things. The journal not only holds these physical things to remember train rides, museums, boat rides, gelaterias, restaurants and the local foliage but it also holds something even more valuable: my current feelings throughout the span of my trip. I would give up all the other souvenirs I bought for this one journal because it holds some very dear memories that I will look back on one day.

I have one other souvenir that holds a similar value to my journal. This souvenir was an unexpected gift from a woman that I befriended during my time in Pisciotta. Her name is Beatrice and she does not speak a word of English. Not only is my Italian not very good, but her Italian is a dialect. This caused complication when we tried to communicate. We first became friends because she liked my hat. I let her try it on and she insisted that we take a selfie together. She then took my phone to show all of her friends sitting nearby in the piazza. In practicing my Italian I was able to form short simple sentences to converse with her. I complimented the bracelet she was wearing. This was the wrong move because she instantly tried to give me her bracelet. I graciously declined and she accepted this until the next time we met where she would not take no for an answer as she put the bracelet on my wrist.

From then on, every time she saw me in the piazza she would came over to me right away, eager to talk. I had to constantly remind her to slow down because I couldn’t understand. Even though it was difficult to completely convey what I wanted to say, I greatly enjoyed the time I got to spend with Beatrice. I have worn her bracelet every day since she gave it to me.

Overall, my favorite souvenirs are the ones that have strong links to the things I have experienced. They were not obtained in haste because I was running out of time to buy something and they were not attained because I felt like I needed them. They were simply objects that I received by living my life and keeping my mind open to all the new experiences coming my way.

Amanda O’Connor, a Binghamton University undergraduate student in a Language Across Curriculum class

Studying Abroad in “the Cultural Capital” in Peru Deepened My Understanding of Latin America

This past summer, I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru through the Peru Service Learning program. I have seen some people think that immigrant students like me do not need to travel or study abroad because we have enough “abroad experience” in the United States. However, coming from New York City, which is packed with people with different ethnicities and nationalities, I strongly believed that it was necessary for me to actually go abroad to learn and understand better about other cultures. Because I took some Spanish language classes in high school, I became very interested in Latin American culture and decided to study abroad in Peru. I also wanted to see how local communities in Peru were developing.

At first, I had a strong presumption that it would be too expensive for me to study abroad; however, I soon found out it was not! I applied to several study abroad scholarships that were available to me, including the Myers Family Scholarship. Thankfully, I received the Myers Family Scholarship, which provided me with tremendous financial support to study abroad in Peru.

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While in Peru, I felt as though I was part of the Peruvian community, though, I faced some challenges regarding communication in Spanish. Every morning and evening, my host family prepared breakfast for me, and my host mother would ask me if I wanted to take pieces of bread to school. I also went out with them for dinner or family trips during weekends. I can say with enough confidence that Cusco is the cultural capital of Peru. Walking around Cusco, I saw a lot of churches from which I could sense that Christianity is vital to Peruvians. In June, there were festivals and parades where Peruvians dressed up with their traditional costumes and danced around the streets, and some of them had marks on their faces. I was both impressed by the spectacular parades which Peruvians demonstrated on the streets and by seeing the ancient buildings made up of stones on Machu Picchu, which showcased that the Incans were able to survive in the midst of the conquer by the Spanish.

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The most rewarding part of my experience in Peru was volunteering at three different service sites—Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla, and Comedor Virgen De Fatima. I renovated these service sites, cut wood and made tables, and played games with children and tutored them math. I learned that the main challenge that these service sites were facing was a lack of funding, and that they were overcoming the challenge through different means, such as getting support and volunteers from their own communities.

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I now absolutely have a better understanding of Latin American culture than I did before I studied abroad in Peru. For instance, one thing I learned in Peru was that Christianity plays an important role in Peruvian lives. Due to their religious practices, like giving humanitarian aids, there are many non-profit organizations eager support their community. I would most definitely like to encourage other students to study abroad. Study abroad provides a platform to exchange ideas with professors, classmates, and local residents. It is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jefferson Xiao, an undergraduate Political Science major, who studied abroad in Cusco in summer 2015 through the Peru: Service-Learning Summer study abroad program

As I Think Back the Precious Moments I had in Ronda, Spain…

October 2015… I’ve been home for a little over two months now, and I’ve given away the souvenirs I bought for others in the little shops that crowded the Spanish streets. The pieces I’ve kept for myself line my shelves and windowsills for subtle reminds of my time away. But the piece that I hold most dear I could not put into my pocket and bring on the plane home. There wasn’t a trinket that could capture it for me, and so I keep it alive in the pictures, music, memories, and hope for returning.

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While abroad in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit many of the cities surrounding the areas in which I studied. Every weekend I would discover a new place and take in landscapes, architecture, and tidbits of Spanish history and culture. I felt that every new city I explored became my new favorite until I reached one that defined my entire trip. Upon arriving in Ronda, we first visited a park that approached the edge of the very cliff that the city sits atop. Lined with trees and statues, we strolled through the dappled sunlight to look over the vast expansion of hills, country homes, and arid vegetation reached towards a dazzling mountain rage in the distance. Following the path that runs along the cliffs edge and into the town, we wander past a small craft market, the bull fighting ring, and a city square with fountains, shops, spectacular doorways, and cafes filled with people seated outdoors. We continued through winding streets to find a restaurant with the perfect patio to enjoy tapas and practice español, traditional homes shaded from the Spanish heat, and a small church that took my breath away.

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As we continued on our walk and my mind slowly wandered from the tour guide’s words, I began to hear music as we approached the bridge. Unable to find the source, and captivated by the sight of the bridge in the midday heat, I began to feel as though the music were the soundtrack to this very moment in Spain. I left the group to walk to approach the bridge alone and enjoy the music that accompanied my exploration, to find the guitarist sitting under a small umbrella near the bridge. I sat down with him to listen to him play in the sun, and breathed in the aroma of the dry plants growing around the cliffs.

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I feel that during a study abroad experience, one can be overwhelmed without even realizing it. When we find moments that make us take a step back and consider our place and our purpose, they can completely transform the experience and give it much meaning. Ronda fully encapsulates Spain for me. My experience there combined all of the history, culture, landscape, weather, language, food, and romanticism that I was attracted to and hoped to discover abroad. My experience there was the most self-reflective and I feel that of all of the places I went to, it is the most memorable and dear for this reason. I remember being unable to find a postcard that matched the real beauty of that bridge, but I still bought a few to flip through when I listen to the CD from the guitarist on the bridge.

Natalie Knezevic, a Binghamton University undergraduate student in a Language Across Curriculum (LxC) class, who studied abroad in Spain

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