The Ups and Downs of Service Learning

As a proud Pioneer, our motto: “Private University for the Public Good” is something that has resonated with me since my first quarter on campus. I internalized the idea that we are supposed to train and self-educate at school so we can then go into the world and make it a better place. I’ve always been impressed with how many of our students are involved in philanthropy, the way that our Greek community makes it a priority, and all of the opportunities that DU presents to involve ourselves in our surrounding community.

dharm

However, things get a little sticky when you start taking that motto to the international community. What I mean by that is, I want to ‘help’ and I want to make the world ‘better’. How do I do that without stepping on the culture and identities of others? How can I help, internationally, without living out the negative criticisms of ‘voluntourism’

Last Winter Interterm I spent three weeks in Dharamsala, India, teaching English and computer skills to Tibetan refugee women. I signed up through DU’s International Service Learning programs, and went with a group of 15 DU Undergrad and Graduate students. We were a diverse group of students from all across campus, but all came together to study Tibetan Non-Violence, and to volunteer with a Dharamsala Non-Profit for the month of December.

My trepidation before the trip was whether or not my three weeks would actually matter to these women. I was concerned that I was going on this trip to make myself feel good about helping the world, regardless of whether or not I was actually even helping anyone. I bought into the idea that all of us university students are travelling internationally more for selfish reasons than to be selfless. I began to view my trip as just another exercise of privilege.

dharm2

I had a lot of inner turmoil about my choice, and suffered from a bit of self-hate as a voluntourist. However, after coming back from my trip, and after interacting with the community, I learned a few very encouraging things:

  1. Teaching IS helping. Regardless of the fact that I felt 3 weeks was not nearly enough to help anyone, it was three more weeks that those women could be in a classroom with a native English speaker. The Tibetan Women’s Association didn’t have any other teachers during December, so I was actually able to provide them with a tangible service they would have gone without, had I not been there.
  2. Good Intentions can create positive results. Many critics of voluntourism bring up the idiom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I get it. Maybe 18 year old college students with no trade skills aren’t necessarily better at building houses than local trained (but unemployed) carpenters. But… does that mean that we are useless? I don’t think so. I think that the services provided through non-profits often do greatly help communities.
  3. The power of story-sharing. Through interacting with the Tibetan refugee community, so many individuals repeated how cathartic and healing it can be to share their story. In a community facing oppression or expulsion from their home territory, these individuals have felt vindicated by receiving support from the international community. The opportunity to sit and let them tell me their story, no matter how serious or how silly, was enjoyable for me, and seemed immensely valuable to them. They knew that I couldn’t go home and demand political change from President Obama. But we could feel mutually satisfied through connecting with someone across cultures.

dharm3

After my experience living in India for 1 short month, I felt rejuvenated that we truly can make a difference, that DU students interacting with the international community can benefit everyone involved, and that I’m still proud as ever to be a Pio that takes my university experience beyond the borders of our campus.

Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

Advertisements

Day in the Life

Welcome to Caen!
Welcome to Caen!

When I first arrived here in France, I wasn’t sure what my day-to-day life would look like. Every day, it seemed that I would wake up, and have something new to figure out. Where is the Tram stop? What is the nearest bus station to the Université? How do I order my coffee? How much time will it take to do this homework? For the first few weeks, every day looked different, as I adjusted to classes and found my way around the town of Caen. Now, about halfway through the program, I feel like I have finally settled into a routine and figured out how to live abroad. Here’s what a typical day is like:

Morning

My day starts with a nice, small breakfast with my host parents. I don’t normally eat breakfast at home, and I’ll just have a cup of coffee before class. Here, we have toasted baguette, Nutella, and coffee or tea. It’s nice and small, but the perfect way to start out the day! If we have time, we will sit and talk about the plans we have for the day ahead, or discuss politics, art, or music. Try talking about President Obama at 8:00 in the morning… en français.

Tram arriving. It's really similar to Denver's Light Rail system.
Tram arriving. It’s really similar to Denver’s Light Rail system.

I then take the Tram to the Université. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my first class starts at 10:15, and on Thursdays, my first class is at 8:30. The Tram is always super crowded, but I manage to wedge myself in there! That’s something about France that I can’t quite get used to… the utter lack of personal space. I’m getting more and more used to it, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a sardine can.

The Carré International building at UniCaen.
The Carré International building at UniCaen.

All of my classes are in French, and sometimes starting out early is difficult. I enjoy my classes, and my professors are really funny and incredibly patient with my peculiarities.

Afternoon

The main statue on the Université campus.
The main statue on the Université campus.

We get an hour for lunch every day, and it’s actually used for lunch! Some days, my friends and I eat the Restaurant Universitaire, or the Resto, and sometimes we forgo the Resto in favor of a “pique-nique” of baguette sandwiches. When it’s nice outside, we will find a patch of grass and sit under a tree, but when it’s raining (which happens a few times a week), we sit in the stairwell of the Carré International Building. There are a lot of windows, and it’s fun to people watch and discuss our classes and favorite professors. I like actually taking the time to eat and relax with my friends! No doing last minute homework or returning emails for me!

Yummy lunch at the Resto.
Yummy lunch at the Resto.

I finish my courses at 4:00 pm, and afterwards my friends and I go to a café to relax. We have a favorite café in Caen called Memoranda, which is also a bookstore. I usually get tea and an apple crumble. We have become regulars so the lady who works at the café now knows us (and she knows my order, which is quite funny!).

My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.
My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.

Evening

My bookcase in my room at my homestay.
My bookcase in my room at my home stay.

I don’t eat dinner with my host parents until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, so when I get back to our apartment I still have some  time before dinner. I try to finish my homework before dinner, and after dinner I might sit with them and watch television, or study, blog, write postcards to my friends, skype my parents, or just read.

We usually drink tea after dinner, and will either watch TV or I will go back to my room. If we have guests for dinner, we’ll stay in the kitchen and talk. After socializing, I will get ready for bed, finish my homework, and read for a little bit before actually going to sleep around 11:30 pm or midnight (only if we talk for a long time).

I thrive on my routine at DU, and having a routine in Caen has made me feel like I’m not only a foreigner intruding on the bubble of this wonderful college town in lower Normandy, but an actual resident who is living and thriving here. For me, it has been one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest successes, to feel at home in Caen, and I think I finally do.

– Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France

 

 

The Whole “Studying” Thing

So you know how approximately half of “studying abroad” includes the word “studying” right? Yes, family and friends, I am in a different country and it’s not a vacation. When you study abroad, you do actually have to learn things, maybe even attend class (read: go to class).

I love school. I always have loved school, and some of my favorite moments have been in the classroom with amazing professors studying something that I found absolutely riveting. Therefore, I was so excited for September 8 to arrive in France, because that’s when I started my classes. I imagined sitting in a European classroom (whatever that means) speaking eloquent French with other students from exotic locales, sharing our insights into historical events and current affairs.

Flash forward into reality, and I am sitting in a European classroom (which has a striking similarity to my American ones), speaking elementary French with other students from around the world, sharing my valiant attempt at completing my grammar exercises. Hardly the dream that I had built up in my head.

While I am learning a lot about the French language in my classes, and I have met some  really smart and interesting people, it is certainly not the picture I had painted in my head. Most of my classes are about learning the French language and learning about France, which means grammar, phonetics, communication (oral and written), geography, and literature. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have different types of classes too, as I get to take a gastronomy class where my “homework” was to find and eat three different types of pastries. Needless to say, I finished that assignment and passed with flying colors.

There are a lot of differences between school in the United States, and school around the world. Some of these differences I have found to be overwhelming and frustrating, while some of these differences seem to make a lot of sense. After the first three weeks, I have compiled a list of the things that I have found to be different about school in France.

The statue on the main quad of the campus. It's a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.
The statue on the main quad of the campus. It’s a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.

1. Time is not a definitive entity. 

I’m the type of person that thinks that if you don’t show up 15 minutes early… you’re late. So when I thought I was going to be late for my 8:30 am literature class, I was panicking. When I arrived exactly at 8:31, the door to the classroom wasn’t even open yet. Most of my professors may roll into class 10 to 15 minutes later than the time printed on our schedules, and sometimes they let us out early.

I also tend to rely heavily on my syllabi throughout my quarter at DU, but when I tried to ask one of my professors for a syllabus, she just kind of laughed and asked me what it was. The closest thing to a syllabus that I have received in Caen is the dates for my exams… written on the whiteboard.

2. University is not “school,” nor is it “college.” 

In French, “l’école” translates to school, but is used to refer to elementary school. “College” is middle school, and “lycée” is high school. While in the US, I use the words “school” and “college” interchangeably to refer to my studies at the university, but whenever I say “l’école” or “college” to my host parents, they give me a quizzical look and clarify that I mean “université” or university.

3. Backpacks are for tourists.

Most of the students at the university use tote bags or messenger bags for class. For the most part, only men or international students use backpacks. This isn’t just for style (although according to one of my French friends… backpacks are not very stylish) it’s actually practical. Women typically use tote bags that have zippers on them because pickpockets target those who have open bags or backpacks, especially on the crowded public transportation, and it’s easier to hold a totebag in your lap on the tram or hold it close to your body.

4. I’m wrong. A lot.

I spend all day thinking, reading, writing, and speaking in French. All of my classes are in French, and all of my interactions with my host family are in French. It’s only natural that when I’m spending approximately 90% of my day doing everything in a different language that I say something wrong a few times. In my phonetics class, my professor has taken to calling the little things I have trouble with “les peculiarités de Zoé.” While at first this bothered me, and I would actively stop myself from answering questions in class out of fear of being wrong, I’ve realized that it’s actually okay and helpful, so now I can really work on those things I struggle with.

5. Who needs to be hydrated? 

I cannot find a reusable water bottle for the life of me. I have been to basically every grocery store, sporting goods store, and a few random home goods stores, and I cannot find a reusable water bottle. I have yet to find a definitive answer as to why that is… but for the most part I think it just because you don’t really eat or drink anything unless you are at a meal. Students don’t eat in class, and you only drink water in class, or coffee in the morning. We get an hour for lunch every day, and it is actually used for lunch. In the US, when I have lunch with my friends we consider it a date, but in France eating lunch with my friends is just something that we do, and it’s a sacred time. You will not find people finishing homework at the lunch table when they are with their friends and a baguette sandwich.

6. I’ve learned the most outside the classroom.

I have loved learning the language in class, and I have met some seriously awesome people from all over the world. However, I feel like a lot of the things I’ve learned about life and living in a different country haven’t been from my grammar class or trying to figure out the different ways to pronounce the letter “e.” I’ve learned about WWII from visiting museums and going to the actual beaches where the Invasion of Normandy actually happened. I’ve learned about William the Conquerer from walking through the castle that’s older than the United States of America (I just can’t get over that) and I’ve learned about different types of French cuisine from talking to vendors at the market. Instead of reading about all of these things in books, I am living them. To me, that is the most amazing difference, as well as the most overwhelming difference, of them all.

Adjusting to college life in a different country has been an adventure in its own right. I have definitely had my moments of sheer panic, where I didn’t understand anything that was being explained to me, and moments of extreme frustration, where it didn’t seem like anything was going to come together for me, but also moments of excitement, when I finally understood a concept that I had been struggling with (I literally gave myself a high-five in my grammar class the other day). However, I have adjusted and have found that learning in French, while more challenging, is also extremely rewarding.

– Zoe, DUSA Blogger

Kiswaspanglish?

Hamjambo!

Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.

Capture7

Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead

Whoops!

I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.

Clothing: 

One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…

IMG_1609

Prayer: 

I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.

IMG_1606

Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado

Hajj:

Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.

Food:

The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0BbxG89gA

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

I am NOT a Mzungu

Hamjambo!

Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

10478948_10152287319316724_2412664998967915150_n - Copy

 

The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

earth night IMG_1318 - Copy

The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

IMG_1406 - Copy

These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

IMG_1284 - Copy

 

We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.

daladala

This is a daladala
IMG_1483 - Copy

The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.

IMG_1459

 

The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Leadership, Leadership, Leadership!

Hello friends,

It has been over two weeks now, so I apologise for the delay. What have I been doing? Well attending the International Leadership Association Global Conference was one.

This was my first academic conference and wanted to share with everyone.

Thanks,

JZ