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The Time I Turned Into A Russian Grand Duchess

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The vodka wasn’t the only interesting part of St. Petersburg. The Winter Palace in St.Petersburg. Photo Credit: Danielle Brundage

When you were little, what was your favorite movie?
It’s hard to look back on your childhood favorites from so many years ago. But I will always remember my favorite movie growing up (and not just because I watch it three times a year). It’s not because the heroine isn’t like the typical cartoon princess. She doesn’t even know she’s a princess…well in her case, Grand Duchess.
Have you guessed who it is yet? No?
I’ll give you some more hints. She has a really cute dog and almost jumps off a steamboat because of a dream cast on her by an evil sorcerer with the help of green demons. Ding ding ding! We have a winner! It’s Anastasia!
I had the pleasure of going to St. Petersburg for a week as a part of my study abroad program. You could say, for a week I was able to embody my favorite childhood heroine. And yes, I was able to find myself a Dimitri during my time there (but that’s a story for another day).
St. Petersburg is a strange place; while it is a Russian city, it’s considered more European in nature. However, the city itself is still as Russian as I can imagine. While there are bars in the city, there are additional bars specifically for vodka. The key is going there during the day with some pickles: you take a shot, take a bite of the pickle and suddenly the bitter taste of the vodka and your day is gone. Think I’m kidding? It’s literally how they survive winters there (not everyone, of course). The vodka wasn’t the only interesting part of St. Petersburg. The buildings and life are something you have to witness yourself to believe.
Like Anastasia, I had the opportunity of dancing around the halls of the Winter Palace. The movie did not prepare me for the hundreds of eyes watching me with worry as I did so. The Winter Palace is filled with art and wonderment; there was a whole hallway that was copied directly from the Vatican. My professor joked that, while traditional Russian art was pretty, the copies they did were even better. Another cool thing about the Winter Palace are the cats that live in the palace, protected by the government. Our tour guide said that sometimes, if the litter is big enough, they will sell the “Winter Palace kittens.”
How many palaces can say that they have their own breed of cats?
I wasn’t prepared for St. Petersburg, but that wasn’t a bad thing. If you go into different settings with expectations, they can sometimes be ruined. It was weird for me to actually be in Russia, as it’s where my family was originally from. I am the first one in my family that has been back and it’s weird to think that I could be the only one. St. Petersburg isn’t like any other city I’ve been to; the people, the places, and the culture make the place and make me want to return. Thank you St. Petersburg, for teaching me the proper way to drink vodka, and for allowing me to become Anastasia for a week.

Ice Skating On The Sea

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How many people can say that they’ve ice-skated on the ocean floor? Danielle in Fanø. Photo Credit: Danielle Brundage

When I was a kid, I wanted to do many things: become a dragon-riding princess (I’m coming for you Daenerys), walk on the bottom of the ocean, become a mailbox, etc. These are just the dreams of a child, ones I realized to be impossible as I aged (I have no idea why my four-year-old self wanted to be a mailbox of all things). Never in a million years did I think I would be able to check one of my impossible dreams off of my list; I did the impossible and  walked on the seafloor.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: How is this possible without proper equipment? My answer to that question is simply one word: Fanø.
I was lucky enough to study abroad this past spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, through the DIS-Study Abroad in Scandinavia program. The program is a little different than the other study abroad programs Goucher has to offer. For one thing, you choose one “Core Course”, a class specific to your discipline. I took a Core Course that focused on my major, English Literature. The coolest part about the Core Courses is the inclusion of a weeklong study tour to a European destination and “Core Course Week.” The week compromises of a two-day seminar and a three-day study tour.
For my three-day study tour, I had the privilege of travelling to a small Danish island called Fanø. The way of living on the island is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Time seems nonexistent: hours feel like minutes, days feel like hours and everything is so relaxed. My class worked with a famous Danish poet, learned some of the area’s traditional dances and songs, ate rabbit and oysters at a native Fanø woman’s home, and (drum roll please) walked on the ocean floor.
The Wadden Sea, the body of water that surrounds Fanø, experiences an amazing phenomenon. When the time is right and everything lines up, the tide goes back for miles, leaving the ocean floor free to wander about. The one downside to my experience of this amazing phenomenon was that I was completely and utterly sick the whole study tour. There I was, witnessing one of nature’s most intriguing spectacles, all the while feeling like death. However, even with the way I felt, I walked for miles across the ocean floor in my mint green galoshes, picking up seashells here and there, listening to the stories our tour guide was telling us. The beach was filled with pieces of World War II-era bunkers built by the Nazis, as Fanø was part of the Atlantic Wall. As a Jewish woman, it was slightly scary to touch bunkers built to protect people that would want me dead. At the same time it was invigorating to know that I was touching an important part of history.
Denmark is a cold place, and it was winter when we went to Fanø. At times, there would be areas of thin ice on the ground, leading my classmates and I to “ice skate.” How many people can say that they’ve ice-skated on the ocean floor? Sure, I fell a bunch of times, almost re-sprained my ankle, and ended up even sicker than before, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world. So thanks Fanø, for showing me a different type of lifestyle, and for letting my inner child experience something amazing.

What is the Role of Study Abroad at Goucher?

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What does it mean to label ourselves “Number One in Study Abroad”? Photo Credit: Google Images

Since 2006, Goucher College has required all undergraduate students to study abroad. Last year marks the tenth anniversary for the shift in campus experience, now a significant selling point for the college. But what does it mean to label ourselves “Number One in Study Abroad”? How does that translate to our everyday campus life?
Calla Fuqua (’18) believes, “Study abroad is one of the main reasons people go here. They see it’s required. That sticks out.” There is by no means, a be-all-end-all easy explanation for the role study abroad plays on our campus. More than anything, perhaps there needs to be a larger conversation about why it exists and what that means for each member of the Goucher community. As Fuqua said, it makes us stick out. But what dynamic does that create on campus?
The Goucher undergraduate population is over 1,400 students. Of the population, we interviewed eight students who have different relationships with study abroad – those who have not yet gone, those who are currently abroad, those who have recently returned and are in their first semester back, and those who have been back for a bit longer and are currently in their second + semester back.
A.J. Bhadai (’18) explains, “It’s [study abroad] a major cultural importance for our small community. Everyone is exiting the United States and entering new communities and new cultures and everyone has different interactions and experiences.” If study abroad is a large part of our Goucher identity and, to some extent, a significant part of our personal journey through college, how do we, as a community, want to engage with this part of our self?
Laura Williams (’17) put it nicely by saying, “It [study abroad] served me as a way to take what I had learned at Goucher and either apply it in a different context, or build upon it.” There is an interconnection between time at Goucher before study abroad, the time abroad, and the time returning to Goucher, jumping into the world beyond our undergraduate experience. Jess Solomon (‘18) mentions, “Study abroad was very important to me at Goucher, as I felt it was important to leave ‘the bubble’.”
Solomon raises an incredibly intriguing tension by referencing the “Goucher Bubble”. The bubble implies different realities for different people and generally implies a sense of insulation. What’s insulating about Goucher, in light of the travel each student is required to partake in? Sam Goldberg, a philosophy major and creative writing minor, suggested that the requirement of study abroad brings to light the union of “here” and “there.” In other words, the “there” of different ideas and places is brought very close to the “here” of Goucher. Do our experiences abroad lead to the sensation that Goucher is only one facet of a much larger world of meaning spanning the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual spectrum of possibility? Are we left in limbo of recognizing “here” and “there” but never quite being sure where we are?
Erin Snyder (‘17) also mentioned the Goucher bubble, saying, “It’s hard because people don’t talk about it [study abroad]. I see it as a way to get us out of the Goucher bubble…I love Goucher but you get so immersed in it, in the bubble – it’s [study abroad] a breath of air.”
Study abroad also serves as what Williams calls “a mental vacation”. Andrew Rowland (‘18) also mentioned this idea, saying that many students may look to study abroad as a space for “limited obligation”.
These ideas seem to imply a value of refreshing one’s mindset. Are our mindsets refreshed when we return from abroad? Rowland thinks some people believe it’s supposed to be a life-changing experience, while Solomon mentioned that before going abroad, she heard from upperclassmen “how transformative it was for them”. Do we want to bring to light the change people undergo and the meaning behind “a life changing experience” ?  Midori Fujitani (’17) states, “I think the biggest thing that students get is diverse perspectives by going to countries they’ve never been to.”
Do these changes in perspective come from a change in the pace of life we’re used to, as a shift from our norm? As Williams put it, “Study abroad as a concept has been a role model in the sense it normalizes being different.” Back to the question of the role of study abroad, Emma Minkoff (‘17) reflected that upon returning to Goucher from her time abroad, she now thinks about Goucher differently. Her experience deeply contrasts her Goucher pace of life. But once back, it’s easy to brush over the experience and the transition of returning to Goucher. How many times have we asked, “How was it?”, and left it at that?
Snyder states, “Its [study abroad’s] role is to push you out of your comfort zone when you get comfortable or too comfortable – it pushes you to learn a little more – it gives you a larger sense of responsibility as a person and as a person navigating the world. So you don’t move through the world and not know your impact.” Williams also speaks to this point, saying, “Traveling to a different context and being able to function there and make something of myself inspires me to go out and have the confidence to make something of myself wherever I go.”
If study abroad means to push us out of our comfort zone, then the role it plays is a force both brutal and transformative. But do we have the language to speak about it? It takes a larger conversation to discuss something so personal, so broad, so fundamentally a part of our campus and yet paradoxically distant from the time we spend here. It deserves a larger conversation; we want to be a part of it, and we want you to speak up too.
This article is not to prove a point; this article is to say this is messy to talk about. Let this be a brainstorm, an attempt to weave our voices together. But upon returning to school next semester, we want to invite you to workshopping sessions in order to articulate our goals as students who study abroad.
More information to come but in the meantime: Have questions? Want to talk? Contact me at majoh007@mail.goucher.edu .

MEG JOHN & ANNA YOUNG

Post-Study Abroad Poster Session

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Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Erika DiPasquale, Associate Editor

February 25th, 2017

During the common hour on Wednesday, February 15th, the 45+ students who studied abroad during the Fall 2016 semester took over the Hyman Forum for a poster session. The poster session is a brand new addition to the mandatory study abroad curriculum. OIS asked students to choose topics from a list that they were most interested in presenting—such as arts, transportation, sports, education, food, etc.—and assigned them into groups based on those preferences.

The poster session is the brain-child of Jennifer White, the Associate Director of OIS. According to White, “The Office of International Studies, along with many on campus, has long recognized the need for creating opportunities for students to share reflections on their study abroad experiences.” The poster session is the most recent attempt to fill this void. Each group had about three students and “in most cases, the groups [were] comprised of students from different countries, to allow for a comparative framework,” said White. The groups informally presented their spiel to those who approached their table, some groups using posters while others showcased Power Points from their laptops.

The presenters had mixed reviews about the experience. Ryan Salamony ‘17 “thought that being able to connect with others concerning our chosen topics and to discuss how such topics impacted our interactions with the local culture…was fascinating and a good way of showcasing different perspectives…It was a good way of letting us step back from the situation, back with our Goucher goggles on, to look at our time abroad in a different way.” Brandon Creed ‘18, who studied abroad in Scotland, liked the poster session because it gave an overview of what everyone experienced. Rachel Grosso ‘18, Meg John ‘18, and Grace Flannery ‘18, the members of the transportation group, all expressed how much they learned from the conversations they had with one another when developing their presentation. Anna Young ’18, who studied in Greece, said, “The centralized space to tell stories about our experiences is beneficial. It validates that the Goucher community does care about our study abroad experiences. There’s room for improvement, but it’s a good step to integrate the abroad experience into the Goucher community in a meaningful way.”

Many of the presenters also agreed that there was room for improvement.  Although Meg John ’18 appreciated the space to speak about her experiences in Uganda, she said “the assignment felt forced.” Transportation, the topic she was assigned, wasn’t all she experienced abroad. “The presentation speaks to the project, not to my experiences…Goucher can do wonders [with the post-study abroad program] so that it’s not a chore,” said Meg John ’18.

Grace Flannery ‘18, held similar sentiments. She “didn’t go abroad [to South Korea] to compare and contrast, but to experience Asian culture.” Love-Moore, who studied abroad in Argentina, said, “I don’t know if [the poster session] is helpful. It was annoying to be arbitrarily put into groups with a more or less random topic.” Anne Werkheiser ‘18 agreed that it wasn’t as effective as it could’ve been, stating, “it feels like something I did in middle school” and “no one is here.” Attendance was extremely low, with as few as three people visiting one of the Education tables throughout the hour-long session, according to Lea Love-More ‘18.

Along with such criticism, the presenters have ideas for how to revise the program. Many suggested small group conversations in place of the poster session. Grosso noted that her group discussed so much beyond their assigned topic, and their fruitful conversation was the beneficial aspect of the assignment rather than the presentation or assigned topic. Desirae Moten ’17 said, “Let’s just have a dinner and chat.” Flannery also thinks that conversations would’ve been “more meaningful.”

A couple of students would’ve preferred formal presentations. Doing so would’ve allowed the presenters to hear other students’ presentations, which was not an option with the poster session format, according to Werkheiser. Salamony also wanted the opportunity to hear the other presentations, but he wouldn’t have liked to present to the entire community. Jennifer White assured that “as with any new venture, we’ll evaluate [Wednesday’s] events to see how it can be enhanced in Fall 2017 for the 95+ students currently studying abroad this spring semester.”

The poster session was just the first step in revising the post-study abroad experience. More changes are to come, with each rendition improving upon the last, in an effort to provide students with the best framework to process, reflect upon, and share their study abroad experiences.

Argentina, Abroad, and American-ness: A Reflection

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L to R: Madeline St. John ’18, Rachael Newsom, Lea Love-Moore, ’18, and Reena John.

Madeline St. John, News Editor

February 15th, 2017

I never thought more about what it means to “be American” than I did while abroad this past semester.

American.

What identity, what history, what stories are bottled up in this word?

We define everything in relationship to other things. Upon leaving a place in which characteristics of one’s identity are normal, average, or constantly affirmed, one begins to question and examine that identity more closely.

This happened to me when I came to Goucher and I suddenly became “someone from Hawaii.” In Hawaii, my birthplace was not worth mentioning (Obviously). At Goucher, however, and even more so in Argentina, it suddenly became an object of conversation. I began to think about what it meant to “be from Hawaii.” (What does it mean to be from a state that some still don’t know is a state?)

In Argentina, more or less the same thing occurred, as a citizen of the United States. In Argentina, as foreign students, we became objects of curiosity: ambassadors, representatives of our nation, people to whom questions about Trump and walls with Mexico could be posed.

I didn’t really mind being an object of curiosity. It led to interesting conversations. And I certainly couldn’t resent it as I realized the feeling was mutual. To a certain extent, Argentinians were interesting to me purely because they were Argentinian.

With the presidential elections at the forefront of many minds, this “American” question was riddled with political implication. What did it mean to be part of a country in which Trump was a presidential candidate? What was underlying those words, “Make America Great Again”? And then, later in the semester: what does it mean to belong to a country in which Trump had been elected president?

Several of my Argentinian friends, who would have been on the far left of our U.S. political spectrum, asked me to explain to them the psychology of the Trump supporter. When I began to think seriously about this, I began myself to understand better what people were thinking when they voted for Trump. While I do not support the man, his politics or actions, I could begin to learn about the people who did.

I realized through these conversations, that perhaps I had more in common with the average Argentinian youth than I did with many Americans, especially white Americans in rural areas. Perhaps we do not have to go very far geographically to experience a “culture shock.”

What does it mean to be “American”?

Sometimes this question brought up race. Most Argentinians I met—before I opened my mouth—assumed I was Argentinian. This was a privilege not afforded to my blonder, paler, or more Asian-appearing classmates, who were immediately pegged as foreigners. It was sometimes assumed the blondes were from Germany, the Asian Americans from China. Watching people try to guess nationality based on race, I couldn’t help thinking about the stereotype of the “white American,” often perpetuated by Hollywood and the media, as so many U.S. citizens are not “white.” (Also, “whiteness” is a social construct. However, that’s a discussion for another time.)

Sometimes, reflection on “Americanness” led to thoughts about privilege. There are buzzwords out there, like “globalization.” Another similar word is “Americanization.” As a Goucher friend, Lea Lovemore, pointed out, Americans are privileged when they go abroad to see so much “Americanness.” McDonalds. Walmart. KFC. Hollywood. Uber. Amazon. Facebook. The list goes on. American culture and business, tied to American influence, is truly global.

Notably, however, was that many of the material things that American students on our program missed the most were not things typically thought of as “American.” We talked a lot about Chinese restaurants, Mexican food, German chocolate, and sushi (which does demonstrate our socioeconomic privilege, in being able to eat out and eat a variety of food). Clearly, being “American” has nothing to do with eating hot dogs and hamburgers.

What does it mean to be “American”?

Despite what some might think, it has nothing to do with being white, Anglo-Saxon, or protestant. Neither does it seem to signify having any particular set of beliefs, values, economic status, religion, or an acceptance of these differences in others.

Does it mean being a descendent of immigrants? No, because there were people here for centuries before Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci. Our Argentinian culture professor discussed the desire to dispel the myth that “Argentinians came from ships.” This myth propelled another—that Argentina was a country without indigenous populations, populations which in reality been nearly wiped out by land-greedy government campaigns. I reflected on the utopic “melting pot” image of the early United States, and, in the face of the North Dakota pipeline protests, how we often ignore our own indigenous populations.

What about the equation America=Democracy? Being a U.S. Citizen means a vote, right? But what about selective voter-ID laws, limited access to the polls, and changed registration procedures, all of which can take away that “right”? And even amongst those who do have a vote, strategic gerrymandering can arrange things so those votes don’t really count.

Convicted felons can’t vote. And with policies like the “war on drugs” and “stop and frisk” justifying racist policing in predominantly black communities and leading to the mass incarceration of African Americans, a large percentage of the U.S. population has become systematically disenfranchised. According to The Sentencing Project, in 2014, one in every 13 blacks was unable to vote because of a felony conviction.

Perhaps we can uphold the ideal of democracy in the United States. Perhaps it can be upheld to those on the outside, looking in. But what would one say to those numerous Latin American countries, in which the U.S. actively supported military dictatorships through Operation Condor?

What does it mean to be “American”?

It is a highly flawed question, as long as it assumes “Americanness” to be associated with the United States. This word usage, which, as you may have noticed, I have been using this entire time, understandably bothers many of those, including Argentinians, who are American but not from the U.S.A. From Canada to Argentina, citizens of all countries in South, Central, and North America are Americans, too. (And don’t forget the islands!)

So, what does it mean to be American? Having moved through these possible answers, does the truth come out that is there really nothing more to “Americanness” than being born, or moving, to a certain side of the world? Are we left with emptiness instead of identity? A meaningless name? A worthless denomination?

Or can we define ourselves by our diversity? Can we own our history of colonialism and acknowledge our racial and social hierarchies? Can we be people of mixed race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, origin, class, political and religious beliefs? Can we be people of revolutions, past and present? Can we see our human and hemispheric sameness, and build an identity that celebrates difference rather than similarity?

 

 

 

 

Answer: Yes. In many ways, we already are.

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