Sunday, December 30, 2012

2nd Annual NSLI-Y New Year's Eve

NSLI-Y is probably going to shoot me for saying this, but in the long-run, for most of the students, NSLI-Y isn't about learning the language. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I know that my Arabic skills have plummeted from where they were when I ended the program. I won't make excuses about it - but my Arabic right now is simply not fantastic.

There are two other big things that you gain from exchange programs - the cultural immersion and understanding, and the friendships. Oftentimes, I think that the friendships get overlooked. My NSLI-Y group consisted of fifteen high schoolers from across the United States - who happen to be some of the most amazing people that I know, and some of my closest friends.

It's strange now, because NSLI-Y was years ago for me. And while my language skills have faded, the friendships have not. Between Skype, Facebook, and intermittent reunions when we figure out a weekend and scrape together the money for bus tickets, we've kept in amazingly good touch for a group scattered from sea to shining sea.

A few days before we left Jordan, I remember sitting around in our apartment building, kind of daydreaming about how we'd spend New Year's Eve together once we were back in America. At the time, I didn't really think it would happen, but sure enough, I spent my last moments of 2011 and first moments of 2012 with my "Jordan habibtis."

Wonderfully enough, it's happening again this year! It's the last day of 2012, and I'll be spending the last hours, minutes, and seconds of the year with the same habibtis I started it with. It's changed from a "surprised-that-this-is-actually-happening" excited to a "warm-fuzzy-I-love-that-this-family-reunites-every-year-and-I-just-want-to-hug-everyone" excited, but a wonderful excited nonetheless.

Yo, habibtis, I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOU ALL! Those of you who can't be there, especially Sera, who is a hoss and on the year-long NSLI-Y trip to Morocco, I miss you. We'll be thinking of you guys as we ring in 2013 here in Chicago!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Time to ACTUALLY Pack!

WARNING: This post is me literally sitting here and deciding what to bring to Swaziland, so it's pretty detailed. If you're someone leaving for exchange, looking for a detailed post about packing - you found it! Oh, and just so you know, this is more of a "what" to pack post. I'll probably write a "how-to-get-all-this-stuff-to-fit" post once I actually start packing.

If you're not really into this packing stuff, I apologize. I'm looking forward to getting to Swaziland and finally having real culture posts again, but these next two weeks are going to be a lot of "hey-look-I'm-an-exchange-student-getting-ready" posts.

Now that my flight leaves in exactly two weeks, I should probably start actually packing, instead of the random putting things in and out of my backpack that I've been doing since August.

First of all, you should probably know that while I am a girl, my packing list looks suspiciously like a guy's. I have a buzz cut, which eliminates the "hair" category on a packing list, and I don't wear make-up, wear jewelry (except for earrings), have bunches of different pairs of shoes, and so on.

(note: It doesn't matter if you're going away for three months or a year - laundry exists. You pack enough clothes for about two weeks either way).
The biggest thing to remember when making a packing list is to MAKE ONE and to STICK TO IT. That way, you never end up throwing random things into your suitcase.

CLOTHING: As far as packing goes, I'm planning on wearing jeans, socks, gym shoes, a t-shirt, hoodie, scarf, and belt on the plane. Everything that you wear doesn't need to fit into a suitcase, and between leaving from Chicago in the wintertime and overly air-conditioned planes, I'm hoping it's not overkill. Oh, and again, remember, LAUNDRY EXISTS!
  1. T-Shirts: I'm bringing 15 (two weeks' worth). They're easy to pack. I recommend rolling them.
  2. Shorts: Swaziland has its warm times, so I'm planning on bringing three or four pairs of shorts. I usually opt for basketball shorts, but whatever you do, just try to bring shorts you can wear with many different tops, so that bright pink pair of booty shorts? Probably not worth putting in the suitcase.
  3. Jeans: I know they're heavy, but they're useful. I'm planning on packing one pair, and wearing one pair on the plane. For most people, I'd say pack two, but I wear basketball shorts well into Chicago winters, and I'm assuming I'm going to be able to handle most Swazi weather in basketball shorts.
  4. Sweatshirts: They're obnoxious, but necessary. I'm going to wear my heaviest hoodie, and pack probably two more. I honestly only wear hoodies; if you're a fashion-y sweater person, I suppose you'd want more variety, but I got nothing to help you. I wear t-shirts and sweatshirts... so, uh, don't ask me for advice on packing fashionable clothes. Oh, and for packing, put your bulky sweatshirts into freezer Ziplocs, sit on them to squeeze the air out, and them zip them shut - instant space bags!
  5. Footwear: I wear flip-flops most of the time, even in Chicago winters. Therefore, I'm bringing two pairs of flip-flops, wearing my bulky gym shoes when travelling, and packing a pair of Converse. I'm bringing three pairs of socks. That seems like nothing, but I can do laundry, and buy more if need be. But honestly, I wear flip-flops, so socks aren't an everyday thing. I'm also bringing one pair of black heels to use for all dress occasions. When packing, I recommend putting all your shoes into plastic bags, whether grocery bags or Ziplocs. No matter how good you think your feet smell, you'll be happy you don't have to wash all your clothes right when you arrive, just to stop them from smelling like feet.
  6. Dress clothes: Gross. I hate dressing up. But, I am bringing a pair of black slacks, two dress shirts, and a fitted suit jacket. I figure with an array of scarves, I can make a couple different dress outfits out of that.
  7. Scarves: I am bringing lots of scarves - they work as blankets on a cold plane, shawls in a conservative neighborhood, and a bit of color. Also, when wearing jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes a well-wrapped scarf convinces people I put more effort into my outfit than I actually did. So yeah, ten or more scarves. Scarves are easy to pack - fold them neatly (doesn't hurt to iron out the wrinkles first), place them all together in a freezer Ziploc bag, sit on it to squeeze the air out, and zip it shut.
  8. Other: Underwear/bras (hopefully a 'duh'), a few neutral colored tank-tops, a swimsuit, a few floor-length skirts (for certain circumstances where Swazi culture just requires it) and a belt. Oh, and I think I'm supposed to bring an American "national costume," which I'm still figuring out. There isn't really a standard American "traditional cultural dress."
I would never pack this much for a three-month exchange. I feel ridiculous bringing this much, but I don't think I'm bringing anything I won't use. Listed out, it's a lot though. (Just going to take a moment right here to check my privilege and be thankful).
  1. Laptop and charger
  2. iPod and charger
  3. External hard drive and cord
  4. Memory card reader and cord
  5. Waterproof camera, battery pack, and charger
  6. Nice "photographer" camera, two battery packs, and charger
  7. USB drive
  8. Plenty of SD memory cards and cases
  9. Outlet adaptors
Packing a lot in this category is absurd. Pack whatever you want, but be aware that eventually, you're going to have to go out and buy some of the local stuff. Don't plan on packing enough for the entire time you're there, unless it's a summer program. Even then, try the local toothpaste, deodorant, or whatever. That's part of the adventure! Here's what I'm bringing
  1. One tube of toothpaste, two toothbrushes (just because I have a habit of loosing toothbrushes, and will probably loose one while travelling, before I even get to the school. There's a difference between being afraid of local items, and refusing to pay eight dollars for an airport toothbrush).
  2. One thing of deodorant
  3. Um... that's it.
Here's the things that I'm not bringing, and why:
  1. Hairbrush: I have a buzz cut. I highly recommend it - most convenient thing EVER.
  2. Shampoo: I don't think you understand - I have less than a quarter of an inch of hair. I wash my head with a washcloth... shampoo isn't necessary.
  3. Clippers: Here, I cut my own hair every other week with my own pair of clippers. I'm not bring it, just because the voltage doesn't match up, and it's not worth buying a voltage converter to use a five dollar pair of clippers. I'll figure something else out once I get there.
  4. Razors: Can't carry them on, and while I could check some, my checked bag is my tuba... I just figure buying them there is easier. I'm not too picky.
Not really necessary for most exchange programs, but for UWC, I'll be living in dorms, so it's necessary. If you're living with a host family, you really don't need to bring this stuff.
  1. Bedding: UWC asks that I bring two sets of sheets, two pillowcases, a blanket, and a pillow. Sheets and pillowcases are easy enough to pack, and while the blanket is kind of annoying, I decided to bring a big quilt. It's not puffy of anything, which is nice as far as packing goes. It's going to take up a lot of room in my bag nonetheless, but I figure that it'll be nice to have a blanket from here, instead of having to buy some random one there. When packing bedding, I fold everything neatly, and can fit the sheets, pillowcases, and blanket into a 10"x10" plastic cube thing that an old set of sheets came in when we bought them.
  2. Towels: I have one travel "microfiber" towel, which is amazingly teeny-tiny all folded up, but still a decent sized towel unfolded. While I'm probably going to wind up wanting two towels, I'll buy another one there if need be. While I think it's reasonable to want a blanket from home, a towel doesn't work like that, at least for me. I'm packing a washcloth.
  3. Room decorations: Descriptions of empty dorm rooms usually run along the lines of "prison cells." While it's not possible to bring the sorts of stuff people sometimes get for college in the States (rugs, lamps, curtains, funky chairs, microwaves, strings of Christmas lights, etc), I'm still bringing some decorations. For me, that means a full sized Jordan flag, as well as flags from Scotland and England (after spending the summer with the British counselors at camp), as well as some pictures, and a few posters I snagged out of National Geographics. Ironically, I don't think I'll be bringing a United States flag. Whoops!
  4. Dorm necessities: A mug, a spoon, and a flashlight. Easy enough to bring, and while I could buy them there, I think it'll be nice to have a mug from home. And I really don't want to have to go buy a spoon and flashlight there, when those might be the easiest things on my entire packing list.
  1. School supplies: UWC provides stationary and such, but I still need to provide my own pens, pencils, calculator, erasers, and such. I figure I'll bring my calculator, and a few pens and pencils, as well as a few big erasers. It won't take up too much room, but I'm definitely planning on winding up buying more there at some point.
  2. Backpack: My "personal item" on the plane will be my laptop, in my school backpack, so I'll just use that.
  3. A book for the plane. Not sure what yet, but something.
OH, and I'm bringing a tuba, which means I'm bringing a tuba, a hard shell case, several mouthpieces, and a bunch of sheet music, which is hard enough to procure in the States, much less in Africa. So, all this clothing and stuff? It's getting packed around the tuba in the case. I'm literally not bringing a suitcase - just my tuba, a backpack, and a small shoulder bag.  YAY FOR TRYING TO PACK LIGHT AND THEN DECIDING TO BRING A MASSIVE HUNK OF TUNED METAL! Ridiculous, but I after much deliberation I decided that I couldn't bear to just stop playing the tuba.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

NSLI-Y Alumni Lunch... as a high school graduate!

After (finally) graduating from high school yesterday, I had organized a NSLI-Y alumni lunch downtown today, and so spent the day in Chicago. It was myself, two girls who spent this past school year in Russia, one girl who spent the past year in Taiwan, and a girl who just found out she was a semi-finalist for China year. So applicant and alumni lunch, I suppose. Everyone was really wonderful though - it's nice to do this every so often, and just spend a few hours with NSLI-Y people, talking about NSLI-Y things.

It was the weirdest thing though, to introduce myself.

"I'm Diana, I was in Amman for the summer of 2011."
"Do you go to Northwestern?" (I was wearing a Wildcats sweatshirt).
"No, I just graduated from high school." (WHAAAAA?)
"Oh, where do you go to school?"
"Well, when I said just graduated, I meant yesterday, so I'm moving to Swaziland in three weeks."
"Oh, what are you doing there?" (I love how exchange students aren't in shock of anything about those kinds of plans, because everyone has those kinds of plans. It's a welcome break from the dropped jaws I get elsewhere.)
"Just going to study for a couple years to get my IB diploma." (Also love how exchange students don't need me to explain how IB works, and how it's typical in some countries to do high school, college, then university).
"Oh. Cool."


NSLI-Y Alumni in Chicago (Taiwan, Russia, Russia, and myself on the right, repping Jordan)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Day.

I was late to my first day of high school. I missed the bus, and had to get a ride to school. After arriving ten minutes past the bell, I frantically found my way... into a senior government class. By the time I finally made it into my freshman world history class, the bell was half an hour gone.

I've never been late to a class again.

While I have to admit that I'm not a really big fan of spending eight hours of day being herded around by a bell system like a flock of two thousand studious sheep, and while it'd be crazy to say that I enjoy sitting in desks too short for my legs in white cinderblock rooms all day, I concede that high school wasn't that bad. I've been in the marching band all four years, so I've never missed a home football game. I've had my fair share of sleepovers, parties, movies, and the like with some amazing friends. I've had the opportunity to take all the AP classes I wanted, with some really cool teachers. I've performed with the best bands and orchestras in the state of Illinois. I've spoken about current events and world politics at high schools around the area.

Sometimes I think that the best things that I do are outside of high school - working at special needs camps, studying abroad in Jordan, and so on. But then, I realize that these things wouldn't even be an option for me if it hadn't been for the time I've spent in these lovely brick walls.

There are a lot of days when I've been at this school from six in the morning, to ten or eleven at night. Doing that for hundreds upon hundreds of days, and I realize that I've spent kind of a lot of time here. Enough time that they're willing to give me this piece of paper saying I did a good enough job to leave. A diploma, I think it's called...

Anyways, today's the last day. I didn't think I'd be sad, and I don't think I'm sad about leaving high school itself. Correction - I'm not at all sad about being done with high school. But as I'm going through the day, having to say good-bye to some pretty awesome people has been hard. It's bittersweet. Really, really bittersweet.

Well, it's third period now, so five periods left and I'll be a high school graduate! Oh, and exactly three weeks until my plane leaves! I can't wait :) Swaziland - here I come!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tsaminmina zangawela, my friends are wonderful!

Yesterday, my friend said she was having a sleepover, just to hang out, and asked if I wanted to come. I said sure, and said I'd probably be there around 8:00, but I had basketball band, so I didn't really know.

I left the basketball game at 8:30. And then I went home and showered, and finally got to her house around 9:15 or 9:30.


So, I walk up to the door and knock. I hear her little sister yell, "MEGHAN! DIANA'S HERE!" Pretty standard greeting, and I can hear the dog barking inside as my friend comes to open the door for me.

I ditch my shoes right inside the door, and we head down into the basement. A few of my friends are just sitting down there, and they jokingly start to lecture me about how I should try to be on time.

I say, "Agh, I'm sorry I had basketball band and -"

But before I finished, a bunch of my other friends jump out from behind the couches and from doorways, yelling "SURPRISE!" Turns out, it wasn't some random hanging out sleepover, but a "good-bye-have-a-good-time-in-Africa-going-away-we-will-miss-you" party.

My friends are pretty awesome. I, on the other hand, was so surprised that I just stood there with my mouth open for a little bit, not sure what to make of all their awesomeness. They had made a big sign that said "Have fun in Africa!" on which my one friend had drawn a lion, a giraffe, and an elephant. They got a cake with "Waka Waka - it's time for Africa!" written on it, and a little plastic monkey stuck in the top.

By that point, I was shocked and embarrassed that I was late, and so happy to have such thoughtful friends, but that wasn't it. They said they got me a going-away present, and I was like "NO! WHY DID YOU GET ME A PRESENT?"

But, it was the best present ever. It was a sort of scrapbook, with a bunch of pages in the front of pictures all the way back through elementary school. That was nice, but then, when I turned the page, there were letters. Lots, lots, lots of letters. They had gone back to all my elementary, junior high, and high school teachers, and asked for them to write me letters. There was a letter in there from my fifth grade teacher, my old choir director, my eighth grade history teacher, my freshman English teacher, my US history teacher, my Mock Trial coach, my old band director, and many others. And then they had included a bunch of pages of letters from all our friends. There are pages, and pages, and pages of wonderful people having written wonderful things. I don't usually cry (that's an absolute lie), but this was a tear-jerker of a book. It literally is the best going away present I could have ever imagined.

My friends are amazing. I have no words for this, but it really means a lot to have this book. This blog post is about a million times less eloquent than these letters.

And then we proceeded to play KEMPS until the early hour of the morning.

I'm going to miss you guys.

4 school days left. 27 days until the plane leaves.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Sometimes I think it's strange how you can be doing something totally unrelated to something else, and then something comes up which is just so perfect as related to that thing that's unrelated to what you're doing.

I was reading for my literature class here, and came across this sentence...

"It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart." -Mary Shelley, 'Frankenstein'

Yup. That's pretty much it. It's nice sometimes to know that someone else has thought the same things as you. Sometimes it's frustrating to know that your emotions lack originality, but in this case, it's nice.

8 days left at LHS. 32 days until my flight leaves. Let's goooooo! :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Days.

No, not ten days until my flight leaves - it's 37 days until that.

But, I only have ten school days left before I graduate here! (And yes, I'm getting two high school diplomas, one here, and one in Swaziland. Should be interesting trying to plug this stuff into the CommonApp in a couple years...).

And yet, somehow I have to contain myself enough to keep up momentum for these last two weeks of school. Calculus... how I despise you. And then love you. And then despise you...

10 DAYS!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I sit in calculus class, staring at the clock. Calculus and I have a love-hate relationship, to say the least. It's consistently my highest grade, because I put the most effort into it. I come in before school to check answers on the homework and do test corrections, and my textbook has pretty much become my left arm. Somehow, after hating math classes consistently through high school, calculus has turned it around so much that I've signed up for higher level maths at the UWC.

On the other hand, I want to shred my notebook and scream every night, around midnight, when I realize I've got another two hours of calculus homework, and barely enough energy to keep my eyes open. I get frustrated when I don't understand. Admittedly, I fail some assignments, and practically give myself a hernia stressing about how I'm going to learn the concepts I still don't understand, while continuing to build on them with new materials.

It doesn't really matter whether I know the material, because I'm not taking the AP test, or the final. I'll be retaking all of this in college in a few years anyways.

Sometimes I wonder why I'm putting in all this effort, when I don't actually need to be here. Why am I bothering to go to TWO extra years of high school?

And then I remember that I'm being handed a free education for a few months. I don't HAVE to sit in the back of a calculus classroom scribbling down integrals like mad. I GET to have my mind blown by "the calculus," as we so lovingly call it. I GET to have my mind blown, each an every day, by physics, government, business, not one, but TWO English classes, and calculus!

However much I hate school sometimes, having it be "optional" for a few months has made me remember that my education is a privilege, not a right, and I'd better be taking advantage of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Five Months in Illinois + One Second Grader = The Best.

I have 55 days until I get on the plane. 21 days left of high school here in the States.

I've been getting really, really focused on getting ready to leave, to say the least.

On the other hand, in the few months I've had between camp and leaving for Swaziland, I've been working as a nanny for a seven-year-old named Jimmy. For the record, he's pretty much the coolest kid ever.


And so, with this, I've learned to appreciate the everyday things - jumping in the leaves, playing a board game, making a jack-o-lantern, running back to the car to get a blanket at a football game, going to see the chickens, fishing, doing kitchen science experiments, throwing a football back and forth across the living room, complaining about homework, listening to rock music really, really loud while driving with the windows down. These are the sorts of things that I'll miss once I'm gone, but sometimes forget to appreciate when they're there.

Just kidding  - I couldn't possibly forget about these things when Jimmy is around :)

So, yeah. 55 days left in America, including 21 more days of hanging out with the coolest second grader you'll ever meet, and then getting on a plane to Africa. I can't complain :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fifty People, Five Questions.

As a sort of experiment, I've sent a list of five questions to fifty people - all very different people, with very different backgrounds, from all over the United States, and around the world. There's nothing really unifying in this post, other than the fact that each of those fifty people answered the same five questions.

Everyone was oh-so eloquent, and for that reason I felt it was only right to include names. For the internet's sake, I've included first names only. If you'd prefer to be anonymous, feel free to tell me and I can change yours. Thanks to everyone for your participation (I'm so sorry I couldn't include everyone's!).

Without further to do, I present to you,
"Fifty People, Five Questions."

1. Introduce yourself.

  • "I am an aspiring polyglot" - Ariel
  • "My life is an ongoing journey to answer the question... I am a planner who is finally letting fate take the reins." -Catherine
  • "A self-discovered feminist" -Katie
  • "Do you eat? Sleep? Breathe? Great! We have so much in common!" -Maike
  • "I'm gay." -Emily
  • "I really love dead languages... I’m really awesome, I just don’t make any sense." -Jocelyn
  • " I am currently a professional high fashion model and am postponing college in order to pursue my career." -Colleen
2. What is the happiest moment of your life?
  • "Going to China and getting to see my family again for the first time in 7 years." -Paula
  • "Probably some time at some summer camp. I'm always happiest at camp." -Leanna
  • "Still looking for it whatever it is." -Ian
  • "When I met the love of my life." -Haily
  • "...there hasn't been one defining moment of my life which I would label "happiest." I try to make each day and week of my life happy..." -Erin 
  • "The day I started figure skating... I never looked back." -Marie
  • "The happiest moment of my life was when I overheard a girl who I thought hated me say that she disliked me because I was "too nice."" -Ianka
  • "I love any time I'm standing on the edge of something new." -Christina
  • "The moment I returned to the One who was the closest to me while I didn't know it. God." -Heba 
3. How would you define your culture?
  • "It's a liquid." -Catherine
  • "I would define my culture as one that is a river: picking up whatever comes my way." -Ariel
  • "Nonconformist... I kinda just do things my own way, and in a way we are our own culture." -Nana
  • "I was raised to value one of the best things about America- the overwhelming diversity that permeates almost every part of our country." - Priscilla
  • "Secular Ashkenazi Jewish (treating Judaism as an ethnicity and nation rather than a religion)" -Ryan
  • "Britain does have a few unique traits... we're very good at queuing, politely ignoring assholes and offering sad people a cup of tea and a biscuit." -Chermara
  • "I don't participate in culture." -Emily
  • "Classic American... I'm a decedent of European immigrants, and live in a little suburb." -Thomas
  • "...Texan, since Texas generally likes to be its own category" -Stephanie
  • "I find it really hard to define culture because I see it as cultures within cultures within cultures..." -Kira
  • "My culture is very American. Family dinners a couple times a week. Supportive friends and family. We abide by the ten commandments. Creativity is encouraged." -Colleen
  • " I live in a mostly all-white, middle-class corner of suburbia. The only thing I don't like is the angst that pollutes the air, the desire to become something more, the desire to get out. But we are the boomerang generation. We get out, see the world, and retreat back to this comfort zone of ours. We're moderately privileged and relatively ignorant to the ways of the world. It's suffocating, but it's our life." -Michaeline
4. Do you live somewhere where you would consider yourself to be in the majority? How has this influenced who you are?
  • "I am certainly not the majority, but I'm not sure who is." -Chermara
  • "I live in a place where I am the part of the majority, politically speaking... I would have never become this open about my political beliefs if I didn't live somewhere I felt accepted." -Ariel
  • "I live in Maine where there is no diversity whatsoever. It makes me, at least, try to distance myself from people... It's all about expression and being comfortable about who you are, and accepting people no matter what." -Katie
  • "I'm not sure how many Alaskans currently live in Taiwan..." -Carly
  • "Living in New York, I find that I am not part of a majority; from here of all places comes the true definition of diversity, and every small minority living here is a testament to that." -Dante
  • "My culture is pretty liberal, atheist, urban. Pretty nerdy. Liberal nerdy people are the majority here." -Garrett
  • "I've stuck out my entire life. I've felt misunderstood a lot of the time. It makes me appreciate how nice it feels to blend in when I go to China." -Jessie 
  • "Where I live, I would consider myself to be in the majority in the sense that my family has enough money to enjoy some luxuries that most people in the world never get." -Margaret
5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live, and why? How would you like to live once you're there?
  • "Palestine, just like any other Palestinian, is craved in my heart; it's a piece of my soul and the core of my cause. It's history, heritage and existence, to me it's not just a word in a sentence, it's a part of who I am. " -Heba
  • "I feel like I fit in better in China than in America, for whatever reason." -Evangelista
  • "I would like to live in a family with three sisters, who speak to me mainly in Hindi, and they go the temple a lot..." -Catherine
  • "My dream is to live in South Korea. I want to teach English as a foreign language there, and I hope to go there on a one-year exchange during high school." -Laura
  • "I am certainly not limited to America" -Holly
  • "Once I live somewhere I just want to live." -Thais
  • "Kazan, Russia... I would like to live in an apartment and work as a translator." -Sydney
  • "Even if I earn a ton of money I plan to live in a small apartment and use the rest of the money to either donate, buy ice cream or go to Lotte World." -Nana
  • "I don't want to stay in the same place too long, I think... Wherever I am, I want to live surrounded by friends." -Kira
  • "I'm very bad at being home, so I'm not sure I could stay in Japan forever." -Grace
  • "I would like to live with no responsibility at all." -Ian
  • "Until France pulls itself together, I think I'd live in Montreal." -Leanna

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Presidential Debates

    I don't want to get into some political conversation, as there are plenty of blogs for that, and this is a culture and exchange blog. But, seeing as how last night's debate was supposed to be on foreign policy, I'm feeling the need to make a brief comment, from the perspective of an international student

    Dear Candidates,

    I understand that you guys are concerned with domestic issues. Jobs? I get it - it's a big deal. But when in a debate focused on FOREIGN POLICY, you keep switching the conversation back to domestic issues, you guys aren't helping the stereotype of "Americans-don't-care-about-the-rest-of-the-world." The president has to deal with both domestic and foreign issues. If you're not too concerned with that foreign part, you guys should have just stuck with governor and senator, respectively. ALSO, on the fact-checking front: Romney, you should probably have studied up a little bit before going into a foreign policy debate. "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea," you stated. Syria and Iran don't even share a border, and Iran has it's own coastline. Sorry to tell you now, but even with all the changes going on in the region, there are no plans to move Syria and Iran closer together. Obama, why are you changing the facts? You didn't cut oil imports to the lowest levels in 20 years, you cut them to the lowest levels in 16 years. Why don't you just tell the truth - it helps your argument just the same as the lie!

    Yours truly, a little disappointed in both of you,

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012


    I've been studying French for several years. Say, maybe eight? Nine? Yeah, that's about right. And while I don't know ALL the words, I consider myself fluent. (My definition of being fluent in a language is being confident that you could pick up any book, newspaper, whatever, or listen to any radio show, movie, conversation on the street, and understand it. Nobody ever knows ALL the words. Heck, I don't know ALL the words in English!). Anyways, I got a 5 on the AP French test, and was feeling pretty fly.

    So, I signed up for higher level French at the UWC as one of my classes. Once I sent the paperwork in, I realized that, because I've taken all the French my high school has to offer already, I'm not currently in a French class, and realized what was happening... I WAS FORGETTING FRENCH!

    This is a very, very scary realization for me, so I spent about an hour digging up my old textbooks and workbooks and French novels, and read over them for probably another hour, until I was convinced that I still knew French.

    Definitely a reminder though... gonna have to keep up on this whole French thing more than I have been, or else when I get to Swaziland I'm going to have a not-so-lovely surprise.

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Back to Square One

    This afternoon, when I checked, the all-time blog total was 5744 different readers in 15 countries.

    Now, it's back to zero.

    I was quite angry about this for a solid five minutes. Now, I'm not a religious person, but I do kind of think of things as happening for a reason. And I guess this is a reminder that I'm supposed to be writing a culture/travel/study abroad blog because I really ENJOY writing a culture/travel/study abroad blog. Which I definitely do... but I was also definitely getting wrapped up in having thousands of readers around the world.

    Anyways, I'm done with stats. I'm not going to look at page views anymore. I'd love it if you guys would comment, so I could have a chance to see who is reading, but I'm not going to track statistics anymore.

    Instead, I'm going to sum up my packing experiences so far. (Yes, I know it's still a couple months in advance, but I can't help myself! I'm that pathetically excited!).

    First of all, we're required to bring two sets of our own sheets and pillowcases, and strongly recommended to bring our own blankets. Easy enough if you live on the continent of Africa, but for an around-the-world flight, already fighting with airlines over a tuba as luggage, it's not the easiest thing to just stick into a suitcase. I considered forgoing the blanket, but seeing as how the dorms aren't heated, and you never know what the blankets there are like, I figured that I should just bring my own. This is two years of sleep hanging in the balance!

    So, after a few minutes of wrestling with two flannel pillowcases, a flannel sheet, a normal sheet, and a  quilt, I managed to jam everything into a 9x9x9 inch plastic cube thing that one of the sheets came in. I then fell to the ground in happy exhaustion.

    Then, realizing that I still had to worry about weight limits, I weighed my backpack with the cube in typical fashion - weigh myself, then put on the backpack and weigh myself again, and subtract. it turned out to be nine pounds with the sheets and blankets, leaving me with about ten more pounds before I surpass the carry-on limit.

    But that's not the important part. The important part is that I put on this backpack, and it kind of freaked me out for a second. It hit me that I'm not bringing a suitcase to Swaziland with me, just this backpack and my tuba. Seriously? I thought. You seriously think that you're going to fit your entire life into this backpack, and the extra space in a tuba case? Have you gone INSANE? At that point, I kind of paused, tossed the backpack to the ground, and attempted to kick it across the floor. It didn't go very far.

    Yup. Definitely insane. But, as I decided a long time ago, sanity is relative. Regardless, sanity is also boring :)

    Friday, October 12, 2012

    Last Autumn

    While driving home from school today, I realized how gorgeous of a day it is. The leaves are all turning colors, and the sun is out. It's that crisp sort of autumn day, where it's cold enough to wear a sweatshirt and a scarf, but warm enough to keep wearing basketball shorts and flip-flops, not that I dress like that or anything...

    Anyways, I suddenly realized that this is (most likely) the last fall I'll spend in the United States for a very long time. I've lived here for seventeen years now, and have never missed a fall. But now, I wonder whether the trees in Swaziland turn yellow the way they do here. In what season do the clouds look like this in Swaziland? I know October, while fall here, is spring there, so what is October in Swaziland? What season is the acceptable "scarf-sweatshirt-shorts-and-flip-flops" season?

    It's our last marching band game tonight. I know marching band, much less band at all, isn't a thing at the UWC, or in Swaziland at all. Will I go to a college with a marching band? Will the people at the college I go to have even heard of marching band? Or, will this be the last time I ever pick up a sousaphone and march around wearing overalls, a beret, and a cape. And for that matter, will I ever see  an American football game in America again? Or, is this the last one?

    Halloween is coming up. Does that even exist outside of the United States? Was the pumpkin I carved last night while babysitting my last pumpkin? Veteran's Day is coming, and I'm approaching the last time I'll be able to go to the Veteran's Day ceremony at my elementary school. Thanksgiving is coming, and I know that's not a thing outside of the United States.

    All in all, so much of what we consider "fall" in the United States is very, well, American. For better or for worse, you can't find a lot of this stuff outside the States. While a lot of the time, I insist that I won't really miss America, going through autumn one last time is making me realize that missing America doesn't mean missing the country, it means missing the terrible marching band arrangements of pop songs, missing wearing flip-flops late in the year, missing going trick-or-treating with my friends, even though we should have aged out of it years ago. So, yes, I suppose I'm finally realizing that I will miss it.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Pack-a-knick-knack... and a tuba.

    Due to unforeseen circumstances, packing looks like it's going to be a much bigger hassle than previously expected. I will be packing in two bags. The first is a medium sized backpack that will be stored in the overhead bins on each flight, and due to restrictions on the second leg, cannot weigh more than 18 pounds. The second bag is the space inside my tuba case around my tuba. Whatever I put in that space cannot weigh more than 19 pounds, as the weight limit for the tuba (as checked luggage) is 50 pounds, and I'm already paying the oversize fee. There's no way I'm paying the oversize and overweight fee. And I'm not checking a second bag, because it stresses me out to check any luggage at all, much less two bags.  I like to pack ridiculously light.

    Probably shouldn't have picked the tuba.

    Anyways, instead of the normal "how do I fit my life into two bags for a year abroad" dilemma people have when getting ready to study abroad, I'm having the "how do I fit my life into a backpack and the space in my tuba case around my tuba" dilemma. These are the sorts of problems that just make me really happy to have :)

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    Swazi Culture in Polls

    People continually ask me how the protests are going in Swaziland. I think, after my having studied in the Middle East, they assume that Swaziland is in northern Africa, and somehow the same as Algeria and Libya. Newsflash: it's about as far away from Libya and Algeria as you can get without leaving the continent.

    Anyways, I did a Google search of news from Swaziland, and found a paper called the Times of Swaziland. Sure, the articles I read were interesting, but more interesting were the website's polls, which appear in the sidebar of the articles. I know very little about Swazi culture and politics, but was fascinated by the sorts of questions they asked, and the responses people had marked. (If you're interested, here's the full list of polls from the site). I've split some of the ones that struck me as interesting into a few categories, and listed them below.

     Category 1. Relationships, Women's Rights, HIV/AIDS and Consent

    ^I think this one is kind of hilarious, to be honest. But also, assuming that the ratio of men to women answering each of the questions is about the same, so realize that the responses for the other questions are probably 97% men as well.

    ^Remember, 97% of people responding to these are probably men.
    ^Men harass women, and so laws should be enacted restricting what the women can do, because it's their fault? You can tell men answered this question.
    ^This is just sad.

    Category 2. Government and Education

    ^Keep in mind that Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, and the last absolute monarchy left in the world, at that.

    ^There would be national outcry if this sort of thing were ever even suggested in the United States.

    ^Can't argue with this one...

    Category 3. Other

    ^Well, this is encouraging, as a foreigner preparing to live out my next two years in Swaziland.
    ^Can you imagine if they asked this question in the United States?

    Anyways, at this point, I've stopped thinking of things as "silly" or "ridiculous" or anything like that. I see things like this now and just think, "Well, that's different. I guess I'll have to get used to that one, seeing as how that's where I'm moving." I just thought that these were a really interesting way to look at the "mindset" of Swaziland. 

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Parents Concerned About Exchange

    I've been getting a lot of messages lately from NSLI-Y applicants for this year's cycle asking about how they can convince their parents to simply let them apply, much less go. I can't speak for all the programs, but here's my attempt to address most of the concerns I've heard.

    1. "Will you be safe there?": On the American Councils program in Jordan, each student was given a Jordanian cell phone, which was used to keep in contact with host families, other students, and the resident directors. They gave us literally every emergency number possible on a cute little laminated card to keep in our wallets - everything from the embassy to our apartment manager to the student services director at our school. Students are allowed to go around the city, but only in groups of three or more, or with at least one member of a host family or local friend. I felt safer walking around Amman at night than I do walking around American cities at night. There wasn't a single moment in Amman when I didn't feel completely safe.
    2. "The Middle East is dangerous, right?": Yes, there are protests. When I was in Jordan, it was the height of the "Arab Spring," and there were plenty of protests. The thing about protests is that they're planned, which means you can avoid them. the State Department registers all NSLI-Y students, knows they're in the country, and sends daily email updates on whether there are any planned protests, and therefore areas to avoid. While there are protests, and probably more than in the States, it's SO EASY to go weeks without ever seeing a protest. Also, remember, NSLI-Y is a State Department run program - they're in with the embassy. You can count on the fact that the security and safety of NSLI-Y kids is a priority. If a program starts to be unsafe because of protests and the like - THEY CANCEL IT, and the kids go home early. There's no chance of your kid being in a country where it's not safe.
    3. "Why don't you just study the language at home?": You just can't. You learn so much of the language by speaking it with everyone you meet, and speaking it all day, every day. You can't possibly do that at home. On exchange, you can't survive without learning. I don't know how to make this any clearer - exchange is THE BEST way to learn a language. Even with no prior language experience, studying on a NSLI-Y trip will have you conversant in the new language by the end of the program.
    4. "Sending a teenager to live on their own for a whole summer? No way.": To be honest, your kid is so much safer overseas than in America. In Jordan, alcohol wasn't even an option - in the culture, it just doesn't exist. I can't speak for the other programs, but in Jordan, we did ridiculous things, we had a wonderful time, but looking back on it, it was incredibly wholesome. Seriously - your kid will be fine. If you as a parent are simply not ready to send your kid away for a couple months (or a year, if that's what you're considering), take a step back, and please, please think about what this means to your kid, and what an amazing opportunity this is. And applicants, if you really want to go for a year, but haven't gone away ever before, consider applying for a summer for now, and a year later, maybe as a gap year. I promise, it's still an amazing experience, and it's smart to try it for a summer before committing to a year abroad. Plus, it makes it easier on your parents.
    5. "Is NSLI-Y actually entirely free?": YES - IT'S FREE! Free to apply, and everything paid on the program. You just need to pay for a passport if you don't already have one, and then spending money during the program. But they do give you a stipend, and what they gave us in Jordan was plenty to pay for food and souvenirs, so if you're worried about spending money, don't be. And yes, the international airfare is included as FREE!
    If anybody has any other questions from parents, feel free to ask me in the comments- if you have country specific questions about programs other than Arabic, please join our Facebook group. We have alumni from almost every program and duration to answer questions, and plenty of applicants asking questions - (Yes, I know the year is wrong, it was created last year, and Facebook doesn't allow groups to change their names. It's been very active so far this year as well).

    Monday, October 1, 2012



    Life is so wonderful. This is so exciting. Chicago to New York, where I get to spend a lovely twelve hours in the airport, and then off to Johannesburg. I take a bus across the border into Swaziland and to the campus. I'M SO EXCITED!

    Also, it's a little strange to have booked a one way ticket. By the time I leave, I'll have another ticket to come back to the States for Christmas, because of rules with the visas and such, but THAT will be a round trip ticket, getting me back to Johannesburg in the end. It's weird - I just booked a one way ticket to Africa. Also weird, that later on, booking my round trip ticket for Christmas, it'll be a round trip ticket to Chicago and back, not from Chicago and back.

    WEIRD! I'm so excited. Beyond excited. I'm at that five-year-old-girl stage, clutching my new pony coloring book like it's the most amazing thing ever. Except that my coloring book is... A PLANE TICKET TO AFRICA! And as far as it goes, I'm pretty convinced it's the best thing ever!

    On another note, my parents didn't laugh when I started going crazy that I have a one-way ticket to Africa.

    I'm terrible at writing when I'm this excited, but I just had to document this momentous occasion when I was still being weird about it! :)

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    To Do This Week

    1. Get an updated prescription for my glasses
    2. Get the yellow fever vaccination
    3. Get the prescription for the typhoid vaccination
    4. Remember to take the typhoid vaccination without messing it up
    5. Book my flight
    6. Finish filing out the visa application paperwork
    7. Make preliminary class choices
    8. Fill out the other random pages of paperwork
    9. Make photocopies of the visa applications, medical forms, school paperwork, yellow fever documents, passport, and everything else in this pile of papers
    10. Send the originals to Swaziland
    11. Start packing again, and then realize I still have several more months
    12. Work on homework :)

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    I'm a wimp.

    Today's the day I've been dreading for a very, very long time, for a very, very silly reason. It's vaccination day...

    To go live in Africa for two years, there's a whole slew of vaccines that I need - most of which are things you don't need vaccines for in America. There's a whole wonderful list in the paperwork I have to send in, and it's much longer than I wish.

    Here's the thing: I hate shots. I hate shots more than anything. I like to think of myself as a rather brave person, but I hate shots. They freak me out so, so much. It's not the pain, and it's not the idea that something is going inside my skin - I have the piercings to prove that those things don't bother me. It's completely irrational, but I still hate shots. Oh, so, much.

    But, it's kind of a requirement (for my own good, I know) when getting ready to live in Africa, so I'll deal with it.

    Eek. Since I found out I was going to Swaziland, this is the first thing I've been nervous about! This is so pathetic...

    UPDATE: Didn't have to get any shots... today. Just made another appointment with the travel doctor to get them, because my normal doctor didn't have a single one available. So happy! I'll deal with this later... :)

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    College Plans and Internet Memes

    I keep on getting asked about my college plans. Logical, seeing as how I'm a senior in high school, and should be applying to college and all that fun stuff.

    Except I'm moving to Africa. And that tends to confuse people.

    Anyways, UWC students have started a rather wonderful Facebook page called "UWC Memes," which put almost every UWC dilemma into a quick, easy, oftentimes grammatically incorrect, internet-friendly meme. Here are two that pretty much sum up my current predicament:

    I'm getting really antsy, especially as I keep seeing photos from my friends from the interviews, several of whom also were accepted and are first years at the various campuses. Swaziland is the only campus that doesn't start on the northern hemisphere school schedule, which means I'm one of two US students still waiting to start. Can we go already? :)

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Kids and the World

    I'm currently working five days a week as a babysitter for a seven year old boy. He's a really wonderful, intelligent kid, but sometimes it shocks me just how little he knows about anything beyond our little town. I'm sure that I used to be the same way, but it's still strange.

    For example, he asked where I got my wallet, and I said that I bought it while I was studying in Jordan. I figured he didn't know where Jordan was, but I was really surprised that he didn't know where the Middle East was either. I get that that's a little specific, but I definitely knew where the Middle East was when I was that age. I used to have a sticker book with outline maps of the world, and I colored the Red Sea... red. With a colored pencil. But regardless, I knew where the Middle East was. I'm a pretty big geography geek though, so I'm probably not a good benchmark.

    Talking to him just made me really grateful for opportunities for travel I had at such a young age. We never went in luxury vacations when I was a kid, but no matter how much I moaned about it then, it's nice to think of all the places I set up a tent when I was a kid - mostly national parks, but I still had that chance to go across the States traveling. He said that he had only been to California, which is wonderful, but it made me think about all the places I've been able to go to, and made me so thankful.

    Finally, he was telling me about the second language he spoke. I got all excited, until he told me it was a burp language... Cute, but not exactly what I was hoping. I just realized that I've been able to speak two languages since I was twelve years old, and even though that makes it only five years, it feels like knowing a second language is a given for me. He's only seven, but it's strange to think that at that age, most kids, including myself, haven't started studying a foreign language. Would it do them any good? Maybe knowing a second language longer would make kids want to learn more about the world...

    These are the things I think about as I do the dishes and clean this apartment while the kids sleep in their room. I love this job, but I have to say, I hope Barbie storybooks aren't a thing in swaziland :)

    Tuesday, September 4, 2012

    One Shared Experience

    So, I follow several blogs of current/graduated UWC students, and one of the most artistically talented and eloquent is yellowcircles on Tumblr, a graduate of Mahindra UWC in India. Recently, he (she?) made a post that read like this:

    "I recently read a book by Suketu Meheta who says that each person’s life is dominated by a central event, which shapes and distorts everything that comes after it and, in retrospect, everything that came before. MUWCI for me will always take that place; because there is no place like it.

    As cliche as it sounds, it’s funny how the people and the places that seem strange in the beginning turn out to be the ones you call “Family”. One moment you can’t help but fall asleep in class due to a prolonged caffeinated night, the other you wish you were better prepared for tomorrows I.B. exam.

    Here is a video I made (shot and edited) for my high school farewell, with all the people that matter to me the most in it. Sometimes in my solitude this is the only thing that comforts me. For that one moment in time I feel I am back home."

    Reading that, it occurred to me that I would most definitely be in a similar position in two years, four months time from now, graduating from a place I've never even been to yet. That's the strange part about all of these schools - it's such a unique concept to people here, that they can't even imagine it. And yet, it's such a shared experience among UWC 'people,' past, present, or future, that it ceases to be unique in and of itself. Wonderful, yes, but entirely unique? Not really.

    Following the post was a link to this video, which I have to say is most definitely my favorite video about any UWC I've seen so far on the internet. I can see the faces of every group I've ever had to say goodbye to in this video, as if my NSLI-Y group, or the other camp counselors. It's probably the first video I've seen to show how much the school means to him - and it's fascinating because it's so blunt. There are no words, no commentary, no "I love my UWC family because..." It's just a lot of faces. Faces that mean so very little to me, but I can tell mean the world to them. I just wanted to share the video, because it's such a wonderful piece, and one of very few I've found that draws any emotion whatsoever.

    Also, I know that in two years, I'll be in a video like that, looking back upon the "grand adventure." We'll see whether Meheta was actually right, whether life will really be defined by one grand event, and whether UWC will be that event.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Packing - Early, I know...

    First of all, I know I don't leave for another four months. But I'm still starting to pack and move out now. To be honest, it might take four months.


    First thing - I highly suggest just giving your stuff away, if you've never done it. I don't mean a small box, I mean garbage bags upon garbage bags full of clothes, toys, books, and everything. Just give it away. It feels so good.

    Second thing - At least this sort of packing, it's pack, donate, or trash. There is no "keep for when I get back" pile, which makes packing harder. Although not that hard - refer back to item one :)

    Third thing - Still can't wait four months... I'm so restless!

    Oh well, I told myself I couldn't pack anymore until my homework is done... so, I should go do that.

    Sunday, September 2, 2012


    When at the interview for the UWCs, they kept referring to it as a 'UWC family,' and I laughed it off as some hippies, but it's totally true. I wasn't the only person from my interview to be accepted to the UWCs - there were several others, including one who is currently in Wales, one currently in Bosnia, one currently in India, and several currently in New Mexico, starting their UWC adventures.

    Notice how I said "currently." They're all at the UWCs... NOW! And I'm only kind of having some serious jealously over this fact. Waterford Kamhlaba is the only UWC to start on the southern hemisphere school schedule - the other TWELVE UWCs are having their first days of school sometime about now. Which means that my one co-year, a guy from Pennsylvania, and myself are the only two UWCers left here in the States, waiting for our turn.

    A little bit frustrating... although I keep being reminded "You were the one who put Swaziland as your first choice." And I have no regrets on that front - I literally feel like I'm living the dream, or at least, I will be, in four months. Swaziland has always been my first choice out of the UWCs, and it's amazing that I was actually placed there, but these four months are the hardest as far as waiting goes, simply because I know that most of my UWC family is already in session.

    I hope they're all having a wonderful time though! I'm only jokingly frustrated about the wait - it's totally worth it :)

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    NSLI-Y Applications 2013-2014

    (This is for everyone out there who is waiting for the NSLI-Y app for this year, and getting ready to apply for their grand adventure. I figured you guys are already scouring the internet for NSLI-Y posts, anxiously awaiting the release of the application).

    Dear New Applicants,
    Welcome to the family! And that's really what NSLI-Y is - regardless of what year, program, duration, or language you went on, or want to go on, it's a big family, united by this one goal of wanting to study a weird language.

    I'm assuming you guys are all anxious about applying for NSLI-Y, and all that you've heard about it being competitive and all, but don't let that scare you. It's an amazing program - just remember that, instead of the statistics. If you're truly excited about the learning opportunity that NSLI-Y is, and let that come through on the application, you have a good chance of actually getting that opportunity.

    First of all, we have a Facebook group for applicants - ignore the name it's for people from any year, not just 2012-2013. It's not even all applicants anymore, as we made it last year, so a lot of the members are now alumni. But there are still a lot of new applicants, and alumni applying for a second (or third) time around. It's a pretty great resource to find out about the specific programs from alumni, and get help with the application from people who have been through it successfully. I know that there's always NSLI-Y on ExchangesConnect, and, which has a NSLI-Y thread, but I honestly think that our  Facebook group has more active members, and more alumni from the different programs than anywhere else. Have a question? Someone will probably answer it within ten minutes. Plus, we're fun people to talk to about your excitement for NSLI-Y when people at school and home are sick of hearing about it! :)

    Second of all, good luck. I'm not applying for NSLI-Y this year, but I wish I could again. Going to Jordan for the summer was literally life-changing, and I really wish that everyone could have such an amazing experience as that. My one piece of advice? Be confident in yourself, and if you do get the chance to go, never say no to anything - you don't want to miss out on something amazing just because you were tired, or didn't feel like it. Say yes to things, smile, keep an open mind and an open heart, and I promise, you'll fall in love with wherever you get the chance to go.

    Good luck! Join the Facebook group, and get ready for when the application comes out!

    PS. Even if you don't wind up getting accepted, you're still part of the family. It's a family of being interested in foreign languages and cultures, and we don't have rejection letters. That's a state department thing, and if we could get rid of those, believe me, in this family? We would :)

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    To Do Before Leaving

    I have roughly four months left in the States... I needed a to-do "one last time" list.
    1. Wrap up paperwork and such at the high school
    2. Get a veggie burger at Frank’s
    3. Pack, donate, or toss all my stuff
    4. Learn to sew properly
    5. Go on a road trip, including camping.
    6. Be able to name all the countries (with capitals) in Africa
    7. Go to the Veteran’s Day Ceremony one last time and say goodbye to my old teachers
    8. Figure out how to pack in a carry-on sized suitcase so my tuba can be my checked bag
    9. Work, and save money.
    10. Go skiing on a terrible, Midwestern “mountain” just for old time’s sake
    11. Write letters to everyone I know before I go out of range of the USPS
    12. Learn at least a little siSwati
    13. Register as an independent Girl Scout
    14. Go downtown and get falafel from the Oasis Cafe on Wabash
    15. Load up my iPod with enough music to last through the apocalypse
    16. Do something really awesome.

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    UWC Admissions in a Nutshell

    On this blog, I assume that people somehow understand exactly what everything I'm talking about is, because there's this weird group of people that somehow just know everything about these sorts of things. But, that's a very limited group of people, and I've found that more people are confused when I try to explain to them my plans than anything else.

    So, this is an explanation from square one - everything about what has lead me to Swaziland, and what exactly the school is. If you want to apply to a UWC, this is pretty much how applying and being accepted goes. I wish you the best if you're applying - don't let the application process deter you. However complicated it seems, it's not that bad :)

    In the summer of 2011, I went to Jordan on a full NSLI-Y scholarship to study Arabic. I was only there for the summer, but that's what started me on really wanting to go abroad for a longer amount of time. The instant I got home, I started bugging my parents about doing a year abroad. The problem was, most programs were really expensive, and/or didn't guarantee a decent education over there, therefore most likely meaning I'd wind up a grade behind because of the exchange. Instead of taking a year off from high school, my mom said to try for a gap year, so that I could graduate with my class.

    Funny how things never work out like planned...

    A few months later, I received an envelope in the mail containing a single flyer. I was never sure how they got my name, but I'm very, very glad it ended up in my hands. I skimmed over this strange brochure, looking for the tuition. It wasn't unlike the other fliers I received daily - most for short term programs, or university enrichment for high schoolers. Anyways, all the other ones cost thousands of dollars. But this? According to this flier, this one was totally free.

    Criteria one? Checkmark.

    I read on, and found that the United World Colleges (UWC) were twelve international boarding schools, spread across the continents. With campuses in the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Swaziland, China, India, Singapore, Italy, Wales, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and The Netherlands, it quickly dawned on me that this could be my ticket. Students from over a hundred countries attended each of these schools. It wasn't quite an exchange program, but it was a chance to me to learn about a bunch of different cultures, while living in another country. The UWCs aren't quite a high school, as most students have already finished or almost finished their high schools at home, but they're not university either. The name comes from the British system of education, where students go to high school for a couple years, two years of "college," and then university, or American "college." The diploma offered is an IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma, which is essentially an internationally accepted high school diploma, comparable in difficulty to a normal American diploma with a bunch of AP classes on it. It was a two-year program, which meant that, because I was applying during junior year, I'd be graduating a year late, as if accepted, I'd attend during senior year, and then an extra year.

    I showed my parents the pamphlet. They sort of raised their eyebrows at me, and pointed out the acceptance rate. I said that it was free to apply, and asked if I could, undeterred by my chances. After all, NSLI-Y had a crazy-low acceptance rate, and that worked out for me, I figured.

    So, I applied. The application process was kind of ridiculous, but here's my summary. In the winter, I sent a few short written responses, one long personal statement, my test scores, my transcript, a teacher recommendation, my 4H leader's recommendation, and my guidance counselor's recommendation to the US admission's office in Montezuma, New Mexico, and filled out a three or four page form online.

    And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I finally received an email from said admissions office, saying that out of 600 applications, I was selected as one of 125 students across the US to be interviewed for one of the US spots.

    At that point, I did more research on the actual selection process. To apply to a UWC, you have to apply through a national committee. In sending all those things to New Mexico, I was applying to the US national committee, not the schools themselves. The national committee reserves a certain number of spots at each school across the world. For the US national committee, they had 25 spots at the US campus, 8 at the Wales campus, and either one, two, or three at each of the others.

    The grand total of applicants the national committee would finally choose? 50 out of 125 interviewed.

    I had my interview, which was splendid. It was a group interview, and I have to say that the fifteen other students at the interview were really quite amazing. I had some really great discussions that day, about current events and ethics and international issues, and it only made me want to be accepted to one of these schools even more.

    After the interview, I waited to find out whether I'd be nominated for a spot. My dilemma at that point was whether or not I'd accept a spot for the UWC in New Mexico itself. From the beginning, I'd put Swaziland as my first choice campus, and USA as my last, but there was still the chance I'd be placed in the US, as they select the 50 students, and then place them between the campuses - 25 in the US, 25 abroad.

    But thankfully, when my acceptance email arrived, it was for Swaziland. And boy, did I scream with joy! I HAD BEEN ACCEPTED! My mind was literally blown - I kept thinking to myself, "You're actually moving to Swaziland... for two years... for free... you're moving to Swaziland. You're going to finish high school in Africa." I didn't believe it was possible, but hey, anything is possible, right?

    I filled out some more papers to confirm that I wanted the nomination, and about a month later, I was done dealing with the US national committee, and I received my first emails from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, with my joining papers - essentially enrollment forms, class choices, and immigration papers.

    Now, I'll be attending the first semester of my current high school, starting Wednesday, and going until right before Christmas. I'm not required to attend high school for this semester, but figured that it'd be really difficult to take that much time off of school, and then start the IB program. Also, I'm finishing all my graduation requirements at my current school, so if anything were to go wrong in Swaziland, I'd be able to come back and get a diploma here without taking any more classes. Swaziland is on the southern hemisphere school schedule, and so the first day of the term there is January 14th, 2013 for me. The school year is on trimesters, with month long breaks in between the terms, and no summer. Essentially, the school year is from January to November each year, and I'll be attending on that school schedule in 2013 and 2014, graduating November 2014. I will then (hopefully) be starting university in the fall of 2015, assuming I go back to the northern hemisphere for university - NYUAD insha'allah :)

    Yup, that's the story. Hope that's comprehensible - I know it's long, but this is the extended explanation!

    Swaziland, NSLI-Y Rosetta Stone, and Free Exchange Programs

    This turned out to be a really long post, so it's split into three parts. Read what you would like.

    I got home from ten weeks away from home yesterday afternoon. Within two hours, I was already bored, and so I decided to open up the joining papers for WK (Waterford Kamhlaba).

    First of all, the above image is from the immigration papers for the long-term visa. Just thought I'd include that - it's a first reminder for me that the country where I'll be moving is going to be quite a bit different, especially after my last ten weeks working with truly amazing special needs campers, none of whom I would consider deficient in any way. It's a more-than-subtle reminder that the culture shock reaches beyond food and dress. Acceptance and lack thereof, of many different things, seems to always be the hardest culture difference for me to swallow. This wasn't really surprising for me to see, but still raised my eyebrows for a moment.

    Secondly, I realized how excited I am to go to Swaziland. I absolutely loved every moment of this summer, and miss my campers dearly, but now that I'm home, I'm already looking to the next thing. I didn't think about where I'm headed in January much while at camp, but now that the 24/7 work schedule is over with, I have time to be excited! I have to admit, I starting packing last night - there is a pile of things in the corner of my room that have been designated as "bring with." Mostly things I want to decorate my room with, but it still made me laugh when I realized I was packing already.

    Anyways, I start back at my high school here on Wednesday - I'll keep attending classes there until the last day before winter break, which isn't the last day of the semester, but will be my last day. The weird thing for me is that I've taken all the French classes my high school has to offer, through AP French V, so I don't have a foreign language class this semester. (I'll be taking English, French and siSwati as language classes at the UWC, I think).

    I'm going to work really hard this semester to keep up with Arabic and French this semester using the free Rosetta Stone I get as an alumni of NSLI-Y - I've been getting a lot of questions from other alumni about how to get that software, so here's the step-by-step. They definitely didn't make it easy to find! (This is for alumni only, and isn't available to everyone - sorry about that! If you are eligible to apply, I definitely recommend applying for a state department program - see the next section in this post!)

    1. Create an account on - make sure you register as a NSLI-Y alumni.
    2. Once registered, on the homepage of the website, under where it says "new mail" on the right hand side, under communities, click "NSLI-Y"
    3. In the center column of the next page, under language Library, hit "Login to JLU."
    4. On the next page, the third tab down on the right hand side has a green binder on it, reading "Resources." Click that.
    5. Rosetta Stone will be on that list - you register to be placed on a waiting list, and in maybe a month or two you'll get an email that it's become available for you.
    I get lots of questions on how I'm paying to go to places like Jordan and Swaziland - I'm not. I went to Jordan with NSLI-Y, which is a full scholarship. I'm also attending UWC on a full scholarship, excluding flights, which I'll be paying for out of my wages working at camp. Both of these, and several other programs, are full scholarships based on merit - they don't take finances into consideration. Here are a few of the free exchange programs you can apply to when you're high school aged.

    (These programs are open to US citizens - if you're not a US citizen, check out if you want programs to come to the US).

    1. NSLI-Y ( Offers summer and year programs (including gap years) in Taiwan, China, South Korea, Turkey, Russia, Tajikistan, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, India, and others. Very focused on language learning.  (Eligibility: 15-18 years old at start of program, minimum 2.5 HS GPA)
    2. YES ( Offers mostly-year long (one semester program) to live in a Muslim society. Countries include B&H, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Mali (semester), Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Thailand, Turkey. Very focused on culture, little language training. (Eligibility: Different by country, check website. Mostly 15-18 years old).
    3. CBYX ( Offers year-long scholarships to study in Germany. Must be 15-18 years old, 3.0 GPA.
    4. UWC ( Two years at one of their campuses. Out of about 600 applicants, 25 are accepted to the US campus, and 25 are accepted to be split up among the other campuses around the world, such as B&H, Italy, Norway, Wales, India,  Singapore, Hong Kong, Swaziland, and Costa Rica. It's a full scholarship for room, board, and tuition for the two school years, but airfare is on you. All schools follow the northern hemisphere school schedule, except for Swaziland, which runs January to November each year. Eligibility is a bit more complex, but the link describes it pretty well. Be warned, this will most likely add a year onto high school for you, as they accept people to attend often for their senior and then an extra year, and only rarely junior and senior year.

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    Lasts and Firsts

    Next week is my tenth and final week of working and living here at camp. When I drive home, it'll be the last time I pull out of the camp parking lot, and the last time I drive the four hours back to my house.

    I received my last LHS school schedule yesterday. This is my last semester there, and therefore my last marching band season, my last homecoming, and my last couple months living in the States.

    But when I leave, it'll be my first time going to Africa. It'll be my first time going to a boarding school, and my first time in the new subjects - I've never studied siSwati at my American school. It'll be the first time I'll start at an international school nine thousand miles away from home - and probably my last.

    As camp winds to a close, and I get ready to move back home for a few months, it's a strange balance of trying to enjoy the lasts, while still looking forward to the firsts.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Officially Official

    I got my forms from UWCSA (United World College of Southern Africa) last night in an email, and am relieved that everything got through with no mix-ups, and I'm finally done emailing just the US Selection Committee. Not that I don't love them, and appreciate what they've given me, but it's nice to have contact with the school itself now.

    As far as camp goes, I'm exhausted after getting up every few hours during the night to care for my camper, and never pausing during the day, but I love it nonetheless. It's strange to realize what my job actually is here - being totally responsible for every single aspect of another person's well-being. It doesn't matter if that summer enrichment program is at the fanciest university in the world - broken bed rails and adult diapers are teaching me more than any professor ever could.