Thursday, June 28, 2012


To be fair, you need to know the context of this post. I'm currently doing "cabin duty" at the camp I'm working at, which involves sitting here for three hours, from nine to midnight, just making sure that the cabins stay somewhat under control. A typical cabin duty involves numerous bathroom incidents, probably someone falling out of bed, campers just sitting up and starting to rock back and forth for no reason, campers deciding to change their clothes in the middle of the night, and campers just deciding they'd rather not sleep.

Anyways, to be frank, I haven't had time to shower or brush my hair in about three days, much less think about the fact that I'm moving to Swaziland in six months. So when something popped up on my Facebook (in between the craziness, cabin duty is essentially my weekly computer time) that this other kid was going to Swaziland with me, I paused, did a double take, and then I essentially freaked out. This is the first I've heard of another person from the States being accepted, and it just makes me suddenly really excited!

Also, shout-out to Erika B. from my Madison interview who was just bumped off the waitlist, and will be starting at the UWC in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fall. She's amazing, and I always knew she would make it! Wishing her a fabulous time!

LIFE IS SO WONDERFUL! Peace, love, travel, culture, whatever makes you happy.

Pardon my strange energy - I just really need to sleep. Too bad the only real rule about cabin duty is that you can't sleep until midnight...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Campers and Checkmarks.

We found out who our campers are going to be for the first week. Thing is, all we get about them is a name, and a sheet full of check-marks. Can they swim? Can they feed themselves? Will they sleep through the night? Do they use a wheelchair?

It's really ridiculous. How can you possibly judge someone just by some checks on a page? I really don't want to - I kind of wish they wouldn't tell us. They're just people, and I hate that the only things I know about my campers right now are their limitations. Nothing about their personalities, nothing about their hopes and dreams and passions. Right now, I just know what my camper can and can't do.

I wonder what the world would be like if we removed all labels and check marks from people, and just waited to meet them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Domestic Culture Shock

Once at camp, I found out soon enough that most of the staff is international, hailing from England, Scotland, Ireland, Poland and Australia. And soon after meeting everyone, we found out that there are plenty of differences between each other because of our cultures, which isn't a new concept whatsoever for me, but it was kind of a surprise. I mean, I was headed to work at camp in Iowa - a four hour drive from home, a place where they speak English, and in the States. But culture shock isn't a result of location, it's a result of the people you're with. And when the people you're with are from four different countries, it's a definite case of domestic culture shock.

First, it's the words. Everyone speaks English, mostly as a first language, but there are quite a few different, strong, accents around camp. It's strange, because it's not like the international staff has "bad" English - their English is absolutely perfect! But it's such a different English that I find myself listening in the same way I listen to Arabic - as if it's a second language that I'm learning. It's not automatic for me to recognize that "cheese toasties" means grilled cheese, or that "uni" means university, or that "loo" means bathroom. I mean, I know what all of the British equivalents mean, but it's not one at a time - when you're listening to a sentence full of words that you don't use everyday, you have to listen much more actively. I definitely can't just sit back and understand without focusing on every word people say. This might be a good thing though... definitely have to be much more engaged in every single conversation that goes on.

Secondly, food. When we're a group of people living together, we eat together, and so we talk about food. Kind of a lot. I'm not sure where I got the idea that Great Britain was essentially the same as the States (maybe because they speak the same language?), but food was the first thing where I realized that we had distinct cultures. I can't even remember all the foods that they've been talking about, other than this one restaurant that everyone keeps RAVING about. Nando's, I think it's called. Everyone just describes it as a Portuguese chicken restaurant, which I don't even really understand, but at the same time they can't understand how we don't have it here. They say it's as big as Chipotle, which, by the way, most of them have never tried. And then there are the snack foods, and dinner foods, and things to eat for breakfast that are just so different between the States and the UK. Apparently they eat beans for breakfast? Strange, but they were looking at our cold cereal for breakfast like we were nuts.

It's just really interesting to be in this situation where I'm still at home, but learning so much about different cultures, and also seeing my culture through new eyes. The list goes beyond food and language, we were talking about how different the school systems, and driving, and so many other things are. Even more, I'm hearing about differences between, say, Ireland and Scotland, from an Irish girl and a Scottish girl.

And the magical part? Nobody told me this would happen here - it's all a surprise. I thought I was just going to Iowa.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

To Iowa!

I leave today to go to Iowa for the rest of the summer (I get back August 18th), where I'll be working to earn some money to pay for my plane ticket to Swaziland.

While Iowa isn't the most exciting destination in the world, there are some parts about travelling there that are much more exciting than my travels to Jordan.

While yes, I will be driving through cornfields, at least I'll be driving, compared to flying, where you're herded around with hundreds of other cranky passengers, and nobody talks to each other, and everyone just wants to get there already. When you're on a plane, you pass over so much - you see airports during your layover, and only get off the plane at your final destination. While driving, if there's something on the side of the road that seems fascinating, I can stop and look around.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it should be an interesting journey this time, and even while the destination isn't as exciting as Swaziland or Jordan, I'm looking forward to the ride. And even though the destination isn't as "exciting," I'm still looking forward to it just as much.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What do people see in you?

Last night I went to a dinner in Chicago with people who have attended or are currently attending the different UWCs. There were two current UWC-USA students, one UWC-USA alumn, and one UWCCR (Costa Rica) current student. Beyond just being a really nice night with some interesting, international minded people, one interesting topic came up in the course of conversation that I can't quite get out of my mind.

We were talking about where the students' friends at school came from, and whether people hung out with people from their home countries, or other countries. Some of the people said they were closer with people from their own countries, just because of shared experiences. Somebody said that he felt people formed friendships on campus based on socio-economic status - regardless of national origins, people felt more comfortable around others who had similar amounts of money as them.

It just made me wonder - what is the most important factor when we're connecting with people? Do we gravitate towards people with the same amount of money as us? Do we gravitate towards those with similar national origins? What do we see in other people when we start to get to know them?

And even more so, do we have any control over it? Once I got this into my head, it's hard not to think about. Even if we were to try to ignore part of a person, such as their socio-economic status, would they ignore it in us? Is it even possible to ignore? No matter how open minded a person is, can we really meet a person and pass no judgement? What can we do about how people see us? Anything?

Say you were presented with a neutral face. The image is from the neck up, so you see no clothing, and no suggestions of anything about them, other than their face. Now, what if you were told they were a multi-millionare? This piece of information now affects how you see them, regardless of how open minded you may or may not be. Now, what if the picture was of you, and someone started to throw out facts about your wealth, or lack thereof?

It's just interesting to think about, especially as I'm getting ready to go to a school with so many different people, from different soci-economic backgrounds, nationalities, religious backgrounds, and so on. The other side of this coin is that right now, things like "being from the States" don't really define me, as I'm around a lot of other people who are also from the states. At the UWC, or any exchange-type program, it becomes a question not of whether your nationality will impact how others see you, as it's a surefire thing that it will, even if only in the tiniest way. Instead, it's more of a question of how nationality impacts how people see you, whether it's a lot or a little, and how you handle it.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just speculating...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Reasons to Write - Part 2

When I started this blog exactly one year ago (almost), my first post was titled "Reasons to Write." And one year ago, I said that I wanted this blog to be a way for me to remember things - the little stories.

Well, I broke 4,000 pageviews yesterday, and realized that the things I had been writing were different. I was no longer writing things for myself to remember - I'd started trying to figure out what people interested in exchange would want to read, and I'd write about that.

To be honest, it didn't work out very well. So, this is a throwback post to some "little stories" of Jordan. Soon enough, I'll have new little stories of Swaziland and other adventures soon, but for now, enjoy.

When we arrived in Jordan, they gave us cell phones. Nothing fancy - they weren't even flip phones, but I was so excited because there was Arabic on the keys, along with English. Now, there are a few stories about this phone. 

First, keep in mind how terrible I am at phones and texting and all that. So, I learned to text in Jordan - on this phone. The funny part is that the very first day, I didn't really know how to work it, so I had our assistant resident director activate the phone, and copy down the number to give to the director. Apparently, he gave her the wrong number, because four weeks later, I realized that she'd been trying to text me the entire time, and I never got any of them. Oh my..

Second after we had been in school for maybe three or four weeks, my Arabic ego had starting swelling, and I thought it'd be a good idea to set my phone to be all in Arabic - for practice, you know? I had no problems setting the phone to be in Arabic, and so I stuck it back in my pocket thinking I was hot stuff. About an hour later, I got a text, grabbed the phone, and realized I had no idea how to work it when it was set in Arabic. I had to go find my host sister and hold the phone out to her, saying "Inglizi, losamati," English, please. It took her a second to figure out what I had done, and then she just laughed at me. Silly American...

Okay, one last story about the phone. Amman is a very mountainous city, so a lot of the time it's like the houses are on top of each other. Okay, so the houses are on top of each other. Anyways, my host aunt and uncle and their four daughters lived right above and next door to us, depending on how you described it, and there was another exchange student living with them. One morning, I get a text as I'm getting dressed and getting my books into my bag. It's a really, really, frantic text from the other student, saying that she needs my help RIGHT AWAY or something. So, I head over to their house, open the door, and  see my friend with a horrified look on her face. I ask what's wrong, and she says that there's a cockroach in the shower. That's what she texted me about at six in the morning, before anyone else in the neighborhood was awake? Yes.

Here's the second thing - the sulhafa, simply meaning "turtle." The sulhafa was my host cousin's pet, all the way from Saudi Arabia, where they found it outside their house. My cousin was a really smart, creative kid, and he had built all sorts of things for the sulhafa - a car made of popsicle sticks, a whole farm scene where it could sit, and a house. And so, sulhafa became one of the first words I learned beyond simple conversations. 

One day, in class, we did an activity where we were in groups of two or three, and we all had to write a line of a story. Then we'd pass the story to the next group, and write the next line, and keep passing until the story was finished.The catch? It all had to be in Arabic. To make a long story short, our group added a turtle army, a "jaesh sulhafa," to each and every story, much to our amusement, and the aggravation of the other groups. Our teacher just laughed at our spelling of sulhafa, because we'd only ever heard it around the house, and essentially made up the spelling.

Finally, there are the doorknobs. Now, I hate to say that the apartments we moved into were in disrepair, but they were. The shower heads were hanging off the walls, the couches had nails sticking out of them, and would often collapse when someone sat down on them, and finally, the doorknobs kept falling out. We had four doors in our apartment, and it was so normal that the handles would fall off that if it happened, we'd just toss them by the door to reattach later. On this particular day, three of the four handles had fallen off. We didn't think it was annoying though - it was hilarious.

Anyways, those are some stories that I hope in 50 years I'll be able to get a laugh out of, or that someone else can appreciate. Thank you all for reading this blog, it's amazing that people have read it 4,000 times! I'm excited to see what borders I can cross next!