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 - http://www.facebook.com/groups/215777371826134/. (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! :)