Language is in the Hips

Amy Nguyen, International Studies – Political Science ‘18

When my dad travelled to Guangzhou to study martial arts, he didn’t know a speck of Chinese. At least, that’s what he would tell me every time he was feeling reminiscent about this particular story, which, at this point, I know like the back of my glasses frames. I love hearing it though.

Born in Vietnam and living out his teenage years in Mississippi, the man was limited to a handful of phrases. The most important one, he emphasized, was “bathroom.” Verbally, my dad was basically a fish out of water. But, like a fish out of water, my dad still possessed the ability to convey that water was a necessity through his body language and facial expressions.

Unlike his mother, he wasn’t able to whip up a 5 star meal. So of course upon arriving in the foreign land without his food-provider, the first thing he did was seek out a place that sold cooked meals, ready to eat. The only problem (which my dad apparently didn’t view as an issue) was that knowing how to say “bathroom” wouldn’t get you chicken fried rice. He probably realized this as soon as the wonderful aroma of chicken drew him to sit down at a local street-side restaurant, and the words on the menu were made of Chinese characters. A woman immediately accosted him upon his arrival.

“What do you want [to eat]?” She snapped at him in Cantonese with no-nonsense mannerisms. My dad jumped at her gibberish, and shakily brought the menu (that he couldn’t read) closer to his face. Juggling the nonsensical menu with his small pocket dictionary, he looked up at her in fear, pointed at his chest, and started with the only other word he knows, “I…”

Abruptly, he tucked his hands into his ribcage and started cooing like a chicken, “Bok-bok-bok-BOK (let it be known the higher pitched emphasis on the last ‘bok’)!!” Immediately, he followed this elegant display by picking up his imaginary spatulas and crashing them together in an extravagant representation of stir-frying in a flaming wok.

“Chhsssshh ChhhsshHhH!” my father exclaimed in a bold show of onomatopoeia, mimicking the sound of rice cooking over high heat. The woman, the owner of the restaurant, looked startled (and slightly concerned, perhaps). As if she might have envisioned the actions of my dad instead of experiencing them in the living realm, she asked politely for a clarification.

“What the he** did you just say!?” Her response consisted of more fearful eyes, chicken imitations, and artful mimicries of imaginary rice cooking over flaming woks. The owner’s reaction was instantaneous and hilarious.

“Ahh you want chicken fried rice!” She declared through chortles, “Wait here, wait here!” The owner shuffles to the kitchen divider and pokes her head in. “Hey everyone! Come outside and look at this funny Japanese man (nevermind that my dad is Vietnamese)!” The confused entirety of the kitchen crew, including the dishboy, lined up along the walls of the restaurant.

“Do it again, again!” She prompted him in excitement. More fear, more chicken cooing, and more wokking. It was a riot. The restaurant was in tears, intrigued by this strange man who didn’t know a word of Chinese yet managed to convey meaning in the most fundamental of ways.

Needless to say, my dad got his chicken fried rice that day. He got a pork entree the next day, and beef the day after that. He walked in and out of that restaurant many times during his stay, each time solidifying the strange and wonderful friendship that grew between him and the kitchen staff. From then on, every time he took a seat on the little plastic chair in the street-side restaurant, the owner’s face would light up. She would tell him to “wait” and grab the cooks and busboy, lining them up for a brief 2-minute break of entertainment.

If there is anything I want readers (whoever you may be) to take away from this story, it’s to travel near and far. Immersing yourself into a foreign land is not something to take shyly, and lacking the language doesn’t have to be discouraging. In the case of my silly dad, lacking the language doesn’t have to exclude you from a population. In fact, it can surround you with friends if you use your non-ability correctly. Because if there is one thing that my dad has taught me growing up (and there were many things), it is that skills, facts, and languages can be learned, but having the right attitude is a decision.



Refusal to Feed Can Be Revolutionary

Janell Ingersoll, International Studies – Economics ’18

Becoming more aware of world-wide events has been my new favorite pass time.  It is simply shocking to me how little the American news covers outside of the world; while yes, America is a rather large nation, the culture that fosters selfishness is reflected onto the news as well.

While abroad last summer, my news feed was still mostly from other American citizens.  To my surprise much of the news was ignorant of the rest of the international news that was headlines across countries at that time.  While Americans were up in arms about Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem, North Korea launched missiles at Japan and the German government found another undetonated bomb buried under rubble in Berlin.

The US makes it almost impossible to keep up with international news, and understanding the deeper connections to breaking news is completely out of the window.  Maybe this is why Donald Trump, a presidential candidate of 2016, was unaware of Britain’s appeal to leave the EU (commonly known as Brexit).  With such increased globalization, society still lags behind the minimized trade barriers. It was not until Brexit actually succeeded that the American public became more aware of what Brexit really was.  Even with the increased press, all any citizens got out of the global coverage was that it was time to vacation in London now because the Pound had dropped value significantly.

Alright, so everyone can go on tangents about how broken society is, simply because there is no perfect society in any nation.  So what can we, as readers, do about the lack of awareness in our country? The media feeds off of attention so if less people are watching or reading about what Hilary Clinton had more lunch and more concerned about Brazil impeaching their president maybe the news reporting world will get a hint and evolve into a platform for important international, and domestic, news. If the citizens instead chose to feed the news their attention to important world news then maybe the journalistic world will be revolutionized.

So, you want to go abroad, do you?

Cassidy Shapiro, IS Anthropology’18

After my first quarter of Italian, I wanted more than anything to study abroad in Rome for the summer. I researched every program, every scholarship, and every airline. I spent countless hours desperately trying to find a way to make it financially possible for me to live half way around the world for ten weeks. I dreamed of the culture, the food, the people. Yet, despite my best efforts, it just wasn’t going to be possible.

And then, something I hadn’t expected happened. I learned of a job opportunity. A family wanted an American girl to live with them for the summer as an Au Pair, helping with the children and teaching them English. I jumped on the opportunity and, to my utmost delight, was given the job. I’ve only just returned from Italy, and I can tell you that the job was not easy. But it was more than worth it.

If you want to go abroad, and you aren’t sure how to make your dream a reality because of your financial situation, look for jobs abroad. I’d gotten this idea in my head that to go abroad, I needed to be traveling for vacation or studying. Applying for a job in another country wasn’t something I’d even considered a possibility. But it turned out to be exactly what I wanted—It was financially feasible, I was immersed in the culture, I was given opportunities to travel, my Italian improved tremendously (even though I wasn’t taking any classes), and I met so many wonderful people.

Being an au pair may not be the right job for everyone; it’s a very personal and tiring job. But there are so many other opportunities out there. You can find paid internships, volunteer programs, English teaching programs—the list can go on and on. One of the most valuable things I learned through my experience working abroad is that if you really truly want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. I discovered it was possible for me to live in another country, even if I wasn’t doing what I originally thought I would do. And just as it was possible for me, it’s possible for you, too. If you truly want to go abroad, there is always a way to make it happen.

Travel: Not Always Pretty, but Always Worth It

Jenny Gross, IS Sociology’16

Travel can be a beautiful thing, and usually is, but it is not always pretty. Travelling anywhere is a challenge. Travel takes you to a new place, with unknown people but countless opportunities for exploration and inspiration. At times, it can be awfully lonely, scary, and uncomfortable. These sides of travel people rarely speak of. People do not like to talk about negative experiences, because travelling is supposed to change your life for the better, and I say with confidence that no matter what, it definitely does. Despite challenges, missteps, and possible disappointment, travel is worth the effort and the risk. All experiences, good or bad, that teach you more about the world around you and about yourselves are important experiences to have.

I recently travelled to Costa Rica to teach English at a local bilingual high school. Costa Rica is a wonderfully unique country with immense beauty to share with the world. The people are friendly, the nature is flawless, and the whole country is filled with adventure. But my experience was not always beautiful, friendly, or flawless. I struggled with language barriers, loneliness, and the challenge of accepting the fact that travel is not always pretty. But for better or for worse, I learned more about myself than I ever thought I would. It is important to travel, not just to find out what you like, but also to find out what you dislike. I discovered a love for teaching I never had. I also discovered that I can handle much more challenge and enjoy much more adventure than I thought possible.
So for all of you who share my passion for the world, my advice to you is do not be afraid to explore opportunities and push past your limitations. Embrace the ugliness as well as the beauty of travel, and you will find that you love it that much more.

Mongolia- Sukhbaatar Square

Melody Tsolmonkhuu, IS Business’17

I moved to the United States on January 1, 2003 at the young age of seven but I had never become fully assimilated to the American culture due to our family trip back to Mongolia every summer.  This was a routine repeated for eleven years so it had become a regular part of my life.  I never doubted the fact that I would go back when June comes around and spend time with my family and friends there.  This was what I expected to happen the summer of 2015 as well, until plans changed.  My parents decided to stay in America for the summer so that we can renovate our house and make preparations to move to California.  I was in initial denial and kept grasping onto the hope of going back, but once July came around, reality hit me.  I accepted the fact that my summer was going to be completely different than it had been for the last 11 years.

The first month of my break, I spent just resting, watching Netflix, and watching Korean dramas and variety shows.  My sleep schedule had completely changed, with sleeping at around 6 a.m. and waking up at 4 a.m. and etc.  I was basically a couch potato in denial.

However, after the first month, I realized that I could not do this any longer.  I was upset that my parents did not inform me of our change in plans earlier.  At least then, I would have applied for summer internships and taken summer classes.  However, instead of spending my time being uselessly upset, I decided to make best of what I have.  I got a summer job at a department store, I spent more time with my friends in St. Louis, and I helped renovate the house, which saved a lot of money and effort from my parents.  Sure, it was not the amazing, productive, and adventurous summer that I had been planning, but I was proud of myself for making the best of what I had and trying to keep a positive mindset.  In fact, I believe that I was able to grow more as a person this summer.  I learned that everything is about your attitude.  You can either make a situation good or bad, depending on how you perceive it.

Maximizing Opportunities

Ivanna Ro, IS Sociology ’16

The summer before senior year of college is in many ways a daunting one – the pressure to maximize your “last summer before the real world”, spend time with loved ones, and secure an internship with the prospect of a full time job offer can be overwhelming. Though I had always considered going out of state for a summer to pursue an internship related to international education, I could not have fathomed how validating and affirming my time in our nation’s capital would be to my current and future goals. This summer, I had the pleasure of working with the largest administrator of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and discovered a passion for the mission and goals of professional exchange. Though this is somewhat of a niche field for those with interest in international studies, I believe that a few things I learned this summer are useful for any student looking to make the transition into becoming a young professional in international affairs.

Be proactive. Whether it’s during the grueling, seemingly never-ending search to secure an internship, whilst working overtime, or simply during an afternoon in the office, don’t hesitate to go the extra mile. I can remember many times this past summer in DC where I found myself instinctively hesitating when first approached with tasks outside of my general comfort zone and skill set. I don’t believe that you ever lose anything in the process of learning something new. When I said “yes” to new responsibilities, invitations to events and conversations, doors that I never would have imagined could exist opened for me. It may seem daunting at first, but if you learn to push yourself, you’ll find yourself achieving your goals in the best possible way.

Review your work constantly. From emails to reports, everything you generate is material for your supervisor to reference as your work. Though some assignments may seem mundane or insignificant, be in the habit of constantly proofreading your work for errors. Don’t be afraid to reach out even after you’ve submitted your work, as your supervisor will most likely see this as sign of your diligence and attention to detail. Even the smallest of tasks contribute to a bigger picture, so hold your work to the highest regard, and work in a way that shows your understanding of that.

Ask (the right) questions. Contrary to what others may tell you, I’m well aware of when I’ve carelessly asked a “stupid” question. Think before you ask questions, both verbal and in writing. Your questions should reflect the fact that you’ve processed the situation you need assistance with, considered possible solutions, and are genuinely seeking to learn from whatever the answer may be. This doesn’t mean that you should not be open to assistance and collaboration, rather, be perceptive to the resources available to you and use what you learn from the answers to your questions to build upon your work.

These are just a few tips that may come in handy the next time you’re putting hours into an internship that you truly enjoy and are seeking to learn from. I’ll chime in next time with a post about my actual experience working and living in DC!

(Photo by Ivana Ro)

A Summer in Sacramento

Rebecca Chong, Cog Sci’17

The summer of 2015 was a season of growing: for the first time, I wasn’t attached to my parents or my hometown, I was working a full-time job at a state commission, and I was even paying rent! I had decided (pretty impulsively) to apply to an internship program in Sacramento in the spring and miraculously ended up being accepted.

The city of Davis is about forty minutes away from Sacramento by bus; every morning, I would wake up at 6:00 am, blearily scrub my face and brush my teeth, dress in some semblance of business-casual, brew some cheap coffee and walk to the bus stop to catch the 7:02 am bus. I would arrive at the J & 8th Street bus stop at 7:38 am sharp, get off the bus, and proceed to walk five blocks to work, passing by the park, the capitol and the cutest family-owned restaurants.

I would arrive at my building by 7:55 am and say hello to the security guard, flash my badge, and head up to the seventeenth floor of the building (the key is to get on the right wave of elevators so you don’t stop at every other floor!). My internship was at the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) – quite a mouthful to say. I got my own cubicle and phone line, had an access card and security badge, and even a special mug with the commission’s logo on it. It felt surreal at first, but I quickly settled into the rhythm of the quiet office and an eight-to-five schedule with the help of the executive director, my cubicle neighbors and the two other student assistants.

Sacramento began to feel familiar – the legions of well-dressed legislative aids, the smattering of homeless people on the streets, the near-constant presence of protesters at the capitol when the legislature was in session. There was a charm there that I didn’t quite expect. Many mornings, I would sit in some of the coffee shops, reading and people watching, slowly growing to love this underrated city. There is something about the political drama, the personal politics and the humble history that gives Sacramento a special place in my heart.

This summer I gained confidence that it was possible for me to have autonomy of myself and my future – that if I want something to happen, I can make it happen – I did it by applying to this program and moving to a different city. As I enter a new school year, I feel surer of my own abilities to go after what I want – even if I still am not quite sure what that is yet, exactly.