Friday, January 25, 2013

Chasing A Dream With The Verrazano Director

Professor Charles Liu, Director of The Verrazano School and Associate Professor of Astronomy, likes to wear sweaters.  When you stop by his office during the winter months you're likely to find him wearing one.  If you haven't met Professor Liu before, he may look familiar to you and perhaps you'll wonder why.  Well, it's possible that you've seen him pictured on the side of the CSI ferry shuttle that goes to and from campus every day.  He's that guy holding the globe and looking excited about science while wearing his trademark sweater.

Ever since one of the CSI ferry shuttles was wrapped with the image of Professor Liu in 2009, we've been anticipating the day when he'll be wearing that sweater and the bus will drive by, slowing down just enough so we can take a photo of the real Professor Liu with his enthusiastic bus-image counterpart, both wearing the same sweater of course!  Too many times to count, we'd see that bus on our walk from 5N to 1A while Professor Liu would be wearing the famed sweater, but the timing just didn't work out.  The bus was driving away.  We didn't have a camera.  Any number of reasons.  It seemed like it wasn't meant to be.

Yet despite these failed attempts, the dream lived on.  Even during Professor Liu's sabbatical last year there was talk of how this perfect photo opportunity could come to fruition.  Finally, one day at the end of the Fall 2012 semester, the moment seemed right.  Professor Liu burst into the Verrazano office exclaiming, "The bus, it's parked in front of 2M!  Now's our chance!"

We sprang into action.  Cameras were readied, and a quick trip was made to the location of the bus.  Fortunately it hadn't yet been moved, so the timing was perfect.  Thanks to Cynthia Palumbo, our trusty college assistant, the photo we'd been dreaming of for nearly three years was finally taken. 

So do come by to visit Professor Liu this winter.  Maybe you'll be lucky enough to see him wearing this sweater.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond Tourism: Studying Healthcare Principles in Rural India

Elizabeth Krawczun, a CUNY BA Epidemiology major in the Verrazano Class of 2014, is studying abroad in Jamkhed, India for the winter intersession through Brooklyn College.  As a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, Elizabeth is sharing her study abroad experience on the Verrazano Voyager.  Read below to learn more about Elizabeth's experience in India.

While in India, I am having the opportunity to see what few want to see. Much of the area near where I am staying is poor villages and unfertile farmland. The drought here has affected everyone and the government has now stepped in to provide some water to the villages. Disease and death have increased tremendously during this time. With the lack of safe drinking and bathing water, many more villagers are sick.

A woman working in a rural Indian village
During this time of drought, the ideas behind the creation of the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) reflect the need to provide healthcare by identifying the root of the problem. Instead of only treating the patients who have disease, CRHP is trying to provide a means by which the villagers can have some sustainable solution. In this time of drought, CRHP has been building tube-wells to harvest the ground water beneath the earth and providing firewood so that the water can be boiled before drinking.

During the classes, we all learn these principles. The lectures are taught by the Director of the facility, Dr. Shoba Arole. Her parents began this project in 1970 and now she is in charge of managing the hospital.

My group has had the opportunity to take tours of two villages. I have been able to see what many do not want to see. It is difficult to walk through these villages. Most people live in unsanitary conditions and leprosy, tuberculosis, and AIDS patients are common. The children of these villages are amazed by a group of Americans and they always want their picture taken. Women silently wash clothing or grind up grains for chipotle. The men who are not field laborers quietly drink tea and sit along the road. The towns, however, are loud, bustling, and just as unsanitary. Street vendors and store clerks harass you, and the art of bargaining must be learned quickly. 

Market day in Jamhked

Both towns and villages, however, are set in tradition. During my time here, there have been two cultural festivals; Dawali and Sancrant. Sancrant is a women’s festival that is celebrated in January each year. Women visit their local temples and carry a tray covered by a cloth and flowers. On this tray, there are red and yellow paint, sesame seeds, and sugar cubes. Women walk through the temple and place the red and yellow paint on your forehead, throw the sesame seeds on the top of your head, and then give you a handful of sugar to eat.

Elizabeth participating in a blessing ritual during Sacrant
The two temples that I visited were completely filled and women fought to bless everyone who entered the building. Attending this festival put the material that I had been learning in lectures into perspective. On this one day women are celebrated and acknowledged. Meanwhile, they are abused and mistreated during the rest of the year. CRHP has made it a priority to do away with the gender inequality in this area. By teaching women about disease and treatment, using the resources available to them in the village, the facility aims to target one of the root causes of the health in the area.

In my time here, I have learned a huge amount about topics I would have otherwise known nothing about. I feel as though, in this study abroad, I am not just being treated as a tourist and seeing only a fa├žade that hides the real problems. I have had the opportunity to see the poverty and filth of the villages, the torment and abuse of the women, and the sick and dying patients in the hospital. CRHP does not attempt to gloss over the unpleasant things for its visitors. Instead, the directors here are trying to show us everything, making sure that we understand how much areas like this need help and willing us to bring awareness to their cause.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Exploring Italy: A Winter Intersession Adventure

Shiney David, a Psychology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is studying abroad in Florence, Italy for the winter intersession.  As a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, Shiney is sharing her study abroad experience on the Verrazano Voyager.  Read below to find out how Shiney is doing in the beautiful city of Florence.

I have been in Florence, Italy for approximately two weeks now and my stay here has been more than amazing. Florence looked exceptionally beautiful in pictures and movies; however, viewing Florence with my own eyes has been an overwhelming experience. From the architectural scenery to the natural landscapes, Florence has not failed to mesmerize me. Although the first couple of days here were the toughest for me, it did not take me long to adjust to the Italian lifestyle and start feeling at home. A huge contribution to this adjustment was made by the people of Italy. Everybody here is so humble, down to earth, and helpful that you never feel like you are in a new strange country. Other than the people, the place itself captivates you with its beauty and you just forget about being homesick. The first time that I had to take a step back and literally pinch myself was when I saw the Duomo on my way to finding my apartment. The structure is so large and surreal that it almost looks like it does not belong there. Yes, it looks amazing when you search it on the Internet but seeing it in real is an indescribable experience.

Within the past two weeks I also traveled to Rome and Venice. I thought that nothing could be more beautiful than Florence; however, I was proved to be wrong once again. Venice, one of the most beautiful and most romantic cities in the world gave me the best memories to take home with me. I had only dreamed about riding a gondola and visiting Piazza San Marco.  Actually experiencing it first-hand was an unreal experience. Rome left me speechless. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Vatican City are just a few places that I had an opportunity to visit. The architecture and the history behind the architecture was very interesting, and I find myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to learn about it personally.

So far, it may seem that all I have done since I arrived is travel. Although I have seen a lot, I have also had great academic experience. My class is within five minutes walking distance from my apartment. There are eleven students in my class and my professors are the best professors I have had so far. My professors are very helpful in teaching me the new language. They take time out for each student and go over the material a million times until the student feels comfortable using it correctly. This aspect has helped me immensely in learning Italian. I have also seen significant improvement in my speaking ability as I am always interacting with an Italian-speaking population. In order to improve my Italian, I visit the market after class and interact with the locals.  The people are so helpful and correct my grammar without being agitated.

I was nervous about coming to Italy and taking an Italian language class. Nevertheless, I can say now with confidence that studying abroad was the best decision that I have made so far. Now that I only have a week left, I actually don't want to go back home. In these past two weeks I have accumulated the best memories of my life and I will never forget this experience. 

To learn more about the study abroad programs offered through the Center for International Service at the College of Staten Island, please visit the study abroad website.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Preparing For A Semester in Hong Kong

Angelica Grant, a Psychology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, will be studying abroad in Hong Kong for her final undergraduate semester.  Angelica received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to help support her study abroad experience.  Read below for her introductory post.
This January, I will be leaving to study abroad for a semester at the City University of Hong Kong as part of the CSI Ambassador Exchange Program. The program, which is a semester long and conducted through the City University of Hong Kong, is designed to give CSI students an opportunity to study the Humanities and Social Sciences while living abroad and representing the College of Staten Island as student ambassadors.

I chose to study abroad in Hong Kong because of my long time fascination with Chinese culture. Ever since I was young, I can remember the excitement of travelling into Chinatown with my parents to buy practical items (i.e. school supplies, book bags) and some novelty items (i.e. a pink kimono and slippers I wore for a school presentation I did on China in the sixth grade) which caused me to grow up with an admiration for Chinese and Asian culture. Also, whenever I meet students my age from China or any foreign country who are travelling to the United States for the first time, I usually designate myself as an unofficial tour guide who is eager to answer questions about where the best tourist attractions and places to shop are located while listening to their stories about where they are from and how they came to America. In the same way, I would like to experience what it feels like to be an observer of another country as a “foreigner” and ask questions of native Hong Kongers that will introduce me to new customs, ideas, and ultimately expand my worldview.          

Upon graduating, I plan to pursue my master’s degree in either Developmental Psychology or Educational Psychology. My goal is to become licensed psychologist and conduct research on how individuals are motivated to learn over the lifespan while counseling teachers, parents, and students on how to maximize learning potential in minority and low socioeconomic groups. This program will allow me the opportunity to take three undergraduate courses, including Mandarin for Non-Chinese Speakers, Psychology of Learning, and a 3rd elective class, which are relevant to my course of study in graduate school, as well as learn about the Chinese culture from a unique and completely different perspective.

Apart from my academic and career goals, I intend to travel abroad in order to increase my sense of independence, self-assertiveness, and cultural awareness. Dr. Johnetta Cole, President of the Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, once said that, “You cannot fully understand your life without knowing and thinking beyond your own life, your own neighborhood, and even your own nation”. In order to be an ambassador and represent my family, my community, and my school while studying abroad in a foreign country, I must learn to think beyond myself by exploring new places and ideas on my own that will ultimately make me a more proactive and self aware learner in school and life. Learning a new language is another one of my goals. Living and working on classroom projects with fellow classmates who are speaking Cantonese will give me access to conversations that will help me learn new words and phrases which I can use in the field of psychology as I talk with students and parents who are native to Southeast China.          
I am excited yet equally nervous about embarking on this study abroad journey. For one, I will be immersed in a culture that is completely different from what I am used to and will be placed in situations that I normally wouldn’t encounter in America (i.e. asking how much a bowl of noodles costs in Cantonese). While living in Hong Kong, I will also have to adjust to the cultural norms of the country, which may lead to symptoms of culture shock. However, I am very excited to have the opportunity to visit the nature and cultural sites in Hong Kong such as Victoria Peak and the Tian Tan Buddha, which are scenic and absolutely incredible to behold. Overall, I believe that with a little optimism and lots of hope, I will find my way in Hong Kong as I experience living and learning as a student ambassador!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building Relationships in Shanghai, China

Kimmy Yu, a Chemistry major with minors in Biochemistry and Chinese and a student in the Verrazano Class of 2014, is spending the winter intersession in Shanghai, China.  Kimmy received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to help support his study abroad experience.  Read below for Kimmy's first impressions of his time in China.

Kimmy at Chenghuang Miao (City God Temple) in Shanghai
The day I traveled China was one of the most hectic challenges that I have ever faced in my life as an independent person. My first step of international travel to China began with the TSA protocol screenings. The most surprising and disturbing part of this proceeding was that I had to be searched via pat-down procedure or through the millimeter wave body scanner. So basically, what the wave body scanner does is that it will emit radiation throughout your body in all dimensions in order to search for any potentially dangerous and harmful objects. When selecting with the screening, I decided to choose the pat-down procedure since it prevents any possibilities of radiation dangers even though it was quite embarrassing to some extent because I was being thoroughly searched during this extensive pat-down procedure in front of a crowd of boarding passengers. This was the first time have I experienced anything like this. It was truly shocking! 

There were also many other surprising things that I experienced upon arrival in China. The most frightening part for me was when I almost missed the ground transfer because the SHU (Shanghai University) representative was nowhere to be seen.  I finally noticed that I was about half an hour early for the meeting time, so it didn’t hurt to wait for another 30 minutes. In any case, I was not too concerned because of the fact that I knew how to speak mandarin, and soon enough I found my study abroad peers and the Shanghai University bus took us directly to our campus dorm. From that moment on, I felt completely relieved and satisfied that I was finally able to settle down after my 18 hour flight. As days went on, my fears subsided and I became more and more comfortable in my new environment.  I have not only met other exchange students from the program but exchange students from France and other parts of Australia as well.  Many of these exchange students are planning to stay for up to one semester in China. 
Jin Mao Tower
So far, my experience on the SHU campus in China has been quite manageable. However, I found that I haven’t been able to use English to communicate with the Chinese citizens when ordering food and shopping in the community. As reality sets in, this cultural encounter has made it a little bit uneasy for me since I don’t really know how to read every Chinese character on the menu listed.   I’ve had to either use gestures or try to explain what it is that I want to buy and eat. There are also many rules of purchasing in China that I was not aware of previously.  For any electronic product that you purchase, you’re required to submit an invoice in order to keep track of tax transactions made in the supermarket. After I realized that, I felt really glad that I had a teacher assistant to accompany me when I went shopping for the first time. I also felt much safer not to enter the markets alone, especially at night because the streets can become very crowded and people will likely bump into you a lot.

I have also had the opportunity to meet native graduate students from China who are happy to assist us with not only translating the attractions and food menus for us but also advise us on how to bargain for better prices at the Yu Yuan market. Their assistance has been very valuable to me.   I’ve not only been able to learn how to bargain for cheaper prices and avoid exorbitant prices offered in the markets, but I have also gained a better understanding of what the standard price of certain items should be. In other words, having a teacher assistant’s guidance can prevent me from being taken advantage of by other sellers while bargaining.

Huangpu River Cruise - going by the Oriental Pearl Tower
Our side trips have included the Yu Yuan garden (old city- Chenghuang Temple), an old busy market that consists of bargaining with sellers for the best price. We have also visited the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower which had an incredibly amazing view. We’ve had the opportunity to take many pictures and enjoy the beautiful night scenery of the Shanghai financial center and the Oriental Pearl Tower while on the Huangpu River cruise. Overall, it was a great chance for everyone in the study abroad program to go out and bond and have a great time. I have also began to feel much more comfortable around them as we spend more and more time together - not only during the side trips to the Jin Mao Tower and Yu Yuan Garden but also having our own get-together party in the dormitory the night before our first day of class. During our mini-party, we told fun and scary ghost stories, ate Chinese noodles, chips and candies, and enjoyed each other’s company throughout the night. And for those of us who had class the next day, we left the party early to wake up for class the next morning.  This period of bonding with friends and socializing with students from other CUNY campuses allowed us to share how each of our college campus activities differ from other schools.

Despite our hectic schedule, we’ve still managed to have time to relax and enjoy listening to pop music and playing some table tennis with our peers as well as challenge some professional ping pong players on campus. So far, this dorm-life and travel experience has been really awesome for me. I’ve been meeting new people, made new friends, bonded with current friends, and had an opportunity to experience living on my own in a foreign environment. What was also really cool was that I made a new friend in China who is also a language exchange partner.  I tutor my Chinese friend in English and he teaches me Mandarin in return. This learning experience provides us both mutual benefits in terms of language learning, and I am definitely enjoying it a lot!

To learn more about the study abroad programs offered through the Center for International Service at the College of Staten Island, please visit the study abroad website.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Healthcare in Jamkhed, India: A Winter Intersession Experience

Elizabeth Krawczun, a CUNY BA student with a concentration in Epidemiology and a member of the Verrazano Class of 2014, is spending the winter intersession in rural India.  Elizabeth received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to help support her study abroad experience.  Read below for her first blog post.

Seven months ago, I certainly did not expect to be starting 2013 in rural India. The Brooklyn College program in “Global Health” is very applicable to my major in Epidemiology. I was surprised and excited to see this study abroad course offered. The majority of the study abroad courses I researched sounded lovely and promised to be educational and an unforgettable experience. What struck me about this study abroad, in particular, was that its purpose was to immerse students into the lives of villagers in rural India.  

India, while a growing global power, possesses an extreme discrepancy in distribution of wealth, power, and standard of living among its citizens. The rural villages within Jamkhed, where I will be studying, are undeveloped and the people there live in severe poverty and lack the basic services that we, as Americans, take for granted. Diseases that have been eradicated for decades in the United States continue to inflict India’s impoverished areas.

I will be housed and study at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed. This facility was first established in 1970 and is now recognized by the World Health Organization as the “Jamkhed Model”. This model is quickly being adopted by many health care facilities in the southeast and has gained international attention. The two founders of the project created this model with the idea that doctors should not have a monopoly of knowledge; that knowledge of disease treatment and preventative health care measures should and must be brought to the people. 

To begin the transition towards this new design, a young woman was chosen and trained by the staff at the hospital in identifying common diseases, like leprosy, administering some treatments and educating the villagers. These “Village Health Care Workers” faced a huge amount of discrimination and mistreatment. There was and still is a huge amount of gender inequality in India and the founders of the program believed that this inequality was one of the major factors contributing to the high death rates and low standard of life.

In this study abroad course, I will learn and study the Jamkhed Model and be able to discuss why or this outline could or could not be applied, with success, to other countries and other methods of, as the doctors in Jamkhed call it, “biomedicine.” Relating this design to others, based on numbers and statistics, is not enough. The international and intranational politics, including non-governmental organizations’ intervention and foreign aid, must be factored in.
During my time there, my group will visit some of the surrounding villages and have the opportunity to observe the Jamkhed Model in its application. It will be difficult to see the state of some of these areas, and I have been warned of some of the dangers associated with being a Westerner there. We will meet the Village Health Workers and be able to see the good that they do. The course syllabus is flexible because there are likely going to be times when we will be called away to see a surgery or medical procedure, either in the Program’s compound, or in a nearby village. 

In the past, students have been present for medical procedures, for example, cataract surgeries and child births performed by a midwife. I have always been interested in medicine and have seriously considered medical school, but chose the major in Epidemiology because I feel as though medicine can sometimes be too distant and that a patient can easily be considered only as far as what symptoms he or she presents. What most attracted me to this course, and why it corresponds with my major, is that the focus is on the people. Training the people to care for and educate the people comes before the medicine. One of the goals of the founders was to prioritize preventative measures over curative medicine.

I am grateful for the opportunity to travel abroad to observe such an amazing mission. However, there are many safety precautions that have to be taken. Along with routine vaccinations, I have had to take malaria prophylaxis, along with typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis and several other vaccinations. In addition, there are fairly strict codes of dress, particularly for women. In Jamkhed, all the women wear saris. The females in my group and I have been told that we will only need to wear a sari when traveling to the larger villages and the two holy sites that we will visit. At all times, we must have our legs covered to around mid-calf and shirts that are loose and cover our backside. Scarves should always be worn, as one never knows when a head-scarf will be needed to cover long hair, which is considered to be suggestive and inappropriate in some areas.

The weather varies greatly during this time of year. The days generally reach 85 degrees, while the nights are around 40 degrees. The housing areas do not have heat, air conditioning, hot water, and flooring. Bottled water is provided by the Project and visitors are counseled against using any other water. Luckily, all meals are provided by the facility and, again, foreigners are advised not to eat anything from street vendors.

The first hurdle I have to get over will be the daunting task of sitting on a non-stop flight for fifteen hours, immediately followed by a nine hour bus ride. 

I know that this experience will be life-changing and am very much looking forward to this once in a lifetime opportunity. I cannot wait for my journey to begin.