Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Semester in Hong Kong: Creating Connections

Angelica Grant, a Psychology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, received a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship to spend the Spring 2013 semester in Hong Kong. Read below for more about Angelica's experience with Chinese New Year in Hong Kong.

Gong Hey Fat Choy! (which means “Happy Chinese New Year” in Cantonese!) A week ago marked my first month of classes at the City University of Hong Kong, and so far it has been an amazing experience studying abroad as a CSI Exchange Ambassador! Apart from working on school assignments, I’ve been busy meeting other new students, exploring the city, and signing up for volunteer activities. As the Year of the Snake just began this week, I’m looking forward to spending some time this Chinese New Year vacation reading, relaxing and having fun with friends!   

Getting know the local students at City U has been quite fun! My residence hall is made up of mostly local Hong Kong students who are very friendly and eager to meet exchange students and learn about where they are from. I’ve met a few students already at the first hall meeting who were nice enough to teach me a few words in Chinese (one of my floormates even showed me how to write my name in Chinese Putonghua: 天使, J). My roommate Kiera is from Hong Kong as well, and within the first few weeks of the semester she invited me to go shopping and took me to a noodle shop that served great noodles! Needless to say, I’m enjoying Chinese food even more so now that I can use chopsticks and eat meat, rice and noodles like almost everyone else in Hong Kong! 

During my free time over the Chinese New Year break, I went to Tsim Sha Tsui with a group of exchange students to see the fireworks over the harbor on the Avenue of the Stars and visited the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, which is located in Sha Tin. There are dozens of life-size golden Buddhas at this site that sit along the sides of the path as you hike uphill to reach the main temple.  The main temple contains almost 12,000 miniature Buddhas that line the walls and several other larger figures that surround the outside area at the top of the hill. It was amazing to see all of the handcrafted Buddhas and the elaborate statues that people were paying tribute to. However, it was difficult for me at times to keep a straight face when looking at some of the Buddhas with the more “human-like” expressions!

I also signed up to participate in a volunteer group with my residence hall that will be tutoring children who come from refugee families in Hong Kong. The organization, called Vision First, will have volunteers meet with a local student once a week for a total of eight weeks and teach them a school subject that is relevant to their studies (i.e. English, Math). The program will begin in the next few weeks and I’m looking forward to the experience since it will give me the opportunity to step outside of my daily life on campus, get to know the people of Hong Kong, and become more integrated in the community by helping a child learn a few skills they can use to do their best in school.   

With the end of the vacation in a few days, I’m glad I had this week to celebrate and relax before classes start again on Monday. Living and studying abroad in Hong Kong has been an exciting adventure so far and I look forward to many new adventures and a prosperous New Year as the semester progresses!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shanghai Winter: Reflections On A Study Abroad Experience

Kimmy Yu, a Chemistry major with minors in Biochemistry and Chinese (Mandarin) spent the winter intersession studying abroad in Shanghai, China.  Read below for Kimmy's reflections on his time spent abroad.

Tiger Hill in Suzhou
This overall winter study abroad experience has really helped open up my personality.  I really felt like my adventures living in China have just begun even though the short-term program has come to an end. We had to say our good-byes to the newest best of friends that we have bonded with from China. The experience of being abroad has helped me gain so much cultural knowledge and independence; it was an important life skill to pick up during my short-term stay at SHU (Shanghai University). Not only did I get to spend a great deal of time socializing with the students from the program, but I was also able to find out more about myself and how each student’s individual traits and personalities were different from mine. What I will truly miss most about Shanghai are the yummy, inexpensive bakery foods that they have and eating the tasty kumquats (a type of golden orange) that they sell. I will miss the thrill of  living with cultural differences in China and the sense of being a part of the community - especially having the experience of trying out new exciting activities when living on campus. I had fun meeting study abroad students from different countries and other CUNY students who had personalities completely different from mine.  We managed to connect with each other in so many ways. This amazing dorm-life experience and the freedom to travel in groups gave me the opportunity to explore the highlights of the cities with my peers.

During my time in Shanghai, I experienced culture shock to some extent.  I greatly underestimated what it would be like in China because I felt that it was going to be similar to Chinatown in Manhattan, NY.   The biggest difference was the dialect. Instead of speaking a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese like they do here, the average person in China only spoke the official Chinese language, Mandarin, with little to no knowledge of English or Cantonese. The bathrooms were completely different; the majority of the public restrooms do not provide western toilets. Many of them would have something called a squatting, and people in China believe that the system is cleaner than western toilets and more efficient because it does not involve any contact with toilet seats and reduces contamination of germs and bacteria. Also, what is strange about the eastern toilet system is that the public restroom and dormitories in China do not provide toilet paper, so bringing toilet paper with you is a must. 

Another factor that caused quite a bit of a culture shock for me was ordering food at some restaurants in China.  I faced challenges with restaurants that did not include pictures on the food menus and instead had everything written in characters with not a single word of English. Using the prior knowledge that I had, I recalled from memory from what I used to order from New York and hoped that they offer it there. Not only that, but also since I was able to speak with them in Mandarin, I managed to ask the waiter or waitresses what exactly that I would like to order or what was listed on the menu regardless of the characters. Outside of class, we went on field trips to visit the silk factory, Volkswagen car factory, and the Coca-Cola factory. In the silk factory, we saw where the silk was derived and how those were used to make quilts. In the Coca-Cola factory, we observed how Coca-Cola glass bottles were being recycled as well as how plastic bottles and other resources were conserved in order to protect the environment.  

Coca Cola Factory

What surprised me the most during my stay was the limited heating system used in the classrooms and especially in the dormitories. The greatest challenge for me was making it through the freezing night with a limited amount of heat available in my dorm.  The school imposed rules and regulations that do not allow the use of heaters or other electrical applications because the could potentially cause a fire. Thus, the only way to endure the cold throughout the night was just simply wrap yourself in more layers of blanket.

Silk Factory in Suzhou
The group at Tiger Hill
When it came to academics, the mandarin intermediate course was very intensive, especially for me. This was because my teacher felt that I should be provided more work than other students in the class since I grew up with the advantage of speaking fluently in mandarin regardless of my reading and writing background. As a result, my teacher was much tougher on me individually as a student and expected higher standards. Unlike the other students, my teacher introduced me to more out of class assignments. She challenged me to expand my essay length, read a daily newspaper, and tested my comprehension on the main idea of the passages that I read although I could barely read most of the new characters encountered.  In the end, however, this heavy-duty work greatly boosted my Chinese vocabulary knowledge and reinforced the grammar structure of the way I currently speak. It was a desperate struggle at first, but I managed to pull through and learned many new commonly used characters. Having a language exchange partner to practice Chinese with also greatly enhanced my learning experience. As a result, the preparations in the classroom, the exposure to the cultural environment, and the practice with my language exchange partner all allowed me to excel in Chinese within a relatively short period of time and definitely helped me ace the final exam in Chinese despite the tremendous amount of work assigned to me. In the end, I learned a lot from the exhaustive course. I was able to read and write proficiently, enriched my fluency in my heritage language and still had a great time.

Entrance to the Coca Cola Factory

In the end, the program really did help me with my personal and professional goals. Not only did study abroad make me more mature and independent; it also allowed me to think outside the box while utilizing the knowledge that I already had in order to adapt in a new foreign setting. It made me pick up new knowledge and language communication skills much more quickly, and I know this will help me in my profession.  I strengthened my ability to adapt and be proactive, and I developed courage to take control of my new responsibilities handle them in a timely manner. These skills are especially relevant to the job setting.  Now I know that I can rely on myself and adapt to change regardless of the situations encountered. By having this international study abroad experience in China, I can demonstrate myself as a globalized citizen when applying for the opportunity to teach in a foreign country in the near future.

Tiger Hill

Classical Gardens at Suzhou
I also learned an important moral lesson during my experience in study abroad; I have learned that you will need to learn how to stand up for yourself if you feel that something is not right. If you are traveling alone, learn to trust your instincts. If you feel that you are truly not comfortable with something, have the confidence to speak up for yourself because no one else will. Even if you are not the type of person who does this normally, you must take the initiative to rise up out of your comfort zone and not be taken advantage of by other individuals. Be sure to evaluate what is best for you, no matter what other people’s opinions are. Do not accept their words and judge or put yourself down easily by what other people think of you, because only you know yourself best.  This is the true value of study abroad - utilizing your own thoughts and learning to think and act independently.  So my advice is to learn to trust your own instincts, build your confidence level, and do not give up so easily when finding your way. You will travel in groups, branch out of your comfort zone, but you are not obligated to become involved in any activities that you are truly do not feel comfortable with in order to fit in with the group. These are the challenges and decisions that I faced on my adventure of studying abroad. 

Hope y’all enjoyed my blog!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Incredible Winter Abroad in India

Elizabeth Krawczun, Verrazano Class of 2014, has returned from her winter study abroad experience in Jamkhed, India.  Read below for her perspective on the experience.  More detailed explanations of the photographs are available at the end of the post. 

My study abroad in India was an opportunity that I will not forget. I met some wonderful people who have donated their lives to the hospital and its work. I made some good friends, both fellow students and staff in the facility, who are driven and determined to help others. I saw the poverty of some villagers and mistreatment of women. Further, I came to realize that I do want to pursue public health. Before travelling to India, I had some reservations about what I had chosen as my intended major and future career path. While abroad, it became clear to me that public health is where I would like my work to be directed.

I am going to miss many of the people I spent the last three weeks getting to know. Becoming a part of the “CRHP family," as they say, was an emotional experience on its own. Despite the short amount of time there, I became attached to the people through their stories. Every woman trained by CRHP as a health worker in her village had a story. Having the opportunity to see these women fight against their oppression and become empowered was beautiful.

It was difficult to not be affected by the level of poverty and gender inequality when walking through the villages and cities. As Westerners, we were all struck by how differently people live and we all felt a little ashamed of how well we live and how secure we feel in the United States.

The purpose of this study abroad was to do exactly that; to force us to realize that these people have next to no way of changing their situation. CRHP’s goal is to provide the people with resources to solve some of the most basic problems - to shift the focus of biomedicine from curative to preventative. When walking through the villages, I was able to see how the villagers had implemented some of the changes and how bringing resources and health care capability to the people was the best solution to combat the growing rate of disease.

This study abroad had its own difficulties, one of which was communicating with non-CRHP administrators. This was sometimes a struggle. I was able to pick up some words in Marahti, but never really learned enough to do more than ask for tea. Secondly, it was very tough being an American there. Three of my fellow students were of Indian descent. I drew the most attention because I was tall in an area where the average height is 5’2” and have a very light complexion. In the cities, and when we travelled to two religious sites, people would circle us and take pictures, silently take videos, and corner us, laughing, and snapping pictures. Many times, people would come up and ask if we would take a picture with them. Again, I was singled out for being the fairest and the tallest. It was very uncomfortable, and some of the rest of the group and I never quite felt safe outside of the hospital grounds. 

This study abroad was an experience that I will never forget. It is not meant for students who want to have a good time or learn the history and go site-seeing. We studied and discussed the village trips more than reading from a textbook or having formal classes. This program is for students who do not mind living in sparse conditions with few amenities outside of the necessities. When people now ask me, “How was India? Did you have fun?” I don’t quite know what to say. I had an interesting educational and emotional journey, but I cannot call most of my time there “fun." I did have fun with students and interns at CRHP, but the actual course was down and dirty. The professor I travelled with and the directors of the hospital wanted us to see village life for what it really was. I would go back to study and contribute to the hospital in any way I can. I am grateful for this study abroad experience and appreciate the opportunity to share in such a wonderful cause.

Photo Descriptions

The first picture shows one of the times that the group was greeted into the home of one of the village health workers. Generally, special guests are greeted with the placing of red and yellow paint on the forehead, the giving of sweets, the kissing and painting of the feet and, and the burning of incense. This particular woman also gave each of us a coconut, which is considered a good omen.  

The second picture is of a girl carrying a pot of water from the water truck to her home. This part of India, on the Deccan Plateau, is experiencing a severe drought and has had no rainfall for over a year. Because there was next to no crop yield, no drinking and bathing water, and less sanitation in the villages, disease and dehydration are major problems. Thirty years ago, CRHP built tube wells in poorer areas that would collect and store the ground water. Now, these tube wells are dry and the government is now intervening and sending water trucks to the villages. One of the main concerns, however, is that some villages have water trucks come every day, while others only get water once a week. Because India is very corrupt, areas where the mayor knows one of the government officials are able to pay off the official and have access to more water. 

The third picture is of me at Sancrant, the women’s festival. At this point, the group and I had left the first mosque and were about to travel to a temple to continue the celebration. During this festival, women bless each other with the red and yellow paint, sesame seeds, and sweets. 

The fourth picture was taken during a trip to the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, located in the Aurangabad district. The entrances to the caves are all along the edge of this cliff-like area. It is believed that these caves were built between the second and seventh century. The sculpture within these caves was amazing, as were the paintings and murals on the walls. These caves were discovered in the early nineteenth century. 

The last picture shows a village health worker demonstrating how she takes the blood pressure of the villagers. The equipment that these workers have is out-of-date and the hospital is trying to provide more advanced basic equipment with donor contributions.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter In Italy: Family, Frescos, And Future Travels

Shiney David, Verrazano Class of 2013, has returned from her winter study abroad program in Florence, Italy.  Read below for her reflection on her overseas experience.

I had the time of my life during my three weeks in Italy, and no words can describe how sad I am to be back home. Although I was thrilled to see my family again, I wish I was still in Florence, Italy. These short three weeks have given me the best memories of my life which I would not trade for anything. I had one class, which was Italian Language for beginners; however, I have learned a lot more than just a language. 

I was very excited to learn about the Italian culture. I wanted to know how people lived their lives and what their ethics were. I was very astonished and pleased to learn how  family oriented the Italian culture is. The majority of shops and restaurants close for the entire afternoon and again between 7 pm and 8 pm for the day so that the owners and the workers can spend time with their families. I found this aspect of the culture very heartwarming. Having a busy school and work schedule myself, I can hardly find any time to sit down with my family and have some quality hours. Living in Italy I learned how much importance is placed on the family, and it made me want to incorporate that into my own life and dedicate more time to sit with my parents and talk to them about my day and learn about theirs. 

In addition to the cultural experience, I had a great academic experience. My professors were very kind and humble. They gave each student individual attention and made sure every student understood the language. They also prepared several interesting class activities to help us learn the language faster. Other than the class material, our professors also got involved with our daily lives. They recommended restaurants to try out and  tours we should sign up for. One of our professors also took us to the market and made us try the Italian biscuits and bread, and she taught us how to order items in the market. From the tours and activities that our professors recommended, I got an opportunity to take a fresco painting class and take a tour of the Duomo. The fresco painting class was exceptional. I have been drawing my entire life; therefore, this experience was very special to me. The other class activity that I participated in was the tour of the Duomo. I had been to see the outside of the Duomo several times during my study abroad experience, but I hadn't yet had a chance to go inside.  The experience of viewing the interior of the Duomo was ten times better with our faculty guide because he explained the significance of each painting and sculpture. His guidance made me appreciate the structure more than I ordinarily would have.

I am home now, and I am already saving money to go back to Italy. There are so many places that I didn’t get to visit which I would like to see, and there are even more places which I would like to visit again. If you are a student contemplating whether to study abroad or not, my only advice will be to take the opportunity without thinking twice. This experience has helped me grow as a person and become more responsible. It has taught me valuable lessons about living life and valuing family over materialistic things.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alumni Chronicles: Libraries, Lincoln, And Language in Montreal

This is the second post in the Alumni Chronicles series.  Deryn Cro, Verrazano Class of 2012, studied English Literature and History at the College of Staten Island before heading north to attend graduate school in Montreal, Canada.  Deryn shares what life has been like since moving to Montreal and starting her graduate program last summer.
Deryn enjoying a Canadian pastime.

What is a new college graduate to do when the job market is looking bleak, the government seems ready to implode, and the economy has not yet recovered? Why, the same thing hundreds of Americans do every year - escape to Canada! Oh Canada, our mysterious neighbors (neighbours) to the north; a land of free healthcare, poutine, weird British spelling, and plastic money. 

I first began considering my move to the great white north when looking into Library Science programs. I applied to several schools in the US as well as McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, (some would argue this is not “real” Canada, but that’s another post entirely). I wound up picking McGill for a lot of different reasons but mostly because it was in Canada and it was cheap. I would go into detail about the cost of tuition in Canada and how their student loans system works, but honestly you would just get depressed. Unfortunately, though, when making my decision I didn’t think to factor in winter weather conditions. Despite the frigid temperatures and seemingly endless snowfall, I have been enjoying my time in Montreal and at McGill immensely. 

McGill Campus

View from Mont Royal

McGill has a gorgeous campus right at the foot of Mont Royal yet still well within the heart of downtown Montreal. This means that one can take advantage of Mont Royal’s expansive park and recreational activities or just as easily head down the hill for some shopping. There always seems to be something going on around the campus. On my first day as an official McGill student, I walked past the McGill Quidditch team practicing for an upcoming match and immediately knew this was where I was supposed to be. While I must admit that library school classes are sometimes boring, I was able to get a job in the Rare Books and Special Collections department, which has been a nice break from the tedious classes. Their collection is immense and quite eclectic and I love coming across weird items while working. In fact, the department has a large collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia donated by an alumnus who happened to be a Lincoln enthusiast. This includes several quite creepy looking busts of Lincoln. Working in the Rare Books department has allowed me to get more practical experience while in school. This is something I would definitely encourage anyone interested in getting an MLIS to do.     

When not in class or studying (which, let’s face it, is a lot of the time) I have been exploring Montreal and everything it has to offer. What struck me the most when I first moved up here is how much it is like NYC. I have heard Montreal referred to as the Paris of North America, but besides the very touristy, very overrated Old Port, Montreal is a true modern North American city. Culturally speaking, though, Montreal definitely has some European flair to it - it has to be that French influence, I suppose. In fact, the ability to speak French comes in handy when living in Montreal. Personally I have a love/hate relationship with the French language. The fact that I can now say bonjour to a store clerk and not have them immediately switch to English is a pretty big deal. However, my lack of fluency means that it would be difficult to find a job in Montreal after graduating, so I am trying to take advantage of everything Montreal going on while I can. Of course Canada is a big country so I may stay up here and “canuk” around a little longer. 

Montreal City Hall

Monday, February 4, 2013

Semester in Hong Kong: Arriving and Adjusting

Angelica Grant, a Psychology major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is spending the Spring 2013 semester in Hong Kong as part of a College of Staten Island Exchange Ambassador program.  Angelica is a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, and she will be serving as a blog correspondent this semester and posting an update each month about her overseas experiences.  Her first post was written shortly after her arrival in Hong Kong in mid-January.  

Today is my sixth day in Hong Kong since arriving at the City University of Hong Kong on Monday and it has been an amazing experience so far! This week alone, I made friends with local and international students from all over the world, toured the campus, used the MTR subway system, visited the Mong Kok shopping district, and saw a light show on the skyline! It has been an amazing week. Although I expect the next few weeks to get a bit more intense as classes begin on Monday, I’m glad these first few days of orientation were a fun and relaxing introduction to the campus and customs of Hong Kong!

I arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport on Monday night with another CSI student, Michael, who is also participating in the Exchange Ambassador Program for the Spring 2013 semester. Once we arrived at the campus in Kowloon, we were greeted by staff and shown to our dorm rooms. The City University of Hong Kong (also known as “City U”) classrooms and administrative buildings are right down the street from the residence halls. It is a very lovely campus with many subsections. It was a little confusing for me to get around the campus at first, but since everything is located so closely together (the local mall and the MTR are both walking distance), I found that it is very easy to get around here and explore different parts of the city.

I also registered for my courses this week, including an introduction to the Mandarin language course and two psychology elective courses. I am hoping to learn Mandarin in order to communicate with native mainland Chinese speakers and upon arriving back home to build connections with international students and staff. The two psychology courses I will be taking are on cognitive psychology and violence and crime in society (the second of which ties in very well with research I did last semester on children’s perceptions of bullying during middle childhood).

So far, I have noticed a few customs in Hong Kong that are completely different than those of the United States. First, driving in Hong Kong is not the same as in America; it is standard for people to drive on the opposite side of the road, which means it is very important to look both ways before you cross the street here! As well, meals on campus are typically very nutritious and come in reasonably sized portions. Many stores also sell herbal tea and other healthy drinks to choose from. For example, I was very surprised when ordering a double cheeseburger at McDonalds that the drink offered to me with the meal was milk and not soda! I don’t normally associate milk with fast food, but I thought it was interesting how there are so many different efforts made in order to promote health and wellness here in Hong Kong!

Apart from studying, my goals for the next four months are to volunteer at the local Salvation Army, learn some tai chi, and practice speaking Cantonese with my roommate (who is a local student). Acclimating to life in Hong Kong has been quite incredible and I plan on making the most of my time here as the orientation week ends and classes begin. I’m looking forward to even more new experiences in the weeks to come!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Learning Through A Law Firm Internship

Jordan Weiner, a Political Science major with minors in History and Philosophy, is a member of the Verrazano Class of 2014.  He is currently interning at the law firm of Michael Coscia & Associates.  Read below for Jordan's experience in his own words.

In September of 2011, I began my internship in a firm that specializes in matrimonial and commercial litigation.  I have been privileged to work directly with Michael Coscia, JD and have accompanied him to numerous hearings and trials.  My position as an intern has exposed me to various stages of the litigation process.  Moreover, under Mr. Coscia's guidance I have learned to draft subpoenas and various discovery demands.  A subpeona is a paper that requires someone to appear in court or produce documents.  If someone doesn't abide by the request there could be reperucussions such as a fine or even being arrested.  Discovery demands are demands that you send to the other side for papers such as bank statements and tax returns.  On one occasion, my responsibility was to create a financial spreadsheet on Excel based upon the business records of the opposition.  My investigation enabled me to uncover hidden monies which became crucial at the time of the trial and assisted in ultimately settling the case.

I have learned as a student that there are numerous pathways one can take when choosing a possible career.  One of the most crucial pathways is through an internship.  Through an internship, a student learns both the positive and negative aspects of the profession.  Prior to my internship, I was undecided about attending law school.  It has been over a year since I began my internship with this firm, and I have truly grown from the experience.  My internship has enabled me to decide that, after graduation, I will attend law school and I hope one day to be a practicing attorney in New York.  I plan to continue interning so that I can become familiar with various fields of the law.  This will enable me to determine what areas I wish to focus on as an attorney in the future.