Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Reflections from a recipient of the Mark and Myra Sorensen International Travel Scholarship (Winter 2020)

Since 2018, the International Center has offered the Mark and Myra Sorensen International Travel Scholarship. This scholarship, offered biannually, is awarded to a student participating in an educational experience abroad - including study, internship, and volunteer experiences. While the scholarship is currently on hold due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, we thought it would be a great time to share a reflection written by a recent recipient of the scholarship, Emma Bohn. Emma traveled to Sydney, Australia to study abroad through the Ross School of Business during the Winter 2020 semester. Check out her reflection below!

"With the support of the Mark and Myra Sorensen International Travel Scholarship, I had the opportunity to spend just over two months studying business at the University of Sydney and exploring the vast country of Australia. I had always wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone and live and learn about business and life in another country. I was able to take two challenging international business courses and learn how business on the other side of the world is conducted. I also was given the opportunity to take two experiential learning classes about Australian culture through the outdoors and sports, it was absolutely incredible. The experiential learning classes allowed me to get outside the classroom and immerse myself in the Aussie lifestyle through attending important Australian sporting events and hiking the gorgeous national parks that are so important to the Australian people. I lived in an apartment complex with other international students from all over the world, spent time at local shops, cafes, and beaches, and learned to surf from a great group of locals. I grew so much as a person from this amazing experience. I am now more confident in myself, developed far better communication skills, and found my love for pushing my limits and learning in all scenarios. Before this opportunity if someone were to tell me I would leave my small community in Northern Michigan and spend time in a huge new city on the other side of the world and absolutely love it, I don’t know if I would have believed them. I left with lifetime friends, more knowledge and direction to help me pick a future career, and a new self confidence that I had been lacking beforehand. I cannot wait to get back to the school in the fall and bring my new business knowledge to the classroom and also share my experience and growth with my friends and family. I am so beyond grateful for my international experience and really believe that it helped me personally grow and that everyone should have the opportunity to live abroad when they are young. What I learned and personally accomplished while living on my own in Sydney are not things that I would have discovered had I not had the opportunity to go abroad. My experience in Sydney was more amazing than I could have imagined and I absolutely am taking what I learned from this experience into my academics, personal life, and future career."
Pictured: Emma Bohn surfing in Australia

Interested in learning more about the Mark and Myra Sorensen International Travel Scholarship? Check out our website where you can also read more scholarship recipient reflections. Information about the next application process (for Winter 2021 travel) will be announced in the Fall. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

How to stay active during COVID-19

I am sitting beside the window and writing this blog. This is the window in my room and through where I could see the clouds, twilights, and even beautiful moonlight. Let alone someday, I could soak into the sunshine and enjoy my blueberry smoothie by sitting here. What a wonderful life, huh?

NO, NO, NO! It's not true, the reality is that I am bored with this! I have been sitting and doing anything I could do here for almost one month. Studying, working, taking a nap, reading, watching Netflix, FaceTime with friends, eating, dazing and etc. My life has been totally changed under the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, I cannot stay at home for more than one hour except for sleeping time. While I must have to stay at home 24 hours now. So what did I do to entertain myself?

NO. 1 - Keep exercise even though there is only a 2-square-meters space. I am a real sports person, in other words, limited space cannot limit my enthusiasm for being active. Weight lifting by using water bottles,  invisible rope skipping and Just Dance workout, I tried everything I could to make myself sweat.

Studies show that stretching could help relax major muscles in our body from our head to our feet. So start from now when you read here. Open a youtube video, whether it's Zumba or Yoga, follow it and have some stretching. Let's calm anxiety with movements.

No.2 - Cooking
No matter how good we are at cooking, there is no wonder that we all have to be our own chef now. Fortunately, I am quite a good chef. While my recent experience questioned my confidence in cooking.

Here is the recipe for a regular banana cake: 1 egg, 80ml milk, 20g sugar, 100g flour, 8g baking powder, 1 banana. There are only two keywords for direction, Mix and Bake.

After putting the pan into the oven, I was quite assured that I would have a perfect cake in 20 minutes. Exactly, My cake didn't let me down when I took it from the oven. However, when I had my first bite, I could not believe what happened, that was the saltiest cake I have ever eaten in my whole life! Yes, you are right, I made a big mistake that I added a lot of salt rather than sugar. First-time banana cake failed.

The next day, I cheered for myself to have another try. With all the ingredients prepared and I was more careful at each step. Because of the first time failure, I even tasted the sugar to make sure it was truly sweet sugar! However, I got another salty cake. I cannot figure out what's wrong. Does life want to play jokes on me?

We all say that cooking is healing. While cooking here makes me question myself. I have one banana left, should I try it again? Third time's a charm, let's see!

Above all are some activities I did during this overwhelming time. Stay at home is kind of exhausting with so many uncertainties around us, but we could still choose to stay happy. I hope that all of you are being well, we will get through this together! I encourage everyone to check out the mental health care package here offered by CAPS for additional resources.

Written by Tammy Wang
MSW Intern
International Center

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Light - A Narrative Essay by Jiazhen Zhao

Looking out of the plane window, I could only see the sidelight on the plane wing sparkling lonely in the dark night. I would usually sleep through international flights, but right now, I couldn’t. That side light seemed to have some magic to keep my eyes on it. I was nervous and afraid, though. It was not that I hadn’t been to the United States before, but that it was my first time to be here on an F-1 visa. That night, I made it to the campus for the first time with my two big suitcases, alone and tired. The next day, contrary to my lonely arrival, my roommate arrived with his whole family, carrying all the necessities and setting up the place for him. They are all friendly people; they even invited me to have lunch with them, but when the conversations became question and answer format, I started to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. I still envied him a little bit, though, as I also wanted my family to be here to congratulate me on starting life in college. Suddenly, I realized how much that sidelight on the plane resembled me. We were both finding our ways through the dark night alone, and that dark night for me was the next four years of uncertainties in the American higher education system as an international student.

Professors were helpful and classmates were friendly, but the cultural differences seemed like a transparent wall between me and my American classmates. The sense of loneliness appeared now and then during the very first few months of my freshman year. It was not until I engaged more in different events and communities, that I realized if I wanted to make the most of my college experience, I needed to step out of my comfort zone. Luckily, since universities provide international students with resources to foster communities based on shared values, and students are also interested in cross-cultural communication.

I spent my freshman year at UT Austin, and during this year I realized that I needed to step out of my comfort zone to embrace American culture and have a diverse social group. Texans are hospitable and lovely people, but there were just not enough topics between me and my classmates apart from homework and classes. I could not remember how many times I tried to start a conversation with a classmate, and it became a Q&A. “Did you do the homework last night, Jack?” “Yeah, it’s really hard, man. It took me a long time on question 5, the football game probability one.” “Yeah, That’s a challenging question. Talking about football, are you going to watch the game this Saturday?” “Probably not.” I smiled to cover the embarrassment of the silence. Since I was not a football fan, I just missed the most common topic in daily conversations. Sometimes my American friends might laugh at a joke, while I totally did not get it, since many things which may seem common sense to them in daily life were all new to me.

At that time, almost all my social groups are made up of Chinese students. There are studies in related areas showing that this phenomenon is actually widespread among international students. “Different is not deficient: contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education” was written by Dr. Tang Heng, in which he kept track of 18 Chinese undergraduate students studying at a US university to reveal the various challenges they might encounter and how they dealt with those challenges. “A little over half of the participants articulated that it was a challenge grappling with unfamiliar sociocultural content because they did not grow up in the USA.” I couldn’t agree more on this point. Stay with Chinese friends all the time did let me feel comfortable and supported, but since I chose to come to the United States for college education, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for me to have a more holistic college experience with diverse student groups on campus, rather than getting restricted with a small social group?

Then one day, I happened to learn about a project team called the Longhorn Racing Electric on campus, that built an electric race car annually to go into the FSAE competition. There seemed to be a voice in my heart telling me to give it a shot, since I loved cars and I also had previous experience working on an automobile team back in high school. I was looking forward to building not only cars, but also friendships. It was a brave move for me, since I knew no one on that team, and I was still not so confident about my oral English at that time. I can still remember the nervousness on my first workday, when I deliberately wore jeans and boots to look more like local students, but the icebreaker that day pulled me closer to other people on the team. “Hey, Jack. What dorm do you live in?” “Creekside.” People started laughing. “Oh, man. Sorry to hear that!” Of course. My dorm was the most isolated and the only all-male one on the far east campus. People’s laughter eased my nerves and gave me confidence, for it looked like I could start small talk with non-Chinese friends. Topics then shifted from dorm life to cars and F1 races, as people on the team were all passionate about automobiles. Andrew was a sophomore and he was my group leader. There seemed to be endless topics between us. We shared the same dream car: Mustang, and we were both people who looked cool on the outside but funny inside. He was my “mentor” in the team on workdays, but on other days, I would hang out with him and his social group as a friend, not a mentee. He was the first American friend I really bonded with, not those with whom I did homework, but the ones that I would go to see a movie. Some people may ask what’s the point of stepping out of the comfort zone. I would say the most significant change in me was that I began to have confidence in my oral English, and I like the feeling that people took me as an ordinary student who has his own interests and passions, and not a “unique” international student who they could not even laugh at the same jokes with.

Special programs for international students conducted by the universities can help international students share their own values and foster a campus of diversity. When I transferred to Michigan, I started to learn about diverse programs specialized for international students on campus offered by the U of M International Center. In fall 2019, I participated in the MEAL program[Meet, Eat, and American Life], which is a program where staff members host international students at home for dinner. Rebecca, who works at the English Language Institute hosted me and a South Korean student, Jeon. When I arrived at her place, I was surprised to find out that our dinner would be the Chinese hot pot. It never occurred to me that we would have Asian food for dinner; my top two guesses were burgers and pizza. “Yes. I know what you are thinking. I didn’t prepare the typical American food because it is not healthy. Personally, I prefer Asian food.” I felt amazed. The hot pot she chose made me feel like I was eating at an old friend’s house; the uneasiness went away instantly. To be honest, I had no idea what we would talk about during the meal before I went there. After introductions, we started to talk about daily news and related social backgrounds. Rebecca’s husband was such a humorous guy that I felt like I was watching the Daily Show (an American late-night talk and news satire television program) in real life. We discussed the Texas El Paso massive shooting, and the importance of guns in the American culture, which I did not know about before. Jeon and I also shared the roots and regulations of firearms in our country. Topics changed various times, but we were all able to share and gain points of view. Of course, our dinner ends with jokes about Mr. Donald Trump. The spicy food in the hot pot not only warmed our body and let us sweat in this cold winter, but also heated us inside. I felt the warmth in my heart because I was proud of my own identity as well as the community of U of M which gave everyone a chance to share their personal stories and values. I was glad about the dinner, for not only did I know better about the history and culture of the country I was staying for my college education, but I also had a chance to share mine. For a moment, I felt like I was back home, eating hot pot with my family and having heated conversations about news and funny stories. As the International Center website stated: “Our vision is to foster a global campus where through mutual understanding and respect, all U-M community members transform and grow together.” I indeed agreed that those programs could provide a platform to foster cultural communication, which leads to mutual understanding between international students and other students and staff on campus. Those programs conducted by the International Center may seem only to address a part of the students, but it actually helps to build the shared values for all communities on campus, which is crucial.

International students on campus can also foster cultural communication, which can open up new opportunities for people who are interested in exploring different cultures. I joined another program for international students this fall, the English Language Institute’s Conversation Circle. I was trying to improve my oral English, and that was my initial purpose. After I met Zoe, our conversation circle group facilitator, I knew this program would go beyond mere practice for oral English. When Zoe knew I was Chinese, her introduction amazed me. “你好,我的名字叫做Zoe。” I had no idea that she could speak Mandarin Chinese. It turned out that she had a passion for international relations and Chinese culture. She had even just come back from China two months ago as an exchange student. At that moment, I knew that the Conversation Circle this semester would be fun, for I was more than eager to share my past eighteen-years of life in China with my friends, but I was worried that they might not be interested in my stories. I was also expecting to learn more about American culture. At our meeting in the last week of October, Zoe introduced the Halloween traditions to us. I learned that Halloween originated as a religious event. She even brought small pumpkins for us to make into Jack O’ Lanterns. We were then asked to share our traditional festivals in our countries. It was no surprise that Zoe knew about the festival I introduced, the Qingming Festival, which is a festival to commemorate our ancestors. In these organizations, international students can bring in first-hand cultural stories for those who are curious about them.

As international students, we need to step out of the comfort zone, take advantage of special university programs for us to make the most of our own college experiences, and foster cross-cultural communication and mutual understandings. Last night, when I was walking back home from the Shapiro Library, the dim street lights illuminated my way home. Suddenly, I realized that I had never been alone. Those lights were just like my friends, teachers, and all those school programs, pointing the directions and giving me support along the four years of my college life.

International Center, U of M. “Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan.” Umich.edu, https://internationalcenter.umich.edu/about/vision.

Tang, Heng. “Different is not deficient: contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education.” Studies in Higher Education, vol. 43, 2018 - Issue 1, pp. 22-36.

This piece was originally written for Jiazhen's first year writing seminar at U-M in Fall 2019.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

ICSC Member Blog: Why do people from Kazakhstan speak Russian?

Since I moved to the U.S. for graduate school, people here tend to think that I am Chinese or Japanese first time they see me. But, I like to see how their faces become confused when I start to speak and they hear my (quite notable) Russian accent. And the faces become even more confused when I say that I am not from Russia, but that Russian is my native language.

It is important to emphasize that there exists a Kazakh language, and it is spoken by most of the population in Kazakhstan now. But Russian remains very common – almost everyone in my home country at least understands it. Its official status in Kazakhstan is a language of intercultural communication (if I translate it correctly). But how did it happen? There are not only geographical reasons for that.

People familiar with the world history of the 20th century may immediately say that another reason for that is the fact that Kazakhstan was a part of Soviet Union. And they will be right. To some degree. In sixties, the Soviet government started a program aiming to create “a Soviet nation”. At that time as well during next decade, cultural diversities including native languages and old traditions of all nations living in USSR were strongly suppressed. Learning and knowing Russian was, in some sense, forced by the officials. Both of my parents were born and grown up at that period. As a result, none of them can speak Kazakh, so I was born in Russian-speaking family. I learnt Kazakh only at the classes in elementary and high school as well as some from my granny. And in Kazakhstan, there are many people like me, there are many people like my parents, who consider Russian as their main language. Currently, a damage to Kazakh language and culture done by that Soviet politics is being fixed, but with relative success, in my opinion. But this is another story.

One can actually look deeper into a history of my country and notice that Russian started to spread over the area of Central Asia way before the USSR. Trading relations as well as the geographical proximity mentioned above played their significant role. From my point of view, the major step that led to the increase of Russian influence on Central Asia happened in the XVIII century. At that time, Kazakh Khanate existed at that time on the territory of modern Kazakhstan was in the difficult military situation due to the invasions of Dzungars and pressure from Qing dynasty. This stimulated frequent diplomatic interactions with Russian Empire, which, in turn, led to the penetration of Russian population, culture and language.

There are many aspects of this historical process that one can find interesting to investigate. Hopefully, my post will trigger readers to dedicate some attention to the history of Kazakhstan and Central Asia in general.

Blog written by 2019-2020 ICSC Member Alisher Duspayev

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

ICSC Member Blog: What Does Kunming, Yunnan Mean?

What does Kunming, Yunnan Mean?
Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan Province. It is a small city on the Southwest border of China. Yunnan is adjacent to Tibet, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. There are approximately 48.3 million residents in Yunnan. Kunming, to me, means home. Rarely have I encountered people from the states and other countries who have heard my citys name, not to mention the location. Yunnan is an underrated city that I believe people should visit

Geography & Climate
The province of Yunnan has one of the highest altitude among all provinces in China. Take Kunming as an example, our altitude is 1900 meters (6234 feet), comparing to 33 feet of New York City. The mountain area accounts for 88.64% of the total area of the province. Most of Yunnans geography is characterized by undulating low mountains and round hills. It is famous for the various types of Karst landforms. My city is known as thespring city”. The weather almost never drops below 32 degree Fahrenheit. The average temperature is about 66.2 to 77 degree Fahrenheit all-year-round. From the year I was born till the age of 12, I had never seen snow in my city. Countless tourists came to Yunnan for the scenery and ended up settling here.

Food & Culture 
There are 56 ethnic groups present in China, and Yunnan hosts about 25 ethnic minorities. We are the province with the largest ethnic group population in China. Among the 25 ethnic minorities, 15 of them are unique to Yunnan, and their population accounts for more than 80% of the total population of the country. The ethnic minorities in Yunnan are interlaced, showing large mixed habitats and small settlements. My province is the nations expert in cooking rare ingredients found in high altitude to taste fresh and tender, paying attention to the original taste and flavor. Fun fact about my province is that a lot of the minorities incorporate insects into their diets. It is mostly fried but could be cooked with soy sauce and chilies.

Blog by 2019-2020 ICSC Member Catherine Hu