Exposure to American culture and classroom setup has begun!

Exposure to American culture and classroom setup has begun!

I did not know this until now that when you are immersed in a new culture an inward obsession with identity is provoked. Several times you begin to question yourself who you are among all those in your new environment, what you are even doing there as if you do not know the cause and try to assess the extent of your relevance. But  you will begin to view the world through a completely different prism, one which highlights your differences and sobers you up to the fact that there is a rift between what you have always known and what you must now learn quickly to behave appropriately in a new society. I make it a point that I should befriend more Americans, and I feel for my sake I should make a more concerted effort to both gain and impart cultural awareness through friendships with Americans I know that will equip me to navigate the new complex society am finding myself part of!
Cultural adjustment is complicated because it goes beyond cultural understanding into a lot more to do with cultural interpretation/translation-different gestures and facial expressions mean different things in almost every culture. Also,  cars driving from the right is going against my inner natural senses. Growing up in Zimbabwe it had been hammered right into my skull that when crossing the road one should always look right and it is natural  without fail. Now imagine me relying on this very Zimbabwean information which is horrid misinformation in the US. Another example, all my life I feel embarrassed to look anyone direct into their eyes but now maintaining eye contact is more appropriate here -I still need to learn it!
There are so many things to learn, pounds instead of kilograms, Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, miles instead of kilometers, color instead of colour. Left instead of right!
I anticipated my first day of class with so much anxiety-28August, and my first class was ACT 151. I am not sure if I took something from this class on this particular day. Having been used to a classroom where I would sit next to my friend this time I instantly detected that it was going to be something else. I had to dismiss any prejudice of any kind -as I told myself on the first day that on this campus my future shines!
After going through the first week of my classes, I had got an insight of what to expect, realizing how engaging an American classroom is. You just don’t walk in without some preparation or rough idea of what is going to be discussed that day; it is just something else. Homeworks descend on a student like nobody’s business, and for fleeting moments I would freak out. I realized I need to start learning time management.
One of my biggest fear when I learned I was indeed coming to America for college was roommate-situation but, Dan, my roommate is nice I am learning so much from him. I appreciate his help and hanging in the grounds for no apparent reason by myself still refreshes me. These are some of the things beyond the classroom that makes my life meaningful at The Valley.

Arrival on Campus,Exciting experiences and Food.

Arrival on Campus,Exciting experiences and Food.

When we arrived on campus, I whispered in my mind that this is the campus conceiving my future- It’s what I had been longing for all summer. I have to let myself get comfortable and let it define my destiny. LVC is the campus that is going to watch me grow from a naive and innocent young man from the countryside of Zimbabwe into a complete citizen equipped to at least contribute to some of the problems labeled permanently by the society in the 21st century!

I arrived late afternoon the sun was spreading its light across the wide and expansive campus. Beautiful buildings sprawled over the green expanses of perfectly sheared lawns and rows of trees in neat pavements, everything I have seen since I arrived is beautiful. America as I have discovered, is beautiful, we have cities in Zimbabwe, but they are still incomparable.
When we arrived on campus, we went right to the LVC Book Store to get some t-shirts. I guess he was trying to create a more forthcoming atmosphere for us that homesickness will at least stay away, in fact, it worked. We headed to Caitlin’s office right away, located below the bookstore. Caitlin is awesome and invaluable to me, and I bet the whole International Students group would agree with me. I had known her for four months before this day through pre-departure emails, and I even knew her face because we had a couple of Skype calls while I was still in Zimbabwe. I had a great time working with her to prepare myself ahead of time for the life on campus. She cares!! She had instilled in me so much confidence that I was joining a supportive community -indeed it is, I love LVC. When we finally met, she was relieved because I guess she understood how hard it perhaps would get for me to negotiate my way through those airports and connect my planes but it just went smoothly.

My first dinner in America was that same evening; it took me by surprise as I failed to identify at least one single type of food. I told myself that everything is going to be confusing and I have to unlearn and relearn again like learning to talk again. With food, I am still struggling, and I am more inclined to eat the things I know such as eggs, sausage being my favorite, pizza, rice, and some I have no idea of what it is. I try a single American food daily and so far, have fallen in love with Kansas rice, my dessert is still simple cake and ice cream. It has been predicted back home that when I taste the delicious American food, I will be tempted to overeat.

Sleeping for the first couple of days was weird. I would, for the most part, feel sleepy around 3 pm because back home I usually slept around 9 pm and since PA, is six hours behind it will still be day. I am told this is what they call jet-lag. Jet-lag affected me through the first week, but after that, I normalized. The hardest thing is the complications of friendships with my peers. I sometimes feel overlooked. It is not as easy as it is back home to build a circle of friendships but at least I am seeing improvements with expectations that after at least a semester the friendships would have grown.
The second day of our orientations as International Students was jam-packed. We were introduced to lots of things on campus all these in Caitlin’s company and other international student assistants including Sierra, Michael, and Patrick. We went to Walmart; we have supermarkets in Zimbabwe, but this was a super big store for me. The most exciting but scariest experience that happened during our two-days of International Students Orientation was going to Hershey Park for some rides. I enjoyed them all but honestly; I dreaded Sky Rush, I imagined losing my life with its speed. After all, I had lots of fun in the Park! I signed for a bunch of trips, besides my academics, I am interested in seeing places in America It’s the superpower of the world I cannot still imagine that is where I am.

 

 

 

 

Zimbabwe to America

Zimbabwe to America

I left Zimbabwe, my home, my familiar environment, with a mix of emotions. I was excited but why did I feel like this was nerve wrecking? Would I love it? Would I hate it? Would I miss Zimbabwe chronically? Would I cope with speaking in English all the time or would forget I am in Pennsylvania? Would I end up confusing my peers and everyone around me with my language? These were some of the questions I came to face within my mind and wasn’t prepared to answer.

The family wished me well as I was embarking on this journey, deep down I knew I had to embark on a journey that will be a definitive experience of my life. A journey that will shape my beliefs, thinking and obviously my intellectual acumen. I have already exhausted my first three weeks in an unfamiliar country for the first time, all the things I have done so far are new – taking a long flight marked my first time, negotiating my way through new people – how overwhelming are all these experiences! All I had long been yearning for was the opposite word for “loneliness” if it is ever there. I get excited to watch my relations grow with each passing day and having a conversation with one more new persons a day is exciting.

I first landed in the US, at Washington, Dulles, this was my way to LVC, the place that will see me grow from a naive young man into a better person, positioned to face the increasingly interconnected world. I walked through Harrisburg International Airport and saw Bob, my mentor and Joe, another international student from China. It was such a relief to see them, and they greeted me and welcomed me to America. As we drove to campus, I knew my illusion that the LVC campus would have lots of good, friendly, accommodating people was true.

 

 

 

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens

“Hamilton doesn’t have much going for it, except the gardens. That’s about it.”

The common attitude among the New Zealand students is that you have to leave Hamilton if you want to see and do stuff. However, despite the negative attitude towards Hamilton, I’ve only ever heard great things about the gardens. Since the weather was really nice on Sunday, a few of us decided to go there. The gardens are free to the public, which was surprising since you have to pay admission to go almost anywhere back home.

The gardens are broken into different sections with different themes. My favorite gardens, the Italian Renaissance and Indian Char Bagh, were from the Paradise Collection. It felt like you were entering a totally different country when walking into each area. Other gardens in this collection were the Chinese Scholar Garden and the Japanese Garden of Contemplation. It’s crazy that all these gardens in one place can have such different vibes and moods when you walk through them. From the feeling of being Europe to the serenity of Japan, there is so much culture included in the Hamilton Gardens.

Indian Char Bagh Garden
Italian Renaissance Garden
Chinese Scholar Garden

In addition to the Paradise Collection, the gardens also have a Productive Collection and a Fantasy Collection. My favorite Productive Collection garden was the “sustainable backyard” which showed how a space the size of a backyard can be transformed into something you can use to live off of. Sustainability is an important issue in today’s world and having this space exemplifies how families can use their own backyard to help the environment. The Fantasy Collection included gardens such as the Tudor Garden and Tropical Garden. The Tudor Garden featured sculptures of mythical beasts which I thought were really interesting to look at. Since it is winter, the sculptures brought life into the gardens that weren’t fully in bloom. However, despite being winter, the gardens were still gorgeous. I can’t even begin to imagine how pretty they must be in the springtime.

Tudor Garden

Shoes optional.

Shoes optional.

There’s a reason it’s called culture shock and not cultural differences-that-are-to-be-expected. Here’s six examples of things that were shocking about life in New Zealand:

  1. Driving on the left. It only took a few car rides to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road, but I still have to consciously think “right, left, right” when crossing the street. Driving on the left also means people go to the left when passing others on the sidewalk, which is why I may or may not have almost walked into like 10 people on the first day of class.
  2. Kmart is nice and no one calls McDonald’s by its name. Just because stores and fast-food chains are owned by the same company, it does not mean they are the same as back home. I never thought that I would hear someone say “Let’s go to Kmart” in an excited tone, and I wasn’t prepared to go from the dollar menu at McDonald’s to prices in the double digits at “Maccas”.

  3. It’s socially acceptable to not wear shoes. I thought it was interesting that the dining hall had a sign that reads “Please wear shoes in the dining hall” but then I learned that it’s normal to go barefoot wherever, including the grocery store and Kmart.
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  4. Roommates don’t exist. At LVC, I was blessed with not one, but two amazing roommates (s/o Caite and Julia), who I lived with my freshman and sophomore year. Whenever I mention having roommates, people look at me like I’m crazy and say things like “so wait, there’s three of you…in one room?” and “I could never share a room like that” and “Having your own room here must be nice, huh?” and “Would you rather have roommates or your own room?” (to which I always respond: “I’d rather have my roommates than my own room”).

  5. Scheduling classes is crazy. At LVC, there are Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes, Tuesday/Thursday classes, and night classes. In New Zealand, there’s lectures, tutorials, and labs. One class could meet for lecture for an hour Monday evening, an hour Thursday morning, and an hour Friday afternoon. There isn’t a set schedule, so it is more likely that class times will clash. On top of lectures, you have to sign up for labs and tutorials. It’s basically like the Hunger Games trying to get the time slot you need before it fills up. Some students have overlapping classes, so they have to leave one class an hour early to go to another.

  6. School spirit (or lack thereof). During my first week here, I went to the on-campus bookstore and was surprised to see that it was just that: books. There is one sweatshirt for the university, but you have to order it online and nobody really wears it. The university doesn’t have a mascot either. It’s the opposite of back home where everyone is wearing college gear. Even as I’m writing this, I’m repping an LVC Dutchmen shirt which a girl from the Netherlands asked me about since they don’t really have school apparel at her school back home.

 

It’s an adventure..

It’s an adventure..

I arrived in New Zealand almost two weeks ago, and been keeping busy since the minute the plane landed. Classes didn’t begin until our second week here so we had time to find our way around and recover from any jet lag we might have had.

There is one other student who is studying abroad in New Zealand this semester so I wasn’t totally alone in going into life abroad. Within the first hour of moving into our new dorms, we met two other students on our floor from Holland, as well as a girl from France who lives on the floor above ours. A few hours later, we were already off on our first New Zealand adventure: taking the bus to the grocery store. It was this trip that started our motto of “It’s an adventure” for whenever we do anything new or exciting.

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Dear LVC, thank you.

Dear LVC, thank you.

Dear LVC,

Thank You.

For the memories I’ve made here. The weekends filled with fun and new experiences, but also for the late night study sessions and 9am classes

For my dorm room that has become my second home, where I can binge watch Netflix, but also have it filled with people laughing at my accent

For teaching me that I can do things when I put my mind to them, like moving away for a year from my hometown, even though 8 years ago I couldn’t go to summer camp without crying and wanting to come home

For the things I’ve learned in and outside the classroom

For vacations from studying just at the right time, when I’ve been able to travel all around the place and stay with friends (and getting food other than Metz)

For letting me experience all different seasons, 2ft of snow to 90F/35C temperatures with humidity. I quickly learnt that I need sunscreen every time I step outside in the sun

For pushing me to step out of my comfort zone in class, with presentations and cultural experiences (Although professors definitely grade me easier because of the accent)

For being in N. America because that’s where Chick-fil-A is

For my professors who loved me that little bit more because of the Irishness and their obsession with Irish cheese, leprechauns and Guinness

For showing me what American culture is really like and dispelling the myths and stereotypes I had about Americans. You’re not all obese and stupid, promise

For the people who have supported me, the team in the Center for Global Ed, my advisors, RAs, everyone

For forcing me to appreciate and be proud of where I come from, but not scared to experience new things and see how others do things differently

For giving me a new perspective on life. Even though so many of you see Annville as the most boring, conservative town in America, it has done more for me than you can imagine. Yes, LVC might have had some tough times with diversity and acceptance recently, but it has shown me how a community can come together and rise above it

For allowing me my independence, but also for everyone who kept me right when I needed it

For the lifelong friends I have made here. At the risk of getting really soppy, these people have made this experience the best one of my life, and you best believe there’s always a place for you all to stay in Ireland!

Finally, for making it so damn hard to have to leave

Dear LVC,

Thank You.

16 things an Irish student loves at LVC

16 things an Irish student loves at LVC

  1. There are fries literally everyday. Criss cross, wedges, old bay, crinkle cut. Don’t know what to get with that chicken? Fries. What about that sandwich? Fries. How about that ice cream? Fries.
  2. Everyone holds the door open for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re literally 20 feet from the door, someone will probably still hold it open for you.
  3. Why are there so many puppies on campus?! It’s amazing! If my university at home had that many puppies I don’t think I’d get any work done.
  4. Sports are taken very seriously. If you play a sport expect to practice 6 days a week and possibly twice a day. Compare this to Northern Ireland where you might practice once or twice a week and have a game on a Saturday.
  5. Slang like “What’s good?” and “Came in clutch” just don’t make sense to me, but then neither does “What’s the craic?” (Irish slang meaning ‘what’s up’ or ‘how’s it going’)
  6. Redbook trips are so freaking awesome. Free trips to New York City? Yup. Hersheypark? Yeah. Skiing? Uh-huh. Phillies baseball? Of course.
  7. We got to ask the President for an extra day off because the football team beat Albright. That is literally the coolest thing ever. I don’t even know who plays sports in my university at home, never mind go and support them and get a day off for it.
  8. I’ve never experienced anything like the UG. Music I’ve never heard in my life (we don’t really listen to rap music in Ireland) and sweat running down the wall. Sure it’s all part of the college experience, right?
  9. Walking tacos in the C-Store are honestly my favourite college food. I could eat those things for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  10. The professors actually want to get to know you. They want to see you do well in their class and facilitate that as much as possible. Some even have you meet their family and go to their house for dinner. Yes, that really happened.
  11. An Irish accent on campus will literally get people you’ve never met coming up to you and asking you to “just say some words”, followed by me having no idea what to say in response.
  12. A lot of people like to tell you that they’re Irish too (no matter if its 2.43% Irish), but that’s okay because who doesn’t want to be Irish?!
  13. Racquetball is my new favourite sport. Everyone on campus has played at least once and it can get very competitive.
  14. I always forget about the sales tax they add on at the register in Turkey Hill or any other store off campus. Basically it’s a complete guessing game as to how much I’m about to spend.
  15. College academic life is very different. Participation and discussion is 100% required and can sometimes count for up to 30% of your overall grade. You will have homework every night and quizzes throughout the semester, instead of one big exam at the end.
  16. But most of all, I love the people of Lebanon Valley College and how proud they are of their College. It’s an amazing place and community!
The beginning of my adventure…

The beginning of my adventure…

My Lebanon Valley College study abroad journey began back when I first applied for University in Northern Ireland. Although I didn’t know the specifics at that point, I knew I wanted to spend a year studying in America and so this became important to me when choosing to study at Queen’s University Belfast. I knew they had a great Study USA programme and as soon as I could, I applied, was interviewed and got a place on the scheme!

I trawled through a list of about 100 colleges throughout the United States, but finally settled on Lebanon Valley College. At first, it stuck out to me because it was close to many places on the East Coast like Philadelphia, New York City and Washington DC. The campus also looked amazing and it seemed to give a real sense of community and acceptance.

The weeks before my departure date, 22nd August, were the slowest weeks of my life. I was in complete excited anticipation of what the year would hold, as well as a bit of nerves and worry, as expected. Finally, I was off to Dublin Airport on a cold summers morning (but it wasn’t raining for once), knowing this would be the last time I’d see my family for 4 months before I came home for Christmas break. My Mum had cried every day for about a week by this point, but I was determined that I would only feel excitement the morning I left. It suddenly hit me and reality set in when I had just said goodbye to my parents (with Mum in floods of tears and Dad as cool and collected as ever) as I walked through security at the airport. I let out a few tears (this is the first time Mum and Dad are hearing this, oops) but quickly gathered myself and excitement rushed back in while waiting in line to go through United States of America pre-clearance. The only thing I wasn’t looking forward to was the 17 hours of travelling ahead of me.

Late on the night of the 22nd August I arrived at Lebanon Valley College. I had been picked up by Caitlin Murphy, my amazing International Advisor, and got my first look at where I’d be living for the next year as we drove from Harrisburg to Annville. Caitlin has been such a brilliant help this year when I’ve needed something, haven’t been sure how something worked or when I just wanted someone to chat to. Caitlin, Jill and the whole Center for Global Education deserve a lot of recognition for the massive amount of work they put in and the pure passion they have for their jobs and for making a LVC a more diverse campus.

I’ve never slept better in my life that night, despite the anxious thoughts and worry. I was to be up at my first orientation session at 9am with the rest of the new International students. Orientation was incredible as I met so many new people so quickly and made lifelong friends in those first few days. It was overwhelming, as it is for any new student starting College, but at the same time exciting and new. I was ready for the experience and open to meeting as many new people as possible.

I quickly found out that the LVC campus really is as beautiful as it looks on the website and I knew I had come to the right place. The people have also played a huge part in my life here. They truly are a wonderful community who are willing to listen to new people, learn about new cultures and are just genuinely kind and caring. This is definitely the reason why I haven’t been properly homesick (sorry Mum and Dad). The LVC community are my adopted family.

At this point I figured I’d just share some photos of my first few days and experiences at Lebanon Valley College. More posts coming soon!

My first day at Lebaon Valley College!
My first day at Lebaon Valley College!

 

So so hot!
So so hot!

 

Flag raising ceremony
Flag raising ceremony

 

Group of International students
Group of International students

 

First baseball game- Phillies
First baseball game- Phillies

 

First trip to Walmart
First trip to Walmart

 

I slid down this, I'm not joking
I slid down this, I’m not joking

 

Hangzhou

Hangzhou

The first time I heard of the West Lake was during our trip to Beijing. We went to the Capital back in September during the first month of our study abroad experience. Our program visited the Summer Palace after walking most of the day through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, both political and cultural relics of China. The Summer Palace was beautiful; resting adjacent to a picturesque lake that I presumed was naturally formed. Little did I know that the entire grounds of the palace were seated on the soil that was dredged up to form this man-made lake. The lake was created by workers hauling buckets of earth and depositing them nearby, surmounting in a great hill that is at the center of the Palace grounds. I wondered what the inspiration was that would drive the Emperors of ancient China to build such a place. What were they trying to replicate? It was the West Lake in Hangzhou, over 1,300 kilometers south of the Capital.

 

Hearing of the Lake’s beauty, and considering how the emperors of old replicated it in the Capital I was eager to finally see the original lake. We departed from out dorm for Hangzhou around 8:30 in the morning last Saturday, taking a high speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, arriving just in time for lunch. Meeting a local friend of our program coordinator, I was glad to have the chance to practice my Chinese and learn about the area. We headed over to restaurant near the station. There we had a family style meal chock full of local dishes including dumplings, seafood balls, meat, and vegetable dishes. There was not one thing on the table that I didn’t like, and my favorite was a peanut dish. They were soaked in a kind of vinegar sauce that made you pucker; they were so good I had to get a doggie bag to snack on them later.

 

From the restaurant we walked through the downtown area, past a canal and some old-style residential areas. I noticed the streets were much less crowded than Shanghai or Beijing, Hangzhou being a city of only 8 million. This comparison would have shocked me before coming to China, as the closest city to my home, Baltimore, has just over half a million residents. But now, having lived in a city of 24 million for over three months, the streets of Hangzhou felt relatively unoccupied. It was somewhat refreshing.

 

We passed Halal restaurants and western-style coffee shops, heading towards the lake. Here the crowds became denser, waiting to walk across a small arch bridge then along a zigzagged path that spanned part of the shoreline. Our group made it out onto the bridge and got a quick photo. Next to the lake shore, we saw the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains. Off in the distance to the left was a pagoda, and out on the lake there were many boats ferrying people about. We would find out where the boats would take us the following day. We ventured along the shore, walking through several parks where people were playing folk instruments, singing songs, and dancing. This is one thing I will miss about China, how the older generations fill social places with music and life. It makes me smile.

 

The next day we took a boat across the lake to an island where we found trees bursting with fall color encircling three small pools. The island was small and we were able to explore it in its entirety in about an hour, snapping a ton of great photos with the beautiful backdrop nature provided. Taking the same boat back to shore, a bus was waiting to take us to the next destination, one of the biggest Buddhist temples in all of China. Through a short spat of traffic around the lake, we made it to the temple grounds in good time. First we saw Buddha’s carved into a cliff face, I estimate there were as many as 20 of them strewn about the rock. A placard revealed that some of them were over 1000 years old. I enjoyed this place because it was truly ancient, whereas in some other tourist destinations the structures I found had been reconstructed within the last 20 years or so. As were the temples that we would see next, which were rebuilt during the 1990’s. Still they were a sight to behold, housing massive Buddha’s and occupied by the devoted. We burned incense, explored the temples, and headed back on the bus to our final stop in our tour of Hangzhou.

 

The Ancient Cultural Street that the driver took us to reminded me a lot of the area surrounding the Yu Gardens in Shanghai. Full of handicrafts and local treasures, this place was also crowded with tourists, even a few westerners. I tried to stay off the crowded main street, so I stuck with our local friend Tom for this part of the trip. He took me into some traditional Chinese medicine stores, which I found fascinating. They had a barrel of free tea and boxes upon boxes of natural remedies. People sipped tea and discussed with the shop’s proprietors (who wore white lab coats like doctors) about their ailments and such. I did not dabble in any of the cures, though. Maybe the next time I am in China I will. We left the cultural street late that evening and began our journey back to Shanghai.

 

It had been a long day, and the bus ride back was relaxing. I reflected on the city and our activities there, and I wish I had known about the treasures of Hangzhou sooner.  It would have made a great place to do some personal travel and really get a feel for the town. To me it seemed the people there were in less of a hurry than Shanghai, where the streets and metro lines are full of the daily rush hour drama. Having run the gauntlet of rush hour transportation in Shanghai, Hangzhou was a welcomed break. I enjoyed the trip very much and hope to go back in the future.