Rachel: Fall in Saint Petersburg

Rachel Neale is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  To learn more about her program, click here: CIEE – St. Petersburg.

Neale, Rachel

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a fourth year psychology and international studies double major, with a minor in Russian.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    Yes, once before to Israel in the past week or so. I went to visit a close friend and explore the “Promise land”.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    No, I have not.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I am studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. I chose to study there in order to experience the culture and meet the people I’ve dedicated my education to.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I’m most looking forward to getting first-hand perspectives on topics in my studies, such as the Soviet lifestyle, Putin’s regime, and what it’s like living in a country that’s been through so much transition. I’m also very excited for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters, which are the venues for Russian ballet!
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    I’m very interested in art, theater, and ethnography and my hobbies are yoga, photography, and cycling!

Besan: Fall in Manchester

Besan Abdel-Khaleq is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  To learn more about her program, click here: Advanced Pharmacy Practical Experience – Manchester.

Abdel-Khaleq, Besan

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a fourth year Pharmacy student.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I have traveled abroad many times. I have traveled to many countries in the Middle East (Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, and Bahrain), Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Switzerland, Portugal, and Ireland) and have also visited Canada and Australia. They were mainly for vacations or visiting family.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I took part in the College of Pharmacy’s Short Study Abroad program, PharMItalia in the summer of 2015 for 3 weeks, which included touring many cities in Malta and Italy. We visited a number a pharmacy schools, pharmacies, as well as hospitals and had the chance to compare and contrast the career of pharmacy abroad versus in the US.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I will be studying abroad in Manchester, England for the month of October and will be at the University of Manchester. I have never been to England and it would be nice to learn about the career in this country.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I am looking forward to all the opportunities the University of Manchester is allowing us to take part in. It seems like they have a busy schedule for us all planned out, including visiting some rural pharmacies and national meetings.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    My interests include traveling and really immersing myself into the cultures of the many countries. I also enjoy just spending time with family and friends.

Chris: Fall in Madrid

Christopher Shirley is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  To learn more about his program, click here: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Engineering).

Shirley, Chris

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    Chemical Engineering Major. Will be gaining credits towards a minor in bio molecular engineering on this trip.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I’m from southeastern Michigan so I’ve been to Canada a few times, primarily Windsor. It’s a fun city.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    No I have not.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    Universidad Carlos III Madrid. I was looking into to fall classes and with the way the ChemE curriculum is set up it looked like I was going to be taking just technical electives. Someone in my study group suggested going abroad and it just made so much sense.Out of the all the engineering exchange programs UC3M was one of the few that was both cost effective and offered a September to December semester. The more I researched about Spain and about the program the more I liked it. Study abroad had always seemed like something I couldn’t do with my major but once I found out it was possible I jumped at the chance to do it.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    New experiences. I think being exposed to different cultures and venturing outside your comfort zone is just a good thing to do. Also I’m going with three of my friends (s/o Esteban, Sarah, and Taylor) and am looking forward to sharing this experience with them.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    Sports, vba programming with excel, sports again.

Briana: Fall in Florence

Briana Lirio is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Florence, Italy.  To learn more about her program, click here: FSU – Florence.

Lirio, Briana

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    My name is Briana Lirio and I am a public relations major at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. My minor is in business, which I am planning to continue pursuing in graduate school.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I actually have never left the country, which makes this experience a lot more exciting for me. I’ve only ridden on a plane once before, and that was at the age of nine and to New York, so I do not remember much about it.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I have never studied abroad before, so the next three and a half months in Italy will be the first time I experience any type of cultural immersion.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I am studying abroad in Florence, Italy under the UF approved program “FSU in Florence.” I chose Italy because I wanted to go somewhere I have never been to before where it would be easy for me to become culturally immersed. I believe that because I am fluent in Spanish it will be easy for me to learn Italian, and that language is the foundation of most cultures.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I am looking forward to exploring the different cities within Italy. I would love to personally experience seeing the artwork I have read so much about growing up.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    I love to read, my favorite book of all time is “Crime and Punishment.” Fyodor Dostoevsky does an excellent job of making the reader sympathize with a protagonist that can best be described as an anti-hero, someone who society would deem as unfit to live among us. However, most of my free time is spent doing the typical college student “stuff.” I love to go out with friends, and spend time with my family. I consider myself a food connoisseur (I once ate a burger that weighed 3 pounds, all on my own. I was so proud of myself I wanted to put it under the skills portion of my resume). I can binge watch Netflix for hours, and will only schedule my bathroom breaks between episodes in order to reach maximum watching efficiency. I love to try new things, even if I regret it immediately after. For my 19th birthday I went skydiving. It was probably one of the worst experiences of my life, but I got some great photos for my Instagram so it was worth it. Fun fact, I am really good at knitting, I’ve gotten awards at the county fair for some of my work. I started knitting in high school because it seemed like an interesting skill to have, and I thought it would impress guys (I was wrong). It has been my dream ever since I was young to visit Italy, and I’m very excited that it will soon become a reality.

Jacqueline: Fall in Poitiers

Jacqueline Chavez is a University of Florida student studying abroad for the Academic Year 2016-17 in Poitiers, France.  To learn more about her program, click here: L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques – Poitiers campus.

Chavez, Jacqueline

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a third year-dual major in International Studies(with a concentration in Latin America) and Political science, with a minor in French.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    Yes, I have gone to Mexico around 10 times with my parents during the summer because all of our family lives in Mexico, and my parents wanted to make sure that my younger brother, and I could appreciate our culture and roots. I traveled to Mexico for spring break 2016 with a few friends from UF.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I traveled to Paris for spring break 2015 for African Americans in Paris- a UF sponsored alternative break trip. It was a short study abroad experience, but it was enough to make me come back!
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    For fall 2016 I am studying at the University Sciences Po- Poitiers, France. I chose the  Poitiers campus because it is focused on Latin American studies.I believe Sciences Po chose me. Sciences Po is ranked fifth in the world for undergraduate studies in political sciences and international studies. Although there are students here from all over the world, I am the only Mexican, only one of 2 Americans, and only one of 5 exchange students. After applications and interviews, I am finally here to indulge in a rich academia. I also chose the small town of Poitiers, so that I could really indulge in French culture and language. For spring 2015 I will be studying with Semester at Sea. For an entire semester I will live and study on a cruise ship while visiting 11 countries on the cost of Asia and Africa. Since I am studying in Europe this fall, I wanted a trip that would show me another part of the world. I want to see all that I have learned in history books come alive, I want to indulge in different cultures, and I want to discover how people who identify differently are more similar than they think. I hope this discovery will help me better prepare to pursue opportunities in international studies and international efforts towards peace.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    As I start welcome week at Sciences Po, my goals have shifted a little. I am really looking forward to seeing beyond myself. I want to be comfortable with being uncomfortable by pushing myself to indulge in a culture that is different. I am looking forward to not only traveling and seeing new things, but to also pushing the limits my mind creates. I am excited to better my French, and start my fourth language, Portuguese. I want to see how a first-generation Latino on a full scholarship like myself is similar to other students with different identities and how our minds can come together to create a better tomorrow.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    Of course one of my greatest interests is traveling! I also love to cook, although I am not the best! Dancing is my escape from all worries, just as is my violin. I els love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to scrapbook my life adventures to have for years to come as keepsakes.

Irina: Fall in Bonn

Irina Bigoulaeva is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Bonn, Germany.  To learn more about her program, click here: Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn.

Bigoulaeva, Irina

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    My majors are Philosophy and Linguistics and my minor is Math.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    During tenth grade, I traveled to London for six days in a small group with my English teacher. The purpose was to visit and learn about some Shakespeare-related locations, since we were reading his plays at the time. I’ve also traveled to Russia a few times to visit relatives.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    Apart from London, I’ve never studied abroad before.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I’m studying abroad in Bonn, Germany. I’ve been learning the language for four years now and want to become fluent. Also, I’ve always wanted to study abroad, so this program will give me the chance to do both.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    Language immersion and experiencing daily life in Germany.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    Writing, music, walking, and studying languages.

Lauren: Fall in Seville

Lauren Barnard is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Seville, Spain.  To learn more about her program, click here: ISA – Seville (Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo Education in a Multicultural Context).

Barnard, Lauren

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a Senior in the Unified Elementary ProTeach Program within the College of Education.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    As a military child, I am fortunate enough to have moved and traveled around quite a bit. I lived in Attleborough, England during primary school and was able to see much of Europe with my family during those years. I have also traveled to Guatemala on a Florida Alternative Breaks trip to study education inequality, and most recently went on a week-long road trip of Canada’s maritime provinces!
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    Nope, never.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I chose to spend my fall semester in Sevilla, Spain! I landed on Sevilla after considering the city’s overall beauty and rich culture, as well as my program’s internship component within local schools. It also didn’t hurt that there’s a Starbucks (kidding, mostly).
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    Siestas, tapas, flamenco dancing, and my photography course. I would also love to watch a few fútbol games and, who knows, maybe even a bullfight.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    I love to run, so I can’t wait to explore Sevilla’s cobblestone streets in my Nike’s. I also love SEC football, cooking for my family, and drinking coffee at all hours of the day.

Final Thoughts

My experience abroad was not one that I was expecting, in spite of visiting twice before my time abroad. I was able to live in both the city and small villages and there were many distinct differences. For one, Ho Chi Minh City was shockingly liberal. Many individuals were open about their sexuality, even more so in the United States. In the United States, many LBGT’s are discriminated against and to a very shocking degree; however, in Ho Chi Minh City, males in particular were very open about their sexual orientation. In fact, our Vietnamese roommates even told us that approximately half of the males in their college identified themselves as being gay; albeit, if you go into smaller villages, which tends to be a bit more “old-fashioned”, then these things are almost unheard of. This illustrates how unevenly developed culturally many parts of Vietnam can be.

This concept of uneven development is also apparent even within Ho Chi Minh City, but more so through economic standards. Many foreign companies are coming into Vietnam and developing areas at an extremely rapid pace. There are some buildings that extremely tall, luxurious, modern buildings, yet, is located adjacent to a shanty home or restaurants, with rusted tin roofing ready to fall apart, tattered paint on the walls, and just an overall distinct appearance of poverty. While this is apparent in the city, there are many areas in Vietnam that are not even able to make ends meet, namely in small villages and many underprivileged districts in Ho Chi Minh City. Approximately 50% of the workers in Ho Chi Minh City had blue collared jobs, working illegally in careers, such as, street vending and scrap collecting. So, while Vietnam is thriving economically, it has been struggling to create economic equality among its people.

Surprisingly, the rate of development in Vietnam is considered one of the fastest, as it was only in the late 1990’s when Vietnam was allowed to join the international market, after the United States removed the tariff they placed on Vietnam because of the war. Currently, the Vietnamese are attempting to learn new ways to develop their country, such as, how to run large businesses or the importance of education. Although, one of the biggest problems that Vietnam faces and I believe I can speak for most of the Vietnamese population, as they would tell me every day about how corrupt the government officials were, thinking about gaining large profits, in spite of the millions of people suffering.

In one instance, Famosa, a large Taiwanese company, polluted Vietnam’s costs, killing many fish and in turn negatively effecting the Vietnamese population. Many of these fish contained poison as a result of the pollution. Some of the marginalized families that I met ate these fish in spite of knowing that it contained toxins because they depended heavily on fish to help them survive. Outraged by this, many student bloggers were courageous enough to blog about this incident and some even protested in the streets right outside of the building I studied at, only two months before I arrived. However, the Vietnamese government refused to tolerate this. They beat protestors publicly on the streets and dragged them into buses and  were never heard of again as they were probably sent to reeducation camps.

Ironically, before I left, I remember reading articles about Famosa polluting Vietnam’s waters, but the government “called in special analytics, who stated that the death of fish was due to ‘red tide’, and that Famosa was not to blame.” Unfortunately, when did I arrive, I learned that this was actually the government censoring information that they did not want to be leaked, especially to foreigners. This is just one incident, but there are many more similar to this. I personally wished I could have talked about the problems that Vietnam faces; however, due to instances like the one I mentioned, I was advised to refrain from blogging about many of these issues for the sake of my own personal safety.

While there are many things I wished could be changed in Vietnam, I did enjoy my time because I learned so much about the culture, politics, how the Vietnamese think, and of the many issues that endanger the Vietnamese and prevent them from becoming as developed as they would like.  This experience was very rewarding; it opened my mind to many problems that I think we often neglect, while we are in the pursuit of our dreams. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to learn that and it helped me personally try to overcome fears that I have a tendency to embed in myself. So, no matter where you decide to go or no matter where you went, I hope that everyone enjoys their time abroad.

Home Sweet Home

My final week abroad was a blur. I tried to spend as much time walking around and enjoying Cambridge as I could. The weekend previous I was in London, which is a loud and crazy city filled with tourists and history. I spent most of my time there shopping, which my wardrobe thanks me for, but my bank account does not. I spent a lot of money abroad, I  mean, a lot. More than I expected. I like to shop, I like to eat, I like to spend money, and I have a passion for fashion, baby. So when I’m placed in a city like London, I lacked some impulse control. Stores like Zara, Primark, Topshop, and Selfridges had me ensnared. Speaking of Selfridges, my new bestie Shereen celebrated her birthday in London. I booked us a table for brunch on Selfridges rooftop gardens restaurant and bar. It was beautiful and the food was delicious. It was a lovely start to our time in London.

We ended that evening by renting a private room for her birthday party in a Karaoke bar. Singing in an underground karaoke club with people I had only met three weeks prior, laughing and dancing, and just being loud Americans was one of the most magical parts of my trip. It was something I had never foresaw happening during my time abroad, but now its a precious memory that I’ll never forget.

Besides shopping, eating, and dancing in London, I did engage in the history and arts of the city. I visited the Tate Modern art museum which had the coolest installation by Louise Bourgeois. It was a giant metal spider with fabric bodies hanging from the ceiling. I loved it. I also saw Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe Theatre which was AMAZING. The director took an otherwise misogynistic play and turned it into a feminist statement. I loved this as well. London was overall, a great adventure.

Back in Cambridge my fellow classmates and I worked hard on our final papers and in between time spent doing research and writing, I managed to visit Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden. I walked there and back to take in the city and the old magic of it. The botanic garden had gorgeous greenhouses or “glasshouses” as they called them. Wandering around them and the lavender gardens was an afternoon well spent.

On one of my final nights in Cambridge I was walking though the town and just marveling at the old college that stood around me, the old chapels, and stones. I had this strange thought go through my head, “I’m in England.” It was weird because I had been in England for three weeks. I had visited France, and many places all around the UK, and yet I hadn’t felt grounded until that moment, under the stars alone with the old buildings and the quiet town. My time abroad was not easy. I had feelings of homesickness, culture shock, and debt. I had gotten lost too many times to count, dealt with less than ideal living conditions, worked through language barriers, and spent a lot of time with people I had only just met.

But it was all worth it. I visited places I never thought I would go, saw things I never thought I would see. I made connections with people of different cultures than me, and I learned so, so much. Best of all, I made 14 new friends through the UF in Cambridge program. Things could have been easier, sure, but it was all part of the adventure. I’ll always remember Brennan asking me how to order orange juice in French, and shopping for macaroons with Shereen. I’ll remember lying on the steps on the Pantheon and looking up the sky I swear is bluer in Europe. I’ll remember Charlie telling jokes that take fifteen minutes to get to the punch line as we all walked home from dinner, and Ethan posing next to the bones in Catacombs like he was an archeologist at a dig. I’ll remember lying in the grass on the soccer field behind our dorms in Cambridge, talking about waterbeds, what we want to name our kids. I won’t remember every bus ride, every trip through the underground, every time I looked down at my phone’s map and realized I had made the wrong turn, but I’ll remember the people who were with me. Laughing, talking, arguing about politics, sipping tea and taking pictures.

I am beyond grateful for the chance to study abroad and all of the memories I collected and the friends I made. Thank you to everyone who was there by my side, and everyone who was supporting me at home. As I begin my final year of college, I feel ready for anything that will be thrown my way. I mean, if I can survive British cuisine I can survive anything, right?

 

Best,

Shanna.

 

Health System

One thing that I found quite shocking were the hospitals in Vietnam. While foreign hospitals and clinics in the wealthier districts (districts 1,2, and 7) had what I would consider similar to the healthcare practices we find at home, one person per room and doctors spending at least ten minutes diagnosing and treating you, that was not the case in many other districts. I visited one hospital in the Ben Thanh district, which is considered one of the poorest districts. It was so crowded there was no space to even walk and I felt as if I had difficulty breathing.

Patients do not schedule appointments, but take a number and wait for hours until their number is called. As you walk up the stairs there are people sitting on the steps, in the hallways, eating, and passing time by as they wait for their loved ones. The rooms in the hospitals were about the size of a classroom in Turlington, maybe slightly bigger, with 6-8 beds in each room. However, in the pediatrics floor, there were 2 children per bed, 8 beds per room, thus approximately 16 children per room, not including the family members who would often sit on the ground comforting their child. Additionally random solicitors would walk into the hospital selling magazines and food for families who were waiting. I felt as if this type of setting would hinder the well-being of patients, as it would attract more types of viruses or illnesses that are airborne. It was a setting that seemed uncomfortable, as you were talking with a doctor there were many other patients in the room, preventing you from having any privacy. Furthermore doctors only talk to patients for 1-2 minutes at most, due to myriad of patients in desperate need of help. Doctors are afraid that if they spend too much time with one patient, then they dismiss the opportunity to help another.

The health system was not even something I really thought about until I visited the hospital. From my visit and my internship, I also learned that mental health practices are are nonexistent. Apparently, when it comes to what we consider mental health issues, many Vietnamese individuals couple mental health issues with possession by spirits and when studying the Vietnamese language you will find that almost no name for mental disabilities or disorders. Due to the lack of mental health recognition, there is a lack of mental health support. Often times many people who are believed to be born or have gone “crazy” will visit monks and nuns for counseling, a system that has been in place for ages. Since the only phycologists are international practitioners, only the wealthy can afford to visit these places and providing almost no support for the lower class, who have higher rates of mental illnesses.

Furthermore, many mental health disorders and disabilities are not yet recognized in Vietnam. Autism is currently undergoing a long process of being recognized, but there is a lot of controversy because once a disability is recognized, then the person diagnoised will recieve a monthtly or trimonthly stipend from the government. In spite of what some may think, this is a very important issue as many autistic children are discriminated against by their families, peers, teachers, and society. They are denied of needs, such as being apart of special classrooms, and forced to try and cope with what is considered the “norm”.