St. Kitts and Nevis: Pre-Departure & First Reflections

Shadelle Gregory is a Global Public Health major who just completed her third year. She spent the last two weeks participating in UVA in St. Kitts and Nevis: Public Health Sciences, an intensive short-term program led by Prof. Jeanita Richardson. Read her pre-departure thoughts and reflections below.

Pre-Departure

I was always the girl who did not fit quite in with my family or classmates. I was labeled as “different” for the types of clothes I wore, the way I spoke, and for the types of food I ate (or did not eat). However, after arriving at the University of Virginia in 2015, I began to let go of my insecurities and embrace my differences. I realized that is was okay to be the “odd girl” or the person who does not “fit in” with the majority. These personal characteristics has allowed me to transcend my perceived mental and physical capacities and has granted me the privilege to fully appreciate the person that I have become. Embracing change and diverse environments and people are pivotal in my journey of self growth. I hope to take the experiences I have embodied here at the University of Virginia with me as I begin my adventures in St. Kitts and Nevis. I am currently majoring in Global Public Health where I have studied the social determinants of health and how health care systems function differently in all parts of the world. I will be able to experience the cause and effects of these ideals first hand while abroad.

An important question that needs to be asked throughout this experience is how does the health system structure/services in St. Kitts and Nevis affect the social determinants of health and vice versa? Moreover, how does it compare with health care systems in America? I have a deep passion for social justice and public health, so I am always eager to enhance my knowledge about the parallels between these two concepts. The curriculum for this course will be eye opening and fulfilling because I will able to study my passion outside of the states, which allows me to fully encompass the GPH major. I am most excited about experiencing a different culture outside of America, as this will be my first time traveling abroad. St. Kitts and Nevis is known for their amazing food (and large food portions). I am a lover of food and I am excited to try the varieties of food St. Kitts and Nevis has to offer. However, it is this very fact that contributes to their high obesity rates. I do hope to have a newfound appreciation for their culture when this experience is over. St. Kitts and Nevis are two different islands, so I am interested to see the differences and similarities between the two.

To be bluntly honest, I am nervous to go abroad for multiple reasons. A key reason is that I have never traveled abroad. The airport aspect of traveling is a little frightening due to my lack of traveling experience. Secondly, I want to make sure that I am culturally conscious of my actions so that the locals will be receptive to me. I am entering their home and do not want to overstep my position as a visitor. I am the first person in my immediate family to travel abroad, so I am overwhelmed and overjoyed to share this experience with them and for myself. It is a strange yet amazing feeling to watch your dreams come true. I am beyond grateful that I am able to embark on this journey and continue on this path of self-growth. Traveling has been a dream of mine forever, and I am ecstatic to begin this journey in St. Kitts and Nevis while taking a class for something that I am so deeply passionate about.

First Reflections

The people. The food. The land. The scenery. The homes. The simplicity of life. Island time. Abundance of brown colored people. The locals are so humble and proud of this beautiful island and have been excited to be part of my journey (unforseen to them). It makes me question (even more) why Americans are not this friendly. I have been soaking in the beauty of the island, but I wake up every morning and still cannot believe that I am here. On our first day of class, we were given a tour of the island by our driver, Robert. He is so knowledgeable about the land and history of St. Kitts. Within St. Kitts, there are small villages, all of which has access to a health clinic nearby. The homes sit right by the beach, in between small revenes, close to small shops, and surrounded by greenery. There were people riding goats, walking with their children, and simply sitting on the porch. In a country whose economy is mostly driven by tourism, Kittians run of island time. Interactions with Kittians have varied based on where I have been around the island. Locals are more hesitant to speak and smile, but those who were taxi drivers or workers at the Marriott were more friendly. Those in the tourism business are more friendly as this is their job. I understand their skepticism of Americans, and especially white people.

One of the most important aspects of this trip so for is my experience as the majority race of the country. St. Kitts and Nevis is predominately black, which is the complete opposite of the composition of America. It’s an overwhelming feeling to not be the minority of the country and to fit in at every place that I go. In America, I am the sore thumb that sticks out or one of the very few (if not the only) black student in my classes at UVa. However, when the group and I travel to different places, Kittians stare at us because we clearly are not from the island and because of the white students in our group. In America, I am used to getting stares or whispers, but it was something different about the stares we got here in St. Kitts. During a visit to Ross University, the veterinary medicine school on the island, I was shocked at the lack of colored people on the campus in a majority black island. They are separated from local Kittians, and they have better equipment and resources than the local hospital, health centers, and schools. They do not engage with the community and do not advocate for a community model of health, which is extremely important in all aspects of health. Having attended UVa, I understand what it is like to be one of the few people of color in a classroom or out in a social setting, but this experience was worse for me. I was so shocked to hear about students from different countries who came to this island and have no interaction or cultural perceptions of the place they would be living and studying. Understanding the social determinants of health is vital to helping a community better their health. The local hospital and health centers around the island emphasis a community based model. The Kittian nurses and health workers had limited resources, but do the best job they can. To have visited the local health centers and know they lack modern medical technology, it is heartbreaking to know about the equipement, power, and resources Ross University has that they do not offer or share with the community. Kittians perception of white people are tainted by their interactions with white people who attend Ross and those from America. It’s been interesting to see how race and racism functions on the island that is run by people of color. It never disappears and it reinforces that race is a social construct and is tied to health.

Public Health is more than just one’s well-being and visits to the hospital. This trip so far has highlighted even more the need to address the social determinants of health and a community based model in order to efficiently, culturally, and effectively improve the health of a population.

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Classes Begin: School in Shanghai, Negotiation Tactics, and a Trip to the Market

Julia Thompson is a 3rd year currently studying abroad with UVA in Shanghai: Fudan University. She is a student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Check out her experience so far!

 

Classes have finally begun — almost two months after UVA’s first week of classes. Normally, class sign-ups take place months before the first day of class. However, due to our unique position as international Fudan students (rather than local Chinese Fudan students or international exchange students), our class registration took place on the same day that classes began. Fortunately, my class schedule did not include any Monday classes; I had some roommates who registered for classes then immediately raced out the door to attend the class they had just registered for.

The enrollment process went much smoother than I anticipated. In addition to a Chinese language class, I registered for Chinese Society: Past and Present, Energy & the Environment, Political Culture & Public Opinion in Contemporary China, and Conflict Resolution & International Negotiation. During this first week, two professors noted their dislike for the BBC — I wonder if this is a coincidence or if this sentiment is common among Chinese citizens. A more definitive similarity across classes was the mention of Donald Trump (shocker) and consequent stares at the Americans (us). Embarrassing!

The mix of students in each class varied—one had exclusively international students while the others generally had a mix of both international and Chinese students. In Chinese Society: Past and Present, our professor recommended Chinese students not take the class; on the other hand, my roommates were asked to leave an International Business class because, according to the professor, the class was for those who wanted to improve their English. From these experience, there seemed to be a division of Chinese and international students, so I expected the Political Culture & Public Opinion class to consist of just international students; but to my surprise, when I walked into the classroom, the majority of students were Chinese students who knew little, but wanted to learn more about, their peers’ political opinions.

The Fudan campus is large, but the main campus is just a 15 minute walk from our apartment. One of the main buildings at Fudan University—Guanghua tower—includes classrooms, offices and cafes. The steps leading up to Guanghua tower remind me of the Rotunda or the MET steps; but here, entrance through the front doors is reserved for important figures, and students must enter through the side doors.

Another difference between China and the States that has been consistently apparent is bargaining. In the States, bargaining does not often occur between a customer and business with established prices. However, in Shanghai, bargaining is everywhere—not only at shops, but also at the gym! Normally, I enjoy running outdoors but the crowded streets, busy intersections (cars, mopeds, and bikes will NOT stop for you; at best, they slow to a roll), and poor air quality do not make for an ideal jogging situation. So, my roommates and I went looking for a gym. The process to establish the price for our four month membership included a lengthy back and forth—I need to brush up on my negotiation tactics. Maybe my International Negotiation class can give me a few tips.

One place in Shanghai where bargaining does not take place is the local Walmart. Over the past two weeks, I have probably been about ten times: to stock up on drinkable yogurt, get my fill of Chinese crackers, and get a toothbrush after I dropped mine down the drain. Walmart is just one of several stores where you can buy produce. Our Chinese roommate, Karen, took us to the produce market where my friend bought a GIANT bag of bak choy for 7 kuai (just over 1 USD). This Shanghai produce market was different from a typical grocery store or farmers market in the United States, but were very similar to the Chinese markets I’ve been to in San Francisco. After the trip to the market, Karen and Rosanne cooked dinner for everyone: rice, tomatoes and egg, chicken wings, and vegetables!

Cultural Snapshot: the Razor Scooter

Lillian Harris is a 3rd year majoring in Art History who studied abroad with UVA in Lyon in the fall of 2017. Check out some of her cultural observations  below.

One of the first things that struck me as funny when I arrived in Lyon –  and something I don’t even notice now – is the way people get around here, that is, how people physically get from one place to another: from home to work, from school to soccer practice, from the nightclub to back home. While I expected the preferred mode of transportation to be the bike, or maybe even the Vespa, I’ve found that it’s the Razor Scooter that rules the city streets as the most overwhelmingly popular ride in Lyon.

I used to have a razor scooter when I was younger; my childhood memories are punctuated with bruised ankles and skinned knees from scooting down the driveway at top speeds and attempting bunny hops over the cracks in the sidewalk.

I hopped back on my scooter in high school, when some of the seniors created a Scooter Club. It started out as a joke, but as more and more kids dug out their razors from the back of their garages, the Club became pretty legit. Members rode their razors to and from class and even held scooter rallies at recess.

So it’s funny that this scooter motif keeps reappearing in my life. First in my childhood play dates, then as an ironic joke in high school, and now it’s followed me all the way to France.

Since I’ve become so well re-acquainted with this mode of transportation in my time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of 6 things you should know about the rich scooter culture in Lyon. “Rules of the Road,” if you will. Here they are:

  1. Not just for kids
    • This is the first aspect of scooter culture that I noticed in Lyon. While I had always thought of the Razor Scooter as a child’s plaything, it turns out that scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation used on a daily basis by adults and kids alike in Lyon. I am constantly taken aback when I see a grown man in a suit and carrying a briefcase scooting down the sidewalk on his way to work.
  1. Bikes on road, scooters on sidewalk
    • This is arguably the most important rule of scooting etiquette. Bikes, since they have thick, rubber wheels that are able to conquer the cobble stoned-streets of Vieux Lyon, should always be on the road; most of the roads in Lyon have bike lanes, so sticking to this rule should not be difficult. Scooters, on the other hand, have small, hard, plastic wheels, and do not do well with bumps. So scooters are allowed on the smooth sidewalks. Whether you’re on a bike or a scooter, it is important to stay in your lane.
  2. Scooters have the right-of-way
    • Forget yielding for pedestrians; scooters, as the dominant, speedy form of transportation, have the right-of-way on sidewalks. All walkers should move out of the way for scooters to come through. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having to decelerate and lose momentum to dodge slow walkers.
  3. Pimp my ride
    • The Lyonnais take pride in their scooters, and do not hesitate to trick them out. For the adults, this might include a little hook to hang a purse, or an added platform on the back for a child to stand and ride with his parent. For the kids, common accessories include decals, detachable bags, and fashion helmets, of course.
  4. Pop a wheelie
    • Scooting is so popular in Lyon that it has become not just a mode of transportation but also a sport. There are many skate parks in Lyon, and one of my favorite activities is going to the quai at Guillotière and watching grown men do tricks on scooters. Think: wheelies, 180s – heck, I even saw someone do a backflip just the other day. It’s really impressive to see all the tricks one can do with the simple Razor.
  5. Paradoxical French efficiency
    • A major change from my life at UVA that I’ve experienced here in Lyon is the whole idea of time. Everything in France takes a little longer than it does in the US. For example, it is considered rude to show up on time to a dinner party, and also, you can count on courses at the university starting at least 10 minutes late. So it’s so funny to me that the French buy so wholeheartedly into this uber efficient mode of transportation, the Razor Scooter, despite a general lack of concern for the need to rush.

It’s interesting to note the differences in daily life in different places: the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we get around. These are the nuances of the way of living that really define a culture and set it apart from others. The use of the Razor Scooter I’ve found in Lyon is just one facet of its culture that makes it totally unique.

They say that instead of focusing on the destination, one should enjoy the journey; in Lyon, I’m taking my sweet time on my Razor Scooter.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Eleanor Langford is a 3rd year Psychology major studying abroad with The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) in Chiang Mai, Thailand this spring. Check out some of her photos below!

“Staying at the Temple”: The act of “making merit” is a common and important part of Thai Buddhist’s life. There are many ways to make merit, including going to a temple. At the temple, one can purchase small bells with plaques to inscribe one’s name on. These bells are then hung around the temple, with the idea that your presence there can be maintained after you leave, and the merit gaining will likewise continue.

 

“Reverence not Worship”: For the outsider, it often appears as though monks and laypeople are worshiping the Buddha, as they prostrate themselves and make offerings in front of the ornate statues. However, these gestures are done to make merit and to arouse a sense of awe and respect that rids oneself of arrogance and egotism, allowing a better reception the Dhamma (teaching of the Buddha).

“Monk Offering”: Monks and the laypeople of the community can be thought of as livingin a symbiotic relationship. Monks cannot handle money and must beg for their food. The community is therefore responsible for feeding them. Giving an offering to a monk “makes merit” and therefore benefits those giving the offering. Here, you see people lined up with their offering bowls, prepared to give the monks an assortment of food.

“Kitchen in Ban Sri Kun”: Meals are an important part of Thai life, and this can be exemplified through the relative size of the kitchen in most village homes. This kitchen in this home in Ban Sri Khun village was by far the biggest room in the house.

“Dinner Table”: In rural areas, Thais will eat family style on a mat.

“Hill Tribe”: This woman is from the Karen Hill Tribe in northern Thailand. There are many different Hill Tribes living in Thailand, all of whom are without citizenship to any country.

“Rice Farming”: For many Northern Thai villagers, rice farming is a time consuming but reliable and common livelihood, as rice is an important component of most Thai food.

“Rice is a Staple”: Rice is a major staple of Thai food, and accompanies most meals in some form; hence, the large quantities of it sold at most markets.

Stockholm, Sweden

Emma Bergon is a 3rd year studying with DIS in Stockholm, Sweden on a

Psychology program this spring. Check out some of her photos below!

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A rare sunny say in Stockholm, although the water is still icy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cobblestone, windy streets of Galma Stan (Old Town)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice skating on the local lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching my host brother’s soccer game, Swedes love their soccer!

Fika time! (Fika is a term in Sweden that approximately

means “to have coffee”) My favorite place to enjoy the Swedish tradition

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Fika in Småland

 

An exhibit called “Nordic Light” at Nordiska Museet

(A museum dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The artwork at Tensta station: Stockholm is famous for its metro station artwork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rare sunny day in Stockholm

The Sevier Cough

Blaise Sevier is a 2nd year who studied abroad last semester on exchange at Hitotsubashi University  in Japan. She and three other UVA students ran a blog about their experience, See her original post at https://runningjapan.squarespace.com/wheels-up-dc/2017/10/31/the-sevier-cough-blaise

I’ve been sick with the “Sevier Cough.” It’s not just any cough, but a family hack where my whole chest vibrates with force and I find myself gasping for breath.

Dramatic? Yes. Harmful? No.

The “Sevier Cough” is a family plague that hits my sisters and I right around when the leaves change and the air gets a bit cooler – my mom says it’s a seasonal asthma and always sends us to school.

Here in Japan – my cough has become a somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. On the metro, in the grocery store, walking to class, I find myself getting over a coughing fit, clearing my throat and receiving the death stare from my fellow Hitotsubashi peers, grocery-goers, and metro riders. It don’t blame them. It’s gross!

But it’s a cough that I have and can’t quite control.

For the past few weeks, I have maintained this blasé attitude about my cough. I pushed passed the smirks, glares, and uncomfortable metro shifts. I was just sick, they were just hypercritical – and I didn’t want to wear a…. mask.

 

 My inital reaction to wearing a mask

Masks in Japan are one of the most common accessory for any woman, man, grandmother, grandfather, and/or child to wear. It is a white cloth that covers the nose and mouth and prevents germs from spreading. It’s practical and considerate when you are crammed on the metro with hundreds of people every day. But until now, I didn’t think *I* needed to wear a mask.

The thought struck me when I was in my Global Network class and we were talking about the effects of colonialism. We discussed several examples on how European settlers rarely conformed to native practices – even if the practice, ideology, method was practical, was for the betterment of the people, or just made sense.

Take for example the Calvinists that landed on the Hawaiian Island in 1893. I learned that they refused to change the way that they dressed. Instead of adapting their wardrobe to a subtropical climate, the Calvinists continued to wear often thick, long cotton pants and dresses.

Gosh, that sounds hot.

Although this is an ingenuous example, it demonstrates settlers’ reluctance to conform to the practical norms of the region. Why wouldn’t they just throw on some linen?

But before I move forward, I want to make a few things clear 1). I am not comparing the Japanese culture to the native people in Hawaii rather, I am comparing my thoughtless act of not wearing a mask in public (which is practical and thoughtful thing to do in busy public spaces) to the settlers’ dismissal of Hawaiian’s traditions and norms.

I was wrong about not wearing a mask in public. What gives me the right to expose other people to my germs, when they are taking precautions to not get me sick. If my fellow community members are considerate – why do I think that I have the privilege to not wear the mask and not be?

 

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I think the answer lies in the fact that I wasn’t being self-critical – I wasn’t acknowledging that I was part of the community and that I was somehow different because I was a “gaijin” or non-Japanese and could get away with breaking social norms.

It’s a crutch that I think many individuals abroad rely on – and something I want to recognize and change.

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Same Eyes, New Lenses

Tarah Fisher is a 3rd year studying Psychology who spent her Fall 2017 semester with Semester at Sea. See her reflection on her experience below!

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned to Virginia. I’m back in Charlottesville

beginning Sorority Recruitment. The stark contrast between what I’ll be doing tomorrow, that is small talk with hundreds of first years, and what I was doing two weeks ago has me reflecting.

The day we disembarked, I cried like a baby. I didn’t know if I’d ever see these people again. I cried for the second time when I saw my father at the airport.

Did study abroad change my life like most returnees claim it changed theirs? I thought about this a lot on my last few days on the ship. I couldn’t tell you that my life has changed, that I’m a new person, or that if you study abroad your life will change. I notice change in the subtle ways. I am more aware of what if feels like to be a foreigner in a country where you don’t speak the language, and how that smile from a local truly makes a difference. International news hits close to home more than ever before. When I see the South African President in the news, I think of the South Africans I met, and what they must be thinking. I’m able to say more about Africa than “there are starving children there”. I can deal with things that don’t go my way and I don’t let them ruin my day. I can navigate a city with only a handheld map.

People have told me I’ve changed. I have seen the world with a new lens, but it’s always been the same eyes behind them. If anything, my voyage has sparked a thirst for more. I will never stop traveling. I will never stop searching for new places to pull me outside of my comfort zone. Maybe one day, without me even noticing it, I will have transformed into the global citizen I’ve always wanted to be.

So how do I sum up my voyage? How do I put four months worth of experiences into a sentence? What do I say when people ask, how was it? “It was amazing,” doesn’t begin to explain it. I may not be able to convey it all through words. There will be subtle details that contribute to the big picture that I’ll forget.

But I’ll always have my friends who stood there beside me as we experienced everything together, and that’s something I can count on.