Author Archives: Elizabeth

Travel as rhetorical listening

I firmly believe that travel itself can be an act of rhetorical listening. Listening to the questions people ask you about yourself and your home country. Listening to what people reveal about themselves. And listening to the the culture as a whole when you travel.

Last night I heard a news report about the advertising awards and the winner of the gold prize was a radio advertisement for the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. I had to hear this advertisement several times to really process and listen to the message that was being conveyed.

Now, in an award-winning advertisement for the Apartheid Museum, called “Verwoerd”, Trump’s words have been cut together with H.F. Verwoerd, known as the “Architect of Apartheid”.

Hearing the audio clips back-to-back is jarring, but it does provide some new context for Trump’s words and actions that he has taken since becoming president. There is a part in the add that I think is supposed to be Trump that doesn’t sound like him and I’ve never heard that clip anywhere else. However, I think it does speak volumes to how this US president is perceived abroad and provides an interesting point of discussion for students who are learning about South Africa, but also America through another country’s eyes.

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Reccomend One Book

My sister sent me an interesting article of book reccomendations from 22 Ambassadors to the United States from various countries. The premise of the piece was for the ambassadors to reccomendone book everyone should read before visiting their country [click here for the article].

Of course as a lecturer, I assign required reading all of the time. Additionally, as someone who teaches a study abroad program, I do require students to do quite a bit of reading before getting to South Africa. However, if I was going to reccomend a single book that everyone should read before visiting South Africa it would be Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (2016). born-a-crimeNoah’s ability to tell his personal story while at the same time teaching the reader about South Africa’s complicated history, makes this book a great read. For an extra treat, get the audio version of the book because its read by Noah himself.

 

What one book would you reccomend for people to read before visiting your country? Either your home country or the country you currently live in?


Travel Tips: but not that kind

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If you search for travel tips you can find all sorts.

  • How to book a flight to save the most cash
  • What you pack depending on where you’re traveling
  • How to eat like a local
  • Where to find the off-beat curioities of a particular area
  • Or safety tips depending on when and where you’re traveling

However, there are apects of travel that most people don’t talk about opening. Parts of travel and experiencing a new place can be difficult or a challenge. A lack of preparation for these challenges can make the traveler feel like they are doing something wrong or that something is wrong with them. Intercultural differences can definetly be a form of culture shock and if you aren’t prepared you could start becoming judgemental and closed off to your new location.

So, I wanted to write a post about some of these unspoken travel challenges.

  1. Space: Interpersonal space is not a universal concept. People from the US are used to having large amounts of personal space, even in a crowd. Our understanding of space and interpersonal space is a cultural concept.
    • Here’s a few articles that get into this concept a bit more:
      • “What personal space looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “How personal space boundaries vary in different countries” [click here]
      • “Which countries have the smallest personal space” [click here]
  2. Silence: Not just silence, but also when is it culturally approprate to speak and when are you expected to be quiet. Silience is a luxury that people living in most cities do not have. When you relocate to a new country or study abroad country you may find people talking when you would normally expect quiet, but noone else around you seems to be bothered by the noise. No, you aren’t alone or the first one to experience a struggle with this issue. Places that I’ve experienced this includes: movie theaters, conference presentations, airplanes, government offices…The funny thing is that when you do a search for “Why are [insert nationallity here] so loud?” You can find an article for almost every single country. Which just proves that its what we’re used to and then someone from another country or culture comes along and violates this norm. How we regulate noise levels or modulate our own voices is a cultural construct. So…here’s a few articles I found that speak to this issue.
    • “My cultural noise threshold is being violated” [click here]
    • “Cultural differences in percieving sounds generated by others” [click here]
    • “Why are Americans abroad so loud and obnoxious” [click here]
  3. Smiling: Okay y’all. I’m just going to be totally real on this one. Americans are a little obsessed with happiness and a bit too cheerful for the rest of the world (see the article above about us being loud and obnoxious). I mean, we really do smile, a lot. Is everything really awesome?! In your new country strangers probably won’t exhange smiles with you on the street (I still can’t help myself most of the time and that’s okay). But this doesn’t mean that they are being rude to you, its just not part of their cultural practice.
  4. Table manners: How we eat varies widely from country to country. We use different utenciles and the types of food that we consider to be staples varies. So, it makes sense that the idea of what is rude or not at the table would vary from culture to culture, as well.
    • Here are a few articles to help you understand how table manners are constructed around the world:
      • “A guide to table manners around the world” [click here]
      • “What proper etiquette looks like around the world” [click here]
      • “Dining etiquette around the world” [click here]
      • “Renaissance table etiqutte and the origins of manners” [click here]
  5. Public transportation: Now that you are in the other country, how are you going to get around? What looks like public transportation varies from country to country and you may be missing out on a budget friendly transportation option.
    • What are the some of the varieties of transportation options?
      • “Around the world in 30 unique modes of transport” [click here]
      • “Top 12 world’s super authentic means of public transport” [click here]
      • “8 unspoken rules of public transportation around the world” [click here]
  6. Alcohol: Buying alcohol around the world or even just from state-to-state within the US, can vary widely.
    • Are you old enough to drink? A guide to the min. drinking ages in 190 countries around the world [click here]
    • Is drinking even legal where you’re traveling? Here’s 14 countries where drinking alcohol isn’t legal [click here]
    • Okay, you can buy it here, but how expensive is it? Here’s a guide to how much alcohol costs around the world [click here]
    • Now, you know if its legal, if you’re legal, and how much its going to set you back, but what should you drink? Here’s a guide to the best booze to drink in 43 countries [click here]
    • If you’re going to have ‘one drink’ how does the alcohol content vary around the world? Good question [click here]
  7. Food labels: If you have dietary requirements that make reading food lables a normal part of your shopping experience, you may not be ready for how other countries label their packaged food.  (Also, you may want to get a metric converter app for your phone to help make sense of international food lables)
    • “Differences between EU and US nutrition lables go far beyond ounces and grams” [click here]
    • “Food health labels around the world” [click here]
    • “Global plan to streamline ‘use by’ labels” [click here]
  8. Operating hours: When are businesses open?  In the US we are acustomed to businesses being open early and staying open late with many stores not changing their hours of operation for the weekend. However, this is something that varies widely from country to country and even within a country, if you move from a large city to a small town or village. For example: in the US if a store is open on Sundays it will most likely open later in the day (noon is quite common) and it will likely close early (6 p.m. is still common). However, in South Africa a lot of stores will open at the standard time, but close early.
  9. Work/life balance: If you are living abroad for an extended period of time you are probably working in a new culture. But working and living in a new country can be very different from working in the US. I’m not fully going down that rabbit hole here, but in general understanding how your new country places work into their overall cultural understanding of life will help you undertand your new neighbors and friends even if you aren’t working directly in the new country (I’m looking at you digital nomads).
    • “Working hours around the world” [click here]
    • “The 13 countries with the best work-life balance for expats” [click here]
    • Women in the workforce worldwide (Pew Center) [click here]

Traveling can be fantastic! And anyone who knows me knows that I’m always trying to find yet another way to go abroad. However, its best if you’re aware of the many variances between countries that could catch you off-gaurd. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you encounter a difficulty that you weren’t expecting when you travel or relocate to a new culture. Culture shock is real and sometimes you don’t know when its going to show up!

The items I included in this post were things that I’ve encountered and caused me some stress as I acclimated to my new environment. What did I miss? Please comment with things that were an unexpected culture shock for you when you studied or moved abroad.

 


Breathless Wednesday

On WordPress some blogs do “Wordless Wednesday” and I’ve made a few of those posts. I’ve posted up videos or pictures that could stand on their own.

However, today I’m overwhelmed by words and a myriad of thoughts, but I find my heart skipping a beat and my breath catching. I’m in the edge of my next adventure, headed into the great wide-open of life.

This next academic year is (hopefully) my last. I’m headed to South Africa for fall semester to write my dissertation, I’ve imaged it as a semester’s Long writing retreat. Then spring semester I defend and graduate. Each next step has an outline of a plan, but no definite next steps because I want to remain open to all of the possibilities available to me. It’s exhilarating and a bit scary.

But it also feels right. Time to see what the universe has in store!


Wordless Wednesday


2019 Study Abroad Promo

I’m excited for the Winter 2019 study abroad program! The planning for this program is in full force and the program is completely re-vamped from the first two years. This video was made from pictures I took on the 2017 and 2018 programs.


IAD->JFK->AMS->JNB

Cheap tickets can be quite the adventure. I’m taking the long way down to South Africa this time, but the point is that I’m headed back. This trip is an amuse bouche for my longer stay.

This year has felt a little like a dream, but one where I’m conscious writing the lines and designing the plot. I’ve become a bit cautious writing my ideas in my journals because it feels a bit like witchcraft. Me writing down my ideas and dreams, the ink flowing off the page into my life.

Ten years out from one of the most consequential years of my life, it’s hard not to take notice. So many times this year I have been taken aback at how my life has changed over the past ten years.

Ten years ago I was desperate for meaning as each month seemed to break another piece of me off. Life was changing me…

“I am proud of the woman I am today, because I went through one hell of a time becoming her.”

I’m not going to recount all of the details of that year because I can’t fully. The year left marks, impressions, but its cloudy and I cannot see it clearly anymore. Nor, do I want to. I came through, so I didn’t have to be there anymore.

I about to head to the airport…My bags are packed. Items on my “To do” lists are crossed off. The playlists created. Time to take a deep breath and see what the second half of 2018 will do.


Africa: Three Ways

Weezer released a cover of Toto’s Africa last month, which closely coincided with my departure date and made me newly obsessed with this song. I thought I’d post three different takes of the same song and links to the story behind each one.

First is the original Toto’s Africa:

Here’s the short story behind how this song was written and the inspiration for the song [click here].

Next is Kristen Bell and Dax Shepperd’s video made to the orginial Toto version of Africa:

Even though this is the same song the video, made 30 years after the song was originally recorded, gives new meaning to the song itself. Here’s the story behind their video [click here].

Last, but certainly not least, is Weezer’s cover of Africa:

Follow the link for the sweet story behind this new cover [click here].


The storm before the calm

Accelerated.

That’s the pace leading up to a departure date. So many things to do and many of them cannot be done in advance. As my travel date approaches the list grows and the pace quickens. Until the day of departure, when everything slows, clarifies, and simplifies. Today, the big push is packing.

But I’m not just packing. I’m also re-sorting my closet and culling my clothes for another donation run. Then I’ll sort through the clothes that are left and decide what to store and which ones to take back to South Africa in August.

Once the sorting, culling, and packing, is complete I feel a sense of calm. I know that feeling is coming. However, this time the trip that is coming on Monday will be the eye of the storm because when I come back the big move is happening. I’ll have to finish packing up my apartment and put everything into storage until a future, unknown date when I have an address again.

Its funny because I feel so hectic before I leave, but once I’m headed to the airport everything calms down for me and I’m in my happy space. For a lot of people travel is the hectic piece. In the airport they are scattered and a bit harried. Travel can be confusing and disorienting, but I think that’s some of what I really enjoy about it. I enjoy the fun of discovering new places. My favorites are bookstores, coffee shops, and the perfect vantage point to watch sunsets and sunrises. I don’t buy into the “life is a journey” cliche because the point of a journey is a destination. Is death really the destination of my life? I prefer the cliche that life is music (mostly jazz). We have ideas and pursue those ideas, but so much improve happens along the way. Songs do end. However, the music is the point. The beauty of the piece lies in it being played.

Okay…back to actually packing!

 


Curation or Creeping Africanism (Orientalism)

A few days ago I read a blog post called The weird questions I get asked about Africa. The post was written by a young Ghanian who (rightfully so) was at a boiling point for ignorant questions about the continent. She’s developed a little trick when talking to people about Ghana or Africa more generally. After tiring of explaining from the start she is from a country in West Africa named Ghana etc. She now has a tactic of

“when someone asks where I am from, i just say Africa. Whilst some people are content with it, others who appear to be learned will then ask which country in Africa, then i smile and know, i can actually have a conversation with this one, cause basically who wants to keep explaining themselves over things which are easy to come across on the internet when you really what to know”.

Who wants to be a constant Wikipedia page for people?

Back in January I ran into more Americans my first weekend in Johannesburg than I ever have before. I’m sure that’ll keep happening because AfroPunk now has a festival in South Africa. But  I kept getting asked about “traditions” and in my head I’m thinking, “Um, people are just living their lives. Not everything you see is ‘an old ethnic tradition'”. For me it was a good reminder before I met my students that I need to be mindful of the exoctification of Africa. Its the difference of traveling and helping my students mindfully learn about South Africa, from a place of identification and closeness. I think its a delicate balance because in order to do that students need to be uncomfortable, but not so uncomfortable that they shut down.

One of the many pieces I have my students read is “Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic'”, that examines this idea of how global-localization has changed the very idea of what it means to be in a place. But this is the new and authentic reality people everywhere are struggling with and against. So often I’ve found that people’s idea of “authentic” is actually finding experiences that match their preconceived notions of a place. This past year I tried to push against that notion each time my students mentioned that visiting a township was ‘real South Africa’. The next program I’m designing has more space for me to facilitate those conversations throughout their time within the country. I want to try and disrupt their ideas of who and what South Africa is and keeping them engaged throughout the entire program.

I want students to understand, even if it is only in matters of degrees, that South Africa is every bit as complicated and complex as the United States, Virginia, or even their university. As Taiye Selasi argued in her fantastic TED talk [click here] you may say that you are from the United States of America, but does anyone really have a relationship with the United States, all 50 of them? Our experiences are local, specific, and more complicated than we remember.

short-travel-quotes

I would love to hear from other study abroad instructors how how to keep students engaged in these difficult “in between” spaces. Any thoughts, writing prompts? or suggested readings would be greatly appreciated!


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