I am a rather indecisive person who loves to do many things at once, so when looking for an abroad program I knew it wouldn't be easy. As an environmental Studies major, I wanted to gain a more global perspective on issues I had been learning in the classroom, so once I came across the program tiled SIT IHP: Climate Change - The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy in Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia, I was positive that I had found my program. I knew that on a traveling program, I would not have a homebase in my four months of travel, but I would gain the opportunity to examine issues across various and drastically different cultures.
Before I left for my program I could not have begun to prepare myself for the mixed tape of cultures I would be experiencing. Starting in San Francisco, California to get our feet wet in climate knowledge and try to get to know the people on our program in our home country made the next transition much easier as we flew into Viet Nam. Before we left each time for a new country, we were given a small ‘how to’ lecture about living in these cultures which are vastly different from our own. Each time I was gearing up for my next adventure. I remember my mind being blown when I realized that Pho was a breakfast food, and that the best way to cross a multiple lane road with zooming motor bikes is to just go for it and don't look back. In Morocco, I was taught that you always stick to your section of the tagine, the large dish you eat out of communally for meals, and to always use your right hand to take food, never the left (that one is for the bathroom…). The final culture lecture came in Bolivia, where I learned the many uses of coca leaves and that the siesta lifestyle would soon be mine! I remember thinking how well I was able to adjust to these different cultures, not only because I had now done it twice, but because of the amazing support system and academic background I was given on my program. The program also set us up with homestays in each country to get a crash culture course outside of the classroom, which allowed me to be challenged with minor language barriers, real life ideas of how people in that country live, and to try the best food that country had to offer.
Each day of the program was different, whether we were being taught by an expert in Morocco on drip irrigation farming, visiting refineries in Bolivia, or seeing a major hydroelectric dams in Viet Nam, every day was filled with hands-on experiential learning that allowed me to apply previous readings and lectures to the functions of these places and processes. My biggest takeaway from diving right into these countries was how people all around the world address and look at problems differently. Whether it is how they talk about them at home, or deal with them through their government structures, each country’s set of cultural values is a factor in how they make decisions.
This was an experience of a lifetime. Looking back on it now, I still think about the cultural differences from the places I saw and use the world knowledge I have today to discuss and consider issues that face the globe. I gained the ability to look inside myself and what I knew, and allow a new place with its own set of values shape my understanding. The experience of going abroad and the IHP Climate Change program allowed me to become the person I am today.
If you want to follow my trip from beginning to end, here is my blog for more stories, memories, and lessons! http://curiosity-cured-the-cat.tumblr.com/
Brielle Stander '17
San Francisco, California; Hanoi, Vietnam; Casablanca, Morocco; La Paz, Bolivia
Term Abroad: Fall 2015
Bonchek College House
Major: Environmental Studies
Exec Board for Alice Drum Woman's Center
Jewish Engagement Fellow
F&M Works Intern