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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Aspects of Intercultural Communication

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Within my first two weeks in Spain I noticed the difference in openness between the communication of people from Spanish culture and communication of people from American culture. At the dinner table my host family tends to like to ask my roommate and I multiple questions. I was shocked when my home stay parent looked at me and directly asked "So, do you like Clinton or Trump?" I laughed and was not quite sure what to say. At home it is very well known that the topic of politics is not considered a conversation that you have at the dinner table. I tried to give a casual answer to brush the conversation away, but after I replied I noticed that my home stay family continued to stare at me. I realized they wanted me to bluntly answer the question and literally say who I intended to vote for. This was such an interesting experience for me. I decided to go along with the conversation and gave them my honest opinion of the politics currently occurring in the United States.

The one thing I noticed between the interaction and the communication was that my host family listened. Never once did they interrupt. Never once did they tell me my opinion was wrong. They asked a straight forward question, accepted what I said, and more importantly appreciated the honesty within my answer. 
In reflecting on this experience I realized the concept of them asking me a straight forward question was not only different, but the genuineness and level of respect they showed towards my answer I felt was an even greater difference. There was also no sign of non verbal communication displayed from my Spanish family that made me feel as if they disagreed or did not accept my answer. It was legitimate openness.
I am not sure why Americans struggle with similar aspects of openness while communicating. Not just openness to ask question, but also openness to listen and receive another person's answer. Listening is such a vital part of communication, yet I have realized since being in Spain that Americans are really bad at it. And, if an American does take the time to listen their non verbal communication generally does not display a concept of openness. This might be because American culture tends to be extremely individualistic. Americans focus so much on what they might want to say that they don't listen to your answer, but instead are configuring their response for when you are done talking. Or Americans have the habit of blatantly interrupting in order to say what they want to say. Maybe because of the individualism seen in our culture, which creates a lack of listening as well as an action of interrupting, Americans have developed the habit of avoiding these kinds of direct questions and  conversations within communication altogether. Maybe there are other reasons why Americans not only avoid these questions, but also struggle to listen and approach a conversation with respect, and openness. Some quick advice to consider when participating in intercultural communication that I have learned from this trip,

  • Observe the details of how the person acts while you are communicating with them. Watch their eyes, watch their facial expression, and consider their tone.
  • Ask yourself, 'How are those details different from what I might experience at home if I were to have a similar conversation?'
  • Consider why those differences occur, and then ask 'Do those differences effect the conversation and overall communication that is occurring?'

I have noticed with traveling between countries and cultures that it's the multiple little things that effect my comfort level. Within communication and conversation it is the same way. Look for the little things. Learn from them, and grow.

Finding a balance

Studying abroad is an amazing adventure where so many crazy opportunities will present themselves. You will constantly have to make decisions about what is worth your time and what isn’t. In a summer program especially, it feels like there will never be enough time to accomplish everything. The sad truth is that sometimes you will have to choose doing homework over some of those amazing experiences. For every activity or excursion, I have a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that homework and school still exist. Sometimes the voice is loud and present and sometimes it’s barely a whisper.

On my second weekend in Spain, I took a trip to Rome and it was amazing. We saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican. I didn’t work on any of my homework beforehand and didn’t bring anything to work on while I was there. When we finally got back on Sunday around 7pm, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I was completely exhausted from the weekend and still had several assignments due the following day. I got through them and took an epic nap the next day, but I knew I should have let that voice in my head be stronger than a whisper.


These are my tips for balancing schoolwork with the amazing experiences that come with studying abroad:

1    1. Don’t try to do everything:
There’s so much to do and so little time, but that doesn’t mean you should fill every waking second with activities. You will get burnt out and all the cool things you did will run together in a blur of exhaustion and your school work will suffer. Find the things you think will give you the best memories and stick with them. That brings me to the second tip:

2.  Choose unique experiences:
Before you decide to spend precious time and money on something, ask yourself this question: Could I do this in the U.S. and have the same experience? If the answer is undeniably yes, then don’t do it! You need time for homework as it is and the valuable time you do have should be spent trying new and exciting things that you couldn’t do at home. Whether it’s getting late night tapas or taking a day trip to Montserrat, there will be opportunities that are unique to where you’re studying. Make those a priority and use your left over time to study.





3. Don’t procrastinate:
This is one of the oldest tips in the book, but it’s still true. The worst thing you can do while studying abroad is procrastinate your school work. If you leave it to the last minute, then something cool will inevitably be happening and you will either not be able to go, stay up all night doing homework, or not do it all. None of those are good options. Save yourself the headache and do homework ahead of time whenever possible. 

4. Know your limits:
There will always be people who seemingly don’t need sleep and manage to do everything. Maybe you are one of those people, but odds are you need sleep and down time like the rest of us. If you’re already tired and you have a mountain of homework, don’t go for a two-hour hike that’s all uphill. That being said, don’t let feeling tired or busy keep you from doing cool stuff. It’s all about finding a balance.

week 3

It's pretty unbelievable that we are heading into our last week of the program. It seems like we just got here and I could never experience all that Barcelona has to offer! I am so thankful for the experiences we have had so far and look forward to what we can cram in in the last 10,800 minutes. I plan to make them count!

Speaking of which, it has been interesting to work on balancing school work and adventure while studying abroad. Some people view study abroad as a vacation, with a little school mixed in just to cover the basics. I can agree to an extent, that study abroad has a "vacationy" feel, but I have made sacrifices while studying abroad, just as I would at home during a normal semester, to stay in and study. While we were on one of our excursions this weekend we were talking with a couple and the husband just kept commenting on the fact that all our parents had paid for us to be here, and that we should be thanking them, buying them gifts, etc. and shaking his head at us. We laughed at his jokes but it did bother me. Study abroad is such a priceless experience and a lot of students do pay their own way to come along. The balance of studying and "vacationing" can be difficult. To stay on task I used my regular planner every week to make time for homework and for our trips. We planned our homework and studying into each day so that we knew we had time for both. There were many times I had to say no to a night out or come home early to finish homework, and that's okay with me. I would do the same at home, and make grades a priority always.

As I said, study abroad is priceless, but if you blow off whatever classes you are taking, you will pay the price. It's just as much worth it to put in the effort here that it would be on campus. A few tips for staying on task:

1. Make a schedule. As I said before, I did this at home anyway, so it was easy for me to incorporate this here. (If you don't do this yet, start,)

2. Be flexible. This applies to a lot of things regarding study abroad, but especially applies to class. You may realize you forgot to finish something, or your group may procrastinate a project, so be ready to give up a plan you have made to get something done.

3. Remember that there's always tomorrow. There's so much adventure to fit into our time here. If you didn't get to visit that shop today, schedule it in for tomorrow. You'll get it all done, and it's important to put schoolwork first. 

32,400 minutes down, 10,800 minutes to go!




week 2

Another 10,800 minutes in the books! This week consisted of a lot of adjustment and I feel even more comfortable in this crazy new place. Barcelona is becoming more and more familiar and I've finally figured out how to get around. After leaving for the weekend, and coming back "home" to Barcelona, I think it has helped me to appreciate and love the city even more! Barcelona has such a rich culture and exciting environment and I feel very lucky to spend my summer here.

Since being here in Barcelona, I got to have an interesting conversation with my host mother's boyfriend, Nicholas. He comes over often and is a wonderful help in translating between my roommate and I and our host mom. He speaks English very well and we like to catch up with him when he's over. One night before dinner he started a discussion with us about politics. At first it felt a little strange and uncomfortable, but I was intrigued so I just sat and listened. He began to explain to us the history of Barcelona, Spain, and Catalonia, and the relationship between the three. This was all new to me, and at this point I had only heard about the controversy of Catalonia gaining independence, so I was interested to learn about what the fuss was all about. But he described it more as a history lesson, than a political debate. He wanted to keep us informed, and shared his opinion, but didn't do it in a forceful way. I enjoyed this conversation and it was quite refreshing, honestly. Politics are quite possibly my least favorite thing to talk about. In fact, I avoid talking about politics at all costs whether it's with friends or family, I do not enjoy it. But this time it was different. It showed me that it is rooted in cultural differences between home and here. These types of things are more openly talked about, and thats okay. People are taught to voice their opinions in, hopefully, a more mature and thought out way.

We had a discussion in class the other day bout discussing politics and how different it is here than in the states and I made a comment about social media. I believe it has gotten to a point where people hide behind social media and use it to "voice" their opinion rather than doing it in a civilized manner, face to face. I see tons of hate-filled comments and posts every day about what's going on in the world around us, and not many of those comments come from people who are actively doing something to help the world around them. This conversation with Nicholas, and our class discussion has sparked my interest in these trends and noticing the differences between the two.

IN OTHER NEWS:

I got to see Rome this weekend, which was pretty amazing. With this new adventure comes a few new tips for traveling, and traveling while traveling.

1. BE PATIENT! This weekend we were faced with a lot of hardships (stolen wallets, deactivated credit cards, getting very lost) and it required a ton of patience, in order to still make the most of our time.

2. Go with the flow! when things don't go as planned, complaining only makes the situation worse, and hey getting lost may be the best thing that happened to your day, leading you on a new adventure!

3. Stop and smell the roses. Don't get too caught up in the itinerary you have planned out. If you see something amazing along the way, check it out.


21,600 minutes down, 21,600 minutes to go!




Monday, June 27, 2016

Communication Outside Of My Culture

Spending what has now been three weeks in Spain I've spoken to more people outside of my culture and more than that outside of my comfort zone. Whether it be just talking to my host family or ordering food, culture is so evident in all communication and much more than I ever realized in the United States. But while every one was a challenging experience, they all have allowed me to grow and better understand how to speak to someone different than myself. On an every day basis I spoke to our host mom’s 17-year-old daughter, Cora, and thankfully she spoke English. Even being able communicate in a language I understood, though, does not mean I did not learn a lot.
The conversations themselves are completely different as well. One of the first days we met she asked very casually about politics in the United States and this threw me off entirely. I had absolutely no idea what the appropriate response would be in this situation but within moments though it became very clear that communication here does not tip toe around what we consider ‘controversial’ topics. This openness became more and more present with every conversation and because of that I became far more open with my responses as well. I also found that many of the words that we use to describe something are vastly different, for example when I said political “party”, her face went to immediate confusion asking why would we use the word party to describe a team? Patience and using clear communication and explanations is so essential in these instances and it works both ways as many times she explained things in English I had to stop and ask her to clarify, or explain what she meant.
Communication, here especially, goes far past the words you say. I have always believed the Spanish language is spoken very quickly, but what I did not realize was that they thought the same thing. Many times we spoke, despite the fact that she knew English, she would just look at me and say “woaaaahhh so fast, what?”. I learned immediately that speaking to someone outside of your culture and native language, no matter how much you think they know, is difficult for both sides.

            These lessons and realizations, in my eyes, will guide me even past speaking in Spanish culture and can help other realize how many simple differences there are that you have to realize when speaking interculturally. My advice to you would be to one, be patient. It isn’t just hard for you, it’s hard for them too and it’s going to take time. I found using comparisons and speaking slow can help more than I realized. In addition to that, when you’re talking listen to what they talk about and how they discuss things as cues to help you understand what is acceptable, especially if you haven’t done the research on it. Every culture is different and what is acceptable to discuss changes with each one. With that, though, don’t be afraid to discuss things that are deemed acceptable in their culture even if it isn’t in yours. Last, and most important, I would advice anyone in any culture to be curious. Ask questions and learn as much as you can, you’ll use these lessons for the rest of your life. With every kiss on the cheek I’ve received from a new stranger, I’ve learned a whole new world.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Balancing My Studies While Abroad

Introduction

Today approximately 800 American companies have a facility overseas, with even more companies looking to expand in the global markets. In 2015, over 300,000 students from the US studied abroad; however, universities around the country are encouraging more to join. The world today is growing into a global society through better means of communication and travel. With the focus on globalization and the world market, students should consider traveling to a new country to discover new cultures, experience intercultural communication and relations, and develop insight into how other countries function. But how do students balance experiencing the country/culture with their studies when they are abroad for short periods of time?

My Experience

As a two time short-term study abroad, I’ve experienced this issue of balancing my schoolwork and exploring the culture and new traditions around me. Both trips I took the “sleep when you’re in the US” route to make sure I milked every second of my time abroad. Although I enjoyed my time tremendously, learned by doing/experiencing the culture, and still did well in my classes, it also caught up to me after a while. After about 2 weeks of depriving myself of a goodnights sleep, my body began to shut down. After doing this twice, I learned there are some other methods that are a bit healthier for your body, but still give you just as much time to explore abroad.

Advice

To gain the most out of your study abroad and still do well in your classes I would suggest:
  • Print out your reading assignments or store your assignments in your phone. It’s amazing the time you have on transportation, in a park, or at a cafĂ© to do your homework, you just have to make sure you have the materials to do your work



  • Designate a timeframe each day that you will do your homework, but be flexible with when that timeframe happens. I usually chose to spend my time after dinner doing homework; however, on days where there were events at night, I would eat lunch at home and do my homework until the event. This allowed me to get my work done, but still explore the things I wanted to see.
  • Pay attention in class. Most of what you are tested on is material that is covered IN CLASS. You have to be in class everyday anyways, so there’s no point trying to cram what you didn’t pay attention to in class, outside of the classroom. Doing that wastes time you could have spent experiencing a new aspect of the culture.

Conclusion

Overall, I would highly encourage every student to participate in a study abroad program. Do not discount these opportunities because you have to do homework or go to class while abroad. There are plenty of ways to get your work done and still have more than enough time to see and experience the country you are studying in.

References


Conversation with my Host Mom
I have a conversation with my Spanish host mom Carmen every day at dinner. We talk about the daily activities, classes and a lot about our different cultures.
Carmen is a retired psychology teacher. She has two daughters both are married and live in different cities. She meets her daughters almost once a month.  She spends her most of the time doing leisure activities. Different days of the week she goes to do yoga, swim or to the park. Being a former teacher she loves to read and also watches TV every night. She doesn’t like her photo to be taken and below is the only photo that I have of her.

I like to talk to her specially about the Spanish culture. I love to learn new things about different cultures. Talking to her is kind of challenging because she doesn’t speak English and I have been taking Spanish classes for only a year and my Spanish is not very good. But this language barrier doesn’t stop us from having a meaningful conversation. I have learned many things from her. Recipes for many dishes that she makes for dinner, things to do in Barcelona, cities to visit in Spain. Also a lot about Spanish culture food, family, festivals.
From all my conversation the things that I have learned to make intercultural conversations successful are-
·         Be patient the conversations would be slow. Reduce the pace in which you speak normally as it takes time to process different language.
·         Pay close attention to what the other person is saying. When your vocabulary is small each word comprehended helps a lot to understand the meaning of the whole sentence.
·         Be aware of the surroundings. As things in the surroundings can be used to talk about things that you don’t have vocabulary for or things closely related to it.

·         Use gestures effectively. People talk using sign language, gestures and signs are very useful in intercultural conversation 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Influence of my own culture in Barcelona

Influence of my own culture in Barcelona
Taking the metro every day and walking around Barcelona made me more aware of my surroundings compared to how I would be if I was driven in a car. I see advertisements such as Ray Bans where they have “American” culture in the advertisement, but since they are trying to globalize their company they add the local language on the advertisement. Therefore, the company tries to say “Hey look we fit in” when in reality it may not have any significant cultural connection if any to Barcelona.
There is also a variety of fast food chains and many such as McDonald’s is incorporating “American” food such as donuts for breakfast. Many countries tend to have “healthier” breakfast options, but a common “American” breakfast is donuts and a cup of coffee. Therefore, Barcelona McDonald’s is trying to cater to more Americans who visit.
The music I hear in malls and stores tends to be American pop songs which appeals to a larger audience since Barcelona attracts many tourists who tend to speak English as English has become a global language. English music is extremely popular in all parts of the world.

My culture’s positive influence on Barcelona
Barcelona has such a unique culture that while staying here it is apparent that there will always be aspects of the culture that will last for centuries. An aspect of Barcelona culture that will last for a long time is flamenco shows which are absolutely spellbinding. The amount of focus, rhythm and skill needed is entirely different than the styles of dance I am used to. Flamenco shows have some resemblance to tap dancing but is more elaborate along with more flare. Barcelona does seem to adopt a bit of “Americanized” culture as they are trying to target a bigger demographic. Barcelona decided to take some aspects of different cultures and incorporate it into their own. Taking the best of “both worlds” will result in economic prosperity.
Fast food which is seen as a more “American” thing is in a lot more places throughout Barcelona than before. That way people can get a quick drink or some food on the go if they are busy. Being able to have multiple options for food which is also easily accessible is more convenient. Fast food may not be healthy but it is a cheaper option for some food.
When visiting the mall, I saw so many different American movies as options for the theater. Allowing someone of a different culture to appreciate a different culture’s movie allows you to see things from the other country’s perspective and keep an open-mind.

My culture’s accurate representation in Barcelona
Americans are portrayed as being more loud, materialistic and always in a hurry. Therefore, these certain aspects may be perceived as part of our culture. We like going to places efficiently, loud music with fast beats and tend to talk louder than many other people from different countries as we are very expressive. Many Americans like to party, so Barcelona party promoters target Americans as they know that Americans are more likely to accept the offer. Americans “like to have a good time.” The youth are the ones who like to party and not necessarily the older Americans as that is not part of our culture. Many Spanish people of all ages enjoy to party as that is part of their culture. Americans always want something better and bigger, so we continue to advance in technology and grow as a society. All the stereotypes that other countries see us is based on some form of truth. However, these traits are not necessarily a bad thing. We can use these aspects to try and better our society along with ourselves.
America has English as its unifying language. However, Barcelona is different. Their most common languages are Catalan, Spanish and English. Barcelona seems to prefer individuality more when it comes to certain cultural aspects.
Regardless of the cultural differences between both America and Barcelona, their individuality is what makes both so great. Week 2 is coming to an end as the study abroad is flying by so fast! Until next time :)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Indian Culture in Barcelona


I have been in Barcelona for more than two weeks now. I have enjoyed my stay a lot. I have been to many beautiful places is Barcelona. This past week I have been to Tibidabo hill had a great view of the whole city of Barcelona. I also visited the architecture masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi, La Sagrada familia. It was one of the most beautiful basilica I have ever visited. Also in the past two weeks I have visited many famous squares, restaurants and beaches in Barcelona.
One of the most interesting things I found at these places was there are a lot of Indians(Pakistanis) in Barcelona. When I came here I didn’t expect it because Spanish and Catalan are the most spoken language in Barcelona and Indian usually immigrate to places where English is the main language. I was wrong, in fact my tour guide told me that Punjabi and Urdu are also widely spoken here. Most of the population are from the Punjab Province of India and Pakistan, one of the most populated area of the country and that’s why people leave it to look for work opportunities
.

Most of them are males self-employed. They own small supermarkets, mobile shops, gift shops and if you go in one of these kind of places there is a high probability that its owned by an Indian. Others work as skilled tradesman such as carpenter, mechanics, plumber, salesman. You will find a lot of them selling selfie sticks, umbrella, beers, samosas, margaritas on the beaches, parks and other tourist places. I have noticed them closely and all of them work in teams to sell their stuff, which is a big part of the Indian culture to stick together. Also I have talked to some of them and they said they came here alone to support their families back home. They said they save all they can and send it back home to help their families. This is the most important aspect of Indian culture to live together and support the family.


Some people from other places see these immigrants as lesser people because they do lesser jobs, but I think like that. These immigrants have come from places where it is very hard to earn and moved to places where they didn’t even know the language. They are part of the Indian culture and are working hard to support their family. I have a lot of respect for them and want others to understand their hardships and respect them.