Archive for February, 2010

Katie Farrar: Fulbright, Italy 2009

Katie in front of the Colosseo-Roma-Italia

1st entry:  It is difficult to put into words the sense of awe I feel daily living in Rome.  The Fulbright scholarship I received for Art History has taken me to parts of the city that few (if any) travelers ever see: national libraries, private collections of rare books, art collections once owned by the most powerful families in Renaissance and Baroque Rome, archives of the academies, and small churches never mentioned in guidebooks.  And my research marks only the beginning of the life I have built here.

I had a rough beginning to moving halfway across the world.  Thinking I had properly notified my banks before going abroad, I traveled without any cash with the intention of using an ATM upon my arrival.  What a mistake!  All three of my credit card accounts froze as soon I tried to use them.  Unable to pay for a shuttle or taxi from the airport, I was forced to take the train to the metro to a bus—with three large suitcases in tow—to arrive at my friend’s apartment in Rome.  Did I mention that escalators and elevators are few and far between in Italy?  It was, hands down, the most stressful traveling experience in my life.

It did not take long for my situation to improve, however.  I quickly found a room in an apartment in Trastevere, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome.  Because I also studied abroad in Rome in 2006, adjusting to the Italian lifestyle was fairly effortless for me.  I love living without a car and walking everywhere; I grocery shop every other day instead of once a week; and in place of an enormous latte I drink several shots of espresso throughout the day.  However, I still cannot help but become slightly frustrated when I need to buy something on a Sunday and every shop is closed, or when I find myself in a mob where there should be a queue, or when the bus fails to show up.  But ultimately it is these little moments that teach me patience, so I am grateful for them.  I have been so fortunate to meet a wonderful group of people through the Fulbright network, and I have befriended a group of Italians who integrate me into their local culture.  Dinner parties are never wanting!

One of my favorite things about Italian culture is how much they value conversation and hospitality.  Instead of rushing through meals, they take time to enjoy each other’s company to the fullest.  The best (and longest) dinner I have ever attended was in the company of an Italian family and several friends on the day of a Roma soccer game.  While feasting on our four-course meal straight from mamma’s kitchen, chatting about everything from casinos in Las Vegas to snowstorms in northern Italy, the game was playing on TV in the corner of the room.  The teams—Roma and Juventus—were tied for most of the match, but at the last minute Roma scored the winning goal.  The boys got so excited that the entire table began to shake from their frantic gesturing; wine was spilling, silverware was clattering, and everyone was erupting in laughter!  Thousands of miles away from my own family and friends, I felt so at home.

the Basilica di San Pietro

I spent Thanksgiving at an agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside; celebrated Christmas with an Italian family followed by midnight mass at St Peter’s Basilica; and watched the endless explosions of fireworks in Piazza del Popolo on New Years Eve in Rome.  Long weekends have allowed me to explore numerous Italian towns: Perugia, Cortona, Arrezzo, Bologna, Ravenna, Genoa, Cinque Terre, and Torino.  My wanderlust, ever encouraged by the proliferation of low-cost airlines, has even swept me off to Prague, Budapest, and Istanbul.  Living abroad provides an education unlike any other.  It teaches you how to open your eyes, and heart, to the world.

Basilica di Superga Torino

Valerie Dao: Fulbright 2009, Vietnam

at an international education conference, third from right

The first night I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City was an experience that I will never forget.  The moment the sliding glass doors opened and I stepped out of the airport, I was completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the city.  Once I managed to get a cab and head to my temporary home, the realization that this would be the next 10 months of my life quickly sunk in. I had lived in Orange County my entire life and Ho Chi Minh City could not be further from the comforts of home.  The stark contrast in terms of infrastructure and severe lack of resources intimidated me and made me question how effective my contributions could really be to this developing country. Staring out of the back window of the cab, watching the swarms of motorbikes weave in and out of traffic, I wondered: what am I doing here?

 The next day, sitting on the concrete floor of my cousins’ living room, I got my answer. I had just met my cousin Chau who is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.  We were having the standard get-to-know-one-another conversation, until I asked her if she knew what she wanted to do in the future.  She paused for a second, and then explained that her dream was to go to the U.S. and study because she just wanted to learn how to think for herself.  Nothing about what she said was particularly surprising—but the fact that it was not made it that much more poignant in my mind.  Her candid response was a swift reminder of why this research was so important to me in the first place.  There are so many young students who face the same challenges and are simply not being provided the quality of education that they deserve, from both public and private perspectives. 

Valerie's studetns at HUFLIT University

Since then, I have been working hard trying to realize the initial goals that I set out for myself and my project prior to arrival.  I am currently conducting my research through Dai Hoc Suu Pham, the University of Pedagogy in Ho Chi Minh City and HUFLIT (Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology), where I am a guest lecturer.  Like any research project, implementing my project, a tracer study of successfully employed university graduates, has proven to be both challenging and frustrating. However, each day that I spend here is more rewarding than the last.  Every day I have the chance to be at the forefront of the change that is transforming this country.    Going to international education conferences, hearing from government officials from the Ministry of Education and Training, establishing my own research mentorship program and experiencing a completely different academic culture first hand, are all unique opportunities that I could not experience elsewhere.  I am looking forward to being able to share these experiences with the students of UCI through my entries on this blog.

at a consulate dinner with Ken Fairfax, U.S. consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and other Fulbright Scholars

Cristian Martinez: NSEP/Boren recipient, 2009, Brazil

Cristian next to the famous Christ Statue in Rio de Janeiro

I have made impressive progress with my language skills and I have definitely met my goal to have colloquial fluency.  There is really no comparison between the language study I have had abroad to the one I had at UC Irvine.  When you study a language overseas, you never leave the classroom because the langauage is everwhere until you go to sleep.   In addition, when studying in-country, the professors are locals and speak to you only in the language being learned.  In the U.S., the professors cannot escape in the very least making comparisons to English.  Studying in-country forces you to learn the language while trying to think in it too.  The most significant difference in studying in-country is that you get outside of the classroom exposure when you go to restaurants, or on a walk, or simply to have coffee with your local friends and you practice it all the time. Thanks to my in-country experience, I can say I have become fluent in Portuguese in the span of six months.

Aside from taking advanced Portuguese as a course, I also took three other courses.  I took Brazilian Foreign Policy, Process of Regional Integration and my Senior Thesis Research Course.  These four courses (including the Portuguese course) add up to a total of 14 hours of class hours per week.  The quality of instruction varies.  The most challenging course with the highest quality of instruction was the Brazilian Foreign Policy course.  However all courses had acceptable quality in instruction.  It is also important to mention that all the coursework, with the exception of the Senior Thesis Research Course, were in Portuguese (literature, writing and lectures).  I have also met my academic goals by taking this coursework.  I have met three of my upper division requirements from my home institution by taking this course load.

I participated in various extra-curricular activities.  I joined a weight training course that was held twice a week to keep my body healthy.  I also joined two non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  These organizations included “Educari” and “College Horizons.”  Educari works with elementry school children who live in the Vidigal favela (slum).  I worked with the eight year-olds and taught them how to speak and write beginning level English. I will continue to work with these children for the second half of my study abroad program.   I also worked with College Horizons where I mentored inter-city favela youth.  These youth are interested in one day visiting the United States and pursuing a degree. 

holding the Brazilian Flag in Copacabana Beach

I am experiencing the local culture by attending various cultural events that are held in the city.  For example, I have attended various schools of Samba where I see firsthand their tradition of dancing samba and how that unites their people.  I have also attended various soccer games since Brazilians love their soccer.  I have also become a regular beach goer as that is a large part of their local culture as well.  Aside from that, I experience their local culture when I go out for coffee or for dinner with my Brazilian friends and when I attend lectures and observe their way of studying and learning.  Brazilian culture is so rich that you cannot help but to find it everywhere you go. 

I use my language skills about 80% of the time.  I use my language skills while I am in class, at the beach, at home, and at any other public place and with my Brazilian friends. 

The most enjoyable aspects of adjusting to the local culture is learning how there is a different way of living that works for a different set of people.  Also adopting new traditions and habits that only make my own life richer, such as how to samba or cook a Brazilian meal.  The challenging aspect of adjusting to the local culture is that unlike American culture, Brazilians prefer doing everything with others around rather than alone.  And at times I wish I had some more privacy.  But that is only a small challenge because I enjoy working with a crowd as well.  What is also challenging is that they enjoy going out a lot and staying in is rather a weird concept for them.  Sitting and reading a book indoors is odd for most Brazilians and that too is a challenge since I enjoy doing that once in a while.

I have enjoyed the most the new things I have learned. I have learned how to be more open to new enviroments, new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking aboout the concept of politics, family and society.  I have learned a new langauge that I consider beautiful, interesting and enjoyably challenging.  I have also gained new connections and friendships that make me a more well rounded global citizen.  I also enjoy Brazil’s  music,  beaches and the whole way of being. 

There are few things that I do not like about my study abroad experience.  The biggest being the large amount of crime and violence that exists in Rio de Janeiro.  There is never a day that I feel safe walking down the streets of Rio.  In addition I do not like the social inequality and racism that still exists here in Rio and in Brazil in general. These negatives are what make me miss home the most where I don’t have worry about how dark my skin is, or how much I am carrying in my pockets or whether I can find others whom I can associate with that are of the same socio-economic status as me.

Long-Co Nguyen: Strauss recipient, 2009, Vietnam

Long-Co working with a student

My name is Long-Co Nguyen and I received the Strauss Scholarship in 2009. As a contributor to the SOP blog, I’ll try to give insight on the process of applying for a scholarship and the experiences the scholarship has offered me. And hopefully, upon hearing about it from a fellow student, any intimidation you may feel will be alleviated (because trust me, if I can do it, you can), or inspire you to apply for a scholarship. 

The first time I ever went to Vietnam was in 2005 with my family. I didn’t know what I expected, but it was definitely not what I actually saw: people walking through sewer water every day when the tide came up, children dying of preventable diseases, dirty water, and not enough food. Since then I joined Me Oi and the Red Cross that operates in Long An. Later, I founded a non-profit organization, Medical Educational Missions & Outreach (M.E.M.O.), to provide healthcare (in the form of yearly medical missions and a program to treat children with congenital heart disease) and educational opportunities (by way of a scholarship program). Then, with the Strauss Scholarship, I was able to do something that I never thought I could: build a school. 

In 2008, I flew back to Vietnam to pass out supplies and repair damages left by a flood in Long An. A few members from the Red Cross and I drove until all traces of urbanity disappeared and damaged huts became visible. Here, there are no more streets that cars can drive through; the rest of the way would have to be either on motorbike or by foot. There was only one motorbike available driven by a guy that looked like Jin from Lost. Unfortunately, my mom had decided to accompany me on that particular trip, and jumped on the back of the motorbike and yelled to the Jin look-a-like, “Đi đi! (Go now!).” And so I was left with the “by foot” option. Now that I look back it was definitely a good thing. I got to do as Will Self, an acclaimed novelist, does and practice psychogeography in a way. And because of that I got to really learn about the people, and consequently, about their needs. One can be well-traveled, but know nothing about where they’ve been. Before when I went somewhere I was in my head along with an imposed mindset about the place. What is needed for a true experience is to couple the mind with the physical world. In this 3 hour walk, I learned more about Vietnam and the people than I have in the last 3 years I’ve visited there. I passsed villagers who were harvesting rice from wet paddies and girls washing dishes in the river. A family that we met on the way offered us coffee. As I sat there talking and drinking coffee with the villagers I learned two things: (1) if given the right influences and opportunities, their sons and daughters that dropped out of school because of monetary reasons to beg and steal on the streets, would instead start to dream about becoming mechanics, engineers, and doctors and (2) with this coffee, I am going to be awake until 2025. What needed to be done, then, was create those opportunities. 

Afterwards, I learned that Intel had opened a hi-tech electronic plant in District 9 of Ho Chi Minh City and that it would need about 4,000 new employees. Besides Intel, there are also many other electronic companies in Vietnam, like General Electric and IBM, that are either in business or about to open. So if a free trade school is built to offer training in electronics, people that are too poor to gain an education and a decent job can acquire the necessary skills for one of these jobs and raise their families out of poverty. Working alongside the Diocese of Qui Nhon and KonTum and Damin Hoang ,we managed to get the building built, obtain the permits, and find qualified teachers. The only thing we needed was equipment. SOP informed me of the Strauss Scholarship which awards $10,000 to implement a public service project. With SOP’s help, I applied and won. Because of this scholarship, the Electronic Vocational School in Qui Nhon was able to officially open on September 9, 2009 with twenty students. And since then, all twenty students have been offered jobs in local manufacturing companies upon completion of their training. And now, interviews for the next class are being conducted and we plan to have 20-30 new students in March. With the Strauss Scholarship, the vocational school will not only make an impactful, sustainable change in these students’ lives, but will also change the lives of many future students to come.

Andy Hoang: Fulbright recipient, 2009, Thailand

30 January 2010

“Sawatdi, khrap!,” bellowed the taxi driver as he waved his hand in my direction, calling for my attention.  A sudden chill shot up my back as I ambled my way toward him.  The chill was distinctive.  It was the sort of chill one feels in the wake of illumination.  For me, the chill accompanied the realization that I was in Thailand… that I was here for 12 months… and that I did not speak a word of Thai!  “What was I doing here?!,” I screamed at myself, frustrated.  As I closed the taxi door and buckled my seatbelt, the feeling escalated.  What was mild trepidation was now unbridled terror.  But as the taxi descended from Suvarnabhumi’s arrival terminal toward the highway, I was given a glimpse of Bangkok in a dawning horizon.  Almost immediately, the feeling dissipated, and excitement ensued.  “I am in Thailand!,” I told myself again, this time enthusiastically.

My name is Andy Hoang.  I’m a Fulbright Scholar to Thailand studying the social and cultural perception of disability in rural Southeast Asia.  In subsequent entries, I hope to share with you the emotional and cultural experiences my travels have brought me, and the personal development that they have inspired.  

To view a slide show of Andy’s pictures of the ancient ruins of Ayuthuya, please check out this link:

Matin Khoshnevis: Merage recipient, 2009

Matin at a Merage dinner in Washington D.C.

I am the coordinator and manager for Modulation of the Inflammatory Response to Brain Death using Hypertonic Saline in a Porcine Model, In UCIMC for Dr. Malinoski, director of the surgical intensive care unit who is a trauma surgeon and surgical intensivist, and working on a publication.

Also, I have been working with Dr. Steve Cramer, a neurologist, on the Effects of Dopamine and Dopamine Receptor Polymorphisms on Experience-Dependent Plasticity in the Motor Cortex.

 I am finishing my minors in psychology and business and management and studying for the MCAT.

Maryjane Vennat: Goldwater recipient, 2009

My name is Maryjane Vennat, and I am currently a third-year biology major and public health minor here at the University of California, Irvine. Early last year, I was truly shocked and honored to be named a 2009 Goldwater Scholar.

In fact, my first exposure to research and academia actually happened right here at UCI back when I was a Junior at University High School. I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the American Cancer Society’s Youth Summer Science Fellowship program, where I worked in the School of Medicine in UCI’s Department of Epidemiology and the Cancer Research Institute conducting breast cancer research. The experience was one of a kind and it opened my eyes to the world of academia and the ongoing biomedical research efforts that I believe, in the upcoming years, will yield great knowledge, novel diagnostic tools, treatments, and even cures for those who live their lives suffering with devastating illness. We are very lucky to have a research university that has such fantastic opportunities to learn and to ask questions about the things that interest us, and I think my early experiences here at UCI guided the research opportunities I later pursued as an undergraduate at the UCI School of Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

I have learned and continue to learn so much, and my experiences have only fueled my interest in medical research. I am very excited for this upcoming year for so many reasons, and there is so much to look forward to! I strongly encourage everyone to make your college experience unforgettable and take advantage of the opportunities available during the short time you have here, research research-related and other, both inside the classroom and out.