At the End of the Day, We’re All the Same

LEAH Leah9

Age: 23

Occupation: I am currently an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Malaysia as a part of a Fulbright Fellowship. I majored in public relations and history at the University of Miami and graduated in May of 2012.

Hometown: Washington, DC

 

Leah6Where have you traveled?

I have been blessed to travel to 28 countries: Canada, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Honduras, El Salvador, Senegal, The Gambia, South Africa, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Spain (lived here for 5 months. Whattup Barcelona!), Italy, the Netherlands, Malaysia (my current home), Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. I have also been to over 40 states in the US.

What inspired you to go abroad? 

I really owe it all to my family. Although I am born and raised in DC, my family has always thought it was important to expose my Leah1sister and I to the rest of the world. I did not fully appreciate it at the time, but there were summers when my friends would be playing with the newest Sega games or hanging out at recreation centers and instead I was taking road trips across the country with my family or going to Europe, Africa, etc. My parents are not materialistic at all so I was never one to have the newest clothes or toys but what I realize now is that they were giving me life experiences that has encouraged me to seek out what the rest of the world has to offer.

Leah5A lot of these trips were very short but still amazing. Some of my longer trips were in Spanish speaking countries because I have always wanted to learn Spanish. I spent a summer in between Honduras and El Salvador doing service projects and a semester my junior year college in Spain. When I applied for my Fulbright grant I initially wanted to return to Spain, but when my grant adviser recommended Malaysia as something different I decided to give it a shot. This is my second year teaching in Malaysia and I have really enjoyed exploring the country as well as Asia as a whole. Definitely an amazing part of the world! Once I’m in an area if there are countries close by I will most likely try to get there, whether I know much about the country or not. There’s always an adventure to be had.

What has been your best experience? Worst experience? 

I absolutely loved Spain! I think a piece of my heart is still over there and I cannot wait to go back and find it. Barcelona is completely different than the Spain I learned about in school, so I enjoyed living there and learning from a Catalonian perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks I spent in Santa Marta, El Salvador, just a beautiful rural area where it gets dark at 5 p.m. and the stories of the civil war are rich. I stayed with an abuela and her daughter and granddaughter, none of whom spoke English, and by the end of it was able to converse with family about how most of the abuela’s family was killed trying to flee during the civil war, including her husband. Although I was only 14 or 15 when I went, this experience still stands out as one of the richest I’ve had traveling.Leah7

Living in Malaysia has been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had but also one of the most challenging. I have not run into many race related issues being an African-American female, but race tension throughout the country is very prevalent making for some hostile and unpleasant interactions. The gender differences can also be very taxing. Malaysia is a country where a majority of the Muslim women wear head coverings (here they’re called tudongs), and clothing that covers everything from the neck down, but there’s still a sizeable percentage of the population that is Chinese or Indian and don’t adhere to these clothing restrictions. Leah2This makes being a foreigner engaged in the teaching culture very difficult, but then exercising your freedom of personal expression through dress outside of school is also difficult because no matter what you wearing you will almost always feel objectified. There have been times when my housemate and I have been walking back from the gym wearing a long skirt and a long sleeve shirt and still have still had to hastily walk to our home due to people following us on motorbikes or cars. I feel very safe here, but there are some things I’m extra alert about just because of how I know I’m perceived as a foreign female.

How did you hear about these opportunities?

My high school presented me with a lot of international service trips so I went to Honduras and South Africa with members from my high school. I always knew about studying abroad but I had to seek it out in college. Because a lot of students from the University of Miami are from other countries I didn’t feel like information was readily available, but once I found the office I never left. My best friend Kelly actually told me about Fulbright. I remember sitting in my sister’s apartment the summer before senior year of college and freaking out because I knew I wanted to live abroad after college but just didn’t know how I financially could. Kelly mentioned that Fulbright was a fully funded government program and that I could virtually go anywhere in the world. I’d heard of Fulbright Grants but was not aware that there was an English teaching fellowship as well. That day I contacted Kefryn Reese, the adviser at the University of Miami, and she helped me tremendously to make my dreams become a reality.

Leah3How did you fund these opportunities?

Some of the service trips in high school were able to be included in my tuition (I attended a private school). The study abroad program I did (CEA Global Education) actually cost less than a semester’s tuition at UM so my parents paid for my semester. And yea big ups to all the tax payers for bringing me out to Malaysia because my Fulbright grant is fully funded by the American and Malaysian government. Once I get to my initial destination though any additional travel I pay for or my parents help me out.

What have you learned from your travels? 

Through traveling I’ve learned how humans are inherently all the same. Yes you may come across different customs and Leah4experiences, but the fundamentals are all the same. When I travel I enjoy wandering and meeting people more than visiting the sites that are included in tour books. It’s when you meet the people that you realize how much you have in common with the inhabitants of a place that is so far from home. The architecture tells one story, which I will not discredit, but the personal interactions tell something a little more powerful for me. Traveling throughout Asia has taught me to be a lot more flexible. Almost nothing will go according to plan, so you just have to be open and accepting to whatever adventure you are about to embark on.

Where do you plan to visit in the future?

We have a school break coming up at the end of May, so I have tickets to go to Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and back to Thailand. Before I leave Asia I would like to check out Nepal because I’ve heard amazing things. Next up on my big adventure list is South America. I have heard nothing but positive things about the people and beauty in South America so I would like to try and spend some time there. Also Prague is high on my list as well as Germany, Greece, and Egypt. Pretty much I want to see the world. Every place has beauty and a story to tell and I would consider myself truly blessed if I am able to even get a snippet of those narratives.

Leah8

Want to get in touch with Leah?

Facebook: Leah Imani

Email: Fulbrightetadanville@gmail.com

Website: (Still in progress) http://ldanville.wix/the-eta-exchange

 

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Seizing “First-Time Opportunities”

NANDI Nandi1

Age: 22

Major: Studying Public Health and Spanish at University of Maryland

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Where have you traveled?

I lived in Costa Rica for four months and visited Panama, Brazil, Antigua. While my heart beats for international travel, I don’t neglect the treasures that lay domestically. I’ve been to about 12 states and counting. Outside looking in, it may seem that I’m always on the go but I like to take my time with my travels and really get to know a place as much as I can. I’m not traveling for the sake of travel or for the passport stamps. It’s truly for the people met, the late nights, missed flights, new and lost loves, breath taking sights, personal growth and experiences. I chose Costa Rica because my high school teacher who encouraged my Spanish development is Costariccense—so that was sort of to pay homage to someone who paved the way for me. I’m West Indian, so naturally the Caribbean countries will know me. As for Brazil, I had the opportunity to explore what Afro-Brazilians experience, and I’m always down for any Black and beautiful learning experience.

 

Cachoeira, Brazil

Cachoeira, Brazil

What inspired you to go abroad?

My parents always taught me that there is life outside the town you grow up in, no matter how much you love it. The world is a vast place. So moving from New York City to a southern town wherein people are born, live, and die was probably the driving force of my travels. Meeting people in high school and even college who classify the entirety of the Caribbean as “Jamaica” inspired my travels. I knew that I couldn’t change the perspectives of those people with mere words, but that by ensuring my worldview is progressing upward, I could show them the door leading out of their town and into the world. I read a lot, and it is said that a good book will take you to places you’ve never been. But that alone just wasn’t good enough for me. I needed to go to the places I was reading about, breathe the air, engage the people, and speak the language. All things considered, there are 196 countries, which allows me to safely assume that my personal mantra is true– life is not meant to be spent in one place. I grew up in NY, attended secondary school in SC, and moved to MD for undergrad. I didn’t know it then but those small life moves were setting me up to have an insatiable thirst for travel.

 

What has been your best experience? Worst experience?

My best experience this far was living in Costa Rica. Because of that experience, I can say I have roots in the country. I have friends, and family that I can always go back to visit. I love my host family and they love me; we’re friends on Facebook and whatsapp! They tell me they miss me and how much it meant to have me as their daughter for the time I was there. That means so much to me. The guys I met there were…the sweetest and most kind. I perfected my handling of the Spanish language and as a result am bilingual. There are schools there that I would love to have my children (when I have them) attend where I know they’ll get a worldly lens. I can dance a vast variety of Latin Dances impressively, my bests being bachata and merengue. Being able to see the close similarities between Latin and Caribbean culture, made me so happy. The lifestyle there suited me well; I started my days early, ate healthy, traveled domestically inexpensively, and worked out and loved every minute of it. Pura Vida! (Costa Rica’s motto, translating literally to ‘pure life’ but loosely as ‘full of life’, ‘real living’, ‘plenty of life’; used as a greeting or farewell.)

 

Worst Experience: I went to Panama for a week and didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I wanted. Why? One night our

Panama City, Panama

Panama City, Panama

group went out for dinner at the start of the trip. We went to this awesome restaurant built on the mar that had swimming holes situated throughout the restaurant. Literally…the ocean was steps away from our table. After we ate and danced, we were all socializing and people decided to go swimming in their undies (as none of us had brought swimwear to dinner).They were doing backflips into the mar and having it up! My conservative friends from the program were discouraging me but I had to join—it was a first time opportunity! (I don’t believe in once in a lifetime.) So, I did a smooth front flip in (with my clothes on) swam about for a bit. I’m swimming around and decide to get out. At that precise moment I decided I was over it, I sliced the bottom of my foot on something crazy sharp in the water. Have no idea what it was. Could have been coral or a rusty pipe, who knows? All I know is I had this 2 inch gash, gushing blood, on my foot. These (cute) guys at the restaurant bandaged me up and I got dressed and prepared to head home. This guy from the program offers to carry me home. Cool. Worst mistake of my life. He was inebriated and drops me, and to add insult to injury I get glass stuck in my toe of my other foot. So I end up in the bathtub of the hotel, screaming as my friends play doctor and pull the glass out of my toe, while my other foot is on fire with pain. Our program coordinators take me to the hospital where thankfully I didn’t have to get a tetanus shot but was administered a painkiller injection to the culo (they love to give vaccinations in the backside in Latin America I learned). It hurt. I didn’t get to dance the night away with the cute guy at the bar, I missed a boat ride and seeing where Survivor was filmed, and was always last to everything–all because I couldn’t walk flat on my foot. -_- The WORST.

Now, I have to go back and re-do Panama and get to know it because I missed out on so much because of my lame foot (which is now fully healed).

 

How did you hear about these opportunities?

I frequent the study abroad site for UMD, just to see what I can finesse and milk from the university. But most of my travelling I come up with and plan on my own. I keep a running list of friends, family, and acquaintances that I have in various countries, cities, and states. This makes for less expensive travels as I’ll usually have a place to stay comfortably. Outside of housing, it’s always nice to have someone you know in an unknown place to look out for you and show you the gems of that particular place. As vacations/breaks approach in school, I refer to my list to see what move I would like to make and start coordinating.

People watching in Parque Central, Heredia, Costa Rica

People watching in Parque Central, Heredia, Costa Rica

How did you fund these opportunities?

I mostly save to fund my travel. Because I typically plan far in advanced, I start saving for the flight and lodging as soon as I can. I put a certain percentage of each paycheck from my job aside to go toward anything I want. I mean I don’t have many bills to pay, I’m not much of a shopaholic—what else should my money go into besides a rewarding and memorable travel experience? I read a quote once on the Humans of New York page that said “travel as much and as far as you can while you’re young, even if you have to borrow money to do it.” While non-conventional, I do if I have to. My family will give me what they can when I tell them I’m planning a trip and I do good deeds to “work” it off. I funded my Brazil study abroad trip with a crowd funding website, Gofundme.com. I shared that on every social network I have until I reached goal. I also look for scholarships and financial aid opportunities for study abroad. I take advantage of our international studies and diversity offices on campus for funding. I try to do a lot of travel as study abroad as well, because there is no cheaper and quality travel than when you’re in school! Yes there will be work, but what is the sense in traveling without learning? Being away from the US is relaxing and vacation enough, but I use my travel to learn something…anything.

 

Underground Atlanta, Georgia

Underground Atlanta, Georgia

What have you learned from your travels?

I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve learned to keep my travels private to an extent. Why? Because people have a tendency to live vicariously, instead of just doing what it is they desire. If I post my entire photo album from Costa Rica or my zip-lining video, yes it may encourage them to go and do what I have done but it may also encourage a sense of complacency! As I travel, people tell me to keep going because my 20s are the best times of my life. I’ve learned that my life is the best time of my life. I can do this for as long as I want. Married? I’ll take my husband. Children? They’ll learn Spanish and come too. Life commitments shouldn’t hold me down and discourage learning and horizon expansion. Honestly, to go into detail about other cultures would take another interview but there is beauty and mystique in EVERY culture. I’m a picky eater, I’ve found. Willing to try a lot but very picky. My street smarts have amped up—getting your freshly cashed wallet stolen at a police station of all places will teach you a lot. In regards to people…wow- people are just people. It takes meeting and living with people that I’m unaccustomed to dispel preconceived notions, stereotypes, and judgments. Traveling is the one thing that tests my patience to the max…but I’m able to remain level-headed. I’ve become confident in my travel knowledge and abilities to where I can book trips for others and lead groups. I’ve learned to take the time to myself…observe, people watch, appreciate nature, etc.

 

Where do you plan to visit in the future?

I’m very interested in Latin American and Caribbean people and culture so I intend to travel to every country

Swimming with Stingrays, Stingray City, Antigua & Barbuda

Swimming with Stingrays, Stingray City, Antigua & Barbuda

classified as Latin or Caribbean. I know I want to go to Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Egypt. I have to go to Australia, because it’s trill– it’s the only continent country. I’m not closed to anything, as long as there is a culture to learn about—I’m down for it. As for up and comings on my calendar, I have Antigua this July, next October–Miami for Carnival, next winter Ghana, Spring Break 2015 –Paris, Summer 2015 Barbados for CropOver, and February 2015–Trinidad and Tobago. I’m always looking for dedicated travel groups and partners so if you’re up for it hit my social media page and we’ll make something happen!

 

Want to see more of Nandi? Follow her on twitter and instagram @TheNandiLion, friend her on facebook as Debz Nandi or email her at thenandilion@gmail.com!