October, 2013

Business in India

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Kiersa India

by Kiersa Sanders

Day 1 of our Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) visit involved meeting at SEWA headquarters, visiting two different garment worker communities, visiting a garment worker thread store, presenting our $2,000 donation to SEWA, and brainstorming solutions to attract more shoppers to the store. We ended the night at a traditional Guajarati restaurant for dinner.

At SEWA headquarters, we learned about why and how the group was formed. The organization’s main goal is to obtain full employment and self reliance for the women in the informal labor sector that it represents. From SEWA headquarters, we travelled to the thread store that our fundraising will support. It was a very small space but the shelves had a variety of different types of thread. We asked questions about the product, supplier, and customers to get a better idea of how the store could improve. My favorite part of the day was actually meeting the women that will be utilizing the thread store. Our group and about a dozen female seamstresses packed into two different sitting rooms and exchanged questions. We discovered that many of these women both worked nine-hour days and took care of the household duties. They earned 30-60 rupees per day or less than $1 US dollar.

They told us that girls have to start sewing at around eight or nine years old. Students often had to leave school to support the family income. In addition to this, even basic government school costs families at least $300 US dollars per year. Families that enrolled their children in school stood to lose money from lost hours at work as well as the tuition itself. This part of the visit was pretty disheartening and made me reflect on my own education. Growing up wasn’t all roses, but at least school was free. Performing well at school opened up opportunities for me to exceed what my mom had been able to accomplish financially. Because many of these women are at the whim of the garment companies that contract for their services, many families get stuck in a cycle because they have to depend on the children to bring in the necessary income. I’m thankful that I have had the opportunity to attend school and become eligible for different job opportunities.

There is a pretty stark contrast between SEWA Day 1 and SEWA Day 2. We began Day 2 at the Gandhi museum which was located where he lived for part of his life. I had no idea that Gandhi was born in Guajarati. The museum was extremely peaceful. As I walked through the exhibit I learned so much that I never knew about him. He studied law in England, took his first position in South Africa, where he experienced discrimination for the first time. Without Gandhi’s teachings, I wonder where I would be right now. Many of his philosophies inspired the peaceful strategies of the Civil Rights Movement that helped make it successful.

Culture Clash in China

Monday, October 14th, 2013

by Gabriel Heckt  

Mt  ChongQing

When going abroad, what sometimes comes to mind are adventurous trips to incredible monuments and unforgettable locations and people, I think the story that really fits my study abroad experience is one that can be seen as slightly commonplace, but represents the day to day experience of living immersed in a civilization I was completely unused to.

My friends and I had taken a taxi down to the middle of the city to look for gifts we could get for our families. The place we went was known for its bargain prices and authentic merchandise, so we were excited to try to find things we had never seen in the U.S. However, as soon as we got there, we started to run into problems. The place was extremely crowded, unlike anything we had experienced back in Washington. There were thousands of people, so many that we couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to go. Also, we couldn’t seem to find the place that we were trying to go, despite talking with several shopkeepers in Chinese. We always wound up at extremely pricey name brand shopping centers, the opposite of what we were trying to find!

As if to make matters worse, it suddenly started raining. This didn’t seem to be much of a problem to me. After all, I’m from Seattle, so there was no reason I should be worried about a little rain, right? I didn’t even bring an umbrella because it didn’t seem like it was going to rain that day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This rain was nothing like even the heaviest rain I had ever experienced in Seattle. It came down in sheets, drenching in literally seconds. It was almost comical just how fast the streets cleared of the massive amounts of people. They seemed to know how to respond to the torrential downpour, but we had no clue. The rain was so heavy, that the streets started flooding, and police had to start blocking off intersections.

Now, not only had we not found our destination, but also we were completely soaked and were running out of options on how to get home. Had we been in Seattle, I’m positive we would have known how to respond instantly, and have been able to navigate our way in and out of an area. But we were in a completely unknown area, and had no knowledge of how to proceed in a situation like the one we were in. Completely by chance, we actually managed to find the shopping place we were looking for, but then we had to start the process of bargaining, which is full of subtleties and very difficult even with the decent grasp of Chinese we had. I spent around twenty minutes bargaining for a pair of shorts with a saleswoman because she wouldn’t give me even a slight discount. I was almost positive it was because I wasn’t Chinese, because I had seen Chinese people in other shops bargain to almost half the price of very similar goods. It was a pretty challenging, but also rewarding process when I finally got a small discount on what I wanted.

Trying to get back to the Sichuan University was another problem in and of itself. Because of the extreme rain, almost everyone was trying to catch a cab, and people kept moving in front of us to grab them, because unlike Seattle you have to be assertive and even appear somewhat “rude” to obtain something if there is a wait in China. Thankfully, we eventually found a very unsafe looking box motorcycle to take us back. We managed to negotiate a price and describe how to return to the University. Although we were drenched, freezing, and tired, we felt happy that we had managed somewhat successfully to navigate our way through some of China’s cultural differences that day.

Though every day wasn’t as hectic and confusing as the one above, almost every day was a learning experience, whether it was buying food or just asking for directions. Learning to adapt and fit into such a different culture through events like this was one of the largest parts of my study abroad experience, and that day is an excellent representation.

Inside Look: Brazilian Quilombo

Monday, October 14th, 2013

by Diana Conde

Diana Brazil

One of the places we traveled to while in Brazil was an indigenous place called a Quilombola. This place as well as many others was a place where Africans who were often runaway slaves stayed. These places are very poor and only have the necessities in order to live. It was shocking for me to learn how slavery was such a big part of their history as well and how much inequality still remains today just like in the United States.

When we visited this place which has housed many generations, many of the people were very happy because today they have a lot more resources than they did many years ago. Their children are receiving better education and most importantly they actually have access to get education. Many people live in this small area which houses 96 families. The leader of the Quilombo is a woman, she is the first to lead the Quilombo as well as having been voted a second time because of how well it has been run. They also made us a typical Quilombo meal which was very delicious.

I learned that there are many quotas that universities have on the amount of afro Brazilian students they have to take in. This is done in order to level the field a bit since they were so disadvantaged in the past. This also exists in the workplace. I learned that they are trying to get more Afro Brazilians educated and in better working positions for the same reason of being disadvantaged in the past. I also learned that they aren’t trying to get them to the higher level positions just a step or two up from where they are now. Even in the government there are no Afro Brazilian people who have an important position.

This really shocked me because their situation is even worse than the United States because they still aren’t trying to be completely equal. What they wish for the most is to be able to be in the position that African descendants are in the United States which is to have the opportunity to be truly successful. While in the Quilombo one of the ladies there was asking us about Obama and how he was doing as the president. She said that they were very proud of him and that they want Brazil’s African descendants to be able to one day be president as well.

I think this visit highlights my time in Brazil because I learned many new things about Brazil. There were similarities between Brazil and the United States but there were many differences. My experience was amazing and I was able to open my eyes to a whole new world full of their own issues and battles. This experience was great and I’m lucky to have been able to participate in it.

Come to Norway, Meet the World

Monday, October 14th, 2013

by Vi Nguyen 

After spending six weeks at the International Summer School, I have the ability to say that with my personal experience, the ISS has beyond succeeded with their motto of “Come to Norway, meet the world.” I was able to not only meet wonderful Norwegian people but also others from all over the world. Each year the ISS invites hundreds of students from all over the world to learn about their culture, language and other subject areas. Towards the end of the program, the ISS hosts an event called “The ISS Culture Night.” This is an event where the students at the ISS wear their traditional costumes from their home country and performs their traditional dances. Before the show, they also have booths representing each country where they reveal their traditional customs with finger foods, history, etc. Because of this event, I was able to learn a lot about other countries but in particular I learned a lot about South Africa and Georgia.

Vi Nguyen in Norway

Set aside from the school experience, I encountered a culture difference that I often retell to my friends and family. It is rather a funny situation now that I think about it.

It was a Sunday evening and because everything is closed on Sundays the traditional thing to do on Sundays is to catch a movie at Saga’s movie theatre. My friend and I decided to watch Pacific Rim. As I ordered the movie ticket, the cashier asked where I would like to sit during the movie. I casually responded it doesn’t matter where I sit…having the thought that I would enter the movie theatre and decide where to sit where there’s availability just like here in the states. The cashier continued to bother me with the question of where I would like to sit, do I want to sit in the back or in the middle…I then got a little frustrated and responded o.k. I’m just going to go in and sit where there’s availability o.k. ? The cashier then respectfully explained to me that here in Norway when ordering your movie tickets you also receive assigned seats. I was not aware of this difference, and felt terrible…I then apologized and was assigned a seat in the middle. This was one of many culture differences that I have encountered. I have learned to be more aware and respect the culture differences.

No Trek for Amateurs

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Written by: Rebecca Ruh, Foster School Undergraduate, Foster Exchange in Chile

rebecca1

About halfway through my time in Santiago, my fellow Coloradan friend asked me if I would like to join him for a day of hiking just on the outskirts of Las Condes, una comuna in the city of Santiago. Loving the outdoors and hiking, I leapt at the offer.

What began as a leisurely hike soon transformed into a workout for pros. The first hour passed relatively easy but the following five entailed much exhaustion due to the steep incline and lack of tread on my shoes. After all, the desert sand was no match for my indoor running shoes. As we passed the other hikers clad with trekking poles and professional gloves, they scoffed at the sight of these American amateurs. One lady, with a pitying look on her face even gave me one of her poles saying that I would need it for the journey down the mountain and she was more than right.

rebecca2When we finally ascended the summit and trudged through the snow up top, quite different from the desert sand when we began our journey, the smell of victory was in the air. After finishing 15 miles of pure uphill battle 20 minutes from the center of the city, I felt so proud. First it was amazing that such a view lay so close to the heart of Santiago, much less that we could take in the skyline since we had climbed much higher than the view-hindering pollution now below us. Secondly, this was the thrill that I seek – exploring a region, seeing cacti to snow in the matter of several thousand meters, and talking to the locals about this hidden gem of a view that lay before us. Couldn’t get much better than that. The best 11 hours to spend a Sunday. Man, I love this country.