In 2014, I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in New York City, Chile, Jordan, and Nepal—all in the course of just 16 weeks. My program was one of six IHP/Comparative programs that SIT Study Abroad offers—Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy. Rather than attending an international university or simply studying in one country, we were, quite literally, globe trotters and, if you’ll forgive the cheesy cliché I am about to type—the world was our classroom; we learned through experience. Even in sitting down to write a basic summary of my study abroad experiences I am overwhelmed—how can I possibly condense 16 weeks, four countries, and such a vast wealth of knowledge into a few paragraphs? While I could quite literally talk for days, I will attempt to keep it as short and sweet as Jordanians’ beloved sugary milk-tea, but bear with me—
We began in NYC in order to critically examine the United States’ relationship to human rights and to better understand historical perspectives, as well as gain insights into the contemporary practice of human rights organizations internationally. We learned about grassroots movements and met with local advocacy organizations, city officials, and activists working to advance human rights causes within New York. After two weeks of staying in a hostel and finally getting the hang of the subways and directions, we were off to Chile.
In Santiago, Chile, we were given a comprehensive history of the Pinochet regime, and the overall historical context that frames modern Chile. We visited and toured many places like Villa Grimaldi—one of the many detainment facilities used to interrogate and torture prisoners during Pinochet’s dictatorship. We focused a great deal on transitional justice in order to understand how Chile’s society moved from an oppressive dictatorship to a democracy that is still entrenched in profound inequality.
In Santiago we were placed in diverse homestay families—mine was a small family of two; one of my host dads was originally from Santiago and my other host-dad was from France. They were both certified yoga instructors and one was in the midst of a huge life change, transitioning to a new job where he could use his law degree to help immigrants.
In Chile, we were not confined solely to Santiago—we traveled to Temuco, Mehuín, and Curarrehue (where we had another host family). For a week we lived in the Mapuche territories of southern Chile on farms in the Andes where we were immersed in indigenous communities that have been fighting to retain their land, culture, history, and autonomy. Curarrehue is the most beautiful place I have ever seen; we walked all over my host family’s land to greet the cows and sheep and take in the incredible view. We hiked a dormant volcano and drank from the ice-cold streams. Just before we (myself and the three other girls living with me) left, my host-mother gave each of us a wool hat—wool that came from their sheep, that she had made into yarn, knit into a hat, and then dyed with yellow onion peels.
In Jordan we focused mostly on refugee rights and women’s rights. For decades, Jordan has become a temporary “home” to thousands of refugees and we had the indescribable opportunity to actually go to Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugee camps and talk to many of the families living there. Additionally, we visited Jordan University and talked about a myriad of topics with the students there—many were elated at the chance to practice their English and Spanish with us. We traveled to Petra and the Dead Sea, and camped out and rode camels in the desert sands of Wadi Rum. One night in Amman, before my three host-siblings went off to bed, we sat in the living room and played “Go Fish” for hours because they loved helping us learn Arabic and loved giggling at our awful pronunciation even more.
Nepal. I cannot even begin to describe the beauty that is Kathmandu, Nepal. It is impossible not to get sucked into the vortex of the fast paced and chaotic atmosphere and become part of the magical mayhem. We learned about Nepal’s caste system, indigenous rights, refugee rights, squatters’ rights, and even learned to make traditional Nepali dumplings called momos—a delicious dish that I miss every single day.
Some of the students and I visited Pashupatinath Temple—one of the most sacred temples of Hindu faith, where they hold cremation ceremonies on the banks of the Bagmati river. We attended a traditional Shaman wedding reception and danced at many of my host brother’s shows—both of my host brothers were musically inclined, one was a member of the famous folk roots band Kutumba, and the other’s band was one of the top five bands in Pepsi’s music competition The Voice of Nepal.
My host mother gave us all Newari nicknames and would constantly persuade us to eat more dal bhat and drink more Raksi with her, and then laugh hysterically when we started sweating after eating too much spicy cauliflower. After dinner, we would often climb up to the roof of our family’s six-story home with our host brothers and their friends to watch the stars and talk for hours about anything—from our oldest brother’s approaching wedding to dating between different castes—just everything.
Overall, my experiences abroad were incredible and completely invaluable to my academic education—I was given the opportunity to learn about issues on a global scale, but I was also able to actually apply the many frameworks and theories that we are all far too familiar with from our coursework and textbooks. But even more importantly, the knowledge I gained and all of my experiences from my time abroad continue to impact so many facets of my life today.