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Insight From Abroad: Study Abroad in South Africa

Insight From Abroad: Study Abroad in South Africa

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Leah Wainwright is a senior in advertising management. The Big Green sat down with her to discuss her summer in Cape Town, South Africa, and what she learned from her study abroad experience.

The Big Green: What study abroad program did you participate in? Where was it located?
Leah Wainwright: I did a summer study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa.

TBG: What did you study and what classes did you have to take?
LW: It was an internship study abroad worth 12 credits, 6 credits were for Advertising and 6 were for Communications. I worked for a company called Netsport Media. They hey own South Africa Swimsuit and South Africa Lingerie magazines.I worked as a writer and content generator for their website,, and also assisted on site at photo shoots.

TBG: What were you most surprised by when you first got to South Africa?
LW: The diversity the United States has always been called a “melting pot” but we have nothing on Cape Town in South Africa. They are a true melting pot. I met someone from a different part of the world daily.

TBG: What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
LW: Definitely the public services like transportation and the police force. The trains and buses were often unsafe and full of graffiti. The police are mainly on foot and on almost every corner and especially by outdoor ATMs.

TBG: What we’re some of the biggest differences between South Africa and the USA?
LW: The wealth gap. The USA definitely has areas of poverty, but it isn’t in the form of townships, which are a lingering affect of Apartheid in South Africa. South Africa has only been a democracy for 20 years so people there view politics differently. The average person was much more in tune with not only South African politics but American politics as well. It definitely helped me personally to become more aware of politics.

TBG: What did you miss the most about home?
LW: Definitely my parents. The Internet service in South Africa isn’t very good and it’s very expensive so it was hard to find time to talk to my parents between the terrible internet and the time change- it was 7 hours ahead.

TBG: Now that you’re home, what do you miss the most about South Africa?
LW: Everything! Cape Town was beyond beautiful and so full of life. My coworkers were amazing and I still stay in touch and write regularly for their website. They offered to fly me out again next year when they go on location to shoot for SA Swimsuit. They think it may be the Maldives!

TBG: Any advice for students considering a study abroad?
LW: Do it and don’t just go through the motions. Embrace everything you can and soak up all the experiences you can. Also, go somewhere you couldn’t typically see yourself going. I chose South Africa because it’s not typically on the top of people’s top destinations, which is unfortunate.

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Insight from Abroad: Cameroon

Insight from Abroad: Cameroon

Elijah Dikong is a visiting assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Statistics and Probability. Dikong hails from the West African country of Cameroon, but has spent a considerable amount of time in the United States. The Big Green talked to Dikong about his education background and cultural differences he has observed in American both within and outside of the college environment.

The Big Green: What made you want to teach in America?

Professor Elijah Dikong: Everybody wants to come here. America is the number one country in the world… probably in everything. I say probably because I think there are some things that other parts of the world put America maybe second or third.  First of all, I did my Ph.D. and I wanted to gain more experience teaching here. When I had my PhD, I went back home [to Cameroon], worked for two and a half years; but I really wanted to come back to benefit from the scientific group in my area, and expanding my knowledge, and not to forget the American Dream.

TBG: Where did you get your Ph.D.?

Prof. ED: Florida Institute of Technology.

TBG: And how did you end up here [at Michigan State]?

Prof. ED: See, when I went back home… there [were] two full ride scholars, from [the United States] who came to teach where I was teaching in Cameroon. They were just fascinated with my work-the devotedness, the seriousness- I’m using the words that they themselves used. So, when they were leaving. I chatted with them and asked them if they could invite me over to their institution. Well, they promised when the got back they would talk to the chair of the [statistics] department, so when they got back they put me in contact with the chair of the department. I was invited for two semesters, but I had the possibility to stay for three years. But they started to have budget problems; because of that I moved over to Southern Illinois University. They too started to have budgetary problems, so they couldn’t support my scientific work, and I then moved on to Michigan State University. I applied with the Department of Statistics and Probability, I came for the interview, everything went smoothly, and here I am.

TBG: From what you’ve observed, can you describe about how collegiate students in America are different than collegiate students back home?

Prof. ED: It was very evident to me. One of the first things I [noticed] when I started teaching here. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a good chunk of American students who are very serious. But, if I take the whole group, I’m really disappointed. If I take students in my [home] country, they’re very serious, very concentrated, very devoted. Now, you find some American students who are like that, again, don’t get me wrong. But, if I take the whole group of students [in Cameroon] in terms of seriousness, devotedness, they are the top and with limited resources. Here, there is almost everything and most of the students don’t want to take advantage of [it]. Now one other thing I noticed between American students and the students in my home country is that, you know, the students in my country are very respectful to their professors. [In Cameroon] you don’t call your professor by his first name; I know that is a culture here. Or…what I’ve noticed sometimes: a student gets into my office, doesn’t even greet me. Can’t say ‘Hi’ or ‘Good morning’. Just bumps into the office: ‘I’ve come to take that quiz that I didn’t take.’ To us, it’s like an insult. But, I’ve learned that that’s the society, and it doesn’t bother me, but initially that troubled me a lot. [In my country], you come into your professor’s office, it’s ‘Good morning sir’ or ‘Good afternoon’, you ask what  you’ve come for. You don’t just get in and you start telling the professor why you’re there without greeting, or at least acknowledging him, his position, and so on.

TBG: Are there any other cultural differences you’ve noticed outside of the collegiate environment? Like food or strange little things?

Prof. ED:  Food is very evident. In my country it’s totally different. Here, you eat a lot of fast food, you know, burgers. I think about five years now I still have problems eating burgers.

TBG: You’ve been in America for five years now?

Prof. ED: Yes, close to six even. I still have problems with food, typical American food. You know, I go to the Trowbridge, the nearest city [that] will have some African food stores and get some African food and come home and cook. I eat American food, but it’s not my priority. I have American friends, they visit me, you know, and I enjoy barbequing. But in terms of food, if you were to ask me if it were possible for me to bring all my traditional food from Cameroon over here, I would do it.

 TBG: Slang is probably a big difference as well.

Prof. ED: You mean like slang used by Americans? Yeah, I’m getting used to that. Initially it was tough, ‘cause a student would talk to me and I would not even understand. Now, they are not conscious that they are talking to a professor, they want to maybe be a little more formal. They use more of the ‘street slang’ of language. The one difficulty I had when I came back [to America], our society [in Cameroon] is slow-paced, so we don’t speak fast. Americans speak fast, they like shortcuts. Like I always say ‘I’m going to’, you say ‘I’m gonna,’ -something like that.  Now I understand that.

TBG: Now, overall how would you describe your time in America? An enjoyable experience?

Prof ED: Oh yes, yes overall. I don’t regret coming back here, I love it. If I have the opportunity to still teach here as long as possible until I start having grey hair, then I will go back home.



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Insight From Abroad: China

Insight From Abroad: China

Meet Yushen Xiang, a political science freshman. Although born in Beijing, Xiang, who goes by the American name of Christina, has lived in America since 2009, when she enrolled at a boarding school in Maine. 

The Big Green: What drew you to America?
Yushen Xiang: “I came here for high school first, and I think the culture and education make me really wanna come here.”

TBG: What drew you to Michigan State?
YX: “I heard there’s an ice rink, ‘cause I do figure skating. I didn’t do figure skating during high school because we only have snow but we don’t have an ice rink. I was like, ‘Well, I’ll join the team,’ and so I just came here.

TBG: Are you on the team?
YX: “I was before but not right now. I just quit cause I had work to do.”

TBG : Did you go to a boarding school [for high school]?
YX: “Yeah….I lived on campus and we only had like 250 students. It [was] a small school. [We would] go snowboarding during winter trimester like every single day, and people there are really nice. I enjoyed my life there.”

TBG: What do you like about living on campus at Michigan State?
YX: “Its near the dining hall. I know Brody Square [near Rather hall, where Xiang lives] is the best dining hall on campus…I can go have dinner or lunch whenever I want, it’s just near my residential hall. I feel like its pretty convienent to live on campus, I can take buses to wherever I’m going to class…and I don’t need to worry about eating.”

TBG: Have you made any new friends on campus?
YX: “I have a couple friends.”

TBG: Can you talk a little bit about your culture at home in China?
YX: “There’s so many people in China, so it’s hard to findI have friends back in China, but it’s different, actually with American people. When I went to high school I felt like Americans are really friendly…you can talk to them, you don’t have to think about it too much. When I talk to Chinese [people] , I have [to be careful].”

TBG: Like manners-wise?
YX: “Yeah. And the education is definitely [different]. Like in China, we have large classes and many students, teachers wont care about you…you just do your work by yourself. But like in America…has a good enviorment for me to study.”

TBG: What are some other difference between life home and life here?
YX: “Well..I became more independent since I came here, since my parents are not here. Like, when I was at home, my mom[did] everything for me…she washed the clothes, and [cooked] breakfast, dinner, for me. I just need to care about my studies, I don’t need to care about anything else. But since I’ve been here… I’ve had to take care of myself. But, I think I’ve learned a lot. I have to do that, because when I get into society I have to do everything by myself.”

TBG: What’s your favorite part about being in America, or what has been over the past few years?
YX: “Culture and making a lot of friends. The openess [of the culture]…and I can make choices by myself. I can do whatever I want… in China, most Chinese students are doing what their parents want them to do. I was like, what I want to do is that thing that I can do very well.”

TBG: What about American culture has surprised you the most?
YX: “Teachers are more friendly…. Not right now, but when I first came to the United States. I had an advisor in high school and [she] was like my mom. [She was] just like family, [she] cared not only about my school and academic work but also my life, like helped me get involved into American culture.

TBG: How has your experience at Michigan State been so far?
YX: “Pretty good. My major [is] political science, so I was planning to transfer to another college…but I’m still working on it right now. I want to go to to George Washington because they have a good major. If I successfully transfer to that school, I’m going to go there, but if I fail again, then I think I’m going to stay here.”

TBG: What do you miss the most about home?
YX: “Food! Athough I love the food here, but it’s kind of different. The Chinese rice they have here… it’s good, but [it’s] not real Chinese food.”

TBG: What are your future plans?
YX: “I want to get a job that can connect both America and China… like international relations. I know that I’m gonna miss my mom, I might stay in America, but I want to be able to travel between the United States and China.”

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Insight from Abroad: Australia

Insight from Abroad: Australia

Meet Andrew Cox, a mathematics junior who comes from a land down under, hailing straight from Melbourne, Australia.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Cox

The Big Green: What drew you to America, and more specifically, Michigan State?

Andrew Cox: “I came to America because I was interested in seeing what it would be like to study in a different English speaking culture. I was born in Ohio, so I was very keen to study somewhere in the mid-west and I wanted to go to a big university with an active sports program as well. In the end I chose MSU because it had the academic program I was after, as well as hundreds of school groups to be a part of.”

TBG: How has your family supported your choice to study abroad?

AC:  “I’ve been away from home for about six months now, which has been the longest time in my life. My parents and family have all been very supportive of me going away, but I miss them and am looking forward to seeing them again next year. I miss my brother, who will have graduated school and be at university by the next time I see him.”

TBG: Where do you live at MSU? How has that experience been for you?

AC: “I live in Wilson Hall in the South Neighborhood. It’s been a really good way to get to know people and I’ve really enjoyed the experience for the most part. It is slightly strange though, because in Australia by the time you graduated high school, you wouldn’t share a room with anyone ever.”

TBG: What activities are you involved in on campus?

AC: “I play underwater hockey at MSU, which is a lot of fun. We train twice a week, and I went to London, Canada for a tournament with my team, which was a really memorable weekend.”

TBG: Can you talk a little bit about your culture at home?

AC: “Australia is quite similar to America in many ways, but there are some differences. While we still love our sport we play Australian Football, Rugby and Cricket at home. Because there aren’t as many big cities in Australia, there will generally be a fairly even mix of fans at a game, and the stadiums aren’t like fortresses for the home team chants. It’s also much warmer at home, which is something I miss a lot!”

TBG: What are some other differences between life at home and life in America?

 “While we speak the same language in Australia, I often get caught out saying things that have absolutely no meaning to American people. I think attitudes towards things like politics are very different in Australia, as the intensity of the attack ads in the recent election was a real shock [to me]. At home I am also really used to eating food from all over Asia and across the world such as Indian, Thai and Ethiopian but I’m finding that most people here don’t really like food like that.”

TBG: What is your favorite part about being in America?

AC: “I love getting to discover something new every day. There are hundreds of little differences, which I am slowly finding out about. Halloween was a particular highlight for me, and a huge change from Halloween at Australia where it falls in the middle of our exam period and is not really celebrated.”

TBG: What has surprised you the most about America?

AC: “How nice and welcoming the people are. Before I came to Michigan I was traveling around the U.S. and people would invite me to stay with them or help me find where I was going. It’s the same at MSU, people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome and are very friendly and more than happy to start up a conversation with you.”

TBG: So you’ve been treated pretty well here then?

AC: “People have always been really nice to me and really interested in what I’m up to. Everyone seems to enjoy my accent so I think I’ve been asked to ‘just talk’ by people I’ve just met about 500 times since I got here

TBG: How would you describe your experience as a study abroad student at Michigan State so far?

AC: “Studying abroad at MSU has been a lot of fun. All the study abroad students went through orientation together, so I have lots of friends also studying abroad here. It has been a bit of a shock compared to university at home, where most people live off campus in the main part of the city, go to their classes at university each day and then go home again. Attendance has never been marked in lectures for my degree, and your lecturers don’t know you at all and don’t really worry whether everyone passes or fails, so you have to be much more proactive in getting help. There is also a lot more continuous assessment in the form of homework and projects here, at home I am used to exams worth about 70% of the final grade for a subject.”

TBG: What do you miss most about home?

AC: “I miss my dogs the most! Every time I talk to my family, I Skype the dogs in the backyard and get them to do tricks through Skype. I also miss my friends, and just hanging out with them. I also miss the food from home, and being able to go to the beach whenever I want to.”

TBG: What are your plans for the future?

AC: “Unfortunately I need to go home after this semester to continue my studies in Australia, but I’m hoping I can come back soon and see all the people I’ve met here, because I’m going to miss them!”

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Insight from Abroad: Ghana

Insight from Abroad: Ghana

Each month, global view will feature in international student at Michigan State, and share their insights on life at home and abroad.

Barbara Kotei took a path that includes not only highways and streets, but also oceans when she first arrived at Michigan State University.

Kotei, a molecular biology freshman, is an international student from Ghana, located in West Africa.

Barbara Kotei is an international student from Ghana.

Kotei said she was already familiar with MSU before she became a student.

“I met with the admissions office [before choosing to attend MSU],” said Kotei. “I had a couple of friends here, and I even came here with another boy from high school.”

In addition to the friends that Kotei knew before she came here, she said she appreciates the friends she has made on her floor.

Kotei said she made friends on the floor through intramural soccer and has made more friends at MSU from going to salsa dancing classes.

However, she also said that although her American friends are generally receptive, a lot of them don’t fully understand where she is from.

“People don’t know much about Africa,” said Kotei. “I have to explain that [Ghana] is a country, and that Africa has countries.”

Kotei said that Ghana is a unique country with many different cultures and languages, with many of those languages being a tribal dialect representative of Ghana’s diverse culture.

“I can speak three languages: Gha and Twi, which are tribal languages, and English,” said Kotei. “Many people are unaware that English is actually the official language of Ghana.”

Kotei said that she also tried to study French in school, but found her experience to be difficult and uninteresting.

Kotei lived South Africa for two years, and she said the culture of both countries was similar.

She also said that her hobbies at home are not much different than those of average young Americans.

“I like to hang out with my family and friends a lot,” said Kotei. “I really was able to bond with my friends there, as well as my family at home.”

The major difference she noticed in American culture upon arriving at MSU was the freedom of expression.

“People express themselves a lot more freely here,” she said. “The dress is different, there [are] transgender individuals, too.”

Kotei also said that this freedom of expression applies to language as well.

“The way [Americans] speak in general […]at home, it’s rare to see people cuss so much,” she said.

However, Kotei said that her experience in America and at MSU has been a good one so far.

“People have been very receptive; it’s been a good time so far,” she said.

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