Structural Violence in Zwelethemba


Grace Chang is studying abroad through the SIT IHP: Health and Community Program. She shared her post with us about her experience living with a host family in a township in South Africa.

Originally posted on My Postcards Home:

So far, Zwelethemba has been my favorite place we have lived; it also has been my least favorite. This contradictory feeling is hard for me to explain. On an individual level I felt most connected to my homestay family in Zwelethemba than any other. Mama Nondumiso accepted Ola and me with her large bear hugs and gentle, low laugh. But moving outside my welcoming home inside the township’s neighborhood I felt a deep sadness and, even regretfulness, for the situations inside the community. Reflecting now, I think I felt so disheartened by the absolute, historical, and unchanging structural violence that constrained the people I grew to love.

IMG_4913 Our first view of Zwelethemba

Zwelethemba’s history is tied with the apartheid racist regime. During the apartheid area, Zwelethemba formed as a “black only” area to provide a labor force to the “white only” nearby town of Worcester. While, “white only” and “black…

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The “Other” Path

This post was written by Harry Cooperman, a Spring 2015 Reid Hall student. 

Harry in ParisThe image on the screen behind the stage was avant-garde: 212 rolls of string of various colors, coiled around large tubes, each tube inhabiting its own individual space on a rack in Central Park.

A woman from the audience raised her hand, and the artist on stage pointed to her.

“You made this artwork by walking and tracing out 212 paths through Central Park. Did you choose that number because of New York’s area code? Or was there some other reason for it?”

The artist laughed, and then she responded: « Non, c’est un coïncidence. J’ai suivi autant de chemins que j’ai voulu, et c’est au hasard que le numéro des chemins et le code de zone de New York sont les mêmes. » (In other words, it was a coincidence – nothing more.)

Another person raised their hand. The artist pointed to her.

“What was your inspiration for this piece?”

« J’étais inspiré par la question : Quoi constitue un chemin ? L’idée d’un chemin n’est pas seulement dans ce qui constitue un chemin physique. Il y a d’autres types des chemins, et chaque personne traverse un chemin différent le long de leur vie. Dans Central Park, le chemin que je prends un jour pour traverser le parc sera toujours différent que celui que je prends le lendemain. » (In essence, what the artist said was that no two paths are the same – that her work paid homage to the fact that you never walk the same path twice through Central Park. It was an inspiring, Robert-Frost-esque response – the idea of thousands of paths diverging in a Manhattan park.)

“Thank you for that,” the second woman replied, sitting back down.

Observing the event that night, I realized that inside the large conference hall at Reid Hall, a language barrier (and also a cultural barrier) had been shattered. Questions were asked in either English or French, but the responses were always in French. The thing which stood out the most to me, though, was that everyone in the room still could follow the flow of the “conférence.”

Soit en anglais, soit en français, the conference was never above the head of any of the attendees. There was a mutual understanding between everyone in the room that this conference was about different cultures exchanging ideas; but for that to happen, everyone needed to take a step out of their comfort zone and speak or listen to a language that was not their native tongue.

When I decided to come to Paris this semester, I made a promise to myself that I would step outside my comfort zone – like everyone in the room did that night. And over the course of the semester, I’ve tried to do that as much as possible.

The first week of orientation at my program (the Columbia-Penn Reid Hall Program in Paris), I forced myself to sign up for an art class because I knew nothing about art. My first day of class at Paris VII, I introduced myself to as many fellow students as possible (and my professor) in French, because I knew that would be difficult for me to do. The first time I saw a poster for an event sponsored by The Arts Arena – an American cultural organization in Paris – I immediately registered to attend, because I knew that it was a lecture I never would have attended while at Penn.

Stepping out my comfort zone has given me experiences that I never thought I would have had, and has changed me for the better in the process. After attending my first Arts Arena event, I was asked if I could assist at their future events during the semester. Through my art class, I learned a ton about Parisian art culture as I was required to visit a different museum every week. Despite the fact that I’m not very big on going places on my own, I decided to take a weekend trip to Bordeaux myself – and walking around the historic city that gave birth to the Girondins was one of my favorite experiences in Europe this spring.

At Penn, I was so used to sticking to the path I started freshman year: math major, DP writer and editor, pre-law studies, etc. For me, this semester was about taking the paths I wouldn’t normally travel and making the most of it. Going to another country and trying to learn about culture was something I that I couldn’t have seen myself doing before – so I decided to do it when I came to France. And that choice has made all the difference.

Note: All quotes in this story are paraphrased from the person who spoke them, and are not direct quotes.

My Application for Study Abroad is in…Now what?

Now that you’ve finally selected and applied to a study abroad program, you might feel relieved but also a little bit lost. What happens next? There’s quite a bit of time between now and the beginning of the fall term. What’s the best way to use this time and start to prepare for a term away from Penn? Here’s a list of some (mostly) fun things to start doing:

  • Add your program’s email to your “safe” list. At this point in the process, the program partners really take over. You’ll need to keep on top of important emails and stay ahead of deadlines.
  • Get organized! Create a folder in your inbox just for program communication. A lot of the emails that you will be receiving contain important information and instructions that you may need to refer back to.
  • Relax a little. For some programs, it’s perfectly normal not to receive an official admissions decision until June. Housing will let you out of your contract with proof of admission to your program.
  • Learn more about your program! Gather information and tips from past participants. Start to review your program’s website for information for study abroad students.
  • Going on an exchange program? Invite an exchange student currently at Penn out to coffee. Ask them what they like best about their city, things to see and do that are off the beaten path, what their favorite movies and books from their home country are. They’ll embrace the opportunity to connect with a Penn student, and you’ll establish a new friendship with someone from your future study abroad site.
  • Will you be living in a country where English is not the national language? Brush up on common phrases, so that at a minimum you can be polite. Sure, people in your host city might be fairly proficient in English, but how would you feel here in the US if someone walked up to you and started barking at you in a language that you’ve only had in high school? Probably not too comfortable.

Even if you have advanced language skills it’s good to think about the day-to-day phrases that you might not use in your high-level literature classes.

  • Keep up with current events.  Read local news or follow local news outlets on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Set goals.  Studying abroad is a great time of self-discovery. Do you want to pursue a hobby abroad, try something new, or volunteer? Write to your program to see how to make those things possible. Sure, friends might be going on your program, but make sure that you have some time to yourself to pursue the things that are most important to you.   It’s through these kinds of activities, that students in the past have made local friends and long-lasting connections.
  • Keep an eye out for updates from Penn Abroad. Don’t worry! You’ll hear from us soon enough with information on orientations, pre-departure preparations, etc. If you’re eager to get started, our page for accepted students is a good place to start.

If you studied abroad, add your preparation tips in the comments!

Catalonia, Spain Independence Vote

This post was submitted by Hannah Grossman.  She is studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain this semester.

Pride for Catalonia has been at an all-time high these past few weeks in the capital city of Barcelona. The long anticipated vote for the independence of the autonomous Spanish community from Spain will be held on November 9. It highlights a discord that has been present among Spanish citizens for centuries now, making this a very exciting time to be studying in the center of the action.

Since the people of Catalonia lost their independence in 1714 under the rule of Philip V, they have insisted on regaining a national identity with a historically characteristic persistence. This has been evident even as a foreign student in Barcelona. Catalan is undoubtedly the preferred language, both written and spoken. Even in my classes that are listed as ones to be taught in Spanish, some of my professors have given directions in Catalan. And, regardless of whether this is an active or subconscious decision, it arguably reveals the culture to which they more identify.

With Spain’s economy suffering and Catalonia playing an integral role in it staying afloat, the issue has received even more attention. Frustrations surrounding the country’s delegation of taxes have only increased Catalonia’s ever-present desire to disaffiliate from the country altogether. A recent poll in 2012 indicated that over half of Catalonia’s population was in favor of independence, giving us reason to believe that the vote for independence on November 9 would pass.

While the vote has been reduced from its original state as a referendum to a poll, passion surrounding the vote has not subsided. The Spanish government deemed the referendum unconstitutional, as Spanish law states that a decision that affects the entire country cannot be made without the input of all of its regions. And while Artur Mas, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, has submitted to these national pressures, the people of Catalonia seem to be treating the decision with the same intensity that they were before. Campaign tents, posters, and a resounding and an inspiring slogoan “Ara és l’hora” (which translates from Catalan to “Now is the time”) have enveloped Barcelona. The city has served as the hotbed for this grassroots movement promoting the upcoming vote, and the power and prevalence of these efforts seem indicative of the fervor with which the issue will continue to be fought.

It will be interesting to see the results of these polls and, more importantly, how the results are utilized moving forward. But regardless of the outcome, the vote on November 9 has only further exposed a source of unrest in Spain and added historical relevance to this time for the people of Catalonia and the country of Spain as a whole. The vote has rejuvenated a long-standing struggle and may just be marking the start of a new and exciting chapter of this national issue.

The Tablelands Through the Eyes of a Runner.


Melanie takes some time to procrastinate and we benefit! Check out her beautiful pictures of Cairns.

Originally posted on Through the Eyes of a Runner:

So another reason to love, love, love Australia: they give you a week long study period for exams versus the two days I am used to! The benefit, lots of time to get your life together and write papers, the bad news, once you get distracted for a few hours it is easier to get distracted for all day… This was today…

Luckily I was still productive enough and got enough done before the Kris Kringle Dinner (yes… Christmas in October while it is warm out because, why not?!) that I can write a very long post reliving part of my mid-semester break (AKA: continuing my procrastination).

T h e  L i l y p a d (1)

So I left off in my travel journal at the Great Barrier Reef. The next day was just as awesome!

I awoke Tuesday morning of my week in Cairns and got prepared for a full day trip out to the Tablelands. I was…

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The Great Barrier Reef Through the Eyes of a Runner.


Melanie has the right idea…and gorgeous photos…of spring break on the Great Barrier Reef.

Originally posted on Through the Eyes of a Runner:

Under the sea, under the sea, darling it’s better down where it’s wetter take it from me!

If you do not get the above reference I am giving you homework before you read this post: go watch The Little Mermaid right now!

Okay now that I am done with my Disney moment it’s time to share Day 2 of my spring break trip up to Cairns: The Great Barrier Reef!

Starting off with Monday morning!

I awoke at 6:30am before the heat of the day set in and dressed myself in a swimsuit and fun boating clothes: flip flops (that would soon become barefeet), a nice flowy skirt and a versatile hiding from the sun and keeping the wind off shirt.


I was ready to face the day! After a yummy breakfast of passionfruit yogurt and muesli I walked over to the Wharf where my Down Under Dive boat was…

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