Growth in Rwanda

July 30th, 2012

Porntip Israsena, a senior Donaghey Scholar working towards an International Studies and Spanish double major, spent this past summer in Eastern Africa. Not many people would choose to spend their summer teaching children in a third-world country, but Porntip saw this as an opportunity that she couldn’t miss. Never afraid to take the road less traveled, the experience abroad was not her first time out of the country. Porntip previously studied abroad in Spain and Ecuador in order to improve her Spanish language proficiency. This time, she joined her Rwandan friend in experiencing the culture first-hand.

My journey to Rwanda and Uganda began long before this summer started.  As many people in the Little Rock community may know, there are many Rwandans in the Central Arkansas area, with several attending UALR.  During my time at UALR I’ve had the opportunity to get to know and develop friendships with many of the students. This summer I had the opportunity to visit with some of the students in their home country.

Little Rock, USA | January 2012

The majority of my time abroad was spent with my closest Rwandan friend, named Anitha.  She has a home for a family of 15; 3 aunties and 12 children.  Most of the children no longer have living relatives and have been living with Anitha’s family for about three years.  While we were there we spent time laughing, playing, teaching, cleaning, cooking, organizing and everything else that goes along with day-to-day living.

Nygatare, Rwanda | May 2012

Although my trip was not a “study abroad” program, the trip was a great course on International Studies. The most important lesson I learned during my 5 weeks in East Africa: in the midst all the negativity, poverty, corruption and hunger that Westerns tend to perceive about the third world, East Africa is teeming with development, spirituality, education, health, opportunities and life.  I hope to return within the next 10 years to witness the rapid development that Rwanda is undergoing.

Nygatare, Rwanda | June 2012

Delving into the Yucatan

June 26th, 2012

Josh Thomsen was a member of a faculty-led travel course to study Mayan art and architecture in Mexico. Led by Dr. Laura Amrhein, the upper-level Art History class explored many places in the Yucatan peninsula, giving students and faculty a first-hand glimpse into Mayan history. Josh had already studied abroad twice and this was his second faculty-led experience.  Josh explored ancient ruins, colonial-style cities, lush forests, and beaches, witnessing both historical relics and the present-day way of life of Mayan descendants. The following excerpt recounts his adventure in Mexico.

Map of the Yucatan            

 I woke quickly and early, eager to experience the land of the Mayans.  The plane ride, heat, and relentless mosquitoes left me bereft of energy.  Yet, awaking this morning and knowing that I was sleeping a mere five minute walk from Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city, was enough to have me hastily showering to begin my day.

We came armed with knowledge gleaned from readings and discussions we had weeks before we arrived on the peninsula. I had studied abroad in Mexico before, so I was eager to sharpen my Spanish skills.  Also, I was already a witness to a pyramid’s majesty from when I had traveled to Teotihuacán (near Mexico City), and I was grateful to have the opportunity to again see such testaments to humanity’s ingenuity. Local Mayan people were setting up their tables to sell blankets and sculptures, thousands of birds were calling out to each other, and iguanas were crawling on top of the rocks to soak up the sun. We walked through a short trail, choked on either side with vines and trees, and came to a large clearing with the Pyramid of Kukulkan, or “El Castillo”, in the center.  It is a breathtaking “step” pyramid that rose out of the ground to meet us.

Chichén Itzá, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site, receives millions of visitors each year, and we soon saw why.Local Mayan people were setting up their tables to sell blankets and sculptures, thousands of birds were calling out to each other, and iguanas were crawling on top of the rocks to soak up the sun. We walked through a short trail, choked on either side with vines and trees, and came to a large clearing with the Pyramid of Kukulkan, or “El Castillo”, in the center.  It is a breathtaking “step” pyramid that rose out of the ground to meet us.

Chichen Itza

 El Castillo is possibly the most famous of all pre-Columbian structures in the Americas, but it wasn’t the only ruin on the site.  We chatted with the friendly vendors who were eager to teach us some Mayan words such as “boh’oh’tek,” which means “thank you.” After our day at Chichén, our group drove to our next stop, the small town of Izamal.  The town is a great example of colonial architecture and all the buildings are painted yellow.  We made our way to the cathedral, a beautiful complex where Pope John Paul addressed a crowd there in 1993.  The city was so alive, with firecrackers being let off in honor of a local holiday, and cars driving around with large speakers tied to the top and blasting songs of political parties (we were there a mere three weeks from the presidential election).  Our treks were rewarded with a rich lunch of sopa de lima (lime soup), relleno negro (turkey in a black chile pepper sauce), hot homemade tortillas and cold soda. 

Merida architecture 

Mérida, our next stop, is the largest city in the state of Yucatán, with a population of about a million people. We spent the evening walking around the parks, looking at the wonderful murals, and taking in the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Mérida would prove to be our home base as we took day trips to visit other sites. From here, we headed to the beach town of Celestún, home of the Ría Celestún. The Ría is a protected wildlife habitat, attracting a large number of different endangered bird species. The Mayans have been coming here for centuries to harvest shrimp, octopus and fish. We took a boat ride and saw a large flock of flamingos.  On the way back, our guide took us through a natural tunnel of mangrove trees and we stopped at a natural freshwater spring, named the Ojo de Agua, or Water’s Eye. It possessed some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Later we ate lunch in a restaurant on the beach, followed by some time to swim in the ocean. I had never had the chance to swim in the Gulf of Mexico before.  

 Gulf of Mexico

The next day, we trekked north, stopping at Dzibilchaltun (Zee-bihl-chal-toon). This site featured a fantastic museum that detailed the history of the area from Pre-Columbian to the colonial era. There were some fantastic pieces in the museum, including a colorful Mayan codex, one of the few in existence.

In the morning, we went south to Mayapan, one of the largest Mayan cities and what would be the group’s favorite site.  It’s relatively unknown to tourists so we pretty much had the vast site to ourselves.  Here, visitors are able to actually climb the tall pyramids and get a good look at the vast forest completely covering the whole peninsula. From the edge of the clearing one can clearly see a large number of hills that are actually more pyramids and temples waiting to be dug out. 

Soon we left to visit Maní, where we visited the 500 year old Franciscan monastery which is famous for a gruesome reason. It is known for the burning and destruction of a vast number of Mayan books and artifacts. In the 1500s, Friar Diego de Landa wrote one of the first and most comprehensive books on Mayan culture. Unfortunately, he also ordered an inquisition at Maní, and the burning of a vast number of sacred Mayan books took place.  Due to this, only a few Mayan codices now exist, and the Mayan glyphs were largely unreadable until only the last fifty years or so.  As morbid as the history is for this place, the building was beautiful, and it was a welcomed stop on our journeys. 

Mani monastery

For the next day we visited Uxmal (Oosh-mahl), a site bigger and grander, in my opinion, than the more popular Chichén Itzá. The ruins here were built in the Puuc style architecture, which some compare to the Rococo style of Europe– they were built with very elaborate and intricate decorations. As the Mayans never developed a true arch, there are many doorways that are corbelled vaults instead which lead to more and more wonders on this expansive site.  The main building is the “Pyramid of the Magician,” a ruin massive enough to make the famous Castillo at Chichén look small.  The way the Pyramind of the Magician  looked rising above the jungle in morning sun was something I’ll never forget.

The next day we hit the Mayan cities of Kabah, Sayil and Labna, which featured intricate Puuc style buildings.  At these sites we got a chance to see the restoration of these buildings in action, as they were abuzz with workers paid by the Mexican federal government.  It was great to see local Mayan people cheerfully working to restore their heritage.  Next we drove to the cave of Loltún: a massive cave that was used for thousands of years by the locals had pre-historic Mayan cave drawings and painting.  We could only marvel at how beautiful the scene was; lush vines dropping in from the abundant ground above, chatty birds calling to each other as they flew in and out of the holes, and the brilliant light pouring in to meet the thick darkness of the cave. On our way home, we stopped at an old Cacao (chocolate) plantation that had been converted into a museum. We rewarded ourselves for our long day, with chocolate bars made from cocoa harvested on-site. 


Mayan art

We made one last stop at a traditional Mayan couple’s home.  They were proud to show us their way of life and their little plot of land on which they raised pigs and chickens and raised chiles and fruit.  The wife demonstrated how she made tortillas and the farmer showed us how he made strong ropes from the agave plants.  We bid them many thanks and a good farewell so we could get back on the road to Mérida.  We woke up early the next morning to hit the road back to Cancún and sadly, our trip came to a close.

 Josh with a local

The things I discover while abroad still do not cease to amaze me.  There is so much outside of our comfort zone that we can’t even begin to know, unless we travel first hand.  Studying while abroad makes it so much more rewarding than just traveling alone.  The knowledge one gains from education while in such strange places almost makes the trip seem like a lazy dream.  You can’t but help soak up the local culture and knowledge.  The friendships you make while studying abroad become special.  You and the other members of your group have these wonderful life-changing experiences together and you can’t help but become close to these people whom you didn’t even know before.  In all, I would recommend this travel course to others when Dr. Amrhein leads a group next summer.  If you would like to ask me more questions about my experience, please email me at

Student Spotlight | June 2012 | Mason Collar: Business Abroad in Europe and Costa Rica

June 1st, 2012

Graduating UALR Business Marketing major, Mason Collar is glad he took the opportunity to study business abroad.  In the summer of 2010 he took his first study abroad trip to Germany, and during the past spring break he joined the UALR College of Business on a short-term travel course to Costa Rica. With his new perspectives on business, he will now begin his career search with an international mindset.


Life is all about creating stories to be able to tell others.  Studying abroad is another one of my experiences that I can share with people.  Studying abroad is an opportunity that no one should waste – if I could go back and start my college experience all over again, I would make sure that I study abroad for at least an entire year of my undergraduate studies. Studying business in different cultures is very interesting because you will find many variations in the different aspects of business.




On my first study abroad program I went to  Erfurt, Germany for three weeks where I was studying with students from 14 other countries from around the globe. Being with other international business students, it became obvious that culture effects everyday business.  During my trips abroad I had to deal with the differences in cultures face to face. On my week long study abroad trip to Costa Rica I was a part of the UALR International Business group who learned all about sustainable business practices. 




Even though both of my study abroad programs were less than a month each, I find it truly amazing how much a person can learn when they are placed in a situation where nothing is in their comfort zone, where what they know and expect is not the norm. Because of my study abroad experiences my interests and goals have developed and I am excited for what lies after graduation.  



I strongly recommend that UALR Students study abroad.  Business students who study abroad will quickly realize that business is cross-disciplinary, and there is a lot to be learned by gaining international perspectives.  For students interested in more details about my study abroad experiences, please contact me via e-mail at  



Student Spotlight | May 2012: Ross Jackson in China

May 1st, 2012

With the help of local sponsors, grants and scholarships, a UALR Senior Theatre Arts Major took his first trip abroad. During spring break Ross Jackson traveled to China with faculty members Dr. Jeff Kyong-McClain and Dr. Jess Porter, who led a 10-day Short-term Travel Course on Chinese history and geography.

During my last semester at UALR studying Theatre Arts, I experienced something new, something that helped to reinforce my academic goals. I have always had a passion for traveling, but this trip abroad gave “traveling” a whole new meaning. Having the opportunity to go to China changed my perspective on life, and I hardly look at anything the same. I realized how valuable it is as an artist to be able to draw on examples from other cultures and perspectives.


With a background in the arts, I approached China as a story waiting to be told. My experiences on-stage are performed stories; this trip to China has become my story of experiencing the history of Eastern Art. During my 10 days in China I had the chance to see the Beijing Opera, a few art exhibits, the 798 Art Zone and even play an ancient Chinese musical instrument. All of these experiences are unique to China, and would not have been the same if I had not traveled abroad; there is something different and special about seeing and experiencing what you hear about.


I found the language barrier to be both shocking and interesting. The language itself was fascinating and fun - I still find myself saying xie xie (thank you)! On the other hand, a couple days into the trip I realized that I was in another country, but we were communicating with the locals in our language instead of vice versa.

What surprised me most about the culture was the camaraderie among the Chinese. Very rarely did I ever see a person alone, they always travel in groups, and we frequently saw people helping each other with daily activities. This made a lasting impression on me and I will always remember China for its friendliness.


I am thankful to those who helped fund my study abroad experience; the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the UALR Department of Theatre & Dance, the Short-term Programs Scholarship, and ITE Sponsorship. As I begin preparing for graduate school, I hope for the opportunity to return to Asia in the near future. To learn more about my study abroad experience in China, please feel free to e-mail me at


Student Spotlight | April 2012: Clint Brockway in Austria

March 28th, 2012

Clint Brockway is currently a first year graduate student in UALR’s Master’s of Liberal Studies Program.  Before he began his graduate school coursework, he had the unique opportunity to intern and research abroad in Austria.  He hopes that he will have another opportunity to conduct research in Austria during his graduate studies.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to travel over 15,000 miles during my 11 weeks abroad, and I landed myself in 8 different countries!  I completed a research-based internship at UALR’s Exchange Partner Karl FranzensUniversität in Graz, Austria.  As and undergraduate student of Interpretation American Sign Language and English, I began research on perceptions of ethical conduct for sign language interpreters in Austria and the U.S.

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Austria | Summer 2011

Being the first student in the ASL department to do an internship abroad, some of the pre-departure logistics were difficult; however my studies abroad have shaped and strengthened my professional and academic goals.  As an interpreter there are many things to learn about being abroad and being on the receiving side of interpretation.  I am grateful to Dr. Linda Stauffer of the Interpreter Education Program at UALR, and Nadja Grbic of the Institut fϋr Theoretische und Angewandte Translationswissenschaft, who were helpful in arranging much of the logistics, and encouraging to intern abroad.  I quickly learned that Europe has had a long history with intercultural communication and professional use of several languages; this is a great learning environment for students who are studying interpreting or a foreign language.  ASL students are taught to communicate visually and think in images, being abroad and being forced to learn new signs, giving me a new perspective on sign language.  There are several interpreting behaviors that I have adopted in my professional interpreting that I learned while being abroad.

Before leaving my home in Arkansas, I had only taken one German language course.  With the help of UALR Professor, Dr. Jeanette Clausen, I was able to learn useful vocabulary and phrases before my trip to Austria.  When I finally arrived in Austria, I found that my biggest challenge was the abundance of languages in Europe. As an interpreter and language major this was absolutely amazing, but on the other hand it made collecting valuable and reliable data for the research difficult.  In order to overcome this challenge I was forced to seek out and use the available resources.  Knowing, understanding, and using available resources became key to conducting research, and has been translated to a useful lifelong habit.  My time in Austria was accompanied by a new and good friend Karin, she helped with arranging meetings with the Interpreting Association, learning the city, and translating documents.

My time abroad was not only limited to academics and research, but I was also able to travel, explore and enjoy various European cultures.  I went to historical sites, music festivals, national parks, and several countries all over Europe.  During my stay, a flat-mate invited me to visit her family in a small Austrian town, where we climbed the second largest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps, and explored the caves of Dachstein.  This sense of community has been a unique and exciting experience; throughout my stay I felt like an important part of a community among great friends that continues even though we are living different lives.

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Northern Limestone Alps | Summer 2011

There is still much to be learned about interpreting and the Austrian culture.  I am hoping and planning to return in the next few years.  During my next trip abroad, I will again conduct research and hopefully attend the upcoming International Interpreting Conference in Austria.  If any students are interested in learning more about interpreting research and internships opportunities in Austria, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at

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Austria | Summer 2011

Joe Hulsey’s Return to Poland

March 16th, 2012

This fall Joseph Hulsey is a sophomore Anthropology major and International Studies minor at UALR, who will be UALR’s first exchange student to Poland.

Last summer Joe took his first flight all the way from Little Rock to Poland!  With other UALR students, he joined Faculty-leader Dr. Jacek Lubecki for a short term study abroad trip to Poland and Ukraine.  Joe’s first experience abroad is one that has had a lasting impact on his academic goals.

UALR Faculty-led Travel Course | Poland & Ukraine - Summer 2011

UALR Faculty-led Travel Course | Poland & Ukraine - Summer 2011 

For the 2012-2013 academic year, Joe will return to Poland and study abroad at UALR’s new Exchange Partner at the Eastern European State Higher School – PWSW in Przemysl.  During last summer’s faculty-led trip, the group had the opportunity to tour the institution. 

PWSW is located in a town with a history that dates back to the early Middle Ages.  Not too far from Poland’s former capital city, Cracow, the small town’s monuments, landscapes and history continue to amaze tourists.  Although, the classes are taught in Polish, PWSW offers courses in History, Political Science, Polish Philosophy, Sociology, Applied Linguistics, International Relations, Environmental Engineering, Mechantronics, and Interior Design.  UALR Exchange Students are also eligible to take Polish and Ukrainian courses. 

Joe will spend two semesters studying Polish at PWSW, but will continue to take two online courses at UALR.  Joe hopes that his Polish studies will help shape future career opportunities, and give him a deeper understanding of Polish culture that he can bring back and share with the community.

To learn more about UALR Exchange Partners and Study Abroad Opportunities, please visit the UALR Programs Abroad website at

Student Spotlight | March 2012: Sarah Dunlap in Jordan

February 22nd, 2012

UALR Programs Abroad is excited to announce its first Programs Abroad Student Spotlight, Sarah Dunlap.  Sarah is a Senior History Major and Middle Eastern Studies Minor.  While she is looking forward to her upcoming graduation, before she walks across the stage to receive her diploma, she will study abroad one more time!

I come from a family of six children, and interestingly enough one of my younger sisters got me interested in learning Arabic.  Little did I know that I would soon be traveling alone, across the world to Jordan to take intensive Arabic language courses.  Last summer I had an experience that was absolutely life-changing!  It was my first time to travel alone, so I was excited yet very nervous.  At first it was easy for me to notice the difference in cultures, but as time passed I began to realize that the little things in daily life were not so different from the U.S. and frankly did not matter.  It was not long into the trip when I realized that family is very important to the Jordanians, which was something very familiar to me.

University of Jordan | Arabic classes | Summer 2011
Wadi Rumm Beddoin Camp | Summer 2011

 The eight-week intensive Arabic classes at the University of Jordan began, and this is where I really started to interact and engage the Arabic language.  Not only was I learning a language, but I was learning the culture of a unique country among many other students from around the world.  As I put my skills to the test outside of the classroom, my biggest obstacle was the language barrier.  I quickly learned that in order for to learn the most Arabic while I was abroad, I had to be willing to take the steps to go out and practice.  When I did, I found that my  Arabic improved quickly!

University of Jordan | Arabic classes | Summer 2011
University of Jordan | Arabic classes | Summer 2011

 By the end of the study abroad trip, I was really sad to go home.  I had not yet reached a point of “home-sickness” and was not looking forward to leaving my new friends behind.  It was much harder coming back to the U.S. and coming back to the American culture, than going to Jordan and adopting their culture.

Although I had previously had an interest in the Middle East, this trip abroad confirmed my plans for a long-term career goal focused on the Middle East.  As graduation approaches I am in the process of applying for several Middle Eastern Studies Graduate school programs.

I am currently looking forward to returning to Jordan this summer for more intensive Arabic courses.  This time I am not nervous but happy, and glad that my husband will be joining for a visit during my studies.

As a two-time recipient of the UALR Middle Eastern Studies Grant, I strongly encourage Middle Eastern Studies students to apply and take advantage of the opportunity to study a new culture.  If you are interested in learning more about my trip abroad, or the UALR Middle Eastern Studies please e-mail me at

Jordan | Summer 2011
Jordan | Summer 2011

Study Abroad Videos

October 11th, 2011

Watch these study abroad videos and visit Programs Abroad for more information.

Blog Contest Entry 2 - Taiwan

August 29th, 2011

Welcome to Paradise!
The Trip that Changed My Life.

by Jessica Fawley

I’m a graduate now.  Officially, I graduated from UALR in the spring, but our university has that wonderful policy where you can do six more hours after graduation.  I applied to do those six hours in Taiwan, a graduation gift to me paid for by the Taiwanese government.
Every morning, I wake up to electric purple and red sunrises which flash the mountains blue and gold all around us, and stubby trees with thick, rounded leaves twice as large as my head.  Welcome to the tropical island of Taiwan.
Photo 1Here, the people are so friendly that not knowing Chinese is no big deal at all.  Sure, you’ll occasionally think you’re ordering chicken and get handed a green milkshake, but mm, it’s delicious.  And they’ll mime with you and point at things until you’ve found the best food you could’ve imagined.  The choices are endless!  Beef noodle, oyster omelet, squid on a stick, crispy duck, egg “hamburgers,” “thick toast” (half-French toast, half toast with jelly, 100% delicious), hot pot swimming in delicious veggies and more kinds of meat than I’ve ever seen in one place, friend rice of a thousand varieties, bubble tea, boba milk tea, tapioca pearls, and apparently Asia invented the hashbrown square (and adds tasty spices)….Or you could just go for all the exotics: the thousand-year egg which was described to me first as a “rotten duck egg,” but is actually fermented.  It tastes great, if you can get over how it looks black, green, slimy, and really, really rotten!  And then there’s stinky tofu—take the name seriously—and a dozen things made with pig’s blood, snake’s blood, and God only knows what else.  Interested in chicken’s foot, pig’s ankle, or chicken butt?  One of my classmates is crazy about the last one—“So tender!” he laughs.  And try the hot dogs for breakfast wrapped in pastry bread.  So great.  But mind the ketchup; I think they’ve added a pound of sugar to every teaspoon.  The most important words you’ll learn are, “Half sugar please.”  And, yes, drinks and add-ons are often so sweet, they overwhelm the Americans.  I wasn’t sure that was possible.
And, of course, if you’re in this awesome TUSA Program, you’ll be learning Chinese.  Beyond being one of the most marketable languages, Chinese is really fun.  And when you’re surrounded by such friendly people, you never have to feel bad about stumbling your way through a sentence, mispronouncing every last tone.  We laugh about saying “I want sleep” when we’re trying to order a dumpling.  The tones are rather funny.  First tone is the one-note song.  Second tone climbs the mountain.  Third tone dips into the caldera of the volcano and eeks back out.  Fourth tone runs down the mountain.  And neutral tone whispers its little song of relief.
Photo 2Photo 3Photo 18For many people, learning Chinese is why they’ve come to Taiwan.  For me, it’s the culture.  I am on the direct opposite side of the earth from home, and the culture, the world, here reflects that.  Every morning when I walk to class, I pass a bald man in his 30’s wearing brown monk’s robes who repeatedly raises his arms up, turns his hands, and lowers them slowly.  There are usually a few people around him.  One woman rubs her back on a tree a lot, another tries to do what the monk is doing but never turns her hands up, only out.  I watch them every morning, and now we greet each other with smiles.  When I go running, an old woman doing some kind of kung fu tai chi, dipping so low you’d think she was Shakira, smiles so brightly to me her eyes almost disappear.  And then there are the groups, everywhere, doing strange flailing exercises, break-dancing, tai chi, and kung fu.  It’s incredible to see what these people can do, and at any age.
Everywhere you go, there’s someone to smile and excitedly say, “Hello!  How are you?”, which might be the only English they know.  Yes, seriously, people yell “Hello” when they’re passing on their bikes and scooters, just because they see you’re American (or might be).  And if they ask, watch them leap with joy when you say you are American!  我是美國人。 If you’re white, don’t take offense if kids scream when they see you (you’re a “white ghost,” after all, with a pointy nose!), and be sure to wave at them as they sneak around you, trying to get a better look.  You’re probably the first white person they’ve ever seen!
But let’s go back a step, to those scooters.  Everywhere, swarming in-and-out all the time, ten times as plentiful as cars, and they’re so much fun.  Our roommates, study buddies, and even teachers take us around on scooters all the time, zooming with the wind in our faces, all around Pingtung (our city).  It’s a tour every time.  Schools that look like military installations (because all the major government buildings are done in the same style here, including our university) or fun houses (private elementary schools), endless signs with Asians so pale they blend with white backgrounds (did you know Asians try to be whiter than we are?  That’s the style.  Skin whiteners are in most of the skin products, watch out!), and bright primary colors on every store sign. They love their reds and yellows.  Red here means luck.  And the colors are just as bright in the Buddhist and Confucius temples.  Skip off your scooter, pass through the dragon doors, light some incense, and pour over the endless stone etchings of gods and dragon-dog-lions.  They’re so cool-looking.  And don’t forget to toss the half-moons to see what the gods think of your future.Photo 9Photo 8
Tired of the city?  Let’s get out.  Kenting Beach, swimming in the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Taiwan Strait on the other.  Water so crisp and blue, you’ll know it’s a tropical island.  In an hour, off I’ll head back to the beach.  How about Monkey Mountain?  Why do you suppose they named it that?  Hike up, up, surrounded by thick, jungle vegetation.  Keep your eyes open, because guess who is sitting in the tree above your head?  Monkeys!  Thousands and thousands of monkeys!  Just don’t bring any food, and you’ll all get along great.  If you’re calm, they’ll even let you close enough to pet them, but watch the teeth.  From there, let’s spirit off to Taroko Gorge, where the mountains split wide open and the rapids play on boulders so huge you’ll feel like a tiny, Lego person, I guarantee.  The rocks are swirls of color—metamorphic (if you’ve taken your geology).  Oh, yes, and don’t worry when you see the giant spiders in their webs all around you.  They’re not dangerous.  But they do jump.  Five feet at least.  Hike the incredible trails around the gorge, and explore the shrines in the mountains.  There are no words for this place, and no pictures that do it justice.  You have to see it with your own eyes.
Now, go back to the cities.  Explore the night markets with their cheap, beautiful clothes, cool t-shirts, and endless arrays of awesome food.  Get a traditional Chinese or Thai massage—it only hurts for a second, then you feel great.  Try the water park-spa or the hot springs spas, where little fish will nibble on your feet.  It tickles like crazy!  Or head over to one of the many waterfalls.  Yes, you’re still in the cities.
Now take a little trip to the Indigenous People’s Park and shoot a boar with a traditional bow and arrow (like I did!  Okay, it was a picture, but I hit it!) or just pay one of the fourteen tribes a visit.  They love visitors!  Especially the Amis (Ah-mei), who dance and sing their way through every activity, every day, like a perpetual Disney movie.  And they’ll sweep you into their dances.  Their the largest of the tribes, and they live their traditional life so proudly and with such incredible joy, it’s intoxicating.  You’ll want to join the tribe.  And the Amis are especially awesome because they’re matriarchal.  The women are so powerful.
From there, hop over to the opera where warriors spin in kung fu dancing or to a traditional drumming concert, where they spin the drum sticks in fung fu drumming, pounding the drums with such energy and force, the sound radiates through your whole body and spirit.  Fung fu, here, or wushu, is a way of life, the energy of life, that so many people harness doing myriad things.  I like to joke that we Americans want the packaged version: “Cool!  Can we learn that this weekend?”
Before I came to Taiwan, I read in guide books that this is the friendliest country on earth.  Now, I’ve only been to six or nine countries, depending on how you measure it, but there’s no denying that these people are friendly and helpful.  Don’t be surprised when your teacher invites you all over for a traditional dinner.  And if you get lost in Hualien while looking for the school where you’re doing an interview to teach English, like I did, just stop into one of the fancy hotels.  Someone will speak English, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying there.  They’ll bring you water, print you maps, and if you still can’t find the place, they’ll swoop in and just take you there themselves.  In America, I think a ritzy hotel would just kick you, the non-paying non-guest out on the street.  Here, everyone wants to help you.Photo 5
Taiwan has definitely changed my life, both through all of these experiences, and more directly in changing the course of these next few years, if not forever.  I decided to look into jobs teaching English, and I’ve been offered an incredible job in Hualien.  I’ll be paid more than I’ve ever made in the United States, living in a country so cheap I can live like royalty, and be in Hualien, where the bike paths expand through the entire city and along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  Hualien, too, is the city beside Taroko Gorge; I have hundreds more paths there to explore and rope bridges to leap on.  In this economy, America is a difficult place to find a job worth having or at all, but over here, in Taiwan, there are hundreds of jobs just waiting for any native English-speaker with a Bachelor’s degree.  It helps that I have a background in teaching, but anyone who wants a job can find one.  When you’re here, ask around, and before you know it, you’ll be taking a job in paradise.
Photo 7Photo 6Photo 4There are no words that do this place justice, and no pictures either.  No story will tell you what it’s like to wander off on your own and meet the beetle nut girls or run off to KTV for a night of wild, up-scale karaoke with forty of your new friends.  You need to be here, to taste the squid, to try your hand at Chinese art and calligraphy, and get buzzed at and massaged or acupunctured by the traditional Chinese doctor.  The TUSA Program is an ambassadorial program funded by the Taiwanese government.  Check it out, and change your life.  It’s adventure time!

2011 Travel Photo Contest Entries

August 29th, 2011

Gerolstein, Germany

Photo 1:  Weekend trip to Gerolstein, Germany. Rode bikes out to the local castle. While studying in Spain, I took a weekend trip to visit some friends and explore the German countryside on bikes. It was amazing to be able to ride and see elaborate cathedrals, WWII ruins, and castles like this just nestled on the side of the road.  Submitted by Cheyenne Wilson


Photo 2: Student protest at the University of Jordan. Submitted by Sarah Dunlap


Photo 3: Historic District in Ecuador. Unlike the United States, the way of living for these people are similar to their ancestors. They walk almost everywhere, more than we do here. Their shops and stores are very small and they don’t spend a lot of time socializing in public. Submitted by Tynesha Ivory


Photo 4: This photo from March 2011 was taken in Montmartre, France. It depicts one of the many street artists selling their trade on a cold, windy afternoon. I enjoyed capturing this image because the subjects, the artist, his young female sitter and her father, do not seem affected by the pace of life that surrounds them. All of their eyes are intently locked on the anticipated portrait. Submitted by Courtney Ford

Blog Contest Entry 1 - Ecuador

August 26th, 2011

Ecuador: Middle of My World

by Brittany Uhl

One month: perpetual change

I went to Ecuador with other students from UALR in the summer study abroad program. Before I went I was not really sure if I wanted to continue in Spanish. After this study abroad experience, I really want to continue in Spanish. Learning Spanish in a classroom is fine. However before I went to Ecuador it did not seem like a real language to me. The only place I saw it outside of the classroom was in a Mexican restaurant or maybe once in a while I would hear people speaking it. In Ecuador, Spanish was everywhere. The signs, labels and spoken language was in Spanish. After seeing a whole country using it, living and breathing it, it fueled me to learn more.

Photo 1Mindo: Known for all of its outdoor activities and good for the complexion. We went tubing and took a chiva to see waterfalls.

Photo 2

This is my favorite place (pictured to the right) in Ecuador and by far the most relaxing place. Just choose a hammock, lay there, relax, breath in that fresh, clean air, and fall asleep. Sold yet?

Photo 6

This is also where we saw the Mariposario. It was just spectacular. You get to see the different stages of a butterfly’s development, as well as many different types of butterflies, some of which are as big as your hand. This is also a place where we saw some very exotic, prehistoric-looking plants.

Volunteer Work:

Photo 7Neque y mas Neque: Getting the chance to meet these wonderful little people was one of my favorite parts of the whole study abroad experience. It was so much fun talking to them and learning from them. Yes, we were the ones volunteering, but I believe we learned more from them than the reverse.
A different mentality: We all went to the local playground. The kids broke up into different groups. Some were playing soccer. others were playing in the dirt. At one point a little boy walked approached the group playing in the dirt wanting to join in. In response, the group members screamed and dashed away. Defeated, the boy walked away to a corner of the playground. A fellow student and I started thinking about intervening. At this time the whole group of kids, realizing that they had just hurt their friend’s feelings, rushed to make him feel better. Would this have happened in the US? Maybe.
Photo 9Also, a friend told me a story about when she had fallen down and the kids helped her up and brushed her off. Would this have happened in the US, or would laughter have followed instead? To me, these situations showed what extraordinary people they are.


Another unexpected surprise was the food. There were many different types of fruits there that I had never heard of before. They were delicious!
Photo 11Photo 13Photo 10
Sightseeing: I went to the Basilica, Plaza de la independencia, Mitad del mundo, and many other sites. Before traveling to Ecuador I watched a few travel shows about these different places. It was so awesome to see them in person. Pictures cannot capture the majesty that these places held.

Overall, It was a wonderful experience and I hope someday I will be able to return.

Photo 16Photo 14Photo 17Photo 4

Tristan Thibodeaux in Bangkok, Thailand

March 8th, 2011

My name is Tristan Thibodeaux and I am a Junior at UALR. I am currently studying in Bangkok, Thailand through a program called World Endeavors. I learned about this opportunity through the study abroad office on campus, and was helped through the application process by Ms. Aimee Jones, the Programs Abroad Coordinator at UALR. Honestly, the application process was a breeze and preparing for my trip was nowhere near as much work as I originally imagined. Ms. Jones has been a valuable resource throughout my journey, from preparing for departure to helping with any issues that arise back on campus.

Thailand 3

Thailand has been an amazing experience thus far. The Thai people are kind and laid back, and Bangkok is truly a world apart from Arkansas. It is strange to think that right now there are more people within a 5 mile radius than in the entire state of Arkansas. The food is amazing, and life in general is good. I will be studying at Mahidol University but since they are on a different schedule than UALR my classes will not begin until April.

Thailand 5

Right now I am in intensive Thai language classes. I study from 9-12 everyday. Thai is a very hard language but I feel my Thai is coming along. Its funny, because when I first arrived hearing the Thais speak to each other in Thai was very cool. When you do not understand what is being said around you it appears that everything they say is very important and meaningful. Now that I can understand some of what I hear I have been disappointed to learn that Thai people’s conversations are often as mundane as ours are back home. While a place and a language may be different people are pretty much the same everywhere.

I arrived in January, and within three days I had job offers from various schools looking for English teachers. I never thought something that I completely take for granted and do without thinking-speaking English-would be such a valuable asset to some. I did not take a job, but I did take an opportunity to teach English at a primary school on the outskirts of town. I am a volunteer as the school could not afford to pay a native English speaker’s salary. I am the only “farang” or Westerner that I have seen in this part of town, and it does bring me a lot of attention. The kids at the school seem very interested in talking to me, even though they are often to shy to do it.


The majority of my activities take place after school. We have an “English Club” where we play games such a telephone and hangman. I promised them I would teach them American football, which they call super bowl. They were really interested in this, so I broke down and bought an American football (probably the only one in Bangkok) and tried to teach them to play. They seem to like it even though it is taking awhile for them to get the rules down. Being involved with the school there is a great experience; one that I will never forget.


I often wonder how I ended up here, half a world away from my home, family, friends, and school. It can be quite lonely to think that I am over a day’s travel from anyone that I knew before January. But at the same time life here is an adventure. Every day I do something new and exciting. I meet new people often and I have made good friends as well. It is strange how I can feel both at home and so far away from home at the same time.

Having the opportunity to come to Thailand is something that I am very grateful for. With the help of Ms. Jones and the Office of International Services, I feel like I have all the support I need back on campus. I have had a few little bureaucratic issues arise back home, but Ms. Jones had them smoothed over in no time. Overall, everyone I have worked with back on campus has been incredibly supportive. If you are thinking about going abroad, DO IT! The cost is nothing compared to the experience you will receive. If you plan early enough you can find ways to fund your trip. The programs we have available to us as UALR students are great, and there is no reason for you not to go abroad.









China: Southwest University of Science and Technology (SWUST)

March 8th, 2011

Fall 2010 by Bart Carfagno

Arrival and Settling In:

My experience in China began as I took a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou after a three day wait for my visa. I spent the night in Guangzhou, my first night in China. The city was incredibly busy with lots of new construction everywhere. I received quite a few looks from the local people. At dinner, I couldn’t understand the menu and ended up getting 3 plates of meatball looking things that were not the best things I had ever tasted.

Bart China Sichuan   Bart China Miayang         Sichuan                                 Mianyang

From Guangzhou I took a flight to Mianyang, about 2 and half hours. Waiting at the airport was Yin Songtao, my liaison from the University. Yin Songtao became my friend and caretaker throughout my trip. We exchanged bilingual greetings as we tested each other’s Chinese/English. Yin, an English teacher, was able to speak English well, though comically skewed at some words like all non-native speakers. It was night as we drove onto the campus of the South West University of Science and Technology. With large buildings and a modern campus, 30,000 students, SWUST is very much like an American University. 

                                  Bart China SWUST


I had been traveling through China for several days at that point and had spoken to few people, most can’t speak English. The country was markedly different from Taiwan, where I spent the summer. Taiwan is low key, relaxed, and more neighborly. China is very busy, loud, and dirty. Not that it is filthy with trash everywhere, but there is a lot of dirt in the air from construction and many of the roads are made of dirt. It was a very foreign place to me.Yin showed me to my room which was much bigger than expected. I later learned a room this size is shared by a teacher’s whole family; I felt ambivalent about that. He introduced me to a Chinese student who would help me with day to day procedures. He gave me my class schedule and a brief explanation of the campus. I went about unpacking and settling in. My class was one on one with a teacher, which was great news. The not so great news was that it was only for 5 hours a week. This is one of the biggest complaints I had with SWUST as I learned that previous semesters foreign students had been going to three hours of class a day. 

Within the first couple of weeks I got really sick with a stomach virus. A girl I had met brought me Chinese medicine and Tylenol. She had previously told me the public drinking water was sanitary. I drank it for about 2 weeks before realizing it was the cause of my illness.

                                  Bart China Pizza hut

                                         Pizza Hut in Mianyang

As I settled into life in Mianyang, I went out and met people mostly right outside the campus where all the restaurants were. The food there was delicious. It was mostly fresh vegetables, lotus root was my favorite, and a little rabbit, chicken, or beef that you put on a bed of rice. Sichuan food is renowned as some of the spiciest in China, and I can say this is well deserved. What makes it so spicy is the small black pepper-like pellets put into the dishes. The numbing “taste” is something I had never encountered and they love it in Sichuan. Celebrations or parties all center around going out and eating a communal meal. This usually involves either hot pot or dry pot. Hot pot is a giant pot that is set into the table with a kerosene stove underneath it and filled with vegetable oil. The party then orders ala carte different vegetable and meat plates. Yin took me to a famous hot pot place when he first picked me up. He ordered us duck kidney, cow stomach, shrimp rolls, lotus root, soy bean skin, and a couple other things I can’t remember. The oil and “la jiao”, I don’t know what it is in English, make the spiciness from hot pot food unquenchable. Dry pot is several pots set on a long table with less vegetable oil. My favorite meal was dry pot with goose wing or rabbit.

                                sichuan cuisine

                                          Sichuan Cuisine

My classes were great. I was transferred to a class of four people after my first teacher began teaching another student. There were two Americans, one from Alaska the other from Florida, as well as a girl from Korea. They had all been studying in China for about 3 years. Not to brag but I caught up with them pretty fast and could soon understand most of what my teacher said. She would speak only Chinese the entire time, but she was very skilled at incorporating new vocabulary we’d already studied into her speech. Chinese is an interesting language, and not as difficult as people make it out to be. Humans naturally have the capacity to learn language. Having said that though, Chinese will make you crazy if you try to speak it every day like I did in China. One day you will speak fluently then the next day your tones will be completely off to where you can’t pronounce “what is your name” correctly. This comes with the territory of studying a language intensely.My travel time in China was limited to several excursions and repeated trips to the capital city of Cheng Du. Cheng Du is an amazing city of about 12 million people. I was amazed at how modernized it is. It has several Universities. It also had all types of different cuisines, all of which I tried because I was sick of rice. I stayed at a couple hostels while I was there and met some really interesting students from Sweden, England, and Germany. My excursions were to Emei Mountain, one of China’s four Buddhist mountains, and the Grand Buddha park. They were both amazing and my pictures speak for themselves.

Bart China Temple      

            China Temple


 Bart China Panda

    Cheng du’s Panda Reservation

I was ready to leave China after about six months in Asia. I genuinely missed Americans, or at least westerners, and their food. We take for granted the smorgasbord of different foods we have in America. As far as the people, there is a big difference in humor. The Chinese are never sarcastic or ironic and their sense of comedy is based around “silly” circumstances and extreme facial expressions. This is far from a fault but it is also far from the kind of humor my friends and I share. My Chinese friends and I exchanged gifts, my mom sent me Razorback paraphernalia to give them. Finally, Yin gave me a ride to Cheng Du airport before I said my final goodbyes to the Middle Kingdom.                                                                                                                  I plan to go again, but next time to a bigger city like Shanghai or Beijing after I graduate.

Bart China Bruc Lee

Bart in front of Bruce Lee statueI

Study Abroad: India Experiences

March 1st, 2011

Written by Dr. Avinash Thombre (Faculty Leader) with exerts from Jennifer Lewis, Michael Perkins Jr., and other student participants who explored India in January of 2011.  

      The notion of studying and learning is the hallmark of any academic campus and UALR is no different. However, in the winter break of 2010 four students from the Speech Communication Department had a unique experience in a different kind of learning when they left the confines of a traditional classroom and embarked on a weeklong study abroad experience to New Delhi, India. One main focus of the class was to understand intercultural communication from an experiential standpoint and other aim was particularly to make sense of a hard to understand complex social and individual transformation concept. And what better way to teach or understand intercultural communication and transformation than by immersing into another culture different from ours - the Indian culture. As a teacher who happens to be from India, this teaching and mentoring experience was personally a fulfilling high moment in my teaching career. In the following paragraphs, along with my students I provide a glimpse of the multiple experiences of this study abroad journey. 


Our first day in Delhi - picture with a Tibetan Monk we met on the airplane

      Travelling to experience an unknown culture demands a lot of courage in terms of learning and even importantly unlearning of what we already know and let go some of the control that we would like to have our own situations.  From the moment the class was announced in conjunction with the Office of Study Abroad Programs in the beginning of fall, students experienced first hand the notion of letting go. Originally the trip was planned to leave on 9 Dec 2010; however visas for India for three students did not arrive in time, resulting in a lot of anxiety and frustration. Not only this meant cancelling all the scheduled activities but also it put a big question mark on the trip itself. One of the students, Michael Perkins Jr, experienced a total loss of control. Being from an individualistic culture, he was very open minded and wanted to go on the trip without any preconceived notions. Michael said, “I was very excited and looking forward to it but when I heard that visas did not arrive in time, oh I just could not comprehend that these things could happen when we travel and lost control.’’  After a lot of frustration the students learned that it is best to ‘let go’ our control of the situation and so to speak ‘go with the flow’. Eventually, the visas did come and the trip with the help of Aimee Jones was quickly rearranged for the new dates. “Even before we left on the trip, the first learning goal was achieved. I learned to be flexible. This in itself was transformative for me personally,’’ exclaimed Michael. There were many such moments of letting go through out the trip.  


      The group in front of Qutb Minar, New Delhi 

      Soon we were on the 21 hour-long flight to New Delhi. The informal conversations with students as we waited to get on the plane, the observations during flight and sharing of things as we landed and boarded different flights is something that as a teacher I had never experienced teaching a traditional class. In each of these instances, the close interpersonal relationships we built that allowed us to share many our passions and life philosophies is what I cherish a lot. For instance, I could understand Jennifer Lewis was passionate about the cause of Tibetan people and wants to dedicate all her efforts to undertake ethnography of the people who live without a nation.  


      Students riding the cycle rickshaw in New Delhi 

      We landed in New Delhi on January 6 and the students were thrown into a fast paced city with an entirely different way of doing things culturally. The first thing they learned as we settled down in our cozy bread and breakfast (BnB) was that guests are considered as gods in the Indian culture. The staff at the BnB treated us like gods serving morning hot breakfast and freshly made orange juice. We took the Delhi metro (sub-way) and visited the Qutb Minar, the Indian Parliament, and historic ruins and learned that during the long course of history with many invasions New Delhi was destroyed and rebuilt seven times over. “No wonder there are forts and ruins every were,’’ remarked Rhonda Troillet.  Of course there was a lot of shopping and meeting with local people that was facilitated with the help of our local hosts Bipin and Krishma Kalappa. “They were so gracious with their time and hospitality that we truly experienced the taste of local culture and felt at home,” said Jennifer Wyse.  

                                         BnB Staff

       Our friendly BnB staff 

      Even though it was usually cold, we visited the Mahatma Gandhi museum that allowed us to understand transformation in its true sense. “The life and work of Gandhi is remarkable and I had an idea about it; however, when we visited the museum we could really understand how Gandhi was individually transformed himself by a series of events and then managed to transform the entire nation. His message is universal and personally I got a lot out of that visit,’’ remarked Michael Perkins Jr. On a beautiful Sunday morning we travelled five hours to another city to get to see the Taj Mahal, a symbol of love for your beloved. It’s moving story and exquisite artistry moved the students and some of them got interested in history like never before. We also visited the Agra Fort and Akbar the great’s tomb. Towards the end we paid a visit to a local educational institution Center for Media Studies and interacted with the students and faculty to exchange views on their notions of American culture and shared our views about Indian culture.  


      Group picture at the famous Taj Mahal 

      During the trip, the students experienced health issues from upset stomach, diarrhea (we called it Delhi belly), a panic attack and also déjà vu. Personally for me, I was very happy to share my culture and provide insights with students; however, in those communicative moments of interaction I learned something new – the students taught me something that I was not aware before. For instance, they were surprised to find Swastika everywhere in New Delhi, on the front door of houses, in the shops and even on the construction site on the bricks. I always knew the different meanings ascribed culturally to Swastika in the West and in the East; however, in the long discussions into the night about the importance of Swastika as a symbol of peace in India, I could see my own culture that I was born into from a completely different viewpoint. I could see anew some of the remarkable things about my culture that I took for granted and other differences that I could have never imagined as differences till I travelled with individuals from a different culture than mine.  In short, when we were back on January 13, personally the study abroad was very transformative for the students and for the teacher.  

Michael Perkins, Undergraduate Student 

      I believe that this trip transformed me in several ways. Not only has my worldview been altered but I also have developed a new understanding on how individuals within my own culture communicate.

My experience in India has forced me reevaluate how I view material possessions. While there I came face to face with stark differences in my “idea” of poverty and how fortunate I am. The poverty we faced was everywhere and almost inescapable. In the morning we would stand on our balcony and watch as women dug through our trash. At night men would huddle around metal kitchen bowls which they had filled with trash and lit on fire to stay warm. During the day we drove by countless tent cities bustling with people. There were several times that while stopped at a red light; beggars swarmed our car. It was difficult to enjoy the shopping knowing that the money we used to by trinkets could change someone’s life.

I had a mind-blowing experience with the simplest of things. On the way to the Qutub Minar we walked through a park full of ruins. Everywhere I looked there was what used to be an ancient Hindu temple. I got caught up taking pictures and noticed that the group was leaving me behind. The tour was moving right along and as I ran down the path to catch up I saw it. 

                                                      Michael Brick

Michael Perkins with the swastika imprinted on the brick 

What I saw was a brick. A simple clay brick with chipped edges, and it was piled up on top of other bricks that looked just like it. I had seen a lot of bricks before but this one was different and it turned into the focal point of our conversations for the rest of the trip. I walked right up to the pile and yelled at the rest of the group to come over. At first they weren’t impressed because they didn’t see it. I had to point out what made this brick so special. Though its outsides were weathered the center of the brick was clearly and deeply imprinted with a swastika. 

All I saw was hate. The swastika means Nazi and when I see it and think of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party that destroyed Europe. My first thought was that during WWII the Nazi’s must have built something in India…? 

The Americans in our group were stunned. Our tour guide laughed and said that the swastika was everywhere in India. He told us that it was an ancient Hindu religious symbol that was stolen by Hitler. Now, we had just gotten to New Delhi and this was our first day out in the city. As the group moved down the path to another ruin, we all at one point made a remark about the Nazi Brick. 

The week went on and I learned that the tour guide was right. Everywhere we went we saw swastikas. Other students on the trip and I began to make a game of pointing them out. We saw swastikas them on top of churches and painted randomly on walls, buildings and signs. I noticed that Indians paint the swastika over their doorway, so all who enter will be blessed. I learned that the swastikas real meaning is good or God. They imprint bricks with that symbol because they want their buildings to be strong. In their culture they wanted and building built with God. 

Even though we spent a great deal of time touring monuments and cites as well as markets and bazaars, all I could think about was that Nazi Brick. It was so different of a world than what I was used to. Back home if that symbol were present anywhere near your home, you would be labeled a racist, anti-Semitic or a neo-Nazi. But yet I was in a world where you could come face to face to a swastika and it was a welcome sign. I somehow felt that I had unlocked the key to the universe because that symbol no longer meant anything and words or symbols no longer had value. 

I think it was after being almost run over by a Tata truck with a swastika painted on it that I knew I was going to find a Nazi Brick and take it back home. I wanted to show off that chunk of rock on my coffee table and explain to friends and family a world that was so different from mine they made this. I knew that everyone has a story about being in another country and how horrible the bathrooms were, or scary traffic can be. I needed something a little more concrete than that. What I got was a brick. 

I found my Nazi Brick (and that is the name the group gave the brick) in a pile of rubble outside Haus Khas village. It was redder clay than the original Nazi Brick but imprinted deep inside the center was the same spider-like symbol that a few days earlier had made me stop and stare. I didn’t stare this time because I knew what it meant. This time I dusted it off threw it in my backpack and ran to tell the co study abroad friends that I got the greatest souvenir of all Indian Time. 

Jennifer Lewis, Graduate Student

       I think, very oddly, the only “transformation” I had was how close our group became in such a short time. We are five very different people - different age-groups, different backgrounds, experiences, college majors, intentions of what we want to be when we grow up - world-views, marital statuses and situations, looks (as in actually how we look), geographical areas we are from, political leanings, ideals, EVERYTHING! Yet, we became quite close and I have been really looking forward to seeing them again!  This may not seem very significant; we all know groups bond when places in the same situation, but it had been many years since I had felt such strong attachments to people I barely knew.  I have come to realize that prior to this trip, I had let myself get stuck in a rut of only using my off time to associate with certain peer groups.  I thought going to India would broaden my worldly horizons, and it did, but it also broadened my local ones, too!       

      I’m seriously thinking about teaching. Yeah, me. That is another way this experience transformed me. They (the rest of the group) all kept referring to me as their leader. Each morning, Michael and I would be on the veranda and he would fill me in on what the rest of the group was talking about/thinking about/griping about/planning and I would sit and patiently listen and nod my head and then consider everything!! It is too comical upon reflection - but at the time it was so serious! I would make my pronouncements after hearing from my people!! Ha!! Anyway, it reminded me how much I love learning and helping others learn.

UAG-Blog Post-David Steward-Spring 2011

February 14th, 2011

                 david-blog-1pic.JPG                    david-blog1pic21.jpg


Although I have only been in Mexico for one month, I have already had an amazing time. It has been one of the best experiences of my life and definitely one of the most unique. I have made a lot of good friends, visited numerous interesting places, vastly improved my Spanish abilities, and learned a lot about myself in the short time that I have been here. I have met a lot of students from all around the world including Columbia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, France, Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and of course Mexico. Since I did not come here with any of my friends I have been forced to be more outgoing and meet people nearly everywhere that I go.


One of my favorite quotes by the famous physicist Stephen Hawking says, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Through my experiences in Mexico I feel that I have tested my ability to adapt to change numerous times and in the process improved my ability to do so. These valuable experiences are the ones that will make the greatest impact on me out of all of the things I have learned and will learn in Mexico.


Although I go to class five days a week and learn a lot, I feel that most of my learning has taken place outside of the classroom. Whether it be adapting to cultural differences, speaking Spanish (or trying to), or just spending time with people from Mexico and other countries, I feel that I am constantly learning, which in my mind is the only way to progress in life. According to an old proverb, change is the only constant. So in my opinion, if you aren’t progressing, you are regressing.


For me this trip is the first time that I have done a lot of things. It is the first time I have been out of the country. It was the first time that I have traveled alone (on the way down here).  It is the first time that I have been forced to speak Spanish in everyday life. It is the first time that I have lived outside of Arkansas. It is the longest time that I have not seen my family or friends (excluding skype).  And it is the first time that I have gone to a private school. Despite all of these differences I have at no point felt anything but optimistic about my experiences and honestly I am yet to feel the least bit homesick (hopefully I haven’t spoken too soon).


In my house I live with five other Mexican University students and my host mother, so I am the only foreigner. Honestly I prefer it that way because I am more immersed in the culture of Mexico. I am able to speak Spanish with everyone in the house which has vastly improved my conversational abilities. 


I couldn’t be happier with the entire situation; I love the food, the culture, the locals, the other exchange students, my school, my home situation, and the city. The only thing I don’t like about Mexico is that crossing the street is by far the most dangerous thing because the drivers here are CRAZY. Also, despite the bad reputation that Mexico has received because of the drug violence, Guadalajara has only experienced minimal disturbances, and at no point have I truly felt that I have been in danger from any such violence. As long as I stay in the right areas, Guadalajara is just as safe as Little Rock.

Researching Lived Experience in Paris, France

June 29th, 2010

         By Julien C. Mirivel, PhD


                                           Paris 4 

                                           Group picture: Nyvelyn Shaw, Katy Rowden,

                      Amanda Wells, Julien Mirivel, Alex Long, Tracy Guilbeau,

                         Ashley Byrd, Andrew Pyle, Jill Gray, and Nathan Jeffers.


         The Indian thinker Jiddu Krishanmurti once wrote: “Our thinking is the outcome of our own very limited experience.” One way to strengthen a person’s thinking, and to cultivate in them a new lens through which to appreciate their world, is to create new experiences for them. In May, with the support of the Office of International Services, I did just that for 10 UALR students by bringing them into my home culture; we spent a full week in Paris, France together. The course, offered by the Department of Speech Communication, was titled “Researching Lived Experience.” Prior to departure, we spent five 2-hour sessions preparing for the trip and deepened our understanding of phenomenology. Upon their return, students wrote a report on what they experienced abroad and presented their findings in a public presentation. Teaching this course was a wonderful experience. Let me describe a few highlights.
Most of my teaching has taken place in the classroom; with a marker, a chalkboard, and a smile. Even though I interact frequently with students, I still have very limited contact with them on a daily basis. I assume this is true of most faculty members on this campus. On Friday May 14th, I found myself at the Little Rock Airport facing 10 students, some of whom had never flown before. Most did not speak French at all. No books, no notes; just human relationships to cultivate in a neutral environment. On the plane, I spent one hour and a half discovering Ashley, her dreams and goals, and her birthday; it turns out, we share many similarities. Then, it’s several hours to wait in Chicago. We’re finally on our transatlantic plane. By the time we reach Paris, we’ve already been together as a group for 15 hours. This is the equivalent of 5 weeks of classes on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. To be honest, interacting with students on a daily, consistent, basis, learning about the details in their lives, and being responsible for them, was the highlight of my study abroad.
         During the trip, we dived into the city. Upon arrival, we immediately discovered the Latin Quarter, where the historic university of Paris, La Sorbonne, lies. One learning moment took place when we arrived at the “Jardin du Luxembourg.” As students gazed upon the site, they asked: “Is there a concert? What are these people waiting for?”


France 2         Paris 6


                  I was surprised that they could not understand the view: people were relaxing, spending time with family members, reading the newspaper, and living in the moment. Yes, very French indeed! We sat down together, looking a little awkward, eager to move on to our next view. This moment thus captures the important pedagogical difference between understanding and realizing. As Millman (2000) put it, “Understanding is the one-dimensional comprehension of the intellect […] Realization is three-dimensional — a simultaneous comprehension of head, heart, and instinct. It comes only from direct experience” (p. 15).
In a week, we experienced Notre Dame, La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, le Chateaux de Versailles, Le Louvre, as well as the Eiffel Tower and les Champs-Elisées. Most importantly, we learned from each other during our morning class at the local cafes and created stronger ties during our long lunches and dinners. At first, students were often in a hurry to leave the table. On our last night, we ate from 8:00 pm until 12:30 pm. Today, most students miss the meaningful conversations that emerged at the dinner table.  

France 1         France 3

              During the week, students learned more about how deeply culture influences our ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. They also discovered much about themselves. Some experienced homesickness, others viewed their own culture in a new lens. As one student put it at one breakfast meeting: “I’m not shocked about French culture; it’s my culture that shocks me.” They also built memorable friendships, created memories for a lifetime, and often laughed together late into the night.  In short, when learning builds on living real experiences, students can simply grow as persons. 


                                          France 5


Andrew Pyle,
Graduate Student, M.A. Applied Communication Studies
         The opportunity to spend a week in Paris studying culture and the ways that people communicate with one another was life-changing.  Over the course of seven days I learned valuable insights about my classmates, my culture, and myself.  We had the chance to see beautiful architecture and artistic masterpieces; each day seemed better than the last.  I learned the value of slowing down to appreciate life as I experience it, rather than hurrying from one deadline to the next.
The most memorable moments of the experience occurred during our meals together.  We took time to talk with one another, to enjoy delicious food that was often new and unusual, and to appreciate the value of sitting, listening, and understanding.  The city of Paris is beautiful, day and night; French culture is fascinating and different from my own; and I would not trade the experiences that I was fortunate enough to be part of even if you paid me.  Everyone should take time to study in a different culture and have their eyes opened to the spectacular differences that define us.

LaDawn Moore,
Undergraduate Student, Department of Speech Communication
Learning to live is learning to let go.” - Sogyal Rinpoche
When you travel abroad, you pack along with a toothbrush, many assumptions and expectations about the places that you will visit and the people you will meet. I learned on my trip to Paris, France, that most of my assumptions were wrong and I had to let go of the stereotype that the French are collectively a rude bunch. My experience taught me that the French can actually be downright warm and friendly to foreigners.
 I was walking down the dusty street, my feet tired and ankles swollen, from the recent long plane ride, when I first smelled the sweetness of the baskets of strawberries. They were all lined up in a tidy display outside a small grocery. I chose my basket and went into the tiny store with its narrow aisles and looked for somewhere to pay for my delectable discovery. I spotted only one man crouched down, organizing shelves, wearing an apron. He saw me and smiled. I returned the smile and said “bonjour” and he said, “No-No”. I was confused. He then took the time to tell me, with his very broken English, why “bonjour” was wrong and how “bonsoir” was the right greeting. We went back and forth, trying to communicate and laughing as he made me repeat “bonsoir” until I had it right. As I left the store with my juicy, sweet strawberries, I realized I had made a friend. A friend for that moment only, and I learned to let go of the assumptions I had arrived with.
LaDawn Moore
Paris, France 2010


Study Abroad: Salamanca, Spain

May 18th, 2010

By: Sana Mohsin
Summer 2009

We were finally off the plane after a dreadful fourteen hour flight. I didn’t know what I was more worried about, getting my bags back in one piece or trying to figure out how to ask the airport staff where the bathroom is in Spanish. But soon enough, my worries dissipated as everyone working in the Madrid airport spoke English to us! This continued through our four day stay in Madrid; apparently we had a giant banner above us that said ‘Caution: Americans’ because every time a cashier or waitress would see our group of fifteen they would speak to us in English not Spanish, and that too, slowly. Read the rest of this entry »

My Mexican Family

May 18th, 2010

By: Kirby Atkins
Mexico 2009

My study abroad experience was better than I expected, my usage skills of the language has skyrocketed, and best of all I made some new friends, and it wasn’t painful in anyway.

I went on plenty of trips and adventures and have some awesome stories from my summer in Mexico, but I want to talk about the most important thing I experienced while I was there and I didn’t even have to leave the house. Read the rest of this entry »


May 18th, 2010

By: Ezra Phillips

Thanks to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies I was awarded a grant to travel to the Egypt and live in the culture for several months.

During this time, I traveled the country and made countless friends along the way.

I immediately fell in love with all of the new sights, flavors, smells, and tastes, not to mention the happy and generous people of Egypt.

Throughout the duration of my time abroad I learned first-hand, not only about the cultures of the region, but as well as my own culture here in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

European Questionnaire!

May 18th, 2010

By: Jessica Fawley

“How Was France?”

Intense and awesome!

I adored French bread, Swiss wine, and Croatian pizza. I also loved châteaux, nature devoid of pollution and litter, effective public transportation, the close proximity to fascinating places, the history, the art, the diversity, how the average person’s intelligence in Western Europe appeared to be three times ours (I met a 10-year-old genius who spoke four languages better than most of us speak English!), and how some places (NOT the university in Orléans) and people knew far better than we do how to relax and enjoy life. Read the rest of this entry »