Hong Kong; a place where I, Brianna Jeanette Diaz, am being recreated through the challenges I face in a drastically unfamiliar environment. I have created three crucial goals during my time abroad to maximize my experience and take in knowledge and growth. With my passions for fitness, and my enthusiasm to learn more about the business culture, Hong Kong, with its vibrant and bustling business environment, fit my passions, dreams, and desires. To the beginning of a whole new outlook on life!
During my time here in Kyrgyzstan, I have been interning at the Soros Foundation. The Soros Foundation operates around the world, including in the U.S. though it is known as the Open Society Foundations in other parts of the world. When I applied for my program, we chose whether we wanted to work with human rights and peace building or environment and sustainability. I chose the human rights track and was assigned an internship when I arrived in Bishkek. The Soros Foundation works with a variety of issues including education and youth, governance and accountability, health, rights and justice, and media and information. I am working in the media and information sector with the Freedom of Information Program. My work has mostly been focused on the Encouraging Diversity Through Media Project. This project is focused primarily on the development of media content about the cultural and ethnic diversity of Kyrgyzstan, strengthening the role of Kyrgyz media in constructive inter-ethnic dialogues, and providing improved access to information in different, especially minority, languages. Typically, I arrive at Soros at 2 pm and go over my assignment for the day with my supervisor. I then do my research and put what I find into a file for my supervisors to use in their work. My latest research was used during a training that Soros was involved in for journalists to educate them on how to report in a way that did not escalate conflicts and helped to diffuse them and promote peace instead.
The first project I worked on when I arrived in Kyrgyzstan was regarding the approaching switchover from analog to digital television. My first assignment was proof reading a document that provided recommendations for the promotion of a transparent, inclusive, and timely transition to digital broadcasting that respected the rights of citizens and current broadcasters. I found this very interesting because I can pretty vividly remember when the U.S. transitioned to digital broadcasting and the campaigns that were run on TV and on other forms of media to promote the change. Proofreading this document was also very educational for me because, although I had been through a switchover, I had never really understood the details of why it was happening or even necessary in the first place.
My other project has been researching the best practices for using media in post conflict resolution and to promote peace and diversity. In 2010, there were violent ethnic clashes between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of Kyrgyzstan primarily in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. The Soros Foundation has been doing work in different areas to help repair relations between these two ethnic groups. During my second week at my internship I attended a conference that my supervisors were participating in. The conference was titled “Civil Identity: Unity in Diversity. The Role of Media, Government and Society.” The conference had presenters from different NGOs who were working on media projects to promote diversity. These projects included funding local independent stations, running youth groups, and putting out different publications espousing peace. I am possibly the most technologically challenged person I know, so up until this point, I had never really acknowledged the benefits that media programs can have. I have come to find this topic fascinating and I am doing my final research paper for my seminar class here in Kyrgyzstan on it as well. Since I am starting my senior year this fall, I have been thinking more and more about what I am passionate about and what I find interesting and how I can make a living from it. Before this internship, I would have classified working in any sort of media related job as boring and constraining. Because of my experience at Soros, I have realized that there is a very human element to media relations that I find fascinating. It is all about learning how people think and figuring out the best way to reach them. I have no idea what the future has in store for me after I graduate, but I now have a whole new path that I can follow.
My name is Abigail Six and I’m currently 20 years old. I am studying abroad in London, England for the Spring 2014 semester. I am a small town girl from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where I attended Harrisburg Area Community College. I am currently attending the London South Bank University, which is directly in the heart of London. I’m within a 20 minute walk to Big Ben, The London Eye, Westminster Abbey and of course the Queen! It was a roller coaster ride to get to this point, filled with countless meetings with my community college advisor, many doubtful days where I never thought I’d ever be able to do this, and constant worry about my financial situation. I’ll be honest, studying abroad costs money and that is something that you cannot avoid. Without being a Gilman Scholarship recipient, I would not have been able to study in London this semester. The Gilman International Scholarship Program gave me the chance to follow my dreams and realize the diverse cultures in the world as a community college student. This opportunity is not one that comes along everyday, it something you have to seize and cherish.
Before I studied abroad, I spent my entire life in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I’ve traveled the east coast but never set foot outside of the USA. When I was 19, I worked full-time and attended community college on my off days. This was so I could get a degree while making sure my bills still got paid. I’d always had a love affair with London and I’m pretty sure Harry Potter had something to with that, but studying abroad as a community college student sounded like an impossible myth. It was a nice thought to have, but one that would never happen. It all changed the summer of 2013 when I found myself at a cross-road, I needed to be able to break out from my small town and see the world. I wanted to experience something other than farm land and working the front desk at a campground. After countless hours of researching how to study abroad, searching for scholarship opportunities, watching hours of study abroad videos on YouTube and many sleepless nights wrestling with the idea in my head, I made the choice that it was now or never. I needed to prove to myself that I could break out of Gettysburg, that I could see the world, experience new things, meet new people, understand new cultures, and most importantly do it as a community college student. I wanted to break open new doors for any student who never thought they could study abroad. At the time, I had no idea how much my life would change within the next 6 months or how one small decision to make my dream a reality could impact my life.
I’ve been in London for a little over a month now and I’m still finding new and exciting things about the city every day. Things that I have encountered are the small cute boutiques, street-side fruit markets, finding the best fish n’ chips in the city (which is Master Super Fish on Waterloo Road), and experiencing the history and different cultures and backgrounds of Londoners. The most amazing experience is walking from street to street and hearing English, French, Chinese, Russian and many other languages being spoken. London is a true melting pot of people from all over the world. It is eye-opening to come to another country and find yourself submerged in new foods and restaurants and the beauty of new people.
While I have found my way here in London, I still find myself missing home and the people I love, everyday. I miss being able to drive my car to places, it’s so odd to catch a bus or jump on the tube whenever you want to go somewhere. I also miss the convenience of having places open 24/7. Most things shut down in London at 1 am at the latest and don’t re-open until 6 am, including the buses and tube station. It’s always important to be home before they stop running or otherwise you are left with the taxi or walking option.
It amazing to think that last summer I was a small town girl working a full-time job, trying to make the most of my days off, and now here I am living in London, making friends from Spain, Italy and Germany, navigating the tube like a professional and studying at a posh London University. I cannot wait to see what the next 4 months have in store for me. New adventures, new friendships, and new experiences that will stick with me for the rest of my life. When I get home in June, I get to say that I have joined a group of young people in the United States who have been lucky enough to see new parts of the world. I will be able to bring back everything I have learned to my community college and pass it on to others who may just now be dreaming of studying abroad.
Until next time…cheers from London!