By Stephanie Fimbres
For a month, Alejandra Arellano studied abroad in Asia for the 2015 Communication Disorders Program to study Introduction to Audiology taught by Dr. Sumalai Maroonroge. She went to five different countries: China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Japan. In order to complete the requirements for her undergraduate program, she decided to enroll in this new adventure to learn about sound and hearing.
Her preconceptions about Asia included the typical stereotypes most people have heard about, like eating with chopsticks. But in every country that she went to there were major differences between them, and also similarities to our Western culture. First of all, when someone thinks about China they think about Communism, because they know the issues that they have, but went she went there she found everything very structured, and how they hire people based on their appearance. Even though people were very stern, they were also nice. She mentions how people in China were naturally loud when they spoke, and how women like to wear very vibrant colors and flowers, outgoing shoes, and they looked pretty much at ease. Even though it is a Communist country, people were engaged in different businesses and they have the latest cars, including Mercedes and BMWs.
One cultural difference that she remembers the most, is how there is no Facebook, Google, nor YouTube. It was hard for them to communicate through the Internet and one thing that she found interesting is that people in China cannot talk about their government because it is disrespectful. She mentions how personal space does not exist over there because people are always in and out from every place, so she had to get used to it since everything is very crowded, especially in the cities. Also, the food was somewhat exotic because the meals were set up on a big table that rotated and had different types of plates. So, when people sat to eat, they had to rotate the table and grab and go, because they share everything. It is not like our culture where we order a plate for ourselves. A major thing that she took from China is that they are adapting quickly to modern Western culture. For example, their fashion, their architecture, and the way how businesses are booming.
The next country she went to was Thailand, which Arellano remembers as “very family orientated, like Mexico”. There could be multiple families under the same roof, or under a whole building. In comparison with China, people in Thailand spoke very soft, not as loud as Chinese. She mentions how their language was very tonal, which means that “depending how you say it, has a different meaning. One example is ‘ma’, it can mean mother or tree depending on the tone given to the word”. Another difference is that in Thailand they have a King that everyone loves, and they have this custom where depending on when they were born, they have a different color. She describes that “every time you saw a picture of the King, there was something yellow, like flowers, because he was born on a Monday”. She describes the food as more edible to eat, and how she felt at home when it came to desserts because they were all fruits. There was one day that her group found a store where they were selling avocados, and she felt even more at home.
After Thailand, she went to Cambodia, where they stayed for a couple of days. She mentions how it was a very poor country, and was not really thriving because of the war they had beforehand, and they were barely getting out of the recession. She also mentions how they were promoting the temples that they had recently found from ancient times. She describes how sad it was to visit this country because it was very poor; they had dirt roads, unsafe places, and the people were trying to survive to get their basic needs. “One day we were passing by and we saw children going to school, but they had to travel miles to get to it. Also, uniforms are passed from generation to generation”, Alejandra says.
The next stop was Laos, which was not as advanced as China, but not as poor as Cambodia. They stayed there for a day and half just to sightsee and visit their famous waterfalls and some Buddhist temples. She mentioned how there was a huge Buddhist statue overlooking the city, and how famous they are for their coffee. One of their traditions is that they are into the seasons. For example, they have a dance for a special flower that blooms during the summer. Even though they did not stay for a lot of time, they were able to visit beautiful places and learn about their unique culture.
Lastly, but not least, she went to Japan for two weeks. She was able to interact with more people and students. She explains how she thought it was going to be like China and see a lot of outgoing people, but they were more quiet, modest, and into themselves working on something. Also, their clothes were not as flamboyant as the Chinese, but they were more neutral. She found people being very nice, and were friendlier towards Americans since they had signs translated in English for tourists to understand, since English is taught as a second language in high schools. She describes how Japan was very clean, modern, and hi-tech. One experience she had was when she went to the restroom and they had too many buttons for different purposes.
One night, when her group had some free time, they were able to find where all the young and outgoing people were. They decided to look for Shibuya in Tokyo, but they got lost. Luckily, the sings were very easy to read because everything was so ordered and color coded. When they finally found the place, she saw people playing music in the streets, and saw flashing advertisements and buildings. She describes it as an “international boom”, where she met people from all over the world that went to Japan to study or work. Also, she found the famous Hachi statue, which was constructed in memorial of a dog that waited for his owner for so many years.
In this program, she learned that, in Japan, Communication Disorders is a job practice that is booming. Since people in health services are retiring, they are in huge need in this field. Especially because everyone in Japan has free health care, so people pursuing a career in this area will always have a job because they will never run out of patients. Also, they are in need of interpreters in the hospitals to translate for their internationals patients because they only have a hotline and a chart with basic questions such as “Where does it hurt?
She wants to tell students who are planning to study abroad that they need to be open minded. “They can’t be uncomfortable at little things, they can’t be picky when it comes to their food, or how their living arrangements are. You are going to get what you are going to get and make the best out of it”, she says. Another piece of advice is to learn to be independent, and learn some survival tips. After all, it is a once in a lifetime experience that you will never regret.