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Returnee Reflections

Summer 2018

During the summer, twelve students were funded to participate in summer language programs and four faculty took students to do research. Students were provided with funding support from the Institute of Global Engagement. We asked students to share some of their reflections.

Language Grants


Anchalee Tantiviramanond '20 (Biology/Chinese), CET Kunming

In your experience, why was the travel component important to better understand the language and the culture?

It was a great experience because of many reasons. I had the chance to live near the campus of Yunnan University and see how campus life is there. I attended some cultural shows as well as saw some documentaries in a South East Asia documentary festival held by the university. I had the opportunity to room with a local Chinese roommate who attended the university there, where we got to talk about differing opinions and learn more about each other’s lives. She took me around the city and also invited me to lunch with her parents when they came to visit. In addition, the topics we learned in class were always tied in to politics and real life issues that Chinese people or more specifically, Yunnan people face. Certain topics such as Yunnan tea culture, the Yunnan drug culture, or the Flying Tigers also involved field trips to actual tea houses, going to museum exhibits, or getting to listen to guest lectures, all of which were very good experiences. I also had the chance to eat lots of good yummy local food! And I also took some martial arts, taichi, and craft classes taught by local people, which were a lot of fun! And on the weekends, I had the chance to visit many places in the city and Yunnan Province, talk with local people, make new friends, use local transportation.

Overall, I feel like all these experiences made me so much more aware of how local Chinese people live, at least in Kunming. This experience was definitely much more beneficial towards understanding the culture than learning from a textbook. In terms of language, I really feel like I improved my speaking drastically, as we had a language pledge we had to hold during the entire duration of the program. The classes were also definitely very helpful for expanding my vocabulary and grammar.

How did the summer language program influence your professional and/or personal goals?

I am double majoring in Biology and Chinese, and this program has fulfilled 2 credits towards my major. More importantly, this program improved my level of Chinese drastically. The classes were very demanding and difficult, but ultimately rewarding. The topics we learned and the way we were taught were very effective and I felt I learned so much. At this point in time, I don’t know what I want to do after graduation, but this program definitely opened up possibilities of going back to work in China. I now know I can survive in China on my own, as I can communicate effectively with those around me.

In what ways did this program stretch you or move you out of your comfort zone?

It forced me to be in a new place with new people. Before this program, I spent most of my time among my international friends at Grinnell (I grew up in Thailand my whole life), but this program forced me to be with 20 other Americans. It was definitely an interesting first couple of weeks. I was in China, and yet, I felt a little overwhelmed by the American culture shared by everyone but myself.

Furthermore, being in a new place forced me to be more independent and go out to the city on my own. I pushed myself to be comfortable going out and navigating by myself and make an effort to talk to local people.

What is the most meaningful element that you learned from the local life during your time abroad that you could not have learned elsewhere?

I think the most meaningful thing was learning about topics specifically relating to Yunnan Province. We learned about the drug trade, as drugs from Myanmar go through Yunnan province, and that drug abuse is a constant problem even today. We had the chance to talk with a woman who started an orphanage near the border of Myanmar, where she tries to teach the children there to learn skills such as cooking and dancing and be mentally happy. The problems she talked about and the stories she shared made a big impression on me. I grew up in Northern Thailand, where the drug trade was also very prevalent. Some of my childhood friends were arrested with possession of drugs, and so this topic hit home for me. The work this woman was doing was so inspirational and I drew so much strength from her perspective of the issue.

Did you have any surprising experiences in the process of learning the language during Summer?

I don’t think anything was very surprising, except for the fact that I found I could communicate with local people without a problem and was able to travel alone without difficulty. Being able to do these things made the effort and time spent on learning Chinese worth it.
photo Anchalee Tantiviramanond



Marnie Monogue '21 (English), Inter-DAF am Herder Institut (University of Leipzig)

In your experience, why was the travel component important to better understand the language and the culture?

Learning a language in a controlled environment such as a classroom only gives you a glimpse into the culture of the region in which your target language is spoken; travelling to Germany, in my case, gave me first-hand experience within the culture I had been studying. In addition, there’s no experience quite like completely immersing yourself within an environment where your target language is spoken. I went entire days only speaking English intermittently, and most certainly needed to know German in order to thrive.

How did the summer language program influence your professional and/or personal goals?

I plan to eventually declare a concentration in European Studies so that I can continue to formally study German and German culture. I would love to live in Europe at some point after graduation, possibly even teaching English abroad in a German-speaking country.

In what ways did this program stretch you or move you out of your comfort zone?

I had never traveled internationally by myself or spent significant time outside the country before the summer program, so independently flying to Germany and spending a month there was daunting, but very exciting. It was refreshing to live alone/with a roommate in a bigger city, be reliant on public transportation, and do my own grocery shopping after living on a college campus in a small town. I got hooked on being independent.

What is the most meaningful element that you learned from the local life during your time abroad that you could not have learned elsewhere? 

European culture really is quite different from North American culture. I had to adjust to how quiet and reserved people are when speaking in public. German-speakers are stereotypically portrayed as constantly shouting, but I found this to be patently false. I had to remind my American friends to stop screaming on the tram! It was difficult to remember to go grocery shopping once a day or so, and that shops close quite early, so be punctual! Strangers, especially in a foreign country, can be intimidating, but many of the local people with whom I interacted were very friendly.

Did you have any surprising experiences in the process of learning the language during the summer?

I was surprised by how easily I started thinking in German on a regular basis after being constantly exposed to the language. I enjoyed not having to constantly translate between English and German in my head. It became much easier to understand native speakers and respond appropriately in German. On one of my last days in Germany I was stopped by a street reporter and asked about the World Cup; I don’t know much about “football,” but I could at least tell her in German that I don’t know much about football!
photo Marnie Monogue



Gwen Holtzman '19 (Spanish/Biochemistry), IFSA Buenos Aires Language and Cultural Studies

As a two-sport athlete at Grinnell, I didn’t want to give up one of my seasons to study abroad during the school year. However, I am a Spanish major and felt that prior to receiving my degree, I really wanted to be able to say I had experience speaking Spanish outside of the classroom, in a more colloquial environment. My experience, made possible by the global learning program, allowed me to live with a host family in Argentina while also taking classes through an IFSA program. I now feel much more confident in my oral Spanish skills and also have a deeper understanding of Argentinian and south American culture. I am hoping to use these skills post-Grinnell working in the medical field with latinx and Spanish speaking patients. 
One of the best parts of my study abroad experience was living with my host mom. She was a widowed, retired and 70 years old and full of knowledge and conversation. Not only was she patient with me while I struggled at times to articulate my thoughts, but also pushed me to talk more about a wide range of subjects. She was also always willing to share her opinion, even on more personal topics, such as religion and politics, which gave me a detailed insight to the culture. 



Elvira Nurmukhamedova '19 (Chemistry), Nanzan University Summer Program

In your experience, why was the travel component important to better understand the language and the culture?

Without a doubt, the travel component significantly boosts the knowledge about the language and the culture. Complete submersion into the Japanese culture helped me learn and understand a lot of language nuances and cultural aspects that I could not get in the classroom setting. Socializing with Japanese peers helped me learn a lot about colloquial language and slang. In class, we used respectful, correct language, which did not perfectly reflect the language used in daily lives in Japan.  Additionally, being in Japan, gave me a very wholesome exposure to the everyday culture, such as eating manners, taking a bath every day, use of public transport system which, again could not be achieved in a classroom setting. 

How did the summer language program influence your professional and/or personal goals?

Firstly, going to Japan was my dream long before I came to Grinnell. I loved Japanese animation, food, culture and language. I took Japanese language classes for three years at Grinnell College before I did the language program. Since I came to Grinnell, I always wanted to do a semester abroad in Japan, but due to my course load I was not able to do that and my hopes of going to Japan in near future faded. When I found out about the possibility of getting funded for a summer language program abroad, I knew that it was my chance to finally submerge myself into Japanese culture. This amazing experience influenced my decision to do a fellowship in Japan after I graduate and possibly pursue a career in Japan in the future. Now that I am more familiar with the language and culture of Japan, I feel more confident about returning and pursuing my personal in career goals in this country.

In what ways did this program stretch you or move you out of your comfort zone?

Going to a new country, especially the country, which language you are not fluent in, is all about moving out of comfort zone. During the first couple of days in Japan, I was afraid to order food by myself, buy things in the stores, use the public transport, and go outside in general because I was not confident in my language skills and did not know what to do in many situations. However, the more time I spent there, the more confident and independent I became. Hence, thanks to this program I was able to broaden the limits of my comfort zone.

What is the most meaningful element that you learned from the local life during your time abroad that you could not have learned elsewhere?

The most meaningful skill that I learned from the local life during my time abroad was ability to perform daily tasks, such as using Japanese subway system, ATM machine, visiting a public bath, ordering food, etc. These daily activities might see simple and easy for local people but can be very confusing and unfamiliar for foreigners. Familiarity with daily life in Japan and ability to navigate my life with confidence are very important elements, especially if I return Japan again in the future.

Did you have any surprising experiences in the process of learning the language during Summer? If yes, would you like to share those with us?

One of the surprises I had was the difference between the language I learned in class and the language actually spoken by Japanese people, because it was loaded by slang words and expressions that I have never heard before. 

Elvira Nurmukhamedova '19


Kathryn Perry '20 (History/German), UC Berkely's Intensive Summer Latin Workshop

I spent eight weeks taking Latin at UCLA’s summer program with ten other students.  The course was very intense, covering a full year of introductory Latin and preparing me to take 300-level Latin (Roman Historians) this fall at Grinnell, which has been one of my favorite courses this semester.  Latin is proving incredibly useful for my history major, as it crops up in many early modern and even nineteenth-century European texts.  Whenever I see Latin in the primary source documents for the other history classes I’m taking this semester, I get excited because I can now understand what it says.  Learning Latin grammar has also helped me think more deeply about syntactic structure, which is very useful for my linguistics concentration.  Latin is fascinating because the case system and the use of participles allows it to be so much more compressed than English.  There’s a very spare, concentrated beauty to Latin sentences that I’m coming to appreciate more and more.  I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to take Latin this summer, since it’s a language I’ve always wanted to learn and since it has improved my understanding of so many other fields I’m interested in!

Research Grants


Maria Ciupka '19 (Philosophy) Summer research in Moscow with Professor Kelly Herold (Russian Dept)

Overall, it was a really great opportunity to be able to spend some time in the country whose language I have been studying while at Grinnell. I was really excited to walk around Moscow, meet people and try to practice my Russian. After my stay in Moscow, I am trying to look for opportunities to spend more time in Russia or in Russian speaking country post-graduation. One of the most surprising things that happened to me in Moscow was probably attending Alexei Navalny’s brother party (Navalny is a well-known Putin’s adversary), and maybe having an experience of going to a traditional Russian banya (sauna) with some friends of our Russian host-sister (that I also ended up becoming pretty good friends with!).   

In Moscow, we assisted Professor Herold with conducting interviews with children’s books authors, illustrators and publishers. It was a really good test of our Russian listening and speaking skills, but most importantly it was a lot of fun and a great way of getting an insight into what young generation of Russians think about issues varying from current politics,
through education or Russian literary market.  
Mayuko, Maria C, Kelly Herold

Kate Perry '20 (History/German), Summer Research in Leipzig, Germany with Professor Vance Byrd (German Dept)

I spent a week and a half in Leipzig with another student, Rowan Kemmerly '21, helping  Professor Vance Byrd with his research on German reactions to the American Civil War.  We spent several hours a day reading through nineteenth-century newspaper articles in the German National Library and Leipzig’s city history museum.  It was incredible working with these old documents (which involved learning how to read the German script that was used up until the time of the Nazis, ) and seeing what it is like to conduct research in a major national library in a foreign country. 

In our free time, we also learned a good deal about Leipzig’s history and current culture by attending a concert in the St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach was once music director, visiting the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, the giant monument to the Battle of the Nations, which was fought outside Leipzig in 1813, and attending a modern play performed by students at a community theater on the outskirts of the city.  The experience was incredibly valuable to me as I prepare to go abroad to Germany again in the spring, and helped me realize how much I like doing archival research
Kate Perry '20, History/German


Jackie Brown, Professor of Biology took two students, Lucie Duffy '19 (Biology) and Gretchen Schreiner '20 (Biology/Sociology) to do research and they worked on a WordPress blog

Jackie Brown and  2 students