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Alumni Spotlight

Arya Kumar
Ghana Spring 2011
Anthropology Major

"I wanted to take myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible... I knew nothing would compare to living in Africa as a student, living and breathing the daily life style in a developing country."

"The academic courses I took while studying abroad were very interesting. I really enjoyed taking the traditional dance and drumming classes, to interact with other students and to enjoy exploring the meaning and role of music in African culture by actually doing it! "

"Studying abroad has given me a new a whole new schema for understanding the world, it is an experience unmatched to date. It redefined myself, and the world I live in.  "

Why did you choose your particular study abroad program/location?
I wanted to take myself as far out of my comfort zone as possible. As an Anthropology major, I wanted to experience and live a culture different from my own - my first hand at some real ethnographic fieldwork. I knew I wanted to go somewhere I may not ordinarily travel under touristy circumstances. I knew I did not want to go anywhere very westernized or cliche (which definitively removed Europe or Australia). I realized that Africa was the one continent I may never reach in my future travels, and I knew it was also the one place where the value of truly living abroad would be worth it. I knew nothing would compare to living in Africa as a student, living and breathing the daily life style in a developing country. It is an experience I can never truly have again, a once in a life time opportunity to truly immerse myself in a culture not as a tourist but as a student. As a student I would have access to the people and the culture and all those little hidden things that would go unnoticed by the wayward backpacking tourist. I chose Ghana based on the advice of my Ethnomusicology professor, Dr. Robert Garfias. It was by far the best decision I have made in the entirety of my college career.
 
What types of activities were you involved in while abroad that were meaningful for your learning?
The academic courses I took while studying abroad were very interesting. I really enjoyed taking the traditional dance and drumming classes, to interact with other students and to enjoy exploring the meaning and role of music in African culture by actually doing it! I even had the opportunity to travel to my drumming instructors home village for a weekend to experience village life. I also conducted some of my own personal research on tattoo culture in Ghana, both traditional and modern. As a tattooed female myself I conducted my own research from both an etic(outsider) and emic(insider) perspective. I really enjoyed the conversations I had with both foreign students and local students, over a wide range of topics. I gained so much valuable insight just from those conversations, to hear different perspectives and see how different people break down and understand this crazy world we live in. I also completed my education fieldwork; I worked one-on-one through a grassroots organization with illiterate primary school students, and also volunteered time at the kindergarten of the local primary school.  
 
How have you changed or what have you learned due to studying abroad?
Studying abroad gave me a whole new perspective on the world. It opened my eyes to how other people live, and to appreciate the lifestyle we live here. It also taught me a valuable lesson in personal identity. I have always struggled with my identity, as a child of immigrant parents in the United States. I was confronted daily with questions of 'Who am I' or 'Where am I from'. People questioned me, told me I was not American, or that I was clearly Indian and nothing else. I had numerous people literally stop me in the streets to tell me I am an Indian. Dealing with those questions on a regular basis made me realize I cannot deny who I am. Yes, I am Indian, I am also American, and also Malaysian (my parents born and brought up there along with several generations of my family). All those contribute to who I am, Indian, American, Malaysian, all constitute and have contributed to who I am today. It also revealed to me how much of an American I really am, not just the way I talk but what I talk about. I realized how lucky I am, that small slim one billionth of a chance that I was born into an immigrant family in Southern California. Studying abroad has given me a new a whole new schema for understanding the world, it is an experience unmatched to date. It redefined myself, and the world I live in.  
 
What are you doing now as a result of studying abroad?
I came back from my study abroad trip with a clear mind, greater confidence in my own skin, and a deeper appreciation for life. I realized that I wanted to focus my career path in the field of education and research. After graduating, I did my best to stay away from the 'boring' cubicle desk job. I worked at the Center for Research on Cognition and Learning (a research lab in the School of Education at UCI) for a limited grant-funded contract and then went on to work at a small private learning center in South Orange County - gaining valuable insight on both the public and private educational industries along the way.

I am currently working at MIND Research Institute, the non-profit educational software company spun out of the neuroscience research conducted by several UC graduate students back in the early 1990s. What started as an idea between a few researchers has become a fully fleshed supplemental math curriculum available for grades K-12. Spatial Temporal Math (ST Math) is an educational software tool that offers a uniquely visual language-free approach to teaching math in a game-based environment. MIND Research partners with schools and districts to provide ST Math to over one million students across the nation. I take great pride in knowing that my job (though at times boring) is supporting this incredible service to the community and helping young students discover a true love of learning. I actually had prior experience working with this product - the Center for Research on Cognition and Learning was in the final stages of conducting a long term study on ST Math during the two years that I worked there. I never expected to get my current job at MIND, in fact I foolishly decided not to apply there at all after graduating based on the assumption that I didn't have a chance. A couple years passed and I decided to take that chance. I applied for an opening in their operations department and landed the job. After almost a year of working at MIND - I can confidently say I no longer fear the 'boring' cubicle job. I've come to realize that working with good people for a stable company with a clear community-driven mission will always be more important to me than my job description. I plan to continue my path in education and research, but I am always open to new opportunities to learn and grow in my career. I'm currently working towards a certificate in Project Management through UCI Extension to further increase my breadth of knowledge and experience.

In the end, my time spent studying abroad was more than a wise career move. It was an intentional act of defiance against my shy nature, combined with a need to break the bubble that was my relatively cushy life in Southern California. Luckily some part of me realized the potential gain far out-weighed the risk, and I dove head first into an experience that has left a lasting impact on my life (and yes let's be honest, my resume).
 
What advice would you give to a student considering studying abroad?
There is no reason why you should not study abroad. It is a door in your life that is open for you right now, and after it shuts it won't open again. You have the opportunity to experience another life, not as a tourist but as a student. It is an eye-opening experience that will shatter your understanding of the world and undoubtedly reshape who you are and where your place is in this crazy world we live in.  

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