Tuesday, December 5th, 2017...11:33 am

IEM Spotlight: Dan Solomon

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Daniel Solomon is a graduate student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS).  He is currently interning within Intercultural Learning at CIEE, fulfilling the practicum portion of his master’s program in International Education Management.  He has been living in Valparaíso, Chile, and working out of the CIEE study center in Valparaíso, since July of this year.

This interview was kindly conducted by Martha Shtapura-Ifrah, Center Director, Haifa

Title: Intercultural Learning Intern
Hometown: Arlington Heights, Illinois
M: Where are you from originally?  Where have you lived?

D: Originally, I am from the suburbs of Chicago, though I’ve lived mostly outside of Chicago since 2009. I lived in Israel for one year as a community service volunteer and an event coordinator. I came back to the US for the holidays in 2010 while I was waiting for my working holiday visa for New Zealand to come through. Originally that experience was supposed to be for a year, but I obtained another visa and stayed for 2 years. I later did some travelling across the U.S. and Southeast Asia on the way to Australia, where I did another work and holiday visa for a year. When I came back to the US this time I decided that I wanted to take my international living experience and apply it towards a future career in international education.

While I was job searching, I began working for Cirque du Soleil and traveled with them for almost a year. Later in the run, I started to apply for graduate schools with international programs and I was accepted into the International Education Management program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

M: What was your bachelor’s degree in?

D: My bachelor’s degree was in visual communication with a minor in marketing. My life, prior to the travelling described before, was in live entertainment where I worked in customer service and event coordination.

M: I feel like you have what I call “the travelling virus.”

D: Yes, that would be accurate. That was instilled in me from childhood. My father, growing up in Chicago, always wanted to drive and see other parts of the country. I think when he was a kid they made one trip out to California and that was all he got. So, when I was old enough, I think I was 10, we made our first road trip. Every year my dad would look at a map and pick a different direction away from Chicago and that was the direction we would go. In my childhood I got to see a large part of the country through the windows of the minivan and that obviously carried on to the rest of my life.

M: How did you come to Chile? What was your incentive?

D: When it came time to actually look into practicum placements, I was focused on an institute of higher education in the US. My goal is to work in a study abroad office, to encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad, so I wasn’t thinking about doing an international practicum or working with a program provider. One of my professors who came to know me well over the year in Monterey, including my interest in intercultural development, sent me information on an intercultural learning internship with CIEE. I had completed a course with this professor during J term where we went on site visits to universities, program providers, and branch campuses at different sites in Madrid and CIEE’s orientation session was the site visit that most impressed me. At that point, I got in touch with Elsa and we talked about what an internship would look like. The options presented to me where working remotely from the U.S., going to the CIEE offices in Portland, or coming to Valparaíso. An important component for me was being in an environment where students are, so it made sense to want to be on-site.  In addition, this region of South America topped my personal travel wish list and would allow me to continue developing my Spanish language skills.

M. How has your experience been so far?

D. It’s been great. Certainly there were challenges, especially with the language. I studied Spanish in high school for three years, but I hadn’t studied Spanish for over 15 years before my graduate degree. One of the highlights at MIIS is that they require a language as part of the program. They allowed me to do a summer language intensive program, a year’s worth of college Spanish in 8 weeks, before starting my degree program and that’s what really sent me on this path. Without that, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Madrid, and I wouldn’t have been able to come here to Chile. Even with that, the Chilean way of speaking, which drops some of the consonants like the “d” or the “s” sounds at the end of words, and adds a lot of slang or colloquial words that have origins in the indigenous populations, has taken getting used to.

M: Have you noticed any differences in nonverbal communication as well?

D: When I’m on public transportation, there’s more acceptance of physical contact than there would be in the US.

M: Can you describe the family that you lived with?

D: I live with my host mom, Rosa, two of her sons, and a “nephew” who is the son of one of Rosa’s good friends. He’s going to school in the area, but he is from the north of the country. So there’s 4 of us.

M: And how was the experience in the beginning? A bit awkward?

D. Yes, I think it was a bit awkward at the start. The first day that I moved in, the grandmother passed away. I think that one of the good things that came out of me being a new person that joined their family is that it was an

opportunity where all of the family members from both the extreme north and extreme south ends of Chile came together in the middle to celebrate the life of their mother and grandmother and I got to meet the family all together in one place. I come into the house after a walk and I am greeted by 30 people doing karaoke. That was my welcome to the family.

M: I wanted to ask you what you’ve learned about your host culture and your own culture but first we need to define what your culture is. How would you define yourself culturally?

D: I am definitely American in a lot of ways. As much as I’ve travelled, and consider myself understanding of cultural differences, I am still very heavily on the individualist side, and that is an American trait. It was me deciding on my own to leave the US and go live in Israel, or New Zealand, or Australia. Coming here and being part of this culture in Chile, a collectivist culture, I like it. My ancestors came from Russia, from a more collectivist society, and I see that in a lot of what my mom says or what my grandparents said. It was nice to come to Chile and be part of that, to live in a host family where at least once a week the family gets together for a big meal. Either we’re having the meal in our house or it’s an opportunity to go visit one of Rosa’s friends or family friends because it is ingrained into the culture here. Lunch is a big part of that. In many U.S. offices work is the most important thing. A lot of times you go and get lunch, and then sit by your desk and just keep working. You don’t really take time out to have a real lunch. Here, between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, everyone stops what they’re doing and we all spend an hour having lunch together in the office. It’s definitely something to appreciate. I think that my next stop, when I leave here and go back to the U.S. for my next job, that would be a difficult readjustment. “What do you mean I have this half an hour lunch break that I need to take by myself?”

M: Did you learn anything new about yourself while being an intern?

D: I’ve learned that I can survive in a Spanish speaking environment. It is nice that I have this other language skill and that I don’t have to rely on someone else’s level of English.

M: What are some of the most meaningful projects that you were involved with?

D: Going over IDI data from the Spring 2017 semester and breaking that information out by study center, by region, and by demographics of the students. In addition, looking at the ICL course evaluations that we were able to collect and looking at student feedback. Those were all incorporated into the Academic Affairs Outcome Report. The second project is the newsletter and that’s been really good as a way to have contact with some of the instructors in different parts of the world who are doing the Embedded Intercultural Component, who are running the ICL, or who are willing to do interviews with interns for newsletters. What I’m starting to work on, Elsa and I are going to facilitate a training for staff to run the Embedded, or a variation of that. And that will be, I think, the most rewarding component of my internship. It is just in the early stages at this point.

M: what have you learned significantly from the internship?

D: it’s almost been like another intercultural communication course for me. I took the Embedded Intercultural Component course myself and now I am looking into being able to adapt that and facilitate that for this next round. The ICL course didn’t run in Valparaíso, but I had access to all the facilitation notes and the readings so it’s been good for me to have the opportunity to continue my own personal training and to have access to different articles and resources that I didn’t have during my degree program. I think that has been one of the largest components of my learning, a continued personal development of my intercultural sensitivity.

M: What has been the highlight of your internship so far?

D: The people. I work in a wonderful office and everyone’s been, even from the start, extremely welcoming of me here. And those lunches help, we have all that time to spend together and have conversations and get to know each other. I enjoy coming in and saying hello to everybody. In Chile you greet people by touching your right cheek to their right cheek. It’s something you don’t usually do with people you don’t know well in the US, what would be considered intimate contact. But here, even if I meet someone for the first time, if I am introduced to someone at work or in my host family, that’s how we greet each other.

M: If you could summarize in one word your total experience in Chile, what would you say?

D: I would say enlightening. Being an older student in graduate school, and now being here and living with a host family and working on these projects, it’s like I’ve had the opportunity to do a real study abroad experience with all the information that I have now on how to adjust and how to go through the stages of cultural transition. I think that everything that I’m going through and experiencing in my time in Chile will be valuable in my being able to see this from a student’s perspective and being able to support them throughout their  study abroad journey with empathy, knowledge, and sound advice.

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