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Sisters reap benefits by studies abroad

by Heidi Alder, staff writer

The Whitaker house is full of culture this holiday season.

Sisters Jesse and Sara Whitaker have returned to the mainland after their experiences “in the real world.”

Jesse spent a semester of college studying in London, England, and Sara finished her first semester of college at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

They both say their horizons have been broadened by their experiences with different cultures.

n Jesse in London

Jesse, 20, is a 1998 graduate of Douglas High School, where she was drum major for the Tiger Marching Band. She has been attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her major is humanities with an emphasis in English literature.

“Halfway through my freshman year, I applied to study abroad for the fall of my sophomore year, and didn’t get in,” Jesse said. “I applied again halfway through my sophomore year for the fall of my junior year and was accepted.”

Jesse wanted to study abroad primarily because of her major, but she ended up taking many classes in London.

There were three professors, one director, three teaching assistants and 40 students in the group from colleges and universities in Utah and California. The program lasted from Aug. 29 to Dec. 12.

The students stayed in the BYU London Center, the former American Embassy, located across from Kensington Palace and Hyde Park.

“One of the most valuable things I took away was really having history come alive for me,” Jesse said. “You can’t help but be engrossed by the history there. Pages of history books turned before my mind.”

The class curriculum was to read an assignment, discuss it and then experience it.

For her political science class, Jesse was able to attend the opening of Parliament and witness the Lord Mayor’s Parade, two traditions in England.

It was exciting for Jesse to visit museums to apply her knowledge and find she really knew her stuff.

“We were there for all these events. It was really neat to learn about them and then go out and experience them,” Jesse said.

The program included a day trip every week and four week-long trips. They visited Edinburgh in Scotland and Engelsey in Wales. In England, they went to Greenwich, Stonehenge, Winchester, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Oxford, Bath, Brighton, Battle, Whitby and many more places. Jesse spent Thanksgiving in Paris.

“We went through the Lake District, up to Ambleside and through James Herriot country,” Jesse said.

She was not quite prepared for the size of England.

“It was hard to visualize how small it is,” Jesse said. “You can drive the entire length of England in a day. They don’t understand how big it is here. When I say people drive 14 hours from California to BYU in Utah, they can’t imagine it.

“Literally everything is bigger in America. British people are very small, shorter and bone thin. Fitness and health issues are not so predominant, which is evidenced by the fact that most everyone there smokes. There is not a lot of produce, because it’s all organically grown, so it’s expensive to eat healthily.”

Jesse’s first trip on the “tube,” England’s subway system, was an interesting experience.

“The tubes will be packed full, with 50 people all around you, and it is silent. No one talks. They would look at us when we talked and tell us to be quiet,” Jesse said. “We got more quiet by the end of the semester. We got into the habit of bringing books or picking up the Metro, London’s free tabloid.”

Jesse liked hearing the accent and vocabulary of the British.

“They use a lot more vocabulary than Americans, even the little kids,” Jesse said. “I find that the way they address each other is more endearing and sounds more educated.”

They call everyone “my love,” and they use the words “lovely” and “brilliant” a lot.

“We kind of felt like a bunch of American students going through a people zoo,” Jesse said, laughing. “We would just watch people, ask them questions and laugh for days about what they said. They are very bitingly sarcastic.”

Jesse’s favorite place was the Isle of Wight.

“It’s a little island where Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert built a house,” Jesse said.

She described how Prince Albert had created different gardens to teach his children.

There were scientific gardens, agricultural gardens, a little battle ground, a peasant land, a natural history museum, a play house for culinary arts, and ponies and sheep, Jesse said.

“You could tell this was a place where a family had been,” Jesse said. “The grass was green, the ocean was blue, the leaves were turning, it was perfect. It was beautiful. I loved it there.”

The weather was unusually mild, and only once did they experience the infamous London fog.

“You could only see halfway across the street,” she said.

The humidity made everyone’s hair curly, and flowers and plants grew everywhere.

“Even the stone is green in the countryside, because moss is growing over it,” Jesse said. “It’s really beautiful that way.”

Jesse had one run-in with language differences between American and British English.

She is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one Sunday she was attending church with the family she lived with for a week above York.

“They were renovating the church, so we were meeting in an old community center. It was really cold. My friend asked, ‘How was Sunday School?’ and I answered, ‘It was absolutely frigid in there.’ She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think that’s what you want to say,'” Jesse said.

The cultural diversity in London was a new experience.

“There is every nationality in London. It is a melting pot unlike any other in the world,” Jesse said. “There’s Little Italy, Chinatown, Greek and Indian communities. It wasn’t unusual to see store signs in different languages, and you’d hear all kinds of languages on the tubes. There’s lots of opportunities to learn new things about cultures.”

Her experience has given her the courage to go anywhere now.

“It has broadened my horizons. I have a greater appreciation for America. I have a greater appreciation and more respect for different cultures that comes with learning new things about people and the world,” Jesse said. “Coming home to the states and Nevada meant a lot more than just driving over the mountains from Utah.”

Jesse is preparing to return to BYU in Utah, but London is still alive in her mind.

“I would go back in a heartbeat. But it would have to be for at least two months, so I could go to all the places I want to visit,” Jesse said.

n Sara in Hawaii

Sara, 18, is a 2000 graduate of Douglas High School where she was the high brass section leader of the Tiger Band for four years.

Her senior year she needed to choose a college.

“I wanted to go to a church university, but BYU (in Utah) was too big, and Ricks (in Rexburg, Idaho) was only a two-year school then,” Sara said. “So, I decided to go to BYU-Hawaii.”

Sara is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates BYU-Provo and Hawaii and Ricks College.

She found out she made it into BYU-Hawaii halfway through her senior year.

“I was scared and excited all at the same time,” Sara said. “I really didn’t have any expectations. I knew that I couldn’t expect anything. It would totally be unlike anything I’d done before, and it was.”

Her family took her to Hawaii in August for the fall semester.

“Having my family there was really nice,” Sara said.

The size of BYU-Hawaii has 2,200 students and a campus a little bigger than DHS, Sara said.

“We figured out it’s about 1/15 the size of BYU-Provo,” Sara said.

Going to Hawaii was quite an adjustment.

“It was very much a culture shock,” Sara said. “It was amazing, we had people from all over the place. Caucasian people are definitely the minority.”

There are students from Indonesia, Micronesia, Asia, Australia, Africa, Canada and the seven groups of Polynesian islands of Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Marqueses and Tahiti.

“One of the themes at that college is ‘Harmony Amidst Diversity.’ Everyone tries hard to make everyone else fit in. As long as you treat all the other ethnicities with respect, then they’re nice to you,” Sara said.

She was very successful academically.

“I was definitely prepared academically. The academic part was a breeze,” Sara said. “Socially, it was kind of harder getting into the older crowd. Sometimes I felt like if you weren’t older than 20, people didn’t notice you. I made a lot of friends from the mainland.”

Most students are age 21 or older.

The location of the campus is 1/4-mile from the beach, with beach access at 1/2-mile.

“I tried studying on the beach a couple times, but I always ended up looking around. I had a short attention span,” Sara said.

“My favorite thing about the place was early in the morning when I’d get up and take a walk. Palm trees at sunrise are the most gorgeous things.”

Sara had to adjust to the different lifestyle of Hawaii.

“Here on the mainland we have our stuff. We share, but not that much. In Polynesian culture, they share everything. Their stuff is everyone’s. They’re not possessive like we are,” Sara said. “Their whole culture is not appearance-based like we are. They judge people on who they are and not how they look.”

She explained that a lot of the islands the students came from are not technologically advanced. One girl had never seen a car or had electricity until she came to Hawaii.

She also had to get used to the way Polynesians joke around.

“Part of the way they act is when they’re hanging around, they make fun of each other. They come out in big groups and make fun of haoles (white people) in their own language and laugh. You have to accept it. We make fun of them, too.”

Sara intends to graduate from BYU-Hawaii and is majoring in computer science in the honors program.

“They’re very serious about studying, so they don’t like visitors who are there to party.”

It took some time for Sara to get used to the Polynesian greeting, “Aloha!”

“In church, when they give talks, they say, ‘Brothers and sisters, Aloha!’ And if they say ‘Aloha!’ you greet them back. It doesn’t matter where you are,” Sara said.

The dorms were surprising to Sara.

“Physically, I kind of expected more. They’re really old, and the dorms are tiny, with an old, old bed. There are cockroaches, mice, hornets and geckos. The bugs out there can be pretty big. There were five cats that lived in the hall,” Sara said. “We had our collection of wildlife that lived in the dorms with us.”

Sara’s experience has completely opened her view on life.

“Growing up in the American school system, you are indoctrinated with the idea that everyone wants to be an American. But there were a lot of people who were very patriotic toward their own countries and wanted to go back,” Sara said. “I never thought about that before. There were people from Africa and Tonga and Australia who missed it and wanted to go back like us. It never occurred to me that not everyone in the world wanted to be American. But that’s quite the case I found.”

Sara is eager to return to Hawaii after the holidays.

“It’s good to be home, but I look forward to going back and moving on with my education.”