The Dangers of Studying Abroad and … Grocery Shopping

Parts of not living in a dorm means that you have to feed and clean yourself. Yes, it does sound fun; my head was filled with images of me dancing around the kitchen, humming a catchy tune, and cooking so much fancy and yummy food, just like in [insert Disney film]. My mouth was conditioned to water every time I walk past the kitchen. I was drunk in my own fantasy.

My first trip to the Hannaford was very exciting. After reading a few recipes, I set out to buy a long list of fresh groceries. I think that some deep dark corner of my heart, I know that I am being impractical; this is not the first time I am living alone, but my hopeless optimistic side will promise me that this time it is different, I would follow through and become a cooking guru. Oh, optimistic Josephine, you fool.

The first few days I did wake up at 6:30am, and started cooking. The first two days is quite fun; I feel fresh and awake and much like in [insert Disney film]. I would make pasta with sautéed veggies, prepare a snack of hummus and carrots, and whip up some oatmeal with honey and mixed fruits. I feel as healthy and strong as a bodybuilder. I even worked out a little. Stop judging me.

About a week in, I realize that I am not a consistent early-raiser. The workload at the lab started to build up, and I found myself often not sleeping until late at night. However, my mind was too stubborn to give in to my body, so I continue to struggle to wake up in the morning. I was determined to make this work this time.

I realize that my seemingly positive plan is also hurting my housemates; a lot of the fresh produce needed to be in the fridge, and my plan, which is clearly not working, means that I take up too much space. What seemed to be a commitment to myself turns out to cause inconvenience to my housemates.

(Sorry, guys.)

My meal grew a lot less complicated over the next few days, as my mind slowly surrender to my body. Most of the times, I would just scramble something and stuff it into a box.

First week…

And then…


It took me some time to find the perfect balance of making my meals; I learnt to make some things in the weekend, stock up on apples, and buy interesting fillings for pita bread sandwiches. Yum! Healthy, kind of!

I guess this is the reason why studying abroad such an exciting experience. Yes, there is the possibility that most of the courses you want to take does nor transfer to your Colby requisites, or the danger of crowding yourself with too many classes at the senior year; these are all things that I am facing right at this moment. However, being in college means that you are very much protected; you WILL do a lot of growing up, like time management or basic things like doing laundry, but you are still cushioned with a giant help network.

Being in college makes a lot of us hopeless romantics; we are so sheltered and exposed at the same time. We are taught in classes all these exciting changes around the world, all the devastating oppressions and injustice, our blood all pumped with passion and ideals, and it is great that this is nurtured in an environment such as Colby. But this is awfully dangerous when we are abroad. You are intruding on other people’s lives. You might think that, “Hey! I am just trying to help!” But take caution. Your help may cost a lot to the people you are interacting. Dignity may be hurt; religion values may crash, century-old wisdom may be disregarded.


Here’s a little story that I wrote years ago about helping a young boy (It is pretty long, so feel free to skip it):

“Stigma, style and ovary!” I was in my weekly community service at the local high school Science class. I share what I know about science and the laboratories with students from the local Indian village. Flower dissection was something I did when I was in my fifth grade, and these students from 10th grade only learnt the different parts of a flower at the age of 15. Through these few months of teaching, the students started to get responsive and to get connected. Their curiosity nature broke through their cocoon of shyness. “Now, let’s try to draw and label the flower dissection we made!” Everyone picked up their pencils and started drawing the petals and sepals. I walked around and noticed the smiling little boy who is always quiet and attentive at a corner, struggling with his pencil.

I was shocked. I cannot help but stare wide eyed. He did not have hands.

Feelings of pity showered over me: one of his hands was gone, just not there, and his other hand was deformed. It was not uncommon, as students here mostly come from a family of farmers. Accidents happen everyday when dealing with the blunt and heavy tools. The pencil looked like it was a playful snake that just will not stay still on his “hand”, sneaking to the left and then slithering to the right. I hurried over and offered to draw for him instead. He looked at me in the eyes and smiled brightly, his sparkly eyes like two twinkling stars against his dark skin, but somehow haunting and watchful, with a steely warning, as if saying “Don’t do it for me!” “I can draw, Didi.” His strong words hit me like a stone. He grabbed hold of his pencil, slowly and carefully; draw an unsteady and trembling curve that formed part of the petals. By then everyone else had almost finished labeling their masterpiece, and about to go home. The little boy, like the Buddha in meditation, was so absorbed in his drawing: the irregular petals, the oversized stigma, the trembling anther, and child like writings beside them that indicated what they are. Suddenly, he just grew so tall and big, right there, and I felt so small and insignificant. He was like a giant, and I am stunned.

I always thought I was right; I taught with passion and thought I was helping these children, but I never thought of how I just enforced my ideas one-way to them, and not thought about what they think. Although they may not be as privileged as we are, they are just like us, equal in every respect; we are in no way superior even if we are more privileged. If they want help, they are ready to accept the offer with dignity. Now with my young angularities smoothened, I learnt that education is not to feed information, but to help students find their own ability.

To have a giving heart is beautiful; to have a giving and caring heart is different, but just spectacular.

Enjoy yourself! As some wise person once said, “the journey of a thousand miles begin with a step.” I always imagine him as a monk with a serene smile. Let’s take that first step and walk into the sunset, just like in [insert Disney movie].

This entry was posted in Student Life. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Dangers of Studying Abroad and … Grocery Shopping

  1. Cheng Yin says:

    Hello Josephine!

    I am Cheng Yin. I’m applying to Colby so I wish to know more about it. I wonder if you mind telling me all the wonders in Colby!

    Please email me:

    Thank you very much! I look forward to your message=)

  2. Helen Seng says:

    Dear Josephine: I think that is a beautiful and sincere essay. Don’ worry about the seeming weakening cooking spirit …. we are all mortals …. the spirit is strong but the flesh is weak ….
    You have a beautiful and caring heart, and you are passionate with the little things you encounter in life ….. the privilege of being young.
    Don’t stop loving.

  3. Helen Seng says:

    p.s. and I love the drawings ….. raw and cute and original …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>