Category Archives: Cultural Exchange

Solo Summer Adventures

By Rachel Priebe

[3 minute read]

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

Growing up, I often spent part of my summers traveling with family or friends. To me, travel was an opportunity to discover new places, as well as to strengthen bonds with my loved ones. It was not until my first semester of college, however, that I found myself completely alone in an unfamiliar setting. I spent my fall semester at the American University of Paris. Other than the architecture, world-renowned art museums, and cafes, what I appreciated most about Paris was its location. Living in Paris put me in close proximity to other amazing cities in Europe that I wanted to visit. Within my first couple of months in Paris, I had already been on several weekend trips with friends and on a study trip to Warsaw, Poland. In the middle of the semester, we had a week off for fall break. The city that was on the top of my list to visit was Munich, Germany. Unfortunately, all of my friends wanted to spend their fall break elsewhere. Thus, I found myself venturing out on my first solo adventure.

Since that week in Germany, I have taken several trips on my own. The majority have been brief weekend trips, but I have recently taken a trip in which I spent over a month traveling in the Balkans. The greatest benefit that I have found in embarking on these trips alone is the immense sense of freedom you feel. Solo travel can make you feel unrestricted and give you a healthy sense of independence. When you travel alone, all of your decisions – about where to stay, where to eat, and which tourist attractions to visit- are your own and don’t have to be filtered through the minds and desires of other people. Another benefit that comes with this sense of freedom is spontaneity. When you only have yourself to account for, it is easier to make decisions on the spot. You can arrive at the airport without a concrete plan and then make up your route as you go along.

Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

A third reason to travel alone is that it gives you the opportunity to meet new people. I have found that when I travel with friends or family, I end up spending time exclusively with those people. While that is a great way to strengthen already existing relationships, travel is an invaluable opportunity to have new experiences, and one of the most enriching experiences is meeting new people who come from different backgrounds. There is a misconception that traveling alone is a lonely and solitary endeavor. This could not be further from the truth. When you travel unaccompanied, you instantly make yourself seem more approachable. It also becomes easier to go outside of your comfort zone and build connections with people who would have otherwise remained strangers.

Photo by Luca Baggio on Unsplash

Some of the most fascinating people I have met have been fellow solo travelers at hostels. I have found that people who travel frequently tend to be very free-spirited and full of interesting stories. Furthermore, bonding with more experienced travelers is an effective way to obtain travel advice. For example, when I was in the Balkans, I made most of my decisions regarding which places to visit based on the recommendations of fellow travelers.

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Modern Family: Rewatching 2009 in 2021

By Jack Schwartz

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

It’s no secret that when the pandemic forced us to spend more time indoors, many people quickly turned to streaming TV shows and movies to keep themselves entertained. Unsurprisingly, streaming giants like Netflix boasted huge increases in usage in 2020. Increasing screen time is an experience that I would say is nearly universal at this time. Shows that were released on Netflix last March, such as Tiger King, quickly became trending topics. Suddenly, Joe Exotic was everywhere, and everyone was talking about his zoo full of big cats. As I thought about how to carry out my first session as a Conversation Partner, I reflected on how television has given people of all different backgrounds common topics and themes to discuss, especially over the past year. Of course, students in the United States have rather different streaming options than students studying in China. If you take the time to compare streaming platforms, however, identifying pieces of media that are accessible to people in multiple countries is definitely a possibility.

Of the American TV shows accessible to both me (in Los Angeles) and one of the students participating in the Conversation Partner program (in Beijing), Modern Family stands out as a great choice. The ABC sitcom, set in a Los Angeles suburb documents three very different couples and their families. Many of the relationships between these families were rather tense in the pilot episode, and the show revolves around their growth and increasing connectedness. Rewatching the 2009 pilot episode of the show in 2021 was quite interesting, as the qualities that once made the families stand out have since become great topics of conversation.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


 Take, for instance, husbands Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), who in the pilot episode are nervous to reveal their adopted daughter to the rest of the family. This representation in a broadcast network was quite groundbreaking in 2009. Rewatching the pilot episode in 2021 provides an opportunity for having an open conversation about the shifting cultural attitudes towards adoption by same-sex couples and the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in general. 


 Another relationship that sparks conversations is the one between Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and Jay (Ed O’Neill). Gloria is an immigrant from Colombia and is over 20 years younger than her 63-year-old husband. The pair are far from the average relationship one might have expected to see on-screen in 2009. Gloria’s relationship with the rest of Jay’s family is layered with jokes at her expense about her accent and language barrier in the pilot. In later episodes, she has more open and honest conversations with members of the family about her experience as an immigrant and the challenges posed by not being a native English speaker. Seeing the rest of the family’s growth, compassion, and understanding is a heartwarming component of the show’s trajectory.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Overall, Modern Family is a great television show choice because it succinctly captures shifting American norms and values throughout the 2010s. On a wider level, rewatching the first season has revealed to me how valuable American media can be in sparking conversations with other students. Although students participating in the program might be located all throughout the world due to online learning and COVID-19, identifying which shows are licensed for streaming in their respective countries proves immensely beneficial. If you have a chance, try streaming Modern Family or another TV show and ask Conversation Leaders if they’ve seen these shows!

Featured Image by Jose Rago on Unsplash

Jack is a senior earning an M.S. in Applied Economics and Econometrics through the progressive degree program. Born and raised in Washington, DC, he’s loved getting to spend the last few years in Los Angeles and has driven across the United States five times. From scuba diving to writing movie reviews for the school newspaper, he tries to take advantage of everything Southern California has to offer. He studied abroad in Madrid last spring and is always looking to improve his Spanish.

Studying Abroad in Paris

By Autumn Palen

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Prior to 2020, during one of my spring semesters at USC as an undergraduate student, I studied abroad in Paris and it was a fully immersive experience. All of my classes were in French, the family I lived with was French, and wouldn’t you know it, quite a lot of people I passed on the streets were keen on speaking French. Those handful of months were wonderful. My teachers were all angels, the city was gorgeous, and although I had a relationship dynamic with my host family akin to Harry Potter’s relationship with the Dursleys, I’d say that overall I enjoyed my experience.

First of all, the city is gorgeous. Ridiculously so. I remember my first night there—awake since 5 am, taking a post-dinner trip to the Louvre, walking from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, and stopping mid-journey for wine and cheese. The mix of sleep deprivation, jet-lag, numbness from the cold, and walking nearly all day culminated into the sensation that I was drifting through a dream. I couldn’t have actually been there; it was all too much. I thought there was no way this tiny, ovular, romantic city was going to be my home for the next fifteen weeks.

Wine and cheese from a local cafe in Paris, taken from @autumn.palen on Instagram

But it was my home. Every weekday, I took the metro to class. Although admitting my adoration for the Paris Metro garnered weird looks from actual Parisians (mainly because of the general odor permeating the trains/platforms, as well as the occasional muzak cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas), I held strong that I loved the public transportation system. It was so efficient, arriving every 3 minutes, maybe 6 in the worst-case scenario (I understand that Los Angeles is a much larger, more car-based city, but I couldn’t help but notice how much more efficient the Paris Metro was than the LA one).

Photo of the Paris Metro taken by @autumn.palen on Instagram
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