Introducing one of our lucky bloggers for the fall 2016, Thomas Enck will be sharing stories from his program in Salzburg, Austria and all over Europe! Enjoy!
T. Time: I
“May our travels carry us over many seas and to many shores, but may we never let them carry us from who we’re meant to be.”
It’s a strange feeling, having the sunset send you off at the beginning of a flight only to look forward to a warm greeting from the sunrise on the other side. These are the clichés that writers dream about; the ending of a chapter and the beginning of another, entering a new era, so on and so forth.
To tell you the truth I’m still a little peeved with the 5-hour delay that we had at the beginning this flight. And that’s what made the extended allegory possible in the first place.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of T. Time – a blog that will cover a small town, Colorado kid gallivanting throughout Europe for 4+ months with good friends new and old. But by no means is he the focal point of these tales.
Obligatory fair warning based on the name: if you were looking for a blog covering the Masters, or Golf, or Bubba Watson’s Oakley Jetpack (it’s a thing – Google it) you have, somewhat regrettably, come to the wrong place.
Currently your guide on this journey is nowhere near any of that. Rather, he is sitting in an Icelandair Jet which happens to be named after Hekla; a volcano that was thought to be the entrance to Hell in the Middle Ages. Charming name, I’m sure you’d agree. Just the plane you would want to fly you over the North Atlantic. That being said, the egregious delay, the temporary annoyance, not even the off-putting reference to the lair of Lucifer where able to match the unbridled curiosity, anticipation and yes, trepidation, of your metaphorical pilot – a man who has never set foot off the North American Continent.
The reason is fairly simple, and it is what we will cover over the next several months. Coming of age in the world in which we live into is an exceedingly difficult. Full of moments of paralyzing fear and insane bravery, insatiable love and inconsolable loss, destabilizing confusion and concrete certainty one after the other. We are expected to know who we are and step into the world fully formed before we ourselves know the answer to so many questions.
Thus we must learn, and to do so we must leap into the unknown. We must experience what life has to offer in the lessons taught by the circumstance around us. Maybe not in an aircraft named after Hell’s gates, but I digress.
I am not an incredible person by any means. In fact, I would say that I am average in most every aspect. But I would love to take you on this journey with me. Within the experiences that we have on a regular basis there is so much to learn.
It would be my pleasure if you would join me – metaphorically of course. The plane wasn’t delayed long enough for you to make it to D.I.A. after this was posted, even if it may have felt as such. The narratives to be told will be cut with humor and hilarity; pondering, questioning, and hopefully minimal pandering. All will be bursting with colorful characters and absurd and thought provoking accounts. Through these stories we can explore what it means to be young – be it literally or the young of heart – in a world that is so full of uncertainties. Dreams, ideals, aspirations and beliefs, all and more will be covered in due time through the medium of experience: across the entirety of Europe no less.
The honor would be mine to serve as your symbolic flight attendant on this journey. You, however, are the protagonist and primary traveler in your odyssey of self-discovery.
Should you choose to join, you have my word that our plane will not be delayed. In fact, we’re ahead of schedule. In addition, you can name the plane whatever you would like – Though may I humbly suggest something mellow, such as Basket of Puppies or Edelweiss. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll come roaring out of the dawn into the unknown.
Who knows. Maybe this daybreak it isn’t just a tired metaphor after all. It could truly be the start of something new; but there’s only one way to find out.
-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.
The moment when I realized that I was coming home from studying abroad, I had mixed feelings. I was thrilled to return to my hometown, however I had adjusted to living in Alexandria, Egypt. There was a significant change in my perspective about my host city from when I first arrived to when I left Alexandria.
When I arrived in my host city after a long 24 hour flight, I was super jetlagged and could barely function. The time was 1 AM and I had a four hour drive ahead of me from Cairo to the northern coast. On the way to the university residence halls, I couldn’t wait to get settled in a room and rest. Driving to my housing I was a bit surprised about my new surroundings. Looking back at that time I remember imagining the city to look a bit different.
I had pictured Alexandria to look like something from a travel brochure, a city mixed with the old and new that had endless beaches right next to the university campus. Driving through the city to the residence halls, I had encountered something very different. I do not know if my thoughts were due to the physical and mental state, but the city was very run down, garbage lined the streets, and the air carried a stench that I had never experienced before. When I arrive at my residence hall I was disappointed. The building looked dilapidated and could collapse at any minute. I remember asking the driver in Arabic, “Is this it? Are you sure?” and he replied, “Yes this is the correct address.” In addition, the housing for men was far from campus and the public beaches were not exactly the best places to go swimming.
The first couple weeks were quite the challenge. It was not easy adjusting to a new way of living. The calendar was different where classes were Sunday through Thursday. The food options were great, however this gave you constant diarrhea and you were always on the lookout for a nearby bathroom just in case. The other American students in the Critical Language Scholars (CLS) program were rude and unfriendly to the students in my program. Also, the humidity was unbearable and I felt like a walking puddle in a polo. I felt very unsettled and was I was missing everything back home.
After getting settled and starting classes, I began to adjust and got used to living in Alexandria. I created some fantastic friendships with my fellow program classmates and had some amazing adventures with them exploring the city and country. The teachers in my college were supportive in our academics and were always excited to show us the fascinating and bizarre pockets of Alexandria. Developing a daily routine was critical to feeling comfortable. I quickly grew to love the city and the country and it began to feel more like a second home.
When my program was approaching the end, I could not believe how quickly time had passed. Thinking about coming home gave me feelings of joy. I was excited to see my family, my boyfriend, and all my friends. My senior year in college was about to start and I couldn’t wait to get started. However thinking about leaving Alexandria left me a bit sad because I saw the city in a new light. The ambiance of the buildings, people, and lifestyle were different then when I first arrived. Somehow I felt that I may be leaving something special behind.
One of my biggest tips for anyone going abroad…
Write things down!
While you’re in a different country having an awesome time doing new things and meeting awesome people you think you’ll remember everything. But trust me, after being back home for a few months and restarting a routine in your ‘normal’ life, things tend to slip. You’ll definitely remember all of the awesome big things that you did- whether it’s traveling across the country or going to a concert or a fair- but you won’t be doing that on a daily basis. Some of the small stuff, the stuff that helped make your experience special and unique, will start to fade away.
Seriously, it’s the small things.
So my advice is to keep a journal of the cool things that you do and see abroad. Write a little something for all the cool people that you meet-if you’re horrible at names like me, you’ll probably forget a few once you’re back home and looking through all your awesome pictures. Put down the name of your favorite coffee shop and the name of the new crazy food that you tried-or your favorite empanada place.
If you don’t like writing much do it anyway! It doesn’t have to be a diary entry or a blog post if that’s not your style, but whatever you put, you’ll appreciate later. Study abroad is a pretty transformational experience and you’ll want to remember all of it-the good, and the bad.
I have now been back in the US longer than I was abroad in Argentina. First of all, this blows my mind. Secondly, I am starting to forget some of the smaller, seemingly unimportant, things that really made my time abroad awesome.
I kept a journal while I was abroad-for the record, it was my first time ever doing something like that- and I often felt like I didn’t have time or that it was a silly thing to do, but I really appreciate it now. I wrote down little snippets of my day or the things that really frustrated me. I wrote down my favorite restaurants, and some of the funny, uncomfortable, silly things that happened to me. Because of this I can look back and reminisce about the good times, and the challenges. It’s something to laugh at and to reflect on. It was totally worth it for me because there really is joy in the small things in life.
One thing I wish I had known before I studied abroad was that culture shock can happen to anyone, even if you think you are familiar with the culture.
The program that I participated in took me to Alexandria, Egypt where I completed an intensive third year Arabic language program. The faculty member in charge of the program and his program chaperons were very informative. They were helpful about how to navigate daily life in Egypt and what to be aware of in regards to cultural interactions. Although, there was one thing that was not covered, and that was how to deal with culture shock.
The stages of culture shock are:
- Initial Euphoria/Honeymoon Stage
- Irritation and Hostility/ The Negotiation Stage
- Gradual Understanding/ The Adjustment Stage
- Adaptation or Bi-culturalism/ The Mastery Stage
I definitely experienced each of these phases despite the fact I was already knew what to expect with the culture of the Middle East. Here are some suggestions of how to curb culture shock in each stage:
- Learn as much about the culture as possible:
- Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
- Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
- If you have a study abroad coordinator that is very familiar with your program location, ask them questions about what to expect. They are a wealth of resources to prepare for housing, travel, and daily social interactions.
- Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
- Journaling is always a good for the mind and soul. This is a good way to release stress and remember joyful events. Writing down positive experiences can help when you have rough days and need to remember what you love about your programs location.
- Talk to other students about how you feel
- If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
- Push yourself to make local friends
- Do not isolate yourself and try to stay social. Reach out to local students and make new friends and connections. This will help you in becoming more familiar with your surroundings and feelings of loneliness.
- Try to see things through host culture’s eye
- If you disagree or do not appreciate something from your host culture, take a step back and look through their eyes. There is always a reason for culturalisms.
- Get involved with the local community
I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.
Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.
In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.
In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.
First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.
I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.
In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.
I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.
Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.
In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.
Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.
This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.
Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.
It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.
Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.
And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.
Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.
-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant