I have now been studying in Alicante, Spain for a month. During this month, I have completed classes, gone on numerous trips around Europe and Spain, and learned a lot of new things. Perhaps the most interesting experience I have had, however, is simply living with a host mother. Now that the awkwardness of living with a complete stranger has passed, I have been thoroughly enjoying the experience.
My host mother’s name is Cristina. She was born and raised in Alicante, Spain. Her first language is Spanish and her second language is French; she does not speak a word of english, making it somewhat difficult to communicate sometimes.
Although sometimes it can be difficult to communicate my exact thoughts to her, my Spanish language skills have drastically increased and things are getting a lot easier. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, so I am being forced to speak a lot of Spanish in order to maintain fluent conversations.
I have found that I learn much more quickly and effectively here than I do in classes in the United States. I believe this is because I actually need to use it here and rather than filling out worksheets or taking quizzes, I am breaking a language barrier one day at a time.
In addition to my increased language skills, I am getting to experience authentic Spanish cuisine on a regular basis. Cristina is a wonderful cook, and she cooks for both of us everyday. She solely cooks Spanish foods that she would eat on a regular basis which is really nice, plus it is saving me a lot of money.
Staying with a host mom has really allowed me to immerse myself in the culture of Alicante much more rapidly than some of my peers who are staying in apartments with other American students. Although it can be awkward and confusing at times I am loving everything about the experience and would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity in the future.
A lot of people (I’m not exaggerating when I say a lot) have said things that were similar, if not identical, to me about my decision to go Ottawa. I will be honest, Ottawa may seem pretty vanilla compared to other places I could’ve gone. In fact, I’m the first student from DU to go to the University of Ottawa (UOttawa). It hasn’t been a popular choice for a long time, mostly because it doesn’t fit the stereotype of “studying abroad”. A place such as Canada, doesn’t scream “adventure”, “exotic”, or “diverse”. Often times, people will want to study abroad in places that offer all the above and beyond. Or, at least, that is what the stereotype of the studying abroad calls for. Ottawa, nor any Canadian city is featured in any of the multiple videos that DU shows to prospective and freshmen students about the their study abroad options. People ask me “Why Canada?” and give me confused looks. In this post, I will address some comments I’ve received and offer explanations toward why they aren’t necessarily fair and viable.
“You’re not really going that far.”
No, I’m not going that far. In fact, the only bodies of water I will cross are the Great Lakes. Part of me is happy that I’m not crossing any oceans. My tickets weren’t terribly expensive and the flight isn’t too long either. What I like about Ottawa is that it offers a completely different dynamic than America, in terms of politics, languages, climate, and other factors as well. I realize that politics are a risky and touchy subject for some, but there is no denial that the politics of Prime Minister Trudeau juxtaposed to that of President Trump are radically different. Living in an environment sans Trump will be interesting, but I can only imagine I’ll be reminded of it on a daily basis. Ottawa is also officially bilingual and every thing on the UOttawa campus is bilingual. I would actually recommend students who consider Ottawa to take one or even two French classes. Some students on campus only speak French and it’s helpful to have some basic French in your pocket. Finally, in terms of climate, the warm, summer days of Denver will come to an end when I leave on September 2nd: temperatures will be in the low 60’s and 70’s and it will be rainy when I arrive. Moreover, on my first day of class, I will need to break out my jacket because low temperatures will be in the 40’s! It’s definitely a different climate to experience compared to the sporadic weather patterns of Colorado. Those are a few of the big changes I will experience, even though Canada is only north of the United States.
“Why not go somewhere exotic? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”
I can understand the perspective of this comment. Some people never had the opportunity to study abroad. Perhaps, everything in the media about students studying abroad shows them going everywhere around the world and has set the stereotype that all students should go to “exotic” locations. The truth is that just doesn’t happen for all students. It takes a special type of disposition and personality for students to feel comfortable in those “exotic” locations. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I am not an adventurous and outgoing person. Going to Ottawa and living there by myself pushes me enough out of my comfort zone. I’m also prefer to focus on my studies instead of adventuring in and around Canada. Again, trekking through downtown Ottawa and all it’s trendy neighborhoods is good enough for me. It should be noted that I’ve never been to Canada before. Thus, Ottawa is indeed an exotic location for me!
“It’s just like America, you wouldn’t need to adapt to anything.”
Canada is not America 2.0. It is indeed a different country! Just because Canada is above the United States does not make it completely “American”. Parts of Canada are indeed “Americanized,” however, Ottawa itself is not at all “American”. Actually, it is more identical to France and any French-speaking European country than it is America. It’s worth mentioning that my experience with registering and communicating with UOttawa resembled that of a French university instead of an American one, like DU. Some quick differences between Canada and the USA:
Canada has Canadian dollars (CAD) and America has American dollars (USD).
Canada has it’s own dialect of English and French, whereas America has only one official and de facto language: English.
Canadians write their dates with the number date first, followed by the month (an example is 29/08 for August 29th), but Americans write theirs in the opposite fashion (08/29 for August 29th)
Canada’s government is a parliamentary democracy and America’s government is a federal presidential constitutional republic.
Canada does not have a president, but the USA does.
Canada’s current prime minister is Justin Trudeau. America does not have a prime minister.
Canada has a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. America has not had a monarch since 1776.
Canada operates on the metric and Celsius measurement and temperature systems, respectively. The USA operates on a customary measurement system and the fahrenheit system for temperatures.
And finally: Both the USA and Canada recognize red and white as their official colors, but add blue to the mix for the USA.
While the differences seem small, it is the combination of such tiny factors that create completely different societies all around the world.
People are allowed to have their opinions. I don’t have a problem with that. What is most important is that when you choose a study abroad location, make sure it’s where YOU want to go to and not one that you think with satisfy everyone else. You will indeed be the person living there, you might as well choose somewhere you want to go. Even after virtually everyone said those things to me, I still kept my program and stuck true to how I wanted to pursue this experience. That is truly the most important thing to remember.
In four days, I will finally be in the home of the Beaver (their national animal), singing God Bless the Queen instead of the Star Spangled Banner. That’s unbelievable! Until next time!
“Excuse me, do you know where the baking soda is?” The store clerk looked puzzled for a second, but then looked at me, chuckled to himself and said, “Ah, yes. Do you mean bicarbonate soda?”
Turns out that there are quite a few differences between American English and Australian English, or at least enough differences to catch you off guard every once in a while.
Slang words and dialects are what differentiate regions and countries that use the same language. The English language is widely used throughout the world and is the official language of more than 50 countries. Every country and region that uses the English language sounds at least slightly different.
As for English in Australia, it is unique and varies throughout the country. It seems to have more similarities with English in the UK than English in the United States. Moreover, Australians love to abbreviate words.
I’ve been in Australia for about 2 months now and still get confused by certain words and phrases. So, here’s a list of the top ten words and phrases used Australia that I hear in conversation almost daily.
Uni – “Are you a uni student?” Uni is short for university. Don’t get caught using the word college, because that is the word Australians use when talking about high school.
I Reckon – “It’s been about 30 minutes, I reckon.” I reckon is used in place of the phrase I think. I actually haven’t heard anyone use the phrase I think.
Heaps – “Thanks heaps!” Heaps means a lot.
Rubbish – “Those food scraps are rubbish.” Rubbish is another way of saying trash. Trash and garbage are used from time to time, but rubbish is more common. All trash bins are labeled with the word rubbish.
Biscuit – “Oreos are my favorite biscuit.” As you can guess, biscuit means cookie. Oh and Oreos used to be my favorite biscuit, until I came across Tim Tams here in Aussie.
Aussie/Oz – “Have you spent much time in Aussie?” Australia is more commonly known as Aussie or Oz to the locals. Here in the state of Tasmania, locals say Tassie instead of Tasmania. Note: the “s” sounds like a “z”, hence why Oz is common.
G’day – “G’day, mate!” G’day is used as a greeting in place of other words, like Hey! Howdy! Hello!
Macca’s – “Let’s get a Big Mac from Maccas.” McDonald’s? Mickey D’s? Nope. They call it Macca’s here.
Jumper – “It’s going to be cold today, don’t forget your jumper.” Jumper is used in place of the word sweatshirt or sweater. More recently, I’ve actually heard the word jumper used to describe a person’s jacket, as well.
Arvo – “Let’s meet up at uni on Monday arvo.” Arvo is commonly used in place of the word afternoon. I had no idea what this word meant the first time someone said this to me.
There are heaps more words and phrases that I’ve come across in Aussie and there are even more that I haven’t encountered. Thus, I will continue to thumb through my Australian Slang book for the remainder of my time here.
I fondly remember the Global Reveal day back on February 17th, 2017. I had a good idea of which program I was going to be nominated for, but either of my selections, UOttawa or Lancaster, would have been satisfactory. Upon opening the envelope, a red leather baggage tag with the DU logo engraved on the front held my study abroad destiny, which ended up being UOttawa. I was elated and from that point on, I started to prepare for my departure.
From February 17th to today (August 20th, 2017), 184 days have come and gone. The amount of preparation so far has been immense, from registering for classes to finding on campus housing. Although the majority of the tough preparation is over, there are still things to do in these short 13 days.
Start organizing and packing: I created an “Ottawa box” in which I set aside various items I knew for sure I wanted to bring with me abroad. These were winter sweaters, coats, boots, school supplies, and other things along that line. Instead of scavenging through my winter clothes in the basement, keeping them in my box saves me a ton of time. I plan on bringing a carry-on suitcase and large suitcase with me, no more and no less than that. Would one suitcase be ideal? Yes. Is it practical? Nope. I had to buy some of the books for my classes ahead of time, which adds some weight to the case. I would like to avoid having to pay extra for a heavy suitcase, so I spread out my belongings between two cases. I am extremely lucky that my mother is coming with me to Ottawa to “drop me off” and visit the city, so she can help with some of the belongings too. I just need to organize my belongings in a way that is practical and “weight-conscious”. As of now, there is a heap of belongings in both cases. It will be packed eventually, but some stuff in my life right now is keeping my schedule a tad busy. I’ll talk about my packing and organizing more in a later post.
Creating Communication Plans: I am leaving my family, dog, best friends, and boyfriend behind in Colorado for four months. This makes my stomach turn a bit, since four months seems like a long time. However, in the grand scheme of things, four months isn’t the longest time away. That said, I am setting up communication plans with all my loved ones. My phone carrier, Verizon, isn’t changing my communication plan because I am still living on the North American continent, a definite perk for me. My friends and I have Skype, so we plan on communicating via that media as well. I’ll need to schedule time to talk with my family, friends, and boyfriend, whether it means waiting until the weekend or finding some downtime in between classes. We’ll make it work and I plan on being “present” at my home while I’m physically away.
Settling DU matters and plans before departure: I changed my English major and dropped one of my minors over the summer. These forms needed to be turned in before I left in September. I also sent in some course approvals request for my English classes that could count for major requirements. For me, doing this all ahead of time before you leave is easier than trying to deal with everything abroad.
Talking with the Roommates: I’m living in a four bedroom apartment on the UOttawa campus and had the pleasure of finding out who my roommates were just this past week. One is from England, the second from Germany, and the third from South Korea. All those people that told me Ottawa wasn’t an exotic study abroad location may be biting their tongue now. I have the opportunity to befriend and network with girls from Europe and Asia through cross-cultural connections and various global perspectives. How cool is that? All of us set up a group chat on Facebook for questions, comments, and just getting to know one another before we live together for four months.
Depart to Ottawa: Finally, we have to actually reach Ottawa. September 2nd is the golden day in which I’ll connect from Denver to Chicago, then Chicago to Ottawa. I can’t wait any longer for this day to come.
Next time I write, I will be in Ottawa, staying at the Swiss Hotel waiting to move in to my dorm. Until then. . . I’ll be packing, communicating, creating, and departing. 13 days! I am so excited!
I remember when I was going abroad that I wanted to be as “un-American” as possible. I wanted to blend in as well as to not offend any of the other cultures that I was going to be visiting.
So, I put together a list of American customs that can be considered rude in other cultures through some research and this Quora thread, I hope it is helpful, interesting, enlightening, and a little funny.
In Japan and South Korea tipping is seen as an insult.
2. Sitting in the back of a cab
In Australia, New Zealand, parts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands it is rude not to ride shotgun.
3. Throwing a thumbs-up
If you give a thumbs up in the Middle East, Latin America, Western Africa, Russia, or Greece, you are basically giving them the middle finger.
4. Laughing with your mouth open
If you laugh with your mouth open in Japan it is considered impolite.
5. Saying your from America, not the United States
If you say you’re from America while in South America, it is considered rude and that you don’t believe there should be another “America.”
6. Being fashionably late
In countries like Germany, not being on time is considered rude and a waste of your guests time.
7. Being on time
However, in South America, if you arrive on-time it is considered a sign of disrespect.
8. Using your left hand for actions
If you do anything in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, or the Middle East it is considered a sign of disrespect because they use their left hand for “bathroom duties.”
9. Opening a present immediately
In asian countries, if you open the gift immediately in front of the person who gave it to you it is considered greedy.
10. Wearing “athleisure” in public
Wearing leggings, sweatpants, baseball caps, or wrinkly clothes is a sign of sloppiness in Asian and European countries.
11. Showing the soles of your feet
In countries that are Arab, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist showing the soles of your feet is a sign of disrespect.
12. Drinking someone else’s alcohol
In Norway, when you go to a party it is rude to drink someone else’s alcohol. Only drink the alcohol that you brought personally.
13. Finishing your meal
If you finish your meal in China, the Philippines, Thailand, or Russia it tells the host that they didn’t provide you with enough food, and they will continue to provide more.
Settling into your housing abroad has the exact same feeling as settling into your dorm freshman year of college. All of a sudden you’re sitting alone on your bed and the realization hits you that you know absolutely no one in this huge new country you’ve decided to live in for six months. Of course, you may know a couple of DU students who have decided to live in the same country as you, but you know nothing of the city, how to get around, how to order food, how to get to class, and the realization hits you that you are absolutely helpless.
This was probably the scariest feeling of being abroad, I didn’t know the city of Dunedin in New Zealand. I felt like a lost puppy, absolutely dazzled and confused by my new surroundings, and the worst part was that I arrived two days early, so I was the first one to be in my flat and the first one from DU to be in Dunedin.
I spent the first two days wandering around Dunedin trying to figure out where the grocery store was and trying to buy food in the store without looking like a tourist. I messaged people from DU that I’d never really talked to before, who I knew were going to Dunedin, and asked them when they were arriving and that I’d love to get coffee with them.
These first two days of abroad were incredibly lonely and isolating but incredibly empowering. I had taken a 13 hour flight, managed to make it to my flat, lived alone for two days before anyone arrived, and I survived, and I knew that if I could survive that I could survive anything.
The rest of abroad was absolutely incredible and I made friends that I’ve visited and have visited me in the United States.
But the point is, the beginning of abroad is scary and new and daunting but everyone goes through it and everyone finds their ground and their bearings, just like freshman year of college. So no matter how nervous you are, remember, if you survived being dropped off at your dorm room freshman year not knowing the campus, the surroundings, or any people, you can survive abroad.
In New Zealand and Australia when you go to order coffee and you ask for the stereotypical drip coffee you are going to be looked at like you are a crazy person this is because they have different names for their coffee. So without further ado, here is a list of the coffee types in New Zealand and Australia and an explanation for all of them.
Caffè Americano You can make this type of coffee quite simply by adding hot water to a shot of espresso coffee.
Café Latte (or Café au lait)
A latte consists steamed (or scalded) milk and a single shot of coffee, you’ll occasionally encounter cafes that don’t understand the difference between this and a flat white.
The first is a shot of espresso, then a shot of steamed milk, and finally the barista adds a layer of frothed, foamy milk. This final layer can also be topped with chocolate shavings or powder.
To make an espresso, shoot boiling water under high pressure through finely ground up coffee beans and then pour into a tiny mug.
The most Aussie coffees available are the long black and the flat white – as both originated in Australia and New Zealand. For a flat white, the steamed milk from the bottom of the jug (which is usually not so frothy, but rather creamy) is poured over a shot of espresso.
Hot water is poured into a cup, and then two shots of espresso are poured into the water.
This type of coffee is brewed with whiskey, sugar, and a thick layer of cream on the top.
Macchiato (also known as a Piccolo Latte)
A shot of espresso which is then topped off with foamed milk dashed directly into the cup.
A vienna is made by adding two shots of particularly strong espresso together before whipped cream is added as a substitute for milk and sugar.
A ‘mocha’ is just a latte with added chocolate powder or syrup, as well as sometimes being topped with whipped cream.
A shot of espresso poured over a desert (usually ice cream)
Our spring break trip began at 6:00am on Sunday morning. We packed all 8 of our backpacking backpacks into the back of our van and drove 3.5 hours to Queenstown.
Once in Queenstown we explored the town, found our hostel, and enjoyed the evening at a local ice bar ( a bar where everything is made of ice and you have to wear special gloves and jackets) and a couple other fun dancing bars as well! That day me and the three others who decided not to bungee jump went and explored a ‘beach’ area in Queenstown, the ones who did bungee jump jumped off the highest bungee in the world!
The next morning we left around 7:00 am from Queenstown and embarked on the four hour drive to Milford Sound. Milford sound is in the Fiordland National Park and is a place where the ocean comes into a valley that was glacially carved. The mountains in this valley are beautiful and snowcapped at the top, and covered in rainforest and waterfalls as big as three times the height of Niagara falls at the bottom!
Four of us decided to do the Milford Sound boat cruise, which was absolutely amazing. The boat looked like an old wooden pirate ship and took us around the sound and under the waterfalls! After the boat cruise we met up with the three people who decided not to do the boat cruise at ‘The Chasm’ which is a rock formation where a waterfall goes in and out of rocks (there are parts where you can’t see the waterfall because there is a bridge of rock covering it).
While in the Chasm we all decided to do some ‘off-roading’ from the tourist approved track and ended up in this little valley where the waterfall ended. The water was crystal clear and you could drink from it, there were rainforest vines and trees hanging everywhere and in the distance was a snow-capped mountain. At the end of the day, we headed out of the Chasm to see the sunset at mirror lake, which is a lake that as you probably guessed, gives a perfect mirror image of the landscape. We then ended our day by driving to Te Anau and staying in a hostel before embarking on our three day backpacking trip through the Routeburn Track.
At 8:00am the next morning we set off for the Routeburn track, our van packed full with eight backpacking packs and eight people. The car was very heavily weighed down so it was a fun drive! We had to drive 3.5 hours to get there and we had a run-in with some sheep in the middle of the road. The sheep blocked our car for 15 minutes while being herded by two sheep dogs! We then finally made it to the base of the track and ate our bag of the PB&J’s we had made the night before at the hostel before setting out on our journey.
The first hour or two was hiking through jungle with a river to the left of us, at one point we stopped and refilled our water bottles in the river! There was one section of the hike that was only filled with giant ferns that looked straight out of Jurassic Park. After two hours of hiking we made it to the first hut and had a pit stop before continuing on to the second hut. The hike to the second hut was absolutely brutal, it was a steep grade the whole hour up, and I was at the back wheezing due to recently being sick. However, when we got to the the second hut we looked over the whole entire valley where the first hut was located and had a 48 person hut all to ourselves. We finished the night with wine and tin-foil meals of vegetables.
The next morning we woke up and explored the second hut which was surrounded by over seven waterfalls and glacier springs. We then hiked back down to the first hut and stayed the night there. We were completely alone this whole trip until around 8:30pm when a man showed up in the pitch dark in the middle of rainstorm to sleep in the hut with us. (The weather was absolutely perfect the whole trip except for rain on this day). The man had been climbing a glacier and had to leave due to gale force winds and decided to tramp the Routeburn to have a hut to stay in.
The next morning we woke up with the intention of hiking the Emerald track, however, on our car ride to get there we had to cross multiple streams in the middle of the road, and we could only make it through one because of the weight of the car, and we did not want to risk not being able to return if it happened to rain that night, so we decided to stay a a nearby hostel and explore this little lake town. The owners of the hostel were very nice and had two children and two puppies! They allowed us to walk the puppies around the lake and surrounding area (one golden and one sheep dog)! We finished the evening with a meal, drinks, and a movie before falling asleep.
Our final day was the next morning when we drove 5.5 hours back to Dunedin to end the spring break trip! Overall, it was an incredible time and it was so amazing to hike my first backpacking trip and see Milford Sound.
It’s not often that I am rendered incapable of words. That must be obvious to you by now, my long silence on the blog non-withstanding. Entering the humbling halls of St. Peter’s Basilica and La Sagrada Familia did the trick. Today, as I watch the cursor blink lazily back at me, I am again at a loss. Our country has just made a major decision. It truly breaks my heart to see the division which it has caused, and grappling with the reality of the fragmented populace that it has revealed in a land we deemed to be that of unity will be the challenge of our generation.
There was never any doubt, no matter how the votes were tallied last week, that the nation which many of you may call home has slowly been revealed as battered, tired, and some may say defeated.
So today, I’m not going to demand revolution or submission. I will not be so arrogant as to tell you that we must storm the streets in protest. I will refrain from demanding your compliance with the new regime. Today, we will discuss something much more difficult to grasp than the immediate recoil of defeat or the smug elation of victory.
Recently, I took a fairly hurried trip to Prague. This last March, my program informed us that for an extra fee we could sign up for an excursion of the city – which naturally I marginalized and decided I could plan myself. As such, I and two of my friends booked an Airbnb, snagged train tickets, and planned our departure four days prior to the day we were to leave. I know, quiet the responsible and pensive decision to make.
Who would have thought that in light of recent events, from the hurried planning to national elections, this trip would be one of the most hopeful I have been on in my time away from the United States. We marveled at baroque architecture and the Lennon Wall and explored a city full of history, culture, and sweets. We spent nights and days with those that we loved, and I even had a chance encounter with a friend would have never thought I would see in Prague.
Thus after relishing the weekend in the laughter and good conversation of friends, it’s no wonder that Prague is a city in which I felt unwilling and disappointed to leave. In a way, it parallels a trip I had many months earlier.
Montpellier the city wasn’t anything outside of the ordinary for the French Riviera. Graceful giant cathedrals of stone and impressive architecture all rising before the beautiful sight of the Mediterranean. While this was impressive, what made the trip truly special was the people – both strangers and friends. The host Florence was incredible. While she spoke hardly any English, she was jovial, generous and kind. Finding ways to communicate with us through gestures and even cracking good natured jokes at the expense of yours truly. A store clerk was incredibly gracious as he ushered us in. Again, he spoke hardly any English – however, he gave us incredibly kind discounts on what we purchased. Even when a ragged man walked in and began to pay for his beverage, the clerk smiled and waved him through, not asking for any kind of compensation.
Later that same night, the three of us sat with the ceiling high windows thrown open to reveal the night sky and the bright lights of the city, illuminating a massive church across the street from our fifth floor apartment. The hours passed by as we discussed our hopes and dreams, the trajectory of humanity, and what we hoped to accomplish for our fellow man.
As you recall, I mentioned in my first entry that this story would be full of colorful and vibrant characters and friends both new and old. That’s something that I think these trips really display beautifully in concert with one another. Separated by a few months, they both teach the same lesson.
You’ve probably been feeling a few different emotions over the past week. Whether it be elation with the conclusion of this grueling year and a half of politics, or exhaustion as you come down from your democratic induced high. Maybe it’s the victorious feeling of triumph as your candidate emerged victorious, or perhaps the crushing despair of a defeat too horrible to imagine.
Yet I implore you; never lose faith in your fellow human beings, and never give up on those that you truly care about. Don’t despair. Don’t lash out in anger or euphoria in your victory. Strive to see the good in humanity. It does the soul wonders, and could even do more for the world in which we live.
-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.
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.
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.
After months of planning, checking off things to do on DU passport, and having all of my final paper work completed, it was finally time to actually start getting ready to leave. Here’s the mental checklist I had to live, breathe and sleep with right before my departure:
Check in with SMART Traveler Program – Since this was my first time travelling alone, I had to make sure I took all the safety precautions!
Plane ticket confirmation – you know that uneasy, nervous feeling you get when you think you forgot to do something? This was me all the time, except I don’t know how many times I checked the date and time to make sure I didn’t miss my flight or booked it on the wrong date until the day I actually had to leave!
Money $$ – I created a Charles Schwab bank account to make sure that I saved some money abroad by avoiding transaction, withdrawal and conversion fees and I also had been saving up money from working at Olive Garden over the summer.
Communication – I wasn’t sure how effective my T-Mobile Simple Choice International plan was going to work but I decided to stick with it and cancel it later if it didn’t work. (Luckily it did, and I didn’t have to worry about connecting back home again!)
Pinterest! – I created numerous pin boards with food and places I wanted to check out while abroad. It made me excited and less nervous that the reality of being able to actually go to those places was a close reality.
Packing! – The task I procrastinated the most took me the longest time to complete! I packed clothes for all possible weather and later realized that I had no room to bring anything back! Packing to study abroad has to be one the most difficult things one could do the week of departure, and I don’t know how I did it but it happened!
I guess in terms of logistical stuff, making lists is my way of preparing for things. However, I think that in the larger scheme of things, there is no real way to prepare for studying abroad… and that’s totally okay! The wanderlust feeling that embodies you when you visit a brand new place and the roller coaster of emotions before, during and after adapting to a new culture are things that will hit you no matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself; that’s what made my study abroad experience so memorable!
For the record, I don’t quite know what my next adventure will be yet, nor will I pretend to have everything under control when it comes. Study abroad definitely beat that tendency out of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s bring it back a bit.
For many people, including myself, I got to truly travel independently for the first time when I studied abroad. I’d visited out-of-state friends in college, gone on road trips with others, but there’s always an added dimension when “international” gets thrown into the mix. There are more logistics, more languages, and more complications if something goes wrong. Through a few moments of brilliance and many more epic missteps, I learned quite a bit about living and traveling abroad. So, here’s a quick list of tangible ways study abroad prepared me for my next aforementioned adventure:
I navigate a mean airport/bus terminal/metro station
I have spent a lot of time traveling, not in the sense that I have spent a lot of time abroad, which I thankfully have, but more that I’ve been exposed to some hellish layovers and travel days. Coming home from study abroad, I worked my way through four airports over two days of travel. It’s exhausting, and you shortly find that duty free looks the same just about everywhere, but I’ve found that I can navigate my way through almost any transportation hub, at this point. If I can’t, however, here’s a great segue into point 2…
There’s nothing that you can’t express, unless you’re too embarrassed to mime it
I first experienced complete and utter language confusion when I studied abroad. I was on a bus from Zadar to Split, Croatia, when an elderly, balding man with a significant amount of missing teeth looked right at me and said a sequence of words that my brain was unable to register. Not a word. Not a phrase. Nothing.
So I sat there, I smiled, I nodded, I placed my hands in my lap, and then stupidly stared ahead, blankly, at the colorful, speckled fabric on the back of the headrest in front of me. I’d never felt more useless in my life.
Slowly, though, I learned to appreciate the art of miming and apologetic shrugging. While I never condone complete ignorance, when your faculties fail you, a grateful, wordless plea and the choo-choo noise will point you in the right direction to most train stations. Thankfully, standardized bathroom signs have saved me from ever miming number 1 or number 2.
Proactively Google Map
Most smartphones have some sort of map feature, which come in handy quite often. What most people don’t realize is that when you use them, your route is saved in the phone until it either dies or you select another. So, when you’re heading out and don’t have Wi-Fi, map out the route to your destination while you still have Wi-Fi. It will help you get to where you need to go and will give you your starting location as a point of reference for when you need to go back. Please, however, take it with a grain of salt and make sure you’re going to the right place before you leave the warm, safe embrace of free internet.
Don’t lose your cool
There are some situations where Murphy’s Law always holds true, and one of them is definitely international travel. Somehow, something you’re expecting underwhelms. Now, this can occur in varying degrees along the lines of “Damn, I forgot to pack a lunch, guess I’ll have to settle for a sandwich at the airport!” or “I’m stranded in Marrakech, Morocco without a passport because it just got stolen.” Both occurred to while I was studying abroad, ironically on the same trip.
The key to surviving these situations is to either not lose your cool or have someone there with you who won’t lose their cool. My good friend Ian was with me in Morocco and was instrumental in helping me stay sane as I
became increasingly hangry searching downtown Marrakech for the right documents I would bring to the U.S. consulate. I, on the other hand, was unflappable in finding a wayward friend one of my first nights in Salamanca when her phone was dead. Flexibility, I’ve learned, is key to weathering both the little and large snafus that will happen along the way.
Now, as I plan ahead to an epic Patagonian backpacking trip, tramping across New Zealand’s rugged, Middle-Earthen terrain, or exploring the Colombian beaches, I know I have some excellent skills in my toolbox. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, but, *knock on wood*, it won’t be that serious and I’ll know how to deal with it, or at least fake it until I make it.
Go abroad for a summer to learn a language? Or stay home and learn a language in a classroom? The answer here is pretty simple. I chose to leave the U.S., study a language, and use my Arabic language skills in everyday life and gain the experience of a lifetime.
I studied abroad at the University of Alexandria, Egypt in 2010 and chose this program because my major was in Middle East Studies – Arabic. This program was a language intensive and fulfilled my entire third year Arabic language coursework in 2 months. I was both nervous and excited to go to Egypt and take courses in the University of Alexandria. This experience was one that I will always treasure since I met some amazing people, saw some amazing places, and observed simmering political turmoil.
To be honest, when I decided to join this program and go to Egypt, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had a vision of what the experience could have been like, but having already studied the Middle East, I already new that the picture I had was not going to be accurate. When I arrived, it was nothing like I had expected. However, it became overtime everything I needed and helped me truly understand Middle East culture.
During this program I had the opportunity to live in the university residence hall with local students that were studying from across the country. Sunday through Thursday I was in the classroom practicing Arabic, and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) I got to explore the city of Alexandria and the rest of the Egypt. While I was in this program I learned a lot about the cultural nuances in Egypt and the various perspectives regarding feminism, politics, and the role of religion in everyday life.
The experience that I will take with me is the political events that occurred leading up to the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011. I remember the media frenzy after Honsi Mubarak reauthorized the Emergency Laws, the death of Khalid Saiid in Alexandria by the police, and the political tension that was building towards the fall elections.
I chose this program because it fulfilled a language requirement; however looking back this program exceeded my expectations. This experience provided more than just language education, but a deeper understanding of the complex sociopolitical dynamics of Egypt.
Oh boy. You’re a returnee. You’ve just gotten home from abroad. Now, you’re responsible for validating your existence and entire experience in a 30-second-or-less recap where you attempt to explain a roller coaster of emotions, a sense of self-actualization, loneliness, elation, and tangible experiences. Good. Luck.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned the greatest deflecting tactic on the planet:
Acquaintance A: “How was your trip?”
Me: “It was amazing!!!”
For most people, that interaction will suffice. They’ve engaged you to a surface-level point where they’ve shown enough interest to maintain your relationship, but still remain depth-free, and while you’re stricken with guilt knowing you’re telling a minuscule portion of your experience, you are more than happy to avoid talking about your trip’s pit falls and focus on the amazing parts. Win-win.
Acquaintance A: “What made it so amazing? What did you do? Were there any difficult parts? ”
Once the second probe happens, you buckle down. They’re really interested. You’re not getting away scot free. Winter is coming.
You have to understand, I’m extroverted and still hate this part. I like to think of myself as articulate, but have an extremely difficult time encapsulating the holistic nature of a trip abroad. The peaks feed into the troughs, which then feed into the peaks, in an endless cycle that still affects me well after my return.
For example, during my study abroad program, I directly enrolled in the University of Salamanca, meaning I set up my own classes, lived with a host-family, and didn’t have an immediate support group of Americans I saw every day. I loved the freedom of this lifestyle, where I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself, but simultaneously was driven crazy by the amount of time I spent alone. Working through the loneliness, on the flip side, remains a great point of pride for me, as I found my own inner strength and moral compass, but doesn’t take away from the fact that I was really lonely at times. In short, my experience was a double-edged sword, which was not always easy to explain. Returnee-ism reared its ugly head.
So, here’s my advice for dealing with returnee-ism:
First, accept the fact that these interactions are going to happen, and are going to happen whenever you come home from an exciting place. I just got home from attending two of my best friend’s wedding in Japan a month ago, and I dealt with the exact same questions I faced coming home from Spain.
Second, if the trip didn’t have a frustrating aspect, then you’re either remembering incorrectly or lying to yourself. Overall, my trip to Japan was one of the best of my life, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t low points. The longer you live somewhere, the more this is magnified. Even if you can’t explain the complete nature of a trip to someone else, be as truthful as possible. Gilding or demonizing your trips can discount what you learned from them.
Third, debrief. I went to Israel during December of 2014 and had an interesting experience, but one that was really frustrating as well. I wrote a blog on it, which really helped me put my trip in perspective. I’m in the process of writing one for Japan, and always travel with a journal. Find whatever mechanism is best for you to debrief, it’ll do you a lot of good.
Finally, internalize everything, and go out again. Each time I’ve traveled after my study abroad experience, either domestically or internationally, I applied what I learned before and gained new skills to boot.
There is nothing like figuring out how to shop at the grocery store abroad- especially when you are in non-english speaking country. When shopping in Italy you have two options: go to several different specialty shops around the city to find what you need, or brave the supermarket.
I chose to brave the supermarket because let’s face it, who has time to go to three, four, or even five shops to get food for the week? Not me!
The supermarket in Italy has been an adventure every single time I set foot on the dirty grocery store linoleum. The food is so different than anything I am used to at home in Colorado, and most of it is in a different language. I speak Italian pretty well, but there are so many words in the supermarket that I don’t understand-they don’t really teach that stuff in the classroom. And to top off the words I don’t understand, there are tons of foods I have never seen in a grocery store at home. I usually end up buying and trying something new every week.
And the rules! There are so many rules at the Italian supermarket. For example, when you pick up fresh produce at the supermarket you are supposed to wear a plastic glove. I learned that one the hard way. One of my first times in the supermarket I picked up a zucchini without a glove on and had an old man slap the vegetable out of my hand, start screaming at me in Italian, and then shove plastic gloves in my face! I stood there stunned and actually just left the store. I needed to regroup and try again another day.
Also, at the supermarket when you buy fresh produce, you have to put it on the electronic scale and print a sticker with a bar code on it. I once took all my stickerless produce to check out and was thoroughly embarrassed when I held up the entire line because I had to go back and get all the stickers for my produce.
Please, learn from my mistakes! To help you out next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of an Italian supermarket, I have put together a list of helpful tips.
Leave yourself plenty of time. The supermarket is always an adventure, and usually a time consuming one, especially your first few visits. Leave yourself plenty of time each visit to get acquainted with the supermarket and get what you need.
Know where the gloves are. Take my zucchini horror story to heart and learn where the plastic gloves are. They are usually on a tray on top of the plastic bags you use to carry your produce.
Bring shopping bags. In Italy, you are charged for every plastic bag you use, if you don’t bring your own reusable bag. So bring a big purse, backpack, or reusable shopping bag with you to the store. Plus its easier to walk through the city with your groceries with a durable bag rather than a few plastic bags.
Put stickers on your produce. Don’t hold up the entire check-out line, like I did! When you get your produce, place it on the electronic scale, press the button with the picture of the produce you have, grab the printed sticker, and throw it on the plastic bag. It’s pretty simple, and it will ensure you can scan the produce later when you are ready to check out!
Bag your items yourself. At the supermarket in Italy, even when you are at the regular cash register, you have to bag your own items. The cashier will not do it for you, they will not help you, and there is no bag boy. When I am placing all my items on the belt, I try to organize them so I can easily put them in the bag after the cashier scans them. I also try to bag my stuff up as the cashier scans it so I can pay and immediately leave.
Shopping at the supermarket can be somewhat stressful and it is definitely always an adventure! Just remember to relax and laugh at yourself when you mess up.
As students at the University of Denver, we are rather used to a certain teaching style and being held to the highest of standards. Coming abroad, I have quickly learned not every school is like that, and it has taken quite some time for me to adjust.
I can remember a time when I was completely in awe at how relaxed abroad professors are. I was sitting in class taking notes on a lecture, and another student stopped the professor to ask her a question. Before she began to answer, I asked her to flip back to the previous slide. She looked at me and said “Don’t worry about taking notes in class, I will post the slides online.” I was amazed! I’ve never had a professor encourage myself and the class to NOT take notes. What?! I know I don’t learn anything if I just sit there and listen, because in reality I’m not engaged and I’m not listening at all! So I continued on taking notes, and I will continue to do so- because that is what’s best for MY learning.
When you find yourself abroad, and in a classroom setting that you are not used to, I have compiled a list of my best tips to help you through.
1. Avoid taking your computer to class. We all know how easy it is to get distracted in the classroom when you have your laptop wide open, especially when your teacher barely speaks English and doesn’t really care if you are engaged or not. Instead, try to bring a notebook and pen and take notes the old fashion way. Really focus on engaging and listening to what your professor has to say.
2. Ask questions. Sometimes, it can be rather hard to understand the professor, both for language barrier reasons and because sometimes they really just don’t make sense. Engage, ask questions, and make sure you know what they are trying to convey to you.
3. Go to class. I know. You’re abroad. All you want to do is relax and travel and enjoy whatever beautiful city you are in. Trust me, I know. I all too often find myself sitting in a classroom thinking that it is just a sin to be spending so much of my time in class when there is a beautiful city around me just waiting to be explored and experienced. But let’s not forget- this is STUDY abroad. Get to class! You never know what kind of important information you could miss when you are in class.
4. Don’t let yourself get behind. I have learned that here abroad, there isn’t much in the grade book. Your grade is essentially attendance and your performance on a project or tests. Staying on top of your work is crucial to getting that passing grade you want and need. Do your work and do not, whatever you do, let yourself get behind.
5. Write it down. Because assignments are so rare, it can be easy to let them slip through the cracks and forget about them all together. When you are assigned something, be sure to write down what you have to do, and when it is due. This will help you to remember to get it done, and it will be one more small thing to help boost your grade.
Being in a new and unusual learning atmosphere is strange and often times stressful, but with a few tips and tricks, I’m confident you will triumph with passing grades.