What I’d Wish I’d Known…

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:

  1. Initial Euphoria/Honeymoon Stage
  2. Irritation and Hostility/ The Negotiation Stage
  3. Gradual Understanding/ The Adjustment Stage
  4. Adaptation or Bi-culturalism/ The Mastery Stage

Culture shock slide

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:

  1. Learn as much about the culture as possible:
    1. Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
  2. Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
    1. 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.
  3. Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
    1. 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.
  4. Talk to other students about how you feel
    1. If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
  5. Push yourself to make local friends
    1. 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.
  6. Try to see things through host culture’s eye
    1. 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.
  7. Get involved with the local community

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Behind My Favorite Photo From Abroad

One of my favorite memories from studying abroad was the time that I snuck into a private beach for the Egyptian military. It was the middle of July and it was ridiculously hot in Alexandria. Luckily the city enjoys the cool breeze from the Mediterranean, however the humidity and congestion of the city make you feel like a walking puddle in a polo.

The public beaches in Alexandria are plentiful, yet they are very crowded and not the cleanest places. So one of my program chaperones wanted to take us to a more secluded beach in the Montaza Gardens and Palace. This place is stunning with lush gardens, a royal palace and hotel directly east of central Alexandria. The public beach there was crowded, and with a group of American students in a crowded beach, we garnered a lot of attention. So our chaperone had a friend who was in the military and had access to one of the private beaches in the gardens. This beach was strictly reserved for the military and their families. Our chaperone and his friend had to distract a security guard to check the few guests that he was allowed and then sneak the rest of us through a fence.  Nobody noticed the additional Americans at the beach, however luckily there were enough locals for us to pass as other people’s guests.

Week 5 Blog

The scenery at this beach was everything we wanted. Open space, privacy, and cleaner that most public beaches. This was our first beach day in our program and one of the few that we were able to have. In the picture above you can see part of the beach looking west along the Alexandrian coastline stretching for miles rimmed with endless apartment buildings. It was quite the luxury to go to the beach and enjoy clean waters, sands, and do some language study in the sun at an uncrowded beach.

Eric Boscan, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

The Perks of Living in the Middle East

  1. History

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No matter where you are, there is history on every corner. Not just “oh this happened 200 years ago…” more like “back in the days of the first major civilizations in history over a few thousand years ago…”

Amazing architecture surrounds you, wherever you go.

  1. Scenery:

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Camping trips in the desert are amazing, and oasis cities are very relaxing. Sand boarding is amazing and riding a jeep up and down sand tunes is probably one of the best thrills anyone will experience.

  1. Food:

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Great coffee can be found anywhere you go! Also, shwarma is a staple and can be found at any restaurant or street vendor.

  1. Activities:

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Huka is inexpensive and better than anything you can find in the U.S.

Inshallah and Ma3lish is a life philosophy. So if something doesn’t happen immediately, that’s OK. Take your time and enjoy life each day, stuff will get done in its own time.

  1. Weather:

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It is always warm, you only need clothing for nice sunny weather and don’t have to worry about packing winter clothes.

  1. Friendship:

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Everyone is very friendly and social. Also, when someone calls you a friend, they mean it! Friendships are important in the Middle East.

– Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

Coping with Returning Home

After three months of living in Alexandria, Egypt, I remember the flood of emotions that overcame me when I returned home. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of relief, excitement, and nostalgia. The expectation of reverse culture shock was looming over me and I remember prepping myself for the readjustment of my old daily routines.

Eric Blog 1

The symptoms of retuning home were subtler then I expected. I was more critical of the way people dressed in the United States than back in Egypt. I craved certain foods due to a lack of nutrients from my diet abroad, and felt sick sometimes. I noticed that I had moments of severe nostalgia and longed to be back with people that I had met while I was abroad. However as time progressed, there were a few steps that helped me cope with the symptoms of returning home:

  1. Stay in contact with the people in your host country. Adding my old program guides and host country friends to my social media helped me feel more connected to Egypt and the events that were happening there after I had left. I was able to keeps those bonds and feel connected to the people that I had met abroad.
  1. Reconnect with your friends from your study abroad program. Going out with friends who went on my program helped me cope with adjusting socially back home. We would go out to middle eastern restaurants and enjoy hookah and Arabic coffee on late nights and recollect stories from our experiences in Egypt and discuss how we felt similar experiences coming back home.
  1. Enjoy your surroundings and live in the moment. Going out with friends and enjoying activities helps you get reacquainted with your hometown and life after studying abroad. This can present the silver linings of being home and new adventures that await you in you own backyard.
  1. Keep traveling, and satisfy the feeling of wanderlust by going on small trips with friends.
  1. Seek advice from your study abroad advisor or professor. Talk about the experience of being back home and ask how you can use this experience in your academics and career opportunities.

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Studying abroad was an amazing experience, but coming back home was a challenge. If you ever feel that reverse culture shock is getting the best of you, just take a moment, take a deep breath and know that others have been in your shoes before.

-Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

Completely Unprepared

So you want to climb the Roof of Africa…

This is the true story of how a group of six extremely unprepared wanafunzi (students) managed to *spoiler alert* summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A step-by-step guide

  1. Go to a full moon party on a sandbank off the coast of Stone Town, Zanzibar the night before you are supposed to head to Moshi.  Trust me, you’ll feel great the next morning!

    And go SCUBA diving before the party!
  2. Actually wake up on time to catch your 7:00am ferry
  3. Realize that you still need to pack before you leave for the ferry terminal
  4. Get to the ferry in just enough time, thankful you bought your ticket yesterday
  5. After arriving in Dar es Salaam, talk your way into reducing the cost of a taxi to 20,000/= (Tanzanian shillings) to the bus station, arguing that it’s only a few miles away and that you could walk there
  6. Ride in the taxi for a half hour, realize you could NOT have walked there
  7. Arrive at the “bus terminal”, a sandlot with a bunch of buses and find one that is heading to Moshi, Tanzania
  8. Realize the bus you will be on for the next 12 hours has no bathroom and no air conditioning
  9. Listen to 12 hours of loud Tanzanian music videos and violent movies
  10. Text the Kilimanjaro climbing company you are trekking with that you will arrive in Moshi within the next hour
  11. Get a text back telling you that you weren’t supposed to go to Moshi, the office is in Arusha
  12. Thank your respective god that your bus is also going to Arusha
  13. Arrive in Arusha at 11pm and meet a guy with a sign and a bus with your name on it
  14. Get chipsy mayai (fries and eggs) at the one restaurant in Arusha since you haven’t eaten all day.  Apparently, it’s “the place to be!”

    No really, it says so right on the building
  15. Pass out upon arriving at the company’s office, luckily they have some beds you can sleep on for free!
  16. Wake up the next day, hang out at the office, then grab a daladala (public transport) to a local rental place because you have no hiking gear.  You’ve been living in Zanzibar for four months, what use would you have for warm clothes?

    The warmest thing I needed before was my black rash guard for swimming
  17. Realize that Arusha is a lot colder than Zanzibar and that you are extremely unprepared for this climb since you are cold before you even start
  18. Head back to the office for lunch, accidentally eat all the food that was prepared for the whole staff because you thought it was just for the six of you.  Zanzibari portions all around!
  19. Notice a large group of people outside the office
  20. Ask who they are
  21. Be told that those 21 people are your porters up the mountain.  They’re going to carry all of your stuff.  Why 21 porters are needed is still a mystery to me.
  22. Next day: leave at 8am to head to Kilimanjaro National Park.  It takes over three hours since you need to stop and let all the porters grab breakfast
  23. Arrive at the mountain, woo!  All the stress is over with!
  24. Haha, NOPE.
  25. Be told that your residence permits aren’t valid in the park since they’re stamped into your passport and you could easily forge a stamp (okay?).  You owe at least another $1300 in park fees
  26. Argue with park employees for an hour about how you ARE a resident
  27. Call your study abroad program’s academic director (who is supposed to be free of you by now – the program ended days ago) and ask for a HUGE favor – to have a different copy of your residence permit sent to Kilimanjaro.  Now.
  28. She tells you that today is a public holiday and that the immigration office that has the permits is closed
  29. Luckily, the park will let you start the climb, and informs you that you need to be willing to pay that extra money when you get back down the mountain if your permit doesn’t come through
  30. Start the climb, three hours later than scheduled

    Our “before” picture at the base of Kili
  31. Make it through a beautiful forest hike and emerge at the first hut of your stay: Mandara
  32. Sign in with your name and occupation…

    I am a tryer of new things, traveling with two explorers, an aspiring witch doctor, a pirate, and a prophet
  33. Pass out on your bed still kinda stressing over the last few days, but no worry, you’re on the mountain now, everything else can wait for five days!
  34. Wake up early the next morning (Day 2 of the climb) for tea and to start hiking.  You come out of the forest and into smaller shrubbery, but still very green.  The second hut, and your home for the next two days: Horombo

    The view from Horombo – beautiful above the clouds!
  35. Wake up even earlier the next morning (Day 3) to watch the sun rise while sitting above the clouds.  Absolutely breathtaking!
  36. Take a small hike, but ascend 1,000 feet, to Zebra Rock to help with acclimatization.  Come back to Horombo for the night to watch the sunset, equally as breathtaking

    Zebra Rock – aptly named. The colors are this way from a lot of mineral deposits that drip down the rock
  37. Start hiking early (Day 4) to reach Kibo Hut by the early afternoon.  Not as homey as the other two huts, but you’re not allowed to stay the night there.  Unpack your sleeping bag and try to get as much rest as possible before wake up at 11:30pm.
  38. Yeah, PM
  39. Have a very light “breakfast” and don all the clothes you brought, including your “If you can’t climb it, drink it” Kilimanjaro beer shirt
  40. Start your summit attempt at 12:30am, totally in the dark
  41. Cry a little bit at how beautiful the stars are up this high (about 16,000 feet above sea level, take that Colorado!)
  42. Are told that the hike to the summit will take 4-5 hours
  43. Take 8 hours to reach the summit, barely breathing
  44. Get severe altitude sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness), but stay up there long enough for the whole group to take a picture
  45. Congratulate yourself because YOU JUST CLIMBED MT. KILIMANJARO, ONE OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS AND THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN AFRICA.

    I take your ’14er and raise you 5,000 feet to 19,341 feet above sea level
  46. Go get a Kilimanjaro beer to celebrate.
  47. And have your residence permits work, so you didn’t have to pay more

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Kristen’s Blog: Arusha, Tanzania

Take a look at Kristen’s blog as she studies abroad in Arusha, Tanzania. Aside from being fantastically written and interesting, her blog is named after a Toto song and her background theme is the Lion King. All in all, those three aspects make up an irresistible package and we’d love to share it with you!

http://iblessedtherains.blogspot.com/

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A Wedding Fundraiser!

Kiswaspanglish?

Hamjambo!

Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.

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Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead

Whoops!

I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.

Clothing: 

One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…

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Prayer: 

I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.

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Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado

Hajj:

Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.

Food:

The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0BbxG89gA

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger