Hello all! My name is Katharine Wilson and welcome to my first blog! I’ll be spending the next year studying abroad at the University of Tuebingen in Tuebingen, Germany. I chose this program because of it’s language immersion, as well as the fact that I get to spend a whole 10 months abroad! Hope you like the post!
This morning, like every morning, I decide to check my email on my phone. The only message that appears is “inbox storage full, please delete messages to make room.”
I’ve always been anal retentive about keeping my inbox clean. I’ll keep the things I absolutely need, but I’m always happiest when my main inbox shows a beautiful, clean “0 messages.”
What the heck is going on here?
Let’s start from the beginning. My name is Katharine and I’m a current student at the University of Denver majoring in English Literary Studies and German. And starting this September, I am going to live and go to school in Tuebingen, Germany for at least the 10 months until I graduate. Woohoo!
How did this happen? I’ll explain: DU is number one in the nation for study abroad participation, and going abroad the first quarter of one’s junior year is a tried and true DU tradition. But I wanted to take it a step further. I’ve been studying German since I was 14, taking it every year in high school and every semester/quarter at two different universities for the past four years. Fun times! I decided upon my arrival at DU to become a German major, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made! The program is pretty great– fun professors, interesting courses and small enough participation that I met almost every other German major in the school, and let me tell you, they are wonderful people! I’ve been confident and happy in my decision to study German since my first class 🙂
When my junior year rolled around, there was no question I wanted to study abroad in a German-speaking country, and my preference was Germany itself. DU had several different programs in Germany, but I wanted something immersive, where I could continue to study literature while learning about German language and culture as deeply as possible. The University of Tuebingen exchange ended up being my goal: one full academic year abroad in Tuebingen, with the ability to take classes primarily taught in German, all while learning and living with mostly native students. Another (slightly terrifying) plus: only one student from DU was sent on any given year, so I would enter Europe with a clean slate, knowing almost no one on the entire continent!
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating when I say I am happy and confident in my course of study. I’m happy, confident, terrified, and incredibly anxious. But I love every second of it!
This is definitely the craziest thing I’ve done in my life, and once I got a tattoo with no one holding my hand! See, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve lived a slightly sheltered life. Before starting college, I lived in the same bedroom of the same house for my entire life. Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) was my home for all 18 years leading up to college. And then I moved a grand total of 20 minutes away to go to DU, where I stayed with the same roommate for two years. I’ve only left the United States once: in my Sophomore year of high school, my orchestra class went to London for 5 days.
Okay, maybe I’m slightly ashamed.
Recently, I’ve had a crazy strong desire to branch farther away from all the stuff I’ve relied on so long: Colorado, my family, my high school, and everything else about my relatively stable (read: boring) life.
Coming to college was the first step in my big transition: I got two piercings and got my first tattoo; I had my first serious boyfriend; I came out to my parents as pansexual. Not all of the things I’ve done ended up for the best, but it has definitely been a crazy ride when compared to high school. And on top of all of this, 7 months ago I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder, which has led to its fair share of life changes. Needless to say, my time at DU has, for better or worse, been really interesting!
But despite this, I’m still craving change, and I couldn’t think of a bigger one than moving an ocean away from everything I’ve ever known! That’s not to say I’m not utterly terrified (scenes of being lost in German train stations or suddenly forgetting every German word I know frequently feature in my nightmares) but I’ve been trying my best not to let fear get the better of me.
So, back to the emails. My inbox currently contains the following: my application instructions for direct enrollment in University of Tuebingen, DU’s study abroad handbook, information on billing, my visa requirements, my official admission letter from Tuebingen, a long string of emails with me trying to enroll in, register, and pay for a month-long orientation course, my flight confirmation, a time change to the flight confirmation, my rent contract for my student apartment, an exchange between me and the head of the German department where I’m trying to obtain a letter stating my language abilities, and a letter to my coordinator trying to get a copy of a payment form (from another email I had mistakenly deleted). Phew!
Packing up and going to study in a foreign country for a year takes a lot of work, but it has slowly been coming together since my acceptance in February. All I need is to pay the first month’s rent on my apartment, open a German bank account, obtain the abovementioned letter from DU’s German Department, send in the registration materials for my orientation course, pay for said orientation course, then pack my stuff and go! Actually, I thought that list was going to be a lot shorter when I began writing it…
And of course, there are other, smaller concerns. I need to seriously downsize, because I can only bring so much stuff on the plane with me. I need to buy a new purse and backpack suitable for traveling. I need to replace my old, slow-as-molasses computer. I need to brush up on my knowledge of German (and American) politics. And a whole host of other things.
So that’s where I’m at right now! Surrounded by to-do lists and mounds of papers in German I can only half-understand, I’m just trying to live in the moment and enjoy what will be my last few months in America until next July or August!
Wish me luck?
Katharine Wilson is currently studying English and German at the University of Denver. On an exchange year in Germany, she is exploring German language and culture as one of Universität Tübingen’s resident stupid Americans. Sie versteht nur Bahnhof.
Hello Internet? I don’t know, introductions are tricky. My name is Kerry and I’m a junior studying English and Spanish. The past month I was studying Spanish and Iberian Culture with a DU program in Santander, Spain. The program is now over and I am spending a little time traveling until September 1st. From then until December, I am participating in the ISA Hispanic Studies and Electives program in Sevilla, Spain. I chose to study abroad in Spain because I want to learn Spanish and experience a little European future and oh boy has Spain delivered. After only one month I can feel my Spanish improving emensily. The post below was written two weeks into my Santander program, so let’s all hop in our time machines and get to work.
English and Spanish at DU. I have been studying abroad in Spain for about a month (!!!!!!) already and I am head over heals in love. The past month I did a program with DU Spanish professors and students in Santander, Spain taking two classes in one month. Then, starting September 1st, I am participating in and ISA Hispanic Studies and Electives program in Sevilla, Spain. I wanted to study abroad in Spain to learn Spanish and to experience a bit of European culture and oh boy has Spain delivered. I can hear myself speaking Spanish with more confidence and fluidity. The blog post below was actually written when I was about 2 weeks into my program with Santander. So let’s hop in our time machines go back to the future¡¡¡¡
I have always been really bad at anticipating my emotions. Before a big event or a change in my life, I am incapable of really anticipate how that change will make me feel. For instance, when leaving school for the summer or for our long December break, I never really completely comprehend how much I am going to miss my friends. I see my friends crying and hugging each other so tightly it must hurt. I do hug my friends tight and say goodbye, but I never cry, or really feel much of anything. But then I leave and I find myself thinking about them at the most nonsensical times and my stomach twists and only then, I feel like crying. For instance right now, I am thinking of my excellent friend Tiffany. She is ridiculous in the most marvelous and fabulous of ways, and she was the one who encouraged me to tryout to be a DU blogger. I wouldn’t be “here” without her. And.. I’m crying. Send help Tiff.
Point is, I have never been good at foreseeing my emotions.
I’ve been in Spain now for a full week and, perhaps inevitably, I feel nothing like I thought I might. Honestly, I thought it would be weirder. I thought I would miss home and DU more. I thought it would be odd to live with a stranger in a home stay program and I thought I would be in a constant state of fear. I thought all of this on the way to the airport. I felt nothing but small waves of excitement the months of June and July and then, on the way to the airport, all my nerves hit me at once. My poor parents where trying to talk to me, the last in-person conversation for five months, and I shut down. Sorry Mom and Dad, I didn’t mean to.
But holy-guacamole I am having so much fun. (also like, guacamole. amirite?) The program I am a part of in Santander is a very work-intensive program. Last week, we had one day to explore the city, 7-8 hours of one class in 2 days and then a full day excursion. woof. These next 2 and ½ weeks are only going to get harder, and I even have a mid-term on Wednesday. Obviously, I am learning a lot. Outside of the many hours inside studying, my time here is invaluable (My time studying is also very important, the other stuff is just more fun).
One of the first notable experiences happened on Friday: the whole class went to this replica of a Celtic village. The Celtic people are a group of people indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula, and then the Roman’s came and conquered as Roman’s do (did). If you’ve seen the movie “Gladiator,” it’s more or less that. (Learned that shit in class last week). Before the excursion, we were told to dress “comfortably.” To us, that meant walking shoes, jeans or shorts, and some sort of shirt—casual, comfy, cute. Upon arrival, we were presented with a sizable hill. It was not that long of a walk up, however the plethora of cow mierda (google it) made the walk a little less enjoyable to say the least. Then, we met Raúl: straight up the smelliest man alive. He showed us how to build a house out of mud like the Celtics did—with water, dirt, and sticks
Then, he told us we were to help repair some damages the snow had caused in one of the houses. He said this is very fast Spanish, so there was a moment when we were all just looking at each other. “He didn’t just say.. no I must have heard wrong.. We’re doing what?” Nobody had any idea that we were going to have to basically roll around in the mud and build a house, and were thusly not dressed appropriately. We immediately bonded over the shared distaste for manual labor, in nice(ish) clothes, in the rain (it was raining). One hombre in my group was wearing new white vans–they were pink at the end of the day; he was so salty about it, but we all just laughed and laughed (parents: salty=angry, mad, bitter). Throughout the day and on the walk back in nice, wet cow mierda, I laughed harder than I had all summer. I realized then, the phenomenal group of people I had been thrown together with would make any walk through cow poop fun. (Mierda is Spanish for shit if you hadn’t caught on or googled that yet.)
Not to get too broad and preachy, but I think that that is a big part of being abroad. You can’t always know what you are going to do or how it is going to make you feel. When you are in a new circumstance, knowing how you will feel coming out of it is nearly impossible. You don’t know that you are only going to learn the Spanish word for shit by walking through it for ½ hour. You don’t know a smelly Spanish man named Raúl is going to, without warning, smear a bunch of mud all over your face for no reason. You don’t know not to wear your favorite, fancy pants to a Celtic village where all of your effort will be put into not ruining them. And you also cannot explain or control your reaction. But, sometimes with the right group of people, you can have a fond memory of cow poop. Study abroad you sneaky bastard you—thank you.
My name is Joe Aumuller. I am 20 years old, enjoy candle lit dinners, long walks on the beach, and just living the dream. I hail from the North Suburbs of Chicago, but I could easily fabricate a story about growing up with wolves in Scandinavia or being raised as a professional skydiver in Peru and include as many buzzwords as you would like. I’ll eat just about anything as long as it cannot look back at me, move, kill me upon ingestion, or happen to be organs (you could probably lie to me if you wanted me to eat these, but you’d have to be a better lier than Bill Clinton). In other news, I am studying abroad for the Fall 2015 semester in Brussels, Belgium at Vesalius College. If you want to know why I shipped myself here on a luxurious Irish airline with some suit cases, here are some words that I have written. If you like the way I put words together, read away, I’m going to keep writing them.
When people talk about study abroad it can have so many different connotations. For some, study abroad is a way to take a vacation for a few weeks that they may never be able to take again; for others, a life-changing semester or year completely immersed in another culture. This ultimately depends on a couple of factors: your school, your financial situation, your major, and what you are looking to receive from your experience. At the University of Denver, your study abroad is most commonly completed as a fall semester (this is due to the fact that a semester in the fall only conflicts with one academic quarter whereas in the spring it would conflict with two), however there are options to complete shorter periods during class interims and longer periods by petition. I chose to study abroad for the upcoming fall semester of 2015 because for me, it was logistically more sound than a yearlong study and I be immersed more than an interim period study.
Choosing a program was certainly difficult, as I had an idea of where I was thinking of going, but not how. From my previous travels and “study-abroad” experience in high school in France, I really wanted to return to a Francophone region where I could experience the culture through the local language (French). I was looking at both France, Switzerland, and Belgium as well as Francophone Africa. Needless to say after Ebola, the list shrank to France and Belgium. I decided I wanted to perfect my French in a professional environment, a challenge I had never experienced before, while enjoying the luxuries of convenient travel. While I applied to four programs, Paris and Brussels were my most desired options. Both programs provided traditional studies at a foreign university as well as the opportunity to complete an internship. I am aspiring to pursue a career in foreign relations, and the ability to work in a foreign country would be a valuable tool moving forward. I am thrilled to be headed to Belgium, but I would caution students: you may not receive your top choice or are nervous about finding the perfect program, study abroad is very similar to choosing a college at home. The choice you make is completely determined by what you are willing to put into your program, and almost always, the program you are least expecting can be the most rewarding. So as your friends apply to programs and hear back on acceptances be excited for them, but most importantly, be excited for yourself. Do not base your happiness off of that of another.
I have a lot on my mind before I travel to Belgium, but I think it is excitement rather than fear. I grew up moving and traveling internationally and no stranger to suit cases, planes, and the occasional cup of coffee in the morning. Every traveler is different, but I really love the thrill of going new places. What I’m most excited for is to use my French in Belgium, it will be my first time in a French-speaking country other than France. I find the language to be so fluid and dynamic, and the challenge of trying to blend in is always entertaining. I think my second most anticipated part of the program will be living on my own in an apartment in Brussels. Being independent in a city is the best way to immerse yourself.
As far as nerves go, I have not used my French actively in quite some time, but if it were perfect already, why would I be going in the first place? I have to believe that there will be some Zen-questioning moments (stolen items, lost items, getting lost, navigating foreign healthcare, etc.), but I’ll just deal with that when it happens. My final challenge, which to be honest I’m very excited to take on, is laundry at a foreign laundromat. If any European is dumb enough to steal my clothes I will be forced to buy more stylish clothes in Brussels (what a shame…). I’m sure the people-watching will prove equally entertaining.
A lot of people are asking me how I prepared for studying abroad, I will be blunt: I did not. I have completed all of the necessary steps to go to Brussels: visa application, the credit card, apartment lease, class registration, and internship applications. However, I did not do anything to really “prepare” myself to go to Brussels. This is for two reasons: one, I was unmotivated to do anything during this summer, and two, aside from the necessary packing, there’s no need to overthink. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is planning out every detail of study abroad like it’s a vacation. The whole point, in my humble opinion, is to challenge your status quo and to add spontaneity to your life. Studying abroad should be an adventure to anyone whether you’re in a tropical jungle or a concrete one. This being said, flexible and lethargic are different words. Packing, having the proper documentation, and researching how to travel safely are key parts to being a smart traveler. Ultimately, study abroad is going to be one wild ride, and to quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, “the question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.”
Like what you see? Follow the DU Study Abroad blog at duabroad.com or Joe Aumuller’s personal blog at jaumuller.wordpress.com
My name is Cassandra Gray, I’m going to be a senior at the University of Denver. I’m majoring in Management and I have minors in Biology and Chemistry. While I am studying abroad in Maastricht, Netherlands with the CES program, I will be only taking Management classes. I choose this location because it allowed me to only take Management classes and 4 classes transfers back as 5! So I am able to take all of my major electives abroad. I am very excited to be studying abroad! So I hope you enjoy my videos! If you have any questions – Feel free to leave me a comment.
Oh, María. That’s how I start many of my stories about my Spanish host mother. María was the best. She was a chubby, 68, year-old Salamanca native who had hosted students for 30 years, and made my study abroad experience 100 times better. We would huddle around my computer to watch Barcelona soccer matches, she would cook me paella every Sunday, and we would spend dinnertime joking around, watching terrible Spanish television, and talking about our days. When I would come home for a midnight snack, which was more like a 5-6am snack, María started calling me “The Ghost” and asking if “The Ghost” had visited the night before to raid our refrigerator.
Something wonderful about study abroad is that you have time to develop local relationships, whether they’re with your host family, roommate/flat-mate, or other students. No person I met on a weekend or week-long trip has ever impacted me as much as María did with her kindness and fun home atmosphere. She taught me to be more blunt and reinforced me to shamelessly laugh at myself, whenever possible.
Find Local Gems
Let’s just say Trip Advisor only goes so far. Yes, it will give you the best restaurants, destinations, etc., but sometimes you don’t want the “best” experience, you want a genuine one. My favorite spots in Salamanca were the ones I made my own, like the coffee shop I would go to after class to chat with Beatriz, who would give my friend Ian and I advice, or the Erasmus Bar where my team and I would play trivia every Wednesday (we won thrice, I might add). None of those places would make a website because they were unspectacular at face value, until you made a memory in them.
You live outside your comfort zone
Some say that growth comes from discomfort, which I agree with 100%. Growing as a person means exposing yourself to new experiences, feelings, and situations that lie outside of the status quo. The wonderful thing about study abroad is that you are uncomfortable all the time, so by default you’re growing all the time. Whether you’re navigating a new country in a new language, battling your way through classes, meeting new people, missing old people, or finding your niche in your new home, study abroad is difficult at times, and it SHOULD BE. If everything has a shiny exterior and you never come across a meaningful challenge, you miss the depth that leads to growth. There was one weekend, pretty early into my study abroad experience, where the eight people I knew were out of town, and I almost went Jack Nicholson-style The Shining on everyone due to cabin fever. That experience prompted me to be more proactive, but also helped me learn how to be alone and made me a better person.
You learn street smarts AND book smarts
First of all, when you’re studying abroad, you’re ideally doing some studying. Wow, novel concept here, I know.
While I was in Spain, I took Portuguese classes, a class on the history of the Jews in Spain, a class on Spanish literature, and the History of Philosophy, of which I learned a lot, to the point where I still have trouble calling philosophers by their English names. Aristotle or Aristoteles? I don’t know either…
But, moreover, you also learn street smarts. You learn the skills necessary to navigate uncomfortable situations (cough, exactly what I mentioned in the last reason, cough). I had my passport stolen my first night in Morocco, which makes most problems a cakewalk when I face them now. At least I’m not in a foreign country and speak none of the national languages desperately trying to find a way home…
You have the opportunity to travel and live in the world.
Now, in case you were worried, I’m not advocating for a study abroad trip with no travel when I mentioned finding local gems and forging local relationships. I had a blast visiting other places in Europe while I was abroad and have many friends whose travel stories are mind-blowing. What I am advocating for is for you to soak it up when you’re out there. This is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity, make sure you leave a different person than when you entered.
I recently read a fascinating article on how to maximize your happiness (You can click here for the article). Essentially, the article reports that scientists have found the quest for happiness comes through experience, rather than material gains. In essence, we are happier when we DO more rather than OWN more.
Now, how does this relate to study abroad?
Studying and living abroad is an incredible experience by itself, and an investment worth making. Studies have shown that study abroad returnees report having higher confidence, experience better job placement, gained career interest from the experience, and much more (see one of many reports here). So, naturally, my first bit of advice for budgeting is to budget to study abroad, if you haven’t already. I highly doubt you’ll regret the experience.
So now you’re abroad. How do you make sure that your money is going to good use? Naturally, all college students have different budgets. Some can afford to live lavishly, others have to conserve their money very tightly. For those who are watching their purse strings a little more closely, here are a couple pointers that I found that really enriched my study abroad experience.
BILLY MAYS HERE, I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU GET SAVINGS, SAVINGS, SAVINGS!!!
I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help the infomercial joke. But seriously, know your exchange rate before you leave home and how much you can or want to spend. Cost of living could significantly increase or decrease abroad, so save everything you can before you go. I worked 3 part-time jobs the summer before I went abroad to help pay for it. Believe me, you’ll want every penny, and you can always do whatever you “missed out” on when you come home.
Plan a list of adventures you would like to do during your time abroad
Anticipating and planning adventures is probably one of the most exciting things on the planet. Seriously, I have published a list of all the things I want to do in my life online (my bucket list), because I have way too much fun with this stuff. Know what you might want to do while you’re living abroad, whether that be backpacking Patagonia, attending a England-New Zealand rugby match at Wembley Stadium in London, going on a SCUBA diving trip along the Great Barrier Reef, walking the Camino de Santiago, or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro (I have friends who did all of these things). They knew they wanted to DO something special while they were abroad, and budgeted accordingly.
Find atypical adventures
What I mean by this is that hopefully, at some point in your life, you’ll have the opportunity to be a tourist. When will you have the opportunity to LIVE abroad and have access to the little-known nooks and crannies of your continent? For me, this meant when I traveled, I wanted to go to atypical places. So, rather than see the Eiffel Tower and taking a picture of my finger touching the top of the Louvre’s pyramid in Paris, *cough* boring and cliché *cough*, I went to Croatia, cliff jumped in the Adriatic Sea, shared a 50cc scooter with my friend and travel buddy, Garret, and visited the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site Plitvice National Park. I DID something out of the ordinary, and it was the best traveling I did abroad.
Have an it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that good things just happen around you. My friends and family call it “Spiro Luck”, because I have the uncanny ability to get a good break when I need it most. Many people refuse to play games with me anymore because of “Spiro Luck”, and perhaps my penchant for excessively celebrating after winning…
Back to my point, one of the things I found when I was abroad was that opportunities presented themselves, so plan for the unexpected. One of the craziest experiences I had while abroad was that I got to attend the Clasico, the biannual soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in Barcelona. I planned to be in the city for the match and to experience the atmosphere, but getting tickets were nigh impossible. That was until a miracle happened. A member of my travel group was accidentally given two tickets instead of one, and I got to go with him for a half-priced, nose-bleed ticket. Without having my it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund, I couldn’t have gone. Being at that game, where the glorious Barcelona won 2-1, was one of the most incredible experiences I had abroad. I still have to pinch myself to remember that it was real. Remember to have a little something to draw on if there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You won’t regret DOING it.
Find local adventures that are free, or at least cheap
Some of my best memories from studying abroad are those that didn’t cost me a dime. In my first week in Salamanca, Spain, I joined the local Ultimate Frisbee team, where I met many of my local friends from abroad, and had a fantastic, fun time practicing every Tuesday and Thursday. I played pick-up soccer every weekend and explored the culture of Salamanca. I jammed with a three good friends on the steps of the cathedral in Salamanca and got a crowd of other students to listen. I took the bus into Madrid and spent the day visiting the modern art museum, then walked around the city for hours. I took the train to Toledo for a day, just because I could. While not as eye-popping as the travel stories, they were the ones that truly defined my study abroad experience. What I DID was worth spending money on, unquestionably, and I didn’t need to always break the bank to make a lasting memory.
Today at work, I got the chance to reminisce. This, by far, is the best part of my job: once a week or so, I get to give a presentation to students about to go abroad detailing my experience studying abroad. So for our blog this week, I chose 9 extremely superficial things that have still stuck with me over a year since I returned from Salamanca that I tell other students about ALL the time:
Anytime dinner is before 8 o’clock, you get very flustered.
Bedtime and wake-up time seem eerily similar…
You try using vosotros in class, to find your classmates utterly confused/disgusted.
Don Simón has utterly ruined your taste for sangria.
Only walks over 30 minutes are considered a “trek”.
You have AGGRESSIVELY chosen a side in the Real Madrid, Barcelona feud.
Any “small” coffee in the US looks insanely large.
Whole legs of pig no longer phase you.
Nap time errday. Enough said.
Believe me, study abroad left a much larger impression than 9 little idiosyncrasies. Sometimes, though, it’s funny that the little things are easier to remember than the personal growth, the increase in confidence, and the maturation that inevitably occurs when you survive and thrive a new environment. However, despite all that, it doesn’t make getting used to an early dinner any easier.
Recently, one of our DUSA Bloggers had a quote that really resonated with me. She wrote, “After living here for 5 months, I don’t really see how people can travel places for only two, three weeks at a time. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it in the future. There’s no time to build a routine, find the fastest way home because you’ve literally walked every possible route, find your ice cream shop where they start only charging you 75 cents instead of the very steep 80 ‘because you’re so sweet.’ Where is the living?”
I found myself in a very similar situation this past break. For the first time since coming home from study abroad, I found myself outside the United States. I was traveling in Israel on a tour bus with 40 young adults aged 21-26 for 10 days. The trip illuminated some fascinating distinctions for me, and I’ll describe those now.
What struck me first were the difficulties in traveling en mass. My entire life, I had never travelled outside of Colorado with more than 10 people. The words “all”, “inclusive”, and “resort” put together sounded like nails on a chalkboard to my family. Going off the beaten path was something we strived to do, so much so that my mother once had a trip agenda to “walk into open courtyards.” That sounded eerily like trespassing to me at the time, but thankfully went off without a hitch and I saw some pretty neat courtyards.
While studying abroad, my desire to explore on foot and without an agenda had a profound impact on my experience. I learned the intricacies of Salamanca, Spain, my host-city, by running aimlessly: a right turn here, a left turn there, until I wandered my way home. Walking in a lemming-like train of 40 people allowed no room for creativity and encouraged a sheltered view of the cities we visited.
What struck me further, however, was my craving for depth. My wanderings in Salamanca led me to my favorite coffee shop, where my friend Ian and I would go to chat and get advice from Beatriz, the shop’s owner. The get-on-the-bus, get-off-the-bus mentality robbed me of my opportunity to find hidden gems, like Beatriz’s coffee shop.
This, I feel is the difference between traveling and living. Traveling is like eating the icing off the top of the cake: it’s briefly tasty, a little too sweet, and doesn’t fully satisfy you. The meat, or cake in this analogy, of the experience is finding the richness and density only living in a place will give you.
More importantly, however, I think the trip taught me the difference between tourism and adventure. To me, tourism is scripted. There are assigned places for you to be at certain times. More than just being scripted, it is an experience catered to you through another person’s eyes. Adventuring, on the other hand, is taking traveling into your own hands, exploring at your own pace, and looking at a new place through your own lens. Going on an adventure is an intense, individual experience.
So, in short, here’s what I would recommend. Try to live while you’re studying abroad, and if you don’t have the time to live, adventure. Always be an adventurer.
Most of the students here at DU study abroad during the fall quarter of their junior year. A lot of things happen during that time, including Discoveries Orientation, Homecoming, Sorority Recruitment, Fraternity Rush, and other campus events. Included in those events are the holidays we Americans have come to know and love, including Thanksgiving.
Obviously, the rest of the world does not celebrate the American Thanksgiving, and *shocker* not everyone knows anything about it, when it is, or why we love it so much.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday at home, so when I realized that I would be spending it in France I was a little sad. No Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? No waking up to the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie? None of my family traditions?
Even though I didn’t spend my Thanksgiving at home with my parents and closest friends, this Thanksgiving was one of my favorites in a long time.
1. Find other Americans in your area, and have a meal with them.
The American students in my program all got together and we made a very “France-Giving” at one of my friends houses with her host family. We made 2 chickens, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, apple pie, and a cranberry-upside-down cake. Even though we all had classes on Thanksgiving, it was really fun to get together and make a meal for everyone.
2. Share a meal that is traditional in your host culture.
It can be really hard to find the ingredients to make a more traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Canned pumpkin does not exist in France. When I asked my host mom where I could find canned pumpkin to make a pie, she made a face and asked why I would want to eat pumpkin out of a can. She then proceeded to offer making the pumpkin puree out of an actual pumpkin, which was slightly intimidating. If you are having a hard time finding certain elements of a specific meal, try making something else. We ended up having different cheeses for an appetizer!
3. Make a meal for your friends from other countries and/or your host parents.
While you are studying abroad and learning about a different culture, the people you meet also want to learn about your culture, your life, and what makes you unique. Thanksgiving is a perfect example of a cultural exchange, plus you can make a nice meal for those you have come to consider family.
– Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
I cannot believe that the four months in France have absolutely flown by! I’m back in Denver when it seems like not that long ago I was getting on a plane to head out on my next great adventure.
What an adventure it has been.
It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve done everything I have in the four short months I spent in Caen, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything different with my time there. Now that I’m home, I’ve had some time to think about my favorite memories of my time in Caen, and I wanted to share them all with you.
Going to the Beach
As a Colorado native, I obviously do not get the pleasure of going to the beach whenever I want. However, in Caen, I went frequently, and certainly more times in a month than I had in my previous 20 years of life combined.
As a history major, I was constantly in awe of the incredible historical significance of the place I found myself. Over 50% of Caen was destroyed during WWII, but before that was a stronghold of William the Conqueror. Everywhere I went in Normandy, there was something famous historically. Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Caen, the various beaches of the invasion of Normandy (D-Day) which happened 70 years ago in 2014 – it was all incredible.
All of my classes were French, so I got a great handle on the language and culture of this amazing country. For a while, it was really awesome to pretend I was French. Every time someone asked me for directions in the street (en français), and I could help them, it was definitely an achievement!
Denver has been my home for 21 years. It was so rewarding to figure out another city – the transportation, layout, people, etc – and on top of that, have that city in another country! Caen really came to feel like home, which was one of the best feelings.
On top of that, I found one of my favorite places in France, Memoranda, a café and bookshop where I would spend hours pouring over books and pots of tea and apple crumbles with my awesome friends.
I had an incredible host family who were so patient, funny, and kind, and who really helped me adjust to life in France. I met some amazing friends in my classes who I know will be my friends for a very, very long time.
I know I will miss France a lot over the coming months, especially readjusting to life in Denver and life at DU. These are some of the best memories I will have, and I know I will cherish them for a long time to come.
– Zoe, DUSA Blogger
Academic Programs International, Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
On my last night in Seville, three friends and I are waiting to take the metro home when one turns to the group and asks, “What do you think is the most important thing that studying abroad taught you?” It sounds dangerously close to a question that would be asked in an interview with a potential employer and I get nervous in spite of myself. I try to think of something true but not too clichéd.
The unfortunate thing about clichés is that they represent a feeling that strikes so many people as genuine that they become popular, then overused to the point that even those that don’t truly understand them use them, their sentiments, in turn, becoming disingenuous. I want to say something about how studying abroad has changed me as a person, about how I feel definitely yet indefinably different. Yet “study abroad changed me,” sounds like one of the most trite and possibly insincere comments one could make.
I can imagine the fictitious interviewer’s response: “Sure, study abroad has changed you, but how?”
Another unfortunate thing about clichés is that they’re hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced the feelings that inspired them. So, I decide to go with something more concrete.
“I think I’ve learned that that I would rather try something new even if it scares me than miss out on the opportunity,” I say. The group agrees. Study abroad may be fun and exciting but it also carries moments of stress and confusion. Over the past four months I have, on several occasions, found myself in situations that are outside of my comfort zone and I have survived each of them without incident. Through each new experience I have become more confident in my ability to adapt to a foreign environment and realized that I am capable of handling a lot more than I originally thought. While trying new things hasn’t necessarily become any less scary, I’m happy to ignore my fears. Being a little scared is worth the memories made, people met, and skills learned.
The next day, as I’m sitting on my plane back to the U.S., I can’t help but think about how different I feel from when I was on my flight to Spain in September. I remember being so anxious I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts were caught in a rapid cycle of wondering if I was going to catch the bus to the hotel, if I could get a taxi and direct the driver to the hotel if I missed the bus, what my roommate would be like and more, all the while being disoriented by the constant Spanish being spoken around me. Now, I feel calm and relaxed. I’ve taken several taxis and been able to communicate with the drivers perfectly well (despite my Spanish not exactly being perfect). I think about how I’ll miss my roommate and my housemother. I’m content to listen to people speaking Spanish all around me; it’s become my norm. I’ve changed in so many ways, and as I think more about the experience, these changes become more easily definable. Here’s a short list of what I’ve gained along the way:
Better foreign language ability
Not everyone will have the same experience. The only certainty is that study abroad will change you, not always in a way that is easily explainable to others or even easily understandable to yourself, but that is nevertheless immeasurably valuable.
When I first arrived here in France, I wasn’t sure what my day-to-day life would look like. Every day, it seemed that I would wake up, and have something new to figure out. Where is the Tram stop? What is the nearest bus station to the Université? How do I order my coffee? How much time will it take to do this homework? For the first few weeks, every day looked different, as I adjusted to classes and found my way around the town of Caen. Now, about halfway through the program, I feel like I have finally settled into a routine and figured out how to live abroad. Here’s what a typical day is like:
My day starts with a nice, small breakfast with my host parents. I don’t normally eat breakfast at home, and I’ll just have a cup of coffee before class. Here, we have toasted baguette, Nutella, and coffee or tea. It’s nice and small, but the perfect way to start out the day! If we have time, we will sit and talk about the plans we have for the day ahead, or discuss politics, art, or music. Try talking about President Obama at 8:00 in the morning… en français.
I then take the Tram to the Université. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my first class starts at 10:15, and on Thursdays, my first class is at 8:30. The Tram is always super crowded, but I manage to wedge myself in there! That’s something about France that I can’t quite get used to… the utter lack of personal space. I’m getting more and more used to it, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a sardine can.
All of my classes are in French, and sometimes starting out early is difficult. I enjoy my classes, and my professors are really funny and incredibly patient with my peculiarities.
We get an hour for lunch every day, and it’s actually used for lunch! Some days, my friends and I eat the Restaurant Universitaire, or the Resto, and sometimes we forgo the Resto in favor of a “pique-nique” of baguette sandwiches. When it’s nice outside, we will find a patch of grass and sit under a tree, but when it’s raining (which happens a few times a week), we sit in the stairwell of the Carré International Building. There are a lot of windows, and it’s fun to people watch and discuss our classes and favorite professors. I like actually taking the time to eat and relax with my friends! No doing last minute homework or returning emails for me!
I finish my courses at 4:00 pm, and afterwards my friends and I go to a café to relax. We have a favorite café in Caen called Memoranda, which is also a bookstore. I usually get tea and an apple crumble. We have become regulars so the lady who works at the café now knows us (and she knows my order, which is quite funny!).
I don’t eat dinner with my host parents until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, so when I get back to our apartment I still have some time before dinner. I try to finish my homework before dinner, and after dinner I might sit with them and watch television, or study, blog, write postcards to my friends, skype my parents, or just read.
We usually drink tea after dinner, and will either watch TV or I will go back to my room. If we have guests for dinner, we’ll stay in the kitchen and talk. After socializing, I will get ready for bed, finish my homework, and read for a little bit before actually going to sleep around 11:30 pm or midnight (only if we talk for a long time).
I thrive on my routine at DU, and having a routine in Caen has made me feel like I’m not only a foreigner intruding on the bubble of this wonderful college town in lower Normandy, but an actual resident who is living and thriving here. For me, it has been one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest successes, to feel at home in Caen, and I think I finally do.
– Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
After more than a month in Spain, I have a new level of respect for anyone who decides to move to a country where they will have to speak a different language. Even the simplest sentiments can be difficult to translate. Oftentimes, it takes me about twice as long to say the same sentence in Spanish as it would take to say it in English. Sometimes I hold up my hand, say “espera,” and take a minute to search for the word I need. And every once in a while, after staring into space for far too long, I sigh and say, “no importa.”
Though I try to practice as much as possible, it hasn’t been as easy as I expected. Originally, I imagined myself speaking Spanish all the time once I got off the plane in Madrid but it soon became clear that our program coordinators were going to communicate with us almost exclusively in English. Whenever I was hanging out with other people in my program they spoke English too. After a couple weeks I felt myself comfortably slipping into speaking English whenever I could, which was often, considering all my friends were Americans from our program.
Wait, I would think every so often. This isn’t what I came here to do. It felt wrong to only ever be speaking in Spanish when I was with my host mom or in class. Wasn’t I supposed to be trying to immerse myself in this new language? At the same time, I didn’t want to ask my friends to try to have Spanish-only conversations with me, and I really did not want to attempt to ask a native speaker if they ever wanted to chat. I’ve played out the scenario in my head, and the only way it ever ends is badly. So badly. And awkwardly.
The perfect solution to my problem came a few weeks after we started classes: an intercambio. In Spanish, the word intercambio means “exchange,” and in this instance the exchange is vocal. Our university matches us up with a native Spanish-speaking university student who wants to practice speaking English and, once we’re given their contact information, it’s up to us to set up a meeting and start practicing.
Intercambios are the best thing to happen to my Spanish conversational skills since the Spanishdict app. I’ve met with many of my friends’ intercambios as well as my own, and they are all extremely friendly and speak near-flawless English too boot. They help you with your grammar mistakes and teach you slang that varies from the useful to the, well, less-than-appropriate.
The other night I had my first dinner out where it was just me with my intercambio and her Spanish-speaking friends. To say the least, it was intimidating. Not a word of English was spoken. Many times I ended up grimacing because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to react with surprise, disgust, or happiness. The pace of conversation was so fast that whole minutes passed with stories flying over my head as constantly nibbled on my food to make it look like I had a reason for my silence. Every once in a while, my intercambio would turn to me and translate a story that had just passed, rapid-fire and full of slang I don’t know, between her two friends.
Though the experience may have been a little bewildering, it was fulfilling in a way that spending a night speaking in English wouldn’t have been. I felt like, though I struggled, I was accomplished in some way.
And the things worth accomplishing, the ones that leave us with a sense of pride after we’ve achieved them, are the ones that present the hardest struggle along the way.
To help with navigating the struggle that is overcoming the language barrier, I’ve compiled some facts/ tips that I’ve picked up in the last month and a half:
You will be scared. Don’t be. Nervousness may keep you from saying something wrong, but it will never allow you the chance to learn how to say it right.
(Most) people appreciate your efforts. Speaking in a country’s native language shows an appreciation for the people and their culture, and you are more likely to run into people who will help you through a conversation than people who will judge you for your mistakes.
Learning a language takes time; progress may seem slow, but as long as you keep practicing it will happen. Everyday phrases will become easier when you actually start using them everyday.
Sometimes the only reason you understand what people are saying is because of the accompanying hand signals they make.
Just today I had an entire conversation with my tapas professor using hand motions and sounds to imitate what food would sound like in the pan. Seriously. (And it was probably the most entertaining conversation I had all day). You can get by even when you don’t have the words to, so don’t get flustered when you can’t figure out what you need to say.
Hello! Just finished my first week of classes abroad. I am taking three classes: a management class that covers a requirement back at DU, a history of Wales class covering the age of Princes, and a Making Snowdonia geography class. The latter is a field course, so five weeks of lectures about the environment and neighboring national park, but then in week six the class goes on field trips around Snowdonia National Park to different sites to learn about the agriculture, geology, plants, and animals of the area. I have class a day for one or two hours depending on the class, so there’s a lot of downtime in my life right now. It’ll get busier as the semester progresses I’m sure with papers and tests. My weekly schedule is never the same because each class session is revered in itself because it might be taught by a different professor and they have planned to a T what will happen. It’s a little irritating but it is what it is. Also, every other week or so there is a tutorial session where the class is broken into smaller groups and attendance is recorded to monitor our progress.
The dorm is very nice. I like having my own little room to come to at the end of every day. The kitchen is shared with six other people. I have cooked a few times. Last Tuesday I thought I started the stove, so I had my pot with the water I thought was boiling on top, but turns out I had just turned the oven on. My Scottish flatmate came in and asked me if I was using “the hob” and I replied “the what???” and she then turned off oven and turned on the stove so whew no harm done with the accidental turning on of oven. For future reference for myself, hob = stove. Although the dorms are very new and very clean, there have apparently in the past been problems with the fire alarms. All over the door to my room and in the kitchen there are signs warning against false fire alarms due to unattended cooking, aerosol use, or steam from showers. And every Thursday they do a sound check of the system. So I am always very nervous that the alarm will go off since it is notoriously triggered easily. My “RA” (who are called Wardens here, and the individual dorm buildings are known as blocks…) when giving the safety talk to our flat said that there will be a fire drill sometime soon and one IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… awesome..just awesome.
I mentioned in my first post that Bangor is a very hilly city. And boy is that the truth. Everyday I’m walking somewhere and huffing and puffing up and down these hills carrying my bag. The city is classified into two parts: Upper Bangor and Lower Bangor. Upper Bangor is where the university is situated and where I live; lower Bangor is where the high street is and the railway station and bigger grocery stores. The hill that I walk that connects the two is fondly known as “B**ch Hill” by the students. I had heard about this infamous part of Bangor before coming to Bangor but I’d thought it the hill from the site my dorm is on to Morrison’s the grocery store, so when I had felt like the walk to Morrison’s was actually pretty easy, the universe laughed and I found the bigger hill.
I really do walk everywhere. Today, for example, I think I trekked 6+ miles round trip to Penrhyn Castle just outside the city. So my feet hurt all the time and my shoes are already being worn down! But hopefully all this walking will mean great legs for ski season!
During welcome week, the university held their giant two day “Fresher’s Fair” full of all of the clubs and societies available. I ended up putting my name down for the majority because hey it’s fun and a lot of the tables had free stuff. This week the clubs and societies had taster sessions to go to if you wanted more information about the particular club. Thus far I have gone to a Mad Hatter tea party for the Books and Quills club, a craft night for the craft club, a BBQ for the gardening club, and a grub crawl for the Christian Union. I don’t know (or think) I will official join anything but all of these were a great way to meet more people and experience their uni life.
It’s all a overwhelming experience so far but I take it day by day and I constantly remind myself to soak it all in because this is once in a lifetime and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have thus far! Can’t wait to see what’s next!
So you know how approximately half of “studying abroad” includes the word “studying” right? Yes, family and friends, I am in a different country and it’s not a vacation. When you study abroad, you do actually have to learn things, maybe even attend class (read: go to class).
I love school. I always have loved school, and some of my favorite moments have been in the classroom with amazing professors studying something that I found absolutely riveting. Therefore, I was so excited for September 8 to arrive in France, because that’s when I started my classes. I imagined sitting in a European classroom (whatever that means) speaking eloquent French with other students from exotic locales, sharing our insights into historical events and current affairs.
Flash forward into reality, and I am sitting in a European classroom (which has a striking similarity to my American ones), speaking elementary French with other students from around the world, sharing my valiant attempt at completing my grammar exercises. Hardly the dream that I had built up in my head.
While I am learning a lot about the French language in my classes, and I have met some really smart and interesting people, it is certainly not the picture I had painted in my head. Most of my classes are about learning the French language and learning about France, which means grammar, phonetics, communication (oral and written), geography, and literature. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have different types of classes too, as I get to take a gastronomy class where my “homework” was to find and eat three different types of pastries. Needless to say, I finished that assignment and passed with flying colors.
There are a lot of differences between school in the United States, and school around the world. Some of these differences I have found to be overwhelming and frustrating, while some of these differences seem to make a lot of sense. After the first three weeks, I have compiled a list of the things that I have found to be different about school in France.
1. Time is not a definitive entity.
I’m the type of person that thinks that if you don’t show up 15 minutes early… you’re late. So when I thought I was going to be late for my 8:30 am literature class, I was panicking. When I arrived exactly at 8:31, the door to the classroom wasn’t even open yet. Most of my professors may roll into class 10 to 15 minutes later than the time printed on our schedules, and sometimes they let us out early.
I also tend to rely heavily on my syllabi throughout my quarter at DU, but when I tried to ask one of my professors for a syllabus, she just kind of laughed and asked me what it was. The closest thing to a syllabus that I have received in Caen is the dates for my exams… written on the whiteboard.
2. University is not “school,” nor is it “college.”
In French, “l’école” translates to school, but is used to refer to elementary school. “College” is middle school, and “lycée” is high school. While in the US, I use the words “school” and “college” interchangeably to refer to my studies at the university, but whenever I say “l’école” or “college” to my host parents, they give me a quizzical look and clarify that I mean “université” or university.
3. Backpacks are for tourists.
Most of the students at the university use tote bags or messenger bags for class. For the most part, only men or international students use backpacks. This isn’t just for style (although according to one of my French friends… backpacks are not very stylish) it’s actually practical. Women typically use tote bags that have zippers on them because pickpockets target those who have open bags or backpacks, especially on the crowded public transportation, and it’s easier to hold a totebag in your lap on the tram or hold it close to your body.
4. I’m wrong. A lot.
I spend all day thinking, reading, writing, and speaking in French. All of my classes are in French, and all of my interactions with my host family are in French. It’s only natural that when I’m spending approximately 90% of my day doing everything in a different language that I say something wrong a few times. In my phonetics class, my professor has taken to calling the little things I have trouble with “les peculiarités de Zoé.” While at first this bothered me, and I would actively stop myself from answering questions in class out of fear of being wrong, I’ve realized that it’s actually okay and helpful, so now I can really work on those things I struggle with.
5. Who needs to be hydrated?
I cannot find a reusable water bottle for the life of me. I have been to basically every grocery store, sporting goods store, and a few random home goods stores, and I cannot find a reusable water bottle. I have yet to find a definitive answer as to why that is… but for the most part I think it just because you don’t really eat or drink anything unless you are at a meal. Students don’t eat in class, and you only drink water in class, or coffee in the morning. We get an hour for lunch every day, and it is actually used for lunch. In the US, when I have lunch with my friends we consider it a date, but in France eating lunch with my friends is just something that we do, and it’s a sacred time. You will not find people finishing homework at the lunch table when they are with their friends and a baguette sandwich.
6. I’ve learned the most outside the classroom.
I have loved learning the language in class, and I have met some seriously awesome people from all over the world. However, I feel like a lot of the things I’ve learned about life and living in a different country haven’t been from my grammar class or trying to figure out the different ways to pronounce the letter “e.” I’ve learned about WWII from visiting museums and going to the actual beaches where the Invasion of Normandy actually happened. I’ve learned about William the Conquerer from walking through the castle that’s older than the United States of America (I just can’t get over that) and I’ve learned about different types of French cuisine from talking to vendors at the market. Instead of reading about all of these things in books, I am living them. To me, that is the most amazing difference, as well as the most overwhelming difference, of them all.
Adjusting to college life in a different country has been an adventure in its own right. I have definitely had my moments of sheer panic, where I didn’t understand anything that was being explained to me, and moments of extreme frustration, where it didn’t seem like anything was going to come together for me, but also moments of excitement, when I finally understood a concept that I had been struggling with (I literally gave myself a high-five in my grammar class the other day). However, I have adjusted and have found that learning in French, while more challenging, is also extremely rewarding.
York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.
I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.
The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.
So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.
Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.
And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.
Judging by the first two weeks I’ve spent in Spain, I will feel like I have packed in a whole lifetime’s worth of experiences by the time my three and a half months here are up. Time here feels contradictorily fast and slow – while two weeks has felt more like a month, I’m already lamenting the fact that I didn’t decide to study abroad for a whole year.
The feeling that time has been warped is due in part to how busy I have been. While at home I’m more apt to pass up activities in favor of relaxation, here I have been embracing the “you’re only here once” mentality and have therefore had days that never seem to end (but have taught me that I hit my limit somewhere around 4:00am). When days last that long and almost every moment is full, some experiences are bound to be less enjoyable than others. Sometimes I feel excited by new things. Other times, I just feel alienated. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to keep in mind something one of our program directors told us on our first day here: “No one’s culture is good or bad, or better or worse than another – they’re just different.” Reminding myself of this from time to time helps alleviate the unavoidable awkwardness that comes with learning different customs and a different language. Bearing this in mind, I have tried to categorize some of my experiences thus far into three categories. First, I’ll list ones that have been truly good. Second, the truly bad. And third, the “different” – experiences which are both good and bad in turns and which I will eventually come to embrace as simply new realities that shape my life here.
The Good (+)
Okay, so maybe I’m still bitter that they cruelly took away naptime from us post-Kindergarten, but I’m strongly in favor of the semi-official 2-5pm naptime that Spaniards have built into their schedule.
In the first week, whenever I started feeling homesick and I went on a tour with my program, I instantly felt better. The historical sights are so beautiful and interesting that you can’t help getting caught up in the moment.
As a plus, these excursions allow you to meet all the great people you’re studying abroad with! Bond while exploring a new city and taking all the same tourist-y selfies.
The Bad (-)
The first day we arrived in Seville, one of the host families mistakenly loaded a piece of my luggage in their car. I realized how dependent I am on my laptop after three days without it.
The Different (+/-)
You walk almost everywhere in Spain, which can be a good workout. (+)
If you walk too much your feet will hurt, you will get blisters, your ankles will get swollen, and you’re going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all over again. (-)
My university is outside of the city (as in, it’s in walking distance of nothing) and unless you feel like biking on the highway you have to pay to ride the metro every day. (-)
The metro is new and efficient, and the ride can actually be nice if it’s not too crowded. (+)
The typical Spaniard dresses with much more flair and general effortlessness than the typical American (read: it’s possible yoga pants don’t even exist here). So, you will either end up blatantly sticking out as a foreigner (-) or you’ll have to go shopping (+)
Spain is cash-based – it’s rare to pay with a credit card (and it’s a hassle if you don’t have the microchip that is standard in Europe). Using cash is a bit more complicated experience, especially when the denominations are different from what I’m used to. (-)
The euro is valued more than the dollar, which basically means that once I came to Spain and exchanged my money I was poorer than I was in the US. (-)
However, paying in cash also helps to keep me on a budget. It’s a lot easier to keep track of how much I’m spending when I can physically see how much I have left every time I look in my wallet. (+)
This is only a brief look at what my life in Spain has been like, and so far I can say that the good points definitely outweigh the bad. The cultural differences are starting to feel like they are just that – different, new, exciting, though at times overwhelming. Every day I am so glad to be here, to be absorbing a new culture, and to be learning how to adjust to the many nuances it holds.
The realization that I’ll be going to study abroad at the University of York in England for an entire year come mid-September still hasn’t quite sunk in. Most of my prep work is done, but every now and then the gravity of an exchange year starts to hit me.
There are a couple of questions that have been running through my head regarding this whole thing, and I thought I’d answer myself here.
Aren’t you scared to go abroad for a whole year?
Of course I am. I’m equal parts terrified and jumping-up-and-down excited about the whole thing. I love to travel and would like to believe I do so quite well, but Colorado is my home and it will be very hard to only spend about six weeks in my home over the next year.
Won’t you miss your friends? Will they even be your friends when you get back?
Being who I am-a person who loves fiercely, hates rejection, and has lost several very close friends over the years-this is a real worry for me. But like always, the logical and emotional parts of my brain are messy housemates. Emotional me is crying that I’ll have an amazing time abroad and then come back with no friends. Logical me is remembering that one of my dearest friends from high school lives a couple of thousand miles away from me and yet he’s still my best friend. We don’t get to talk to each other near as often as we would like, but when you have a friendship as genuine and as sweet as that, it’s not easily broken. And I think I can say the same for my friends here at DU. We won’t get to talk nearly as often as we do now living together and seeing each other every day. But they are special enough to me that I won’t just drop them, and I know they won’t do that to me either.
You’ll be doing an awful lot of travelling alone. Doesn’t that scare you?
It absolutely does! But after spending a few weeks way outside my comfort zone in southern Kenya, I learned that big risks pay off massive dividends. The payoff doesn’t negate any of the rough parts in the middle-loneliness, getting sick, missing home, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake in a particularly dark moment. I felt all of those things in Kenya. But it was and remains a trip I hold close to my heart. And I’m ready for the bits where I travel alone. I won’t be completely alone, as I’ll be meeting up with friends in pretty much every place that I go to. Taking intentional time alone and journaling and actually going and doing things (museums, hikes, that sort of thing) by myself help me to grow content with my own company and to get to know my own head. Those are vitally important, as again, I’m the one who has to live with that stuff on a daily basis.
The bottom line is that come fall, I will be embarking on a crazy scary year. But I’m doing it on purpose. Doing scary stuff on purpose is pretty good for you, I think. Keeps a girl on her toes.