We Found Love in a Hope-Filled (Za’atari Refugee Camp)

This post is long overdue for many reasons. I have been in Jordan for three weeks now and have not had the urge to write down my experiences and share them. Well, that’s not true. I’ve had so many moments and times and inspirations to put my experiences into words, but I’ve been scared. I’ve been scared because I want to do these experiences justice. I don’t want to let people down. Then I had a dear friend remind me that this space and this blog isn’t a place where judgement is welcome. It’s my space to invite you in to take a peek at the wonderful moments that are perfectly imperfect. That’s all. And there is one moment, one day in particular that is imperative to share and frankly, I have a responsibility to do so because of the life-changing, eye-opening capacity this day embodied. So – here it goes.

On September 19th, my study abroad group had the incredible opportunity to visit the Za’atari refugee camp, a refugee camp that currently is called home by about 80,000 Syrian refugees. I won’t spend this time delving into the facts about Za’atari, but take a moment to educate yourself about this particular camp because it’s commonly called a “model” refugee camp (if there really is such a thing). If included in Jordan’s population count, it is the fourth-largest “city”. In my opinion, Za’atari looks and functions as it’s own city.

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We started our morning with meeting with a member of the Jordanian police and a women from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who gave us a quick overview of how the camp runs and answered our eager questions. We were scheduled to then visit an NGO called Questscope.

Questscope is an NGO that is run by Syrians for Syrians within the camp. It is a safe-space where youth can come to seek mentors, knowledge, art, and everything in between. Syrian adults have the chance to be mentors and teachers of their craft to the Syrian youth who are seeking a haven to be themselves and regain some sense of normalcy.  Questscope offers alternative education for the youth who have lost years of education when “formal” schooling is sometimes not an option. We started by getting an overview and history of Questscope and what they are advocating. They are advocates of dreams. The selfless people who work/volunteer for Questscope strive to unlock the abundant potential that these Syrian youth have bursting from their souls.

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Some of the workers from Questscope we had the privilege of meeting. (Photo courtesy of Questscope blog)

After a quick tour of Questscope’s facility (which is comprised of caravans),  I was in awe. Syrian youth have access to a library, computers, art supplies, sports facilities and trainings, and most importantly, support. One of the most prominent images that stuck with me after this tour was the art space. The art work these people created wasn’t bleak or sad – it was joyous and unique. I didn’t see art that could have easily depicted the tragedy every single Syrian had been though. I saw dancers, mermaids, pride for Syria, and creations that proved hope was abundant in the camp. It was a moment that took my breath away.

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A sports field that provides a refreshing patch of green where kids can be kids. (Photo courtesy of the Questscope blog)

After lunch, we were invited to interact with the youth during some of their activities. If you know anything about me, I immediately rushed to the room where music was blasting and dancing was infectious. It was a women-only zone where the women, both mentors and mentees alike, could shed their inhibitions and own their bodies. They immediately turned on the TV and cranked the volume so all the women could participate in Zumba. Side-by-side, we danced, we sweat (a lot), we looked like fools, we laughed and smiled.  Zumba organically morphed into free-dancing where the women could openly express whatever their bodies wanted. We were taught dance steps from dances that you could tell were an important part of their identity. Every time I looked into the eyes of these women, pure joy was spread across their faces and their smiles never once left faded. I lost track of time because I was overflowing with joy.

Let me take a moment to be selfish. Dancing with these women meant more to me than I can put into words. Dance was re-introduced in my life when I was at a low point and it renewed my spirit and made me whole again. Being able to share such an intimate and personal moment with these women, expressing ourselves though dance, still brings tears to my eyes like it did that day. It was a truly magical, euphoric moment that I will never, EVER forget.

These women and these people could have given up. They could have said life treated them unfairly and stopped living it. But they didn’t. They continue to dance and they continue to smile and they continue to move forward because of their incredible courage and unwavering pride. I held their hands and I felt their strength. I shared moments with them that are forever etched on my heart. These people have not and will never give up. They want to return to Syria and resume the lives that were taken from them. They want to be doctors, lawyers, activists, and artists. They want the world to know that they’re simply mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and at the end of the day, people just like you and me. They watch the same sun set and dream of a better and brighter future because no one can take their dreams away from them. They are my heroes.

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Watching the sun set after a day at Za’atari.

Please, share this story. Not for me, but for the 80,000 Syrian people who have had their lives changed forever. They are not Skittles, they are not peanuts, they are not your next news story, they are not the enemy. They are HUMAN BEINGS with families, passions, hopes, goals, pride, dreams, and ambition I wish I had. They are true inspirations. Give them the autonomy and respect they so rightly deserve and share their stories. It is a small move that can have lasting impact. Hope is abundant at Za’atari and it’s time the world knew.

*None of the pictures within the camp our original or my own (only the sunset at the end of my day in Ajloun). I wasn’t going to Za’atari to take pictures and diminish these people to a social media post because they are SO MUCH MORE than that. I went to learn, listen, and observe. And to have my life changed forever. 

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Appreciating Abroad

The moment when I realized that I was coming home from studying abroad, I had mixed feelings. I was thrilled to return to my hometown, however I had adjusted to living in Alexandria, Egypt. There was a significant change in my perspective about my host city from when I first arrived to when I left Alexandria.

When I arrived in my host city after a long 24 hour flight, I was super jetlagged and could barely function. The time was 1 AM and I had a four hour drive ahead of me from Cairo to the northern coast. On the way to the university residence halls, I couldn’t wait to get settled in a room and rest. Driving to my housing I was a bit surprised about my new surroundings. Looking back at that time I remember imagining the city to look a bit different.

I had pictured Alexandria to look like something from a travel brochure, a city mixed with the old and new that had endless beaches right next to the university campus. Driving through the city to the residence halls, I had encountered something very different. I do not know if my thoughts were due to the physical and mental state, but the city was very run down, garbage lined the streets, and the air carried a stench that I had never experienced before. When I arrive at my residence hall I was disappointed. The building looked dilapidated and could collapse at any minute. I remember asking the driver in Arabic, “Is this it? Are you sure?” and he replied, “Yes this is the correct address.” In addition, the housing for men was far from campus and the public beaches were not exactly the best places to go swimming.

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The first couple weeks were quite the challenge. It was not easy adjusting to a new way of living. The calendar was different where classes were Sunday through Thursday. The food options were great, however this gave you constant diarrhea and you were always on the lookout for a nearby bathroom just in case. The other American students in the Critical Language Scholars (CLS) program were rude and unfriendly to the students in my program. Also, the humidity was unbearable and I felt like a walking puddle in a polo. I felt very unsettled and was I was missing everything back home.

After getting settled and starting classes, I began to adjust and got used to living in Alexandria. I created some fantastic friendships with my fellow program classmates and had some amazing adventures with them exploring the city and country. The teachers in my college were supportive in our academics and were always excited to show us the fascinating and bizarre pockets of Alexandria. Developing a daily routine was critical to feeling comfortable. I quickly grew to love the city and the country and it began to feel more like a second home.

When my program was approaching the end, I could not believe how quickly time had passed. Thinking about coming home gave me feelings of joy. I was excited to see my family, my boyfriend, and all my friends. My senior year in college was about to start and I couldn’t wait to get started. However thinking about leaving Alexandria left me a bit sad because I saw the city in a new light. The ambiance of the buildings, people, and lifestyle were different then when I first arrived. Somehow I felt that I may be leaving something special behind.

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How Study Abroad Prepared Me for My Next Adventure

For the record, I don’t quite know what my next adventure will be yet, nor will I pretend to have everything under control when it comes. Study abroad definitely beat that tendency out of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s bring it back a bit.

For many people, including myself, I got to truly travel independently for the first time when I studied abroad. I’d visited out-of-state friends in college, gone on road trips with others, but there’s always an added dimension when “international” gets thrown into the mix. There are more logistics, more languages, and more complications if something goes wrong. Through a few moments of brilliance and many more epic missteps, I learned quite a bit about living and traveling abroad. So, here’s a quick list of tangible ways study abroad prepared me for my next aforementioned adventure:

  1. I navigate a mean airport/bus terminal/metro station

I have spent a lot of time traveling, not in the sense that I have spent a lot of time abroad, which I thankfully have, but more that I’ve been exposed to some hellish layovers and travel days. Coming home from study abroad, I worked my way through four airports over two days of travel. It’s exhausting, and you shortly find that duty free looks the same just about everywhere, but I’ve found that I can navigate my way through almost any transportation hub, at this point. If I can’t, however, here’s a great segue into point 2…

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I got so good at Ryan Air

 

  1. There’s nothing that you can’t express, unless you’re too embarrassed to mime it

I first experienced complete and utter language confusion when I studied abroad. I was on a bus from Zadar to Split, Croatia, when an elderly, balding man with a significant amount of missing teeth looked right at me and said a sequence of words that my brain was unable to register. Not a word. Not a phrase. Nothing.

So I sat there, I smiled, I nodded, I placed my hands in my lap, and then stupidly stared ahead, blankly, at the colorful, speckled fabric on the back of the headrest in front of me. I’d never felt more useless in my life.

Slowly, though, I learned to appreciate the art of miming and apologetic shrugging. While I never condone complete ignorance, when your faculties fail you, a grateful, wordless plea and the choo-choo noise will point you in the right direction to most train stations. Thankfully, standardized bathroom signs have saved me from ever miming number 1 or number 2.

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Thankfully, no miming require in Barcelona
  1. Proactively Google Map

Most smartphones have some sort of map feature, which come in handy quite often. What most people don’t realize is that when you use them, your route is saved in the phone until it either dies or you select another. So, when you’re heading out and don’t have Wi-Fi, map out the route to your destination while you still have Wi-Fi. It will help you get to where you need to go and will give you your starting location as a point of reference for when you need to go back. Please, however, take it with a grain of salt and make sure you’re going to the right place before you leave the warm, safe embrace of free internet.

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Also know how to read a real, paper map
  1. Don’t lose your cool

There are some situations where Murphy’s Law always holds true, and one of them is definitely international travel. Somehow, something you’re expecting underwhelms. Now, this can occur in varying degrees along the lines of “Damn, I forgot to pack a lunch, guess I’ll have to settle for a sandwich at the airport!” or “I’m stranded in Marrakech, Morocco without a passport because it just got stolen.” Both occurred to while I was studying abroad, ironically on the same trip.

The key to surviving these situations is to either not lose your cool or have someone there with you who won’t lose their cool. My good friend Ian was with me in Morocco and was instrumental in helping me stay sane as I
became increasingly hangry searching downtown Marrakech for the right documents I would bring to the U.S. consulate. I, on the other hand, was unflappable in finding a wayward friend one of my first nights in Salamanca when her phone was dead. Flexibility, I’ve learned, is key to weathering both the little and large snafus that will happen along the way.

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I want to go to there

 

 

Now, as I plan ahead to an epic Patagonian backpacking trip, tramping across New Zealand’s rugged, Middle-Earthen terrain, or exploring the Colombian beaches, I know I have some excellent skills in my toolbox. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, but, *knock on wood*, it won’t be that serious and I’ll know how to deal with it, or at least fake it until I make it.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

How I Chose My Study Abroad Program

Go abroad for a summer to learn a language? Or stay home and learn a language in a classroom? The answer here is pretty simple. I chose to leave the U.S., study a language, and use my Arabic language skills in everyday life and gain the experience of a lifetime.

I studied abroad at the University of Alexandria, Egypt in 2010 and chose this program because my major was in Middle East Studies – Arabic. This program was a language intensive and fulfilled my entire third year Arabic language coursework in 2 months. I was both nervous and excited to go to Egypt and take courses in the University of Alexandria. This experience was one that I will always treasure since I met some amazing people, saw some amazing places, and observed simmering political turmoil.

To be honest, when I decided to join this program and go to Egypt, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had a vision of what the experience could have been like, but having already studied the Middle East, I already new that the picture I had was not going to be accurate. When I arrived, it was nothing like I had expected. However, it became overtime everything I needed and helped me truly understand Middle East culture.

During this program I had the opportunity to live in the university residence hall with local students that were studying from across the country. Sunday through Thursday I was in the classroom practicing Arabic, and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) I got to explore the city of Alexandria and the rest of the Egypt. While I was in this program I learned a lot about the cultural nuances in Egypt and the various perspectives regarding feminism, politics, and the role of religion in everyday life.

The experience that I will take with me is the political events that occurred leading up to the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011. I remember the media frenzy after Honsi Mubarak reauthorized the Emergency Laws, the death of Khalid Saiid in Alexandria by the police, and the political tension that was building towards the fall elections.

I chose this program because it fulfilled a language requirement; however looking back this program exceeded my expectations. This experience provided more than just language education, but a deeper understanding of the complex sociopolitical dynamics of Egypt.

– Eric Boscan, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

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

Tiff’s Survival Guide for Jordan

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My adventures abroad in Amman, Jordan was one of the most exciting yet toughest experiences of my life to date. In thinking back on my experience I have compiled a list of tips, must do’s, and keep-away-froms.

1. For shopping, cafes, and just hanging out – Go to Jebel Al-Webdeh. Webdeh is in the old part of Amman, and is a great little hipster neighborhood that can meet all your coffee-sheesha-souq shopping needs. There are delicious falafel stands, amazing places for local music and a really rad youth culture, as well as good shops for doing some tourist shopping (that isn’t overpriced, and don’t sell golden camel statues)

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2. Learn the circle-system quickly! The roads in Amman are distinctly divided up into 7 huge round a bouts that cut diagonally down through the city. You’ll learn that giving directions to a cab driver generally begins with which circle you want to go to. Addresses aren’t totally a thing in Jordan, so you direct your cab driver based off of landmarks. You tell him you want to go near King Abdullah Mosque, then direct him from there. For all your directionally-challenged people like me, don’t worry, you’ll adapt quickly – or get lost a lot.

3. Sidewalks are not for walking – Being a pedestrian can be almost as wild of an adventure as being on the road! Most sidewalks have cars parked on them at some point, dip down and stop in the middle of no where, or have giant trees planted right in the middle to the point that you actually cannot walk on the sidewalk. I tried for maybe a month, and then just resigned myself to walking in the street most of the time.

4. Americans are slobs – by this I mean that the university students in Jordan really have their act together when it comes to fashion. There is certainly no such thing as wearing sweats or a hoodie to class. I wore my Debate Team hoodie and my hair in my staple messy bun one day, and looked homeless in comparison to these girls. The girls are incredibly beautiful, and match their ENTIRE outfits. I wear almost exclusively neutral tones because I am so bad at matching, so I had nothing on these women. They used elaborate colors and patterns to match their hijab to their overcoats to their purses and shoes and fingernails. The guys look equally put together, mostly wearing loafers, button ups and sweaters, and nice jeans. Paying $50 for American Eagle to rip holes in your jeans is definitely not a fashion statement here.

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5. Eat Local! – You will fall in love with the local cuisine, just like studying abroad anywhere really. The falafel, hummus, and shawarma is absolutely unbeatable, and cheap! Eating local foods is significantly cheaper than eating American style food, so help your wallet and eat the local foods. For the absolute best hummus in Jordan, go downtown to Mataam Hashem… You won’t be disappointed.

6. Prices are negotiable – Learn to bargain, or your wallet will suffer from your American-ness. Prices of nearly everything in Jordan can be negotiated. This goes even beyond just taxis or souqs, I knew a group of about ten girls who went all together to get a gym membership and were even able to negotiate that price. Be prepared to haggle in the souqs, and to really hone your skills you can try downtown! It’s not being rude, it’s just part of the culture in many instances!

7. Finally, the Middle East WILL steal your heart. You might not notice it happening, but sooner or later, this region, the people, the sounds, and the sights will make you fall in love. Amman stole my heart my second weekend abroad, when I was lucky enough to attend a BBQ with some local friends who owned an olive tree farm that overlooked the Dead Sea. I sat in a large circle with delicious food, new friends, and could see the lights and the border of Palestine in the distance. I knew right then that the Middle East had gotten me, and I would probably be returning back for the rest of my life.

Tiff Jordan 4– Tiffany Wilk, 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

Fighting the Post-Travel Blues

I still remember the feeling I got stepping off my plane back into Denver after four months in Jordan. I can remember my anxiety, my trepidations at coming home feeling so “different”, and my sense of loneliness, sad about all I had left behind in Jordan. The reverse culture shock hit me fast, and it hit me hard.

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Life back in Denver instantly felt so… ordinary. Drivers on the highway stayed in their designated lines, and drove at designated speeds… how boring. People hurried with their meals, and left restaurants as soon as they finished eating… how stuffy. I could overhear all conversations around me because they were in English, not Arabic… too overwhelming.

Although I was disenchanted with American life and culture (as reverse culture shock is known to do) I was excited to be back at DU, excited to get back into my classes, get back onto the debate team, and reconnect with friends. But I seemed to forget one detail…. The Quarter system is no joke, and it has no mercy. The quarter system doesn’t care that you just came from a place spending 3 hours per night in a café drinking Turkish coffee and smoking hookah. The Quarter system doesn’t care that you hadn’t been in a traditional American classroom for 7 months. Even outside of the classroom, the speed of life back at DU was disorienting. I also couldn’t process the fact that everything seemed exactly the same as when I left. I tried to get back into my old ‘routine’, but it didn’t feel quite right. I felt like I needed to be somewhere else. I could already feel my next adventure calling me out the door.

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Taken in Palestine

That, dear friends, is called Wanderlust.

Wanderlust is highly infectious, can be caught with minimal exposure to life in a different place, and needs to be treated with consistent doses of travel – probably for the rest of my lifetime.

While I have been fortunate enough to get some other adventures in since returning from Jordan a year ago, here is how I appease my Wanderlust when I am Denver-locked:

  1. Explore DENVER! We live in an incredible city, with fabulous scenes for music, food, film, art, you name it. We have great sports teams (or so I hear… sports aren’t my gig). We are one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and there is a lot going on. We only have 4 years to take advantage of college life in Denver, so why waste any more time?
  2. Deep Breaths – many of us will be returning from places where the pace of life is much different than at DU. It’s important to understand that your experience adjusting to life back home might be challenging, and might be different than the experiences your other friends are going through, and that’s okay!
  3. Accept changes – once you come home you might find that relationships are different than they were before. This is a natural part of college life, and of studying abroad. It’s better to accept these changes, and make the best of them!
  4. Try something new at home! The DU community, and the Denver community at large has enormous opportunities to get involved. Maybe it’s time to join a new club, pick up an intramural sport, find a great local charity to get involved in. Either way, expand your Denver networks.
  5. Use the I-House! The international house can connect you with events surrounding international communities and opportunities in Denver and at DU, take advantage of that!

-Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

Combating the Wanderlust

I have been back from abroad for 6 and a half months and I’m itchy. Rather, I’m not itchy, but itching: itching for an adventure. I had the incredible privilege to visit 8 countries while I was abroad: Spain, England, Ireland, Croatia, Belgium, Germany, Morocco, and Norway. I spent a weekend exploring the nooks and crannies of the Medina in Marrakech. I stayed in the home of a Catalonian named Sergio, who graciously opened the door for me at 6:30am when I had forgotten my keys. I stayed in the Roman emperor’s palace in Split, Croatia where I casually jumped off cliffs in my spare time.

Coming home, however, was just as exciting. I had missed my friends, and readjusting to the life of a college upperclassman in the U.S. was it’s own adventure. I was living off campus for the first time in my own house, began to explore Denver, and had plenty of schoolwork to keep me occupied. My lust for adventure and travel lay dormant.

But when it came back, oh did it come back with a vengeance. This summer, I’ve had the pleasure to continue working at DU’s Study Abroad office. Most recently, I have been updating our database on all 176 programs we offer and mapping the location of each one. This, however, comes at the price of wanderlust. As I’ve been perusing websites, reading syllabi, and looking at program cities on Google Maps, it seems every other thought is: how much would a plane ticket to (blank) cost?

Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona
Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

So, for all you fellow returnees out there, my best advice for you is to make a bucket list of activities to quench your thirst for adventure. Here are a couple suggestions that I’ve taken to heart:

  1. Go outside! Colorado has 53 peaks over 14,000 feet (4.3km) in the air and fantastic camping for all levels of outdoorsmen/women. Take advantage of them and explore.
  2. Obtain a skill. This can range from learning how to cook to getting scuba certified or obtaining your motorcycle license. It’ll open doors in the future.
  3. Go on a road trip. A lot of times we forget just how incredible the United States is compared to the excitement from abroad. Assemble a crew and drive somewhere you’ve never been.
  4. Foodies of the world, unite! Denver has a plethora of awesome international restaurants, with delicious Indian, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, and Japanese options that are relatively inexpensive. Try food from around the world.
  5. WATCH THE WORLD CUP. The world is competing in the World’s Game until July 13th. Cheer on your native or adoptive country in homage to your time abroad.
  6. Read a book. They say the greatest part of reading is that you can travel 1000 miles without taking a single step. For those of us who enjoy extracurricular reading, but never seem to have the time to do it, carve a chunk out of your Netflix time to read.

In the end it may not be the same as abroad, but at least it will keep you occupied. Best of luck on your next adventure!

-Max Spiro, Peer Advisor

Staying Connected Abroad

Taking a smart phone overseas and using local Wi-Fi on campus or in coffee shops can often be the most effective way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home. Make sure to keep your phone on airplane mode to avoid any additional charges from overseas use.

Here are some apps to help ease communication:

  • Skype enables you to video call or instant message from computer to computer or from your smart phone for free. You can also use Skype to make reduced rate phone calls to a phone back in the U.S.
  • Viber allows you to call mobile to mobile for free, as long as each phone has internet access, either through Wi-Fi or 3G. You can also send free international text messages. The app integrates your address book, showing you which of your contacts already has Viber.
  • WhatsApp – An instant messaging app that is free for the first year of use and 99 cents per year after. It allows you to text message people anywhere in the world for free, and allows you to share photos rapidly. WhatsApp uses the phone numbers in your address book to show friends and family with WhatsApp automatically. It also has a neat group chat feature too.
  • iMessage – the default texting on iPhones works through Wi-Fi just like other apps. Text your contacts in the same way as you do back in the U.S. As with iMessage, Facetime will also enable you to video chat internationally as long as you have Wi-Fi access. However, be forewarned that iPhones are not as popular overseas as they are here in the U.S. Make sure you download a separate app!
  • Touchnote – Allows you to create postcards on your phone, combining a photo and text, before printing it and sending it to any address in the world for $1.99 per postcard.

Finally, if you’re in a Wi-Fi spot and looking for other places for using Wi-Fi, the app Free Wi-Fi Finder works around the world to keep you connected for free. It maps free Wi-Fi access close to you.

-Callum Forster, Peer Advisor

3 Things I Learned My First Week Abroad

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A Croatian Sunset, no Instagram needed

The first few days in a new place are really exciting. No matter how blandly something is painted or regular to the locals, for you, it seems everything you see is new and shiny. These feelings get magnified when abroad. Being immersed in culture for the first time, and for me on an entirely different continent, EVERYTHING WAS SO COOL. Here are a few of the lessons I learned in those first few days I was abroad.

1. You’re Not As Fluent As You Think You Are

I’ve been speaking Spanish since I was 5 years old, a total of 15 years. I attended bilingual Elementary and Middle Schools, finished AP Spanish in High School, spent a summer living in rural Nicaragua, and one of my majors is Spanish; needless to say, I thought I was super prepared to go abroad and speak entirely in Spanish.

Wrong. WRONG.

Melodrama aside, it was the little things that fell through the cracks. For example, what do you call shower gel in Spanish? I spent roughly 15 minutes in the soap and shower section of a Carrefour grocery store in Spain desperately trying to figure out if Crema de ducha, which literally translates to “shower cream”, was indeed shower gel and not a lotion you applied post-shower.

Crema de ducha is indeed shower gel, I luckily discovered, however hovering stupidly in the aisle for WAY too long taught me that no question is ever too silly, and having a sense of humor and embracing your idiosyncrasies is key to not getting too overwhelmed.

2. Change Matters

How many of you out there carry around spare change? What’s that? None of you do because it’s totally not worth it and is a waste of valuable pocket space? Fancy that, I thought the same thing!

Here in the States, I leave anything less than a dollar at home. Change is reserved for saving in a piggy bank, then exchanging for an Amazon Gift Card when you think you have enough. In the UK and the Eurozone, however, I found this to be far from the norm. Most restaurants and local shops deal exclusively in cash, and coins are worth up to 2 Euros or Pounds. Be prepared to have some heavy pants and purses, ladies and gentlemen.

What I was left with was, ironically, the small changes to your life always seem to be the most impactful.

3. Umbrellas are a real thing

Growing up and going to school in Colorado has many advantages: we are the fittest and most active State, host the smartest city in the U.S. (Boulder), and get 300 days of sun a year. There are mountains to climb, fields to frolic in, and most importantly NO RAIN. We vacillate between snow and sunshine, and as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait 5 minutes.

Then I discovered how the real world worked.

An umbrella’s only role used to be taking up valuable space in the closet. Abroad, umbrellas are not the relics from when you lived “back on the East Coast” and it “rained” frequently. This became blatantly apparent when I was walking around Salamanca one afternoon with some friends and it started to drizzle. Like any good Coloradan, I said, “this will blow over.”

It didn’t.

One torrential downpour later, miserable and soaked from the waist down, thankfully I had the foresight to bring my raincoat along, I returned home, only to leave as soon as the rain subsided to buy myself a fancy new umbrella.

Well I guess these things are useful. Neat.

The moral of the story here is to be prepared for the small things in your life to change: you never noticed how much time you had at a supermarket checkout line in the States until you have a gruff German woman frustratingly urging you to hurry up packing your produce into your backpack.

Get ready for the time of your life.

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Max Spiro

Peer Advisor, Office of Internationalization

Tiffany’s blog: Amman, Jordan

Tiffany is participating on the CIEE Jordan: Arabic Language and Culture program, and sharing her adventures with us at www.the-river-bend.blogspot.com

Wanna know how to not fit in on campus in Amman?

“Backpacks are for losers. On the university campus, the Americans are literally the ONLY students carrying backpacks. The rest of the girls here carry their purses, and maybe a notebook or two. The guys will carry their phones, cigarettes, and a notebook or a book or two. I asked my language partner at the beginning of the semester why no one had them, and she literally said because backpacks are not cool. Only elementary school students carry them here. Despite that, I continue to look like a dweeb every morning carrying my backpack through campus.”

DSC_0098aa

 

Tiffany’s blog: Amman, Jordon

Tiffany is in Amman right now, on the CIEE Jordan: Arabic Language and Culture program.

www.the-river-bend.blogspot.com

She’s got some great stories about her experiences this semester on her blog.  We also really love that she included this quote:

“Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”  – Jodi Picoult

 DSCN2045

Debunking Reasons against Studying Abroad

As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine September/October 2003

By Brian Harley

Where can I go to get to other places?” paraphrases a question that I once received from a student. The allure of education abroad, through study and travel (not necessarily in that order), surpassed my passé mantra of academic rigor, cultural entry points, and provisions for safety and security. Travel persuasion was not necessary. I could already imagine her standing before a world map, filling it with pushpins.

Other students need more assurance. The academic and personal leap of faith can be a process, not a plunge. Some students may feign having “just a few more questions”—ultimately indicating good old-fashioned hesitation. Study abroad advisers are in a unique position to help students see past needless constraints and encourage them to pursue their dreams. One can easily think of ten common concerns, which unanswered could prevent a student from having a transformative educational experience abroad. My “Top Ten Reasons Not to Consider Not Studying Abroad” reflect comments from real-live students as well as a condensed form of my answers, and resources that study abroad advisers should keep in mind.

Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student Studied in Spain
Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student
Studied in Spain

1. It will cost too much.

Students may be surprised! In many cases, students find that they pay no more to study abroad than to attend their home college for a semester or a year. Most state and federal financial aid transfers.

2. My grades will go down.

Students’ grades may stay the same. Despite the fear of a dropping GPA, many students return with the same GPA as when they left. If students study hard and keep up, their grades tend to show it (just like in the States). Advisors can help diminish this fear by citing some pre- and post-study abroad GPAs.

3. My courses won’t transfer.

If students plan ahead, courses will transfer. As soon as students arrive on campus the options should be described. At PurdueUniversity a letter was sent to over 7,000 first-year students before they arrived. The study abroad advisor should make sure that his or her advice agrees with the recommendations of the academic advisor. For example, courses should satisfy major, minor, or general studies credit requirements, not those few precious elective credits.

4. No university abroad will have the courses that I need taught in English.

Many study centers abroad have selected courses in most of the general academic disciplines. Urge students to look at course offerings both in English and in the language of the host country. Independent studies may be possible too, if arrangements are made in advance.

Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student Studied in Scotland
Photo: Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student
Studied in Scotland

5. I am an introvert.

Remind students that making a new home abroad for a semester or year is unnerving for everybody, and people who are naturally introverted may find themselves even more daunted after trying to make a conversation in a second language with new acquaintances. But they don’t have to be “the life of the party.” Introverts will learn language and culture just as well as extroverts, and they may grow in ways they never imagined.

6. I am a leader and my school cannot get along without me.

Great! These students can now become leaders overseas. Students’ concern that their school will “miss them” will eventually be far overshadowed by the experiences they will have. Students develop more self-confidence than they ever imagined and come home with even more mature leadership skills. But for that, they’ll truly “have to be there!”

7. I don’t know anybody who is going.

In many cases most students do not know the others in their group. But they all have one thing in common—willingness to risk the adventure of living and learning in a different country. Some have made life-long friends in the process.

Photo: Kaitlyn O'Sullivan, India
Photo: Kaitlyn O’Sullivan, DU Student
Studied in India

 

8. I have never done anything like this before.

Most people never do this. Emphasize to students that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to study abroad. On-site staff will help students to understand what they need to do to adjust to a completely new environment.

9. I don’t have very good reasons to study abroad.

There is not one single “litmus test” for study abroad. There are as many “good reasons” to study abroad as there are good programs. Students become international citizens. They learn a new cultural system and see their own from a new perspective. And, they build resumes and relationships while growing intellectually and culturally.

Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student Studied in Chile
Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student
Studied in Chile

 10. I do not know how to contact study abroad providers.

Study abroad advisers, providers, and other professional make it easy. Students can talk with on-campus study abroad advisers and other students who have studied abroad; surf the web; and read Transitions Abroad.

Study abroad advisers are uniquely positioned to view the transformation that comes from an overseas experience. Perhaps one of the chief constraints is the imagination of the student. Advisers are to be lauded for their challenging role as administrators, advocates, consultants, and, perhaps, detectives. Sometimes only after myths are debunked can students let their imagination wander overseas, followed by their body.

DR. BRIAN HARLEY, Director of Programs for Study Abroad at Purdue Univ. (www.studyabroad.purdue.edu). Contact him at bharley@purdue.edu.

Tasha’s blog: Amman, Jordan

“Time is relative here, and everything is mish moshkila (no problem).  At home, I am constantly on time, if not early and hate when I’m late.  But here, I don’t mind it.  Because no one else does either.  In some ways it makes it hard to take things seriously, but I think its a good thing to do this sometimes.  Life shouldn’t always be about sticking to the rules, or the plan.  Things happen, and Arab culture is so much more forgiving when life gets in the way.  I am grateful that I am learning how to let the little things go…little by little.”  Read more on Tasha’s blog, as she participates on the CIEE Jordan Language and Culture program:  tashafitts.tumblr.com

The “studying abroad” in study abroad

“Am I going to fail my classes abroad?”  “Are my grades from abroad going to transfer back?”  “How could I possibly take a history class in a foreign language?”  It’s normal to have a fair amount of anxiety about being a student in another country.  Here are some tips and things to keep in mind!  

Expect a different academic environment and experience.  Don’t make assumptions that things will be like your college courses at home.  When in doubt, ask questions!  Reach out for tutoring, if needed.  While you can’t control the new academic environment, you can control how hard you try.  Typically (and generally), good students at home make good students abroad.

Don’t fall for the “my-classes-are-so-easy-because-I-don’t-have-homework” syndrome.  In many other countries, courses do not include such a plethora of opportunities to earn your grade like in the US; such as quizes, homework assignments, papers, and group projects.  Instead, your grade may be determined by only one final exam and/or one paper.  So just because you don’t have a homework assignment each week, you should be doing your readings and learning the content as you go, on your own.  Many a study abroad student has learned this the hard way when final exam time comes around!  And hey, it’s kinda like practice for graduate school….

Grading may be different.  You’ve heard of “grade inflation, ” right?  It turns out that compared to many other countries, the US of A really does have a severe case of it.  In many other countries, most students are “average,” by definition.  Often, the perception in the U.S. is that you start out the class with an “A,” and you lose points if you don’t fulfill requirements of the course.  In many other countries, the philosophy is more that you start out with an “F,” and have to earn your way up from there.  Top grades are truly only given to students who go far above and beyond the norm.  And in some countries, the grading is entirely on a curve, meaning that you’ll be graded solely on how you compare with your classmates.

Figure out who your classmates will be.

  • If you’re studying in a foreign language, but taking classes only with other international students like yourself, keep in mind that the professor (and the course) is very aware that you are learning the language.  Don’t be intimidated to take classes in a foreign language — they will be targeted for students are your particular language level.
  • If you’re taking classes with local students, you will be subject to the local way of teaching and learning.  Be sure to reach out to your classmates to get suggestions on how they study and prepare for exams.

But even keeping all of those things in mind, don’t over-generalize.  You may get some suggestions and generalizations from students who have gone on your program before, but it’s also important to consider two things:

  1. Every student is different.  Your perception of your academic experience will vary from the other students in the exact same class.
  2.  Every professor is different.  Just like at home,  the person teaching your course will profoundly affect the course content, structure, and difficulty.

So try NOT to fall into the trap of believing or making broad general statements about studying in your host country.

What classroom experiences did you have studying abroad?  What did you gain from learning in a new academic environment?  Did you find yourself making broad generalizations about academics in your country when you came home?

Interesting Academics: Study Tour to Istanbul

This is a video about my study tour to Istanbul. I spent about a week there to study immigration with one of my classes. We mainly studied Nationalism and Kemalism, The Kurdish Question, Non Muslim Minorities, and Immigrants and Internally Displaced Peoples.

-Rosa

Elizabeth’s blog: Amman, Jordan

Take a look at Elizabeth’s adventures & observations of her experience with CIEE in Amman on her blog www.womanoffthemap.wordpress.com.

“Traffic is crazy and there are no rules. You probably should not drive here. People honk about everything- they use their horns to say, ‘I’m going,’ ‘You go,’ ‘You idiot,’ ‘The light is green,’ because they are mad, because they can, just because. Most of them realize how ridiculous the cacophony of noise is and take joy in contributing. This begs the question: if Mohammed’s horn is louder, but Achmed holds his down longer, who wins? (The jury is still out)”