The End of an Era

I returned to Denver from Milan about 5 days ago and the question I have heard the most from people is, “Aren’t you so glad to be home?” Honestly? No. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to see my friends and family and the mountains, but living in Italy was the experience of a lifetime and I am not ready for it to be over.

The last four months have been the wildest of my life. The amount of change and growth I experienced is unlike any other and I could not be more grateful for the blessing and experience to study abroad. I learned so much about myself and about the world around me, and I want to continue exploring those things.

When you move to a new country alone, you are forced to become an independent human being. You figure out how to survive like everyone else, and you figure out how to do it well. You learn, grow, change, make mistakes, fall down, and stand up again. I feel as though I changed and grew more in the last four months than I did in all of 2014 and 2015 combined. Looking back now, I would say I learned more from experiences than I did at my actual university- and to me, that’s okay. The lessons you learn abroad really can’t be taught in a classroom and they are invaluable.

A dear friend asked me to share a story about my experience abroad which explains my learning and growth, but the truth is I don’t have one specific story which explains such. There was no “Ah hah” moment, and there was no one specific time where I thought to myself, “Wow I just learned an invaluable life lesson which I can later apply in the real world”. No. The real truth: it is something which happens over time, and one day you wake up and realize you are a whole new person. It’s the experience as a whole which shapes and molds you for the rest of your life.

My growth has been for the better, and I am excited to start a new chapter of my life as a better, more confident and independent version of my old self. I see myself taking these new traits with me everywhere I go in life. From an interview, to a new job, to just being around the people that make me happy, I am a new me and that will never change.

So, to Milano, to the people I met abroad, and to the big, small, crazy, and not-so-crazy experiences I say thank you. Thank you for changing me forever and equipping me with the skills, independence, and confidence to face every new experience and challenge head-on, and to conquer the world, because as I have learned the world is my oyster.

It’s the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

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A wise friend once said to me, “You will return home and realize that everything around you has stayed the same, and you are the one who has changed.”

The Adventures of Grocery Shopping Abroad

There is nothing like figuring out how to shop at the grocery store abroad- especially when you are in non-english speaking country. When shopping in Italy you have two options: go to several different specialty shops around the city to find what you need, or brave the supermarket.

I chose to brave the supermarket because let’s face it, who has time to go to three, four, or even five shops to get food for the week? Not me!

The supermarket in Italy has been an adventure every single time I set foot on the dirty grocery store linoleum. The food is so different than anything I am used to at home in Colorado, and most of it is in a different language. I speak Italian pretty well, but there are so many words in the supermarket that I don’t understand-they don’t really teach that stuff in the classroom. And to top off the words I don’t understand, there are tons of foods I have never seen in a grocery store at home. I usually end up buying and trying something new every week.

And the rules! There are so many rules at the Italian supermarket. For example, when you pick up fresh produce at the supermarket you are supposed to wear a plastic glove. I learned that one the hard way. One of my first times in the supermarket I picked up a zucchini without a glove on and had an old man slap the vegetable out of my hand, start screaming at me in Italian, and then shove plastic gloves in my face! I stood there stunned and actually just left the store. I needed to regroup and try again another day.

Also, at the supermarket when you buy fresh produce, you have to put it on the electronic scale and print a sticker with a bar code on it. I once took all my stickerless produce to check out and was thoroughly embarrassed when I held up the entire line because I had to go back and get all the stickers for my produce.

Please, learn from my mistakes! To help you out next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of an Italian supermarket, I have put together a list of helpful tips.

  1. Leave yourself plenty of time. The supermarket is always an adventure, and usually a time consuming one, especially your first few visits. Leave yourself plenty of time each visit to get acquainted with the supermarket and get what you need.
  2. Know where the gloves are. Take my zucchini horror story to heart and learn where the plastic gloves are. They are usually on a tray on top of the plastic bags you use to carry your produce.
  3. Bring shopping bags. In Italy, you are charged for every plastic bag you use, if you don’t bring your own reusable bag. So bring a big purse, backpack, or reusable shopping bag with you to the store. Plus its easier to walk through the city with your groceries with a durable bag rather than a few plastic bags.
  4. Put stickers on your produce. Don’t hold up the entire check-out line, like I did! When you get your produce, place it on the electronic scale, press the button with the picture of the produce you have, grab the printed sticker, and throw it on the plastic bag. It’s pretty simple, and it will ensure you can scan the produce later when you are ready to check out!
  5. Bag your items yourself. At the supermarket in Italy, even when you are at the regular cash register, you have to bag your own items. The cashier will not do it for you, they will not help you, and there is no bag boy. When I am placing all my items on the belt, I try to organize them so I can easily put them in the bag after the cashier scans them. I also try to bag my stuff up as the cashier scans it so I can pay and immediately leave.

Shopping at the supermarket can be somewhat stressful and it is definitely always an adventure! Just remember to relax and laugh at yourself when you mess up.

Good luck!

 

Dealing with Different Teaching Styles

As students at the University of Denver, we are rather used to a certain teaching style and being held to the highest of standards. Coming abroad, I have quickly learned not every school is like that, and it has taken quite some time for me to adjust.

I can remember a time when I was completely in awe at how relaxed abroad professors are. I was sitting in class taking notes on a lecture, and another student stopped the professor to ask her a question. Before she began to answer, I asked her to flip back to the previous slide. She looked at me and said “Don’t worry about taking notes in class, I will post the slides online.” I was amazed! I’ve never had a professor encourage myself and the class to NOT take notes. What?! I know I don’t learn anything if I just sit there and listen, because in reality I’m not engaged and I’m not listening at all! So I continued on taking notes, and I will continue to do so- because that is what’s best for MY learning.

When you find yourself abroad, and in a classroom setting that you are not used to, I have compiled a list of my best tips to help you through.

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1. Avoid taking your computer to class. We all know how easy it is to get distracted in the classroom when you have your laptop wide open, especially when your teacher barely speaks English and doesn’t really care if you are engaged or not. Instead, try to bring a notebook and pen and take notes the old fashion way. Really focus on engaging and listening to what your professor has to say.

2. Ask questions. Sometimes, it can be rather hard to understand the professor, both for language barrier reasons and because sometimes they really just don’t make sense. Engage, ask questions, and make sure you know what they are trying to convey to you.

3. Go to class. I know. You’re abroad. All you want to do is relax and travel and enjoy whatever beautiful city you are in. Trust me, I know. I all too often find myself sitting in a classroom thinking that it is just a sin to be spending so much of my time in class when there is a beautiful city around me just waiting to be explored and experienced. But let’s not forget- this is STUDY abroad. Get to class! You never know what kind of important information you could miss when you are in class.

4. Don’t let yourself get behind. I have learned that here abroad, there isn’t much in the grade book. Your grade is essentially attendance and your performance on a project or tests. Staying on top of your work is crucial to getting that passing grade you want and need. Do your work and do not, whatever you do, let yourself get behind.

5. Write it down. Because assignments are so rare, it can be easy to let them slip through the cracks and forget about them all together. When you are assigned something, be sure to write down what you have to do, and when it is due. This will help you to remember to get it done, and it will be one more small thing to help boost your grade.

 

Being in a new and unusual learning atmosphere is strange and often times stressful, but with a few tips and tricks, I’m confident you will triumph with passing grades.

 

Managing Great Expectations, A Tale of Two (or more) Cities

One of the most coveted parts of studying abroad is travel: whether it’s mountaineering, jungles, beaches, ancient cities, or just the tiny winding streets of a bustling metropolis, everyone manages to find new places to explore. What we forget in all our ideas of travel is the how component: finances, traveling companions, or accommodations. For me, how is transportation. Trains, planes, and buses (I know, I really wanted to put automobiles there for the pop-culture reference as well), all seem to offer something different. Trains offer extensive passes that make using vast rail networks affordable and fun to use. For planes, there is the convenience of quick and immediate travel. Then for the truly adventurous souls there are the long bus rides through the countryside that offers eclectic crowds and cheap fares. For me, I chose the former, trains. And it was trains that have truly shaken me to core on what it means to be flexible.

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In the past few weeks I have learned that there are few certainties in traveling. Recently I traveled on a train home from Munich, Germany and a train (partway) to Nice, France. And what do Bavaria and the French Riviera have in common, you might ask? My misfortune.

While traveling home from Oktoberfest my train managed to breakdown at the station in Munich, its replacement arrived 30 minutes later… The time between trains at my connection in Cologne? 25 minutes… After realizing that was the only train back to Brussels that day, I managed to take 4 subsequent evening trains around rural Germany and Belgium to finally catch a midnight train back “home.” After two weeks to recover I boarded another train to Paris, with a connection to Nice, which just happened to coincide with rail strikes and the worst floods the French Riviera has had in decades. Courtesy of an unexpected 20 minute stop in the French countryside, my train arrived late at Gare de Nord in Paris and I was unable to make it to Gare de Lyon in time to catch the last train to Nice. Unfortunately there were no options around France to make it to Nice: Nice is conveniently a small town in Southern France that is hard to get to, was hit by floods and slowly reopened, and railroad strikes simultaneously plagued France and Northern Europe. While I laugh now at these experiences, I definitely took at least a few months off my life.

Flexibility. The buzzword of parenting, the guiding light of the workplace, and the universal doctrine of expats. It is the greatest mind game one can play (aside from doing planks and minesweeper).How far can you push your mind before it breaks. As a guy who loves a plan and back-up plans I struggle with the term flexibility. Prior to coming abroad, flexibility to me was the ability to change the plan to the back up plan on the fly. What I have learned, however, is that flexibility is not simply being able to change the plan but being able to accommodate for the “oh sh**” moments. It’s all about taking a deep breath, accepting that life isn’t in your favor at the moment and pushing forward.

Even Yoda had some “oh sh**” moments, he never really saw the whole Darth Vader thing coming…  Flexibility is saying, you know what, I may be stuck in rural Germany but there’s a McDonald’s and I’ll be ok. Flexibility is the combination of gratitude, a calm demeanor, and the ability to simply make something out of nothing. Of course you’re going to have your buttons pushed traveling, its uncomfortable to have to compartmentalize what you believe is necessary to enjoy your time somewhere, then be treated like cattle under the false pretense that you’re an explorer commandeering your method of transport, only to find out you will be late, tired, and unprepared. The thing is, nobody is prepared for all the ways travel plans can go wrong, but they should be prepared for how to make everything go right.

Life throws us curveballs and new environments, and we teach ourselves something new. There is always a new person to meet, an emotion to feel, and travel makes that possible. To those studying abroad: everyday you find out what you don’t know, but the shock is never supposed to eliminate what you already know. In Brussels, I am always on my toes. Whether it is a professor failing 30 out of 33 students on the midterm exam, the city being locked down for raids to find terrorists, getting stuck two towns away from home when the metro shuts down, or simply trying to figure out how to make a 20 euro bill turn into 9 euros worth of .50 cent coins. Breath, do your Zen thing and move on with it.

Traveling is a constantly evolving practice that lets humans live the nomadic adventure that we crave. Yogis, fruit leather, and Gumby are all flexible. But then again, they never missed the last train to Brussels from Cologne on a Sunday evening.

 

Ciao Bella

Hello readers! This is an exciting time.. all the DU students are either heading off or have officially landed in a foreign country for several months to study, and completely immerse themselves in a new (or perhaps not so new) culture. GO US! I could not be more proud of all of the students embarking on this amazing adventure. Even though I am in another country, I am proud and blessed to be a Pio.

Me, Myself, and I

My name is Jordan Mendicino and I am a third year Marketing major, Entrepreneurship minor at DU, currently studying abroad in Milano, Italia at Universitá Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. I am a fitness, fashion, and business enthusiast and I am constantly searching for ways to combine all three. In my free time I love to do anything outside, as long as the weather is warm, and I love to be surrounded by the people that are most important to me. Although I am a Colorado native, I don’t ski or snowboard and I would rather spend my days on the beach! I hate the snow and I hate being cold. Red Rocks is my favorite place on earth, and I think I would die if music didn’t exist.

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Why

I chose to study abroad in Italy because I have deep roots here, and I knew that I would feel right at home. Also, Cattolica is an amazing school- it is the largest Catholic university in the world and offers an array of diverse classes for international students. I have signed up to take classes in both fashion and entrepreneurship, both fulfilling my desire to learn something new and work on classes for my minor. Although I took Italian for a year at DU, I am taking more language courses here in Italia. I would love to be fluent by the time I depart in December. It’s a beautiful language, and I would love to add it to my language arsenal, next to English and Spanish.

What’s Next

I will be studying and exploring and adventuring for the next 15 weeks, so keep an eye out for more posts about my feelings, thoughts, and reactions during this wild ride we call study abroad.

Ciao!

Over the Atlantic and through the Tourists to the Netherlands I Go…

Hey!

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.