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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It’s the small things…

One of my biggest tips for anyone going abroad…

Write things down!

While you’re in a different country having an awesome time doing new things and meeting awesome people you think you’ll remember everything. But trust me, after being back home for a few months and restarting a routine in your ‘normal’ life, things tend to slip. You’ll definitely remember all of the awesome big things that you did- whether it’s traveling across the country or going to a concert or a fair- but you won’t be doing that on a daily basis. Some of the small stuff, the stuff that helped make your experience special and unique, will start to fade away.

Seriously, it’s the small things.

So my advice is to keep a journal of the cool things that you do and see abroad. Write a little something for all the cool people that you meet-if you’re horrible at names like me, you’ll probably forget a few once you’re back home and looking through all your awesome pictures. Put down the name of your favorite coffee shop and the name of the new crazy food that you tried-or your favorite empanada place.

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If you don’t like writing much do it anyway! It doesn’t have to be a diary entry or a blog post if that’s not your style, but whatever you put, you’ll appreciate later. Study abroad is a pretty transformational experience and you’ll want to remember all of it-the good, and the bad.

I have now been back in the US longer than I was abroad in Argentina. First of all, this blows my mind. Secondly, I am starting to forget some of the smaller, seemingly unimportant, things that really made my time abroad awesome.

I kept a journal while I was abroad-for the record, it was my first time ever doing something like that- and I often felt like I didn’t have time or that it was a silly thing to do, but I really appreciate it now. I wrote down little snippets of my day or the things that really frustrated me. I wrote down my favorite restaurants, and some of the funny, uncomfortable, silly things that happened to me. Because of this I can look back and reminisce about the good times, and the challenges. It’s something to laugh at and to reflect on. It was totally worth it for me because there really is joy in the small things in life.

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What I’d Wish I’d Known…

One thing I wish I had known before I studied abroad was that culture shock can happen to anyone, even if you think you are familiar with the culture.

The program that I participated in took me to Alexandria, Egypt where I completed an intensive third year Arabic language program. The faculty member in charge of the program and his program chaperons were very informative. They were helpful about how to navigate daily life in Egypt and what to be aware of in regards to cultural interactions. Although, there was one thing that was not covered, and that was how to deal with culture shock.

The stages of culture shock are:

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

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I definitely experienced each of these phases despite the fact I was already knew what to expect with the culture of the Middle East. Here are some suggestions of how to curb culture shock in each stage:

  1. Learn as much about the culture as possible:
    1. Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
  2. Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
    1. If you have a study abroad coordinator that is very familiar with your program location, ask them questions about what to expect. They are a wealth of resources to prepare for housing, travel, and daily social interactions.
  3. Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
    1. Journaling is always a good for the mind and soul. This is a good way to release stress and remember joyful events. Writing down positive experiences can help when you have rough days and need to remember what you love about your programs location.
  4. Talk to other students about how you feel
    1. If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
  5. Push yourself to make local friends
    1. Do not isolate yourself and try to stay social. Reach out to local students and make new friends and connections. This will help you in becoming more familiar with your surroundings and feelings of loneliness.
  6. Try to see things through host culture’s eye
    1. If you disagree or do not appreciate something from your host culture, take a step back and look through their eyes. There is always a reason for culturalisms.
  7. Get involved with the local community

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3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.

Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving  all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.

In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.

In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.

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The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is love. The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is life.

First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.

I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.

In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.

I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.

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Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.

In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.

Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.

This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.

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Showing the Fam around Salamanca

Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.

It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.

Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.

And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.

Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

How did you get ready to go abroad?

After months of planning, checking off things to do on DU passport, and having all of my final paper work completed, it was finally time to actually start getting ready to leave. Here’s the mental checklist I had to live, breathe and sleep with right before my departure:

Mental checklist:

  • Check in with SMART Traveler Program – Since this was my first time travelling alone, I had to make sure I took all the safety precautions!
  • Plane ticket confirmation – you know that uneasy, nervous feeling you get when you think you forgot to do something? This was me all the time, except I don’t know how many times I checked the date and time to make sure I didn’t miss my flight or booked it on the wrong date until the day I actually had to leave!
  • Money $$ – I created a Charles Schwab bank account to make sure that I saved some money abroad by avoiding transaction, withdrawal and conversion fees and I also had been saving up money from working at Olive Garden over the summer.
  • Communication – I wasn’t sure how effective my T-Mobile Simple Choice International plan was going to work but I decided to stick with it and cancel it later if it didn’t work. (Luckily it did, and I didn’t have to worry about connecting back home again!)
  • Pinterest! – I created numerous pin boards with food and places I wanted to check out while abroad. It made me excited and less nervous that the reality of being able to actually go to those places was a close reality.
  • Packing! – The task I procrastinated the most took me the longest time to complete! I packed clothes for all possible weather and later realized that I had no room to bring anything back! Packing to study abroad has to be one the most difficult things one could do the week of departure, and I don’t know how I did it but it happened!

I guess in terms of logistical stuff, making lists is my way of preparing for things. However, I think that in the larger scheme of things, there is no real way to prepare for studying abroad… and that’s totally okay! The wanderlust feeling that embodies you when you visit a brand new place and the roller coaster of emotions before, during and after adapting to a new culture are things that will hit you no matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself; that’s what made my study abroad experience so memorable!

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

The Abroad Effect

01106ba43bcbde02867eab96c67422e191a2c23783Have you ever had your heart broken? It usually happens when you realize that something incredible, something transformational, something you love, is lost. I have been feeling a little brokenhearted lately because being abroad for the past four months changed my life for the better: it made me a broader thinker, a more aware world citizen, a better friend, and a more confident person than before. But now that time is over. Studying abroad for a semester changed my world and opened my eyes to more possibilities for my future than I knew existed. I constantly struggle with reminding myself that even though the time is up, the impact this experience had on my life and myself as a person will stay with me forever.

As I anticipated, my classes were rigorous and interesting. What I didn’t expect were all the things I learned things that could never be taught in a classroom. By speaking to people from different countries, I learned about various cultures throughout Europe in addition to their perspectives on the United States. I have never been more aware of U.S. politics as I am now because the people I talked to were so engaged with political issues throughout Europe and the U.S. and wanted to hear my thoughts on those issues. Learning from people of various backgrounds about their opinions and beliefs allowed me to expand my perspective regarding multiple issues including the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the terrorist attacks in Paris and around the world, and the best way to run healthcare systems. These conversations encouraged me to consider the United States’ role in those issues from an outsider’s view and ponder solutions to those issues with a more worldly perspective. I learned to be more critical of the things I previously accepted as fact, yet I also learned to appreciate things about the United States which I previously took for granted. I also learned how to communicate better, both verbally and non-verbally as well as to be fearless in trying to speak another language instead of embarrassed about how little I know. Studying abroad gave me the skills, knowledge, and curiosity to speak to people from different cultures about their values and beliefs.

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One of the biggest changes I felt in myself was the development of independence and self-sufficiency. I no longer had my familiar city, friends, family, or even language around – yet I managed to create a life for myself. I learned how to navigate public transportation and I learned my way around the city. I had a bike and a gym and a favorite coffee shop and a short cut as well as a scenic route from my apartment to school. I learned how to not only survive, but thrive without my familiar surroundings or usual support systems. I made new friends, some of whom now feel more like family. Living so permanently out of my comfort zone forced me to grow up and rise to the challenges. It forced me to embrace adulthood with a more mature and aware perspective and to learn exactly how much I am capable of accomplishing.

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Final Reflections

I never wanted to study abroad. I have always desired to travel and adventure and see and do things. But, I never wanted to study in a foreign place. However, by some fluke, I ended up in Spain this semester. I think I just followed the motions of what everyone else was doing: applying to places, going to meetings, and then finally, receiving my acceptance.

I was scared to be left in Denver alone, without my people, living with my roommates’ subletters, and wasting time counting the weeks for their return. I never looked at myself as dependent on others, but I think that moment of my life, so dictated by what all of the junior class was doing, showed myself that I wasn’t as independent as I had hoped.

I, as I’m sure many people do, went into the study abroad experience thinking it would change my life. In reality, four months is not that long. But, four months in a foreign country? A new place with a different culture, language, and living with a family who can’t even understand half of what you’re saying (let alone what you’re feeling)? That makes for a long four months! And that should be life changing.

When I first started reflecting on my experience this semester, I was worried. I couldn’t see any direct changes in myself (other than the dreaded Abroad 15, of course). Then, I realized that parts of me did change, it just was not in the way I had expected; I was anticipating to have some specific impact from Spain.

Studying and living abroad taught me to rely on myself more than any amount of college, travel, or work could. I became my own translator, personal navigator, planner, friend, and even my own parent. Of course I made some of the best friends abroad. But, studying abroad made for so much quality alone time, too.

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Taylor and Ali are some of the many friends I made abroad

 

Simple tasks became tests of independence abroad. Getting money from the ATM in Spanish? Sure. Filling out gym membership paperwork? Okay. Navigating the metro system? One wrong train and I never made that mistake again. While abroad, I became a lot more comfortable asking for help. My first day in Spain I was panicked by how little Spanish I knew. But I learned to format the little vocabulary I knew into questions and statements that portray almost exactly what I originally meant. I thought asking for help made me weaker, but it really made me less reliant on my friends and family.

While I stayed close to home for college, studying abroad gave me the confidence that I can move away from Denver after school. During these four months in Spain, I could not call my family for a pep talk before my first Skype interview. I did not have anyone to take care of me when I was sick. And perhaps the worst of all, when your suitcase gets lost at the beginning of your trip; you have to handle these things alone.

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A picture of the National Palace from my first solo trip to Madrid

Everyone who went abroad this semester overcame things on their own because there was no other choice but to do just that. As for me, I am finally the independent girl I thought I was before studying abroad, and I have no regrets about following the crowd in order to get there.

 

Coping with Returnee-ism

Oh boy. You’re a returnee. You’ve just gotten home from abroad. Now, you’re responsible for validating your existence and entire experience in a 30-second-or-less recap where you attempt to explain a roller coaster of emotions, a sense of self-actualization, loneliness, elation, and tangible experiences. Good. Luck.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned the greatest deflecting tactic on the planet:

Acquaintance A: “How was your trip?”

Me: “It was amazing!!!”

For most people, that interaction will suffice. They’ve engaged you to a surface-level point where they’ve shown enough interest to maintain your relationship, but still remain depth-free, and while you’re stricken with guilt knowing you’re telling a minuscule portion of your experience, you are more than happy to avoid talking about your trip’s pit falls and focus on the amazing parts. Win-win.

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I visited the Miyajima Shrine in Japan, which was actually amazing

Acquaintance A: “What made it so amazing? What did you do? Were there any difficult parts? ”

Once the second probe happens, you buckle down. They’re really interested. You’re not getting away scot free. Winter is coming.

You have to understand, I’m extroverted and still hate this part. I like to think of myself as articulate, but have an extremely difficult time encapsulating the holistic nature of a trip abroad. The peaks feed into the troughs, which then feed into the peaks, in an endless cycle that still affects me well after my return.

For example, during my study abroad program, I directly enrolled in the University of Salamanca, meaning I set up my own classes, lived with a host-family, and didn’t have an immediate support group of Americans I saw every day. I loved the freedom of this lifestyle, where I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself, but simultaneously was driven crazy by the amount of time I spent alone. Working through the loneliness, on the flip side, remains a great point of pride for me, as I found my own inner strength and moral compass, but doesn’t take away from the fact that I was really lonely at times. In short, my experience was a double-edged sword, which was not always easy to explain. Returnee-ism reared its ugly head.

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The positive, amazing hike side of my double-edged trip to British Colombia      (negative side not pictured)

So, here’s my advice for dealing with returnee-ism:

  1. First, accept the fact that these interactions are going to happen, and are going to happen whenever you come home from an exciting place. I just got home from attending two of my best friend’s wedding in Japan a month ago, and I dealt with the exact same questions I faced coming home from Spain.
  2. Second, if the trip didn’t have a frustrating aspect, then you’re either remembering incorrectly or lying to yourself. Overall, my trip to Japan was one of the best of my life, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t low points. The longer you live somewhere, the more this is magnified. Even if you can’t explain the complete nature of a trip to someone else, be as truthful as possible. Gilding or demonizing your trips can discount what you learned from them.
  3. Third, debrief. I went to Israel during December of 2014 and had an interesting experience, but one that was really frustrating as well. I wrote a blog on it, which really helped me put my trip in perspective. I’m in the process of writing one for Japan, and always travel with a journal. Find whatever mechanism is best for you to debrief, it’ll do you a lot of good.
  4. Finally, internalize everything, and go out again. Each time I’ve traveled after my study abroad experience, either domestically or internationally, I applied what I learned before and gained new skills to boot.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

The 5 Stages of Post-Abroad Metamorphosis, Contemplation, and General Tears

Of course post-abroad adjustment can be broken down into pre-determined stages! As you head out on the next great adventure, keep these 5 stages in mind to make re-adjustment smooth sailing:

1. Dazed and Confused

Why is it light out at midnight? Shouldn’t we be eating breakfast right now? No? It’s 4 pm? What? I slept for 14 hours? You don’t say…

So you’ve probably experienced jetlag. You have never experienced the post-abroad apocalypse that will herald your return. Not only are you coming off of 5 months of adventure and mischief, but you just traveled umpteen hours, probably said emotional good-byes and hellos to your families in their respective countries, and – oh, yeah – changed time zones. Even if it’s just one or two time zones, you won’t be operating at full power for at least 2 days or 18 hours of sleep, whichever comes first. Prepare to be a little kooky. There is no better remedy than sleep. And probably whatever food you’ve been massively missing while abroad (For me, it was cheese. Clearly I didn’t go to Europe). You’ve just got to ride it out. Or sleep it out, I guess.

2. Articulation

Did I mention I just spent 5 months in Ecuador? Oh I did. Well did I tell you I climbed a volcano? Oh I did. Well did I show you my slideshow of 436 photos? Oh you already sat through it. Well did you get the highlight commentary? Oh you did. Well when I was in Ecuador…

So I studied abroad in Ecuador.

When you come off of the adventure high, you naturally want to share that with everyone you come in contact with. That’s fine. Your life was pretty cool for a few months and you just experienced something once-in-a-lifetime. Also fine. BUT YOU CANNOT TWIST EVERY CONVERSATION TO MENTION YOUR STUDY ABROAD. THE PEOPLE GET A LITTLE CRANKY.

Sorry to be so emphatic. Of course, it’s going to be a topic of conversation as most people you know want to hear about your trip. You will get really good at the highlight-reel speech. But post-abroad, you will certainly run across one of these chatterbox people, and you will most certainly be aware of every minute detail of their time abroad. You will be talking about Abstract Algebra or the new shampoo you just purchased and SOMEHOW it will connect to an experience in Spain, or traveling in Paris, or hiking the Great Wall in China, etc.

Don’t be that person.

3. Cultural Sensitivity

“Sheesh. Gustavo is, like, so culturally insensitive. I mean, he’s telling me about how he didn’t have running water the whole time he was abroad. Can you believe it? I’m just like; Dude, what can you even be complaining about? I didn’t even have water.”

Shockingly, your experiences make you a more enlightened person to various degrees. Who would have thought. Seeing how non-Americans live will be eye-opening for most people, and this can never be a bad thing, however, upon your return it is tantamount to remember that not everyone – even your friends who have also studied abroad – will have seen, felt, and experienced what you have. Their context is entirely different. Don’t write them off as culturally insensitive jerkwads, realize you too have blind spots. The hardships you experienced abroad are nothing to brag about – use them to inform what actions you take post-abroad.

4. Relativity

What is even the point of this homework stuff? Why do grades even matter? It’s just one person’s subjective viewpoint that is largely not representative of the “real world” anyway!

This stage is crucial, heartbreaking, and almost universal.

There will be thrown books. There will be late assignments. There will be tears. The only solace is that as you are contemplating just giving up on the 50% of your homework you actually complete, every other study abroad returnee is right there with ya. After learning so much – largely outside of a classroom – 16 credit hours worth of class time just seems rather superfluous. Winter quarter can be a dark time.

Remember this as you sit in your café registering for classes while abroad – don’t overload. Simply getting to class on-time, and not Latin American “on-time” (ie: 10 minutes late) will be a struggle.

5. Wanderlust

You’ve gotten a taste and now you’re addicted. To the getting lost and crowded buses. To the daily rain and astounding lack of edible cheese. To the street food out of tiny bags and terrifying traffic. To the solitude. To the language. To the adventure.

This stage doesn’t just end – you get to keep it the rest of your life. From here on out you will be questing for new travels and leaping at every opportunity to dash across the globe. You may have only studied abroad for months, but the effects last years.

To all those leaving in a matter of weeks or months – best of luck! All of the returnees – those of us in “stage 5” – would love to go with you.

– Maddie Doering, MSID Ecuador 2014

Maddie Doering

Top 5 Must-Try Korean Teas

Koreans, and many of Korea’s neighbors drink tea. I knew this before studying abroad, so I brought my mom’s favorite tea with as a gift to share with Koreans to provide a small comparison. Here is a list of teas I was introduced to while studying abroad.

생강차 Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is considered a medicinal, and believed to ease fatigue, warm the body, and neutralize toxicity in the body. Koreans will often drink this tea at the first signs of a cold to prevent it from getting worse.

If you are interested in trying ginger tea, I recommend going to a local store that sells Korean foods and look for a glass jar where the ginger is mixed with honey and sugar. All you need to do is drop a heaping spoonful into glass of hot water, stir, and viola!

Tea2유자차 Citron Tea

Yuja is a type of citrus fruit; in this tea slices of the yuja, including the rind, are cut and mixed with sugar or honey. It is a great drink for winter, and if you find the ginseng flavor too strong citron tea is a delicious tasting alternative for fighting off colds.

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보리차 Barley Tea

When I stayed with a Korean family for a week I was surprised that they boiled all of the water they drank, even though the water from faucets was deemed safe for consumption by the government. Often, instead of drinking plain water, they made tea. One of the teas used to substitute plain water is barley tea. Unlike most Korean teas, barley has a nutty flavor. It is also good for digestion.

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It can be purchased in single serving tea bags, or in larger pouches when used for larger quantities of water. You can also buy bottled barley tea and can find it in almost every convenience store.

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현미녹차 Roasted Brown Rice Green Tea

Roasted brown rice green tea is also a popular in Japan, and goes by the name genmaicha. I love the nutty roasted flavor in this tea. If it is an option nine out of ten times I will choose roasted brown rice green tea over plain green tea.

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Flowering Teas

If you have the opportunity, I recommend going to a tea cafe that is known for serving flowering teas. A small tightly bound ball of tea is dropped into a cup of hot water. Then watch as the ball blooms into a beautiful flower and creates a pleasant tea for you to drink.

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Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

5 Reasons Why Studying Abroad Makes You A Better Person

  1. You Forge Local Relationships

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.

  1. 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.

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through
A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through
  1. 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.

  1. 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…

  1. 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.

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco
Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

A Returnee’s Guide to Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Being on my own for so long made me forget what it was like to be surrounded by my loved ones all the time. When I finally did come back home to my loved ones, it seemed so different. It is not because I was sad that I was home, but rather I wanted to be left alone because that was how I lived and grew as a person for the last 4 months in a country unlike the United States in almost every way. Reverse culture shock is real, and for me, it was hard to handle on my own.

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I studied abroad in Beijing, China at Peking University for four months in the Fall of 2014. It was the best and the most challenging experience of my life, but it was more than worth it in every aspect. The culture, the language, and the food were like nothing we experience here in America; its like China was a whole new world just waiting to be discovered.

After being home for 2 months now, I have found some things to help the transition back to life both in America but also here at the University of Denver.

Take Time to Reflect:

It already seems as though my time abroad was a dream, if it were not for the reminder of all the great pictures that I took. Spend some time reflecting on your own about your experience, especially considering what you learned from it. Take this time to relive the memories, go through all your pictures, and contemplate how you felt about the overall experience. This helped me better understand what differences I appreciated about China, and the specific parts of my journey that really mattered to me; maybe it will help you in even more ways!

Find Your 2 Minute Short Story:

You will be asked by almost everyone (family, friends, Facebook followers, random neighbors, old co-workers, distant relatives, even dogs if they could talk) how your time abroad was and what your favorite memories were. I had to answer this question so many times it started to just become routine. Many times, the questions were just in passing so I picked a couple cool experiences and a few difficult ones to tell people about that really summed up my trip. Finding your study abroad short story will save you time, and brain power; it allows you to tell your story on your own terms, so enjoy!

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Stay Connected with Your Friends from Abroad:

It is easy to fall out of contact with people, especially when you live in different states, and even different countries. Making the effort to chat and catch up with friends from abroad is very rewarding. Sometimes I just needed to chat with Lily because she was a part of the story about getting lost in the mountains in Southern China and finding our, or understand the hardship of being abroad as well as coming back home. They can be the greatest resource for you, as well as the best life-long friend. Getting back in touch with your friends from home and DU is equally important! Be sure to surround yourself with people who love you, care about you, and understand you

Find a New Routine to Help You readjust:

Sometimes familiar can be helpful when trying to adjust back to life at DU. Having a familiar routine that fits your desires and needs makes things seem a bit more normal. This can be going back to activities you did before you went abroad as well as joining new groups based off your experience abroad. Coming back onto campus, I continuing my work with the debate team for a sense of familiarity while also joining a sustainability group on campus to advocate for better environmental efforts on campus; I never want the city to be as polluted as Beijing was.

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Tread Water, Don’t Dive into the Deep End:

Instead of jumping in and joining a bunch of clubs, taking a full course load, and finding a job; try to ease your transition back to life in the U.S. by making a little bit easier schedule. Take three class for winter quarter, be a member of a club rather than the leader of it, or work less hours at a part time job. The transition back is not easy, so make some time for yourself and enjoy being back!

-Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

 

How Study Abroad Can Help Your Professional Development

How do you handle pressure?

How do you handle conflict?

Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.

Tell me about a time when you faced some adversity in your life and how you overcame it.

 

Study abroad- while we returnees tend to focus on the amazingness of our experiences abroad, it is hard to imagine a study abroad experience without some sort of adversity, difficult situation, conflict or pressure. This adversity is meant to be capitalized upon. Use your experience to prove to employers that you are resilient and you have what they need.

 

Are you a leader or a follower?

Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

Give me one example of when you’ve used your problem-solving skills.

Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

Tell me about a time you failed, what you learned from it, and how you would act differently if you encountered something similar again.

 

Let’s imagine you are one of three candidates in a final round of interviewing, all with similar qualifications, skills, and background. Except for one thing: you studied abroad.  Are you prepared to convince the interviewer of the value added you can bring to their company because of your study abroad experience?

Or let’s imagine you and the other candidates all have same qualifications and all studied abroad. Can you make yourself stand out in a crowd with a study abroad experience that shows a combination of desirable skills? Most of us are probably thinking, no, not yet, I couldn’t do that in this very moment.

The thing about professional development—preparing documents required for job applications and job searching in general—is that it is a process of research, reflection, and improvement. We research positions and required qualifications, we match our skillsets with the job descriptions’ vocabulary, and we practice aloud our rationale of how we match the position.

It is often easy with study abroad experiences to follow the STAR method- Situation, Task, Action, Result; proving your skills through a story. Go back to the list of questions; did any of them resonate with you and of one of your study abroad experiences? Try to set up your story in the STAR method to demonstrate skills like flexibility, active listening, ability to work with people different than yourself, solving problems, critical thinking, and managing conflict.

By using your study abroad experiences in interviews you are displaying maturity through the reflection it took to draw out those skills. It is also a great topic that creates an opening for more conversation. Use your study abroad stories to help you land your next job.

Finally, look for the annual Lessons From Abroad—Study Abroad Returnee Conference in your region to learn how to improve your resume writing and interviewing skills. You will also have the opportunity to network with professionals who have internationally-focused positions and learn how to work, teach, or volunteer abroad after graduation.  http://www.lessonsfromabroad.org/

LFA