This past weekend, the day after returning from the Camino de Santiago, I boarded a plane and flew 3 hours to the city of Dublin, Ireland, and met up with some of my friends from the University of Denver. Coming from Alicante, a warm city along the coast, it was a wonderful change of pace to experience some cold weather.
Dublin is a large, spread out city with a wide variety of interesting experiences and a lot of intriguing graffiti murals. On the first day of our Dublin trip, my friends and I walked around and went to some art galleries and shops before taking a tour of the Guinness factory; which has a rich history that is very important to the country of Ireland. We got to see how the famous beer is brewed and everything that goes into the brewing process. On top of the Guinness factory, there is a circular room made out of glass panels that offer a beautiful 360° view of Dublin.
The following day, one of my friends and I awoke at 6:00am for a bus tour that we had scheduled. The bus would leave from the center of the city at 7:45 and take us to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Dublin is located on the very East coast of Ireland, and the Cliffs are located on the very West coast of Ireland. Interestingly, it only took three and a half hours on a bus to travel across the entire country of Ireland. That is less time than it would take me to get from Kansas City to St. Louis.
After a very sleepy three and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were even bigger than we had expected. The cliffs stand at 700 feet tall, and had a somewhat eerie feel to them due to dark storm clouds and stories we had heard about individuals falling off due to large gusts of wind. That being said, they are one of the more beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed in person. Viewing the white-capped waves crashing into the rigid, mossy cliffs from 700 feet above was truly aw-inspiring. We explored the cliffs for a little less than two hours before boarding our bus to return to civilization.
On our way home from the cliffs, we stopped in a small town called Doolin to try some local food and experience a rural farm town in Ireland. There, we learned that sheep outnumber humans four to one in the country of Ireland. It was really nice to travel from East to South coast by bus, because we got to see a lot of Ireland and what it looks like in the center.
Sadly, on day three, right before touring the Jameson factory, our trip was cut short due to hurricane Ophelia. Many of my friends flights got cancelled, so we had to go back to our Airbnb and book new flights. Mine happened to be in 2 hours from when we found out about the hurricane, so I raced to the airport and made it to my plane with 2 minutes to spare. Although our trip was cut short by a day, I am very happy I visited Ireland and hope to return someday.
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think I’ve always thought there was a fundamental difference between rooted people and the free birds of the world. One was boring and had no sense of adventure, and the other was the ideal, fluttering off wherever their heart desired and constantly investigating new corners of the world. They were diametric opposites. They had to be.
I’ve got that typical 20-something affliction of nomadism, of wanting to see and taste and feel as much of the world as I possibly can. I want to know for myself that the world is bigger than me, and I want to feel like a tiny dot on a map because if I don’t the main thing that occupies my world is my own big ego. Travel brings you down to size, makes you feel like a part of a whole, and that’s a pretty cool thing. So once the time came, I was eager to have my time to fly around the globe and get my feet on as many new grounds as possible.
Then I went on my exchange year to York, and I realized (again) how limiting this type of binaristic thinking is. Because by any standard, I am doing the “free bird” thing this year. I’ve spent two weeks at home since September of this past year, and won’t be home again until late June, and even then it will only be for a little while. I won’t be home for a long period of time until mid-August. My exchange year is fully 9 months, and after that I’ll spend another month in Arusha, Tanzania. So I feel a bit like that free spirited bird this year, London a 2-hour train ride away and the rest of mainland Europe a 2 hour flight.
But by some miracle, found myself able to put down strong roots in this goofy medieval town of York. I found friends here, good friends, friends who don’t hesitate to loan me an extra plate or an egg or a shoulder to lean on when I’m missing home. The community I found (and have helped to build on some level) here is a massive part of the fabric of my life abroad. So much so that England feels just like that-my life. Not an extended holiday. Not even study abroad anymore, honestly. My life. And it’s given me a new perspective on what I already knew in Colorado (but perhaps maybe didn’t realize as strongly as it’s been there my whole life)-that roots matter wherever you go. You can’t withstand any of the tough parts of your life without some roots to keep you standing. You can survive without any roots, sure. But do any of us really just want to live life surviving?
I want to thrive. I’m thriving in York. And I’m wondering if maybe there’s a little more balance to things than my black-and-white mind would have me believe. That it is possible to be well-traveled and well-rooted, and that those two things don’t have to cancel each other out.
Sometimes, the best of both worlds is not a myth. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra work to get there.
Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.
In the midst of the desire to grow and develop as a person and see as many museums or ancient structures as possible, it’s easy to let self-care get lost in the shuffle. I recently developed a wicked case of food poisoning, so self-care has been on my mind lately. Here’s 4 tips to help take care of yourself while abroad.
1. Don’t be a typhoid Mary. There’s going to come a point in your abroad experience where you’ll get sick-whether that’s briefly from food poisoning, a cold, or something even more serious, it’s fairly likely you’ll come down with something. The odds are even better if you’re on a longer term abroad experience. But if you find yourself getting sick, don’t push yourself to continue all your usual activities. It’s not doing anyone any favors to be around you while you’re hacking and coughing and sneezing your germs everywhere. At the very least, give yourself a day or two for cold recovery, longer if you’ve come down with the flu or a sinus infection or something more contagious. Taking a day to take care of yourself, sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, and not pass your germs along can only be a good thing.
2. Learn to recognize social exhaustion. Granted, this is coming from me as an introvert. So if you find yourself on the more extraverted end of the spectrum, take the following with a grain of salt. Being abroad comes with a lot of pressure to make good friends with whom you’ll experience amazing new things. Making friends is an essential part of being abroad, and it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone when building a new network in a new country. But do learn to recognize when you need a break. You don’t need to do something social every night in order to make friends. Sometimes it’s just fine to take a night to yourself and go to bed early or watch Netflix or read a book, or do whatever it is that helps you recharge and feel like you’re not being spread too thin.
3. Call your parents every so often. I know, I know, you want to live as much in the moment as possible and not be constantly thinking about home. That’s good. Being connected to your host country is important. It speeds up the settling-in process, helps you overcome culture shock, and enriches your experience overall. But don’t completely neglect family. It can be really helpful and refreshing to fill your mom or dad in on whatever’s gone down in the past week, get advice if you need it, and have them make your dogs say hello over skype. And besides, your parents will feel much better seeing you in real time once in awhile than just via your Instagram photos.
4. Take a few solo walks around your host city. Do it within the bounds of common-sense safety, definitely. But just take half an hour and stroll around a part of the city you haven’t been to yet. Maybe take some of your favorite music along and get a coffee, and just watch the world go by for a little while. Listen to what the birds sound like. Figure out what kind of urban wildlife exists in your new hometown. Mostly, take a little time to breathe and be in your city without feeling the need to rush off somewhere. Taking time to just be in York and not run around it was what helped me really start to feel like a local; like I belong here.
Of course, none of this is an either-or proposition. The whirlwind sightseeing can be great fun! But finding a balance between going a million miles an hour and stopping to (perhaps literally) smell the roses can be the key to really making the most of your study abroad experience.
It’s scary to believe my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I’ve been dreaming of having this experience since high school and could not wait these past two years at DU to have my turn at these adventures!
I chose Bangor University because it combined both the familiar (English language and the UK) and the unknown (Wales and British university life).
I loved every moment of this experience. Here are my highlights!
I took three classes. My business class counted for DU credit and I liked taking a class that applied to my major in a foreign setting. My Welsh history class was definitely my favorite! It was great to get the information pertaining to the area I was studying in and it made visiting the various castles of the region much more exciting and rewarding! A spur of the moment decision to take a science class was one of the greatest decisions I made at the beginning of the semester. It was five weeks of lectures about the geography of the area and then a week long field course trekking through Snowdonia National Park. It was a great method to learn science and a spectacular corner of the world to explore!
I never would have discovered this corner of the UK without studying at Bangor. Its perfect setting between Snowdonia National Park and the Irish Sea. I went on many adventures throughout the area. My favrotie place was Conwy, a medieval walled city home to the Conwy Castle. It was a great place to explore and shop around the little boutiques. My field course visited the National Park and the best place was the Aber Valley, home to two spectacular waterfalls in a mystical, fairy-tale like setting. Having the ability to explore so many different corners of the UK and Europe on the weekend has definitely instilled a deeper love of travel in me. It also inspired me to travel more around the USA to get to know the different regions!
Britain takes their holidays very seriously. For Halloween, I attended a Harry Potter feast complete with magic lessons, chocolate frogs, and Dumbledore. My friend from DU threw a Thanksgiving for her flat and I got to attend. It was an interesting group to spend thanksgiving with. The feast included standard American thanksgiving food like mashed potatoes, cornbread, pie, and sweet potatoes. Quote of the night came from one of the British students remarking on the fact that the sweet potatoes were covered with marshmallows: “Oh there go the Americans putting sugar on everything they can.” We spent the Thanksgiving comparing and contrasting American and British holiday traditions. Christmas in the UK starts as soon as Halloween ends. The decorations went up and the Christmas music began in the stores.
This abroad experience was one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I can’t imagine going abroad anywhere else besides Bangor and very happy with the choice I made and the places I traveled to! I’m returning back to DU and more confident person ready for all the challenges life brings!
My first term at the University of York is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to head home for Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve put together some things I’ve learned about living as an American in England after my first chunk of my exchange year.
Yorkshire is a county full of immense local pride. Nothing quite brings that to your attention like standing in a crowd of locals at a concert who are all chanting “York-shire! York-shire!” Nothing quite makes you feel as viscerally at home than joining in that chant and having it swell to the point where you can feel it resonate in your chest.
Nothing teaches you humility like trying to learn all the ins and outs of life in North Yorkshire. Most of the locals have been happy to explain everything to me from how FIFA works, to how a football team makes the world cup, to why people care so much about football in the first place, to what on earth a “brolly” is (Hint: it’s an umbrella). Sometimes you can pick up on cultural nuances via context clues, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s fine! Plucking up the courage to ask what may be a pretty obvious question is an exercise in humility that everyone needs eventually. And it opens up an opportunity for locals to demonstrate kindness and patience towards you. Which, more often than not, they are happy to do.
England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Should you choose to go abroad anywhere in the UK, don’t underestimate the differences in these dialects and the cultural differences they bring. You’ll inevitably slip up at some point and say something embarrassing. It’s alright. It’ll happen. But the key to managing a new culture (even one that may not seem that different than home), is always listening. Go and spend time with just local people for awhile (as in actively seek out local company rather than just hanging out with other international students. You already know how to relate to Americans, it’s not going to challenge you to relate to them in another country) and just listen to the conversation before jumping in. English folks have very different methods of making friends than Americans, and you can really only learn this on the job.
A political discussion is going to eventually come up. At some point, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will criticize something about America. You may or may not agree with said criticism. Whatever your opinion, wait before jumping to defend your home country. Probe a little. Ask more questions. Figure out what is influencing this person to think the way that they do. Then add your own opinion to the mix. Not only does this make for a more fruitful exchange, it sends a more positive message about Americans in general-that they’re politically aware and willing to try to see issues on a global scale, rather than just a countrywide one. And do keep in mind that every country in the world has serious issues and has made serious mistakes. Admitting to and expressing shame or sorrow over mistakes our nation has made doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It makes you honest.
And finally, on a lighter note, give yourself permission to be silly. Everyone’s got a goofy side, and it often gives others permission to unleash their goofiness when they see yours. Even if (in my case) that means screeching your way through a karaoke rendition of the Time Warp. People will wonder how many drinks it took for you to pull off that entire dance and all the spoken bits (the answer, surprisingly, as zero. The karaoke bar in question was really expensive). But then they’ll quit wondering and dance the Time Warp with you in the haze of the fake smoke machine and leave breathless and grinning. And it’s moments like those, in addition to the more serious ones, where international bridges are built and some special friendships are formed, when people don’t feel the need to choose between silliness and seriousness. Both are integral parts of being human, I think.
It’s been a fantastic first term. For those of you heading back to the States for good, don’t let your experience fade. Write about it and preserve it. For those of you staying abroad for the whole year-we’re just getting started. Let’s make it count.
So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:
(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)
….than days like this:
(sunny and positively enchanting).
What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.
The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.
And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.
In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.
I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:
And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:
As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.
Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad.
In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.
Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.
Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.
Check out what Jacques, one of our students is, doing studying at the University Glasgow in Scotland. We feel that this picture of his friend sums it up pretty well, but check out his blog for more details!
York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.
I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.
The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.
So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.
Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.
And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.
The realization that I’ll be going to study abroad at the University of York in England for an entire year come mid-September still hasn’t quite sunk in. Most of my prep work is done, but every now and then the gravity of an exchange year starts to hit me.
There are a couple of questions that have been running through my head regarding this whole thing, and I thought I’d answer myself here.
Aren’t you scared to go abroad for a whole year?
Of course I am. I’m equal parts terrified and jumping-up-and-down excited about the whole thing. I love to travel and would like to believe I do so quite well, but Colorado is my home and it will be very hard to only spend about six weeks in my home over the next year.
Won’t you miss your friends? Will they even be your friends when you get back?
Being who I am-a person who loves fiercely, hates rejection, and has lost several very close friends over the years-this is a real worry for me. But like always, the logical and emotional parts of my brain are messy housemates. Emotional me is crying that I’ll have an amazing time abroad and then come back with no friends. Logical me is remembering that one of my dearest friends from high school lives a couple of thousand miles away from me and yet he’s still my best friend. We don’t get to talk to each other near as often as we would like, but when you have a friendship as genuine and as sweet as that, it’s not easily broken. And I think I can say the same for my friends here at DU. We won’t get to talk nearly as often as we do now living together and seeing each other every day. But they are special enough to me that I won’t just drop them, and I know they won’t do that to me either.
You’ll be doing an awful lot of travelling alone. Doesn’t that scare you?
It absolutely does! But after spending a few weeks way outside my comfort zone in southern Kenya, I learned that big risks pay off massive dividends. The payoff doesn’t negate any of the rough parts in the middle-loneliness, getting sick, missing home, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake in a particularly dark moment. I felt all of those things in Kenya. But it was and remains a trip I hold close to my heart. And I’m ready for the bits where I travel alone. I won’t be completely alone, as I’ll be meeting up with friends in pretty much every place that I go to. Taking intentional time alone and journaling and actually going and doing things (museums, hikes, that sort of thing) by myself help me to grow content with my own company and to get to know my own head. Those are vitally important, as again, I’m the one who has to live with that stuff on a daily basis.
The bottom line is that come fall, I will be embarking on a crazy scary year. But I’m doing it on purpose. Doing scary stuff on purpose is pretty good for you, I think. Keeps a girl on her toes.
It’s officially one month until I leave for Bangor University for the fall semester!
I will be enrolled as a student taking a variety of classes ranging from basic Welsh to organizational behavior.
Before I delve more into my thoughts regarding my next big life adventure let me tell a bit about myself:
I am a third year Marketing major at the University of Denver in beautiful Colorado, where I am involved in both the Delta Delta Delta sorority and the Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity. Originally from Northern California, I have always enjoyed traveling with my family across the US and Europe. I like to find adventure anywhere I find myself!
Something that is hard to do as a visitor or tourist to any locale is really immerse yourself within that culture. World cultures have always fascinated me because it is astounding how on one single planet so much cultures, histories, and stories can co-exist together! A semester abroad provides enough time to begin to understand and thrive in that cultures instead of just glancing at it while a tourist. Although my culture is noticeably the baseball, minivans, and apple pie all American, one unique cultural experience I had was that my family happened to be in London when Prince William married Catherine Middleton. I stood on the Pall Mall in front of Buckingham Palace waving a small British flag, belting “God Save the Queen” while cheering for Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the British Royal Family. I felt a part of the culture and yelling for the couple to kiss when they appeared on the balcony seemed the right thing to do. It was an amazing experience to be a part of something that is so distinctly a part of the British national identity.
Studying abroad was always a definite must and it was not an easy decision narrowing down even which part of the world I wanted to study in for a semester! When faced with the daunting question from the study abroad office of where could we imagine living for four months. Since I’ve always been an anglophile and being a champion of all things Britannia, I decided on Bangor University in Wales because it gave a different UK experience than the programs in the ever popular London or Glasgow. So then I got the official email telling me the great news.
With this news, I have been busily mentally preparing myself for the trip of a lifetime where I really get to become a member of a different culture and lifestyle.
Going out of state for college was a particular challenge but its set the stage for being more comfortable with leaving home for greater distances. The biggest challenge I will face is being alone in a strange place; California to Colorado was an interesting enough adjustment, so US to Wales will be even more confusing! Support from family and friends will help make the transition smoother as they are as excited to hear all about the experiences I have abroad! Every person I’ve ever talked to about their time living abroad has told me how the experience has changed them and altered their world perspective, and from my college adventures that joining and involving myself in as many things as possible will be the best things to expand my horizons.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Culture Shock may be the most blandly defined word ever. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary calls it “a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.”
It is truly astounding that a definition can fall so short. True culture shock is elation and terror, excitement and frustration, adventure and nostalgia. While these pairs seem to be in conflict with each other, in reality, they act in perfect harmony, albeit one might be acting a bit more strongly than the other. Let me explain.
Truly being in a new culture, for me, comes down to an internal battle between adventure and nostalgia, as I mentioned before. While traveling, carpe diem (YOLO for all you hooligans out there) seems to rule my psyche. I want to see everything, do everything, and experience every little facet that will imbue the place to me. For example, when I was in London this past September, my travel partner and I decided to walk from our hostel near King’s Cross to London’s Natural History Museum (our route).
Had we walked straight there, it would have been 7 miles. All of our detouring and site-seeing probably brought us up to 9. We talked in British accents, took pictures, ate lunch in St. James Park, and tried to grasp the fact that we were thousands of miles away from home. We turned our excitement up to 11, culture shock was staring me straight in the face, and life couldn’t have been sweeter.
That’s the upside to culture shock: it can be riveting and awesome, new and shiny.
Then there’s the flipside: the nostalgia of everything you left behind. Whether it’s friends, a significant other, a physical location, or your family, you made sacrifices to “live the dream”, so to speak. At first, you’re too caught up in the moment to realize this; while every cloud has a silver lining, every warm, sunny day gives you a higher chance of contracting melanoma. Wow that was incredibly insensitive. I’m going to rephrase, hyperbole and melodrama aside.
The point I’m (so offensively) trying to make is that culture shock is a double-edged sword. Going abroad is a fantastic journey that can come at personal sacrifice. That being said, I believe the benefits outweigh the shortcomings tenfold. No, everything will not be just as you left it, but that can be a blessing in disguise and the relationships that really matter will deepen.
Now, the greatest graphic ever. You will forget just about everything the Study Abroad Office tells you before you go abroad. We do our best, but the reality of the situation is that a lot of information falls through the cracks. The one piece that will remain with you when you come home from your grand adventure is the graphic below:
This is you over time. As you slowly assimilate into your host-country’s culture, there will be ups and downs. Always remember, though, that no matter how low you go, if you keep working hard, the next euphoric moment is right around the corner.
One of the most powerful lessons that I learned during my study abroad experience was the lesson of being the outsider. I learned how it felt to be a foreigner and a minority. I learned how it felt to live in a place where I didn’t understand how things worked, and I didn’t understand everything that was said to me. And, since I have spent some time in those shoes, I feel like I achieved some empathy to the outsiders/foreigners/minorities that live in my own country. In particular, here are some of my own personal tips on how to communicate with someone who is learning your language:
Speak slower, not louder. Anyone who has any experience learning a language knows that a new language can sound all slurred together, and it’s often hard to tell where one word ends and another begins. It is somewhat condescending and belittling to talk to someone as if they’re hard of hearing when they’re learning your language. Also, don’t speak to them in baby-talk.
Go light on the sarcasm. Humor is just one of those things that is impossible to directly translate and is often one of the most difficult things to learn in a new culture or language. Realize that they may be frustrated that they can’t adequately do their own sense of humor justice in your language; and that their own personality isn’t fully complete in your culture.
Don’t ask them to speak for their entire nationality/race/gender/religion/insert-other-identity-here.“You’re an American. What do Americans think about ____?”
Consider that their conversational speed is different than yours. Some cultures speak to each other very quickly, even interrupting others before they’re done speaking. Other cultures have a few seconds of pause before responding. Try to let them finish what they’re saying, even if they’re struggling to find the words, instead of trying to finish their sentence for them.
And lastly, be patient. It is an enormous struggle to learn a new language. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. But I believe some of the best language-learning happens when you get a chance to have a long and meaningful conversation with a native speaker.
In a previous blog, Tiffany challenged us to think about what it means to be a global citizen and how our identity might be impacted through experiences abroad.
Study abroad is an opportunity for DU’s students not simply to visit other countries but to experience, dig beneath the surface, and experience the subtleties and nuances of another culture first hand. To be a global citizen is to be able to negotiate different cultures, to understand the subtleties of what contributes to different cultures and to understand your interactions between your identity in your home country and the country you are studying abroad in. Finally, a global citizen is someone who comes to appreciate culture shock, a natural process of cultural adjustment when you leave a culture you are used to and enter another.
The most important step to becoming a global citizen is to take your experiences from abroad and to apply them back here in your community. To do this means finding ways to share your experience back in the United States at school, in your classes, with your family and in your communities. If your experience abroad enables you to apply your appreciation and more nuanced understanding of another culture in the classroom, to help debate or to provide a nuance or analysis that only a firsthand experience of another culture could bring, then that will not only help you, but also others to become global citizens. The more immersive your experience, the greater the insight that you will be able to add.
With this, study abroad cannot only to give you a new understanding about yourself and your identity, but it should encourage you to be more questioning about your home culture upon your return. Parts of everyday life that you never questioned previously, such as the pace of life, the culture of individualism in the United States, or the role of public transport (not transportation!) may be just a few areas of life which come to challenge you. After this process of self-evaluation, it may well give you the encouragement to break out of your community and explore new cultures and traditions within the United States, whether it be through new activities, new friends or new places within America.
After my return home to Denver, I can begin reflecting on my time abroad, and I can say I am grateful for my placement at Queen’s. This university and the city of Belfast in general made for a one of a kind experience, and I would strongly recommend exploring this destination to others considering places to go abroad. That being said, if Belfast doesn’t make your cut for programs, I would also recommend it as a place to visit. Why you ask? Well here are a few of my favorite things about this wonderfully underrated capital of a British territory with a full and rich history, a great music scene, and colorful characters straddling their British and Irish identities.
If you do plan to visit Belfast, or attend Queen’s University, these are my Belfast top 8 locations to visit:
1. St. George’s Market
This great weekend attraction is an indoor open market in the city center. If you are looking for a traditional Northern Irish breakfast, a chance to check out some crafts, or even buy fresh produce, this is a one-stop-shop. I spent many weekend mornings exploring the booths at the market and enjoying a breakfast fry or fresh bakery.
2. Shankhill/ Bus Tour of the City
One of the coolest parts of Belfast, whether you are a history buff or simply looking for artistic creation is the Belfast murals. The Shankhill neighborhood is one of the divisions of the city that still holds many political ties to the Troubles, and the murals represent these political standpoints. The tours, like Black Taxi Tours, offer visitors a sad beauty within the city.
3. Titanic Quarter
If you didn’t know, the Titanic was made in Belfast! There is a quarter dedicated to the remembrance of not only those passengers of the Titanic who died, but the crew who died in the building of the ship is also memorialized. Recently, a new museum was built at the shipyard. I highly recommend visiting the Titanic Quarter as a way to learn about the facts that Leo and Kate may have glossed over in their depiction.
4. Black Bear Cafe/ Bookfinders
Not far from Queen’s campus is a great cafe. Locally owned and run, The Black Bear Cafe has great coffee, lunch specials, and serves as a quiet study spot or a delicious food stop. My favorite was the pastries, cappuccino, and the sweet potato fries. The other great coffee shop is Bookfinders, owned and run by a local Belfast woman,Mary. It has quite a bit of character and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but equally as close to Queen’s campus, it offers a great place to study while enjoying coffee, tea, or Mary’s great soup! In any place you choose to go abroad, I strongly suggest trying local shops and restaurants. You can get Starbucks anytime, but you’ll miss out on opportunities for local flavor if you stick to American brands.
5. The Eglantine Inn
Food, drink, karaoke? The Eglantine Inn, also along the main road of campus offers a true Belfast experience. And what I mean by that is not only is there fantastic food and drinks, the company is friendly and lively, and the night ends in a rendition of ‘Galway Girl‘ where everyone sings along. For a night to enjoy Belfast life, make sure to stop at The Eg!
6. The Botanic Garden
Less than a three minute walk from my house was the Belfast Botanic Garden. On the wonderful sunny days in the city this was my favorite place to go on a run, walk, or sit and people watch. Filled with dog walkers, stroller pushers, and students from Queen’s the Botanic Garden is beautiful, scenic and a favorite spot to enjoy the autumn leaves falling during your fall quarter abroad.
7. The Parlour
Another great spot for eating, music, and general merriment is The Parlour. After spending lunches, dinners, and evenings listening to the music and enjoying the atmosphere of the local pub/restaurant. Socializing with societies like the acting society or the English society in the Parlour is a great way to get to know the Queen’s community and visit a great student hub.
8. Christmas Market
Being lucky enough to visit Belfast during the pre-holiday season I was able to visit a European Christmas market. Bringing together traditions from across Europe in food and shops, the market is a beautiful cultural mixture that delights taste buds and fulfills souvenir gifts alike. I went to the market multiple times, and it was quite a site to see City Hall lit up for the holidays taking part in the traditions of a city.
If you are studying in Belfast I also made a top 5 list of day trips you should plan on taking!
1. Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede
This was by far my favorite day trip. The Giant’s Causeway is a natural attraction, being a special rock formation that not only is a gorgeous site at sundown, but has fun Irish Folklore associated with it. I took an organized bus tour along the coast, but this is an easy trip to plan on your own. Either way, I would make it a priority to visit Bushmills, Northern Ireland and see both the Causeway and walk across the old Rope Bridge. Luckily on my trip, we avoided most of the rain, and instead got to see two rainbows along the tour!
2. London Derry/ Derry
Another location for those who are interested in the politics or the history of the Troubles is the city of Derry. I was a fan of the murals in the ‘Free Derry’ location, the site of political Civil Rights Protests and the current Bloody Sunday Memorial. Learning the history of a divided nation that that of Ireland and Northern Ireland is important in understanding much of the cultural narrative, and so I made it a priority to learn more about the Troubles and the Peace Process.
3. The Mourn Mountains
After living in Colorado for the last 3 years, the Mourns don’t really look much like mountains, but on the island of Ireland they are the site of highest elevation. This being said, it is a great day trip to New Castle to go and explore the mountain trails and then warm up in a local cafe in the small town. If you really like the hikes, there is also the Mountaineering Club at Queen’s that takes monthly camping trips up into the mountains.
Crossing into the Republic of Ireland is luckily a lot easier than it was just a decade ago. Now the two hour drive to the Republic’s capital is a direct bus ride, taking you from city center to city center. Although it is two hours away, it is still a doable day trip as the early morning bus leaves at 6am and buses then run all night long. I recommend buying your return ticket right away, as it is cheaper and an open return is good for 30 days after purchase. Dublin is a great city with too much for a single blog post, but some of the things I really enjoyed included: Trinity College, Kilhilmain Gaol, and Temple Bar neighborhood.
Over the river and through the woods, into the fairytale like forest towards Bishops Gate is the next day trip I strongly suggest. Taking a train to the New Castle easily puts you in one of the most scenic areas of Northern Ireland. This small town is a great stopping point on your way further North to Downhill, a magically tiny town 2km away. On my trip there I walked, finding the short hike anything but dull. The small towns along this part of the coast offer a different culture than the city and a great place to relax. I spent more than a day here, staying in the Downhill Hostel, which was owned by a wonderfully hospitable couple and served as a quite secluded getaway. Be aware though: bring your own food to use in the kitchen, as there are no restaurants close by, and I was just lucking enough to be driven to the store by the hostel owner.
Well those are all my recommendations for Northern Ireland. If you decide to study at Queen’s or just visit the country, there is plenty to see and do! I had the experience of a lifetime in the small country, learning about people and history that is often an overlooked culture. There was an endless list of things to do and places to explore, so I hope the next group studying at Queen’s adds more to my list!
Still on the fence about studying in Belfast? Check out what one of my housemates had to say about the great country in his video.
One of the best ways I have been able to meet local students and be immersed in the campus life at Queen’s is through student involvement.
The first step to getting involved was attending Queen’s Fresher’s Fair. Similar to DU’s pioneer carnival, clubs and societies set up tables for you to explore every aspect of what social life at Queens has to offer. The event was overwhelming with all the opportunities being presented. Many of the clubs charged fees, but early sign up often meant discounts. I chose to weigh my options, however, and took a lot of brochures, rather than joining too many clubs on the spot. I knew I wanted to make my time at Queen’s count, so I was hesitant to spread myself too thin.
Excitedly, however, I did manager to get my name on a few too many lists, and once I returned back to my house, I was trying to prioritize. I decided on writing for the Student’s Union Magazine and trying to put together a show for Queen’s Radio.
The magazine was a neat idea, but because it was a new society, the organization struggled a bit. I did officially write three articles for them, and met a few people at our meetings. One of my stories was a review of an open stage night the theater society hosted. This was a great experience, and although it was an indirect effect of joining the magazine, it lead to meeting more people and enjoying a night of goofy theatrical acts and socializing after.
The Radio, was a totally different story. When I attended the first meeting, PJ, Belgian guy from my house was there. We got to talking and found we had signed up for almost all the same clubs. Excitedly, we decided to explore the idea of doing a show together. We signed up for a training time, and even the Radio Manager said we had great names for DJs: Jessie and PJ, they just go together.
I can honestly say that without doing the radio show my life at Queen’s would have been desperately different. I got to meet people through the station, I got radio experience as well as script writing experience, but most importantly I made my best abroad relationship. PJ, my cohost, turned out to be one of my closest friends. We spent an hour doing the show each week, but we also spent about 2-3 planning and writing the themes and goofy scripts that included fictional interviews and creative news stories, oh and music to match the theme. We would get so off track during the planning, laughing and joking about everything; those are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. We eventually became close to inseparable, and he has been a great person to have since I started my life in Belfast. We would go to the theater, the gym, dancing, even karaoke together; both of us keen on seeing Belfast.
It was really cool to write and work with someone who has English as a second language, I got to help teach vocabulary as well as learn about Dutch phrases and sayings. The radio show really teased out a lot of cultural differences that created space for conversation. Some of the most basic topics would spark in depth discussions, and I ended up learning quite a lot about Belgium! Not to mention working on a project gave me some structure to every week and helped PJ and I stay focused on planning our weeks to leave time for writing.
A Little Bit of P&J will be concluding this week in a final holiday addition. You can listen for yourself Friday at 3pm (Blefast time) which is 8am MST right HERE. We also repost our shows as podcasts which you can check out HERE.
Jacquelyn is studying at the University of York, sharing some of her adventures with us, and gaining come confidence while doing so.
“Today, I traveled for the first time someplace completely on my own, without friends or family or even a guide telling me what to do. This was one of the scariest things possible for me because I have realized I seem to always depend on someone else being there to suffer with me if I do mess up. Well I proved to myself that I don’t need to depend on other people because I can do everything on my own or figure things out.”