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…

547521_10151673153595028_562258848_n - Copy
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.

1382017_10151727340700028_400539066_n - Copy
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.

1237747_10202066647293615_914596083_n - Copy
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.

10462506_10152668614870028_1581083004523674250_n
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

Roots

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.

The massive York Minster cathedral in the center of town.

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.

306
Helping to repaint a friend’s business with York friends. And trying not to cough too much from paint in the process!

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.

306
Sunset in York.

Sometimes, the best of both worlds is not a myth. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra work to get there.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Study abroad and self-care

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.

Exploring new things (and old cathedrals) in Manchester, England.
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.
Good self-care ultimately results in more time to do cool things like take day trips to new cities
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.
I am a big fan of sitting in quiet coffee shops to take a break.
Taking some personal time makes social interactions that much better. 🙂
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.
My family are a big bunch of nerds who love their footie pajamas, our dogs, and seeing movies together. And I love them for it.
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.
I’m grinning because I just saw two geese fighting a swan. The swan won.
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.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

End of the Wales Journey

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!

Classes:

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!

Places:

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!

2014-10-22 10.58.212014-11-03 13.19.172014-11-04 11.23.442014-11-04 13.52.56

Holidays:

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!

hwyl fawr,

Emily

Lessons Learned From First Term

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.

  1. 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.
An American and a German at a British rock concert.
  • 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 very British Christmas: Love Actually, wine, and Christmas crackers!
  • 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.
Exploring the northern reaches of Britain in Edinburgh.
  • 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.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Look Up

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.

This particular stretch of road is home to several horses. They like to sit near the gates and wait for friendly people to come by and pet them and feed them.

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.

York, for example, loves skeletons and ghost stories.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.

How to Survive Your First Week Abroad

Greetings fellow Pios!

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:

Where’s Heathcliff?

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:

Seaside sunrises are something else.

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.
Exploring Cambridge, England with a fellow international student from Germany!
  • 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.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger