“The Experience”

Something I find fascinating about American culture is the need to have “The ___ Experience.” High school. College. Dating. First day/week/month/job/apartment. Study abroad. These Experiences™ are well-documented in books, movies, TV shows, social media, so most of us know what the life we’re “supposed to have” looks like, from Little League and princess dresses to a two-story house with a Golden Retriever. No matter how skeptical one might be, it’s very hard to be an American now and not have at least a fragment of The American Dream tucked away somewhere in the subconscious.

As an introvert, an HSP, a shy person, and a girl with curly hair and glasses, I don’t fit the American ideal. My little rebellious heart doesn’t want to fit the American ideal, it just wants me to be me. I’ve gone my own way (with varying degrees of success) as far back as I can remember, planting my flag in a mountain of books and declaring it my own. But aha – books are a very good, very sneaky (or not) way of talking about The Experience. And so, despite my efforts to turn off the path of the great superhighway of the American Dream, I often find myself on autopilot, merging back on.

And it never feels right when I merge back on. I’m like a mountain bike with a bunch of mud and rocks in my tires suddenly trying to keep up with a horde of sleek commuter bikes. I’m bumping along and I feel very out of place – which is good, because I am. I belong wandering around the mountains (very slowly) instead of zipping from place to place. Zipping around is great – I’m just not built for it.


Analogies aside, I have my little being that loves walking slowly and soaking things in, and I grew up in fast, experiential culture. And that gets me here to the country I’ve wanted to visit since I learned that castles were real, but somewhere along the way my childhood dream and adult curiosity got muddled in with the idea that I am A College Student™ and I’ve got to have The Study Abroad Experience™.

What I would do here for me and what I would do for The Experience look very different. Briefly, for me I wanted to take some European-style lecture classes, wander around the countryside and the ruins and the old bits of town, and go to music things. What I felt a study abroad student should do here is madly finish classwork to clear up time, leap-frog around Europe every weekend, and join a bunch of adventurous clubs.

I found myself – surprise, surprise – alone in a café, writing and people watching, and realized I was vaguely dissatisfied. Why? I wanted to be doing something more. What? …something. Why? Because I’d compared my list of “experiences” with those of other students and my list was much, much shorter and much less dramatic.

Most days, I wake up early. I go to the gym or run along the River Kelvin, make a cup of tea, and go to my lectures. I’ll spend the afternoon studying, either in my flat, at a café, or in the GU Catholic Association building. Evenings, I go to theological talks or choir rehearsals. It’s a comfortable, calm routine, I like it, and it leaves room for the handful of jaunts I’ve done outside of Glasgow and my many forays into shops, museums, and parks.

My routine is not glamorous. And, unlike the rest of the international students, it seems, I have yet to venture outside of Scotland. I’m definitely not having The Experience. But, as I’m coming to realize, the normal study abroad experience is not for me. It never was, and I used to know that. Realizing it again felt like the sun was coming out (a big deal in gray, dreich Glasgow).

My realization also gave me permission to recognize the experience that I am having. By spending so much time on my own, I’m growing in self-knowledge and self-advocacy. By staying in Scotland, not only am I taking care of myself, I’m learning about the country in depth. By focusing on my studies and tours of museums and ruins, I’m gaining a rich, nuanced knowledge of the last two thousand years of European history with a focus on Glasgow’s West End. I’m having my own experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Alice Major


Alice Major is studying at the University of Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland. She is a double major, focusing mostly on music and adding history because history is cool. Study abroad is Alice’s first time out of the country, and she hopes to come home in one piece and with a wicked Scottish accent.

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The Study Part of Study Abroad

On my first day of class, the professor walked in 30 minutes late. If I hadn’t been told this was perfectly normal, I probably would have left after the first 15 minutes. Adjusting to the Argentine university system was a bit of a rollercoaster: my schedule wasn’t finalized until three weeks in, the classroom locations were unclear, there are often two professors teaching one class, four-hour classes exist, night classes are common, and no one knows when assignments are due. All of these grievances were very frustrating at the start of the semester, but as I continually reminded myself, this was part of the cultural adjustment. Two of my classes are now completed, and they were the two  offered by the University, so for students who want to study abroad in Mendoza, here are some points to keep in mind.


  1. Argentina is a laid back society, so don’t worry too much about showing up on time. As previously stated, professors often arrive close to half an hour late, so only leave class if the local students are.
  2. Double check the class location with your program advisor. On the first day of class, I planned on attending Sustainable Development. When I arrived, the class list said Sustainable Tourism, so I attended that class, thinking it was misnamed. The next day, I found out that the class I originally wanted to take was in an entirely different building.
  3. There is no syllabus, so you will not know what’s going on. I admit that when professors handed out syllabi at DU, I barely glanced at them. They are actually very helpful when planning out study time, something I took for granted.
  4. Make friends with the locals. Going off of point three, you will likely not know if there are assignments and when they are due. The locals usually know what is going on, at least more than foreign students; they are a vital resource when it comes to adjusting to the Argentine education system.
  5. Take classes you wouldn’t normally do. That is my only regret in regards to my study abroad experience. I was so hung up on getting specific courses approved for credit that I didn’t try anything new. If you study abroad in Mendoza, try and take Tango; I wish I did.

It’s hard to adjust to a new way of learning, but it’s an exciting opportunity to gain new insight into a culture. I enjoyed my time at the Universidad de Congreso; it was an enlightening experience.



Zoe Kaldor


Zoe Kaldor is an International Studies and Strategic Communication double major. She is studying abroad with IFSA-Butler in Mendoza, Argentina. Originally from New York, DU’s study abroad program was one of the reasons Zoe chose to attend DU. She specifically chose to study abroad in Argentina because she wants to improve her Spanish skills and experience a new culture, for she believes it is so important in an increasingly global society to be able to communicate in languages besides English as well as experience different ways of life. Zoe is an avid traveler and loves to explore new places; she is excited she gets to do both.

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