Find Your Alps

T Time: II of VII

Don’t lie

 Don’t cheat

Don’t create a life for yourself based on those things

If you do you will never know

Peace

You will have to constantly check yourself

and that is no way to live

-D.J.

In the past month and a half, I’ve had an unquantifiable number of experiences. I rediscovered my spirituality under the vaulted ceilings of Sagrada Familia and Saint Peter’s, and witnessed a never ending sunrise over the North Sea. I’ve received a Papal Blessing; studied the Cradle of the West in the shadows of both the Athenian Acropolis and the Roman Pantheon; and contemplated life, love, and friendship in the French Riviera – turns out the fifth floor in Marseille has some great views.

Barcelona is as vibrant as Rome is mighty. Florence is as moving as Luzern is stunning. Venice is a curious city, and Milan has some righteous pizza; word on the street is that it’s known for fashion, but I digress.

These experiences will be covered in due time. In my last entry, you probably gathered that I am a longwinded person. As such, never doubt that I’ll find an excuse to talk about things of the above nature. But those stories and all they contain are for another entry.

For it was in the Alps where I found my peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Rockies guy. Those mountains are in my blood, and I truly believe that some of the most beautiful sights on earth are in the great state of Colorado. However, there’s just something special about wandering through the jagged peaks that appear to have sprung to life from the words of Tolkien, with lakes and clouds alike winding lazily through the stone behemoths.

Our program had an excursion during which we were able to hike through the highest Alpine Pasture in Austria. The timing could not have been more perfect as we were arriving when the people of the Salzburg area were taking their herds down from the mountains for the river and giving thanks – imagine something akin to Thanksgiving, but with more cows.

Every year at this time and only this time, a mass is held in a small chapel set in the middle of this meadow in the clouds. The organ plays and the congregation sings on what seems to be the top of the world, as cattle graze peacefully in the foreground set against a backdrop of majesty.

It was within this moment, with music and sights, that I found peace. This isn’t to say that it is a peace that will be felt forever – life is full of unprecedented shifts and unpredictable turns. But it reminded me of an exchange I had a few weeks ago in Nice, France.

Good friends are want to clash on occasion, particularly when they travel in such close quarters for extended periods of time. But it was during this mild conflict that my old friend reminded me of something – be at peace with who you are. Don’t just own it, celebrate it.

img_1341
“I put it to you then – defend who you are” – Socrates on the Acropolis, most likely.

Often we are faced with to urge to justifying the essence of ourselves, what we believe in, or who we aspire to be. Too often we shy away from these challenges. We laugh away the discomfort, belittle ourselves, construct walls to shut people out of the most critical portions of what makes us who we are.

I put it to you then – defend who you are, and be at peace with who that is. For the record, this is not about “Finding Your Beach”.  The Study Abroad Department couldn’t land me the rights for that slogan in time for the release of this entry. This is about finding your Alps. Finding your peace. You don’t have to be around a chapel and alpine bovines – all you have to do is be unafraid of what makes you, you.

Don’t try to lie to others about yourself, and absolutely don’t cheat yourself from being the person that you are meant to be. Don’t second guess or yearn for the past, but be at peace with everything that you are in the present, and continue to develop that into who you are meant to be. You owe it to who you are in the now and who you will become.

img_1506
A group of us at Postalm, the Alpine Pasture. Life’s too short to take yourself too seriously.

Additionally, I need to provide a disclaimer: The University of Denver is not responsible for mishandled or lost Amazon shipping orders of Austrian Cattle.

-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.

Advertisements

We Found Love in a Hope-Filled (Za’atari Refugee Camp)

This post is long overdue for many reasons. I have been in Jordan for three weeks now and have not had the urge to write down my experiences and share them. Well, that’s not true. I’ve had so many moments and times and inspirations to put my experiences into words, but I’ve been scared. I’ve been scared because I want to do these experiences justice. I don’t want to let people down. Then I had a dear friend remind me that this space and this blog isn’t a place where judgement is welcome. It’s my space to invite you in to take a peek at the wonderful moments that are perfectly imperfect. That’s all. And there is one moment, one day in particular that is imperative to share and frankly, I have a responsibility to do so because of the life-changing, eye-opening capacity this day embodied. So – here it goes.

On September 19th, my study abroad group had the incredible opportunity to visit the Za’atari refugee camp, a refugee camp that currently is called home by about 80,000 Syrian refugees. I won’t spend this time delving into the facts about Za’atari, but take a moment to educate yourself about this particular camp because it’s commonly called a “model” refugee camp (if there really is such a thing). If included in Jordan’s population count, it is the fourth-largest “city”. In my opinion, Za’atari looks and functions as it’s own city.

Mideast Jordan US Kerry

We started our morning with meeting with a member of the Jordanian police and a women from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who gave us a quick overview of how the camp runs and answered our eager questions. We were scheduled to then visit an NGO called Questscope.

Questscope is an NGO that is run by Syrians for Syrians within the camp. It is a safe-space where youth can come to seek mentors, knowledge, art, and everything in between. Syrian adults have the chance to be mentors and teachers of their craft to the Syrian youth who are seeking a haven to be themselves and regain some sense of normalcy.  Questscope offers alternative education for the youth who have lost years of education when “formal” schooling is sometimes not an option. We started by getting an overview and history of Questscope and what they are advocating. They are advocates of dreams. The selfless people who work/volunteer for Questscope strive to unlock the abundant potential that these Syrian youth have bursting from their souls.

questscope-1

Some of the workers from Questscope we had the privilege of meeting. (Photo courtesy of Questscope blog)

After a quick tour of Questscope’s facility (which is comprised of caravans),  I was in awe. Syrian youth have access to a library, computers, art supplies, sports facilities and trainings, and most importantly, support. One of the most prominent images that stuck with me after this tour was the art space. The art work these people created wasn’t bleak or sad – it was joyous and unique. I didn’t see art that could have easily depicted the tragedy every single Syrian had been though. I saw dancers, mermaids, pride for Syria, and creations that proved hope was abundant in the camp. It was a moment that took my breath away.

questscope-2

A sports field that provides a refreshing patch of green where kids can be kids. (Photo courtesy of the Questscope blog)

After lunch, we were invited to interact with the youth during some of their activities. If you know anything about me, I immediately rushed to the room where music was blasting and dancing was infectious. It was a women-only zone where the women, both mentors and mentees alike, could shed their inhibitions and own their bodies. They immediately turned on the TV and cranked the volume so all the women could participate in Zumba. Side-by-side, we danced, we sweat (a lot), we looked like fools, we laughed and smiled.  Zumba organically morphed into free-dancing where the women could openly express whatever their bodies wanted. We were taught dance steps from dances that you could tell were an important part of their identity. Every time I looked into the eyes of these women, pure joy was spread across their faces and their smiles never once left faded. I lost track of time because I was overflowing with joy.

Let me take a moment to be selfish. Dancing with these women meant more to me than I can put into words. Dance was re-introduced in my life when I was at a low point and it renewed my spirit and made me whole again. Being able to share such an intimate and personal moment with these women, expressing ourselves though dance, still brings tears to my eyes like it did that day. It was a truly magical, euphoric moment that I will never, EVER forget.

These women and these people could have given up. They could have said life treated them unfairly and stopped living it. But they didn’t. They continue to dance and they continue to smile and they continue to move forward because of their incredible courage and unwavering pride. I held their hands and I felt their strength. I shared moments with them that are forever etched on my heart. These people have not and will never give up. They want to return to Syria and resume the lives that were taken from them. They want to be doctors, lawyers, activists, and artists. They want the world to know that they’re simply mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and at the end of the day, people just like you and me. They watch the same sun set and dream of a better and brighter future because no one can take their dreams away from them. They are my heroes.

20160919_183327.jpg

Watching the sun set after a day at Za’atari.

Please, share this story. Not for me, but for the 80,000 Syrian people who have had their lives changed forever. They are not Skittles, they are not peanuts, they are not your next news story, they are not the enemy. They are HUMAN BEINGS with families, passions, hopes, goals, pride, dreams, and ambition I wish I had. They are true inspirations. Give them the autonomy and respect they so rightly deserve and share their stories. It is a small move that can have lasting impact. Hope is abundant at Za’atari and it’s time the world knew.

*None of the pictures within the camp our original or my own (only the sunset at the end of my day in Ajloun). I wasn’t going to Za’atari to take pictures and diminish these people to a social media post because they are SO MUCH MORE than that. I went to learn, listen, and observe. And to have my life changed forever. 

Sunset and Daybreak – Our Journey Begins

Introducing one of our lucky bloggers for the fall 2016, Thomas Enck will be sharing stories from his program in Salzburg, Austria and all over Europe! Enjoy!

T. Time: I

“May our travels carry us over many seas and to many shores, but may we never let them carry us from who we’re meant to be.”
– W.G.

It’s a strange feeling, having the sunset send you off at the beginning of a flight only to look forward to a warm greeting from the sunrise on the other side. These are the clichés that writers dream about; the ending of a chapter and the beginning of another, entering a new era, so on and so forth.

To tell you the truth I’m still a little peeved with the 5-hour delay that we had at the beginning this flight. And that’s what made the extended allegory possible in the first place.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beginning of T. Time – a blog that will cover a small town, Colorado kid gallivanting throughout Europe for 4+ months with good friends new and old. But by no means is he the focal point of these tales.

Obligatory fair warning based on the name: if you were looking for a blog covering the Masters, or Golf, or Bubba Watson’s Oakley Jetpack (it’s a thing – Google it) you have, somewhat regrettably, come to the wrong place.

Currently your guide on this journey is nowhere near any of that. Rather, he is sitting in an Icelandair Jet which happens to be named after Hekla; a volcano that was thought to be the entrance to Hell in the Middle Ages. Charming name, I’m sure you’d agree. Just the plane you would want to fly you over the North Atlantic. That being said, the egregious delay, the temporary annoyance, not even the off-putting reference to the lair of Lucifer where able to match the unbridled curiosity, anticipation and yes, trepidation, of your metaphorical pilot – a man who has never set foot off the North American Continent.

The reason is fairly simple, and it is what we will cover over the next several months. Coming of age in the world in which we live into is an exceedingly difficult. Full of moments of paralyzing fear and insane bravery, insatiable love and inconsolable loss, destabilizing confusion and concrete certainty one after the other. We are expected to know who we are and step into the world fully formed before we ourselves know the answer to so many questions.

Thus we must learn, and to do so we must leap into the unknown. We must experience what life has to offer in the lessons taught by the circumstance around us. Maybe not in an aircraft named after Hell’s gates, but I digress.
I am not an incredible person by any means. In fact, I would say that I am average in most every aspect. But I would love to take you on this journey with me. Within the experiences that we have on a regular basis there is so much to learn.

It would be my pleasure if you would join me – metaphorically of course. The plane wasn’t delayed long enough for you to make it to D.I.A. after this was posted, even if it may have felt as such. The narratives to be told will be cut with humor and hilarity; pondering, questioning, and hopefully minimal pandering. All will be bursting with colorful characters and absurd and thought provoking accounts. Through these stories we can explore what it means to be young – be it literally or the young of heart – in a world that is so full of uncertainties. Dreams, ideals, aspirations and beliefs, all and more will be covered in due time through the medium of experience: across the entirety of Europe no less.

The honor would be mine to serve as your symbolic flight attendant on this journey. You, however, are the protagonist and primary traveler in your odyssey of self-discovery.

Should you choose to join, you have my word that our plane will not be delayed. In fact, we’re ahead of schedule. In addition, you can name the plane whatever you would like – Though may I humbly suggest something mellow, such as Basket of Puppies or Edelweiss. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll come roaring out of the dawn into the unknown.

Who knows. Maybe this daybreak it isn’t just a tired metaphor after all. It could truly be the start of something new; but there’s only one way to find out.

-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.

Appreciating Abroad

The moment when I realized that I was coming home from studying abroad, I had mixed feelings. I was thrilled to return to my hometown, however I had adjusted to living in Alexandria, Egypt. There was a significant change in my perspective about my host city from when I first arrived to when I left Alexandria.

When I arrived in my host city after a long 24 hour flight, I was super jetlagged and could barely function. The time was 1 AM and I had a four hour drive ahead of me from Cairo to the northern coast. On the way to the university residence halls, I couldn’t wait to get settled in a room and rest. Driving to my housing I was a bit surprised about my new surroundings. Looking back at that time I remember imagining the city to look a bit different.

I had pictured Alexandria to look like something from a travel brochure, a city mixed with the old and new that had endless beaches right next to the university campus. Driving through the city to the residence halls, I had encountered something very different. I do not know if my thoughts were due to the physical and mental state, but the city was very run down, garbage lined the streets, and the air carried a stench that I had never experienced before. When I arrive at my residence hall I was disappointed. The building looked dilapidated and could collapse at any minute. I remember asking the driver in Arabic, “Is this it? Are you sure?” and he replied, “Yes this is the correct address.” In addition, the housing for men was far from campus and the public beaches were not exactly the best places to go swimming.

1

The first couple weeks were quite the challenge. It was not easy adjusting to a new way of living. The calendar was different where classes were Sunday through Thursday. The food options were great, however this gave you constant diarrhea and you were always on the lookout for a nearby bathroom just in case. The other American students in the Critical Language Scholars (CLS) program were rude and unfriendly to the students in my program. Also, the humidity was unbearable and I felt like a walking puddle in a polo. I felt very unsettled and was I was missing everything back home.

After getting settled and starting classes, I began to adjust and got used to living in Alexandria. I created some fantastic friendships with my fellow program classmates and had some amazing adventures with them exploring the city and country. The teachers in my college were supportive in our academics and were always excited to show us the fascinating and bizarre pockets of Alexandria. Developing a daily routine was critical to feeling comfortable. I quickly grew to love the city and the country and it began to feel more like a second home.

When my program was approaching the end, I could not believe how quickly time had passed. Thinking about coming home gave me feelings of joy. I was excited to see my family, my boyfriend, and all my friends. My senior year in college was about to start and I couldn’t wait to get started. However thinking about leaving Alexandria left me a bit sad because I saw the city in a new light. The ambiance of the buildings, people, and lifestyle were different then when I first arrived. Somehow I felt that I may be leaving something special behind.

2

It’s the small things…

One of my biggest tips for anyone going abroad…

Write things down!

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

Seriously, it’s the small things.

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

11717538_1033527166657804_2380244425770895985_o

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

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

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

11241804_1043415695668951_2500375529824836165_n

What I’d Wish I’d Known…

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

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

The stages of culture shock are:

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

Culture shock slide

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

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

Brussels_Great_Marked_Square

3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013-10-26 19.58.36
Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

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

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

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

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

Max blog post 2
Showing the Fam around Salamanca

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

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

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

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

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

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

How did you get ready to go abroad?

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

Mental checklist:

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

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

How Study Abroad Prepared Me for My Next Adventure

For the record, I don’t quite know what my next adventure will be yet, nor will I pretend to have everything under control when it comes. Study abroad definitely beat that tendency out of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s bring it back a bit.

For many people, including myself, I got to truly travel independently for the first time when I studied abroad. I’d visited out-of-state friends in college, gone on road trips with others, but there’s always an added dimension when “international” gets thrown into the mix. There are more logistics, more languages, and more complications if something goes wrong. Through a few moments of brilliance and many more epic missteps, I learned quite a bit about living and traveling abroad. So, here’s a quick list of tangible ways study abroad prepared me for my next aforementioned adventure:

  1. I navigate a mean airport/bus terminal/metro station

I have spent a lot of time traveling, not in the sense that I have spent a lot of time abroad, which I thankfully have, but more that I’ve been exposed to some hellish layovers and travel days. Coming home from study abroad, I worked my way through four airports over two days of travel. It’s exhausting, and you shortly find that duty free looks the same just about everywhere, but I’ve found that I can navigate my way through almost any transportation hub, at this point. If I can’t, however, here’s a great segue into point 2…

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

How I Chose My Study Abroad Program

Go abroad for a summer to learn a language? Or stay home and learn a language in a classroom? The answer here is pretty simple. I chose to leave the U.S., study a language, and use my Arabic language skills in everyday life and gain the experience of a lifetime.

I studied abroad at the University of Alexandria, Egypt in 2010 and chose this program because my major was in Middle East Studies – Arabic. This program was a language intensive and fulfilled my entire third year Arabic language coursework in 2 months. I was both nervous and excited to go to Egypt and take courses in the University of Alexandria. This experience was one that I will always treasure since I met some amazing people, saw some amazing places, and observed simmering political turmoil.

To be honest, when I decided to join this program and go to Egypt, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had a vision of what the experience could have been like, but having already studied the Middle East, I already new that the picture I had was not going to be accurate. When I arrived, it was nothing like I had expected. However, it became overtime everything I needed and helped me truly understand Middle East culture.

During this program I had the opportunity to live in the university residence hall with local students that were studying from across the country. Sunday through Thursday I was in the classroom practicing Arabic, and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) I got to explore the city of Alexandria and the rest of the Egypt. While I was in this program I learned a lot about the cultural nuances in Egypt and the various perspectives regarding feminism, politics, and the role of religion in everyday life.

The experience that I will take with me is the political events that occurred leading up to the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011. I remember the media frenzy after Honsi Mubarak reauthorized the Emergency Laws, the death of Khalid Saiid in Alexandria by the police, and the political tension that was building towards the fall elections.

I chose this program because it fulfilled a language requirement; however looking back this program exceeded my expectations. This experience provided more than just language education, but a deeper understanding of the complex sociopolitical dynamics of Egypt.

– Eric Boscan, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

Academics at Home and Abroad

It’s week 6 and most of us are finally seeing (or starting to) see the light at the end of the tunnel after the dark, sleepless nights of midterms swept over us. Surprisingly enough, this quarter has been really difficult for me. As if reverse culture shock wasn’t real enough, my academic life has spiraled a whole 360 as well.

Being abroad for the past semester was quite different then the pioneer lifestyle I was adjusted to. I went to the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO) in Sevilla, España and needless to say school was quite different over there. For starters, I was able to stack my classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, with a short cooking class on Tuesdays that ended about halfway through the semester. Coming back to DU, I was facing a schedule with four classes and two labs taking up all of my week, Mondays through Fridays; Fridays being my heavy days.

Homework was really slow, which I loved because it gave me a chance to relax and take random strolls through the plazas. The big projects I had to do were mostly in groups, so I would meet my classmates at different cafes until we found the one with the best Wi-Fi connection or the best tapas; which brings me to the topic of my favorite class: The tapas cooking class! Every week we created different dishes with different variations of the dish. For example, if the dish for the week was paella, between our four different groups in class, we made chicken paella, shrimp paella, pork, etc. We also made two different dishes each class, since in Spain they eat two different course, kind of like your appetizer and then your entree. At the end we would all try everyone’s dishes and eat together like a family. This was probably one of my favorite things I did in Spain because I was able to fully emerge myself in their culture in the kitchen and I loved trying all the different dishes and drinks!

Being back at DU has been a love hate relationship really. I have a busier schedule now and even though I feel more productive, it can be a bit overwhelming. Readjusting after a much more relaxed semester abroad has been a challenge, especially when I’m not taking a cooking class to de-stress, but at least I was able to get a taste of both academic worlds. Studying abroad taught me so much more than international finance and management, it taught me a different skill set; a new way to retain information in a different language, how to commute on the metro, how to make some delicious tortilla Española and how to enjoy all that life has to offer from a new-found perspective from across the world.

Gladys Week 6

Gladys Juarez, Study Abroad Assistant

Behind My Favorite Photo From Abroad

One of my favorite memories from studying abroad was the time that I snuck into a private beach for the Egyptian military. It was the middle of July and it was ridiculously hot in Alexandria. Luckily the city enjoys the cool breeze from the Mediterranean, however the humidity and congestion of the city make you feel like a walking puddle in a polo.

The public beaches in Alexandria are plentiful, yet they are very crowded and not the cleanest places. So one of my program chaperones wanted to take us to a more secluded beach in the Montaza Gardens and Palace. This place is stunning with lush gardens, a royal palace and hotel directly east of central Alexandria. The public beach there was crowded, and with a group of American students in a crowded beach, we garnered a lot of attention. So our chaperone had a friend who was in the military and had access to one of the private beaches in the gardens. This beach was strictly reserved for the military and their families. Our chaperone and his friend had to distract a security guard to check the few guests that he was allowed and then sneak the rest of us through a fence.  Nobody noticed the additional Americans at the beach, however luckily there were enough locals for us to pass as other people’s guests.

Week 5 Blog

The scenery at this beach was everything we wanted. Open space, privacy, and cleaner that most public beaches. This was our first beach day in our program and one of the few that we were able to have. In the picture above you can see part of the beach looking west along the Alexandrian coastline stretching for miles rimmed with endless apartment buildings. It was quite the luxury to go to the beach and enjoy clean waters, sands, and do some language study in the sun at an uncrowded beach.

Eric Boscan, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

The End of an Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 4.29.17 PM
A wise friend once said to me, “You will return home and realize that everything around you has stayed the same, and you are the one who has changed.”

The Abroad Effect

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

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

DIS Ambassadors 1

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

11952944_10207722873456251_1775702090383828748_o

50 Things I learned While Abroad

  1. Never speak French with Fleming
  2. In the French culture, keep your hands on the table at dinner
  3. Belgian Beer, slow and steady. Slow and steady.
  4. French women definitely shave their armpits
  5. I can’t sing Le Marseillaise but its growing on me
  6. Belgium has 5 governments, and none of them seem to be effective
  7. Protests just happen, because they can (beware of angry farmers)
  8. Trains do their own thing, so roll with it
  9. Pretzels really are better in Germany
  10. Don’t go to the French Riviera after massive floods
    1. But if you do, travel with someone you love
    2. Definitely don’t airbnb anything outside of major downtown cities
  11. Every time you travel somewhere look outside and think about it, there’s probably somewhere very similar in the U.S. and that’s probably the reason those people moved there
  12. If you can’t handle being uncomfortable then you’ll never know what its like to be comfortable
  13. European towels are smaller and thinner
  14. You need an Umbrella, a good coat, and some resilient shoes in Brussels
  15. It’s ok to take a break.
  16. Things in Europe aren’t better or worse, they’re just European.
  17. The U.S. isn’t the only country that follows U.S. politics.
  18. I don’t know as many languages as people in Europe do
  19. Levi’s are cheaper in the U.S. by a long shot
  20. Europe needs more Dad jokes
  21. You can buy Frites-sauce in the grocery store
  22. Sweet, not salty for breakfast
  23. Money comes and goes, you don’t. Some things are worth buying.
  24. Traveling alone or with someone or both
  25. Taking the Thallys train is a beautiful thing
  26. Subways are the equivalent of live YouTube, you’re going to end up watching some weird stuff
  27. Europe has supermarkets
  28. I’m never going to be able to describe this experience in its entirety.
  29. Never try to memorize the types of grapes in the Loire Valley
  30. Lyon is the best kept (not so) secret of France
  31. Terrorists will never stop Europe from being Europe
  32. Kebab stands can solve the world’s most difficult issues of diplomacy
  33. Switzerland is really
  34. Skiing Switzerland really is all its cracked up to be
  35. The real Matterhorn is cooler than the Disney one, although it does not have a roller coaster
  36. I don’t like mulled wine; I gave it my best shot (pun intended)
  37. Applying for residency in Brussels is like to dipping your body in peanut butter and walking around town: you can do it… but why?
  38. Inflated grades in the US may be silly but at least they make you smile more than deflated grades in Europe
  39. American politics are funny to watch abroad until you realize that you are returning to those politics
  40. Most meats at a Buchon in Lyon: just eat it and don’t think about.
  41. Don’t put a $20 bill in the Laundromat coin machine (unless you love .50 coins)
  42. You may not be fluent, but you’re in a good spot if you can help an old lady with directions to the bus stop in French.
  43. Spontaneity is great, but have a back up plan
  44. Amsterdam is wild
  45. Hitler is the reason that Alsace wine varieties are so limited and controlled
  46. Hotels and stars: 1-2 shame on you (stay in a hostel), 3 Russian roulette, 4 good times
  47. Space bags are the way of the future
  48. Cornichon = pickle, not a pointed hat *cue confused professor’s face*
  49. People who say carbs are bad for you clearly have not had enough French bread (it’s a lost cause fighting its seductive delicious powers)
  50. The ladies who clean bathrooms all day probably make more money than I will out of college

Final Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

national palace madrid.jpg
A picture of the National Palace from my first solo trip to Madrid

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

 

How To: Make Tortilla de Patata

I do not like eggs. I’m not sure what it is about them, but it is just a no go. I can’t smell them, I can’t clean my roommates’ dirty saucepans with little burnt egg crisps, and I cannot crack them. While I can muster the courage to eat baked goods like brownies, cakes, and cookies, even French toast is too egg-y for my taste buds.

However, in Spain, I have found the perfect egg dish: Tortilla de Patata. It is kind of like a Spanish omelet. All of the locals eat tortilla de patata. It is common for both dinner or as a pinxto (which is like the Basque country version of tapas, made as a single serving). We learned how to make Tortilla de Patata in my Spanish Gastronomy class, so, I decided to include the recipe so everyone can try typical Spanish cuisine! Food is culture, am I right? Note that the ingredients are for 12 people, so change the ingredients depending on how many people you are cooking for.

 

Tortilla de Patata

tortilla de patata
photo by Katherine Gibson

Ingredients:

Serves 12 People

  • 6 kg potatoes
  • 1.5 L olive oil
  • 24 eggs
  • Salt

 

Instructions:

To start, peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan on the stovetop. Then, cut the potatoes (in a uniform size) and put them in the frying pan, once the oil is hot. Add salt on top of the potatoes and fry them. Make sure to stir the potatoes until they are browned and cooked through. When the potatoes are golden brown, use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the pot.

Put two generous spoons of the potatoes into a bowl. Then, crack two eggs into the potatoes and add salt. Mix these things together with a fork. Next, put a little of the leftover olive oil in a new, hot frying pan. Add the egg and potato mixture from the bowl. After about 2 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and flip the tortilla using a plate. Cook the other side a little more (for 30 seconds or so). Remove the tortilla de patata from the pan. Repeat this process until all of the tortillas are made!

Enjoy!

 

The Final Countdown

A new James Bond movie, Adele returned to music, Paris was attacked, Brussels was locked down, migrants flooded into Europe (sometimes to more violence), Southern France flooded, Portugal’s government was overturned in an election, Turkey shot down a Russian plane… If Billy Joel hadn’t already written We Didn’t Start the Fire, I would most certainly be writing the European version for 2015. Studying abroad changed me in more profound ways than I can count, but for me it simply boils down to exposure. There are many trials in life that can test one’s self and cause one to grow, but simply being exposed to a different culture firsthand is the flashpoint.

IMG_4276.JPG

For many, studying abroad is the first time they are truly thrust into a foreign country to live and not simply enjoy the comforts of short travel such as family, resorts, and even modern appliances. The shock alone from this is an amazingly difficult time to overcome but certainly makes you a better traveler, more flexible, and it grows your appreciation for what the word home means to you. While this experience and the following period of reflection are critical points that many students and young adults experience upon their first extended travels abroad, this is not what I was looking for.

Having been born abroad, traveled abroad, and briefly “studied” abroad before I was looking for more than simply the initial discomfort of a foreign environment: I wanted to truly dissolve into a new community, gain professional experience, and develop my language skills to a higher level of proficiency (and maybe the elusive status of fluency). For me, that possibility was studying abroad in Brussels. Being able to use my French daily, albeit working around Flemish, working as an analyst in a think tank with European colleagues, attending classes about security and international politics from European experts, and the simple conversations with my barber or bar tender truly opened me up to life outside the US.

IMG_4141

My personal growth abroad was mastering my travel identities. Being able to travel and live abroad is analogous to that of a wardrobe: you need a small set of skills that you can easily mix and match for the occasion. Whether it be knowing not to speak French to a Fleming, speak French before English with a Walloon, speak softly on the metro, kiss someone’s cheek once (twice, even thrice), it’s important to bring more than just a suitcase and a good book. What we fail to realize sometimes as travelers, expats, students, or simply outsiders is that being “cultured” isn’t the amount of travel nor the amount of facts we can divulge on request, but the subconscious ability to change our perspective and demeanor. Being “cultured” is adapting to foreign environments a habit: change is the norm. I do not claim to be a travel chameleon that can change identity without even knowing, but I am a league closer than I was prior to living in Brussels.

I have written previously about the importance of flexibility, and to this day it is still a skill that I continue to work on. I cannot definitively say that studying abroad is the only way I would have learned value of this skill and it is not the first time I have truly needed it, but it is the reason for my continuous reflection upon the matter. Whether it has been trains, planes, and automobiles, lodging, food, language gaps, or simply the trustworthy male sense of direction, I am truly grateful for this experience and how it has taught me about self-control, understanding, and the ability to move with “fluid” situations.

As I prepare to come “home” to my house in the North suburbs of Chicago to see my family for Christmas, I am left thinking about what this experience means to me moving forward. Metaphorically speaking, I have finished the who, what, when, where, and why, but now I am on the how. To me, there are two ways to use my knowledge when I return: as an advocate and professionally. To distinguish between the two, advocacy to me in this case would be stressing the importance to fellow Americans of the dire need to intervene in the Middle East because of ISIS (having witnessed the effects of their terrorism throughout Europe) or simply stressing the importance of being smart travelers and knowing more about your destination than simply your hotel and where the bars are. Professionally speaking I plan to use my experiences and knowledge throughout the rest of my life whether it is in my classes at DU, discussions with peers, a potential career in diplomacy, or simply applying for jobs. I think the most valuable skill is being able to connect with a complete stranger from the other side of the world, and this experience has opened up more doors to bring me closer to that goal.

These are my three pieces of advice upon returning from Brussels:

  1. We never stop growing inside. Our curiosity fuels the adventure in our lives, that’s what makes us human.
  2. There is always a reason to leave, the hard part is finding reasons why you shouldn’t.
  3. It is always nice to come home, learn to make home more places than one.