Two Months Abroad- What I know for Certain Now

November 1st. Officially two months abroad and wow, it’s been eye opening. Not necessarily in the positive, stereotypical light that one would expect during their study abroad journey, but one that is still slightly positive. However, this trip so far has proven to be the most difficult thing for me to accomplish in my life thus far, mostly because this experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways. Managing my expenses, doing all my homework on time and to the best of my ability, and trying to make the most of being abroad while still maintaining my sense of self is overwhelming, so overwhelming that in the course of two months, my need to go home is immense.

Before I left, around the middle of May, I got a knot in my stomach every time I thought about going to Ottawa. I just couldn’t even imagine myself living abroad by myself (not even any acquaintances from DU) and being able to have a decent experience. It was so great that I even considered pulling the plug on the application. But my parents and friends insisted that I go on this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, to which I agreed, and buried my fears under a strong, artificial confidence that I broadcasted to everyone asking about my upcoming travels. As soon as I stepped in the airport, a few minor suitcase mishaps occurred and the next minute I was crying in the middle of the airport with both of my parents consoling me. It wasn’t over a dumb suitcase mishap, it was because I was going abroad and it was too late to pull out.

From the moment I left the airport, I tried to be strong and enjoy my experience. There were (and probably will be) some positive moments in my experience. Walking around Ottawa on my own time and seeing all my surroundings is fun. Eating poutine, my new local comfort food, for lunch every Friday has become my weekly routine. The occasional trips that the International Office conducts are interesting, too. But, other than that, this experience has been pretty tough for me so far at many different angles. I like the school part of UOttawa, meaning that my classes are fascinating to attend, but I think I ultimately chose the wrong timeframe and program. I think I would be better off doing a summer term program, where it is a little shorter. A fall semester is long, compared to the fall quarter at DU. Time goes by so slowly here and for me, it’s awful. I also don’t think I, as a person, am cut out for studying abroad. I get nervous traveling to a new part of Denver, why would I even bother going to a foreign city?

But I did, and I’m here, trying to make the best of this situation I put myself in. That, in itself, is the moral of my post: if you have any knots within your stomach, pay attention to them! Do what is best for you and not what other people think! Studying abroad is a great experience and one could look at it as a realization of sorts. Had I not come abroad, I would have never realized how difficult it was for me, thus determining how I will handle these experiences and travel differently in the future. So, study abroad was worthwhile for me, in that capacity. But it also taught me to trust my gut from the get go. There was a reason there seemed to be a billion knots in my stomach prior to me leaving. I wished I would’ve paid attention to that.

My ultimate goal is to finish my classes strong and start getting my belongings packed for my departure. I still have six-ish weeks left until I leave, but it’s never too early to start sorting through stuff to make the packing easier during finals.

I don’t know when I’ll write a new post, maybe when I leave in a few weeks. We’ll see. . . until next time!

 

 

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Introverts and Studying Abroad

I am a shy and anxious person. I prefer being quiet in class and spend my downtime between classes eating by myself in the cafes. I like getting my chai latte or iced mocha and doing homework in solitude, listening to calm music with headphones.

I am indeed an introvert and keep my circle of friends very close to me. It takes me awhile to get comfortable in new situations and around new people. Studying abroad was an odd choice for me because embarking on such a huge journey was a shock to my comfort zone. I am way out of my comfort zone, which is nerve racking, but impressive all in the same. However, being a new situation, especially in a new college that promotes social activities within housing, your academic department, may be something that is too much to handle. It is for me, especially being in a new situation.

From my journey so far, here are some tidbits of advice for maintaining your introversion abroad.

  1. It’s okay not to go to parties, socials, etc., There are plenty of social gatherings within my housing, English department, the International Office, and all around campus. It may seem overwhelming at first to want to go to the events and try to “fit in” and talk to people. Getting to know people is fun and it is a great way to network, however, if you have trouble in large crowds (like me), evaluate yourself before you go out to the gathering. Do you actually want to go to this event? Is there someone you know there? Is there anything that you could be doing instead of going to this event? Often times, I skip out on events because I have homework or I’m not interested in the event. These are all valid reasons and no one should try and force you to go to something. This is YOUR study abroad experience and you can make it into whatever you want.
  2. It’s okay to do things by yourself. I have fond memories of myself during freshmen year freaking out that I couldn’t get dinner because no one would go with me. People have different schedules and times to hang out. If you want to do something, don’t let the stigma of being alone stand in your way of exploring your surroundings.  For me, I like to visit the city around me on my own time and by myself. You may be missing out on the city around you waiting for other people.
  3. Make your space your own. I do spend a lot of time in my dorm reading, writing, and watching Netflix. Feel free to dress up your dorm in things that makes you feel happy and secure. I have my favorite blanket with me to keep my comfortable and warm. Things like pictures of friends and family or any decorations that make your space a visual representation of you can definitely turn your dorm into a sanctuary of sorts.

This experience has been an interesting one for me so far. I have 67 days left, which is seven full weeks and one week off. The time here is starting to speed up and frankly, I cannot wait to come home.

Till next time!

 

Go to the International Orientation!

I am three weeks into my program at UOttawa and things are going mostly well. I am inundated with work and being an English major means the majority of my work is reading large portions of several books at a time. I am exhausted, but my body clock is adjusting to the two hour difference, which is nice. I am also settling into my dorm and getting to know my surroundings. I meant to write this post a few weeks ago, but I had to hit the ground running when my classes started. But now, I have some time, so let’s do this!

I attended my International Orientation for all incoming exchange students about two weeks ago. It was mandatory for me to sit through the five hour presentation; however, my time was rewarded with a UOttawa reusable bag and a Subway sandwich, which I was totally fine with! I was wondering why they scheduled the entire morning for this presentation. What exactly did we need to know that takes five hours to describe? Well, it’s actually more than a few things. In fact, the International Office talked to us about a ton of things.

Before the presentation started, all of the incoming exchange students (including myself) packed into a 200, maybe 250, seat lecture room. The diversity of exchange students around the room was impressive, more than I had seen at DU. There were students from all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Sweden, Germany, Japan, China, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast . . so many countries that are so different from the States. It was so cool to see! The International Office introduced themselves and gave us their contact information since they are all of our lifelines while we’re here. They talked about the school, gave us a campus map, and discussed registration details. We then had special speakers come in and talk about the Writing Center, Health Services, and the Fitness Center. It was nice that they showed us all these resources from the get-go.

Finally, they discussed the importance of plagiarism prevention and student-professor relationships, which was interesting to me that they purposely discussed these things. In terms of the plagiarism, I am not certain if other universities around the world do not emphasize citing sources or if they do it at all, because they showed us everything from how to cite sources and how to determine if sources need to be cited. Maybe some students needed a reminder to cite their sources in their work or maybe some students were learning for the first time. It’s interesting that the International Office emphasized a whole section of their presentation to academic fraud, but unfortunately they did say that at least one incoming exchange student is accused of academic fraud per year at UOttawa. DU makes a big deal of academic fraud and citing sources, so it was nothing new to me.

The other fascinating topic was student-professor relationships. The speaker, whose name escapes me right now, was saying that the American, Canadian, and Australian university systems are fairly similar and that students from these specifics countries would have little difficulty assimilating to the academic schematics of the lectures, discussion groups, etc., of UOttawa. Though, students from other countries, such as the Netherlands, may have some difficulty with the “new” look of academics in Canada. The speaker went on to say that here the professor isn’t viewed as “a god” (her words) and that the student-professor relationship is still formal in nature, but way less so than in countries where professors are viewed with higher authority. While this isn’t a problem, Swedish or Danish students may have trouble with the casual nature of the lectures and discussions. They may not realize that they are actually allowed to ask questions or go to  office hours to have a conversation with their prof. It is most definitely a cultural shift for those students. In my case, the concepts of office hours, lectures, and discussions aren’t as dramatic to me because DU operates in the exact same fashion. I am grateful in that sense that the adjustment to the academic system in Canada hasn’t been a hassle. Knowing how college classes operate here already allows me to dive into my work a lot faster than I would if I went something completely exotic. But if you’re up for that challenge, by all means do it!

Although the presentation was a little long for me, I’m ultimately glad I went. The speakers cleared up some concerns I had about various things and I became more confident in my new surroundings. The International Office said to email them if we had any questions at all, even if they didn’t pertain to International Office issues. For example, I emailed them about how to ship items back to my home and they helped me right away. There is a certain amount of autonomy that comes with this program and it certainly isn’t for people that aren’t confident being independent or doing things on their own.

But, the International Office will help if you ask them, which is a tip for anyone studying abroad anywhere: asking for help never hurts. Till next time!

 

“Why Ottawa Again?”-Debunking the Comments I’ve Heard Since the Beginning of this Journey

A lot of people (I’m not exaggerating when I say a lot) have said things that were similar, if not identical, to me about my decision to go Ottawa. I will be honest, Ottawa may seem pretty vanilla compared to other places I could’ve gone. In fact, I’m the first student from DU to go to the University of Ottawa (UOttawa). It hasn’t been a popular choice for a long time, mostly because it doesn’t fit the stereotype of “studying abroad”. A place such as Canada, doesn’t scream “adventure”,  “exotic”, or “diverse”. Often times, people will want to study abroad in places that offer all the above and beyond. Or, at least, that is what the stereotype of the studying abroad calls for.  Ottawa, nor any Canadian city is featured in any of the multiple videos that DU shows to prospective and freshmen students about the their study abroad options. People ask me “Why Canada?” and give me confused looks. In this post, I will address some comments I’ve received and offer explanations toward why they aren’t necessarily fair and viable.

“You’re not really going that far.”

No, I’m not going that far. In fact, the only bodies of water I will cross are the Great Lakes. Part of me is happy that I’m not crossing any oceans. My tickets weren’t terribly expensive and the flight isn’t too long either. What I like about Ottawa is that it offers a completely different dynamic than America, in terms of politics, languages, climate, and other factors as well. I realize that politics are a risky and touchy subject for some, but there is no denial that the politics of Prime Minister Trudeau juxtaposed to that of President Trump are radically different. Living in an environment sans Trump will be interesting, but I can only imagine I’ll be reminded of it on a daily basis. Ottawa is also officially bilingual and every thing on the UOttawa campus is bilingual. I would actually recommend students who consider Ottawa to take one or even two French classes. Some students on campus only speak French and it’s helpful to have some basic French in your pocket. Finally, in terms of climate, the warm, summer days of Denver will come to an end when I leave on September 2nd: temperatures will be in the low 60’s and 70’s and it will be rainy when I arrive. Moreover, on my first day of class, I will need to break out my jacket because low temperatures will be in the 40’s! It’s definitely a different climate to experience compared to the sporadic weather patterns of Colorado. Those are a few of the big changes I will experience, even though Canada is only north of the United States.

“Why not go somewhere exotic? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

I can understand the perspective of this comment. Some people never had the opportunity to study abroad. Perhaps, everything in the media about students studying abroad shows them going everywhere around the world and has set the stereotype that all students should go to “exotic” locations. The truth is that just doesn’t happen for all students. It takes a special type of disposition and personality for students to feel comfortable in those “exotic” locations. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I am not an adventurous and outgoing person. Going to Ottawa and living there by myself pushes me enough out of my comfort zone. I’m also prefer to focus on my studies instead of adventuring in and around Canada. Again, trekking through downtown Ottawa and all it’s trendy neighborhoods is good enough for me. It should be noted that I’ve never been to Canada before. Thus, Ottawa is indeed an exotic location for me!

“It’s just like America, you wouldn’t need to adapt to anything.”

Canada is not America 2.0. It is indeed a different country! Just because Canada is above the United States does not make it completely “American”. Parts of Canada are indeed “Americanized,” however, Ottawa itself is not at all “American”. Actually, it is more identical to France and any French-speaking European country than it is America. It’s worth mentioning that my experience with registering and communicating with UOttawa resembled that of a French university instead of an American one, like DU. Some quick differences between Canada and the USA:

  • Canada has Canadian dollars (CAD) and America has American dollars (USD).
  • Canada has it’s own dialect of English and French, whereas America has only one official and de facto language: English.
  • Canadians write their dates with the number date first, followed by the month (an example is 29/08 for August 29th), but Americans write theirs in the opposite fashion (08/29 for August 29th)
  • Canada’s government is a parliamentary democracy and America’s government is a federal presidential constitutional republic.
  • Canada does not have a president, but the USA does.
  • Canada’s current prime minister is Justin Trudeau. America does not have a prime minister.
  • Canada has a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. America has not had a monarch since 1776.
  • Canada operates on the metric and Celsius measurement and temperature systems, respectively. The USA operates on a customary measurement system and the fahrenheit system for temperatures.
  • And finally: Both the USA and Canada recognize red and white as their official colors, but add blue to the mix for the USA.

While the differences seem small, it is the combination of such tiny factors that create completely different societies all around the world.

People are allowed to have their opinions. I don’t have a problem with that. What is most important is that when you choose a study abroad location, make sure it’s where YOU want to go to and not one that you think with satisfy everyone else. You will indeed be the person living there, you might as well choose somewhere you want to go. Even after virtually everyone said those things to me, I still kept my program and stuck true to how I wanted to pursue this experience. That is truly the most important thing to remember.

In four days, I will finally be in the home of the Beaver (their national animal), singing God Bless the Queen instead of the Star Spangled Banner. That’s unbelievable! Until next time!

Sources for Facts: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Canada_vs_United_States

13 days Until Departure- What’s Left to Do

I fondly remember the Global Reveal day back on February 17th, 2017. I had a good idea of which program I was going to be nominated for, but either of my selections, UOttawa or Lancaster, would have been satisfactory. Upon opening the envelope, a red leather baggage tag with the DU logo engraved on the front held my study abroad destiny, which ended up being UOttawa. I was elated and from that point on, I started to prepare for my departure.

University-of-Ottawa

From February 17th to today (August 20th, 2017), 184 days have come and gone. The amount of preparation so far has been immense, from registering for classes to finding on campus housing. Although the majority of the tough preparation is over, there are still things to do in these short 13 days.

Start organizing and packing: I created an “Ottawa box” in which I set aside various items I knew for sure I wanted to bring with me abroad. These were winter sweaters, coats, boots, school supplies, and other things along that line. Instead of scavenging through my winter clothes in the basement, keeping them in my box saves me a ton of time. I plan on bringing a carry-on suitcase and large suitcase with me, no more and no less than that. Would one suitcase be ideal? Yes. Is it practical? Nope. I had to buy some of the books for my classes ahead of time, which adds some weight to the case. I would like to avoid having to pay extra for a heavy suitcase, so I spread out my belongings between two cases. I am extremely lucky that my mother is coming with me to Ottawa to “drop me off” and visit the city, so she can help with some of the belongings too. I just need to organize my belongings in a way that is practical and “weight-conscious”. As of now, there is a heap of belongings in both cases. It will be packed eventually, but some stuff in my life right now is keeping my schedule a tad busy. I’ll talk about my packing and organizing more in a later post.

Creating Communication Plans: I am leaving my family, dog, best friends, and boyfriend behind in Colorado for four months. This makes my stomach turn a bit, since four months seems like a long time. However, in the grand scheme of things, four months isn’t the longest time away. That said, I am setting up communication plans with all my loved ones. My phone carrier, Verizon, isn’t changing my communication plan because I am still living on the North American continent, a definite perk for me. My friends and I have Skype, so we plan on communicating via that media as well. I’ll need to schedule time to talk with my family, friends, and boyfriend, whether it means waiting until the weekend or finding some downtime in between classes. We’ll make it work and I plan on being “present” at my home while I’m physically away.

Settling DU matters and plans before departure: I changed my English major and dropped one of my minors over the summer. These forms needed to be turned in before I left in September. I also sent in some course approvals request for my English classes that could count for major requirements. For me, doing this all ahead of time before you leave is easier than trying to deal with everything abroad.

Talking with the Roommates: I’m living in a four bedroom apartment on the UOttawa campus and had the pleasure of finding out who my roommates were just this past week. One is from England, the second from Germany, and the third from South Korea. All those people that told me Ottawa wasn’t an exotic study abroad location may be biting their tongue now. I have the opportunity to befriend and network with girls from Europe and Asia through cross-cultural connections and various global perspectives. How cool is that? All of us set up a group chat on Facebook for questions, comments, and just getting to know one another before we live together for four months.

Depart to Ottawa: Finally, we have to actually reach Ottawa. September 2nd is the golden day in which I’ll connect from Denver to Chicago, then Chicago to Ottawa. I can’t wait any longer for this day to come.

airplane

Next time I write, I will be in Ottawa, staying at the Swiss Hotel waiting to move in to my dorm. Until then. . . I’ll be packing, communicating, creating, and departing. 13 days! I am so excited!