“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

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A Guide to Australian English

“Excuse me, do you know where the baking soda is?” The store clerk looked puzzled for a second, but then looked at me, chuckled to himself and said, “Ah, yes. Do you mean bicarbonate soda?”

 

Turns out that there are quite a few differences between American English and Australian English, or at least enough differences to catch you off guard every once in a while.

 

Slang words and dialects are what differentiate regions and countries that use the same language. The English language is widely used throughout the world and is the official language of more than 50 countries. Every country and region that uses the English language sounds at least slightly different.

 

As for English in Australia, it is unique and varies throughout the country. It seems to have more similarities with English in the UK than English in the United States. Moreover, Australians love to abbreviate words.

 

I’ve been in Australia for about 2 months now and still get confused by certain words and phrases. So, here’s a list of the top ten words and phrases used Australia that I hear in conversation almost daily.

 

  1. Uni – “Are you a uni student?” Uni is short for university. Don’t get caught using the word college, because that is the word Australians use when talking about high school.
  2. I Reckon – “It’s been about 30 minutes, I reckon.” I reckon is used in place of the phrase I think. I actually haven’t heard anyone use the phrase I think.
  3. Heaps – “Thanks heaps!” Heaps means a lot.
  4. Rubbish – “Those food scraps are rubbish.” Rubbish is another way of saying trash. Trash and garbage are used from time to time, but rubbish is more common. All trash bins are labeled with the word rubbish.
  5. Biscuit – “Oreos are my favorite biscuit.” As you can guess, biscuit means cookie. Oh and Oreos used to be my favorite biscuit, until I came across Tim Tams here in Aussie.
  6. Aussie/Oz – “Have you spent much time in Aussie?” Australia is more commonly known as Aussie or Oz to the locals. Here in the state of Tasmania, locals say Tassie instead of Tasmania. Note: the “s” sounds like a “z”, hence why Oz is common.
  7. G’day – “G’day, mate!” G’day is used as a greeting in place of other words, like Hey! Howdy! Hello!
  8. Macca’s – “Let’s get a Big Mac from Maccas.” McDonald’s? Mickey D’s? Nope. They call it Macca’s here.
  9. Jumper – “It’s going to be cold today, don’t forget your jumper.” Jumper is used in place of the word sweatshirt or sweater. More recently, I’ve actually heard the word jumper used to describe a person’s jacket, as well.
  10. Arvo – “Let’s meet up at uni on Monday arvo.” Arvo is commonly used in place of the word afternoon. I had no idea what this word meant the first time someone said this to me.

 

There are heaps more words and phrases that I’ve come across in Aussie and there are even more that I haven’t encountered. Thus, I will continue to thumb through my Australian Slang book for the remainder of my time here.

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.

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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. 

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!

A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.
I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed

Some Downsides…


Leaving for abroad, you hear about a lot of things that may happen to you. Administrators warn you about things such as homesickness, theft, and culture shock. Being the ignorant kid that I am, I thought none of this would possible happen to me. I thought DU and my study abroad program were only telling me these things out of obligation. However, after only a month and a half abroad, all three of these things have happened to me. So, if you’re ready, let’s jump on into some of the unforeseen (although definitely should have been) misfortunes of Kerry Nelson’s life abroad.

The first thing I thought would be less of an issue is homesickness. I am 20 years old and I am an out of state student. I have been a full day of traveling away from my parents and home for two full years now. Actually the plane ride home from Spain is only three hours longer now than it would be in Colorado. But what I forgot is I have a home at DU now too. So not only do I occasionally miss my parents and siblings, I also miss my friends at school, the mountains, the campus, and of course, Illegal Pete’s. This is not to say I’m counting down the days till home, but I just really thought homesickness would not be a problem for me. Love being completely wrong.

The next misfortune that has befallen me is a pick-pocket incident in Rome. I’m studying in Spain but during my travels, I found myself in a crowded subway near the edge of the doors. This woman then approaches the door and starts yelling in Italian asking if the subway stops at some stop name that I forget. I, perhaps stupidly, react and say, in Spanish, i don’t know. Then she gets in my face and asks if I speak French (in French). I tell her “no.” I look away for a hot second and then she’s gone. While on the subway back to the hostel my friend and I thought it was so weird what had just happened and we are not too worried. Leaving the
girl-pick-pocket1 subway I decide to check my purse just in case and my wallet is gone. Dope. Shock turns to annoyance turns to a small moment of panic when I can’t pay to get to the airport to meet up with my program, which turns to complete inconvenience in numerous ways once arrived in Sevilla. Like, I can’t buy roller-blades online and a gal just wants to blade. (I also can’t buy plane tickets and bike passes online but this should very soon be rectified. Worry not.) All I’m saying is theft esses a dee in many ways and a lot of times there is nothing that can be done. But one thing would be don’t engage with crazy, yelling people on packed subways. ~the more you know~

The last thing which has happened here is I have learned the definition of culture shock. Culture shock doesn’t have to be completely debilitating or entirely obvious. Culture shock can be going into a café and genuinely not knowing how to order a coffee, like an infant. It can be getting served a full fish, eyes and all, at your home-stay and not knowing how to say in Spanish that’s the sight of this dish, no matter how delicious tasting it may be, makes you want to find the nearest bathroom and hurl. It’s being confused and not knowing how to function as a human person within the culture. The little things become difficult and thus life becomes a whole lot less comfortable. I didn’t quite fully understand the concept of culture shock until recently when people where taking pictures of my friends and I at a café for apparently doing something against the norm and I honestly still have no idea what it was.

Homesickness, theft, and culture shock are three not ideal concept that exist abroad. But do you know what is ideal? Spain. Spain is ideal. When I start to get down about one of these things that haven’t gone exactly my way, I just remember where I am and how lucky I am to get to this experience. Homesickness can be solved with a phone call or a funny conversation with my friends. Theft is not the end of the world by any means. And culture shock just means I am learning by trial and error and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not abroad to have the same experiences I would in the states. I’m so happy to be here and am ready for the next misfortune to come my way.

Life in China (A Series of Mini Posts)

I have come to the humbling realization that despite speaking Chinese at home with my parents for the past 20 years, I still have the language skills of a Chinese 3rd grader. Apparently, there’s more to speaking a language than asking mom what’s for dinner everyday. 

If math were like the Chinese language, we would use a different symbol to represent every number instead of putting digits together to create larger numbers. There would also be 60,000ish numbers but we would only use about 2000 in normal everyday equations. People will often forget how to write certain numbers. They will ask the nearest mathematician who will chuckle with embarassment and shrug because they also don’t know. 

The term “APEC blue” was coined to describe the clear blue skies that appear when the Chinese government shuts down all the factories surrounding Beijing and bans half of the cars on the road to ensure good air quality for important national/international events like the APEC summit, olympics, military parade, etc… Anyway, I think that’s my new favorite color.

Chinese cafeteria ladies are terrifying. Don’t ever waste more than 5 seconds of their time when ordering food. 

My roommate keeps coming home drunk at 3 in the morning, ordering Mcdonalds (they deliver here!), and then promptly passing out after calling them. Which means that I’m left to deal with the angry delivery guy showing up at our dorm at 3:30 wondering why the crap she didn’t answer her phone. This has happened at least 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Every time I have very patiently woken her up so that she could get her food and pay for it. Next time I swear I’m just going to eat it. 

Today was a rare sunny, blue skied, pollution free day. I even saw a cloud! It was so beautiful that I cried a little. 

My program organized a “language partner activity” today where we were paired up with a Chinese student and spent an hour speaking English and an hour speaking Chinese. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was an elaborate ploy by the teachers to set us all up on blind dates.

I’m starting to miss little things about living in the United States. Like salad, and Netflix, and tap water that won’t kill you. Also breathing. You know, just the small stuff. 

Seriously though, like who even came up with this writing system? Also, Chinese dictionaries are ridiculous. In the time it takes me to look up one word, I could walk down to the coffee shop, make a new friend, have them do my homework for me, and still have time to order dessert. (That, my friends, is called opportunity cost.) Thank goodness for smart phones.

ESTOY SUDANDO: I.am.sweating.

Ever wanted to study abroad in the Dominican Republic? Unsure what to except? Well, you’ve come to the right place. My name is Becca Blaustein and I came to Santiago, the second largest city on the island, completely clueless. If you don’t want to make the same mistake as me, I urge you to keep reading.

A little about me: I just started my Junior Year at DU studying Art, Spanish, and Education. In my free time I enjoy, relaxing, drawing, and being outdoors. I’ve traveled to other countries for vacation but beware, there’s a huge difference between “vacationing in” and “living in” another country.

I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for 3 weeks now and it is a miracle I’m still alive. With 70-100% humidity daily, you’d think we’d be experiencing torrential downpours. The truth is, it hasn’t rained here in over 6 months and the temperature doesn’t drop below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Like I said, it is a miracle I’m still alive. Along with the heat, it is not common here for girls to wear shorts. Yes ladies, that means jeans, skirts, dresses and pants every single day, no matter how cute the new high-waisted jean shorts you just bought are. No matter how sweaty you are. (Unless you don’t mind sticking out more than you already do).

8 things I’ve learned about Dominican culture thus far:

1. Dominicans don’t sweat. Period. 99.9% of the people wear jeans to school every single day. They do so without breaking a sweat, not a single droplet. I tried wearing jeans today for the first time. Here is my advice: Don’t do it.

2. If you’re white, you will be stared at. If you have blonde hair, you will be stared at. If you’re white AND have blonde hair, never expect NOT to be stared at. In the United States, we have something called “a comfort level.” This concept might be foreign to some, but this cultural norm exists when someones behavior exceeds what you feel comfortable with. In return you get mad or offended. OR if you feel something becoming uncomfortable, you immediately find a way to stop it. For example, staring. Most people know when it is not appropriate to stare and know when to stop staring. When you are walking towards someone on the street in the U.S., there comes a point when you look away from the person because you no longer feel comfortable making eye contact or looking at them. This concept doesn’t apply here in the Dominican Republic. Wherever you go, people will stare at you, continue to stare at you and not stop staring at you until you are out of sight. You will lose the starting contest every time. Every. Single. Time. Without fail.

3. This one is called TSSSSSSTTTT “Hello Beautiful,” “Wowww rubia,” y “Ay mamiii.” This is what some people might call “catcalling.”In the DR though these comments are more widely considered compliments. Starting from childhood most boys are trained to compliment or show interest in women as they walk by on the street. Yes, at times commentary can be crude or vulgar, which no woman likes, but mostly these “compliments” are culturally accepted. Something to keep in mind though, as an american female aka, a very small minority on this island, the commentary does happen much more frequent then per say to your average Dominican woman. Boys, not so much a concern for you.

4. Here tigres are a different kind of animal AKA SANKI PANKIS. Quick summary: these dominicans may be charming, they might even be good looking but they just want sex, your money, or marriage…..so they can get a visa to the U.S.A. aka “the land of opportunities.” Boys, yes this is a concern for you too.

5. The majority of Taxi drivers think you are stupid solely because you are a U.S American. Don’t ask them how much a ride costs, don’t ask them their favorite bar, and DON’T get in one off the street. Concho and Taxi drivers will often try to overcharge you because they think you’re rich, dumb and a tourist. True story: some friends asked a driver to take them to his favorite bar because the driver didn’t know where the bar they want to go to was located. The driver drove them 10 minutes and stopped at a bar. This “drive” consisted of going around the block a few times, and then stopping a few buildings down from where they were originally picked up. He tried to charge them double the cost of a normal taxi ride. They laughed and gave him what the ride should have cost and left the car. Another note, street taxi drivers may try to lock you in their car, only call for one from a company you know and trust.

6. Despite the rumors, dominicans DO like to party. On any given night the discotecas and bars can be found full of people. Wednesdays, ladies drink for free. On the weekends you cannot enter a discoteca unless you are WELL dressed: button ups, heels or nice sandals, dresses, dress shoes. Apparently, no nose rings. No gages. They also go out realllyyyyy late, night life doesn’t start until 11. Somehow I’ve recently converted into an early bird bedtimer so lets just say I haven’t been super involved in the night life.

7. Never believe anything the restaurant and bar owners say when you walk down Playa Sosúa. They all have the best prices. They all have the best food. They all have been saving a table JUST for you. They will try to entice you with free wifi, no tax, and free beach chairs. Most of them have free wifi and none of them have tax (here its included in the prices) BUT be careful with the beach chairs. I repeat be careful with the beach chairs. Not everyone offers a chair for free with your meal. They may make it seem like you get one for free but make sure to double check or else you will end up with an umbrella but no chairs to lay under the umbrella. Side note: the beaches are BEAUTIFUL. Clear, warm (and very salty) water; white sand; lots of fish. Try to spend as much time at the beach as possible but WEAR SUNSCREEN. Dominican sun is HOT. (proof in the sunburns, aka as a non-sunscreen wearer, not worth it.)

8. “¿Cómo tu ta?” aka what did you just say? So there’s spanish right, and then theres dominican. Whatever you thought you knew about spanish before you came to the DR is wrong. Just kidding, but you might feel that way at first. Dominican accents are really strong. They like to cut off the ends and beginning of words and make up words and speak spanglish and add tus. Dominicans hate S’s. Its really fun. But don’t worry, you’ll catch on and get the hang of it. This one I gave you means, “¿Cómo estás?”

And soooo, the list most definitely does and will go on but I do not want to bore you too much more. In the next 3 months, 1 week and 2 days (but who’s counting) I will continue to become immersed in and learn about the culture here in the Dominican Republic. Although a lot of it is different from what I am used to, I find comfort in the things that remain the same across cultures; the love for family and friends, the lighthearted jokes and the kind gestures. A small smile goes a long way. The list I have made is not meant to scare you or concern you but only meant to inform you; to rid of any preconceived notions or expectations you may, or may not, have. These are important lessons I have learned and they address the realities of entering another culture and country completely new and different from your own. The DR, along with any other country in the world, does not have the same history, values, government or culture as the U.S.; something easy to forget when you have only vacationed in another country and not actually had the opportunity to live there. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn, grow and understand.

5 Things To Do When You Get Homesick

Studying abroad is a time of sheer excitement. You have left your home and everything comfortable and familiar, and you have completely submerged yourself into something new and exciting. And for a while, everything is great. You are having the time of your life, and it seems as though nothing can hold you back. Then suddenly, BAM. It hits you. You realize you are living in a foreign country, alone, and it’s not all that exciting anymore. You miss home more than anything and you are almost ready to go back, all the new is suddenly too much to handle. This slum is rough, and for some it lasts weeks, and other it lasts just a few days. Here is a list of a few things that you can do to pull yourself out of this nasty slum, and get back to enjoying your study abroad experience.

1. Call Mom and Dad

I know you are an adult now and you are living in a foreign country and you are doing it all on your own, but it is absolutely okay to call your parents and let them know you miss them. They will love to hear you love and miss them, and chances are just the sound of their voice will make you feel better. Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, parents always give the best advice when you’re down. They have this strange power to know exactly what to say to lift your spirits.

Jordan and her family
Jordan and her family

2. Look at pictures

Scroll through the photo library on your phone or computer and look at some old photos. It will be nice to see some familiar faces of people you love, and chances are recalling some happy memories will make you smile.

3. Listen to your favorite song

Music is a magical thing. Nothing has the power to change your mood faster than a great song. Throw on some headphones, or plug in a speaker and blast your favorite song. It will make you smile and lift your spirits before the chorus, and you will definitely feel inspired and ready to take on the rest of your study abroad experience. Pro tip: Spotify premium is only $4.99 a month for students and lets you listen to all your favorite songs, even when you don’t have access to the internet. Best $4.99 I’ve ever spent.

4.Remember it’s not permanent

I recently got some great advice from a friend about dealing with homesickness. She reminded me that nothing is permanent. Sometimes, it is comforting to remember that YOU ARE NOT STUCK HERE. You can purchase a plane ticket and be home in 24 hours. Mind you, I’m not saying you should actually purchase the ticket and leave. In fact, you should absolutely stay and work through your feelings and figure it out. But, it is comforting to know in the back of your mind, that you are not stuck here forever.

5. Spend time with friends

Finally, spend some time with your new abroad friends. They are your own little family, and with them you will create your home away from home. Surround yourself with great people and positive vibes, and you won’t be down for long.

John Lennon says it best.
John Lennon says it best.
Your friends abroad truly become your family.
Your friends abroad truly become your family.

They Have Five Governments in This Country?

Culture shock
noun

1. A state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.


I have never really thought about culture shock, what it is, how it happens, what it is like. It has never really been on my radar, until now. Over the past couple of days it has certainly been exciting and tough for me to adjust to living somewhere abroad. For the vast majority of students studying abroad we are upper class(men/women). It’s like senior year of high school, we know the drill, run the show, have tons of confidence and unlike high school we claim to be more sophisticated, mature, and prepared to tackle to the world (debatable for some). With our seniority comes a sense of adventure, a constant urge to seek out challenges, to learn, to have fun. The thing is, in our seniority, we forget the basis of our ability to express these mentalities. The reason we’re so adventurous is we have a new comfort zone, a new home, a home away from home where we have found the freedom to make mistakes and succeed on our own. Its liberating, exciting, and quite honestly its the best. *Big shout out to all the parents (especially mine), family, friends, government aid, loans, that make that happen.*
IMG_3487Now, rewind back to the first days of college… Everybody was a little insecure, a little nervous, super excited, but the interesting part was we just did not know. Most of us took a chance to completely turn the past 18 years of our lives completely upside down. Friends, living space, meals, class style, social life, all of it completely new. Despite all the perfect pictures our friends would post on their social media of how they were at their “dream schools” and life could “not be any better” we all suffered a little bit to build up the amazing experience that is college. Studying abroad, is just that… you are moving to college for the first time all over again. Weird is it not?
Whether your parents came with, you did it yourself, you had someone waiting for you, or you did it with your best friend you moved to somewhere completely new, you needed to find new living quarters, figure out meals, learn in a new perspective, figure out your social life. All of it. It is all new, so new it’s not even American… Freshman year was nothing compared to this, and you did not even see it coming, because guess what? You were listening to all those stories from your friends who went before you, from the social media they posted of all the fun they were having, just like freshman year. Now before you have a midlife crisis at age 20-something and think the Illuminati are behind this (don’t rule it out either), lets get back to what is important: Study abroad is fun. Stupid fun. Study Abroad is the 1970’s Polyester Leisure suit of experiences, its uncomfortable every time you wear it, there are always moments where you’re not sure about it, but its too fresh to pass up. I understand I, nor most people of my generation can relate to this, but thats the best analogy you’re going to get.
IMG_3355
Shrubbery
So as some of you get close to your halfway points, are just starting, or getting ready to board your planes: love study abroad. Remember, like everything and everyone else you’ve ever loved it didn’t happen overnight. Study abroad demands a flexible, strong, and determined individual who is willing to push their comfort zones so that they can completely change their perspective and perceptions. We are all doing so different things in so many different places, that is important to know. Just because you have a friend traveling to Fiji, one eating in Venice, one skiing in South America, one riding elephants in Thailand, and your somewhere rainy and cold… think about why you are there! There are always adventures to be had, it all depends on what are you willing to do to make them happen? We all learn differently, some of us thats in an office, hiking mountains, playing music, building homes, or taking photographs, so be happy for your friends and jealous but find your own happiness in your program and let that guide you. At the end of this experience, you too will be the student who comes home and tells all of their friends how incredible your studies abroad were, show flashy pictures, and reminisce of those amazing memories. But for now, don’t worry about what you miss, or what your strive to have, embrace the now. Journal your journeys, photograph those landscapes, take some chances, and discover yourself. Wake up every day grateful that you’re doing this, that you were able to choose or be chosen for this, and think about how you are growing.

Career Skills From Study Abroad

Over the last two months students across the country have been completing their undergraduate and graduate degrees. As many students graduate and search for jobs, it is important to reflect on experiences in school and the skills acquired that are applicable to potential employment opportunities. Studying abroad is an experience that students acquire a wide range of skill that are useful to the job market. Here is a list of a few skills to consider that may be relevant to place on your resume:

Cultural Adaptability

Many employers today realize that they work and serve people with various mid-sets, beliefs, and expectations based on their cultural background. Students who go abroad and become aware of cultural differences and expectations, and learn to easily adjust their own cultural norms and expectations to be able to function with daily tasks in different settings. How people approach cultural differences affects how an organization operates within their policies, procedures, and how business is accomplished. Whether in an entry level or managerial position, this can be a helpful skill to avoid many misunderstandings, frustrations, or stress.

Intercultural Communication

A skill that goes hand in hand with cultural adaptability is intercultural communication, or sometimes called cross-cultural communication. This is an important skill to have, especially if you are looking for employment that involves communicating to people from different cultures and languages. Intercultural communication is awareness of how people communicate and interact and the role of culture in communication. Studying abroad exposes students to the nuances of communication in a specific culture or country and how people receive information.

Language Skills

Learning a language abroad is a common objective for students and can be a part of their degree studies. Knowing another language can be helpful as a diverse skillset that can be applicable to communicating to people who may not use English as their first language.

Independence/Self-reliance

Studying abroad exposes students to a degree of independence and the ability to navigate long processes and solve problems. This sense of self-reliance is a good source of confidence and can help in both professional and personal pursuits.

Global Consciousness

Today, the world is becoming more and more globalized, and students to spend more time abroad are able to gain a wider perspective of the world operates. The increase of global communication and technology exposes more organizations to people that vary in global perspectives. Global consciousness is applicable to your professional life and can help you and your organization develop a greater appreciation for global politics, economics, education, and societal issues.

Country/Regional Skills 

Familiarity of a specific country or region is a useful skill to have for many employment opportunities. The knowledge acquired from study abroad exposes students to cultural and language skills that are unique to a region or country, whether or not that place is part of your academic focus.

How Study Abroad Can Help Your Professional Development

How do you handle pressure?

How do you handle conflict?

Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.

Tell me about a time when you faced some adversity in your life and how you overcame it.

 

Study abroad- while we returnees tend to focus on the amazingness of our experiences abroad, it is hard to imagine a study abroad experience without some sort of adversity, difficult situation, conflict or pressure. This adversity is meant to be capitalized upon. Use your experience to prove to employers that you are resilient and you have what they need.

 

Are you a leader or a follower?

Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

Give me one example of when you’ve used your problem-solving skills.

Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

Tell me about a time you failed, what you learned from it, and how you would act differently if you encountered something similar again.

 

Let’s imagine you are one of three candidates in a final round of interviewing, all with similar qualifications, skills, and background. Except for one thing: you studied abroad.  Are you prepared to convince the interviewer of the value added you can bring to their company because of your study abroad experience?

Or let’s imagine you and the other candidates all have same qualifications and all studied abroad. Can you make yourself stand out in a crowd with a study abroad experience that shows a combination of desirable skills? Most of us are probably thinking, no, not yet, I couldn’t do that in this very moment.

The thing about professional development—preparing documents required for job applications and job searching in general—is that it is a process of research, reflection, and improvement. We research positions and required qualifications, we match our skillsets with the job descriptions’ vocabulary, and we practice aloud our rationale of how we match the position.

It is often easy with study abroad experiences to follow the STAR method- Situation, Task, Action, Result; proving your skills through a story. Go back to the list of questions; did any of them resonate with you and of one of your study abroad experiences? Try to set up your story in the STAR method to demonstrate skills like flexibility, active listening, ability to work with people different than yourself, solving problems, critical thinking, and managing conflict.

By using your study abroad experiences in interviews you are displaying maturity through the reflection it took to draw out those skills. It is also a great topic that creates an opening for more conversation. Use your study abroad stories to help you land your next job.

Finally, look for the annual Lessons From Abroad—Study Abroad Returnee Conference in your region to learn how to improve your resume writing and interviewing skills. You will also have the opportunity to network with professionals who have internationally-focused positions and learn how to work, teach, or volunteer abroad after graduation.  http://www.lessonsfromabroad.org/

LFA

9 Signs You Studied Abroad in Spain

Today at work, I got the chance to reminisce. This, by far, is the best part of my job: once a week or so, I get to give a presentation to students about to go abroad detailing my experience studying abroad. So for our blog this week, I chose 9 extremely superficial things that have still stuck with me over a year since I returned from Salamanca that I tell other students about ALL the time:

  1. Anytime dinner is before 8 o’clock, you get very flustered.

    Dinner at 6? Why?
    Dinner at 6? Why?
  2. Bedtime and wake-up time seem eerily similar…

    early-sunrise-in-long-island-city-alton-brothers
    It’s 6:30am. Are you getting home or waking up?
  3. You try using vosotros in class, to find your classmates utterly confused/disgusted.

    dsgstd
    Did you just say tenéis? Nope.
  4. Don Simón has utterly ruined your taste for sangria.

    Only the best carton sangria for you!
    Only the best carton sangria for you!
  5. Only walks over 30 minutes are considered a “trek”.

    25 minute walk home? Let's do it!
    25 minute walk home? Let’s do it!
  6. You have AGGRESSIVELY chosen a side in the Real Madrid, Barcelona feud.

    Does this paint come in tattoo form? Barca Para Siempre
    Does this paint come in tattoo form? Forca Barca!!!
  7. Any “small” coffee in the US looks insanely large.

    This is a medium. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?!?!?!
    This is a medium. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?!?!?!
  8. Whole legs of pig no longer phase you.

    Yes, that's a whole pig's leg. What of it?
    Yes, that’s a whole pig’s leg. What of it?
  9. Nap time errday. Enough said.
    Preach. Truer words never spoken.
    Preach. Truer words never spoken.

    Believe me, study abroad left a much larger impression than 9 little idiosyncrasies. Sometimes, though, it’s funny that the little things are easier to remember than the personal growth, the increase in confidence, and the maturation that inevitably occurs when you survive and thrive a new environment. However, despite all that, it doesn’t make getting used to an early dinner any easier.

    -Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

Coping with Returning Home

After three months of living in Alexandria, Egypt, I remember the flood of emotions that overcame me when I returned home. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of relief, excitement, and nostalgia. The expectation of reverse culture shock was looming over me and I remember prepping myself for the readjustment of my old daily routines.

Eric Blog 1

The symptoms of retuning home were subtler then I expected. I was more critical of the way people dressed in the United States than back in Egypt. I craved certain foods due to a lack of nutrients from my diet abroad, and felt sick sometimes. I noticed that I had moments of severe nostalgia and longed to be back with people that I had met while I was abroad. However as time progressed, there were a few steps that helped me cope with the symptoms of returning home:

  1. Stay in contact with the people in your host country. Adding my old program guides and host country friends to my social media helped me feel more connected to Egypt and the events that were happening there after I had left. I was able to keeps those bonds and feel connected to the people that I had met abroad.
  1. Reconnect with your friends from your study abroad program. Going out with friends who went on my program helped me cope with adjusting socially back home. We would go out to middle eastern restaurants and enjoy hookah and Arabic coffee on late nights and recollect stories from our experiences in Egypt and discuss how we felt similar experiences coming back home.
  1. Enjoy your surroundings and live in the moment. Going out with friends and enjoying activities helps you get reacquainted with your hometown and life after studying abroad. This can present the silver linings of being home and new adventures that await you in you own backyard.
  1. Keep traveling, and satisfy the feeling of wanderlust by going on small trips with friends.
  1. Seek advice from your study abroad advisor or professor. Talk about the experience of being back home and ask how you can use this experience in your academics and career opportunities.

Eric Blog 2

Studying abroad was an amazing experience, but coming back home was a challenge. If you ever feel that reverse culture shock is getting the best of you, just take a moment, take a deep breath and know that others have been in your shoes before.

-Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

Fighting the Post-Travel Blues

I still remember the feeling I got stepping off my plane back into Denver after four months in Jordan. I can remember my anxiety, my trepidations at coming home feeling so “different”, and my sense of loneliness, sad about all I had left behind in Jordan. The reverse culture shock hit me fast, and it hit me hard.

FFF-46-Jordan-Wilk-14

Life back in Denver instantly felt so… ordinary. Drivers on the highway stayed in their designated lines, and drove at designated speeds… how boring. People hurried with their meals, and left restaurants as soon as they finished eating… how stuffy. I could overhear all conversations around me because they were in English, not Arabic… too overwhelming.

Although I was disenchanted with American life and culture (as reverse culture shock is known to do) I was excited to be back at DU, excited to get back into my classes, get back onto the debate team, and reconnect with friends. But I seemed to forget one detail…. The Quarter system is no joke, and it has no mercy. The quarter system doesn’t care that you just came from a place spending 3 hours per night in a café drinking Turkish coffee and smoking hookah. The Quarter system doesn’t care that you hadn’t been in a traditional American classroom for 7 months. Even outside of the classroom, the speed of life back at DU was disorienting. I also couldn’t process the fact that everything seemed exactly the same as when I left. I tried to get back into my old ‘routine’, but it didn’t feel quite right. I felt like I needed to be somewhere else. I could already feel my next adventure calling me out the door.

PL-45-Palestine-Wilk-14
Taken in Palestine

That, dear friends, is called Wanderlust.

Wanderlust is highly infectious, can be caught with minimal exposure to life in a different place, and needs to be treated with consistent doses of travel – probably for the rest of my lifetime.

While I have been fortunate enough to get some other adventures in since returning from Jordan a year ago, here is how I appease my Wanderlust when I am Denver-locked:

  1. Explore DENVER! We live in an incredible city, with fabulous scenes for music, food, film, art, you name it. We have great sports teams (or so I hear… sports aren’t my gig). We are one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and there is a lot going on. We only have 4 years to take advantage of college life in Denver, so why waste any more time?
  2. Deep Breaths – many of us will be returning from places where the pace of life is much different than at DU. It’s important to understand that your experience adjusting to life back home might be challenging, and might be different than the experiences your other friends are going through, and that’s okay!
  3. Accept changes – once you come home you might find that relationships are different than they were before. This is a natural part of college life, and of studying abroad. It’s better to accept these changes, and make the best of them!
  4. Try something new at home! The DU community, and the Denver community at large has enormous opportunities to get involved. Maybe it’s time to join a new club, pick up an intramural sport, find a great local charity to get involved in. Either way, expand your Denver networks.
  5. Use the I-House! The international house can connect you with events surrounding international communities and opportunities in Denver and at DU, take advantage of that!

-Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

Lessons Learned From First Term

My first term at the University of York is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to head home for Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve put together some things I’ve learned about living as an American in England after my first chunk of my exchange year.

  1. Yorkshire is a county full of immense local pride. Nothing quite brings that to your attention like standing in a crowd of locals at a concert who are all chanting “York-shire! York-shire!” Nothing quite makes you feel as viscerally at home than joining in that chant and having it swell to the point where you can feel it resonate in your chest.
An American and a German at a British rock concert.
  • Nothing teaches you humility like trying to learn all the ins and outs of life in North Yorkshire. Most of the locals have been happy to explain everything to me from how FIFA works, to how a football team makes the world cup, to why people care so much about football in the first place, to what on earth a “brolly” is (Hint: it’s an umbrella). Sometimes you can pick up on cultural nuances via context clues, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s fine! Plucking up the courage to ask what may be a pretty obvious question is an exercise in humility that everyone needs eventually. And it opens up an opportunity for locals to demonstrate kindness and patience towards you. Which, more often than not, they are happy to do.
  • England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Should you choose to go abroad anywhere in the UK, don’t underestimate the differences in these dialects and the cultural differences they bring. You’ll inevitably slip up at some point and say something embarrassing. It’s alright. It’ll happen. But the key to managing a new culture (even one that may not seem that different than home), is always listening. Go and spend time with just local people for awhile (as in actively seek out local company rather than just hanging out with other international students. You already know how to relate to Americans, it’s not going to challenge you to relate to them in another country) and just listen to the conversation before jumping in. English folks have very different methods of making friends than Americans, and you can really only learn this on the job.
A very British Christmas: Love Actually, wine, and Christmas crackers!
  • A political discussion is going to eventually come up. At some point, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will criticize something about America. You may or may not agree with said criticism. Whatever your opinion, wait before jumping to defend your home country. Probe a little. Ask more questions. Figure out what is influencing this person to think the way that they do. Then add your own opinion to the mix. Not only does this make for a more fruitful exchange, it sends a more positive message about Americans in general-that they’re politically aware and willing to try to see issues on a global scale, rather than just a countrywide one. And do keep in mind that every country in the world has serious issues and has made serious mistakes. Admitting to and expressing shame or sorrow over mistakes our nation has made doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It makes you honest.
Exploring the northern reaches of Britain in Edinburgh.
  • And finally, on a lighter note, give yourself permission to be silly. Everyone’s got a goofy side, and it often gives others permission to unleash their goofiness when they see yours. Even if (in my case) that means screeching your way through a karaoke rendition of the Time Warp. People will wonder how many drinks it took for you to pull off that entire dance and all the spoken bits (the answer, surprisingly, as zero. The karaoke bar in question was really expensive). But then they’ll quit wondering and dance the Time Warp with you in the haze of the fake smoke machine and leave breathless and grinning. And it’s moments like those, in addition to the more serious ones, where international bridges are built and some special friendships are formed, when people don’t feel the need to choose between silliness and seriousness. Both are integral parts of being human, I think.

It’s been a fantastic first term. For those of you heading back to the States for good, don’t let your experience fade. Write about it and preserve it. For those of you staying abroad for the whole year-we’re just getting started. Let’s make it count.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Intercambios Saved My Spanish

After more than a month in Spain, I have a new level of respect for anyone who decides to move to a country where they will have to speak a different language. Even the simplest sentiments can be difficult to translate. Oftentimes, it takes me about twice as long to say the same sentence in Spanish as it would take to say it in English. Sometimes I hold up my hand, say “espera,” and take a minute to search for the word I need. And every once in a while, after staring into space for far too long, I sigh and say, “no importa.”

Though I try to practice as much as possible, it hasn’t been as easy as I expected. Originally, I imagined myself speaking Spanish all the time once I got off the plane in Madrid but it soon became clear that our program coordinators were going to communicate with us almost exclusively in English. Whenever I was hanging out with other people in my program they spoke English too. After a couple weeks I felt myself comfortably slipping into speaking English whenever I could, which was often, considering all my friends were Americans from our program.

Wait, I would think every so often. This isn’t what I came here to do. It felt wrong to only ever be speaking in Spanish when I was with my host mom or in class. Wasn’t I supposed to be trying to immerse myself in this new language? At the same time, I didn’t want to ask my friends to try to have Spanish-only conversations with me, and I really did not want to attempt to ask a native speaker if they ever wanted to chat. I’ve played out the scenario in my head, and the only way it ever ends is badly. So badly. And awkwardly.

The perfect solution to my problem came a few weeks after we started classes: an intercambio. In Spanish, the word intercambio means “exchange,” and in this instance the exchange is vocal. Our university matches us up with a native Spanish-speaking university student who wants to practice speaking English and, once we’re given their contact information, it’s up to us to set up a meeting and start practicing.

Intercambios are the best thing to happen to my Spanish conversational skills since the Spanishdict app. I’ve met with many of my friends’ intercambios as well as my own, and they are all extremely friendly and speak near-flawless English too boot. They help you with your grammar mistakes and teach you slang that varies from the useful to the, well, less-than-appropriate.

One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio - Plaza de España
One of the sights I saw while exploring Sevilla with my intercambio – Plaza de España

The other night I had my first dinner out where it was just me with my intercambio and her Spanish-speaking friends. To say the least, it was intimidating. Not a word of English was spoken. Many times I ended up grimacing because I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to react with surprise, disgust, or happiness. The pace of conversation was so fast that whole minutes passed with stories flying over my head as constantly nibbled on my food to make it look like I had a reason for my silence. Every once in a while, my intercambio would turn to me and translate a story that had just passed, rapid-fire and full of slang I don’t know, between her two friends.

Though the experience may have been a little bewildering, it was fulfilling in a way that spending a night speaking in English wouldn’t have been. I felt like, though I struggled, I was accomplished in some way.

And the things worth accomplishing, the ones that leave us with a sense of pride after we’ve achieved them, are the ones that present the hardest struggle along the way.

Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.
Intercambio night! Spaniards, Americans, Brits, Germans, and more.

To help with navigating the struggle that is overcoming the language barrier, I’ve compiled some facts/ tips that I’ve picked up in the last month and a half:

  • You will be scared. Don’t be. Nervousness may keep you from saying something wrong, but it will never allow you the chance to learn how to say it right.
  • (Most) people appreciate your efforts. Speaking in a country’s native language shows an appreciation for the people and their culture, and you are more likely to run into people who will help you through a conversation than people who will judge you for your mistakes.
  • Learning a language takes time; progress may seem slow, but as long as you keep practicing it will happen. Everyday phrases will become easier when you actually start using them everyday.
  • Sometimes the only reason you understand what people are saying is because of the accompanying hand signals they make.
    • Just today I had an entire conversation with my tapas professor using hand motions and sounds to imitate what food would sound like in the pan. Seriously. (And it was probably the most entertaining conversation I had all day). You can get by even when you don’t have the words to, so don’t get flustered when you can’t figure out what you need to say.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA blogger

Kristen’s Blog: Arusha, Tanzania

Take a look at Kristen’s blog as she studies abroad in Arusha, Tanzania. Aside from being fantastically written and interesting, her blog is named after a Toto song and her background theme is the Lion King. All in all, those three aspects make up an irresistible package and we’d love to share it with you!

http://iblessedtherains.blogspot.com/

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A Wedding Fundraiser!

The Whole “Studying” Thing

So you know how approximately half of “studying abroad” includes the word “studying” right? Yes, family and friends, I am in a different country and it’s not a vacation. When you study abroad, you do actually have to learn things, maybe even attend class (read: go to class).

I love school. I always have loved school, and some of my favorite moments have been in the classroom with amazing professors studying something that I found absolutely riveting. Therefore, I was so excited for September 8 to arrive in France, because that’s when I started my classes. I imagined sitting in a European classroom (whatever that means) speaking eloquent French with other students from exotic locales, sharing our insights into historical events and current affairs.

Flash forward into reality, and I am sitting in a European classroom (which has a striking similarity to my American ones), speaking elementary French with other students from around the world, sharing my valiant attempt at completing my grammar exercises. Hardly the dream that I had built up in my head.

While I am learning a lot about the French language in my classes, and I have met some  really smart and interesting people, it is certainly not the picture I had painted in my head. Most of my classes are about learning the French language and learning about France, which means grammar, phonetics, communication (oral and written), geography, and literature. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have different types of classes too, as I get to take a gastronomy class where my “homework” was to find and eat three different types of pastries. Needless to say, I finished that assignment and passed with flying colors.

There are a lot of differences between school in the United States, and school around the world. Some of these differences I have found to be overwhelming and frustrating, while some of these differences seem to make a lot of sense. After the first three weeks, I have compiled a list of the things that I have found to be different about school in France.

The statue on the main quad of the campus. It's a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.
The statue on the main quad of the campus. It’s a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.

1. Time is not a definitive entity. 

I’m the type of person that thinks that if you don’t show up 15 minutes early… you’re late. So when I thought I was going to be late for my 8:30 am literature class, I was panicking. When I arrived exactly at 8:31, the door to the classroom wasn’t even open yet. Most of my professors may roll into class 10 to 15 minutes later than the time printed on our schedules, and sometimes they let us out early.

I also tend to rely heavily on my syllabi throughout my quarter at DU, but when I tried to ask one of my professors for a syllabus, she just kind of laughed and asked me what it was. The closest thing to a syllabus that I have received in Caen is the dates for my exams… written on the whiteboard.

2. University is not “school,” nor is it “college.” 

In French, “l’école” translates to school, but is used to refer to elementary school. “College” is middle school, and “lycée” is high school. While in the US, I use the words “school” and “college” interchangeably to refer to my studies at the university, but whenever I say “l’école” or “college” to my host parents, they give me a quizzical look and clarify that I mean “université” or university.

3. Backpacks are for tourists.

Most of the students at the university use tote bags or messenger bags for class. For the most part, only men or international students use backpacks. This isn’t just for style (although according to one of my French friends… backpacks are not very stylish) it’s actually practical. Women typically use tote bags that have zippers on them because pickpockets target those who have open bags or backpacks, especially on the crowded public transportation, and it’s easier to hold a totebag in your lap on the tram or hold it close to your body.

4. I’m wrong. A lot.

I spend all day thinking, reading, writing, and speaking in French. All of my classes are in French, and all of my interactions with my host family are in French. It’s only natural that when I’m spending approximately 90% of my day doing everything in a different language that I say something wrong a few times. In my phonetics class, my professor has taken to calling the little things I have trouble with “les peculiarités de Zoé.” While at first this bothered me, and I would actively stop myself from answering questions in class out of fear of being wrong, I’ve realized that it’s actually okay and helpful, so now I can really work on those things I struggle with.

5. Who needs to be hydrated? 

I cannot find a reusable water bottle for the life of me. I have been to basically every grocery store, sporting goods store, and a few random home goods stores, and I cannot find a reusable water bottle. I have yet to find a definitive answer as to why that is… but for the most part I think it just because you don’t really eat or drink anything unless you are at a meal. Students don’t eat in class, and you only drink water in class, or coffee in the morning. We get an hour for lunch every day, and it is actually used for lunch. In the US, when I have lunch with my friends we consider it a date, but in France eating lunch with my friends is just something that we do, and it’s a sacred time. You will not find people finishing homework at the lunch table when they are with their friends and a baguette sandwich.

6. I’ve learned the most outside the classroom.

I have loved learning the language in class, and I have met some seriously awesome people from all over the world. However, I feel like a lot of the things I’ve learned about life and living in a different country haven’t been from my grammar class or trying to figure out the different ways to pronounce the letter “e.” I’ve learned about WWII from visiting museums and going to the actual beaches where the Invasion of Normandy actually happened. I’ve learned about William the Conquerer from walking through the castle that’s older than the United States of America (I just can’t get over that) and I’ve learned about different types of French cuisine from talking to vendors at the market. Instead of reading about all of these things in books, I am living them. To me, that is the most amazing difference, as well as the most overwhelming difference, of them all.

Adjusting to college life in a different country has been an adventure in its own right. I have definitely had my moments of sheer panic, where I didn’t understand anything that was being explained to me, and moments of extreme frustration, where it didn’t seem like anything was going to come together for me, but also moments of excitement, when I finally understood a concept that I had been struggling with (I literally gave myself a high-five in my grammar class the other day). However, I have adjusted and have found that learning in French, while more challenging, is also extremely rewarding.

– Zoe, DUSA Blogger