“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.

What I’d Wish I’d Known…

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

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

The stages of culture shock are:

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

Culture shock slide

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Showing the Fam around Salamanca

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

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

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

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

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

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

How did you get ready to go abroad?

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

Mental checklist:

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

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

How Study Abroad Prepared Me for My Next Adventure

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

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

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

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

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I got so good at Ryan Air

 

  1. There’s nothing that you can’t express, unless you’re too embarrassed to mime it

I first experienced complete and utter language confusion when I studied abroad. I was on a bus from Zadar to Split, Croatia, when an elderly, balding man with a significant amount of missing teeth looked right at me and said a sequence of words that my brain was unable to register. Not a word. Not a phrase. Nothing.

So I sat there, I smiled, I nodded, I placed my hands in my lap, and then stupidly stared ahead, blankly, at the colorful, speckled fabric on the back of the headrest in front of me. I’d never felt more useless in my life.

Slowly, though, I learned to appreciate the art of miming and apologetic shrugging. While I never condone complete ignorance, when your faculties fail you, a grateful, wordless plea and the choo-choo noise will point you in the right direction to most train stations. Thankfully, standardized bathroom signs have saved me from ever miming number 1 or number 2.

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Thankfully, no miming require in Barcelona
  1. Proactively Google Map

Most smartphones have some sort of map feature, which come in handy quite often. What most people don’t realize is that when you use them, your route is saved in the phone until it either dies or you select another. So, when you’re heading out and don’t have Wi-Fi, map out the route to your destination while you still have Wi-Fi. It will help you get to where you need to go and will give you your starting location as a point of reference for when you need to go back. Please, however, take it with a grain of salt and make sure you’re going to the right place before you leave the warm, safe embrace of free internet.

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Also know how to read a real, paper map
  1. Don’t lose your cool

There are some situations where Murphy’s Law always holds true, and one of them is definitely international travel. Somehow, something you’re expecting underwhelms. Now, this can occur in varying degrees along the lines of “Damn, I forgot to pack a lunch, guess I’ll have to settle for a sandwich at the airport!” or “I’m stranded in Marrakech, Morocco without a passport because it just got stolen.” Both occurred to while I was studying abroad, ironically on the same trip.

The key to surviving these situations is to either not lose your cool or have someone there with you who won’t lose their cool. My good friend Ian was with me in Morocco and was instrumental in helping me stay sane as I
became increasingly hangry searching downtown Marrakech for the right documents I would bring to the U.S. consulate. I, on the other hand, was unflappable in finding a wayward friend one of my first nights in Salamanca when her phone was dead. Flexibility, I’ve learned, is key to weathering both the little and large snafus that will happen along the way.

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I want to go to there

 

 

Now, as I plan ahead to an epic Patagonian backpacking trip, tramping across New Zealand’s rugged, Middle-Earthen terrain, or exploring the Colombian beaches, I know I have some excellent skills in my toolbox. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, but, *knock on wood*, it won’t be that serious and I’ll know how to deal with it, or at least fake it until I make it.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

Coping with Returnee-ism

Oh boy. You’re a returnee. You’ve just gotten home from abroad. Now, you’re responsible for validating your existence and entire experience in a 30-second-or-less recap where you attempt to explain a roller coaster of emotions, a sense of self-actualization, loneliness, elation, and tangible experiences. Good. Luck.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned the greatest deflecting tactic on the planet:

Acquaintance A: “How was your trip?”

Me: “It was amazing!!!”

For most people, that interaction will suffice. They’ve engaged you to a surface-level point where they’ve shown enough interest to maintain your relationship, but still remain depth-free, and while you’re stricken with guilt knowing you’re telling a minuscule portion of your experience, you are more than happy to avoid talking about your trip’s pit falls and focus on the amazing parts. Win-win.

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I visited the Miyajima Shrine in Japan, which was actually amazing

Acquaintance A: “What made it so amazing? What did you do? Were there any difficult parts? ”

Once the second probe happens, you buckle down. They’re really interested. You’re not getting away scot free. Winter is coming.

You have to understand, I’m extroverted and still hate this part. I like to think of myself as articulate, but have an extremely difficult time encapsulating the holistic nature of a trip abroad. The peaks feed into the troughs, which then feed into the peaks, in an endless cycle that still affects me well after my return.

For example, during my study abroad program, I directly enrolled in the University of Salamanca, meaning I set up my own classes, lived with a host-family, and didn’t have an immediate support group of Americans I saw every day. I loved the freedom of this lifestyle, where I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself, but simultaneously was driven crazy by the amount of time I spent alone. Working through the loneliness, on the flip side, remains a great point of pride for me, as I found my own inner strength and moral compass, but doesn’t take away from the fact that I was really lonely at times. In short, my experience was a double-edged sword, which was not always easy to explain. Returnee-ism reared its ugly head.

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The positive, amazing hike side of my double-edged trip to British Colombia      (negative side not pictured)

So, here’s my advice for dealing with returnee-ism:

  1. First, accept the fact that these interactions are going to happen, and are going to happen whenever you come home from an exciting place. I just got home from attending two of my best friend’s wedding in Japan a month ago, and I dealt with the exact same questions I faced coming home from Spain.
  2. Second, if the trip didn’t have a frustrating aspect, then you’re either remembering incorrectly or lying to yourself. Overall, my trip to Japan was one of the best of my life, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t low points. The longer you live somewhere, the more this is magnified. Even if you can’t explain the complete nature of a trip to someone else, be as truthful as possible. Gilding or demonizing your trips can discount what you learned from them.
  3. Third, debrief. I went to Israel during December of 2014 and had an interesting experience, but one that was really frustrating as well. I wrote a blog on it, which really helped me put my trip in perspective. I’m in the process of writing one for Japan, and always travel with a journal. Find whatever mechanism is best for you to debrief, it’ll do you a lot of good.
  4. Finally, internalize everything, and go out again. Each time I’ve traveled after my study abroad experience, either domestically or internationally, I applied what I learned before and gained new skills to boot.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

Never Stop Exploring

How lucky we are to call DU one of our homes
How lucky we are to call DU one of our homes

Do you remember the moment that DU stopped feeling like a new strange place and started feeling like home? Maybe you went away for a weekend and texted your friends that you would be home in a few hours, but were referring to campus. Or maybe you finally figured out the quickest exit to take or the best short cuts around Denver. But I think I can safely assume that at some point, DU shifted from just your school to your home. Well that happens abroad too. Its one of the greatest feelings: you finally know the lay of the land and you can roll your eyes at the tourists like the rest of the locals do when they do silly things like walk in the bike lane or get confused on the metro. You did your time as the foreigner, and now you feel like a member of the community.

However there is something about this shift is equally as dangerous as it is beautiful. You are comfortable. You have a routine, favorite places, and a schedule. The city starts to lose its grandeur and becomes a little less exciting. I am a creature of habit, and I love getting a routine and being familiar with my surroundings, so I would have let my comfort in Copenhagen happen without complaint. Luckily for me, my parents showed up just in time. I absolutely loved showing them my new city and all my favorite places, but I knew I couldn’t entertain them for an entire week on my favorite coffee shops and parks, so I signed us up for the “Urban Bike Tour” by Cycling Copenhagen. This bike tour wasn’t the typical tourist attraction – instead it was an exploration of some of the areas just out of the inner-city. It wasn’t until this tour that I realized how much more there was to discover in Copenhagen! Our tour guide pointed out a tiny shop under a clothing store, declaring it was the best coffee in Denmark. He snaked us through a cemetery that people use like a park, then led us to a gorgeous, quiet canal crowded with dainty boats with hand-painted names peeling from their sides. He showed us the wealthy district with roads three times as large as in the city and some of the world’s best ice cream.

Shoutout to Yelp! for helping me discover a new brunch spot
Shoutout to Yelp! for helping me discover a new brunch spot

I realized had developed my own bubble consisting of my apartment, school, and favorite study spots and parks – but this tour expanded my awareness of the city and re-lit my excitement for learning more about the city. There were bike bridges and paths I didn’t know existed, a remodeled meat-packing district of new restaurants and bars, a street with unique shops and flee markets on the weekends, and more. That day I challenged myself as I am about to challenge you, to explore at least one new place every week, because even when you think you know someplace like the back of your hand, there are still undiscovered nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered. You might find the world’s best bakery or an astonishingly beautiful cemetery, a fantastic coffee shop or a stunning running trail. Take a friend, or go alone. Spend an entire day somewhere new, or just stop by for an hour or less. Whatever you do, never stop exploring. Your time abroad is limited, so you need to savor every second of it. When you feel comfortable or find yourself talking about your abroad city like home, appreciate your accomplishment of making it your own, but take on the challenge of continuously finding new places.

Word of mouth works for discovering new places too! If you don't know locals to ask, try your professors!
Word of mouth works for discovering new places too! If you don’t know locals to ask, try your professors!

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.

My Favorite Souvenir

I’ve been in Bilbao, Spain for almost two weeks, and so far I’m realizing that our textbooks have taught us a lot of Latin American Spanish.  So, I’ve been sitting in front of mi ordenador for a of couple days (previously known as mi computadora portatíl), trying to detail my experiences abroad thus far.  And I’ve been having trouble putting my experiences in words; I’ve been having trouble thinking of the most important things to tell.

This is what I know: I am so lucky to be studying abroad.  I do productive things every day because my time is limited, and there is not much to do inside anyway since the Wi-Fi connections are all shoddy (no longer la conexión inalámbrica).  I’ve seen ornate churches, toured famous museums, been wine tasting, swam on nude beaches, and hiked through the Basque country.  And the best part?  I can do all of these things after class (or on Fridays because there aren’t classes—remember those times, Pios?).

Tomorrow, I'll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes
Tomorrow, I’ll be at this little beach in Bakio after my classes

Additionally, I’m learning a lot about myself abroad. Like, I’m not good with maps (which I may or may not have known before, but it is now confirmed).  My Spanish needs work (a lot).  And, I’m noticing a lot of little things that I take for granted.  Google Maps, hot showers, cold milk (don’t even ask), peanut butter? Never forget.

Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao
Pinxtos hopping in Casco Viejo, the old town of Bilbao

I know my experience is barely starting, but I’m already excited to bring photos, souvenirs, and a “better me” back to The States.  However, what I’m most eager to take home?  The study abroad mentality.  It’s easy to put off seeing things and doing things when you’re comfortable.  Whether that comfort comes from your go-to Chipotle order, your daily routine, or your best friend: do what you can to be uncomfortable.

I cannot wait to go take the Light Rail and see what exists at the end of every stop (pro tip: Santa Fe Drive off of the 10th and Osage station is a pretty cool area).  I can’t wait to take the long walk home instead of the easy walk home after class. I will turn my phone data off (sometimes) in order to tune into the world.  And as corny as it seems, I vow to not be so worried about getting lost because that’s the best way to figure out where you’re going (or at least the best way to find a new coffee shop).  I have until December in Spain, but I promise I will never stop “studying abroad.”

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.

The 5 Stages of Post-Abroad Metamorphosis, Contemplation, and General Tears

Of course post-abroad adjustment can be broken down into pre-determined stages! As you head out on the next great adventure, keep these 5 stages in mind to make re-adjustment smooth sailing:

1. Dazed and Confused

Why is it light out at midnight? Shouldn’t we be eating breakfast right now? No? It’s 4 pm? What? I slept for 14 hours? You don’t say…

So you’ve probably experienced jetlag. You have never experienced the post-abroad apocalypse that will herald your return. Not only are you coming off of 5 months of adventure and mischief, but you just traveled umpteen hours, probably said emotional good-byes and hellos to your families in their respective countries, and – oh, yeah – changed time zones. Even if it’s just one or two time zones, you won’t be operating at full power for at least 2 days or 18 hours of sleep, whichever comes first. Prepare to be a little kooky. There is no better remedy than sleep. And probably whatever food you’ve been massively missing while abroad (For me, it was cheese. Clearly I didn’t go to Europe). You’ve just got to ride it out. Or sleep it out, I guess.

2. Articulation

Did I mention I just spent 5 months in Ecuador? Oh I did. Well did I tell you I climbed a volcano? Oh I did. Well did I show you my slideshow of 436 photos? Oh you already sat through it. Well did you get the highlight commentary? Oh you did. Well when I was in Ecuador…

So I studied abroad in Ecuador.

When you come off of the adventure high, you naturally want to share that with everyone you come in contact with. That’s fine. Your life was pretty cool for a few months and you just experienced something once-in-a-lifetime. Also fine. BUT YOU CANNOT TWIST EVERY CONVERSATION TO MENTION YOUR STUDY ABROAD. THE PEOPLE GET A LITTLE CRANKY.

Sorry to be so emphatic. Of course, it’s going to be a topic of conversation as most people you know want to hear about your trip. You will get really good at the highlight-reel speech. But post-abroad, you will certainly run across one of these chatterbox people, and you will most certainly be aware of every minute detail of their time abroad. You will be talking about Abstract Algebra or the new shampoo you just purchased and SOMEHOW it will connect to an experience in Spain, or traveling in Paris, or hiking the Great Wall in China, etc.

Don’t be that person.

3. Cultural Sensitivity

“Sheesh. Gustavo is, like, so culturally insensitive. I mean, he’s telling me about how he didn’t have running water the whole time he was abroad. Can you believe it? I’m just like; Dude, what can you even be complaining about? I didn’t even have water.”

Shockingly, your experiences make you a more enlightened person to various degrees. Who would have thought. Seeing how non-Americans live will be eye-opening for most people, and this can never be a bad thing, however, upon your return it is tantamount to remember that not everyone – even your friends who have also studied abroad – will have seen, felt, and experienced what you have. Their context is entirely different. Don’t write them off as culturally insensitive jerkwads, realize you too have blind spots. The hardships you experienced abroad are nothing to brag about – use them to inform what actions you take post-abroad.

4. Relativity

What is even the point of this homework stuff? Why do grades even matter? It’s just one person’s subjective viewpoint that is largely not representative of the “real world” anyway!

This stage is crucial, heartbreaking, and almost universal.

There will be thrown books. There will be late assignments. There will be tears. The only solace is that as you are contemplating just giving up on the 50% of your homework you actually complete, every other study abroad returnee is right there with ya. After learning so much – largely outside of a classroom – 16 credit hours worth of class time just seems rather superfluous. Winter quarter can be a dark time.

Remember this as you sit in your café registering for classes while abroad – don’t overload. Simply getting to class on-time, and not Latin American “on-time” (ie: 10 minutes late) will be a struggle.

5. Wanderlust

You’ve gotten a taste and now you’re addicted. To the getting lost and crowded buses. To the daily rain and astounding lack of edible cheese. To the street food out of tiny bags and terrifying traffic. To the solitude. To the language. To the adventure.

This stage doesn’t just end – you get to keep it the rest of your life. From here on out you will be questing for new travels and leaping at every opportunity to dash across the globe. You may have only studied abroad for months, but the effects last years.

To all those leaving in a matter of weeks or months – best of luck! All of the returnees – those of us in “stage 5” – would love to go with you.

– Maddie Doering, MSID Ecuador 2014

Maddie Doering

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.

Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

5 Reasons Why Studying Abroad Makes You A Better Person

  1. You Forge Local Relationships

Oh, María. That’s how I start many of my stories about my Spanish host mother. María was the best. She was a chubby, 68, year-old Salamanca native who had hosted students for 30 years, and made my study abroad experience 100 times better. We would huddle around my computer to watch Barcelona soccer matches, she would cook me paella every Sunday, and we would spend dinnertime joking around, watching terrible Spanish television, and talking about our days. When I would come home for a midnight snack, which was more like a 5-6am snack, María started calling me “The Ghost” and asking if “The Ghost” had visited the night before to raid our refrigerator.

Something wonderful about study abroad is that you have time to develop local relationships, whether they’re with your host family, roommate/flat-mate, or other students. No person I met on a weekend or week-long trip has ever impacted me as much as María did with her kindness and fun home atmosphere. She taught me to be more blunt and reinforced me to shamelessly laugh at myself, whenever possible.

  1. Find Local Gems

Let’s just say Trip Advisor only goes so far. Yes, it will give you the best restaurants, destinations, etc., but sometimes you don’t want the “best” experience, you want a genuine one. My favorite spots in Salamanca were the ones I made my own, like the coffee shop I would go to after class to chat with Beatriz, who would give my friend Ian and I advice, or the Erasmus Bar where my team and I would play trivia every Wednesday (we won thrice, I might add). None of those places would make a website because they were unspectacular at face value, until you made a memory in them.

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through
A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through
  1. You live outside your comfort zone

Some say that growth comes from discomfort, which I agree with 100%. Growing as a person means exposing yourself to new experiences, feelings, and situations that lie outside of the status quo. The wonderful thing about study abroad is that you are uncomfortable all the time, so by default you’re growing all the time. Whether you’re navigating a new country in a new language, battling your way through classes, meeting new people, missing old people, or finding your niche in your new home, study abroad is difficult at times, and it SHOULD BE. If everything has a shiny exterior and you never come across a meaningful challenge, you miss the depth that leads to growth. There was one weekend, pretty early into my study abroad experience, where the eight people I knew were out of town, and I almost went Jack Nicholson-style The Shining on everyone due to cabin fever. That experience prompted me to be more proactive, but also helped me learn how to be alone and made me a better person.

  1. You learn street smarts AND book smarts

First of all, when you’re studying abroad, you’re ideally doing some studying. Wow, novel concept here, I know.

While I was in Spain, I took Portuguese classes, a class on the history of the Jews in Spain, a class on Spanish literature, and the History of Philosophy, of which I learned a lot, to the point where I still have trouble calling philosophers by their English names. Aristotle or Aristoteles? I don’t know either…

But, moreover, you also learn street smarts. You learn the skills necessary to navigate uncomfortable situations (cough, exactly what I mentioned in the last reason, cough). I had my passport stolen my first night in Morocco, which makes most problems a cakewalk when I face them now. At least I’m not in a foreign country and speak none of the national languages desperately trying to find a way home…

  1. You have the opportunity to travel and live in the world.

Now, in case you were worried, I’m not advocating for a study abroad trip with no travel when I mentioned finding local gems and forging local relationships. I had a blast visiting other places in Europe while I was abroad and have many friends whose travel stories are mind-blowing. What I am advocating for is for you to soak it up when you’re out there. This is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity, make sure you leave a different person than when you entered.

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco
Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

Tiff’s Survival Guide for Jordan

Tiff Jordan 1

My adventures abroad in Amman, Jordan was one of the most exciting yet toughest experiences of my life to date. In thinking back on my experience I have compiled a list of tips, must do’s, and keep-away-froms.

1. For shopping, cafes, and just hanging out – Go to Jebel Al-Webdeh. Webdeh is in the old part of Amman, and is a great little hipster neighborhood that can meet all your coffee-sheesha-souq shopping needs. There are delicious falafel stands, amazing places for local music and a really rad youth culture, as well as good shops for doing some tourist shopping (that isn’t overpriced, and don’t sell golden camel statues)

Tiff Jordan 2

2. Learn the circle-system quickly! The roads in Amman are distinctly divided up into 7 huge round a bouts that cut diagonally down through the city. You’ll learn that giving directions to a cab driver generally begins with which circle you want to go to. Addresses aren’t totally a thing in Jordan, so you direct your cab driver based off of landmarks. You tell him you want to go near King Abdullah Mosque, then direct him from there. For all your directionally-challenged people like me, don’t worry, you’ll adapt quickly – or get lost a lot.

3. Sidewalks are not for walking – Being a pedestrian can be almost as wild of an adventure as being on the road! Most sidewalks have cars parked on them at some point, dip down and stop in the middle of no where, or have giant trees planted right in the middle to the point that you actually cannot walk on the sidewalk. I tried for maybe a month, and then just resigned myself to walking in the street most of the time.

4. Americans are slobs – by this I mean that the university students in Jordan really have their act together when it comes to fashion. There is certainly no such thing as wearing sweats or a hoodie to class. I wore my Debate Team hoodie and my hair in my staple messy bun one day, and looked homeless in comparison to these girls. The girls are incredibly beautiful, and match their ENTIRE outfits. I wear almost exclusively neutral tones because I am so bad at matching, so I had nothing on these women. They used elaborate colors and patterns to match their hijab to their overcoats to their purses and shoes and fingernails. The guys look equally put together, mostly wearing loafers, button ups and sweaters, and nice jeans. Paying $50 for American Eagle to rip holes in your jeans is definitely not a fashion statement here.

Tiff Jordan 3

5. Eat Local! – You will fall in love with the local cuisine, just like studying abroad anywhere really. The falafel, hummus, and shawarma is absolutely unbeatable, and cheap! Eating local foods is significantly cheaper than eating American style food, so help your wallet and eat the local foods. For the absolute best hummus in Jordan, go downtown to Mataam Hashem… You won’t be disappointed.

6. Prices are negotiable – Learn to bargain, or your wallet will suffer from your American-ness. Prices of nearly everything in Jordan can be negotiated. This goes even beyond just taxis or souqs, I knew a group of about ten girls who went all together to get a gym membership and were even able to negotiate that price. Be prepared to haggle in the souqs, and to really hone your skills you can try downtown! It’s not being rude, it’s just part of the culture in many instances!

7. Finally, the Middle East WILL steal your heart. You might not notice it happening, but sooner or later, this region, the people, the sounds, and the sights will make you fall in love. Amman stole my heart my second weekend abroad, when I was lucky enough to attend a BBQ with some local friends who owned an olive tree farm that overlooked the Dead Sea. I sat in a large circle with delicious food, new friends, and could see the lights and the border of Palestine in the distance. I knew right then that the Middle East had gotten me, and I would probably be returning back for the rest of my life.

Tiff Jordan 4– Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant