Hello readers! This is an exciting time.. all the DU students are either heading off or have officially landed in a foreign country for several months to study, and completely immerse themselves in a new (or perhaps not so new) culture. GO US! I could not be more proud of all of the students embarking on this amazing adventure. Even though I am in another country, I am proud and blessed to be a Pio.
Me, Myself, and I
My name is Jordan Mendicino and I am a third year Marketing major, Entrepreneurship minor at DU, currently studying abroad in Milano, Italia at Universitá Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. I am a fitness, fashion, and business enthusiast and I am constantly searching for ways to combine all three. In my free time I love to do anything outside, as long as the weather is warm, and I love to be surrounded by the people that are most important to me. Although I am a Colorado native, I don’t ski or snowboard and I would rather spend my days on the beach! I hate the snow and I hate being cold. Red Rocks is my favorite place on earth, and I think I would die if music didn’t exist.
I chose to study abroad in Italy because I have deep roots here, and I knew that I would feel right at home. Also, Cattolica is an amazing school- it is the largest Catholic university in the world and offers an array of diverse classes for international students. I have signed up to take classes in both fashion and entrepreneurship, both fulfilling my desire to learn something new and work on classes for my minor. Although I took Italian for a year at DU, I am taking more language courses here in Italia. I would love to be fluent by the time I depart in December. It’s a beautiful language, and I would love to add it to my language arsenal, next to English and Spanish.
I will be studying and exploring and adventuring for the next 15 weeks, so keep an eye out for more posts about my feelings, thoughts, and reactions during this wild ride we call study abroad.
I am kind of the average joe. I mean, my name, Amanda, is one of the top ten girl’s names from 1995. I’m a marketing major. I use French Vanilla Coffeemate. I have a Pinterest board full of sweets I will never make. Totally average over here. However, in the midst of all of that, I have some unique qualities, too. For example, I make toast on my stovetop because I am too stubborn (or maybe too cheap) to buy a toaster. I have a weird vendetta against finishing books. And perhaps most important to this blog, I am about to embark on a study abroad journey to Bilbao, Spain with the organization International Studies Abroad (ISA).
I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to study abroad; I’m still not really sure. But DU gave me that little push to apply. Being unsure, I created a mental list of criteria for my study abroad destination:
Spanish-speaking. This was important to me because I am debating adding a Spanish minor and I thought living in a Spanish-speaking culture could help me determine if I would want to use the language in my career.
City life. Living in a larger city would give more opportunity to sightsee while also providing access to better developed public transport.
A school with “limited” DU students attending. I didn’t move far for college (3 miles away, to be exact), so this would be my opportunity to start fresh and be on my own.
Apartment or dormitory living accommodations. Homestays seem like they would limit my independence because I would be on my host family’s time. I had already moved out on my own, I didn’t want to have parents again!
Service-learning opportunity. I took a service-learning class my freshman year and I think that it gave me a tie to the community that we often take for granted.
In the end, I chose the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. Specifically, I am enrolled in the program for Business, International Relations, and Spanish Language. I can take classes for my marketing major, as well as classes accredited to the Spanish minor at DU. There is also a service-learning course, a tandem program (for partnering with local students to teach each other Spanish and English), and a Spanish cuisine class! Additionally, the city of Bilbao has so much to offer. I look forward to exploring the Bay of Biscay, Mount Artxanda, the art of traditional dance, and the famous Guggenheim Museum.
After reviewing my criteria, I realized that none of the schools met my five requirements. I shouldn’t have set too many expectations before going abroad. And I think recognizing this was one of the best ways to prepare for studying abroad (along with buying a new digital camera, of course). Since it’s a different country and culture, I need to remember that not everything will meet some mental checklist of mine. Learning to “go with the flow” will suit me well on my journey in the fall, especially because I tend to be type A to a fault.
The only criteria the Universidad de Deusto did not meet: residencia living accommodations. Last week, I tried something new and went to a tarot card reader. The tarot reader said that I am too serious and have too much of an old mind to be 20. She said the only way to change this mindset is to let go of the past. I think Bilbao is my opportunity to take this advice. And so, although I’m terrified of living with a host family, I’m going in with a youthful mind. I’m finally ready to immerse myself in a new life this fall.
Hello all! My name is Katharine Wilson and welcome to my first blog! I’ll be spending the next year studying abroad at the University of Tuebingen in Tuebingen, Germany. I chose this program because of it’s language immersion, as well as the fact that I get to spend a whole 10 months abroad! Hope you like the post!
This morning, like every morning, I decide to check my email on my phone. The only message that appears is “inbox storage full, please delete messages to make room.”
I’ve always been anal retentive about keeping my inbox clean. I’ll keep the things I absolutely need, but I’m always happiest when my main inbox shows a beautiful, clean “0 messages.”
What the heck is going on here?
Let’s start from the beginning. My name is Katharine and I’m a current student at the University of Denver majoring in English Literary Studies and German. And starting this September, I am going to live and go to school in Tuebingen, Germany for at least the 10 months until I graduate. Woohoo!
How did this happen? I’ll explain: DU is number one in the nation for study abroad participation, and going abroad the first quarter of one’s junior year is a tried and true DU tradition. But I wanted to take it a step further. I’ve been studying German since I was 14, taking it every year in high school and every semester/quarter at two different universities for the past four years. Fun times! I decided upon my arrival at DU to become a German major, and it was one of the best decisions I could have made! The program is pretty great– fun professors, interesting courses and small enough participation that I met almost every other German major in the school, and let me tell you, they are wonderful people! I’ve been confident and happy in my decision to study German since my first class 🙂
When my junior year rolled around, there was no question I wanted to study abroad in a German-speaking country, and my preference was Germany itself. DU had several different programs in Germany, but I wanted something immersive, where I could continue to study literature while learning about German language and culture as deeply as possible. The University of Tuebingen exchange ended up being my goal: one full academic year abroad in Tuebingen, with the ability to take classes primarily taught in German, all while learning and living with mostly native students. Another (slightly terrifying) plus: only one student from DU was sent on any given year, so I would enter Europe with a clean slate, knowing almost no one on the entire continent!
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating when I say I am happy and confident in my course of study. I’m happy, confident, terrified, and incredibly anxious. But I love every second of it!
This is definitely the craziest thing I’ve done in my life, and once I got a tattoo with no one holding my hand! See, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve lived a slightly sheltered life. Before starting college, I lived in the same bedroom of the same house for my entire life. Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) was my home for all 18 years leading up to college. And then I moved a grand total of 20 minutes away to go to DU, where I stayed with the same roommate for two years. I’ve only left the United States once: in my Sophomore year of high school, my orchestra class went to London for 5 days.
Okay, maybe I’m slightly ashamed.
Recently, I’ve had a crazy strong desire to branch farther away from all the stuff I’ve relied on so long: Colorado, my family, my high school, and everything else about my relatively stable (read: boring) life.
Coming to college was the first step in my big transition: I got two piercings and got my first tattoo; I had my first serious boyfriend; I came out to my parents as pansexual. Not all of the things I’ve done ended up for the best, but it has definitely been a crazy ride when compared to high school. And on top of all of this, 7 months ago I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder, which has led to its fair share of life changes. Needless to say, my time at DU has, for better or worse, been really interesting!
But despite this, I’m still craving change, and I couldn’t think of a bigger one than moving an ocean away from everything I’ve ever known! That’s not to say I’m not utterly terrified (scenes of being lost in German train stations or suddenly forgetting every German word I know frequently feature in my nightmares) but I’ve been trying my best not to let fear get the better of me.
So, back to the emails. My inbox currently contains the following: my application instructions for direct enrollment in University of Tuebingen, DU’s study abroad handbook, information on billing, my visa requirements, my official admission letter from Tuebingen, a long string of emails with me trying to enroll in, register, and pay for a month-long orientation course, my flight confirmation, a time change to the flight confirmation, my rent contract for my student apartment, an exchange between me and the head of the German department where I’m trying to obtain a letter stating my language abilities, and a letter to my coordinator trying to get a copy of a payment form (from another email I had mistakenly deleted). Phew!
Packing up and going to study in a foreign country for a year takes a lot of work, but it has slowly been coming together since my acceptance in February. All I need is to pay the first month’s rent on my apartment, open a German bank account, obtain the abovementioned letter from DU’s German Department, send in the registration materials for my orientation course, pay for said orientation course, then pack my stuff and go! Actually, I thought that list was going to be a lot shorter when I began writing it…
And of course, there are other, smaller concerns. I need to seriously downsize, because I can only bring so much stuff on the plane with me. I need to buy a new purse and backpack suitable for traveling. I need to replace my old, slow-as-molasses computer. I need to brush up on my knowledge of German (and American) politics. And a whole host of other things.
So that’s where I’m at right now! Surrounded by to-do lists and mounds of papers in German I can only half-understand, I’m just trying to live in the moment and enjoy what will be my last few months in America until next July or August!
Wish me luck?
Katharine Wilson is currently studying English and German at the University of Denver. On an exchange year in Germany, she is exploring German language and culture as one of Universität Tübingen’s resident stupid Americans. Sie versteht nur Bahnhof.
Most of the students here at DU study abroad during the fall quarter of their junior year. A lot of things happen during that time, including Discoveries Orientation, Homecoming, Sorority Recruitment, Fraternity Rush, and other campus events. Included in those events are the holidays we Americans have come to know and love, including Thanksgiving.
Obviously, the rest of the world does not celebrate the American Thanksgiving, and *shocker* not everyone knows anything about it, when it is, or why we love it so much.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday at home, so when I realized that I would be spending it in France I was a little sad. No Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? No waking up to the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie? None of my family traditions?
Even though I didn’t spend my Thanksgiving at home with my parents and closest friends, this Thanksgiving was one of my favorites in a long time.
1. Find other Americans in your area, and have a meal with them.
The American students in my program all got together and we made a very “France-Giving” at one of my friends houses with her host family. We made 2 chickens, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, apple pie, and a cranberry-upside-down cake. Even though we all had classes on Thanksgiving, it was really fun to get together and make a meal for everyone.
2. Share a meal that is traditional in your host culture.
It can be really hard to find the ingredients to make a more traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Canned pumpkin does not exist in France. When I asked my host mom where I could find canned pumpkin to make a pie, she made a face and asked why I would want to eat pumpkin out of a can. She then proceeded to offer making the pumpkin puree out of an actual pumpkin, which was slightly intimidating. If you are having a hard time finding certain elements of a specific meal, try making something else. We ended up having different cheeses for an appetizer!
3. Make a meal for your friends from other countries and/or your host parents.
While you are studying abroad and learning about a different culture, the people you meet also want to learn about your culture, your life, and what makes you unique. Thanksgiving is a perfect example of a cultural exchange, plus you can make a nice meal for those you have come to consider family.
– Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France
I’m back, sadly. I’ve made it through The Study Abroad Experience in more or less one piece and, of course, infinitely wiser. Reflecting on my time abroad and all I wish I would have known preparing for the trip of a lifetime, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to keep in mind as you set out on your grand adventure:
Travel clinics are your friend!
Seriously. Your regular doctor is great, but travel clinics are specifically equipped with all the vaccines and info you need before heading abroad that most physicians won’t know off the top of their head. For instance, Ecuador doesn’t require any special vaccine and malaria medication is more or less optional, but if you travel outside of Ecuador and want to return – for instance, after a quick long weekend jaunt to Machu Picchu in Peru – it requires proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine to re-cross the border. It’s usually quicker and travel clinics keep the more offbeat vaccines regularly instock. Each county should have their own, so find the one closest to you!
Chips for all!
Traveling to Latin America I just rather assumed my cell phone wouldn’t work except as a rather shiny music player. I’d rather forgotten that you can replace the chip in your phone so it functions on a pay-as-you-go basis in whatever country. I would have much rather used my regular phone I’m used to rather than the junky little thing I bought to contact my Ecuadorian friends and family.
Smiley face for FaceTime
Not everyone has Apple products, but if you do, utilize the FaceTime! For whatever reason, FaceTime works so much better than Skype in Latin America. I got kicked off regardless, but maybe 1 time a call with FaceTime as opposed to 10 times a call with Skype.
Reading, rollerblading, and music
Just a few of my hobbies. While you are trying to pack as much stuff into that suitcase and still keep it under the 50lb limit, don’t forget to throw in whatever it is you like to do in your free time. When you’re missing home or everything around you seems strange, having that consistent activity will keep your world from seeming too overwhelming. For me, it was my bracelet making kit. And then I was able to make bracelets for all my new friends and family, win-win. So pack those books, musical instruments, sketchbooks, knitting needles, bike gear – whatever!
Now I’m sure everyone has their own list of priorities, but for me these were the top 4. Health, communication, and free time. But regardless, you’ll figure it out when you get there. So you don’t have a raincoat or closed-toed shoes and it rains everyday. You’ll buy a raincoat. Or use a snazzy trash bag. So go with the flow and boldly go, adventurers! Have the time of your life.
I put off packing. Again.
The interminable blue hulk I casually drag behind me as my suitcase stood empty for days awaiting either all my clothing or Abril and Sol, my host hermanitas. Actually, Sol in my backpack, Abril, Pao and Alex – the rest of my host family – in the suitcase. ‘Tis perfect.
Am I leaving? I’ve heard mutterings of this thing they call “the final thesis presentation” and “going home”, but I’m sure that doesn’t apply to me. I have family here.
I’ve had a lot of time to think lately – as I sit and grapple with financial Spanish lingo at my internship, as I panic yet still don’t write my monografia, as I tune out during conversations because its 1am and my maximum Spanish time is 18 hours and how many more hours can we possibly hang out in Cielito Lindo, the bar/restaurant my host family owns – and I’ve most certainly come a long way.
I find myself being very happy as I walk to work or smooch Abril – probably because of all the vitamin D I’ve been getting 😉 I do have my own personal little Sol.
There’s something very beautiful about finding normalcy abroad. About accidentally saying “let’s go home” instead of “back to the house”. About a squeaky little voice calling for her Maddie-line to “ven aqui!”. I want very much to go home – but I don’t want to go home.
After living here for 5 months, I don’t really see how people can travel places for only two, three weeks at a time. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it in the future. There’s no time to build a routine, find the fastest way home because you’ve literally walked every possible route, find your ice cream shop where they start only charging you 75cents instead of the very steep 80 “because you’re so sweet”. Where is the living?
It hasn’t even been 4 full weeks, but I’ve again found a home while surviving abroad. When you think about how little time 1 1/2 months is in the grand scheme (my total time here in Ibarra) – barely over half a DU quarter – but somehow it has been enough. My name has been changed to Maddie-line Munoz (because I’m part of the family),
Abril insists I greet “Papito Alex” when he calls on the phone at night (while my host mom dies laughing in the background), and I’ve figured out how to make my bed in 21 seconds flat.
I haven’t jumped off any more bridges lately, but I’d prefer these weeks of princess dolls, slobbery kisses, and endless Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This weird little pentagonal room with the crisp white door, dark purple curtains, and my Crayola Halloween sheets will be missed. Most likely because of the two little girls who barge in demanding to snuggle and view Scooby Doo (well one demands, the other just shouts HOLA!).
The goodbyes are fast approaching. It’s nice when they ask me when I next have vacation or make plans for the 20th of June when all the city dances the night away with the indigenous communities for Inti Rymi and we just have to go. And when they ask me that, I don’t smile and nod because it’s polite. I plot and I plan and I try to think of some way to trick DU into sending me back “to study”. I think I can swing it. As my host mom says though, “It’s decided, you’re not leaving. We haven’t made pie yet.” Well, in that case.
I never expected to find a home while abroad, but it is this part of the experience I will forever treasure the most. This goodbye was the hardest I’ve ever experience – harder even than when I originally left my US family and friends back in August because this time there’s no ticket with a set date and time telling me when, to the minute, I will arrive home.
I never expected to have a reason to return. And now that I do, I am so grateful Ecuador chose me and I found the third half of my family. Voy a extrañarte, Ecuador.
On my last night in Seville, three friends and I are waiting to take the metro home when one turns to the group and asks, “What do you think is the most important thing that studying abroad taught you?” It sounds dangerously close to a question that would be asked in an interview with a potential employer and I get nervous in spite of myself. I try to think of something true but not too clichéd.
The unfortunate thing about clichés is that they represent a feeling that strikes so many people as genuine that they become popular, then overused to the point that even those that don’t truly understand them use them, their sentiments, in turn, becoming disingenuous. I want to say something about how studying abroad has changed me as a person, about how I feel definitely yet indefinably different. Yet “study abroad changed me,” sounds like one of the most trite and possibly insincere comments one could make.
I can imagine the fictitious interviewer’s response: “Sure, study abroad has changed you, but how?”
Another unfortunate thing about clichés is that they’re hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced the feelings that inspired them. So, I decide to go with something more concrete.
“I think I’ve learned that that I would rather try something new even if it scares me than miss out on the opportunity,” I say. The group agrees. Study abroad may be fun and exciting but it also carries moments of stress and confusion. Over the past four months I have, on several occasions, found myself in situations that are outside of my comfort zone and I have survived each of them without incident. Through each new experience I have become more confident in my ability to adapt to a foreign environment and realized that I am capable of handling a lot more than I originally thought. While trying new things hasn’t necessarily become any less scary, I’m happy to ignore my fears. Being a little scared is worth the memories made, people met, and skills learned.
The next day, as I’m sitting on my plane back to the U.S., I can’t help but think about how different I feel from when I was on my flight to Spain in September. I remember being so anxious I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts were caught in a rapid cycle of wondering if I was going to catch the bus to the hotel, if I could get a taxi and direct the driver to the hotel if I missed the bus, what my roommate would be like and more, all the while being disoriented by the constant Spanish being spoken around me. Now, I feel calm and relaxed. I’ve taken several taxis and been able to communicate with the drivers perfectly well (despite my Spanish not exactly being perfect). I think about how I’ll miss my roommate and my housemother. I’m content to listen to people speaking Spanish all around me; it’s become my norm. I’ve changed in so many ways, and as I think more about the experience, these changes become more easily definable. Here’s a short list of what I’ve gained along the way:
Better foreign language ability
Not everyone will have the same experience. The only certainty is that study abroad will change you, not always in a way that is easily explainable to others or even easily understandable to yourself, but that is nevertheless immeasurably valuable.
This is the true story of how a group of six extremely unprepared wanafunzi (students) managed to *spoiler alert* summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.
A step-by-step guide
Go to a full moon party on a sandbank off the coast of Stone Town, Zanzibar the night before you are supposed to head to Moshi. Trust me, you’ll feel great the next morning!
Actually wake up on time to catch your 7:00am ferry
Realize that you still need to pack before you leave for the ferry terminal
Get to the ferry in just enough time, thankful you bought your ticket yesterday
After arriving in Dar es Salaam, talk your way into reducing the cost of a taxi to 20,000/= (Tanzanian shillings) to the bus station, arguing that it’s only a few miles away and that you could walk there
Ride in the taxi for a half hour, realize you could NOT have walked there
Arrive at the “bus terminal”, a sandlot with a bunch of buses and find one that is heading to Moshi, Tanzania
Realize the bus you will be on for the next 12 hours has no bathroom and no air conditioning
Listen to 12 hours of loud Tanzanian music videos and violent movies
Text the Kilimanjaro climbing company you are trekking with that you will arrive in Moshi within the next hour
Get a text back telling you that you weren’t supposed to go to Moshi, the office is in Arusha
Thank your respective god that your bus is also going to Arusha
Arrive in Arusha at 11pm and meet a guy with a sign and a bus with your name on it
Get chipsy mayai (fries and eggs) at the one restaurant in Arusha since you haven’t eaten all day. Apparently, it’s “the place to be!”
Pass out upon arriving at the company’s office, luckily they have some beds you can sleep on for free!
Wake up the next day, hang out at the office, then grab a daladala (public transport) to a local rental place because you have no hiking gear. You’ve been living in Zanzibar for four months, what use would you have for warm clothes?
Realize that Arusha is a lot colder than Zanzibar and that you are extremely unprepared for this climb since you are cold before you even start
Head back to the office for lunch, accidentally eat all the food that was prepared for the whole staff because you thought it was just for the six of you. Zanzibari portions all around!
Notice a large group of people outside the office
Ask who they are
Be told that those 21 people are your porters up the mountain. They’re going to carry all of your stuff. Why 21 porters are needed is still a mystery to me.
Next day: leave at 8am to head to Kilimanjaro National Park. It takes over three hours since you need to stop and let all the porters grab breakfast
Arrive at the mountain, woo! All the stress is over with!
Be told that your residence permits aren’t valid in the park since they’re stamped into your passport and you could easily forge a stamp (okay?). You owe at least another $1300 in park fees
Argue with park employees for an hour about how you ARE a resident
Call your study abroad program’s academic director (who is supposed to be free of you by now – the program ended days ago) and ask for a HUGE favor – to have a different copy of your residence permit sent to Kilimanjaro. Now.
She tells you that today is a public holiday and that the immigration office that has the permits is closed
Luckily, the park will let you start the climb, and informs you that you need to be willing to pay that extra money when you get back down the mountain if your permit doesn’t come through
Start the climb, three hours later than scheduled
Make it through a beautiful forest hike and emerge at the first hut of your stay: Mandara
Sign in with your name and occupation…
Pass out on your bed still kinda stressing over the last few days, but no worry, you’re on the mountain now, everything else can wait for five days!
Wake up early the next morning (Day 2 of the climb) for tea and to start hiking. You come out of the forest and into smaller shrubbery, but still very green. The second hut, and your home for the next two days: Horombo
Wake up even earlier the next morning (Day 3) to watch the sun rise while sitting above the clouds. Absolutely breathtaking!
Take a small hike, but ascend 1,000 feet, to Zebra Rock to help with acclimatization. Come back to Horombo for the night to watch the sunset, equally as breathtaking
Start hiking early (Day 4) to reach Kibo Hut by the early afternoon. Not as homey as the other two huts, but you’re not allowed to stay the night there. Unpack your sleeping bag and try to get as much rest as possible before wake up at 11:30pm.
Have a very light “breakfast” and don all the clothes you brought, including your “If you can’t climb it, drink it” Kilimanjaro beer shirt
Start your summit attempt at 12:30am, totally in the dark
Cry a little bit at how beautiful the stars are up this high (about 16,000 feet above sea level, take that Colorado!)
Are told that the hike to the summit will take 4-5 hours
Take 8 hours to reach the summit, barely breathing
Get severe altitude sickness (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness), but stay up there long enough for the whole group to take a picture
Congratulate yourself because YOU JUST CLIMBED MT. KILIMANJARO, ONE OF THE SEVEN SUMMITS AND THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN IN AFRICA.
Go get a Kilimanjaro beer to celebrate.
And have your residence permits work, so you didn’t have to pay more
It’s scary to believe my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I’ve been dreaming of having this experience since high school and could not wait these past two years at DU to have my turn at these adventures!
I chose Bangor University because it combined both the familiar (English language and the UK) and the unknown (Wales and British university life).
I loved every moment of this experience. Here are my highlights!
I took three classes. My business class counted for DU credit and I liked taking a class that applied to my major in a foreign setting. My Welsh history class was definitely my favorite! It was great to get the information pertaining to the area I was studying in and it made visiting the various castles of the region much more exciting and rewarding! A spur of the moment decision to take a science class was one of the greatest decisions I made at the beginning of the semester. It was five weeks of lectures about the geography of the area and then a week long field course trekking through Snowdonia National Park. It was a great method to learn science and a spectacular corner of the world to explore!
I never would have discovered this corner of the UK without studying at Bangor. Its perfect setting between Snowdonia National Park and the Irish Sea. I went on many adventures throughout the area. My favrotie place was Conwy, a medieval walled city home to the Conwy Castle. It was a great place to explore and shop around the little boutiques. My field course visited the National Park and the best place was the Aber Valley, home to two spectacular waterfalls in a mystical, fairy-tale like setting. Having the ability to explore so many different corners of the UK and Europe on the weekend has definitely instilled a deeper love of travel in me. It also inspired me to travel more around the USA to get to know the different regions!
Britain takes their holidays very seriously. For Halloween, I attended a Harry Potter feast complete with magic lessons, chocolate frogs, and Dumbledore. My friend from DU threw a Thanksgiving for her flat and I got to attend. It was an interesting group to spend thanksgiving with. The feast included standard American thanksgiving food like mashed potatoes, cornbread, pie, and sweet potatoes. Quote of the night came from one of the British students remarking on the fact that the sweet potatoes were covered with marshmallows: “Oh there go the Americans putting sugar on everything they can.” We spent the Thanksgiving comparing and contrasting American and British holiday traditions. Christmas in the UK starts as soon as Halloween ends. The decorations went up and the Christmas music began in the stores.
This abroad experience was one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I can’t imagine going abroad anywhere else besides Bangor and very happy with the choice I made and the places I traveled to! I’m returning back to DU and more confident person ready for all the challenges life brings!
So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:
(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)
….than days like this:
(sunny and positively enchanting).
What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.
The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.
And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.
In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.
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.
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.
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.
So if you know me, you know I love everything about food: the smell, restaurants, cooking, and especially eating. I know that once I come back from Zanzibar, after friends and family tell me how tan I’m getting (which is pretty tan if I must say so myself), they’ll ask me about what I learned to cook. Meals in Zanzibar are different than anywhere else I have visited, so I thought it would be cool to, instead of just saying the food I’m eating, to take you all through the steps of a Zanzibari meal.
Firstly, you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner. Dinner is eaten pretty late here, anywhere between 7 and 10 pm (that’s 1 and 4 usiku in Swahili time), so you show up around seven thirty because Swahili time is never on-time. The most important thing is that you take your shoes off when you enter – in Islam, shoes are considered dirty and shouldn’t be worn in the house. Also, if this is a formal occasion, you should dress for it. That means full headscarf and makeup (and for the mzungus, makeup to make you look Arabic). For Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of hajj (the pilgrimmage to Mecca), I had my makeup (over)done by my host mom. See below.
Anyway, back to the meal. You need to greet your host with a handshake (people use the “limp fish” handshake technique or just a low high-five basically) and you hold on until you’ve finished multiple rounds of greetings. There’s no appetizers set out, no glass of wine (Muslims don’t drink alcohol), just a floor mat and pillows or if you’re lucky, a couch. Eventually, you hear “Chakula tayari!” (food’s ready!) and you head for the dining room. You’d expect a dining room like at home with miscellaneous paintings on the walls and a table and chairs in the middle. Wrong. There’s an eating mat spread out on the floor with some plastic on top for food spillage, which will definitely happen. No chairs, no table; you sit on the floor cross-legged around all your friends and family.
The food spread out before you is like nothing you’ve ever seen: breads, beans, some veggie things, something that looks like a fat pyramid, mounds and mounds of rice, potatoes (the potatoes here are incredibly sweet), fruits, and that one thing you know you love – chapatti. Chapatti is a wonderful food, it’s a flat bread that’s buttery and flaky and I almost don’t want to know how it’s made because I know it’s going to be extremely unhealthy. You do a second count of the people in the room and look at the amount of food for those people and think that there’s no way that double the amount of people could finish the meal in front of you. Wrong again.
Those breads: chapatti, coconut bread, and boflo (bread loaves) Beans: I hated beans before I came here, now I love them. Still have no idea how to make them. Veggies: peas in a curry coconut sauce, pilau which is a soup with potatoes, meats, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and whatever else you want basically Fat Pyramids: they’re called samosas and they’re incredible. They’re usually come in beef or veggie form, and they’re basically the meat and veggies wrapped up in filo dough, similar to what they use to make baklava in Greek recipes Rice: a staple of a Zanzibari diet.
One of the first things I learned in Zanzibar was to always serve yourself, don’t let a Zanzibari do it because you will get your dinner plate covered in rice with the top of the mound rising about six inches off the plate (and that’s no exaggeration), and then you get pilau and other stuff on top of it.
Oh, and did I mention that Zanzibaris don’t use silverware? It is common and accepted to eat with your hands. It is both a cultural and religious belief – that Mungu (God) made us to eat with our hands and he gave our hands something that makes the food taste sweet that you lose if you use silverware. My first time eating with my hands was an absolute disaster, there was rice everywhere but in my belly. I’ve picked up on some of the techniques now though, and I can almost finish a plate like a Zanzibari.
So you’ve been eating with your hands all these foods you’ve never seen before, and are ready to birth your food baby when your host grabs your plate and you think you’re finished. Haha, NOPE. An equally huge portion of rice, pilau, meats, and everything else gets piled back on your plate. Your expression just drops as you realize that you might actually throw up if you keep eating. A helpful phrase is “nimeshiba”, meaning “I am full”, but that actually means nothing to Zanzibaris and you have to eat more food anyway. And once you’re actually done and there’s no more food to be piled on your plate, it’s time for chai! Chai (communal name for all tea in Kiswahili) here is delicious and spicy and served extremely hot, which is great on super hot and humid days!
And by the way, cooking is done on the floor as well. So hope your leg muscles are ready for a bunch of squats!
Anyway, once you’re finished with absolutely everything, it’s time to head back home, so you thank your host with goodbyes that are longer than the greetings, put your shoes back on, and pass out on your bed from all the food you ate. Time to do it again tomorrow night!
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.
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.
Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here. But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post. I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes. It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.
Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!
Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made. In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili. I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again. My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing! I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi. See below:
Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting) Actually said: Banana
Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee Actually said: I’m taking a poop
Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex
Friend trying to say: Hold him back Friend actually said: Grab his butt
Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry What was actually said: My husband is dead
I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can. People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language. Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets. That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people. This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay. In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced). Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris. Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.
One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear. The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari). Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off. Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).
When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear. But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes. The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed. Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”. Go look that one up. But that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too). They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes. Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it. And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun. Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here. And I kind of like the look on me too…
I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers. In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim. My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar. But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.
Yup. I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado
Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj. The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. The trip is full of religious understanding and Muslims are considered very pure when they return. Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later. She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey. While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj. Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen. When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam. Then I caught myself. This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected. This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods. I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.
The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”. This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork. And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island. So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.
Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar. Enjoy!
York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.
I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.
The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.
So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.
Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.
And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.
Judging by the first two weeks I’ve spent in Spain, I will feel like I have packed in a whole lifetime’s worth of experiences by the time my three and a half months here are up. Time here feels contradictorily fast and slow – while two weeks has felt more like a month, I’m already lamenting the fact that I didn’t decide to study abroad for a whole year.
The feeling that time has been warped is due in part to how busy I have been. While at home I’m more apt to pass up activities in favor of relaxation, here I have been embracing the “you’re only here once” mentality and have therefore had days that never seem to end (but have taught me that I hit my limit somewhere around 4:00am). When days last that long and almost every moment is full, some experiences are bound to be less enjoyable than others. Sometimes I feel excited by new things. Other times, I just feel alienated. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to keep in mind something one of our program directors told us on our first day here: “No one’s culture is good or bad, or better or worse than another – they’re just different.” Reminding myself of this from time to time helps alleviate the unavoidable awkwardness that comes with learning different customs and a different language. Bearing this in mind, I have tried to categorize some of my experiences thus far into three categories. First, I’ll list ones that have been truly good. Second, the truly bad. And third, the “different” – experiences which are both good and bad in turns and which I will eventually come to embrace as simply new realities that shape my life here.
The Good (+)
Okay, so maybe I’m still bitter that they cruelly took away naptime from us post-Kindergarten, but I’m strongly in favor of the semi-official 2-5pm naptime that Spaniards have built into their schedule.
In the first week, whenever I started feeling homesick and I went on a tour with my program, I instantly felt better. The historical sights are so beautiful and interesting that you can’t help getting caught up in the moment.
As a plus, these excursions allow you to meet all the great people you’re studying abroad with! Bond while exploring a new city and taking all the same tourist-y selfies.
The Bad (-)
The first day we arrived in Seville, one of the host families mistakenly loaded a piece of my luggage in their car. I realized how dependent I am on my laptop after three days without it.
The Different (+/-)
You walk almost everywhere in Spain, which can be a good workout. (+)
If you walk too much your feet will hurt, you will get blisters, your ankles will get swollen, and you’re going to have to get up tomorrow and do it all over again. (-)
My university is outside of the city (as in, it’s in walking distance of nothing) and unless you feel like biking on the highway you have to pay to ride the metro every day. (-)
The metro is new and efficient, and the ride can actually be nice if it’s not too crowded. (+)
The typical Spaniard dresses with much more flair and general effortlessness than the typical American (read: it’s possible yoga pants don’t even exist here). So, you will either end up blatantly sticking out as a foreigner (-) or you’ll have to go shopping (+)
Spain is cash-based – it’s rare to pay with a credit card (and it’s a hassle if you don’t have the microchip that is standard in Europe). Using cash is a bit more complicated experience, especially when the denominations are different from what I’m used to. (-)
The euro is valued more than the dollar, which basically means that once I came to Spain and exchanged my money I was poorer than I was in the US. (-)
However, paying in cash also helps to keep me on a budget. It’s a lot easier to keep track of how much I’m spending when I can physically see how much I have left every time I look in my wallet. (+)
This is only a brief look at what my life in Spain has been like, and so far I can say that the good points definitely outweigh the bad. The cultural differences are starting to feel like they are just that – different, new, exciting, though at times overwhelming. Every day I am so glad to be here, to be absorbing a new culture, and to be learning how to adjust to the many nuances it holds.
Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls. Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili. The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”. Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”. The more you know!
The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live
So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months. When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars. The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion. I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution. And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home. When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.
The moon (look really hard! Just left of the palm) in Paje
Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time. After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island. This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes. The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible. Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.
These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide
While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have. Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking. One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry. We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately. These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort. The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island. He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar? All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.
We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel. It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.
On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north. We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following. As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well). We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything. After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins! It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful. I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing. I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!
This was absolutely incredible. The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.
I had a truly African experience a few days ago. We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean. Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride. Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic. But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground. We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us). Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice. The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.
This is a daladala
The inside of the daladala. This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.
And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen. We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other. And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins. I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.
The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga
My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures. Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.
One thing that everyone seems to forget while abroad is the fact that classes do exist, and that tests do exist. For me midterms just passed and everyone’s hair was absolutely on fire. We spent tons of time exploring and gaining the most out of our experiences… but everyone in my program also forgot that our classes are fairly difficult, and that we hadn’t quite caught up with the material by the time that the tests rolled around. There was a last minute cramming period the week before exams that none of us really saw coming. We all realized that our tests were going to be much harder than expected, and that on top of the difficulty levels they were all in quick succession and so we had no breaks in between to get more studying done.
With quarter system we are all used to tests being pretty close to each other, but we are also used to 4 classes and our expectations are manageable in terms of what is on the syllabus and what we expect on the study guide. But here we don’t know the teachers or their style, and also most colleges abroad are on semester system, which can also be a bit of a shock. More material on each test than we are used to, is basically what that means.
Not only do you need to learn to manage the tests in terms of spacing out studying, but you also need to learn the best ways to manage your stress. I don’t know if it is karma or some kind of murphy’s law, but some of the worst things happen when people are most stressed. For instance my suitemate got bed bugs by no fault of her own only two days before finals. Not only did she have to study, but she also had to fumigate her room, wash all of her clothes, bag everything that might have bugs, and find somewhere else to sleep. She was stressed and took it out on absolutely no one, but we all felt the stress and responded to it. Her room mates got angry at her/the world, and the rest of us in the suite tried to do damage control to little avail. Midterms and Finals are stressful times and you need to find a place where you can be alone and cope with your own stress without affecting anyone else. You miss home more, you miss your family and friends more, and you miss your usual routine for responding to stress.
My suggestions are these:
Keep up with your studies as much as possible. Give yourself Thursday afternoons, or the few hours between classes to lock yourself away in a coffee shop to study. If you find a different coffee shop every time it is still exploring, and it helps you keep ahead of your studying so you don’t go completely under water when tests roll around.
Give yourself a routine. If yoga helps you calm down, then do yoga during study breaks. If waking around in a park helps, then do that. Skype family, skype friends, do whatever it is that will help you calm down and re-center yourself.
Don’t Panic. Let it go. Studies are important and you should still do your best, but if you end up with a B in the class then it isn’t that big of a deal. Calm down- just do the best you can and then don’t worry about it. I am not saying you should fail your classes, but it seems to me that you don’t have to keep yourself to your usual standards while abroad. You are in a new country, a new place with tons of things to do. If you have trouble balancing studies and exploration then just remember this: You are gaining multiple learning experiences. Even college at home has the duality of learning about yourself versus learning about your major. Yes, it is important to study math or science or business or what have you, but you went abroad to discover more than just that. Keep that in mind if you get a bad grade on a test, and move on. Do better next time, but don’t hold on to the past because it won’t help you in the future.
Background information: I have a horribly lacking immune system, so here are some words on how to cope when really feeling ill in another country.
The first time I started feeling sick (yeah, I have been sick multiple times… leave me alone) I kept pushing myself to do more things over the weekend and accomplish everything on my list instead of taking a break to feel better. Pro-tip: if you don’t rest, it will get worse. The minute you really start feeling like that stomach ache is getting suspicious or whatnot, park yourself down, start drinking more than the usual amount of water, and only do as much as you feel you can. The main mistake that people make while studying abroad is pushing themselves too far, or pretending they aren’t sick so that they can have more fun on the weekends. This means that you will miss classes and ultimately have more work to do for the next weekend. Rest while you can, and recover quickly. (also the usual LIQUIDS tip that everyone has… lots of liquids.)
So as for the practical packing tips- what medication should you bring, and what should you expect abroad?
In my personal experience in Hungary you can expect the same types of medications as are in the US, but the issue of translations can certainly get in the way. For the sake of fewer worries (and not having to make trips to the store while actually sick) here are a few absolute basics that will be handy in case of any emergencies:
Dayquil/Nyquil (help with congestion, sleep and basic cold symptoms. Have plenty with you- the Common cold is the most Common issue)
Ibuprofen or Advil (for basically any other pain-related issue)
Pepto Bismol (for any basic stomach issue)
Benadryl (can help with sleep but also any allergic reactions you may have- if you are not prone to allergies then don’t worry about it as much, but it can still be great as a backup)
Immodium (“gut glue” anti-diarrhea)
…and any other medication suited to your particular needs. I brought along melatonin sleep aid for the first day or so as well as for travel issues.
As for doctors’ appointments abroad, I can only really tell you about my friend’s experiences in Hungary. Medication is cheap, and the doctors are kind. But you do have to have a translator along, someone you can trust. Usually there is someone in your schools adviser department who will be willing. Prices vary, but for one friend she got three different prescriptions for thirty dollars, and another friend had a much more serious doctor’s appointment for only 60 dollars. Hopefully you will never have to worry about this, but before you go to whichever country you are planning on, it is nice to ask your advisers about medical facilities to get a good idea of backup systems once you do get to the country.
For things like cuts and scratches (just to help with the easiest medical kit for abroad) I just brought medical tape. It works better than blister bandages and if you put a bit of gauze or fabric underneath it then it is an instant Band-Aid. Blister bandages don’t allow the wound to breathe and heal itself, and any time you remove a blister Band-Aid often times the skin goes with it. That’s why medical tape is optimal because it can breathe and it won’t necessarily remove skin with every replacement. Neosporin is also useful for these things.
OK so If I were to sum up the best first aid kit to take with you while traveling this is what it would be:
insect repellent (Depending where you are)
any of your own personal medications
I know the last one is really odd but when I traveled in Japan it became a religion for me. It is always a good backup when bathrooms don’t have hand towels, or if someone gets a bloody nose or needs a quick injury fix. They may seem old-fashioned, but honestly they take up little to no space and you will be surprised how often you use it if you are willing.
I hope this list is helpful for you, leave comments if you think of any other useful items to have in your “snake bite kit,” as my mother calls it. You can also find lists like this online, lots of medical websites have suggestions, mine is just the dumbed-down version of what already exists.
Honestly I hope none of you will have to deal with being sick or ill abroad- but it is always good to have a backup.
-Miranda Blank, studying abroad in Budapest, Hungary – fall 2013
I was exhausted by the time I reached Belfast, Northern Ireland, my final destination after my connection in London. Food, shower, even a place to just sit were the only things on my mind, rather than trying to find my residence via cab. Travel from George Best Belfast City Airport to Queen’s University would have been rather difficult had I not have opted in to the school transport service. I know that this is not available in every University, but Queen’s had students meet me just beyond baggage claim with a bus ready to take me to my new home, and I felt so fortunate to be greeted with smiling faces and cheery accents. (If your school has this service, try to take advantage of it!) While waiting for the shuttle to fill with students from other flights, there was a bit of time to socialize with the other international students, all of us sharing our worries and having some of the student volunteers already starting to answer our questions and queries. This was also very helpful because I really felt less alone knowing other people had questions and concerns.
The bus ride was short, but the check-in line was quite long. I knew it was supposed to be a full day, but I had no idea just how long I would be shuffled from building to building with no idea where I was and the slow realization that not only had I traveled across the world alone, slept very little, and still didn’t know anyone besides the two girls I had chatted with at the airport, I was also in a different country with no idea where anything was. Luckily, the housing staff was incredibly nice and supportive. (Maybe it is because after doing their job for two years at DU I could appreciate all the work they were putting in helping students check in to their on campus housing spots.) I bought my bedding pack and kitchen pack, so I was glad I had come with cash already exchanged to Pounds. Banks and airports usually offer this service, and I came with about 100 Pounds pre-exchanged. And then, I met my RA, Mary. She was all smiles, helping me carry my bags to a shuttle that took me to my apartment style housing complex. Mary helped me take my things to my room, showed me my keys, and told me where to get free dinner. Feeling so overwhelmed, she was exactly what the doctor ordered, coming just short of pushing me to the places I needed to go.
After setting up my internet and calling home, I headed back to the Tree House, the building where I had checked in. I had told the girls I met I would meet them back there to find dinner. What I hadn’t realized was just how far away I was from my original starting point. Not only was I far away, after a bit of wandering, I realized I had no idea where I was going. Scared, tired, hungry, exhausted, and lost I started to panic. Getting a hold of myself, I realized most of the students walking around the main street where I was flustering were also probably international students, and so I walked up to one of the first girls I saw and asked if she knew where the Tree House was. She kindly directed me and I now had adrenaline rush from my previous moment of terror. Feeling more awake, I walked to find my new friends. Fortunately, they had waited for me, but I arrived too late to get the free food. We had, however, received food vouchers for the grocery store, and so the three of us put our vouchers together and purchased bread, soup, and cheese for dinner and some fruit and yogurt for the next morning’s breakfast. With the foresight to get the next day’s meals, we saved time and money! Heading to one of the girls kitchen’s we ate hot soup and fresh baguettes while continuing to get to know each other.
Not wanting to walk back alone, especially after being so turned around only hours ago and it being much darker, I returned to the area in which I had checked in, hoping a shuttle was still running. Unfortunately, the buses had been shut down, but another member of the housing staff offered to just walk me home. He was an RA and a native to Belfast, so not only did I get an escort, but I got a bit of a tour on the way back as well. I usually hate asking for directions or help, but I learned quickly that my first day abroad (as well as the week to come) would include me getting over my hesitance to ask for help. So don’t be afraid to not know things, to ask for help, and to use your resources!