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.

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Ciao Bella

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.

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Why

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.

What’s Next

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.

Ciao!

Vorstellung // Introduction

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University of Tuebingen

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.”

Of course.

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.

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

The Ups and Downs of Service Learning

As a proud Pioneer, our motto: “Private University for the Public Good” is something that has resonated with me since my first quarter on campus. I internalized the idea that we are supposed to train and self-educate at school so we can then go into the world and make it a better place. I’ve always been impressed with how many of our students are involved in philanthropy, the way that our Greek community makes it a priority, and all of the opportunities that DU presents to involve ourselves in our surrounding community.

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However, things get a little sticky when you start taking that motto to the international community. What I mean by that is, I want to ‘help’ and I want to make the world ‘better’. How do I do that without stepping on the culture and identities of others? How can I help, internationally, without living out the negative criticisms of ‘voluntourism’

Last Winter Interterm I spent three weeks in Dharamsala, India, teaching English and computer skills to Tibetan refugee women. I signed up through DU’s International Service Learning programs, and went with a group of 15 DU Undergrad and Graduate students. We were a diverse group of students from all across campus, but all came together to study Tibetan Non-Violence, and to volunteer with a Dharamsala Non-Profit for the month of December.

My trepidation before the trip was whether or not my three weeks would actually matter to these women. I was concerned that I was going on this trip to make myself feel good about helping the world, regardless of whether or not I was actually even helping anyone. I bought into the idea that all of us university students are travelling internationally more for selfish reasons than to be selfless. I began to view my trip as just another exercise of privilege.

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I had a lot of inner turmoil about my choice, and suffered from a bit of self-hate as a voluntourist. However, after coming back from my trip, and after interacting with the community, I learned a few very encouraging things:

  1. Teaching IS helping. Regardless of the fact that I felt 3 weeks was not nearly enough to help anyone, it was three more weeks that those women could be in a classroom with a native English speaker. The Tibetan Women’s Association didn’t have any other teachers during December, so I was actually able to provide them with a tangible service they would have gone without, had I not been there.
  2. Good Intentions can create positive results. Many critics of voluntourism bring up the idiom that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. I get it. Maybe 18 year old college students with no trade skills aren’t necessarily better at building houses than local trained (but unemployed) carpenters. But… does that mean that we are useless? I don’t think so. I think that the services provided through non-profits often do greatly help communities.
  3. The power of story-sharing. Through interacting with the Tibetan refugee community, so many individuals repeated how cathartic and healing it can be to share their story. In a community facing oppression or expulsion from their home territory, these individuals have felt vindicated by receiving support from the international community. The opportunity to sit and let them tell me their story, no matter how serious or how silly, was enjoyable for me, and seemed immensely valuable to them. They knew that I couldn’t go home and demand political change from President Obama. But we could feel mutually satisfied through connecting with someone across cultures.

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After my experience living in India for 1 short month, I felt rejuvenated that we truly can make a difference, that DU students interacting with the international community can benefit everyone involved, and that I’m still proud as ever to be a Pio that takes my university experience beyond the borders of our campus.

Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

The Perks of Living in the Middle East

  1. History

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No matter where you are, there is history on every corner. Not just “oh this happened 200 years ago…” more like “back in the days of the first major civilizations in history over a few thousand years ago…”

Amazing architecture surrounds you, wherever you go.

  1. Scenery:

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Camping trips in the desert are amazing, and oasis cities are very relaxing. Sand boarding is amazing and riding a jeep up and down sand tunes is probably one of the best thrills anyone will experience.

  1. Food:

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Great coffee can be found anywhere you go! Also, shwarma is a staple and can be found at any restaurant or street vendor.

  1. Activities:

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Huka is inexpensive and better than anything you can find in the U.S.

Inshallah and Ma3lish is a life philosophy. So if something doesn’t happen immediately, that’s OK. Take your time and enjoy life each day, stuff will get done in its own time.

  1. Weather:

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It is always warm, you only need clothing for nice sunny weather and don’t have to worry about packing winter clothes.

  1. Friendship:

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Everyone is very friendly and social. Also, when someone calls you a friend, they mean it! Friendships are important in the Middle East.

– Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

A Returnee’s Guide to Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Being on my own for so long made me forget what it was like to be surrounded by my loved ones all the time. When I finally did come back home to my loved ones, it seemed so different. It is not because I was sad that I was home, but rather I wanted to be left alone because that was how I lived and grew as a person for the last 4 months in a country unlike the United States in almost every way. Reverse culture shock is real, and for me, it was hard to handle on my own.

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I studied abroad in Beijing, China at Peking University for four months in the Fall of 2014. It was the best and the most challenging experience of my life, but it was more than worth it in every aspect. The culture, the language, and the food were like nothing we experience here in America; its like China was a whole new world just waiting to be discovered.

After being home for 2 months now, I have found some things to help the transition back to life both in America but also here at the University of Denver.

Take Time to Reflect:

It already seems as though my time abroad was a dream, if it were not for the reminder of all the great pictures that I took. Spend some time reflecting on your own about your experience, especially considering what you learned from it. Take this time to relive the memories, go through all your pictures, and contemplate how you felt about the overall experience. This helped me better understand what differences I appreciated about China, and the specific parts of my journey that really mattered to me; maybe it will help you in even more ways!

Find Your 2 Minute Short Story:

You will be asked by almost everyone (family, friends, Facebook followers, random neighbors, old co-workers, distant relatives, even dogs if they could talk) how your time abroad was and what your favorite memories were. I had to answer this question so many times it started to just become routine. Many times, the questions were just in passing so I picked a couple cool experiences and a few difficult ones to tell people about that really summed up my trip. Finding your study abroad short story will save you time, and brain power; it allows you to tell your story on your own terms, so enjoy!

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Stay Connected with Your Friends from Abroad:

It is easy to fall out of contact with people, especially when you live in different states, and even different countries. Making the effort to chat and catch up with friends from abroad is very rewarding. Sometimes I just needed to chat with Lily because she was a part of the story about getting lost in the mountains in Southern China and finding our, or understand the hardship of being abroad as well as coming back home. They can be the greatest resource for you, as well as the best life-long friend. Getting back in touch with your friends from home and DU is equally important! Be sure to surround yourself with people who love you, care about you, and understand you

Find a New Routine to Help You readjust:

Sometimes familiar can be helpful when trying to adjust back to life at DU. Having a familiar routine that fits your desires and needs makes things seem a bit more normal. This can be going back to activities you did before you went abroad as well as joining new groups based off your experience abroad. Coming back onto campus, I continuing my work with the debate team for a sense of familiarity while also joining a sustainability group on campus to advocate for better environmental efforts on campus; I never want the city to be as polluted as Beijing was.

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Tread Water, Don’t Dive into the Deep End:

Instead of jumping in and joining a bunch of clubs, taking a full course load, and finding a job; try to ease your transition back to life in the U.S. by making a little bit easier schedule. Take three class for winter quarter, be a member of a club rather than the leader of it, or work less hours at a part time job. The transition back is not easy, so make some time for yourself and enjoy being back!

-Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

 

How Study Abroad Can Help Your Professional Development

How do you handle pressure?

How do you handle conflict?

Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.

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

 

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

 

Are you a leader or a follower?

Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

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

Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

LFA

9 Signs You Studied Abroad in Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    -Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

Coping with Returning Home

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

Eric Blog 1

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

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

Eric Blog 2

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

-Eric Boscan, Study Abroad Assistant

Fighting the Post-Travel Blues

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

FFF-46-Jordan-Wilk-14

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

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

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Taken in Palestine

That, dear friends, is called Wanderlust.

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

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

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

-Tiffany Wilk, Study Abroad Assistant

Tourism vs. Adventure

Recently, one of our DUSA Bloggers had a quote that really resonated with me. She wrote, “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 75 cents instead of the very steep 80 ‘because you’re so sweet.’ Where is the living?”

I found myself in a very similar situation this past break. For the first time since coming home from study abroad, I found myself outside the United States. I was traveling in Israel on a tour bus with 40 young adults aged 21-26 for 10 days. The trip illuminated some fascinating distinctions for me, and I’ll describe those now.

Max Blog Post
Hiking through the Negev

 

What struck me first were the difficulties in traveling en mass. My entire life, I had never travelled outside of Colorado with more than 10 people. The words “all”, “inclusive”, and “resort” put together sounded like nails on a chalkboard to my family. Going off the beaten path was something we strived to do, so much so that my mother once had a trip agenda to “walk into open courtyards.” That sounded eerily like trespassing to me at the time, but thankfully went off without a hitch and I saw some pretty neat courtyards.

While studying abroad, my desire to explore on foot and without an agenda had a profound impact on my experience. I learned the intricacies of Salamanca, Spain, my host-city, by running aimlessly: a right turn here, a left turn there, until I wandered my way home. Walking in a lemming-like train of 40 people allowed no room for creativity and encouraged a sheltered view of the cities we visited.

What struck me further, however, was my craving for depth. My wanderings in Salamanca led me to my favorite coffee shop, where my friend Ian and I would go to chat and get advice from Beatriz, the shop’s owner. The get-on-the-bus, get-off-the-bus mentality robbed me of my opportunity to find hidden gems, like Beatriz’s coffee shop.

The Old City of Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem

This, I feel is the difference between traveling and living. Traveling is like eating the icing off the top of the cake: it’s briefly tasty, a little too sweet, and doesn’t fully satisfy you. The meat, or cake in this analogy, of the experience is finding the richness and density only living in a place will give you.

More importantly, however, I think the trip taught me the difference between tourism and adventure. To me, tourism is scripted. There are assigned places for you to be at certain times. More than just being scripted, it is an experience catered to you through another person’s eyes. Adventuring, on the other hand, is taking traveling into your own hands, exploring at your own pace, and looking at a new place through your own lens. Going on an adventure is an intense, individual experience.

So, in short, here’s what I would recommend. Try to live while you’re studying abroad, and if you don’t have the time to live, adventure. Always be an adventurer.

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

Let’s Go Home

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.

My own personal little Sol and Abril
My own personal little Sol and Abril

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.

The Muñoz Family 2014
The Muñoz Family 2014

– Madeline Doering – DUSA Blogger
December, 2014

End of the Wales Journey

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!

Classes:

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!

Places:

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!

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Holidays:

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!

hwyl fawr,

Emily

Look Up

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.

This particular stretch of road is home to several horses. They like to sit near the gates and wait for friendly people to come by and pet them and feed them.

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.

York, for example, loves skeletons and ghost stories.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.

Day in the Life

Welcome to Caen!
Welcome to Caen!

When I first arrived here in France, I wasn’t sure what my day-to-day life would look like. Every day, it seemed that I would wake up, and have something new to figure out. Where is the Tram stop? What is the nearest bus station to the Université? How do I order my coffee? How much time will it take to do this homework? For the first few weeks, every day looked different, as I adjusted to classes and found my way around the town of Caen. Now, about halfway through the program, I feel like I have finally settled into a routine and figured out how to live abroad. Here’s what a typical day is like:

Morning

My day starts with a nice, small breakfast with my host parents. I don’t normally eat breakfast at home, and I’ll just have a cup of coffee before class. Here, we have toasted baguette, Nutella, and coffee or tea. It’s nice and small, but the perfect way to start out the day! If we have time, we will sit and talk about the plans we have for the day ahead, or discuss politics, art, or music. Try talking about President Obama at 8:00 in the morning… en français.

Tram arriving. It's really similar to Denver's Light Rail system.
Tram arriving. It’s really similar to Denver’s Light Rail system.

I then take the Tram to the Université. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my first class starts at 10:15, and on Thursdays, my first class is at 8:30. The Tram is always super crowded, but I manage to wedge myself in there! That’s something about France that I can’t quite get used to… the utter lack of personal space. I’m getting more and more used to it, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a sardine can.

The Carré International building at UniCaen.
The Carré International building at UniCaen.

All of my classes are in French, and sometimes starting out early is difficult. I enjoy my classes, and my professors are really funny and incredibly patient with my peculiarities.

Afternoon

The main statue on the Université campus.
The main statue on the Université campus.

We get an hour for lunch every day, and it’s actually used for lunch! Some days, my friends and I eat the Restaurant Universitaire, or the Resto, and sometimes we forgo the Resto in favor of a “pique-nique” of baguette sandwiches. When it’s nice outside, we will find a patch of grass and sit under a tree, but when it’s raining (which happens a few times a week), we sit in the stairwell of the Carré International Building. There are a lot of windows, and it’s fun to people watch and discuss our classes and favorite professors. I like actually taking the time to eat and relax with my friends! No doing last minute homework or returning emails for me!

Yummy lunch at the Resto.
Yummy lunch at the Resto.

I finish my courses at 4:00 pm, and afterwards my friends and I go to a café to relax. We have a favorite café in Caen called Memoranda, which is also a bookstore. I usually get tea and an apple crumble. We have become regulars so the lady who works at the café now knows us (and she knows my order, which is quite funny!).

My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.
My tea and favorite crumble at Memoranda, the café and bookstore in Caen that I love.

Evening

My bookcase in my room at my homestay.
My bookcase in my room at my home stay.

I don’t eat dinner with my host parents until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, so when I get back to our apartment I still have some  time before dinner. I try to finish my homework before dinner, and after dinner I might sit with them and watch television, or study, blog, write postcards to my friends, skype my parents, or just read.

We usually drink tea after dinner, and will either watch TV or I will go back to my room. If we have guests for dinner, we’ll stay in the kitchen and talk. After socializing, I will get ready for bed, finish my homework, and read for a little bit before actually going to sleep around 11:30 pm or midnight (only if we talk for a long time).

I thrive on my routine at DU, and having a routine in Caen has made me feel like I’m not only a foreigner intruding on the bubble of this wonderful college town in lower Normandy, but an actual resident who is living and thriving here. For me, it has been one of the greatest challenges, and the greatest successes, to feel at home in Caen, and I think I finally do.

– Zoe Diaz-McLeese, DUSA Blogger
Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France

 

 

Justine’s Blog: Bilbao, Spain

Justine is studying at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain and blogging bilingually (in English and Spanish). Practice your Spanish and read up on her awesome experiences!

http://www.justinehenderson.com/esp/

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The Post You’ve Been Waiting For: Foodies in Zanzibar

Hamjambo!

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!

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

Kim, DUSA Blogger