Find Your Alps

T Time: II of VII

Don’t lie

 Don’t cheat

Don’t create a life for yourself based on those things

If you do you will never know

Peace

You will have to constantly check yourself

and that is no way to live

-D.J.

In the past month and a half, I’ve had an unquantifiable number of experiences. I rediscovered my spirituality under the vaulted ceilings of Sagrada Familia and Saint Peter’s, and witnessed a never ending sunrise over the North Sea. I’ve received a Papal Blessing; studied the Cradle of the West in the shadows of both the Athenian Acropolis and the Roman Pantheon; and contemplated life, love, and friendship in the French Riviera – turns out the fifth floor in Marseille has some great views.

Barcelona is as vibrant as Rome is mighty. Florence is as moving as Luzern is stunning. Venice is a curious city, and Milan has some righteous pizza; word on the street is that it’s known for fashion, but I digress.

These experiences will be covered in due time. In my last entry, you probably gathered that I am a longwinded person. As such, never doubt that I’ll find an excuse to talk about things of the above nature. But those stories and all they contain are for another entry.

For it was in the Alps where I found my peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Rockies guy. Those mountains are in my blood, and I truly believe that some of the most beautiful sights on earth are in the great state of Colorado. However, there’s just something special about wandering through the jagged peaks that appear to have sprung to life from the words of Tolkien, with lakes and clouds alike winding lazily through the stone behemoths.

Our program had an excursion during which we were able to hike through the highest Alpine Pasture in Austria. The timing could not have been more perfect as we were arriving when the people of the Salzburg area were taking their herds down from the mountains for the river and giving thanks – imagine something akin to Thanksgiving, but with more cows.

Every year at this time and only this time, a mass is held in a small chapel set in the middle of this meadow in the clouds. The organ plays and the congregation sings on what seems to be the top of the world, as cattle graze peacefully in the foreground set against a backdrop of majesty.

It was within this moment, with music and sights, that I found peace. This isn’t to say that it is a peace that will be felt forever – life is full of unprecedented shifts and unpredictable turns. But it reminded me of an exchange I had a few weeks ago in Nice, France.

Good friends are want to clash on occasion, particularly when they travel in such close quarters for extended periods of time. But it was during this mild conflict that my old friend reminded me of something – be at peace with who you are. Don’t just own it, celebrate it.

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“I put it to you then – defend who you are” – Socrates on the Acropolis, most likely.

Often we are faced with to urge to justifying the essence of ourselves, what we believe in, or who we aspire to be. Too often we shy away from these challenges. We laugh away the discomfort, belittle ourselves, construct walls to shut people out of the most critical portions of what makes us who we are.

I put it to you then – defend who you are, and be at peace with who that is. For the record, this is not about “Finding Your Beach”.  The Study Abroad Department couldn’t land me the rights for that slogan in time for the release of this entry. This is about finding your Alps. Finding your peace. You don’t have to be around a chapel and alpine bovines – all you have to do is be unafraid of what makes you, you.

Don’t try to lie to others about yourself, and absolutely don’t cheat yourself from being the person that you are meant to be. Don’t second guess or yearn for the past, but be at peace with everything that you are in the present, and continue to develop that into who you are meant to be. You owe it to who you are in the now and who you will become.

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A group of us at Postalm, the Alpine Pasture. Life’s too short to take yourself too seriously.

Additionally, I need to provide a disclaimer: The University of Denver is not responsible for mishandled or lost Amazon shipping orders of Austrian Cattle.

-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.

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3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.

Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving  all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.

In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.

In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.

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The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is love. The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is life.

First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.

I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.

In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.

I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.

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Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.

In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.

Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.

This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.

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Showing the Fam around Salamanca

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

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

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

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

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

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

How did you get ready to go abroad?

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

Mental checklist:

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

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

How Study Abroad Prepared Me for My Next Adventure

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

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

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

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

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I got so good at Ryan Air

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I want to go to there

 

 

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

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

Never Stop Exploring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Have Program, Will Travel

My name is Joe Aumuller. I am 20 years old, enjoy candle lit dinners, long walks on the beach, and just living the dream. I hail from the North Suburbs of Chicago, but I could easily fabricate a story about growing up with wolves in Scandinavia or being raised as a professional skydiver in Peru and include as many buzzwords as you would like. I’ll eat just about anything as long as it cannot look back at me, move, kill me upon ingestion, or happen to be organs (you could probably lie to me if you wanted me to eat these, but you’d have to be a better lier than Bill Clinton). In other news, I am studying abroad for the Fall 2015 semester in Brussels, Belgium at Vesalius College. If you want to know why I shipped myself here on a luxurious Irish airline with some suit cases, here are some words that I have written. If you like the way I put words together, read away, I’m going to keep writing them.

When people talk about study abroad it can have so many different connotations. For some, study abroad is a way to take a vacation for a few weeks that they may never be able to take again; for others, a life-changing semester or year completely immersed in another culture. This ultimately depends on a couple of factors: your school, your financial situation, your major, and what you are looking to receive from your experience. At the University of Denver, your study abroad is most commonly completed as a fall semester (this is due to the fact that a semester in the fall only conflicts with one academic quarter whereas in the spring it would conflict with two), however there are options to complete shorter periods during class interims and longer periods by petition. I chose to study abroad for the upcoming fall semester of 2015 because for me, it was logistically more sound than a yearlong study and I be immersed more than an interim period study.

Choosing a program was certainly difficult, as I had an idea of where I was thinking of going, but not how. From my previous travels and “study-abroad” experience in high school in France, I really wanted to return to a Francophone region where I could experience the culture through the local language (French). I was looking at both France, Switzerland, and Belgium as well as Francophone Africa. Needless to say after Ebola, the list shrank to France and Belgium. I decided I wanted to perfect my French in a professional environment, a challenge I had never experienced before, while enjoying the luxuries of convenient travel. While I applied to four programs, Paris and Brussels were my most desired options. Both programs provided traditional studies at a foreign university as well as the opportunity to complete an internship. I am aspiring to pursue a career in foreign relations, and the ability to work in a foreign country would be a valuable tool moving forward. I am thrilled to be headed to Belgium, but I would caution students: you may not receive your top choice or are nervous about finding the perfect program, study abroad is very similar to choosing a college at home. The choice you make is completely determined by what you are willing to put into your program, and almost always, the program you are least expecting can be the most rewarding. So as your friends apply to programs and hear back on acceptances be excited for them, but most importantly, be excited for yourself. Do not base your happiness off of that of another.

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Great Market Square, Brussels Belgium.

I have a lot on my mind before I travel to Belgium, but I think it is excitement rather than fear. I grew up moving and traveling internationally and no stranger to suit cases, planes, and the occasional cup of coffee in the morning. Every traveler is different, but I really love the thrill of going new places. What I’m most excited for is to use my French in Belgium, it will be my first time in a French-speaking country other than France. I find the language to be so fluid and dynamic, and the challenge of trying to blend in is always entertaining. I think my second most anticipated part of the program will be living on my own in an apartment in Brussels. Being independent in a city is the best way to immerse yourself.

As far as nerves go, I have not used my French actively in quite some time, but if it were perfect already, why would I be going in the first place? I have to believe that there will be some Zen-questioning moments (stolen items, lost items, getting lost, navigating foreign healthcare, etc.), but I’ll just deal with that when it happens. My final challenge, which to be honest I’m very excited to take on, is laundry at a foreign laundromat. If any European is dumb enough to steal my clothes I will be forced to buy more stylish clothes in Brussels (what a shame…). I’m sure the people-watching will prove equally entertaining.

A lot of people are asking me how I prepared for studying abroad, I will be blunt: I did not. I have completed all of the necessary steps to go to Brussels: visa application, the credit card, apartment lease, class registration, and internship applications. However, I did not do anything to really “prepare” myself to go to Brussels. This is for two reasons: one, I was unmotivated to do anything during this summer, and two, aside from the necessary packing, there’s no need to overthink. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is planning out every detail of study abroad like it’s a vacation. The whole point, in my humble opinion, is to challenge your status quo and to add spontaneity to your life. Studying abroad should be an adventure to anyone whether you’re in a tropical jungle or a concrete one. This being said, flexible and lethargic are different words. Packing, having the proper documentation, and researching how to travel safely are key parts to being a smart traveler. Ultimately, study abroad is going to be one wild ride, and to quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, “the question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.”

Like what you see? Follow the DU Study Abroad blog at duabroad.com or Joe Aumuller’s personal blog at jaumuller.wordpress.com

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

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

Celebrating (Insert Holiday) Abroad!

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.

Neufchatel, a really delicious French cheese.
Neufchatel, a really delicious French cheese.

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.

American students in Caen on Thanksgiving.
American students in Caen on Thanksgiving.

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

5 from France!

I cannot believe that the four months in France have absolutely flown by! I’m back in Denver when it seems like not that long ago I was getting on a plane to head out on my next great adventure.

What an adventure it has been.

It doesn’t seem possible that I’ve done everything I have in the four short months I spent in Caen, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything different with my time there. Now that I’m home, I’ve had some time to think about my favorite memories of my time in Caen, and I wanted to share them all with you.

Going to the Beach

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I love the beach in Ouistreham, just a 30 minute bus ride away from Caen!

As a Colorado native, I obviously do not get the pleasure of going to the beach whenever I want. However, in Caen, I went frequently, and certainly more times in a month than I had in my previous 20 years of life combined.

Hello, History!

Statue outside of the Mémorial de Caen, a museum and memorial of WWII.
Statue outside of the Mémorial de Caen, a museum and memorial of WWII.
Commemorative decals were placed in several store and restaurant windows in honor of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during WWII.
Commemorative decals were placed in several store and restaurant windows in honor of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during WWII.
The Chateau de Caen, a fortress of William the Conquerer from the 11th  century.
The Chateau de Caen, a fortress of William the Conquerer from the 11th century.
montstmichel
Mont Saint-Michel, a fortified city and abbey on a rocky outcrop on the border between Normandy and Brittany.

As a history major, I was constantly in awe of the incredible historical significance of the place I found myself. Over 50% of Caen was destroyed during WWII, but before that was a stronghold of William the Conqueror. Everywhere I went in Normandy, there was something famous historically. Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Caen, the various beaches of the invasion of Normandy (D-Day) which happened 70 years ago in 2014 – it was all incredible.

Vraiment Française

Me and the most delicious and beautiful macaron ever (raspberry and pistachio - framboise/pistache).
Me and the most delicious and beautiful macaron ever (raspberry and pistachio – framboise/pistache).
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Striped shirt + blue door + France = Amazing

All of my classes were French, so I got a great handle on the language and culture of this amazing country. For a while, it was really awesome to pretend I was French. Every time someone asked me for directions in the street (en français), and I could help them, it was definitely an achievement!

Knowing Caen

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St. Pierre, the main cathedral in the city center of Caen.

Denver has been my home for 21 years. It was so rewarding to figure out another city – the transportation, layout, people, etc – and on top of that, have that city in another country! Caen really came to feel like home, which was one of the best feelings.

Orange saffron cake and Earl Grey tea from Memoranda, my favorite little bookshop/café in Caen.
Orange saffron cake and Earl Grey tea from Memoranda, my favorite little bookshop/café in Caen.

On top of that, I found one of my favorite places in France, Memoranda, a café and bookshop where I would spend hours pouring over books and pots of tea and apple crumbles with my awesome friends.

French Friends

Academic Programs International Group in front of the Bayeux Tapestry museum.
Academic Programs International Group in front of the Bayeux Tapestry museum.
Me and two friends in Strasbourg.
Me and two friends in Strasbourg.

I had an incredible host family who were so patient, funny, and kind, and who really helped me adjust to life in France. I met some amazing friends in my classes who I know will be my friends for a very, very long time.

I know I will miss France a lot over the coming months, especially readjusting to life in Denver and life at DU. These are some of the best memories I will have, and I know I will cherish them for a long time to come.

– Zoe, DUSA Blogger

Academic Programs International, Université de Caen, Basse-Normandie, France

Metamorphosis

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.

Finally back in the US! Going back was definitely bittersweet.
Finally back in the US! Going back was definitely bittersweet.

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:

  • Increased confidence
  • Increased independence
  • Different worldview
  • 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.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, 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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Intercambios Saved My Spanish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA blogger

Livin’ La Vida Uni

Hello! Just finished my first week of classes abroad. I am taking three classes: a management class that covers a requirement back at DU, a history of Wales class covering the age of Princes, and a Making Snowdonia geography class. The latter is a field course, so five weeks of lectures about the environment and neighboring national park, but then in week six the class goes on field trips around Snowdonia National Park to different sites to learn about the agriculture, geology, plants, and animals of the area. I have class a day for one or two hours depending on the class, so there’s a lot of downtime in my life right now. It’ll get busier as the semester progresses I’m sure with papers and tests. My weekly schedule is never the same because each class session is revered in itself because it might be taught by a different professor and they have planned to a T what will happen. It’s a little irritating but it is what it is. Also, every other week or so there is a tutorial session where the class is broken into smaller groups and attendance is recorded to monitor our progress.

 The dorm is very nice. I like having my own little room to come to at the end of every day. The kitchen is shared with six other people. I have cooked a few times. Last Tuesday I thought I started the stove, so I had my pot with the water I thought was boiling on top, but turns out I had just turned the oven on. My Scottish flatmate came in and asked me if I was using “the hob” and I replied “the what???” and she then turned off oven and turned on the stove so whew no harm done with the accidental turning on of oven. For future reference for myself, hob = stove. Although the dorms are very new and very clean, there have apparently in the past been problems with the fire alarms. All over the door to my room and in the kitchen there are signs warning against false fire alarms due to unattended cooking, aerosol use, or steam from showers. And every Thursday they do a sound check of the system. So I am always very nervous that the alarm will go off since it is notoriously triggered easily. My “RA” (who are called Wardens here, and the individual dorm buildings are known as blocks…) when giving the safety talk to our flat said that there will be a fire drill sometime soon and one IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… awesome..just awesome.

 I mentioned in my first post that Bangor is a very hilly city. And boy is that the truth. Everyday I’m walking somewhere and huffing and puffing up and down these hills carrying my bag. The city is classified into two parts: Upper Bangor and Lower Bangor. Upper Bangor is where the university is situated and where I live; lower Bangor is where the high street is and the railway station and bigger grocery stores. The hill that I walk that connects the two is fondly known as “B**ch Hill” by the students. I had heard about this infamous part of Bangor before coming to Bangor but I’d thought it the hill from the site my dorm is on to Morrison’s the grocery store, so when I had felt like the walk to Morrison’s was actually pretty easy, the universe laughed and I found the bigger hill.

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Aight this isn’t too bad…
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…haha says the universe
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…hilarious

 I really do walk everywhere. Today, for example, I think I trekked 6+ miles round trip to Penrhyn Castle just outside the city. So my feet hurt all the time and my shoes are already being worn down! But hopefully all this walking will mean great legs for ski season!

During welcome week, the university held their giant two day “Fresher’s Fair” full of all of the clubs and societies available. I ended up putting my name down for the majority because hey it’s fun and a lot of the tables had free stuff. This week the clubs and societies had taster sessions to go to if you wanted more information about the particular club. Thus far I have gone to a Mad Hatter tea party for the Books and Quills club, a craft night for the craft club, a BBQ for the gardening club, and a grub crawl for the Christian Union. I don’t know (or think) I will official join anything but all of these were a great way to meet more people and experience their uni life.

It’s all a overwhelming experience so far but I take it day by day and I constantly remind myself to soak it all in because this is once in a lifetime and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have thus far! Can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

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But most of the time, the trekking everywhere leads to spectactular views!

 

 

The Whole “Studying” Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Time is not a definitive entity. 

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

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

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

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

3. Backpacks are for tourists.

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

4. I’m wrong. A lot.

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

5. Who needs to be hydrated? 

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

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

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

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

– Zoe, DUSA Blogger

I just want to know where the trash bags are. I promise.

The view of the Ouse river running through central York on a sunny day.

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.

Bad assumption.

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.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger

The Good, The Bad, and The Different

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 (+)

  • Siestas
    • 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.
  • Excursions/Activities
    • 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.
Beneath "Las Setas," the largest wooden structure in the world built in one of Sevilla's plazas. Under it there is a fresh market and a museum that has preserved the ancient ruins (dating back to the Roman empire) Las Setas were built upon.
Beneath “Las Setas,” the largest wooden structure in the world built in one of Sevilla’s plazas. Under it there is a fresh market and a museum that has preserved the ancient ruins (dating back to the Roman empire) Las Setas were built upon.
On top of "Las Setas" - a beautiful view of Sevilla. One of my favorite excursions I've gone on yet!
On top of “Las Setas” – a beautiful view of Sevilla. One of my favorite excursions I’ve gone on yet!

The Bad (-)

  • Lost Luggage
    • 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 (+/-)

  • Walking/Transportation
    • 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. (+)
  • Clothes
    • 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 (+)
  • Money
    • 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.

Emily Laurinec-Studer, DUSA Blogger