This, That, and the Other Thing – Three Tips for Pre-departure and Arrival Abroad

  1. Bring something special from home to spruce up your room

This may sound a little silly, but it is definitely something I regretted within the first week of being abroad. Whether it is photos, a poster, or even a pillowcase, bring something that can connect you to home and give your room a little personality. You will be glad to have something to distinguish that space as your own and make it feel homier.

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  1. Don’t make any promises… yet

11874120_10203798343993835_192348149_nStarting school abroad is a lot like orientation week as a freshman at college. Everyone is excited to meet each other and explore their new home. But like freshman year, people form friendships fast and soon settle into friendships. For that reason, don’t make any promises to people from home about FaceTiming, writing emails, or even texting. Take advantage of the newness of your study abroad location – get out and explore with new people. Don’t be that person who stays back because you promised someone you would talk at a certain time. Give yourself a chance to settle in and find your place in the new city with new people before you get into a routine of reaching out to people at home. Once you figure out how your schedule works and when you are free, THEN you can figure out a schedule for staying in touch. Don’t feel guilty about being in the moment when you first arrive.

  1. Allow yourself to feel every emotion

The other day I was eating an apple and thought about eating apples at home during the summer, and out of nowhere I started crying. The first week or so abroad can be totally overwhelming. You meet new people every day, you learn the layout of your city and new home, and you are trying to get over jet lag. emoji_autism2All the stimulation keeps you insanely busy, so remember to allow yourself some “me-time.” Give yourself at least 10 minutes a day to reflect on your experience. You could write in a journal, talk with a new friend or roommate, or even just think in silence about the experience so far. Whatever you like best, make sure you give yourself time to feel everything – the highlights like an awesome new friend or a funny experience as well as the things you miss and things that frustrate you about your new home. It is okay not to love every minute of the experience. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Let yourself feel every part of the experience so you can grow from them.

 

 

 

  • Emily Wolverton
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I am NOT a Mzungu

Hamjambo!

Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

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The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

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The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

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These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

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We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.

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This is a daladala
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The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.

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The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Getting Lost Is Half the Fun…Right?

I was exhausted by the time I reached Belfast, Northern Ireland, my final destination after my connection in London. Food, shower, even a place to just sit were the only things on my mind, rather than trying to find my residence via cab. Travel from George Best Belfast City Airport to Queen’s University would have been rather difficult had I not have opted in to the school transport service. I know that this is not available in every University, but Queen’s had students meet me just beyond baggage claim with a bus ready to take me to my new home, and I felt so fortunate to be greeted with smiling faces and cheery accents. (If your school has this service, try to take advantage of it!) While waiting for the shuttle to fill with students from other flights, there was a bit of time to socialize with the other international students, all of us sharing our worries and having some of the student volunteers already starting to answer our questions and queries. This was also very helpful because I really felt less alone knowing other people had questions and concerns.

The bus ride was short, but the check-in line was quite long. I knew it was supposed to be a full day, but I had no idea just how long I would be shuffled from building to building with no idea where I was and the slow realization that not only had I traveled across the world alone, slept very little, and still didn’t know anyone besides the two girls I had chatted with at the airport, I was also in a different country with no idea where anything was. Luckily, the housing staff was incredibly nice and supportive. (Maybe it is because after doing their job for two years at DU I could appreciate all the work they were putting in helping students check in to their on campus housing spots.) I bought my bedding pack and kitchen pack, so I was glad I had come with cash already exchanged to Pounds.  Banks and airports usually offer this service, and I came with about 100 Pounds pre-exchanged. And then, I met my RA, Mary. She was all smiles, helping me carry my bags to a shuttle that took me to my apartment style housing complex. Mary helped me take my things to my room, showed me my keys, and told me where to get free dinner. Feeling so overwhelmed, she was exactly what the doctor ordered, coming just short of pushing me to the places I needed to go.

College Gardens #7 Home Sweet Home!
College Gardens #7
Home Sweet Home!

After setting up my internet and calling home, I headed back to the Tree House, the building where I had checked in. I had told the girls I met I would meet them back there to find dinner. What I hadn’t realized was just how far away I was from my original starting point. Not only was I far away, after a bit of wandering, I realized I had no idea where I was going. Scared, tired, hungry, exhausted, and lost I started to panic. Getting a hold of myself, I realized most of the students walking around the main street where I was flustering were also probably international students, and so I walked up to one of the first girls I saw and asked if she knew where the Tree House was. She kindly directed me and I now had adrenaline rush from my previous moment of terror. Feeling more awake, I walked to find my new friends. Fortunately, they had waited for me, but I arrived too late to get the free food. We had, however, received food vouchers for the grocery store, and so the three of us put our vouchers together and purchased bread, soup, and cheese for dinner and some fruit and yogurt for the next morning’s breakfast. With the foresight to get the next day’s meals, we saved time and money! Heading to one of the girls kitchen’s we ate hot soup and fresh baguettes while continuing to get to know each other.

Not wanting to walk back alone, especially after being so turned around only hours ago and it being much darker, I returned to the area in which I had checked in, hoping a shuttle was still running. Unfortunately, the buses had been shut down, but another member of the housing staff offered to just walk me home. He was an RA and a native to Belfast, so not only did I get an escort, but I got a bit of a tour on the way back as well. I usually hate asking for directions or help, but I learned quickly that my first day abroad (as well as the week to come) would include me getting over my hesitance to ask for help.  So don’t be afraid to not know things, to ask for help, and to use your resources!

Running Into Emma Watson!

Hello friends!

I have now officially been enrolled as a student of the UK. Crazy and surreal!

Orientation week was quite different from ones in the United States. Instead of required events with a “student leader” or group, schools in the UK just give you suggestive events to attend. Some of these included a welcome fair and meetings with tutors (professors).

I’m learning to get around… while getting lost in the process! It is all in good fun though. You meet some exciting people and see some incredible places. OR, you think you meet some incredible people… 🙂

Until next time,

JZ