13 days Until Departure- What’s Left to Do

I fondly remember the Global Reveal day back on February 17th, 2017. I had a good idea of which program I was going to be nominated for, but either of my selections, UOttawa or Lancaster, would have been satisfactory. Upon opening the envelope, a red leather baggage tag with the DU logo engraved on the front held my study abroad destiny, which ended up being UOttawa. I was elated and from that point on, I started to prepare for my departure.

University-of-Ottawa

From February 17th to today (August 20th, 2017), 184 days have come and gone. The amount of preparation so far has been immense, from registering for classes to finding on campus housing. Although the majority of the tough preparation is over, there are still things to do in these short 13 days.

Start organizing and packing: I created an “Ottawa box” in which I set aside various items I knew for sure I wanted to bring with me abroad. These were winter sweaters, coats, boots, school supplies, and other things along that line. Instead of scavenging through my winter clothes in the basement, keeping them in my box saves me a ton of time. I plan on bringing a carry-on suitcase and large suitcase with me, no more and no less than that. Would one suitcase be ideal? Yes. Is it practical? Nope. I had to buy some of the books for my classes ahead of time, which adds some weight to the case. I would like to avoid having to pay extra for a heavy suitcase, so I spread out my belongings between two cases. I am extremely lucky that my mother is coming with me to Ottawa to “drop me off” and visit the city, so she can help with some of the belongings too. I just need to organize my belongings in a way that is practical and “weight-conscious”. As of now, there is a heap of belongings in both cases. It will be packed eventually, but some stuff in my life right now is keeping my schedule a tad busy. I’ll talk about my packing and organizing more in a later post.

Creating Communication Plans: I am leaving my family, dog, best friends, and boyfriend behind in Colorado for four months. This makes my stomach turn a bit, since four months seems like a long time. However, in the grand scheme of things, four months isn’t the longest time away. That said, I am setting up communication plans with all my loved ones. My phone carrier, Verizon, isn’t changing my communication plan because I am still living on the North American continent, a definite perk for me. My friends and I have Skype, so we plan on communicating via that media as well. I’ll need to schedule time to talk with my family, friends, and boyfriend, whether it means waiting until the weekend or finding some downtime in between classes. We’ll make it work and I plan on being “present” at my home while I’m physically away.

Settling DU matters and plans before departure: I changed my English major and dropped one of my minors over the summer. These forms needed to be turned in before I left in September. I also sent in some course approvals request for my English classes that could count for major requirements. For me, doing this all ahead of time before you leave is easier than trying to deal with everything abroad.

Talking with the Roommates: I’m living in a four bedroom apartment on the UOttawa campus and had the pleasure of finding out who my roommates were just this past week. One is from England, the second from Germany, and the third from South Korea. All those people that told me Ottawa wasn’t an exotic study abroad location may be biting their tongue now. I have the opportunity to befriend and network with girls from Europe and Asia through cross-cultural connections and various global perspectives. How cool is that? All of us set up a group chat on Facebook for questions, comments, and just getting to know one another before we live together for four months.

Depart to Ottawa: Finally, we have to actually reach Ottawa. September 2nd is the golden day in which I’ll connect from Denver to Chicago, then Chicago to Ottawa. I can’t wait any longer for this day to come.

airplane

Next time I write, I will be in Ottawa, staying at the Swiss Hotel waiting to move in to my dorm. Until then. . . I’ll be packing, communicating, creating, and departing. 13 days! I am so excited!

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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.

tortilla de patata
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