Debunking Reasons against Studying Abroad

As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine September/October 2003

By Brian Harley

Where can I go to get to other places?” paraphrases a question that I once received from a student. The allure of education abroad, through study and travel (not necessarily in that order), surpassed my passé mantra of academic rigor, cultural entry points, and provisions for safety and security. Travel persuasion was not necessary. I could already imagine her standing before a world map, filling it with pushpins.

Other students need more assurance. The academic and personal leap of faith can be a process, not a plunge. Some students may feign having “just a few more questions”—ultimately indicating good old-fashioned hesitation. Study abroad advisers are in a unique position to help students see past needless constraints and encourage them to pursue their dreams. One can easily think of ten common concerns, which unanswered could prevent a student from having a transformative educational experience abroad. My “Top Ten Reasons Not to Consider Not Studying Abroad” reflect comments from real-live students as well as a condensed form of my answers, and resources that study abroad advisers should keep in mind.

Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student Studied in Spain
Photo: Luke Harden, DU Student
Studied in Spain

1. It will cost too much.

Students may be surprised! In many cases, students find that they pay no more to study abroad than to attend their home college for a semester or a year. Most state and federal financial aid transfers.

2. My grades will go down.

Students’ grades may stay the same. Despite the fear of a dropping GPA, many students return with the same GPA as when they left. If students study hard and keep up, their grades tend to show it (just like in the States). Advisors can help diminish this fear by citing some pre- and post-study abroad GPAs.

3. My courses won’t transfer.

If students plan ahead, courses will transfer. As soon as students arrive on campus the options should be described. At PurdueUniversity a letter was sent to over 7,000 first-year students before they arrived. The study abroad advisor should make sure that his or her advice agrees with the recommendations of the academic advisor. For example, courses should satisfy major, minor, or general studies credit requirements, not those few precious elective credits.

4. No university abroad will have the courses that I need taught in English.

Many study centers abroad have selected courses in most of the general academic disciplines. Urge students to look at course offerings both in English and in the language of the host country. Independent studies may be possible too, if arrangements are made in advance.

Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student Studied in Scotland
Photo: Lauren Rosenthal, DU Student
Studied in Scotland

5. I am an introvert.

Remind students that making a new home abroad for a semester or year is unnerving for everybody, and people who are naturally introverted may find themselves even more daunted after trying to make a conversation in a second language with new acquaintances. But they don’t have to be “the life of the party.” Introverts will learn language and culture just as well as extroverts, and they may grow in ways they never imagined.

6. I am a leader and my school cannot get along without me.

Great! These students can now become leaders overseas. Students’ concern that their school will “miss them” will eventually be far overshadowed by the experiences they will have. Students develop more self-confidence than they ever imagined and come home with even more mature leadership skills. But for that, they’ll truly “have to be there!”

7. I don’t know anybody who is going.

In many cases most students do not know the others in their group. But they all have one thing in common—willingness to risk the adventure of living and learning in a different country. Some have made life-long friends in the process.

Photo: Kaitlyn O'Sullivan, India
Photo: Kaitlyn O’Sullivan, DU Student
Studied in India

 

8. I have never done anything like this before.

Most people never do this. Emphasize to students that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to study abroad. On-site staff will help students to understand what they need to do to adjust to a completely new environment.

9. I don’t have very good reasons to study abroad.

There is not one single “litmus test” for study abroad. There are as many “good reasons” to study abroad as there are good programs. Students become international citizens. They learn a new cultural system and see their own from a new perspective. And, they build resumes and relationships while growing intellectually and culturally.

Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student Studied in Chile
Photo: Kylee Swiggart, DU Student
Studied in Chile

 10. I do not know how to contact study abroad providers.

Study abroad advisers, providers, and other professional make it easy. Students can talk with on-campus study abroad advisers and other students who have studied abroad; surf the web; and read Transitions Abroad.

Study abroad advisers are uniquely positioned to view the transformation that comes from an overseas experience. Perhaps one of the chief constraints is the imagination of the student. Advisers are to be lauded for their challenging role as administrators, advocates, consultants, and, perhaps, detectives. Sometimes only after myths are debunked can students let their imagination wander overseas, followed by their body.

DR. BRIAN HARLEY, Director of Programs for Study Abroad at Purdue Univ. (www.studyabroad.purdue.edu). Contact him at bharley@purdue.edu.

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Wrapping Up The Goodbyes

What will you be doing in a week?

Oh!  How interesting!!!

That was in response to my imaginary friend.

I’m joking.  Maybe.

In reality a lot of you will be living your daily lives.  Some interesting things may be going on.  The students and staff of DU will be participating in the studying, taking, and grading of finals.  Goodbyes for winter break will take place and they’ll be joining the loving arms of their families and friends back in their other homes.  That’s the interesting thing about college.  You have two homes.  Two places filled with people who love you.  Every so often you leave one to go to the other.

In a week I’ll be doing the same thing.  I’ll be leaving my current home and entering the arms of my family and friends.  I don’t get to return to this home though.  It will be by official goodbye to South Africa.  To UKZN – PMB.  To Petrie Hags, home group, and room 2A.

To the people.

While I’m excited to be returning home, there are things that I’ll miss. I’ll make a top ten list not in any specific order.

1.    Food

Debonairs, Rib Co, Nandos, and Steers are the fast food places that I love.  Aero candy bar, Heaven ice cream, iron brew, and the biscuits are the sweets I’ll miss.  Chips with the seasoning put on it and samoosas are also things I am sad to leave.

2.    People

I strive on people connections.  I love human interactions.

3.    Purple Trees

The Internet calls them Jacaranda trees.  I just think they’re beautiful.  When I grow up and get my own home I want to plant one in my back yard.

4.    Monkeys

No one here likes them because they’re annoying.  It’s an American equivalent to a raccoon they say.  I think they’re entertaining to watch.

5.    Home group

Otherwise known as bible study, cell group, or connect group.  The biggest reason I’ll miss it is for the people, but it was also my Jesus time.  I got to really connect with God through home group.  It was easily one of the highlights of my week.

6.    Salvation Army

Another weekly highlight would be volunteering with my babies.  And yes I mean my babies.  I’m going to steal them all and take them home.  Okay, so I can’t do that.  Everyone keeps telling me that I’m so good with them and they love me and that I should take one home, so I want to.

7.    Petrie

The dorm I’m living in.  It has it’s own atmosphere about it.  The community is wonderful and it’s just a comforting place to be.

8.    Free laundry

We don’t get this at DU, or in America, okay.  It’s important to me to be able to wash my cloths for free.  That means that there were often broken machines, but hey, you get what you get.

9.    Being a complete adult

In America you’re fully an adult at 21.  In Africa it’s 18.  There are many perks that comes with that.

10. Being a ninja

Besides being a time lord, I’m a ninja in my free time.  In case you missed the story, I’m a time lord because my VISA says it was issued in 2015.  It’s only 2012 folks.  I’m a ninja because in order to get into the theatre department they have to thumb print you.  Yep, that’s right.  I place my thumb on a scanner before every class; it turns green and shows my name, thus unlocking the door.  Ninja status achieved. 

-Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The Life and Adventures of an Abroad Student

On my personal blog I began by writing posts about preparing to come to South Africa.  I had a count down for each week.  I’ve been avoiding this count down because I am still working on not focusing on home.  Yet as a math major I’m designed to like numbers and I make count downs and create fractions for everything in my life.  *cough19dayscough*

Everyone knows that I’ve missed home since I stepped into the airport.  Hopefully everyone knows that I love Africa too.  The experience has been great and I don’t regret a second of it.  Not even the parts that I regret.

Think about it.

Of course my issue is that I am too connected to the people back home.  I feel like I’m missing so much.  I feel like I’m letting friends down when I’m missing their break ups, their birthdays, their new relationships, their engagements, their injuries, and their success.  I’m missing the important milestones in the lives of the children I care about.  I’m so used to being there for people and now I’m not.  Even if I’m not letting them down, I just want to be there.  Whereas here I’m just a blip in the lives of others.  They have internationals come and go every semester.  They are friendly to us, they care about us, but it’s hard to connect.  They know that we are leaving soon.  There is no point connecting to closely to us when they have life long friends to hang out with.  With the exception of Thuthu and Dom, my closest friends here are the other international students because they are alone too.

I’m also aware that I was meant to be gone during this time period.  I needed to miss the things I missed and that’s okay.  The experience has been great thus far and the last 19 days will be great too.  Some of my friendships at home have actually strengthened due to the distance.  My family relationships have strengthened too… oddly.

So, how did I spend my day?

It began with a lovely email from Taylor, a best friend from back home, that I didn’t respond to because I woke up late.  Then it was STUDY STUDY STUDY.   I had my first final today at two.  I started studying this morning at 10 because last night I was watching scary movies until 1am for Halloween.  I spent most of my time staring at a window.  The trees here are purple and mesmorizing to look at.  Then I had lunch with a Norwegian named Ola.  Oh, I’m pretty sure I got an A on my final too.  I learn quickly under pressure.  Then I spent some time with Carolyn (An American) and Carla (A German).  Then I responded to Taylors letter and talked to Adam, another best friend from home, on facebook.  Then I had dinner with Caleb, an American who also goes to DU.  I got back and spoke with Cassie from DU and my brother on facebook.  Then I decided to write a blog post because it’s been a while.

Why has it been a while?  Because this is my life.  I remember when I decided to audition to be a DUAbroad Blogger.  I thought, “I will have a new blog post every week!”  What I failed to realize is that eventually being abroad turns into life.  I mentioned this in a previous post.  Everything is so natural now; it seems silly to write about.  I live a life of connecting with friends here, connecting with friends from home, going to school, and watching a lot of tv.  I don’t watch tv in the states.  Here there is so much time.

On the note of having time, it is really nice to get a break from the busy life of the States.  At DU I hold two jobs, have a full schedule, I’m on leadership for three clubs, and I have every meal with a friend plus coffee friend-dates.  Not to mention family and church life.   Here it’s not as crazy.  I do get to volunteer a lot though.

Of course I travel occasionally and do things like jumping off stadiums, zip lining, and kayaking with crocodiles.  Truly great experiences and the detailed versions of those trips can be found at sarahsouthafrica.tumblr.com

This blog isn’t for highlighting travels and touristy things though.  It’s to describe how South Africans live life.  It’s easy to do when you’re new to their life style.  It’s a lot harder to do when you’re a part of it.  If someone asked me four months ago when I was in the states, “How do you live life?”  I’d say, “Uhhh… I live it?  I go to school, church, work, and hang out with friends.”  When I first got here my ability to answer that question with an interesting response was so incredibly easy.  Now my answer is the same as it was four months ago.

This is me working at the Salvation Army with the babies.  You can’t take pictures of their faces.

This is a good thing, just so you know.  To finally be a part of the community you’re in instead of just observing it.  It’s a bad thing for a blogger though.  Maybe I’d be a better writer if I were able to find the and discuss the tiny jewels in life and translate it into blog form.  Maybe I haven’t been here long enough to do that yet.

In case you’re wondering what my part of South Africa looks like, here is a great video that Caleb made.  It truly shows the things we see almost every day.

– Sarah Caulkins,  DUSA Blogger

Why yes, I am American

Did you mistake me for a South African?  Of course you didn’t because everything from the way I talk to the backpack I choose to use shouts ‘American’.

Actually, I was told that my accent isn’t to bad in comparison to other American who have come to UKZN.  I’m also told that some of my actions, such as taking the mini bus system alone, is more ‘black’ than most of our black kids on campus.  Yet i’m a foreigner here, at times I forget it.  At some point I started saying things like, “keen”, “high boh”, “just now”, “now now”, “yeb boh”, “robot”, “varsity”, and many many more.  The lingo of the PMB South Africans has started to invade my brain.  My brain does a double take when I see a large crowd of white people.  Mainly because it’s not common.  We have white people, just not in large crowds.  Especially on my part of the campus at PMB.  I sense the first major part of culture shock when I get back to DU.  Ha

Despite my brains decision to pronounce ‘z’ as ‘zed’ and to say my ‘a’s more round, it is impossible to forget where i’m from.  I almost have more knowledge and pride for my home land than before I left it.  It’s a sad day when you realize that people in other countries know more about America than you do.  And that realization happens often for me.

Luckily, I never run out of conversations to have.  A lack of words isn’t a problem for me anyways, but now I can talk for hours and not even mention my own soul or life.  Literally hours.  I had a four hour talk with some friends about the food and politics in America.

American politics are an interesting topic here.  The only opinion i’ve heard is that someone thought the only reason Obama was voted into office is because he’s black.  Most people like Obama as well.  One friend saved my number in his phone as “Sarah Obama” because i’m American.  In general though, everyone is way to interesting in my opinion.  When I was little I was told that the only two touchy topics are religion and politics.  Clearly that’s not a problem here.  Which is TOTALLY fine with me because I often touch on ‘touchy’ topics during conversation anyways.

So, there are a lot of “the American in South Africa” stories, but that’s not why I’m writing this.  The inspiration for this post is as follows:

“Sarah, come here real quick.” – Jon (South African theatre friend)

 The two people start walking towards each other while has a look of complete concern on his face

“Are you okay?” – Jon

“Ya.  Why?” – Sarah

“I just want to give you a hug”

While embracing Jon whispers, “I hope you’re okay, I saw on facebook that ….. (mumbles that Sarah can’t understand) …”

By this point Sarah is very concerned.  What was posted to her facebook wall?  Who is hurt or dead?  What happened?!?!?!?!

With a confused look on her face, “What?” – Sarah

“9-11” – Jon

Moral of the story:  Always check the date before you leave your room incase it’s a monumental date in American history.  Then you don’t look like an idiot when receiving random hugs.

This sparked something in my soul.  Mainly it was sadness.  Sadness that a South African recognized and cared about the date before I did.  Sadness that only after 11 years I managed to lose the intensity of what happened that day.  Granted, I wasn’t living in New York and I didn’t know any one who was hurt or killed.  It was still a monumental event.  It was painful for many and it showed how our nation unites through all things.  Yes, America has it’s issues, but we are great as well.

Then I get an email from DU.  Memorial service for Alex Teves on September 12th.  He was a well loved DU grad student who was killed in the Batman Arvada shooting.  Once the shooting hit the news I got texts from about five different people asking how I was doing because they knew I was from Colorado.  Sadly I didn’t have the privilege to know Alex, but the email combined with the date of it being 9-11 reminded me that I love my home.  South Africa’s great, but i’m America through and true.

Why yes, I am American.

— Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The following videos are dedication videos.  The one is well known and it’s dedicated to the United States of America.  The second was written, recorded, and produced by two students from Westminster, CO.  It’s a remembrance for the victims of the shooting.

TIA, if you could do anything, what would you do?

TIA. This is Africa. The phrase first surfaced in my life during the beginning of my application process to UKZN. I was required to list potential courses I would take abroad. The problem was, I couldn’t open the handbook online to search for module offerings. Upon complaining to someone from the school, the response was, “TIA, it probably won’t get fixed.”

The joy of my experience here is that it did get fixed, (actually, I was just looking in the wrong place) and my classes are my personality in a class schedule. I have a class that lets me work with sick children, a class that allows me to have deep talks about humans and the way we work, and a class that allows me to express my theatrical side and write. The only thing I’m missing is a math class, which I am happy to take a break from. While the workload is hard, I’ve never had a class schedule fit my personality so well in the states, but TIA. (I might have used the acronym wrong here)

It doesn’t matter if you’re the boy who hates the phrase because it credits life’s adventures to a continent, if you’re the girl who loves it so much she entitled a Facebook photo album in honor of it, or if you’re the local who uses the phrase like American’s use the phrase YOLO, you have to recognize and accept that TIA is an acronym that is used daily.

TIA is used for many reasons on this continent. I think it was intended to be form of YOLO (You Only Live Once), but it’s used for many different things now. Some of the most memorable are:

-Having a washer and dryer and a toilet in the same room, with no light, toilet paper, or soap. BYOE (Bring your own everything).

-Having someone walk in on you using said toilet and start doing their laundry, striking up a conversation, while you’re on the pot.

-Spending all of your money to a point of almost starvation because experiences are more important than eating.

-Having a teacher tell you to skip class as often as possible to travel because you’re an international student and that it’s expected of you.

-Having a holiday where you get school off that’s entitled “Women’s Day” -Participating in a poetry slam despite the fear.

-Going to church continuously, even though you hate church and religion.

-Horseback riding even though you’re allergic to horses.

-Driving around for two hours, continuously changing plans, until you reached a destination that was only five minutes away from where you began.

-Doing things you’d never try at home. (like paragliding)

-Waiting around for an hour when you were told to meet someone at the gate, “Just now.”

-Seeing a little boy walking around holding a dead bird whose mother is completely aware and okay with it.

All of these stories when explained or asked for the reason, the response was TIA. (Note, many of these weren’t experienced by me personally).

So, if you went to a different country where everything that was thought of as weird, irresponsible, scary, exciting, or frustrating was passed off as TIA, what would you do? It’s interesting to see how the group of internationals here have adapted to the term. Personally, I’ve seen myself lighten up. Typically I live a life style where I plan everything. I have thousands of lists and I write down time schedules for the day. I never follow them perfectly, but I always make them. Here I’ve learned to just live life. I don’t need to have plans because things will happen. I’m still getting everything done that I need to get done, but I’m not as stressed by it. In the beginning, when the unorganized free flowing life of the South Africans was stressing me out, a friend just kept saying, “TIA, calm down.” Eventually I did and it’s a much happier way to live. One that might not work in the States, but for here, it’s nice.

Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

Internet won’t be what you’re used to… ;)

Wise advice from the DUSA blog coordinator.  I would almost say that it was an understatement.  Internet here has been one of the biggest headaches of my experience.
Problem 1: I have a Mac.  Apple Macintoshes have become common throughout the states.  They haven’t fully made their journey to South Africa yet.  My Mac wont pick up the wireless.  I took it to I-Tech every day for two weeks before they got it to work.
Problem 2: The wi-fi here likes to not work.  It likes to not work a lot.  It’s rather lazy actually.
Problem 3: Half of the online sites, such as Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, and Spotify are blocked from the hours of 7am to 7pm.  I thought becoming nocturnal was an option until I realized the entire campus of PMB already made that decision.  The Internet at night is so slow and so bad that you can’t properly get onto those sites using the wi-fi because everyone is trying to use it at once.
Lesson of the month:  The computer lab is your new best friend.
As expected of a different country, there are other things I’m not used to as well.  For example, Denver has squirrels – South Africa has cats.  There are wild cats everywhere.   They are pretty too.  They don’t look wild or mean. They look like house cats.  Except that there are a lot of them and they live outside.
Also, Denver has hotdog stands – South Africa has outdoor convenience stores.   All along campus, about a three minute walk apart, are little stands.  They sell candy, chips, cigarettes, and knick-nacks made out of beads.
There are tiny things that I notice too.  In the states, when you’re walking in the street and a car is coming at you, you move to the left.  Here, that gets in the car’s way.  Also, when you’re walking through campus or on a sidewalk in the states and you come across another person walking towards you, you move to the right.  Naturally, they move to the left here.
Food.  There are things that never change.  Like McDonalds.  KFC is actually really big here too.  But then there are the things missing from America.  Like Indian food and Naindoos (a chicken place). And America needs to steal the recipe of Iron Brew and get it in the states. I can’t describe this drink.  It’s so unique in taste. One of my good friends asked me to bring back the best candy, and I wish I could bring back this soda instead.  Large amounts of it.  A lot of people here don’t like it, but all of the Americans on my program are in love.
The trees are out of this world.  I don’t know if South African trees are mountain-like jungle trees or a jungle-like mountain trees.  But they are both.  A part of the tree is a type of tree I would find in Colorado and the other part reminds me of a tree from the lion king.  And monkeys roam around in them.  I really like the trees here.
My favorite cultural difference is the language.  We all speak English, but obviously it’s not the same.  The simple way to put it: Americans are lazy.  In the states it would be common for a college student to say, “When are the other kids showing up?” if you’re waiting for friends to arrive.  As a college student, they clearly aren’t “kids” anymore, but we will often use that term.  When I first said that here the response was, “What kids?”  Likewise, we all go to “school” in America.  It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in, you’re in school.  I was shocked when I first asked, “Do you go to the school?” And the response was, “No, I go to the Varsity,” their other word for University.  Here, a school is a place where children go.
People are very friendly in South Africa.   It’s common to hug people when you first meet them.  It’s also common for you to get stopped by strangers who just want to say hello and ask how you are.  It’s refreshing in comparison to the States were life is too busy to have time to stop someone you don’t know in the street.
Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

It’s ‘plane’ and simple. Traveling is easy…

He said.  That’s what my dad told me on the way to the airport.  “Traveling is easy, you’ll be fine.”  While my trip wasn’t that bad, “easy” isn’t the word I would have used.  First of all, my dad hadn’t been spending the last five months preparing for this trip, doing chores for DU, UKZN, Interstudy, and Daniels Fund.  I had to email people like crazy and go to so many places.  The to-do list was crazy, and that’s not normal for simple traveling (although it is normal for study abroad students).  So, let’s just take a run through of my travels, shall we?
DIA:
July 12th 2012:  11pm
Goodbye: United States of America.
Hello: South Africa.
I am currently sitting in DIA.  To my right is a cute young man, in a white polo, a few years younger than me on his phone.  In front of me there is a couple, both silent and on their computers (ouch).  A different couple on their phones, eating McDonalds (at least they’re talking).  And a woman with a carry-on bigger than I knew was allowed.  I found that I still fear airports.  Everything went smoothly, it took under fifteen minutes to get to my gate from the time I left my family.  But my soul is crinched sitting here.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it feels like limbo.  I know where my past was and where my future lies.  The airplane takes me to my future, but then there is this place.  The place where you just sit and wait.  It’s like limbo; and I don’t like it.
Everyone keeps asking if it has hit me yet.  I mean, I’m going to Africa for goodness sake.  In theory, it should be hitting me about now.   It’s not.   It just feels like another step to take.  Change happens and it’s happening now.  That’s all.  I wonder if it’ll ever hit me.
Flight 1:
July 13th 2012: 1am
I’m awake.  I’m on a plane, and I’m awake, and I will remember it this time, unlike any other plane ride I’ve been on.  It’s really pretty.  It’s dark and the lights are out.  Jet Blue is has nice planes.  It has decent legroom and plenty of snacks and water coming around.  Plus a personal TV, which is always nice.
The landing is fun.  As the sun was comes up in New York I get to see the city from above while watching the sun rise.  =)
JFK Airport:
I’ve spent five hours in this airport and have nothing to say.   It’s not very ‘New York’ ish.  I went straight to the gate and stayed there.
Flight 2:
 
17 hours.  I have to be on a plane for 17 hours.
I fell asleep during the take off.  Now they’re feeding us a full meal.   The food is wonderful.  Their TV’s have over forty movie choices and most musical artists I can think of.
Seriously, every single time my stomach says “mommy, I’m hungry…” the flight attendants come around with food.  It’s like South Africa Airways understands the way the human stomach operates on a plane.  And all of their food is really good.  I’ve also slept through basically the entire flight.
My favorite feature on the plane is the flight map.  It shows us the temperature outside at our landing destination, the time at our landing destination, how much time we have left on the plane, and how fast we’re traveling.  Also, it has a nifty map that shows us the world, our travel path, and where we’re located on that path.  So you always know where in the world you are.  And it has what I call “the black whale.”  It’s really just showing where the sun is up and where it is down throughout the world… but it looks like a whale.
Never again.  I never want to sit through a 17 hour flight again.  I’ll walk and boat back to the US.  I am so bored the entire time.  Just sitting there drives me insane.  I never even watch a movie.  Although flying above the clouds and going through them is pretty.
Joburg Airport:
Welcome to South Africa, may we have your passport?
Dear US government… you can’t issue me a passport in 2015 when it’s only 2012.  And thanks to your little mistake they red flagged me, sent me through security, and scared the crap out of me.  One of my biggest fears through out the last few weeks have been airports.  For no reason I can explain, I have nightmares about them.  Needless to say, this little endeavor put me into tears.  The men in the room kept saying, “You shouldn’t cry.  It’s okay.”   It was cute (and also the only thing I could understand because their accents are so strong), but it just made me cry more.  I knew I had no reason to cry and I couldn’t stop.  I feared not being allowed into the country and losing my scholarship and not knowing what to do with the rest of my life.  And on top of it all, I couldn’t understand them, so I just looked like an idiot.  They just passed it off as a human error, and I have to find someway to fix it soon, before someone else official needs my passport.
At this point, it hit me.  Mainly because I really wanted to call my friends and family and have them support me.  I wanted to tell them the VISA story.  And I realized that they’d be reading it somewhere or they’d hear it in four months.  It took a while for the tears to stop. =(
I bought myself an ice cream treat after that.  And coffee.  The ice cream was good, and the chocolate bar in it was really good.  The coffee was crap.  No amount of creamers or sugar could make it taste better.  Oh, and they have coins that are 2 Rand.  The currency here is fun.
I fell asleep waiting by my gate.  I know I said I didn’t want to fly again, but I just want out of this airport so bad that I really want to be on this next flight.
Flight 3:
Short is an understatement.  By the time we’re seated and SAA hands out a full meal and cleaning up, we’ve landed.  I tried the plane’s coffee.  It’s just as bad as the airport’s coffee.  Maybe South African coffee is just bad.
Durban Airport:
Seven hour wait.  The rest of the Americans will show up and then we have an hour trip to the school.  Then my traveling here is over.
I went to the ‘toilet’ (they don’t call them restrooms) and hit my head really hard on the door.  Ouch.  I made a friend though!  He also goes to UKZN, but on a different campus.  He was picking up people for a conference.  After a little while I started understanding his accent.  He says it’s hard to understand American accents because they’re fast.
I slept during most of this lay over.  I just slept sitting down, laying my head on my luggage, which was sitting in front of me.
Interstudy finally showed up.  I was worried when they weren’t there at 8:10 and the American I knew coming here hadn’t gotten off the plane yet.  They were there a few minutes later.  And we were on our way!  Let the adventures begin.
Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

The Ultimate Decision

On a chilly November morning a young woman was spotted crossing the street at Evans and University.  She was flustered, in a rush, and multi tasking (as most young people in this time period do).  The noticeable thing about this common situation were the papers in her hand.  Multi-colored and large in quantity, it was clear that the papers had been acquired from a Study Abroad 101 session.  They were brochures for different schools in different countries.  While most students leave their 101 session with a few flyers, Sarah left hers with 89.  When she was spotted, she was in the process of arranging the flyers by color, into different regions.  Sorting the schools by color was the only way Sarah knew how to start.

As a mathematics major at the University of Denver, Sarah only knew one thing about her academics abroad: she didn’t need to take any math.  Maybe she’d take a few theater classes to fulfill some of her minor requirements, but theater was offered everywhere.  She didin’t have a particular interest in a certain language, she didn’t have to go anywhere for scholastic reasons, and she didn’t have an interest in a certain area.  That is why she walked out the 101 session with every flyer that didn’t have a language requirement or other prerequisite that she didn’t have.  That was why she was sorting flyers by color because it was the only way she knew how to start.  Because she didn’t have a single preference on where to go.  Actually, she didn’t even want to go.

Sarah is a master of the idea, “Don’t wait for the rain to pass, learn to dance in it instead.”  A life in poverty and tragedy teaches some to rebel, be angry, and do things they think they ‘deserve’ after all of the crap they’ve been through.  It teaches others to be happy with what they’re given, work hard, and change whatever they can.  As a Daniels Fund recipient, Sarah fell into category two.  The Daniels Fund is a supplemental scholarship to any University in the United States.  This includes financial coverage of study abroad.  As someone who had never left their hometown and who had only been on a plane twice, it’s more than unfathomable that she got to study in a different country for almost no cost.  So much more unfathomable was that she didn’t want to go.  She was happy at DU. She’d found a home, friends who she loved, and a place she belonged.  She was more than blessed, and couldn’t think of a good reason to leave it except the fact that everyone told her she should.  Deep down she knew she should too, but knowing and feeling are two different things.

Luckily the story doesn’t end with a confused girl with 89 flyers.  I know this because I am that girl and I know that I’m going to the University of KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg.  It’s a beautiful school in South Africa. (see below)  The thing is, the process of choosing UKZN wasn’t simple.

After organizing the schools by region, I realized how pointless that was.  I’ve never dreamt of going anywhere.  I’m not even sure if I understood that I could.  So I didn’t have a place I really wanted to visit or didn’t want to visit.  Who cares what part of the world the school’s in?  So then I prayed a lot.  I read through all of my flyers again and again.  I tried asking myself questions to narrow the search.  Do I want strong culture shock?  Do I want to live on campus, with other international students, or in a home of a native?  Do I want a lot of other Americans around?  Do I want beauty and places that have lots of adventure?

The more I questioned myself, the more I didn’t know the answer.  I’d be happy anywhere, and probably happiest right here at DU. I got rid of the schools that required me to take a language while I was abroad because I stink at foreign languages.  I got rid of the flyers that told me I had to present a ‘portfolio’ to get in because I didn’t have one and didn’t have time to make one good enough to get accepted.  I got rid of the schools that didn’t offer theatre classes and the ones that specialized in an area that I’m not good at.  I had about 41 flyers left.

“The heart can be deceptive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to its suggestions.”

I had spent so much time of weeding out schools based on facts about them, and I felt like I was getting nowhere.  So I tried a different technique.  I let my heart decide.  I just started reading flyers (for about the 30th time) and placed them in piles.  The ones I was sick of looking at and reading I placed into the ‘no’ pile.  The ones that made my heart excited got placed into the ‘maybe’ pile.  The maybe pile only had 13 flyers in it.  This process was more successful than I thought it would be.

With only thirteen schools to look at, I felt more equipped to make a decision.  I looked up the schools online.  I looked up information about where they were located, climate, culture, ect.  I looked at pictures and imagined myself in each place.  Then I let it go.  I didn’t look at those thirteen flyers for about two weeks.  I didn’t think about abroad.  I went on with life and gave my brain, heart, and soul a break.

When I went back two weeks later, I played the heart game again.  They all still excited my heart.  I was still interested in all thirteen, but there were five that I lingered on just a little bit longer. There was Canterbuy in New Zeland, Cork in Ireland, Tasmania in Australia, Ulster in Northern Ireland, and KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. With in a day I had chosen UKZN.

A mini story is that I knew that I was leaning towards this school since my study abroad 101 session.  My 101 leader, Christina, went the UKZN three years ago and she spoke about how she got into a class where she got credit for working with kids who have AIDS in a children’s hospital.  Afterwards she and I had a long talk about me not wanting to go abroad and she prayed with me about it.  Through the entire process UKNZ lingered towards the top, but I didn’t want to choose it just because it was the first interesting school I heard about.  I wanted to go to the best place for me.

Once I started talking about the schools to different people, the answer became clear.  First of all, I received an email that day that told me that two schools weren’t offered for the Fall of 2012 anymore.  They both happened to be on my list. Then I was telling my pro and con list of the three schools to one of my best friends, Adam, and when I was done he gave me ‘the look’ and said, “I already know where you’re going and you do to.  Why is it even a question?” I knew he was talking about South Africa, but I asked him just to make sure.  He was.  Then I was explaining the options to one of my adult role models and he just politely listened.   After a leadership meeting, where I shared that he has a way of saying things that don’t relate to anything I’m going through, but some saying exactly what I need to hear, he looks me in the eyes and says “South Africa”.  When I woke up the next morning, I knew what I wanted.

I went through the motions, just in case.  I knew deep down that I wanted to stay here.  It took a lot to find my fire.  I talked to a lot of people, I prayed a lot; I did a lot of research.  I found reasons that I needed to go, besides just ‘ not losing an opportunity.’  I reached a point where it was my reality, and an exciting reality at that.

Sarah Caulkins, DUSA blogger