Tag Archives: student

Coping with Returnee-ism

Oh boy. You’re a returnee. You’ve just gotten home from abroad. Now, you’re responsible for validating your existence and entire experience in a 30-second-or-less recap where you attempt to explain a roller coaster of emotions, a sense of self-actualization, loneliness, elation, and tangible experiences. Good. Luck.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve learned the greatest deflecting tactic on the planet:

Acquaintance A: “How was your trip?”

Me: “It was amazing!!!”

For most people, that interaction will suffice. They’ve engaged you to a surface-level point where they’ve shown enough interest to maintain your relationship, but still remain depth-free, and while you’re stricken with guilt knowing you’re telling a minuscule portion of your experience, you are more than happy to avoid talking about your trip’s pit falls and focus on the amazing parts. Win-win.

Japan1

I visited the Miyajima Shrine in Japan, which was actually amazing

Acquaintance A: “What made it so amazing? What did you do? Were there any difficult parts? ”

Once the second probe happens, you buckle down. They’re really interested. You’re not getting away scot free. Winter is coming.

You have to understand, I’m extroverted and still hate this part. I like to think of myself as articulate, but have an extremely difficult time encapsulating the holistic nature of a trip abroad. The peaks feed into the troughs, which then feed into the peaks, in an endless cycle that still affects me well after my return.

For example, during my study abroad program, I directly enrolled in the University of Salamanca, meaning I set up my own classes, lived with a host-family, and didn’t have an immediate support group of Americans I saw every day. I loved the freedom of this lifestyle, where I didn’t have to answer to anyone but myself, but simultaneously was driven crazy by the amount of time I spent alone. Working through the loneliness, on the flip side, remains a great point of pride for me, as I found my own inner strength and moral compass, but doesn’t take away from the fact that I was really lonely at times. In short, my experience was a double-edged sword, which was not always easy to explain. Returnee-ism reared its ugly head.

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The positive, amazing hike side of my double-edged trip to British Colombia      (negative side not pictured)

So, here’s my advice for dealing with returnee-ism:

  1. First, accept the fact that these interactions are going to happen, and are going to happen whenever you come home from an exciting place. I just got home from attending two of my best friend’s wedding in Japan a month ago, and I dealt with the exact same questions I faced coming home from Spain.
  2. Second, if the trip didn’t have a frustrating aspect, then you’re either remembering incorrectly or lying to yourself. Overall, my trip to Japan was one of the best of my life, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t low points. The longer you live somewhere, the more this is magnified. Even if you can’t explain the complete nature of a trip to someone else, be as truthful as possible. Gilding or demonizing your trips can discount what you learned from them.
  3. Third, debrief. I went to Israel during December of 2014 and had an interesting experience, but one that was really frustrating as well. I wrote a blog on it, which really helped me put my trip in perspective. I’m in the process of writing one for Japan, and always travel with a journal. Find whatever mechanism is best for you to debrief, it’ll do you a lot of good.
  4. Finally, internalize everything, and go out again. Each time I’ve traveled after my study abroad experience, either domestically or internationally, I applied what I learned before and gained new skills to boot.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

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Filed under Advice, culture, DUSA Bloggers, Europe, Latin America, Returnee, Spain, study abroad, Travel, Uncategorized

Dealing with Different Teaching Styles

As students at the University of Denver, we are rather used to a certain teaching style and being held to the highest of standards. Coming abroad, I have quickly learned not every school is like that, and it has taken quite some time for me to adjust.

I can remember a time when I was completely in awe at how relaxed abroad professors are. I was sitting in class taking notes on a lecture, and another student stopped the professor to ask her a question. Before she began to answer, I asked her to flip back to the previous slide. She looked at me and said “Don’t worry about taking notes in class, I will post the slides online.” I was amazed! I’ve never had a professor encourage myself and the class to NOT take notes. What?! I know I don’t learn anything if I just sit there and listen, because in reality I’m not engaged and I’m not listening at all! So I continued on taking notes, and I will continue to do so- because that is what’s best for MY learning.

When you find yourself abroad, and in a classroom setting that you are not used to, I have compiled a list of my best tips to help you through.

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1. Avoid taking your computer to class. We all know how easy it is to get distracted in the classroom when you have your laptop wide open, especially when your teacher barely speaks English and doesn’t really care if you are engaged or not. Instead, try to bring a notebook and pen and take notes the old fashion way. Really focus on engaging and listening to what your professor has to say.

2. Ask questions. Sometimes, it can be rather hard to understand the professor, both for language barrier reasons and because sometimes they really just don’t make sense. Engage, ask questions, and make sure you know what they are trying to convey to you.

3. Go to class. I know. You’re abroad. All you want to do is relax and travel and enjoy whatever beautiful city you are in. Trust me, I know. I all too often find myself sitting in a classroom thinking that it is just a sin to be spending so much of my time in class when there is a beautiful city around me just waiting to be explored and experienced. But let’s not forget- this is STUDY abroad. Get to class! You never know what kind of important information you could miss when you are in class.

4. Don’t let yourself get behind. I have learned that here abroad, there isn’t much in the grade book. Your grade is essentially attendance and your performance on a project or tests. Staying on top of your work is crucial to getting that passing grade you want and need. Do your work and do not, whatever you do, let yourself get behind.

5. Write it down. Because assignments are so rare, it can be easy to let them slip through the cracks and forget about them all together. When you are assigned something, be sure to write down what you have to do, and when it is due. This will help you to remember to get it done, and it will be one more small thing to help boost your grade.

 

Being in a new and unusual learning atmosphere is strange and often times stressful, but with a few tips and tricks, I’m confident you will triumph with passing grades.

 

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Filed under (other) DU Student Blogs, Advice, DUSA Bloggers, Europe, How To's, study abroad

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!

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Filed under culture, Europe, study abroad

A Word About Homestays

So, let’s set the scene.

You’re a sophomore (maybe a junior by credits, don’t get cocky). You’re about to study abroad. You notice a lot of the coolest places (*cough* Spain *cough*) require or highly suggest a homestay. You wish you had someone to give you advice about the dirty details of the homestay life. You stumble across this blog.

Or, scenario B: you’re a future employer stalking me on Google. You stumble across this blog.

So, either way, here you are, reading my advice about homestays. Homestays are tricky to write about because everyone has such a unique experience. So, I would like to disclaim that my observations and experiences may not hold true for every place, family, program, etc.

To begin, I would like to touch on the type of people who sign up to host a student. The first type of homestay is a family that wants to provide a room to a student in order to supplement their income. As Spain is having tough economic times, this is a very common scenario. The next type of homestay is someone elderly and/or alone, usually a woman, who would like some company. This situation can be weird because you almost feel obligated to spend time with your host family. The last type of homestay includes a family with kids. In this type of homestay, the family sometimes would like you to practice English with their kids.

The three scenarios for homestays are just generalizations, naturally. Sometimes, the host family can be a combination of the different types described above. For example, my host mom Maria* is a combination of the first and second situation. However, sometimes homestays can be nothing like what I described. For example, my friend’s family requested to be a homestay because their cousin hosts students as well.

After realizing the different types of families, the best advice I could give is to fill out the homestay request form as detailed as possible. A lot of other applicants do not take the time to do this. Therefore, if you are more specific you will likely get things you request. For example, I wrote down a specific neighborhood on the form. You could request a specific walking distance from school. Some of the surfers on my program asked to be closer to the beach (however, this did pose a longer commute to school and metros don’t run super late every night of the weekend!). A lot of people request families with kids.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim, a central location in Bilbao.

I requested to be near the Guggenheim Museum, a central location in Bilbao, Spain.

Another important part of the homestay request form is the roommate section. I said I did not care if I had roommate and I was assigned a single. At first I was excited to have a single, because roommates sound like the epitome of freshman year. I soon realized there were pros and cons to living in a homestay alone. For example, it might have been easier to have a friend to work through the language barrier with. It also could have been nice to have a friend to go out with, because it is always safer to walk home with someone. However, living alone helped me be independent from the group and I also got to practice more Spanish! You should consider these things before filling out the form because it really shapes the homestay experience.

Finally, once you are abroad and living in a homestay, remember that it is going to be weird. Maria treats me like a child a lot, as if I have not been living on my own for a while now. For example, after my return from Morocco, my host mom had reorganized my whole closet. All of my sandals are now missing. The same thing happened to my swimsuit top in September. If my bed isn’t made perfectly, she will remake it. She does my laundry, cleans my dishes, and has even blow dried my hair. And I kind of feel helpless because I never had the courage to tell her these things bothered me and that I am a capable adult. I also was not really sure how to say all of these things in Spanish. If I had been honest with Maria, I would have saved a lot of time harboring anger toward her. However, if you are only going to be honest with your host family about one thing, let it be the food. Otherwise, they will cook you the same crappy dish they think you like (think: pigs’ feet).

In the end, I had a lot of trouble getting along with my host mom. But do I regret it? Not really. If I had lived with friends, I would not have practiced Spanish every day. I would have wasted time cooking and cleaning that I could have used exploring. In the end, it is one thing to live alongside a while culture abroad, but my homestay let me live within the Spanish culture.

*name has been changed

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Filed under Advice, Spain, study abroad

Asian Elephants in Thailand

This video provides a brief history about the hardships of Asian elephants and a couple reasons why Thai elephants are treated differently than, say, the neighboring Asian elephants in Myanmar. But the overall message of this video is meant to be positive. Meet Bird and his family who live just outside of Thailand and are trying hard and succeeding in saving sixteen elephants and counting. Meet the elephants I fell in love with and experience all the emotions they are fully capable of displaying.

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Some Downsides…


Leaving for abroad, you hear about a lot of things that may happen to you. Administrators warn you about things such as homesickness, theft, and culture shock. Being the ignorant kid that I am, I thought none of this would possible happen to me. I thought DU and my study abroad program were only telling me these things out of obligation. However, after only a month and a half abroad, all three of these things have happened to me. So, if you’re ready, let’s jump on into some of the unforeseen (although definitely should have been) misfortunes of Kerry Nelson’s life abroad.

The first thing I thought would be less of an issue is homesickness. I am 20 years old and I am an out of state student. I have been a full day of traveling away from my parents and home for two full years now. Actually the plane ride home from Spain is only three hours longer now than it would be in Colorado. But what I forgot is I have a home at DU now too. So not only do I occasionally miss my parents and siblings, I also miss my friends at school, the mountains, the campus, and of course, Illegal Pete’s. This is not to say I’m counting down the days till home, but I just really thought homesickness would not be a problem for me. Love being completely wrong.

The next misfortune that has befallen me is a pick-pocket incident in Rome. I’m studying in Spain but during my travels, I found myself in a crowded subway near the edge of the doors. This woman then approaches the door and starts yelling in Italian asking if the subway stops at some stop name that I forget. I, perhaps stupidly, react and say, in Spanish, i don’t know. Then she gets in my face and asks if I speak French (in French). I tell her “no.” I look away for a hot second and then she’s gone. While on the subway back to the hostel my friend and I thought it was so weird what had just happened and we are not too worried. Leaving the
girl-pick-pocket1 subway I decide to check my purse just in case and my wallet is gone. Dope. Shock turns to annoyance turns to a small moment of panic when I can’t pay to get to the airport to meet up with my program, which turns to complete inconvenience in numerous ways once arrived in Sevilla. Like, I can’t buy roller-blades online and a gal just wants to blade. (I also can’t buy plane tickets and bike passes online but this should very soon be rectified. Worry not.) All I’m saying is theft esses a dee in many ways and a lot of times there is nothing that can be done. But one thing would be don’t engage with crazy, yelling people on packed subways. ~the more you know~

The last thing which has happened here is I have learned the definition of culture shock. Culture shock doesn’t have to be completely debilitating or entirely obvious. Culture shock can be going into a café and genuinely not knowing how to order a coffee, like an infant. It can be getting served a full fish, eyes and all, at your home-stay and not knowing how to say in Spanish that’s the sight of this dish, no matter how delicious tasting it may be, makes you want to find the nearest bathroom and hurl. It’s being confused and not knowing how to function as a human person within the culture. The little things become difficult and thus life becomes a whole lot less comfortable. I didn’t quite fully understand the concept of culture shock until recently when people where taking pictures of my friends and I at a café for apparently doing something against the norm and I honestly still have no idea what it was.

Homesickness, theft, and culture shock are three not ideal concept that exist abroad. But do you know what is ideal? Spain. Spain is ideal. When I start to get down about one of these things that haven’t gone exactly my way, I just remember where I am and how lucky I am to get to this experience. Homesickness can be solved with a phone call or a funny conversation with my friends. Theft is not the end of the world by any means. And culture shock just means I am learning by trial and error and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not abroad to have the same experiences I would in the states. I’m so happy to be here and am ready for the next misfortune to come my way.

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Filed under Advice, culture, DUSA Bloggers, Europe, study abroad, World

Life in China (A Series of Mini Posts)

I have come to the humbling realization that despite speaking Chinese at home with my parents for the past 20 years, I still have the language skills of a Chinese 3rd grader. Apparently, there’s more to speaking a language than asking mom what’s for dinner everyday. 

If math were like the Chinese language, we would use a different symbol to represent every number instead of putting digits together to create larger numbers. There would also be 60,000ish numbers but we would only use about 2000 in normal everyday equations. People will often forget how to write certain numbers. They will ask the nearest mathematician who will chuckle with embarassment and shrug because they also don’t know. 

The term “APEC blue” was coined to describe the clear blue skies that appear when the Chinese government shuts down all the factories surrounding Beijing and bans half of the cars on the road to ensure good air quality for important national/international events like the APEC summit, olympics, military parade, etc… Anyway, I think that’s my new favorite color.

Chinese cafeteria ladies are terrifying. Don’t ever waste more than 5 seconds of their time when ordering food. 

My roommate keeps coming home drunk at 3 in the morning, ordering Mcdonalds (they deliver here!), and then promptly passing out after calling them. Which means that I’m left to deal with the angry delivery guy showing up at our dorm at 3:30 wondering why the crap she didn’t answer her phone. This has happened at least 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Every time I have very patiently woken her up so that she could get her food and pay for it. Next time I swear I’m just going to eat it. 

Today was a rare sunny, blue skied, pollution free day. I even saw a cloud! It was so beautiful that I cried a little. 

My program organized a “language partner activity” today where we were paired up with a Chinese student and spent an hour speaking English and an hour speaking Chinese. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was an elaborate ploy by the teachers to set us all up on blind dates.

I’m starting to miss little things about living in the United States. Like salad, and Netflix, and tap water that won’t kill you. Also breathing. You know, just the small stuff. 

Seriously though, like who even came up with this writing system? Also, Chinese dictionaries are ridiculous. In the time it takes me to look up one word, I could walk down to the coffee shop, make a new friend, have them do my homework for me, and still have time to order dessert. (That, my friends, is called opportunity cost.) Thank goodness for smart phones.

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Filed under Asia, culture, study abroad