Tag Archives: Study Abroad problems

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

ESTOY SUDANDO: I.am.sweating.

Ever wanted to study abroad in the Dominican Republic? Unsure what to except? Well, you’ve come to the right place. My name is Becca Blaustein and I came to Santiago, the second largest city on the island, completely clueless. If you don’t want to make the same mistake as me, I urge you to keep reading.

A little about me: I just started my Junior Year at DU studying Art, Spanish, and Education. In my free time I enjoy, relaxing, drawing, and being outdoors. I’ve traveled to other countries for vacation but beware, there’s a huge difference between “vacationing in” and “living in” another country.

I’ve been in the Dominican Republic for 3 weeks now and it is a miracle I’m still alive. With 70-100% humidity daily, you’d think we’d be experiencing torrential downpours. The truth is, it hasn’t rained here in over 6 months and the temperature doesn’t drop below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Like I said, it is a miracle I’m still alive. Along with the heat, it is not common here for girls to wear shorts. Yes ladies, that means jeans, skirts, dresses and pants every single day, no matter how cute the new high-waisted jean shorts you just bought are. No matter how sweaty you are. (Unless you don’t mind sticking out more than you already do).

8 things I’ve learned about Dominican culture thus far:

1. Dominicans don’t sweat. Period. 99.9% of the people wear jeans to school every single day. They do so without breaking a sweat, not a single droplet. I tried wearing jeans today for the first time. Here is my advice: Don’t do it.

2. If you’re white, you will be stared at. If you have blonde hair, you will be stared at. If you’re white AND have blonde hair, never expect NOT to be stared at. In the United States, we have something called “a comfort level.” This concept might be foreign to some, but this cultural norm exists when someones behavior exceeds what you feel comfortable with. In return you get mad or offended. OR if you feel something becoming uncomfortable, you immediately find a way to stop it. For example, staring. Most people know when it is not appropriate to stare and know when to stop staring. When you are walking towards someone on the street in the U.S., there comes a point when you look away from the person because you no longer feel comfortable making eye contact or looking at them. This concept doesn’t apply here in the Dominican Republic. Wherever you go, people will stare at you, continue to stare at you and not stop staring at you until you are out of sight. You will lose the starting contest every time. Every. Single. Time. Without fail.

3. This one is called TSSSSSSTTTT “Hello Beautiful,” “Wowww rubia,” y “Ay mamiii.” This is what some people might call “catcalling.”In the DR though these comments are more widely considered compliments. Starting from childhood most boys are trained to compliment or show interest in women as they walk by on the street. Yes, at times commentary can be crude or vulgar, which no woman likes, but mostly these “compliments” are culturally accepted. Something to keep in mind though, as an american female aka, a very small minority on this island, the commentary does happen much more frequent then per say to your average Dominican woman. Boys, not so much a concern for you.

4. Here tigres are a different kind of animal AKA SANKI PANKIS. Quick summary: these dominicans may be charming, they might even be good looking but they just want sex, your money, or marriage…..so they can get a visa to the U.S.A. aka “the land of opportunities.” Boys, yes this is a concern for you too.

5. The majority of Taxi drivers think you are stupid solely because you are a U.S American. Don’t ask them how much a ride costs, don’t ask them their favorite bar, and DON’T get in one off the street. Concho and Taxi drivers will often try to overcharge you because they think you’re rich, dumb and a tourist. True story: some friends asked a driver to take them to his favorite bar because the driver didn’t know where the bar they want to go to was located. The driver drove them 10 minutes and stopped at a bar. This “drive” consisted of going around the block a few times, and then stopping a few buildings down from where they were originally picked up. He tried to charge them double the cost of a normal taxi ride. They laughed and gave him what the ride should have cost and left the car. Another note, street taxi drivers may try to lock you in their car, only call for one from a company you know and trust.

6. Despite the rumors, dominicans DO like to party. On any given night the discotecas and bars can be found full of people. Wednesdays, ladies drink for free. On the weekends you cannot enter a discoteca unless you are WELL dressed: button ups, heels or nice sandals, dresses, dress shoes. Apparently, no nose rings. No gages. They also go out realllyyyyy late, night life doesn’t start until 11. Somehow I’ve recently converted into an early bird bedtimer so lets just say I haven’t been super involved in the night life.

7. Never believe anything the restaurant and bar owners say when you walk down Playa Sosúa. They all have the best prices. They all have the best food. They all have been saving a table JUST for you. They will try to entice you with free wifi, no tax, and free beach chairs. Most of them have free wifi and none of them have tax (here its included in the prices) BUT be careful with the beach chairs. I repeat be careful with the beach chairs. Not everyone offers a chair for free with your meal. They may make it seem like you get one for free but make sure to double check or else you will end up with an umbrella but no chairs to lay under the umbrella. Side note: the beaches are BEAUTIFUL. Clear, warm (and very salty) water; white sand; lots of fish. Try to spend as much time at the beach as possible but WEAR SUNSCREEN. Dominican sun is HOT. (proof in the sunburns, aka as a non-sunscreen wearer, not worth it.)

8. “¿Cómo tu ta?” aka what did you just say? So there’s spanish right, and then theres dominican. Whatever you thought you knew about spanish before you came to the DR is wrong. Just kidding, but you might feel that way at first. Dominican accents are really strong. They like to cut off the ends and beginning of words and make up words and speak spanglish and add tus. Dominicans hate S’s. Its really fun. But don’t worry, you’ll catch on and get the hang of it. This one I gave you means, “¿Cómo estás?”

And soooo, the list most definitely does and will go on but I do not want to bore you too much more. In the next 3 months, 1 week and 2 days (but who’s counting) I will continue to become immersed in and learn about the culture here in the Dominican Republic. Although a lot of it is different from what I am used to, I find comfort in the things that remain the same across cultures; the love for family and friends, the lighthearted jokes and the kind gestures. A small smile goes a long way. The list I have made is not meant to scare you or concern you but only meant to inform you; to rid of any preconceived notions or expectations you may, or may not, have. These are important lessons I have learned and they address the realities of entering another culture and country completely new and different from your own. The DR, along with any other country in the world, does not have the same history, values, government or culture as the U.S.; something easy to forget when you have only vacationed in another country and not actually had the opportunity to live there. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn, grow and understand.

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Filed under culture, Latin America

5 Things To Do When You Get Homesick

Studying abroad is a time of sheer excitement. You have left your home and everything comfortable and familiar, and you have completely submerged yourself into something new and exciting. And for a while, everything is great. You are having the time of your life, and it seems as though nothing can hold you back. Then suddenly, BAM. It hits you. You realize you are living in a foreign country, alone, and it’s not all that exciting anymore. You miss home more than anything and you are almost ready to go back, all the new is suddenly too much to handle. This slum is rough, and for some it lasts weeks, and other it lasts just a few days. Here is a list of a few things that you can do to pull yourself out of this nasty slum, and get back to enjoying your study abroad experience.

1. Call Mom and Dad

I know you are an adult now and you are living in a foreign country and you are doing it all on your own, but it is absolutely okay to call your parents and let them know you miss them. They will love to hear you love and miss them, and chances are just the sound of their voice will make you feel better. Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, parents always give the best advice when you’re down. They have this strange power to know exactly what to say to lift your spirits.

Jordan and her family

Jordan and her family

2. Look at pictures

Scroll through the photo library on your phone or computer and look at some old photos. It will be nice to see some familiar faces of people you love, and chances are recalling some happy memories will make you smile.

3. Listen to your favorite song

Music is a magical thing. Nothing has the power to change your mood faster than a great song. Throw on some headphones, or plug in a speaker and blast your favorite song. It will make you smile and lift your spirits before the chorus, and you will definitely feel inspired and ready to take on the rest of your study abroad experience. Pro tip: Spotify premium is only $4.99 a month for students and lets you listen to all your favorite songs, even when you don’t have access to the internet. Best $4.99 I’ve ever spent.

4.Remember it’s not permanent

I recently got some great advice from a friend about dealing with homesickness. She reminded me that nothing is permanent. Sometimes, it is comforting to remember that YOU ARE NOT STUCK HERE. You can purchase a plane ticket and be home in 24 hours. Mind you, I’m not saying you should actually purchase the ticket and leave. In fact, you should absolutely stay and work through your feelings and figure it out. But, it is comforting to know in the back of your mind, that you are not stuck here forever.

5. Spend time with friends

Finally, spend some time with your new abroad friends. They are your own little family, and with them you will create your home away from home. Surround yourself with great people and positive vibes, and you won’t be down for long.

John Lennon says it best.

John Lennon says it best.

Your friends abroad truly become your family.

Your friends abroad truly become your family.

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Filed under Advice, Latin America, study abroad, Travel

The 5 Stages of Post-Abroad Metamorphosis, Contemplation, and General Tears

Of course post-abroad adjustment can be broken down into pre-determined stages! As you head out on the next great adventure, keep these 5 stages in mind to make re-adjustment smooth sailing:

1. Dazed and Confused

Why is it light out at midnight? Shouldn’t we be eating breakfast right now? No? It’s 4 pm? What? I slept for 14 hours? You don’t say…

So you’ve probably experienced jetlag. You have never experienced the post-abroad apocalypse that will herald your return. Not only are you coming off of 5 months of adventure and mischief, but you just traveled umpteen hours, probably said emotional good-byes and hellos to your families in their respective countries, and – oh, yeah – changed time zones. Even if it’s just one or two time zones, you won’t be operating at full power for at least 2 days or 18 hours of sleep, whichever comes first. Prepare to be a little kooky. There is no better remedy than sleep. And probably whatever food you’ve been massively missing while abroad (For me, it was cheese. Clearly I didn’t go to Europe). You’ve just got to ride it out. Or sleep it out, I guess.

2. Articulation

Did I mention I just spent 5 months in Ecuador? Oh I did. Well did I tell you I climbed a volcano? Oh I did. Well did I show you my slideshow of 436 photos? Oh you already sat through it. Well did you get the highlight commentary? Oh you did. Well when I was in Ecuador…

So I studied abroad in Ecuador.

When you come off of the adventure high, you naturally want to share that with everyone you come in contact with. That’s fine. Your life was pretty cool for a few months and you just experienced something once-in-a-lifetime. Also fine. BUT YOU CANNOT TWIST EVERY CONVERSATION TO MENTION YOUR STUDY ABROAD. THE PEOPLE GET A LITTLE CRANKY.

Sorry to be so emphatic. Of course, it’s going to be a topic of conversation as most people you know want to hear about your trip. You will get really good at the highlight-reel speech. But post-abroad, you will certainly run across one of these chatterbox people, and you will most certainly be aware of every minute detail of their time abroad. You will be talking about Abstract Algebra or the new shampoo you just purchased and SOMEHOW it will connect to an experience in Spain, or traveling in Paris, or hiking the Great Wall in China, etc.

Don’t be that person.

3. Cultural Sensitivity

“Sheesh. Gustavo is, like, so culturally insensitive. I mean, he’s telling me about how he didn’t have running water the whole time he was abroad. Can you believe it? I’m just like; Dude, what can you even be complaining about? I didn’t even have water.”

Shockingly, your experiences make you a more enlightened person to various degrees. Who would have thought. Seeing how non-Americans live will be eye-opening for most people, and this can never be a bad thing, however, upon your return it is tantamount to remember that not everyone – even your friends who have also studied abroad – will have seen, felt, and experienced what you have. Their context is entirely different. Don’t write them off as culturally insensitive jerkwads, realize you too have blind spots. The hardships you experienced abroad are nothing to brag about – use them to inform what actions you take post-abroad.

4. Relativity

What is even the point of this homework stuff? Why do grades even matter? It’s just one person’s subjective viewpoint that is largely not representative of the “real world” anyway!

This stage is crucial, heartbreaking, and almost universal.

There will be thrown books. There will be late assignments. There will be tears. The only solace is that as you are contemplating just giving up on the 50% of your homework you actually complete, every other study abroad returnee is right there with ya. After learning so much – largely outside of a classroom – 16 credit hours worth of class time just seems rather superfluous. Winter quarter can be a dark time.

Remember this as you sit in your café registering for classes while abroad – don’t overload. Simply getting to class on-time, and not Latin American “on-time” (ie: 10 minutes late) will be a struggle.

5. Wanderlust

You’ve gotten a taste and now you’re addicted. To the getting lost and crowded buses. To the daily rain and astounding lack of edible cheese. To the street food out of tiny bags and terrifying traffic. To the solitude. To the language. To the adventure.

This stage doesn’t just end – you get to keep it the rest of your life. From here on out you will be questing for new travels and leaping at every opportunity to dash across the globe. You may have only studied abroad for months, but the effects last years.

To all those leaving in a matter of weeks or months – best of luck! All of the returnees – those of us in “stage 5” – would love to go with you.

– Maddie Doering, MSID Ecuador 2014

Maddie Doering

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Filed under Advice, culture, DUSA Bloggers, Latin America, Returnee, study abroad, World

Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

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Filed under Advice, Asia, cook, culture, food, Returnee, study abroad, Travel

5 Reasons Why Studying Abroad Makes You A Better Person

  1. You Forge Local Relationships

Oh, María. That’s how I start many of my stories about my Spanish host mother. María was the best. She was a chubby, 68, year-old Salamanca native who had hosted students for 30 years, and made my study abroad experience 100 times better. We would huddle around my computer to watch Barcelona soccer matches, she would cook me paella every Sunday, and we would spend dinnertime joking around, watching terrible Spanish television, and talking about our days. When I would come home for a midnight snack, which was more like a 5-6am snack, María started calling me “The Ghost” and asking if “The Ghost” had visited the night before to raid our refrigerator.

Something wonderful about study abroad is that you have time to develop local relationships, whether they’re with your host family, roommate/flat-mate, or other students. No person I met on a weekend or week-long trip has ever impacted me as much as María did with her kindness and fun home atmosphere. She taught me to be more blunt and reinforced me to shamelessly laugh at myself, whenever possible.

  1. Find Local Gems

Let’s just say Trip Advisor only goes so far. Yes, it will give you the best restaurants, destinations, etc., but sometimes you don’t want the “best” experience, you want a genuine one. My favorite spots in Salamanca were the ones I made my own, like the coffee shop I would go to after class to chat with Beatriz, who would give my friend Ian and I advice, or the Erasmus Bar where my team and I would play trivia every Wednesday (we won thrice, I might add). None of those places would make a website because they were unspectacular at face value, until you made a memory in them.

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through

A book fair came to Salamanca, which was a ton of fun to walk through

  1. You live outside your comfort zone

Some say that growth comes from discomfort, which I agree with 100%. Growing as a person means exposing yourself to new experiences, feelings, and situations that lie outside of the status quo. The wonderful thing about study abroad is that you are uncomfortable all the time, so by default you’re growing all the time. Whether you’re navigating a new country in a new language, battling your way through classes, meeting new people, missing old people, or finding your niche in your new home, study abroad is difficult at times, and it SHOULD BE. If everything has a shiny exterior and you never come across a meaningful challenge, you miss the depth that leads to growth. There was one weekend, pretty early into my study abroad experience, where the eight people I knew were out of town, and I almost went Jack Nicholson-style The Shining on everyone due to cabin fever. That experience prompted me to be more proactive, but also helped me learn how to be alone and made me a better person.

  1. You learn street smarts AND book smarts

First of all, when you’re studying abroad, you’re ideally doing some studying. Wow, novel concept here, I know.

While I was in Spain, I took Portuguese classes, a class on the history of the Jews in Spain, a class on Spanish literature, and the History of Philosophy, of which I learned a lot, to the point where I still have trouble calling philosophers by their English names. Aristotle or Aristoteles? I don’t know either…

But, moreover, you also learn street smarts. You learn the skills necessary to navigate uncomfortable situations (cough, exactly what I mentioned in the last reason, cough). I had my passport stolen my first night in Morocco, which makes most problems a cakewalk when I face them now. At least I’m not in a foreign country and speak none of the national languages desperately trying to find a way home…

  1. You have the opportunity to travel and live in the world.

Now, in case you were worried, I’m not advocating for a study abroad trip with no travel when I mentioned finding local gems and forging local relationships. I had a blast visiting other places in Europe while I was abroad and have many friends whose travel stories are mind-blowing. What I am advocating for is for you to soak it up when you’re out there. This is usually a once in a lifetime opportunity, make sure you leave a different person than when you entered.

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

Taking in the beach in Tangier, Morocco

-Max Spiro, Study Abroad Assistant

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Filed under Advice, culture, Europe, How To's, Returnee, Spain, study abroad, World