This past weekend I traveled to the country of Morocco in Northern Africa. It was one of the most intersting places I have ever been. I started my trip in the city of Casablanca, which is a huge city with 6,000,000 individuals that drives the economy of Morocco. We visited the Hassan II Mosque (which is seen in the featured photo of this post), which is the 3rd largest mosque in the entire world. It holds 25,000 people at once and is regularly used for large group prayers.
We only stayed in Casablanca for one night, but it was quite interesting. Our taxi driver, Hamid, spoke a very small amount of English, which created a firm language barrier due to the fact that we didn’t understand Arabic. On our way back to the hotel we were staying at, Hamid told us that we should go to his house for dinner with his family that night. We awkwardly laughed as we were unsure if he was joking since we had only known him for an hour or so. He told us that he would pick us up at 7:30 from our hotel to take us to dinner since we had made reservations at a local restaurant.
At 7:30, he picked us up and we told him where to take us. In his broken English, he seemed to understand us. However, we ended up in an unfamiliar alley where he parked the car. I asked awkwardly, “Hamid, where are we?” “My house” he answered. My friend
and I looked at each other contemplating what to do, so we just followed him. Sure enough, we go upstairs and his wife had cooked up a classic Moroccan three course meal for us. The food was delicious, his home was beautiful, and he was incredibly hospitable. It was a very strange experience, but one that I will never forget.
This past weekend, the day after returning from the Camino de Santiago, I boarded a plane and flew 3 hours to the city of Dublin, Ireland, and met up with some of my friends from the University of Denver. Coming from Alicante, a warm city along the coast, it was a wonderful change of pace to experience some cold weather.
Dublin is a large, spread out city with a wide variety of interesting experiences and a lot of intriguing graffiti murals. On the first day of our Dublin trip, my friends and I walked around and went to some art galleries and shops before taking a tour of the Guinness factory; which has a rich history that is very important to the country of Ireland. We got to see how the famous beer is brewed and everything that goes into the brewing process. On top of the Guinness factory, there is a circular room made out of glass panels that offer a beautiful 360° view of Dublin.
The following day, one of my friends and I awoke at 6:00am for a bus tour that we had scheduled. The bus would leave from the center of the city at 7:45 and take us to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher. Dublin is located on the very East coast of Ireland, and the Cliffs are located on the very West coast of Ireland. Interestingly, it only took three and a half hours on a bus to travel across the entire country of Ireland. That is less time than it would take me to get from Kansas City to St. Louis.
After a very sleepy three and a half hour bus ride, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were even bigger than we had expected. The cliffs stand at 700 feet tall, and had a somewhat eerie feel to them due to dark storm clouds and stories we had heard about individuals falling off due to large gusts of wind. That being said, they are one of the more beautiful spectacles I have ever witnessed in person. Viewing the white-capped waves crashing into the rigid, mossy cliffs from 700 feet above was truly aw-inspiring. We explored the cliffs for a little less than two hours before boarding our bus to return to civilization.
On our way home from the cliffs, we stopped in a small town called Doolin to try some local food and experience a rural farm town in Ireland. There, we learned that sheep outnumber humans four to one in the country of Ireland. It was really nice to travel from East to South coast by bus, because we got to see a lot of Ireland and what it looks like in the center.
Sadly, on day three, right before touring the Jameson factory, our trip was cut short due to hurricane Ophelia. Many of my friends flights got cancelled, so we had to go back to our Airbnb and book new flights. Mine happened to be in 2 hours from when we found out about the hurricane, so I raced to the airport and made it to my plane with 2 minutes to spare. Although our trip was cut short by a day, I am very happy I visited Ireland and hope to return someday.
Don’t create a life for yourself based on those things
If you do you will never know
You will have to constantly check yourself
and that is no way to live
In the past month and a half, I’ve had an unquantifiable number of experiences. I rediscovered my spirituality under the vaulted ceilings of Sagrada Familia and Saint Peter’s, and witnessed a never ending sunrise over the North Sea. I’ve received a Papal Blessing; studied the Cradle of the West in the shadows of both the Athenian Acropolis and the Roman Pantheon; and contemplated life, love, and friendship in the French Riviera – turns out the fifth floor in Marseille has some great views.
Barcelona is as vibrant as Rome is mighty. Florence is as moving as Luzern is stunning. Venice is a curious city, and Milan has some righteous pizza; word on the street is that it’s known for fashion, but I digress.
These experiences will be covered in due time. In my last entry, you probably gathered that I am a longwinded person. As such, never doubt that I’ll find an excuse to talk about things of the above nature. But those stories and all they contain are for another entry.
For it was in the Alps where I found my peace.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Rockies guy. Those mountains are in my blood, and I truly believe that some of the most beautiful sights on earth are in the great state of Colorado. However, there’s just something special about wandering through the jagged peaks that appear to have sprung to life from the words of Tolkien, with lakes and clouds alike winding lazily through the stone behemoths.
Our program had an excursion during which we were able to hike through the highest Alpine Pasture in Austria. The timing could not have been more perfect as we were arriving when the people of the Salzburg area were taking their herds down from the mountains for the river and giving thanks – imagine something akin to Thanksgiving, but with more cows.
Every year at this time and only this time, a mass is held in a small chapel set in the middle of this meadow in the clouds. The organ plays and the congregation sings on what seems to be the top of the world, as cattle graze peacefully in the foreground set against a backdrop of majesty.
It was within this moment, with music and sights, that I found peace. This isn’t to say that it is a peace that will be felt forever – life is full of unprecedented shifts and unpredictable turns. But it reminded me of an exchange I had a few weeks ago in Nice, France.
Good friends are want to clash on occasion, particularly when they travel in such close quarters for extended periods of time. But it was during this mild conflict that my old friend reminded me of something – be at peace with who you are. Don’t just own it, celebrate it.
Often we are faced with to urge to justifying the essence of ourselves, what we believe in, or who we aspire to be. Too often we shy away from these challenges. We laugh away the discomfort, belittle ourselves, construct walls to shut people out of the most critical portions of what makes us who we are.
I put it to you then – defend who you are, and be at peace with who that is. For the record, this is not about “Finding Your Beach”. The Study Abroad Department couldn’t land me the rights for that slogan in time for the release of this entry. This is about finding your Alps. Finding your peace. You don’t have to be around a chapel and alpine bovines – all you have to do is be unafraid of what makes you, you.
Don’t try to lie to others about yourself, and absolutely don’t cheat yourself from being the person that you are meant to be. Don’t second guess or yearn for the past, but be at peace with everything that you are in the present, and continue to develop that into who you are meant to be. You owe it to who you are in the now and who you will become.
Additionally, I need to provide a disclaimer: The University of Denver is not responsible for mishandled or lost Amazon shipping orders of Austrian Cattle.
-Your meek conductor and Watchword Guide, T. R. E.
One thing I wish I had known before I studied abroad was that culture shock can happen to anyone, even if you think you are familiar with the culture.
The program that I participated in took me to Alexandria, Egypt where I completed an intensive third year Arabic language program. The faculty member in charge of the program and his program chaperons were very informative. They were helpful about how to navigate daily life in Egypt and what to be aware of in regards to cultural interactions. Although, there was one thing that was not covered, and that was how to deal with culture shock.
The stages of culture shock are:
Initial Euphoria/Honeymoon Stage
Irritation and Hostility/ The Negotiation Stage
Gradual Understanding/ The Adjustment Stage
Adaptation or Bi-culturalism/ The Mastery Stage
I definitely experienced each of these phases despite the fact I was already knew what to expect with the culture of the Middle East. Here are some suggestions of how to curb culture shock in each stage:
Learn as much about the culture as possible:
Whether or not you have familiarity with a culture, there is always more to learn and explore.
Ask study abroad coordinators for advice
If you have a study abroad coordinator that is very familiar with your program location, ask them questions about what to expect. They are a wealth of resources to prepare for housing, travel, and daily social interactions.
Write down what you love when you first arrive, and look back later
Journaling is always a good for the mind and soul. This is a good way to release stress and remember joyful events. Writing down positive experiences can help when you have rough days and need to remember what you love about your programs location.
Talk to other students about how you feel
If you have other students on your study abroad program, communicate with them about your experiences
Push yourself to make local friends
Do not isolate yourself and try to stay social. Reach out to local students and make new friends and connections. This will help you in becoming more familiar with your surroundings and feelings of loneliness.
Try to see things through host culture’s eye
If you disagree or do not appreciate something from your host culture, take a step back and look through their eyes. There is always a reason for culturalisms.
I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.
Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.
In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.
In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.
First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.
I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.
In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.
I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.
Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.
In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.
Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.
This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.
Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.
It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.
Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.
And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.
Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.
After months of planning, checking off things to do on DU passport, and having all of my final paper work completed, it was finally time to actually start getting ready to leave. Here’s the mental checklist I had to live, breathe and sleep with right before my departure:
Check in with SMART Traveler Program – Since this was my first time travelling alone, I had to make sure I took all the safety precautions!
Plane ticket confirmation – you know that uneasy, nervous feeling you get when you think you forgot to do something? This was me all the time, except I don’t know how many times I checked the date and time to make sure I didn’t miss my flight or booked it on the wrong date until the day I actually had to leave!
Money $$ – I created a Charles Schwab bank account to make sure that I saved some money abroad by avoiding transaction, withdrawal and conversion fees and I also had been saving up money from working at Olive Garden over the summer.
Communication – I wasn’t sure how effective my T-Mobile Simple Choice International plan was going to work but I decided to stick with it and cancel it later if it didn’t work. (Luckily it did, and I didn’t have to worry about connecting back home again!)
Pinterest! – I created numerous pin boards with food and places I wanted to check out while abroad. It made me excited and less nervous that the reality of being able to actually go to those places was a close reality.
Packing! – The task I procrastinated the most took me the longest time to complete! I packed clothes for all possible weather and later realized that I had no room to bring anything back! Packing to study abroad has to be one the most difficult things one could do the week of departure, and I don’t know how I did it but it happened!
I guess in terms of logistical stuff, making lists is my way of preparing for things. However, I think that in the larger scheme of things, there is no real way to prepare for studying abroad… and that’s totally okay! The wanderlust feeling that embodies you when you visit a brand new place and the roller coaster of emotions before, during and after adapting to a new culture are things that will hit you no matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself; that’s what made my study abroad experience so memorable!
For the record, I don’t quite know what my next adventure will be yet, nor will I pretend to have everything under control when it comes. Study abroad definitely beat that tendency out of me. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s bring it back a bit.
For many people, including myself, I got to truly travel independently for the first time when I studied abroad. I’d visited out-of-state friends in college, gone on road trips with others, but there’s always an added dimension when “international” gets thrown into the mix. There are more logistics, more languages, and more complications if something goes wrong. Through a few moments of brilliance and many more epic missteps, I learned quite a bit about living and traveling abroad. So, here’s a quick list of tangible ways study abroad prepared me for my next aforementioned adventure:
I navigate a mean airport/bus terminal/metro station
I have spent a lot of time traveling, not in the sense that I have spent a lot of time abroad, which I thankfully have, but more that I’ve been exposed to some hellish layovers and travel days. Coming home from study abroad, I worked my way through four airports over two days of travel. It’s exhausting, and you shortly find that duty free looks the same just about everywhere, but I’ve found that I can navigate my way through almost any transportation hub, at this point. If I can’t, however, here’s a great segue into point 2…
There’s nothing that you can’t express, unless you’re too embarrassed to mime it
I first experienced complete and utter language confusion when I studied abroad. I was on a bus from Zadar to Split, Croatia, when an elderly, balding man with a significant amount of missing teeth looked right at me and said a sequence of words that my brain was unable to register. Not a word. Not a phrase. Nothing.
So I sat there, I smiled, I nodded, I placed my hands in my lap, and then stupidly stared ahead, blankly, at the colorful, speckled fabric on the back of the headrest in front of me. I’d never felt more useless in my life.
Slowly, though, I learned to appreciate the art of miming and apologetic shrugging. While I never condone complete ignorance, when your faculties fail you, a grateful, wordless plea and the choo-choo noise will point you in the right direction to most train stations. Thankfully, standardized bathroom signs have saved me from ever miming number 1 or number 2.
Proactively Google Map
Most smartphones have some sort of map feature, which come in handy quite often. What most people don’t realize is that when you use them, your route is saved in the phone until it either dies or you select another. So, when you’re heading out and don’t have Wi-Fi, map out the route to your destination while you still have Wi-Fi. It will help you get to where you need to go and will give you your starting location as a point of reference for when you need to go back. Please, however, take it with a grain of salt and make sure you’re going to the right place before you leave the warm, safe embrace of free internet.
Don’t lose your cool
There are some situations where Murphy’s Law always holds true, and one of them is definitely international travel. Somehow, something you’re expecting underwhelms. Now, this can occur in varying degrees along the lines of “Damn, I forgot to pack a lunch, guess I’ll have to settle for a sandwich at the airport!” or “I’m stranded in Marrakech, Morocco without a passport because it just got stolen.” Both occurred to while I was studying abroad, ironically on the same trip.
The key to surviving these situations is to either not lose your cool or have someone there with you who won’t lose their cool. My good friend Ian was with me in Morocco and was instrumental in helping me stay sane as I
became increasingly hangry searching downtown Marrakech for the right documents I would bring to the U.S. consulate. I, on the other hand, was unflappable in finding a wayward friend one of my first nights in Salamanca when her phone was dead. Flexibility, I’ve learned, is key to weathering both the little and large snafus that will happen along the way.
Now, as I plan ahead to an epic Patagonian backpacking trip, tramping across New Zealand’s rugged, Middle-Earthen terrain, or exploring the Colombian beaches, I know I have some excellent skills in my toolbox. Undoubtedly, something will go wrong, but, *knock on wood*, it won’t be that serious and I’ll know how to deal with it, or at least fake it until I make it.
Go abroad for a summer to learn a language? Or stay home and learn a language in a classroom? The answer here is pretty simple. I chose to leave the U.S., study a language, and use my Arabic language skills in everyday life and gain the experience of a lifetime.
I studied abroad at the University of Alexandria, Egypt in 2010 and chose this program because my major was in Middle East Studies – Arabic. This program was a language intensive and fulfilled my entire third year Arabic language coursework in 2 months. I was both nervous and excited to go to Egypt and take courses in the University of Alexandria. This experience was one that I will always treasure since I met some amazing people, saw some amazing places, and observed simmering political turmoil.
To be honest, when I decided to join this program and go to Egypt, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I had a vision of what the experience could have been like, but having already studied the Middle East, I already new that the picture I had was not going to be accurate. When I arrived, it was nothing like I had expected. However, it became overtime everything I needed and helped me truly understand Middle East culture.
During this program I had the opportunity to live in the university residence hall with local students that were studying from across the country. Sunday through Thursday I was in the classroom practicing Arabic, and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday) I got to explore the city of Alexandria and the rest of the Egypt. While I was in this program I learned a lot about the cultural nuances in Egypt and the various perspectives regarding feminism, politics, and the role of religion in everyday life.
The experience that I will take with me is the political events that occurred leading up to the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011. I remember the media frenzy after Honsi Mubarak reauthorized the Emergency Laws, the death of Khalid Saiid in Alexandria by the police, and the political tension that was building towards the fall elections.
I chose this program because it fulfilled a language requirement; however looking back this program exceeded my expectations. This experience provided more than just language education, but a deeper understanding of the complex sociopolitical dynamics of Egypt.
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.
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.
So, here’s my advice for dealing with returnee-ism:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well to start off, hello everybody! My name is Emily Rowe and it’s true, I am a sucker for Unicorns and long walks on the beach. I chose to study at Mahidol University in Salaya, Thailand because Thailand topped (and still tops) my list of must-see travel destinations for the past five years. At DU I am an international business and finance double major, spanish and economics double minor. I am a surf instructor/surfer, yogi, photographer, and explorer. But more about the study abroad stuff.
As always, there is a small little bubbling feeling inside of my stomach every time I pack my bags to travel. It’s not the bubbles of a big rolling boil; it’s more like the playful little bubbles in a champagne flute. It’s like feeling the first sprinkles of a heavy rainstorm on my hands. There’s a positive energy that surrounds my thoughts as I book my flights (Yes plural, I am going to China first!), as I scan the Internet for hostels, and scour tourism pages for things to do. As always, with thirty-plus countries visited and counting, I know the travel drill. Yet Thailand is different. This will be the first time I travel alone outside of the U.S.A. – so my list of things to accomplish changes a little.
I want to come back with secret stories.
No, not a story about the fact that I went on the trip, no one cares about that. I want the stories of the people, places, and things in Thailand. I grew up with the idea that you, me, my dog, the local zoo’s giraffe, and everything/everyone else are all results of only three things: everywhere we’ve ever been, everything we’ve ever done, and everyone we’ve ever met. I want to meet the people of Thailand and have their culture leave an imprint on my mannerisms, I want to see beautiful ancient ruins and religious symbols and understand their significance, and I want to surf, hike, and explore one of the most beautiful countries the world. I call them ‘secret’ stories because they are only to be talked about when the company is right, the conversation drifts to travel, and there is contentment in sharing our gradually collected secrets of the world.
I want to do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it.
I often travel with my dad and, as much as I love my dad and we enjoy our vacations, he does not want to go backpacking anywhere anymore. At age fifty-three he is ready to check in to a nice hotel and enjoys periodic café breaks and museum visits. I plan on flying into Hong Kong and backpacking through Tibet. I am excited to fly over to Thailand and explore the culture in Bangkok, travel away to small villages on the weekends, and go surfing all day with only food/water breaks. I am excited to put a little bit more adventure in my travels and tread down a few un-beaten paths.
I want to further my alter ego, @emilyy.sea.
I am sponsored by roughly fifty-five companies on Instagram – the biggest one being Billabong. I receive lots of free merchandise because I am a professional photographer, a surf instructor/surfer, and an avid yogi. As a result, I am constantly taking photos, shooting videos, and in general working creatively to promote products and showcase a lifestyle. China, Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and anywhere else I can squeeze in will provide creative inspiration and beautiful backdrops – helping me further my ability to work with more companies.
Immunizations? Check. Malaria medication? Check. A new backpack? Check. Flights and travel Itinerary? Check. Postcards and lots of love for the people who will be waiting/watching over me while I am away? Check.
I think I am ready to board my flight… China in 23hr and 53min.
My name is Joe Aumuller. I am 20 years old, enjoy candle lit dinners, long walks on the beach, and just living the dream. I hail from the North Suburbs of Chicago, but I could easily fabricate a story about growing up with wolves in Scandinavia or being raised as a professional skydiver in Peru and include as many buzzwords as you would like. I’ll eat just about anything as long as it cannot look back at me, move, kill me upon ingestion, or happen to be organs (you could probably lie to me if you wanted me to eat these, but you’d have to be a better lier than Bill Clinton). In other news, I am studying abroad for the Fall 2015 semester in Brussels, Belgium at Vesalius College. If you want to know why I shipped myself here on a luxurious Irish airline with some suit cases, here are some words that I have written. If you like the way I put words together, read away, I’m going to keep writing them.
When people talk about study abroad it can have so many different connotations. For some, study abroad is a way to take a vacation for a few weeks that they may never be able to take again; for others, a life-changing semester or year completely immersed in another culture. This ultimately depends on a couple of factors: your school, your financial situation, your major, and what you are looking to receive from your experience. At the University of Denver, your study abroad is most commonly completed as a fall semester (this is due to the fact that a semester in the fall only conflicts with one academic quarter whereas in the spring it would conflict with two), however there are options to complete shorter periods during class interims and longer periods by petition. I chose to study abroad for the upcoming fall semester of 2015 because for me, it was logistically more sound than a yearlong study and I be immersed more than an interim period study.
Choosing a program was certainly difficult, as I had an idea of where I was thinking of going, but not how. From my previous travels and “study-abroad” experience in high school in France, I really wanted to return to a Francophone region where I could experience the culture through the local language (French). I was looking at both France, Switzerland, and Belgium as well as Francophone Africa. Needless to say after Ebola, the list shrank to France and Belgium. I decided I wanted to perfect my French in a professional environment, a challenge I had never experienced before, while enjoying the luxuries of convenient travel. While I applied to four programs, Paris and Brussels were my most desired options. Both programs provided traditional studies at a foreign university as well as the opportunity to complete an internship. I am aspiring to pursue a career in foreign relations, and the ability to work in a foreign country would be a valuable tool moving forward. I am thrilled to be headed to Belgium, but I would caution students: you may not receive your top choice or are nervous about finding the perfect program, study abroad is very similar to choosing a college at home. The choice you make is completely determined by what you are willing to put into your program, and almost always, the program you are least expecting can be the most rewarding. So as your friends apply to programs and hear back on acceptances be excited for them, but most importantly, be excited for yourself. Do not base your happiness off of that of another.
I have a lot on my mind before I travel to Belgium, but I think it is excitement rather than fear. I grew up moving and traveling internationally and no stranger to suit cases, planes, and the occasional cup of coffee in the morning. Every traveler is different, but I really love the thrill of going new places. What I’m most excited for is to use my French in Belgium, it will be my first time in a French-speaking country other than France. I find the language to be so fluid and dynamic, and the challenge of trying to blend in is always entertaining. I think my second most anticipated part of the program will be living on my own in an apartment in Brussels. Being independent in a city is the best way to immerse yourself.
As far as nerves go, I have not used my French actively in quite some time, but if it were perfect already, why would I be going in the first place? I have to believe that there will be some Zen-questioning moments (stolen items, lost items, getting lost, navigating foreign healthcare, etc.), but I’ll just deal with that when it happens. My final challenge, which to be honest I’m very excited to take on, is laundry at a foreign laundromat. If any European is dumb enough to steal my clothes I will be forced to buy more stylish clothes in Brussels (what a shame…). I’m sure the people-watching will prove equally entertaining.
A lot of people are asking me how I prepared for studying abroad, I will be blunt: I did not. I have completed all of the necessary steps to go to Brussels: visa application, the credit card, apartment lease, class registration, and internship applications. However, I did not do anything to really “prepare” myself to go to Brussels. This is for two reasons: one, I was unmotivated to do anything during this summer, and two, aside from the necessary packing, there’s no need to overthink. The greatest disservice you can do to yourself is planning out every detail of study abroad like it’s a vacation. The whole point, in my humble opinion, is to challenge your status quo and to add spontaneity to your life. Studying abroad should be an adventure to anyone whether you’re in a tropical jungle or a concrete one. This being said, flexible and lethargic are different words. Packing, having the proper documentation, and researching how to travel safely are key parts to being a smart traveler. Ultimately, study abroad is going to be one wild ride, and to quote the great philosopher Ferris Bueller, “the question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.”
Like what you see? Follow the DU Study Abroad blog at duabroad.com or Joe Aumuller’s personal blog at jaumuller.wordpress.com
Your 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!
The 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! 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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
I recently read a fascinating article on how to maximize your happiness (You can click here for the article). Essentially, the article reports that scientists have found the quest for happiness comes through experience, rather than material gains. In essence, we are happier when we DO more rather than OWN more.
Now, how does this relate to study abroad?
Studying and living abroad is an incredible experience by itself, and an investment worth making. Studies have shown that study abroad returnees report having higher confidence, experience better job placement, gained career interest from the experience, and much more (see one of many reports here). So, naturally, my first bit of advice for budgeting is to budget to study abroad, if you haven’t already. I highly doubt you’ll regret the experience.
So now you’re abroad. How do you make sure that your money is going to good use? Naturally, all college students have different budgets. Some can afford to live lavishly, others have to conserve their money very tightly. For those who are watching their purse strings a little more closely, here are a couple pointers that I found that really enriched my study abroad experience.
BILLY MAYS HERE, I WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU GET SAVINGS, SAVINGS, SAVINGS!!!
I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help the infomercial joke. But seriously, know your exchange rate before you leave home and how much you can or want to spend. Cost of living could significantly increase or decrease abroad, so save everything you can before you go. I worked 3 part-time jobs the summer before I went abroad to help pay for it. Believe me, you’ll want every penny, and you can always do whatever you “missed out” on when you come home.
Plan a list of adventures you would like to do during your time abroad
Anticipating and planning adventures is probably one of the most exciting things on the planet. Seriously, I have published a list of all the things I want to do in my life online (my bucket list), because I have way too much fun with this stuff. Know what you might want to do while you’re living abroad, whether that be backpacking Patagonia, attending a England-New Zealand rugby match at Wembley Stadium in London, going on a SCUBA diving trip along the Great Barrier Reef, walking the Camino de Santiago, or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro (I have friends who did all of these things). They knew they wanted to DO something special while they were abroad, and budgeted accordingly.
Find atypical adventures
What I mean by this is that hopefully, at some point in your life, you’ll have the opportunity to be a tourist. When will you have the opportunity to LIVE abroad and have access to the little-known nooks and crannies of your continent? For me, this meant when I traveled, I wanted to go to atypical places. So, rather than see the Eiffel Tower and taking a picture of my finger touching the top of the Louvre’s pyramid in Paris, *cough* boring and cliché *cough*, I went to Croatia, cliff jumped in the Adriatic Sea, shared a 50cc scooter with my friend and travel buddy, Garret, and visited the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site Plitvice National Park. I DID something out of the ordinary, and it was the best traveling I did abroad.
Have an it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that good things just happen around you. My friends and family call it “Spiro Luck”, because I have the uncanny ability to get a good break when I need it most. Many people refuse to play games with me anymore because of “Spiro Luck”, and perhaps my penchant for excessively celebrating after winning…
Back to my point, one of the things I found when I was abroad was that opportunities presented themselves, so plan for the unexpected. One of the craziest experiences I had while abroad was that I got to attend the Clasico, the biannual soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in Barcelona. I planned to be in the city for the match and to experience the atmosphere, but getting tickets were nigh impossible. That was until a miracle happened. A member of my travel group was accidentally given two tickets instead of one, and I got to go with him for a half-priced, nose-bleed ticket. Without having my it’s-time-for-a-ridiculous-unforeseen-adventure fund, I couldn’t have gone. Being at that game, where the glorious Barcelona won 2-1, was one of the most incredible experiences I had abroad. I still have to pinch myself to remember that it was real. Remember to have a little something to draw on if there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You won’t regret DOING it.
Find local adventures that are free, or at least cheap
Some of my best memories from studying abroad are those that didn’t cost me a dime. In my first week in Salamanca, Spain, I joined the local Ultimate Frisbee team, where I met many of my local friends from abroad, and had a fantastic, fun time practicing every Tuesday and Thursday. I played pick-up soccer every weekend and explored the culture of Salamanca. I jammed with a three good friends on the steps of the cathedral in Salamanca and got a crowd of other students to listen. I took the bus into Madrid and spent the day visiting the modern art museum, then walked around the city for hours. I took the train to Toledo for a day, just because I could. While not as eye-popping as the travel stories, they were the ones that truly defined my study abroad experience. What I DID was worth spending money on, unquestionably, and I didn’t need to always break the bank to make a lasting memory.
As determined by student who studied Abroad in China!
1. The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China was built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern boarders of China during the 7th Century BC to protect China from invading enemies. This beautiful structure is now one of the most famous tourist sites in China, and still one of the most breathtaking. After a 45 minute stair climb up the face of a mountain, my friends and I arrived at the most preserved section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and it was breathtaking!
Once on the Wall, you get to explore the watch towers, see the ancient cannons, and experience what it would have been like to be a soldier, watcher on the wall! The Wall itself curves, rises, and falls with the mountain peaks and flows of the land. Made completely of stone, this wall stretches for 5,500 total miles, ending in the sea! The Great Wall of China has been declared as one of the Seven Wonders of World, and its grand beauty earns it a spot on our list!
2. The Summer Palace, Beijing, China
The Summer Palace consists of sprawling hills, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. This Palace was created when Emperor Wanyan Liang moved the capital of the Jin Dynasty to Beijing and the lake was built to bring the sea to the emperor.
On a Sunny day, the lake glistens and the beautiful ancient Chinese structures glow. Each building has its own unique designs that mirror the Jin Dynasty!
My friends and I are convinced that every tourist site in China is meant to give visitors a workout because the Summer Palace also involves some stair and hill climbing, however it is extremely worth it to see these manmade structures that have withstood thousands of years.
3. Mountains of Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China
Located on the Li River, the town of Yangshou is surrounded by mountains, unlike any other in the world. Their unique and odd shapes create a landscape to remember. Each individual peak is its own mountain and they stick out of the ground like razor sharp teeth.
My Friends and I floated the Li River with old school wooden rafts and long bamboo sticks to guide us through the water. The fog that surrounded the mountains made it seem almost surreal and otherworldly.
4. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China
The Terracotta army are sculptures which depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to protect him in the afterlife as a form of funerary art. The 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses that have been found so far date back to the 3rd century BCE. They are really old! Only 2 out of the four pits have been unearthed and continue to be excavated, so there may be thousands more than have gone undiscovered. This site is almost unbelievable and the soldiers themselves have uncanny resemblance to real human faces. Each soldier has its own unique facial features and hair styles to represent the living soldiers that protected the emperor in life.
5. The Bund, Shanghai, China
The Bund is a waterfront area in central Shanghai that houses some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the world. My friends and I took a boat tour on the river to see both sides of the bund at night and the colors are stunning! Gotta love that neon!
These building are on an island that is accessible by a tunnel that goes under the ocean or a bridge. Some of the most famous skyscrapers include ‘The Pearl.” In this picture you can see the tallest building in the world, set to be finished in Fall 2015.
The picture below is the view from the 100th floor of the Financial Tower, the current tallest building in the world, until the tower next to it is finished anyway. It is insane realize our ability to build so high!
6. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China
Quite literally, the clearest, bluest, and most beautiful lake I have ever seen rests at the foot of this small mountain range. Located in the Southern Province of Yunnan, the Dragon Snow Mountain is full of glacier peaks and valley grasslands.
With built in walkways and trees to hang your wishes in, this area is one you must see to believe and the lakes, pictured above and below are so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom both in crystal clear blue and a copper green, they are unlike anything else!
7. ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China
Recognize these mountains? It is very likely that you do because this National Forest was the filming site for the Hallelujah Floating Mountains in the Blockbuster film, “Avatar.” These mountains are what inspired the world of Pandora for James Cameron, the Director of the movie, and they look like they came straight out of a science fiction movie.
With mountain formations unlike any other in the world that were formed solely by water erosion over millions of years, these mountains top the list of 7 Wonders of China, as seen by a student who studied abroad there. Now go and Explore!
I think I’ve always thought there was a fundamental difference between rooted people and the free birds of the world. One was boring and had no sense of adventure, and the other was the ideal, fluttering off wherever their heart desired and constantly investigating new corners of the world. They were diametric opposites. They had to be.
I’ve got that typical 20-something affliction of nomadism, of wanting to see and taste and feel as much of the world as I possibly can. I want to know for myself that the world is bigger than me, and I want to feel like a tiny dot on a map because if I don’t the main thing that occupies my world is my own big ego. Travel brings you down to size, makes you feel like a part of a whole, and that’s a pretty cool thing. So once the time came, I was eager to have my time to fly around the globe and get my feet on as many new grounds as possible.
Then I went on my exchange year to York, and I realized (again) how limiting this type of binaristic thinking is. Because by any standard, I am doing the “free bird” thing this year. I’ve spent two weeks at home since September of this past year, and won’t be home again until late June, and even then it will only be for a little while. I won’t be home for a long period of time until mid-August. My exchange year is fully 9 months, and after that I’ll spend another month in Arusha, Tanzania. So I feel a bit like that free spirited bird this year, London a 2-hour train ride away and the rest of mainland Europe a 2 hour flight.
But by some miracle, found myself able to put down strong roots in this goofy medieval town of York. I found friends here, good friends, friends who don’t hesitate to loan me an extra plate or an egg or a shoulder to lean on when I’m missing home. The community I found (and have helped to build on some level) here is a massive part of the fabric of my life abroad. So much so that England feels just like that-my life. Not an extended holiday. Not even study abroad anymore, honestly. My life. And it’s given me a new perspective on what I already knew in Colorado (but perhaps maybe didn’t realize as strongly as it’s been there my whole life)-that roots matter wherever you go. You can’t withstand any of the tough parts of your life without some roots to keep you standing. You can survive without any roots, sure. But do any of us really just want to live life surviving?
I want to thrive. I’m thriving in York. And I’m wondering if maybe there’s a little more balance to things than my black-and-white mind would have me believe. That it is possible to be well-traveled and well-rooted, and that those two things don’t have to cancel each other out.
Sometimes, the best of both worlds is not a myth. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra work to get there.
Today at work, I got the chance to reminisce. This, by far, is the best part of my job: once a week or so, I get to give a presentation to students about to go abroad detailing my experience studying abroad. So for our blog this week, I chose 9 extremely superficial things that have still stuck with me over a year since I returned from Salamanca that I tell other students about ALL the time:
Anytime dinner is before 8 o’clock, you get very flustered.
Bedtime and wake-up time seem eerily similar…
You try using vosotros in class, to find your classmates utterly confused/disgusted.
Don Simón has utterly ruined your taste for sangria.
Only walks over 30 minutes are considered a “trek”.
You have AGGRESSIVELY chosen a side in the Real Madrid, Barcelona feud.
Any “small” coffee in the US looks insanely large.
Whole legs of pig no longer phase you.
Nap time errday. Enough said.
Believe me, study abroad left a much larger impression than 9 little idiosyncrasies. Sometimes, though, it’s funny that the little things are easier to remember than the personal growth, the increase in confidence, and the maturation that inevitably occurs when you survive and thrive a new environment. However, despite all that, it doesn’t make getting used to an early dinner any easier.
After three months of living in Alexandria, Egypt, I remember the flood of emotions that overcame me when I returned home. I was filled with an overwhelming mixture of relief, excitement, and nostalgia. The expectation of reverse culture shock was looming over me and I remember prepping myself for the readjustment of my old daily routines.
The symptoms of retuning home were subtler then I expected. I was more critical of the way people dressed in the United States than back in Egypt. I craved certain foods due to a lack of nutrients from my diet abroad, and felt sick sometimes. I noticed that I had moments of severe nostalgia and longed to be back with people that I had met while I was abroad. However as time progressed, there were a few steps that helped me cope with the symptoms of returning home:
Stay in contact with the people in your host country. Adding my old program guides and host country friends to my social media helped me feel more connected to Egypt and the events that were happening there after I had left. I was able to keeps those bonds and feel connected to the people that I had met abroad.
Reconnect with your friends from your study abroad program. Going out with friends who went on my program helped me cope with adjusting socially back home. We would go out to middle eastern restaurants and enjoy hookah and Arabic coffee on late nights and recollect stories from our experiences in Egypt and discuss how we felt similar experiences coming back home.
Enjoy your surroundings and live in the moment. Going out with friends and enjoying activities helps you get reacquainted with your hometown and life after studying abroad. This can present the silver linings of being home and new adventures that await you in you own backyard.
Keep traveling, and satisfy the feeling of wanderlust by going on small trips with friends.
Seek advice from your study abroad advisor or professor. Talk about the experience of being back home and ask how you can use this experience in your academics and career opportunities.
Studying abroad was an amazing experience, but coming back home was a challenge. If you ever feel that reverse culture shock is getting the best of you, just take a moment, take a deep breath and know that others have been in your shoes before.
I still remember the feeling I got stepping off my plane back into Denver after four months in Jordan. I can remember my anxiety, my trepidations at coming home feeling so “different”, and my sense of loneliness, sad about all I had left behind in Jordan. The reverse culture shock hit me fast, and it hit me hard.
Life back in Denver instantly felt so… ordinary. Drivers on the highway stayed in their designated lines, and drove at designated speeds… how boring. People hurried with their meals, and left restaurants as soon as they finished eating… how stuffy. I could overhear all conversations around me because they were in English, not Arabic… too overwhelming.
Although I was disenchanted with American life and culture (as reverse culture shock is known to do) I was excited to be back at DU, excited to get back into my classes, get back onto the debate team, and reconnect with friends. But I seemed to forget one detail…. The Quarter system is no joke, and it has no mercy. The quarter system doesn’t care that you just came from a place spending 3 hours per night in a café drinking Turkish coffee and smoking hookah. The Quarter system doesn’t care that you hadn’t been in a traditional American classroom for 7 months. Even outside of the classroom, the speed of life back at DU was disorienting. I also couldn’t process the fact that everything seemed exactly the same as when I left. I tried to get back into my old ‘routine’, but it didn’t feel quite right. I felt like I needed to be somewhere else. I could already feel my next adventure calling me out the door.
That, dear friends, is called Wanderlust.
Wanderlust is highly infectious, can be caught with minimal exposure to life in a different place, and needs to be treated with consistent doses of travel – probably for the rest of my lifetime.
While I have been fortunate enough to get some other adventures in since returning from Jordan a year ago, here is how I appease my Wanderlust when I am Denver-locked:
Explore DENVER! We live in an incredible city, with fabulous scenes for music, food, film, art, you name it. We have great sports teams (or so I hear… sports aren’t my gig). We are one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and there is a lot going on. We only have 4 years to take advantage of college life in Denver, so why waste any more time?
Deep Breaths – many of us will be returning from places where the pace of life is much different than at DU. It’s important to understand that your experience adjusting to life back home might be challenging, and might be different than the experiences your other friends are going through, and that’s okay!
Accept changes – once you come home you might find that relationships are different than they were before. This is a natural part of college life, and of studying abroad. It’s better to accept these changes, and make the best of them!
Try something new at home! The DU community, and the Denver community at large has enormous opportunities to get involved. Maybe it’s time to join a new club, pick up an intramural sport, find a great local charity to get involved in. Either way, expand your Denver networks.
Use the I-House! The international house can connect you with events surrounding international communities and opportunities in Denver and at DU, take advantage of that!
Recently, one of our DUSA Bloggers had a quote that really resonated with me. She wrote, “After living here for 5 months, I don’t really see how people can travel places for only two, three weeks at a time. I don’t see how I’ll be able to do it in the future. There’s no time to build a routine, find the fastest way home because you’ve literally walked every possible route, find your ice cream shop where they start only charging you 75 cents instead of the very steep 80 ‘because you’re so sweet.’ Where is the living?”
I found myself in a very similar situation this past break. For the first time since coming home from study abroad, I found myself outside the United States. I was traveling in Israel on a tour bus with 40 young adults aged 21-26 for 10 days. The trip illuminated some fascinating distinctions for me, and I’ll describe those now.
What struck me first were the difficulties in traveling en mass. My entire life, I had never travelled outside of Colorado with more than 10 people. The words “all”, “inclusive”, and “resort” put together sounded like nails on a chalkboard to my family. Going off the beaten path was something we strived to do, so much so that my mother once had a trip agenda to “walk into open courtyards.” That sounded eerily like trespassing to me at the time, but thankfully went off without a hitch and I saw some pretty neat courtyards.
While studying abroad, my desire to explore on foot and without an agenda had a profound impact on my experience. I learned the intricacies of Salamanca, Spain, my host-city, by running aimlessly: a right turn here, a left turn there, until I wandered my way home. Walking in a lemming-like train of 40 people allowed no room for creativity and encouraged a sheltered view of the cities we visited.
What struck me further, however, was my craving for depth. My wanderings in Salamanca led me to my favorite coffee shop, where my friend Ian and I would go to chat and get advice from Beatriz, the shop’s owner. The get-on-the-bus, get-off-the-bus mentality robbed me of my opportunity to find hidden gems, like Beatriz’s coffee shop.
This, I feel is the difference between traveling and living. Traveling is like eating the icing off the top of the cake: it’s briefly tasty, a little too sweet, and doesn’t fully satisfy you. The meat, or cake in this analogy, of the experience is finding the richness and density only living in a place will give you.
More importantly, however, I think the trip taught me the difference between tourism and adventure. To me, tourism is scripted. There are assigned places for you to be at certain times. More than just being scripted, it is an experience catered to you through another person’s eyes. Adventuring, on the other hand, is taking traveling into your own hands, exploring at your own pace, and looking at a new place through your own lens. Going on an adventure is an intense, individual experience.
So, in short, here’s what I would recommend. Try to live while you’re studying abroad, and if you don’t have the time to live, adventure. Always be an adventurer.