Roots

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.

The massive York Minster cathedral in the center of town.

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.

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Helping to repaint a friend’s business with York friends. And trying not to cough too much from paint in the process!

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.

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Sunset in York.

Sometimes, the best of both worlds is not a myth. Sometimes it just takes a bit of extra work to get there.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

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Study abroad and self-care

Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.

Exploring new things (and old cathedrals) in Manchester, England.
In the midst of the desire to grow and develop as a person and see as many museums or ancient structures as possible, it’s easy to let self-care get lost in the shuffle. I recently developed a wicked case of food poisoning, so self-care has been on my mind lately. Here’s 4 tips to help take care of yourself while abroad.
1. Don’t be a typhoid Mary. There’s going to come a point in your abroad experience where you’ll get sick-whether that’s briefly from food poisoning, a cold, or something even more serious, it’s fairly likely you’ll come down with something. The odds are even better if you’re on a longer term abroad experience. But if you find yourself getting sick, don’t push yourself to continue all your usual activities. It’s not doing anyone any favors to be around you while you’re hacking and coughing and sneezing your germs everywhere. At the very least, give yourself a day or two for cold recovery, longer if you’ve come down with the flu or a sinus infection or something more contagious. Taking a day to take care of yourself, sleep a lot, drink a lot of water, and not pass your germs along can only be a good thing.
Good self-care ultimately results in more time to do cool things like take day trips to new cities
2. Learn to recognize social exhaustion. Granted, this is coming from me as an introvert. So if you find yourself on the more extraverted end of the spectrum, take the following with a grain of salt. Being abroad comes with a lot of pressure to make good friends with whom you’ll experience amazing new things. Making friends is an essential part of being abroad, and it’s a good idea to step out of your comfort zone when building a new network in a new country. But do learn to recognize when you need a break. You don’t need to do something social every night in order to make friends. Sometimes it’s just fine to take a night to yourself and go to bed early or watch Netflix or read a book, or do whatever it is that helps you recharge and feel like you’re not being spread too thin.
I am a big fan of sitting in quiet coffee shops to take a break.
Taking some personal time makes social interactions that much better. 🙂
3. Call your parents every so often. I know, I know, you want to live as much in the moment as possible and not be constantly thinking about home. That’s good. Being connected to your host country is important. It speeds up the settling-in process, helps you overcome culture shock, and enriches your experience overall. But don’t completely neglect family. It can be really helpful and refreshing to fill your mom or dad in on whatever’s gone down in the past week, get advice if you need it, and have them make your dogs say hello over skype. And besides, your parents will feel much better seeing you in real time once in awhile than just via your Instagram photos.
My family are a big bunch of nerds who love their footie pajamas, our dogs, and seeing movies together. And I love them for it.
4. Take a few solo walks around your host city. Do it within the bounds of common-sense safety, definitely. But just take half an hour and stroll around a part of the city you haven’t been to yet. Maybe take some of your favorite music along and get a coffee, and just watch the world go by for a little while. Listen to what the birds sound like. Figure out what kind of urban wildlife exists in your new hometown. Mostly, take a little time to breathe and be in your city without feeling the need to rush off somewhere. Taking time to just be in York and not run around it was what helped me really start to feel like a local; like I belong here.
I’m grinning because I just saw two geese fighting a swan. The swan won.
Of course, none of this is an either-or proposition. The whirlwind sightseeing can be great fun! But finding a balance between going a million miles an hour and stopping to (perhaps literally) smell the roses can be the key to really making the most of your study abroad experience.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Lessons Learned From First Term

My first term at the University of York is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to head home for Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve put together some things I’ve learned about living as an American in England after my first chunk of my exchange year.

  1. Yorkshire is a county full of immense local pride. Nothing quite brings that to your attention like standing in a crowd of locals at a concert who are all chanting “York-shire! York-shire!” Nothing quite makes you feel as viscerally at home than joining in that chant and having it swell to the point where you can feel it resonate in your chest.
An American and a German at a British rock concert.
  • Nothing teaches you humility like trying to learn all the ins and outs of life in North Yorkshire. Most of the locals have been happy to explain everything to me from how FIFA works, to how a football team makes the world cup, to why people care so much about football in the first place, to what on earth a “brolly” is (Hint: it’s an umbrella). Sometimes you can pick up on cultural nuances via context clues, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s fine! Plucking up the courage to ask what may be a pretty obvious question is an exercise in humility that everyone needs eventually. And it opens up an opportunity for locals to demonstrate kindness and patience towards you. Which, more often than not, they are happy to do.
  • England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Should you choose to go abroad anywhere in the UK, don’t underestimate the differences in these dialects and the cultural differences they bring. You’ll inevitably slip up at some point and say something embarrassing. It’s alright. It’ll happen. But the key to managing a new culture (even one that may not seem that different than home), is always listening. Go and spend time with just local people for awhile (as in actively seek out local company rather than just hanging out with other international students. You already know how to relate to Americans, it’s not going to challenge you to relate to them in another country) and just listen to the conversation before jumping in. English folks have very different methods of making friends than Americans, and you can really only learn this on the job.
A very British Christmas: Love Actually, wine, and Christmas crackers!
  • A political discussion is going to eventually come up. At some point, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will criticize something about America. You may or may not agree with said criticism. Whatever your opinion, wait before jumping to defend your home country. Probe a little. Ask more questions. Figure out what is influencing this person to think the way that they do. Then add your own opinion to the mix. Not only does this make for a more fruitful exchange, it sends a more positive message about Americans in general-that they’re politically aware and willing to try to see issues on a global scale, rather than just a countrywide one. And do keep in mind that every country in the world has serious issues and has made serious mistakes. Admitting to and expressing shame or sorrow over mistakes our nation has made doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It makes you honest.
Exploring the northern reaches of Britain in Edinburgh.
  • And finally, on a lighter note, give yourself permission to be silly. Everyone’s got a goofy side, and it often gives others permission to unleash their goofiness when they see yours. Even if (in my case) that means screeching your way through a karaoke rendition of the Time Warp. People will wonder how many drinks it took for you to pull off that entire dance and all the spoken bits (the answer, surprisingly, as zero. The karaoke bar in question was really expensive). But then they’ll quit wondering and dance the Time Warp with you in the haze of the fake smoke machine and leave breathless and grinning. And it’s moments like those, in addition to the more serious ones, where international bridges are built and some special friendships are formed, when people don’t feel the need to choose between silliness and seriousness. Both are integral parts of being human, I think.

It’s been a fantastic first term. For those of you heading back to the States for good, don’t let your experience fade. Write about it and preserve it. For those of you staying abroad for the whole year-we’re just getting started. Let’s make it count.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Look Up

So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re  going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:

(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)

….than days like this:

(sunny and positively enchanting).

What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.

This particular stretch of road is home to several horses. They like to sit near the gates and wait for friendly people to come by and pet them and feed them.

The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.

And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.

In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.

York, for example, loves skeletons and ghost stories.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.

How to Survive Your First Week Abroad

Greetings fellow Pios!

I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:

Where’s Heathcliff?

And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:

Seaside sunrises are something else.

As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.

Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad. 

  • In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
  • Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
  • Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
  • See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.
Exploring Cambridge, England with a fellow international student from Germany!
  • Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.

Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger

I just want to know where the trash bags are. I promise.

The view of the Ouse river running through central York on a sunny day.

York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.

I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.

Bad assumption.

The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.

So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.

  • Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
  • Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.

And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger

Doing scary things on purpose

The University of York is surrounded by city walls that will make for excellent walks during the day.

The realization that I’ll be going to study abroad at the University of York in England for an entire year come mid-September still hasn’t quite sunk in. Most of my prep work is done, but every now and then the gravity of an exchange year starts to hit me.

There are a couple of questions that have been running through my head regarding this whole thing, and I thought I’d answer myself here.

Aren’t you scared to go abroad for a whole year?

Of course I am. I’m equal parts terrified and jumping-up-and-down excited about the whole thing. I love to travel and would like to believe I do so quite well, but Colorado is my home and it will be very hard to only spend about six weeks in my home over the next year.

Won’t you miss your friends? Will they even be your friends when you get back?

Being who I am-a person who loves fiercely, hates rejection, and has lost several very close friends over the years-this is a real worry for me. But like always, the logical and emotional parts of my brain are messy housemates. Emotional me is crying that I’ll have an amazing time abroad and then come back with no friends. Logical me is remembering that one of my dearest friends from high school lives a couple of thousand miles away from me and yet he’s still my best friend. We don’t get to talk to each other near as often as we would like, but when you have a friendship as genuine and as sweet as that, it’s not easily broken. And I think I can say the same for my friends here at DU. We won’t get to talk nearly as often as we do now living together and seeing each other every day. But they are special enough to me that I won’t just drop them, and I know they won’t do that to me either.

You’ll be doing an awful lot of travelling alone. Doesn’t that scare you?

It absolutely does! But after spending a few weeks way outside my comfort zone in southern Kenya, I learned that big risks pay off  massive dividends. The payoff doesn’t negate any of the rough parts in the middle-loneliness, getting sick, missing home, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake in a particularly dark moment. I felt all of those things in Kenya. But it was and remains a trip I hold close to my heart. And I’m ready for the bits where I travel alone. I won’t be completely alone, as I’ll be meeting up with friends in pretty much every place that I go to.  Taking intentional time alone and journaling and actually going and doing things (museums, hikes, that sort of thing) by myself help me to grow content with my own company and to get to know my own head. Those are vitally important, as again, I’m the one who has to live with that stuff on a daily basis.

The bottom line is that come fall, I will be embarking on a crazy scary year. But I’m doing it on purpose. Doing scary stuff on purpose is pretty good for you, I think. Keeps a girl on her toes.

-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger

Jacquelyn’s blog: York, England

Jacquelyn is studying at the University of York, sharing some of her adventures with us, and gaining come confidence while doing so.

Nerd moment at the National Railway Station!
Nerd moment at the National Railway Station!

“Today, I traveled for the first time someplace completely on my own, without friends or family or even a guide telling me what to do. This was one of the scariest things possible for me because I have realized I seem to always depend on someone else being there to suffer with me if I do mess up. Well I proved to myself that I don’t need to depend on other people because I can do everything on my own or figure things out.”

medievaltomodern.wordpress.com

 

I just fell in love with my host city.

Emily declared her love for York today, and then she proceeded to count the ways…

“…There are shetland ponies wandering around the hidden tangled fields on the outskirts of town, and little old ladies throw apples for them out of their shopping baskets. The streets have names like Swinegate, and High and Low Petergate, and Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. There is a store called Joy, hidden somewhere where I haven’t been able to find it yet. There are ancient, lurching bookshops everywhere. Hagrid may pop out of the shadows at any given moment….”

=)  Enjoy every moment, Emily!