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After the return

Time August 31st, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Home

Summer away

Return to SU

So I waited extra long to write this because I didn’t feel like I had a transition back to home. The day after my flight back from Costa Rica, I left early in the morning for my REU at Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography (much to my parents’ dismay). So my transition period with my family and at home did not really take place and sort of felt delayed since I was once again moving to a new place for a few months.  However, every time I’ve been home over the past eight months, I’ve noticed more dramatic differences than even after spending weeks at school without coming home.

 

Now, on the second day of classes and after two weeks and a half weeks back on campus (due to Residence Life training), I am starting to really see changes and differences. There are physical changes to campus that are new to me. Yet, whenever I point out some of these changes, someone will remark that that particular thing has been this way for months. Then there are other changes that are actually new to them else well because they happened this summer. In addition, faculty and staff changes took place last semester that I did not find out about until I returned to campus, so I had/have a bit of new information to digest.

 

At the same time, it feels like this is my first time taking classes since last fall, before I went abroad. I took challenging classes abroad, yet somehow they almost feel like they don’t count here (even though they all will transfer). I’ve only noticed a few things so far but in my friend group, there are things that happened last semester that I don’t understand the reference to since I wasn’t here. Yet, whenever someone asks me how my semester abroad was, I always have to pause because there is too much to say, but not enough time to say it. I always find myself saying something like “Good” because it’s impossible to describe months of a cross cultural experience in a sentence or two.

 

And I realize that in a way, this is just the beginning of the transition back. I have learned that when it comes to experiences like studying abroad, I am almost unable to fully appreciate the experience until I have put enough time and distance between it so I can reflect. This means that I will probably realize more and more things as this new semester back home continues.

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Preparing to return home

Time June 6th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Mixed Feelings  

Looking forward 

Experiences 

I can’t believe that in less than two days, my semester abroad will be over and I’ll be headed back to the United States. At this point, there are things that I miss about the U.S. and I am looking forward to go back, but on the other hand, there are also things that I do not miss. Likewise, there are lots of things that I will miss about Costa Rica (food, host family, etc..) but there are also other things that I am ready to leave behind.  

I’m in the middle of my finals week and past the worst part. I’ve been ready to be done with classes for a while, especially after seeing friends from home finishing the semester a month ago. I am also ready to start my REU (like an internship for science students) that I have been figuring out the logistics of since mid-March. However, this means that I will be home for less than 24 hours before I leave (I live in South Central Pennsylvania and my REU is in Rhode Island), which means that I have barely any time to spend with my family and pets.   

I’ve had so many experiences abroad that I don’t even know where to begin to articulate them to family and friends. And you can only understand some of them if you were here to experience them for yourself. Throughout, I’ve gotten more comfortable with public transportation, which barely exists at home, and is one thing that I will miss but will be difficult to convey to my family since if we want to go somewhere at home, we just drive there ourselves. While it’s more convenient, it is also so nice to know that if you do a bit a research, you can get to just about anywhere in Costa Rica by bus. I’m also much more comfortable with Spanish after spending a little more than four months here. 

 In sum, I will miss Costa Rica and hope that I can come back in the not so distant future. I will miss my host family and friends. 

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Advice to other First Generation College students

Time May 26th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Ask someone when you’re unsure about something:

When I’m not sure about something, I usually just take some time and try to figure it out myself. Looking back, I wish I had been more proactive initially in seeking out answers to my questions, but at the same, everything is very overwhelming initially and it’s okay to take a step back from everything to ground yourself.

Read More »

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Family 2

Time May 9th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Before… 

Pets.. 

Health scares 

Regrets? 

I’ve already written one entry reflecting on how my family is doing without me and how I am doing without all of my family and friends. I’ve had to deal with a number of things that have happened at home. 

Shortly before I left the United States, my grandfather faced a few health scares. By the time I left, everything had almost past, aside from some minor things. I knew there was a possibility that it could get worse while I was abroad, but I also knew that going abroad would not change any outcome. 

Then, almost a month and a half ago, my family had to put one of our dogs to sleep. It was very sudden and everything happened in a few days. What made this more surprising is that our oldest dog is clearly showing his age and we all knew it was possible that I may not see him again, but our other dog is a little bit younger, but he always acts like a puppy so you would never know that he was ten years old. I even remember telling him that I didn’t have to worry about him because it seemed like he was in perfect health. Of course, I feel guilty about saying this, but there is no way I or anyone else could have known what was going to happen. 

A few weeks before that, my dad broke his ankle and leg, and would be out of work for weeks. For me, the biggest impact this had was related to money, since my dad is the main bread winner in our family by a mile and it’s not like we are rich or very comfortable to begin with. Now, today (Mother’s Day in the U.S.), my mom called me because something else happened and my dad has been in critical condition all day and at this point, there is still a lot of uncertainty. It is harder to deal with since I am abroad, especially since a lot of people at SU have finished the semester and have been able to go home. 

I think that all of this is plenty of reason to regret going abroad…..but I don’t. Even though I lot has happened and is still happening, there is not much I could have done if I was home. More than likely, all of this would have still happened because stuff just happens in life. Don’t get me wrong, it is harder being abroad and being about from all of my friends and family but right now, I’m just reminding myself that stuff like this happens in life and often under the worst of circumstances (not that there is a best of circumstances).

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Daily Living

Time May 2nd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Weekdays 

Weekends 

Buses 

Daily life here in Costa Rica, at least for me, is not necessarily all that different or much more exciting than daily life in the U.S. The major difference is since my workload is a lot lighter here, I have a lot more free time.  Read More »

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Adjusting to a new educational landscape

Time April 15th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Different systems 

Less work 

Difficulties 

I thought it would be appropriate to write about the different educational landscape after taking my first round of exams for a number of reasons. First, it gives me enough time to adjust (kind of) to the different system, and secondly, it gives me a bit of time to reflect on the system as well.  Read More »

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Fellow Study Abroad Students

Time March 28th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Most Common Profile 

Fellow Students 

My Background 

Adjustments 

The most common profile in study abroad is students from “elite colleges, white, female, major in arts/humanities, and have highly educated parents.”  Let’s see how that compares to me. I am from a small liberal arts school (does that count as elite?), I am white (check), male (nope), I have majors in biology (nope) and Spanish (check), and both of my parents completed high school but never went to college so they would not be considered highly educated.   Read More »

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Semana Santa

Time March 28th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Tortuguero 

Puerto Viejo 

Beach 

Other exchange students 

This past week was Semana Santa, so in other words, it was spring break for us. Everyone in our program (there are 14 IFSA students in Costa Rica for the semester and two more that are in their second semester here) had travel plans. A few people went to places alone, one group traveled outside of Costa Rica, and I went with a group to Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo. There were six of us total, and the initial trip to Tortuguero lasted half a day.   Read More »

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One Month

Time March 1st, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

One month down

Cultural differences

Language barrier

On Friday, my first month in Costa Rica ended and marked the beginning of my second month here. Over the course of this month, I have noticed a lot of differences between Costa Rican culture and U.S. culture, although there are probably more that I have not noticed because I have not thought about them. Personal space and your personal bubble do not exist in the way they do in the U.S. It is common to hug and kiss people on the cheek as a sign of greeting and farewell, which as someone who likes their personal bubble, is taking a bit of time to get used to. It is very common for men to catcall, whistle, honk their horns, and stare at women walking, although every time that I have seen it, that’s all it was. It makes me think that instead of men just lacking in all forms of self control, it is more of a cultural norm to do it and it would be out of place for men not to do it. Although, it still makes my female friends from the U.S. very uncomfortable for obvious reasons. Rules of the road really just seem like suggestions and it seems that drivers make up their own rules as they go, including motorcycles and scooters that always pass cars, buses, trucks, SUVs, etc… when they shouldn’t. Most classes at the university are only once a week and there is a lot less busy work and a lot more group work. It is acceptable for people to show up late for classes and events (tico time), however, it does not apply to my science classes.

By far, my biggest struggle has been the language barrier. Looking back at a month ago, I can tell that there has been at least a subtle increase in my proficiency with Spanish. I try to listen and follow my professors, my parents, and other people that I encounter, but at times I can’t understand what they are saying, although my listening skills are still a lot better than my speaking skills. I try to talk as much as possible but my problems are when I don’t a word I need and cannot get around (although today I had a conversation about my opinion genetic modification with classmates for fun and it went really well) and if I don’t have anything to say, I usually don’t say anything. To mediate this, I’ve tried to force myself to talk more with mixed success. But I have learned that even if I understand 95% of what everyone says, the only way my speaking will improve is if I speak as much as I possibly can, knowing that I will make a lot of mistakes in the beginning.

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Goals

Time February 22nd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Schedule 

Senior year 

Grad School 

Job 

The main topic of this post is my professional goals, but before I get to that, I want to address short term goals, and how my study abroad experience is affecting them. If anyone is reading this and is considering going abroad but is waiting for the best time, stop it. There will never be a perfect time to go abroad.  

When I was trying to decide when I would go abroad, I wanted to pick a semester would not dramatically impact affect my biology major and a semester where I would have taken enough Spanish classes to feel ready. And from the beginning I decided to wait until my Junior Year. Fast forward to now and there are more biology classes offered this semester than last semester, and I don’t think an extra semester of Spanish has made much of a difference in my speaking capabilities. There are other things at Susquehanna that I am missing this semester. 

BUT going abroad will always throw a wrench in your schedule. It’s impossible to choose a perfect time, because you will miss something (a class, an event, a holiday, etc…). But don’t let that discourage you from going abroad because the experience will be worth it. Just keep in mind what you are gaining outweighs any scheduling conflicts.  

My shortest term goals after this semester ends is having a successful Senior Year, since all of my goals after college depend on this. This includes successfully completely my biology major and Senior Research, my Spanish capstone, finishing my minors, and being a successful Senior Community Assistant. The only one I am not worried about at all is my Spanish capstone, since this study abroad will drastically improve my command of the language. I am taking courses here that will transfer for my biology major, which is a big scheduling relief. I think in general, this experience is improving, and will continue to improve, my problem solving skills since I am basically learning how to live in a different country more or less on my own. 

And now finally my long term(ish) goals. Science students are underrepresented in study abroad programs because it is harder to accommodate our busier schedules (see rant above), courses that we need are usually harder to come by abroad, etc… So that puts me in a second groups of students that are underrepresented in study abroad programs, which will be very useful when I start applying to graduate schools for marine biology/biological oceanography. Also, in one of my courses here, we have trips to biological reserves, which even though they are terrestrial, will still help. And knowing a second language is useful in basically every field, especially if I would have to travel somewhere for research and Spanish is widely spoken (i.e. a large portion of Latin America). Even though my science classes are a bit more difficult right now since I don’t know all of the terminology in Spanish, it will be worth it in the end and will be better than only taking central curriculum courses here (which I don’t need anyway). 

All of this is also true when I’m ready to finally start applying for jobs (probably at a government agency or a university). There’s probably more ways that this experience will benefit me vocationally then I realize now. 

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Family 1

Time February 8th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Family

Dogs 

Friends 

Girlfriend 

Today marks the 13th day that I’ve been in Costa Rica (including the night I arrived at the airport). I’m adjusting to my second and permanent host family and to Heredia, and classes don’t start until tomorrow. Now that I’m here and mostly settled in, I have tried to make sure I contact friends and family in the U.S. on a regular, but not too frequent basis. 

Aside from my first weekend here where I called home three days in a row (not everyone was available to talk at once) I’ve only texted my parents and my sister a few times or vice versa. The first time we Skyped (I did not have internet for a few days so it was not right away), our dogs were confused since they could hear me (an maybe see me) but I was not there. I miss all of the dogs, especially our new puppy, Vader, since he won’t be small the next time I see him. The same is true for my family, but if I were not studying abroad, I would still be away from them since I’d be at college, and I usually don’t come home until breaks. So currently, this doesn’t feel that different from a regular semester at Susquehanna, for me and them. 

The same is also true for friends at home, however, not for friends at college. One of my closest friends is also studying abroad, so I would not see her even if I were at Susquehanna, but it is a bit odd not seeing my other friends. I have texted a few of them to see how their semester is going, but not too frequently. I think that at this point, this still does not feel like it will last until June, so it has not sunk in for me that I probably won’t see a lot of them until August.  

Undoubtedly, the adjustment is hardest for my girlfriend. During the semester, we spend to most time with each other, so it’s difficult for both of us to not see each other, including over long breaks. While the adjustment is difficult for my parents too, they have grown accustomed to not seeing me for a few weeks at a time. This is different for both of us. We’ve talked frequently through texting, but I am going to try to restrict calling/Skyping to a maximum of once a week (I’m going to try to do the same with my family). Since I’m still dealing with a completely new environment, it is currently harder for her, but as I grow accustomed to my routine and classes here or confront new difficult challenges, I could see it becoming more difficult for me too. 

With all of that being said, I’m going to do my best to not focus on what I’m missing from the U.S. all of the time so I can focus on what I can experience here.

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Before

Time January 19th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Dad: Money  

Mom: Host family, packing enough, and safety  

Me: all of the above and traveling outside the U.S., social norms, language barrier, academic environment, courses, people, and anything and everything that I forgot to mention.  

Above, I have listed my parents’ and my own anxieties and fears about leaving the United States for the coming semester. I can still hardly believe that I am already a junior in college and I am about to begin this incredible yet also terrifying experience in one week. The entire process, from applying to study abroad through Susquehanna’s GO Office and through IFSA-Butler to everything I have done since to prepare myself for this semester abroad is entirely new to me and my family.   

The same is true when I was applying to colleges, scholarships, and getting ready to leave for college. Since neither of my parents and my older brother went to college, I did not have any help from my family during my college application process, unlike some of my old high school friends. I never really thought about it during the process. Ever since late middle school and throughout all of high school, I was very academically independent. So when it came to applying to colleges, nothing change. I had a bit of help from my high school guidance counselor, but otherwise, I did everything on my own.   

Preparing to leave for college, however, was a slightly different case. Not only did I have to pack material items, but I tried to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for an experience that I really did not know much about. I did not grow up with stories of my parents’ college experiences. Sure, I had older high school friends that went to college, but I never stayed in touch enough to hear about a full college experience. Many people say that college was the best four years of their lives, but aside from stereotypical representations of college, I did not know what I was in for.   

The same is true about studying abroad. All of my peers who have done it have said it was one of the best, if not the best, experience of their lives.  Sure, I have also heard stories, but for the most part, I do not know a lot about what I am in for. It’s true that Susquehanna’s Pre-departure class and IFSA-Butler have given me a lot of advice on what to do to prepare myself for this experience, but there are still so many things that I probably don’t even know I will encounter. And I realize that is one point of the experience, but it does not bring comfort to someone who likes to plan out different aspects of their life every few months.  

All of the information-packed documents and packets that I’ve received from IFSA-Butler have been extremely helpful in quelling many of my anxieties, but I still have many more. And again, I know the point is that I will have to figure things out for myself, at this moment in time, it is still unnerving. On the contrary, six months from now, I bet I will feel just the opposite.  

Oh, have I forgotten to mention the questions? Oh the questions. Like me, my parents want to know what I am in for to comfort their own nerves, but like preparing for college, I simply cannot answer most of them or I can only answer them just after I find an answer to my own question that I posed.   

So a week from leaving, I’ve started packing (keep IFSA-Butler’s packing list handy), and have most of my official documents in order. I get more anxious every day, but I know that what I am about to embark on will be an amazing experience. 

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