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Pictures!

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

I promised you some more pictures, so by golly you’re getting some more pictures!

Here is me canoeing in Wales on the IFSA-Butler adventure weekend (when IFSA-Butler takes all its students someplace cool for a weekend).

canoeing-in-wales

It was a beautiful, beautiful morning, and the sun was just coming up over the mountains, and the tops were all misty looking. The water in the lake was so clear, you could see to the bottom in places. Just gorgeous, like from a fairytale.

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Reflection in Retrospect

Time April 4th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Hey there! Well, I’ve been back home from my study abroad trip for a few months now, and I was looking back over my blog, and I was thinking I’d like to reflect back on my experiences, now that some time has past.

First of all, I want to say that my whole experience was absolutely AMAZING. I mean, just wonderful in every way – everything I dreamed it would be and more. I feel like that doesn’t often happen in life. When we hope and dream about something for a long time, it’s easy to end up disappointed. I’m not going to say that my experience didn’t have its ups and downs, but… all in all, it was just so, so wonderful.

So what exactly made it so great?

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Preparing to Go Home

Time February 22nd, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Wow. Preparing to go home is crazy. For one, it’s coming up on the end of term, so you have all the last minute work from school. You also have to make sure that you collect all your things, if you’ve lent anyone anything, or left things at a friend’s house. Along with all that, you have to check your travel arrangements, make sure you have your travel papers, and everything arranged for getting home as well.

I think the most that I changed was in what I appreciate about home. There are a lot of things that are amazing about England and that I will miss, but at the same time, there are a lot things and conveniences of home that I really missed. What I most look forward to is my CAR. I want my car soooo bad. I am so ready to be able to move independently and not have to rely on public transportation.

I think the hardest thing for me, was having to say good bye to all my new friends. I made some really good friends when I was abroad and it was hard to say good bye to them for what is going to at least be a very long time. Not only that, but I know I will miss England in a way similar to how I missed home when I first got there.

Overall, it is such an amazing place. I love the history that is around every corner. Not only is it historic, but that history and tradition is cherished and preserved. I loved England, and I think one of my new bucket list items is to go back again. After spending 4 months there, there is still so much to see.

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Home Again

Time February 22nd, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The first thing that happened when I saw my family is lots of hugs, and a few tears. Coming home wasn’t as hard for me, because my parents actually came over to England a couple weeks before I came home so we could have a family vacation. I cried when I saw my boyfriend too.

It was so very nice to be able to DRIVE. I love my car so much and I realize how much I consider it a part of my independence. My friends who didn’t go were jealous and asked me lots of questions. It was a lot like when I got to England and they all asked me questions about guns and politics. And the pictures. Oh my gosh, the demands for pictures were crazy. Everyone wanted to see the pictures from my time over there. I actually think that school over here requires more effort for me, because there are several assignments, plus tests, and reading.

England was so amazing, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to spend a significant length of time there. I learned so much and I made some really good friends in the process. Studying abroad will definitely always remain a memorable highlight of my schooling experience. Everything that made me who I am, from being a first generation university student to my incredible family, helped me to have the courage to explore outside my comfort zone in another country. I will always be grateful to the programs and people who helped me be able to participate in such an amazing program and an amazing experience.

But it’s still really good to be home.

 

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A-broad Spectrum of Variables

Time January 25th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars, Mexico | 1 Comment by

A lot of variables go into choosing the right study abroad program for you. Here are some things you should think about before studying abroad. Some things might seem obvious but taking a minute to think about them might effect the type of experience you will have.

 

Scholarships & Cost: Abroad Funding

The thing that students have to think about the most when considering study abroad is the money.

  1. I would choose a place in the world that people don’t normally visit and with a great exchange rate. There is more funding to go to places that are less typical for study abroad students. These countries tend to be in the developing world. These countries also make living expenses very affordable.
  2. Choose a program that most closely reflects your goals, your major or academic interests, or your professional goals. It easier and more authentic to write scholarship essays over these topics than to say that you just really want to run with the bulls in Spain – can I have money please?

Side note – more on finding your authentic voice: I found ways to weaved my personal story into my scholarships essays to make a convincing argument about why I choose the abroad program that I did. I’m a double major in International Relations and Sociology with a minor in Latin American Studies. The United States relationship with Mexico is extremely important in terms of the economy, trade and national security. Growing up in Texas, bordering northern Mexico makes the country and cultural connections 10X more relevant to my life. I’m Mexican American – that makes Mexico, cultural, linguistically and historically 100X more significant to my life. Understanding all of these things help me cultivate my own narrative of linguistic identity that was taken from my family through generations of assimilation. I studied in Mexico to regain a sense of cultural identity that has been white-washed from the collective memory of many Mexican-American families through ethnic oppression. Not only that, the region is of important significance to my field of study in international relations and diplomacy given the amount of trade openness we have advocated and migration patterns. Finally, in the future I hope to be a leader with great cross-cultural competence able to live and work abroad in my professional future. All of these reasons helped me tell a story about who I am and why my abroad program was important to my life. Try looking for these connections in your life, in your coursework and in how study abroad helps your future goals.

  1. Search and research scholarships. I found out about a lot of the scholarships I applied for through my study abroad advising office and at study abroad fairs. Talking to my study abroad advisor on what the application and selection process is like and how I can seem more competitive really made a difference in my essay writing. Search high and low for a lot of scholarships and research their organizations goals for funding the scholarship. This makes it easier to cultivate an essay that fits their vision and your own. Reframe these essays in your mind. You are writing to convince a panel of people you have never met to INVEST in your brainpower and potential.
  2. Budget. Get a budget sheet. Keep an excel document current of what money you have from scholarships, loans and from personal savings. Don’t get carried away by the excellent exchange rate and forget you want to eat more than Ramen Noodles when you get back to the U.S.

 

Language: English-only, full linguistic immersion or mixed?

I would recommend full foreign language immersion programs. Many students worry that they will not being able to handle it but that is exactly what pushes you out of your comfort zone. It’s a great feeling to start out the underdog in a language and see what great results you will have after so many months living abroad. Also, since IFSA programs are with other US students, you will most likely have the opportunity to speak English with them on group trips.

 

Program size: 50 or 7 students?

Summer 2015 I went on a Maymester trip through UT-Austin to Beijing, China. This program was led and taught by two UT professors and graduate students. In order to make the month in China cost-effective, there were 50+ students and faculty that went on the trip. It was an amazing experience and I got a fantastic chance to bond and meet more people from my alma mater. However, there were various challenges that arise when traveling in a large homogenous group of Americans. One of these challenges was not getting enough time or space to practice Chinese. Very few of us studied Chinese, but there was always a friend in the group who spoke better than all of us and would feel the need order dinner for everyone. It was easy to rely on him, but that didn’t leave enough time or spaces for you to practice your own Chinese. Also traveling through the Beijing subway system in a large crowd is VERY DIFFICULT.

It was very interesting comparing my Maymester in China to that of my fall semester in Merida. The Mexico program had a total of 7 students from all over the U.S. (although two were from Los Angeles and two were from Washington, D.C. – I’m seeing some need for better recruitment efforts in others parts of the nation). The small group made things more intimate – for better or worse. It was difficult to avoid people you didn’t get along with in such a small program.

 

Housing: Second Mom vs. Roommate

In Beijing, we stayed in double-occupancy dorms. It was a lot of fun and convenient to always be near someone you knew and trusted. Coming home after going out was always easier since everyone lived in the same place and there was a lot of time for bonding.

However, that program was very insular to UT students. If your goal is to learn another language – well – the best option is to live in a home stay. Ask for the most talkative host mom who loves to cook. Ask her about your opinions, stories, what growing up was like, when she got married, etc. Your host family is a wealth of knowledge. Every chat over coffee in the morning or at night is a learning experience. I left Merida with a very heavy heart when I had to leave, my host mom, Mama Rebeca. Besides my program director and a few friends, my main reason to return to Merida, would be for her. Learning about her insights and knowledge through our conversations, not only made me better at Spanish, they gave me a relationship that I will cherish forever.

 

Anxiety

I had a headache and cried after the first day of class. I didn’t know anything any of my professors were saying. Classes were two hours long each. Imagine not knowing anything that is going on for two hours. Then go to another class for two hours and not know anything there either. That was four whole hours of feeling like a total dummy and lost. However, this experience was important for me. It broke down an identity I had been building for myself all my life as the “intelligent-good-student”. I would be willing to bet it’s in 60% of all university students. We have been taught to base our self-value on the numerical evaluations you get from professors and the nods of parental approval. When your main source of validation is in this form, it’s like a shock to the system when you suddenly feel so lost in a space that you once excelled. That is a shock that not everyone can handle. I thought about my old college roommate who suffered from anxiety a lot during this trip. I wondered if she could handle the mental stress associated with being totally lost in another language or country. I would not suggest that you let it hold you back. Let me repeat. I would not suggest that your stress levels or anxiety hold you back from studying abroad. Just know you might need to mentally prepare a little more.

 

-M3

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Bittersweet Homecoming

Time January 11th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

Bittersweet. That’s the word that describes coming home after an amazing semester abroad. Yes, at times I wanted to snuggle with my pets, had cravings for Chick-fil-a, and had twinges of jealousy when I saw pictures of friends at home, but the closer my departure date came, the more I wished I could stay a little longer. While abroad I recognized I was in a unique situation, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Being so far out of my comfort zone was (not surprisingly) uncomfortable at first. Trying new things is an unavoidable part of spending a semester in a foreign country. I gave a shot at driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating with real, paper maps (gasp!), planning/booking my own trips, and even tasting octopus for the first time. My semester abroad expanded my comfort zone to make the uncomfortable situations not only comfortable, but something I grew to crave. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted to be in terrifyingly difficult situations, but I enjoyed pushing myself to see just what I was made of.

As a history major, I signed up for two history classes and an art history class for fun. Specifically, I took a history course on Medieval Europe, a history of art from 1700-1900 course, and an American history course. I laughed, too, when I was placed into the latter and thought, “oh great, this will be boring, why couldn’t I have gotten into something else?”. But I gave it a chance and the American history class ended up being my favorite class, in part because it offered a new perspective on a subject I’ve been hearing about since I first heard about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. The lesson I took out of my academic experience is to give everything a chance, and to cherish learning. For the first time in my college experience I got to learn for the sake of learning, not because a course was required or I had to make a perfect grade. This allowed me to really appreciate the opportunities given to me to study at the university level and at such a renowned institution.

Coming home where everything is familiar really was a culture shock when I realized that though everything stayed exactly the same, I had changed. The change isn’t obvious on the outside; I didn’t join a clan and start wearing their tartan pattern or go on a haggis, neeps, and tatties-only diet, but it’s obvious to me on the inside. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned: the independence, the ability to push myself, and learning to appreciate the moment, and use the aspects of myself that have changed to benefit myself in my next endeavors and in the way I approach my day-to-day life.

Returning after a semester of incredible travels, memories, and lessons is an adjustment. But Scotland and my semester abroad gave me an unbelievable experience and for that, I am forever grateful.

 

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Final thoughts, reflections, and restaurant reccomendations

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

So I arrived back in the United States yesterday and it has been in so many ways surprisingly natural. I haven’t completely sorted out all of my feelings, I mostly feel the tentative sigh of finishing finals and the relief at being in a certain way back in my element, but sadness prickles when I think of not being able to go back to Havana, or that perhaps it will be in so many ways unrecognizable when I do. It’s a lot to process but I’ll leave you with a final word about some of my favorite paladares. (I had so many photos saved for an eventual post about where I ate but unfortunately my phone was stolen right before I left and along with it all of the pictures.)

In honor of my semester and all of the wonderful times I spent eating, drinking, and talking I leave to readers and future IFSA student this list of places to fill your belly and kill your appetite.

 

Cafe Punto G

Price: Between 15 and 60 moneda nacional (Splurging only sets you back 2 bucks max)

Location: On Linea between G and H down a wide driveway behind a language school. The spot if well marked and a chalkboard sign boasting snippets of the menu diverts walkers form the sidewalk into the cozy garden haven.

What to order: Any of their thick and delicious milkshakes, the flavors of which change daily and range from a sublimley smooth almond flavor to the creamy cousin of eggnog known as mantecado. Aside from heavenly shakes, G Spot is addictive for their fresh ground burger with all the fixings, (tomato, lettuce, ketchup, and grilled onion), on a panini pressed bun, a lo cubano. Other favorites include the tiny savory pies that sit on the counter, full of a uniquely seasoned and richly flavorful combination of eggplant and parmesan.The guava juice is pulpy and phenomenal, a perfect substitute for the shake should you find yourself avoiding dairy, or in my case, short on Lactaid.

* It is important to note that there is also a restaurant called Punto G, they are not at all affiliated so should you be lost and looking for this G Spot, remember to specify that is is the cafe you want, and not the restaurant.

Cafe Toscana

Price: Plates between 25 and 95 moneda nacional (1 to 4 dollars/CUC)

Location: On J between 21st and 23rd. This is a front patio converted into a small and casual cafe frequented by tourists, hipsters, and the cuban novela actress from time to time (okay only once did I run into a famous person here but she was so nice and normal I wouldn’t have even realized if my cuban friend had not pointed her out.)

What to order: Go for the carbonara (35 MN) and a fresh yogurt with a scoop of raw sugar to sip on while you wait. The owner is Italian and this is the best bowl of pasta in the city, fancy paladares included.

Casa Sayu – adjudicate between obispo an date nest street

Price: between 8 and 50 moneda nacional (40 cents to 2 dollars/CUC)

Location: Havana Vieja- Calle Aguacate between Obispo and I can’t remember what, if you’re coming up Obispo from Parque Central its down to the right.

What to order: Casa Sayu is the only Japanese restaurant I have ever come across in Havana and it is delicious. From bento boxes to sushi to perfect savory crepes this place is dirt cheap and totally satisfies the craving for something different from the usual cuban fare. Everything I have ordered there has been delicious, in the time I was there Sayu expanded form window service to an adorable and clean dining room. The owner also runs a casa particular, and while I can’t vouch for the accomodations themselves because I’ve never been, the location is prime and you would be upstairs from endless savory crepes.

Almendrares– between 23rd and the university

Price: individual cakes and pastries go between 8 and 25 moneda nacional and full size cakes range from 5 CUC and up.

Location: J between 24th and 25

What to order: The individual cakes are delicious and a great snack after morning classes. My favorite is the neon yellow Cardenalillo, the bottom layer is soaked in simple syrup, the top is fluffy and s swirl of chunky sugary merengue sits on top while a thin layer of the same binds the two thick tiers of cake together. When I was running early for class, (a truly rare occasion), I would treat myself to the guava pastelitos, palm sized puff pastries that ooze butter and teh eventual dense lump of guava paste when you hit the center. I like to eat them layer by layer top down with an ice cold can of Naranja soda.

The creamy cornet and satisfying Moca cakes are also favorites and for a party their BonBon cake is a moist melange of chocolate and merengue fluff topped with pink frosting roses that serves serves six.

Doña Laura

Price: 25 moneda nacional for a lunch plates, add ons from 5 to 10 moneda nacional

Location: I between 21 and 23, The cozy spot is home to quite a few immaculately clean birdcages so look for a finch or two perched in a cage hanging from the doorway or branch in front of the semi outdoors cafe.

What to order: Doña Laura has a rotating menu of lunch plates all of which include rice, beans, a small salad of lettuce and green beans, and a slice of boniato. My favorite is the ropa vieja with a thick slice of avocado on the side. The drinks also vary day by day but if you’re lucky they’ll have Guanabana yogurt, served cool in thick green glasses, it tastes how skittles would if they grew from the ground and were nourished by sun and water and then blended into tangy fresh cow yogurt. No sugar needed.

On days when I was less hungry I went for the tamal en cazuela (think a thick corn soup, bazically a tamal unwrapped and cooked down. Other side dishes include a plate of steaming yucca topped with garlic mojito and bacon bits or chicharrones depending on the day’s menu.

Doña Laura is also a greta place to stop for a vegetarian meal as alongside meat dishes they often have tortillas, (fluffy cheese-less omelettes), with all the same sides. The tamal en cazuela does not contain meat and with a hearty chunk of avocado its a perfect lunch in itself.

Mama Iné

Price: 1- 7 CUC

Location: Calle L between 15 and 17

What to order: This little cafe is popular with tourists and foreigners and for the food they offer the prices are quite high. However, the ambience is unbeatable and it is one of the few places in Havana where it feels normal to sit and hang for hours or study with a laptop. Stick to the delicious crepes with nutella, (2 CUC), the frapuccinos, and salty and hearty tapas such as the chicken croquetas, olives, and cheese. The burgers here are frozen and highly mediocre and will set you back 3 CUC, for the same price you can get a huge fresh beef burger at Cafe Punto G and a milkshake, so stick to snacks and coffee drinks and enjoy the sounds of Beck and Florence and the Machine while you rework your essay for the millionth time.

Casa Balear

Price: 10 mn (50 cents!)

Location: The corner of G and 23rd

What to order: MOJITOS, MOJITOS, MOJITOS! Though this bar offers snacks, the real reason to come is the 5o cent mojitos served ice cold and full of gritty sugar. Seating is a breezy upstairs porch in this butter yellow colonial gem, Casa Balear is the place to be if you want to shoot the breeze foe hours after lunch or on a Friday night when the malecon is too chilly and you’re looking for  a relaxing alternative to a nightclub. When you can’t handle a drop more of rum, switch to their sangria (also 50 cents a cup) and slurp up citrus pulp and the occasional ant or two along with the mound of sugar that sits at the bottom of your glass.

 

 

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Know Your Resources

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, LGBTQ Correspondents, Scotland | No Comments by

Hey there, reader! This final post is coming to you from California, where I’ve been adjusting back to home life for about a week. I can’t really say that I’ve experienced extreme reverse culture shock yet, like I was warned about, but I have a feeling I’ll get a bigger taste of it when I adjust back to US college life. So far the holiday season has been me being giddy over holding US currency, inhaling burritos (which California does so well), and being bummed about my home town’s lackluster Christmas markets that can’t even begin to compete with those in Europe.

I’m also reintegrating myself into suburban life, after having lived in the heart of a city with a population of around 600,000 people and a drastically different demographic than that of both small-town Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area. I know it will definitely be strange going back to school in a town with 55,000 people, half of which are students. As liberal as many college campuses can be, it’s only to a certain extent when over half of the students are from small town neighborhoods in Oregon. And after being in Glasgow, one of the most LGBTQ+ supportive universities out there, normal life might have a hard time competing. This is not to bash my home school- Oregon State University has an amazing network of resources and people, but I’ve learned that so much more can be done on a university campus to demonstrate solidarity and provide educational opportunities. Granted, there might be a higher demand for educational opportunities about global LGBTQ+ issues at a school like the University of Glasgow but it doesn’t mean that those opportunities should be 100% denied at smaller schools.

What I’m talking about here are the events I had attended that were hosted/endorsed by Glasgow Uni’s LGBTQ+ society. They hosted a lawyer from Kenya to talk about discrimination in Africa, organized a group to attend the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, organized Reclaim the Night to protest sexual assault, and way more. While I understand that their large presence could be attributed to their location at the heart of a city like Glasgow, it just showed what kind of things are available to an organization with bigger numbers and more visibility. Because Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland, it’s kind of a beacon in the Scottish LGBTQ+ culture, and presents a lot of opportunities for global education and participation as well.

That being said, with marriage equality being attained in so many western cultures in recent years and the future, it is not the be all end all for LGBTQ+ rights. It’s a fight that the US is gaining ground on and the UK as well, and with the battle for marriage equality out of the way for them they can focus on other things like passing non-discrimination policies, educating trans doctors, and getting all gender expressions recognized in daily language. Scotland (Glasgow in particular), is definitely doing their part in working for these issues on a domestic and a global scale. So many organizations in the UK exist to do research, provide policy recommendations, support networks, and educational events to continue to keep LGBTQ+ issues relevant in their society. These include:

Their efforts combined with their easy accessibility make for a pretty prominent presence in Scotland. That being said, it doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and rainbows over there- there is still so much work to be done in terms of equality. But I think that the actions they are taking set them in a safer direction for the queer community.

If you’re queer and looking for a welcoming place to spend a term or two, I wholeheartedly recommend Glasgow- or even Edinburgh if you must (the rivalry is real)! Knowing what you have available to you when you are abroad might be the most important aspect in terms of safety and making your new place a little smaller. So I really hope that this blog helped you feel comfortable with your choice or point you in the right direction in making one. The time I spent in Glasgow was all too short but still gave me so much perspective on not just a new queer community but a new culture all together. Though it still doesn’t feel real, I can definitely say Glasgow will feel like home the next time I return.

Cheers,

Gina

 

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notes from the middle

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Things in Havana have been slow, I’ve been going to school, panicking about misunderstanding instructions and deadlines, actually misunderstanding instructions and deadlines, and doing a lot of thinking. 

It has cooled off enough that I can fall asleep easily with the window cracked and the air conditioner turned off, this also means that I can sit in my room and do more of my thinking. Not having constant access to wifi or the Internet in general (no data) makes me actually sit with questions rather than immediately googling any and everything. I walk around, I talk to people, I ask them if they know the answers instead of quietly trying to find them myself and surprisingly, this method works. I almost always learn something new and it comes in the context of all the people answering me. Initially I was frustrated but once the knee jerk reaction to look everything up online died down I realized its kind of nice to not have the aggressive correctness and exactness of solitary facts and to know things in their place and time and with nuance. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about time here and how so many people I spoke to before I left the states, both for this trip and my short visit to Havana last spring, talked about Cuba as a time machine and Havana as a magical city frozen in its colonial architecture and 1950’s cars. And it bothered me, the idea that old things held a country firmly in place, in disconnect. And the more time I spend here the more evident it is to my how untrue a conception it is that Cuba, Havana especially, is frozen in time. 

Everything feels so present and normal and alive, colonial buildings house paladares serving cans of Malta and Ciego Montero cola and trips in old cars are standout when they don’t have new sound systems playing the latest hits from farruko or Gente de Zona. 

It’s 2015 in every way with social manifestations of politics only kinder than those one would find in an American city. 

But at the same time things do move differently, there are few TV channels and no expectation of Internet and so I find myself wondering if this is what summertime felt like when my mom was a kid, my languid downtime reminding me of the 70’s in the way I know it from episodes of Freaks and Geeks, there’s almost always enough time.

As wonderful as everything is I have been homesick, I miss my creature comforts- I miss processed food and affordable soy milk (8 bucks a carton is not happening, though soy yogurt is cheap and ubiquitous). I miss my dog and feeling at least mostly sure of where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. 

me milking a buffalo!

 

  a baby buffalo says hello at dawn

Audacity, tenacity, intelligence- core values of Camilo Cienfuegos are remembered in Yaguajay at the site of Batista’s barracks during the revolutionary battle of 1958. A museum to Cienfuegos stands at the site today.

 

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Being Latina on study abroad

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

I think that traveling as a Latina from the United States brings up certain questions of identity for me. In most countries I’ve visited, the people that I have met have not readily accepted that I was American upon first meeting me, and the look of surprise of expression of confusion as to why I don’t have blue eyes or blonde hair was something that I’ve come to expect with being abroad. However in Cuba my visibility and invisibility as non-Cuban and further more as an American are intertwined with my own feelings of Americanness or lack thereof. Physically I have been told by countless Cubans that I could pass for Cuban, which makes perfect sense given the similar colonial histories of Puerto Rico and the United States, but I am rarely mistaken for a Cuban person. More than any other place I have been the people I have encountered who have asked about my nationality have completely accepted that I am American and don’t look different from how an American “should” look. However people do often follow with the question “pero tienes descendencia latina?” (Do you have Latino ancestry?) to which I reply of course and explain that I am Puerto Rican but raised in the United States. Most people are pleasantly excited and quote the poet Teresa de Tio to me and if they don’t I jump in with the line about Puerto Rico and Cuba being two wings of the same bird and overall it’s often pleasant. Other exchange students have asked me if i ever get mistaken for Cuban and I don’t know truly what people think of me when I walk down the street or in passing but every now and then a Cuban person will ask me a question about something in Havana and then in my reply will realize that I’m merely a tourist. What has been even more surprising than being readily accepted as American is that people will outright ask me if I’m Puerto Rican. I’m always astounded and excited and perhaps its always a lucky guess for the other person but it’s certainly not what j expected nor an experience I’ve had anywhere else while traveling.In regards to my self conceptualizer ion while here- Being on “study abroad” in Cuba is deeply personal for me in that it feels important to me to be in the land so much like that of my ancestors that has fought and survived imperialism tirelessly and astoundingly successfully. When I walk around here and see billboards proclaiming the now idioms of Jose Martí I feel an ache for what could have been, of Puerto Rico, of the United States and Mexico and the countless lands colonized and ravaged by Spain and the United States. And I feel very private and distant from the other American students I encounter here when it comes to those feelings. Sometimes it’s like being this open wound hopelessly misplaced and unbandaged, I don’t feel Cuban, I feel hopelessly American here in a way that terrifies me, this isn’t a semester of beach and sun and a lowered drinking age for me, or of travel to a forbidden historical gem. It’s a lot of fear and disappointment and soul searching, being an American Latina in Latina America can be lonely, and more so in the structured role of an American university’s study abroad program. What does it mean when the heart cannot be decolonized?

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Wrapping it up

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, Chile, College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

I, of course, always knew this journey would come to an end. I tried, however, to ignore this reality and not really give it much thought. This worked fairly well, allowing me to spend my time not worrying about the end but rather truly enjoying the time that remained. When the end actually came, however, it hit hard. There’s nothing quite like ending a period in your life, a period in which you really can’t go back to. There’s always the knowledge that someday I will make it back to Chile, but it truly will never be the same. The people will be different, there would be no university, and I would be visiting the country instead of living in it. This realization was difficult to deal with, yet inevitable and just a fact of life. I am incredibly grateful for my experiences in Chile and all of the people I got to meet and spend an amount of time with that will forever be insufficient. I have many things to look forward to, and I hope I can integrate aspects of my experience abroad and what I learned in Chile into my daily life. Although I have left Chile, Chile hasn’t left me.

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Blarney Castle and Ending Thoughts on my Semester

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

My friends and I decided to end our semesters in Ireland with one of the most quintessential activities of Ireland — visiting Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. Below you can see some photos of the castle and grounds, including some beautiful waterfalls.

But this post isn’t just about another adventure I had. Looking back, I realize how little time I’d spent wondering about how my semester abroad would be spent. I chose Galway because of its beauty, but it ended up being so much more than that. Galway became my home base during a three month European adventure, and I definitely couldn’t have chosen a better one. No matter where I was jet-setting off to, by the end of the weekend I was excited to board the bus headed west and see the friendly faces of Galway. Additionally, my semester abroad pushed me to be more independent, something that will become essential in my life as I graduate college and go off into the “real world”. Not only was I really living on my own in a new country, but I was also planning trips and travelling internationally by myself. My semester abroad prepared me for what is in store in just a year and a half, when I leave the JHU bubble and have only myself to count on.

For any future IFSA Galwegians (Galway-ers?), here is my final list of unexpected/weird things about Ireland.

*Note: I’m sure there are more things

  1. It is almost impossible to find normal potato chips. The standard flavor is “Cheese and Onion” (not a personal favorite, but not the worst thing I’ve ever tried)
    1. Note: another common flavor is “prawn”, or shrimp flavored chips
    2. Note 2: it is also nearly impossible to find pretzels in Ireland. This was especially upsetting to me, a self-identifying pretzel addict)
  2. I can’t speak for the rest of Ireland, but at least in Galway, pedestrians do not have the right of way. This is especially important when crossing the major roads nearby when grocery shopping.
  3. The Irish (and much of the rest of Europe) find American politics hilarious, and often make jokes about it during lectures.
  4. While the national language is Irish (note: not ‘Gaelic’ as Americans call it), only a minute percentage of the population actually speaks fluent Irish, let alone those who use it as their primary language. This is odd on its own, however it is stranger even that almost all official signs (e.g. street signs, billboards) are in Irish with an English translation.
  5. While holding up two fingers with the palm facing out is a symbol for peace, flipping your hand so that the palm points in means the same thing as putting up your middle finger. For short: there are no “deuces” in Ireland, so be wary.
  6. Times of day that are 30 minutes past the hour are referred to as “half”, for example “Breakfast is at half nine” or “We arrived at half three.”
  7. While we refer to the school subject as “math”, they make it plural, for example “I study maths at university”.
  8. The last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zed”. I found this especially funny while listening to Irish friends sing the alphabet song, as it doesn’t complete the rhyme of the song.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my semester abroad. Personally, I’m excited to get back home to my family and friends to have a nice winter break before heading back to school. Happy holidays and have a happy New Year!

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A Final Reflection

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Although I have been back in the States for a week now, I just got home to North Carolina yesterday. After traveling the world, the country and dragging my gigantic suitcase up the stairs, it is a relief to be home. London was such a great place to live for the past three months, but I really did miss my family and friends so it is good to be back here for the warmest Christmas of my life (seriously it is almost 80 degrees today).

When I left for London, I had no expectations. Admittedly it was a city I never dreamed of visiting or adding to my bucket list. However, at the end of this experience I can honestly say I fell in love with the city and will miss it very much. I learned a lot of things about myself, and how I interact with the world, things I did not expect to learn that will without a doubt shape how I approach the rest of my life.

Last year at this time I was just beginning the process of applying to study abroad and finally attend the dance conservatoire that I wanted to since seventh grade. Now that I have been there though, I realize I learned much more from living in a city and being forced to find inspiration in the world around me rather than just my peers and teachers. London provided an abundance of inspirations that I will now look for wherever I live. As I return to my home university I am going to do my best to look beyond my own campus and go to the arts centers, coffee shops, historical sites, etc. nearby because those are the things I will value as a move forward with my personal and creative life.

Thank you all for following me along this journey and thank you to IFSA-Butler for providing a great group of people to support us students in London.

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A Photo Resumen

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

 

Flowers from the Backyard of Hemingway’s house

Leah and I smiling with the flowers in spite of the heat

Me with a puppy we found by the beach and taught how to swim

 

The Unites States Embassy on a cloudy day

A selfie from the Plaza de Armas book fair

Old Havana from one of the topless busses that runs through the city.

The IFSA students on the university steps

Mural on the wall of the Arts and Letters building

Classroom poster referencing the Cuban 5

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A Retroactive October post..

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Thank you all for bearing with me and the ups and downs of my wi-fi connection in Havana. A few of my blog posts never quite made it but I think they serve to illustrate my experience even arriving a little late. Below is a post I made in October but was not able to upload!

Hey everyone! October has been so wonderful and warm, it hardly feels like October at all. The fact that Halloween is coming up feels so entirely unreal to me- like I know that most of the states is covered in spooky decor but that couldn’t feel more far away from my reality. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still and when I get home I will still have all of fall and winter ahead of me.

Today a few friends and I went to Micayito beach to relax and scope it out. We had heard from word of mouth that it is a gay friendly beach and a lot of fun. What we found was a narrow shore against a tall rooty sandbank. It wasn’t too busy and after only walking for a short while we found a huge cluster of beach chairs, umbrellas, and chaises on a crowded and plant-less chunk of the sand bank. Between all of the people a huge rainbow flag was beating in the wind, which was a surprise since I rarely see rainbow flags here and while its association with the gay community exists in theory, in practice it is almost never used as a marker or identifier of people or spaces. Unsurprisingly the beach was mostly populated by gay men, very few children, and very few women.
We found a soft spot on the sand near and emptier stretch of the sandbank and sunned. Swimming wasn’t too great because the wind and waves were a little brutal and impossible to relax in. A few people talked to us, on was a lesbian only a year younger than us who quickly wanted to know our sexual orientations and who stuck by us most of the afternoon.
Overall it was really interesting to see the beach but I also suspect that this isn’t  the busiest time of the year to go, (a friend did say that the first  official day of summer is amazing and packed with people of all sexual orientations from all over Havana to enjoy the weather, music, and drag shows.)
I am curious to see what Halloween night will look like in Havana, our resident director has mentioned that there were costume parties when she was a student and that the Cubans in her classes were so excited to see how dressed up all of the Americans got.
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Learning Experience

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Scotland | No Comments by

It seems like just yesterday I was getting on the plane to come to Edinburgh. Due to rainy weather in Chicago, I had to take completely new flights and didn’t make it to the group flight. I was nervous that everyone would make friends and that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the airports. My semester abroad has had its share of nerve-wracking moments and times when I was unsure if I could handle the pressures. But one of the things I’ve learned while being abroad is that I can deal with the curve balls thrown at me, and I succeeded at surviving on my own this semester.

One of the skills I’ve picked up while abroad is the ability to adapt. I came to a new city knowing no one. I couldn’t tell you which way was North or South and couldn’t understand the Scottish accent. But with all things, you learn to adjust and I picked up the accent, found great friends, and can now confidently tell you which way the sea is, where Edinburgh is in relation to other Scottish cities, and even where the best restaurants are around town.

Another skill I’ve learned is to always be prepared. In Scotland it rains. A lot. So always be prepared and carry an umbrella. The same thing goes for having a backup plan. You never know what problems might come up and it’s always good to have a plan in place for the moments you can’t predict.

I have learned to appreciate and enjoy the little moments. Sometimes the best moments I’ve had while abroad are the ones where I stop and look around to take it all in. I recently had this moment as I was walking back from class and stumbled upon the Edinburgh Christmas Market. I stopped and got a cup of cider and walked around the tents thinking to myself how happy I was to be in the moment and to have the experience of a lifetime in Scotland.

I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from studying abroad is independence. I’ve mentioned that I have navigated trips by myself, figured out new cities, and adapted to new things. Through all my various experiences abroad I have not to be afraid to do things on my own, and I know that I will succeed if I put my mind to something. Furthermore, I know that not only am I able to do things on my own, I have grown to enjoy doing things on my own.

Adapting, being prepared, appreciating the small things, and valuing independence are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned abroad. These lessons were helpful in molding my study abroad experience and I know that will serve me well in the future.

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Back in the USA

Time December 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I finally landed back in the states yesterday, and it was definitely a surreal experience, but not as shocking or weird as I thought it might be. It definitely is good to be back home, enjoying the holiday season with my family and friends, but I already miss Perú and the incredible people I have met there. The scenery and climate is definitely different, it is far colder and less humid here and I have traded in the incredible landscapes of Perú for the tranquil, familiar cornfields of the Midwest. It’s been a little hard to adjust to not having incredibly fresh seafood available and everything being more expensive, but it still feels good to be home.

 

Definitely the oddest sensation so far has been hearing English spoken all around me as the primary language, I noticed it first in the airport and the feeling has only gotten more pronounced the longer I have been back. I keep doing a double-take whenever I see a sign written only in English and then remember, “oh yeah, I’m back in the states.”

 

Although it was definitely great to see all my friends, and I was fortunate that almost everyone got back into town from school on the same day as me so we were all able to get together, it was still incredibly strange relating my experiences to people that had not been in a Latin American country for the past four and a half months and I soon tired of trying to explain things in detail. It felt very bizarre to be sitting in my friend’s living room doing the same thing we’ve been doing since high school, almost as if I had not been out of the country for nearly half a year. Though I definitely was looking forward to being back and relaxing in the calm of the heartland for a couple weeks, it felt kind of boring that I was not about to go to a peña (traditional Peruvian folk music bar), or a salsa bar, or a trip deep into the Amazon. What can I say; now that I am back in the tranquil Midwest I am even starting to miss the chaos that is the traffic, noise, and bustle of Lima.

 

I have been trying to listen to more music in Spanish and continue reading Latin American literature in order to maintain my language abilities, and luckily I have been able to encourage many of my friends to start practicing Spanish again and we will hopefully be conversing as much in Spanish as in English during my time back in the states.

 

It’s still so crazy to me that I am already back and that nearly five months has elapsed since I landed in Perú, I learned so much it what seemed like an incredibly short time. I am so thankful to have had this incredibly experience and have learned so much. I can’t wait to return to Perú soon and see all of the wonderful friends I made there again.

 

 

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Pre-Departure

Time December 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

As the past semester came to a close the one thing that kept me sprinting through the finish line was the place in which I will be for my next semester, México here I come! After finishing up my major and minor, going through the laborious steps of applying for graduate school, preparing all forms necessary for study abroad, and all in one semester, I was ready for a break. I officially completed my last few courses at my home University and will be spending the last semester of my undergraduate education in the lovely city of Merida, México, only to return two days before I graduate. Talk about cutting it close, right? To say I’m elated would be an understatement.

We bought a large suitcase on cyber Monday, seeing as I did not own anything sizable to hold the necessities, and I have been slowly gathering what I will need over the course of the next four months. I am not experiencing any nerves, just sheer excitement for the impending adventure! I remember when my family “dropped me off” at college for the first time (I live only 20 minutes away from my University, so it wasn’t a huge distance from the family) but it was a liberating feeling I had never previously experienced. Before it was the day to move in my mom kept saying, “You can’t go. You’re just gonna have to stay here.” Sure enough, those comments have resurfaced, though with higher frequency than before, most likely due to the fact I’ll be in another country and not as accessible as 20 minutes down the road. I merely shrug it off and know that she loves me and deep down is supportive of my journey. I can’t wait to step off the plane and let the thick, warm air send my hair flying as I begin my adventure in the south of México.

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The Steam Fair

Time December 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | 1 Comment by

It’s reading week, which means I have no classes. I have so few class hours per week anyway (only 8.5) that sometimes I feel like I basically never go to school at all. I’ll go on that tirade some other day, but anyway, I’m currently sitting around all week with nothing to do except write my essays.

Or not write my essays.

Hey, suddenly I find I feel like updating my blog! Huh! Fancy that!

Ok, ok, ok, just one more post, and THEN I’ll write my essays.

So one day, some of my friends from church invited me to the Stream Fair. Or at least, I thought that’s what they said. It was going to be some kind of carnival. I like carnivals, so I figured I’d pop by.

But it turned out it was actually a STEAM Fair. Ok, that still didn’t mean anything to me. Unless it’s like, steam-powered or something. Ha ha.

No wait, it’s actually steam-powered!

Yeah, a steam-powered carnival!

WOAH.

It’s called Carter’s Steam Fair, and it’s a traveling collection of beautiful old vintage carnival rides. Their crown jewel is this wonderful steam-powered merry-go-round (or “galloper”) from 1895.

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And yes, it is complete with a beautiful steam engine, and a big jet of steam flows constantly out of the top.

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I don’t usually ride carnival rides, but I couldn’t resist. It was amazing and so beautiful, and I was so happy on it!

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My American flatmate Sarah came with me and kindly took that picture. Sarah is secretly a hummingbird and vibrates at 200 cycles per second. Or something like that, because every single picture I took of her is blurry. Case in point:

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We had a wonderful time just walking around the fair and looking at all the beautiful, beautiful old machines. Every square of inch of every ride was cared for, and the art nouveau paint jobs were just so lovely. I’m just going to keep saying “love” and “lovely” and “beautiful” because that’s what this place was. It makes me happy even now, just thinking that it exists somewhere in the world.

Here’s a mirror show tent:

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A little car merry go round (not steam-powered):

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Here’s another ride that had a column of steam rising out of it. It’s big, multi-person swings. Even the bottoms of the swings were painted, and you could see the picture when each swing was up.

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And here’s a beautiful 1950s ice cream van. Sarah recognized it from the news. Indeed, Mick Jagger once offered the owner £100,000 for it, but the owner said he couldn’t bear to part with it.

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A last look at the glowing fair as we left:

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Favorites – A final tour of London

Time December 15th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

I am spending my last week in London as a tourist. Tourist is a word a use very broadly in this sense because I am not in the group of people I see so often on bus tours around the Southbank, but I am touring the city in my own way. On my tour, the focus is not on the sites but rather the city that I have grown to love over the past three months. This means revisiting my favorite restaurants, parks, coffee shops, and taking the time to pause amidst the hustle and bustle to create a lasting memory.

After talking with a friend here this evening, we both realized it has been awhile since we stopped and really observed our surroundings. In a new place it is very easy to get caught up in the adjustment period, but even when we became comfortable here and began to call London home, we did not stop. In London, like any other big city, you have to keep up – rush to catch the tube, make it to class, and even make it to Tesco before it closes early on Sunday night. However, without school pressing on my mind this week, it was time to remember the little details of my favorite places in London, and finally look around.

My favorite restaurant is one not far from where I live called Churchill Arms. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of London that you would never run into unless you took sometime off the main street. Unlike the more common beauty of Victorian and gothic architecture around the city, the Churchill Arms is striking because it is covered from top to bottom with flowers. Imagine if you will a flower market that took root over the walls of a building and, if you know where to look, has crept its roots and vines in through the ceiling of a gorgeous dining room. Upon entering it seems like a classic English Pub, but hidden in the back half underneath hundreds of hanging plants and candlelight is a really good Thai restaurant.

My favorite market is one I was shown by a good friend I met at school here called Camden Market. Camden Locks specifically is the place I like to return to as it overlooks the water and has delicious food. The locks are at the heart of the market accessible by bridge through two huge weeping willow trees. I went there for the first time in early fall when the leaves were just starting to turn golden, but more recently I went back and got to actually see the locks in action. Although the reflection in the water creates a beautiful backdrop for the wonderful street food you can buy in the courtyard there, the locks themselves are still functioning which, to a girl who grew up on the water, is really exciting. Though very narrow, the hand operated locks can be cranked open to allow the water level to rush in and change for small houseboats to move up and down that portion of the river.

My favorite coffee shop is one that is very close to where I went to school and one of the places I will missed the most called The Waiting Room. Located just off of Deptford High Street, a short walk through the Friday market will lead you to a cozy escape with plush chairs, a book exchange, and the best latté in London. The shop itself is quite small and can only hold about a dozen people at a time, but it has been one of my favorite places to visit on a Friday afternoon to journal or meet up with friends. The wooden interior mixed with the collage like décor found in many art studios makes it the perfect place to find inspiration even on the rainiest days. This is also where I was introduced to the Flat White – London’s bitter, stronger answer to the latté.

My favorite park where I spent so much time earlier this semester is called Kensington – yes Kensington Gardens which so happened to be less than a ten minute walk from my home here. It is one of the many natural treasures inside of the city itself and a much-needed place to go for quite on the weekends. Especially in the fall it was beautiful to walk through the yellow, maple leaves lining the grass and sit bellow a large chestnut to read or sketch for a couple of hours. Unless you are someone drawn to gardens this is not often a part of the city people come to London to see, but to me the green spaces are what make this city so unique. Almost every neighborhood has a square and every borough has a huge park or garden, all filled with locals anytime the sun comes out.

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Last Day in Peru

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Peru | No Comments by

I just got back into Lima after a 9 day long final trip to the cities of Cajamarca, Chachapoyas, and my favourite Peruvian city: Chiclayo. Since this was my last voyage here until I return, which will hopefully be very soon, I tried to squeeze in as much as I could, and though all of these cities are close by bus according to Peruvian standards (which means it takes about twelve hours to get to each one from the other) each represents a different and important part of Perú: Cajamarca is in the sierra and is called “the Cuzco of the North” by some, Chachapoyas is considered part of the Amazon (though really it is on the border between the sierra and the selva), and Chiclayo of course represents the fantastic heritage of the northern coast.

Allow me to sing the praises of Chiclayo for a minute. This city is often skipped over by foreigners and gringos both European and American, which to me definitely adds a little to it’s appeal. It feels very authentic, and since foreign tourists are rare you will be granted an incredibly warm welcome. Further, Chiclayo is known as “La Capital de la Amistad” (Capital of Friendship), and this name is definitely expressed and deserved by the residents of this city, the fourth-largest in Perú. The food in Chiclayo is fabulous, highlights include arroz con pato (rice with duck), cabrito seco (a delicious goat dish), and of course ceviche, especially the variety with conchas negras, which are rumoured to have aphrodisiac effects. The area around Chiclayo contains a myriad of sites from the Moche and Lambayeque cultures, two of the most fascinating pre-Columbian civilisations in my opinion, and as there have not been nearly as much archaeological investigations there as in other parts of Perú new discoveries are constantly being made. I love Chiclayo and would love to share the wonders of this incredible city and its surrounding areas with anyone else who is interested. I know a couple very good guides and feel I am pretty familiar with the area, that said, if you are going to be in Perú and plan on travelling north shoot me an email at will.bacha@gmail.com, I would be happy to help you plan your trip.

I had a great time on this trip, and saw many things I didn’t think I was going to be able to see, including the famous cloud forest fortress of Kuelap outside of Chachapoyas, the abandoned colonial town of Zaña outside Chiclayo, and the archeological and geological wonders of Cumbemayo outside of Cajamarca. Chiclayo was the only place I had visited before, but as I had made friends with a guide during my previous stay there I was able to have some truly unique experiences, including a private tour of Zaña and the Huaca of Collud at sunset and a healing ceremony with a shaman on the edge of the sacred Cerro La Raya in Túcume, where the Peruvian Valley of the Pyramids is located. It was a fantastic trip and a great way to finish my study abroad experience here.

Now that I am back in Lima, I feel very weird to be honest. It’s especially strange that I will only be in the city I have lived in for the past five months more or less for about twelve hours before I return back to the United States for a couple of weeks and travel to study abroad in Spain. I really don’t know how I will feel tomorrow once I arrive home, but you will definitely find out in my final blog post that will be arriving tomorrow (or maybe the next day depending on how tired I am after my flight and what my family has planned for me when I get home).

 

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Reverse Culture Shock

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

On my most recent adventure in Bariloche, I talked quite a bit with the other people staying in our hostel. And like many interactions between travelers, it’s easy to find yourselves swapping experiences, going on about how traveling changes you, how your friends and family react to your experiences once you come home. In the moment, I didn’t realize how valuable those conversations would be as I transitioned to living back in the states. But now that I’ve been back for over a week now, I couldn’t be more grateful for those pep-talks.

My expectations before I left to study abroad were relatively far off, nervous for things that turned out to be a breeze, (remember when I was afraid that most people in my program would be Spanish-speaking pros? Yeah, we were all mostly in the same boat) and completely unaware of what would turn out to be the considerable difficulties, like sometimes feeling alone in a city of 3 million people.

Coming home has been a similar process of feeling simultaneously comfortable and frustrated. I feared that I would return home and everything would suddenly be invalidated; that my life in Argentina would be separate from my life in the U.S. and the links between those lives would suddenly dwindle like the silk of a spider web brushed away by a hostile hand. And to a certain extent that’s true. Luckily, those conversations in Bariloche prepared me for that. I’m fresh out of my experience and want to share everything I saw, heard, ate, smelled, did, lived for the past 5 months of my life, and quite frankly, not everyone is as eager to listen as I would have thought. But, thankfully, my brother was also studying abroad this semester in Chile, and we were able to go on and on about our experiences to one another, comparing everything from our goodbyes with our host families to the items we brought back from our respective countries. That has helped the transition immensely.

It is sometimes frustrating to be incapable of capturing the essence of Buenos Aires and Argentina when faced with reductive, generalizing questions like “Are they religious?” or “How was the meat?” These questions don’t even scratch the surface of the complex, chaotic, marvelous, rich culture of my new home. But when I’m asked an open-ended question like “What are you going to miss the most?” or “Do you have any good stories?” the wheels in my head start turning and I’m instantly transported back. Suddenly I’m walking back on Sante Fe, I can smell the strong smell of fish from the shop on the corner of my block, hear the classic 152 bus that I took so many times roaring past, see the carnations poking out of the flower stands on the street. I realize now that my experience can never be invalidated because it is mine. And no one can change that.

I’m incredibly grateful to live in a beautiful part of the world, with the ocean minutes away from my house. And I definitely soaked in all of that beauty as soon as I returned home, going for little hikes and long walks on the beach. But I missed being out of my comfort zone, challenged to expand my vocabulary and improve my grammar every single day, exploring new parts of the city and country, overwhelmed with constant newness. At home, everything is familiar. Everything. So I decided that it’s best not to stay home for too long. After all, “the core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.” I decided to head down to Florida, partially to escape the winter in New York, mostly to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who always cook up some great adventures. I’ve gone through beekeeping 101 (complete with ridiculous bee suit), gone searching for chameleons, and learned a bit about the art of brewing beer.

There are of course a number of cultural adjustments that will take some time to get used to. Take punctuality for example. I went on a group hike with my parents the day after I got back, and it was scheduled to start at 10 am. At 10:01, I kid you not, the leader of the hike hadn’t arrived yet, and the concern and panic that the group articulated was almost laughable. We’re not in Argentina anymore, I thought to myself. And the men. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do not miss being cat called in the street, but I didn’t realize how accustomed I’d become to the type of chivalry (I suppose that’s the best word for it) I’d experienced in Argentina. Even if I were getting on a bus with a group and I didn’t know the direction to tell the bus driver, the guys would always let me and the other girls get on first. I would rarely walk into a room behind a male. Now, here in the states, whenever a man walks in front of me to go through a door, it just feels strange, almost rude. And this is coming from someone who considers herself a feminist! There are plenty of other “reverse cultural shocks.” Produce sections at grocery stores are so abundant to the point of absurdity. You actually pick up your pizza here, instead of cutting it with a knife and fork. I am now a minor again, and cannot even buy a bottle of wine from the liquor store, nonetheless a beer at 8 am if I wanted to. I find myself trying to throw in Spanish phrases in my everyday speech (things like ya fue and poco a poco come to my mind before any English equivalent now), catching myself before I sound like a strange, pretentious fool.

So, where do I go from here? I keep learning, keep watching movies and TV in Spanish, keep growing, keep pushing myself outside of my comfort zone (that’s where I’ve ironically become most comfortable) and keep gaining Life Profit.

 

Besos,

Andrea

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No Place Like Sydney, But No Place Like Home

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Australia, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well folks, I have been home for a few weeks now, and man oh man am I experiencing reverse culture shock. I think the first week and a half back flew by in a whirlwind. It almost felt surreal that just like that I was back on the other side of the world. Back to reality. The main culprit of this surreal feeling has been my extreme jetlag. After flying about 22 hours, my circadian rhythm is still confused and has a vendetta against me. Most of my nights have been spent wide awake trying to sleep and my days are a montage of failed attempts at staying awake. However, I can say that it is gradually getting better.

Coming home was so bittersweet. It has been amazing to come home reuniting with family and friends right around this time of Thanksgiving. My days have been filled with catching up with friends and family and giving my dogs extra love! However, on the other hand I can’t stop comparing everything at home with Sydney. When speaking with friends I feel like I have become that person whose every sentence begins with “When I was in Sydney…” or “That reminds me of Australia’s…” A lot of my friends seem to be quite interested in my experiences for now, so I can get away with this for a bit.

I think the toughest part of being home has been all the idle time. I’m not in classes, not working yet, and the organizations I volunteer for are on a break for the holidays. That leaves me with a lot of time on my hands and little to do. In addition, besides the fact that I’m usually up in the middle of the night while everyone else is asleep, I also came home while most of my friends are in the middle of finals period, so it takes a bit of effort to find times to hang out with my university friends. I know I should just enjoy the opportunity to relax, but I’m an extrovert! Being around people keeps me energized! I’ve kept myself busy with lots of little activities one of which is my Sydney memory wall.

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It’s all a big transition that can mostly be held to a case of reverse culture shock. And I am a bit in the rut of the process, but I am finally beginning to acclimate myself to being back home. I can appreciate my friends, family, and the beautiful fall trees. I often find myself appreciating little things and quirks about my town I never noticed before. Oz was amazing, but of course there is no place like home.

So that’s all folks! Thanks for journeying with me through my Aussie adventures. I’ll leave you with my top 3 tips for studying abroad in Australia and a link to a video that sums up my time living down under.

Dalyla’s top 3 tips:

  1. Get to know people beyond those on the program with you!
  2. Really put an effort to try new things, go to new places, and learn new ways
  3. Trying vegemite is required.

Video Link: My Aussie Experience

Wish you all the best

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Home Sweet Home

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, First Generation Scholars, New Zealand | No Comments by

Despite being home for nearly a month now, it still feels strange some mornings to wake up in my own bed and not have to walk up a huge hill to class just to grab a flat white after and hang out with Megan. However, coming home was a joy–after so much traveling to get here–to be able to see my loved ones. It almost feels like I was never away from home, except for of course the addition of experiences and stories to my repertoire.

It’s especially weird being at home while everyone else is still in school stressing about finals. It’s kind of nice though to be able to get used to being back in the states. A lot of my friends are still abroad in Europe actually, so I’m appreciative to have the time with my family preparing for the holidays. With the warm weather here in North Carolina, it’s hard enough to get into the Christmas spirit. Seeing some of my friends still on campus makes me particularly grateful for the opportunities I embraced this last semester. Although I love Wake, I would never trade the past four months for any number of days in Winston-Salem with some of my best friends. The two are literally worlds apart, and I’m so glad to be able to have lived both fully.

I almost feel a little bit lost coming back home with no classes, no job, and no plans in the South Pacific. I have classes registered for next semester, but that’s about it.  Right now, I’m trying to focus on transitioning back into life at Wake Forest, as well as enjoying my family and friends during the holidays. It’s bizarre how being in New Zealand was a monumental experience in my life, and now it’s already over and gone. Nonetheless, I have the memories of a lifetime, a greater perspective, and an increasing desire to continue enjoying the world around me–as well as encouraging my fellow students to do the same.

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And she’s back

Time December 14th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Argentina, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’ve been back almost a week now and it is crazy to believe that it’s over. Although I am back home and it feels as if I never left, I am missing the city I came to enjoy so much, the city of Buenos Aires. I am constantly reminded of things from the city and it seems like every minute I am excitedly reaching over to let the nearest person know, “oh, back in Buenos Aires they did this”…or “oh back when I was away I’d always do that”. I made sure to bring home parts of Buenos Aires to share with my family and friends like the classic dulce de leche, alfajores y chimichurri sauce, and of course lots of pictures and stories.

As I reflect on my experience I remember the excitement and anxiousness I had before leaving. How was I going to handle being off in a country who spoke a language I was just barely beginning to grasp? How would I navigate the city I thought seemed so big and scary? Would my host family be warm and welcoming? Would I make friends?

Sure enough, although I may have struggled with finding which colectivo to take, or how to order my books for class, I eventually found my way. I made friends, was comfortable and at home at my host stay and learned to live like a porteño. I was able to travel outside the city and visit Iguazu and Puerto Madryn. I saw a few tango shows and other theater performances. I went to a reggae concert and a percussion concert. I visited many museums and historical sites and famous restaurants. All that I could have hoped to do during my time abroad.

But as great as it is to tell my family and friends of all the fun and unique things about my experience, it is hard, and would be a lie, to explain my trip with a simple “it was great”. Because sometimes it wasn’t great. I dealt with a great deal of street harassment due to my gender and skin color. As a black woman I did not go one single day with out having at least 2 or more men cat call me, or someone stare at me. I was warned before embarking on this trip that I might face these things as a woman of color because “there are no blacks in Argentina”. However, through investigation I found out that this was false. Although many in the city do not believe and may not have ever seen blacks or indigenous peoples, they do exist. I saw them, met them, and engaged with them. And I even wrote my research paper on the history of blacks or afro-argentines in the country and the explicit and implicit tactics in which the Argentine society attempted to silence and erase their presence. And even after writing and presenting this paper, I was still questioned about the validity of my findings, even by professors. It was only until I showed photos of this silenced and hidden community that I was believed, and with great shock.

My identity as black woman greatly shapes my experience abroad, and I cannot separate the things I face abroad from my identity. The majority of students that travel abroad do not happen to be students of color for a variety of factors, which often makes it challenging for those who do go. Traveling abroad is a most amazing experience that grows you, shapes you and challenges you. I have always planned to travel all over and even live abroad. But with this I know that I will face many challenges, wherever I go because of the history, around the world, of oppression and discrimination to marginalized groups, although different in each place. However this will not stop me, it actually motivates me to go abroad to study and learn and research to gain a better and deeper understanding of history, culture and my place in the world. I encourage all to study abroad, but I especially encourage students of color to travel abroad and even more women of color to study abroad. It may come with challenges, and discrimination (which are hard to face, especially if alone), but in my opinion I believe that makes you all the more stronger and wiser.

So when people ask me “how was your trip abroad”, I say it was interesting, it was challenging, it was hard at times, but it was worth it.

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