Wow, everything happened so fast! One day I was in Mexico and the next I was walking across the stage for my graduation in North Carolina. I had one day between my return date and my graduation, so in that one day I had to do all the preparations for my graduation. Rushing to get everything done, I barely had time to let it sink in that I wasn’t in Mexico anymore. I guess it was good for the initial return to have something to focus on, so as not to dwell on the fact I just left so many incredible friends behind in Mexico. My family was waiting for me at the airport and embraced me with strong hugs as if they never would let me go again, in the physical sense and the metaphorical if ever I wanted to leave the country again. It was good to see them again, and they helped me run around preparing for my graduation. Now that that’s all over and I am officially on summer break, all the memories from last semester come creeping back. Everyone wants to know about my semester and the more I tell these stories, the more I want to go back. Luckily I do still have contact with my friends, I can Whatsapp them from my US number, I had to tell them to change my contact number beforehand though. Now I sometimes just sit in my room, thinking about all that I did while abroad, and it’s hard to think that I will merely have to continue on and do my Master’s this year. It will be the completion of my studies, so afterward I could potentially return to live in Mexico for two years, but having to go back to how things used to be is so hard when you’re thinking about swimming with sea turtles and visiting tons of cenotes.
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If there’s one thing I know about goodbyes, it’s that they’re so much harder when you don’t know when you’ll be seeing these people again. I had no qualms heading off to Mexico and leaving my family behind, because I knew I would see them again. This time, spending the last week trying to organize times to say goodbye, possibly forever, to some amazing people you have gotten to know over the past few months is heartbreaking. The phrase I keep repeating is “I don’t want to go!” I love the environment here and the people, I feel like I truly fit in, to an extent. Obviously I will always be a foreigner here, but my friends and adopted family make me feel right at home. I know I will miss the constant Spanish, I don’t have a way of practicing back home. Hopefully I will keep in contact with some friends and have a way of brushing up on my Spanish a bit. As far as going home, I look forward to seeing my family, but I could definitely go for just a visit and then come back to Mexico. I believe this semester has helped me open up to a whole new side of me that I never knew existed. The side that is daring, will take risks, will step out of her comfort zone, and will experience so many incredible things because of it. To say I will miss Mexico is an understatement. I fully believe I could return to live here for a couple years, but who knows what the future holds! Right now I need to focus on getting back for my graduation and then focusing on my Master’s program in the year to come, once I get out of school I can worry about such things as to the location of where I will live when not living with my parents.
With six weeks left before I leave Oxford, I have recently been torn (more than usual) between counting down the days before I can return home and wishing I had more time to explore this beautiful city. This past weekend I was stuck in bed due to a nasty cold, making both desires even more extreme.
There’s nothing like being sick to make you wish you’re at home with your family, or even just in a cozy place with the support of friends. My memories of being sick, fortunately, are accompanied by strong feelings of comfort. I am a worrier by nature, and my usual attitude towards any sickness is panic for my life (drastic, I know). My mom has always been a master at quelling those unreasonable worries. At school, I’ve always been lucky enough to have had compassionate friends who are quick to check in on me if I get sick, bringing plenty of vitamins/baked goods/warm, fuzzy feelings in tow. Read More »
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).
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 »
As much of a cliche as it is to say, now that I’m settling back in at Oxford for a new term, I am realizing what a life-changing month I’ve just had. It was beautiful, rewarding, exhausting, terrifying, incredible, and eye-opening. Let me explain.
I was traveling with a confused identity. No, I don’t mean just this: “Where am I coming from? Um…well, I’m from California, but I study in Washington, in the States…but right now, I’m studying in the UK, I mean obviously not right now…but I just came here from Athens. The last country I was in? Oh, Spain! Yes, Barcelona. Yes.” (Met with a sigh and a wave to pass me through passport control). Besides that. I mean that I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here?”–what intentions do I have as a visitor to this place, and what does that mean for who I am and what I will gain from this experience? Shockingly, more often than not, I didn’t have an answer.
To all the other first generation college students out there, I feel you. I know what it’s like to enter into a world of academic rigor never before experienced by someone in the family and that it can be difficult to find your way through it all. The wonderful thing about being a first generation college student is that we all are capable of venturing out on our own and making things happen. It takes a special type of person to break the routine set forth by all your predecessors and embark on a journey completely different. That’s what I want to focus on: that ability to step out and go against the grain. Once you know that you have said capability, you can direct this characteristic toward so many different avenues in life. For example, I had never branched out and gone on a vacation all by myself before, but knowing that I had filled out billions of forms, attended millions of interviews, and visited thousands of offices for various documentation reasons just to be accepted into my University (okay, there’s a bit of exaggeration there but you get my point) I knew I could handle making reservations and finding public transportation to get me where I needed to go. Beforehand I had always just gone on vacation and let my parents handle the logistics and thought it all far too complicated. Knowing that I have been the sole person to help myself through the messy complicated process of college has helped me realized that I can do much more than be a first generation college student, I can be an independent traveler, I can be an entrepreneur, I can be a starving artist, I can be what I wish because I know that the only one who can make things happen and follow through with my dreams is my own self. My advice to you would be, figure out what you want to do, above and beyond survive college, and use all the resources you have available to actualize your dreams. You can do it, because you’ve already done it.
So this one will be a bit of a rant but I thought I should mention academics since well we are here to STUDY abroad… Here are my observations: when I have been told that academics are more ‘hands off” and ‘independent’ it is meant to say your grade depends on the number of hours you spend in the library or rather the amount of hours it appears that one spent in the library. I have also noticed that I felt much more uneasy about just how well I was grasping the material because the modules do not give assessments often to make sure people aren’t left behind. Perhaps the saddest realization was noticing that the system is so obsessed with some false comfort of equality that they do not make the effort to accommodate those that may struggle more. By this I mean not everyone knows the nuances of the policies and rules of different colleges so as to properly navigate extensions, due dates, and exam dates especially students used to a different system who arrived mid term. Instead of making some feel like they should know this or that, this info should come naturally and there should be a focus on equity over equality so that special resources are given to the minorities that are disadvantaged like first generation students, minorities, international, and study abroad students. Things should be consolidated and distributed in clear and transparent ways to make the focus of the institution helping people succeed at all costs, inclusive excellence at all levels for all people: no matter their background, shortcomings, or identity.
Okay so last I left you all with a few of my favorite places to eat. This time I want to talk about how to afford them. So, everyone told me how expensive London would be very expensive. I kinda brushed it off because I took it as a necessary evil. After being here for a while, I must say PLEASE LISTEN WHEN THEY SAY IT’S EXPENSIVE. Now, I wholeheartedly believe that this time abroad has been some of the best time of my life. I have grown in wonderful ways and I’ll blog about this another time. However, these moments of self growth sometimes come at a price. I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship and funding from my home institution. Even then I had to borrow thousands of dollars for this experience. If that is an option for you and/or your family then please consider studying abroad in a place as expensive as London. And if you can here are some tips to manage your money: convert your balance into GBP and think of that as how much you have, never forget that prices are not dollars, and ration everything from food to fun. Another thing: if you want to avoid a 3% fee on everything you spend, put some money in Bank of America because they work with Barklays to keep you from getting charged. Well I think that’s all I have to say for now.
So my last post was a while ago and kinda serious. This time let’s talk about something more lighthearted and universal: FOOD!!! So idk about you but one of my biggest comforts in life is food. I love to cook and love trying new food from different cultures. So coming abroad I naturally felt so excited to try new things and see what I loved. Well, the particular area that I am in has my favorite things on every corner: chicken wings and pizza Now disclaimer, of course these things are not healthy and if not consumed wisely will lead to a lifestyle of poor physical wellness. With that said, omg I cannot say how happy I am with these stores. Back home if I want wings without the fuss of making them I have to go to BWW or Wing Stop which adds up fast. Here, i get 4 wings for 1GPB. Now, if you’re looking for something less fast food and more dinein, I highly recommend a place called Tayyab’s. It’s a hole in the wall in White Chapel that has amazing Indian food. I was very pleased with the service, quality of food, and actually affordable prices (well for London that is lol). Those are definitely my favorite food choices here. Hope you find these helpful! See you next time
So of course moving to a new environment can be quite jarring yet rewarding. The important part is learning to navigate these emotions, honor them by validating your lived experience, and of course being patient and creating an action plan to succeed in your new environment. Before I get into tips I want to be the first to say that moving away will result in various reactions and emotions that will manifest differently in different peoplebasically there is no wrong or right way to react. I personally was super excited when I first arrived and didn’t really miss my home at all the first few months. With that said, adopting a new lifestyle was difficult for me. I struggled to make new friends, delve into academics, and travel around. So here are my tips: talk to everyone! Make sure you find the people that will be your support system both in and out of the classroom. Make sure your professors and administrators know you and that you are studying abroad because it helps a lot. And always make sure you make time for yourself to evaluate why you’re here and what you want from this journey.
Today, in a state of extreme anxiety, I found myself hopelessly lost in an airport of a country whose language I barely understand. The day was supposed to go so smoothly–I had arranged to meet a friend at the Barcelona airport, and we would then head of to the place we’d be staying at. Simple enough. But it’s funny how so many little things can add up to one very big mix-up.
I had relied on a deceptively simple terminal map of the airport, agreeing to meet my friend at the main information desk. After my flight landed (half an hour late–the first layer of stress, as I was going to be the second to arrive and had made clear to my friend when to expect me), I rushed off to find the info desk, only to discover that there were many info desks. And my friend was not at any of them. I worried that he had gone to look for me when my arrival time had come and gone, which would make it even harder for us to find each other. Trying–unsuccessfully–to connect to the spotty airport wifi with my outdated iPod touch (I don’t own a smart phone, which was no problem until I learned that I am an easily stressed and directionally-challenged traveler!), I realized how unprepared I was. I didn’t know my friend’s flight number, or even the origin of his flight–he’s studying in Paris, but I didn’t know if he would have flown from there, or if he had traveled somewhere else just before meeting up with me–so I couldn’t get help from the info desk. I couldn’t call him, because my cheap UK phone doesn’t work outside of the country. And I couldn’t even figure out where I was in the airport, let alone where he was! Further still, because I didn’t have wifi and had relied on the fact that my friend would know the address of the place we are staying at in Barcelona and how to get there, I felt entirely stranded and alone.
I recently have returned back to Mérida after a two decently long trips during spring break. Fortunately here they give us two weeks of a break instead of one, which allows us to have time to explore a bit more of México. I had planned a trip to an island called Isla Holbox, where I was going to stay in outdoor hammocks for three nights in a quaint little hostel. One of the other students in my group was going to go with me, so we met up at the bus station and waited for the adventure to start. Once the bus arrived we got one and the bus driver informed us that they had accidentally over sold the bus and there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so we would have to travel standing up with all of our luggage. After about ten minutes my travel buddy decided he wasn’t comfortable with the trip and that it wasn’t fair we had to stand up when we paid for seats, so he got off the bus and went back to Mérida but I continued on because I had already paid for the reservations and the bus tickets and didn’t want to lose that investment. On the bus a man got up from his seat and moved over to where his wife and daughter were sitting and the couple held their daughter in their laps to give me a seat, I was very thankful for such a kind gesture.
When I last posted, I was about to start my spring break. Now, having been traveling for a few weeks, I am in a unique position. I had only spent eight weeks in England–hardly enough time to make a home for myself. But still, as I have been going around seeing all new places, I find that in addition to missing California, I often think about my room in Oxford, the new friends I had made, and all the small habits I had gotten used to there.
After visiting a friend from college in Prague, where she is studying at the film school, I realized how convenient it has been to study in a place where I speak the country’s language. In my first few posts, I remember talking about what a vast change England was from the US. Now, after visiting the Czech Republic, I feel I was coddled! For example, I was overwhelmed at first going into the supermarkets in Oxford and not recognizing any of the brands or many of the product names. Wow, well it’s a lot harder when all of those unfamiliar brands and foods are in Czech! I have so much respect for my friend Hannah, who is currently learning the Czech language as she studies film. I will say one thing–in Prague, it is at least comforting that the cars drive on the same side of the road as in the US (not the case in the UK!).
Most Common Profile
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 »
The transition from the academic schedule in my university to the system in place here was quite interesting. In the US there are set dates for exams and homeworks get returned within a timely manner with grades, but here for the first month I had not received a single grade nor had I taken any form of an exam. I kept going to class, participating, and doing all that was expected work-wise but had no earthly idea if I was doing well or flunking. It wasn’t until the mid-semester mark that I had two exams and some projects due, and a while after that is when I got a general grade for the class. All my professors assured me I was doing fine, but I didn’t know what “fine” constituted. They told me I am doing really well, especially in comparison to the students from the university, but that still leaves some gray area. I rather like the laid-back atmosphere though. I have always had stressful semesters where I would become so involved in my school work that I would forget what was going on right around me. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case here or else I wouldn’t be able to explore and enjoy what México has to offer. It was a bit difficult at first figuring out where the classes were and how to take the bus to and from each campus (I attend two universities here.) IFSA was great about showing us the ropes at the UADY campus, but I was up a creek without a paddle when it came to Modelo. I don’t know if it’s because not many students were taking classes at the Modelo campus or because IFSA doesn’t have the same history as with UADY, but I felt thrust into a new situation and like it was expected I do it all alone. I had no classes with my fellow IFSA people and so I was scrambling to even get to the campus, then running around trying to figure out where I needed to be and when, but eventually all things worked out and I fell into a nice routine. All things considered I’m quite proud that I made it through the transition phase and really settled into this new academic environment.
I recently was informed that I have been accepted into graduate school and will be attending a Masters program for interpretation and translation. Having studied abroad, this has exponentially helped improve my Spanish speaking ability, and has expanded my vocabulary considerably. I feel as though had I not studied abroad I would not have had the opportunity to go to graduate school because I would not have a competitive understanding of the foreign language to be seen as acceptable in a program that interchanges between two languages. I am a first generation college student and have worked very hard to get where I am, there’s no doubt about that. In high school I was working away, trying to get the best grades possible, yet only thought that I might be able to attend a community college. It wasn’t until the school counselor ask to see me that that all changed. I had never spoken with her and did not know how she knew of me, but she deals with grades and guides students with questions about college. She asked me about my plans and I told her I was thinking about applying to the community college nearby, because my parents couldn’t afford anything more than a two year college. She encouraged me to apply to four-year universities, saying that someone who was third in their class most likely would receive scholarships to cover some of the cost. Through her encouragement and my dedication I was fortunate enough to get into college. Once in, it was all about finding out what I wanted to be. For the first three years I had no idea what career path I wanted to follow, which is terrifying when graduation starts creeping up. Eventually I had the revelation that I could combine my love of language and my desire to help people into a single career, where I can help people communicate and overcome a language barrier. For the first time ever I felt like I had a clear goal to pursue and I feverishly started filling out applications for graduate school. From a girl who thought it would be a stretch to go to a community college, it’s hard to believe that I have been accepted into a Masters program. On many applications I mentioned that I would be studying abroad in my final semester to improve upon my language skills, and I really think that made an impression. It shows that I was willing to go the extra mile just to get one step ahead, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to study here in México. It’s because of this opportunity that I will be an interpreter and translator, the dream will be realized.
Seeing as half the semester has flown by and I have remained unbelievably busy, I figured it was about time to check in. It’s funny I’m doing so here on the blog when I rarely ever talk to my family from home. I have never been one for communication. My parents often ask me why I even have a cellphone because I lose it on a daily basis, leave it laying around, forget about it completely, open texts and forget to respond, or sometimes have a half-written response and lay the phone down to go to something else. Seeing as they’re accustomed to not having regular contact with me, they knew not to expect much when I left. In the two and a half months I have been here I have sent maybe 30 text messages total to my family, all through whatsapp. I have been living the experience and fully immersing myself in the culture to the point that I haven’t really had time to miss being home. I don’t know if that’s just part of who I am, or if the knowledge that these two months passed so fast and the two that are to come will do the same, so soon I will be with my family again but I may never see the people I am with here again affects my communication. I feel as though I need to enjoy what precious moments I have here with the people I have met. My family at home seem to be doing fine and only need an occasional “Are you still alive?” response, so all in all we have a pretty good system going. I’m sure for some people communication is of the highest priority, and if that’s the case then I am certain you would make time for it. There are so many ways to keep in touch, through Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, Facetime, texting, or calling so don’t worry if you’re someone who typically acts like a normal person and experiences some homesickness.
So a few days ago I tackled a little bit of what it’s like at Oxford academically. Now I’d like to talk a about what it is like being here in general and what I’ve been doing besides academics.
Let me just start out by saying that as a first gen college student, this place is intimidating.
I keep thinking back to what it was like in my first few months at Whitman,when I was trying to learn what was normal and expected on a college campus. Whitman is sort of a ‘legacy’ type of school. Many of my fellow students’ parents went to Whitman when they were younger, and it isn’t uncommon for students to have siblings that are currently attending or have recently graduated. When I got to campus, it seemed like everyone else already had friends from high school at Whitman to show them around or at least had parents who were professors at other schools who could give general college advice. I felt like I had shown up from another planet: I was not just a lost freshman, but a lost freshman who knew no one, had no idea how college worked, and certainly didn’t have the courage to ask anyone for help. Luckily, I started to meet other first gen students with similar experiences, and I realized that it wasn’t abnormal to feel alienated. Last fall, I got to help out with first year orientation, and I saw how many new students were in the same situation I had been in–and how consistently first gen students tend to feel marginalized in a new college atmosphere. I realized that my being confused and overwhelmed and out of my element and completely terrified (about nearly every aspect of college, from academics to social life) was 100% normal. This realization is huge in learning to cope and to feel comfortable asking for help.
Now that I’m at Oxford, I have many of the same feelings, but magnified. I’ve changed in that I’ve already had nearly three years’ experience in college: I’m no longer a total newbie. But learning the lingo here (both British terms and Oxford-specific terms), trying to find my way around formidable academic buildings, and adjusting to a very unique social scene (I think much socializing happens at ‘bops,’ which are dances/parties usually at clubs, but as a non-drinker I haven’t gotten the courage to go to one yet) have all made me feel completely overwhelmed again. The funny thing is, rather than feeling alienated by the other visiting students around me, I feel so much more comfortable opening up to them. Yes, they are very similar to the usual student at Whitman–upper middle class, often with professors as parents. But it feels like no one has an advantage here, because we are all equally lost. The environment here is so different that regardless of background, we are all pretty clueless and in need of help. I have made several close friends already by admitting to them that I am very nervous and confused here, and by hearing similar sentiments from them in return. Just like at Whitman, I’ve learned that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to feel these things and accept them for what they are.
Oxford does feel like a place for the ‘higher-ups’ of society sometimes. A friend and I were talking a few days ago about all the towers and spires of the old buildings here, and how they make us feel like we need to live up to some magnificent standard of excellence to be worthy in the presence of such grandiose architecture. It sounds silly, but that really is the vibe that I’ve gotten here. Confusion and nervousness don’t help in making me feel worthy of those spires. But I think that beneath the magnificence of this place, every student is just a scared teen or twenty-something, even the most brilliant minds here. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself!
Anyway, as for doing: it is incredible to be living in a city with so many opportunities for exploration. I’m from a pretty rural area, and I normally go to school in a similarly rural area. I’m not used to being able to walk down the street and find world-renowned museums to wander through, or constantly have the opportunity to attend talks by famous people who come to visit (I just saw Jill Stein speak last week, and friends of mine saw Gloria Steinem and Shia Labeouf as well!). Plus there are beautiful churches everywhere–I walked into the University Church (gorgeous, I’ll attach a photo I took the other evening, it is the large building with blossomed trees in front) one Saturday and there was a wind ensemble practicing right in the center, filling the whole place with music. What an experience! The University is made up of many smaller colleges (I go to Hertford), so another fun activity is visiting other colleges for events. Two nights ago I saw a play adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray at St. Hilda’s College, and I often see a friend of mine perform in the choral evensong at St. John’s.
There’s also the fact that Oxford is so close to many other great locations. A few weeks ago I took a lovely trip with IFSA-Butler to Bath, once home to Jane Austen and also the location of the ancient Roman baths! It was terribly cold and rainy, but I’ll attach some photos to show just how wonderful the trip was. In general, I’m open to pretty much any and every travel opportunity. It is thrilling to come to a place where there is so much to do and see. As spring break approaches, I am getting fidgety just thinking of all the plans that I’ve made…but more on that soon!
One month down
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.
It’s been awhile since my last post, but for good reason. Navigating the academic system here at Oxford has been much more challenging than even I expected, and after nearly a whole term (yes, I can hardly believe it, but my first of two terms ends in just two weeks!) I think I am finally figuring out just what in the world I am doing here. But it hasn’t been easy. In a few days I plan to follow-up with another post detailing the other, non-academic aspects of life here in order to counter-balance this overload of academic experience. But given the fact that my studies and relevant concerns have consumed most of my time during my first month at Oxford, I think it is only fitting to devote a blog post to my struggles with the educational system here.
To start…I have mentioned this before, but it is crucial to understanding just how different my experience here has been: the University of Oxford operates on a tutorial system. Each week, rather than attending the usual 4-5 classes I would at Whitman (totaling approximately 12 or more hours of class time) , I attend 1 or 2 hour-long tutorials per week. And unlike at Whitman, my work never deviates from a standard schedule of one essay (1500-2000 words) per tutorial. In preparation for my essays, I spend vast amounts of time reading, either alone in my room or in one of the many (many, many, many–like seriously, check this out) libraries of the University. After weeks of solitary reading and writing, I can see why this is one of the most challenging universities in the world. The system is very personally engaging, but also extraordinarily isolating. I’ve never been a fan of group projects, but I could definitely go for one right now! There are lectures, too–generally giant rooms filled with students who need to get a broad understanding of a subject to prepare for exams–but these are not exactly social environments either. People rush in as the lecture begins and rush out of just as it ends, and tend to drop in and out from week to week because attendance is neither mandatory nor enforced.
It is hard not to get personally attached to your work here when you are expected to be so independent. My general attitude towards the week is often largely influenced by the one tangible thing I produce: my essay. A good essay means a good week, because I have made myself and my tutor proud! A bad essay means a bad week, and tends to make me wonder what could have gone wrong (after all, the essay is the culmination of a week’s reading, thinking, and writing). As you may imagine, my first few weeks were not good ones. I had no idea really what my tutor expected, and my anxiety at producing something worthwhile ironically made most of my writing much worse. Even little things got in my way (it took me at least three weeks to fully understand that my tutor did not want an original title, as US professors expect, but was extremely agitated when I did not use her essay question as the title).
The term is remarkably short (8 weeks!) but luckily, I have had time to get my bearings. And it has made my recent successes so much more fulfilling. Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly adept at taking apart vague essay questions and figuring out each aspect that needs to be addressed. I have learned to incorporate my readings into solid arguments, both showing that I have read and understood the author’s ideas and proving that I can utilize the most relevant parts of those ideas to make my own strong point. Clearly I’ve written many essays in my lifetime, but there is something about the ones I am tackling here that make them trickier. It could be the phrasing of the questions, or more likely the approximately two-day time frame during which I have to write them. All I can say is that when I received my comments on my last paper, which were consistently positive and were accompanied by a congratulations from my tutor, I could not have been happier.
As I mentioned, I have two more weeks until break. While I hope to continue improving academically until then, I also hope to take advantage of my new skills to worry less about homework and focus more on the experience of being here. In my last post, I mentioned all of the unstructured time that I have here. Honestly, most of it (until this week) has been spent either 1) reading and writing or 2) worrying about not reading and writing or not doing it well enough. Having had a similar experience when I first got to Whitman, I know that I have a tendency to value myself based on my academic success, and panic if I’m not meeting my own standards. But I found a balance there and I can do so here as well! There is plenty to learn outside of the library. I have been on a few adventures, which I am excited to write about in a few days. Hopefully by then I will have gone on a few more as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.