Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Accents, Coins, and Rain . . . Lots of Rain

Time February 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So it’s been awhile since my last post so I thought I should do some updating. I’ve been here just about a month now which is pretty hard to believe; it feels like I just got here. Part of this is probably because of how busy schoolwork keeps me. A major difference between college back home and university here is definitely the amount of time spent in the classroom.

I was warned that it was significantly different, but it’s hard to grasp how much “free” time you actually have until you’re here. I only have lectures and seminars for 8 hours on a full week and most of this is concentrated on Mondays and Thursdays with one seminar on Fridays (but even then it’s only every fortnight). Last semester I had Fridays off, but I still had 10 or 11 hours of classes every week which makes 8 hours seem like nothing. Now of course less time in the classroom does not mean less work (unfortunately). I’ve been busy balancing all the reading that inevitably comes with taking four English classes which comes out to about one to two novels or plays a week which is probably about what I was doing last semester, but it seems like a lot more when the professor isn’t telling you which chapters to read and instead saying “when we meet next week (or in two weeks) we’ll be talking about (insert play or novel).” This lack of set instruction is freeing in some ways, but pretty incompatible with my tendencies toward procrastination. I’ve been trying to correct these tendencies, but it’s a long process. I should be using my Tuesdays and Wednesdays to write my essays and read, but in addition to procrastination I tend to like sleeping in late (can I help it if beds are comfortable?).

Overall though, it’s been going well. While not exactly on schedule for today I did make it to the park and did some laundry. London has a lot of parks and I’m lucky enough to live about 10-15 minutes away from Regent’s Park which is pretty big and houses the London Zoo. Today was the first time I’d been there though so I haven’t seen all of it. What I was trying to do was set up a running route, but there was so much to look at that I got kind of distracted. Today wasn’t the greatest weather, a little chilly and rainy (though pretty good for February I think), but the park was still really pretty. There obviously weren’t flowers or anything, but the fountains were running and all the green trees and shrubs were a nice change of scenery from cars, streets, and buildings. Of course it started raining while I was walking around so I did get some running in, but luckily it didn’t last very long. I’m hoping to go back tomorrow and run again as well as on a nicer day when I can get some pictures.

While I’ve touched on the rain aspect of my title (to be fair it’s really not that much rain), I realize that I haven’t really addressed the rest of it. I guess the accents are a pretty obvious one, but it still feels really weird in a classroom or elsewhere when I start talking and my voice doesn’t sound like everyone else’s. At this point I’ve gotten relatively used to the different kinds of accents around me and for the most part I can understand what they’re saying (my favorite new word is chock-a-block). However, it then becomes really obvious that I’m American when I start talking and I’ve become really conscious of it. I mean it doesn’t make too much of a difference, people still listen and for the most part the understand what I’m saying, but I definitely know I’m the outsider. I do have 5ish more months though, so maybe it’ll stop feeling so weird. As for coins, that’s just something else to get used to: carrying more change. The UK has significantly more denominations of coins than we do in the US. While we have 1,5,10 and 25 cent coins in common use, they have 1,2,5,10,20 cent pieces (or pence if you like) as well as 1 and 2 pound coins. They’re really kind of neat though I’ve been forced to start giving more exact change to keep my wallet from getting too heavy. Consequently I don’t have pictures of all of them, but I did upload one of a few of the different kinds and I’m sure you could Google pictures of others if you’re interested. Despite all the different denominations, the coins aren’t actually that hard to tell apart or use. They’re all different shapes, sizes, and materials to better distinguish them from one another. For example, the one and two pence coins are both copper like the penny, but the two pence is actually twice the size. So overall, not that difficult once you get used to it. The paper money is pretty cool too since it’s so colorful (another way to easily distinguish between bills). For example, the 20 pound bill is purple (my favorite).

Well those are my impressions so far. We have a reading week coming up in two weeks and I’m hoping to use that time to explore all the sites of the city that I haven’t made it to yet so I should have some pictures and a new blog post then. I’m also going to see Wicked next week so I’m pretty excited about that too. Anyway, that’s all for now. Cheers!

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Is it June already?!

Time July 8th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The view from the top of Cerro San Cristobal is nothing short of breathtaking, with the Andes Mountains standing majestically behind the Santiago skyline. I have now had the pleasure of living in this Latin American metropolis for the past few months, and this city landmark has become my preferential location when I need time for personal reflection. Before coming to Chile, I knew that this country was a major exporter of fruit and vine, and I vaguely recognized the name Pinochet. But to be honest, that was the extent of my knowledge. Four months later, my concept of Chile has been completely transformed, as I learn new information about this South American treasure each and every day. Although my knowledge of this country prior to this experience was admittedly scant, my main reasons for coming to study abroad in Chile were to improve my Spanish-speaking ability and show my capability to live abroad and be independent. But in the process of accomplishing these goals, I have undergone a significant transformation, in the personal, professional, and academic sense.

For the first time in my life, I have stepped outside of my comfort zone to try something new, and I couldn’t be happier about that decision. I left behind all of my friends, family, and classmates to go to a relatively unpopular study abroad location, without having any idea what to expect. But in all honesty, I didn’t experience any type of culture shock upon my arrival. Ever since I landed in Santiago, I have been meeting new people all the time, and I feel that I have become more confident and social because of this experience. In the IFSA-Butler study Chile study abroad program, there are 16 other students from all over the United States, and the group is quite eclectic, in terms of personality, background, style, and interests. But everybody, including myself, has been extremely friendly and outgoing from the beginning, making this experience even more enjoyable. During this time, I have also been living with a host mother, who is an art teacher, and her daughter, who is in high school. The idea of living with a host family made me a little nervous, because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to adapt to their living situation. However, I realized that I was more adjustable than I thought. Moreover, I have developed a wonderful relationship with my host mom and host sister, and they are both very considerate and helpful, making me realize that I had nothing to worry about. In addition to this, I have also had the pleasure of meeting many Chileans, and I have concluded that the cultural divide between the United States or Chile, or any two cultures for that matter, is not that big. My Chilean friends and I like the same music and laugh at the same jokes, showing that we are really not that different from one another. But I have also had great experiences through my volunteer program.

Through the English Opens Doors Program, which is run by the Chilean Ministry of Education, I have had the privilege of teaching English to high school students. This was an interesting opportunity for me because I was the first volunteer that had ever come to this school, meaning that these students had never interacted with a native English speaker before. Needless to say, they were extremely interested to talk to me because I could teach them the colloquialisms of the language as well as the grammar. Furthermore, since I was around the same age as them, I was able to become friends with these students. Unfortunately, the teachers at this school are currently on strike because the municipality has not properly distributed the funds to the local schools, leaving the teachers without the necessary resources to perform their jobs. But I am looking forward to the resolution of this strike so that I can return back to the school. In addition to this professional volunteer experience, I have been taking academic courses in the history of contemporary Chile, the poetry of Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Spanish language, and intercultural health. The process of picking classes and adjusting to the styles of the professors, who teach in Spanish, was slightly difficult at first because I had to learn the workings of the Chilean university educational system. But this has also been a learning experience for me. Essentially, I had to be independent and deal with any problems that I had in my classes on my own because there was no advisor or tutor to help me along the way.

As the program comes to a close, I feel satisfied because I have proven to myself that I can survive in another country on my own. As for my other goal, I still wouldn’t say that I am completely fluent in Spanish, but there is no doubt that my language skills have improved drastically. My pronunciation improved because I was forced to speak Spanish everyday, especially considering the low percentage of Chileans who speak English. Most importantly, I now have the confidence to speak Spanish, and I am able to communicate successfully with any Spanish speaker.

My only regret about this experience is that I didn’t travel as much as I could have because of my academic course load. To be honest, I have spent quite a bit of time studying, which is not what I expected before coming. But in general I tend to be more serious about my academics, and at times, this can be a fault. It makes me sad to think that in a few weeks, my study abroad experience will be over. But at the same time, I hope that I can share my experience with others upon my return to the United States. There is so much to learn about the world in which we live, but we will never know until we step outside of our own backyard, and this step is crucial for our development as human beings.

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