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

Gringa’s first earthquake

Time May 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 1 Comment by

About two weeks ago, I experienced my first real earthquake here in Chile and, I have to say, it was much more terrifying than I had anticipated. For some reason, I had never really understood the panic about earthquakes. I mean, as long as no buildings collapse, it’s just a little vibration, right? Wrong. As it turns out, I am not a huge fan of them. There’s something deeply unsettling about the fact that the earth, which we often conceptualize to be the most physically stable thing in our lives, can suddenly begin to move underfoot.
I was walking back to my house with a friend when it happened. It probably only lasted for about 20 seconds in total but it felt like longer as we watched the cement buildings around us shake. Strangely enough, my first reaction was equal parts fear and excitement, as if all of that raw energy traveling through the earth’s tectonic plates had continued on through the soles of my feet and up my spine, terrifying yet strangely intoxicating. There was no visible damage where we were standing, so my friend and I shrugged it off and went on our way. I became more unsettled, however, when people started coming out of their houses onto the street and asking us if we were alright. Everyone was wide-eyed and tight lipped and their anxiety made my own heart begin to race.
The streets of my neighborhood suddenly felt eerily unfamiliar. The air cracked with a kind of strange anticipation, as if houses and residents alike were holding their breath to see what might happen next. The only sounds to be heard were the chorus of car alarms going off from the tremors and the dial tones of my neighbors’ phones as they called their loved ones across town. One man told us that we should save our water in case it got shut off and recommended that we go straight home. As the aftershocks started and the tsunami evacuation alarm sounded, the initial ignorant excitement of my first earthquake faded and I decided that he was probably right. Read More »

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Traveling Tips: Things I Wish I Knew

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Hello all,

I’m currently writing from Chicago, Illinois as I have returned home after my absolutely wonderful semester abroad. After my Michaelmas term at Oxford ended, I spent two weeks traveling around Europe with my friends. Prior to studying abroad, most of my traveling was with my family. It is an entirely different experience to travel with peers. There are many important decisions to make and rather than simply following my parents, it was on me to determine the best course of action. Prior to my semester abroad through IFSA-Butler, I would have considered myself a novice traveler. However during my study abroad experience, I saw eight different countries, navigated the public transportation system of foreign nations, and learned to communicate despite language barriers. I honestly learned just as much while traveling as I did during the academic term. The following are some tips that I noted during my adventures:

  1. Know the measurements of your suitcase. Even if your suitcase is always allowed as a carry-on for various American airlines, it may be too large for certain European airlines. Either take a picture of the original tag of the bag or look up the exact suitcase online and write down its exact measurements. Additionally, while traveling it is really important to fully understand the luggage requirements of the specific airline. Sometimes the flight may be cheaper but they may charge for carry-on luggage and with the extra charger, that flight may become more expensive than the second cheapest option. Another important thing to consider is that it is often cheaper to purchase baggage online rather than at the airport, so if you expect to pay for your bag try and pay for it earlier rather than later.
  2. Bring locks. Locks are really useful if you plan on staying in hostels because many of them have lockers available. I brought a lock for my suitcase (that is TSA approved of course) and one for my backpack. One of the biggest tips I received was to be wary of pickpockets so whenever I traveled I kept everything locked. Then when I arrived at our hostel, I would take the lock off the suitcase, put the suitcase inside, and then use the lock for the locker.
  3. Carry a filtered water bottle. First, look up whether your country’s tap water is safe for drinking. If I determined that tap water was safe, I would fill up my Brita-filtered waterbottle. This was not only convenient for having water on hand, it ended up being a cost-saving measure. I found that many restaurants would only provide bottled water and they will subsequently charge to your bill.
  4. Don’t overuse the currency exchange. It is important to remember that every time you exchange currency, you are losing money. I found that in the beginning I was overestimating how much cash I would need at each location. It is really helpful to get a credit card that does not have international transaction fees. I figured this out prior to leaving the U.S. and found it incredibly valuable. With this kind of credit card, I learned that I really did not need too much cash. By the end of my trip I was only taking out a little bit of cash and reserved it for things I knew I couldn’t pay for with card such as cabs and small food stands.
  5. Protect your passport. While I advise against carrying your passport everywhere, I also advise against leaving it in anywhere that might not be secure. If the hostel I was staying at had a locked locker, I felt comfortable leaving my passport. Otherwise I kept it within an zipped inside pocket in my jacket. It is definitely the most important thing you have and by far the most difficult thing to replace. A good rule of thumb is that at any point in the day, any day of the week you should be able to say where your passport is currently located.
  6. Google Maps is great for public transportation. Using public transportation is such a great way to save money. Furthermore, it is much easier than I ever anticipated. Google Maps worked in every city I was in and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Additionally, I found that in places such as train stations and bus stations it is relatively easy to find someone who speaks English and they can tell you exactly what kinds of tickets to purchase. Google Maps not only tells you which bus or train to take, it also tells you the time it will arrive and when the next one is coming. Furthermore, you can download a city to your saved “offline” locations and then you can use Google Maps without any wifi or data.

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An English Thanksgiving

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Thanksgiving is consistently one of my favorite times of the year. It comes at a very stressful time during the semester, so it’s always so nice to go home for a week, be spoiled by my parents, and eat comfort food. I completely forgot that the English don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (understandably so) and come September I realized that for the first time in my life I would be celebrating the holiday away from my family.

Initially, I was really nervous – truthfully more than I expected to be. My parents even offered to fly me home for the long weekend because my tutorials on Monday/Tuesday allowed me to do so without missing anything important. However, I declined their kind offer because I felt that a part of being abroad is to adapt to new, potentially uncomfortable situations. Being away from my family on a day that I have never been without them definitely fell into this category. Read More »

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How do you Describe Australia?

Time October 17th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

I have a hard time defining what it means to be “Australian” almost as much as I have defining what it means to be “American.” I could describe how I feel being American, but I’m sure that someone who lives even only an hour from me has a completely different definition. It’s hard to find those small, common threads across a culture as multicultural as Australia’s or America’s. If anything I think the fact that everyone within the country is so different is a defining factor of the culture.

Before I came to Australia, I definitely had a bit more of a stereotypical image of Australians, only really receiving information on the country from the media around me. I loved watching the Crocodile Hunter when I was little, H20 was a show I watched in middle school, and everything else about the country seemed so remote. Mermaids and crocodile hunting were definitely more of a fantasy of mine when it came to Australia, but the beaches, wildlife, and landscapes were not. I came for the wildlife, that was always my number one reason for coming here, and in that aspect I have not been dissappointed, but also I guess I didn’t realize just how many other aspects there are to Australia. Like we watched in class and in the tourist commercials for international travellers, the brilliant landscapes and relaxed atmosphere are what seemed to be sold the most about Australia, but after coming here, those aspects have kind of taken a back seat. If anything, I felt more resonation with the Quantas commercials even though Australia isn’t my home because I understand that it is home for so many. It’s bizarre to say that but when you’re travelling it’s easy to forget that your vacation spot for someone else is where they’ve lived their entire lives. Once you open your eyes to that I think you experience more of the authenticity of the country you’re in.

You can connect to the people more personally and you may even start to feel like a “local” yourself. Adelaide is not my “home” but I feel at home here even after only being here a few months. The touristy commercials and expectations have faded away. Sure, I’ve experienced plenty of those things from diving in the Great Barrier Reef or petting a kangaroo, but I’ve also been invited over for a homecooked meal with Australian friends, gone for long walks around the city, and experienced life that’s not a vacation in a place that’s often looked at from that perspective where I come from.

It’s made me think about home a lot, specifically how I maybe don’t appreciate my own city for all the little hidden quirks or surprises it has. We had a conversation in my Australian Classics class the other day about a novel we’d read that takes place in Adelaide. In many points throughout the novel, the author describes with fervent detail small places around Adelaide, down to the names of the streets they’re on. The tutor asked if the class felt that the extreme descriptiveness might hinder readers who aren’t from Adelaide. A few people nodded in agreement but I felt, being an outsider, a little differently. Hearing the city being spoken of with such familiarity and fondness, though I may not have understood all of the references, I understood the feeling the author was trying to portray. The feeling of home, and knowing your own like the back of your hand. I don’t know Adelaide like that, even now, but getting to know it has been such a journey, and I feel more closely connected to the city because of it.

Here’s some photos from a little expedition I took around the city to try and capture the place I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the past few months.

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A local performer at Rundle Mall. Performers of all kinds can always be found up and down the strip of shops including a didgeridoo player, jugglers, escape artists, violinists, and more.

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A view of Rundle Mall (including the famous Mall Balls) from atop the Adelaide Arcade.

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University of South Australia students display their fashion designs inside of the Adelaide Arcade.

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A view of the Adelaide Arcade from the balcony.

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One of the many amazing street art paintings on display throughout Adelaide.

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The mural at the end of Rundle Mall, always changing and receiving additions from all different artists.

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Street art by Peter Drew as part of the art movement throughout Adelaide called “Real Australians Say Welcome”.

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An example of some of the old-fashioned buildings still remaining throughout Adelaide.

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Relaxing by the Botanic Gardens.

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A gorgeous greenhouse found inside the Botanical Gardens.

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Bridge leading to the University of Adelaide covered in hundreds of locks, very much like the Pont des Arts in Paris but luckily not collapsing.

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Some of the many black swans that can be found down at the River Torrens.

 

 

 

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7 Mistakes I Made as an American in England

Time October 17th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

I thought going to an English-speaking, Westernized country meant “culture shock” would be minimal. I could not have been more wrong. The differences between England and the U.S. are too many to count and I have had my fair share of uncomfortable experiences. Today I share with you 10 instances in which I really felt like a confused foreigner in hopes that you will learn from my experiences.

1. Not looking both ways (or the right way) when crossing the street: I remembered that they drive on the opposite side of the road here when I got into my taxi at the airport. It was so strange; I felt like the entire car ride I was slightly leaning to the right as if my body weight would move the car over to the side that I normally drive on. While I would never EVER attempt to drive in this country, I failed to realize that this difference in road movements affects me even as a pedestrian. I will be the first to admit that sometimes I lack the patience to wait for the “WALK” sign at a crosswalk. If I see an opportunity, I usually decide to cross. This has proved to be a dangerous habit if you look the wrong direction in search for cars. In an attempt to avoid the national health service, look both ways before crossing the street.

2. Yellow light does not always mean stopping: Along the same lines of different road rules, here in England (and I have heard this applies to other European countries) the stoplight uses yellow on two occasions: before red AND before green. So if you’re like me and you see a yellow light as essentially the go-ahead to begin crossing, this is also another dangerous habit. Unless you were watching the stop light for awhile prior to know which color is going to follow the yellow, it is not safe to assume that the car is stopping. On a slight tangent I think the use of yellow to essentially mean “get ready to _(stop/go)__” is really interesting and I wonder whether it was added or if the U.S. eliminated it.

3. Bikes are just as dangerous: My final advice to fellow pedestrians is to be wary of cyclists. In my hometown people who bike are usually doing so recreationally – some in the sidewalk and some in the street. Here biking is an entirely different ball game. It is an efficient form of transportation and they are ruthless. My eyes widen as they weave around massive, double-decker buses and as they speed right towards me coming down the street. I have not seen it myself, but my friend told me that today he witnessed someone get hit by a bike and just hearing about it made my body ache. Treat bikes with the same vigilance as you do cars (and honestly maybe more because since they are smaller they can easily sneak up out of nowhere) and hopefully that won’t happen to you.

4. Be cognizant of operating hours: Unlike in the U.S. where things are open 24/7 for 7 days a week, most businesses in England have much more limited operating hours. Stores close much earlier and Sunday evenings are a ghost town. I discovered this the hard way when my friend and I got a late dinner and wanted to grab some dessert sweets from a grocery store on our way back. Our chocolate cravings were sadly unfulfilled as we walked past the dark doors of every store. At the same time stores do not always open as early either. It is completely normal for a store to open at 10:00 am as opposed to the 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM that I consider normal back in the U.S.

5. Mind your manners: This tip is more applicable to Oxford students. While it varies amongst colleges, most Oxford colleges have some sort of formal dinner. At St. Catz we have the option to go to a formal dinner (called “hall” short for formal hall) every weeknight. While dress code is completely casual, the dining etiquette is more refined. You sit in these long tables with attached desk lights, which almost make you feel like you should be studying. Every seat must be filled by top to bottom, so you can easily be seated next to a stranger. There are waiters, multiple courses, and you can BYOB. Something very important about hall is learning the etiquette. Luckily, the people I was seated next to at my very first hall informed me of all the rules before I broke too many of them. A notable rule is that you cannot eat until everyone around you has received their food – something that I wish I had known before I started inhaling these amazing potato wedges.

6. BYOB (with the second b standing for bags): Because England is much more advanced in terms of environmentally-minded rules and regulations, it costs money to purchase plastic bags at the grocery store. During orientation I attended the freshers fair/activity fair/clubs and societies fair where different student groups try to recruit new members. After the event I had 3 different canvas bags which have all been repurposed into grocery shopping bags. Even though the plastic bags are cheap, it is much easier to carry groceries in a sturdier bag. Sometimes when I know I’ll need a substantial amount of groceries, I go with an empty backpack. Depending on where your college is, the walk to the grocery store can be over 20 minutes and it will feel like more than that if you have plastic bags digging into your arms.

7. Don’t be offended if people aren’t outrageously friendly: This is something I learned at orientation but also experienced first hand on my way there. I took a quick train from Heathrow airport to central London. As one would expect, I was bursting with excitement and wonder. The train was pretty full, so I placed my luggage in the racks and sat in the closest open seat next to this man. I turned to him to ask if the train went to Piccadilly and his eyes opened so wide. He nodded twice – silently. I didn’t fully realize this was probably him telling me that he was not interested in talking to me, but my excitement was so high that all I could do was look out the window. I made some remark about how beautiful the city looked, how it was my first time in England, and how I’m so eager to begin my journey. He looked at me with a slightly bewildered look on his face. I asked him if he had any recommendations on what I must do while I am here and he responded with, “Not particularly.” At that point the train was arriving in the station, but I had gotten the message. This man was not interested in having any sort of conversation on the train. After an orientation lecture on cultural differences between the U.K and the U.S., I was informed that making small talk with strangers on public transportation is a very American habit. People in the U.K. tend to be more reserved in public and do not consider a train ride to be a social experience. So don’t be confused if the person you sit next to does not want to be your best friend or offer to be your tour guide, it’s not personal.

 

I apologize for writing another “list-icle”. I promise my next blog post will include pictures of campus now that I am here and really settling in for the season.

 

Cheers,

xx

Zaya

 

 

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Fireworks, Alpacas, and Wine, Oh my!

Time September 14th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

First off I’d like to apologize for the blatant loss of Wednesday’s description in my last post. One of my photos cut out the paragraph, so don’t worry Wednesdays are just as fun here in Australia. They’re actually my day off from classes. I’ll usually stroll down to Rundle Mall or hide out in a cafe if the weather’s bad and catch up on some work.

It’s always fun though to break the routine I’ve fallen into and with mid-semester break coming up (a two week break in the middle of the semester which I very much believe F&M should adopt) I’m looking forward to all the new experiences other parts of Australia have to offer. I’ll be going to Cairns the first week of the break and snorkeling/diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and in the second week I’ll be heading to Kangaroo Island for a research project in my Conservation and Restoration course.

That isn’t to say of course that nothing exciting has been happening here in Adelaide. This past weekend I got to experience a lot of the rich cultural experiences Adelaide has to offer. The first of these experiences was known as the Royal Adelaide Show. The show was made up of markets, bazaars, art shows, musical performances, a giant agricultural show, food and wine tastings, carnival rides, and a stadium show with fireworks. I actually ended up visiting twice just to be sure I didn’t miss out on any of the attractions offered. First, I went with my IFSA-Butler class and our adviser escorted us around the grounds to all the must see events which of course included the dog show taking place. I don’t think I stopped squealing the entire time we were in that tent. Along with adorable dogs there were tents filled to the max with all types of different agricultural animals. We roamed around looking at the prize winning pigs, horses, cows, sheep, goats, cats, and even alpacas. Needless to say I was quite in my element.

BFFs

Our group adviser, Sharna, also showed us through the food tent, packed full of different vendors all offering free samples from smoked Australian sausages to even Eucalyptus flavored ice cream (and other outback inspired flavors). The grounds of the fair itself were huge and the amount of people there was perplexing. I’m used to small fairs back home for my town that usually run up and down main street, but this was full of multiple pavilions used just for housing art displays, small business set ups, or food stands. Later on when myself and two of my friends came back at night we walked around the carnival area of the show, full of your standard Ferris wheels, haunted houses, roller coasters, and kiddie rides. The night was lit up with neon lights and the grounds were flooded with people.

Eventually we made our way over to the stadium where we found motor car racing, stunts, and other spectacles being performed before the fireworks show. I was so close to the experience that  during the racing I got, much to my surprise, dirt flung all over me from the tracks. Needless, to say there should have been a “splash zone” warning if you were too close to the railing. My two friends who were with me, Tanner and Sydney, love going to car and truck rallys and felt right at home. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit as I shook the dirt out of my shoes, it was pretty cool after all. It was a taste of Adelaide and the community it supports. Everyone at the show was friendly and out to have a good time. There was definitely a lot of pride for the city and I could understand why after experiencing just some of what it has to offer, including a fascinating treat called “chips on a stick” which as weird as it sounds was actually absolutely delicious. 

Chips on a Stick!

The Royal Adelaide Show

The next day, IFSA-Butler had even more in store for us with a wine tour through the famous Barossa Valley of South Australia. We were picked up at our apartment building and on a small bus with about 10 other people we headed to the Barossa Valley about an hour out from the city. Our bus driver commentated the drive with some local history on the way there and how the valley came to be the prominent wine spot it is today. We drove over hill after hill as the sun rose in the sky. The further we got into the valley the more I felt like I was being taken back through time. The houses became very spaced apart and almost all were made with sandstone or blue-stone as our tour guide explained there wasn’t enough lumber in Australia to build houses out of anything else when people first arrived. It was so picturesque. We passed miles of rolling, grassy hills where herds of sheep, cows, and horses were grazing. Eucalyptus trees twisted and turned over the road with bark of a light gray. It’s amazing to me that just a small difference like the kinds of trees present here make everything seem like a new world as I watched them pass by. Before we got to our first wine tour we also stopped at a famous dam in the Barossa Reservoir called the “Whispering Wall”.

Whispering Wall

There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about it when we pulled up, but our tour guide told half of our group to walk to one side of the dam and stand on the ledge while half of the group stayed on the ledge at the other side of the dam. As we stood far away on the other side our tour guide just said “hello” clearly but softly while we stood there. Next thing I new a voice sounded as if it was standing right next to me from someone all the way on the other side of the dam. You could just speak in a whisper and be understood perfectly on the other side. I was in shock. We continued having a conversation with the group on the other side. The dam was engineered so perfectly that the sound echoed across it to the opposite side without losing any of the vibration and volume. I giggled to myself as I thought about how much more entertaining this might have been on our way back from the wine tour, but it still blew my mind nonetheless. Now, it was finally time to head to our first stop (1 out of 5 wineries we’ d be stopping at). All but one of the wineries we visited had structured tastings and as someone who’s never had much if any experience in different kinds of wine, I was really surprised to see just how many there could be and how intricately each bottle was designed.

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Barossa Valley Wine Tour

At one winery, Peter Lehmann, we were actually able to see the oldest shiraz grape vines still known in the world. The wine itself also wasn’t too bad. The whole day was full of cheese, crackers, wine and lots of fun. Obviously, the bus ride home was full of napping people.

Barossa Valley Wine Tour 4

It’s nice to know that even more excitement awaits me in Cairns and on Kangaroo Island but the rest of this week is strictly school work. Until mid-semester break!

Barossa Valley Wine Tour 11

*obligatory cliche study abroad photo*

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Settling in on the First Week of Classes

Time January 28th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | 1 Comment by

Well the first week of classes is quickly come to a close.  I am really starting to find my way and settle in nicely.  I never thought I would actually say this, but I truly find all of my classes intriguing.  I am excited for what lies ahead academically.  In particular, I am excited for an Irish history class that I am taking which focuses on the Irish struggle for independence from Great Britain.  I have always been fascinated by my Irish culture and I couldn’t think of a better class to take while here in Limerick than that one.  In addition to this, I am very happy to be included as a Kemmy Business School student.  Kemmy Business School is one of the best in the country and it is an honor to have the opportunity to take classes and learn from some of the best professors.

On another note, I played my first competitive soccer match in a few years last night with Shannon Town A.F.C.; it was a blast.  I was so happy to be out on the pitch playing the game I love.  While I am here in Limerick, I will certainly be looking to fulfill some of my leisure time with this team.  It’s composed of men all ages, which is something new to me.  In fact, I happen to be on the younger side of the spectrum!  Nevertheless, I look forward to making the most of this opportunity!

-CJR

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Byw yng Ngymru

Time May 6th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Ok, as far as I understand that title roughly translates to ‘to live in Wales’ and considering I have two Welsh exams this week, hopefully I’m right. For someone who has had a long history of picking up languages relatively quickly, Welsh has been a right pain to try and learn, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been interesting. But anyway, I digress. This is going to be the long awaited (if not long awaited by you, than long awaited by me- I have been procrastinating this one since I landed here in January) culture shock post. I feel like I’m in a strange place with culture at this point with having been in London then Wales and then spending a month in Europe back to London and Wales and then being slightly wary about the reverse culture shock that I’ll be facing when I return to the US.

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Becoming an Exchange Student

Time February 23rd, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Sharjah UAE, United Arab Emirates | No Comments by

With IFSA orientation completed I moved into AUS as an Exchange Student! The living accommodations are definitely better than my home university. I have a room to myself for sleeping and homework and share a bathroom and kitchenette with a single suite mate. The room is spacious and very comfortable. All I have done is added new sheets, leopard print, and a rug I bought while at the Central Souk. (Bartered for it and paid less than half the first offer!)

Thankfully, I did not have to start class immediately after moving into campus and IXO, International Exchange Office, had its own orientation planned. This was another great way to get accustomed to the area and the cultural norms as well as meeting other students who are in the same situation as myself. Something I quickly noticed was this week was very much like freshman orientation at my home university. There was a lot of small talk as I tried to meet new people and find others with similar interests as myself. Luckily, I was able to meet some great people!! After the initial awkwardness of ice breakers and small talk, IXO took all of the exchange students on many excursions within Sharjah and also in Dubai. These trips helped me become more comfortable with area, the culture, and with my fellow exchange students. A difficulty of the excursions is traveling with large groups, I realized that traveling in large groups can be very difficult and that splitting up is definitely the way to go.

IXO also provided cultural seminars about the UAE and Sharjah in particular. They do a great job at explaining the many consequences of not following the law and cultural norms, but many times it seemed as though it was more focused on scaring us from doing “wrong” rather than being realistic about what occurs on campus. Sharjah is the most conservative Emirate, but you still see couples talking together in public, holding hands, and other things couples would do in the United States and I have yet to see anyone be deported for sitting too close to someone of the opposite sex!

The pictures attached to this blog include the Sharjah Light Festival, an annual event where many Mosques, government buildings, and other buildings are illuminated with colorful designs, the Burj Al Arab, the only seven star hotel, the Eye of the Emirates, a much smaller London Eye, pictures from a short boat ride we had and the main building at AUS.

I will be posting one more post and I will finally feel caught up to present!

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Double, double Cultural Boil and Trouble

Time May 19th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

I was gonna write a different blog post today, likely something trite about how much time and have left in Argentina (answer: not that much eeek), and how I should be consistently conscientious (stuff I referenced a bit in THIS post) while I am here to get the most out of my abroad experience.  It would’ve been straightforward, mildly (psh, more like SUPER) interesting, and safe. 

But I don’t want to write about that today.  I’d rather write about what’s been actually perturbing me lately, much more than my efforts to be a well-behaved cultural traveler.  What’s been perturbing me lately has been culture shock.  Culture shock, aka the buzz-word of every study abroad program story ever, is defined by our friend the Webster Dictionary as, “the feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to.”  However, Noah Webster also never left the United States, and while he was a brilliant revolutionary thinker (and also certainly never contributed the phrase “Culture Shock” to the lexicon that now bears his name), he had no experience with this sensation first hand.  So, for his posthumous (RIP Noah) information, and for yours, I would like to explain what culture shock means, at least to me.  

First, let me start with the word, “Shock.”  In my case, it’s a misnomer.  It wasn’t as if one day, out of nowhere, all of my doubts and fears and petty annoyances about living in Argentina came crashing down like a lightning bolt from the heavens; and as I lay smote between the calles, the denizens of the Whitman Off-Campus Studies office cackled at my dismay between cries of “I told you so!”  No no, nothing like that.  It’s more of a Cultural Boil, really.  This feeling is subtle: tough to quantify, and can sometimes take a while to kick in; but by the end of it you’re in hot water and you’re not really sure how you got there (even if the signs were all there).  One day, it’s the feeling of inadequacy as I fumble through a foreign language while trying to do something as simple as tell the bus driver my destination.  The next day it’s stepping in the dog shit that laces the streets of downtown Buenos Aires.  Today, it was getting sandwiched between two smelly people on the bus while yet another politically-charged protest spilled into the streets of my route, hopelessly clogging traffic and thus causing my commute to turn to a standstill.  I was en route to change money on calle Florida so that I could pay for an excursion onto a glacier in Patagonia (my weekend destination, because my life here is still unreal), and despite having had a pretty good day up until that point (see the preceding parenthetical statement), I all of a sudden felt overwhelmed by everything.  I almost wept, just because it was all just so damn different and so damn obnoxious.  WHY did the people had to protest about every little thing in this country?!  All of these grassroots political parties want the same stuff, and it’s not like rioting in front of the Casa Rosada every freaking week is going to make the president see you in a better light.  And WHY was I crammed into this crowded bus to go get swindled by a sleazy merchant and then go wait in line so that I could pay something that I could do by credit card if I were at home!?  WHY don’t the people walk faster in this country, HOW should I be expected to get to class on time if the commute is always this chaotic, WHAT do I need to say so that the people here don’t look at my foreign self as though I were a beetle, and WHERE can I find a decent cup of coffee (most of the coffee here is rubbish)?!  WAAHHHH!!

ahem.  Pardon me.  Give me a second to collect my aching mind.

Alright, we’re good.

After my deluge of feels subsided, that’s when I realized I had been well and truly culturally boiled.  It wasn’t fun, but I think it was actually a super necessary part of my abroad experience, especially since I wasn’t really expecting it.  Despite a childhood in which I was unable to leave on a week-long backpacking trip without crying myself to sleep every night because I missed home (this was at age 14, mind you), I’ve recently become a person who embraces new experiences, thrives on change, and is comfortable with pursuing multiple different passions.  To me, studying abroad was a natural extension of my curiosity, and I couldn’t imagine how people could ever get fed up with the experience (especially someone who is lucky enough (as I am) to live in a house with a family and hot food and running water and internet).  I had read many of my friends’ blogs about culture shock (shoutout to my pal Rachael Barton’s post, especially), and while I had enjoyed learning of their insights, I never really took it much to heart.  “That sort of doubt and annoyance is for other, less adventurous people” quoth I, “and I’m never going to feel anything like that.  Besides, Argentina is too fun!”  And I was right, to an extent, but I also had no idea really what to expect.  

See, culture shock is different for everybody and for every situation.  I absolutely adore Argentina, pretty much every day here is fantastic, and because I was so happy here I assumed that culture shock (a presumed “sad thing”) would never catch me.  But cultural shock isn’t happy, nor is it sad.  It’s a realization, a state of mind that caught me in the middle of an everyday discomfort that made me realize how (despite my high level of comfort in this city) unfamiliar every damn thing was.  However, it is a necessary realization, and one that I am honestly grateful for, because so many people live their whole lives without realizing the unbelievably vast amount of culture that exists on this planet.  Therefore, today was a learning experience for me, and while I definitely wanted to Skype my family and hug my fat cat again today, I also took a step towards realizing the beauty that lies within the innumerable bits and pieces of culture that separate the Argentines from me.  

Gosh, it feels good to write this out.

Yes, I still hate how misogynistic the men here can be.  Yes, the commutes can absolutely suck.  Yes, I sometimes just miss having the familiar twang of English wash over me as compared to the constant rush of oft-indecipherable Castellano.  And yes, today these differences all got to me in a pretty emotive way.  But I wouldn’t trade these feelings for blissful happiness, or really anything else, because without these realizations, I would never have realized how many new things I am absorbing during my time here.  After all, sometimes it takes a shock to get the heart beating again.  

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Why IFSA-Butler’s orientation process works

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It seems completely counterintuitive to send study abroad students to a completely different place for their first week of orientation, only to shuttle them off to a completely new town with completely new family.

It’s paramount to doubling the culture shock, antithetical to IFSA’s promise of “More culture. Less shock.”

But, by George, it works. Transition to university has been easier than I could have imagined, no small thanks to my time in Liberia.

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more surprises

Time March 21st, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today roughly marks the date when I set off for Argentina a month ago. WOW. I remember days before leaving, how extremely nervous I was, and in my anxiety, I was questioning whether I should actually leave home since I wasn’t very confident about my Spanish. I was also worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle homesickness; after all, I’d lived in the Boston area for 10+ years AND Brandeis is only minutes away from my hometown. And yes, I’ve traveled before, but this would be the longest and farthest I’d be away from my family and friends. I kept wondering how I would make it five months. BUT looking back now, I can’t emphasize how extremely relieved I am that I’m here. And while I’m at it, I’ll stress again how Mendoza is the place to be :) It’s essentially the outdoor lover’s dream. The weather is beautiful, palm trees line up the sidewalks, gorgeous parks, inviting flower gardens, and best of all, everything is walking distance! (So far I’m refusing to take the micro/buses until it gets cold. And I’m proud of myself for not needing my map anymore!) With all these things, it’s impossible to feel homesick or stressed out. And that’s another point I want to make (although I think I’ve emphasized it before): I haven’t felt this relaxed in so long. The culture is to live and enjoy life; and so, I’ve been able to shed the stress I’ve always accumulated during the past semesters.

This past weekend was my 21st birthday and St. Patrick’s day, so needless to say, there were celebrations :) The streets were so packed it was hard to find a place to sit down!

On a different note, I went to my first class at UNCuyo yesterday. My friend and I each wrote down the times and names of five classes we wanted to check out before committing to a set schedule. Once we got to the building of the first class, we had to locate the wall that contained information regarding professor names, class hours and locations, and office hours. We were slightly frustrated that the times of all five classes had drastically changed. Furthermore, the classrooms were hard to find (we wondered if there were multiple classrooms with the same number), and I felt more unsure about what my schedule would look like….for example, I wanted to take an art class but every art class is around 16 hours a week. Since I only want to take it for fun and not as an art major, I’m not quite sure I’ll follow through. Anyways, we entered a class about 10 minutes late (oops), and I could immediately sense EVERYONE watching. Which was weird to us, since there was a continuous stream of students coming in the room (AND leaving, darting right past the professor!)! Someone even came an hour and a half late to the class (I wondered why she would bother coming). We tried to blend in with the class and take notes, but it was hard because the professor proceeded to ask us where we were from, and any time US was mentioned in conversation, he pointed toward us. As if we needed more attention….-_-  I thought I imagined the stares, and the curious glances, but my friend confirmed that we actually weren’t. Maybe it’s because we were wearing bright colors. No se.

But I can honestly say that I was relieved. First off, the professor told us he had experience with international students and spoke pretty slowly, so we were able to understand roughly 80% of the lecture. Second, the material was interesting and the other students seemed pretty nice/interested in the class and in us. So I guess it was okay…..but after class, we were told to buy photocopies of the syllabus (programa). Seeing as we had 2 hours until our next class, we went to the photocopier, but the cashier told us there weren’t any syllabi. Confused, we then went to find the professor, and when we couldn’t, we decided to just recover from the class outside, but just as we were about to leave, a Johnny Depp look-a-like professor quickly approached us and INSISTED (VERY STRONGLY) on helping us and wouldn’t leave us alone until he located our professor. So basically, our professor walked us down to the photocopier, reassured us (at least, that’s what it sounded like, at this point I was so exhausted that my brain was refusing to operate at 60mph translating and spitting out Spanish), and directed us to a (very cute) classmate who spoke English and helped us out. It was a long day. 

To be honest, the experience made us miss the school system in the US. Yes, they don’t take attendance here and in a lot of ways it’s easier to get away with things and not to be studious, but in the US, powerpoints would be posted online, all registration and academic information would be easily provided, and everything is very organized. I think I wasn’t expecting myself to have to exert so much energy in finding classes, figuring out my schedule, and operating on my own…..since everything in the US is a lot easier. Don’t get me wrong; I am very capable of acting independently, but it was hard to be independent with no information available, if that makes sense. But complaints aside, I’ve only been to class once, and it can only get better, right?

*Fall is coming to Mendoza! The air is definitely getting slightly chilly, but I’m still loving the weather! I had to keep telling myself it’s FALL, not SPRING, since I’m in the southern hemisphere.

from top to bottom: San Martin Park/acequias, aka “gringo traps”/lake/beautiful sky

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