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

Post-Argentine Reflections

Time July 12th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Well it’s happened! I’m home! Back home in Massachusetts with my family and friends after spending nearly a year away from them between college and study abroad. Of course I feel incredibly happy to not only be a rising senior and done with finals, but it was so great reuniting with my family! I may not have felt homesick, but it did and does feel great seeing and spending time with them again. I’ve spent the days since my return regaling my adventures and sharing the many photos I took. In my time alone and in short thoughts throughout the day, I reflect on what my experience in Argentina has been and what it means to me.

I came to study abroad optimistic, excited and a bit nervous. After hearing the other students, I felt unsure about my ability to catch up and after spending the first week speaking and listening to Spanish all the time, I was left absolutely exhausted at the close of everyday. Remembering my final week, I am truly amazed how powerful just a few months can be! I would not say I’m fluent, but I really can manage in an area where relatively no one speaks English.  That is huge for me! I also came experiencing not only my first time in Latin America, but my first time in a country with absolutely no one I had ever met before. I could usually depend on family or friends to help me navigate and make decisions, but in Argentina, I was truly on my own. Walking the streets of Mendoza was quite scary for me at the beginning, yet at the end I breezed through them without much of a thought and equipped with all the safety tips I’ve picked up and practiced over the preceding months. Though even last year I really wondered, how will I ever read academic articles in Spanish, or even worse, write entire essays, I now have done both quite a few times and have shown myself it is possible (though still a crazy thought to me honestly). Adjusting to the slow pace of life and disorganization (along with the whole city essentially shutting down several hours a day for siesta and the entire weekend) were linked to some of my biggest challenges, but I can honestly say that I’ve learned quite a bit with dealing with a slower, more uncertain world. Maybe it’s not what I prefer, but I am sure it will prove an important life lesson for me in the future. Maybe I do need to slow down a bit and smell the roses?

Aside from better learning to deal with new situations, uncertainty and navigating unfamiliar streets, I learned about planning trips on my own, how to knit thanks to my knitting group and how to cook (a great way to save money because meals in Mendoza are expensive!!!). Study abroad brings you tons of other experiences to learn and develop that you probably wouldn’t expect –  you just have to make yourself open to trying and making mistakes! This has to be one of my biggest pieces of advice! I can be a hesitant and cautious person at times, but had I not firmly decided to seize the opportunities given to me to see new places, try new things, spend a little extra on worthwhile experiences and face some fears, I would have left Argentina with so much less of an understanding of its people, natural wonders and history. I would not have improved in Spanish as much, would have missed out on a lot of irreplaceable memories and friendships and come back to the US more or less unchanged. You will meet a lot of challenges. You will face some fears that you’ve never felt pushed to confront. You will be given choices and opportunities that will dictate what you get out of your time abroad. While I am not trying to say you should go overboard, I will repeat the cliche advice to get out of your comfort zone. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes you may feel regret, but overall, I have felt happy when I did.

Though happy at home, there will be a lot I miss about study abroad. I will miss the other students as I mentioned in my last post, I will miss spending dinners with my host family, I will miss classes with one of my professors a lot and miss volunteering among everyday Mendocinos each week. I will miss living at the foot of the Andes, where I can see those beautiful mountains through my window and virtually anytime I’m walking through the city. I will miss being able to walk anywhere easily and taking cheap public transportation the few times I need to (maybe I won’t miss the buses though!). I will especially miss the gorgeous Autumn colors Mendoza was painted in when I left. As my host mom drove me to the airport, I couldn’t help but feel an additional ache for leaving such a cute, pretty little city (though I eventually realized it wasn’t as little as I originally expected!). I will miss long random conversations with artisans I’ve chatted with in passing over the past few months in the central plaza and the Argentine sense of humor and way of telling stories which differs so much from what I’m used to at home. I will miss the touching close-knit relationships I was fortunate enough to see between families and friends. The closeness, comforting and care. It made me think even further about the variety and complexity of human relationships across cultures and especially how both Latin American and European influences intermingle in the Argentine people.

Though I am happy to say my Spanish has improved, my study is not over. Sure it will not be more immersion or nearly as in depth as study abroad, but I already have plans to continue Spanish classes during my final year in college. I have enrolled in a literature and film class which will assuredly test my essay-writing skills, film analysis skills and general understanding of the language and my ability to express my thoughts that I have worked on over the past few months. Hopefully, I will be able to prove how far I’ve come thanks to the Mendoza program. The Spanish-speaking ladies at work have already told me they want to speak to me in Spanish so it looks like I’ll have some people to practice with until then! As I said in my last post, my time in Argentina feels unfinished and I definitely hope to return someday! There are too many people I need to see again! I also HAVE to see Patagonia when the majority of it isn’t shut down for the off season. Hopefully, next time I will be bringing along friends and family to introduce them to this incredible country and its amazing, kind-hearted people! If you get the chance to go, I wish you all the best and hope you can enjoy Argentina and Mendoza as I have!

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Stranded in San Pedro

Time June 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 3 Comments by

Last weekend, I traveled to San Pedro de Atacama for four days which wasn’t nearly enough time to have spent in such an absolutely magical place. Although, I’m not sure if any amount of time could be considered “enough” to truly absorb that kind of natural beauty. San Pedro de Atacama is a small town in the middle of the Atacama Desert made up of short, adobe buildings whose deceivingly humble exteriors give way to lavish resorts, hostels and tourism companies. The dirt roads of the town lead into the massive expanse of the surrounding desert allowing for an enchanting view of the snowy mountain peaks in the distance. My journey had a bit of a rocky start early last Friday morning when I missed my flight and had to wait in the Santiago airport for six hours until I could catch the next flight at 1 p.m. For this reason, when I finally arrived in San Pedro to meet up with a friend of mine who has been studying in Lima, Peru, I was anxious to make up for lost time.

That night, we watched the sun set fire to the mountains and paint the sky into a million hues of purple and blue as it sank behind the distant peaks. It was quite astonishing how quickly the heat of the afternoon dissipated in the darkness and left us shivering in our thin jackets. I had heard from my Chilean mom that the desert climate is made up of harsh extremes, but I suppose I didn’t fully realize what she meant until we went out that night to look at the stars. Without the strength of the desert sun, the breeze that comes down through the valleys around San Pedro de Atacama bites much more than one would think.

The trip hit a few more rough patches the next day when my friend and I set out to bike a trail to the North of the town in an area known as Catarpe. We had talked to an absurdly exuberant Chilean who worked at the hostel we were staying in who told us that the trail was very scenic and could be done in five to six hours, six if we were planning on stopping to take pictures (which, let me tell you, we did plenty of). However, we apparently had a miscommunication with him somewhere down the line because the trail took us much longer than we were led to believe. We ended up getting very lost in the valley of the Altos de Catarpe (the farthest point from civilization on the whole trail) for about three hours after the sun went down because we couldn’t find the trail to get back to the main road.

I know, such a typical ignorant tourist move right? But we swear, it really wasn’t entirely our fault. Just hear me out. Sure, we stopped to take about a million pictures and my friend spent twenty minutes trying to climb into some random ravine and I may or may not have walked my bike up a steeper area of the trail, but we really didn’t take long enough to justify getting stuck at the farthest point of the trail as the sun went down. We had been led to believe that, after reaching the end of the Altos de Catarpe, the trail would curve to lead us to an old church and then back to main road on which we could return safely to the town. However, as it turns out, the trail did not lead back to the road as the enthusiastic hostel employee had told us. Instead, we had to double back on the trail to find the road which was considerably more distance than we had been expecting. By the time we gave up our search for the non-existent continuation of the trail, it was already beginning to get dark and we didn’t have any source of light besides the flashlights of our iPhones.

As the sun disappeared and the stars (and with them, the cold) came out, our situation grew increasingly less comical and more worrisome. As we were just beginning to retrace our path through the cavern to find the tunnel that led out to the main road, I realized that my phone only had four percent of battery left because the extreme cold of the night had drained the battery abnormally quickly. At the same time that my phone died, my friend’s phone mysteriously turned off and wouldn’t turn back on, leaving us in complete darkness under the desert stars. Which, although breathtaking, did not help much to illuminate the way out.

During the next three hours of wandering the valley trying to find our way out, we went through all the emotional stages of getting lost in the desert (or at least what I am guessing that would look like, I have to admit that it was my first time) denial, panic, a little bit of hopelessness, and, eventually, acceptance of the possibility that we would have to spend the night in the valley. But through it all I was extremely grateful to have been with someone so positive because we never stopped laughing what we had gotten ourselves into which kept me from panicking more than I did. My friend also made sure that we stopped about every twenty minutes to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the beautiful jumble of the Milky Way spread out above us. It’s funny how sometimes the people you’re with can change your outlook on an entire situation. There was something kind of thrilling about being so lost amongst those towering rocks, hearing nothing but the sound of our own voices in the dark. It ended up being quite a serendipitous experience. I think that, if I could go back in time, I would gladly go get lost again.

We eventually found our way back to the tunnel leading out of the valley by doing some seriously sophisticated detective work using the times on photos that my friend had taken while we were riding through the valley to retrace our steps and find exactly where we went off the trail onto the stream bed. From there, he harnessed his inner boy scout to find bike tracks leading out of the stream bed and before we knew it we were back on the trail. After taking a brief “descansito” to pat ourselves on the back, take some pics of the stars and eat some peanuts (we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was about 10 p.m. at the time), we got on our bikes and headed back to town. Thankfully, we didn’t end up having to make a fire out of arid plants or do jumping jacks all night to fight off hypothermia like we had planned.

There are plenty more stories that I could tell about my wonderful weekend in Atacama, but they only give me 1,000 words and I figured the fan base would probably want to hear the one about the time we almost had to spend the night stranded in a valley in the middle of the desert. Overall, the entire experience was breathtaking and I would say that the natural rock formations, salt flats and lagoons of the region are sights that absolutely cannot be missed if you happen to find yourself in Chile.

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Coming to terms with my last weeks of Study Abroad

Time June 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

It’s now past mid-June and many of my friends who studied abroad this semester have already returned home or are traveling following their programs throughout the world. In fact, my boyfriend is heading back to the US from Japan as I write this. It is hard to imagine I too will be returning in just a couple weeks. Seeing them go home, one by one, has been a potent reminder for me to take advantage of every last opportunity I have to spend time with my host family, the friends I have made here, see the places I’ve hoped to see and return to the places I enjoyed. I’ve made it a point to go out more with the other students, knowing we’ll disperse in all different directions once back in the US. I traveled to Potrerillos with one of them, went to the top floor of the municipality building to get a bird’s eye view of Mendoza, took a cooking class with IFSA Butler, finished up my list of presents for family and friends and we put together our own bridal shower for one of the students who will be getting married soon after her return to the US – checking off all the things we’ve been putting off all semester. It’s been lovely, but also bittersweet. I enjoy each memory, but with the sad reminder that this may be my last time visiting x restaurant, spending hours in x plaza or getting the whole group together for an afternoon. I’ve also been trying the last types of Argentine food I never got around to – lomo and choripan for example. Tomorrow, I will be heading to Ugarteche for the third and last time with my host mom, possibly our last outing together as well.

You may wonder: this is the last few weeks, so how do you have time for this? Honestly, it’s been difficult. I’ve been quite busy with exams, essays, presentations, classes and just typical homework. It may be a lot less work than I get in the US, but it can be tough to balance when you are trying to fit in as many last memories as you can while still in your host city (or last minute trips like some of the other students!). That compounded with it being winter here (which means less motivation and energy for me and less likeliness people want to go out), means taking advantage of your final opportunities is that much more difficult. It’s been a happy busy though. Mostly. I do have to admit that Argentina’s lack of organization, communication and planning ahead that bleeds into so much of its culture and daily life continues to challenge me. In most ways, I have come to accept it and handle it well, but it is sooooo difficult when it comes to academics. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Northeast so I’m pretty used to things being timely, set to strict schedules and more predictable (and don’t like when things are the opposite)… or maybe it’s my personality, but I do not like uncertainty when it comes to major assignments, final exams and final grades. I know it is part of the culture and overplanning and inflexibility is not good either. It has probably been a good challenge for me, but at this point, I am trying to make sense of my unpredictable schedule, working hard and hoping for the best. Hopefully, I will come out of this with good results to reflect my hard work and having learned how to better navigate uncertainty, unpredictability and mixed messages.

Some photos I took in Potrerillos with some beautiful and varied landscapes and cute little street dogs!

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Thoughts after Bariloche

Time May 26th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

The other day, I got back from my last major trip of my study abroad program, San Carlos de Bariloche. It came at an interesting moment in my time here. Just a few weeks ago, I was feeling a little down, unable to put my finger on why. I haven’t felt homesick and everything was going fine. I guess I was just having a lull where everyday was feeling more or less the same, I had a little more work than I wanted and while I wasn’t homesick, things were happening at home and at my home university that I was missing out on. Other study abroad and university friends were preparing for summer break and to go home to family and I still had over two months a head of me. Another IFSA student reminded me of the “S” or “W” curve (depending on who you talk to) that describes the highs and lows during a semester abroad (and by extension, life in general!). I was halfway through my program and felt like I could predict everything that was left, unsure how much highs were even left for me. I shook off my lull to prepare for probably my final adventure outside of Mendoza, Bariloche.

I was already a little disappointed that I came to Argentina and couldn’t see Patagonia (since it’s been getting colder, more and more of the trails and excursions are closed so I didn’t think it would make sense paying to fly down there). *Important point: If you are coming in US Fall semester, the months get warmer so it makes sense to wait for nicer weather or even after your program to travel down there…if you come in US Spring Semester, try your best to go earlier in the semester when it’s still warm and you’re not running out of breaks!* Still wanting to see more of Argentina’s beautiful Patagonia landscape, a friend with IFSA in Buenos Aires and I decided to meet in Bariloche, a beautiful city just North of Patagonia with an abundance of lakes, mountains, forests, excursions, tours and ways to get to know a very different part of Argentina than our host cities. My disappointment on missing Patagonia definitely ended once I arrived (but of course I would like to see it someday!).

Having little experience booking and planning trips on our own, we figured out transportation, lodging and excursion plans individually ahead of time, collecting advice from host families, IFSA staff and other students. We traveled from our respective cities alone (this was new to me so I was a little nervous, but it turned out fine and I managed to solve the little issues I encountered along the way!). From there, we were on our own and since it’s low season, we were often traveling completely alone in forests, up mountains and across landscapes we were all but familiar with and with few signs to tell you you’re going the right way. We would even go hours without seeing a single other human, with unreliable cellphone service and a map that was quite lacking in detail. Many people we met were surprised these two “chicitas” of only 20 and 21 years of age were traveling in Argentina on our own, not even fluent in the language! That’s when I realized the breadth of what I was doing. Before college, I never traveled anywhere alone. Just a year ago, I couldn’t imagine traveling internationally alone. At the start of the program, I was nervous about walking around my host city alone. Somehow, now I was traveling across the country alone exploring new natural landscapes with only my friend at my side. And we were doing fine! I felt and I feel such a strong sense of joy that I’ve been able to grow in this way so quickly. It has been such a smooth transition in getting more comfortable and pushing my limits that had I not taken the time to reflect, I would not have noticed.. at least for a while. Read More »

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Losing signal and finding connections

Time March 22nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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The rest of our travels passed in a blur of long bus rides, new experiences and adrenaline. We often went without wifi or service for days at a time and when we did have internet connection, it was not strong enough to work on my computer. Although this made it difficult to blog, it allowed me to take a step back from the comfort and personal value that I had been conditioned to place in my phone as a means to connect with the people around me. Not having access to internet reminded me that the way to truly connect with the world and with others expands far beyond a two by five-inch screen. This, it seems to me, is perhaps the most widely acknowledged yet rarely practiced idea relating to our relationship with technology today. We all make jokes about walking around like zombies with our heads bent into our phones and as soon as the laughter stops we go right back to refreshing our Instagram pages every ten minutes looking for posts and connections to people that we barely even know beyond the realm of social media. And why? Because it has become a social construct that is engrained so deeply within us that it’s difficult to truly understand it as a type of addiction until we are forced from it by one thing or the other. For me, I was amazed by how many times I would be traveling through rural Paraguay or Bolivia and I would unlock my iPhone and stare at the screen or start to open Facebook, knowing full well that I didn’t have service or internet connection. My hands moved automatically out of habit and it took a frustratingly long time to decondition myself but, once I was able to, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and simplicity in being able to enjoy each moment without distractions. Read More »

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Triumphs and trials in the Islands

Time February 28th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 1 Comment by

The transition from staying with my friend and her family to traveling on my own with a limited budget was a bit rough at first. But I have been glad to have my travel buddy with me to do all of the tourist activities that I missed out on in my first week in Cartagena. Not to mention he has successfully restored my confidence in my Spanish-speaking ability by comparison to his own. No longer able to rely on others to communicate for me, I have felt dually electrified and terrified by the challenge that traveling alone has posed and, more so, by the effect that is has had on me. Within a few days, I began to feel Spanish words and phrases coming to my mind with increasing speed and clarity. Within a week, I had my first dream in Spanish (Shakira took me shopping – it was awesome, she says that red is my color).

Our first day as tourists in Cartagena was spent on the beach in Boca Grande where I learned that laying in the equatorial sun at mid-day means multiple sun screen applications always. Later, we went downtown for a free walking tour of the oldest part of Cartagena. There are free walking tours offered in most every major city in South America and I strongly recommend them as the tour guides are extremely passionate about their cities. In Cartagena, free tours are offered in Spanish and English. We over confidently joined the Spanish group and ended up quietly slipping away to join the English one after five minutes of sheer confusion. As it turns out we don’t have much of a repertoire when it comes to Latin American history vocabulary. After two hours of learning about Colombian history and architecture, our guide ended the tour with an impassioned speech about his love for his country and how proud he is that Colombia’s international reputation is evolving from a country wrought with corruption and violence to a country of beautiful landscapes, rich culture and loving people. Read More »

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The Beginning

Time July 11th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hey there!

I’m Rachel, a girl who grew up in a tight-knit town in Oregon, USA, and moved to go to college in sunny Southern California. Now I’ll be traveling halfway across the globe to Wollongong, Australia, to study at the University of Wollongong just south of Sydney! Needless to say I’m excited beyond belief, but maybe I really have no idea what I’ll be getting myself into here by flying over 15 hours away from my home, but I think that’s most of the appeal of studying abroad. It’s the same as the day you walked into kindergarten, then high school, and especially into college: you have no idea who you’ll meet, what types of new situations you’ll end up in, and how much you will inevitably change in the end. Personally, I’m most excited about learning how to understand Australian slang and how their culture differs from America’s, as well as enjoying the beauty of the Australian coast and (hopefully!) exploring with some fellow students to as many cities as I can possibly fit into four months!

At my home University I study Environmental Business which is a balance of Environmental Science and Business Management, and am hoping to learn more about Australia’s laws about environmental responsibility on local, regional, and national scales while abroad! Also very, very interested in learning where the best bars are and what the best food is, so stay tuned to see some adventures involving my taste buds as well as my suit cases. Speaking of suitcases, packing is an adventure all in itself. I’m planning to travel as lightly as I can (HA), and can’t even count how many Pins I’ve saved about packing strategies, capsule wardrobes, and travel hacks. In the end, I know I’m not walking into the middle of the bush and can buy anything I forget once I arrive, and it’s a much better plan of action to pack less and save space for the souvenirs and items I’ll no doubt acquire while gone.

Am I excited? Undoubtedly. Am I nervous? Oh yeah. But I also realize that leaving on this trip will be an incredible step forward in my life that many people don’t have the opportunity to take, and I plan on appreciating every second that I’m abroad and soaking up the culture, friendships, and definitely the delicious foods I am lucky enough to experience (priorities on the food though, amiright?). As I prepare myself to leave, I feel like I’m saying “sayonara” to a small part of myself that still prioritizes staying in my comfort zone, and welcoming in some extra confidence to keep my head up and my heart open to whatever and whoever walks into my path.  Wish me luck as I finish up my packing and make the long trek out to Sydney, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share next time!

Cheers!

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Cheers! We’re in London

Time September 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last time I blogged I was getting ready to depart for London..and now I’ve finally made it!

I have a really awful habit of not being able to sleep sitting up, so I was awake for over 24 hours last Tuesday.  My first flight from O’Hare to JFK was quite unadventurous, but my flight from JFK to Heathrow was quite different.  I arrived in terminal 3 at JFK and had to make my way to terminal 4 for the group flight.  If you’ve ever been to JFK before, please agree with me when I say it’s extremely confusing changing terminals.  Like most busy airports you have to take a train around, but at JFK you also have to go through security again.  This was quite hectic for me and made me a little irritated, however once I arrived at the right terminal I met so many college students, who were going to be in London with me.

We took a Virgin Atlantic flight, so we had our own personal TVs.  I watched the first 3 episodes of Nashville and  The Internship during the flight.  Regardless of my lack of sleep, I was entertained the entire time.  When we landed we were met by IFSA staff at baggage claim who directed us to a bus that took us to the St. Giles Hotel.

Unfortunately, the St. Giles does not have wifi, and it costs an arm and a leg to buy it, so many people were not able to contact their parents that they had made it safely.  The first stop for many people, including myself, was the phone store across the street.  Luckily, I have a Verizon iPhone 5, so I was able to get an international sim card with unlimited data and a certain number of texts and minutes.  Trust me when I say that apps like Viber will become your best friend for staying in contact with loved ones at home.   With my unlimited data I was able to call my parents and text my best friends.  If you don’t have an unlocked phone don’t worry, the phone store also sells pay as you go phones, which you can top up at basically any grocery store or drug store in London.

The information we received at orientation is kind of a blur for me now.  One thing that was preached to us was that British people are shyer than Americans.  This has been proven wrong by my flatmates, who are beyond friendly and love Americans.  Besides the information there are a couple of other interesting things that happened on orientation.

  1. You are placed with a roommate upon arriving at the hotel.  I would advise you not to change roommates even if you have a close friend on the program with you.  My roommate, Sydney, and I became friends fast and have been in contact ever since despite the fact she is studying abroad at University of Sussex.
  2. You meet so many people at orientation.  I met a great group of girls while I was there.  One of them even lives 20 minutes away from where I live in Illinois.  So don’t be afraid to go out of your box and hang out with people besides those who come from your home institution.
  3. IFSA gives you the option to attend a play on Thursday night.  Even if you don’t grasp the concept of British humour, go!  The play we went to was entitled Spamalot.  I haven’t seen Monty Python, but I found the play hilarious.  Another plus is that the bridge across from the theatre has incredible views of the city.
  4. On the last day there is a walking tour.  We didn’t get to see anything very touristy, but it was still fun seeing some famous sites.  My favorites were China Town, the place where Elton John composed “Your Song”, and the Australia House aka Gringotts in the Harry Potter films.
  5. IFSA allows you a lot of free time.  My friends and I took this as an opportunity to check out the various pubs in central London.  Each has its own “feel” to it.  My favorite was The Court, which is located on Tottenham Court (pronounced Tottnam).  It had great music, young people, and cool artwork in the ladies room.

All these pictures can be viewed below:

All in all, this past week has been filled with activities.  I’m still adjusting to the time zone, so I will update you with move in, Queen Mary, and my flatmates in my next post.

xx, Francesca

 

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