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

Wrapping up a dream

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

Every time I leave a place, it doesn’t seem to hit me and leaving Mendoza is no different. I walk through the tree-lined streets to my universities, meet in one of the plazas with friends, laugh over the stories of my host brother and pop into the IFSA office as if this will go on forever – not like it could be one of the last or the last time I do so. I’ve gotten so comfortable, life has become so normalized and routine and real, that I do not feel it can end. Fewer new experiences surprise me and there are less times that I am faced with a situation that leaves me lost. I guess I should take this as evidence that I have adapted pretty well.

I still pause when I speak and need to ask what words mean or for synonyms all the time, but I’m not struggling and re-conjugating every verb like I was at the beginning. More and more my professors and the other students have been mentioning how far I’ve come, as easily one of the poorest Spanish speakers (maybe the poorest of our little group of 10) when I arrived. This honestly has surprised me a lot. At the beginning, which was somehow just 4 months ago, I remember being so intimidated and self-conscious. I convinced myself, at my level, it was impossible to improve vastly in less than 5 months. I improved pretty quickly in the first month, but felt I hit a plateau in improvement. At that time in order to not disappoint myself, I accepted that maybe my Spanish wouldn’t improve greatly from that point, but I could work on expanding my vocabulary at least. Something happened in the final month. Out of nowhere (it appeared to me) I could speak with so much less effort. Even effortlessly at times, something I never expected to feel. I felt it most when chatting with my host family or fellow volunteers about topics I used to feel I did not have the adequate words to describe and then just resolved to listen. I also felt it during unexpected class presentations when we were supposed to just talk on our own, naturally and freely about different topics we studied. It’s like the words I got tongue-tied over were finally flowing out! I have to say it felt good, reassuring and gave me a new confidence to contribute more to conversation and share more of my ideas and opinions in different settings. Looking back at my personal notes where I wrote to just accept where I was at, despite the low level, and just do my best to improve, make me smile now. Although there were times where I had serious doubts about how effective my studying was and how well I’d be able to manage the language throughout the program, it seems at least some doubts were definitely unfounded. I am not done yet, but I feel I will be able to leave Mendoza with a sense of accomplishment and pride in my efforts and of course, great appreciation for the teachers, students, my host family and countless other Argentines that shaped my learning experience so profoundly. Read More »


The (Study Abroad) Spanish Test

Time May 16th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Welcome to my study abroad Spanish test. Carefully read all instructions before beginning.


Photo: Mirtha Alcayaga, 2016.

This test will measure your ability to be a vocal citizen of the Hispanophone world. It will take place in universities, discos, bakeries, terminals and bedrooms. You will be tested during first dates, popular assemblies and soccer games. There are no multiple choice questions and no blanks to be filled. True and false are but a matter of perspective. Please respond to all questions thoroughly. If you do not know the answer, guess. Or get homesick and cry. Use Spanish and, only when necessary, the miming equivalent of stick figure drawings.

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Replug: Technology in the ‘Raw Abroad’

Time May 12th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Unplugging is like using sunscreen: I know I should do it, I often don’t and maybe that’s why I’ll die of cancer.

Even though it is generally good advice, I tend to roll my eyes whenever someone tells me I spend too much time on my laptop. So earlier this month when Inside Higher Ed published “Digital Cocoons and the Raw Abroad,” a plea by two U.S. professors for study abroad students to unplug from their “digital helmet,” I rolled my eyes so hard I felt like I was thirteen again. Here’s an excerpt:

Today’s study abroad explorers may leave their home country but not leave home at all. Thanks to cheap international data plans and smartphones in their pockets, millennial Americans seldom say goodbye to familiar friends, family and online comforts as they set out to experience life in a different country. Can a digital native ever go native?

What does it take for a digital native like me to “go native” in Santiago? Well, considering how many of my Chilean friends also grew up glued to a Game Boy, I would have to plug in, Santiago-style.

“Don’t unplug. Replug.” Photos: Daniel Bergerson, 2016.

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From Limerick to Galway Back to Limerick and Off to Scotland!

Time May 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I decided to take a break from studying for my Irish history final exam (I can not believe I just said final exam… what?!) and catch up on what is going on with me these past few weeks. I feel as though each time I sit down to write, I’ve done something new and unique which I feel has epitomised my study abroad experience… I’m definitely not complaining! Read More »


The Nicest People in the World

Time April 14th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I’ve mentioned before, I did very little research before deciding to study at University College Cork. I didn’t have a ton of options for schools that met my engineering course requirements; I knew I wanted to study in Europe. And I was adamant that, whichever country I ended up in, the citizens of that country spoke English.

People encouraged me to drop this restriction; it cut out France, Spain, Germany, Italy– so many countries in Europe do not first and foremost speak English, and what if I was missing out on a crucial experience by going somewhere that did? Read More »


Packing Advice: Leave the Guitar, Bring the Song

Time February 24th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

With less than 24 hours until my flight, I am still not worrying about what to bring to Santiago. Having already lived there for a semester makes packing more of a chore than a stressor.

Instead, I’m thinking about what to bring from Chile (as well as what I will leave behind) once I finish my second and final semester of study abroad in July.

The first one ended in December with tearful farewells to my Chilean friends, teachers and family. I left behind thank-you gifts, wrecked boots, an alternate personality specific to Santiago, and much more. I brought back a bottle of wine, two notebooks full of field notes, enough motivation to attend the Minneapolis Board of Education’s public meetings and much, much more.

There are plenty of lists telling travelers what to leave and what to bring, so I have a different kind of answer to the packing question. I want to explain the there-and-back-again story of study abroad via guitars. Yes, guitars — you know, the things that I strum to seem more creative and deep.

We’ll start with this one.

Like most acoustic guitars in Chile, this fine specimen is a Spanish guitar. It has six nylon strings, twelve frets that clear the body and no strap — typical for guitars of the modern classical build. Let’s call it Ramírez.

I first met Ramírez in September. One day I came home from a comparative education seminar at Universidad Alberto Hurtado to find him sitting in my spot at the kitchen table next to my host mother and brother. Knowing I write songs (and overestimating my skill), they had asked a friend to lend us her dust-collector of a guitar.

Or at least that was their story. Little did I know they had bought Ramírez used. (And that’s just one of many times my host family went out of their way to make me feel at home.)

Though my host mother had hoped for living room serenades on par with her Whitney Houston CDs, I could only stumble through chord progressions and hum half-forgotten melodies in my off-pitch, nasally voice. What else would you expect from a shoddy musician playing an unfamiliar instrument?

The frets had no markers, so my eyes learned to recognize chord shapes on their own. The string tension was low, so my muscles learned to press hard without bending notes. The neck was wide, so my pinky learned to stretch into what used to be an easy position.

Despite all of Ramírez’ idiosyncrasies, I adapted. Come December, my repertoire included several classic Chilean songs, including “Paramar” by Los Prisioneros. That particular song took a week to learn — a week of morning bus rides spent listening to the track on repeat, memorizing the melody, mouthing the lyrics with just enough restraint to not make my fellow passengers uncomfortable, plus a week of evening “study breaks” spent studying the song, first playing along with the recording, then by myself with the guitar. Mimicking the song forms and rhyme schemes of Chilean artists, I even drafted a few ditties of my own in Spanish.

And somewhere along the way — somewhere between acquiring the Victor Jara songbook and finishing “Choca Puño” (my first Spanish-language song) — I started to forget, at least sometimes, about my other guitar in Minnesota.

Sure, it has six strings and a soundhole just like Ramírez, but the similarities end there. The frets are marked, the strings are tight and the neck is half as wide. What’s more, as each guitar should, it has its own name: Martin.

When Martin and I were reunited during winter break, we played the songs I had learned with Ramírez, but it took a bit of practice first. Just as I had adapted to Ramírez’s idiosyncrasies, I  adjusted my technique according to the particular contours of Martin’s fourteen-fret, non-cutaway, Sitka spruce body. Of course some songs sounded hollow without that original Ramírez flair, but others came alive thanks to Martin’s unique twang.

Last semester I learned so many songs while sitting in my spot at the kitchen table (not to mention while interviewing teachers in the schoolyard and marching in the streets of Santiago) that it would be a shame to not bring them back stateside. “Paramar” by Los Prisioneros is just one example. Other “songs” of mine include Chilean idioms and a critical analysis of free market education reforms. Sure, I change the tune to suit a U.S. audience, but the songs are still worth singing.

So, if you’re a study abroad student or a traveler of any stripe willing to listen to a guitar noob like me, here’s my advice: When you must leave the guitar, remember to bring the songs.


Learning Spanish, poco a poco

Time July 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

July 13, 2013

Today was my last full day in Liberia, one of the bigger cities in Guanacaste, the northwest region of Costa Rica.

I had a great time climbing volcanoes, touring the clubs and dancing/singing with ticos.

But one the best, worst parts of my first week here: Spanish.

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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!


The Death or Rebirth of the Welsh Language

Time July 8th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the word unique is defined as “being the only existing one of its type or, more generally, unusual or special in some way” (Cambridge, 2009). This is a word that best describes Wales and the language and culture that lives within it. Everyday the world is becoming more globalized leaving certain customs and languages behind, which is why it is increasingly important to hold onto any unique qualities that a county and culture might have.

The one thing that you will notice right away if you decide to study in Wales is that on every street sign, words written in Welsh first and then English second even though only a small percentage of Welsh actually speak the native language still. But the Welsh Assembly Government has a strong stand on their beliefs, and can’t see the road signs being any other way.

The Welsh Assembly believes that the Welsh language is an important part of Wales’ national identity. In order to revive and revitalize the Welsh language, the Welsh Assembly has been creating numerous action plans for the government and people of Wales, which the public unfortunately isn’t too keen about.

The state of the world is becoming more globalized each day. Technology has now created the possibility and even the likelihood of a global culture, which I found to be very alarmingly so while in the U.K. With the amount of American culture that I saw each day, I sometimes forgot I actually was in a different country. Obviously the Internet, and Cable TV are sweeping away cultural boundaries. I have found that global entertainment companies shape the thoughts and perceptions of ordinary people across the world.

In the present day, it is very easy for a minority culture to disappear which is why extra effort in sustaining individuality is more important than ever. This said, I completely support the Welsh Assembly Government in their efforts of reviving the Welsh Language. I really do hope that the language is maintained for the sake of the identity and culture that exists in Wales.