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I’m currently sitting in my new room in my host family’s apartment, sweating profusely. Unfortunately for me, it is just as hot in Madrid as it is in D.C., but without the blessing of constant air conditioning. My slightly overheated state and desire for a fan sum up my feelings about the coming month pretty well: I’m embracing the uncomfortable and adjusting to the culture shock.
Anyone who has ever met me knows that I’m a person who enjoys having a rhythm. At Georgetown, I have established study spots, favorite restaurants, and the quickest routes to class to optimize sleep time. Even planning for study abroad happened in true type-A fashion. I have known that I wanted to study abroad in Madrid since high school and I didn’t even consider other options. I methodically researched the city, my classes, and potential weekend trips.
As helpful as planning is, it’s no substitute for reality. I still feel apprehensive about speaking Spanish, making the 40-minute commute to class, and my utter lack of fútbol knowledge. For all the things that I can plan for, there are many more that cannot be anticipated, only faced head on.
Thankfully, in the past two weeks, I haven’t had that much time to stress about study abroad. I have been traveling throughout Central Europe, which meant facing a different type of discomfort. For the most part, traveling to a city for a few days is something I am used to. It’s easy to get over the annoyances of sleeping on the floor of a Czech train or trying to figure out the exchange rate of Hungarian Forints when you know that the situation will pass in mere hours. Living in Madrid will give me the chance to really know and embrace a city, for the good and the bad.
I am excited for new challenges this semester and the somewhat unappealing opportunity to feel like a lost freshman at NSO again. Hopefully, I can do it with a little more grace and adaptability than I showed two years ago, gaining another new city to call home.
After months of anticipation, the day is finally upon me. I woke up and checked my watch to confirm the fact I already knew so well: by the end of today I will be in a country part of a continent completely unknown to me. Everything familiar to me is about to vanish for the next 4 months, for after today everything will be fresh and new. From the terminal my plane takes off in, to the type of food I eat in Seoul will be completely different. I woke up with a sense of fear as well as excitement knowing everything will be a new experience for the next 4 months. I made the decision to go to Seoul without much knowledge on the city and culture. To better educate myself, I took Korean history classes and sought out friends and family familiar with the country known for its viral K-pop culture and its obsession with Soju and Noraebang (Karaoke). I learned what I could, but knowledge can only help so much when traveling alone to a place where the dialect and traditions are unfamiliar to say the least. What I need is experience, and that is what I am attempting to do gain through this trip. To get lost in a world completely unlike my own in every way I can comprehend is the challenge. To fully absorb the culture and gain a better understanding of Korean society is the goal, and in doing so, I believe I will learn more about myself than I ever have in my 20 years of living. I am more than excited for this new adventure I am about to embark on, and this new life I am about to take on.
Coming from a place so small it cannot be considered a town –it is considered a village– in which the nearest metropolitan area is at least an hour away, I am intrigued at what daily life at Yonsei University will be like. The campus is in the center of the bustling town of Sinchon and only a 15-minute train ride to the center of Seoul. The village of Winnetka, the place I consider home, takes about 7 minutes to cross completely by car, and coming from a small town to a sprawling up and coming urban environment like Seoul will give me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in every part of the capital of Korea.
Fast forward several hours, and I am now sitting on the plane writing this piece. As I sit through this 13-hour flight, I am captivated by the geography of the multiple countries we pass over that I have yet to travel to. By simply looking at an unknown area fascinates me; I cannot begin to imagine what it is going to be like when I am completely surrounded by the unknown area of Seoul. The flight has been very pleasant, and I have started my cultural immersion before landing in Korea by enjoying the flights complimentary Korean wine and Bulgogi dishes. Another aspect of Korea I have begun to catch onto is the focus on beauty. From every product in SkyMall Magazine being sold in order to “enhance you’re beauty”, to every topic on KBS News relating to techniques to trim down your weight, it seems that the aesthetic of one’s image is of high importance. Regardless, my excitement is on an exponential incline as we close in on our destination. So far, everything has been working out well, and I am more than excited to land. Hopefully it stays that way as I continue my travels in South Korea.
**NOTE: Due to Wi-Fi discrepancies, this blog entry was originally meant to be posted on August 17th, 2016, but was not able to be posted until August 25th, 2016.
Three days ago, I thought that I would be studying in Sweden this semester. The universe had other plans. My Swedish residency permit application was denied. And since I have already been in the EU for over a month traveling, there was a possibility that I would not be allowed to enter Sweden at all. Not ideal! DIS offered to switch me to the Copenhagen program to avoid such a sticky situation, and – much to the relief of my very worried parents – I accepted. With all of the extra paperwork and changing plans, I didn’t have time to write a pre-departure post. But since I have only just begun to process the change, I think this counts. :)
When I arrived, I knew one thing about Denmark: it is, according to the World Happiness Report, the happiest country in the world. I’m all for happiness. In fact, my first email address was firstname.lastname@example.org because I love smiley faces so much. I learned today that Danes bake notoriously delicious pastries. (Maybe that’s why Danish people are so happy all of the time). Plus, the nationalized healthcare system that I was so excited to study in Sweden is almost identical to the healthcare system in Denmark. Score.
I am still choosing classes and shaping my life for the next four months. I have many supportive people guiding me through the process. For now, I am happy. I am excited. I am ready to learn about Denmark and eat lots of pastries.
It’s the middle of August, and I am ready to go back to Georgetown.
In my absentminded daydreams, I draw up packing lists, plan out my dorm room decorations, reminisce about warm September days in Washington – watching the leaves turn fire colors; feeling motivated by the boundless energy on campus at the start of the year; looking up at Healy clock tower as the sun sets and feeling at home in the world.
This fall semester, however, will be markedly different from the last two. This August, I am leaving behind, temporarily, everything I have built for myself at Georgetown over the past few years. In two weeks, I am getting on a plane to Ireland, ready (hopefully) for a semester abroad at Trinity College Dublin.
To tell you that I am not afraid would be dishonest. In many ways, I feel like a freshman all over again. Yet, I am excited, eager for the new friends, new ideas, and new experiences I hope to find in Dublin. As an International Politics major, I’m looking forward to studying European politics, and especially Irish politics, as the EU faces a major crossroads given the Brexit vote this past June. As an English nerd, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to live in a UNESCO City of Literature for four months. I’m also excited to use my semester abroad as a chance to connect with my Irish roots, to visit my cousins, and to both immerse myself in modern Irish culture and deepen my appreciation for traditional Irish music and arts.
They say your study abroad experience is supposed to help you discover a different side of yourself. And so, with this in mind, I am embracing this semester as an opportunity to take a step back mid-way through my college career and gain some perspective.
My aim in writing this blog is to chronicle that experience. And this, I suppose, is how it begins: with a late night post, written with trepidation in my heart and a restlessness in my shoes.
To be honest, I have been putting off this blog post for a couple of days now. I couldn’t decide if I should write about the tough transition and the homesickness or about some of the experiences that have been truly wonderful. And I guess right as this moment I am deciding to write about both. Because while I am writing these blog posts for my family and friends I am also writing it for prospective study abroad students and I think it will be useful to read about both sides of my arrival.
It has been almost two weeks since I’ve arrived in Santiago, but it feels like it’s been at least a month. It’s crazy because classes haven’t even started yet, but I’ve visited so many sites with the IFSA-Butler Program and my host family. Let’s take on the adjustment part first shall we? When I first arrived in Santiago, while I was excited to be there, I was exhausted. I was a little disappointed in myself for not having neither the energy nor the desire to run around the city and explore every hidden corner. My brain felt fried from having to keep up with all the Spanish all day. Chileans also speak very quickly and tend to drop the end sounds of their words, which was a bit difficult at first. In short, it was frustrating. But I am also realizing that that is entirely normal. And the lethargy passed after about a week. By now I’ve been amazed by the breathtaking views of the snow-capped Andes, tempted by the restaurants of Barrio Bellavista, and warmed by how quickly and easily my host family has adopted me as one of their own.
The homesickness is still with me, but less so every day. I miss my family, my friends, my boyfriend, Georgetown cupcakes, my favorite restaurants in Boston,: everything. But I’ve also realized that I 100% agree with what my dad once said to me about homesickness. Homesickness is good. It means that one is fortunate. It means that I have a home, family, and friends to miss in the first place. It is a luxury that not everyone has and I am learning to appreciate it for what it is.
I also miss one thing in particular: my independence. This is a warning to anyone thinking about study abroad: if you want to be able to set your own schedule, do as you please, and only have to think about yourself, do not do a homestay. However, this is what I wanted and I would not do it differently if I could make the decision again. That being said, it is an adjustment. Especially after two years of living on my own at college, eating whenever and whatever I want, making my own plans on the weekend, and having alone time whenever I pleased, it is a bit of a transition. My host mother has made plans for me constantly—a tango class, the opera, a day trip to Viña del Mar, and up next: a three day trip to the south of Chile. I am learning to go with the flow. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it is very fun and I am getting to spend a lot of time with Pili, or as I already call my host mom, Mamá.
I realize that so far, I sound like I’m not having fun, so I need to change the tone. There are countless reasons why I already love Santiago. My host family, as I’ve already mentioned, is extremely welcoming and loving. My host mother gives lots of hugs, which as an avid hugger myself, I love. Isa and Silvana from the IFSA-Butler Program Office have been amazing and take care of us gringos extremely well. I like our group a lot. Just last Monday some of us climbed Cerro San Cristobal (which translates to hill but if you asks me it’s something in between a hill and a mountain). The hike was exhausting but beautiful and exhilarating, and at the top was a ginormous statue of La Virgen, Mother of Christ and a picturesque view.
This city is perfect for dog lovers; the streets are full of strays. While it is heartbreaking to see them without homes, the dogs actually seem pretty happy to me. They are very friendly and calm, and many people pet them. Chileans take good care of the street dogs; it is quite common to see a little girl tossing un perrito a corner of her empanada. Seeing all of the strays is different from my experiences in the U.S., but in a cool way.
One of my favorite experiences was a few nights nights ago. My host mom taught me how to make gnocchi by hand! My friends back at school will laugh when they read this because I am notoriously bad at cooking. But I had fun rolling out the little potato dumplings, and as Pili says, “Ten confianza en la cocina!” (“Have confidence in the kitchen!”) Can’t wait to show all you guys my #lit cooking skills when I return. That’s all for now!
“Aren’t you scared to go somewhere so far away all by yourself?”
This is a question I’ve heard before. The summer between graduating High School and coming to the Hill Top, my family, friends, and strangers at the groccery store asked me time and time again whether or not I was afraid to move to Washington, D.C. all by myself. “Are you sure you want to move to a city? There’s just so many people there.” My hometown boasts just under 10,000 occupants and miles of corn and soybean fields on the edges – and most of its occupants like it that way.
The answer two years ago was a resounding, “no.” I was bouncing with the excitement of a new adventure – I was getting out of my small Iowa town and going somewhere. Two years later, I’m faced with the same question, but the answer is a little different.
I can’t say that I’m not nervous to go abroad. I’m beyond excited to travel outside of the US for the first time in my life. I am a little nervous about the language difference – I speak French but there is a little voice in the back of my mind asking what the French Department they made a mistake with the language testing and you’re not ready? I remind myself that the classes are pass/fail – I’m there for the experience and to learn as much as I can. Knowing that I’ll be living with a host family comforts me. For the first time in my life I will have not one but three sisters. Surely one of them will have the patience to help me? Perhaps I can help them in some way?
Then the little voice in my head reminds me how hard French was for me during my first semester at Georgetown. By far my most difficult class, Intensive Intermediate French was a really difficult transition from a high school French program that didn’t require that I ever speak French to the 6 times a week schedule of an intensive language at Georgetown. I could read and write the language, but when it came time to say something, I was terrified – I am terrified.
However, what I believe is the real reason for my frazzled nerves is a little bit deeper imbedded in who I am than a fear of bumbling my words. I like to understand the whole process, the big picture, the entire system as it moves around me. I am afraid of feeling like I am only touching the surface of another language, another country, another culture. I want to be immersed and to walk and talk like a native. I know that this is an unrealistic desire, so I must prepare for a new experience and one that might make me a little uncomfortable. All I can do is pledge to be present during the full length of my stay and to relax into a new culture – even when I don’t understand everything.
Am I scared to go somewhere so far away all by myself? Yes, but I know I will be better for it.
Driving through my suburban neighborhood with the windows rolled all the way down, I’m sweating. It’s the hottest day of the summer and I’m on the way to visit the friends I’ve had for years on years. A nervous lump forms in my throat as I realize that I’m about to leave for a long time. Long enough to pass the honeymoon phase. Long enough to become doubtful and realize I’m as far away from home as I have ever been. The feeling is new to me. Even going to college was never a big deal because I live half an hour away. If I forgot anything, my dad would just bring it to me. If I got sick, my parents would pick me up in a heartbeat.
I’ve grown used to knowing the people and area at home. It’s safe to say that most people I communicate with have heard about the same current events and have at least some idea of the strange terms we millennials use (rest in peace, fam). To be quite honest, all I know about Australia is based on stereotype or fact. We’ve all heard about the excessive use of “mate”, buff kangaroos, and Steve Irwin, but these barely capture anything meaningful within Australian culture. It’s no effort to look up what the weather is like or whether the toilets actually flush the opposite direction of ours, but these facts don’t lead to any real understanding. The point is that the people in Australia live an entirely different reality than I do as an American, and I feel more than ready to learn. As I am with anything unknown, I’m apprehensive. At the same time I’m exhilarated to find out what these people think, feel, and experience and what it’s like to live in Sydney.
Here I am, confronting the idea that I’m going to a place where I know no one, have no sense of placement or direction, and essentially have to just relax and encounter things as they pass. Everything is about to change. As I’m sweating in the Maryland summer, it’s a July winter in Aussieland. I guess the only way I can explain what I’m about to encounter is best said in the words of the great DJ Jazzy Jeff and legendary Fresh Prince – my life got flip-turned upside-down.
Less than two weeks away. Less than two weeks away until I arrive in Santiago, my new home for the next five months. When I think about that fact, a flurry of emotions passes through my gut. I am, as I’ve repeated a thousand times to friends, family, and acquaintances, excited. I am curious to see what Chilean culture is like and I am exhilarated by the opportunity to speak Spanish every day. But I am also nervous. There is a part of my heart that seems to drop down to my stomach and I’ll be honest with you, it’s not the most comfortable feeling. Those of my friends and family who know me well know I am apt to overthink and reflect on my emotions a lot, for better or for worse. Well, reflecting on why I feel so anxious to leave, I think it has more to do with what I am leaving behind than what I am about to endeavor on. I love my city of Boston, from the North End to Post Office Square Park. I love being able to see my parents every day and hang out with my high school friends. I am going to miss that New England autumn, where the leaves transform into a crescendo of bright oranges, reds, ambers and browns. I will miss being around people who don’t give it a second thought when I say “wicked” or “roundabout.”
But here’s the thing. I’ve fallen in love with more than my home city before. I’ve grown to love D.C. and living on the Georgetown Hilltop. Exactly two years ago, the summer before my first year at Georgetown, I experienced an uneasiness that is not all too different from this one. And yet, lo and behold, I grew to love my new city of Washington, D.C. My sunny Sunday walks from the front gates of Georgetown to Trader Joe’s never fails to fill me with a sense of contentedness and belonging. While D.C. autumns have nothing on Boston’s brilliant colors, the spring cherry blossoms never fail to amaze me. I have had countless stupid yet unforgettable nights with Hoyas that I already know will be at my wedding in who knows how many years. Dramatic, I know, but what’s my point? I suppose that what I take away from all this reflection is that even though nothing can replace Boston, I can fall in love with dozens of cities. I think what I’m realizing is that part of life is learning to leave places you love in order to embrace new ones. In the wise words of my mom, (or maybe this is already a famous saying anyway), sometimes you need to let doors close so that new ones can open. Or something like that.
This final week I will be busy: packing, saying goodbyes, over-worrying. But one thought is sticking with me through it all. I am ready to fall in love again—with Santiago, Chile.
I still find myself continuing habits that I had formed in Cape Town, such as burning incense and scented candles, drinking cucumber water and instant coffee, consuming hummus and avocados on flatbread, and writing when I am inspired by life. I have adjusted to life back home in Michigan, but I find myself daydreaming of Cape Town’s sky, the mountains, the people, and the speed of life there. My days in Michigan pass by a bit slower, but I find productive ways to spend my time when I am not in class.
One thing that I have been doing recently is talking to people from Georgetown University. The number one question I get asked is, “How was South Africa?” Other common questions are “What did you learn?,” “What do you miss most about South Africa?,” and “Are you happy to be back?” In this blog post, I plan to give a general overview of how I answer these questions, since I have memorized what I say.
First, I mention how I blogged for two institutions, Georgetown University and Arcadia Abroad, in case they are interested in reading about my journeys in more detail. Then, I move into a general overview like this: “I studied abroad in a small city in the country of South Africa, a place characterized by a big wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Much of this wealth is racially stratified as the disparities are dictated by Apartheid, despite the laws ending in 1994. As a foreigner who benefitted from the exchange rate of the USD to the Rand, I could easily enter spaces of wealth, poverty, and the areas that exist in between. This expanded my understanding of how an economy works and the concept of socio-economic status that I now apply to my American life.”
“As a native- English speaker, there were only a few times when people did not understand me. In those times, I practiced patience and understood that perhaps English was not everyone’s first language.”
“As a foreign, light skin, Black woman, I understood how I benefitted from light skin privilege in some male-dominated spaces. I also felt how people stared at me and/or attempted to exoticize me for my foreign identity. Street harassment in the form of catcalling awoken fears in me that I have never experienced before, especially when I was active during the nightlife. In my last month, I was able to gain a peace of mind after realizing that me being fearful everyday took away from my experience. I always carried around a knife and pepper spray, but I never had to use it. Would I carry these items around again? Maybe. I also learned the power in saying, ‘no.’ I stopped giving out my phone number as a way for men to leave me alone because the last thing I wanted was for someone who I did not know to have my personal information. Furthermore, it would only lead to these people sending me texts when I had no intention on replying. In the end, I realized that my time was too precious to be wasted on people I rather not know.”
“As an African American individual, I got to experience how people overseas understood the African American experience, whether they wanted to ask me more questions about it or to mock me for it. I did battle stereotypes that American media produced of Black women and of Black people in general. This was challenging, but every experience made me stronger. I became deliberate in my approach of answering questions. Though sometimes, I just walked away because a book I suggested could do a better job at educating than myself. I also found some of these encounters to be very ironic, given that hip hop music and fashion was present in so many spaces.”
“As a writer and a poet, I found my voice and preserved it in my poetry, blogs, short stories, voice memos, and free-styles. I was inspired everyday by my interactions with the world around me. I truly appreciated the art and jazz scene Cape Town had to offer. The spoken word I heard over there influenced my art and made it stronger. By the end, I became less sensitive about my work and was more willing to share my creations with those around me.”
“As a college student in the South African education system, I was taught a more global view of history, sociology, and anthropology. In America, we basically learn about America, which I believe makes us very US-centric and cheats us from learning a global perspective, especially if one does not have the resources to leave the country. This change in perspective has even impacted how I read fiction based outside of the USA. Instead of reading over names and places that are ‘foreign,’ I attempt to sound out the words in my head or out loud. I also contemplate more about the effects of European colonialism in other countries. Moving forward, I am more willing to learn about global issues, rather than ones that are specific to the USA.”
“Overall, as an autonomous individual, I gained clarity and started to believe in myself as I challenged my own inferiority complex.”
“By my last month, I had adjusted mentally and physically to Cape Town time. I am grateful for the people that I bonded with overseas. They, along with my memories and lessons that I have learned will not be forgotten. Studying abroad in Cape Town was the best life decision I have made besides choosing to attend Georgetown University.”
Thank you for reading my blog posts. I plan to continue blogging about my summer in Michigan and my senior year at Georgetown University.