I usually only go back home one time before the end of the semester (for Thanksgiving). When it comes time to depart from Union Station for my home in the hills, I always look forward to it. I'm excited to return to family, friends, pets, the house I grew up in, and the restaurants that I never really appreciated until I left. We all know the feeling of comfort that accompanies familiarity. Conversely, at the end of long holidays, I'm always ready to go back to DC. I'm excited to return again to my other friends, classes, parties, nightlife, etc. But my desire to return to these two places has never been uncomfortably strong.
However, this past week was the first time I really experienced homesickness. I think a combination of missing both of these homes, in addition to missing creature comforts (like bacon, fresh milk, public transit, burgers, clean streets, English proficiency, good beer, etc...) really just got to me. I kind of just laid in bed, thinking about how great it was going to be to see all my favorite people and places again. Focusing on this made anything else just seem gray.
But after a wasted day filled with a disgusting amount of sleeping, lounging, and Facebook, I just got tired of being homesick; I came to the realization that there's no way I'm going to do everything that I want to do before I leave here, and I'll most likely leave wishing I could come back to experience this that or the other thing. And while I still miss all those things back in the states, I've stopped thinking about it so much. Constantly comparing things to their counterparts "back home" gets you in this terrible state of mind where you fail to fully appreciate what's in front of you. So while I'm still looking forward to my homecoming experience, I've stopped looking ahead to it. That is. I've been focusing on where and when I am right now, and no more, and that has been much more enjoyable.
It’s happened. I have crossed over to the dark side and officially become a tea drinker. I wasn’t expecting to, and to be entirely honest, was in many ways hoping I wouldn’t, but the conversion has happened. I now regularly drink more tea than coffee, even in the mornings – what has my life come to? Of course I realize how overly dramatic and bizarre I sound with all this, but as I’ve mentioned before, I am a fairly avid coffee drinker and usually a hesitant tea consumer, so the realization that I now drink more tea than coffee in a day came as quite a shock.
So, as I sat there the other morning drinking my cup of lemon ginger clippings tea, reveling in my new realization and listening to my flatmate joke about how British I’ve become, it occurred to me just how many little British and Scottish habits and practices I had picked up over the last few weeks. A lot of people assume the cultural exchange when studying abroad is limited to new foods, dress, and popular culture references, but there are so many more subtle habits and cultural aspects that crossover without you realizing it. These are especially apparent when you participate in a direct exchange program like this where you predominately interact with local students rather than other Americans.
So here are the top four unexpected cultural habits I’ve picked up over thus far:
1. Tea over coffee
This is probably the most generic and stereotypical example, but it’s happened and I’m still coping.
2. Question Inflection
Now I haven’t started to speak with a Scottish accent, but it has been pointed out to me several times that I phrase questions with a British inflection. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but if you visit or study in the UK, or watch enough British television, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
3. Saying “trousers” or “jeans” but avoiding “pants” at all costs
Now I realize that this is another rather strange sounding cultural habit or practice, but it is definitely one that will happen to you if you study or visit here. The term “pants” refers to a very different article of clothing than it does in the States, so you learn quickly that not all statements about your pants are socially acceptable. Like most other Scottish and British slang phrases like “clever” or “bloody,” most people tend to pick up on this one rather quickly.
4. Thinking like a Brit or a Scot
This is another one that is a bit more difficult to properly describe, but over the past few weeks, I have definitely noticed a difference in my normal mindset. For example, I am much more sarcastic and my sense of humor is getting dryer by the day. I also find myself a bit more reserved in social interactions, a characteristic I’ve realized is quite normal and common for many Brits. I’ve also started to notice the differences between North and South regions of the UK and make reference to them on a fairly regular basis. Now of course these are minor details, but it seems that almost everyday I am seeing more and more of the Scottish perspective and more exciting yet, actually understanding and internalizing them.
Study abroad is famous for the travel opportunities that it offers students, but so far my experience in London has consisted of—well, just London so far. To put this into perspective, I, like a handful of other LSE students, have classes on Friday evenings, which makes it both expensive and inconvenient to travel during the weekend. This is a frustrating situation when other students, including a few from GW, enjoy the fact that their classes meet only on Mondays and Tuesdays, giving them the chance to travel for 5 days without having to stress about missing classes. If any future study abroad students happen to one day stumble onto my blog, I wanted to create this post to tell you that things are not as bad as they seem. Let me explain how I came to this realization.
In the few days that I allowed myself to wallow in self-hatred for the fact that I had booked a 5-6 pm Friday class, I lost nearly all appreciation for the city that I had actually decided to come to in the first place! Ignorance is certainly bliss, but in this case it was too much of a good thing—I had forgotten just how amazing the city around me could be, and losing sight of that truly upset me. Sure, I thought, there are things that I am missing out on by staying here, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot still enjoy everything that London has to offer—its pubs, its music, its culture, and, of course (as my previous posts have revealed), its food. All this worrying left me stressed out and shortsighted of the opportunities that the four weeks of winter break, and five weeks of spring break, would bring me. As Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I realized I was on the side of the majority simply by studying abroad, and paused to reflect on how amazing this experience is in and of itself.
The grass is always greener on the other side, and after I understood this I enjoyed my week here to the fullest. After spending an unthinkable lump sum on a 9-month gym membership, I’ve spent a good deal of time getting back into shape in the gym. Consequently, this has meant I have also spent a good deal of time trying to prevent myself from laughing in front of men who choose to wear shorts that are shorter than anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life. But, to be fair, I am probably what they would consider an American who is simply ignorant of the culture here, and in this situation I would have no choice but to agree—that is, until I decide to embrace my study abroad experience by waltzing into their gym sporting my own pair of very short shorts. When this experience comes about I will be sure to report back to the blog, but for now that is all I have. Wish me luck as I attempt to balance work with life this coming week.
What a month its been! Our program spent weeks in the Bolivian Administrative Capital La Paz meeting with the famous Bolivian artist Mamani Mamani, a feminist lesbian indigenous rights group and a non profit youth theater and circus troupe. After our time in La Paz we traveled to Lake Titicaca for an indigenous home-stay on the Island of the Sun to learn from a community that has existed for over 3,000 years. This rural isolated island in the middle of the world's highest navigable lake is accepted as the spiritual and cultural center for all Andean civilizations dating back over 4 thousand years. These past few weeks were filled with new experiences, long bus rides and lots of potato soup, all these experiences were also incredible different than what the final part of my semester is about to turn into.
I am preparing to work on ambulances in Bolivia and learn the strengths and weaknesses of the EMS system in Latin America's third poorest country. At this point I have just begun to explore various organizations and research opportunities in Cochabamba where I currently live as well as the country's two largest cities, La Paz and Santa Cruz. I have my first official ambulance ride along tomorrow (October 18th) with SAR Bolivia, a volunteer ambulance, fire fighting and search and rescue organization whose 450 volunteers are Cochabamba's primary emergency response organization. I have had a few interviews and meetings with the one of the founders of the organization and have learned a little bit about the sacrifices that the volunteers must make in their professional and familial lives in order to be apart of this organization. Though I am really excited to work with SAR Cochabamba I will likely end up completing the majority of my research in another city.
I will make sure to provide an update this weekend after my ride along and will include as many photos and stories as I can.
I am happy to announce that life in the internship-realm has picked up considerably since my last blog post. No longer am I being put on hold- the intensive language class has come to an end, the weather is cooling down, school is starting up, and it is finally time to buckle down and do some real work.
About two weeks ago I was put on a regular schedule, working three days a week, at least 15 hours in the office as well as some additional tasks to take home. The first few days were quite lax- coming in later in the afternoon, having a meeting with my supervisor to discuss exactly what I should be preparing to do for my first project, and heading home to do a bit of online research. However, once there was nothing left to discuss, I hit the ground running.
My first responsibility was to create a public funding strategy for a conservation project involving reform of Southeast Asia's timber industry. It was a seriously daunting task. As a Criminal Justice and German double major, I have never taken a finance or marketing class, never been very interested in business, and definitely never created anything mildly similar to a public funding strategy. The phrase was completely foreign to me, dictating that there would be a lot of hours spent on Google before anything concrete came into being.
With a deeply concerted effort, I pulled it off in the two days I was given. I was quite nervous to present it, but my efforts did not go unnoticed. I could sigh in relief when they thanked me whole-heartedly and said that my strategy would be exceedingly helpful throughout the next couple of weeks. Afterwards, they asked if I could divide the tasks up into equal parts for the team. I was shocked and confused- It's hard for me to believe that an intern's work could be used in such a legitimate way- after my DC internship experiences, I was expecting to be assigned fluff tasks - I figured that nothing I did would be taken seriously. To be asked to divide up the tasks of a project that I had created and assign jobs to the existing work-team was both a huge compliment and a totally unexpected occurrence.
Now that I've finished the public funding strategy, I'll be moving on to another project. Though I'm not sure exactly what it will be, I'm excited to find out. I love the increased responsibility that I've been given at TNC Europe. In comparison to other internships that I've had back home, it's a refreshing and welcome change. I'm not getting coffees, ripping out staples, shredding paper, or scanning copious amounts of documents onto a PC circa 1995. I feel like a part of a team, and it's only my second week. What I'm doing actually does matter, and it's making a huge difference in the amount of motivation I have to go to work and try my absolute hardest with each new task.
On another note, I love Berlin, and it's now really starting feel like home. I've explored every quadrant of the city, partaken in a few tourist-necessities and successfully given directions to tourists. It's been a successful fall, and I am excited to get into the winter semester and really kick off the year.With classes just starting, my internship picking up speed, and the weather turning from a crisp Indian summer into a decidedly chilly late Autumn, I'm ready to bunker down and chug away at whatever the University and TNC can throw at me.
I’m finally in the last 3 weeks of my semester and have been contemplating all the adventure trips I’ve yet to check off my to-do list. Cape Town has so much to offer adrenaline junkies like myself, so I thought I might list a few things in writing to encourage me to knock a few off my bucket list:
1.Skydiving -on every single person’s bucket list on this planet. Cape Town offers the most beautiful fall from a plane in the world. The ride itself up into the sky boasts views of all Cape Town’s attractions, from Table Mountain to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent 20 years imprisoned while battling the Apartheid regime), to the incomparable Atlantic coastline. A bird’s eye view of Cape Town coupled with the threat of impending doom is sure to set every adventurous soul ablaze.
2.Paragliding from Lion’s Head. Lion’s Head, one of Table Mountain’s peaks, offers a 360-degree view of splendor. Willing participants jump alongside trained professionals right off the side of one of the world’s most beautiful cliffs straight into bliss. Threats of 50-knot Cape winds don’t stop anybody from sailing over views of the South African horizon at sunset.
3.Shark Cage Diving. Sharks cluster around vulnerable humans wailing around in chummed water, stirring their appetites for human flesh. Until you look a great white shark in the eyes, you can’t die fulfilled.
4.Abseiling. Otherwise known as ‘repelling’ in the USA, Abseiling offers the thrill of one slim ling holding your body weight over the side of an entire mountain. If the threat of the drop doesn’t distract you too much, the sight of the beautiful geology and stunning city are enough to curb your adrenaline fix for another few months at least.
Most people usually know where their lives are going, what they are going to do tomorrow, the next day, or the next week. Some people like to plan ahead and know what they will be doing next year or in the next four years. However, for an exchange student, life is often both uncertain and interesting. I have especially been finding the next month to be more uncertain than ever. The reason for this is that I will have finished classes! My exams will be done less than a month from now and trying to decide my plans for when I’m done feels like deciding where to go to college. I have a multitude of choices, all of which would end up to be excellent decisions. Should I work, or travel? Where should I work, or where should I travel? Can I do both? At the same time, or separately? Go home for Christmas, or take advantage of the time I can spend here? Hundreds of different choices and all would be fun. In a month from now, I could be here working a job still or on the other side of the world. Fortunately, I enjoy uncertainties such as this and thrive on being spontaneous. I take each day and week as they come and deal with what I need to deal with. While my family would certainly love to know if I am coming home in November/December or not, they will just need to wait to find out.
Exchange students are usually the type of students who deal well with such uncertainties. Some it turns out only planned their exchanges a month or so before they ended up leaving to go to the other side of the world. However, some are more of the long-term planners. There are several exchange students who started the application process for junior year while they were still freshman, and at some universities that was required. So whether you are an long-term planner or a just day-by-day sort of person study abroad is possible and you will find likeminded people as well. For me, before going abroad, while at GW, I went to meet with my study abroad advisor about the possibility of going abroad two semesters later. By the time our meeting had finished I was pretty well certain I would be abroad in less than three months on a program that no GW student had ever participated in before. It’s a scary thought, but so worth it. Every experience I have had has been wonderful and I would never change my abroad experience. I’m sad to know that it will end in less than a month, but also super excited to be finished with school again and have a nice long break!!
Kia Ora mates! It's Merideth writing from Middle Earth.
In New Zealand, universities are starting to prep for final exams, and this means I actually need to get my butt into gear and put the "study" back into study abroad. This is stressful, and it's common for abroad kids to start to feel homesick during this time. I am totally guilty of this, and have been getting pangs of home-sickness lately.
All semester, we have been able to coast through our work and have fun and go adventuring, but there's no escaping finals, and being stressed in a foreign country just makes you miss the comforts of home even more.
Dealing with homesickness can be tricky, but I've come up with a few pointers to cope with it.
Stay busy. You will miss home less if you're not constantly sitting in your room debating life!
Make plans in your study abroad country until right before you leave. This way you have other things to look forward to besides going home.
Try not to plan things for when you are home, because then you will just focus on those and look forward to those activities, instead of taking advantage of the last little bit of time you have abroad.
Try not to Skype your friends from home too much. If they tell you how much fun they're having while you're gone, it will only make your homesickness worse.
You're not alone! I'm sure most of your friends abroad are also going through the same thing. Talk it out with them!
Hope this is helpful! I have a countdown of when I'm going home on my laptop, which probably isn't the best idea, but it will be bittersweet when I leave!
Just try to remember to make the best of the little bit of time you have while abroad. You don't want to regret anything as soon as you get back to the states!
What a whirlwind of a week. I visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv. I climbed the Mount of Temptation, visited ruins of the oldest city in the world, visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat, slept on a rooftop overlooking the Dome of the Rock, woke up to church bells and calls to prayer, touched the Wailing Wall, visited the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and walked the road to where He was crucified and buried. I toured a Palestinian refugee camp and witnessed works by the mysterious street artist, Banksy. I sat in the Mount of Olives and watched the sun set over the Old City, and swam in the Mediterranean. All of these events made for an incredibly surreal week. If you ever study abroad in the Levant or find yourself in the area, these are all things you should be sure to experience. Any further description wouldn't do these attractions justice, though, and if you're interested there Wikipedia articles and travel guides that will tell you anything I could about all of these attractions.
However, what you can't learn on Wikipedia is what you can learn from others. I've always loved making new friends and learning from their life experiences and perspectives, and so far it seems like travel allows you to find new and different experiences and perspectives.
One of the most interesting lessons I learned was from a French girl named Clem. When I met Clem she had just arrived in Jerusalem from New Zealand, where she had spent a few months working and learning English. In our first conversation with her, my friends and I were prone to asking questions like, “What are you doing in Jerusalem?” “How long are you staying?” “What are your plans today?” “What are your plans tomorrow?” “Where are you going after this?” She had come to Jerusalem because she wanted to, and tomorrow she would wake up and do whatever she felt like, and would continue doing that until she wanted to go somewhere else. And then she would do that. It was hard for me to wrap my head around these answers, but it really shouldn't be. Every human lives to be happy, and she's doing exactly what makes her happy. I've always had a plan, and I like it that way. But I had never really considered what else I could be doing, and meeting someone so carefree was really refreshing.
Before I get started, I wanted to apologize for my typo last week. The UK consists of several countries including Wales, not Whales. (Very BIG difference – get it? Whales are big, so punny!)Anyways, I should probably apologize for the lateness of my post this week too. I’ve been travelling for the past few days in Ireland, which means I’ll take a break from Scotland this week for the other Gaelic/Celtic nation.
Ireland is absolutely beautiful! I spent most of my time visiting a friend in Galway, but also got in a bit of time in Dublin and other parts of the west coast near Galway. It was my first time traveling outside the UK and I was traveling on my own until I got to Galway, so admittedly, I was feeling a bit nervous. But, luckily, it was a smooth journey, with no hiccups. I flew into Dublin early on Friday morning and after a few hours to explore, I took a three hour bus to Galway, which is a seaside city on the western coast. As I mentioned, I was visiting a friend who is studying aboard this semester at NUI Galway. In addition to my excitement to be in a new place and see an old friend, I was also really interested to see how other study abroad experiences were.
Much more interesting though were the differences I noticed between the cultures. Before going, most of the people I had spoken to had mentioned that Scotland and Ireland were quite similar, and perhaps living here has just made me more attuned to the subtleties of Scottish culture, but I thought there were several very distinctive differences between the two. Namely, Irish people were much more open and approachably friendly. Don’t get me wrong, people in Scotland are incredibly nice and welcoming, but that is usually when you engage with them. But in Ireland, people will just come up and have a full on conversation with you in the pub or even on the street. It was certainly a shift from the more reserved principles of British interactions. Galway was also a bit more lively than Edinburgh, which is definitely fun, but admittedly, people in Edinburgh do tend to have more of a serious professional or studious approach or attitude about them, whereas Galway seemed much more laid back and carefree.
At the end of the day, the trip was a refreshing change of pace and helped me to better reflect and refocus on my experience thus far. The differences that make your study abroad experience are not just the differences between your location and GW or America, but also the differences that make your location or program or school unique from any other experience out there.
So on that note, I’ll leave you with my top 5 highlights from Ireland, in case you get the chance to visit:
1. Cliffs of Moher: We went to visit for an afternoon as part of a tour and they are AMAZING. You will literally feel like you are walking around in front of a green screen because it just seems too beautiful to be real.
2. The Tour Guide (Des aka “The King of the Burren”): He was not only an awesome tour guide who seemed to know everything about the area, but also the epitome of Irish friendliness.
3. Live music in the pubs: Galway had some of the best live music I’ve heard since being abroad, and that’s saying a lot because Edinburgh has great music. But something about Galway’s blend of traditional Irish folk, bluegrass and modern covers was just so impressive.
4. Getting a tour of Galway from my friend: It is always nice to see a friend, but it is even better when they can share their experience with you. It offers such a great perspective to your engagement with a new place.
5. The soup: So probably not the most exotic food source in the world, but let me tell you, the Irish know how to make soup and the traditional brown bread definitely does not hurt. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but while I was there, I ate almost exclusively soup. Travel Hint of the Week: Soup is the secret to eating out on a budget. At least in this part of the world, it is usually pretty hearty and filling and almost always one of the cheapest things on the menu, and the very best part, it never seems to let you down in terms of flavor.
Until next week!
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