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By jdippel529

Although I have been learning Spanish since 7th grade, I am still not fluent. This, more than anything, is why I decided to study abroad in Madrid through GW. I have always admired people who are able to speak another language and promised myself that, one day, I would be able to as well.

             This is a disclaimer to all prospective students: GW Madrid is not your average study abroad program. Most of my friends are studying abroad in places where English is common, and where they share their own apartment with friends—places where they don’t often experience the culture of their host country. GW Madrid, however, is completely immersive, challenging, scary, and most of all, rewarding.

            Although I’ve been having the time of my life, my first 11 days in Madrid have been physically and mentally exhausting. My professors, my host mom, and my advisors all speak to me only in Spanish. Absorbing, translating and communicating two different languages 24/7 is one of the hardest things I have ever had to learn how to do. But, it has also been the most rewarding. Just after a couple of days in this city, I was able to speak to a Madrileño on the street, and perfect my order at a Taperia. It’s pretty hard to describe to someone who has never experienced culture shock the inexplicable joy you get from little moments like these. Thanks to the intensity of the program, I feel more immersed into the culture with each passing day.

            Whenever I become frustrated over not being able to communicate properly, I remind myself what I am here for. I am studying abroad to be thrown into uncomfortable situations and come out better because of them. If I have realized anything about my Spanish in this short time, it is that I have learned more in these uncomfortable situations than I was able to my entire high school career. The GW Madrid program is a truly unique experience that I know for a fact most students do not receive. I can’t wait to spend the next 4 months here so that I can continue what I know will be a complete immersion into the Spanish language and culture. For any of you who may shy away from a program with a home-stay, or even a Spanish-speaking program in general—please, please, please don’t.

My groceries from my first grocery trip - buttermilk included!

The Danish word of the day is karnemelk.

The definition of the word is buttermilk.

One hundred and five people (or somewhere close to that number) told me, before I left the United States to study abroad, that I was going to experience some sort of culture shock when I got there. That I was going to be confused and, inevitably, would do a lot of things to embarrass myself. “Don’t worry if you make a lot of social faux-pas during your first few weeks!” they all said. “It’s normal! Don’t get upset about it!”

Foolishly I thought that I could escape this issue by just being as observant as possible. Just follow the Danes, I thought to myself as I scurried about my first week in Copenhagen. I mimicked their walk, their talk, the way they ordered their coffee. I wore dark colors and attempted to copy that stereotypical, stoic Danish resting face that many wear as they go about their business. I learned a few Danish words like tak (thank you) and undskyld (sorry). I attempted to blend in as much as possible.

All was going according to plan until my first trip to the grocery store. I sauntered in, feeling sure of myself – then realized, with a sinking feeling, that I was about to be in for a challenge. Everything, and I mean everything, was in Danish. I don’t know what I was expecting. Shaking in my boots, I looked from one product to the other, attempting to figure out what boxes and cartons contained just by looking at the little pictures on the label. A picture of bread – flour, maybe? Meat with a pig on it – must be pork, right? The mysterious items that had no images on their packaging were ignored altogether.

Eventually I managed to sneak up behind some unsuspecting shopper who looked like they knew what they were doing. I followed at their heels, glancing at their purchases and putting similar items in my basket. I felt pretty confident that their choices of eggs, milk, bread and cheese would be good enough for me, at least for the first week. Can’t go wrong with some good Danish dairy products.

I went to the checkout counter, smiling as I told the woman behind the register “Hej!” She was firm-lipped, not even looking up from her work as she furiously scanned items. Small talk, as I would come to learn, is not very popular in Denmark. The woman then shot her head up and said a quick string of Danish words that I didn’t understand. “Excuse me?” I stammered, already flustered.

“135 krone,” she repeated slowly, staring at me. I laughed way too loud and handed her my food stipend card to swipe. Then I rushed out the door with my head down, groceries swinging from my side.

Later, putting my purchases away in the kitchen, I decided to sample some of the things I had bought. I made a sandwich and poured myself a glass of milk. As soon as I took a sip from the glass, though, I knew that something was wrong. The taste was extremely sour, as though the product was far past its expiration date. But on the top of the carton, the date provided was still half a week away.

Then I noticed – the label said “karnemelk.” A quick Google search and I found out I had bought a big old carton of Danish buttermilk Sighing, I choked down the rest of the glass. I wasn’t about to let 15 krone go to waste. Plus, according to a few of my teachers, the Danes often drink their buttermilk straight.

When in København, I suppose!

By bevvy2212

This week I'm going to talk about a few things that study abroad has taught me. I have to admit that in the beginning of my time in Europe, I'd rather be in Madrid than Paris, so I wasn't sure I would get anything out of this experience. I think at one point, I was actually a little bit bitter because I felt like I'm not enjoying my study abroad experience as much as everyone else is. But as the program is wrapping up, I did a little reflection and I realized how much I've learned/matured throughout this four months I've been away from my comfort zone.

1. An appreciation of art. Europe is the center of art. I wouldn't say I was a brute before coming to Paris but I've definitely gone to more museums than I have previously combined during my stay in Europe. I mean, there's just so much around. Louvre, L'Orangerie, D'orsay etc are just the big names. There are countless less famous museums scattered around Paris and they don't pale out in comparison either. Churches are also one of my main things. Even though I am not a Christian myself, I admire the intricate designs whenever I encounter one, and since there are so many churches in Europe, it's really fun to compare and contrast the different styles/ epoch of the churches. I even decided to take an art history course (Italian Art and Architecture in the 16th century) once I get back to GW next semester. Also, I recently got into Dan Brown's books and since a lot of the settings of his book are based in Paris/ Italy, it was very interesting for me to go see those places in real life. Not to mention the background info that was provided in the books gave me the privilege of playing the tour guide to my friends when we go visit famous historical landmarks and made me look smarter than I actually am. *brush dust off the shoulder*

2. Embrace solitude. It's hard sometimes, studying abroad, especially if you're in the direct enroll program instead of taking collective classes at a study center. That being said, sometimes, it does get a little bit lonely when I can't find people to have dinner with. Back at GW, it was never really a problem because the probability of all my friends having prior engagements and not being able to make it to dinner is miniscule. Even with the rare occasions when this does happen, I'll just get chipotle to go and eat in my room, no big deal. Solitude enlarges itself when you're abroad in a foreign land where you can't completely master the language. I used to be terrified of being alone but  as I get myself lost in those winding European streets, I realized that solitude is ok. I just came back from a week-long solo trip in Italy and I visited this small island off of the coast of Venice called Burano, and as cheesy as it sounds, I found inner peace. It was a tiny fishing village with brightly painted houses. I walked past the tourists and into this very quiet neighborhood, and it was just me and the water and the houses, and I’ve never felt so at peace with myself at that moment. It was nice to get away sometimes, all by yourself, and just think, because most of the time we are so wrapped out with pesky little things, all cooped up in a city, that it's hard to hear ourselves think sometimes. I was able to think a lot of things through on my one-man-wolfpack trip.

3. Learn to let go. I hate letting go, albeit it be an old sweater or a friend. I just dread the feeling of losing things. I met a lot of new people here in Europe and 95% of them I'm pretty sure I will never see again in my life, even though we all parted with "oh yeah I'll come visit you for sure", we all know that's never gonna happen. There's this French friend of mine who's a really private person and doesn't have any form of social media to interact with others and during our last class together, I kind of puppy-eyed him and was like, "I'll never see you again." He shrugged, c'est la vie. And I realized, he is right, as much as I hate to admit it. Life is like a train, people get on and get off, rarely anyone will be there for you from start to finish. I made incredible friends at hostels while traveling and we had a blast, but it was like Cinderella's party, after the clock strikes 12, everything returns back to normal and we'll have to move on with life. It's a very helpless feeling, at least for me, because I can not stop the progression of time. I can not make those friends stay in my life, nor will I be able to stay for them either, so enjoy the feast while it lasts.

By clairemac93

In skyping with my parents tonight, I finally put to words something that has been building within me since I arrived in South Africa last January. It was under the context of, with less than two months to go here, what will potentially give me reverse culture shock when I return to the United States. Though there are expected potential culture shocks such as the proportion of black people to white, the presence of interracial couples, or lack of intimate daily contact with extreme poverty, the biggest issue I can see myself facing is the idea of consumption and the idea of deserved consumption.

I dealt with this in Germany to an extent too. You walk in a grocery store, and whereas in America there might be 20 cereal brands to choose from (this is a conservative guess) in Germany there would be 2-3. This was not thought of as abnormal, as “how complicated can cereal get?” Additionally, Germans just really like musli, so there’s that. Here in South Africa it is something similar. Though South Africa is certainly much more developed than I think the Western world gives them credit for, the average yearly income being $1,164 (as opposed to $60,526 in the States) does not inspire consumerism for the sake of consumerism. As such, at the grocery store there are a couple options for each item. Nothing deprivational, just food. You can find things in season, and you can suck it up when they aren’t. The most purchased good food-wise is a loaf of white bread, as for many that alone serves as nutrition for the coming day.

So in evaluating what might shock me in coming home, I realized that pure consumption- much of it for consumptions sake- will be the hardest to witness coming home. The idea in the United States that every product must be exactly personalized to every preference and need- gluten free, low fat, low sugar, high fiber- is slightly ridiculous after spending time here. We have grown up to believe that these products which we like, these things that we regularly buy, are parts of our very character- as if without these items we, as a person, will cease to be 100% us. We tie our personality to our product choices, and feel deprived when those products are no longer offered. We import for year-round fruits and vegetables, as to prevent ever being “deprived” of these foods we love. We buy that new product simply because we’ve never seen it on the shelf before. We pack our kids lunches with the snacks that have been branded to them or serve them Spongebob Mac n’ Cheese because they believe it tastes better when its shaped like him—I myself am guilty of this specifically!

But the problem I have is not in our desire to consume, but in our feelings of deprivation. We, in reality, require very little to survive. We do not specifically need those avocados. If that store went out of business, I would find other clothes. If my favorite cereal went off the shelves, I will find something else to eat. However I know many who get truly upset at the thought of these products disappearing. We are taught to believe that lack of choice is against human expression, but much of the difference in products we consume are small and inconsequential- only to the benefit of the producer/marketer for the product.

In thinking of home I can already see the long lines of items on shelves at grocery stores, and I can feel a sense of confusion of why its all necessary. If more choices were the key to happiness or health, America would be the happiest healthiest place on earth. But it’s not. So why do we think all the hoopla is necessary? Is it a distraction? Are our lives, down to every product we eat, meant to be so personalized? And what does this constant personalization teach our citizens about what they deserve and what is necessary for living? Does it make any difference?

I don’t know. What I know is that in comparing myself to the average South African here I am happy to eat what is provided, and having not been exposed to the choices that are provided in the U.S., many here are happy with a smaller amount of choices and never stop to ask why there aren’t more. Though a couple of years ago there was a phenomenon of youth burning money and cars to show they “didn’t need it” as to indicate wealth, on the whole I find South Africans much less apt to shamelessly display wealth and much less apt to ask for more. This is humbling. However, my stepmom once asked me, “If America is perfectly capable of providing these products and importing goods in season, why shouldn’t they?” And aside from the environmental ramifications of the transportation of these goods, I still don’t have an answer. In this way, my culture shock will be more of confusion, than anything, about how I feel about the contrast between the two countries and how they define what they need.




By Hannah Radner

Local schools have ended and begun again and my summer job has come and gone. It's been 84 years. I am ready to leave for London.
I chose the perfect program for myself, and I knew it would be extraordinarily difficult. That is already proving to be true even though I have not even left yet. It is challenging my acceptance of delayed gratification. Study abroad has been my ultimate goal since I knew it was something that existed, probably some time in middle school. Now, my departure is just on the horizon. London's ten-day weather forecast is suddenly relevant. I am eager not just to move to a new city and explore its treasures, but also to get back in the school groove. Except for those who are studying in the UK, pretty much all of my friends and acquaintances have already been in classes for a few weeks. Those who are abroad in other places have been abroad for nearly two months already. My classes begin on October 6.
Alumni of the program have made it clear that upon our arrival to class, professors will expect us to have done some reading already based on instructions they post on Moodle (a Blackboard-like platform for class materials) without ever explicitly telling us like many GW professors do prior to the beginning of the term. Many an angsty high-schooler would want to slap me for this, but I just want assignments. I operate best under pressure when I have lots of work to do, a condition I am sure will be easily met almost instantly upon my arrival. It has already become clear to me that my academic success (and sanity) at LSE will be even more reliant on my independence and initiative than it is at GW. There is a plethora of information spread throughout LSE's website, and sometimes it takes some snooping to find what I need. For example, LSE only recently published its course timetables and updated course guides, so I found out that two of the four classes I wanted to take are not actually being offered. This brings me to the second challenge the program is giving me: flexibility. I anticipate needing to be flexible like this throughout the year. I did not let it get in my way; all I had to do was choose two different classes. The website informed us that new undergraduates would register on Monday, September 8. It became apparent that "new undergraduates" did not include study abroad students. Thanks to this, we are all sitting ducks.
The fact that registration at LSE takes place so late is already causing me some culture shock and a tad of anxiety. The school's study abroad program is so well established that I know it's not a problem, this is how they have always done things, they do this every year, they didn't forget about us. There are around 300 of us in the program and, as I have already had the pleasure of interacting with some of them thanks to the wonders of social media, none of us have any idea when we actually register for classes online. Some of us have received the dreaded "soon!" in an email response to our frantic questions. If you listen very closely, you may be able to hear my sighs of relief from across the pond as soon as everything has finally fallen into place. I just have to remember: delayed gratification, flexibility, and patience. Good things come to those who wait.