This picture was taken on San Cristobal island in the Galapagos Islands. We had arrived in Ecuador only weeks before, and everyone was very excited for our trip. This photo is significant to me because exploring the Galapagos Islands was one of my favorite experiences while abroad. I had never been in an environment where wild animals were so unafraid of humans. Additionally, this trip is when our Willamette group started to form our friendship. We were all nervous, excited, happy, worried about our host families and thankful for the opportunity to study abroad. For me, this picture represents the beginning of my five months abroad in Ecuador.
This picture reminds me of one of my favorite moments in Spain. This picture was taken on my birthday and its of me and some of my new friends that I made while abroad. By the time this picture was taken I had about a month left until I would return home in the United States. By this point I had gotten over all the homesickness related struggles that I felt at the beginning of my experience with all the new bigger and smaller cultural differences. What was great about this day was that going to the discotecas and bars for social purposes had become repetitive, given that the Spanish like to go out much later and often than Americans. While those things were still nice too do, it was fun having two of my good friends throw me a little house party gathering for my birthday. This picture is of me, my friends, and two cops that were very nice and willing to take pictures with us, even though I think they were there to stop the party. The Spanish culture is so different than in the US not just in terms of their law enforcement, but also in just how their culture is so much more relaxed.
Some difficulties that are common for studying abroad and that I even had difficult with, despite meeting so much new people is in how hard it is to be somewhere where you don’t have you’re normal friends. What’s hard about this is that it almost forces you to go outside of you’re comfort zone and exercise you’re social skills. What I mean by social skills is in the way you interact with other people. While it may be easy to act one way around people that you have know for a long time and feel comfortable with, it is much more difficult to try and express yourself and the essence of who you are to people that don’t know you the same way. My advice for if you’re having these difficulties is to take a deep breath, do something fun, or talk to someone about it that you feel that you can trust.
Today, Cybelle and I traveled to the beautiful city of Florence. We took the train from Termina to Florence and it took about an hour and a half. The train went really fast a total speed of about 250km/h which is equivalent to one of Andy Roddick’s serve or 150mph. The train was really nice and super comfortable. Our seats were in groups of four with two on each side and a table in the middle. Also we went with Brooke! We were finally reunited after 3 months apart. YAY! The first thing we saw was Santa Maria Novella. You had to pay to go in so we didn’t get to see the inside. But the outside was pretty. It had nice architecture. Then off we went to the biggest and most famous religious church in the world, the Santa Maria del Fiore. For 10 euros we were able to go into the crypt of the church, the baptistery, and the top of the dome (463 steps, no lift). The baptistery was absolutely stunning, with the gold doors, the gold ceiling, and all of that art and architecture. It’s definitely a must see. Off we went to inside the church. Which was beautiful too. The stained glass work was my favorite part. Whenever the light shone through the colors would pop and it would be absolutely brilliant. Loved it so much! Then we went to the underground crypt. Saw some of the things that pots were made out of. The mosaicy floor, some bones placed in a certain way. The tombs of priests and other important people. After that we went to the museum that had a lot of statues that were once in the church and the actual golden/bronze doors of the baptistery. The doors symbolized the old testament and the artist put his own portrait into the doors. It was massive and magnificent. After, we went to the Palazzo Vecchio. It’s the symbol of Florence and the city hall. There were a lot of statues surrounding the place. Statues of roman myths and gods. I took a picture next to a lion! ROAR! It was right next to the Galleria degli Uffizi which is the biggest museum in all of Italy. We didn’t go into any museums, next time I am there I am definitely going to the Leonardo Da Vinci museum and the Galileo Museum. Outside were all of these statues of famous peeps, like Donatello, Michelangelo, Dante, famous knights and kings, and artists, and scientists. This was right next to Ponte Vecchio on the Amo River. The bridge is known for gold and selling gold jewelry. I wanted to buy some earrings but didn’t sigh. Next time. Palazzo Pierte. It was pretty, but we didn’t go inside. However, it houses very beautiful gardens though. Off we went to Santa Croce another magnificent church. The outside had so much detail, that it was hard not to stare at it for hours. Even if we were we would never be able to fully notice every single feature part of the church. Now it was 5:50 and we were rushing back to the dome to go inside of it. Off we went to the top of the dome, which had no line whatsoever so we were able to quickly walk up the 463 steps. Well however fast it takes to walk all the way to the top. The stairs were fine at the bottom but towards the top the stairs get scarier and scarier. They start getting twisty and smaller. Then towards the very top they got super steep. But on our way up we got to see the top of the dome, where are all of the paintings are. Looking from the floor makes them seem so tiny but there is so much detail in each and every person/ creature and they are so massive! Then we made it to the top and boy was it beautiful. Look throughout Florence on top of the Santa Maria Fiore dome. Truly an incredible experience. Best way to end our trip to Florence. And off we went back to Rome. We only have a few more days in Rome, before heading off to Leicester, England!
No matter which country you are planning to go to, studying abroad is an extraordinary experience; however, every experience is different, so as a seasoned study abroad student, I would like to offer three pieces of broad advice that I believe can apply no matter where you choose to go.
(1) Before you get caught up in the excitement of being in a foreign country for the next few months, you should first and foremost make sure to remember that it’s still school. It may be school in a country outside your own native one, but you can reasonably assume you will still be given work to do, and you’ll still be expected to do it. As exciting as it can be, studying abroad is precisely that: it’s not a three-to-six month long break from school, it’s school in a brand new setting that offers it’s own means and opportunities for expanding your education.
(2) That being said, the other half of the studying is the fact that you are abroad, and being able to spend so much time in a new country is not an opportunity to be missed. So as a general advice, always be sure to say yes to everything: unless it’s something illegal or a just-plain bad idea like doing drugs or going to rob a bank, you’re more likely to regret not participating in something than trying something new out.
(3) When it comes to trying out those new things, though, it’s important to remember that where you go will heavily influence what kind of effort you need to put into respecting and adapting to the general culture. It goes without saying that you will always have to make an active effort no matter where you go, but there is still a huge difference between going to Japan versus Nicaragua versus England. It’s quite simply safest to assume that everything you’ve learned about these places while outside of them is wrong, or at the very least heavily biased by your own upbringing, and that the best place to learn is in the place itself. People who have been to your country of choice–or perhaps even better, the program of your choice–are the closest you can get before going yourself, but that will still always pale in comparison to experiencing it for yourself.
The stars in the Sahara desert were the most surreal thing I have ever seen in my life. During my time in Morocco, I took a weekend trek out to the Sahara, where I rode a camel into the sand dunes for an hour to find a campsite. The lack of light pollution and open space out there allowed me to see the milky way, and constellations I never knew existed. I will never forget what that night sky looked like. Riding camels in the desert; a very touristy thing to do while in Morocco, however; one of the touristy things that is truly breath-taking and worth it.
(This blog entry originally appeared on my personal travel blog, Fisch and Chips, on September 15, 2013.):
Whew! Today was quite the adventure in London! There were plenty of famous landmarks all fairly close to each other, so I got quite a bit of sightseeing in.
I’ve been on top of my homework so far, so I decided to go to another destination on my Criminal Justice Pilgrimage: Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service!
…Yeah, it’s a building. As cool and significant a building as it is, it wasn’t exactly enough to justify a trip all the way into London. Fortunately, there were plenty of nearby destinations, some of which I had noted earlier on a map. One destination I hadn’t marked was Buckingham Palace, which, to my surprise and pleasure, was fairly near by. Following a series of signs helpfully left for tourists, I finally found the fabled British royal residence. The surrounding area was REALLY packed.
Unfortunately, while I may be excellent at following instructions to a destination, I am less than stellar at retracing my footsteps. To translate that into simpler terms, I got lost and wandered aimlessly around London until I found the Tube station back to the Scotland Yard area. Once again where I started, I went the other way towards the River Thames. Why did I go there? Well…
Yep, that’s Big Ben, the famous bell/clock tower alongside the British Houses of Parliament. Speaking of which…
That’s right! Even though I’m scheduled to visit Parliament again later in the semester as part of my classes, I couldn’t help but check out the exterior, as it’s such a beautiful building. Also, as an originator of statutory laws, Parliament is a legitimate stop on the Criminal Justice Pilgrimage.
I also saw Westminster Abbey, which was nearby.
In the general area of Westminster Abbey and Parliament are statues of various British political figures (and some non-British ones, like Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela) and small parks. Right across the River Thames was the always-watching London Eye:
I could hear it calling me with its siren song of an exhilarating ride, but since I didn’t want to be too late getting home, I decided to head out. Maybe another time…
This has been a fun weekend, and I’ve really been settling in here in England. I now feel that I’ve got my necessary routines down (although I have no doubt that they will be thrown into the fires of anarchy when the homework becomes more intense/I become more sociable) and I feel almost at home.
That being said, I’ve had two unusual experiences this weekend that remind me that I’ve stepped into something of a new world.
First: Last night, as I was returning home from the pub, I passed by a large crowd of young women (with maybe one or two men), many of whom seemed to have had a drink or two beforehand. As I passed them, they started saying “Good Night!” to me.
Wait, it gets weirder: Just as I passed the last few women, one of them said to me, “Good Night, Harry Potter!”
…I’m sure that the English nightlife will continue to bring interesting experiences
Second: While exploring London today, I found this neat little bin:
Apparently, knife violence is a serious problem in London and these bins offer a convenient way for honest civilians to rid themselves of potential weaponry. It’s something that I’ve certainly never seen in the United States.
So yeah, my first week in England has included exploration, light culture shock, socializing, settling in, homework, and (naturally) blogging.
Here’s hoping my second week goes well!
When I decided to study abroad, I figured I would return having had the same experiences most other study abroad students have: a new perspective on life, improved language skills, etc. But my two most fond memories are not at all what I would have expected.
The first is living with a host family and having siblings for the first time. I am an only child, so moving into a home with three children under the age of 10 was an extreme change to say the least. I quickly learned how to play with them, anticipate their needs and decipher their speech (it isn’t always easy to understand children in the first place, let alone in a second language). It was challenging at times, especially when I would try to have time in my room by myself and still be able to hear them from the second floor of the house. But I came to delight in their giggles and smiling faces. I loved being able to joke around with my 9 year old host brother and laugh at his silly antics. I was amazed at the Lego castles and robots my 5 year old host brother would build for me on a daily basis. My heart melted the first time my 2 year old host sister ran into my arms for comfort when her brothers were bullying her. I had never before felt the bonds that siblings have and I have come home with a better understanding of them. I also developed a confidence in interacting with children that I didn’t have before.
The second is making friends I wouldn’t have otherwise ever met. Around halfway through our program, a large group of Japanese Studies Program (JSP) students took a trip to the Kansai area of Japan. On the island of Miyajima off the coast of Hiroshima prefecture, we stayed six to a room in a traditional style inn. We bonded immediately, getting to talk about more than the usual classroom banter and really got to know each other as people. I became close with two WU students I had only spoken to a few times and two students from different universities in particular. Once we returned to TIU and resumed classes, my new friends and I continued to go out together during our free time. We still talk on a daily basis, over a month after leaving Japan. I feel that participating in JSP and going on the Kansai trip fostered new bonds that could only have happened as a result of studying abroad.
In the end, I do feel like I have a new perspective on life in some ways, and I do feel that my Japanese language abilities have improved. But for me, studying abroad has helped gain a new branch of family in Japan and lifelong friends.
The London Theater- Going Experience was one full of culture, sights, entertainment, and learning. The two plays I got to see at the Globe were A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth. On the way to Shakespeare’s Globe, I would walk across this bridge to get to the other side of the Thames river. The Globe is still located in what a Londoner in Shakespeare’s time would call “the liberties.” The London Eye is the big Ferris Wheel looking structure. From the top of that one can see all of London, but it is about forty quid for the opportunity! The view was always epic across the bridge, night or day, heavy winds and all. It is also the way to the Tate Modern!
Back to the plays! It was quite the experience to see Shakespeare’s plays in the place they were meant to be performed. The idea of standing on the ground floor through a three hour performance seemed exhausting. However, it proved to be one of the most engaging surroundings.
This weekend was my first weekend in Angers! I started class on Wednesday, and I was more than ready to have a few days off to explore the town.
Thursday night there was a Soirée Française at the Soft Bar, close to the school. Everyone in the program was invited to wear colors of the french flag, and everyone who went got one free drink!
Thursday, after class, my friends, Caroline, Katie, Paige and I went to get a little bit of shopping done, and have some dinner before the soirée. We had a bit of trouble finding a place that served food, rather than drinks only, but we managed to find a pub that served sandwiches and quiches! My Croque Monsieur hit the spot, however the beer in France is a lot lighter in flavor than the beer in America! I have yet to try one that I really love.
Next we met the group to go to the Soft Bar. We each had our free drinks and got to know some of the other people from the program! My favorite parts of the night were getting hot french fries across the street, and singing Britney Spears and Party in the U.S.A. with the other students.
The next day, Friday was the night of the big show, Puy de Fou. The show was a little over an hour away, and it was incredible how many people were there. When we sat down in our seats in the outdoor arena, I could not believe how big the landscape was for the show!
The best way that I can describe the show is as a live-action film. The landscape looked a little like the shire from Lord of the Rings; There were windmills in the distance, a small house, rolling hills, cobblestone paths and a Castle at the center surrounded by a lake. The show told the history of a town, from when it was mostly peasant farmers to after World War II. There were hundred of actors who participated, and the music, lights, special effects, and fireworks were spectacular.
This weekend in Angers there is an Arts festival called les Accroche-Coeurs. Paige and I met Caroline for crepes and shopping before we went to see the show. We decided to see an acrobatic act at 8:30 pm, so we had time to grab an early dinner with Katie at a Tapas bar.
The show was great, however we left early because it was so cold!
All in all, my first weekend in Angers was AMAZING! I am loving the town and everything it has to offer.
Before I went to Japan, I always used to say
“No, I’m not someone who does stuff like that.” I used to limit myself like that and tell myself that there were certain things that I would just never do because they “weren’t me”.
I was wrong. Japan was a whole new, exciting world. I’d been there three times before already, but never for longer than two weeks. I guess I’d never realized, even though I loved Japan so much, that there was so much left out there for me to explore.
Six hours of class by day and karaoke parties or shopping at night was an entirely different kind of lifestyle for me. I’d never lived in such an exciting way before. I’d always felt tied down by the rules I’d been raised with and expectations of good grades and good behavior looming over my shoulder. Now, in a completely different country, I was totally free. I could just hop on a train anywhere anytime I wanted. There was no one watching over my shoulder.
So I did a whole bunch of things I could have never done at home, and it was fun. Sometimes I felt bad for betraying the rules I’d grown up with, but it was exhilarating. Most of all, no one could judge me because no one really knew me. They didn’t know where I’d come from, what I did all day, or anything at all about me. It was really freeing.
“I don’t do stuff like that” I would sometimes catch myself saying. But I could, I would always think to myself afterwards.
A friend of mine that I meant in the program I was on told me something really freeing. He told me that I can’t define myself by what I don’t do, because if I’d never done it, I’d never know.
I realized how limiting those words “I don’t” or “I can’t” were. I decided to stop saying things like that. I didn’t want to limit myself anymore or feel trapped and tied down. Of course following rules is important, but allowing yourself personal freedom is just as important. I think this is the most important thing I learned while abroad in Japan. I learned a lot of other things, but this is the thing that will probably have the most impact on my life from now on. I’m going to try going out there and doing more, I’m going to try going out there and being more.
Thanks to study abroad I really have become a better person, and I was really able to learn something that I think will benefit me for the rest of my life.