Meghann in Argentina: A Mix of Cultures

August 14, 2017

Orientation is over and classes have finally begun, which has given me the chance to start meeting other exchange students from all over the world—on only the first day of class, I spoke with people from countries like Japan, Colombia, France, and Norway, to name a few. It is awesome to not only be able to immerse myself in Argentine culture, but to also experience and learn about parts of other cultures from friends and students in class. A couple of German friends from my pre-semester Spanish course have been teaching me a German word a day—leaving Spanish class just to be taught bits of German is a perfect example of how much I have already learned about cultures, languages, and life in other countries I previously knew very little about.

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When cultures mix: some of my first random German words at the bottom of my Spanish homework.

I really enjoy the idea of being able to learn about and adapt to living in Argentina with other foreigners because it provides the opportunity to both find out about life in other exchange students’ home countries and share about my own experiences in the United States. For example, a long wait for the bus outside of campus led me to talk to an English girl about how different commuting to university in England is in comparison to living on campus in the U.S. I am also excited to take the PEL (Programa de Estudios Latinoamericanos) classes that UCA offers for exchange students, as many of the subjects will likely be even more interesting given that the classes are comprised of student perspectives from all over the globe. I am the only American in my Arte y Arquitectura en America Latina class, and I think it will be a great experience to learn about such an interesting topic that is taught in Spanish and coupled with the views of students from several different continents and many distinctive backgrounds.

 

I definitely did not expect my experience in Buenos Aires to be so wrapped up in other cultures (besides that of Argentina, of course), but I am very pleasantly surprised that my experience has turned out this way; there is so much to be learned when you are surrounded by great diversity.

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A group photo of all of the UCA International students that are here this semester.

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Janus in Singapore: On the First Weeks

January 27, 2017

“Discuss your preparations to go abroad – how you are feeling, anxieties or excitements, last minute projects or plans you are making, etc.”

It feels a little strange writing about my “feelings, anxieties, or excitements” about studying abroad in Singapore when I’m already three and a half weeks through my semester. Singapore Management University (SMU) has this strange schedule where exchange students are encouraged to attend a student orientation on December 29, and classes start as early as January 2, so while many of my classmates were still enjoying the final trips of their study abroad programs or tucked into their comforters back home, I was already on the other side of the world, roaming the streets of Singapore looking for a hostel that had open beds on New Year’s Eve.

Then again, it’s still quite early, and the first three weeks have really been a frenzy of getting my immigration formalities done, attending student orientations, adding and dropping classes, and of course, turning my new flat into a something that resembles home. There hasn’t really been a lot of time to “feel” or “be anxious.” Writing this entry feels like my first real opportunity to reflect on what’s already happened and what I think will happen.

I spent my last semester abroad, too, in Beijing. When I hear about study abroad, usually I hear that students will do significantly less work than they do back home, spend a lot of time traveling or exploring the city, and generally have a lot of time to relax. In a way, it’s a lot like a vacation to another school. My experience was the exact opposite.

I participated in a language immersion program that required me to speak Chinese on weekdays, and classes were from 8:30 to 4:30 daily, and each of us in the program did at minimum 3-4 hours of homework and studying each night. Somehow, there was still ample time for most of us to enjoy the semester and bring home stories that weren’t just about being locked up in a classroom. We still managed to explore Beijing, travel all over China, experience the Beijing nightlife, and even fall into study abroad romances. It was a complete semester, but it definitely came at the expense of sleep. By the end, many of us sported the deepest eye bags we’ve ever had.

I expect that a semester at SMU will be more of the “traditional” study abroad experience. I’m only taking four classes (7-12 hours of out of class work rather than UR’s “10-15”), and they’re all on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I expect I can use this semester to sleep in to catch up on all the sleep I missed in Beijing. Given my five day weekends and Singapore’s proximity to many of Southeast Asia’s tourist destinations – Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, or even a trip home to the Philippines – I wholly expect to drain my bank account by the end of the semester taking flights out to a few of these places.

For now, though, I plan on figuratively walking every street in Singapore. Strangely enough, a lot of students who study abroad in Singapore say that their biggest regret is not exploring Singapore enough, because the presence of all these other destinations makes the city-state a practical home base, and something that you can always say “next week” to, until there aren’t any weeks left. It’s only a little bit bigger than Manhattan, so the process shouldn’t take that long.

Anxieties. I think, given that this is my second semester studying abroad, that Singapore is often described to me as “An Asian New York,” and that I’m used to moving around a lot, I don’t have the usual fears of culture shock or “will I fit in?” or “will I find my group of friends?” Instead, I’m worried about people back home. A semester away isn’t too bad because just about everyone does it at some point. Two semesters, however, seems a bit too long, especially since I spent the holidays in the Philippines instead of New York. It’ll be a full year before I’m back in the United States. I already feel myself losing contact with many of my friends, even close ones.

But that’s something I should worry about after Singapore, I think. For now – enjoy the semester to its fullest.


Olivia in Sweden: Abroad at Last!

January 27, 2017

Hi! I’m Olivia and I am a junior at University of Richmond. I am majoring in Biology with a minor in Healthcare Studies.

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I’ve never been to Europe before and, as the baby of the family, never experienced much independence either. I set out to form new experiences by studying abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. Uppsala University is a leading international research university, and I was anxious to join its numbers.

Postponing the inevitable of being alone in Sweden, I was joined by my mom and aunt in Uppsala on January 11th. This was a sneak peak of my new home from the window of the airplane. Frozen ice and snow never looked so appealing!

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Before I could move in, I had to explore Stockholm with my family. On a train, Stockholm is only 40 minutes away.

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This is one of the many busy streets of Stockholm. We went on a Hop-On Hop Off, which is an all day bus service that provides tours of cities. My mom and aunt were too tired to explore the royal palace, libraries, and museums of Stockholm, but I imagine since the city is only 40 minutes away, I’ll be back soon to explore properly.

This is a peak into my room. At Uppsala University, the rooms for students are owned by different housing companies. You pay rent each month. It is typical to have a single room with each room having a private bathroom. Each hall shares a kitchen.

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Classes started this week, and while many people feel comfortable biking (in icy cold weather!) I prefer the bus. The city buses in Uppsala are extremely punctual. They have an app that provides timetables, and if you enter your location and where you wish to go, there is always a bus ready. While it’s simple enough, I’m still getting used to it as I have fallen victim to being at the wrong bus stop many times!

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Alas, practice makes perfect, right?


Olivia in Scotland: The Final Countdown

December 7, 2016

Hello everyone!

I finished my classes today (which is Thursday December 1st as I write this). I can hardly believe it. The semesters are shorter here than they are back home and in some ways it really does feel like I just started my classes. I’ve also been behind on my work for several weeks now because I’ve been sick, and today marked the day that I finally caught up and finished my last paper for which I received an extension! It took my first all-nighter of the semester to do it, but it’s done.

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I was very tired in my final 9 AM class this morning, but I was happy to see that they’re making the school buildings look a little more festive for the Christmas season!

The odd thing is, with my English seminars, it isn’t really the end for most people in the course; although the seminars only last one semester, they don’t have their exam until the end of the spring semester, and they meet again to review the material before then. It was a strange feeling to be nearly the only one really leaving. They’re all saying, “See you later,” and I’m saying, “Goodbye.”

It’s hitting me now that I have less than three weeks left before heading back home. In that time, I’m taking two short trips out of the country, writing two exam essays, taking an exam, celebrating Advent with my church, and showing my best friend from back home around Edinburgh when she comes to see me. It’s going to be a jam-packed few weeks! In general, I’m planning to do all I can to see the parts of Edinburgh that I haven’t gotten to see yet and make the most of my time in this lovely city, as well as spend as much time as I can with the friends I have made here. It promises to be a challenge to accomplish all this, but I’m going to try my best to make the people here my priority until I leave. I feel that one of my biggest regrets would be not spending enough time with them.

Now, where am I traveling to, you might ask? Well, one of these trips is starting tomorrow (Friday the 2nd)—I’m going to VENICE! I’ve wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t actually planned to travel there while studying abroad, but I discovered that a couple friends of mine wanted to go there and suddenly my dream started to become a reality. It is absolutely surreal to me that I’m finally going to this place I’ve always dreamed about; hopefully it will feel a little more real to me once I’m actually there! For my other trip, I’m going to Paris after my exams with my best friend from back home. She’ll be here in Edinburgh for a few days and then we’re going to Paris together. That’s the other place I’ve probably wanted to go to the longest so I’m absolutely thrilled, and I can’t believe I get to go there with my best friend. It honestly seems too good to be true.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect and re-center as I enter these final weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much easier it is to talk about what I’m doing than it is about how I’m feeling. I’m going so many places, writing so many essays, seeing so many people. attending so many church events. There’s plenty to talk about right now on the more surface level of my life. It’s even easier to focus on that in posts like these when the past month has been one of the hardest periods I’ve ever gone through emotionally and I have struggled with how to deal without that. Going through your first breakup anywhere is really hard, but being abroad during that grieving process carries its own unique set of challenges. Although I did a lot of great things and spent time with people I care about, it wasn’t enough to heal my heart or shake the depression I’ve been feeling. However, after all this time in the dark, I think I’m finally beginning to feel the sun coming out again. (It’s ironic for this rather dark and rainy time of year in this country, but it’s true.) I certainly have not arrived anywhere yet, but I know I’m on my way to healing. I also know that I am not, nor have I ever been, alone in this—God has been with me every step of the way. He has been my strength when I had none.

As I move into the final weeks of my study abroad experience, my prayer is that I am able to fully enjoy what I’m doing and be present with the people around me in every place in which I find myself. I want the memories that I carry back home with me to be good and beautiful ones. For me, when I am actually present where I am, that is when I am most able to feel God’s presence, whether that is through a sunset, a city street, or the person across the table from me. It may be through a simple thing, but when I really look around, I can see the hand of the Creator who made it all and feel that he is right there with me. For my trip to Venice, that will probably mean making sure that I put down my camera enough to let the beauty of the place sink in and allow me to appreciate the sweet friendships of those with whom I’m traveling. It can be very hard to stop stressing about getting the perfect picture and be still for a moment. When I do, though, I am finally present in that place and can find God’s presence as well.

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I found these steps on my day trip to Stirling this last weekend: I intend to “be careful” with how I spend the remainder of my time here, and for me, that means looking around and appreciating what is right in front of me.

I will update you all when I return from Venice! (I still can’t believe I’m saying that.) Ciao!


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