Emily in Samoa: Worlds Without Walls

March 1, 2016

Picture your world, the one where you live out each day, where you go to work or school or coffee, where you interact with family and friends—and those people who, unfortunately, fall into an often unpleasant third category—and where, at the end of the day, you return home to peace and quiet. Now, eliminate every wall from this world. Start by taking down the physical walls, then go to the interpersonal ones, and demolish those, too.

If you do this right, you have a pretty good image of what a Samoan village homestay is like. While many people have switched to palagi (foreigner) homes, the fale (open house) mentality has stuck, and everyone’s life is out in the open to the rest of the village. We have lived in this wall-less world for ten days, and it is a definite cultural adjustment. We visitors have had to get used to a new style of living, in which the hardest part has definitely been derived from the lack of walls. And what are the implications?

Seaside fales provide the best views out and in

Seaside fales provide the best views out and in

Physically, no privacy. And I mean None. Windows are open, doors are few, and getting dressed in the morning is an adventure that often results in accidental flashing. Showers have no curtains, and are done in lavalavas (sarongs usually worn as skirts, but converted to tube dresses for the purpose). A shower is the biggest adventure in this wall-less world, and, as I found, a number of obstacles ensue once one is showering. What would you do if your host father decided to strike up conversation? Or if your shower happened to be next to a popular pig hangout? Or if your six siblings decided it would be good fun to turn on music and watch you?

My universal solution has been to dance. I am not an adept dancer by any means, but anyone who decides to be a part of the audience when this palagi showers is in for a good show…

 

My curious siblings surround my bed whenever I arrive at the house. This time, I gave them all pigtails.

My curious siblings surround my bed whenever I arrive at the house. This time, I gave them all pigtails.

 

With no privacy comes no alone time. You can approach this however you like: many students chose to be frustrated by it. “Why does my homestay family want to spend time with me?” they would mope. We discovered as we progressed that when we found times of alone-ness, “alone time” took on a new image. Instead of soaking in the peace, you sit puzzled, wondering where everyone is. And, in contrast to the US, this place with no alone time also has no room for loneliness.

A lack of being alone manifests itself in a variety of ways. Socially, everyone is always watching, gossiping, and peeping in on neighbors. If voices are raised in a house, everyone on the street will crowd the windows to see what is going on. If a group of palagi girls goes to the beach, at least ten village boys will be there within the hour.

This isn’t as oppressive as it seems, since the flipside of communal life offers benefits for all members. The most surprising example I found was when I was playing with my siblings. In the US, I rarely have found children who, come snack time, don’t snatch and devour their food. Here, however, a few children got snacks, and within seconds I and the others had piles of food in our hands. Three- and five-year-olds had evenly divided up their food for the rest of us, with no qualms whatsoever.

There are no walls around personal property, nor are there walls around individuals as they age or weaken. Samoa does not have Social Security, and care is taken on by the family and the village. Money is pooled for weddings, funerals, and hospital visits, so that everyone is taken care of by those around them.

 

Fa’alavelave is a Samoan term that refers to any major occasion in village life. We were able to attend a funeral fa’alavelave. Life is celebrated with singing, euglogies, and gift exchange. Fine mats (left) take weeks of work, and are a major gift.

Fa’alavelave is a Samoan term that refers to any major occasion in village life. We were able to attend a funeral fa’alavelave. Life is celebrated with singing, eulogies, and gift exchange. Fine mats take weeks of work, and are a major gift.

 

matais

A group of matais (chiefs, shown right) receive gifts for their deceased friend as they sit next to his grave, and others wait with the body in the house, singing and eating.

 

Most uniquely, perhaps, is that there is also no wall around death. Those who die are buried next to their front door, so that they can continue to take part in the goings on. Unlike in the US, where elders are shooed away to nursing homes and those who die are compartmentalized in far-away cemeteries, Samoans keep their family close by long after they die. Brightly-painted graves often match the houses they guard, and memories stay alive as children play on the stones and families have sunset conversations while sitting among deceased relatives. Maybe it sounds bizarre, but I think this is a good deal for the dead—why go to a cemetery when you can continue to be part of the family?

Taking down walls has made me more open, and enabled me to grow closer with those around me. It is certainly exhausting at times, but it has made me wonder about why we build all of these walls in the first place, and why we feel the need to keep building more.


Layla in Australia: Redfern

November 17, 2015

We are in the thick of exams season at Sydney Uni! Exams work very differently here compared to how they are at Richmond. They’re spread out over 3 weeks, with the first week being a ‘reading week’ where there are no exams. I was unlucky enough to have 3 exams on the last 3 days of the exam period, and to put the cherry on top, the last on is on a Saturday! Needless to say, I have quite a few long nights ahead of me. In this post, I’m going to talk about housing here in Sydney and the neighborhood I live in.

Sydney University exchange students get a discount to live at a building called Urbanest Cleveland Street in Redfern, an inner-city suburb of Sydney. It’s about a ten-minute walk up the Cleveland Street to the edge of campus. However, Sydney real estate prices are very, very expensive, and Urbanest is no exception. I would compare Urbanest to Gateway Village back at Richmond, but it is much more expensive, even considering the favorable exchange rate. Luckily, the Office of International Exchange is generous enough to give students studying abroad in expensive locations a $1000 stipend, which helps mitigate the ridiculous cost of housing in Sydney. There are other student accommodations in the suburbs surrounding Sydney Uni, but my Urbanest location had the advantages over these options of ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen for each apartment, availability on a semester-only basis, and the discount.

I share an apartment with five other (American) exchange students, one who also happens to be a Richmond student. The six of us share a kitchen, with each of us having our own bedroom and bathroom. The building itself is very modern and comes equipped with a (very expensive!) laundry room, computer lab, gaming room, and gym, among other amenities. So while Urbanest is expensive, I think that the quality of the housing and its proximity to campus is worth the cost.

 

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It's definitely a comfortable size for one person.

My (cleaned just for this picture!) bedroom at Urbanest. It’s definitely a comfortable size for one person.

 

While my building is technically located in Redfern, it is actually at the corner of 3 different Sydney suburbs – Redfern, Chippendale, and Darlington. It’s also less than a five-minute walk to Redfern station, one of the biggest train stations in Sydney. You can take a train from Redfern to pretty much anywhere in the city (except for the airport, which can be frustrating as a travelling exchange student). Living so close to the train station has been a highlight of my time in Sydney — I’ve never lived in a city before, and public transport has always been nonexistent. Not having to rely on a car and being able to catch a train anywhere I want to go in the city has been an amazing experience.

On the way to Redfern station, I walk up what was formerly the most infamous street in Sydney – Eveleigh Street, or ‘The Block.’ The first time I walked up Eveleigh Street, I immediately noticed a grouping of tents in a field, just in sight of the station. I later learned that the tents were what is called an Aboriginal Tent Embassy. To explain the origins of this tent embassy, I need to explain Redfern itself.

 

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy, captured in July 2015.

 

Redfern is a suburb with notorious connotations in Sydney. When I first told my parents that I’d be living in Redfern, they balked. As people with a view of Sydney from the early 2000s, all they knew of Redfern was its seedy reputation. The neighbourhood is known for its high concentration of Aboriginal Australians. As I’ve learned in my Australian history class this semester, the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and non-indigenous Australians has been extremely complex and is fraught with tension to this day.  For example, even before Australia became an independent nation, the advent of white settlers decreased the native population by 90%, and up until the 1970s, the federal government forcibly removed indigenous children from their families under the guise of “child protection.” Aboriginal Australians still experience severely disproportionate rates of poverty and incarceration, and lowered life expectancy and health. It’s been fascinating to observe the differences between the way indigenous peoples are treated here versus in the United States. Here, the prime minister in 2008 made a formal apology on behalf of the government to the indigenous population, there is a National Sorry Day annually for people to reflect on the historical treatment of Aboriginal Australians, and before many speeches and ceremonies, it’s customary to mention that the indigenous tribe is the “true owner of the land.” Thinking of these differences though, I can’t help but reflect on one of the signs I saw at the tent embassy: “don’t recognise, decolonise.” While it seems like Australia is much more progressive concerning its relations with its indigenous people compared to the United States, is it just a facade? It doesn’t seem like merely mentioning and apologising and reflecting is enough — what actions are being taken?

 

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

The Australian Aboriginal Flag painted on a wall next to the tent embassy. Another difference from the United States: it is designated as one of the official flags of Australia and is flown alongside the Australian flag.

 

One day right before mid-semester break, I walked my normal path up Eveleigh Street to Redfern station and was shocked to see that the field where the tent embassy had been was completely empty. I later learned they had been evicted. As the presence of my student accommodation complex suggests, Redfern has been rapidly gentrifying and has mostly shed its infamous reputation. It’s not fully gentrified yet — there are always a few people begging outside of the station — but it’s been dramatically changed in the last decade or so. Developers from a charity called the Aboriginal Housing Company evicted Aboriginal people from their homes on Eveleigh Street and then demolished them, promising to provide low-cost housing for the original residents. Instead, the company has decided to build more student accommodation on the land, and the tent embassy was erected in protest. The eviction came coupled with a promise of a grant to build the promised low-cost housing alongside the student accommodation, but I definitely will be following this case when I’m back in America to see if it actually comes to fruition.

 

This image isn't mine; it's from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also -- see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That's Urbanest Cleveland Street.

This image isn’t mine; it’s from Wikipedia. But I really like it because it shows the proximity of Redfern to the rest of the city, and shows the appeal of the neighborhood for gentrification. Also — see that ugly brick building with the weird windows in the background? That’s Urbanest Cleveland Street.

 

Living in Redfern has been an eye-opening experience for me. It’s been a way for me to see the history I’ve been learning about in class first-hand. It’s been a lesson in prejudice — I was initially nervous to be living in Redfern, but I’ve since learned that it’s not at all dangerous and not to judge places on their reputation. And lastly, it’s been an amazing way to experience living in a city for the first time.

 

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.

This is my favorite street in Redfern, called Vine Street. Walking past the brightly-colored houses on my walk to the station always puts a smile on my face.


Layla in Australia: A Day in the Life

October 15, 2015

Today I received a reminder on my phone telling me to renew my travel notification for my bank. My bank only lets you notify them that you’ll be traveling abroad for 90 days at a time, which means this notification means I’ve been in Australia for just about 3 months. Needless to say, I didn’t realize how long it’s been! I’m just over halfway through my time abroad, and in 3 more months I’ll be starting the spring semester back at Richmond. To say I’ve settled here in Australia is an understatement – I feel just as home here as I do in the United States, if not more. To use some of my Australian slang that I’ve picked up, I’m really not keen to come home… in fact, I still haven’t booked my return flight to the States. Here, I’m going to describe a typical day for me here in Sydney, and hopefully show why I love it so much.

9 AM, any given Thursday: Wake up… after hitting the snooze button on my phone about three or four times. While I was never a breakfast person in America, the lack of a meal plan and a dining hall on campus means that buying lunch is expensive. Instead, I typically eat a bowl of Weet-Bix, a classic Australian cereal, for breakfast and bring a granola bar and some fruit for lunch. After getting ready, playing around on my phone, and eating breakfast, I make the ten- to fifteen-minute walk up the road to uni.

11 AM: Macroeconomics lecture. While it’s tough to keep focused for the entire two hour lecture, the material is interesting enough to stay awake and the ten-minute break in the middle helps. The professor tends to show how what we’ve learned about in class applies to the Australian economy, so I get to learn about not only general macroeconomics but Australian policies as well.

1 PM: With lecture over, I cave to my biggest weakness: coffee. I don’t really drink coffee at home – I’ve never liked the taste. I did drink caramel macchiatos while studying for the MCAT, but mostly the appeal was the caramel sauce. The coffee was just the bitter obstacle that I drank quickly so I could indulge in caramelly goodness. However, Australia is known for its delicious coffee, and I decided that I couldn’t come here and without trying a flat white, the classic Australian coffee drink that’s like a less foamy cappuccino. Needless to say – I had one, and I was hooked. Coffee here is so good that I don’t even need sugar to make it palatable like I do in America. My guilty pleasure at uni is a flat white and a croissant from the café in the New Law Annexe.

 

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

A flat white from the coffee shop where I first tried Australian coffee, Campos in Newtown.

 

 

For the first half of the semester, I had four hours of gruelling chemistry lab directly after my economics lecture. This lab, which I had multiple times a week, was the bane of my existence, endlessly frustrating me with my inexplicable failures in it. But luckily, as of a few weeks ago, the lab has ended and I can finally go to quidditch trainings! Trainings on Thursdays are 3-5 PM in Victoria Park, the park bordering the USYD campus. I’ll generally do a little study after my coffee break and then head to training, where we run drills, play scrimmages, and play netball. Netball is a sport that’s pretty popular in Commonwealth countries but almost unheard of in America. It’s similar to basketball, but one major difference is that you can’t run with the ball. Needless to say, I often forget this rule, so netball isn’t my favorite. Practice usually has about fifteen people present.

5 PM: After practice, the quidditch team heads to the pub! Generally we start at the Forest Lodge Hotel (affectionately nicknamed the “flodge”) just north of campus in the suburb of Glebe for dinner and then head to the neighboring Roxbury Hotel for trivia at 7:30. Weirdly, pubs are called hotels here… as are hotels. That was definitely confusing at first!

 

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I'm in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Me and a handful of quidditch mates at the Roxbury hotel. This was actually taken after my very first training at USYD. I’m in the purple jacket, and pictured clockwise are my friends: Kat, Cameron, Lachlan, Laurel, Nat, Tom, Lachlan, and Paul. Usually our table is two or three times the size!

Since Australian universities are mostly commuter schools, the focus of social life is off-campus, typically at pubs. On-campus or house parties are almost unheard of, except for students who live in colleges (which are akin to American fraternities, and generally only for students who don’t live in the metropolitan area.) Since there are no communal dining halls, dorms, or apartments for students to socialize in after classes, pubs fulfil that role. Speaking sociologically, drinking is much more of a focus in daily life at university here than it seems to be in America, even accounting for the lowered drinking age.  ‘Mateship’ is one of the cornerstones of Australian culture, and buying drinks for your mates and having them reciprocate is one of the ways that it is expressed.

Typically, my friends and I will stay at the pub until it closes, around midnight, with some people filtering out earlier to catch public transport home. Usually then we will split up to go home, or if we’re still feeling sociable, some will come over to the apartment complex where my friend Sam and I live, Urbanest. It has a TV room on the ground floor filled with couches that is typically empty by the time we get there, and is great for late-night hangouts. Once everyone goes home, all I have to do is take the elevator up four floors and I’m home.

Hopefully this post has given you a little insight on what it’s like to be a university student in Australia. My life isn’t glamorous by any means, but it’s definitely fun. While I’m not jetting off to a new country every weekend like many study abroad students, I think that by immersing myself into Australian culture, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for where I am studying abroad. I think for a lot of study abroad students, between all of the traveling and lack of deep connections with local students, their host country becomes interchangeable with any other place. Not to say that traveling often or being friends with other exchange students is bad, but I think that by making local friends and really getting to know Sydney on a deeper level, my study abroad experience has been infinitely richer. I can’t even fathom how much it would have lacked without my Australian friends – they have made this experience what it has been so far for me, and I will miss them terribly when I go back to America.


Colleen in Singapore: Settled in Singy

August 19, 2015
apartment view

View from our apartment in Little India

baby sculpture

Giant Baby Sculpture, Gardens by the Bay

Exploring Merlion Park

Exploring Merlion Park

 

public transportation

The MRT is extremely efficient and makes getting around a breeze.

First week in Singapore (Singy as we call it) is under the belt! I’m extremely impressed with Singapore. It’s safe, clean, organized, has incredible architecture, vibrant culture, friendly locals and of course, delicious food (I’ll have to do a separate post just on the food here- it’s that good.) Dare I say that I love this city more than the mouth-watering garlic naan Nicole and I feasted on the other day.

 

TIPS:

If you’re planning on buying a SIM card while you’re in Singapore, it’s probably best to do it upon arrival at the airport. I tried to go to cell stores in Singy and a lot of them were sold out. 7-11 ended up having them. You can also buy your E-Z link pass (pass for the subway) at 7-11.

I also suggest bringing an old phone to use as your Singaporean phone, that way you don’t have to keep on switching out the SIM cards on your American phone.

You can either buy a converter here or bring one- they have plenty of cheap ones here.

Bring sunblock- it’s kind of pricy here.

Don’t bring a lot of stuff! You should be able to fit everything in one suitcase + a carry on. There’s a mall on practically every corner in Singapore, so I would save your shopping for here anyways.

If your course for SMU has a prerequisite you haven’t taken, email your professor and make sure you can still take the class.

Since SMU classes meet once a week, it’s easy to make your classes on two consecutive days. This gives you ample time to travel.

I really love my apartment and where I live (Little India) but make sure you’re content with the location of your apartment. You don’t want to be too far away from the all the action. If you have any questions about good locations, feel free to ask!


Colleen in Singapore: And so it begins.

August 3, 2015

Hi everyone! As the title of this blog suggests, my name is Colleen and I will be studying abroad in Singapore this fall. This marks my third year at UR, and as a rising junior I am majoring in Leadership Studies and minoring in Business Administration. Wow, that was weird to type: college really does go by quickly.

Over the next four months I’m hoping to share with you my abroad experiences through photography, and also provide tips/ advice to anyone who is considering studying abroad–or traveling to Asia for that matter. Since I haven’t yet left for Singapore (2 more days- eeeep!!), I’ll give you a little background info on my trip.

First off, everyone asks, “Why Singapore?” To be honest, Singapore was not my first choice–for a few weeks I was set on studying abroad in the Netherlands. Long story short, final exam dates in the Netherlands conflicted with my sister’s wedding, so I looked into programs that had earlier end dates and, voila, Singapore was the perfect match. The whole situation was definitely a blessing in disguise. Wherever you study abroad will be amazing, but I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out. I guess I have my sister and her fiancé to thank for that one.

At Singapore Management University (SMU) I will be taking three business courses and one leadership course. SMU’s course registration is unlike any registration I’ve done before. Basically students are given 100 “e-dollars” and bet on courses they wish to take. The whole process is built upon the concept of supply and demand, and in my opinion, actually makes a lot of sense. Apparently Nicole (another UR student going to Singapore) and I should take a trip to Vegas when we get back because we successfully bid on all the classes we wanted.

Since SMU doesn’t provide housing, most exchange students get together and rent an apartment for the semester. A lot of people actually stay in hostels for a few days upon arrival while they search for an apartment. Nicole and I weren’t feeling that adventurous, so we decide to pre-book an apartment. We will be living with four other girls–Mckenna from Oregon, & Lea, Lauren and Monica from Paris.

Packing. All I will say about packing is it’s kind of like hitting that age when you realize you have to start making your own doctor appointments: a little frightening at first, then the procrastination sets in, but when you finally get around to doing it, it’s not that bad.

Located in the heart of South East Asia, Singapore is ideal for traveling. I’m planning on traveling to several countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia to name a few. Let’s be honest, this is what I’m most excited about.

I’ll leave you with some photos from my last week here in the U.S. since this is a photoblog after all:

Blue moon over the ocean

Blue moon over the ocean

Morning chats

Morning chats

One last hike

One last hike with Pops

Sister and a sunset

Sister and a sunset

Jersey Shore Sunrise

Jersey Shore Sunrise


Jackie in Switzerland: Flashback to the 1920’s

June 8, 2015

The 1920’s party was AWESOME. The party took place on a giant boat that started in Lausanne before sailing around Lac Léman for a few hours. The party was called “Titanique Lémanic”, the theme was 1920’s/Gatsby, and I was so impressed with the atmosphere.

It was so fun to dress up for the night and go out for something special!

It was so fun to dress up for the night and go out for something special!

First of all, I am a total nerd and absolutely LOVE the 20’s (and The Great Gatsby) and so I was all over this party from the very beginning. I went shopping at consignment shops in the area with my friends to find anything to wear that would fit the theme. In the end, almost everyone at the party got really into the theme and it truly looked like a fabulous 1920’s party when we arrived.

I dressed up in 1920’s style, and my friend Maeve dressed up as a Titanic passenger… I wonder if the party organizers ever questioned having a party entitled “titanic” on a boat?

I dressed up in 1920’s style, and my friend Maeve dressed up as a Titanic passenger… I wonder if the party organizers ever questioned having a party entitled “titanic” on a boat?

The boat had a casino, a magician, and a dance floor. The decorations looked really extravagant and you could tell that everyone at the party was having an amazing time and that it was one of the last times that we would all be together. It obviously felt fabulous to be on a boat, in one of the prettiest countries in the world, dressed up like Daisy and Jay. But even more than the extravagance of the party, it was incredible to all get together at the very end of the semester and see how far we have all come.

The Jay to our Daisy.

The Jay to our Daisy.

I knew that this was the last time that I would see many of the friends I have made since the beginning of the semester and it made the experience even more magical. We still had our “wow this is real life” moments, but we also realized that this might be one of the last times we could stare in awe at the beauty of Switzerland all together. The boat gave us the best view I have ever seen of the Swiss Alps (and as you know, I have seen a lot) and the sun seemed to set just for us.

Exhibit A in the “wow this is real life” feeling.

Exhibit A in the “wow this is real life” feeling.

This was the first moment where I felt that the end was near. I will be leaving in less than a week and I feel like I have just started getting comfortable in Lausanne. I am realizing that while I post awesome pictures of my travels and I get to learn another language and meet simply amazing people, study abroad is not easy. Yes, in the beginning it was very hard to get used to the country, but now it is hard to imagine not living here. When I arrived, I expected to make a few friends from cool places and then to be okay in returning home.

Pancakes with my friends.

Pancakes with my friends.

I have been combating the feeling that time is slipping by organizing pancake breakfasts on my hall (and forcing everyone to come!) These are some of my close friends that I have made in my dorm, and they were all excited to try ‘American pancakes made by a real American’. Feel free to call me MasterChef.

I have been combating the feeling that time is slipping by organizing pancake breakfasts on my hall (and forcing everyone to come!) These are some of my close friends that I have made in my dorm, and they were all excited to try ‘American pancakes made by a real American’. Feel free to call me MasterChef.

I am finding that the hardest part will be saying goodbye to the people whom I have met here. I have not just found “friends for now” but rather friends for life and people who I will miss terribly. Whether it’s my Chef BFF Amanda who cooks me the most amazing dinners because I am awful in the kitchen, my French hall mate who regularly (and adorably) throws around the American slang that I teach him, or even my friend Ayumi who I will see at school at Richmond, I am realizing that I will not be able to see them on a regular basis and that I have grown so attached to my friends here that I do not know what I will do without them. The hardest part of studying abroad is creating this new comfort and this new home for yourself and then having to leave it as soon as it feels okay.

 As I get closer to the end, I have been taking more and more photos like this one, Lausanne is a gorgeous city!

As I get closer to the end, I have been taking more and more photos like this one, Lausanne is a gorgeous city!

I am unbelievably grateful for the fact that I have found my “people” here in Switzerland, unbelievably relieved that the majority of my work is over, and unbelievably excited for the next chapter. I feel all of these things at the same time, and the result is such a mix of emotions that I don’t even know what to feel anymore. While I knew that I would love my time abroad and that of course I would get comfortable here, I never thought that I would have such a hard time saying goodbye. That being said, I will be traveling around Europe for about a month after my semester officially ends, and so the adventure is not quite over yet.


Diana in Copenhagen: Final Reflection

January 5, 2015

As I sit and write this from my bed in Massachusetts I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I’m home. After one hundred and twenty eight days, thirteen cities, ten countries, four classes, and countless memories, my time abroad came to a close and I could not be more grateful for the experience.

As I look back on the semester I decided to revisit some of the questions I asked myself before embarking on the adventure. I was unsure about living in a single room for the first time in college, but doing so certainly had its perks. I liked having my own kitchen and not having to work around someone else’s schedule, but I’m not as concerned as I was about having to go back to having a roommate in the future. As much as I liked living alone, having a roommate can be a lot of fun and it’s nice having someone to hang around with all the time.

I was concerned about Copenhagen being so expensive, and it really is, but I like to think I handled my budget well. I became pretty obsessed with saving money on day-to-day items so I could instead spend on things like traveling that were more important to me. This meant shopping at the discount grocery store for only the cheapest items, cooking in for nearly every meal, rationing instant coffee, and not buying many souvenirs. I also saved a lot of money on public transportation by having a bike. I’ll be honest, it was hard to part with my bike, Gwen, but I sold her at a good price causing it to only have cost me $32 for the entire four months. I feel like I got much more value out of putting my money towards experiences over material goods, and think that contributed to a much fuller and happier experience.

One last thing I voiced concern for in my first Travelogues post was how my directionally challenged self would manage getting around a city. While I’ve gotten slightly better in this arena, I would be lying if I said I was much more capable now. I decided to purchase a phone plan in Denmark providing lots of data, so I sadly still used Google Maps as a crutch to get around. I didn’t have phone service when traveling though, so I did do better job navigating from memory and by using with good old fashioned maps out of necessity.

Beyond these few concerns, my semester abroad made me exponentially more independent, which is best evidenced by my final trip of the semester. Since I wanted to book my Copenhagen flights round trip, I picked a date to fly home before knowing my finals schedule. As it turned out, I had enough time between my finals and my flight home to take advantage of the ease of European travel one last time. After failing to find someone to travel with me though, I decided to take a chance and book a trip to Spain alone. You might remember I traveled alone in London, but Spain was different, considering this time I had no one to meet up with when there. As the trip neared closer I started to get pangs of regret thinking I should have just pushed my return flight up a few days, but now I am so happy I followed through.

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

Beautiful benches at Plaza de España in Seville

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

A view from the Alhambra in Granada

The trip was the perfect culmination of my experience abroad. It forced me out of my comfort zone more than others had because I was completely solo, had few things planned since I lacked time to do so during finals week, and had a language barrier to deal with. While this trip was indeed more challenging than others, being by myself made me deeply appreciate everything I saw and let me reflect on everything I’d done in the four months leading up to it too. I was able to be more observant, think about and process things on my own time, more readily meet other travelers, demonstrate the highest degree of independence, and do everything I could to appreciate a culture different from mine for the last time before coming home. Comparing this trip to my others, especially my solo trip in London, made me realize the true growth I’ve undergone from living abroad. In a post from a few weeks ago I wrote about using my little notebook to not feel uncomfortable when eating alone. I brought the same little notebook to Spain and put it to use again, but for a different reason this time. While having tapas alone one day in Triana, a neighborhood of Seville, I wrote, “This time I’m writing in the notebook while sitting alone not because I feel awkward, but because I don’t want to forget a single thing.” Being alone that day in Seville was probably one of my favorite days abroad, and it made me realize how far I’d come in such a short time.

Diana food
While the trip to Spain was an amazing way to culminate my experience abroad, the entire four-month span I was away had a profound effect on me. There are many reasons why I’m happy to be home, but am forever grateful for the friends, lessons, and memories from my semester in Denmark.

Thank you all for reading. Farvel!

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada

Me, at the Alhambra in Granada


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