Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alison in Uruguay!

Dear Reader, 

I have a confession.

I am a mutt. Yes, you read that correctly. I mean a mutt just like your precious pet “Maxi”, the one that you claim is your Poodle-Beagle-Rottweiler mix. You know exactly which one I am referring to. Your dog that has 4 differently sized paws, a mole in the center of his forehead which resembles a third-eye, and one ear pointing straight up while the other practically droops off his head. Please just admit it; you have no clue what breed Maxi actually is. Sometimes you doubt if he is even a dog. 

But I, too, am a mutt with my ancestry. Like many Americans, I claim to be a nice mixture of everything from Scottish and German to British and Irish. At times, when I consider my ancestry, I like to think that maybe, just maybe, a little “Luck of the Irish” was passed through my genes. However, at the beginning of study abroad here in Uruguay, I began to fear that maybe a warped, twisted “luck” was passed down to me instead. 

Now hear me out. I am not being dramatic. I would never be dramatic.

The Hollywood sign of South America. MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay

On my second day in the country, I rode the Montevideo city bus. This simple enough task finally came to an end after taking seven buses, wasting $10, and crying in front of bus full a strangers who had no clue what I was saying. My Spanish speaking abilities had failed me. 

A few days after the “bus incident”, I met the student who would be my flat-mate for the next five months. He had been in Uruguay since the previous semester and knew the town pretty well. Being the sophisticated and generous Brit that he was, he offered to take me for a walk around the city. It was one of the most beautiful, sunny days I have ever seen in my life. Not a single cloud dotted the sky. Not even a hint of gray graced the horizon. Suddenly, like something out of a movie - a horror movie- the sky began to laugh with its hearty thunder before pouring bathtubs full of water on us. “That’s never happened to me here,” he informed me in the most British accent possible. “You must have bad luck.” 

I knew it. 

Cabo Polonio: Most spectacular sea-side town.

Shortly thereafter, over the course of three days, I bought 3 different track phones, each of which broke. In order to replace each phone, I walked the entire city, crossing nearly every major highway.
My Dear Reader, I feel the need to spare you the grim details of my head-LICE infestation.
You don’t need to pity me too badly. (However, I will accept a little bit of pity if you are feeling generous). 

Then, one morning, as if the luck of the Irish had finally tossed a gold coin my way, I rolled out of bed and realized, “I live in South America!” SOUTH AMERICA. As cliché as it sounds, this experience is a dream come true. I had imagined this day since I was 15 years old. All during high school, I talked about one day traveling through South America and perfecting my Spanish speaking abilities. While studying in Montevideo, I’ve adventured up the coast of Uruguay, traversed through Buenos Aires, and will travel to a few more countries before returning to the USA.  It’s hard not to feel unbelievably blessed when I think about this stunning opportunity to see the places I have studied about for nearly five years now. I don’t think I will go home to good Ole ‘Murica (though my parents insist I have to come home regardless).  

Robin and I at Minas, Uruguay

The same morning this realization came to me, so did another. That two hour bus trip through Montevideo taught me how to use city busses and read a map. The rainy-adventure introduced me to one of my best friends here in Uruguay. We still laugh about that sunny yet rainy day. Likewise, the broken phones taught me all the major roads to use to get places quickly. But I know what you’re thinking, “How could head-lice have a positive spin?” Well, come on Reader; that’s just hilarious. The pharmacists who helped me were laughing hysterically as I, some random foreign girl, pointed at my head and screamed, “Help me! I have lice!” 

In addition to the crazy memories above. I’ve made friends from every corner of this earth who have forever left an impression on my life. Some of my favorite memories are the simple day-to-day lunches in the cafeteria with one of my Uruguayan friends who loves to talk politics. I’ll never forget the laughter and great fun we’ve had cooking traditional Polish, Russian, and Mexican cuisine. Nothing can beat the times arguing over which is better: a bucket of dulce de leche (sweet desert filling and spread) or a box of alfajores (traditional sandwich cookie). 

Learning how to make Polish Pierogies. Robin (Canada), Alexa (México), Justyna (Poland), Me

Having the ability to study in a foreign country is a gift and a blessing. Dear Reader, I am not going to lie to you. There will be bad days, but you will also make unforgettable, spectacular friends and memories. Whether you are a mutt or a purebred has nothing to do with your study abroad experience. You don’t need the luck of the Irish either. Only you can choose your attitude! So, choose to be thankful for the opportunity to have amazing adventures, enhance your language skills, and learn about life.

Lastly, My Dear Reader, if you get the opportunity to study abroad, (in the words of Nike) JUST DO IT!

Dancing the Tango in El Caminito, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Best regards from the never dramatic,

Alison Bean
Universidad de Montevideo
Montevideo, Uruguay

Monday, June 27, 2016

Robert in Rome

Hello everyone! My name is Robert Moody. I'm currently in Rome, Italy on a faculty-lead study abroad experience. Let me start off by saying this, I never had any interest in traveling to Rome. As my departure date drew nearer, I got increasingly anxious, even to the point where I couldn't sleep. However, I found that this adventure would be interesting as soon as I got off of the plane!
I've only been in Rome for about a week, so there isn't too much that I can say so far, but I already feel like I'm starting to navigate pretty well in the city. Sure, I've gotten lost almost everyday, but hey, when in Rome!

Altare Della Patria, or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
Because I'm on a faculty-lead trip, I and a group of other students are exploring Rome with a small group of professors. Even though I can speak less than elementary level Italian, communication hasn't been difficult, and the people are very friendly. I can already tell that some of the students are really starting to bond with one another. The food is about as amazing as you would expect, and the city always seems to be alive. My favorite part so far is probably the site-seeing. Being able to see some of the things I've read about in art history classes is almost indescribable.
There is just so much to see in Rome, and there's so much history. Sometimes, it can be a little overwhelming. But the gorgeous views make the heat and all of the walking worth it. The histories behind some of these buildings are mind blowing. All of the monuments, churches, and palaces have been stunning, and I'm so glad that we have three more weeks to see as much as we can while studying abroad. 

The eiling of the Church of the Gesù

Even though I hadn't anticipated studying abroad in Italy, I am actually beyond satisfied with my decision to study here. I'm excited to see what else is in store for this study abroad experience!
Robert Moody
Art in Italy (UNCG Summer Program)
Rome, Italy

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hannah and Kennin in Japan!

Hello! My name is Hannah Lee and I am currently studying at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, with my dragon, Kennin (named after the beautiful 建仁寺 Kennin-ji, or Kennin Temple).
Where does one begin with a tale that transforms a person? You can read so many novels, watch so many documentaries, but they never can prepare you for the journey you will go through both physically, emotionally, and mentally. The person that leaves home is not the one that returns. Even I, an experienced traveler before coming to Japan, have found myself still changing thanks to this trip. When I sat down to write this post I honestly didn’t know where to start, because I felt that I may need to write a whole adventure story, complete with legends, wizards, and even dragons, to fully express the experiences I have had here in this country. 

An old town on the Nakasendo road.

While that whole paragraph may have just freaked you out, there isn’t anything to fear. In fact, the only thing to feel is excitement, because the person you will become will be stronger, more understanding, braver, and wiser. Suddenly, things don’t scare you the same way anymore. If you are someone who would stop when you came across a wall, you will find yourself being a person looking for ways to get past it. 

My friends Laura from Germany and Isabel from Norway enjoying Hanami

There will be many feelings, going to a foreign country, especially one where you don’t look like everyone else, where you may not speak the language well, and where your cultural norms don’t match either. But once again, don’t worry, don’t fret, and let yourself fall in love in the country that may permanently become a place you can call home.

A tea ceremony sweet poetically named Fishbowl, created by Sefu.

When I first landed in Japan, my flood of worries honestly didn’t come till the next day. Wandering around Kyoto with all my belongings, standing out like a sore thumb, is when everything hit. How will I make my cash last till the end of the trip? How can I get official business done when my language is the level of a 5 year old? How hard will my classes be? Ah crap, I can’t fully read that sign, I hope it didn’t say something important….  

My Japanese friend Mao and myself at a soccer game.

But then, I found my dorm (thanks to coming prepared with my new address in kanji for the taxi driver to read) and soon settled in. A few days were quiet, until a whirlwind of events took me to Oz. Suddenly, I experienced Hanami (花見, flower viewing of the sakura trees), made friends from all over the world, saw and participated in the Moving Shrine Festival (Danjiri-matsuri), and other amazing events occurred in my life, and all those feelings melted away. Suddenly, this place was my home, and you quickly learn that even the strangest places can start to feel familiar. 

Hanami Festival at a local temple.

There is far too much to talk about regarding my life here, so instead I shall give some important tips and advice I think anyone coming to Japan (or any other foreign country) should bear in mind. When you first come, bring only what you need, and not what you want (you want room to bring stuff home, trust me!). Be a ‘yes-man’ and don’t hide away! Experience the land around you, immerse yourself, because if you don’t you may soon find yourself regretting wasting the opportunity you had. When you first come, bring a folder containing a copy of your driver’s license, passport, addresses and phone numbers of your home in your new country, and any other important documents. And finally, do not be afraid to ask questions, because even the simplest questions may make your life a million times easier. You may surprise yourself with just how much you can really do in the world.
I’m only half way through my adventure, so I have so much more to experience. But before I end this post, I have a lovely poem to share that I learned through my tea ceremony lesson:


‘An old pond
A frog
Jumps in
Sound of Water”

The famous painting on the large ceiling of Kennin-ji

Jump into a country of old or new, and enjoy the beauty, sights or sounds, that you will remember for a long, long time.

Hannah Lee
Ritsumeikan University
Kyoto, Japan 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anna in Spain!

This is it! The final week of my study abroad trip in Madrid, Spain has arrived. Most people think that five weeks seems to be an insufficient amount of time to become “fully emerged” in another culture. I am here to tell you to never underestimate your brain’s ability to absorb massive amounts of information in a relatively small time frame. If you read my classmates’ blogs about their experience in this program, you will read about castles and cathedrals. This blog post deviates from that slightly as I am concerned with giving some advice to those who plan to study abroad, but who also feel a bit of uneasiness toward the unknown.

Me outside The College for International Studies. While we were learning Spanish, there were other international students learning English in this same building.

Before I dive into my experience in Spain, I want to talk to the introverted, slightly neurotic individuals for a moment. When I got accepted into LIHC, I grappled with the fact that one day I would have to board a plane by myself and be dropped off in a country where I wouldn’t have the capability to even order a meal. The time leading up to this trip was filled with frantic thoughts. I am a planner, but there was no way for me to plan for such a novel experience. All I could do was brush up on some Spanish, pack a small suitcase, and begin my ambitious endeavor. There are many practical reasons to study abroad: It gives you a slight advantage in the job market as it makes you appear more culturally competent. I feel that most introverted individuals slow down and think of the practicality of what they are doing; however studying abroad is worthless if you can’t value the experience beyond its function on your resume. It is vital to package this experience in way that will make you competitive for a job or a graduate program, but remember to slow down and embrace the moments that will become treasured memories. Traveling as a student is an opportunity everyone should experience. You will not only learn about another culture, but you will learn to see the culture through the eyes of a local. Nonetheless, there will be a few bumps on this path to cultural wisdom. 

The Aqueduct in Segovia.

Most people around me did not experience culture shock…I did. Like I said before, I am a planner. I take great comfort in knowing exactly what is going on around me. Unfortunately, my Spanish skills did not stretch beyond a 102 level. Most of the students who lived in my house were Spanish minors. Needless to say, they were fairly comfortable talking to locals and could easily communicate with our host mother. I felt incompetent and juvenile as I sat silently at the dinner table while the “grown ups” engaged in meaningful conversation with our host mother. It was even worse when I tried to speak to locals. There were times when I just froze midsentence, indicating my lack of Spanish fluency and my failure to conceal the fact that I stuck out like a sore American thumb. This all sounds unpleasant….it was. As time went by, I broke through that awkward, uncomfortable silence to reveal that I could speak a lot better than I thought. The trick is to talk despite the fact that maybe your accent muddies the clarity of your speech or maybe you asked the lady at the market for “trash” instead of “bag.” In my defense, “bolsa” and “basura” sound very similar.  

The view from our host mother's balcony!

Aside from the obvious language barrier, the cultural differences were very manageable. Nonetheless, there are some worth mentioning for anyone who is thinking about going to Spain. For one, get used to the metro. Like any big city, the metro is the most practical method of travel, so it is normal to see a herd of people hopelessly packed into a tiny corner. As a southern American, I was raised to embrace the concept of “personal space.” In America, pushing your way through a crowd of people can lead to confrontation. In Madrid, there is a universal understanding that being pushed by someone does not indicate aggression, rather a genuine effort to get from point A to point B. 

The view from an overlook in Toledo

Additionally, Spaniards’ paradigm of food deviates greatly from our American mindset. A meal is only for a moment. In other words, you sit down and eat all of your food at one time; there are no to-go boxes. It is not that people here take pleasure in dumping out food; they simply do not see the quality in a leftover meal that demands to be thrown in the microwave. Not every person thinks this way, but this mindset is fairly common.  

Stopping for a picture as we walked through the streets of Segovia.

Making the decision to study abroad takes bravery and independence. Naturally, with bravery and independence come anxiety and fear…for some, at least. There are some people who never think twice about questing on a new adventure. They can board a plane and land in a foreign place without knowing where to go or how to speak the language. It is okay to feel scared and to shy away from locals at first. It is okay to crave that American familiarity. It is okay to feel out of place among people who belong. Earlier I talked about some individuals’ tendency to think about the practicality of their actions. This is such an adaptive strategy, but only in the right context. The art of adapting in a foreign environment requires you to ditch that safe practicality. Do things because you want to experience them (Nothing illegal). Who cares if locals are staring you down? Jump into a conversation with someone. Let go of the fear of appearing stupid when you don’t know exactly how to respond. Take the initiative to ride the metro somewhere new by yourself (during daylight). Explore. The moment you choose to untangle yourself from worry is the moment when you start to adapt to your new surroundings. In the last few weeks, I have started to speak Spanish more and more. I feel somewhat competent having a conversation with my host mom or asking for directions. I even mustered up the courage to explore the city on my own. I have realized studying abroad is not so much about how well you can fit into a culture; it is about how well you can adapt to the culture. Letting go of my anxiety of being viewed a certain way by locals has granted me amazing memories with some pretty awesome people. I am pleased to say that I have made the most out of my international experience. I hope all of you receive the opportunity to do the same.

Best wishes!
UNCG in Spain
Madrid, Spain

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Corey and Carl in Spain!

Day one. It's 11:35am and I'm trying to find my way around the Madrid airport in search of my checked-in luggage. Why don't I just ask someone? Perfect. Wait, how do you say "checked-in luggage" in Spanish? Where do I go once I retrieve it?? Where's my apartment? Oh no...

This was just the beginning to the start of my five-week experience here in Madrid, Spain. However, it quickly became, and still is, one of the best and most extraordinary experiences of my entire life. Let me, and my dragon Carl, share some of our stories.

I've lived in a semi-suburban city in Southern California and Greensboro, and I've lived in the middle of nowhere in my hometown Four Oaks, NC. What I haven't done is live in the middle of downtown of a giant city. Our directors say it is the US equivalent of living in downtown Manhattan. Within the first few days, I did so many things I thought I'd never do. I got a metro card (which I had to make an appointment for online, in Spanish!) and mastered the metro station. I tried sheep-intestine which surprisingly wasn't all that bad. Most importantly, I roomed with eight other students (and a pretty cool guy from Denmark), and started making some of the best memories of my life.

Our schedule for the five weeks was pretty straight forward: classes from 2pm-5pm almost everyday with a few museum trips in between. I am currently taking SPA 332 and SPA 313, Spain history and Spanish conversation, respectively, which both teach us the value and uniqueness of the language and culture (especially during our cultural visits). The first weekend we went to Segovia as a group (30 students plus 3 faculty). It was sort of like a trail, passing by multiple historic sights and structures. My favorite there was the famous aqueduct as well as the cathedral. They were both so beautiful and amazing pieces of history in Spain.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Jeremy in Peru!

Hello everyone and greetings from Lima, Peru! I could definitely go on forever about my experience thus far, but I promised myself I wouldn’t write a short story. This semester studying abroad has been one like no other. Many of you reading this have already studied abroad, may be preparing for your own journey, or contemplating the entire possibility. After finally deciding on a country and a school to study at, you spend countless hours reading dozens of articles and watching numerous videos about life in your desired country. Well, at least that is what I did. And since the semester here at USIL in Lima did not begin until March 2016, I had more than enough time to prepare myself (maybe a little too much time). I hope you will enjoy a bit of my journey so far in Lima as I share with you a few of my humorous thoughts and give some (hopefully) helpful advice. 

Plaza Mayor. Historic Centre. Lima, Peru.

Living in Lima has been very different for me. You’re probably thinking, “duh you’re in a foreign country, what do you expect?” Consider this: it took me several weeks to get used to campus life, driving and living in Greensboro. Though not as big as Raleigh or Charlotte, it is still a larger place with way more people and traffic than what I am used to having in the ‘252’. You drop me in a city larger than NYC with nearly 10 million people, what do you think exactly happened??? Well not to worry! I haven’t had any panic attacks yet (#ThankYouLord!), but I will say that actually living in this city has surpassed what I could have ever imagined if I were only to have watched others' travels on YouTube. Although I am a brave person, I have to say that I am very fortunate to have four fellow Spartans here apart of the same program. It definitely eased the transition and the lack of us knowing each other went out the window when we all realized we were thousands of miles from home (and Chick-fil-A). 

Highest View of Lima, Peru
Arriving a couple weeks before school began gave me much time to get adjusted to Lima and the crazy traffic. Peruvians are very nice! (a little too friendly for my preference at first but I came around…if you know me than you understand lol)   The food here has been great thus far, but since I like to cook and save my ‘Tubmans', I don’t eat out much. BTW shopping here at first was a bit of a challenge, but you adjust to all of it. Though Lima holds much Peruvian culture, as the capital of Peru it is still very ‘European/Americanized’ in my opinion. How so? Well many food corporations from the U.S. are here, like Starbucks & KFC, as well as popular clothing stores, such as H&M. My early arrival allowed me time to explore the various districts of the city with friends and to also do historical tours. The best part was being able to plan early trips to other parts of Peru. I encourage you to travel outside of your residing city whenever possible to get different perceptions of what it means to be a native. Some places I have visited so far in Peru include Ica, Huaraz, and even a short time in Arequipa. I plan to do some more traveling (as much as my budget and schedule will allow)! 

Sandboarding in Ica, Peru

As I am sitting here reflecting, I realize I just missed my 90-day Insta’ post but this will definitely make up for it. I want to leave some advice for anyone who is considering or preparing for study abroad--in case we don’t ever speak in person:
 #1) If you get the OPPORTUNITY, take it! If I had not set aside the time to consider this chance to travel abroad this semester, I do not believe it would have come together so nicely. 
#2) The EXPERIENCE cannot be duplicated, so make the most of the time that you have. Nothing will be exactly how you are used to having it or how you pictured it in your head. Nevertheless try new things, meet some people, and make friends with natives and other internationals. Especially get to know the ambassadors (similar to UNCG Pals) on campus.  

Sandboarding in Ica, Peru
#3) Remember it is STUDY abroad, so take responsibility to maintain a nice balance of work and play. (Because we know that playing can get out of hand in another country where the laws may be more lenient and….Point made).  
 #4) BE YOUrself! I can’t tell you how many times people look surprised to know that I am from the U.S. (and not Brazil or wherever? My lack of Spanish skills at the peak of conversation probably gives it away LOL) Many Peruvians have even told me they are very honored to have us (gringos) think enough of their country to come and study here. Last but not least…
#5) This is YOUR DECISION! Pressure from the school, family, or friends to do what they may think is best for you, should not be the deciding factor. Like many major moves in life, you have to make up your mind how you want to spend this particular season of your life. One thing I believe is that when and if you make a mistake, you can always deal with it better by knowing that it was the choice that you made!

LIHC Dragon’s View from my apartment in Lima

I hope my account has been insightful and has made your day just a little better!

Lake Umayo, Sillustani, Ancient burial grounds just outside of Puno

Love, Peace, & Blessings

Jeremy J. Kirby
Universidad San Ignacio Loyola (USIL)
Lima, Peru