Indiana University Overseas Study

Erik Trautman

The “hump” they warn you about at the study abroad orientation meeting is real. The initial excitement of being in another country was dulled by mid-October and the fantasy world, which I had thrown myself into, seemed more like everyday life. Although I was encompassed by an earthy blend of burnt orange, brick-red, pale yellow and maroon brown that make up the picturesque Bologna cityscape, I longed for Bloomington fall leaves and trees, apple cider, pumpkin beer, pumpkin spice lattes, and pumpkin smear from Bloomington Bagel Company. Yes, there are pumpkins here but not like the craze that takes the mid-west when the leaves begin to turn.

What made matters worse was the guilt of not treating everyday like the incredible adventure it is but just like another ordinary day. My goal is to become integrated but what is the sacrifice? That I don’t spend five minutes every morning marveling at the awe-inspiring view from my bathroom?

View of Bologna out the bathroom window.

The solution to my dilemma came to me in my contemporary European history class. Professor Cammarano, a stern yet encouraging (in the sense that you want to prove you’re not completely ignorant) scholar of European history, opened the class with the question, “where have you been in Italy besides the visits organized by the BCSP program?” (Ravenna and Urbino). Most of my classmates had a few cities checked off their lists, some from previous vacations to Italy, some had just return from various trips. When my turn came I solemnly mumbled, “Bologna”, I was one of two students that hadn’t left Bologna since I arrived nearly two months before! I hadn’t left because I liked Bologna, I didn’t want to miss out on plans I had made with new local friends and therefore I hadn’t felt a longing to leave. At that instant, however, I felt that I was missing out on a different part of the study abroad experience. I had become adjusted and was so preoccupied with integrating myself in everyday life in Bologna that I had neglected being a tourist and it just so happened that I had been invited to take a trip with two other BSCP students, Kara and Nikki, that upcoming weekend to Bolzano.

We scrambled to make bookings the night before the trip. Some details were changed from our original plan. I was dissuaded by the fact that we couldn’t do the six-hour hike that I wanted to do to get to the closest place I could find outdoor bouldering, something I’ve been meaning to do in Italy for some time. Despite, the set backs I decided to roll with the punches and see what happens. The trip didn’t get off on the right foot. The night before my departure I fell asleep at about four in the morning on my friend Katelyn’s couch after traversing the entire city from north to south and back to central, a different story for a different time. On top of that, half way through the train ride I was jolted awake from my comatose state by a rather rigid-looking man in a suit. He told us that we were supposed to get off at a previous station and switch trains because we had bought the tickets for the slower train. We consequently had to pay the large difference in ticket price.

These are but distant faded memories, however, and what I most easily recall from the trip to Bolzano is the disbelief and wonder I had stumbled upon in Bologna two months before.

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I distinctly remember sitting on a park bench in the center of town just after returning from our hike to the earth pyramids. Nikki and Kara had gone to the information center to ask about a good place for lunch, I told them I needed a moment to gather myself. This is, more or less, what I entered in my journal then and there.

I can’t really put this into words. The beauty of this place is intoxicating and it weakens me. There’s too much beauty and kindness in the world to dwell on what ifs and microscopic problems. Although I must be in tune with what happens within me and around me, I can never forget the bigger picture: the world may seem turbulent at times and although seasons pass the dried stacks of mud that are “i piramidi di terra” still stand in nooks of this world like Bolzano that ring nothing but purity.

I returned to Bologna that Sunday evening like it was my home away from home. I was re-familiarized with the best and the worst of the city I had grown accustom to. I was bumped into immediately in the mist of the bustling crowd; luckily since it was Sunday so the main two roads were closed and I could walk freely in the road, the faint smell of dog pee on certain blocks. I climbed the spiral staircase to my apartment with the feeling of relief to sleep in my own bed and tell my roommates all about my adventure. I was refreshed and saw Bologna through new eyes and was relieved by the notion that at anytime I could discover something new everywhere I looked. Therefore, today’s Italian word of the day is actually a phrase, “vale la pena” or “it’s worth it.”

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Jordin Perkins

Class photo

Our Class: After handing out suckers to the entire class, Professor Schachermeier insisted we ask someone to take our picture speaking only German. This was the result.

Every Wednesday, I walk into my “Cultural Heritage of Austria” course and ask, “So… Where are we going today?”

Like most other courses, the first hour and a half is held in the main IES building. However, unlike other classes, the second half of every class is designated to physically seeing what we’ve been studying in our textbook.

So far, we’ve seen 4 museums, 3 grave-sites of important historical figures, 1 castle, too many churches to count, the library that inspired Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’s library, and many other important landmarks in Vienna.

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You could say we’ve seen a lot of the city… you would be wrong. We haven’t even seen half of it yet!

From these class outings, I’m learning not only more and more about the history of this city, but that, alongside the old buildings and artifacts, there is always something new to see. One can never complain about being bored.

World renowned Christmas markets are popping up everywhere, there is always a new symphony or opera to see for as little as 3 Euro (sometimes even for free!), and getting lost in the city (not that I’ve done that 4-5 times already…) leads you to little cafes and boutiques that, while you may never find them again, add to the charm of the city.

And the professors here sure do take advantage of these opportunities.

While not all courses can afford an excursion every class, most have at least a few scheduled into their syllabus. This sense of a classroom outside of the classroom is an eye-opening, hands-on way to learn that will make returning to lecture halls and textbook discussions difficult.

Having already met a few, I hope to encounter more professors in IU’s Journalism program who use this method of learning – allowing us to step outside of the classroom and into the lesson’s physical material.

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Erik Trautman

It was a Saturday evening in late September. The passing of my first month in Bologna still boggled my mind. The first two weeks in the hotel drifted by in slow motion. Maybe it was just the jet lag or culture shock but it felt like a daze, like I was sleep walking through a time warp. Then I moved into my apartment and the next two weeks were put in fast forward and passed in a flash like a single photo. Still, I wasn’t prepared when my roommate, Arianna, asked if I wanted to go to an event at “the ex-psychiatric ward”. I stood facing her in the kitchen for a long second without responding. It was then that I remembered the advice that a friend, Anna, had told me, which was given to her by her sister who had studied abroad in the past: “Learn to say yes”, so the four of us left for the conveniently located “ex-psychiatric ward”.

I have to admit, I half-expected a dark creepy club in a medieval castle, but what I found is better described in pictures. It’s called Bologna Water Design.

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The brochure described Bologna Water Design as “occupying the territory” of cultural encounters, dj set, musica live, cocktail, and a photographic show. I would describe it as a kind of gallery showing of installation pieces relating to the sustainability or appreciation of water, in an old psych ward.

At the end of the evening, we stood in the central courtyard, submerged in the ambient music emanating from the dj stand. Cigarette smoke drifted through the black mass of artsy-looking Italians (many of them wore black leather jackets). I breathed it in, all of it. I could have stayed in that night, watched some Netflix or whatnot but I took a leap of faith and I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised, so the Italian word for the day is “fede” or faith.

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Jordin Perkins

It’s not like I expected the Austrians to be little green aliens. But, as I walked off of the plane in Vienna, Austria, I did expect some kind of culture shock. However, besides being surrounded by German chatter, which four semesters of German had prepared me for, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by many cultural differences.

Looking back now, I can say that my assumed definition of culture shock was completely inaccurate.

My initial expectation what that everything would be completely backwards and I wouldn’t know my left from my right. Having been here for a bit, I now understand that culture shock can be a culmination of little experiences and encounters that slowly become a part of everyday life abroad.

So, without further ado, some of the little things that, personally, made Vienna so… foreign!

typical cup of coffee

A typical cup of coffee from Café Neko, a cat-friendly café in the middle of Vienna.

Coffee Culture

Coffee here is considered a delicacy and, though it’s an option to buy a “to-go” coffee, it’s far more common to sit down and enjoy a warm mug in the café itself. Almost every corner has a different and unique café, where it is completely acceptable to buy one cup of coffee and sit for hours. For those seeking a little piece of America, Starbucks can also be found in largely tourist-populated areas.

Escalators

One must always stand on the right side of the escalator. If one stands in the middle or on the left, those climbing the steps in a hurry will push her to the side, with a polite, but slightly annoyed, “Entschuldigung.” There are even signs at both ends of the escalators stating, “Bitte rechts stehen” meaning “Please stand to the right.”

Clothing

While jeans and cardigans are still part of the norm, tank tops and leggings are not as widely accepted as they are in the U.S. The Viennese, from what I’ve noticed, tend to be more conservative in the way they dress, always pairing a lower cut shirt with a scarf and wearing leggings as though they were tights, often with longer shirts or dresses. However, sweatpants and running shorts, completely acceptable to wear to class in a U.S. college town, are virtually nonexistent outside of the realm of exercise here.

Street at along Danube

One depiction of street art along the Danube River.

Graffiti

The graffiti that I’ve experienced in Vienna should more realistically be called Street-Art. Whereas in the US, it usually includes vulgar terms and symbols, graffiti here tends to encompass a personal view or an abstract idea. Thus, instead of being covered up and washed away, most graffiti is accepted as just another part of everyday life.

Smoking

While smoking in most public places, such as restaurants and university buildings, is illegal in Indiana, smoking in Vienna is a part of everyday life. It is common on main streets to pass clouds of cigarette smoke or for someone to hurry past you, cigarette in hand. In fact, most restaurants have a smoking section that encompasses the entire outside patio and cigarette dispensers are included on most public trash cans.

Längenfeld Subway Station

Stairs lead down to the U6 line in the Längenfeld Subway Station.

Public Transportation

This is one of the biggest differences that I’ve found between the two countries.

In the train stations in Vienna, there are no gates or entry/exit areas. Instead, passengers are expected to buy a day, week, or month pass and enter directly into the station. Aside from random ticket-checks, the Viennese public transportation is completely based on an honor system.

Once on the public transportation, the social etiquette is also different. While casual conversations are a normal occurrence on public transportation in the U.S., these conversations would cause other passengers to stare on the otherwise quiet public transportation in Vienna. For Americans, the combination of speaking loudly and speaking in English on trains or buses can make them stick out like a sore thumb.

Many of these differences may not be as prominent, depending on where one grew up in the United States. However, as someone who was born and raised in Indiana, it was these little differences that caused me to stop and reconsider where I was and where I’d come from.

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Turtle Hunt

Erik Trautman

Around the second week of the BCSP (Bologna Consortial Studies Program), I went to revisit the first apartment I saw in Bologna. “If you like it you should take it because someone else might,” the landlord warned me on my first visit. Sure enough, Kirk, another student in BCSP, was interested and had seen it directly after me on my first visit. The morning before I revisited the apartment I asked Kirk what he thought of the place. “I think I’m going to take it, I’m going to call tomorrow to see if I can see it again,” he responded, not exactly the response I hoped for. I told him I also planned on taking the apartment and that I already had an appointment to revisit it. He said in that case he would back off. I felt like a 10-year-old on the playground claiming “finders keepers” but the competition of searching for a home will do that to you.

I remember trotting down the spiral staircase, my steps echoing off the stone, click-flop click-flop. The sole of my left shoe had come partially undone and flopped around like an extended tongue when I went up or down stairs and tripped me up on cobblestone roads. I reached the bottom of those treacherous steps, opened the weathered wooden doors, and there he was again, Kirk. “They called me and asked if I could come back so they could get to know me better,” he explained. I gritted my teeth and wished him the best of luck. The meeting I just had with potential roommates had been an interview and I didn’t even realize it! I came prepared with questions and thought that it was them in the hot seat, but the opposite turned out to be true.

I spent the next couple of hours in the serene “Giardini Margherita” awaiting their decision. I replayed the meeting over and over in my head, scrutinizing my every move. The three of us sat around the cramped kitchen table, a small overhead lamp hung above us. Salvo, whom I met the first time I saw the apartment, sat to my right, and Francesca, whom I was meeting for the first time sat to my left.   Electronic music buzzed from behind a cracked bedroom door. “Do you mind the smoke?” Francesca asked as she finished rolling a cigarette. “Not at all, it’s your house,” I carelessly responded. “Will the landlord fix the oven?” was the only question I managed to recall. “Eventually,” was their response. Francesca asked me if I liked Salvo’s music. I turned my ear to the shrills and squeaks that crept out from behind the cracked bedroom door. “Electronic music at 2pm is like showing up to a party 8 hours early,” would have been an honest response. Instead I said, “yes, very much.” After about a half hour of this kind of overly polite chitchat I took my leave. They said they’d give me a call around five.

Thankfully, Stephanie, another BSCP member, met me at the gardens to help distract me from my self-criticism. She had already found an apartment but worried about making new friends and fitting in. We strolled through the seemingly endless park until we reached the central lagoon, which we discovered is chalk full of turtles. We spent some time distracting ourselves by trying to catch a small turtle by hand.

trying to catch turtles

Turtles at Giardini Margherita

This naturally drew attention to us as foreigners as it is not a common practice for Italians to try to catch turtles by hand in the gardens. Despite our overt “foreignness,” we were approached by a kind Italian man interested in our fruitless attempts. We chatted awhile and he suggested we buy a net. After what seemed like a lifetime in the gardens, I received the call I had been waiting for. “We choose you,” is what I could make out of their broken English. I cart wheeled from one side of the park to the other; I was so ecstatic! I now had a home in building 7 on Via Della Braina.

After a month of tripping over cobblestones, tripping over the language, and tripping over insecurities, I’ve learned to pick up my feet, pick up my tongue, and overcome some of them. That being said, I still feel isolated and like a fish out of water far from my native sea at times, but this is natural. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. You will feel like a foreigner because you are and it will make you feel insecure at times. Embrace it! Stephanie and I made a friend at the park that day because we were so obviously strange and out-of-place, I was lucky enough to find great roommates after looking at my first apartment, and Kirk found an accepting group of roommates just down the street. Embrace your “foreignness” and learn to pick up your feet. You will have more in common with the natives than you’d ever expect. I’m still on the hunt for that turtle but I’ve found friends and reassurance. And the Italian word of the day is “tartaruga” or turtle.

Francesca and I

Francesca and I

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Transitioning

Erik Trautman

It was 6:50 p.m. on April 25th, 2014, which happened to be the Friday night of my last Little 500 at Indiana University and the second night of IU cinema’s Italian Film Festival Conference. I debated with myself whether or not to attend the film as I was torn between my desire to improve my Italian language skills and my love for the Bloomington nightlife. Finally, and without a second to spare, I kicked back the last of my drink and stepped out into the crisp spring air.

As I biked down 7th street towards the IU cinema that evening, I wondered, “How socially pathetic am I going to appear showing up to a half vacant theater unaccompanied on the Friday night of IU’s biggest celebration?” To my surprise, I wasn’t the only lonely soul hustling to make the 7 pm showing of Carlo Verdone’s Io, Loro, e Lara or Me, Them, and Lara. As I grabbed my ticket and entered the theater a feeling of belonging swept over me. Not only was the theater packed tight but students of my age were in attendance and some I recognized from class. I took a seat just as the director and main actor, Carlo Verdone, began to talk about his film.

Lara from "Me, Them and Lara"

Lara from “Me, Them and Lara” directed by Carlo Verdone

Verdone talked about the process he went through making Me, Them, and Lara, one of his most successful films and winner of the 2010 Best Comedy Golden Globe. Verdone was a thematic man and he jested about his experience interviewing missionaries to help develop the protagonist of the film, an Italian priest who returns from a missionary trip in Africa to find himself out-of-place in his very home. Verdone reflected on writing the script and how, because of a quickly approaching deadline, he wrote it in less time than any other movie he had produced. After about fifteen minutes of lead up from Verdone, he dedicated the film to his father who had passed away during filming.

I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who wish to see Me, Them, and Lara someday, but I will say the film exuded Verdone’s whimsical humor juxtaposed with the lonesomeness of the protagonist. In the end, the protagonist’s lonesomeness is resolved and I left the theater with a feeling of accomplishment, tranquility, and reconciliation with my own feelings of lonesomeness I had experienced on my way to the theater. As I biked off into the now brisk night air, I had no regrets about the decision to attend the film and I felt goia, joy in English (my mind was in Italian mode), because the night had just begun.

In short, sacrifices and trade-offs are a necessity to study abroad. I sacrificed those few short but precious hours to try to improve my study abroad experience by improving my language skills and cultural knowledge. This was just a sample of my future year abroad but my experience at the Italian Film Festival reassured me that it is a worthwhile sacrifice.

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Kathleen Rutherford

In mere hours I will be on the plane headed due south to my final destination: Santiago, Chile!

At the moment my biggest concern is hoping that I remembered to pack everything I’ll need for an entire semester, but lurking behind my endless mental checklist, excitement is bubbling up inside me.

With two legs of my travelling now complete, Chile is getting closer and closer! There is no telling what exactly my study abroad will entail with regards to my experiences inside and outside the classroom, Chilean culture, and living with a host family. Never before have so many things changed all at once in my life and this gives me the chills—in both a good way and a bad way!

The prospect of maneuvering the largest metro system in South America in a city of six million is one of the more terrifying chills.

However, it pales in comparison to the fact that I will be living in one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world. At my fingertips are: the world’s driest desert (Atacama Desert), Easter Island, Patagonia, the glacier fields, the endless beaches up and down the western coast, and the breathtaking snow-capped Andes Mountains. I’m positively itching to start exploring Chile’s wonders!

Then of course, the thought of leaving for a far-off country and having no clue who I am living with for the next 5 months promptly raises my anxiety level again. Imagine trying to pick out suitable gifts for a host family when you have no idea if they have kids, what ages their kids are if indeed they have any, or if you’re living with another student that’s around your own age. What does one bring as a gift!? It seems to me that a magnet is about the only universal gift that can cross both the age and gender barriers and still make a decent first impression.

Taking classes in Spanish is a much more exciting thought. In Santiago, I will have my choice of classes from three different universities. This means I will literally have thousands of classes to choose from—and from nearly any field. I’ll have the opportunity to take so many Spanish classes I would never have been able to take at IU and I’ll be learning side by side with Chilean natives!

All in all, I’m chomping at the bit to finally get to Santiago and start living a la Chilena. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful experiences from former gringa exchange students and I can’t wait to regale you all with tales of my first days in Santiago!

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