Indiana University Overseas Study

KellyK

To be honest I have been dreading writing this blog entry. I have had no clue how to sum up my entire study abroad experience. I have had no clue how to write about leaving Spain without leaving tears on my keyboard. It is hard to know how to even begin so I will try to do my best.

Returning to old job.

Returning to my old job.

When thinking about study abroad we all think about our last days at home before leaving to a new country and we think about the amazing experiences we will have while we are there. However, we rarely ever think about what things will be like once we get back home after having lived in a foreign country. The experiences we have in different places change who we are. They change how we think and act, they affect our morals and goals. After living in a new place for a year I can say that I am not the same person I was twelve months ago when I left the United States for Madrid, Spain. I do not think or act the same way. I do not want the things I once wanted. I was scared to come home. Now, after having been home for some time I can say that some days are easier than others. Sometimes I wake up completely content, completely happy to be back with my friends and family and to be living my old life. But, sometimes I wake up and realize that my new home and new friends are on the other side of the world. Coming home can be best described as bittersweet. I am so happy to do and see the things that I have missed so much, but at the same time I am sad. I miss everything about Madrid: the atmosphere, the food, the lack of customer service, the dirty restaurant floors and most of all my friends. Right before leaving Madrid my roommate and good friend explained to me that if our year abroad lasted forever the experiences and friendships that we had would not hold the same importance to us. That we cherish our time in Madrid so much and it is so much more special to us because we know it will end. He essentially explained that all good things must come to an end.

returning to family

Spending time with my family after returning home.

Coming home is hard and it is even harder to talk about, which is probably why we never hear much about it. Even though it’s not easy, even though I still long for Spain every day I know that all I can do at this point is be happy for the experience that I had and feel grateful to have a home and group of friends on the other side of the world. In just a few short weeks I will be starting my senior year at IU. Like most seniors, I do not know what my future will hold nor do I know where I will be. However, I do know that I will always have two places to call home.

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Kayne Mettert

That’s it.  It’s over.  The biggest adventure of my life has come to a close.  In the blink of an eye, it seems, I went to Italy and came back to Indiana.  As I drive through town, I realize that nothing here has changed.  My hometown is just as I’d left it which makes me feel as though my European experience was all just a dream.  How is it possible that last week, I could have taken a 5 minute train ride to the Colosseum and now I’m back in the land of the ordinary and the mundane?

On the eve before my last day in Rome, I went out to dinner with my co-workers where they exposed me to some traditional Roman dishes.  During the meal, I mentioned to them how sad I would be when I had to leave Italy the next day.  One of my co-workers looked at me curiously and proceeded to tell me not to be sad.  He told me, that there’s no reason to be sad.  He asked me if I had enjoyed my time here and I told him yes.  He asked me if I had seen a lot of cool things in Italy and I said yes.  He asked me if I had eaten good food in Italy and I said “of course!”  So he told me that I should not be sad since  I had had a fantastic time that will always live with me.  The time I spent abroad may have been limited, but the memories and emotions from my trip are eternal.  I thanked him for his perspective and we continued our meal.

As I sit at home and reflect on the importance of this study abroad program in my life, I begin to realize that it’s importance is invaluable.  Sure, when I was getting ready for this trip, the financial aspects and monetary preparations for the program were stressing me out, but after having completed this journey I can see that the experience I’ve gained is priceless.  Every penny, ounce of stress, and hard work I put towards this trip was worth the professional, academic, and personal growth that I’ve had.  The feats I’ve accomplished are more than I ever could have dreamed of and the wisdom I’ve gained will impact my life for years to come.  I decided to blog my experiences because I wanted to reach other students in an effort to persuade them to study abroad as well.   If anyone reading this is considering studying abroad, I implore you to consider it wholeheartedly and truly understand the profound impact that a program like this can have on your life.  The IU Office of Overseas study is a fantastic resource that can help you travel to some amazing places and see some incredible things.  I am so grateful for the chance I’ve had to live in Italy this summer and I will always remember this adventure fondly and the monumental impact it had on my life.

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Ashli Hendricks

I lost my voice in Amsterdam. The day before I was meant to fly out for my second session’s study tour, the chords of my vocals went flat. I was hacking and sputtering so much on arrival I was worried my hotel roommate might smother me with a pillow in my sleep.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam sign just outside the airport. We climbed all over it.

As much as I love to hear myself talk, my new croaky rasp wasn’t super alluring. It suddenly meant all my experiences had the sanctity and focus of a Tibetan monk’s silence. Mine just wasn’t voluntary. I was forced to be more perceptive, but given the influx of new perspective that I witnessed in the Netherlands, I’m glad.

The eerie sentimentality I felt running my hand along a banister in the Anne Frank House – hearing her dad tearily admit after reading her diary that parents can never truly know their children; the uncanny valley of robotic doll women posing in the windows of the Red Light District – dorkily wondering whether I was supposed to smile and wave, whether I was interrupting their work; the hoops of cordiality the wizard-cloaked lawyers had to jump through at the International Criminal Court – one British bigwig demanding the prosecution “get their act together” and me wanting to shout “OHHHH!” like they’d just dissed each other in a hip-hop cipha.

I’m a Human Rights major. This city was the mothership calling me home. Where I’d intended to babble my way through it and flaunt how much I already knew, I was forced to shut up. Observe. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you sound like Clint Eastwood and want no one to know.

I could empathize better. On my terrifying bike tour, in between proving it was actually possible to forget how to ride one, I went from being a cocky pedestrian to demanding why all these cocky pedestrians weren’t stopping for me.

bicycle

My trusty steed from my bike tour.

And at the refugee asylum, the point of the whole class trip, I realized I’d only relished the excitement in displacement and not reflected on the pain of it. As deeply bummed as I was to be heading home to America in a few weeks, at least I got to. At least I had a home.

I was confronted with the concept “non-refoulement,” in which some kids can’t be returned to their country because of its death penalty for leaving. There was this tragic reality of limbo etched on their faces. They were 12, but weighed with this impending doom of a deportation decision to be made. Sure, there were BBQ competitions and basketball tournaments in the detainment center, suggesting an atmosphere of RAs running a dorm. There was potential to do more in a day than most people I know, who are comfortable with Netflix as their only agenda. It was a paradisiacal version of much harsher, unsanitary conditions in other “transit zones.”

refugee housing

Refugee housing.

But it made me question what sustenance is, what a real life means to someone else. All privileges boil down to a few ID cards; a student or a military dependent or things central to my identity mean nothing to anyone if I can’t prove it. I wouldn’t even be yukking it up in Amsterdam or Copenhagen without a passport. These kids’ motivations for crossing borders were far more complex, just undocumented, so they were perceived as a resource burden: migrants first, children second.

I had to be open to other people’s ways of being in the world. Which is why I fell in love with Amsterdam’s Rijks art museum. It really hammered home everything the asylum taught me. There were yellow signs near most paintings that championed personal rather than historical viewpoints. There weren’t simply facts and figures, but an idea that “The central actor is not art, it’s you. You’re the hero of the art museum.” And I love being called a hero.

It was all about how art bolsters the dormant aspects in us: some people might be bored by an adventurous landscape because it only calls to those who need to be bolder. There’s no such thing as great art, just art that works for you.

It hearkened back to something I learned in my first session’s class, Children with Special Needs: Your worldview matters, don’t be afraid to ask that others make concessions for it. We’d visited the Handicaporganisationernes Hus, the “most accessible building in the world.” Not only was it built with same budget as any other office building to encourage universal design, but the architects were also given earplugs and glasses for tunnel vision, etc. It allowed them to experience difficulties entering a building firsthand. The designers learned ramps are only beneficial to those with electric wheelchairs, because unless you’re Joe Swanson from Family Guy, rolling yourself up an angle isn’t easy. So they adjusted the blueprints accordingly. It was so easy be considerate, our guide pointed out. All you had to do was try.

kids crowding to watch the World Cup

Kids crowding to watch the Netherlands play in the World Cup on a public TV.

The theme of my whole European extravaganza has been perspective. Not just analyzing who I am and what I want, but recognizing that in other people. Whether through special needs or refugees or bikers or being near-mute, I’m seeing the world for more than what I know it to be.

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Lauren Greco

It is insane to think that I am almost done with my 8 weeks abroad. I have made so many great friends and connected with so many people at my internship and elsewhere, that it has come to the point where I am starting to feel like this is my actual, everyday life. I have learned so much over the past few weeks, especially concerning how to adapt to a different culture and way of life.  I thought that for this post, I would provide you with a handy list of things to keep in mind if you decide to participate in a study abroad internship, or really any study abroad program!

  • Be knowledgeable about the industry you’re working in, and specifically the industry in the country you’re working in. As a Marketing and Economic Consulting major, I was really nervous about working at a bank, as finance is not something that I particularly enjoy or understand. I kept thinking to myself, if I didn’t understand finance in the US then how would I understand it in another country? Luckily, I am working in the Communications department, which is not heavily focused on the technical financial services sector. I have been given the opportunity to do the work that I enjoy in an industry I thought I had no place in.
  • Along with understanding the industry, it is important to understand the economy of the country you are working in. Ireland suffered from the global economic crisis in 2008 just like many other countries around the world, but it has taken them a long time to rebuild themselves. Because Ireland is such a small country, they are still, to this day, struggling financially. Additionally, the banks are not looked upon favorably, as many say the banks are what caused the crisis in the first place. Because of that, it has been very interesting to work in a bank and understand public sentiment towards the whole financial sector.
  • One last thing that you should have some knowledge on – be informed of any general or big news stories that have emerged in your host country.  Irish people are very well-informed and have even told me about American news stories.  Especially in a work environment, people chat about what’s going on around the city and country before diving into work for the day, so you don’t want to appear apathetic towards what is going on in your host country.  Just a week ago, for example, you could not go anywhere and NOT hear about Garth Brooks and how he canceled all of his upcoming concerts in Dublin.  Apparently the Irish are huge fans of Garth Brooks (who knew?!) and it was quite controversial that he canceled his concerts.  While this might be a ridiculous topic of conversation, people at work would have looked at me like I was the ridiculous one if I was not following the Garth Brooks saga.  Long story short, being well-informed will allow you to make a good impression and also have substantial conversations with your coworkers.
  • If you don’t understand what someone is saying, politely ask them to repeat themselves. Ireland is similar to the US in that everyone speaks English. However, I never thought I would be in a situation when I literally could not understand a single word someone said, and they were supposedly speaking the same language as me. No one will take offense to you asking for them to repeat themselves, so don’t worry about it!
  • Get to know your coworkers. I have already met a really nice girl who is an intern at Bank of Ireland and she is from Ireland. She has basically designated herself to be our ultimate tour guide and has given us great tips on what to do in Dublin that isn’t super “tourist-y”. Additionally, I have also received great tips about things to do and places to see to enrich my experience from some of my other colleagues. They’re excited to talk about their country and where you should go, and it’s a great way to get a conversation going and establish a connection!
  • Don’t let yourself get into a standard routine. Working 9-5 and then just going straight home can be boring. Remind yourself every so often that you are in another country and you should live your experience to the fullest. Go out after work! Take the long way home! Grab a coffee from the cute local coffee shop down the street! Believe me, after working for 9 hours I am so tempted to lay in bed and watch Netflix with a jar of Nutella and a spoon to keep me company. But I’ve gone out and explored Dublin after work a few times and run into some really interesting areas and places to go. Netflix and Nutella can wait until you’re in Bloomington and wishing you were back in [insert country you studied abroad in here].

These are just some of the random tips and tidbits I have gathered over the course of the last few weeks, and I’m not even finished with my program yet! I know everything is coming to a close soon, however, so I plan on doing as much as I can in the little time that I have left. Studying abroad, and especially interning abroad, is all about immersing yourself in the culture of the country you are residing in, and I hope that I have done that to the fullest extent thus far.

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Farewell Firenze

Elizabeth King

Home, such a wonderful place to be. Although, after spending six weeks in Florence, Italy, the word ‘home’ feels almost ambiguous.

Florence felt like home. I had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and friends that grew to be my “Firenze family”. My experience there was greater than I could’ve imagined. But as my departure day grew closer and closer, I felt myself getting more and more excited to go to my real home. I was ready to go back; to see my family, to sleep in my own bed, and to not live out of a suitcase.

But as I arrived home, I was prepared to encounter what everyone else seems to talk about: the culture shock, the jet lag, the intense longing for European life once again. And I waited, and waited, and waited for that all to happen. But after being home for three weeks, I can assure you, I haven’t quite experienced any of these. I was shocked. How can I, a now semi-cultured 19-year-old living in a small Indiana town, be content with Wal-Mart and cornfields when the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio were just staples in my Florentine existence? I’ve spoken with my newfound Firenze Friends and they’re all suffering from PDSFF, Post Departure Sadness From Florence. But alas, I have found myself content with my small, Midwestern life.

My time in Florence was a gift, a gift I am most thankful for. I lived a different life while I was there; I strolled, I meandered, I wandered. Every day I had the opportunity to explore a new treasure of Florence, like the Basilica de Santa Croce or San Miniato al Monte. I was able to cross many experiences off of my bucket list, like visiting the Roman Colosseum and throwing a coin in the Fontana di Trevi.

It was a different world over there, a world so unlike my own. Hopefully I can take my newfound strolling, meandering, and wandering with me to Bloomington and see my world in a different light.

I miss Florence, honestly I do. But something has to be said about the simple beauty found in an Indiana, hometown sunset.

Indiana sunset

A beautiful Indiana sunset

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Elizabeth King

We live in a world that is interconnected more than ever before. We can write, text, call, and FaceTime across the globe in a matter of minutes and with a limited cost. Travel almost, and I stress the word almost, seems unnecessary in a world where “Googling” can potentially satisfy inquiries. I, however, am firmly against this concept, especially while studying abroad. I want to see what I can of the world in the short time I have. Being in Italy, I have access to an amazing amount of desirable travel destinations that are cost-effective and convenient.

Prior to arriving in Italy, I had planned on traveling within Italy over the free weekends. I thought I wanted to go to the big places: Rome, Venice, and Naples. My original thoughts changed once I actually arrived and spoke to both locals and people in my program. Why go to the classic, tourist pit if I could go somewhere else just as beautiful? Instead, I ended up traveling to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast. I learned quite a bit from my time spent traveling abroad.

There are several decisions that go into planning weekend trips. I wish I had been more aware and conscious of these factors before I was planning my trips abroad. Here are some things, in no particular order, to be aware of when you are planning a weekend get-away.

Where You Want To Go

This is obviously important. Picking the right place to go is important because you need to pick a place that has enough to do and is ultimately worth the money. Earlier, I hinted that the typical tourist pits can be replaced with less well-known destinations, yet I still went to Rome. To me, Rome is worth the crowds and aggressive vendors and has so many landmarks that I had to see. The decision to go to Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast was made after we investigated the Bus2Alps website. Bus2Alps is a company that plans trips specifically for students and takes the stressful decision-making out of the equation. I had a very positive experience with Bus2Alps and thoroughly enjoyed my trips. The only negative is the expense; having someone plan your weekend getaway can get costly. Overall, I found that the added expense was worth not having to stress and plan my trip.

roman colosseum

A panoramic view of the Roman Colosseum

Who You Want To Go With

This decision has the power to make or break your experience. Be very careful with who you decide to travel with because these are the people you are spending every moment with. During my travels, I went with the same group of friends each time and it worked out well. Like any trip, there are frustrating moments but all is forgotten when you reach your desired landmarks. Overall, make sure the people you travel with are people you can trust because you’re going to have to trust them more than you’d think.

my traveling group

My traveling group on one of our weekend adventures.

How Much You Want To Spend

Traveling on a budget is extremely difficult, especially in Italy. It seems like you never stop spending money and you easily lose track of how much you have actually spent. What I found during my travels was that I would spend the most money on food and it added up quickly. I would recommend buying snacks at the local grocery store before to help offset more expensive meals and treats when you reach your destination.

What You Want To Do Once You Arrive

It is extremely important to already have figured out where you and your group wants to visit and what you want to do. You’re only visiting these places for a limited amount of time and you want to maximize that time with enough activities. When my friends and I arrived in Rome, we proceeded to get lost for two hours looking for our hostel and this set us up poorly for the rest of the day. We did have places we knew we wanted to see, though, so when we finally got un-lost, we made sure to take advantage of the remaining time. Make sure you look up the attractions before hand to make sure you know whether or not they’re open, where they are, the cost, and whether you need a reservation.

 

Traveling while abroad, in my opinion, is a must. You grow so much by being responsible for purchasing train tickets, hostels, and museum passes, all things I never once did when I was back in the States.  I can easily say that I learned a lot more by traveling on my own. By making good decisions and making good use of your time and money, you can make memories that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

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Kayne Mettert

As I traveled through Venice this past weekend, I continually caught myself referring to my apartment in Rome as “home.”  As in “I can’t wait to get home,” or “I need to do laundry when I get home.”  This has made me wonder, does my comfort and level of security here in Rome really compare to my American home in only two months?  How could that be possible?  As my time here dwindles, I can’t help but reflect on my journey and how it has impacted me mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The amount of introspection and self-discovery I’ve experienced is exponential.  I’ve found essential qualities in myself that will be assuredly important as I venture through life.

I’ve found a resiliency and flexibility in myself that I never knew existed.  The human being’s capacity for adaptability is truly astounding to me.  I started this journey as a complete stranger to Italian language and culture having no idea what to expect.  Now I can navigate, communicate, and work in Italy as if I’d been doing so my entire life.  I’ve grown familiar with the strength inside myself that was waiting to show its potential.  Not only am I vastly more culturally experienced, I’m also much more confident.

Roman street

The street I live on.

I’ve found my place in the world as a single person among seven billion.  Being isolated in one place has a way of making people unintentionally ethnocentric.  It is hard to describe how humbling it is to be surrounded by people who couldn’t care less where you come from.  While it can seem important to be an American in America, there are people all over the world, for instance, who don’t know or don’t care where Indiana is.  This was eye-opening for me and I expect it must be for anyone who travels abroad for the first time.  No longer will I venture through life in a bubble.  Italy and its people are not abstract ideas, characterized by pizza, pasta, and art.  Like anywhere else, whether it is Africa, South America, Australia, or the United States, the world is filled with living, breathing, and sentient beings with thoughts and ideas who can all make invaluable contributions to the world.

I’ve found my convictions and my voice.  Being in a large city like Rome, you have to become comfortable making yourself heard.  This can become even more difficult when many people don’t speak the same language as you.  While violent crime isn’t a major issue here, pick-pocketing and petty theft have become quite rampant.  Street vendors, which populate Rome’s streets, can also be pushy.  Growing up in a much smaller city, I have always felt uncomfortable on the streets of larger cities like Chicago and Indianapolis.  My anxiety, which may usually be unfounded, had manifested itself in a general dissatisfaction with cities and a subsequent aversion of them.  My time spent here has done so much to calm my anxiety and give me a brand new appreciation of large cities.  It has strengthened my nerves and even shown me how to be more assertive in various social situations.

me looking over balcony

Looking over the city

Finally, I’ve found compassion and understanding.  Where I had been cynical about life and people, my experiences have shown me that people are generally good regardless of where you go.  During my travels, I encountered people from so many different backgrounds.  Empathy isn’t necessarily innate, it is learned and practiced.  With observation and introspection, anyone can empathize with anyone else.  Being able to observe people in entirely new places and situations has shown me firsthand that it doesn’t matter what corner of the world someone is from, as humans, we all have the same tendencies.  Like construction workers in Rome telling each other a joke, we all laugh and smile the same.  Like the woman on the train who breaks down sobbing and is comforted by the strangers around her, we all feel the same sadness.  Like the young teenage couple sitting by the river staring so deeply into each other’s eyes I wonder if they can see or hear anyone else, we all love the same.  Our minds are the same and so are our hearts.

selfie over Rome

A selfie over the city

Rome is my home.  It has taken me in, kept me healthy, cultivated my growth, and made me conscious.  Rome has taught me a lot about who I am and what I am capable of.  It has taught me about the world and my place in it.  This summer has been such a formative time for me that will always live affectionately in my heart.

walking down a roman street

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