Indiana University Overseas Study

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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KellyK

In Spain you rarely ever hear someone say the word adios. Spaniards are almost never caught saying goodbye to anyone but instead always say hasta luego, or “see you later.” Even though the Spanish word for goodbye is one of the first Spanish words we learn, in reality the word is rarely ever said. When I asked one of my Spanish friends why this is they explained that adios is too strong of a word. Goodbye is goodbye forever while hasta luego expresses that you will one day see each other again. Now that my time in Spain has nearly ended I now know that the day I leave will not be goodbye.

san sebastian

Traveling in San Sebastian, Spain

It is still almost impossible to believe I have just completed an entire academic year studying abroad in a foreign country. Just over ten months ago I left the United States to complete an entire year’s worth of coursework in a foreign country and foreign language, with foreign professors and students. The academic aspect of my year abroad has not been easy, however it has been extremely rewarding. Completing all of my coursework in Spanish language for an entire year has been a major headache and to make matters worse Spanish professors do not exactly give you a break just because you are a foreign student. In many of my classes this year I was the only American student in the class and sometimes one of the only foreigners. Spanish professors expected the same type of coursework from me as from my Spanish colleagues. While schoolwork usually comes easy to me the style of Spanish education was hard to adjust to. The opportunity I had to study in a different county and in a completely different learning style was a difficult yet worthwhile experience. Though difficult to adjust to, I successfully passed all of my classes and adjusted to learning in a different language.

While the academic aspect of my year abroad is extremely important many of the things I have learned this year I did not learn in a classroom. I believe that the personal growth I went through this year is unique to the study abroad experience. The things that you learn while living in a foreign country are things that you cannot in any way learn in a classroom and are things that only few truly learn and understand. Upon first arriving in Madrid nearly a year ago I was faced with the difficulty of getting to know one of the largest cities in all of Europe. I was given a two-week period to find an apartment in a different country and was forced to find my way around in a foreign language. When I first came to Madrid I was reluctant to ask for help even in my own language but all of that quickly changed. I now feel comfortable expressing myself in both English and Spanish and have no problem talking to strangers. I have also gained a strong sense of independence. At first I felt uncomfortable and confused living in a foreign country, however, I have now spent time traveling alone both in Spain and in countries where I do not speak the language. After a year of living abroad I feel more confident and independent than I ever have in my entire life and also believe that I can now accomplish anything, anywhere.

Now, with my classes and exams finished I will spend the next three weeks traveling Spain before returning to the United States. When I left home nearly a year ago I thought it was the hardest thing I had ever done, however it cannot compare to how I feel about leaving Spain. When I left the United States I knew I would return a year later and once again see everything and everyone I love. However I do not know when I will return to Spain. I do not know when I will see the friends I have made that come from all corners of the world and I do not know when I will have another life-changing opportunity such as the one I have had this year. My year abroad has without a doubt been the greatest experience of my life and although my time here is coming to an end I know that one-day I will be back. This is not goodbye, just hasta luego.

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Self Sufficiency

Kayne Mettert

Sitting in a small train station en route to Siena in Tuscany after having missed two trains, I reflected on how far I’ve come.  I remember going on family vacations as a child, completely reliant on adults for the scheduling and arrangement of our trips.  Any complications that arose were no inconvenience to me, as I had no responsibility in planning or implementing what we would do.  This, however, was not the case now as I started to panic and wonder how I would get this weekend trip (which was now three hours off schedule) back on track.

train station

Behind schedule at the train station.

The commute, which I had singularly planned and organized, had gotten off track when our original train left the station late.  This threw everything off and made it very difficult to make our subsequent connections in time.  Eventually though, I found my bearings and I figured out where and when I could catch the next train and continue to my destination.  As I rode this train to Siena, I couldn’t help but be proud of myself for navigating through a foreign country completely independently and overcoming this obstacle.  For one of the first times in my life, I felt entirely self-sufficient in every way.

Upon arrival in Siena, I found my hotel, checked in, and proceeded to explore the city.  As I walked, I stumbled upon a giant square surrounding an enormous tower, which I later learned was called Torre del Mangia.  With a little investigation, I also learned that anyone can climb to the top and see the whole city from the peak of the tower.  I began to scale the steps within the narrow hallways and low ceilings of the tower that wrapped up and around probably 50 stories.

Torre del Mangia

Torre del Mangia

My excitement was building with every step because I knew the view would be incredible.  Sure enough, as I reached the top, what I saw took my breath away.  Miles and miles of beautiful landscape dotted with villages, cathedrals, hills, and valleys.  The clouds partially covered the view which gave it an incredible contrast between dark and light, where the sun shone through.  I simply gaped in amazement and awe at what was before me.  It seems that every time I see something new in this country, it becomes my new favorite thing.

view from tower

My view

I explored a little more that night but I had Pisa scheduled for the next morning so I wanted to get enough sleep.  The next day, I (flawlessly) caught two trains and made it to Pisa.  I immediately found the Leaning Tower, or Torre Pendente di Pisa.  It was incredible to see such a famous monument standing before me.  People all over the courtyard were attempting to take ridiculous pictures with the tower and I couldn’t resist snapping one of my own.

leaning tower

Keeping the Leaning Tower from falling over

I eventually made it back home without a glitch, and I can hardly describe how gratifying it was to have successfully planned and executed this little weekend excursion all on my own.  I was able to see two extraordinary places with a little hard work and persistence.  In spite of the minor complications I went through, I persevered and eventually everything worked out.  This was majorly important to me because it serves as a maturity benchmark in the process of my life.  The dependent has become the independent. The child has become the adult.  Some day when I have kids of my own that are reliant on me, I will partially owe my reliability to this weekend experience, and my overall experience in Italy that helped shape me as an adult and make me who I am.

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Afterthoughts

Megan Shaffer

I found it nearly impossible to formulate my experience into words.  Do people understand the magnitude of the impact that going abroad had on me?  Doubtful.  They ask, “How was your trip?”  I respond with: “It was so amazing.  I had a great time.” Then that is the end of our conversation.  I don’t know if anyone around me can tell the difference either, but I have noticed a change within myself.

One week after getting home from Italy, I was back at the Indianapolis airport headed for a second adventure: an internship in the Silicon Valley of California.  Just like in Rome, here I would be switching time zones, going to an area where I did not know a soul, living with complete strangers, and having no access to a car.  Unlike when I was leaving for Rome, however, I was not a bit concerned or nervous.  Compared to Rome, where I did not speak the language and did not have data on my phone (so no Google Maps when I got lost)… California would be a piece of cake.

A few days into my stay in California, I realized that it was not as easy as I thought it’d be.  It took me 50 minutes to get to work, which was just three miles away, through a combination of walking and public transportation.  I finally caved and went out and bought a cheap Target bike, but it still took me thirty minutes to get to work, and I had to bike along a busy street (quite scary).  Unlike in Rome where housing was assigned to us and I had roommates my own age, here I am renting a room and living with a 40-year-old man, a 55-year-old woman, another summer intern, and three dogs (I am not a dog person).  I have not yet really gotten to know any of the other interns very well, so I spent my first two weekends here alone.  Had this happened to me last year, I would have probably broke down.  Not that I enjoy spending weekends alone or riding my bike three miles in 80 degree heat to work…but I haven’t really thought much about it.  Prior to going abroad, I was the polar opposite of “laid back.”  It takes time and patience to get used to changes and to make a home out of somewhere new, and being abroad helped me to develop the skills necessary to adapt to these changes.

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