Indiana University Overseas Study

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One of the things I’ve always been proud of is our community and university’s diversity. We’ve managed to attract eager students from around the world to our joint benefit. Interacting with people who have been raised in different circumstances than your own is part of what makes an undergraduate experience so foundational and maturing. And that’s what studying abroad is all about.

A lot of people seem to find the idea appealing but fail to commit to the actual event. It’s hard to blame them, it certainly is a commitment. But we must realize that in an increasingly and obviously globalized society, in order to lead and honor those around us, we must seek to understand and appreciate others trying to do the same in their respective cultures. I’m sure the IU School of Global and International Studies, where I study, will soon trot out a fancy slogan to the same effect because it is true.

Experiencing new cultures is the first step towards expanding the marketplace of ideas, dreams, and the opportunity to fulfill those dreams, that which has made the United States so exceptional. Our nation and the ideals it represents has been built upon this exchange that has sparked so many imaginations into the kinds of new processes and ideas read about in textbooks and used as motivation and validation for generations to come.

Diversity isn’t only a nice thing to have, it is a necessity if you want to remain competitive into the 21st century. It helps us to unlock a whole other way to look at a problem, a new perspective laden with its own nuanced history and influencers going back thousands of years. Innovation is the product of diversity.

Nothing has made me prouder to be an American than my experiences studying abroad. The United States is rightfully proud of its history of people who love this country using their experiences in other cultures to widen our perspectives and to make us work better. We are proud of our personal and community roots, it is these that bind us together and form the basis of who we are at our core. The United States is the world superpower that it is because of this interaction between different cultures and points of views brought to the table as a result of the pursuit of the very real American Dream.

Brazil is a country that lacks the social and economic mobility that we cherish and, often, take for granted. And though we have a long way to go to combat the various “isms” that prevent an even playing field, I believe that it is the ideals that we fight for in fields of battle and tables of discussion that make us extraordinary. I will always be proud to be a Midwestern boy at heart, and experiencing other cultures does not distract from this. Instead it opens my eyes to realities I could not have known and at the same time allows me to share the perspective that I uniquely have.

Study abroad is more than a semester you take off of school to go drink in another country. It is about improving yourself through this marketplace of ideas so that you can then go on to improve the communities that you care about, at home and abroad. It is about coming together in order to understand what creates the depth beneath the skin of all men, and how we can continue to form brotherhood that connects to and appreciates each man’s depth. We come together during our undergraduate years whilst under the guidance of many of these in the form of professors, those who accumulate immense knowledge in some subject matter and share this knowledge, its place in the world, and, hopefully, how to reach your own understanding.

Many people fail to realize that such guidance can come from simply placing yourself, your senses and analysis in a new culture and lifestyle. When you study abroad, most of your education isn’t in the classroom, it’s in the community.

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Time Flies

Alexa Stegemoller

With only a week left before mid-semester break, I look back on my time here thus far and am truly amazed at how fast it has gone by. Since I haven’t been able to post much, here are a few things I’ve noticed about studying in Australia:

  • Sometimes you really do think they’re speaking a different language.
  • The course structure is so different from in the States: far less time in class, much more time on your own.
  • If you don’t have a favorite AFL (Australian Rules Football) team than you better get one fast.
  • Dinner is “Tea.”
  • McDonald’s is “Macca’s.”

Honestly, the list could go on forever so I won’t bore you with the details. Nonetheless, I’m starting to get very used to everything here and expect some serious reverse culture shock when I return home.

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My view on the way to Uni

I haven’t been able to travel much since Uni started but have gone on a few weekend trips to various towns around South Australia. Having friends that are willing to take me back home with them for the weekend has made for an amazing first half of the semester and some truly Australian experiences. Turns out if you live in the middle of nowhere it’s a requirement to have some sort of off-roading vehicle suitable for chasing wild animals around the desert. Wild goats, kangaroos, and emus — you name it, we’ve chased it. Apart from that, I’ve tried to get myself involved in everything I’m not able to do back home. For example, I tried out for a Netball team as well as a Footie team. Turns out, netball isn’t my thing (couldn’t get over my basketball instincts and kept trying to break all the rules). In regard to footie however, they say I’m not bad for an “American” and I choose to accept that as a compliment.

I’ve kept myself very busy but can’t help but think I’m not making the most of my time here. I have a very big mid-semester break planned and hope to continue with that sense of adventure when I return for the second half of my semester. My goal is to do something new each week; whether that be a simple evening at the beach or just making more out of my time here in Adelaide. It’s an absolutely wonderful city and I need to take advantage of it while I can. For now, my goal is to survive this upcoming week of deadlines so I can truly enjoy my break.

Sunset over the College and Adelaide Oval

Sunset over the College and Adelaide Oval

P.S. If you want to check out more photos/videos head to my Instagram: a_steggy

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Reflection

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Reflection is a seemingly simple concept, but for me has become a fundamental aspect of my Study Abroad experience.

I am talking about the reflection I see in the mirror or as I look out an airplane window, and I am talking about the inevitable self-reflection that takes place during this vastly formative and challenging experience.

Studying abroad is not easy, and when I said my final goodbyes at the airport and boarded my plane, I had never felt so unsure of myself and what I had gotten myself into. It wasn’t until I looked at my reflection in the cramped bathroom of the airplane and told myself I could do this, that I felt I could.

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Me looking at my reflection in the train window from Brussels to a small village called Brugge in Belgium.

It also wasn’t until I began to keep a journal and reflecting on what was happening during the day that I began to make sense of my experience and see the ways in which I was already growing. That’s what my reflection has become for me: a way for me to see my growth and realize just how far I’ve come.

My physical and self-reflection is how I’ve marked my journey along the way, always remembering when it was last that I saw my reflection or self-reflected. When you’ve found everything in your life to be new and different, it’s calming to see a familiar face.

My physical reflection is also a great reminder of just how cool of a journey I am on, especially when I catch eyes with myself in the grandiose mirrors you find in palaces and castles. It’s not everyday you see yourself looking back at you with the gaudy furnishings of King Frederick III’s bedroom surrounding you; those moments are cool and leave lasting impressions.

Some of my strongest memories come from moments of reflection and moments where I caught myself in my reflection and mouthed the words “wow” as a weird way of communicating to myself that what I was doing was super cool, as if I didn’t already know.

At the end of the day, studying abroad is an amazing experience not only because of its inherent nature of adventure and exploration, but also because of how formative it is on a personal level. It challenges you in new ways on a daily basis, and for me reflection was my way of working through those challenges and making sense of the growth that inevitably began to take place inside of me.

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A photo of my reflection in Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, Germany: the former residence of King Frederick III.

It’s not something you normally think about, but your reflection is your own. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that this study abroad experience is mine and mine alone. Therefore, I’ve found my reflection to be a very important aspect of my experience.

So if you find yourself studying abroad, already back from studying abroad, or planning to study abroad, I encourage you to do some reflection of your own. Your reflection is yours alone and is a tool to make sense of your dreams, aspirations and experiences: three things you are bound to think about when it comes to studying abroad.

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Any true love story goes something like this: First there is an initial attraction between two. Then comes the pursuit of one by the other, but not without some sort of conflict. Something is always in the way—whether it’s distance, love that isn’t returned, or the dreadful parents keeping two lovers apart. Then comes a sigh of relief when the two overcome obstacles and are actually able to fall head over heels in love with each other, and in the end they live happily ever after (thank you, Disney).

I like to think that Australia and I have our own little love story going while I’m here, and I’d like to let you in on it.

When arriving in Australia, I was blown away by the newness of every tree, flower, insect, and animal that I had never seen before. You might even say it was love at first sight flying into the Sydney Airport!

Then comes the chase. It’s been easy to see how Australia has been wooing me with the perfect sandy beaches on one side of Wollongong, lush green mountains on the other. There are flocks of bright red cockatoos that always greet me in the morning on my walk to class, and the Opera House in Sydney is even better than all the pictures make it out to be; it is truly remarkable sitting on the edge of the Sydney Harbor.

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Pure happiness while befriending some kangaroos

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The view of the Opera House never gets old!

So here comes the conflict: In my case, Australia has definitely been pursuing me and not the other way around—I admittedly had not come in with the best of mindsets. I couldn’t help but feel homesick and I longed to be at home. I missed my fiancé (who had just proposed to me days before I left) more than I could have ever imagined and have never felt such a pit in my stomach like the one I felt my third week here, realizing I had to be away from him for 5 months. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition, and I wasn’t about to let Australia whisk me away from my home without putting up a fight.

So that’s just what I did—I ignored most of Australia’s beauty for a while. Don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of laughs, adventures, and memories made over the past few weeks here in Wollongong, but in the back of my mind I had been secretly counting down the days until I could come back home.

As the storyline progressed, I found myself taking a trip to the Blue Mountains this past weekend. One of the first places we hiked to was a lookout point over a section of the mountains. Words don’t do justice for the view that the overlook gave us, so I won’t even try to describe it, but just know that it was immense and it was incredible. It was one of those moments when you have no idea what’s about to hit you, but then it does, and it completely takes your breath away. There was practically no use of taking any pictures, because they didn’t do it justice. I wanted to stare into that valley of mountains long enough until I had the image ingrained in my mind forever.

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Fun Fact: The Blue Mountains look blue because of the mist of oil that comes from the leaves of the Eucalyptus trees, which actually refracts blue light.

I like to think that hiking through those mountains was a turning point in Australia and my relationship. It took bringing me one Australia’s most beautiful sights to make me fall in love, but I sure did. I suddenly wanted to see more of Australia and I wanted to travel to every inch of this continent.

With all that being said, the story is surely not over. That weekend made me finally realize that there is so much for me here in Australia, and the most fun part about that will be the adventure of figuring it all out. There will continue to be ups and downs, but I truly believe that Australia and I will end up happily ever after in my time abroad.

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Loving everything about whoever’s van this is!

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

Take the Leap

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First sight of Sydney

After what seemed like an eternity in a plane, I finally made it to my new home for the next 5 months. I hopped off the plane and into a shuttle that took me from the Sydney airport, through the city, down winding roads through miles of national park, and finally to the beautiful coastal city of Wollongong. I was dropped off at my dorm, where one of the RA’s got me checked in and gave me a little tour of the area. After he led me to my room, he handed me my key, wished me good luck, and then was off to help the next student in line. My immediate thoughts at that moment after he left:

  • Oh no. What am I doing here.
  • I’m alone in my room, and I don’t know anyone in this dorm. Actually, I don’t know a single soul in this entire continent. Wow, I’m really alone.
  • What am I supposed to do now?
  • Is everyone else feeling like this?
  • And again, what am I doing here?!

After my initial freak out, I felt like I couldn’t handle the intensity of how alone I was feeling, so instead of unpacking my suitcase, I decided to do something risky. Something that as an introvert, I normally wouldn’t think of doing—I walked out of my room. I went straight to the only place I knew people would be at (the cafeteria) and joined a table. After introducing ourselves and talking for a bit, we decided that it was too beautiful of a day not to go to the beach (only a 10 minute walk away—one of the many perks of living here!).

All in all, I spent the entire afternoon at the beach and met more people than I would have ever expected on my first day, something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t left my room. It would have been much easier to resort to what would have been comfortable for me—unpacking, organizing, and going to a store to get some essentials for the week. However, I think that’s true for most situations that seem scary or uncomfortable. It just takes one big gulp of courage to take that leap of faith and from there your comfort zone will expand right before your eyes.

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Can you believe that this is my backyard?

When I went back to my room later that evening, I quickly learned that my bed hadn’t come with sheets or a pillow and that the nearby stores had already closed for the day. That night, I slept with an airplane pillow and sweatshirts as blankets on a bare mattress pad. I wasn’t mad in the slightest though, because I had just spent my day on a beautiful beach in Australia with awesome people.

If there’s one thing I’ve been learning during my first week as an exchange student in Australia, it’s that I am not alone. At the beginning of the school year, we’re all figuring things out as we go, making mistakes, and wanting a group of friends by our side to experience it with. Turns out, those friends I made at the beach are the ones who took me to Target the next day to get a pillow and sheets. :) 

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Hiking through some local forests

Overlooking Wollongong from Mt. Kiera

Overlooking Wollongong from Mt. Kiera

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

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Studying Abroad is made up of a series of moments. Some are good and some are bad, some are fun and some are tough, but each is equally essential in creating the formative and unforgettable experience you are sure to have.

In an earlier post, I discussed a defining moment for me: one that gave me the strength and courage to know that I was in fact capable of handling most anything I was sure to be faced with—not only throughout my journey abroad, but also in life.

Today I would like to talk about a different type of moment one experiences while studying abroad. The “perfectly imperfect” moment is what I like to call it.

Everyone comes into study abroad with a certain idea about how it is all going to go. They imagine pretending to hold up the Eiffel Tower, recreating the Beatle’s photo on Abbey Road, and, like me, staring in awe at the ancient and mystical Stonehenge as the sun sets beautifully behind it.

The ironic and actually wonderful reality of studying abroad is that none of these moments actually happen like you imagine. Not one.

This is not, however, a bad thing. Quite the contrary, because the moments that you do end up having are far better than you could ever have imagined. Why? Because they are yours.

For me, my perfectly imperfect moment came when I was trying to fulfill my dream of seeing Stonehenge up close and personal. The group I was with had planned a five-day trip to England, and set aside one of those days to journeying out to see Stonehenge.

We made it to the little town of Salisbury by train and decided to grab a quick bite to eat before setting to work figuring out how to get to Stonehenge from there.

We were a little worried when we discovered the visitors center had already closed for the day, but continued on, confident we could find a bus that would take us there. When we got to the bus station and began looking through the maps, two locals approached us.

Long story short, they explained that Stonehenge had closed twenty minutes prior, and that the last bus had just left for the historic site. They offered their condolences and kept on walking. Determined to still see the mystical rock structure, one way or another, we decided to ask a taxi driver if he could take us there.

That is where the adventure really began.

The taxi driver who’s cab we got into could not have been more fun or delightful. He explained to us that he would be able to take us along the highway next to Stonehenge and would slow down as much as he could for us, but that that was the best he could do.

Charmed by the driver, and excited about the prospect of seeing Stonehenge with our own eyes, no matter how far way, we agreed and began the journey.

I can’t remember the last time I smiled that much and that big for such a long time. Our cab driver should really be a full-time comedian.

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When we finally saw Stonehenge from the cab window, I will never forget the overwhelming happiness I felt in the moment.

No we weren’t up close and personal, no the sun wasn’t setting, and no it wasn’t the image I had in mind of experiencing Stonehenge, but I would not trade that moment for the world. I wouldn’t trade the adventure, the laughter, and the feeling of accomplishment we felt sitting in that cab, seeing Stonehenge. It was utterly and absolutely perfectly imperfect.

So those of you planning to study abroad, by all means, dream away. Fill your head with fantasies, but be prepared to have your fantasies surpassed with perfectly imperfect realities.

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Alexa Stegemoller

It may be odd, but for me I find that when I’m traveling I’m often the most comfortable. Although I may say Bloomington or even my hometown is home, it’s really just a stop on the road where I can save up money for the next adventure. This year, studying abroad was my adventure and I wasn’t going to let a single day pass without living it to the fullest. I had two months prior to the start of my program and although most would stay at home in preparation of their journey abroad, I packed my backpack and went on my way. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few friends around the world and figured I’d use these connections to my advantage. Long story short; I stayed in England for a week, New Zealand for a month, Brisbane for about 10 days, and have now made my way to Adelaide. It’s strange to say that arriving in Adelaide is “settling down” but it does feel nice to unpack my bags and know where I’ll be staying each night.

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New Years Eve in London

Te Henga Coast on the North Island of NZ

Te Henga Coast on the North Island of NZ

Petting Kangaroos on the Gold Coast

Petting Kangaroos on the Gold Coast

I can definitely say that all of my previous travels will play a huge role in the way I perceive my study abroad experience. Traveling, especially solo, forces you to open up to absolute strangers and make friends in the most unlikely places. Hopefully, these experiences will allow me to make the absolute most of my semester!

While I’m in Adelaide, I’ll be staying at a residential college called St. Marks. I have two amazing flat mates, both of whom are from Australia, and everyone is incredibly friendly. From the short time I’ve been here, I can tell it’s very comparable to Greek life in America. They have loads of rituals, traditions, a crest, a motto, and an amazing sense of community. I’m in the middle of Orientation and with any luck, by the end of the week, I’ll be a “fresher they can’t refuse.”

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Flying into Adelaide!

 

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