Indiana University Overseas Study

Settling In

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

After so much preparation and suspense, I am finally here! Sevilla, Spain is now my new home for the next few months. While I have only been here for about two weeks, I feel perfectly at home. Getting used to a new city, a new culture, and a new home can be difficult and sometimes scary. But for me, it was the opposite. I went into this experience with a pretty open mind, assuming things would work out the way they should and it would all go smoothly. Luckily, no flight delays or lost luggage affected my travels. The only thing that threw me off was my good friend, jet lag. Arriving in Sevilla at 10:00 am local time (3:00 am for me), meant I was mostly just tired upon arrival. After about two days of trying to get on a normal sleeping schedule, I felt 100% again.

settlingin1

I have always considered myself fairly flexible and adaptable. While some people fear change, I tend to embrace it. Even though I may have been ahead of the game in terms of adaptation just because of who I am as a person, there were still many external things that helped me. The first was—and still is—staying busy. In my opinion, nothing can trigger homesickness, stress, or anxiety more than just sitting around. The first week I was here I think I walked a minimum of ten miles each day.

With our orientation group, we were always busy. Each orientation group consisted of about 14 students all from the CIEE Liberal Arts program, living in the same “barrio” (neighborhood) and would meet at a central location. My group, for example, met at Iglesia de Santa Catalina each morning and from there we toured the city, our study center, and the local university. Just walking around with my orientation group helped me learn my way around the city. I went from using my GPS to walk somewhere down the street to knowing my walk to and from important places by heart. Learning your way around the city seems too complicated and overwhelming at first, but once you get out there, walk around, learn landmarks, and just go for it I promise it is a lot easier than it sounds.

settlingin2

Besides becoming familiar with the city, my orientation group also brought me to a great group of friends. Going along with the idea of staying busy, hanging out with other students, who you may or may not have known before your departure, can really help to make a new city feel like home. And finding something to do shouldn’t be a problem – you have a whole city right at you front door. Now that orientation is over, our program offers a wide variety of activities outside of classes. From things like tours of local cathedrals and parks to weekend trips to other cities in your country, my recommendation is to sign up for as much as you can! These trips and activities are often included in your program, so why wouldn’t you go?

My newfound group of friends and I sat down together and signed up for basically any and all activities. Even if you don’t have a set group of friends after orientation, these types of activities are a great way to meet people. I am very grateful my program offers so many activities and trips like this. So far, my friends and I have been to Sevilla’s cathedral and palace, taken a day trip to Jerez, Spain, and this upcoming weekend we are going on an overnight trip to Granada, Spain. These are all with our program, CIEE Liberal Arts, and the trips allow us to learn so much about the culture in and around Sevilla.

settlingin3

Not all study abroad programs have the option for students to live with a host family. Here, however, it where the majority of students in my program call home. Living in the home of an unfamiliar family was unknown territory for me. But this was another aspect of my study abroad experience that helped me adapt. I live in a beautiful home that is centrally located with my host mother, her daughter, another student who I was friends with before coming here, and a cat. We have our own rooms with access to a shared bathroom, laundry, Wi-Fi, and three meals a day.

While this sounds great—which it is—I will admit it was a little awkward at first. As Spanish is the native language of Sevilla, my host mom only speaks Spanish. And while Spanish is my minor, I am not fluent. This led to an interesting first couple of conversations. However, as we talked and became more familiar with each other, conversations have become easier. Now, living in a homestay is great because I get to experience more authentic culture, the comfort of being in a real home with home-cooked meals, and being a part of a Spanish family.

settlingin4

The final, and probably most significant, reason I adapted so easily is my outlook on studying abroad as a whole. Like I said before, I came in with an open mind. But just because you have an open mind does not guarantee you will automatically adjust. I wanted to come to Sevilla to learn and see everything the city has to offer. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to work on my Spanish skills. I wanted to do all of the things I now have the chance to do. They say if you put your mind to something, you can do anything. “They” are absolutely correct. My open-mindedness and adaptability skills helped me adjust so quickly, but it was my attitude and my willingness to put myself out there that really allowed me to flourish these first two weeks here.

Susanna Sorrells

Rebecca Haley - Freiburg, Germany

There has been a long break in between when I was accepted into the Freiburg-IU program for the spring in November and when I will actually leave in February. Since I was blessed with a particularly long winter break free from the rigors of academia (or other forms of mental stimulation) I have had plenty of time to think about, dwell on, and begin to stress about my upcoming program. But during this time, I have already started learning a few things and setting some goals. Each different step on this first leg of my journey, before even setting off to anywhere other than my couch at home, has taught me something new.

First, saying goodbye to friends is difficult.  I am an out-of-state student, so when I left school after the fall semester, I wasn’t going to be able to see my friends over winter break. Luckily, my application was due in early August so I knew all semester that there was a possibility of me having to say goodbye. But I would encourage anyone looking at studying abroad to appreciate this foresight. It allowed me to really cherish the time I got to spend with my friends and encouraged me to remember that while school is very important, friends can be a priority as well. In the midst of planning everything for my trip, I was learning to be present and enjoy the moment and enjoy where I am. This lesson is one that I want to stay with me once I am abroad and making friends there, and when I come back and see my friends again.

Second, although I just mentioned being present in the moment, there are practical things that do need to be planned and even the smallest details need to be considered. When I applied for study abroad, I thought about planning things like flights, housing, and other legal information, but I never thought that the things I would worry the most about were from which website I needed to buy train tickets, or about what suitcase to use (still an unanswered question). I never thought that I would be thinking so much about all the little details, but when I get these sorted out, I free up some mental space to dream about the fun that I am going to have.

Lastly, I set a goal for myself to keep an open mind about this trip. I can plan all I want but life is life and I hope that while my spontaneous traveling and globe-trotting will be new, fun and exciting, this is an amazing opportunity to live life in a foreign country rather than just be a tourist and that means discovering things like how to do laundry there and new restaurant etiquette. My goal is to remember that those things are just as exciting.

Rebecca Haley

Emily Blankenhorn - Berlin, Germany

Before I left for Berlin, many people told me to make sure I kept my money and purse secure once I arrived. They told me to get a purse with metal in the strap so that nobody could cut it or rip it off my body. They told me to make sure I wear my purse underneath my shirt so it wouldn’t be noticed. They told me to wear all black as to not stand out as a tourist in order to avoid being stolen from. They told me to speak quietly so as not to draw attention to me being a foreigner. There are many ways people told me to take care of myself in order to prevent pick-pocketing.

Listening to all this advice, I was fairly certain I would be totally fine, but I was still a bit nervous that I would stand out as a tourist to anyone who targets foreigners. Even just walking through the airport before reaching Germany, I would make sure my hand was on my purse at all times to make sure it was still there. There are many things you can do in life to prevent unfortunate things from happening to you. Sometimes, life happens anyway. On my way to Berlin, I landed in New York first for a layover. As we reached the ground and I turned my phone off airplane mode, I received a text from my bank. They were asking me if I had just spent $226 at a Super Wal-Mart on my debit card, to which I promptly responded no.

My bank locked my card right away, but I thought that it was incredibly ironic that my debit card information had been stolen in the U.S. right as I was headed to a country in which I was nervous about getting my money and cards stolen. Furthermore, after living in Berlin for a month, none of my or my classmates’ belongings have been stolen. The people in charge of my study abroad program say it is rare to have something stolen, but obviously to look after your belongings in a smart way.

Overall, it’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know. Sometimes we can focus too much on preventing the bad and then end up overlooking other important things. Maybe I left my debit card out somewhere and someone somehow got the information or maybe someone rigged an ATM or a gas station pay machine, I’ll never know. Bad things can happen to anyone anywhere and at any point in time. There’s no use living your life in fear of the unknown. A lot of the time the unknown is good.

Many people in Berlin are very friendly and helpful to new people, as Berlin is a city composed of people from all over the world. More than 30% of Berlin’s population are immigrants. Many languages are spoken and many religions are practiced. Although I may not recognize a language or an activity customary to someone else’s culture, I feel just as safe in this city as I did at home in a place of familiarity. I have found the most joy in life when keeping an open mind about people and cultures unfamiliar to my own.

Emily Blankenhorn

Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

As the rollercoaster of a year that was 2016 neared its end, sweeping without pause into the next, just as swiftly did my living environment evolve. During the second week of January, I moved out of the dorm and in with my first-ever host family. Commuting to class is inevitably more cumbersome—an hour-long commute via train, compared to my previous two-minute walk to campus—but I would wager that those who have lived with a host family would almost unanimously agree that lengthy commutes are a small price to pay for such a unique, intimate cultural immersion.

I’ll be the first to admit that it was quite intimidating moving into a Japanese-only (very little to no falling back on English) household with a family I had never met before—I still sometimes find myself clamming up at the dinner table when they speak a little too quickly, constantly doubting my listening abilities. However, even after my short time here, I’m already finding myself more deeply immersed in Japanese culture than I could have imagined while living in the dorm.

I sometimes watch Japanese variety shows, for instance, with my host family after dinner; these programs are simultaneously ridiculous, and so quintessentially Japanese—as well as a convenient way to stay up-to-date on Japan’s pop culture—that I’m not sure how I got by without watching them before. Some other perks that I’ve come to appreciate are my host family’s comfy 炬燵(kotatsu) during this cold winter—which is basically a low wooden table covered by a futon and table top with an electric heater underneath—as well as being able to enjoy two delicious meals prepared daily by my generous host mother. These are only a few examples of the benefits of homestay. Moreover, and possibly most importantly, I’m experiencing cultural exchange and language practice in a warm, friendly environment every day. From what little I’ve tasted of the homestay lifestyle so far, I’m finding that it truly is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’m extremely grateful.

炬燵 (kotatsu)

Of course, there are aspects of my freedom that I had in the dorm that I don’t have with my host family—I am living in someone’s home, after all, and have to abide by certain rules. However, despite my anxiety about speaking only Japanese at home, I feel as though I’m beginning to leave shallow waters, wading out into the deep end and embracing immersion more fully. I hope that if I’m able to grab my trepidation by the horns, I’ll be better able to achieve my long-term goals with the language.

Beyond the immediate benefits and anxieties involved with my switch to a homestay, I’m also interested in exploring the idea of long-term goals for foreign language learning. I can only speak from personal experience, holding onto the glimmer of hope that others might be able to relate, at least a little.

To me, language acquisition might just be one of the most mysterious, fascinating concepts I’ve ever encountered. Each small triumph when communicating in your foreign language of choice can make you feel ready to conquer the world; contrarily, a single mishap or confused interaction can leave you despairing, wondering if all of this mental labor is really worth it. I realize that this probably seems pretty melodramatic, but when you’ve been studying a foreign language for as long as I have, it becomes easy to question whether you’ll ever actually, finally reach your long-term goals.

If you were to ask any scholar about foreign language learning, they would undoubtedly reassure you that the benefits stemming from studying language are plentiful. According to an article by Anne Merritt of The Telegraph, foreign language learning provides a plethora of unexpected mental benefits, such as improved memory, decision-making skills, perception, etc.

However, when it comes to the actual study of language as an adult—especially when this is added to the attempt to simultaneously acquisition not only with the language, but also with its culture and people—these long-term benefits can often be overshadowed by the overwhelming mental strain of it all.

While I’ll admit that there’s always a small part of me wondering whether I’ll actually feel satisfied with my language skills, there’s also an equally strong part of me that’s excited to watch myself grow with Japanese. I’m coming to realize that when it comes to language learning, there will always be good and bad days; days where everything you want to say actually makes its way out of your brain and into spoken, grammatically-coherent sentences, when communicating in that language feels like one of the most natural things in the world, and days where you feel extremely frustrated with yourself and your surroundings, wanting to crawl away and hide when you botch a conversation with someone, or hear yourself mispronouncing something or saying something completely wrong, but somehow feel unable to correct yourself in real-time.

This past semester has proven to be one of the most difficult of my life. Of course, it goes without saying that the classes were challenging—my Japanese classes in particular were very demanding of my time, energy, and mental stamina. However, I don’t believe that one is ever done learning a subject, and my study of Japanese is no exception. Wading deeper still into cultural immersion, I find myself finally in waters so high that my feet no longer touch the floor—which leaves me no other option but to keep swimming.

Christy Margeson

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

Although I am still in the United States, I feel like studying abroad has already been a huge part of my life. Everywhere I go, friends and family congratulate me and say how much they will miss me, but most importantly, everyone is excited for me. While I will miss friends and family from home and school, I know I will be in many people’s thoughts over the coming months because they are all so proud of me. It’s easy to have doubts and concerns about studying abroad and leaving a familiar place for a few months. But, it’s also a whole lot easier to think about why you should go. For me, the initial decision to study abroad in Spain was clear, as I am minoring in Spanish. I knew that in order to be able to able to consider myself fluent in Spanish, I would need to immerse myself into the language. My first goal for myself—to strengthen my Spanish.

I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the United States and see many of my own country’s glories. I have also been lucky to travel outside of the United States with family and get a taste of life in other countries. However, I have never been to Europe. I have never stayed in another country for more than two weeks… let alone four months. A lot of “firsts” will be happening to me within the coming months. First time on a plane for more than five hours. First time in Europe. First time in Sevilla. First time living in a foreign country with people I do not know but have opened their home and agreed to host me. There are so many opportunities I will have while studying abroad and I plan on taking advantage of as many as possible. My second goal for myself—check as many “firsts” off my list as I can.

Four months is a long time. But four months can go by fast. At home, I am saying that I will see everyone in four months, that it will go by fast, that I will be home before you know it. Which in some way, is true. But once in Sevilla, I only have four months. Four months to take classes, meet new people, become familiar with my home city, travel everywhere I can, strengthen my Spanish skills, and have the experience of a lifetime. Studying abroad is such a unique part of a college career, and I am so grateful I am about to have this experience. This last week of being home is full of packing and goodbyes—two things that are stressful, overwhelming, happy, and sad all at once. I have been preparing for this for months and I have a strong support team behind me. Which leads me to my last main goal for myself while studying abroad—live in the moment but remember what you came for.

Susanna Sorrells

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I had always been very lucky with traveling and never losing any luggage, but I still imagine the scenario of losing luggage whenever I travel and pack an extra set of clothes with my carry-on. I flew with Aeroflot from Beijing to Moscow, then from Moscow to London. Because of the two-hour-long delay in Beijing, I only had half an hour to transfer. I tried my best to catch my flight to London; however, my luggage didn’t run as fast as me and it stayed in Moscow.

Canterbury Cathedral

The Canterbury Cathedral, built in the 11th century and is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

My first week was tough. Two sets of changing clothes were everything I had and I had to do laundry every day in order to make sure that I had fresh clothes to wear for the next day. My mental health was also affected by my lost luggage; during orientation events, I thought and worried about my luggage, prayed that it would be delivered to me as soon as possible.

Canterbury cathedral interior

Interior of the Canterbury Cathedral

After all the difficulties, the phone calls and anxious waiting, my suitcase was finally returned to me six days after my arrival. During the time of waiting, I learned many life experiences, which made me understand that losing luggage wasn’t entirely terrible. First, I know what to do next time in the situations of flight delay and missing luggage, and I won’t be as panicked or nervous as this time. Second, a suitcase is not the only thing I have; there are friends and family who are always there to help me. There’s always a solution for things, and I should not lose the enthusiasm to live and eat even when a suitcase is completely lost. And finally, I tried my best to make new friends and they provided lots of help and encouragement.

Dover Castle

On the last day of Orientation, the University organized a trip to Dover Castle. It is the biggest castle in England and is located on an extremely strategic spot to protect the English Channel. Some American friends and I chose a wonderful angle to take a picture with the whole castle.

If you confront similar situations in the future, don’t be depressed, don’t be afraid to ask people for help, and always be optimistic that things will just be fine!

Dover Castle roof

Selfie on the roof of Dover Castle

Philip Jiao

Emily Blankenhorn - Berlin, Germany

The ticking of the clock fills my mind. Today’s date posted in the bottom right hand corner of my computer weighs on me. I feel anxious. I am anxious to leave my family, pack the right things, and fly alone to a city where I don’t even know the language. But most of all, I feel eager. I am eager to be more independent, make life-long friends, travel to and explore amazing cities, take interesting classes, and try new foods.

There are four days until I leave Cincinnati, OH and fly to Berlin, Germany. As a pre-departure protocol, I am eating at my favorite Cincinnati places: LaRosas pizza, Skyline Chili, and Graeter’s ice cream. I am also spending a lot of much-needed time with my family and friends. The fact that I will be away from them for over five months hasn’t yet sunk in, and I am not sure when it will. Maybe when I’m waving goodbye at the airport, or maybe when I arrive at TXL and hear more foreign languages than familiar ones.

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to prepare for what life will be like in Berlin. There are a multitude of sights and attractions that I can’t wait to see. From the Brandenburg Gate to the Berlin Wall Memorial, I will not be ashamed of how touristy I will be during the beginning of my time living in the city. On the other hand, I am looking forward to getting to know the city as a civilian. Over the 5 months and 19 days that I will be spending overseas, I hope to better understand what life in Berlin is like beyond the point of a visitor. I want to know what the local Germans do for fun on the weekends and after classes and what the best diamond-in-the-rough restaurants are. Overall, I look forward to calling Berlin home.

Even though I am anxious, my eagerness for adventure overshadows all the other thoughts I have. I will miss IU and my friends dearly, but I can’t wait to make some amazing memories while I’m away.

Emily Blankenhorn

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