Indiana University Overseas Study


Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

“Imagine every possible emotion you might have when starting school in a foreign country, and I’ve felt it. Joy, excitement, dread, homesickness…” These are the words I found when flipping through my study abroad journal, penned in my own hand, marked one week into the beginning of my classes. The apprehension about starting anew in a foreign country is one thing to deal with, but words fail to describe the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve actually experienced since my plane touched down in Nagoya, Japan.

Let’s talk about culture shock. Google defines culture shock as the following: “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” An intense experience—in theory. But a simple Google definition can’t seem to pack quite the same punch as the real deal. Personally, I am definitely still in the midst of becoming accustomed to my new life in Japan. I’m in this strange interstitial place of cultural acclimation where some things are beginning to become second-nature (for example, hearing and seeing Japanese everywhere I go; I was in the post office the other day and heard one of the employees suddenly speak in English, and had a moment of total disorientation!), while others remain shrouded in total mystery to my American mind.

Despite having studied the language for about four years, I sometimes blank on Japanese in the grocery store, or at a restaurant—much to my regular embarrassment. No matter how well someone tries to sum it up, or how succinct the Google definition, words simply can’t describe the rollercoaster of emotions involved in a single day trying to adjust to a new culture—joy at successfully communicating with a native, embarrassment when you panic and your language skills suddenly turn into gibberish, the sheer excitement of being somewhere new and meeting different and interesting people everywhere you turn.

All of these opposing emotions are wrapped up into each new experience abroad, complete with an obnoxious, fluorescent bow. I’ve been in the country for about a month now, and it’s insane how time has been passing; every day seems so long and full of excitement, but then I look back and feel like it’s all passing so quickly. I simultaneously feel as though I’ve been here forever, and also like I’m a total fresh-faced newcomer. I suppose in a way I encompass both of these things.

Nagoya Castle exterior

The first building you encounter when you enter the site. The mossy pit used to be a moat around the castle.

It amazes me daily how my life here is feeling more natural bit by bit, when the culture is so very different from what I’m used to. One of the most quintessentially Nagoya experiences I’ve had so far was visiting Nagoya Castle(名古屋城), the center of one of the most important castle towns during Japan’s Edo Period(江戸時代). For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese history—or if you’re simply curious—the Edo Period was when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate(徳川幕府), the final feudal samurai government. The excursion to the castle was put on as a field trip for the international students at my school, Nanzan University; the kind Japanese student volunteers led us about the site in groups, explaining the different buildings and rooms. There seemed to be a million different things to absorb, as everything was so delicately ornate and detailed. It was a truly dazzling experience that left me in awe, remembering—through all my rollercoaster culture shock emotions—that I really am in Japan, and what an incredible opportunity I’ve been presented.

Castle Interior

The interior walls were covered in breath-taking traditional Japanese art. Each room was used for a different purpose, which the different artwork reflect.

Throughout this whirlwind of new experiences, I also celebrated my birthday this weekend. At first, I was a little bit worried about having it so soon after coming abroad, concerned that I wouldn’t know enough people, and would just end up moping around in my room. But, I sucked it up, and asked a few friends that I’ve made since coming here if they wanted to go out to dinner this past Friday night. To my delight, they all accepted, and we went out to an izakaya(居酒屋), a very popular and a uniquely Japanese cross between a bar and a restaurant. To my simultaneous frustration and amusement, we didn’t realize until after sitting down that we could barely read anything on the menu. Making the best of the situation, we ended up ordering different dishes—with only a vague understanding of what we would actually receive—and passing them around in order to try a bit of each. I ended up having a wonderful time, and my advice to anyone worried about celebrating their birthday abroad is to try your best to take control of your own experience. Invite out the people you have befriended, or would like to become better friends with, and don’t let yourself mope around and feel self-pity. Having to celebrate birthdays and holidays abroad is the reality of many study abroad students, and a big part of the experience is accepting that it’s going to be different from your past celebrations, and that that’s okay.

Imagining every possible emotion you might experience while starting a new school in a foreign country is a tall order; experiencing those feelings is an entirely separate ordeal in itself. You can understand culture shock as a concept, look up as many different definitions as you want, and it will still never fully represent the way that everyone individually experiences the phenomenon. All that I can do is write about my personal experiences adjusting to a foreign country, and hope that other students studying abroad can relate at least a little. Although I’m still in that awkward in-between stage of acclimating to a foreign culture—where certain things are sneakily becoming second-nature, and others are still bafflingly unfamiliar—I feel hopeful that by the time I’m preparing to return home, I’ll be able to flip back through my study abroad journal and think, “I remember going through that transition—and what a stronger person I am for it.”

Christy Margeson

Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

I’ve been studying Japanese since I was fifteen years old, and I knew from that very first class that I would do whatever it took to visit the country of its origin someday. Utterly fascinated with the language and culture from a young age, studying abroad has been something I decided I wanted to do long before I started college. In fact, IU’s remarkable study abroad program is one of the plentiful reasons I chose to go there in the first place.

When I received the email from the Office of Overseas Study informing me of my acceptance into the Nagoya program, I was ecstatic—to say the least. It was a goal towards which I had been working towards for what felt like such a large part of my academic career; however, as my time began winding down, and the actual trip loomed ever closer, I was suddenly struck with several different fears I had not originally considered. What if my knowledge of the language fails me in social situations? What if I have a hard time making friends? What if my classes are exceedingly difficult? I sometimes felt as though I was swimming in doubt about my personal capabilities.

But when it comes down to it, those apprehensions are all part of what I believe will make up my study abroad experience. To quote cultural American icon, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter: “I get nervous when I don’t get nervous. If I’m nervous I know I’m going to have a good show.” Although I’m not about to step out onto a stage and give an amazing performance worthy of breaking the internet like Beyoncé, this piece of advice is one I’ve found myself thinking about quite often lately. This nervousness pervading my senses, to me, serves as a sign that I’m doing something right—a sign that I’m pushing myself socially, mentally, and emotionally. For me, one of the biggest aspects of studying abroad is pushing myself to grow, not only with my understanding of Japanese, but also as a person.

That’s not to say that it’s not going to be hard. Before I left Indiana, I made it a point to visit my two older sisters in Colorado, my friends in Bloomington and Indianapolis, as well as my extended family in Connersville. Saying goodbye was difficult, and in a few cases there were mutual tears shed; my mother stayed with me at the airport until I boarded the plane, and we parted teary-eyed, missing each other already. Not to mention my beloved cat whom I loathe to leave behind for an entire academic year.

But I believe that all of the difficult parts of this experience help to make it all the more meaningful. They are the parts that truly flesh out the overall big picture, the parts that are inevitable and terrifying and fantastic about any human experience. I want this study abroad experience to push me to the very limits of my capabilities, so that I can grow in all the spectacular ways one unavoidably grows when outside of one’s comfort zone. I couldn’t be more excited to immerse myself in Japanese culture and improve my skills in the language from first-hand experience; I hope to accomplish all the goals I set for myself with this experience since I was fifteen years old, and then some.

Christy Margeson

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

Before selecting a study abroad program, I looked at the relative safety of the countries I would be studying in. I wanted to make sure my anxiety medication was legal in the country I’d be traveling to, Americans were seen as welcome visitors, and the general “street safety” of the city.

Copenhagen is considered one of the safest cities in the world.

So, imagine the surprise I felt, as well as my supervisors felt, when I came home with 2 different police reports. 6 weeks, 2 thieves, multiple strip searches, and a few panic attacks later, I feel that I am somewhat qualified to give some advice on how to deal with an uncomfortable situation, a “crisis,” and a true emergency.

Unforeseen Issues

This is the lowest form (at least, in my hierarchy) of issues when studying abroad. These are the fixable issues, like not realizing that Danes don’t use umbrellas. Legitimately, having an umbrella in Denmark is a neon sign that says TOURIST to locals. I personally don’t understand it, but you have to have a rain jacket while in Denmark to fit in. Of course, I was able to buy a really nice rain jacket for about $25 at a second-hand shop.

Other unforeseen problems include overestimating how many places take credit card instead of cash, underestimating the amount of cash you’ll need, and forgetting your keys to your kollegium when exploring the city. Doing a little extra research could prevent these issues, but they are all remedial in the long run.

“What a disaster!”

If you’re initial reaction is “that sucks,” it might be a problem, not necessarily an emergency. My first experience of theft in Copenhagen was my cell phone at a Red Bull diving competition. The event and all transport to the area was packed, making it easy for someone to tear into the front of my bag and steal my student ID, medication, and cell phone.

I was completely freaking out. I was terrified to tell my parents that it was gone, then realized I had no way to tell them anyway. I cried the whole way home. I had lost pictures and contacts and a way to contact my family. What was I going to do without my phone?

I’m here to tell you that its possible. After my phone was stolen, I called the police and made a report. I emailed both of my parents and got them to cancel my phone and international usage. I filed an insurance claim.

I sat in my room and sulked for 2 days, feeling like I didn’t feel up to facing people for a while. The worst part of this particular experience was feeling unsafe in a city that raved about its security. I was mad that I’d need a new phone coming home. All of my social media accounts were blocked out because I couldn’t access my phone for secure verification. 6 weeks later and I’m still experiencing some setbacks.

All that being said, I made it. I spent another 4 weeks abroad without a phone, including a fun trip to Stockholm and a study tour to Munich. Genuinely, you can survive without it. Get to a computer and make sure to use Facebook messenger, emails, GroupMe…whatever you use to make sure to tell everyone that you’re OK, but won’t be able to stay in contact. Once you get home, you can deal with a replacement. For the time, its OK to be upset, but don’t let it ruin your time abroad.

True Emergency

After my program ended, and the day before I was supposed to fly to Los Angeles to meet my mom back in the country, my hotel room was broken into. I came back to my luggage thrown across the room, my charger adapter and all cords missing, and my backpack gone. At first, I was just frustrated, thinking of all the souvenirs I just lost. Then…total and complete panic. My backpack had my laptop, emergency money, and passport in it. I looked everywhere to see if either were spared; of course, they weren’t. So, now what happens?


The police dusted for prints as soon as they arrived. Obviously my prints will be all over the room, but you don’t want to alter any possible evidence in the room.

2.) Talk to whoever is in charge of the housing facility.

I was robbed at a hotel, so the desk attendant was the first person I talked to. She was lovely. After working there for 6 years, she had never had to fill out a break-in report or a theft report with the police. But she did the smart thing immediately, which was to…

3.) Call the police.

I didn’t have to call the police myself, thank goodness. I was a complete and total wreck. The woman at the hotel (let’s call her Beth) called the police and told them we needed someone to come and sweep for prints, check the door, and take my statement.

4.) File a police report.

I’m not going to lie, Danish police are incredibly intimidating. While our policeman wear a pretty low-key uniform, all police in Denmark wear bulletproof vests for routine calls. They also happen to be incredibly nice. While I wish that I didn’t have to give a police report at 1 am, but that’s how it happened. The police were understanding, got to the point, and gave me an immediate receipt. This is very important if you plan on making any kind of insurance claim.

5.) Call home. Call emergency number for school. Call a local.

Beth allowed me to use the hotel phone for whatever local, long distance, or in-between people I needed to call. Calling my dad to tell him what happened was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: not just because I was crying so hard I couldn’t speak, but I knew that he would tell me the same things I already knew — “get to the embassy as quick as you can, you’re going to miss your flights tomorrow, but they’ll help you.” My parents did all they could from home, but you can imagine that long-distance reassurance wasn’t what I needed.

DIS has an emergency number for students to call if something goes wrong. Make sure to let them know what happened, where, and who to call to keep up with your status if you don’t have a phone. Make sure to let them know your next travel plans. I made sure DIS knew I was flying home as soon as I could, just so they knew to hear from me in the next 2 days from the US.

I had a couple friends from DIS that were still in the area that I emailed to let them know what happened. Victoria, a godsend during Copenhagen, kept me in mind during my travels. I made sure she knew where I was staying, my flights, and when I was leaving to country, just so if disaster struck again, I’d have someone in the area to help.

6.) Get to the Embassy WITH A PASSPORT PHOTO.

Most US Embassies open at 8 or 9 am. Be at the door WITH A PASSPORT PHOTO. I cannot stress this passport photo thing enough. I may have had a much shorter and less stressful day if I would have just gotten a passport photo before I went into the embassy. There are passport photo booths all around Europe in train stations. They are 100 kroner in Denmark (about $18).

7.) Emergency passport.

Yes, its costs quite a bit. Yes, you have to wait a few hours to get it. Yes, its only good for a few months. It doesn’t matter. Get the emergency passport the day you lose yours. As I learned in the embassy, passports have a proxy chip that is associated with the particular passport book issued to you. Getting the replacement book adds a “red flag” to your previous passport proxy chip in case someone tries to use it.

To get the emergency passport, you must fill out a few forms and provide a new passport photo (after I had been crying for about 5 hours straight, my passport photo looks like…well, I think the airport security felt really bad for me. Not like that stopped me being “randomly searched” twice, but that’s for another blog). It takes them a few hours to print out a new passport, but you get a full passport book back from the embassy. Its a different size and a little thinner, but works the exact same way as your actual passport. Make sure to note that there is a stamp in the back of the book that labels that it is a replacement passport. When leaving Europe, you will need to show this since there is no stamp to prove you legally entered Europe.

8.) Fly home immediately.

This is a personal note and many people don’t believe the same as I do in this regard, but I’m speaking from experience. Just go home. I was supposed to meet my mom for a short vacation in LA the day my passport was stolen. I couldn’t make my original flights, but could have made it to LA the next day… she and I both decided I just needed to go home.

After getting the emergency passport, I got on a train to the airport and bought the first ticket I could into the US. In all honesty, the city probably won’t matter much. Once in the states, you can catch a flight to just about any airport you need, especially if its a larger destination. Try to fly into someplace with a large number of flights leaving at all hours (LAX, JFK, Washington DC, Austin, Atlanta, Boston, O’Hare). From there, catch the next flight home and finally take a breath.

I can’t describe the mental and physical exhaustion I was feeling by the end of this journey. One of the things stolen with my passport was my emergency anxiety medication: without it, I was too scared to sleep the night it was taken, on any of the planes, during my layover, or even in the car with my mother when I made it back. I cried for about 15 hours total, only experiencing brief moments of reprieve during my travels.

I traveled 27 hours straight to get home from Copenhagen, experiencing a 1.5 hour delay in 2 different airports, being searched in the side room in Oslo, having my bags dumped in Boston, and having to go through immigration with a replacement passport.

I’m not going to lie, the experience I had has made me nervous to travel anywhere. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to leave home again, but it’s been almost 3 weeks now and I’m starting to remember all the positives from the trip. The beautiful people I met and the mental pictures I took (while most of my actual photos were lost with the laptop, they still exist in my mind).

I can’t wait to see what future adventures grant me, but I will definitely be more careful in future travels and I hope you use experiences like mine to think critically about your safety as well.

Rachel Larsen - exploring collaboration in STEM & study abroad

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

When traveling, there are some things you expect to make an impact. Learning the language will be hard, but have a great payoff. Learning the city will make you feel accomplished. The sights will take your breath away. But the best parts of study abroad are the ones you never saw coming. For me, this is Ian, Louis, and Kenneth. I will never forget the hospitality, kindness, and hygge that they have shown me and leaving them has actually caused me more tears than I would ever admit to them.

I met these boys at a restaurant-bar combination in the building I’ve been living in. “Up Wonder” is a cute diner on the first floor of the building while “Down Wonder” hosts the Read the rest of this entry »

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

I have officially been in Europe for 3 weeks. I’ve finished an entire course, took a few weekend trips around the country, and even stayed in Stockholm, Sweden for a few days. I’ve eaten great food, terrible food, and had some interesting experiences while watching Danes drink in the streets at Distortion, one of the largest music festivals in Europe that spills socialization into the streets during the longest summer days. I’ll be honest in saying this post is as much for me as it is for my readers: whether you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences or not, it has been an excellent way for me to keep my thoughts straight through my adventures. So, This is going to be a small weekly review, from arrival to the start of my second session. Read the rest of this entry »

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

I am three weeks into my course looking at what is remembered and what is forgotten in Berlin’s history. In our short time here we have gone on numerous excursions as a class to visit sites that reflect this theme.

In our second week we had our longest and most intimidating journey, a visit to a concentration camp. This past semester I took a class on the history of the Holocaust as part of my history degree, so I knew the logistics of what happened. I knew that Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp just outside of Berlin. I knew it held prisoners for a variety of qualities categorized as criminal offenses by the Third Reich, from political beliefs and sexual orientation to being Jewish, Sinti, or Roma. I just didn’t know what to expect when seeing the camp in person.

Guard tower

The main guard tower for Sachsenhausen is at the center of a spoke-like arrangement of barracks. Built in 1936, the camp was meant to serve as the ideal model for later camps to follow.

To get to the camp we took an hour-long ride on the S-Bahn followed by a 10-minute bus ride through a picturesque town. Upon arrival we were met with a large map of the camp emphasizing the enormity of Sachsenhausen.

The camp was meant to be the ideal model for all camps that would follow. Our guide explained the semi-circular set up of the camp. One main guard tower above the entrance was able to control the entire camp with one machine gun because the barracks fanned out like bicycle spokes from its base. A curved track paved with uneven stones separated the barracks from the tower. Prisoners were forced to carry weights while testing shoes for the German army, trekking back and forth across the track until collapsing from exhaustion.

guard tower and fenceline

The outer perimeter of the camp is bordered by a combination of barbed wire, electric fences and a cement wall. The “neutral zone” served as a death strip, for anyone who crossed its threshold or was forced to cross into it was shot immediately.

Throughout the visit we were faced with the cruelty and suffering that was commonplace at the camp, from torture devices, gallows, and crowded bunks, to the crematorium. Some of us felt numb and uneasy, whispering to each other as we navigated the camp on our own.

In contrast to the raw leftovers of history we witnessed, were the intrusions of the current day. There were hundreds of other visitors to the camp that day, many with handheld, brick-like walkie-talkies that explained the history of the camp in whatever language was needed. There were some who snapped selfies in front of the gates near the sign that read “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – work sets you free. The experience left me feeling disconnected from what that site was.

labor camp entrance

The entrance to many labor camps of the Third Reich bore the same slogan “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – works sets you free. The saying was increasingly insidious, as most prisoners would be “freed” only through death after exhaustion from forced labor.

Our visit to Sachsenhausen served as another example of how Germany handles its darkest period in history. During the war, the scenic town was still where it is today, right next to the camp. German civilians could not have ignored the enormous structure located down the street from their own homes. They would have witnessed the new prisoners arriving at the local train station and seen the smoke stacks as no one made a return trip. Similarly, the camp remains as prominent as it was as a reminder and warning to all of us today. If we allow ourselves to forget, then we are enabling the conditions of fear and hate that emboldened the Third Reich to take hold once more.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

I just had the most amazing opportunity that I will never forget. Myself and 18 new friends traveled to Isefjord, a small freshwater fjord connecting Kategat (the cat canal) to mainland Hoelbæk of Denmark. We met in Copenhagen and took a scenic train ride through rural Denmark at a beautiful 7 am. We walked through the town of Holbæk, known for one of the oldest hotels in Denmark and for the beautiful ports that host many of the country’s documented wooden ships.


In Denmark, wooden sailing ships are not only a living piece of history, but they are a prized possession that requires much responsibility. To be a licensed wooden ship in Denmark (one that belongs to an illustrious club, that is), there are rules that dictate everything, including how the deck must be washed and how the sails must be sewn (criss-cross seams fail a ship upon inspection).

Once we were on the boat, safety demonstrations began. We put all of our stuff down below where there was enough sleeping rooms for 23. Soon, we began leaving Holbæk for Hundested, or “dog’s place.” The temperature was warm for Denmark, but the sea breeze was perfect. Kenneth told me he had almost never seen such a perfect Danish day for sailing.


Out on the front of the boat, rigging was set to help hoist the sails. Between the 3 of us, we were able to shimmy out past a net, onto the beams beyond the boat to raise the sails in a windy adventure. We saw jellyfish go by underneath us at a comfortable 5 knots. We sailed for an entire day before landing in port, the beach of Hundested. It was a beautiful small city, one that most of the crew was pretty familiar with. Kenneth, Jonas, and Johnny showed us around and let us have a great time around the city, teaching us new words and Danish and laughing at our all-together Americanness.


Every day, different members of the crew cooked a meal and did the dishes. In Denmark, customs say that if you make the meal, you eat last, inviting your guests to partake first. While we weren’t used to this, the first mate was quite strict. That being said, the fruit here in Denmark is the best you will ever have. Denmark doesn’t use preservatives like other countries, meaning the food goes bad faster here, but tastes must fresher. We had bread fresh from the bakery in both ports. And, we learned to make a tenderloin-sausage stew that was absolutely fantastic! Everything we had on the boat was good!


While many of the sights were beautiful and amazing, easily the best part of this trip was the crew. The captain, Markin, was the quietest, but one of the funniest. He obviously loved our energy and laughed at our jokes and bad dance skills on the boat, but never spoke to the guests directly. Christina, the first mate, was a delight. She was the person who helped us all cook and taught us the tradition of logkake, a layer cake that is made for celebrations in Denmark. She also was dating the captain, which she explained happened during a 2 month excursion to Spain.

Johnny was the funny guy. He had been on the ship the longest as a crew member and loved the seas. He was very open and loved to talk to us all, though his English was spotty. That made Kenneth, a 27-year-old student on the ship, even more fun. Kenneth was as fluent in English, no doubt about it. He only needed to look up a few words during the entire trip. He was an amazing artist and really enjoyed spending time with us.

Finally, “micro-man” Jonas was the most reserved about the group. Jonas was only 19 and was a student in the sailing school. He was very wary of us when we started, but he warmed up pretty quickly. We got him to laugh, though his English was the worst. Not bad, at all, but definitely a challenge.

The crew really took us in and taught us the meaning of hygge. Hygge is the traditional moral of the Danes, a way of life that incorporates comfort, compassion, and welcome into their lives. I can’t imagine being able to recreate the feeling of watching the sunset on a small boat with the comfort of new friends.

Rachel Larsen - exploring collaboration in STEM & study abroad

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