Indiana University Overseas Study

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As I approach what I have long considered to be the culmination of my collegiate undergraduate experience, I’d like to take a moment to look back at all that has gone into making this opportunity not only conceptually possible but the fulfilling experience that is set to begin so soon. In fact, it feels like I have been preparing for this my whole life. I started studying Portuguese independently the same summer that I spent working on a cattle ranch in small town South Dakota, listening to audio lessons seated in the cab of an enormous tractor as I stacked one ton bales of hay.

A significant component of my decision to come to Indiana University was the prevalence and prominence of its study abroad opportunities, and I’m lucky enough to have a family who supports me in my endeavors. My father, who has lived and traveled extensively in Brazil and who founded my interest in doing the same, loves to tell the story of how, on my fourteenth birthday, he and my mother took me out to breakfast to ask me if I would be interested in studying abroad in Bogotá, Colombia. He is proud that I never even hesitated at the thought leaving my family and greater culture for six months in favor of a foreign land and language. I quickly took to the city lifestyle and the language, and soon you could find a small, shaggy ‘gringo’ walking around the streets and raising his hand to volunteer to read and answer questions in Spanish literature class.

I wrote a little blog back then too, but its function was more to let people know how I was doing rather than to motivate others to find their own, equivalent experience. Studying abroad is such a unique collegiate experience and I am excited for everything to come not only for me, but for you as well, my readers. I am a living example of how transformative this type of experience can be, I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today if I hadn’t seized the opportunity that my parents gave me at that tender young age.

And now that I’m older and have matured (though I’ve done my best to keep my childish enthusiasm and wonder at the beauty of the world around me) I will be able to more fully immerse myself in the experience. As the first ever Indiana University student to partake in this program in Rio de Janeiro, I hope to help inspire any of you out there to challenge yourselves and seize today as a great day to go for it. Maybe you’ll follow in my footsteps here in the “Cidade Maravilhosa,” maybe you’ll put your own twist on a more traditional place like Florence or Paris, or maybe you’ll blaze your own path in a currently under-represented area.

Wherever you go, and whatever you decide to do with your time there, I hope that you begin with this same feelings of anticipation, excitement, and gratitude that consume me today.

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Charles Bridge in Prague

Me posing for a photo on the Charles Bridge in Prague, taken just after arriving.

Study Abroad is made up of a lot of moments. Some are small and some are huge, some are glorious and others aren’t. These moments are all a part of what makes the experience so dynamic, and in my opinion, worth it. They are also what make you grow.

When I first arrived in Berlin, I had a lot of insecure moments and moments of panic. I found myself in a German-speaking world when I myself don’t speak German. I felt like a freshman again: overwhelmed by the number of new faces and potential friends who surrounded me during orientation. I also have never truly been on my own before and found myself feeling quite lonely in the beginning.

All of these feelings and seemingly overwhelming moments, however, led to growth. Slowly, I grew more confident while ordering bread at the bakery: trying to say any German words or phrases I knew when given the chance. I also began making friends with the people on my floor and in my program. And I even began growing more comfortable with the fact of being on my own.

There was, however, one moment that I consider to be defining in my growth, which I would like to share.

A group of friends and I decided one weekend we wanted to take a trip to Prague over the weekend. Being early on, I was still nervous and unsure about the idea, but also craving adventure, so I decided to go.

Selfie in Prague

Our group selfie taken after we arrived in Prague.

Old Town Square

The view from the old town square in Prague.

Three of my friends posing for a picture on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

Three of my friends posing for a picture on the Charles Bridge in Prague.

I will make a long story short by saying that we missed our bus. By a painful two minutes. Determined to make the weekend happen, we looked into other means of getting there. We quickly learned that the next bus to Prague wasn’t departing until 3:00am, eight hours from our initial departure time.

I wanted to call my mom, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to give up on the adventure. I had been through so much in the past two weeks and I couldn’t handle the road block before me. I couldn’t, until I realized I could.

I stood there at that bus station and I looked around and I distinctly remember thinking, “You can do this. You didn’t study abroad to give up so easily on adventure,” and I immediately knew I was going to be okay. I immediately knew that I was and am capable. And that was huge for me.

Up until then, I had felt very unsure of myself and my capabilities. But it was that defining moment at the bus stop, where that all washed away, and I knew I was just fine.

And in case you were wondering, we did decide to take the early morning bus ride to Prague, and I am beyond happy we did because it was a beautifully rewarding trip, filled with its own unforgettable moments.

So here I am in Berlin with an overwhelming excitement for the moments yet to come, and a newfound confidence in myself that I’ll be able to handle whatever else is in store.

Me at the John Lennon wall being amazed by its beauty.

Me at the John Lennon wall being amazed by its beauty.

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Abbey Hudetz. London, England

For most, traveling abroad does not mean that one is restricted to their site of study. Exploration of the surrounding countries is an unspoken expectation of any abroad program. Being overseas, the world shrinks once you are in the European Union, nations that once seemed distant and exotic are a forty pound RyanAir flight away.

The temptation of wanderlust is a tenacious one, but for me, pull of exploration has been eclipsed by my fascination with the city of London itself. Not even a month into my program, and I am in the minority of students who haven’t jetted off from Heathrow. Returning to class this past week, the pre-lecture chatter has been monopolized by tales of spontaneous excursions to the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, I had been rooted in London for the weekend, exploring markets, getting lost in new boroughs, and experimenting with the dense ethnic food scene. I felt my weekend was a jam-packed cultural experience, but I had a nagging feeling that since I had only remained in this city, I was depriving myself. Was traveling not an essential part of the abroad experience?

Late to the game, I am yet to book flights, my travel plans are more rough sketches than concrete agendas. I have a travel budget, I have an open schedule, why do I not have this burning desire to soak up every cultural experience I can possibly be exposed to? After deliberating, I determined that I did not feel like I am missing out—just as those traveling are not missing out in our home base of London. I feel as if I am simply getting to know a singular city more intimately, rather than experiencing a vast range of cultures, and I’m okay with that.

Spoiler alert: there is no “best” way to do a study abroad program and that notion has become blatantly clear this first month in London. Going abroad is abundantly liberating, you are exposed to a new world with your past an ocean away, granted great freedom and autonomy. Most of all, the experience is in your hands. The fact that there is no uniform quota for travels, just as there is no allotment of time that must be spent in the city, breeds such a range of experiences from the students abroad: each individual, tailored, and unique. Eventually, I intend to jet-set around Europe, but until then… I’m pretty sure I haven’t tried every flavor of ice cream in Harrods.

Abbey Hudetz - Redefining herself through a global experience

Abbey Hudetz. London, England

I have always believed the term “tourist” held a negative connotation. When traveling, I make a conscious effort to navigate my new surroundings with ease and appear as a local to the untrained eye. As unreasonable and frivolous as this expectation may be—that one can integrate themselves into a new city as soon as they hop off the plane—I have always insisted upon it. Forgoing maps, extensive research into the best ‘local’ gems, and God forbid I ever solicit directions from a stranger. Despite the countless hours I spent poring over articles about trendy up-and-coming restaurants or lost (because I was too spiteful to ask for directions), traveling abroad everyone is inevitably flagged as “the American.”

Yes, my thick Chicago accent and extensive knowledge of junk food does blow my cover, but no amount of off-beat travel guides can prepare you for the cultural differences. Being thrust into the heart of your new home is the only route in which to completely enlighten yourself about another culture. I thought I was faring relatively well my first few weeks in London—living in other cities had prepared me for public transport, harsh Midwestern weather hardened me for the moderate winters, and I was reveling in the chic street style of the natives. I was existing in a bubble of overconfidence, but one ride on the Tube, London’s underground public transport, successfully burst my illusion.

A girl about my age was completely owning her tasteful grunge outfit (a la Kate Moss) and I felt inclined to pay her a compliment—wrong move. The look she gave me conveyed that she was assessing whether I had escaped from a psych ward or taken some bizarre street drugs. First lesson in British culture, people tend to be hesitant to interact with total strangers. Saying “hello” to passerby on the street and striking up conversation is a fairly American tendency. My other, more poignant lesson, was that at some point, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was a foreigner—and that’s not a bad thing.

Since embracing my tourist status, I have learned that as much as I am going to get out of this city, this country, and these people, I have to give as well. London is a global city, and people are enthusiastic to learn about other cultures (well, maybe not on the Tube), and understand their own from an outside perspective.

Sidebar: to the Swedish girl who asked me if my high school experience was “just like movie ‘American Pie’”…not exactly. The best conversations I’ve had thus far have been rooted in comparing and contrasting differing perspectives, norms, and lifestyles. Conversations I would have deprived myself of had I continuously made efforts to blend in. Embracing your own culture and simultaneously appreciating another is not only plausible, but necessary and rewarding. So in short, be the tourist. And probably invest in a map.

Abbey Hudetz - Redefining herself through a global experience

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

Last month, I was living in like queen—traveling as forth north as the deserts and as far south as the magical, legend-filled islands. Last month, I was eating the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had and the ripest vegetables I never liked until I had them the day after they were harvested. Now the farthest traveling I do is to my local Target to indulge myself with a Lunchable (the nacho one, obviously).

It’s been weird coming back doing things like driving, grocery shopping, and eating McDonald’s—my stomach has not missed McChickens, that’s for sure. What I think has been really weird though is being able to understand everything that’s happening around me. I’m sure it will be weirder when I start Spring semester and all the material I’m learning in class I’ll be able to actually understand, but even now it’s strange. I can have a meal and participate 100% in conversation, I can go to the stores without panicking about vocab words, and when I watch the news, I know where each of the towns are. Even though this life with English is great, speaking Spanish every day is what I miss the most.

There was so much adrenaline speaking Spanish to a stranger and praying they understood what you were saying. It made me feel so smart when they’d had a response other than como? [What?]. It made me feel even smarter when they’d respond with huge vocabulary words I didn’t know the meanings of because that meant they thought my Spanish was good enough to speak to me like I wasn’t a child. Granted, they’d end up having to re-explain things to me like I was a child, but it was great!

Speaking Spanish every day there makes my life here seem way easier and more plausible. Things like figuring out lease issues or explaining what kind of headache pain I’m having is so easy. The best thing I’ve accomplished though, is being more okay with saying, “I don’t understand.” Before leaving for Chile, I was always a little embarrassed to ask someone to reword themselves, and I always thought I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand what someone was saying—despite all middle school teachers’ favorite saying, “Chances are, if you don’t understanding, neither does someone else.” Now, I have no problem asking people to go over something again. I did it so much in Spanish that it has become like second nature to ask questions.

This transition from Spanish back to English though is kind of a weird one. Even though I encountered English at some point every day when I was abroad whether it was talking to friends from home or listening to music or watching Netflix, I am still finding it a little hard to make the full switch back. For example, the names of food are the hardest. After killing myself over knowing all the vocabulary words for food we ate every day, I seem to have misplaced those English words far back in the file drawers. I can never remember the word for spaghetti or avocado because my brain still thinks I’m eating fideos and palta. It also takes me just a smidge longer to explain things and write things. Even in my blog posts, I can tell my grammar and word order has worsened, maybe not noticeable to all, but definitely noticeable to me. And even though writing is something I can fix by going through it, I can’t fix it. I can’t figure out how to move a word or come up with a different one to make it flow better. It’s very bizarre and very frustrating. But it’s also kind of awesome.

“Struggling” with English is super cool because it means the language part of my brain put aside a piece for a different language. I can promise you all that that new part of my brain is about 1/100th the size of my English part, but it’s still so cool that that can even happen in as little as five months. I mean, how cool is it that there’s a part of my brain always working in Spanish? Even right now, my mind knows I’m typing English, but I can feel it in my fingers that they want to add an accent mark somewhere. So bacán [cool]. There yah go, fingers.

So here’s to not being able to speak either language as well as I’d like to—a defeat that is welcomed with open brazos—I mean arms.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

On My Way

kiefer_adam

I am currently at the Indianapolis International Airport about to begin my Journey to study abroad in Berlin, Germany. I will be participating in the program entitled, “Communications, New Media, and Journalism,” and I will be learning material that will go hand in hand with what I am learning here at IU in the journalism department. Not only will I be living in a beautiful and vibrant city, but I will also be studying material in line with my passions.

Adam at the airport

Me standing at the center of the Indianapolis International Airport after checking in for my flight to Berlin, Germany.

If you would have told me two days ago I had made it to the airport, fully packed and ready to go, I would not have believed you. Procrastination really takes on a new meaning when it comes to me. But here I am, waiting to board my plane. I wish I could tell you saying goodbye mom and dad and my boyfriend was easy, but it wasn’t. It was a very teary-eyed goodbye actually. It’s not my fault I’m surrounded by a lot of love in my life, and I’m sad to leave that behind, even if only for 5 months. I am however, very much looking forward to my upcoming trip now that my suitcase is packed, and I’ve said my goodbyes.

I will say, besides saying my goodbyes, one of the hardest parts of preparing for my trip has been packing my suitcase. There is so much that you would love to bring, but really should leave behind in order to have space for more important items. For example, I would have loved to have packed my fuzzy blanket, but I know I can always just buy one once I arrive. I did not, however, hesitate to bring my camera. I am now ready, as my mom said, to “let the journey begin!”

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Taking Off

Nadine Herman

I hate saying “goodbye.” It’s the last thing you have to do once all the travel arrangements are made, the bags are packed, and you’re finally on your way. To me, “goodbye” is something you say when you’re unsure of the next time you’ll see a person or place. Simply thinking of saying “goodbye” has the ability to send one into an anxious spiral of self-doubt. It’s hard not to be nervous when you have to utter this phrase to those you love as you embark on an adventure in unchartered territory.

I’m certainly going into uncharted territory this spring as I prepare to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Although I’ve long been enamored with the idea of spending days walking around the piazza and getting lost in different gelato shops, it’s difficult to block out the voice of worry that speaks now and then. My daydreams of getting lost in Italy suddenly turn into nightmarish images of me actually getting lost in Italy with no cellular data to guide me home.

In order to calm pre-departure nerves I remind myself that I’m not saying “goodbye” forever. I’m one of those lucky enough to live in a foreign country for four months and have incredible experiences that will give me lifelong memories. I will grow as a person and learn things about myself. I will adapt and thrive in a new culture. And, yes, I will probably get lost a few times but that’ll be part of what makes this experience fun.

I’m confident that I’ll return home with stories to tell and pictures to show. As I begin my study abroad journey I won’t focus on those that I temporarily have to leave behind, but on the new adventures that are to come.

So, it’s not’s a “goodbye forever” but rather a “ciao, for now.”

Nadine Herman - absorbing a new culture through adventure

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