Indiana University Overseas Study

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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.

train window

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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The Perfectly Imperfect Moments

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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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The Defining Moment

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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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On My Way

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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.

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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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