Indiana University Overseas Study

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Less is More

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

I have the worst habit of over-packing. At middle school sleepovers, I was the friend who brought a full-sized duffel bag for one night. What can I say, I just like to be prepared. Recently, however, I have learned that the contents of your bags can only prepare you so much.

Before I began packing for this semester, I had a list of what I thought I needed. It was a fair list consisting mostly essentials. Then, when I actually started to pack, I was having separation anxiety with some of my clothes. I had everything I wanted to bring to Sevilla scattered all over my room at home. I looked at my two empty suitcases, back at everything in my room, and then back at my suitcases. I had to reconsider some of my choices.

Despite this initial dilemma, I successfully managed to fit four months’ worth of everything I needed (or thought I would need) into my backpack, one carry-on sized suitcase, and one suitcase that I checked at the gate that came in just shy of the 50 pounds mark (thankfully).

Once I started traveling around other parts of Spain and Europe I learned a lesson very quickly: it’s always easier to travel light. My middle school self would be doubtful, but I can attest that it is indeed possible to pack for a weekend trip in a backpack.

Backpacks are great. You can maximize the space in a backpack pretty easily and be hands free while on the go. Packing light is simply always the best option. It prevents you from having to check one bag and potentially having to pay for it. It prevents you from having to go to baggage claim upon arrival. Traveling light is significantly easier — not just in airports, but when traveling by bus, train, and/or ferry too.

So how can you pack light but still be prepared? With the mindset that less is more. For clothing, check the weather forecast in your final destination and think about what activities you will be doing. If you wear the same pair of jeans twice, or even the whole weekend, no one will really notice.

The main reason I—someone who tends to over-pack—have come to terms with traveling light is because what you pack won’t define your trip. The most important thing about traveling is the experience and the desire to see and learn new things.

Study abroad has taught me that material things, including what you pack or don’t pack, really do not determine the outcome of your trip. So if you pack smart, but light, and have that less is more mindset, you will be prepared for your trip.

Susanna Sorrells

Academic Life, Social Life, and Beyond

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

Before I came to University of Kent, I heard two versions of explanations about the British academic system. Kent students at IU told me that college life is much more relaxing in Britain, especially for students in the subjects of Humanities—there’s no homework on a daily basis, but just one or two papers at the end of terms. There’s more time to do non-school work and to socialize. However, my academic advisor told me that students studying abroad in Britain usually get lower grades. He suggested that I should spend more time on school work and study harder if I want to maintain a good GPA. After spending two months at U of Kent and getting more used to the academic environment, I realized that both my friends and my advisor were quite correct. The British university system is not simply easier or harder than universities in the U.S. They have different teaching and learning concepts.

As Humanities students in Britain, we are expected to study on our own and the American concept of “homework” is not an element of university-level education. Still, there is coursework, assignments, and essays in our modules (courses). The amount depends on the professor’s preference, but they are not assigned as frequently as in American universities. For instance, as a History and Political Science student, I have five three-thousand-word essays for my three modules and three exams in the summer term. There’s nothing to turn in on a daily or weekly basis. There are reading lists and suggested materials; some of them are required/core readings, and some are suggested readings. The stage of modules decides the amount of reading and the amount of work. I get a reading list of forty pages on my stage-six module, but far less on my stage-four module.

There’s not only less homework, but also fewer lectures. Instead of having two lectures per course like in IU, I have one lecture and one seminar per module at U of Kent, and that make me only have class on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The lectures at the University are always recorded and students can re-watch the lecture online. Lecture attendance is not required, but seminar attendance is counted as a part of participation grade. There are pros and cons of the British education system, just like any other. The vast amount of free time gives students the opportunity to participate in social events and to do non-academic activities. The light amount of homework and oversight helps students to build self-responsibility and make them feel trusted. However, the lack of pressure can also cause time mismanagement, and many students might end up doing nothing. The balance between freedom and learning efficiency is truly a dilemma in British universities: should university students—who are eighteen-years old (or above) and able to purchase alcohol and tobacco, to vote and to marry—have the freedom to be in charge of their time in university? I don’t really know the answer…

I tried and I am still trying my very best to not waste the free time I get in Britain. I try to use the free time to travel and see as much as I can because I know my time at here is reaching its end soon. I made many friends through the Catholic Society (Cathsoc) at the University. We traveled to Paris and Oxford in the past months and had great times together. I had the most wonderful and memorable experiences in Paris—where we lived in the guesthouse of the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre provided by the Benedictine Sisters and shared their lifestyle and devotion.

philip and friends

My Cathsoc friends Joe, John, Jamie, and I in Paris

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Manchester to see a friend and the city. It was also a game day for Manchester United and the train line between London and Manchester was full of loud soccer fans with red shirts and beer bottles.

Philip and painting

Work by Ford M. Brown is a painting that very much sums up the central spirit of the Victorian values—the pursuit of wealth through hard works.

Paying visits to the numerous playhouses in London is something that I always wanted to do. But I didn’t have the chance and time to watch a play until last weekend. The Book of Mormon is a hilarious yet meaningful play with great music. It is one of the musicals that you would like to watch for a second time.

stage before show

The background of the stage. Play is about to begin in ten minutes!

The next month is packed with essays from all of my modules, and I will have less time to travel in a long distance. I hope that I will continue to study hard and do my best on essays.

Philip Jiao

Let’s Talk Language

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

In sixth grade I was introduced to the Spanish language in school and continued in high school and later into college. After roughly ten year of Spanish classes, I thought to myself, what more could I possibly learn? I felt like my Spanish skill level was as high as it possibly could be… and then I arrived in Sevilla.

Let me just preface by saying even though English is said to be the “international language,” not everyone speaks English wherever you go. If you were traveling to Spain and knew little or no Spanish, you could get by, but if you are like me, studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country with a program that is entirely in Spanish, you need to know the language.

During my time in Sevilla, I have encountered a few times where speaking Spanish was helpful. It was not complex conversations I had or anything like that, so it was easy.

The first time I realized my Spanish was not as polished as I had presumed it would be was when I first met my host mom. Our program took us from the airport in a bus to meeting areas near our home stays. When I first met my host mom, we greeted each other like normal and then started the short trip to her home. While it was only a few minutes, it was the most awkward few minutes I have had since being here.

I am usually a person to initiate a conversation. I hate sitting in silence, especially when you are one-on-one with someone. But I was next to my host mom in this new city where Spanish was the language I had to speak, and my mind was completely blank. I could not think of anything to say. I would have a thought, but then not know how to express it in Spanish. I was too scared I would say something wrong.

I was silent, but inside I was screaming. The awkwardness was eating at me but I could not figure out how to overcome it, simply because I did not know what to say – and I am never the person who is at a loss of words.

Universidad de Sevilla: Two of my four classes are held here, where native Spanish students also attend classes.

Fast forward a week to the start of classes, classes that are all taught in Spanish. Listening in class was fairly easy, as my professors talk a little slower for us because they know we are not native speakers. Although your brain has to do extra work and move fast, it was manageable. Even during those first few classes, however, I was still not comfortable speaking out loud.

As classes continued and I was interacting with more Spanish-speaking people, my confidence was building up and things began to change. Talking with my host family and engaging in my classes in Spanish obviously boosted my language ability and confidence. But the real jump in my capabilities and confidence came from interactions outside of school and home. Whether I am buying clothes at a store or ordering tapas at a restaurant, the people helping me do not necessarily know what my native language is. While I am out and about, I can put my real Spanish knowledge to the test.

Four or five times a week I go to a café in the afternoons for a café con leche (coffee with milk: a Spanish classic) and a pastry. This small interaction of ordering my café con leche and whatever snack I desire is pretty simple, but it is real world use of my Spanish. Ordering, paying in Euros, and using common greetings and sayings like please, thank you, etc. in a public place really helped increase my capabilities, but most importantly boosted my confidence. When you can successfully communicate with a stranger at a store or restaurant in Spanish, you feel pretty good about yourself.

Now that I have been here for a month, I would say my listening and speaking levels have both improved. While I still talk slow in Spanish because my brain has to figure out what I am actually trying to say, I understand pretty much all conversations that happen in Spanish around me. I would not call myself fluent quite yet, but a big improvement has definitely occurred.

CIEE Study Center Sevilla: The other two of my four classes are held here, in the study center of my program, CIEE.

Practice really does make perfect, or in my case, almost perfect. By practicing, listening, and most importantly, having confidence and being comfortable, I was able to improve my Spanish already in just a month. Although before coming here I thought my Spanish was already pretty good, I realized what I was lacking was experience. I may know the language in my head but what good it that if you cannot actually use it in real world situations?

Studying abroad in Sevilla is about as “real world situation” as it gets. Everyday I use what I already know to practice speaking and listening, while still learning new things. As I still have about three more months here to practice and build my confidence and become even more comfortable, I hope this upward trend continues as time goes on.Susanna Sorrells


Adventures with German Kitchens

Rebecca Haley - Freiburg, Germany

When I was thinking about this post, I was trying to think of something new, exciting, and original, like travel adventures and crazy things happening at the beginning of my German adventure. But everything has gone super smoothly (because the people at IES are wonderful and have helped us so much) and surprisingly, traveling has also gone really well. Exploring has been a lot of fun too, but my biggest challenge so far has been figuring out my apartment. At first I thought that figuring out things like outlets, showers, and other household utilities would be the hardest – but nope, it was the kitchen.

Let me start off with the fact that I have some truly amazing German roommates (or as I call them in German, Mitbewohner). They are incredibly helpful and answer all my questions about things they have done their whole lives. Not all of them are here right now because the University here in Freiburg is on semester break, so a few have stayed to work over the break, but a lot have left. So for all of y’all that are looking at studying abroad, one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to get to know your roommates as soon as you can if you are lucky enough to live with natives. They are an invaluable resource and know what’s happening even when you have no clue. Anyway, with that tangent over, here are the things that threw me off about German kitchens:

First, the trash system. Students in the US learning German often learn about this complex trash system but until you’ve actually experienced it, it’s hard to fully understand. In my apartment, there are four trash cans. One for paper/cardboard, one for glass, one for packaging waste (foil, Saran wrap, chocolate wrappers…), and one for everything else that doesn’t fit in the other categories like organic materials. Luckily they’re labeled so I can figure it out most of the time. But there are exceptions. For example, broken glass goes in the everything else bin, which I found out when I broke a plate. Also…what about plastic? Well, for plastic bottles you take them back to the store, put them into a machine which breaks them down, and you get some money that you spent on the bottle back. It’s called the Pfand and it’s actually really cool.

four receptables for recycling/garbage

From left to right: Paper, general organic waste/everything else, Glass, Packaging

This system is complex enough, but it took me forever to figure out the German oven. Not only does it have one knob for temperatures, it has another one with mysterious symbols on it for specific settings. For the first week I just avoided this contraption, but this week I wanted sweet potatoes so I just bit the bullet and found a video online telling me how to operate it. Once I figured it out, it makes a lot of sense. For example, you can set the oven to only cook from the top for meats, so one side cooks, then you flip it over. Or you can set a fan to blow the heat around to make sure it gets all sides of the food. It’s fancy.

german oven

My German oven. The left knob is for the settings and the right has the temperatures in celcius.

Also, I really encourage you to bring some easy recipes or find some online if you don’t already cook. Making your own food saves money and insures that you don’t get tired of all the restaurants in the nearby area too quickly. And one last piece of cooking advice is to always follow directions because products and cooking temperatures are different. Storage information, for example, might also be different that you might expect, so take the time to translate it. I made that mistake with marinara sauce one night and spent the rest of the evening feeling terrible.

Obviously, I’m still not an expert in this area and still have ten thousand questions that require answers from my roommates or the internet, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure things out in my apartment and get comfortable here.

Rebecca Haley

Women’s March on London

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

Everyone who likes history may have the fantasy of traveling back to the past and to actually witness major historical events. As a history major, I love the history of the 60s America. Sometimes I imagine myself standing in the crowd of President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University and hear him saying those exciting words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Sometimes I imagine myself standing with thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, seeing Martin Luther King to end his spectacular “I Have a Dream” speech.  The 60s America was about social activism; it was an era when people started to speak up and fight against social inequalities. The 60s America was an age when ordinary individuals did extraordinary things. The 60s was an age of change; just like today’s world. I believe that we—people living in this age—are experiencing an extraordinary era that will have tremendous influence on the future. Maybe thirty, forty years from now, people will look back to 2017 and say, “That was an age of change, I wish I was there to witness all these things.”

January 21 was a sunny and mild day. I was in London to visit a friend and the British Museum. It was my first time coming back to London since 2013. I walked from the Museum to the Waterloo Station and accidentally ran into the Women’s March on London at the Trafalgar Square. The March was impressive; I had never seen so many people gathering at one place since my last visit to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The whole Trafalgar Square was packed with people, music, speeches, and card boards with various slogans. The crowd stretched from the National Gallery to the roads on the other side, burying the lonely column of Admiral Nelson with enormous passion. Young women were the majority of the marching crowd; most of them wore bright and fashionable clothes, and a lot of them wore pink hats in reference to President Trump’s past statements about women. The new presidency of America was the central theme on people’s card boards.

womens march in london

Thousands of people on Trafalgar Square. One of the “feet-go-faster-than-wheels” days for London.

With the help of technology, people living in different parts of the world had never been so close to each other. With a phone call or a text on social app, one can connect with friends and family who are thousands of miles away. I sometimes think that the Atlantic Ocean between Britain and America isn’t as wide as I thought. Though Brits and Americans have different political systems, different cultures, different diets, slightly different languages, there are some common values that both peoples share, which make Brits and Americans not so different.

“If the National Gallery on my back is the Lincoln Memorial, and Nelson’s Column over there is the Washington Monument,” I asked myself, “will I still think that I’m in Britain rather than America?”

Philip Jiao


Emily Blankenhorn - Berlin, Germany

If you’re planning on studying abroad or taking an extended trip, it’s difficult to know what to pack. Aside from your favorite sweaters and jeans, you have your jewelry, socks, and scarves, not to mention shoes. On top of that, should you bring all that makeup? You also have pajamas to think about. If you’ll be abroad for an entire semester, you will most likely experience multiple seasons. This makes it even more difficult to pack because you have to make sure to narrow your options down in order to have enough to wear for the full 5 months’ time. I didn’t realize how many clothes I really do wear until I was forced to pick and choose. I am here to give you some advice about how to choose what to bring and what not to bring.

unpacked into small closet

Overall, just choose a few of your favorite items and bring those. Don’t bring anything from home that you don’t wear every week, because you won’t wear it here. European style is pretty laid back, so thus far I haven’t worn anything nicer than jeans and a flowy top. That being said, nobody wears sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt to the store, like you would see everywhere in the U.S. My go-to outfit for when I leave my residence is black leggings with a sweater and some black boots. There are so many variations of this outfit that I can wear and be comfortable in while also not looking like a tourist or worrying I don’t fit in. Berlin style is composed of a lot of dark colors and a lot of black, so I didn’t even bring anything pink or light blue. Maroon, hunter green, black, and grey are worn a lot and they match with basically anything so it’s easy to mix and match outfits. This is helpful when you don’t bring a lot of clothes but you don’t want to get bored of wearing the same outfit over and over again.

Notebook and Travel Journal

As for non-clothing related items, definitely bring a book for the flights you’ll take on your way to your destination, but also for while traveling between destinations. I bought the new Stephen King compilation of short stories so it’s easy to read one to pass the time during travel. Also, bring a journal to document everything in. It’s easy to forget what you did yesterday, let alone what you did last month. I have a notebook (the red one) to document what I’ve done in bullet points. I always prefer to write when, where, and what occurred, but rarely how I felt about it. Luckily, my mom had gotten me a travel journal (the brown one) before I left the U.S. This has more specific questions printed in it for you to answer about how you felt at the time, what you saw around you, how the air smelled, and much more which increased my mindfulness drastically.

packing light

Anyway, in Berlin most things are pretty inexpensive, so it would be cheap and simple to purchase anything here that you feel you need but didn’t pack. In this case, just remember that you only have the luggage you came here with! The last thing you want is to be flying back to the states and have an oversized bag. Something else to keep in mind is that wherever you are traveling, there will be limited space for belongings. For example, I didn’t even think about how small the closets would be here in my CIEE dorm. I’ve attached some photos for reference, but upon first look they are so small! If I were restricted to this space at home I would never be able to fit all my clothes and belongings in there. Strangely enough, I ended up having an excessive amount of extra space once I unloaded all my clothes. I have quickly adapted to this life of less and feel as though I’ve simplified my life a bit.

Emily Blankenhorn

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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