Indiana University Overseas Study

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Patriotism and Studying Abroad

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One of the things I’ve always been proud of is our community and university’s diversity. We’ve managed to attract eager students from around the world to our joint benefit. Interacting with people who have been raised in different circumstances than your own is part of what makes an undergraduate experience so foundational and maturing. And that’s what studying abroad is all about.

A lot of people seem to find the idea appealing but fail to commit to the actual event. It’s hard to blame them, it certainly is a commitment. But we must realize that in an increasingly and obviously globalized society, in order to lead and honor those around us, we must seek to understand and appreciate others trying to do the same in their respective cultures. I’m sure the IU School of Global and International Studies, where I study, will soon trot out a fancy slogan to the same effect because it is true.

Experiencing new cultures is the first step towards expanding the marketplace of ideas, dreams, and the opportunity to fulfill those dreams, that which has made the United States so exceptional. Our nation and the ideals it represents has been built upon this exchange that has sparked so many imaginations into the kinds of new processes and ideas read about in textbooks and used as motivation and validation for generations to come.

Diversity isn’t only a nice thing to have, it is a necessity if you want to remain competitive into the 21st century. It helps us to unlock a whole other way to look at a problem, a new perspective laden with its own nuanced history and influencers going back thousands of years. Innovation is the product of diversity.

Nothing has made me prouder to be an American than my experiences studying abroad. The United States is rightfully proud of its history of people who love this country using their experiences in other cultures to widen our perspectives and to make us work better. We are proud of our personal and community roots, it is these that bind us together and form the basis of who we are at our core. The United States is the world superpower that it is because of this interaction between different cultures and points of views brought to the table as a result of the pursuit of the very real American Dream.

Brazil is a country that lacks the social and economic mobility that we cherish and, often, take for granted. And though we have a long way to go to combat the various “isms” that prevent an even playing field, I believe that it is the ideals that we fight for in fields of battle and tables of discussion that make us extraordinary. I will always be proud to be a Midwestern boy at heart, and experiencing other cultures does not distract from this. Instead it opens my eyes to realities I could not have known and at the same time allows me to share the perspective that I uniquely have.

Study abroad is more than a semester you take off of school to go drink in another country. It is about improving yourself through this marketplace of ideas so that you can then go on to improve the communities that you care about, at home and abroad. It is about coming together in order to understand what creates the depth beneath the skin of all men, and how we can continue to form brotherhood that connects to and appreciates each man’s depth. We come together during our undergraduate years whilst under the guidance of many of these in the form of professors, those who accumulate immense knowledge in some subject matter and share this knowledge, its place in the world, and, hopefully, how to reach your own understanding.

Many people fail to realize that such guidance can come from simply placing yourself, your senses and analysis in a new culture and lifestyle. When you study abroad, most of your education isn’t in the classroom, it’s in the community.

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Summer Vacation 2k16

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One of the best things about moving to the Southern hemisphere during a typically cold Midwest winter is touching down in the exact opposite season, though I definitely miss having to bundle up in order to go outside (not being sarcastic). I feel like I spend too much time starfished upon my bed with the fan on full blast as I sweat away in my air conditioner-less apartment. But I digress.

My first three weeks here in Rio were spent taking an intensive Portuguese course, building upon the foundation that I had constructed over 5 semesters of classes in Bloomington. Actually, I’m not sure if building upon is the right term, considering much of what I learned here immediately made much of the material I had committed to memory obsolete. Between different uses for tenses I had considered niche to being constantly told that a native speaker would never actually use that complicated conjugation I had spent weeks struggling with (which was often reflected in my course grade), the process of learning was more like being given the materials for construction and an idea of what the final product should look like and figuring out how all of the phrases should be cobbled together to obtain something near fluency. I’m still learning new words and structures every day, even though I haven’t had a formal class in almost a month.

That’s right, I’m in the middle of my first (of two, considering I am staying after classes end in June to backpack around South America before returning to Rio for the Olympics) summer vacation of 2016. Things got wild right off the bat, as just as classes ended Carnaval was beginning. Carnaval, for the uninitiated, is a giant, all-encompassing festival that lasts for what seems like an undetermined amount of time and completely takes over life in Brazil. You can walk out of your door towards the sound of music to find a group of a million plus costumed party goers had taken over the streets. The coordination of everyone knowing where to show up consistently surprised me, as I’d see the same people at ‘blocos’ across the city from one day to the next.

During Carnaval, the days blend together and I came out on the other side unsure of exactly what transpired. The adage “long days and short weeks” has never struck such a chord. G rated highlights from my own experience include a couple of nights spent in the sambodrome (the stadium for the massive samba school parades that could take up to 90 minutes apiece) until sunrise, swinging my hips and singing along with the reveling marchers, the opportunity I had to actually march alongside a youth school whose floats I had helped decorate, the Beatles themed bloco with classic Beatles hits infused with samba rhythms and intensity, and the  many times I got swept up in a parade and succumbed to the energy all around.

After this period which can rightfully be described as insanity, I decided I needed a vacation from my vacation, so on I went to Buzios, a fishing village turned beach resort town popularized by a 1960s visit from Brigitte Bardot. I am typing this up right before I hop on another bus to continue taking advantage of this closing window before I have to get back in time for the beginning of the semester and my classes at PUC, my Brazilian university and the official reason I came to Rio.

I’ve always thought that studying abroad is as much about learning about yourself as it is learning about another culture and language. You can become proficient in a language without ever stepping outside your home, but it is stepping outside your comfort zone that allows you to become fluent. Cultural experiences outside of the classroom allow you to get to know the true essence of what it means to be a ‘carioca’ (or whatever locals are called wherever you decide to go), and interactions with these locals are what will connect you back to this period of your life long after you get back to the real world. Anyways, that’s the justification I’m giving myself, off on my next adventure to prove to myself that toucans are in fact real animals and not just some prank animators have been pulling on me my whole life.

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Return to South America

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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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