Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Traditions’ Category

Immediate Anxieties and Long-Term Goals

Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

As the rollercoaster of a year that was 2016 neared its end, sweeping without pause into the next, just as swiftly did my living environment evolve. During the second week of January, I moved out of the dorm and in with my first-ever host family. Commuting to class is inevitably more cumbersome—an hour-long commute via train, compared to my previous two-minute walk to campus—but I would wager that those who have lived with a host family would almost unanimously agree that lengthy commutes are a small price to pay for such a unique, intimate cultural immersion.

I’ll be the first to admit that it was quite intimidating moving into a Japanese-only (very little to no falling back on English) household with a family I had never met before—I still sometimes find myself clamming up at the dinner table when they speak a little too quickly, constantly doubting my listening abilities. However, even after my short time here, I’m already finding myself more deeply immersed in Japanese culture than I could have imagined while living in the dorm.

I sometimes watch Japanese variety shows, for instance, with my host family after dinner; these programs are simultaneously ridiculous, and so quintessentially Japanese—as well as a convenient way to stay up-to-date on Japan’s pop culture—that I’m not sure how I got by without watching them before. Some other perks that I’ve come to appreciate are my host family’s comfy 炬燵(kotatsu) during this cold winter—which is basically a low wooden table covered by a futon and table top with an electric heater underneath—as well as being able to enjoy two delicious meals prepared daily by my generous host mother. These are only a few examples of the benefits of homestay. Moreover, and possibly most importantly, I’m experiencing cultural exchange and language practice in a warm, friendly environment every day. From what little I’ve tasted of the homestay lifestyle so far, I’m finding that it truly is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for which I’m extremely grateful.

炬燵 (kotatsu)

Of course, there are aspects of my freedom that I had in the dorm that I don’t have with my host family—I am living in someone’s home, after all, and have to abide by certain rules. However, despite my anxiety about speaking only Japanese at home, I feel as though I’m beginning to leave shallow waters, wading out into the deep end and embracing immersion more fully. I hope that if I’m able to grab my trepidation by the horns, I’ll be better able to achieve my long-term goals with the language.

Beyond the immediate benefits and anxieties involved with my switch to a homestay, I’m also interested in exploring the idea of long-term goals for foreign language learning. I can only speak from personal experience, holding onto the glimmer of hope that others might be able to relate, at least a little.

To me, language acquisition might just be one of the most mysterious, fascinating concepts I’ve ever encountered. Each small triumph when communicating in your foreign language of choice can make you feel ready to conquer the world; contrarily, a single mishap or confused interaction can leave you despairing, wondering if all of this mental labor is really worth it. I realize that this probably seems pretty melodramatic, but when you’ve been studying a foreign language for as long as I have, it becomes easy to question whether you’ll ever actually, finally reach your long-term goals.

If you were to ask any scholar about foreign language learning, they would undoubtedly reassure you that the benefits stemming from studying language are plentiful. According to an article by Anne Merritt of The Telegraph, foreign language learning provides a plethora of unexpected mental benefits, such as improved memory, decision-making skills, perception, etc.

However, when it comes to the actual study of language as an adult—especially when this is added to the attempt to simultaneously acquisition not only with the language, but also with its culture and people—these long-term benefits can often be overshadowed by the overwhelming mental strain of it all.

While I’ll admit that there’s always a small part of me wondering whether I’ll actually feel satisfied with my language skills, there’s also an equally strong part of me that’s excited to watch myself grow with Japanese. I’m coming to realize that when it comes to language learning, there will always be good and bad days; days where everything you want to say actually makes its way out of your brain and into spoken, grammatically-coherent sentences, when communicating in that language feels like one of the most natural things in the world, and days where you feel extremely frustrated with yourself and your surroundings, wanting to crawl away and hide when you botch a conversation with someone, or hear yourself mispronouncing something or saying something completely wrong, but somehow feel unable to correct yourself in real-time.

This past semester has proven to be one of the most difficult of my life. Of course, it goes without saying that the classes were challenging—my Japanese classes in particular were very demanding of my time, energy, and mental stamina. However, I don’t believe that one is ever done learning a subject, and my study of Japanese is no exception. Wading deeper still into cultural immersion, I find myself finally in waters so high that my feet no longer touch the floor—which leaves me no other option but to keep swimming.

Christy Margeson

O’ Captain, My Captain: Sailing the Isefjord

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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Celebrating 21 in a Country That Doesn’t Care About 21

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

At some point in September, a woman from our program asked if I was going to be at the fútbol [soccer] tournament during some weekend in October. I immediately said “absolutely,” and didn’t realize until I was home the day of 15 hours of fútbol would be on my 21st birthday.

Of course I had my hesitations about waking up at 6:45 AM to drive two hours to a professional-sized cancha [field] to play four games of fútbol and return that night around 8 PM. Adding the fact that a huge carrete [party] would be going on when we got home that we’d have to rush to did not add to the excitement of a day many people countdown to in the US.

However, this may have been one of my favorite birthdays yet.

We arrived to San Felipe, Chile to the house of our coach, Jefe Kelly [Boss Kelly], where her little sister let me hold a baby bunny for half an hour as they surprised me by singing happy birthday with a giant piece of cake. A giant piece of cake while holding a bunny. It was a dream.

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After arriving at the cancha (that was straight out a movie situated between hills and the Andes mountains next to a herd of cows), we played an exhausting game of fútbol, took a ridiculous amount of pictures, and walked to an asado [barbeque] that was being set up for us. Being surprised with another huge cake and getting my face shoved in it as thirty of my newest Chilean friends sang Feliz Cumpleaños [Happy Birthday], was one of the coolest things of my life.

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As soon as we arrived back to our home, it was a race against the clock to shower, get ready, and walk over to celebrate three birthdays: mine on that day, my friend’s host sister’s the next day, and my friend’s two days later. With my tomato sun-burnt face, we arrived to hugs and kisses from every one of our friends and about 100 new ones I had never met, but who were just as kind as the friends I had known for months. Feliz cumple, Marie! Que linda! [Happy birthday, Marie! How cute!] was what I heard for the first thirty minutes of the party as everyone gave me two hugs and kissed my cheek at least four times. When the clock struck twelve and my birthday ended as Fiorella’s started, and the third cake of the day was brought out.

One might imagine a cake to celebrate three birthday’s might be rather large. This cake was so large that I thought Taylor’s host mom was going to fall over from holding it. Marvelous. We sang once in Spanish, once in English, and then more friends showed up maybe five minutes later. So we did it again. One more blowing out of the candles and two more songs.

host mom bringing out cake

Although I didn’t get the typical “first legal drink” pic, or people buying your drinks at the bars, I got three cakes, four Feliz Cumpleaños songs, two Happy Birthday songs, countless hugs and even more kisses, and I got to spend my birthday with people I didn’t know and people I did.

Since I chose to go abroad in the fall, I’ve been nervous about spending my birthday here because I knew I wouldn’t have any of my family to see or any of my life-long friends to dance with. But instead, I got to make probably 1,000 new friends who were all genuinely thrilled it was my birthday. I love them, and I’m coming back every year to get sun-poisoning from 15 hours of fútbol and three cakes in a day.

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Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Living with a Host Fam

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

Explaining what it’s like to live with a host family is extraordinarily hard. It’s almost as hard to explain as it is to live.

Imagine living on your own for two years without ever having to tell anyone what you’re doing, where you’re going, and when you’re coming home. To go from two years of being completely independent back to answering those questions is extremely difficult. It’s like when you go home for summer break back to a house with rules and expectations except this is five months adding the element of different cultural expectations and a different language.

Living with a host family isn’t so much about answering the questions of who you’re going with and where you’re going and when you’re getting home, but by habit, you say those things anyway.

Voy a salir con mis amigas y probablemente voy a regresar después de once y no necesitan esperarme. [I’m going to leave with my friends and probably will return after dinner, so you don’t need to wait for me.]

That sentence is on my top three most frequently used sentences. After [yes] and ¿qué significa esta? [what does that mean?]. Almost always the response includes a smile with a thumbs up followed by a serious face drop to ten cuidado Meri [be careful, Marie]. Once in a while though, the response is something along the lines of, “Do you leave so often because you hate my cooking!?” And when that happens, it’s like a slap in the face reminder that I live with a family again.

The fact that you have to tell people you’re leaving isn’t the hard part. The hard part is finding out what your host family holds high. For example, it took me 70 days of living in this house to realize that my host family really cares about the family eating together whenever at all possible. It also took me 70 days to realize that spending the entire day in your room except for times when you’re eating dinner is okay, and they don’t do it because they hate you.

Obviously, I’m not speaking for all Chilean families when I say this, but of all the houses (6) I’ve seen since being here, there is no living room like we have in the US. There’s no place where you watch the latest episode of Parks and Rec together while eating pizza or drinking chocolate milk. Instead, the gathering place is the bed of the parents where they catch up on their latest soap operas or watch the breaking news about another earthquake strike. Some nights, dinner, which consists of bread and tea, is spent in the bed as well. The idea of family bonding is extremely different here than in the US, and that’s what has been so challenging about moving in with a new family.

Me with my host family

In my house, family bonding is even more different from some of my friend’s houses. I live with a host mom, dad, and sister—all of whom are much older. Living with a set of grandparents has its pros and cons. Not going on adventures and only leaving the house together when we have a meeting to go to are absolutely on the con list.

However, pros include things like grandkids running through the house and the understanding that comes with having raised four children. I still get asked questions about where I am going, but it’s more for them to know where I am in case an 8.4 earthquake strikes. They’ve grasped the idea that I’m a 21-year-old who will be going out and living life outside of the house. They also understand that after a game of fútbol [soccer], I might not have the biggest desires to sit at the dinner table and eat with everyone. Sometimes a tray filled with food, a bed, and Netflix is all you need at the end of the day.

So, yes, living with a host family is really hard and isn’t always butterflies and rainbows. However, since moving in 87 days ago, I’ve learned over 100 new vocab words (especially food), tried 100 new kinds of food, and made little 7-year-old friends—all of things I would never had experienced if I chose a program that doesn’t require host families. Don’t get me wrong, those programs have their pros too, and I probably would have adjusted a little faster to a live in a dorm that I’ve lived before. Although, living in a dorm would have meant I would have never found my Chilean friends, I would have never tried cooked cabbage with hotdogs and potatoes, and I would have never had a host mom to hug me when a lady stole my smart phone on the bus.

Even though it took 70 days of this 151 day journey, I am very lucky to live in a house with home cooked meals and pieces of cake next to my bed when I get home after a day of class.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

Los Toros

Debora Estrada Lobo

The corridas de toros has been cultural tradition in Spain for many ages. Although it was the romans who started this tradition during their Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the modern corrida de toros was established. Since then, this tradition has become one of many emblems of Spain and its culture. Although this tradition remains, there currently great debate about its continuity as many Spaniards and animal lovers consider this tradition a cruel abuse towards the toros.

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Last weekend I attended my first corrida de toros with a group of friends. I was personally not very affected by what I saw, as I had a good understanding on what to expect. However, many of my friends were repulsed by the spectacle. I think there are two ways we can think about the tradition. We can see it as a cruel abuse towards the bulls or an art and
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This current dispute has caught my attention and so I have researched both sides. Yes, there is no doubt that the bulls are being hurt with the final goal of having them killed. Yes, people are watching a spectacle and will most likely watch a bull die at the hands of a torero. The antitaurinos claim the tradition to be destructive, cruel and torturous towards animals. If we were to see the corridas de toros in just this way, everyone would probably be against such a show. However, the people who want the tradition to continue also have good points.

According to my research, toros bravos are some of the only animals that are well treated, and roam freely, throughout their life outside of the arena. Like many other animal meats, the meat of the toros killed at the corridas are also eaten. Not only is the meat used but their skins are also used to produce leather goods. Aside from the goods that may come from the bull, the animal is one of few that can fight for its life and “die with dignity.” With this information we can also see the other side of the dispute.151007b

I personally think that the art that some claim the corridas to have comes from the toreros. On average, toreros start training from a very young age and have to not only be physically and mentally prepared but also have to perform with a certain aesthetic manner and technique. This is what I think make the fight interesting to watch. Throughout the last portion of the fight the matador and the bull are in close proximity of each other; at some points, the matador can even have an arm around the bull as it circles the matador.

If there was not the possibility of death to either party, I think anyone could see a certain beauty in the movement of both parties. As this is not the case, the corridas de toros are certainly not for the faint hearted as in the end, either the toro or torero will die.

Debora Estrada Lobo - exploring contemporary Spain

Hello Jerusalem!

Frankie Salzman - Jerusalem

שבוע טוב!/Shavua Tov! -Hebrew for “good week,” and the customary exclamation of well wishing after Shabbat.

The sun is currently setting here in Jerusalem. That means shortly the busses and light rail will once again be running after the legally required shutdown from Friday night to Saturday night-Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath and the kosher restaurants will reopen for patrons to enjoy a final dinner before the work week begins again tomorrow. In Israel, because of Shabbat, the week is from Sunday-Thursday with the weekend being Friday and Saturday. It’s been a bit odd adjusting my internal clock of how to view the week. Tuesday is now “hump day” instead of Wednesday, TGIT instead of TGIF.

The weekly shutdown of the city during Shabbat is also something I feel one would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Today, I went walking around at the Shuk, the major open marketplace that, during the week is full of people speaking Hebrew, Arabic, English, and other languages from around the world, but today on Shabbat was a ghost town. On the major streets taxis and cars still go by, but the inner streets of the city are quiet.

It is peacefulness that I have not experienced anywhere else. It is not empty but rather intentionally still. But not everywhere is shutdown. The Jewish world may be still here, but the Arab world keeps going. A ten-minute walk from campus and there is a grocery store open as if nothing has changed. It is so interesting to see such difference here. Two separate, unique cultures co-existing in the same place. Jerusalem is truly special like that. Nowhere else in Israel are there Jewish and Arab communities existing like this. The religious landmarks are the focal point of city with a character all its own.

It has been a privilege to spend two weeks here so far. I have gotten to daven, pray, at three different spots in the city, experiencing a variety of religious Jewish life. Some of it has been familiar and comforting to me, others were new and challenging. I have slowly begun to obtain a routine. I begin my day hiking up the mountain I live at the bottom of to attend Ulpan, the intensive Hebrew class I currently have every day from 8:30am-1:10pm, on the gorgeous campus that has breathtaking views of the city. I then eat lunch either in my apartment or grab some falafel on campus (some of the only food I have been able to find that isn’t way more expensive than everything in America). I then do my homework and study for the next day’s Hebrew, and then to bed. Some days I take the light rail to the center of the city and visit the Shuk for pitas, dry fruit, cheese, and whatever other goodies I feel like treating myself to that day. On others, I relax in my room or with others I have met in Ulpan from around the world (my class includes students from America, Israel, China, Korea, France, Mexico, Spain, and Italy). All in all, I’m finding my way.

Figuring out the time difference has also had its challenges. It is 7 hours between here and the Eastern Time Zone of America which means I start my day with a good morning text from my mom as she is heading to bed.

I will try to end every post I have with a little lesson in Hebrew. Today, in honor of my mother, Instead of goodbye I say “בוקר טוב/boker tov” “good morning.”

Frankie Salzman - further his language and culture studies at the source

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