Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Culture Shock’ Category

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

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.

settlingin1

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.

settlingin2

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.

settlingin3

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.

settlingin4

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

Acclimating

Christy Margeson - Nagoya, Japan

“Imagine every possible emotion you might have when starting school in a foreign country, and I’ve felt it. Joy, excitement, dread, homesickness…” These are the words I found when flipping through my study abroad journal, penned in my own hand, marked one week into the beginning of my classes. The apprehension about starting anew in a foreign country is one thing to deal with, but words fail to describe the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve actually experienced since my plane touched down in Nagoya, Japan.

Let’s talk about culture shock. Google defines culture shock as the following: “The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” An intense experience—in theory. But a simple Google definition can’t seem to pack quite the same punch as the real deal. Personally, I am definitely still in the midst of becoming accustomed to my new life in Japan. I’m in this strange interstitial place of cultural acclimation where some things are beginning to become second-nature (for example, hearing and seeing Japanese everywhere I go; I was in the post office the other day and heard one of the employees suddenly speak in English, and had a moment of total disorientation!), while others remain shrouded in total mystery to my American mind.

Despite having studied the language for about four years, I sometimes blank on Japanese in the grocery store, or at a restaurant—much to my regular embarrassment. No matter how well someone tries to sum it up, or how succinct the Google definition, words simply can’t describe the rollercoaster of emotions involved in a single day trying to adjust to a new culture—joy at successfully communicating with a native, embarrassment when you panic and your language skills suddenly turn into gibberish, the sheer excitement of being somewhere new and meeting different and interesting people everywhere you turn.

All of these opposing emotions are wrapped up into each new experience abroad, complete with an obnoxious, fluorescent bow. I’ve been in the country for about a month now, and it’s insane how time has been passing; every day seems so long and full of excitement, but then I look back and feel like it’s all passing so quickly. I simultaneously feel as though I’ve been here forever, and also like I’m a total fresh-faced newcomer. I suppose in a way I encompass both of these things.

Nagoya Castle exterior

The first building you encounter when you enter the site. The mossy pit used to be a moat around the castle.

It amazes me daily how my life here is feeling more natural bit by bit, when the culture is so very different from what I’m used to. One of the most quintessentially Nagoya experiences I’ve had so far was visiting Nagoya Castle(名古屋城), the center of one of the most important castle towns during Japan’s Edo Period(江戸時代). For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese history—or if you’re simply curious—the Edo Period was when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate(徳川幕府), the final feudal samurai government. The excursion to the castle was put on as a field trip for the international students at my school, Nanzan University; the kind Japanese student volunteers led us about the site in groups, explaining the different buildings and rooms. There seemed to be a million different things to absorb, as everything was so delicately ornate and detailed. It was a truly dazzling experience that left me in awe, remembering—through all my rollercoaster culture shock emotions—that I really am in Japan, and what an incredible opportunity I’ve been presented.

Castle Interior

The interior walls were covered in breath-taking traditional Japanese art. Each room was used for a different purpose, which the different artwork reflect.

Throughout this whirlwind of new experiences, I also celebrated my birthday this weekend. At first, I was a little bit worried about having it so soon after coming abroad, concerned that I wouldn’t know enough people, and would just end up moping around in my room. But, I sucked it up, and asked a few friends that I’ve made since coming here if they wanted to go out to dinner this past Friday night. To my delight, they all accepted, and we went out to an izakaya(居酒屋), a very popular and a uniquely Japanese cross between a bar and a restaurant. To my simultaneous frustration and amusement, we didn’t realize until after sitting down that we could barely read anything on the menu. Making the best of the situation, we ended up ordering different dishes—with only a vague understanding of what we would actually receive—and passing them around in order to try a bit of each. I ended up having a wonderful time, and my advice to anyone worried about celebrating their birthday abroad is to try your best to take control of your own experience. Invite out the people you have befriended, or would like to become better friends with, and don’t let yourself mope around and feel self-pity. Having to celebrate birthdays and holidays abroad is the reality of many study abroad students, and a big part of the experience is accepting that it’s going to be different from your past celebrations, and that that’s okay.

Imagining every possible emotion you might experience while starting a new school in a foreign country is a tall order; experiencing those feelings is an entirely separate ordeal in itself. You can understand culture shock as a concept, look up as many different definitions as you want, and it will still never fully represent the way that everyone individually experiences the phenomenon. All that I can do is write about my personal experiences adjusting to a foreign country, and hope that other students studying abroad can relate at least a little. Although I’m still in that awkward in-between stage of acclimating to a foreign culture—where certain things are sneakily becoming second-nature, and others are still bafflingly unfamiliar—I feel hopeful that by the time I’m preparing to return home, I’ll be able to flip back through my study abroad journal and think, “I remember going through that transition—and what a stronger person I am for it.”

Christy Margeson

Bloomington Meets Berlin

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

When I was preparing to study abroad there were a lot of warnings about culture shock and homesickness; and of course when my mom was driving away, leaving me at the airport, I was shaken up. That nervous feeling did not leave me until I met the other Indiana University students in Berlin. Since then I have been too busy exploring to be bothered by weird instances of cultural confusion, like the Kontrolleurs on the trains. The Kontrolleurs spend their days in plainclothes slipping onto trains and flashing their badges before requiring everyone to show their validated ticket. Being caught without the correct ticket will get you kicked off and earn you a pricey fine.

While I’m on the subject of public transportation, I think Bloomington could take some pointers from Berlin; they have it down to a beautiful, eco-friendly network of trams, trains and buses. To get to class I can take a tram from the hotel we are staying in on a five-minute ride to the Oranienburger Straße stop which is at most a two-minute walk from our classroom at IES. The trams are particularly nice because they have their own lane to operate in and only stop when requested, making for quicker commutes. To get virtually anywhere in the city, we can also take the U-Bahn, the underground train or the S-Bahn, the above-ground train. I prefer the S-Bahn because you can see the city as you travel. A tip to those riding public transportation, Germans are not fond of noisy, over-talkative groups so save your breath and keep it down. Also, don’t be alarmed if you feel like people are staring at you — I’ve gathered that they are just an observant bunch and don’t mean anything by it.

Sarah and friend eating döners.

My treasure hunt partner, Greer Brown and I enjoyed the task of finding the best döner in Berlin. Döner is becoming one of the most popular foods in the city, behind currywurst.

On our first day of class our professor paired us off and assigned us each a treasure hunt to find different sites or things around the city. Mine took me from the first place the Berlin Wall opened to the best döner kebab stand to a fancy mall overlooking the zoo. I felt like I was back at Freshman Orientation learning my way around campus and finding places to hang out or study. An early favorite of mine is the Teirgarten; a huge park perfect for jogging, sunbathing, reading, or just watching the other visitors, usually with their impressively obedient dogs in tow. When you are close to the outside perimeter of the park and can see the Brandenburg Gate, it feels just like any small, green space in any city; but when you are deep within it wildflowers, weeping willow trees and countless statues surround you. If you’re lucky and find yourself near the statues for Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, you’ll hear chimes — solidifying the feeling that you are in some kind of fairytale.

Sarah posing with Ampelmann

While on our way to the Reichstag, we discovered a giant statue of the Ampelmännchen, the crossing guard symbol of East Germany. Affectionately called Ampelmann, it is one of the few symbols left over from the communist German Democratic Republic.

After finishing our scavenger hunt we reunited with our class to tour the Reichstag, the home of Germany’s parliament. Touring the Reichstag gave an interesting insight into the theme of our class. The exterior of the building has historic grandeur while the inside is pristinely modern. There are few reminders of the mysterious fire that destroyed part of the building in 1933 after Hitler came to power.

Our tour guide led us through the enormous glass doors and began to explain the dusty, charcoal graffiti found on the walls. At the end of World War II after taking Berlin, Soviet soldiers descended on the Reichstag and left their mark on the walls. She explained that it was decided that it would be preserved to serve as a constant reminder of Germany’s history.

German graffiti on wall

This may not look like much but there are numerous walls in the Reichstag covered in it. The graffiti was filtered by the Russian and German governments when the decision was made to preserve it, first removing any pieces that were explicitly violent to the people of Germany.

We continued on our tour to an interior balcony overlooking a wall-sized window facing the east. Our guide pointed out the bullet holes left in the ceiling from the Battle of Berlin and then focused on the slightly darker line on the pavement outside. She explained the Berlin Wall used to run directly behind the Reichstag separating it from what used to be East Germany. She laughed as businessmen walked along the line, unaware that a group of tourists were observing, perhaps oblivious to what they were walking on. After one week here, these are the kind of ironic contrasts we are starting to get used to.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

Adventures AND Academics

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

Let’s be real: everyone who studies abroad is so excited about the place they will be visiting and the people they will meet, not necessarily focusing on the courses being taught. As obvious as it might seem that STUDY abroad has quite a bit of work associated with it, it seems like some of the students who are studying around me are baffled by the expectation to complete work at such an exciting time. Along with studying during your adventures, students have all of these amazing plans that they know will absolutely work out 100% of the time and will be perfect and be life changing…

I think it’s time to set some realistic expectations for what you might experience while studying abroad. (more…)

It’s a Love Story

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Any true love story goes something like this: First there is an initial attraction between two. Then comes the pursuit of one by the other, but not without some sort of conflict. Something is always in the way—whether it’s distance, love that isn’t returned, or the dreadful parents keeping two lovers apart. Then comes a sigh of relief when the two overcome obstacles and are actually able to fall head over heels in love with each other, and in the end they live happily ever after (thank you, Disney).

I like to think that Australia and I have our own little love story going while I’m here, and I’d like to let you in on it.

When arriving in Australia, I was blown away by the newness of every tree, flower, insect, and animal that I had never seen before. You might even say it was love at first sight flying into the Sydney Airport!

Then comes the chase. It’s been easy to see how Australia has been wooing me with the perfect sandy beaches on one side of Wollongong, lush green mountains on the other. There are flocks of bright red cockatoos that always greet me in the morning on my walk to class, and the Opera House in Sydney is even better than all the pictures make it out to be; it is truly remarkable sitting on the edge of the Sydney Harbor.

kangaroos

Pure happiness while befriending some kangaroos

opera house

The view of the Opera House never gets old!

So here comes the conflict: In my case, Australia has definitely been pursuing me and not the other way around—I admittedly had not come in with the best of mindsets. I couldn’t help but feel homesick and I longed to be at home. I missed my fiancé (who had just proposed to me days before I left) more than I could have ever imagined and have never felt such a pit in my stomach like the one I felt my third week here, realizing I had to be away from him for 5 months. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition, and I wasn’t about to let Australia whisk me away from my home without putting up a fight.

So that’s just what I did—I ignored most of Australia’s beauty for a while. Don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of laughs, adventures, and memories made over the past few weeks here in Wollongong, but in the back of my mind I had been secretly counting down the days until I could come back home.

As the storyline progressed, I found myself taking a trip to the Blue Mountains this past weekend. One of the first places we hiked to was a lookout point over a section of the mountains. Words don’t do justice for the view that the overlook gave us, so I won’t even try to describe it, but just know that it was immense and it was incredible. It was one of those moments when you have no idea what’s about to hit you, but then it does, and it completely takes your breath away. There was practically no use of taking any pictures, because they didn’t do it justice. I wanted to stare into that valley of mountains long enough until I had the image ingrained in my mind forever.

echo point

Fun Fact: The Blue Mountains look blue because of the mist of oil that comes from the leaves of the Eucalyptus trees, which actually refracts blue light.

I like to think that hiking through those mountains was a turning point in Australia and my relationship. It took bringing me one Australia’s most beautiful sights to make me fall in love, but I sure did. I suddenly wanted to see more of Australia and I wanted to travel to every inch of this continent.

With all that being said, the story is surely not over. That weekend made me finally realize that there is so much for me here in Australia, and the most fun part about that will be the adventure of figuring it all out. There will continue to be ups and downs, but I truly believe that Australia and I will end up happily ever after in my time abroad.

van

Loving everything about whoever’s van this is!

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

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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