Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

Unexpected Lessons

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

When traveling, there are some things you expect to make an impact. Learning the language will be hard, but have a great payoff. Learning the city will make you feel accomplished. The sights will take your breath away. But the best parts of study abroad are the ones you never saw coming. For me, this is Ian, Louis, and Kenneth. I will never forget the hospitality, kindness, and hygge that they have shown me and leaving them has actually caused me more tears than I would ever admit to them.

I met these boys at a restaurant-bar combination in the building I’ve been living in. “Up Wonder” is a cute diner on the first floor of the building while “Down Wonder” hosts the (more…)

Welcome to Florence!

Dominique Saviano - Florence, Italy

Being abroad for only a few weeks has already been a life changing experience. I have now been in Florence, Italy for exactly two weeks and have already accomplished more than I could have even imagined. This trip has been a whirlwind of chaos, excitement, and nerves and I could not be any happier. Leaving the day after the end of the semester was something that was very stressful, from trying to move out of my dorm and back into my family’s home, to packing up my stuff to live in a foreign country, on top of studying for finals is something that I would never have imagined accomplishing, but I did.

I left for Florence on Saturday, May 7 and arrived Sunday morning into Rome from Chicago and then proceeded to take a train from Rome to Florence. Arriving at the hotel on my own was intimidating, but once I got there, everyone was friendly and welcoming. My program is set in Florence for six weeks and there are about thirty people participating. Together, we all stay in a hotel which is on the top floor of a building that has amazing views of the center of Florence.

view of duomo

This is the beautiful view of the duomo from the rooftop of our hotel!

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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…)

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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Spanish and Inglés

Marie Kalas - Valparaiso

Last month, I was living in like queen—traveling as forth north as the deserts and as far south as the magical, legend-filled islands. Last month, I was eating the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever had and the ripest vegetables I never liked until I had them the day after they were harvested. Now the farthest traveling I do is to my local Target to indulge myself with a Lunchable (the nacho one, obviously).

It’s been weird coming back doing things like driving, grocery shopping, and eating McDonald’s—my stomach has not missed McChickens, that’s for sure. What I think has been really weird though is being able to understand everything that’s happening around me. I’m sure it will be weirder when I start Spring semester and all the material I’m learning in class I’ll be able to actually understand, but even now it’s strange. I can have a meal and participate 100% in conversation, I can go to the stores without panicking about vocab words, and when I watch the news, I know where each of the towns are. Even though this life with English is great, speaking Spanish every day is what I miss the most.

There was so much adrenaline speaking Spanish to a stranger and praying they understood what you were saying. It made me feel so smart when they’d had a response other than como? [What?]. It made me feel even smarter when they’d respond with huge vocabulary words I didn’t know the meanings of because that meant they thought my Spanish was good enough to speak to me like I wasn’t a child. Granted, they’d end up having to re-explain things to me like I was a child, but it was great!

Speaking Spanish every day there makes my life here seem way easier and more plausible. Things like figuring out lease issues or explaining what kind of headache pain I’m having is so easy. The best thing I’ve accomplished though, is being more okay with saying, “I don’t understand.” Before leaving for Chile, I was always a little embarrassed to ask someone to reword themselves, and I always thought I was the only one in the room who didn’t understand what someone was saying—despite all middle school teachers’ favorite saying, “Chances are, if you don’t understanding, neither does someone else.” Now, I have no problem asking people to go over something again. I did it so much in Spanish that it has become like second nature to ask questions.

This transition from Spanish back to English though is kind of a weird one. Even though I encountered English at some point every day when I was abroad whether it was talking to friends from home or listening to music or watching Netflix, I am still finding it a little hard to make the full switch back. For example, the names of food are the hardest. After killing myself over knowing all the vocabulary words for food we ate every day, I seem to have misplaced those English words far back in the file drawers. I can never remember the word for spaghetti or avocado because my brain still thinks I’m eating fideos and palta. It also takes me just a smidge longer to explain things and write things. Even in my blog posts, I can tell my grammar and word order has worsened, maybe not noticeable to all, but definitely noticeable to me. And even though writing is something I can fix by going through it, I can’t fix it. I can’t figure out how to move a word or come up with a different one to make it flow better. It’s very bizarre and very frustrating. But it’s also kind of awesome.

“Struggling” with English is super cool because it means the language part of my brain put aside a piece for a different language. I can promise you all that that new part of my brain is about 1/100th the size of my English part, but it’s still so cool that that can even happen in as little as five months. I mean, how cool is it that there’s a part of my brain always working in Spanish? Even right now, my mind knows I’m typing English, but I can feel it in my fingers that they want to add an accent mark somewhere. So bacán [cool]. There yah go, fingers.

So here’s to not being able to speak either language as well as I’d like to—a defeat that is welcomed with open brazos—I mean arms.

Marie Kalas - immersing herself in Chilean language and community

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