Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ Category

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

The End to the Beginning

Erik Trautman

June is the month of final get-togethers and goodbyes in Bologna. One late evening we sat under a dark misty sky in front of an illuminated IMAX screen in the middle of Piazza Maggiore for the annual event, “Il Cinema Ritrovato” (The Re-found Cinema), hosted by Cineteca Bologna. It was Friday night and Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society beamed through the drizzle projecting itself onto the dominating screen, which left San Petronio masked in darkness like I had never seen it before. Contrary to our departures, Bologna was hosting its first official alumni reunion and a few words were said before starting the show. This picture serves to show the grandness of the screen.

Bologna Reunion info on screen

Dead Poets Society playing on screen.

The following Saturday marked the official opening night and the piazza buzzed with the excitement of what seemed like the entire city in attendance as Ennio Morricone’s composition reverberated off the medieval stone during the screening of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western staring Clint Eastwood. These last few nights served as a reminder that despite my grown familiarity with Bologna, I still haven’t seen the city in June, which is certainly to say under a different light.

Rewind to Saturday afternoon. I’m perched under a castle eating a sun-dried tomato, pickled pepper, and mozzarella sandwich at the peak on a hilltop town known as Dozza a few kilometers outside of Bologna.

friends having lunch outside

Map of Dozza

Storm clouds brew and bellow ominously down in the valley below, however, we continue with our lackadaisical pace. The atmosphere is quite and calm like in the eye of a storm and the streets are empty besides the occasional roaming cat. Behind us murals cloak every façade of the town; underneath them lay stone plaques etched with renowned names. A banner draped across the stage at the center of the city explains the “Cinquant’anni Biennale Muro Dipinto di Dozza” (Fifty Years Biennial Dozza Wall Mural), however, visiting Dozza is still a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.

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Fast-forward to this past weekend. I’m watching fireworks launch off the region building in Indianapolis from an apartment patio just off the canal. I’ve never seen the fireworks downtown before. I’ve brought my Italian friend with me and with her I’ve brought a whole new perspective to my hometown. She stops me to take photos of sights I would normally overlook as commonplace thus realizing the beauty of my home.

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I’ve made arrangements to return to Bologna to teach English for a year. I’ve met conflicting feelings after seeing what I must sacrifice to spend another year in Bologna, but I believe I’ve made the right decision. I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity like this and I have my whole life to focus on a career and be with my fellow Americans. I’d like to continue blogging if anyone is interested in following. I’d like to thank my family and friends for their patience and support, LAMP for helping fund this experience, and the From I to U blog for allowing me to tell my story. These last few weeks have reminded me that there is always more to discover even in your own backyard and for that the final Italian word is “scoprire” or discover.

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Was It All A Dream?

Carla Sraders

It’s been roughly a month since I’ve been back in the United States and half the time it feels like I never even left. Hanging out with my friends back in Bloomington, my four months abroad almost seems like a dream. None of my friends here were abroad to experience it with me, and the people who I spent every day in Spain with are now scattered across the globe. Not having anyone to identify with, it’s hard to process being back in the United States.

Immediately upon my return I was ecstatic to come home to Buffalo Wild Wings and a comfy bed. Now all of my complaints and desires for American things abroad seem trivial. Sure I didn’t have fast food or cellphone service 24/7, but every day was a new adventure or opportunity to do something different. In Europe I felt like I had the world at my fingertips and opportunity was just a cheap plane ride away. I wasn’t stuck in the “Bloomington bubble,” only thinking about Greek life, the never-ending wait to finally enter Kilroy’s, Little 500, or Pizza X cheesy bread. Over 4,000 miles away from all of this, I was able to be who I wanted to be and learn more about myself. Coming home, I felt enclosed, caged, and hindered by everything in the United States. For the first couple weeks, it’s been hard adjusting.

collection of postcards

Traveling to 7 different countries, I accumulated quite a few postcards.

About a week ago, three weeks after my return, I received a postcard in the mail. The letter, postmarked January 19, 2015, was from me, Carla Sraders, during my first week in Seville. During orientation, some of our professors had us write a letter to our future selves, detailing our hopes for the semester and time abroad. Then, they would mail them to us in May after we returned to the United States. Honestly, I had completely forgotten about the postcard the next day, not thinking about it at all during my time abroad or even when I returned. Going to the mailbox the other day and finding the forgotten postcard, I couldn’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

On the postcard I had written (in Spanish of course), “Always maintain this way of viewing the world; with great opportunity for happiness, adventure, and perspective.” I definitely think that living in Europe and experiencing all of these cool things, to coming back to Bloomington, there is bound to be a lot of change. However, I hope I always remember what I wrote on this postcard – although I may be stuck in Bloomington or Indiana or even the United States for now, the world is always going to be out there waiting for me.

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Trapped on Kangaroo Island and Other Adventures

Sarah Whaley

In the middle of semester one at Uni, this wonderful thing happens: students get a two-week break from classes. I should clarify it isn’t equally as wonderful for everyone. One of my friends had a professor explain it was a “break,” not a “holiday,” and promptly assign the class three or more assessments to complete. However, for me mid-semester break meant two weeks of traveling with my parents.

Our first destination was the South Island of New Zealand. I met my parents in Christchurch at the airport, and after a nervous drive on the left side of the road back to the motel, they fell asleep. They were tired from their travels, whereas back in Adelaide it was two and a half hours earlier and I was sleepless for some time. It felt strange seeing my parents again, even though the overwhelming feeling was excitement. I felt a bit alien in my own life.

Sarah visited by her parents

First hugs in two months.

However, I didn’t have much time for thinking on such feelings as the next morning I woke up to my 21st birthday, my first time feeding eels, and in the evening my first time seeing “real mountains,” the Southern Alps (to anyone who has seen the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, apparently the Appalachian Mountains don’t count). The rest of the time in New Zealand was a gorgeous, literally and figuratively breathtaking whirlwind. We drove to a different part of the island every day and stayed in different motels every night. We hiked to see glaciers and icebergs around Mount Cook, we swam under the stars in Queenstown, and we cruised on a rare sunny day at Milford Sound. Even when boarding the plane for Sydney I wasn’t convinced I’d actually visited such an incredible place, and it was hard to watch the awe-inspiring beauty disappear below me as the plane climbed higher.

Lake Tekapo

Surreal New Zealand beauty at Lake Tekapo.

All the same, I was eager to arrive back in Australia. That was until the third day in Sydney. The first day and a half were nearly perfect weather. We could wear short sleeves, something we hadn’t been able to do in New Zealand, and we visited the must-see tourist destinations like Bondi Beach, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House. I thought the Opera House was incredible – the pictures always make it look white, but when you’re close you can see the entire structure is covered in white and off-white colored tiles arranged in intricate patterns.

However, the next couple days were terrible. The aquarium and the wildlife center weren’t terrible, nor was meeting my friends for dinner on the last night, but the weather was horrendous. Papers were calling it the “storm of the century.” Other places in the world, the weather would have been categorized as a cyclone. Umbrellas were useless and their skeletons littered the streets, every piece of clothing you wore outside was soaked through in a matter of minutes, countless people were without power, and north of Sydney some houses were literally floating off of their foundations. The umbrellas lying lifeless in the streets were amusing, but the people who were dying were not. When the Sydney airport finally stayed open long enough to let us leave, I felt only relief.

trash can full of umbrellas

Umbrella casualties of the Sydney cyclone.

Sometimes people don’t realize the size of Australia. It’s comparable to the U.S., not only in size, but in variations of people, lifestyles, and weather across the land. When we arrived in Adelaide the sun was brilliant across the hills and houses. My dad exclaimed, “Now this is Australia!” After resting the first night in Adelaide and meeting up with some of my friends who’d stayed for the break, we headed out for what we thought would be a one day and one night excursion to Kangaroo Island.

Though Kangaroo Island can be seen from the South Australian mainland, it feels like it’s much further away in its floral and faunal diversity. It is an expensive trip, so one can’t just make it on a whim. The ferry alone for three people and one car was nearly AUD$500, but every second of our (extended) stay was worth it. Before I left, my friend Glen joked I’d be disappointed if I didn’t see a single kangaroo. He needn’t have worried, because merely a half hour onto the island we’d already seen a handful. Australians are pretty good about aptly naming locations.

The rest of the first day went as planned, though the sun sank faster than we could drive. We saw sea lions at the (un-aptly) named Seal Bay, the Remarkable Rocks (which truly are remarkable), and fur seals at Admiral’s Arch. By the time we were driving to our motel in Parndana, the sun was far below the horizon. On the ferry over we’d been warned of driving at night and keeping your lights low so as to not blind the animals, but nothing could have prepared us for the next harrowing hour and a half. I was crouched forward the entire time with my arms balanced on my knees and my hands clenched into fists beneath my jaw, eyes squinted and vigilant of any suspicious shadow on the road. My parents were similarly positioned and after passing or stopping for (and thankfully not hitting) ten possums, four large kangaroos, and 58 wallabies, our nerves were shot. No kangaroos, my hat.

We slept deeply until a storm jolted us awake, and in the morning we were ready to leave as the forecast continued to show rain. As we prepared to head out, Sue, the lady who owned the place, greeted us with bad news. The ferries weren’t running. We were trapped on the island for another day and couldn’t get a ferry out until 5:30 pm the day after. I was horrified: all my plans for showing my parents around Adelaide were shot. On top of that, I didn’t have any clean underwear. After being consoled by my parents, things started to look up. Not being able to leave the island meant we were going to make the most of our time there, regardless of the weather. We ended up visiting Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and I experienced one of the most memorable moments of my life, cradling a kangaroo joey. The joey’s name was Tigger and, as were the other animals in the park, he was a rescue. He’d been saved from his mum’s pouch after she’d been hit by a car. I fell for that little kangaroo right then and there and the rest of the day wasn’t so bad either. We explored the north side of the island and then watched some Aussie movies like Red Dog and Phar Lap while our clothes were in the wash.

Sarah holding a baby kangaroo

I now believe in love at first sight.

Our final day on Kangaroo Island was ANZAC Day, which was the centenary commemoration of Australian and New Zealand forces landing at Gallipolli, Turkey during WWI. Thousands of young men lost their lives, and many of the residents of Kangaroo Island at the sunrise service we attended had families that were affected. It was an honor to participate in the service and lay down a poppy in memory of the soldiers who died, not only those from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., but those representing all countries devastated by the loss the war resulted in. After the service, we ended up being able to catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland, but I’d learnt an important lesson that not all changes in plans are bad changes. Plus, how many people can say they’ve ever been trapped on an island?

traditional war dance

A Maori family from New Zealand performs a traditional war dance, or haka, at the ANZAC Day memorial service.


As expected I only had a short time to show my parents around Adelaide, but it was a wonderful time and I was glad to be back in the midst of what I know. I also finally had the chance to process the feelings of being alien in my own life I’d first experienced upon meeting my parents in Christchurch. I deducted it was almost a temporary reverse culture shock brought on my the (welcome) intrusion of my old life into my new one. My parents are still my parents, but my definitions of home and myself have changed. How could they not, with so many new experiences? I imagine the reverse culture shock upon returning to the U.S. will be ten times greater. All the same, it was sad to see my parents go and for the next week all the Aussies sounded funny again compared to my parents’ American accents. Though the next couple of months are full of as many uncertainties as the first few, one thing is for sure: Adelaide is, officially, home.

Sarah on Campus

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Pringles, Katy Perry, and Chevy Trucks

Erik Trautman

Two weeks after returning to Italy, I now know what it is to be an American – well, what it is to be an American through European eyes. Take any 90’s high school movie and that pretty much sums it up: jocks, cheerleaders, lockers, and yellow school buses. They told me I talk like people in movies and they asked if spring break was like the movie. I still haven’t seen “Spring Breakers” but I imagine my road trip stories were a bit toned down compared to James Franco with corn rolls and grills.

I later found myself trying to explain Groundhog’s day, which I realized I knew nothing about until now: the first Groundhog’s day was in 1887, it takes place in Punxsutawney, PA, the marmot’s name is Phil, and he has an 80% accuracy rating according to accuweather. Unfortunately, the large ground squirrel (yes, I also did research on the groundhog) saw his shadow this year, as he always seems to do, however, this got me wondering how far his jurisdiction extends. Senseless daydreams aside, I’ve been preoccupied with this image of American identity. At first it was just fun listening to Italians pronounce Punxsutawney but what I didn’t expect was to learn about where I come from while being 5,000 miles away. This discovery naturally came to a climax during this year’s Super Bowl.

The plan was for Doritos, Mountain Dew, buffalo chicken wings and Budweiser, the commercialized image of an American Super bowl party. Sunday, however, isn’t the best day to do shopping in Italy. Many of the markets are closed leaving the open ones quite packed, and it’s nearly impossible to find buffalo sauce or sour cream. I tossed what I could find on the sporadic shelves at the local Pam into the hand-pulled cart: Pringles, Philadelphia cream cheese, hot dogs, beef, corn, eggs, potatoes, and beans. I proceeded to make chili, pigs in a blanket, potato skins, and deviled eggs. Theò, my friend who agreed to host the party, made a chicken curry. After eating chili, curry, and cupcakes, no one could eat a bite more, and I was left in the kitchen with a basket full of hard-boiled eggs (although I admit I did misplace the mayonnaise).

The game started around midnight due to the time difference and continued till almost four in the morning. We watched the extravagant opening ceremonies, tried our best to explain the game to the inquisitive Europeans, awed at the halftime show, and laughed shamefully at some of the commercials. So is this what defines America: Chevy trucks, Groundhog’s day, Pringles, Katy Perry, and overgrown men bashing into each other while Nationwide tries to scare you into buying insurance? No, America is a cultural empire that I never saw until now, from across the ocean. It’s a fantastic ideal of prosperity, grandness, and freedom depicted that electric night in a blur of red, white, and blue jerseys, flags waving the words “Seattle Seahawks,” Katy Perry on a beach surrounded by dancing sharks, fireworks, the grand canyon, and witty ads. I wont talk about the results of that game but after watching it, I’m more comfortable talking about something far grander, America. Therefore, the Italian word for the day is “paese” or country.

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Bummed but Better for It

Ashli Hendricks

I’ve been back for a month. My last day in Copenhagen was Independence Day, which is an ironic time to realize my crippling dependency on the people I’d gotten to know during my six-week stay.

I spent Independence Evening stumbling around a beach playing “soccer,” because falling is allowed to be called a sport when there’s a ball. The summer sun doesn’t really set in Scandinavia, but there was still this sweeping, aching nostalgia riding out across the sky, a weighty ambedo of everything drawing to a close. Maybe if I threw fistfuls of sand into everybody’s eyes and ran, they’d be blind to the future. I could convince them to let me stay.

soccer on the beach

Inspired by the World Cup

But I had to leave. So I did.

And all this stuff I’ve spewed in posts about new outwardness and positivity that I thought would settle with my wrinkles years from now was suddenly zapped. I was parched by ordinary people with ordinary desires, these simpletons, these peasants.

the high dive

It’s higher than it looks.

I was frustrated with what a gross, insincere cliché it is to say life is changed after a study abroad: What do you mean happy isn’t just the way I am now? I have to work at it everyday? I can’t hire those little Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 maintenance men that I took so much pleasure in drowning? Fix a gear here, a yawning abyss of boredom there.

The inconvenient, obvious truth is that I’d just left the happiest place in the world, and even having written about how similar it is to B-town, the fact of the matter is they’re different.

Copenhagen is an inescapability of love, a factory of it. I almost swore off my lifelong revile of “settling.” I wanted forever, a family, a lame Sears frame in which I never pictured myself. I wanted to be the wrinkled old friends on a train platform, linking arms and singing; the toddlers giggling as they were allowed to captain our castle-moat ferry; even the French bulldogs in every sidecar. I understood why my teacher came to this place fifteen years ago and never left. It was a city of airport reunions, a city in love with love.

But on one visit to a Danish autistic pre-school I learned about a game to teach the kids not to be sore losers. The “loser” of the round who didn’t win candy got a small paper heart that read “pyt med det,” essentially meaning “oh well” or “no big deal.”

Pyt med det

Life lessons start in kindergarten

If a six-year-old can internalize compromise and mental fortitude, then so could I.

“Pyt med det” was still my phone’s lockscreen in Bloomington, but I’d forgotten why. There wasn’t a dorm of 50 adventurers ready to carpe their diem to remind me. There wasn’t a class trip agenda forcing me onto a train every morning.

church of our savior

300 feet, slick with rain and sweat. That’s a fear grin.

But when I stepped outside of my comfort and transportation pass zones, I learned this: just because something’s not who I am, doesn’t mean it’s not who I could be in the two minutes to wait in line for the world’s oldest rollercoaster or the 40 kroner it takes to scale Church of Our Savior’s corkscrew spire. If I expect my attitude to be different than when I left Indiana, I can’t live the same way I did now that I’m back.

I have to be as open-faced as smørrebrød sandwiches.

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All Good Things Must Come to an End


To be honest I have been dreading writing this blog entry. I have had no clue how to sum up my entire study abroad experience. I have had no clue how to write about leaving Spain without leaving tears on my keyboard. It is hard to know how to even begin so I will try to do my best.

Returning to old job.

Returning to my old job.

When thinking about study abroad we all think about our last days at home before leaving to a new country and we think about the amazing experiences we will have while we are there. However, we rarely ever think about what things will be like once we get back home after having lived in a foreign country. The experiences we have in different places change who we are. They change how we think and act, they affect our morals and goals. After living in a new place for a year I can say that I am not the same person I was twelve months ago when I left the United States for Madrid, Spain. I do not think or act the same way. I do not want the things I once wanted. I was scared to come home. Now, after having been home for some time I can say that some days are easier than others. Sometimes I wake up completely content, completely happy to be back with my friends and family and to be living my old life. But, sometimes I wake up and realize that my new home and new friends are on the other side of the world. Coming home can be best described as bittersweet. I am so happy to do and see the things that I have missed so much, but at the same time I am sad. I miss everything about Madrid: the atmosphere, the food, the lack of customer service, the dirty restaurant floors and most of all my friends. Right before leaving Madrid my roommate and good friend explained to me that if our year abroad lasted forever the experiences and friendships that we had would not hold the same importance to us. That we cherish our time in Madrid so much and it is so much more special to us because we know it will end. He essentially explained that all good things must come to an end.

returning to family

Spending time with my family after returning home.

Coming home is hard and it is even harder to talk about, which is probably why we never hear much about it. Even though it’s not easy, even though I still long for Spain every day I know that all I can do at this point is be happy for the experience that I had and feel grateful to have a home and group of friends on the other side of the world. In just a few short weeks I will be starting my senior year at IU. Like most seniors, I do not know what my future will hold nor do I know where I will be. However, I do know that I will always have two places to call home.

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