Indiana University Overseas Study

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Less is More

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

I have the worst habit of over-packing. At middle school sleepovers, I was the friend who brought a full-sized duffel bag for one night. What can I say, I just like to be prepared. Recently, however, I have learned that the contents of your bags can only prepare you so much.

Before I began packing for this semester, I had a list of what I thought I needed. It was a fair list consisting mostly essentials. Then, when I actually started to pack, I was having separation anxiety with some of my clothes. I had everything I wanted to bring to Sevilla scattered all over my room at home. I looked at my two empty suitcases, back at everything in my room, and then back at my suitcases. I had to reconsider some of my choices.

Despite this initial dilemma, I successfully managed to fit four months’ worth of everything I needed (or thought I would need) into my backpack, one carry-on sized suitcase, and one suitcase that I checked at the gate that came in just shy of the 50 pounds mark (thankfully).

Once I started traveling around other parts of Spain and Europe I learned a lesson very quickly: it’s always easier to travel light. My middle school self would be doubtful, but I can attest that it is indeed possible to pack for a weekend trip in a backpack.

Backpacks are great. You can maximize the space in a backpack pretty easily and be hands free while on the go. Packing light is simply always the best option. It prevents you from having to check one bag and potentially having to pay for it. It prevents you from having to go to baggage claim upon arrival. Traveling light is significantly easier — not just in airports, but when traveling by bus, train, and/or ferry too.

So how can you pack light but still be prepared? With the mindset that less is more. For clothing, check the weather forecast in your final destination and think about what activities you will be doing. If you wear the same pair of jeans twice, or even the whole weekend, no one will really notice.

The main reason I—someone who tends to over-pack—have come to terms with traveling light is because what you pack won’t define your trip. The most important thing about traveling is the experience and the desire to see and learn new things.

Study abroad has taught me that material things, including what you pack or don’t pack, really do not determine the outcome of your trip. So if you pack smart, but light, and have that less is more mindset, you will be prepared for your trip.

Susanna Sorrells

Academic Life, Social Life, and Beyond

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

Before I came to University of Kent, I heard two versions of explanations about the British academic system. Kent students at IU told me that college life is much more relaxing in Britain, especially for students in the subjects of Humanities—there’s no homework on a daily basis, but just one or two papers at the end of terms. There’s more time to do non-school work and to socialize. However, my academic advisor told me that students studying abroad in Britain usually get lower grades. He suggested that I should spend more time on school work and study harder if I want to maintain a good GPA. After spending two months at U of Kent and getting more used to the academic environment, I realized that both my friends and my advisor were quite correct. The British university system is not simply easier or harder than universities in the U.S. They have different teaching and learning concepts.

As Humanities students in Britain, we are expected to study on our own and the American concept of “homework” is not an element of university-level education. Still, there is coursework, assignments, and essays in our modules (courses). The amount depends on the professor’s preference, but they are not assigned as frequently as in American universities. For instance, as a History and Political Science student, I have five three-thousand-word essays for my three modules and three exams in the summer term. There’s nothing to turn in on a daily or weekly basis. There are reading lists and suggested materials; some of them are required/core readings, and some are suggested readings. The stage of modules decides the amount of reading and the amount of work. I get a reading list of forty pages on my stage-six module, but far less on my stage-four module.

There’s not only less homework, but also fewer lectures. Instead of having two lectures per course like in IU, I have one lecture and one seminar per module at U of Kent, and that make me only have class on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The lectures at the University are always recorded and students can re-watch the lecture online. Lecture attendance is not required, but seminar attendance is counted as a part of participation grade. There are pros and cons of the British education system, just like any other. The vast amount of free time gives students the opportunity to participate in social events and to do non-academic activities. The light amount of homework and oversight helps students to build self-responsibility and make them feel trusted. However, the lack of pressure can also cause time mismanagement, and many students might end up doing nothing. The balance between freedom and learning efficiency is truly a dilemma in British universities: should university students—who are eighteen-years old (or above) and able to purchase alcohol and tobacco, to vote and to marry—have the freedom to be in charge of their time in university? I don’t really know the answer…

I tried and I am still trying my very best to not waste the free time I get in Britain. I try to use the free time to travel and see as much as I can because I know my time at here is reaching its end soon. I made many friends through the Catholic Society (Cathsoc) at the University. We traveled to Paris and Oxford in the past months and had great times together. I had the most wonderful and memorable experiences in Paris—where we lived in the guesthouse of the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre provided by the Benedictine Sisters and shared their lifestyle and devotion.

philip and friends

My Cathsoc friends Joe, John, Jamie, and I in Paris

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Manchester to see a friend and the city. It was also a game day for Manchester United and the train line between London and Manchester was full of loud soccer fans with red shirts and beer bottles.

Philip and painting

Work by Ford M. Brown is a painting that very much sums up the central spirit of the Victorian values—the pursuit of wealth through hard works.

Paying visits to the numerous playhouses in London is something that I always wanted to do. But I didn’t have the chance and time to watch a play until last weekend. The Book of Mormon is a hilarious yet meaningful play with great music. It is one of the musicals that you would like to watch for a second time.

stage before show

The background of the stage. Play is about to begin in ten minutes!

The next month is packed with essays from all of my modules, and I will have less time to travel in a long distance. I hope that I will continue to study hard and do my best on essays.

Philip Jiao

Let’s Talk Language

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

In sixth grade I was introduced to the Spanish language in school and continued in high school and later into college. After roughly ten year of Spanish classes, I thought to myself, what more could I possibly learn? I felt like my Spanish skill level was as high as it possibly could be… and then I arrived in Sevilla.

Let me just preface by saying even though English is said to be the “international language,” not everyone speaks English wherever you go. If you were traveling to Spain and knew little or no Spanish, you could get by, but if you are like me, studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country with a program that is entirely in Spanish, you need to know the language.

During my time in Sevilla, I have encountered a few times where speaking Spanish was helpful. It was not complex conversations I had or anything like that, so it was easy.

The first time I realized my Spanish was not as polished as I had presumed it would be was when I first met my host mom. Our program took us from the airport in a bus to meeting areas near our home stays. When I first met my host mom, we greeted each other like normal and then started the short trip to her home. While it was only a few minutes, it was the most awkward few minutes I have had since being here.

I am usually a person to initiate a conversation. I hate sitting in silence, especially when you are one-on-one with someone. But I was next to my host mom in this new city where Spanish was the language I had to speak, and my mind was completely blank. I could not think of anything to say. I would have a thought, but then not know how to express it in Spanish. I was too scared I would say something wrong.

I was silent, but inside I was screaming. The awkwardness was eating at me but I could not figure out how to overcome it, simply because I did not know what to say – and I am never the person who is at a loss of words.

Universidad de Sevilla: Two of my four classes are held here, where native Spanish students also attend classes.

Fast forward a week to the start of classes, classes that are all taught in Spanish. Listening in class was fairly easy, as my professors talk a little slower for us because they know we are not native speakers. Although your brain has to do extra work and move fast, it was manageable. Even during those first few classes, however, I was still not comfortable speaking out loud.

As classes continued and I was interacting with more Spanish-speaking people, my confidence was building up and things began to change. Talking with my host family and engaging in my classes in Spanish obviously boosted my language ability and confidence. But the real jump in my capabilities and confidence came from interactions outside of school and home. Whether I am buying clothes at a store or ordering tapas at a restaurant, the people helping me do not necessarily know what my native language is. While I am out and about, I can put my real Spanish knowledge to the test.

Four or five times a week I go to a café in the afternoons for a café con leche (coffee with milk: a Spanish classic) and a pastry. This small interaction of ordering my café con leche and whatever snack I desire is pretty simple, but it is real world use of my Spanish. Ordering, paying in Euros, and using common greetings and sayings like please, thank you, etc. in a public place really helped increase my capabilities, but most importantly boosted my confidence. When you can successfully communicate with a stranger at a store or restaurant in Spanish, you feel pretty good about yourself.

Now that I have been here for a month, I would say my listening and speaking levels have both improved. While I still talk slow in Spanish because my brain has to figure out what I am actually trying to say, I understand pretty much all conversations that happen in Spanish around me. I would not call myself fluent quite yet, but a big improvement has definitely occurred.

CIEE Study Center Sevilla: The other two of my four classes are held here, in the study center of my program, CIEE.

Practice really does make perfect, or in my case, almost perfect. By practicing, listening, and most importantly, having confidence and being comfortable, I was able to improve my Spanish already in just a month. Although before coming here I thought my Spanish was already pretty good, I realized what I was lacking was experience. I may know the language in my head but what good it that if you cannot actually use it in real world situations?

Studying abroad in Sevilla is about as “real world situation” as it gets. Everyday I use what I already know to practice speaking and listening, while still learning new things. As I still have about three more months here to practice and build my confidence and become even more comfortable, I hope this upward trend continues as time goes on.Susanna Sorrells

 

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

Women’s March on London

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

Everyone who likes history may have the fantasy of traveling back to the past and to actually witness major historical events. As a history major, I love the history of the 60s America. Sometimes I imagine myself standing in the crowd of President John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University and hear him saying those exciting words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Sometimes I imagine myself standing with thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, seeing Martin Luther King to end his spectacular “I Have a Dream” speech.  The 60s America was about social activism; it was an era when people started to speak up and fight against social inequalities. The 60s America was an age when ordinary individuals did extraordinary things. The 60s was an age of change; just like today’s world. I believe that we—people living in this age—are experiencing an extraordinary era that will have tremendous influence on the future. Maybe thirty, forty years from now, people will look back to 2017 and say, “That was an age of change, I wish I was there to witness all these things.”

January 21 was a sunny and mild day. I was in London to visit a friend and the British Museum. It was my first time coming back to London since 2013. I walked from the Museum to the Waterloo Station and accidentally ran into the Women’s March on London at the Trafalgar Square. The March was impressive; I had never seen so many people gathering at one place since my last visit to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The whole Trafalgar Square was packed with people, music, speeches, and card boards with various slogans. The crowd stretched from the National Gallery to the roads on the other side, burying the lonely column of Admiral Nelson with enormous passion. Young women were the majority of the marching crowd; most of them wore bright and fashionable clothes, and a lot of them wore pink hats in reference to President Trump’s past statements about women. The new presidency of America was the central theme on people’s card boards.

womens march in london

Thousands of people on Trafalgar Square. One of the “feet-go-faster-than-wheels” days for London.

With the help of technology, people living in different parts of the world had never been so close to each other. With a phone call or a text on social app, one can connect with friends and family who are thousands of miles away. I sometimes think that the Atlantic Ocean between Britain and America isn’t as wide as I thought. Though Brits and Americans have different political systems, different cultures, different diets, slightly different languages, there are some common values that both peoples share, which make Brits and Americans not so different.

“If the National Gallery on my back is the Lincoln Memorial, and Nelson’s Column over there is the Washington Monument,” I asked myself, “will I still think that I’m in Britain rather than America?”

Philip Jiao

Keeping an Open Mind

Emily Blankenhorn - Berlin, Germany

Before I left for Berlin, many people told me to make sure I kept my money and purse secure once I arrived. They told me to get a purse with metal in the strap so that nobody could cut it or rip it off my body. They told me to make sure I wear my purse underneath my shirt so it wouldn’t be noticed. They told me to wear all black as to not stand out as a tourist in order to avoid being stolen from. They told me to speak quietly so as not to draw attention to me being a foreigner. There are many ways people told me to take care of myself in order to prevent pick-pocketing.

Listening to all this advice, I was fairly certain I would be totally fine, but I was still a bit nervous that I would stand out as a tourist to anyone who targets foreigners. Even just walking through the airport before reaching Germany, I would make sure my hand was on my purse at all times to make sure it was still there. There are many things you can do in life to prevent unfortunate things from happening to you. Sometimes, life happens anyway. On my way to Berlin, I landed in New York first for a layover. As we reached the ground and I turned my phone off airplane mode, I received a text from my bank. They were asking me if I had just spent $226 at a Super Wal-Mart on my debit card, to which I promptly responded no.

My bank locked my card right away, but I thought that it was incredibly ironic that my debit card information had been stolen in the U.S. right as I was headed to a country in which I was nervous about getting my money and cards stolen. Furthermore, after living in Berlin for a month, none of my or my classmates’ belongings have been stolen. The people in charge of my study abroad program say it is rare to have something stolen, but obviously to look after your belongings in a smart way.

Overall, it’s easy to be afraid of what we don’t know. Sometimes we can focus too much on preventing the bad and then end up overlooking other important things. Maybe I left my debit card out somewhere and someone somehow got the information or maybe someone rigged an ATM or a gas station pay machine, I’ll never know. Bad things can happen to anyone anywhere and at any point in time. There’s no use living your life in fear of the unknown. A lot of the time the unknown is good.

Many people in Berlin are very friendly and helpful to new people, as Berlin is a city composed of people from all over the world. More than 30% of Berlin’s population are immigrants. Many languages are spoken and many religions are practiced. Although I may not recognize a language or an activity customary to someone else’s culture, I feel just as safe in this city as I did at home in a place of familiarity. I have found the most joy in life when keeping an open mind about people and cultures unfamiliar to my own.

Emily Blankenhorn

Lost Luggage and Life Lessons

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I had always been very lucky with traveling and never losing any luggage, but I still imagine the scenario of losing luggage whenever I travel and pack an extra set of clothes with my carry-on. I flew with Aeroflot from Beijing to Moscow, then from Moscow to London. Because of the two-hour-long delay in Beijing, I only had half an hour to transfer. I tried my best to catch my flight to London; however, my luggage didn’t run as fast as me and it stayed in Moscow.

Canterbury Cathedral

The Canterbury Cathedral, built in the 11th century and is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

My first week was tough. Two sets of changing clothes were everything I had and I had to do laundry every day in order to make sure that I had fresh clothes to wear for the next day. My mental health was also affected by my lost luggage; during orientation events, I thought and worried about my luggage, prayed that it would be delivered to me as soon as possible.

Canterbury cathedral interior

Interior of the Canterbury Cathedral

After all the difficulties, the phone calls and anxious waiting, my suitcase was finally returned to me six days after my arrival. During the time of waiting, I learned many life experiences, which made me understand that losing luggage wasn’t entirely terrible. First, I know what to do next time in the situations of flight delay and missing luggage, and I won’t be as panicked or nervous as this time. Second, a suitcase is not the only thing I have; there are friends and family who are always there to help me. There’s always a solution for things, and I should not lose the enthusiasm to live and eat even when a suitcase is completely lost. And finally, I tried my best to make new friends and they provided lots of help and encouragement.

Dover Castle

On the last day of Orientation, the University organized a trip to Dover Castle. It is the biggest castle in England and is located on an extremely strategic spot to protect the English Channel. Some American friends and I chose a wonderful angle to take a picture with the whole castle.

If you confront similar situations in the future, don’t be depressed, don’t be afraid to ask people for help, and always be optimistic that things will just be fine!

Dover Castle roof

Selfie on the roof of Dover Castle

Philip Jiao

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