Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Study Abroad’ Category

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

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

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

The Ticking of the Clock

Emily Blankenhorn - Berlin, Germany

The ticking of the clock fills my mind. Today’s date posted in the bottom right hand corner of my computer weighs on me. I feel anxious. I am anxious to leave my family, pack the right things, and fly alone to a city where I don’t even know the language. But most of all, I feel eager. I am eager to be more independent, make life-long friends, travel to and explore amazing cities, take interesting classes, and try new foods.

There are four days until I leave Cincinnati, OH and fly to Berlin, Germany. As a pre-departure protocol, I am eating at my favorite Cincinnati places: LaRosas pizza, Skyline Chili, and Graeter’s ice cream. I am also spending a lot of much-needed time with my family and friends. The fact that I will be away from them for over five months hasn’t yet sunk in, and I am not sure when it will. Maybe when I’m waving goodbye at the airport, or maybe when I arrive at TXL and hear more foreign languages than familiar ones.

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to prepare for what life will be like in Berlin. There are a multitude of sights and attractions that I can’t wait to see. From the Brandenburg Gate to the Berlin Wall Memorial, I will not be ashamed of how touristy I will be during the beginning of my time living in the city. On the other hand, I am looking forward to getting to know the city as a civilian. Over the 5 months and 19 days that I will be spending overseas, I hope to better understand what life in Berlin is like beyond the point of a visitor. I want to know what the local Germans do for fun on the weekends and after classes and what the best diamond-in-the-rough restaurants are. Overall, I look forward to calling Berlin home.

Even though I am anxious, my eagerness for adventure overshadows all the other thoughts I have. I will miss IU and my friends dearly, but I can’t wait to make some amazing memories while I’m away.

Emily Blankenhorn

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