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.

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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

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

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

O’ Captain, My Captain: Sailing the Isefjord

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

I just had the most amazing opportunity that I will never forget. Myself and 18 new friends traveled to Isefjord, a small freshwater fjord connecting Kategat (the cat canal) to mainland Hoelbæk of Denmark. We met in Copenhagen and took a scenic train ride through rural Denmark at a beautiful 7 am. We walked through the town of Holbæk, known for one of the oldest hotels in Denmark and for the beautiful ports that host many of the country’s documented wooden ships.

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In Denmark, wooden sailing ships are not only a living piece of history, but they are a prized possession that requires much responsibility. To be a licensed wooden ship in Denmark (one that belongs to an illustrious club, that is), there are rules that dictate everything, including how the deck must be washed and how the sails must be sewn (criss-cross seams fail a ship upon inspection).

Once we were on the boat, safety demonstrations began. We put all of our stuff down below where there was enough sleeping rooms for 23. Soon, we began leaving Holbæk for Hundested, or “dog’s place.” The temperature was warm for Denmark, but the sea breeze was perfect. Kenneth told me he had almost never seen such a perfect Danish day for sailing.

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Out on the front of the boat, rigging was set to help hoist the sails. Between the 3 of us, we were able to shimmy out past a net, onto the beams beyond the boat to raise the sails in a windy adventure. We saw jellyfish go by underneath us at a comfortable 5 knots. We sailed for an entire day before landing in port, the beach of Hundested. It was a beautiful small city, one that most of the crew was pretty familiar with. Kenneth, Jonas, and Johnny showed us around and let us have a great time around the city, teaching us new words and Danish and laughing at our all-together Americanness.

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Every day, different members of the crew cooked a meal and did the dishes. In Denmark, customs say that if you make the meal, you eat last, inviting your guests to partake first. While we weren’t used to this, the first mate was quite strict. That being said, the fruit here in Denmark is the best you will ever have. Denmark doesn’t use preservatives like other countries, meaning the food goes bad faster here, but tastes must fresher. We had bread fresh from the bakery in both ports. And, we learned to make a tenderloin-sausage stew that was absolutely fantastic! Everything we had on the boat was good!

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While many of the sights were beautiful and amazing, easily the best part of this trip was the crew. The captain, Markin, was the quietest, but one of the funniest. He obviously loved our energy and laughed at our jokes and bad dance skills on the boat, but never spoke to the guests directly. Christina, the first mate, was a delight. She was the person who helped us all cook and taught us the tradition of logkake, a layer cake that is made for celebrations in Denmark. She also was dating the captain, which she explained happened during a 2 month excursion to Spain.

Johnny was the funny guy. He had been on the ship the longest as a crew member and loved the seas. He was very open and loved to talk to us all, though his English was spotty. That made Kenneth, a 27-year-old student on the ship, even more fun. Kenneth was as fluent in English, no doubt about it. He only needed to look up a few words during the entire trip. He was an amazing artist and really enjoyed spending time with us.

Finally, “micro-man” Jonas was the most reserved about the group. Jonas was only 19 and was a student in the sailing school. He was very wary of us when we started, but he warmed up pretty quickly. We got him to laugh, though his English was the worst. Not bad, at all, but definitely a challenge.

The crew really took us in and taught us the meaning of hygge. Hygge is the traditional moral of the Danes, a way of life that incorporates comfort, compassion, and welcome into their lives. I can’t imagine being able to recreate the feeling of watching the sunset on a small boat with the comfort of new friends.

Rachel Larsen - exploring collaboration in STEM & study abroad

Bitter Sweet

Alexa Stegemoller

It’s finally beginning to set in that I only have four weeks left in this beautiful city. It seems like mid-semester break was just yesterday, yet here I am reminiscing on the trip. I had two weeks off and began the holiday by attempting to survive a classic Australian vacation in Bali. I suffered some extreme food poisoning but managed to make it out with nothing but great memories. I was even fortunate enough that my amazing mother was willing to meet me in Australia for the remainder of the break. We met up in Cairns and made our way down the east coast until we made it to Adelaide.

posing in front of rice fields

The rice fields of Bali

My mom and I exploring the Grampians National Park

My mom and I exploring the Grampians National Park

Our trip was near perfect and it meant the world to me that she made the trip, but it made me miss home more than I’d like to admit. Now as the semester is coming to a close, I’m torn between returning home to my friends and family while also dreading the day I have to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made here. I’ve become so accustomed to the lifestyle and feel as if I’ll have more culture shock returning home than I did when first arriving here.  My friends have become my family and St. Mark’s College has become a community I can’t imagine not being a part of.

My Australian soul mates/flat mates, Bree and Miz

My Australian soul mates/flat mates, Bree and Miz

In these remaining weeks, there are countless events to attend and countless assignments to complete, yet I plan on enjoying every second of it. My friend will be coming to visit next week and will give me the perfect excuse to do all of the tourist attractions in Adelaide that I’ve continued to put off. After her visit, the weekends are booked with 21st birthday parties (mine included) and end of the term college events. The busy calendar along with final exams, will hopefully keep my mind off the inevitable goodbyes looming around the corner.

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Fly Me Away!

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

T-minus 4 weeks before taking off on the journey of a lifetime. I’ll be honest, this is a really odd feeling. While it seems like there is so many things I should be preparing for, its difficult to figure out exactly what that is. I’m picking up on a little bit of Danish (Jeg er tale lidt dansk), and I’ve started looking at what I’d like to do with my free time while in Denmark and during my stopover in LA.

Without a doubt in my mind, the hardest thing I’ve done so far is scheduling the actual means of travel.

I love to fly and I’ve scheduled quite a few domestic trips for conferences and previous study experiences. International travel is a whole new ball game. I’ve laid out some tips for students to get ahead of the flight-booking game that may make it a little easier for you on your journey than it was on mine.

1. Change Your Departure City

I understand that flying out of the airport 30 minutes from your apartment is probably the easiest, but it may not be the cheapest. I love Indianapolis and the airport is amazing for domestic flights. The international airfare through Indy is much more expensive than anywhere else I looked. By choosing to fly out of Chicago, my flight was almost $200 cheaper. Not to mention, I get to stay with a few friends before and after the trip in Chicago!

2. Round-Trip or One-Way? (more…)

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