Indiana University Overseas Study

Rebecca Haley - Freiburg, Germany

There has been a long break in between when I was accepted into the Freiburg-IU program for the spring in November and when I will actually leave in February. Since I was blessed with a particularly long winter break free from the rigors of academia (or other forms of mental stimulation) I have had plenty of time to think about, dwell on, and begin to stress about my upcoming program. But during this time, I have already started learning a few things and setting some goals. Each different step on this first leg of my journey, before even setting off to anywhere other than my couch at home, has taught me something new.

First, saying goodbye to friends is difficult.  I am an out-of-state student, so when I left school after the fall semester, I wasn’t going to be able to see my friends over winter break. Luckily, my application was due in early August so I knew all semester that there was a possibility of me having to say goodbye. But I would encourage anyone looking at studying abroad to appreciate this foresight. It allowed me to really cherish the time I got to spend with my friends and encouraged me to remember that while school is very important, friends can be a priority as well. In the midst of planning everything for my trip, I was learning to be present and enjoy the moment and enjoy where I am. This lesson is one that I want to stay with me once I am abroad and making friends there, and when I come back and see my friends again.

Second, although I just mentioned being present in the moment, there are practical things that do need to be planned and even the smallest details need to be considered. When I applied for study abroad, I thought about planning things like flights, housing, and other legal information, but I never thought that the things I would worry the most about were from which website I needed to buy train tickets, or about what suitcase to use (still an unanswered question). I never thought that I would be thinking so much about all the little details, but when I get these sorted out, I free up some mental space to dream about the fun that I am going to have.

Lastly, I set a goal for myself to keep an open mind about this trip. I can plan all I want but life is life and I hope that while my spontaneous traveling and globe-trotting will be new, fun and exciting, this is an amazing opportunity to live life in a foreign country rather than just be a tourist and that means discovering things like how to do laundry there and new restaurant etiquette. My goal is to remember that those things are just as exciting.

Rebecca Haley

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

Susanna Sorrells - Seville, Spain

Although I am still in the United States, I feel like studying abroad has already been a huge part of my life. Everywhere I go, friends and family congratulate me and say how much they will miss me, but most importantly, everyone is excited for me. While I will miss friends and family from home and school, I know I will be in many people’s thoughts over the coming months because they are all so proud of me. It’s easy to have doubts and concerns about studying abroad and leaving a familiar place for a few months. But, it’s also a whole lot easier to think about why you should go. For me, the initial decision to study abroad in Spain was clear, as I am minoring in Spanish. I knew that in order to be able to able to consider myself fluent in Spanish, I would need to immerse myself into the language. My first goal for myself—to strengthen my Spanish.

I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the United States and see many of my own country’s glories. I have also been lucky to travel outside of the United States with family and get a taste of life in other countries. However, I have never been to Europe. I have never stayed in another country for more than two weeks… let alone four months. A lot of “firsts” will be happening to me within the coming months. First time on a plane for more than five hours. First time in Europe. First time in Sevilla. First time living in a foreign country with people I do not know but have opened their home and agreed to host me. There are so many opportunities I will have while studying abroad and I plan on taking advantage of as many as possible. My second goal for myself—check as many “firsts” off my list as I can.

Four months is a long time. But four months can go by fast. At home, I am saying that I will see everyone in four months, that it will go by fast, that I will be home before you know it. Which in some way, is true. But once in Sevilla, I only have four months. Four months to take classes, meet new people, become familiar with my home city, travel everywhere I can, strengthen my Spanish skills, and have the experience of a lifetime. Studying abroad is such a unique part of a college career, and I am so grateful I am about to have this experience. This last week of being home is full of packing and goodbyes—two things that are stressful, overwhelming, happy, and sad all at once. I have been preparing for this for months and I have a strong support team behind me. Which leads me to my last main goal for myself while studying abroad—live in the moment but remember what you came for.

Susanna Sorrells

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

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

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

Before selecting a study abroad program, I looked at the relative safety of the countries I would be studying in. I wanted to make sure my anxiety medication was legal in the country I’d be traveling to, Americans were seen as welcome visitors, and the general “street safety” of the city.

Copenhagen is considered one of the safest cities in the world.

So, imagine the surprise I felt, as well as my supervisors felt, when I came home with 2 different police reports. 6 weeks, 2 thieves, multiple strip searches, and a few panic attacks later, I feel that I am somewhat qualified to give some advice on how to deal with an uncomfortable situation, a “crisis,” and a true emergency.

Unforeseen Issues

This is the lowest form (at least, in my hierarchy) of issues when studying abroad. These are the fixable issues, like not realizing that Danes don’t use umbrellas. Legitimately, having an umbrella in Denmark is a neon sign that says TOURIST to locals. I personally don’t understand it, but you have to have a rain jacket while in Denmark to fit in. Of course, I was able to buy a really nice rain jacket for about $25 at a second-hand shop.

Other unforeseen problems include overestimating how many places take credit card instead of cash, underestimating the amount of cash you’ll need, and forgetting your keys to your kollegium when exploring the city. Doing a little extra research could prevent these issues, but they are all remedial in the long run.

“What a disaster!”

If you’re initial reaction is “that sucks,” it might be a problem, not necessarily an emergency. My first experience of theft in Copenhagen was my cell phone at a Red Bull diving competition. The event and all transport to the area was packed, making it easy for someone to tear into the front of my bag and steal my student ID, medication, and cell phone.

I was completely freaking out. I was terrified to tell my parents that it was gone, then realized I had no way to tell them anyway. I cried the whole way home. I had lost pictures and contacts and a way to contact my family. What was I going to do without my phone?

I’m here to tell you that its possible. After my phone was stolen, I called the police and made a report. I emailed both of my parents and got them to cancel my phone and international usage. I filed an insurance claim.

I sat in my room and sulked for 2 days, feeling like I didn’t feel up to facing people for a while. The worst part of this particular experience was feeling unsafe in a city that raved about its security. I was mad that I’d need a new phone coming home. All of my social media accounts were blocked out because I couldn’t access my phone for secure verification. 6 weeks later and I’m still experiencing some setbacks.

All that being said, I made it. I spent another 4 weeks abroad without a phone, including a fun trip to Stockholm and a study tour to Munich. Genuinely, you can survive without it. Get to a computer and make sure to use Facebook messenger, emails, GroupMe…whatever you use to make sure to tell everyone that you’re OK, but won’t be able to stay in contact. Once you get home, you can deal with a replacement. For the time, its OK to be upset, but don’t let it ruin your time abroad.

True Emergency

After my program ended, and the day before I was supposed to fly to Los Angeles to meet my mom back in the country, my hotel room was broken into. I came back to my luggage thrown across the room, my charger adapter and all cords missing, and my backpack gone. At first, I was just frustrated, thinking of all the souvenirs I just lost. Then…total and complete panic. My backpack had my laptop, emergency money, and passport in it. I looked everywhere to see if either were spared; of course, they weren’t. So, now what happens?

1.) DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING.

The police dusted for prints as soon as they arrived. Obviously my prints will be all over the room, but you don’t want to alter any possible evidence in the room.

2.) Talk to whoever is in charge of the housing facility.

I was robbed at a hotel, so the desk attendant was the first person I talked to. She was lovely. After working there for 6 years, she had never had to fill out a break-in report or a theft report with the police. But she did the smart thing immediately, which was to…

3.) Call the police.

I didn’t have to call the police myself, thank goodness. I was a complete and total wreck. The woman at the hotel (let’s call her Beth) called the police and told them we needed someone to come and sweep for prints, check the door, and take my statement.

4.) File a police report.

I’m not going to lie, Danish police are incredibly intimidating. While our policeman wear a pretty low-key uniform, all police in Denmark wear bulletproof vests for routine calls. They also happen to be incredibly nice. While I wish that I didn’t have to give a police report at 1 am, but that’s how it happened. The police were understanding, got to the point, and gave me an immediate receipt. This is very important if you plan on making any kind of insurance claim.

5.) Call home. Call emergency number for school. Call a local.

Beth allowed me to use the hotel phone for whatever local, long distance, or in-between people I needed to call. Calling my dad to tell him what happened was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: not just because I was crying so hard I couldn’t speak, but I knew that he would tell me the same things I already knew — “get to the embassy as quick as you can, you’re going to miss your flights tomorrow, but they’ll help you.” My parents did all they could from home, but you can imagine that long-distance reassurance wasn’t what I needed.

DIS has an emergency number for students to call if something goes wrong. Make sure to let them know what happened, where, and who to call to keep up with your status if you don’t have a phone. Make sure to let them know your next travel plans. I made sure DIS knew I was flying home as soon as I could, just so they knew to hear from me in the next 2 days from the US.

I had a couple friends from DIS that were still in the area that I emailed to let them know what happened. Victoria, a godsend during Copenhagen, kept me in mind during my travels. I made sure she knew where I was staying, my flights, and when I was leaving to country, just so if disaster struck again, I’d have someone in the area to help.

6.) Get to the Embassy WITH A PASSPORT PHOTO.

Most US Embassies open at 8 or 9 am. Be at the door WITH A PASSPORT PHOTO. I cannot stress this passport photo thing enough. I may have had a much shorter and less stressful day if I would have just gotten a passport photo before I went into the embassy. There are passport photo booths all around Europe in train stations. They are 100 kroner in Denmark (about $18).

7.) Emergency passport.

Yes, its costs quite a bit. Yes, you have to wait a few hours to get it. Yes, its only good for a few months. It doesn’t matter. Get the emergency passport the day you lose yours. As I learned in the embassy, passports have a proxy chip that is associated with the particular passport book issued to you. Getting the replacement book adds a “red flag” to your previous passport proxy chip in case someone tries to use it.

To get the emergency passport, you must fill out a few forms and provide a new passport photo (after I had been crying for about 5 hours straight, my passport photo looks like…well, I think the airport security felt really bad for me. Not like that stopped me being “randomly searched” twice, but that’s for another blog). It takes them a few hours to print out a new passport, but you get a full passport book back from the embassy. Its a different size and a little thinner, but works the exact same way as your actual passport. Make sure to note that there is a stamp in the back of the book that labels that it is a replacement passport. When leaving Europe, you will need to show this since there is no stamp to prove you legally entered Europe.

8.) Fly home immediately.

This is a personal note and many people don’t believe the same as I do in this regard, but I’m speaking from experience. Just go home. I was supposed to meet my mom for a short vacation in LA the day my passport was stolen. I couldn’t make my original flights, but could have made it to LA the next day… she and I both decided I just needed to go home.

After getting the emergency passport, I got on a train to the airport and bought the first ticket I could into the US. In all honesty, the city probably won’t matter much. Once in the states, you can catch a flight to just about any airport you need, especially if its a larger destination. Try to fly into someplace with a large number of flights leaving at all hours (LAX, JFK, Washington DC, Austin, Atlanta, Boston, O’Hare). From there, catch the next flight home and finally take a breath.

I can’t describe the mental and physical exhaustion I was feeling by the end of this journey. One of the things stolen with my passport was my emergency anxiety medication: without it, I was too scared to sleep the night it was taken, on any of the planes, during my layover, or even in the car with my mother when I made it back. I cried for about 15 hours total, only experiencing brief moments of reprieve during my travels.

I traveled 27 hours straight to get home from Copenhagen, experiencing a 1.5 hour delay in 2 different airports, being searched in the side room in Oslo, having my bags dumped in Boston, and having to go through immigration with a replacement passport.

I’m not going to lie, the experience I had has made me nervous to travel anywhere. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to leave home again, but it’s been almost 3 weeks now and I’m starting to remember all the positives from the trip. The beautiful people I met and the mental pictures I took (while most of my actual photos were lost with the laptop, they still exist in my mind).

I can’t wait to see what future adventures grant me, but I will definitely be more careful in future travels and I hope you use experiences like mine to think critically about your safety as well.

Rachel Larsen - exploring collaboration in STEM & study abroad

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

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

I met these boys at a restaurant-bar combination in the building I’ve been living in. “Up Wonder” is a cute diner on the first floor of the building while “Down Wonder” hosts the Read the rest of this entry »

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