Hoos Abroad is a blog featuring UVA students who are studying abroad and sharing their experiences with international education and cultural immersion.
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Shadelle Gregory is a Global Public Health major who just completed her third year. She spent the last two weeks participating in UVA in St. Kitts and Nevis: Public Health Sciences, an intensive short-term program led by Prof. Jeanita Richardson. Read her pre-departure thoughts and reflections below.
I was always the girl who did not fit quite in with my family or classmates. I was labeled as “different” for the types of clothes I wore, the way I spoke, and for the types of food I ate (or did not eat). However, after arriving at the University of Virginia in 2015, I began to let go of my insecurities and embrace my differences. I realized that is was okay to be the “odd girl” or the person who does not “fit in” with the majority. These personal characteristics has allowed me to transcend my perceived mental and physical capacities and has granted me the privilege to fully appreciate the person that I have become. Embracing change and diverse environments and people are pivotal in my journey of self growth. I hope to take the experiences I have embodied here at the University of Virginia with me as I begin my adventures in St. Kitts and Nevis. I am currently majoring in Global Public Health where I have studied the social determinants of health and how health care systems function differently in all parts of the world. I will be able to experience the cause and effects of these ideals first hand while abroad.
An important question that needs to be asked throughout this experience is how does the health system structure/services in St. Kitts and Nevis affect the social determinants of health and vice versa? Moreover, how does it compare with health care systems in America? I have a deep passion for social justice and public health, so I am always eager to enhance my knowledge about the parallels between these two concepts. The curriculum for this course will be eye opening and fulfilling because I will able to study my passion outside of the states, which allows me to fully encompass the GPH major. I am most excited about experiencing a different culture outside of America, as this will be my first time traveling abroad. St. Kitts and Nevis is known for their amazing food (and large food portions). I am a lover of food and I am excited to try the varieties of food St. Kitts and Nevis has to offer. However, it is this very fact that contributes to their high obesity rates. I do hope to have a newfound appreciation for their culture when this experience is over. St. Kitts and Nevis are two different islands, so I am interested to see the differences and similarities between the two.
To be bluntly honest, I am nervous to go abroad for multiple reasons. A key reason is that I have never traveled abroad. The airport aspect of traveling is a little frightening due to my lack of traveling experience. Secondly, I want to make sure that I am culturally conscious of my actions so that the locals will be receptive to me. I am entering their home and do not want to overstep my position as a visitor. I am the first person in my immediate family to travel abroad, so I am overwhelmed and overjoyed to share this experience with them and for myself. It is a strange yet amazing feeling to watch your dreams come true. I am beyond grateful that I am able to embark on this journey and continue on this path of self-growth. Traveling has been a dream of mine forever, and I am ecstatic to begin this journey in St. Kitts and Nevis while taking a class for something that I am so deeply passionate about.
The people. The food. The land. The scenery. The homes. The simplicity of life. Island time. Abundance of brown colored people. The locals are so humble and proud of this beautiful island and have been excited to be part of my journey (unforseen to them). It makes me question (even more) why Americans are not this friendly. I have been soaking in the beauty of the island, but I wake up every morning and still cannot believe that I am here. On our first day of class, we were given a tour of the island by our driver, Robert. He is so knowledgeable about the land and history of St. Kitts. Within St. Kitts, there are small villages, all of which has access to a health clinic nearby. The homes sit right by the beach, in between small revenes, close to small shops, and surrounded by greenery. There were people riding goats, walking with their children, and simply sitting on the porch. In a country whose economy is mostly driven by tourism, Kittians run of island time. Interactions with Kittians have varied based on where I have been around the island. Locals are more hesitant to speak and smile, but those who were taxi drivers or workers at the Marriott were more friendly. Those in the tourism business are more friendly as this is their job. I understand their skepticism of Americans, and especially white people.
One of the most important aspects of this trip so for is my experience as the majority race of the country. St. Kitts and Nevis is predominately black, which is the complete opposite of the composition of America. It’s an overwhelming feeling to not be the minority of the country and to fit in at every place that I go. In America, I am the sore thumb that sticks out or one of the very few (if not the only) black student in my classes at UVa. However, when the group and I travel to different places, Kittians stare at us because we clearly are not from the island and because of the white students in our group. In America, I am used to getting stares or whispers, but it was something different about the stares we got here in St. Kitts. During a visit to Ross University, the veterinary medicine school on the island, I was shocked at the lack of colored people on the campus in a majority black island. They are separated from local Kittians, and they have better equipment and resources than the local hospital, health centers, and schools. They do not engage with the community and do not advocate for a community model of health, which is extremely important in all aspects of health. Having attended UVa, I understand what it is like to be one of the few people of color in a classroom or out in a social setting, but this experience was worse for me. I was so shocked to hear about students from different countries who came to this island and have no interaction or cultural perceptions of the place they would be living and studying. Understanding the social determinants of health is vital to helping a community better their health. The local hospital and health centers around the island emphasis a community based model. The Kittian nurses and health workers had limited resources, but do the best job they can. To have visited the local health centers and know they lack modern medical technology, it is heartbreaking to know about the equipement, power, and resources Ross University has that they do not offer or share with the community. Kittians perception of white people are tainted by their interactions with white people who attend Ross and those from America. It’s been interesting to see how race and racism functions on the island that is run by people of color. It never disappears and it reinforces that race is a social construct and is tied to health.
Public Health is more than just one’s well-being and visits to the hospital. This trip so far has highlighted even more the need to address the social determinants of health and a community based model in order to efficiently, culturally, and effectively improve the health of a population.
Julia Thompson is a 3rd year currently studying abroad with UVA in Shanghai: Fudan University. She is a student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Check out her experience so far!
Classes have finally begun — almost two months after UVA’s first week of classes. Normally, class sign-ups take place months before the first day of class. However, due to our unique position as international Fudan students (rather than local Chinese Fudan students or international exchange students), our class registration took place on the same day that classes began. Fortunately, my class schedule did not include any Monday classes; I had some roommates who registered for classes then immediately raced out the door to attend the class they had just registered for.
The enrollment process went much smoother than I anticipated. In addition to a Chinese language class, I registered for Chinese Society: Past and Present, Energy & the Environment, Political Culture & Public Opinion in Contemporary China, and Conflict Resolution & International Negotiation. During this first week, two professors noted their dislike for the BBC — I wonder if this is a coincidence or if this sentiment is common among Chinese citizens. A more definitive similarity across classes was the mention of Donald Trump (shocker) and consequent stares at the Americans (us). Embarrassing!
The mix of students in each class varied—one had exclusively international students while the others generally had a mix of both international and Chinese students. In Chinese Society: Past and Present, our professor recommended Chinese students not take the class; on the other hand, my roommates were asked to leave an International Business class because, according to the professor, the class was for those who wanted to improve their English. From these experience, there seemed to be a division of Chinese and international students, so I expected the Political Culture & Public Opinion class to consist of just international students; but to my surprise, when I walked into the classroom, the majority of students were Chinese students who knew little, but wanted to learn more about, their peers’ political opinions.
The Fudan campus is large, but the main campus is just a 15 minute walk from our apartment. One of the main buildings at Fudan University—Guanghua tower—includes classrooms, offices and cafes. The steps leading up to Guanghua tower remind me of the Rotunda or the MET steps; but here, entrance through the front doors is reserved for important figures, and students must enter through the side doors.
Another difference between China and the States that has been consistently apparent is bargaining. In the States, bargaining does not often occur between a customer and business with established prices. However, in Shanghai, bargaining is everywhere—not only at shops, but also at the gym! Normally, I enjoy running outdoors but the crowded streets, busy intersections (cars, mopeds, and bikes will NOT stop for you; at best, they slow to a roll), and poor air quality do not make for an ideal jogging situation. So, my roommates and I went looking for a gym. The process to establish the price for our four month membership included a lengthy back and forth—I need to brush up on my negotiation tactics. Maybe my International Negotiation class can give me a few tips.
One place in Shanghai where bargaining does not take place is the local Walmart. Over the past two weeks, I have probably been about ten times: to stock up on drinkable yogurt, get my fill of Chinese crackers, and get a toothbrush after I dropped mine down the drain. Walmart is just one of several stores where you can buy produce. Our Chinese roommate, Karen, took us to the produce market where my friend bought a GIANT bag of bak choy for 7 kuai (just over 1 USD). This Shanghai produce market was different from a typical grocery store or farmers market in the United States, but were very similar to the Chinese markets I’ve been to in San Francisco. After the trip to the market, Karen and Rosanne cooked dinner for everyone: rice, tomatoes and egg, chicken wings, and vegetables!
Lillian Harris is a 3rd year majoring in Art History who studied abroad with UVA in Lyon in the fall of 2017. Check out some of her cultural observations below.
One of the first things that struck me as funny when I arrived in Lyon – and something I don’t even notice now – is the way people get around here, that is, how people physically get from one place to another: from home to work, from school to soccer practice, from the nightclub to back home. While I expected the preferred mode of transportation to be the bike, or maybe even the Vespa, I’ve found that it’s the Razor Scooter that rules the city streets as the most overwhelmingly popular ride in Lyon.
I used to have a razor scooter when I was younger; my childhood memories are punctuated with bruised ankles and skinned knees from scooting down the driveway at top speeds and attempting bunny hops over the cracks in the sidewalk.
I hopped back on my scooter in high school, when some of the seniors created a Scooter Club. It started out as a joke, but as more and more kids dug out their razors from the back of their garages, the Club became pretty legit. Members rode their razors to and from class and even held scooter rallies at recess.
So it’s funny that this scooter motif keeps reappearing in my life. First in my childhood play dates, then as an ironic joke in high school, and now it’s followed me all the way to France.
Since I’ve become so well re-acquainted with this mode of transportation in my time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of 6 things you should know about the rich scooter culture in Lyon. “Rules of the Road,” if you will. Here they are:
- Not just for kids
- This is the first aspect of scooter culture that I noticed in Lyon. While I had always thought of the Razor Scooter as a child’s plaything, it turns out that scooters are a very efficient mode of transportation used on a daily basis by adults and kids alike in Lyon. I am constantly taken aback when I see a grown man in a suit and carrying a briefcase scooting down the sidewalk on his way to work.
- Bikes on road, scooters on sidewalk
- This is arguably the most important rule of scooting etiquette. Bikes, since they have thick, rubber wheels that are able to conquer the cobble stoned-streets of Vieux Lyon, should always be on the road; most of the roads in Lyon have bike lanes, so sticking to this rule should not be difficult. Scooters, on the other hand, have small, hard, plastic wheels, and do not do well with bumps. So scooters are allowed on the smooth sidewalks. Whether you’re on a bike or a scooter, it is important to stay in your lane.
- Scooters have the right-of-way
- Forget yielding for pedestrians; scooters, as the dominant, speedy form of transportation, have the right-of-way on sidewalks. All walkers should move out of the way for scooters to come through. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than having to decelerate and lose momentum to dodge slow walkers.
- Pimp my ride
- The Lyonnais take pride in their scooters, and do not hesitate to trick them out. For the adults, this might include a little hook to hang a purse, or an added platform on the back for a child to stand and ride with his parent. For the kids, common accessories include decals, detachable bags, and fashion helmets, of course.
- Pop a wheelie
- Scooting is so popular in Lyon that it has become not just a mode of transportation but also a sport. There are many skate parks in Lyon, and one of my favorite activities is going to the quai at Guillotière and watching grown men do tricks on scooters. Think: wheelies, 180s – heck, I even saw someone do a backflip just the other day. It’s really impressive to see all the tricks one can do with the simple Razor.
- Paradoxical French efficiency
- A major change from my life at UVA that I’ve experienced here in Lyon is the whole idea of time. Everything in France takes a little longer than it does in the US. For example, it is considered rude to show up on time to a dinner party, and also, you can count on courses at the university starting at least 10 minutes late. So it’s so funny to me that the French buy so wholeheartedly into this uber efficient mode of transportation, the Razor Scooter, despite a general lack of concern for the need to rush.
It’s interesting to note the differences in daily life in different places: the way we eat, the way we talk, the way we get around. These are the nuances of the way of living that really define a culture and set it apart from others. The use of the Razor Scooter I’ve found in Lyon is just one facet of its culture that makes it totally unique.
They say that instead of focusing on the destination, one should enjoy the journey; in Lyon, I’m taking my sweet time on my Razor Scooter.
Eleanor Langford is a 3rd year Psychology major studying abroad with The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) in Chiang Mai, Thailand this spring. Check out some of her photos below!
Emma Bergon is a 3rd year studying with DIS in Stockholm, Sweden on a
Psychology program this spring. Check out some of her photos below!
A rare sunny say in Stockholm, although the water is still icy
Cobblestone, windy streets of Galma Stan (Old Town)
Ice skating on the local lake
Watching my host brother’s soccer game, Swedes love their soccer!
Fika time! (Fika is a term in Sweden that approximately
means “to have coffee”) My favorite place to enjoy the Swedish tradition
Fika in Småland
An exhibit called “Nordic Light” at Nordiska Museet
(A museum dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden)
The artwork at Tensta station: Stockholm is famous for its metro station artwork
A rare sunny day in Stockholm
Blaise Sevier is a 2nd year who studied abroad last semester on exchange at Hitotsubashi University in Japan. She and three other UVA students ran a blog about their experience, See her original post at https://runningjapan.squarespace.com/wheels-up-dc/2017/10/31/the-sevier-cough-blaise
I’ve been sick with the “Sevier Cough.” It’s not just any cough, but a family hack where my whole chest vibrates with force and I find myself gasping for breath.
Dramatic? Yes. Harmful? No.
The “Sevier Cough” is a family plague that hits my sisters and I right around when the leaves change and the air gets a bit cooler – my mom says it’s a seasonal asthma and always sends us to school.
Here in Japan – my cough has become a somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. On the metro, in the grocery store, walking to class, I find myself getting over a coughing fit, clearing my throat and receiving the death stare from my fellow Hitotsubashi peers, grocery-goers, and metro riders. It don’t blame them. It’s gross!
But it’s a cough that I have and can’t quite control.
For the past few weeks, I have maintained this blasé attitude about my cough. I pushed passed the smirks, glares, and uncomfortable metro shifts. I was just sick, they were just hypercritical – and I didn’t want to wear a…. mask.
Masks in Japan are one of the most common accessory for any woman, man, grandmother, grandfather, and/or child to wear. It is a white cloth that covers the nose and mouth and prevents germs from spreading. It’s practical and considerate when you are crammed on the metro with hundreds of people every day. But until now, I didn’t think *I* needed to wear a mask.
The thought struck me when I was in my Global Network class and we were talking about the effects of colonialism. We discussed several examples on how European settlers rarely conformed to native practices – even if the practice, ideology, method was practical, was for the betterment of the people, or just made sense.
Take for example the Calvinists that landed on the Hawaiian Island in 1893. I learned that they refused to change the way that they dressed. Instead of adapting their wardrobe to a subtropical climate, the Calvinists continued to wear often thick, long cotton pants and dresses.
Gosh, that sounds hot.
Although this is an ingenuous example, it demonstrates settlers’ reluctance to conform to the practical norms of the region. Why wouldn’t they just throw on some linen?
But before I move forward, I want to make a few things clear 1). I am not comparing the Japanese culture to the native people in Hawaii rather, I am comparing my thoughtless act of not wearing a mask in public (which is practical and thoughtful thing to do in busy public spaces) to the settlers’ dismissal of Hawaiian’s traditions and norms.
I was wrong about not wearing a mask in public. What gives me the right to expose other people to my germs, when they are taking precautions to not get me sick. If my fellow community members are considerate – why do I think that I have the privilege to not wear the mask and not be?
I think the answer lies in the fact that I wasn’t being self-critical – I wasn’t acknowledging that I was part of the community and that I was somehow different because I was a “gaijin” or non-Japanese and could get away with breaking social norms.
It’s a crutch that I think many individuals abroad rely on – and something I want to recognize and change.
Leah Corbett is a 3rd year student studying Japanese. This semester she will be on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Check out her thoughts on starting her semester below!
I am less than a week away from my departure date to Japan for a full semester abroad. It would be an understatement to say that I’m nervous. I have never been out of the country before, or travelled anywhere near this far away, let alone by myself. I’ve wanted to study in Japan for years, but it was always a far-off dream. That dream got a little closer when I finally finished my application, but I had to wait. I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter! After I took the necessary steps such as ordering plane tickets, I then had to wait some more. I’ve been waiting for so long, and now I’m almost done doing so. While I’m pretty much ready in terms of knowing what to pack and what I need to do, I’m realizing I’m not mentally prepared.
I thought I was mentally prepared for most of my time waiting. One summer as a high school student, I attended a three-week-long Japanese language academy, which was the first time I’d been away from family for an extended period of time, so I was naturally nervous beforehand. It turned out to be an amazing experience! The next summer, I went to a week-long program at NASA Langley Research Center, and I had nowhere near as many nerves going into that. When I left for my first year of college, I felt like those experiences had helped me prepare for it, which they did. I adjusted to college life fairly quickly and have enjoyed it, so I figured a trip abroad wouldn’t be too nerve-wracking.
But here’s the catch (which I didn’t think about until very recently): I’ve lived in Virginia my entire life, and all of those times I’ve been away from home, I was still in Virginia. My home is a 40-minute drive away from UVA. That’s way closer than a lot of my classmates are from. While I’ve been on my own at college, I’ve always had my family nearby as a safety net, and I’m not going to have that in Japan.
In a way, I feel like I’m back where I started when I was preparing for that language academy five years ago. I can still use what I learned from that experience, which is knowing that being nervous is normal, and that it in no way means I won’t have a great time. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, and being a Japanese language and literature major, I know it will enrich my knowledge of the culture beyond what I can learn in a classroom. Having so many friends and family rooting for me helps me to realize my potential and try to be as proud of myself as they are of me, which pushes me forward.
Melanie Turner is a 3rd year studying in Spain through UVA in Valencia for spring 2018. See her thoughts on how her time abroad has influenced her experience in her major!
At UVA, I study Speech Pathology in addition to Spanish. Throughout my time in Valencia, I’ve realized that my experience as a second language-learner might mimic the experience of people with communication disorders. In the same way that patients with Broca’s Aphasia struggle to explain their thoughts fluently, I sometimes find myself grasping hopelessly for words to express my ideas. Like stutterers, who might initially hesitate to speak up among strangers, I sometimes become timid among native Spaniards. Similarly to some people with a voice disorders, my inability to speak English sometimes makes me feel like I’ve lost a piece of my identity. While I certainly do not understand what it’s like to have these communication disorders, I do believe that my time in Spain has shaped how I view speech therapy. As I approach the halfway point of my semester abroad, I thought I’d share here are 7 things I’ve learned about speech pathology through language immersion:
1. Patience is crucial: When I first arrived in Spain, I was discouraged by my inability to speak fluently. In English, I enjoy finding the best word to explain my ideas, and in Spanish I frequently resort to the same limited vocabulary. I expected to see rapid progress within the first few weeks, but even after two months, it is still sometimes difficult for me to pinpoint exactly how I have improved. At times when I feel like I can’t see results, it’s easy to want to give up. In the same way, a speech pathology patient who
progresses slowly might become frustrated and want to halt therapy sessions, and a speech pathologist might lose heart when therapy goals are not reached. My language immersion experience has taught me that I should set ambitious but realistic goals, and that I should be patient to see these objectives realized.
2. Encouragement is key: When I feel frustrated by slow progress, I greatly appreciate verbal encouragement. I remember almost every time someone has specifically complimented my Spanish skills: When I first arrived, my host family’s daughter applauded my accent. When I visited with a pastor of a local church, he told me that my Spanish was advanced. When I went to a café with some of the youth from that church, they commented on how I spoke Spanish fluently. Just last night at dinner, my host parents mentioned that my level has improved since arriving. All of these comments remind me that language immersion is worthwhile, and they motivate me to keep trying. As a future speech pathologist, I hope I can remember how much these sporadic affirmations meant to me and provide the same kind of feedback to my clients.
3. Improvement is NOT passive: Another myth I believed before coming to Spain was
that just by being here I would become fluent. Certainly, being surrounded by the language solidifies certain skills, especially aural comprehension. However, language mastery does not happen without an intentional effort. If I want a word to become part of my vernacular, I have to consciously incorporate it into conversation. If I want to sound like a native, I have to speak to natives. If I want to learn new manners of expression, I have to study them. The same is true in speech pathology: clients have to do their homework if they want to improve, and clinicians have to put forth effort to plan the most appropriate and effective evidence-based practices. Improvement is possible, but it is an active process.
4. Language difficulties have a social dimension: Those who know me know that I am rather introverted. Small talk is exhausting for me, and back-to-back social interactions can wear me out. This poses a unique challenge for language immersion, which is inherently social. When I first arrived, all of the “getting to know you” conversations were taxing, and even now, there are some times when I choose not to add to conversations because expressing my thoughts in Spanish feels tiring. I imagine that people with communication disorders have similar experiences. Remaining silent might feel easier than mustering up the strength to communicate an idea, especially for introverts with speech/language challenges. Nevertheless, just as I would never improve my Spanish if I never spoke, these patients would never advance if they didn’t attempt to communicate. If I ever work with clients who share my tendency towards introversion, I hope I can affirm all the wonderful parts of being an introvert (for there are many!) while also encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of their
5. Correction is appreciated: One thing that I greatly appreciate when I am conversing with native speakers is correction. This past week, a friend from church invited me to her apartment for brunch with some other girls from church. One of these ladies has a degree in music education, and during our conversation, there were several times when she corrected my Spanish. When I thanked her, she laughed and apologized, saying that her tendency to correct is her “teacher’s flaw.” However, I insisted that my thanks were genuine; I would never improve if I were not told what I was doing wrong. While I recognize that if I were corrected all the time I would probably become disheartened, I also need to remember that most of the time, I desire this kind of instruction. In the same way, speech pathology clients – who want to improve their speech/language/voice just as much as I want to improve my Spanish – will probably welcome constructive feedback.
6. The process is never “finished”: Ever since I started taking Spanish classes in middle school, I imagined that studying abroad would be the culmination of language learning. After a semester in a Spanish-speaking country, I would finally be able to call myself “fluent.” Since arriving, I have realized how wrong this assumption was. Even my English is not completely “fluent” – in my translation class, we literally dedicated a class period to learning English idioms! I may never feel completely comfortable calling myself “fluent” in Spanish, but that is to be expected: language is a skill that I will improve throughout my whole life. Similarly, a person with a communication disorder may never be totally rid of the problem; for example, a stutterer may develop tactics to deal with stuttering without actually eliminating the root problem. Nevertheless, the lack of a clear ending point should not discourage the process.
7. The process is REWARDING: The aforementioned points may make both language learning and speech pathology seem overwhelmingly difficult; however, there is also incredible joy that comes with each of these processes! While some days progress feels slow, other days I find myself jumping up and down when I correctly use a Spanish idiom, audibly cheering myself on when I recollect new vocabulary words, or smiling broadly when I formulate sentences using tricky grammatical tenses. Furthermore, as I
learn a new language, the doors open to establish relationships that otherwise would not have been possible. While this is slightly different than what people with communication disorders experience, successful speech therapy can also open or reopen doors to new and/or old friendships, and even small steps towards an end goal can be thrilling. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of the Spanish language and for the opportunity to practice it, and I look forward to practicing a profession that is also highly gratifying. Although not everyone is a speech pathologist, I hope this blog shed some light on the
broad advantages of language immersion programs. Feel free to share any additional
thoughts about language immersion in the comments below!
Until next time,
Rachel White is a 3rd year studying Foreign Affairs at Waseda University in Tokyo for the 2017-2018 school year. Check out some photos from her first semester below!
Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, who studied in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!
I write this to you all fresh from an eight (!) day journey with my friend Anna Lee, where we hopped from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, France to Florence and then on to Rome, Italy,before heading back here to face the end of our semester abroad, brave final exams, and soak up the remainder of our time across the pond.I spent my Thanksgiving going to French class and then hopping on a plane to Prague, Czech Republic, before tuning in via FaceTime to say hello to family at 1 am, when Thanksgiving was already, technically, over for me. Two days later, I took a train to Vienna and spent a whopping 24 hours there, exploring Christmas markets, touring Schonbrunn Palace, and going to a Mozart performance that was so surreal I can’t put it into words. **
Over the course of these trips, I’ve stayed in many a hostel or Airbnb and run into Americans, Italians, Slovakians, South Africans, Australians, Chinese, the French, Brits, and a number of other nationalities. Some of them are doing the same thing as me—taking a weekend, going on a trip while they’re already on the continent and airfare is cheap. Some of them are there for work. Some are there for personal journeys, or school, or they’re just trying to stay over here and travel until their Visa runs out and they have to go home. Everyone’s exact narrative varies, although some are similar enough, but we’ve all got one thing in common: we’re not from here, but we are here.
And this, if I had to compile a list of personal FAQs from this semester abroad, would be one of the chief questions posed to me: Where are you from? Why are you here? (or, sometimes, why Edinburgh? or Why not France ? or any of that question’s grammatical variants). Of course, there are others: What are you studying, what year are you, how are you finding it here,and soon and so forth. But it’s these two—where from, and why here—that linger with me a little longer than the rest.
I’d say it’s because they don’t have clear-cut answers, but they do (Tuscaloosa, Alabama,and It just worked out better this way). Invariably, there are more complicated answers; I could launch into my backstory (born in North Carolina, a short stint in Alexander City, then Tuscaloosa, and now Charlottesville, Virginia), or I could—and sometimes do—recount the fraught saga of my hopes to study in Lyon, France or London, England, summing it up with the conclusion that God had different ideas than I did, and now here I am, in Edinburgh, Scotland, spending too much money on coffee, hiking up Drummond Street every morning, and somehow ending up at Christmas markets when I should really just be studying.
So it’s hard to pinpoint why I think about these questions so much, when it’d be easy enough to not think about them. I’m here because I’m here. I’m from the States. Which one,you ask? Alabama—yes, the one with Forrest Gump and that one Lynyrd Skynyrd song. Do you know much about football, the American kind?
But perhaps there’s something more to these questions, besides the potential complexity of an answer. These questions trace a journey, from point A (where I’m from) to point B (where I am now). They ask for a story, a narrative of movement from one place to another, that is rarely as straightforward as the words used to ask for it.
But I’m all about journeys, and trying to uncover why they happened, what I’m supposed to learn, and who I was when I started compared to who I am now. And this where-and-why only asks about the journey of before, of how I got here and not what has happened since. The sequel to these questions, the How has this changed you? hasn’t been asked yet, mainly because I’m not finished with my time here and so cannot yet fully employ that simultaneous gift and curse of retrospection to examine what has been good and what has been bad or strange or funny or hard.
That being said, I think it’s interesting at this point, before these next two weeks are up and I’m on a flight back stateside, to think (briefly) about how I got here, and what I wanted, and where I came from.
In the most literal sense, I came from the Providence, Rhode Island T.F. Green Airport,on a ridiculously cheap Norwegian Air flight. Before that, it was the Atlanta airport, and then, of course, my home in Tuscaloosa.
But what I really came from was a long,beautiful summer in the Blue Ridge mountains,where I’d returned to a summer camp I’d called home so many years ago as a lonely, quiet middle-schooler. Before that, it had been an anxiety-riddled semester of existential questions,flourishing friendships that challenged how I look at love, and personal doubt. I came here from a place of trying to prove something, of wanting to see more, of wishing to test my limits and revel in another tiny corner of this world the Lord created for us. I wanted to get away, because that’s when I think best,and that’s when I can see myself, and the people and places I’ve left,more clearly. I wanted a reprieve from the wonderful and loving, but also physically and emotionally taxing, world of UVA, with its over-busy lifestyle and obsessive comparing of hours slept during the night.
I wanted to keep moving, because it’s something I’m good at, and something I like, and mobility—and the chance to see more of the world—has an allure I just can’t ever seem to shake.I wanted to rec-contextualize myself again, to get another angle for the exploration of what and who I am.I wanted to take the tiny, tattered fabric of my life and sew it someplace new on the tapestry of the world, to see how I fit into a new part of the pattern.
I recognize that, ostensibly, this is all emblematically youthful, romantic, naïve, and probably grandiose—that these are big words that are difficult to translate into everyday life—but youthful questions are important questions,if only because they are big and difficult to translate.I’m not trying to paint myself as some deep thinker here, as some tortured artist or restless soul that tosses and turns at night while grappling with the deep, dark question of humanity, or who traverses the world without ever looking back or missing her mom.I wouldn’t call myself any of these things, because they’re tropes, and they’re not real, and I don’t think the questions I’m asking are terribly unique ones.I am one of hundreds of thousands of college women who decided to skip town to spend a semester in Europe, and I’m probably not the only one who came for these reasons.
But I think that’s a more honest answer for where I came from, and also why I’m here: I came from a place of questions and uncertainty and restlessness,and I’m here so I can take a better, different look at these questions, so I can experience someplace new, and so I might burst the bounds of my own localized understanding of the world and see the different parts of the world’s pattern, whether I fit in to them or not.
Next time I post, I’ll be back in the States, feeling the numb sort of whiplash that comes with the quick, unceremonious uprooting of life from one lifestyle, community, and place to another. There will be a lot I’ll want to say, and a lot I won’t know how to express, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I won’t have answered these questions. I’ll probably keep seeking, and moving, and wondering, and sewing my fabric into new places on the tapestry. Sometimes it will fit, and sometimes it won’t, but at least I’ve seen a new part of the pattern.
**For those of you wondering: yes, I have still managed to make it to class, and school does exist, and I am doing it!
Margaret Jewett is a 3rd year studying Global Security & Justice and French at AIU College: France this semester. Check out her post about her arrival in Aix-en-Provence below!
On the first day of my wine and food pairing class (yes, that’s actually a class I am taking here), my professor opened with an unfamiliar sentiment. “In wine and food pairing,” she declared, “there are no rules, except for one: pleasure.” This idea seemed strange to me – a rule governed only by enjoyment didn’t seem like a rule at all. But a week in Aix-en-Provence, a small city in the heart of southern France, has shown me that here, this rule does not only apply to cuisine, and learning to follow it is a lesson in itself.
The Aixois, as the locals are called, are not consumed with the constant need to be busy and productive that characterizes many Americans, myself included. While the streets of Aix are often bustling with activity, the energy of the city is lively, rather than stressed. Pedestrians window-shop along the store-lined streets, dogs run unleashed on the cobblestone roads, and mopeds periodically part the crowds as they navigate the narrow passageways of the medieval city. Locals are constantly eating and drinking outside, no matter the weather. Outdoor cafés are equipped with wide umbrellas and heat lamps so that Aixois can enjoy their pre-dinner apéritifs even in the rain and cold. In Aix, the general consensus seems to be that enjoying the pleasures of daily life is both encouraged and expected.
While I am beginning to learn and appreciate the Aixois way of life, the stress-free mindset has not yet completely taken a hold of me. In America, I would feel lazy sitting for hours over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, and after only a week here, I am still learning not to make mental to-do lists when I’m enjoying a drink with friends. The enriching effects of this lifestyle are, however, beginning to influence my state of mind. Already, I am starting to walk more slowly, to take in the picturesque world around me. I feel less and less guilty about lingering over my dinner in the evenings, or watching the world go by for hours at a café. It might take me some time to fully embrace this new philosophy, but mastering the rule of pleasure is one lesson I look forward to learning during my semester abroad.
Okay, I know I’ve said this about a million times, but Freiburg is SO GREEN! My first impressions were very positive—I knew that the culture here was much more centered about environmental stewardship and protection, but I had no idea exactly how far ahead Freiburg was until we started my class, Freiburg Green City.
My classes here are formatted in three-week modules, so we really have a chance to focus on one at a time. For the first part of the day, we have lecture and in the afternoon we usually go out and see the things we talked about in lecture! A few days ago, we went to Hotel Victoria in the city center of Freiburg, one the most sustainable hotels in the world!
figure out how to bring this back to the states. One of the biggest differences is that the community is the driver of environmental change in Freiburg. The citizens of Vauban are the ones that asked for parking to be limited on the periphery. In fact, people overwhelmingly support laws that make it more difficult to own and drive cars in the city. Most of the downtown area is a pedestrian zone, so cars have been replaced by efficient trams, safe bike paths, and good walking paths. For those rare times where a car is necessary, you can easily participate in car-sharing and use an electric car.
Logan Brich is a third year studying Global Public Health and Middle Eastern Studies. He is studying at Ben-Gurion University this spring to better explore the Middle East and study in a completely unfamiliar, exciting environment.
Emmaline Herring is a second year who studied abroad in Jordan in the Fall of 2017. She participated in a course studying Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East.
Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, studying in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!
This Monday morning, I woke up in an overwhelmingly purple hostel room, along with four friends of mine, at 5 in the morning. I stirred slowly, turning off my first alarm, knowing the second would come in another five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later I hauled myself out of bed, wincing as I jumped the last rung of my bunk ladder onto the floor. Three days walking miles in unsupportive shoes, exploring London, is not kind to one’s feet, and I sighed as I slipped the same sneakers back on. I hadn’t brought any other shoes—I had to fit everything into a backpack, after all.
Within 30 minutes, we’d vacated the room with minimal conversation (because pre-coffee conversations are a unique form of torture, and also, mornings are hard, even when they start at a more palatable hour). A short walk to the Tube station came next, then the Tube ride itself, then another walk to Liverpool Station to catch a train to Stansted Airport. In the airport, we took a train to our terminal, boarded a flight, and then split off in Edinburgh. I took the tram to Princes Street and then walked the rest of the way home, while my friends—who lived near one another on the other side of the university—hopped on the 300 bus and went back to their accommodation. By the time all was said and done, it was noon. I had four hours before my only Monday class—a 4 pm lecture—so I unpacked, ate lunch, watched some Netflix, and started in on some readings.
The chief sensation of this day was exhaustion (and also aching feet). Our trip to London wasn’t long, but it was full, and there’s something draining about flying, even if that flight is only an hour long.
Last weekend was not of nearly the same magnitude, nor did it involve quite so many modes of transportation (just a train, some walking, and a bus ride). I spent most of Friday and Saturday in St. Andrew’s, visiting a friend of mine, meeting friends of his, and wandering the beautiful university town (we even walked by the café where William and Kate allegedly met—something the café advertises proudly in their front window). After an evening at home, I took off Sunday morning with a flatmate, Julie, to ride the bus into Alnwick, England, to see Alnwick Castle (fun fact: the broomstick lesson scene of Harry Potter was filmed here, as was part of Downton Abbey). We had a late afternoon tea together and then bee-lined for Barter Books, the second-biggest secondhand bookstore in the U.K. (and honestly, guys, this place was amazing—I could have spent hours there).
I’ve used my free time well, then, taking advantage of each day to see something new of this country. Weekends have rapidly become the busiest parts of my week, and the wallet on my phone case, rather than being stuffed with debit cards and gift cards, is bursting with train tickets, boasting promises of a return journey between their bold orange borders. And while this is incredibly rewarding, I’m grateful that I’ll be spending the next two weekends in my host city, taking time to catch up on work, to explore Edinburgh more, and, most importantly, to take a breath and reflect on the past several weeks.
And that, I suppose, is something I’m trying to learn how to do while I’m here: to reflect, to seek stillness, and to ignore, on occasion, the incessantly ambitious part of my mind that wants to capitalize on every free day to go somewhere. It’s easy to get carried away in planning trips, and this makes perfect sense (I’ll never be this close and it will never be this cheap again, my mind whispers), but it also makes perfect sense to be present where I am, to embrace the time I have here, and to invest in this city instead of using it as a jumping-off point for other, shorter, more romantically spontaneous excursions. No, I’m not going to discontinue these excursions entirely, because my mind is right: I probably won’t be this close and it probably won’t be this cheap again (or, perhaps it might, but I can’t count on that now). But there’s a balance to be found here. There’s value in being stationary, but there’s also value in embracing the opportunities this geographical position offers, in seizing the day, as my all-time favorite Robin Williams character, Mr. Keating, might say (and also Horace, I guess, but that’s beside the point). It’s just hard to find where the compromise lies, to decide what will be more fulfilling, and to sort out what exactly I want from this semester.
I do know, however, that I’ve been craving some time for reflection—a good two hours to sit and journal, and a clear schedule conducive to wandering, and an evening where I’m free to open a new book or to try dinner somewhere new or to watch a movie with flatmates. Because movement is wonderful, and, perhaps, more immediately associated with ideas of adventure and experience, but there’s something to be said for contentment in staying, in spending days doing much and yet nothing at all, in being aimless but satisfied.
I still have a fierce desire to visit, essentially, the entirety of the European continent, but it’s easy to forget that Edinburgh isn’t just a home base—it’s an exciting, beautiful, adventure-filled city in its own right, with far more to offer than a nearby train station and an easy tram to the airport. And so, over the next two weeks, I’m hoping I’ll see more of this city, that I’ll meander more, that I’ll embrace the schedule-lessness I’ll have, and that I’ll build a better understanding of where, exactly, I am, and what it is that makes this city so worth staying for (and, also, I have some papers due soon).
Emma Hendrix is a 3rd year student majoring in Urban & Environmental Planning in the School of Architecture. She is spending the fall semester on UVA’s Architecture program in Venice, Italy.
Dominick Giovanniello attended the 2016-2017 CET: Intensive Arabic Language in Amman, Jordan program as a Third Year. He studies Middle Eastern Language and Literature and Global Security and Justice. As we prepare for break here in Charlottesville, let’s look back a year ago to his experience celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.
Out of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite. We celebrate it simply back home, but I still love gathering friends and family together and gorging myself on delicious food. However, I’ve never considered Thanksgiving a real holiday or celebration of anything meaningful to my life. To me it’s just a good excuse to bring people together and eat. And for that reason, explaining Thanksgiving to my Jordanian friends was rather difficult, since Jordanian families tend to be closer and don’t need a non-religious holiday as an excuse to gather.
Nevertheless, this past week we held a Thanksgiving celebration at the CET building, complete with all of the traditional Thanksgiving staples like turkey (probably the best I’ve ever had) and mashed potatoes. The day started early, with a couple of students slaving away preparing dishes while the rest drank and milled about. Although most of our language partners, teachers and Jordanian roommates were present, I noticed that they largely stuck to themselves, in large part, I suspect, due to the presence of alcohol. And as the day wore on, I noticed that the separation between the two groups became more acute.
Although none of the Americans were belligerent or exceedingly annoying, it was obvious that many were intoxicated and that the Jordanians felt uncomfortable because of it. Additionally, none of them could relate to the topics of conversation or to the shared cultural knowledge of the Americans, for lack of a better term. For example, when “Country Road,” the ubiquitous song in all American college parties, came on over the speakers, practically the entire group stood up and began to sing along lustily, while the Jordanians looked on in confused amusement.
To be entirely honest, I didn’t enjoy Thanksgiving this year. Although it was fun to let loose and enjoy some of the comforts, activities and foods I associate with home, I felt like I was under a microscope and that the Jordanians were judging us the entire time. In my opinion, opening up and celebrating or discussing your culture in a foreign country induces a considerable amount of pressure and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. I think a large part of it is due to having lived overseas before and being one of the only Americans in a school full of Italians and Brits at the height of the Iraq war when anti-American sentiment was really common in Europe.
To me this Thanksgiving was a reminder that cultural dialogue and exchange are not something that just happens, nor is it an entirely innocent process. You have to make an effort to share your culture and be open to learning about another person’s, but at the same time you’re also aware of your own role as an unofficial ambassador, which inserts a tremendous amount of pressure into interactions and events that you would never notice normally at home. For this reason, living overseas can be really exhausting and stressful, even if you’re just going to the grocery store or doing something mundane like that.
I wonder if immigrants in America feel this way, especially immigrants from non-Western cultures. Because no matter how welcoming or accepting another culture is, there’s always a pressure to conform and change your behavior to the cultural norms of your host country, while at the same time challenging stereotypes and misconceptions. And if I’m feeling this kind of pressure as an American student in Jordan for a year, I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must be for Arab immigrants in the U.S. (or for anyone who gets lumped in the same group), especially in light of our post-9/11 society and attitudes.
Jonathan Thomas is a Second Year student, currently enrolled in the UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul National University is nestled into a contour on the side of one of Seoul’s largest mountains, Gwankak mountain. The mountain is located to the south of the city, and like most of Korea, is particularly picturesque during the fall months when the trees covering the mountains turn from green to autumnal colors. Getting off at Gwacheon station puts you at the base of the mountain path that begins the ascent to the top of Gwanak mountain. The path winds its way up, following a clear stream which makes it way down the mountain in the opposite direction.
Just before the peak of the mountain, there are a series of buildings, where you’ll find an ornate and active Buddhist temple, with its members still operating and maintaining the temple. However, this isn’t out of the ordinary. Walking up to the top and finding a temple is quite common in Korea, with many of them located on or around mountains. This doesn’t mean that Buddhists or Buddhist monks are in anyway secluded. Often times you’ll see monks with their heads shaved dressed in gray robes riding the subway. Additionally, if you take the bus from Seoul National University to the closest subway station on the east side of the school, you will be thrust into the busy area of Nakseongdae station. The busy streets are home to coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and churches. The churches are highlighted by the spires jutting up from them, but apart from this they look like any other building on the street.
What is remarkable about this is the coexistence of both of these religions in harmony. Many times, religions butt heads, clash in their ideology and generally don’t get along. While there have been rises and falls in popularity of both religions in Korea over the centuries, Korea has had a history of religious acceptance, especially of foreign religions, and the divide between Christianity and Buddhism is about fifty-fifty. This has created a dynamic that has continued into the present. The religious order of Korea isn’t something of tension, but rather a virtue, where the religion you hold is your belief and the religion another person holds is their own belief. This has created a society where Buddhist temples and Christian churches sit virtually side-by-side without the slightest hint of animosity.
While this may seem trivial, to me it’s a refreshing reassurance. Currently, there are quite a lot religious conflicts spread across the world, and these conflicts are some of the most difficult to resolve. Therefore, to see a country and culture like Korea where two religions can coexist, sans conflict, gives me hope that those conflicts have some sort of resolution, and makes me appreciated Korea for its unique cultural aspects like this one.
Lillian Harris is a Third Year, majoring in Art History, who is attending the Fall 2017 UVA in Lyon program.
Since arriving in Lyon three weeks ago, I’ve come to associate this phrase – which means “dinner’s served” – with all things that are good:
- The comfort of a home-cooked meal after a long day à la fac (slang for “at university”)
- Hours of banter with my host family in French… and the occasional miming (due to language barrier!)
- And *most importantly* lots of cheese
I knew that food was important to the French. I read online that Lyon is considered the capital gastronomique de l’Europe. And my host family even mentioned in an email one time this summer that their meals usually last at least two hours. So I should have been prepared for this pomp and circumstance of the French dîner.
But I don’t think I realized all of this – the sanctity of mealtime, the relevance of the kitchen table, and the nuances of the French dining experience – until I got here and was christened on my first night at approximately 9pm with the resounding call of « à table ! »
That first meal was a blur of floofy soufflé and and lots of butter and some stinky cheese that I couldn’t catch the name of. I was nervous, having just met my host family, and wanted to make a good first impression; but I threw polite nibbles out the window and ate so much not only because it was 9pm (at home I usually eat around 6:30), but also because the food was good. Dinner lasted until I couldn’t keep my jetlagged eyes open any longer, and then I went to bed feeling stuffed and bien acceuillie (welcomed).
The transition from American everyday life to the French mode de vie has been interesting and tough and funny and overwhelming (more details later), but luckily I was able to cling to some common ground – a taste for la gastronomie – as soon as I got here. So I’m going to continue eating my freshly baked baguettes and pain au chocolat and any other bread/cheese/chocolate combinations I can find until I get the full lay of the land.
Chandler Collins is a 2nd Year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. He is attending the UVA Exchange: Hitotsubashi University program this semester.
Additionally, Collin has created a travel video to recap his adventures, you can find one for Mt. Fuji here (https://youtu.be/Co2nKR_b7GA)
Caroline Jordan is a 4th Year student studying Psychology. She is attending the UVA Exchange: Waseda University program this semester.
Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, attending UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh this semester.
Check out her blog, where this post can also be located!
Week one (plus a few days!) in my new city has finally come to a close. It was a blurry time-warp, populated by an enormous number of new faces (and accents), relentless Facebook-friending, and everyone’s favorite collection of small talk questions (that is: What’s your name? What year are you? Where are you from? What are you studying?). I’ve relived the first-year experience, attending Welcome Week events, waiting in line for a student ID, and struggling to decipher a new online interface for my student account (it’s beginning to seem to me that universities make these intentionally user-unfriendly, although I cannot for the life of me decide why).
It’s been quite a challenge for me to figure out what to write about now, after this first week abroad. I have, unsurprisingly, developed a laundry list of ideas, thoughts, and observations I’d like to share, ranging from the strangeness of my role as a third-year-first-year hybrid to the surprisingly visceral response I had to learning that Scots, apparently, don’t refrigerate their eggs (guys, I could write a whole blog on this). Of course, one’s first week in a new country usually entails an inundation of newness and, as a veteran overthinker, this makes picking one topic incredibly difficult.
So, where to begin?
I weighed my options, half-wrote and then abandoned a number of topics, and finally settled on the aspect of this experience that has, so far, presented the greatest form of culture shock I’ve experienced: grocery stores.
Many of us could probably agree that the U.K. and the states are not, in the simplest terms, that different; we speak the same language, we’re both shaped by primarily western cultural influences, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what seems to be a thriving coffee shop presence around Edinburgh (this gives me, perhaps, an alarming degree of comfort; nothing feels more like home than coffee).
But still—the differences here are slight, if you get beyond the obvious disparities, and it’s these differences that lead to feelings of displacement, that remind me I am elsewhere. I am not from here. I am not home.
Part of this, I suppose, is my being mentally prepared for the big differences. I knew tipping was not common practice, and that my accent would stick out more, and that the weather would be unpredictable and mostly cold. But I didn’t consider the minute differences, like the different clothes sizing system, or the extra charge for a plastic bag to carry your purchases at any given store. And the grocery store, I suppose, is where these minute differences come together in greater numbers, presenting themselves in a way I can’t ignore.
My favorite brands are absent. There’s no Chobani yogurt, or Jif peanut butter, and the Quaker oatmeal flavors are different. They sell milk in different sizes than we do. The nutrition labels don’t look the same. It’s fun, yes, to explore these new foods, to try something different, but this is also the place where I feel the least at home. The avocados are in the refrigerated section, and the fruit containers are different, too. Instead of plastic boxes, with those snap-shut tops, they’re covered with a plastic film. Even though it’s September, there’s no canned pumpkin anywhere.
The fact that these are the things that remind me over and over again that I’m a foreigner here speaks, perhaps, to how finely tuned my senses are to what feels like home. I can handle the weather just fine, or the currency shift, because I knew these were coming, and I’d considered them beforehand. But the absence of pre-minced garlic? That was jarring.
I could probably go on about how deeply food culture has an impact on national identity and how grocery stores themselves tend to be significant community establishments, but, to me, this experience has pointed toward a more personal realization. Home—for me, at least—is a far more detailed and specific concept than I’d thought. It has nuances, and parts of it seem incredibly shallow (the fraught search for baby carrots, for example, should not make me feel as out of place as it does). The micro aspects of daily life, I’ve realized, color my perceptions of place and belonging just as much as the macro ones.
The point of this whole drama, I suppose, is to say this: this place has a lot of resonances with what I’m used to at home. To say I feel like a fish totally out of water would be misleading—I’m getting along fairly comfortably, although I encounter new cultural gray areas each day, and it’s easy enough to conduct everyday life here relatively smoothly. But, because I’m in a place where my mind doesn’t have to be occupied by the big differences of lifestyle and culture, I’ve had more room to examine what—beyond the people—makes this place different, and unique, and unlike the country in which I grew up. I’ve started thinking about what makes home feel like home, and all the parameters of home we consider. There’s home as a sense of familiarity, or as a university, or as a structure. There are perceptions of home built solely on the foundation of friends and family, or there’s home as a nation, a state, or a town. We have homes that aren’t homes at all, that are places we rarely live—like, say, summer camp—to which we feel deep connections. Some homes bring out different parts of us and aid in our own self-discovery. Some homes, in both the very abstract and highly concrete uses of the term, challenge us more than others. There are countless ways to think of home, and there are countless ways we discover it wherever we are.
To me, it would seem grocery stores are a significant part of my perceptions of home. American accents signal home. Coffee, as I’ve said, feels like home.
So, in writing all this, I simply mean to be saying: this place will, as most places in which we invest ourselves do, become a sort of home. But what kind of home, I wonder, will it be, and what will make it different, and how will God use this home to help me grow in ways my other homes can’t? What parts of this city and this experience will become home, and what will stay foreign, or uncomfortable, or disconcerting? I, of course, can’t provide answers to any of these questions yet (although I certainly have hopes for what those answers might eventually be), but I’m glad I’m thinking about it now, before I’m pulled into the whirlwind of academics and weekend travel that I sense heading my way.
It is a gift to be here, in a new city and country, with new friends and new foods and new opportunities. It’s overwhelming at times, and exhausting, too, and questions of what I’m here to discover and who my friends will be often take away from the sense of peace I want so badly to have. But these are good questions, and productive questions, and Edinburgh, I suppose, is not such a bad place to be asking them.
Blaise Sevier, Chandler Collins, Keelyn McCabe, and Gabriel Aguto, who are second years spending this semester on our new exchange at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.
They are all collaborating on a film project over the course of the semester.
Please check out their blog below!
Tarah Fisher is a Third Year Psychology major, currently at Semester at Sea.
I distinctly remember a Monday night during my first semester at UVA. I was anxiously waiting to tryout for the University Salsa Club’s showcase. Like any other nervous first year would do, I chatted up the friendliest looking person in sight and asked what dorm she lived in. She had just returned from a semester abroad, at sea specifically, and quickly I learned not to assume that everyone was also a first year. She took classes on a ship, traveled across many oceans, and made incredible friendships with her classmates and professors. I told her that I would never be able to live on a ship for that long.
My name is Tarah Fisher, and in two days I will embark on the MV World Odyssey for a Semester at Sea.
I am not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to let me travel around the world on a ship instead of the typical study abroad in Europe, and I do not foresee the awe wearing off anytime soon. Like many students who are lucky enough to study abroad, I have a deep desire to travel. I seek novelty experiences as they broaden my horizons, challenge my perceptions, and force me to grow in ways that sitting in comfort would not.
I am thrilled to be traveling to countries like Ghana, India, and Viet Nam where I will be thrown into cultures, languages, and environments drastically different than my own. I will learn what its like to be a traveler in a country where one can not understand why the bus driver is yelling at you because you do not speak the language, or how your waitress has a huge grin because you unknowingly left an abnormally large tip. For many, this sounds like a nightmare. But challenging experiences like these are extremely important; they remind us that we are human, and we must embrace the layers of differences instead of allowing them to divide us.
Although travel is one of the most influential opportunities a person can be given, I recognize the privilege that comes with study abroad. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received, yet I am nervous that I will not seize every moment of the privilege I have been gifted.
So, I write this to remind myself that the once-in-a-lifetime voyage begins now. Soon, the sounds of the ocean will become the soundtrack of my life. Time will sail by. Don’t blink.
I can’t believe what a whirr the first 11 days in Florence have been. It feels as though I have been here for 10 minutes, but also for 3 years. I am beginning to have a sense that I am in “my neighborhood” as I approach my apartment at the end of long walks. I am getting lost slightly less often, though I have never been particularly good at directions (and still get lost in my hometown). I have faced a few obstacles: the hot water in our apartment shut off one day; my debit card is scratched and a new one is (hopefully) on its way. “Our apartment.” I share an apartment with 8 girls: 4 from UVA and 4 from Penn State. Everyone is very nice and very compatible—it turns out that college age girls with an interest in travelling Europe for four months have a lot in common.
Our first weekend here was full of school orientations, and less formal means of orienting ourselves in Florence. My personal favorite part of the first few days was going to an aperitivo, a cheap “pre-dinner snack,” buffet-style and served with a drink. It was a cultural experience, very revealing of the slow-paced, food-oriented Italian lifestyle. It was also a lot of fun to do with my apartment-mates. It’s been a continuous, conscious effort to avoid the “study abroad bars” and “American diners” that study abroad students here tend to frequent, and make sure that I’m doing culturally engaging things with my study abroad friends.
This weekend, two of my apartment-mates went to Berlin, and three of us went to Siena. Siena was a beautiful town—we went to the Siena Duomo, a medieval art museum, and Il Campo, the city square. We had lunch at a highly recommended restaurant, L’Osteria on Via Rossi, and I had Siena’s traditional pasta with a wild boar ragu, which is a Siena staple as well. Engaging with Italy via food has definitely been one of my preferred modes.
Sunday of this weekend, I went to a church service at the nearest cathedral which, like all of the churches in Florence, is amazingly beautiful. I am a confirmed Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a while. The contrast between the strange language and the childhood memories gave me a mix of emotions that was hard to sort out, but which draws me to go again. However, my plans for many long weekend trips may disrupt this desire. Indeed, the hardest part of study abroad so far has been trying to establish a balance between all of the things I want to do in Florence and Italy, and the things I want to do in wider Europe. I look forward to figuring it out!
Alexis Ferebee attended the UVA in Lyon Program in Spring 2017 as a 3rd year majoring in Media Studies and Foreign Affairs.
At our universities in France, we get two different breaks, or “vacances.” The first one is a week long and happens in February, and the second is also a week and is in April. I just recently got back from my first vacation. A friend and I went to Barcelona, Valencia, and Lisbon. Spain is easily of my favorite countries that I have visited, I almost with I studied abroad there. Luckily, I speak some Spanish (due to the 3 semesters of it that I took at UVA) so communication was not too hard there, but Portugal was a whole other story. Before arriving there, I thought that I would watch some YouTube videos and learn at least the basics of the language before spending three whole days there.
After watching the same video 3 times, I was taught how to say: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I would like, you’re welcome, excuse me, I don’t speak Portuguese, do you speak English? etc. Over the course of those few days, I used a few of the words, but honestly I didn’t really need them. As can be expected in most larger European cities, most everybody spoke English very well. There were a few times when I had to either communicate in French or Spanish, but that wasn’t too much of a problem. The ideal way to travel around Europe is to know a few languages and just hope that the people you meet can speak at least one of them.
I am so lucky that in this experience I not only get to better my French skills, but my Spanish ones as well. I also get to explore other languages and at least learn their basics. Whether it is trying to order food in a terrible Portuguese accent, or miming what I am attempting to say, all that matters is that I tried!
Elizabeth Kim is an Economics major, who attended the Spring 2017 UVA Exchange: Seoul National University Program in her third year.
Mariam Gbadamosi attended the UVA in Costa Rica Program in Summer 2017.
Caroline Alberti spent her spring semester studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!
I’ve also recently taking up biking places, since my host mom was kind enough to loan me a bike for the semester. I really like biking places because I think it’s giving me a chance to become more habituated to the city and know my way around. It has also shown me that I am very easily lost. What GoogleMaps has said is a 10 min bike ride has turned into 25 because of a few wrong turns. But hey, I like to take the scenic route and thankfully Toulouse isn’t large enough that you can get really lost in it.
Biking is, however, confusing because the narrow roads are shared by pedestrians, bikers, and cars. Toulouse is called La Ville Rose, but I think a more accurate name would be The City of Obstacles. After one month here I still don’t know which streets/sidewalks are for people and which are for cars, and it seems like Toulousains don’t know either (or they don’t care). I also can find no pattern for the random polls and barricades that are dispersed through roads and streets. Biking is always an adventure, I will have to say. Anyhoo, though France is confusing sometimes, it’s definitely always interesting and keeping me on my toes. I love it!
Pce, luv & ???,
Myliyah Hanna is a Japanese and English major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange in Tokyo, Japan. Read about her spring break adventures!
Golden Week is a week of Japanese holidays, such as Showa Day or Children’s Day, that many people take off to vacation and travel. For us exchange students it meant a week off from class, my spring break. Golden Week is an opportunity to travel and therefore the prices of the shinkansen, Japan’s infamous bullet train, flights, and hotels are bumped up. Even though expensive, I asked myself when would be the next time I get a chance like this. And so, I booked a flight and an inn in Naha, Okinawa.
When I left for Okinawa, Tokyo was cool in the morning. The sun was bright and an early morning breeze swam through the city and across the shoulders of other people pulling suitcases alongside themselves. After a three-hour flight to Naha, I found myself overdressed. My leggings and t-shirt were too warm for Okinawan weather and I was paying the price via sweat. But the air near the airport smelled of the ocean and palm trees stood tall along the roads.
I decided to stay close to the airport since Okinawa doesn’t have trains. Besides a car, buses are the main form of transportation. In Naha, however, there’s a monorail that goes through the city. My inn was about ten minutes from one of the stations on the monorail. It was also about 20 minutes from one of the most popular tourist attractions in Okinawa, Kokusai Dori (Kokusai Street), a long road abundant with yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurants and Okinawan souvenir shops where one could buy a jar of habushu, or Okinawan snake wine.
The owner of the inn was a talkative, friendly older man who referred to himself as “Master” and spoke in the third person. In the morning he was usually near the entrance of the inn stretching to prepare for a daily run. Sometimes I would come down and see him playing with a short-tailed cat that often frequented the inn. The kitten was a girl who he had wanted to name Kentarou, a traditionally masculine name, but had yet to name her because he couldn’t think of anything else he liked. “See, if I named her Kentarou,” he said, “she’d probably get scared by the name and run off.” Every night he was usually in the kitchen, watching television and inviting people to sit and drink with him. Amongst some of those conversations, I had come to know him in a way that I wasn’t expecting. He was open and honest about his life, his feminine personality, his open marriage and three girlfriends. He had probably told me too much for even American standards, but I undoubtedly appreciated his honesty.
“Master” was just one person in Okinawa that I encountered and made me feel like I belonged, almost as if Okinawa had been waiting for me. Although I wasn’t free from the prolonged staring, Okinawans were more willing to approach me and ask me questions than people in Tokyo. It was also the first time I received so much positive attention on my braids since my arrival. There is something to be definitely said for Okinawa’s excellent hosting skills. It was the first time in my exchange experience thus far that I wasn’t the odd man out. I wasn’t othered. I was welcomed and I cannot begin to explain how necessary that was for me.
This isn’t to say that people in Tokyo haven’t been kind and gracious either. I’ve run into many nice people who were patient with me as I tried to explain myself in nervous Japanese. I will say, however, that even though Tokyo is the most global in its visitors and stores, Okinawa’s mindset is far more international. There is no need to remind a foreigner how un-Japanese they are in their mannerisms or mother-tongue. Okinawa knew that, and it didn’t care.
Okinawa was laid-back, lacking some of the rigid social rules I discovered in Tokyo. I noticed this especially when it came to clothing. In Tokyo, certain styles of tops and dresses–off the shoulder tops, open back dresses, spaghetti straps–have a reputation for promiscuity. In Naha, however, these tops and dresses were abundant in Naha. Simply put, it was too warm in Okinawa to cover up. Tokyo is serious; Okinawa is a beach.
Two days before my flight departing from the island, I visited an interactive workshop that specialized in traditional Okinawan sango dyeing. The building was styled after traditional Japanese architecture and soft music played overhead. Upstairs was where I sat at a table and used coral and paint to create designs on a t-shirt. The entire workshop, which was about an hour, cost about 30 dollars but it was well worth my money. Later that day I also visited Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage site and one of Okinawa’s oldest historical monuments. The inside curved and weaved through numerous rooms that each held their purposes, such as the throne room for celebrations and a raised platform room where past kings conducted political business.
I didn’t know what to expect what when I landed at the airport. I imagined long rural roads, strangers distancing themselves from me. Okinawa surprised me, opened up a whole other side of Japanese identity I thought I would rarely see. The friendliness I experienced in Okinawa alone is reason enough for me to go back. I was reminded that Japan is not only Tokyo, the one place that seems to ring in our minds the loudest when we hear the country’s name. Okinawa reminded me that central Japan, the big cities, are not the end-all-be-all. It also reminded me about the pleasures of taking a break from crowded areas to breathe and stretch, feel the ocean on my toes and the sunshine on my skin.
When I hear the name Osaka, I think of medieval Japan. I think of how important Osaka was as a trade post and a cultural hub where many of the great poets journeyed to. I think about its proximity to Kyoto, Nara, the once great capitals of Japan before it was decided that Tokyo would become the next, and final, capital.
Japanese literature classes can only teach but so much. I knew of Kansai-ben, or Kansai dialect, and of Osaka’s infamous okonomiyaki, which I can only describe as a vegetable and meat pancake. Other than that, Osaka remained a mystery to me. Japan is ultimately more than just Tokyo and I wanted to experience the Japan that wasn’t in Tokyo. After Okinawa, I returned to the airport and boarded a plane heading for the port city.
Admittedly, when I arrived in Osaka I was excited to have trains and subways to ride again. The airport stood atop an island about twenty minutes or so from Osaka itself. When I landed, the waters and sky were streaked with flecks of gold and purple, the windows of the stylish airport glittering with the sunset. It was rush hour but people were calm, taking their time to board the trains heading into the city. Osaka has its own loop line that circles the city, making stops at the most popular locations. The guesthouse I stayed at was on one of these stops, two minutes from the station.
My favorite part about Osaka is the fact that the city weaves its rivers into its architecture. Bridges are abundant, each with their own character and connecting different areas together. Atop the Umeda Sky Building is an observation deck. I went and ordered a parfait to enjoy the breathtaking view. Mountains stood tall along the horizon and I could see planes descending to land at the nearby airport. The outside observation deck had speakers playing the epitome of cafe music, with its soft guitar and drums. It was windy but the circular deck gave me one of the best views of Osaka. I could see the curves of the river and how they emptied into the sea; I could see clouds lifting off from the mountains.
It was at night, however, that Osaka’s young spirit opened itself up to me. Dotonbori is undoubtedly a tourist site, but the attention it attracted was nothing but positive. Everyone was relaxed and enjoying themselves. I indulged in the sights and smells of ramen and okonomiyaki. There was laughter and music and relaxation. As I walked through Dotonbori, crossing bridges over a glimmering river to the other sides of the area, I walked aimlessly and took in what Osaka gave to me. I had chosen a small izakaya to eat dinner at that night. I sat at the bar, where I watched the two chefs prepare the meals and joke with one another. I was the only foreigner in there at the time, but that didn’t stop anyone from asking me questions. Before I left they wished me luck in my studies, asked that I come back to the izakaya when I’m in Osaka again.
Although my time in Osaka was limited to a day, it’s easily one of the most memorable. I didn’t want to leave. The people were incredibly friendly and unbothered about my foreignness. If anything, it emboldened many to ask me about my studies, where I came from, my reasons for coming to Japan. The week of traveling reminded me about the importance of traveling in the first place. Of course seeing monuments and visiting famous areas is always an experience in itself, but certainly, the beauty of venturing oceans away from home is to interact with people and to learn their stories and their habits. Okinawa and Osaka presented to me the beauty of human curiosity and kindness, the kind that one can find only when they travel.
I returned to Tokyo via the shinkansen, or the bullet train. I was convinced by some friends who have been to Japan numerous times to ride it at least once while I’m here. From Osaka to Tokyo it was about two and a half hours, but the trip itself felt so much shorter than that. At one point Mount Fuji stood in the distance. I scrambled to take a picture, but the train curved and Fuji-san disappeared from my sight.
I wasn’t expecting Osaka to leave such a deep impression on me, but that’s what makes it so alluring. Osaka was young and carefree, wanting to take you everywhere and show you everything it could. Osaka showed off its mountains, its rivers like snakes emptying into the sea. Osaka’s nighttime dress was bold and kind, and when it saw me off to return to school I knew I had to visit again before I returned to America. Osaka still has so much to show me, and I eagerly await my second chance.
Martha Sheridan is a Systems Engineering major who spent this past spring semester studying on exchange at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Take a look at photos from the first two months of her time abroad.
Sarah Romanus is a Global Studies major who spent the spring semester in Pune, India, participating in The Alliance: Contemporary India- Development, Economy, Society program.
is a Foreign Affairs and English double major (with a minor in Spanish) who spent the spring semester of her third year traveling from San Diego to Hamburg on Semester at Sea. This is her first post as she prepared to embark on her voyage this past spring.
Bright Yellow Suitcase: On being ready to go but unwilling to leave
I first heard about Semester at Sea through an old friend’s Instagram account, which is indicative of a whole handful of things, but especially of the heightened globalization of the world. Without getting technical or meta or anything of the sort: how crazy is it to think that a single series of photographs determined my path five years into the future?
I distinctly remember seeing that friend’s pictures appear on my phone, promptly turning to the internet for further research, and writing down in my journal — right then, right there — that I was going to do that. At some point, some way. And here we are, over 1,700 days later, and I am less than 100 hours away from embarking on that same voyage my tenth-grade self swore to some day do.
Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to these coming moments for a long while. This past summer, when this whole dream began to become a reality, I thought through what these next few days and weeks and months would look like, over and over, and over and over. But as the fall semester rolled along I got swept up in the present — not a bad thing, certainly — and stopped throwing myself into the future.
This happened accidentally, of course, in between the tests, the readings, the car breakdown, the never-ending and hellacious visa application process, that pleasantly surprising date function, that perfectly impromptu trip to Boston where we almost missed our flight. Somewhere along the way, within and without of those innocuous, seemingly mundane moments, I was no longer thinking about spring semester and all the traveling and adventure that would fill it. I had started the semester thinking I was more than ready to go; I ended it realizing I would never be ready to leave.
Those final weeks of December were, for me, full of an uncomfortable dualism, an awkward balancing of excitement and tentativeness. I wanted more than anything to go, I was thrilled more than anything to go. And yet: it was harder to leave than I had anticipated. There is a difference, I realized, between putting yourself in a new place and taking yourself out of an old one, even temporarily. The former is freeing. The latter is frightening.
When debating whether or not to study abroad, a chief concern — petty though it may sound — was that the life I would be leaving at UVa for a semester would continue on without me. I decided to go nevertheless, telling myself that just as my UVa life would continue without me, so too would I continue without my UVa life. There was liberation in that — I wasn’t confined to any one place, any one person, any one rule.
But as the clock ticked down to that moment when I hugged my family goodbye for seven months and began the first leg of my journey to the Semester at Sea boat by boarding the plane to San Francisco, I began to feel that I didn’t want to be completely liberated from the places, people, and rules that I already knew.
There’s a great Modern Love article that talks about this jumbled mix of wanting-yet-refusing to be tied down. It’s called “Security in a Bright Yellow Suitcase”. The author remembers traveling to and from her boyfriend’s apartment each weekend, packing her belongings neatly into a bright yellow suitcase each Friday evening and Sunday morning, coming and going easily and without question, able to leave whenever she so pleases. At the start, she loves that she is able to so smoothly go, that while she relies on the boyfriend for companionship, she simultaneously stays unattached from him; she feels that her ability to move allows for a certain liberation on her end. But over time, things stop being so neatly packed into that bright yellow suitcase, and items that were once distinctly hers begin to be left at her boyfriend’s apartment, signaling a heightened coexistence. Surely there is something attractive and freeing about independence, but don’t we want someone and something to depend upon?
I don’t think I understood that concept so clearly until now. In moments of rejection or doubt, I used to reassure myself of my potential by thinking of all the places I someday hoped to go to, thinking of travel not just as a means for adventure but also for escape.
I’ve traveled before this, but never for such a consecutively long amount of time, and never during the school year. This trip has already made me realize that “escape” is something which is much more attractive in idealistic form than in reality. That I want to have both the mobility to come and go as I please as well as the desire to attach myself to a place and the people that fill it. That I want to take my yellow suitcase far and wide, but be unafraid to occasionally let its contents out of the bag.
Dominick Giovanniello spent the entire 2016-17 year studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, participating in CET’s intensive Arabic language program. He shares an experience navigating social norms.
In an effort to compensate for all of the carbs I’ve been eating and the hookah I’ve been smoking, I decided to get a gym membership a couple of months ago and to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually really enjoy it. The gym I go to is called Troy 24/7 even though it doesn’t open until 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays. It sits on the main street, right on top of a hookah store and a barbershop staffed entirely by Syrians. The gym itself can politely be described as worn…for example, all of the pads on the machines are ripped and several pieces just seem to be held on by black electrical tape. It’s not the cleanest gym in the world, and the owner’s attempts to spruce it up, like painting blue triangles on the wall, only serve to emphasize that fact. Nevertheless, the staff are super nice and helpful, and the gym members – a weird assortment of foreigners, mostly Koreans; out-of-shape older men, and tattooed gym rats – have become a familiar community for me.
The other day when I went to the gym; however, I had a weird experience that left me a little wiser. And although I generally tend to hate blog posts where X-encounter taught me Y-valuable lesson about myself/culture/life in general, I really want to talk about it since it helps me simply articulate a concept that I’ve been struggling with.
Usually when I go to the gym, I bring a bottle of water; however, this time I forgot and so I went to the front desk, paid for a bottle of water, and watched as the owner used his fingers to unscrew the hinges on the door of the broken refrigerator where the water bottles are stored. No big deal. The next time, I also forgot to bring a bottle of water, so I put some money on the counter, went to the fridge and started to unscrew the hinges. The employee on duty, Abu Noor, an Egyptian working in Jordan because the economy is better (which tells you all you need to know about how awful the situation is in Egypt), saw me as he was walking past and cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? You can’t do that!”
He marched up to me and I started to explain myself, but he cut me off, “No you can’t do that. It’s not your place. When you go to the store and there’s something you want but can’t reach, you don’t climb the shelves, do you? You ask whoever’s working there.” Abu Noor kept getting more and more agitated as he tried to explain this concept to me. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s not your fridge, just because Muhammed (the owner) did it doesn’t mean you can!”
At this point, I was extremely confused and could not figure out what he was getting so worked up about. I’d apologized, it was an innocent mistake, and not even a big deal to begin with! Realizing this, Abu Noor grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I know you’re a respectable guy, studying Arabic, and that you want to learn as much as you can. But you need to know that when you study a language, you’re actually studying three different things: language, culture, and behavior.” It then dawned on me that he wasn’t actually mad at me, rather he was offended by the way I had just assumed that I could go about something, which in his mind wasn’t my place to do.
Although those words aren’t innocent, particularly “behavior” in a patriarchal society, I think that they’re really insightful. Learning a language, especially when you’re overseas, isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of language learning is to be able to use that language to communicate with and connect with other people. Additionally, every word, phrase and interaction is shaped by an enormous amount of implicit cultural, historical and social knowledge. We take it for granted, but every time we interact with someone else from our own culture, we’re drawing on an entire lifetime’s worth of interactions and operating within a very firm, defined set of social norms. It’s a reminder that you need to get out of the classroom to gain a full understanding, and it doesn’t just apply to language learning, but to every field of academic learning.
Check out this Q&A from UVA Today with alumna Heather Mason, who moved to South Africa and developed a career as a travel blogger and writer.
Zachary Diamond is studying abroad in South Korea and Japan on UVA’s short-term Commerce program Finance in Northeast Asia.
After visiting Samsung in Gangnam, a group of us ventured to Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 A.D. The first thing was the temple is absolutely beautiful, especially because they are currently celebrating Buddha’s birthday so thousands of colorful paper lanterns are hung up throughout the temple. It was extremely relaxing to walk through the entire area. Apart from the central prayer building, the temple is built into a hillside allowing for a small dirt trail surrounding by trees and a giant statue of Buddha that people would circumambulate in prayer.
Below is my favorite picture I’ve taken so far on the trip as it resembles the most fascinating part of this temple. From the spot of the picture, I was standing around trees, listening to nature and wind set off peaceful wind chimes. However, directly across the street are large class skyscrapers that hold offices for national and global firms. In Seoul I found a direct contrast of modern and traditional that is not evident in the United States. While Korea feels like a new and foreign land, the skyscrapers remind me just how similar it is to a large city in the states.
At the temple, I found myself conflicted between respect and experience. At the temple, people were in deep prayer and I felt as if I was trespassing on their special place. Especially at the statue of the Buddha, I was hesitant to walk close to the statue as I did not want to distract or interfere with those in prayer. Personally, I would be extremely thrown off and probably mad at anyone who was being a tourist at my temple back home. While for me the Bongeunsa was a spot to visit on this trip to Korea, for many people it is their sacred space and normal temple. The more I stay in Seoul, the more I realize it is just like any other city, and that makes me feel somewhat guilty about trying seeing special places of the city as I’m treating the city as a spectacle and not what the locals treat it as, home.
Before I came to Morocco, I was surprisingly ignorant about most of the culture and politics of Morocco, North Africa, the Maghreb region, and the Middle East more generally. After months of exposure I feel like I’ve only tapped the surface of this complex society but here are some of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve had:
- Dressing Up like a Moroccan:
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a wide range of dress here in Morocco. Some women dress very western but many wear traditional jaballas and head scarves. Our professor, who is Moroccan, invited us to her house one day to try on her traditional formal attire. The dresses shown below would be worn to special events such as weddings or parties. We had such a fun time taking pictures and learning about Moroccan fashion!
- Making Bread like a Moroccan:
Bread is a HUGE part of the Moroccan diet (which I was thrilled to learn upon arriving here). Khobz are served with every meal and used in place of a fork/spoon. For breakfast/tea time there are dozens of breads: harsha, msemmen, krachel, etc. etc. A friend from school invited us to her parents bakery to learn how to make msemmen and harsha. It didn’t turn out very well the first time but I plan to improve!
- Dressing Up like a Moroccan (part II):
A few weeks after our first encounter with traditional Moroccan clothing, we were invited to the home of a tailor. She showed us her workshop and the immaculate dresses she sews with her hands to the customers desire. After letting us try on all of her creations she served us mint tea and sweets in typical Moroccan fashion. We chatted for hours in French about her independent entrepreneurship and breaking into the dress market in Rabat.
- Learning like a Moroccan:
Morocco is an extremely multilingual society. Everyone speaks Darija (a dialect of Arabic) but school is taught in French and many people also speak English/Spanish. In this fashion, this semester I have taken one class in Darija, two classes in French, and three classes in English. Many of my classes have focus on Moroccan politics which I knew nothing about prior to arriving. I’d love to talk to you about the Moroccan monarchy and Arab Spring
- Living like a Moroccan:
One of the best parts of my experience abroad has been living in a homestay. I live with another UVA student, a Moroccan woman, and her mother. The homestay provides the opportunity for complete language and cultural emersion. Every day I speak French with my host mom, she cooks us traditional Moroccan food, gives us insight into Moroccan thought, lends us supplies to go to cultural actives (ex. hammam), exhibits the famous Moroccan hospitality, and SO MUCH MORE. I’ve really gotten to live like a Moroccan the past few months and its something I’ll never forget.
It’s been 3 months since I landed in Morocco and I can definitively say I’ve become a better and more global person because of it. I have just over a month left in this beautiful country and I’m so excited to embrace every last moment I have here!
Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her most recent blog post!
The alarm goes off at 7:30 in the morning, a sharp vibration against my mattress loud enough to rumble me awake. I turn over onto my side, stare at the screen of my phone, and realize that I do, indeed, have to get up to get ready for class. But I set it on snooze for another fifteen minutes.
I don’t think we are as aware of it as we could be but, at some point, we fall into routines. We put our shirts on with one arm first before the other, then the pants, and then the socks. We pour the cereal into the bowl before the milk. We make sure to grab the keys before we head out for the day. I think a lot of these little rituals are inherent at this point in our lives, routines that are so deeply carved in our muscle memory that one step out of place would cause a twinge of confusion.
At the same time, I wonder if the routines practiced over in America would follow me here into Tokyo. Would I still wake up the same, walk at the same pace, execute the same social cues out in public like I did in America? I don’t ask these questions to have a clear cut answer; there is no yes or no. In a few days I will have been in Japan for a month, and while that lends itself to a decent amount of time to have a response to that question it still isn’t one that is directly answered.
Instead, I’ve come to understand it as doing as the Romans. In a new country and a new environment with its own history and patterns, I needed time to figure out how to comfortably move throughout Tokyo. There were days of awkward language exchange, where Japanese leapt off my tongue and drowned in a pool of miscommunication. There were days of mistakes and remaining a “typical foreigner” in the eyes of onlooking natives. But it is in those discomforts and in my own personal sense of being a foreigner here in Japan that I find myself developing more routines. Every day is a chance to practice speaking and continue to strengthen my language acquisition. Every day is a chance to learn a new rule or discover a new place and why it’s significant in Japan.
Unlike many of my friends, I have never traveled overseas until this semester. Realistically my family can’t afford overseas travel; scholarships and loans are how I’m surviving here. This is the first time I’m truly engaging with myself on an international scale, figuring out how I work amongst a country that is not mine and where the language is still so new to me. As daunting as it may sound, I’m thriving here. It is challenging to go across oceans and time zones and separate oneself from everything that is familiar to them. Humans are creatures of habit and putting oneself in another environment where one has to create new habits can be difficult, but thus far it’s been rewarding.
One of my favorite habits happens whenever I am leaving or entering the dorm. The lobby is stone tile. On the right wall is a glass window that the caretaker of our dorm can see through. Ahead are the mailboxes, and on the left side is a wooden step and more rows of little storage boxes. In Japan, most apartments and dorms have a standard genkan, or the entranceway. Much like at home where I took my shoes off at the front and then put them into the closet, I take off my shoes and step up into the dorm. For some, it might take some getting used to especially if taking off the shoes at home was never practiced. Doing this every day not only attests to the spotlessness of the dorm floors but of how these routines have blended together for me.
As a creature of habit, it is near impossible for us to escape a subconscious need for structure. And while that it is true, it doesn’t mean we are required to stay attached to any one habit for the rest of our lives. Perhaps that’s the beauty of traveling overseas and being able to break away from habits that can become so mundane after years of repetition.
Coming to Japan was a breath of fresh air. I put on a new pair of glasses, drank in the vivid sights and smells of this chain of islands. I figured out the best streets to take to get to the konbini or the supermarket. I figured out the route to my classes, which buildings they’re being housed. I figured out what time to eat dinner was best since the dining room would be full of friends and at a decent enough time to have dessert later. I figured out how to respond to cashiers at stores, how to hand them my cash or card.
It still remains, though, that the one habit I developed as soon as I got off the plane is the openness to being wrong. I certainly had that back home, but I had to develop a real understanding that I was going to make mistakes, like throwing paper in the noncombustible bin or fumbling over my Japanese and saying something strange. But in a way, reminding myself of that during this first (almost) month I have reminded myself to be patient. I don’t have the malleable mind of a small child anymore and I’m not a natural-born polyglot, but every day I have to push myself to find the courage to speak Japanese. And slowly, but surely, I’m improving.
Christopher Hoffa is currently studying abroad in London at the City University of London. Check out his blog below!
I am checking in with my 8th blog post while being abroad! I am actually currently on a train back into London after a trip to Ireland. The trip was wonderful and Ireland was absolutely beautiful. It was actually my first trip by myself, so it felt much different than anything else I had done before. Though it is different, I did enjoy it a lot. Everything that you want to do is completely in your control and that was something that I definitely enjoyed. With all of this being said, I will move into my main topic of this post, and that will be post-exam life here in London. My flight from London back to the United States is not until June 2nd, giving me over a month of time here without any school.
I will talk about the last two weeks, starting with the first week when my brother and mother came to visit. It was there first time out of the United States, which made things very interesting. I enjoyed watching them attempt to learn the culture here in London. During the entirety of the trip, I couldn’t help but think if how they acted was how I acted when I first entered the United Kingdom. They were amazed by the smallest things and clearly did not understand the norms of the society. This made sense though, as they had no idea what it would be like going into the trip. However, by the end of the week, they seemed to understand a lot about London and were beginning to fit in. They understood how to use the Tube, or Metro System, here quite easily. My favorite part watching them learn the very British words and finally understanding some of the locals, who they were very confused by at the beginning of their trip.
After they left London, I went on my first trip alone to Ireland. During my trip, I visited Dublin and Galway. The cities surprisingly different quite a bit from one another. Dublin was a much more modern city and the capital of the country. In terms of architecture, surprisingly did not remind me of any of the cities that I had been to before the trips. In terms of culture, it did remind me a bit of London, which makes a lot of sense given its history. From there, I went to Galway for a day, which was completely different from Dublin. I expected them to be fairly similar, but Galway really felt like it was a small town. It was filled with very cultural life, with music being played everywhere. There were a lot of great food shops and not too many tourists. It really felt like a true, small Irish town. I would say that Dublin felt much more like a tourist city, much different than Galway.
To wrap up this post, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed my semester abroad. Even though I am still here, it feels much different without having to go to class. It gives me a lot of time to think about what is going on in my life and giving me much more time to appreciate my surroundings. With a little over a month left, I will definitely be focusing on enjoying my remaining time outside of the United States.
Until next time,
Katherine Johnson is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Philosophy. Check out her trip to Sicily below!
After nearly three months of restlessly waiting for our group trip to Catania, I still was not prepared for the limitless amount of food we ate. Our professor warned us to bring our control top leggings, that it was a good idea to fast the day before, and even showed us a Powerpoint of everything that must be tried. Four days in Sicily – a delicious adventure – and an entirely new culture of cuisine.
Lunch in Palermo: We started with the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, an especially memorable restaurant because it actually used to be a favorite of the notorious Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. From arancini to sardines, panelle (chickpea fritters) to eggplant parmesan, our first typical Sicilian meal was nothing short of amazing. Focaccia was passed around the table until the basket was as empty as the wine bottles, and we finished with the absolute best cannoli in possibly all of Italy.
Lunch in Catania: After hiking Mount Etna, we settled in a little gift-shop restaurant in plain view of the mountains. Coca-Cola was placed on the table for the first time since I’ve arrived in Europe, so we immediately traded up for red wine. The bruschetta came first, and already we noticed that bread in Sicily is very different from bread in Tuscany (although both were actually incredible). Sausage, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna were quickly placed in front of us, and devoured even quicker. For a mountainside restaurant whose main business comes from hikers, I give it a 10/10.
Snack in Catania: Straight from the Mt. Etna restaurant, we took our bus back to the city and stopped in front of Pasticceria Savia for a food and walking tour. The only way we were able to get through this much food was remembering that it’s a marathon…not a sprint. Two types of arancini were split amongst us all – and for everyone who has never heard of that word before: arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite are those filled with mozzarella; but ragu, ham and cheese, or spinach are other common types. Arancini get their Italian name from the word arancia (meaning orange in English) because they faintly resemble this fruit in their color and texture. Side note: some parts of Sicily call it arancine (feminine) while in Catania it’s called arancini (masculine). We thankfully had to walk to our next destination for desert: granita with brioche. Molto bene.
Dinner(s) in Catania: Our group gave a lot of business to Ristorante Marco, because we ate dinner there two nights in a row. I’m not even kidding when I say there were more plates than table space – we were stacking. Two types of ricotta cheese, mushrooms, four types of horse meat, artichoke, five types of salamis, two types of bread, eggplant, fish, fries, frittata, and of course, wine, surrounded us for hours. For desert there was lemon granita and chocolate salami – which is not actually salami but made from cocoa, broken biscuits, butter, eggs, and a bit of port wine or rum. If you’re ever in Catania, put this place on your bucket list. Oh, and try horsemeat because it’s actually amazing.
I’ll save you the description of how full we were from this weekend, but I’m sure you can imagine. So when you get a free moment, hop on a plane to Catania and try EVERYTHING, because we all deserve Sicilian food.
Caroline Alberti is currently studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!
I love speaking French, going out, and meeting people. In fact, I have been trying to go out more here in an effort to meet more people and speak more French (it’s educational Mom and Dad, I promise!). Before coming here, I was nervous about how I would received in French social situations as a foreigner. I’d heard stereotypes that French people were more closed off, or easily offended by imperfect control of their language. However, I have found this not at all to be the case. While I definitely think that French people are less open than Americans, the people I have met have been very kind and I have met a lot of great people.
The funny thing is though, meeting new people here in France is almost formulaic. If you are American and deciding to travel abroad anytime soon (like in the next 4 years to be exact) you may want to expect the interactions of the following sort:
Step 1: The “Bonjour”
The greeting, usually a bonjour and a bise is the first engagement. As I said before I am still getting used the kiss-greeting thing. This is the step where very quickly my accent is detected. I have a love-hate relationship with my accent. On one hand I think it gives more liberty to make mistakes and makes me interesting. On the other hand, I don’t find American accents particularly pleasing but that could just be me.
Step 2: The “Where are you from?”
The accent thing inevitable triggers there “Where are you from?”. When this happens I have decide how annoying I want to be, and I either give a direct answer or I say “guess!!”. It’s really interesting to me to see where people think I am from. Almost never has someone guessed American. Most often I get English, or German and occasionally Irish, which is so surprising to me because I think that my accent just screams “AMERICAN”.
I think people don’t usually guess American because in fact in Toulouse there are not really that many Americans since it’s not a super popular spot for American study abroad programs. I actually really like this about Toulouse, since it means that being an American here is kinda special, and meeting other Americans here is rare which makes encountering one of my compatriots here is out of the ordinary and so when it does happen it’s a treat.
There “Where are you from questions” extends to where exactly in the United States I am from, where I have a little existential crisis not knowing whether or not to say PA or VA.
Step 3: The “TRUMP” Part
It may not happen right away (all though often it does). We may get talking about the weather, or studies, or music or whatever, and I’ll think I’m safe… but no no no. The question always comes sooner or later: “So…. what do you think of Donald Trump?”
*Sigh* Then there it is. The unavoidable topic as an American abroad in this day and age.
When I first starting receiving this question, I was a little surprised, but not at all bothered. In fact, I was glad to have an open ear to my rantings about the madness of this past election. It’s something, that like most Americans, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on (which I won’t really put in this blog because it is not a blog about politics– though I feel like anyone who knows me probably knows where I stand politically). However, with each politically charged discussion I began to get more and more tired of talking about how crazy and doomed my country is (even though a big part of me agrees).
I think the political situation in our country makes it a really weird time to be an American abroad. I am surprised with the bluntness that French people approach this topic with me, since in French culture, personal things like that aren’t discussed as upfrontly. I am also surprised how blunt people are because in theory (though NOT in reality) I could be a Trump supporter. So far, I haven’t met any French person who aligns themselves with Trump’s ideals (if you can call them “ideals”), although with the way the French election cycle is going, I am sure they are out there. When I am asked about politics in America, I think they make the assumption that I am (rightly) unhappy about the current situation. I never feel like I am being blamed or aggressed for Trump’s election, which is something I was worried about before coming. More accurately I feel like the topic is breached with a sense of curiosity and often with pity as well.
It’s frustrating to repeat the same conversation, but it’s one I feel like I have to engage in or else people with think that I don’t have opinions on it or that I support Trump, both of which are definitely not true.
But over all, it’s hard to complain about people being interested in my country and wanting to hear my opinion. I am glad to be able to represent my country abroad at a time like this when a lot of bad images are presented of the United States abroad. In fact, this type of cultural diplomacy that happens within each exchange, the sharing of ideas and opinions, is one of the reasons I love traveling and studying abroad. These interactions, the ones I have had both here and in Morocco and elsewhere have definitely challenged me and helped me widen my horizons and perspectives, and for that I am very grateful.
So Frenchies, keep the questions coming. I promise you I will have an answer.
Anyway, hopefully this post wasn’t too political, rant-y, or pessimistic. I’ll try to whip up a little something more lighthearted next post!
ALSO, since this post was very light on pictures, enjoy this photo of my best friend in Toulouse and love of my life, Cissi, my host dog.
Isn’t she beautiful?? My heart melts every day when I see her.
Pce, luv, & politics,
Jessica Park is currently studying abroad in Korea for the UVA Exchange at Korea University. Check out her photo blog below!
Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his newest experience!
Fallas of Valencia 2017: Intangible World Heritage
Fallas. Where do I even begin? Professors and other students talked up this festival to me long before I arrived in Valencia, and now I know why. Even after having lived through it, I still find it difficult to explain the “locura” (madness) that is “las Fallas.” The celebration is truly unlike any other, and although I doubt my words will be able to fully explain the celebration or convey what an incredible experience it was, I’ll try my best!
Fallas is a festival of fire that takes place in the city of Valencia every year from March 15th to 19th. During this time, huge, brightly painted wooden sculptures are erected in plazas and public areas and are ultimately burned to the ground with fireworks displays at midnight on the 19th. From the minute the clock strikes 12:01 am the morning of March 15th (and honestly, even way before that point – certain festivities begin as early as February 3rd!) until the moment the last ember dies out, the city of Valencia is in a perpetual, 24 hour “fiesta loca.”
Here’s an example of a falla (the Falla Cuba-Literato Azorín, to be precise)
As if the opportunity to be living in Valencia and experience all this wasn’t cool enough, my best friend Sam joined me for the week! I loved getting the chance to celebrate Fallas with her 🙂
The most commonly agreed on explanation for the origin of Fallas dates all the way back to a pagan celebration during the middle ages. Because of scarce daylight hours during the months of winter, Valencian carpenters frequently labored far after the sun had set. In order to continue working without daylight, the carpenters would hang oil lamps from precariously built wooden structures. As winter came to an end and the days lengthened, these structures were no longer necessary, and the carpenters would set them on fire to celebrate the Spring Equinox and the lengthening of the days. Eventually, the celebration was Christianized and made to coincide with “La diada de Sant Josep” to honor Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of carpenters. The day of Saint Joseph always falls on the 19th of March, and is also when Father’s Day is celebrated throughout Spain.
These crude wooden structures from the middle ages have evolved so much that they have almost nothing to do with the fallas you’ll see today (except for the fact that they’re flammable). Fallas nowadays are made of what is essentially papier-mâché and sanded wood, painted over in bright colors. Fallas are satirical in nature and normally are designed to poke fun at someone or something (and really, anything is fair game). In this way, fallas vary in style and subject each festival because they offer social and political commentary on the events of the year (you had better believe that there was no shortage of mini Donald Trumpsbeing burnt to the ground in Valencia last weekend, and I can’t say the sight brought me much remorse).
This year, the day of Saint Joseph (also known as the Cremà, the last day of the festival when the burning of the fallas takes place) happened to fall on a Sunday, which was just a coincidence. However, this means that the largest days of the celebration fell on a weekend, allowing many more people from outside of Valencia to take days off and experience the festival. What’s more, 2017 is the first year that Fallas has been recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as intangible world heritage. Both of these factors made the festival even larger (and more crowded) than normal. All in all, it’s estimated that the population of Valencia doubles (some will argue it almost triples) during the week of the celebration. The preliminary numbers indicate that this year’s festival was record breaking, as the city welcomed well over a million tourists and spent around 8 million euros (and remember, that number is even larger when converted to US dollars) on the festivities.
Most “barrios,” or neighborhoods in Valencia have a “casal faller,” a committee that sponsors the neighborhood’s falla. This committee is composed of different residents of the neighborhood who oversee the falla’s design, construction, and erection. The process lasts year-round (no exaggeration – they’ve already begun planning for 2018 and it hasn’t even been a week yet!) and brings neighborhoods together to form tight-knit communities. The process can also be quite costly – many committees sponsor fundraiser paella dinners (a typical Valencian dish) throughout the year to help defray costs. Each year, the neighborhoods enter a friendly competition with each other to see who can sponsor the best falla (as deemed by a committee of judges). To be as fair as possible, neighborhoods are separated into different levels of competition based on their budgets. The top tier of competition consists of neighborhoods that have been sponsoring fallas for years, and are so good at it by now that they can mount absolutely spectacular and humongous fallas (or in other words, they have a huge budget at their disposal). For my pictures of fallas at the bottom of this post, I looked up the names of all the fallas in the top tier of competition. For the rest of them, I’m just going to leave them captionless, because looking up all those names would take forever! Fallas are normally named after the intersection of streets they are placed on, and at times the official names can get pretty lengthy.
As if the normal fallas weren’t enough, each casal faller normally sponsors a falla infantil, a smaller falla (normally more lighthearted and less satirical) for kids to enjoy. Each individual character on a falla is known as a ninot. Each casal faller chooses one ninot that they feel is an example of their best work and most representative of their falla as a whole to be put on display the month before the festival. Leading up to the week of Fallas, anyone can visit the museum and cast a vote for their favorite ninot. The ninot with the most votes becomes the “ninot indultat” of the year. This means the ninot is pardoned from the flames, and is kept in the museum instead of being burned. This is done for both regular fallas and fallas infantiles.
The ninot indultat from this year, depicting a scene that one might see in Valencia’s famous Mercat Central
Each casal faller also chooses one fallera mayor and one faller mayor infantil to represent their neighborhood falla in various ceremonies like parades and events at the town hall. For these events, the girls wear traditional fallera dresses and have their hair done up in a particular style. There is also one fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil chosen to represent the entire city, a great honor.
The fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil of Valencia, 2017
Walking up and down the streets of the city during Fallas, Valencia sounds like a war zone. You can hear explosions 24 hours a day coming from “petardos,” or firecrackers. If you’re like I was before I came to Valencia, when you hear the word firecrackers, you think of cute, small little packages that pop when you light them on fire. Not in Valencia! Petardos make huge explosions, a very loud bang, char the ground, and flash brightly. They can either be lit from the ground or thrown (theoretically also at the ground, unfortunately sometimes thrown at people). Many Valencians use the illegal variety packed with an excess of gunpowder, which can be quite dangerous if set off incorrectly. Petardos are used every morning around 8 am as part of the “Despertà,” or wake-up call, where partygoers roam the streets and set off explosives to wake up anyone still sleeping and start off the day’s festivities. Although most people exercise common sense and are able to set off petardos without getting hurt, there are inevitably accidents, and the hospital burn units are always busy during the week of Fallas. There are even men who will set off full-on fireworks (which is also illegal) down in the Rio, the drained river that the city of Valencia converted into a park system. It was astonishing for me to see so many young children set off and/or play with these explosives with minimal or no parental supervision. The camp counselor in me wanted to run up and take the explosives out of their hands, but I had to restrain myself.
Venders selling food or knick-knacks out of mobile stations are also very common. Although the sale of food is supposed to be regulated and the vendors are theoretically approved by the health department, we’ll just say from my observations, the standards seem to me a bit more flexible than they might be in the US. I was advised by my host mom to buy food sooner rather than later, as some vendors don’t change the oil they use to fry food in from one day to the next, which makes buying food the last few days kind of dicey. Sam and I took her up on that suggestions, and enjoyed some delicious churros and buñuelos on our first night.
Another quality tip from my host mom was to go out the nights leading up to the beginning of the festival. This way, Sam and I got to see a lot of the fallas without having to deal with crowds. We saw a good number of fallas during the “Plantà,” the process of setting up the fallas, so some of them were only partially constructed. However, it was a lot more pleasant than trying to elbow your way through lots of people in the midday heat. In fact, some families will take their children out at insane times (like 4 am) to see the fallas in order to avoid crowds.
There are lots of events and traditions that go on during the week of Fallas. Every day at 2 pm, there is a Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the town hall square). For this event, the crowds are simply unavoidable. You have to get to the plaza at least an hour early if you want a half decent spot. The Mascletà is similar to a fireworks display, except it’s put on during the day, and the fireworks stay closer to the ground and are even louder. The joke is that the Mascletà is so deafening, you can hardly hear it – but you can feel it! The vibrations you feel from all the explosions, particularly at the finale, are dangerously potent (I’m talking so strong, we were warned to keep our jaws slack to avoid chipping a tooth). What’s even crazier, the Mascletà starts long before fallas do, on the 26thof February to be precise! And seeing as it’s a daily occurrence, the city of Valencia spends a great deal of money on pyrotechnics well before the actual Fallas celebration even begins.
Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The big spaceship-looking tower is the falla of the town hall, which has nothing in particular to do with the Mascletà, they just happen to be in the same place.
There are also many “cavalcadas,” or parades, throughout the week. At any time during the festival, but especially during these parades, you’ll see people dressed up as falleros and falleras, wearing traditional Valencian outfits. You will also hear all sorts of bands and percussion ensembles playing music to rally people up and excite passerby.
(Very cute) falleras infantiles!
Each casal faller has its own parade to the “Plaza de la Virgen” (Plaza of the Virgen, although I feel like in this case the translation was hardly necessary), where they offer bouquets of flowers to the Virgen Mary on behalf of their neighborhood. This is known as the Ofrendà. All of the offerings are used to construct a larger-than-life Virgin Mary made out of flowers that is left on display for the week (and I feel the need to note that this structure is not burned).
However, my favorite of all the Fallas traditions are the castillos, or fireworks shows. They are absolutely stunning, and the photos don’t begin to do them justice. I also must say, as much as I love my country, these fireworks displays put the 4th of July to complete shame. Each night, the show gets bigger and starts even later. The biggest show, the Gran Nit del Foc, doesn’t start until 1:30 am!
But then again, during Fallas, the city never sleeps. This is a week where there are more people in the streets at 5am than at 9am. Fallas is a time where everyone kicks back and enjoys themselves, socializes and unwinds. However, the celebration has negative aspects as well. There is a horrific amount of trash generated in the likes of beer bottles, discarded wrappers, and the remains of fireworks that lie scattered all throughout the streets. Clubs and discos move outside, and blast music at all hours of the day, preventing people who live nearby from sleeping at night. The city infrastructure becomes absolutely paralyzed. Driving anywhere is nearly impossible with so many roads blocked-off to mount fallas, or converted to pedestrian-only for the week. This causes any remaining roads to become insufferably congested with traffic, to the point that it’s really just quicker to walk and save yourself the trouble and the gas. The metro still runs, but it becomes insanely crowded and everyone is shoved into the train like sardines (Sam and I got to experience this firsthand on multiple occasions). Businesses are shut down for the holiday and it can be difficult or near impossible to run errands or get things done during the festival. And this is not to mention the considerable environmental impact of so many fireworks, Mascletà’s, and burning fallas. For these reasons and more, some residents of Valencia dislike the Fallas, and others leave the city for the week altogether. Many residents stand somewhere in the middle, as they enjoy the celebration but dislike the effects it has on the city. My host mom is of this persuasion – she told me that she has seen enough of Fallas in her day that she would have left the city for the week had I not been staying with her. However, from my perception at least, the majority of Valencians seem to enjoy Fallas and are proud of what it represents for them in terms of cultural heritage.
Last but certainly not least, at midnight on the 19th is the “Cremà” (burning), the fiery end to the festival. Explosives are laid underneath the fallas, and when the clock strikes the hour, they are ignited. The fallas infantiles burn at 10 pm, the regular fallas burn at midnight, and the big falla by the town hall burns at 1am. These times tend to vary based on the amount of firefighters available to supervise and control the burning. Fallas that have won awards may also be burned later so more people can come to watch. I was amazed at how quickly the fallas burned, and how I could feel the heat from the fire even being a considerable distance away. At first, I thought it was sad that artists spend the whole year crafting these beautiful sculptures, only to burn them to ashes. And it is sad, in a way. But I now understand that it is all done in the spirit of the Fallas. The festival reminds us that beauty is not eternal and doesn’t last forever, and neither do the fallas. The Cremà symbolizes rebirth, a sort of purification through fire – out with the old, in with the new.
The Cremà on a Sunday night
I can now say with certainty that the title of World Heritage is well-deserved by the Fallas! I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to experience such an incredible festival firsthand and will always treasure my memories from this week.
You could call this the Spring Break Edition of my blog posts, because after traveling to three different cities (Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid) in a very abbreviated time span I don’t know quite where to start. To make sense of it all, I’ve decided to do “favorite” and “least favorite” part of each city, and tried to include some of what I learned in each place.
Barcelona: I was surprised how much I loved this city. Favorite parts had to be learning about the history of the city and the people (free tours are great for this kind of overview, and I did one in every city I went to) and the nightlife (because if you didn’t try to stay up all night with the Spanish, I’m not sure you’ve gained a full understanding of the culture). My least favorite part of the city was the necessity of using the metro– I’ve gotten used to cities one can walk around in quite comfortably, and during a long trip with multiple plane rides it was stressful to add metro trips to the equation. But really, that’s a stretch. I was surprised how much I loved Barcelona. I definitely discovered how crucial learning the history can really be to one’s experience in a city.
Lisbon: my favorite part of Lisbon was Lisbon itself– I could spend all day and night just absorbing this beautiful city and its many different neighborhoods, and to some extent that’s exactly what I did. I can’t wait to go back. My least favorite part of my time in Lisbon was that I got so sick I physically couldn’t leave the house my last day there. No delicious Portuguese dinner for my last meal (only a five piece McChicken nugget), no lovely pastel de nata pastries, and no hike in Sintra. It was all pretty devastating. I learned that traveling can be taxing and taking care of yourself extra carefully is definitely in order.
Madrid: my favorite part of Madrid was El Prado (this museum makes spending 7 hours in a museum easy) and walking down Gran Via. My least favorite part was that compared to Lisbon, it just lacked charm. It’s a big city with a lot to do, but I never felt completely blown away. Still, I learned that every city really does have something amazing to offer–if my friend hadn’t been visiting from the US I probably never would have thought to go to El Prado, and I really would have been missing out.
Orian Churney is a 3rd year electrical engineer currently studying abroad in Hong Kong! Check out how he is settling into life as an exchange student there.
My time at HKUST is going pretty well. The classes are pretty similar to the ones in America, with both lectures and homework assignments. The library is pretty nice; there are a lot of places to study both in groups and by yourself. One thing that’s different than my home university is that essentially you have to take the elevator most of the time. To get to the main academic concourse, I have to take two elevators that each go up 10 floors, and after that most of my classes were somewhere on the second, fourth, or fifth floors. I had to get really used to taking elevators and some of the etiquette that the local students had about getting on and off elevators. But overall, it isn’t too hard, and I can get to most of my classes in around 15 to 20 minutes.
There are also some other interesting things that I have gotten used to over the first month of being here. I’m starting to get used to walking around with a lot of people around me, which is somewhat different than being able to drive around by yourself all of the time. The transportation around the city is pretty nice, as well. It’s a lot easier to get around when you don’t have to pay attention to directions while driving, and you just need to make sure which train to go on and which stop to get off at. The novelty of taking the train might wear off at some point, but for me it’s still pretty interesting to be able to easily travel around. It’s also interesting how much walking that you can do in large cities. At my hometown, if I wanted to go to the grocery store nearby, I would probably take my car, but over here everything is close by, so it’s a lot easier to just walk and take the metro. I don’t think many people even need to own a car, because of the public transportation.
One thing that is a pretty big change from my usual habits is that I now take notes on loose-leaf paper instead of in notebooks. This might not seem like a big difference, but I usually take a lot of notes in class, and now I have a bunch of paper in random folders. The folders are different too: instead of having two pockets arranged like a book, many folders just have one big pocket like a slide paper. I think many students took notes using electronic devices like a tablet, though. My professors post lecture slides online, which are pretty useful for studying, also. In general, my classes are going well.
Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her pre-departure blog!
At eleven years old I had this dream of being in Japan, exploring the country, speaking Japanese and indulging in the culture. At eleven I was starry-eyed, pupils dilated with an unyielding love for a country I had neither been to nor knew of my existence. Perhaps Japan was my first love, though hardly romantic. Instead, the eleven-year-old me loved Japan because it was the opposite of everything that an American Black girl at my age was, according to the scrutinizing eyes of society, supposed to love, and at the time I reveled in its difference.
Eleven-year-old me still lingers in my aged heart, pressing her greedy fingertips against the valves and chambers to beg for indulgence in all things Japan. I cave in sometimes, end up spending an hour or three watching vloggers in Japan live their daily lives. Although the topics are not always interesting–how many videos about grocery shopping in a Japanese supermarket can you watch without exiting the tab?–I remain attentive and eager to see even the tiniest glimpse into Japan. I was looking through the peephole, falling further and further into a rabbit hole.
But the difference between eleven-year-old me and Myliyah now is the difference of time and the awareness of my place in the world. Children are beautiful, their naivety and innocence of the world a true reflection of just how important they are. Children are malleable and as easy as it is to mold a child it is easy to strip them of that warm gentle beauty. The difference of nine years and two and a half years of college is stark, unavoidable. My edges are sharpened, my senses heightened, but if one thing has remained it is my need for knowledge.
In a few weeks, I’ll be on a plane for nearly a day of travel to end up in Japan, where I’ll spend a few months studying and exploring. Even now I can hardly believe it. Kids that come from my demographic–working class, minority, from the inner city–don’t get much hope. You can’t do it because society says you can’t. My defiant nature wouldn’t let me be another example for the naysayers, and here I am years later: attending an excellent university, studying abroad with a few scholarships under my belt. I don’t want to use this as a chance to brag but rather as an opportunity to reveal that there is an entire vault of intelligent, bright kids and teenagers waiting for their chance but not always having access to the resources to get there. For that, I am blessed and privileged, and for them, I’ll dedicate this blog.
The closer I get to the date, the more I realize that I don’t have an international mindset. Per Japan’s travel policies, I have to have a visa to enter and stay in the country. I received the documents to obtain said visa in mid-February and decided to make a trip to the embassy on one my days off. It was located in a building on Park Avenue, in the heart of Midtown. I signed in, and a few minutes later a security guard led a few other people and myself into an elevator. On the 18th floor was the embassy. The walls were pastel green and orange with soft carpeting and announcements printed on bright, colorful paper; the feel of the room reminded me of a daycare. After walking through the metal detectors a gentleman pointed me to the visa window, which was right in front of a group of Japanese people watching television.
The woman greeted me and I explained myself to her. It was in the midst of our exchange that she asked if I had my passport, and I froze because I didn’t. I knew exactly where it was too–back at home in a file cabinet. She smiled and laughed some, told me that I could come back once I had my passport. I nodded and apologized, excused myself to the side to reorganize.
I suppose at any other time that I didn’t have my documents I would be highly annoyed with myself. What the hell, Myliyah? I would think. That time around I wasn’t. Instead, I thought, duh. Of course, I would need my passport for a visa into another country. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was in that thinking that I realized that my mind, my actions, my everything, was still so American. Nine-year-old Myliyah couldn’t begin to comprehend how I couldn’t just go to Japan and stay without putting in any kind of work or effort. Beyond learning the language, it’s necessary that I stretch my mindset to encompass both the perspectives of a young American woman and, soon, a young international woman.
To which I now ask myself the question: what does it mean to be international? Does it mean being able to speak another language, do as the Romans? Does it mean forgoing my American identity to usurp a bit of a Japanese one? Does it mean to live and interact in Japan as I have done so all my life in America?
I have no answers for these questions right now. But now with the visa in my passport, I will get on the plane and, perhaps in these next few months of travel, I will find answers to these questions. I won’t say that these will be definite and absolute and will be the same for every foreigner that studies abroad. Instead, these blogs will serve as a recording of my truths and how I will experience them in Japan.
Today is March 15th and I am here to update you all again with my 5th blog post. It has been exactly 2 months since I left the United States. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by, especially since I have started to travel more recently. In this post, I want to talk a little about how I’m feeling in London and about some of my recent travel.
First, I’ll talk about London. To put it briefly, I believe I have adapted quite well to life in London. I know my surroundings extremely well and have found a nice group of friends. Additionally, I have become acclimated with all of the classes here. The part I was most worried about, living in a city, has surprisingly been something that I have come to truly love. There is always something to do and getting from place to place is very simple. In terms of cultural differences, I think that I have adapted fairly well to them. There are still some small things that bother me, but as a whole I have gotten used to them. One, for example, is that people tend to show up late to class. When I say late, I don’t mean a minute or two. Almost every class there are students that arrive anywhere from 1 minute after class starts to an hour after class starts. To me, that is something that I don’t see very much in the US, but is something that I have definitely gotten used to here in the UK. I would say that this is something that initially shocked me, but is something that I am now somewhat comfortable with.
Another cultural difference that I have noticed is that students will talk during a lot of the lectures. In the US, this is something that is extremely frowned upon and the professor will call the students out for. Here in the UK, there is a lot more talking and the professors do not seem to care a lot of the time. This is something that I have definitely not gotten used to, and I don’t think that I will. I sort of see it as a sign of disrespect, while it has been normalized in the UK. To each their own, however, right?
Now that I’ve talked a little bit about life in the UK, I’ll now talk about my most recent trip to Berlin. The travel during the trip was extremely rough, as a workers’ strike at the Berlin Airport had us rerouted to Hamburg, where we then had to take a train to Berlin. To make the travel portion even worse, my group purchased the wrong subway tickets and German train enforcement checked them and asked us to get off the train. From there, we all received fines even though we had not purposely used the train system incorrectly. This was definitely an experience that will be a life lesson, especially in regards to communicating with law enforcement within a country that the primary language is not English. Other than that, Berlin was an awesome experience. Berlin is filled with history and is definitely a place that I wish I would have had more time in. As a whole, I have genuinely enjoyed traveling to countries where the main language is not English, as it puts me out of my comfort zone and I feel as if it helps me to grow as a person.
All in all, the two week since my last update have been great. I can not believe that I leave in 2.5 months, something that is quite sad to me. I will definitely look to make the most of my remaining time in the UK though.
Pictured: Here I am with a professional League of Legends player (Jankos) that I met at a match in Berlin. It was quite a great experience seeing a professional E-Sports match.
Until next time,
Chris Hoffa is a third year in the School of Commerce studying abroad in London. Check out his adventures in his posts!
Hey everyone! In this post, I primarily want to focus on my first trip to a place where the native language was not English. This was place was Paris, an absolutely beautiful city. I had two experiences that I really want to focus on, as I believe they were pretty wonderful and really opened my eyes to some things about life outside of the United States. Coincidentally, they both happened to occur on the same night, even though the trip spanned over three days.
I will start with the stories in chronological order. The first story relates to the Hostel that we stayed at in Paris. When we got off of the Paris Metro, we arrived in a part of the city that didn’t seem that nice and was way out of the center of town. I quickly realized that we were in a more residential portion of the city. After about a 10 minute walk late at night, we arrived at the hostel. What was surprising was the fact that the hostel was simply a town house. Chantal, the lady who owned the hostel, lived there along with her brother and her children. It was literally her house, and it was unlike any other hostel that I have stayed at. The room that we stayed in was her daughter’s room, which was very surprising to me. To me, this was much different than the United States, as I don’t believe most parents rent their children’s rooms out to strangers. I realized that her daughter was literally away at school and she was renting her room out. This was something that most parents joked about, but was something that Chantal was actually doing. It made me realize the cost of living in a city, or Paris that is, is probably considerably higher than most other places. In our culture, renting your child’s room out while they’re at school seems taboo, but in another culture I learned that it may not be.
The second story that I want to discuss relates to the restaurant that we went to that night. After settling in Chantal’s daughter’s room, we realized how hungry we were. We strolled around the busy street looking for a place to eat. Two men running a Kebab shop quickly pulled us in and it was hard for us to say no. Only one spoke English, and not very well. We tried to communicate our order difficultly, but eventually succeeded in doing so. The food was absolutely delicious, but what followed was pretty amazing to me. The two men came over and talked to us, and I mean both of them (even the one that didn’t speak English). They asked where we were from and wanted to know all about us and our trip to Paris. One had to go as another customer entered, but the non-English speaker stayed to talk to us. For the next 10 minutes or so, he attempted to give us advice through hand gestures and French. It was difficult to understand, but he gave us tips about pickpockets and how to work against them. This was amazing to me because, honestly, if I had two customers who didn’t share my language, I would simply serve them their food and walk away. On the other hand, this man seemed to care about us and wanted to make sure we had a wonderful trip in Paris. After giving us advice, his friend came back, translated some stuff, and talked to us a bit more. Eventually we ended up leaving the restaurant, but the experience was wonderful to me. It truly showed me that kindness is universal and language was not a barrier to it.
Well, that is all that I have this time. I look forward to updating you all in the future. Until next time!
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
What it is: a traditional Christian celebration marking the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter when no meat is eaten. Corresponds to English “carnival” and is our equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
How It’s Celebrated: Basically, it’s a huge winter celebration of masks, parades, food, music, and parties. All of Europe celebrates it, but there’re a few cities in Italy that go ALL OUT.
The Best Places to Go:
CET planned for us to go to Carnevale di Viareggio, so Michela and Giulia, our Italian roommates, bought our train tickets and we left for a day trip. Just the excitement of going to one city for Carnevale inspired us all to also buy tickets to Venice for the following the weekend, and there are absolutely no regrets.
Review of Viareggio:
Viareggio celebrates Carnevale mostly with a parade of floats. The first round is a satirical showcase of politicians, world events, and Italian pride. A few that stuck out were the Brexit float (Britains with suitcases and God Save the Queen) and Trump (Los Trump Alato – The Winged Trump) with Trump as a bald eagle with wings holding a bag of money in one hand and a crying Hillary Clinton in the other. On the banner it read “Make Carnival Great Again!”
In the second round, Viareggio brought out the big guns (literally, check out the “Make Carnevale Great Again” float). These floats were the most massive works of art I have ever seen, and all of them come with masks, full costumes, marching bands, dancing, and throwing confetti and candy. It’s difficult to even describe these so see for yourself:
America, once again, was portrayed as the Trump takeover with cowgirls and guns. Oh, and it lit up later.
The parades go on for hours and they’re judged as a competition (winner’s released later in March). The typical carnevale food we see throughout Italy (i.e. frittelle) weren’t present at this Carnevale, but they had food trucks, gelato, and games.
Is It Worth It?
For €18 in Viareggio, absolutely!! S/o to CET though, we got in for free!
Review of Venice:
Unlike Viareggio, Carnevale takes over ALL of Venice. As soon as we crossed the bridge from our Airbnb to the ferry stops, we were surrounded by costumes, masks, and murano glass. Oh, and the view was pretty good too.
Piazza San Marco was first on the list. Every square inch was filled with people, and there were mask competitions, Romeo and Juliet reenactments, and showcases going on all day. After visiting Basilica di San Marco, we went to the top of the Campanile (iconic tower) for the most beautiful views of Venice.
Carnevale wasn’t just restricted to the Square though, it completely filled Venice from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Bridge. We each bought a mask in the name of Carnevale, and Kayleigh showed us all up by getting a cape too.
My dreams finally came true around 5:30pm when we rode a gondola through the Grand Canal. I wish a picture could capture the beauty of Venice when the sun was going down, but they just don’t do it justice. Side note: George Clooney stays at one of the hotels on the Grand Canal, it’s a shame he wasn’t there.
Finally, Is It Worth It?
Venice is worth going to any time of the year, but visiting during Carnevale just made it even better. The costumes, the masks, the shows, the food, and just the energy all over the city made it an unforgettable experience.
This past weekend, a few friends and I travelled to Belgium. It was my first time leaving France since my arrival in early January. It was rather perfect because in Belgium, they speak French, English, and Flemish, so we all got a chance to further our French skills. In Belgium, they enunciate more when they speak French, so it was honestly easier for me to understand them than many of the French people I have encountered. Everyone we talked to was very impressed that as Americans we could actually speak and understand French, which was very flattering. Still, it also struck me that most Americans make little effort to learn the languages of the countries they visit. I have certainly been guilty of this when I travelled in the past. I think there is much more of a push to learn other languages in Europe, where you are surrounded by multitude of languages, than there is in the United States. I think that Americans also have less incentive to learn other languages because many people in other countries speak English.
One night while we were there, we decided to see the film Neruda about the Chilean poet and political figure Pablo Neruda. We bought our tickets in advance and stopped at a nearby grocery store for movie snacks to sneak into the theater. About twenty minutes before the start of the movie, we realized that this movie was in Spanish movie with French subtitles, not in English with French subtitles as we had hoped. We all looked at each other and laughed at our poor planning but decided to see the movie anyway. Why waste our money? We hunkered down in our seats with our assorted snacks and braced ourselves for an utterly foreign film, doubting that we would understand much of anything. But as it turned out, to our delight and disbelief, we understood almost the entire movie. And what’s more, we all genuinely enjoyed it. Sure, there were some vocabulary words and idiomatic expressions that we did not understand. But we still understood the majority of the subtitles. We were able to appreciate the beauty and style of the film. We even picked up on some of the jokes. After the movie, we all exclaimed over our mutual understanding. To me, this experience proved that my time in France and Europe in general is invaluable to my language skills.
10 Things Moroccans Do That Americans Do Not (Part 1):
- Eat couscous for lunch every Friday. EVERY Friday.
- Interpret traffic signals as arbitrary. Red lights, blinkers, & lane divisions are suggestions.
- All female gyms & all male cafés. Mixed feelings on this, look for a future blog post.
- Bread. with. every. meal. I’m not complaining, in fact I love it!
- Eat everything with their hands. Honestly, I forget how to use a fork at this point.
- Consider juice a food group… Americans are really missing out on this!
- Disregard time. “The (insert: class/party/dinner) happens when it happens and ends when it ends”
- Value multilingualism. Everyone speaks AT LEAST 2 if not 3 languages.
- Communal bath houses. You can even have someone bathe you for 10 cents extra!
- Refuse to split checks. One person in the group is expected to pay for the entire meal (lol)
We finished our first week of classes!! (for me: Politics of the Maghreb, Intro to Darija, Régime Marocain, Sociologie Deux, Les Connaisances d’Islam + an internship at La Fondation Orient-Occident)
To celebrate, we spent the weekend exploring Rabat on our own for the first time! We really like to walk (tbh mostly to burn off all the bread we eat) and ended up walking 20+ miles, taking a cycling class, and doing yoga over the course of three days! Here are the Rabat hotspots as far as we can tell:
Medina: means “old city” but is basically a humungous, fortified market. I bought the first of many scarves here (for $5!!)
Kasbah: a UNESCO world heritage site, a fortified sub-city within Rabat on the beach. I forcibly received a henna here on Saturday… kinda traumatized but recovering nicely!
Chellah: you guessed it, another fortified area in the city! It’s full of ancient Arab and Roman ruins… and you can walk all over them!
Hassan Tower/Mausoleum for Mohammed V: this fortified area contains the gravesite of the current king’s grandfather and the unfinished mosque he tried to build before war broke out.
Rabat Beach: somehow we end up here almost every day! when it get’s a little warmer you’ll find us here surfing! The waves are HUGE and the cliffs are gorgeous.
Next weekend it’s supposed to rain so we’ll be exploring Rabat’s ~indoor activities~ then the next weekend we have our first trip to a new city!! Stay tuned.
This is our friend and personal trainer Mohammed. He only speaks Darija but was intent on giving us the best spinning and yoga classes we’ve ever had — motivating us with Arabic music and commands in small English phrases (think: “lets go baby!” from popular American music lol). After 2 hours he wanted us to continue with core and leg conditioning… but we finally called it quits. Before we could escape he insisted on a picture together to commemorate our friendship. It has now been 3 days and we’re all still stumbling around with sore legs.
Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her thoughts on studying abroad below.
I’ve always been interested in studying abroad, and it was a huge part of my choice when picking a college– I wasn’t going to go to a college that did not facilitate an amazing study abroad experience. Traveling is one of my favorite activities, and international politics has proven so interesting to me that I am majoring in Foreign Affairs. I believe that there is a real value in moving away from everything you know, to better know yourself as well as the wider world. College seems like the best (and potentially only) time to move from the US for a little while and experience something entirely new.
Italy was an easy choice as a place to study abroad. My dad’s side of my family came from Sicily when my grandfather was very young, and I have always felt drawn back. My grandfather wanted his kids to have the American dream, and believed that a part of this dream was making them as stereotypically American as possible. As a result, my dad was taught none of the Italian language, and little of the culture. I have always felt that this was a loss, and desired a better understanding of where my family came from and what that means. I have taken Italian my last three semesters at UVA, and thus begun that process. However, I don’t think anything could replace the experience of actually being there.
While I am completely overwhelmed by how amazing this opportunity is, I have also been feeling overwhelmed more generally as well. Packing, and the logistics of air travel, are not my strong suits. Saying goodbye to friends and family was also incredibly difficult. Though I love traveling, I find it hard to let go of those people who will always be so important to me, even for a few short months. Meeting new people and moving on to new things can sometimes be hard for me because the people already in my life are so spectacular. However, even the most emotional of goodbyes felt very evenly balanced with my excitement at all that I hope to accomplish in these months.
My goals for my time studying in Florence are founded in self-development. Though being in college was a new level of independence for me, navigating a life that’s completely foreign to my mom and other mentors will be an even deeper level of self-reliance. Experiences shape who we are, and the experiences I will have studying abroad are experiences that I believe I may only be able to have in this moment of my life– as a student, as a twenty-one year old, and as a person reliant on herself and responsible only for herself. I’m excited to see where Italy takes me, and how the history and culture of this new place becomes a part of the person that I am becoming.
Holland Cathey is currently studying abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Check out her first blog post below.
I’m Holland and I’m studying abroad this semester in Freiburg, Germany! I’ve been planning my study abroad experience as long as I can remember and I honestly cannot believe it’s finally here!! The countdown is on and there are just 18 days until I leave. February 27—once a far away and distant date, just 18 days away!
In these last few weeks before I leave, I find myself hyper-aware of all the things I anticipate missing like seeing familiar faces every time I walk past the Corner, all my friends in HackCville and in AXO, and even big events like Foxfield! I’ll miss the creature comforts of home and the ease of constantly speaking my native language. At the same time, I can’t wait to put that on hold for a semester and just GO!
Freiburg is a notoriously green college town on the edge of the Black Forest. Just a few miles from the borders of both France and Switzerland, it’s perfect for a semester of new experiences! I’m studying global sustainability and German with a minor in environmental science and chose this program (IES Freiburg: Environmental Studies and Sustainability) specifically because of all of the amazing classes I will have access to and the culture of sustainability in Freiburg. I get to immerse myself in a culture where environmental stewardship and sustainability is a lifestyle, rather than a distant fact we have yet to come to terms with. If what I’ve read is correct, you can earn some pretty nasty looks from other students if you fail to separate your trash correctly in Freiburg! Even at the fairly progressive UVA, I couldn’t even get my first year roommate to use a re-usable water bottle!
I’ll take ecology classes in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, snowshoe through Liechtenstein, and learn about sustainable energy first hand. While abroad, I hope what it is about Freiburg that makes it so “green”—and bring that knowledge home! My goal is to use my experience from both Freiburg and Charlottesville to gain a unique perspective on sustainability and environmental issues and ultimately help solve related problems in the future.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s about more than academics. Improving my German and studying sustainability is important to me, but what I’m personally most excited for is exploration. Freiburg is located within an hour or two by train to France, Italy, Switzerland, and even Liechtenstein! It has always been my fantasy to study somewhere where I can hop on a train and explore whatever city I happen to get off at. I find myself visualizing an idyllic semester packed with weekend trips, gothic cathedrals, and the picturesque views of the Schwartzwald, but what I am looking forward to most are all of the moments that won’t be caught in a photo. I can’t wait for the first time I successfully have a conversation with a local—in German! Exploring a new city, culture, and language is all about meeting people and getting lost—and that’s what excites me the most! I can’t wait be lost in Freiburg, absorbing new sights, sounds, smells and experiences. I’m ready to throw myself into a brand new situation and see what I make of it. I’m ready to see everything and feel anything. A semester abroad is so much more than the photographs—it’s a life changing and inspiring time and I’m ready! Right. Now.
Sarah Romanus is currently studying abroad in India participating in The Alliance: India: Contemporary India- Development, Economy, Society program.
University of Pune: Pune, India
I took this photo because the University of Pune is the largest university in Pune city. Many universities in the city have ties to this university, but are assigned different names. This photo is the main building at the university.
This photo was taken on India’s Republic Day. For this holiday our program visited a school for children with hearing impairments. This school support kids from age 5-18. The children had rehearsed a performance celebrating Republic Day and afterwards we all celebrated by eating a special Indian dessert together.
Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics: Pune, India
This is another incredible example of the vibrant colors and arrangements that can be seen in India. This specific flower arrangement was created for India’s Republic Day. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the gates of the university to see this beautiful arrangement at the entrance in celebration of Republic Day. In the middle, India has been made out of flowers to match the colors of the Indian flag.
This photo is from a street stand selling chaat and panipuri. These dishes are originally from North India but have since spread around India and South East Asia. In this photo you can see many people gathered around to get a quick dinner. Street food is very popular in India and it is common to see many different types of stands line the road with various meals. This was my first time trying the street food in India and it was delicious. My host family took us to this particular one because it is their favorite.
I took this photo at a flea market in Pune city as the sun was setting on a wonderful day. The flea market had vendors selling mostly handmade crafts and clothing. In addition, there were live local bands playing music in Hindi, while food trucks sold typical dishes from all over India. This event has been one of my favorites because it combined and displayed many different aspects of India’s unique culture.
Alexis Ferebee is a third-year currently studying abroad in Lyon for the semester. Check out her decision to study abroad below!
I almost didn’t study abroad. During my first 2 years at UVA I had decided that leaving the country would be more of a hassle than anything. After all, I was probably just going to major in Media Studies anyways. Then, at the end of fourth semester, I realized how much I greatly enjoyed French, and decided to double major. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, at the beginning of this school year, I realized that I would be wasting the chance of a lifetime and that I needed to apply. Luckily, I had this enlightening realization just in time to submit an application for the spring semester, which would have been my last opportunity. And now here I am.
Tomorrow I leave to study abroad in Lyon, France for 5 months. I have done so much preparation for this moment and yet I feel like I still have so much to do. I have realized though, that stressing about it doesn’t help much. I truly do not know what to expect from this experience, and do not have many preconceived notions, but I do have many aspirations. First of all, I want to be able to enhance my French. This seems pretty obvious but the betterment of my French could help sway me in a certain direction career-wise. I also want to make international friends. I say this because I have two very good American friends going with me on this trip and I don’t want to just hang out with them while speaking English. I can do that any time. My biggest goal is to gain more confidence. Even now, I am sitting at my computer worrying about many insignificant details about my trip but I want to be more sure of myself, and I feel like this trip will give me the independence I need to make this happen.
There is such a mix of anxiety and excitement that I can’t explain. I’ve never quite experienced anything like this in my life, so I guess that feeling is pretty normal. I am anxious about my flight, my train, but most of all, my communication. I am confident in my French abilities, but what if I forget and freeze up? I guess I will have to wait and see what the next few days bring. All I know is that I am excited to be in a beautiful country studying a language I love!
Greater known fact: I speak French.
Lesser known fact: I am minoring in African religions.
What do you get when you combine those things and walk into the study abroad office? MOROCCO! Starting January 25th I will be living in Africa… AFRICA!!! My wildest dream is coming true!
For the next four months I will be studying Arabic, taking politics courses in French at l’Université Internationale de Rabat and conducting research for my masters thesis. Excitingly, a week of the program takes place in Grenada, Spain!
I’ve spent years building my French, months building my Morocco-appropriate wardrobe, and days building my courage to finally get on this plane. I am so excited and incredibly nervous for the intellectual, cultural, and social challenges that the next few months will provide; but I am also soo ready for the camels, couscous, and caftans.
I’ve been asked so many times “why take this risk?”,” why Africa?”, “why Morocco?”. Honestly, I don’t have a good answer other than this: I’m following my heart. I’ll keep you updated on why as I figure it out myself! For now, here are my goals for my semester in Morocco:
- SPEAK FRENCH: This might be an obvious one but, really, I want to force myself to speak French and not cheat by speaking English because it’s easier. I’m here to be immersed and I’m going to do it!
- TRAVEL: I’ve been to Europe twice but I’m so excited to take advantage of my close proximity to lesser-known parts of the continent. Marseille, Amalfi, and Santorini are calling my name! Also, MOROCCO IS SO COOL. Rumor has it a $10 bus ticket will take you across the country. We’ll see where I end up!
- EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE: Morocco is pretty westernized but as a Muslim State it has so much to offer from a non-western perspective. I am thrilled to learn more about Moroccan culture and to experience some reverse culture shock when I arrive back in the US!
Thanks for reading along as I run around northern Africa in my ankle length dresses! Merci à lire!
Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!
Something tells me I should be packing…but I think it makes more sense to watch Under the Tuscan Sun the night before I leave for Italy.
20 years and 9 months later, it’s finally time for the ultimate departure from North America. For someone who’s international travels include spending 4 hours in Cozumel after high school graduation, a semester abroad has me freaking out. While it feels like hundreds of factors have gone into this decision, it all comes down to my battling a travel addiction. I am obsessed with the idea of travel. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be willingly giving up one of my precious 8 semesters at UVA, but its even harder to imagine passing up an opportunity to study abroad. When friends, family, professors, etc. have all asked me where I’m going, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone subsequently questions “why Italy?” because, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy? Well, for everyone who is just dying to know my answer, here it is:
- The history, the architecture, the art. Siena offers the unique perspective into the history of Tuscany with the perfect “road less traveled by” setting. Although I’m a philosophy major and politics minor, I’ll be taking an art history class abroad and have the opportunity to travel around Italy to see the paintings for myself – and yes, this is included in the class! I’ll naturally get lost in the museums in Siena or on my way to the Piazza del Campo – a medieval square that holds the infamous Palio horse races twice a year. Italy is home to some of the most beautiful cities in the world (Rome, Florence, Capri, Milan, Venice…just to name a few) and I plan to visit them all.
- Undoubtedly, cuisine is an immense part of a true Italian experience. I’ve gotten countless recommendations of restaurants to check out and foods to taste upon arrival, with gelatos and pastas being at the top (what a surprise). Wine is an entirely different subject. Italian wine is the final frontier of wine expertise, and taking a wine tour is at the top of my bucket list. Between the vast amounts of vineyards and modest pricing, it won’t be long until a glass of Prosecco at the dinner table becomes customary for me.
- Italians value family and la bella figura– meaning they care about having a good public image and live in a way that emphasizes aesthetics with good behavior. They are notorious for living la vita bella (the beautiful life) in that they approach daily life in the most relaxed and positive attitude, a refreshing cultural aspect for any twenty-something in America. What most of us as Americans take for granted in our day-to-day, Italians experience fully and passionately…including time. In the fast paced reality of being a third year college student, there is never enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want. I envy those who can constantly just live in the moment, which is basically the majority of Italy. How long it will take for me to be even remotely relaxed about time though is TBD.
So finally, after over a year of planning, it’s time for my own adventure.
Siena is the destination, but I plan to experience as much of Europe as I can in the next four months through some major binge traveling. No amount of Google searching, memorizing small Italian phrases, or flipping through maps of the rolling hills in Tuscany could satisfy my curiosity for the experiences I hope to have. Fortunately, my excitement outweighs my fears – fears of being homesick, of living with people I’ve never met, and of the monumental culture shock I’m about to feel – because of everything I have to look forward to.
Thanks, Lizzie McGuire, for preparing me for anything to happen in Italy.
It’s too bad she also didn’t show how she packed all her shoes…
Italy. I can’t stop saying it or thinking about it… Soon I will be in Italy to study for about five months, which will be the longest time I have ever been out of the country. Part of me is of course excited, and who wouldn’t? Gelato, pasta, pizza, mozzarella… But beyond the food, there is the history, art, and the culture. Those are the three things I want to focus on when I am not preoccupied with the dinner table and my stomach (not that I plan on going hungry in Italy). Since I am a history and (most likely) anthropology double major these next five months will be a really neat way to see my studies come alive. To me, Siena will be a recharge: a perfect halfway point for my studies as I conclude my second year.
Many of my thoughts go toward my homestay. I wrestled with whether to do one or not and am still not 100% certain about it. So we will see how my thoughts on the homestay will change later in the semester. But right now, my inner anthropologist is nervously excited to live in an Italian home. I love learning about how different countries eat dinner and what foods they eat in general so I am excited to branch out of the (American) Italian restaurants and their breadsticks. I also love learning about how other countries think about the US, so hopefully as my Italian goes from rusty to only somewhat rusty I will be able to understand why we are the ugly Americans (or not!)… But beyond this, I am looking forward to my sampling of Siena.
But most importantly, I have a few goals while abroad. Perhaps I am naïve and drank the study abroad kool-aid, but I hope to become more confident when I am abroad… And like everyone hopes to have better grip on the future, I hope to figure out what I want to do with two humanity degrees by the time I come back. More personally, I am determined to be more social and befriend as many people as possible. This is because, for me, as much as I want to have great stories when I come back, I also want to have others’ stories because an adventure should never be an individual experience. So to both my future self and to my readers: here’s to the stories and Italia.
Chris is a third-year studying Commerce at the University. He is currently studying abroad in London for the semester. Check out his thoughts before he left!
Before I get into my actual blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about myself. My name is Chris Hoffa and I am a third year in the School of Commerce. I love to play a variety of video games and watch New York Mets games during my free time. I am looking forward to traveling across all of Europe during my semester in London.
I still can’t believe that I leave for London in two days. As someone who has never left the country once in his life, this will be quite the experience for me. I am worried about making friends, about getting homesick, and about the challenges that I could potentially face. With that being said, I am still plunging myself into this adventure of a lifetime. I hope in this time that I will be able to learn more about myself than ever before and to become a better person through having such a diverse experience. I have created three major goals that I hope to accomplish during my semester abroad.
The first goal that I have is to befriend as many people as possible. This goal will allow me to receive all of these diverse perspectives and to meet people that I would never have had the opportunity to do before. I will be able to learn from these new friends of mine and hopefully be able to create lifelong friends from my time while in London. This will make my experience more wholesome in a sense.
My second goal that I have is to put down the electronics. I am someone who is an avid gamer and loves to play a variety of video games. Though it will be tempting to fall back on this hobby of mine when I feel isolated or face a challenge, I hope that I will be able to put them down and truly appreciate this time abroad. The video games will not be going anywhere in the near future, but this experience will be. I have a limited time while abroad and need to make the most of it while I can.
My third goal for the semester is to continue to stay in contact with my friends and family back home. Though I will be participating in this experience of a lifetime, I need to make sure not to forget the most important people in my life for five months. Keeping in constant contact will allow me to maintain these relationships and also will hopefully prevent me from becoming homesick.
As a whole, I hope that these three goals that I have created for myself will make my experience in London the best that it can be. This will hopefully be a life changing experience for me and will me allow to grow in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I look forward to leaving in two days and embarking on the biggest journey in my life so far.
Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his pre-departure blog!
Hi! My name is Thomas, and I’m a second year student at the University of Virginia. Starting today, I’m leaving Jefferson’s Grounds behind for the spring 2017 semester to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. I plan on using this blog to post regular updates on my adventures and experiences living abroad. Seeing as I’m currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now and don’t have anything particularly exciting to report on (yet!), I figured I would take the time to explain why I decided to study abroad and what Spanish means to me.
Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Growing up in my hometown of Oxford, Pennsylvania, almost a third of my high school graduating class was Hispanic. I can distinctly recall hearing Spanish spoken in the hallways during elementary school, and thinking how cool it would be if I could speak a “secret language” to communicate with friends and stump teachers. When I had the chance to begin studying the language in the eighth grade, I eagerly accepted, and Spanish soon became my favorite subject in school. I always excelled in my Spanish classes academically, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school in Spanish V when I realized it was what I wanted to study in college. I became president of the Spanish Honor Society my senior year and soon after decided to attend the University of Virginia as a Spanish major.
College classes were, of course, a rather large adjustment from high school classes, but nonetheless Spanish remained my strongest subject. My second semester, I was lucky enough to study under two particularly phenomenal Spanish professors who really motivated me to spend additional time practicing outside of class in order to further increase my level of proficiency. To that end, I read two incredible novels over the summer: El tiempo entre costuras – The Time In Between and Cien años de soledad – One Hundred Years of Solitude(both of which I highly recommend!) in Spanish to avoid the summer slump and expand my vocabulary. As if the books weren’t enough, I also developed a raging addiction to Spanish telenovelas such as Gran Hotel and Velvet. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Spanish truly became the unequivocal center of my life at UVA. In addition to taking three Spanish courses, I moved into the Casa Bolívar, UVA’s Spanish-speaking dorm. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent just about as much time speaking Spanish as I did English last semester. Because of all this practice, I feel reasonably confident in my abilities to communicate in Spanish, which will hopefully help mitigate the inevitable culture shock that comes with adapting to life in a foreign country.
This semester, I’m in five 4000 level Spanish courses covering a wide variety of topics. That sounds kind of crazy (and I guess it is) but hey, at least in Spain we don’t have class on Fridays! There’s no doubt these courses will keep me plenty busy, but by the end of the semester, I will have finished the complete course of study for UVA Spanish majors in two years’ time. Here’s my class schedule:
SPAN 4050: Global Integration of Latin America – MoWe: 09:00-10:30
SPAN 4600: Literature & Cinema – MoWe: 10:40-12:10
SPAN 4705: Spanish Mass Media – MoWe: 12:20-13:50
SPAN 4713: Economy of European Union – TuTh: 12:20-13:50
SPAN 4320: Contemporary Latin American Short Fiction – TuTh: 15:40-17:10
As you may have noticed, in Spain they use the 24-hour system (military time) which is definitely something I’ll have to get used to. The class I’m most worried about is the econ course – economics is already like another language to me, so I’ll have to see how it goes when it’s taught to me in Spanish!
To say I’m excited for study abroad would be a gross understatement. En route to Spain, I can’t help but feel quite introspective. When I look behind me, I marvel at all the progress a “gringo” like me has somehow been able to make in Spanish so far. Even so, looking forward to this semester, I see incredible opportunities to further increase my fluency and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture. I feel extremely thrilled and blessed to be embarking on this journey and absolutely cannot wait to see what Valencia has in store for me. Look out Spain, Tomás is coming for you!
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