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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Learn more about UVA education abroad and opportunities to study abroad at educationabroad.virginia.edu
Dorothy Wang, a computer science major, studied this past spring semester during her 3rd year on the UVA Exchange: National University of Singapore program. She spent some of her time taking photos through which to share her experience, so take a look at them below!
Seena Honarvar studied in Rotterdam, Netherlands last spring semester as a 3rd year studying economics and commerce. He enjoyed having new cultural experiences abroad and took many pictures along the way. Keep scrolling to see some of what he has shared!
Brielle Entzminger is a Media Studies major who studied in Lyon, France during the Spring 2018 semester of her 3rd year. She was provided with many opportunities to practice her French language skills over the course of her semester. Keep reading to see how she took them on!
“When you come back, you’ll be practically fluent!” Countless people told me this when I told them I was studying abroad in Lyon. I would not only be taking classes in French with French students but also living with a French host family for an entire semester. It makes sense – 5 months of immersion in another language should make you practically fluent, right?
While I would like to think that that is true, my experiences in France so far prove otherwise. I have been in Lyon for almost 3 months now, yet I do not feel anywhere close to being fluent, and I doubt that I will be fluent by the time I leave in May. It is still very difficult to follow conversations between French people, completely comprehend a French movie, and to understand the professors who teach non-international student classes (classes with mostly French students), for example. No matter how hard I concentrate, I can only understand part of the conversation, movie, etc., unless the speakers are not talking too fast.
I have come to realize that becoming fluent in just five months is an unrealistic goal, especially considering my life here. I do take almost all of my class in French and must listen, take notes, and speak in French during those classes. I also speak to my host mother in French and must use French during my day-to-day activities, such as ordering food. However, many of my friends are other American students, meaning that, for the most part, we are communicating in English. I am still exposed to English on a daily basis, from music to social media, also. In short, I am not completely immersed in French.
Other international students have expressed similar feelings to me. A girl who I worked on a group project with has been studying in Lyon since last semester, for example. I asked her if she thinks her French has improved and she said that, honestly, she does not think that it has. While she is now used to listening to and comprehending French in and outside of class, she does not feel that her speaking skills have gotten much better. Many of her roommates and friends (other international students) communicate in English rather than French, so she does not have to speak French all of the time. She too is not completely immersed.
With this, I now no longer hold the goal of becoming fluent above my head. It would take several semesters, perhaps even an entire bachelor’s degree (four years), as well as further immersion (i.e. no use of English), to truly become fluent while studying in France. Instead, I am considering the smaller ways I have progressed in French since January. While reading and writing have never been very difficult for me, I have certainly improved in my comprehension; while in January, I did not even understand when a cashier asked me if I wanted my food “for here” or “to go,” I can now order and ask questions at restaurants with little problem. I can also understand almost all of my professors (excluding my media professor who speaks way too fast). I admit that I do not understand everything the French people say around me at school, on the street, etc. but, if I am paying attention, I can understand what they are talking about.
As for my speaking skills, I now feel a bit more confident when speaking French during my classes, to French people, and with my friends. I have already had to do a total of four exposés (oral presentations) this semester, along with French students and other international students. The presentations were very intimidating, especially the ones in my media class that I have the most trouble understanding; nonetheless, I was quite proud of myself for getting through them.
I also feel happy every time I am able to have a successful conversation with a French person, meaning that I understood them, he or she understood me, and he or she did not switch to English once he or she realized I was not French. Having a successful conversation in French can still be hard, especially with French people who know English and want to ‘practice’ with me, but I have become better at having them.
Finally, I have come to enjoy practicing French with my friends who are also learning French. It helps me to not only realize which words and phrases I do not yet know in French but also helps me to further integrate French into my daily life. While we certainly do not practice French enough with each other, I like it when we do and plan to do it more often.
Perhaps one of my most memorable French milestones occurred just a little over one week ago. As part of the Lyon study abroad program, us UVA students were invited to take a cooking class. The class was a French woman’s house and was entirely in French. While it was difficult at first to understand the written recipes the woman gave us, she was very friendly and helpful, making sure we cooked everything correctly. It was quite easy to understand her and ask her questions, and she complimented our French skills throughout the class. As we dug into our delicious meal of quiche, chicken with vegetables, and chocolate cake, I smiled to myself – we had successfully completed a French cooking class.
My progression in French has ultimately reassured me that fluency is possible. It simply takes a lot of practice and time – way more than one semester in France. It also depends on the person. While some people can quickly grasp new languages (especially if they already know more than one language), for others it takes years. A Polish girl I met, for example, told me she did not feel fluent in English until she was seventeen or eighteen, and she started studying it when she was in elementary school. As I spend my remaining time, I will try my hardest to appreciate the different ways I progress in French; no matter how small they are, they bring me one step closer to truly mastering a second language.
Leah Corbett, a 4th year Japanese major, spent the spring semester studying on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Read about her homestay experience below, check our her own blog at https://leahandjapan.wordpress.com/, and watch her “daily snapshot” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLN6dASZnU4.
This past weekend, I did a two-day, one-night homestay. I and another student from India, Gopi, stayed at the home of a woman, Takahashi-san, who works at Oberlin. I remember when I first signed up to do a homestay through Oberlin’s Office of International Programs, the vision that automatically came to my mind was staying with a nuclear family – I think that’s the typical vision – so I was a little surprised when I got the notification that I would be staying with one person. However, I think it brings up an important point, which is that not everyone lives in that style of household. I think it turned out to be an enjoyable experience for all three of us!
We met up on Saturday morning, and then went shopping for food. Gopi and I are both vegetarian, and Takahashi-san was very thoughtful in making sure we would have a good choice of food during our time with her. We even stopped by a Japanese sweets store and picked out something for each of us.
Once we got settled in at her place, Takahashi-san began preparing ingredients for making vegetable sushi rolls. Since I’ve been in Japan, I have not yet been able to eat any kind of sushi here because veggie rolls aren’t a normal thing that is sold here, like they sometimes are in the U.S., so I was excited to be able to eat some and experiment with fillings. She cut the nori (seaweed) into smaller sections so we could make lots of individual rolls with different ingredients.
Later that day, we went to a piano performance, which Gopi had been invited to. It was rainy and we had to take the train a little ways to get there, but it was relaxing and a nice evening excursion for us.
The next day for a midday snack, Gopi showed us how to make chapati, a type of flatbread from India. We ate it along with a mango pickle which she brought with her to Japan.
All in all, it was a cool experience because there was cultural exchange going more than one way, with us eating both Japanese and Indian food during our time there. It was an enriching experience which especially demonstrated just how important food is in the varying cultures in the world. I’m glad I decided to try out a homestay!
Let’s turn to Elizabeth Chung, an economics major who studied during the Spring 2018 semester on the UVA in Shanghai: Fudan University program as a 2nd year. Read about her experience as an intern in addition to her classes below!
While in Shanghai, in addition to attending a full course load, I have also been interning two days a week. The company is called Knudsen&Co, and they are a foreign-invested company based in Shanghai that consults on foreign companies hoping to join the Chinese market. Every Thursday and Friday, I hop on the Shanghai metro during the crazy rush hour and get smooshed into a train cart. The metro during rush hour is really something else. While the trains run frequently, it is just a fact that too many people need to use the trains. People line up for the trains, and once the train doors open, people all push and push into the train carts. I have been shoved a handful of times. While seemingly rude, it is just the fact that people need to get to where they need to go, and if they want to get there on time, they have to push to make it onto the train.
Once I have made the 45-minute commute, I take the elevator to the 34th floor, the top floor, to get to my office. The CEO is a Danish woman and is simply incredible. She has lived in Shanghai for over 10 years and has been enormously successful with her business. My day to day work is based on whatever my colleagues need help with, whether that be research on recent regulations or working on social media, it really depends on what the current projects are and their priority. This is their busy season, so they have a lot of clients who are working on a variety of different projects. As one of their multiple interns, I am there to help where I can. However, I am also working on a specific project for a new client where I am researching and drafting a government strategies report. My majors are economics and foreign affairs, and I am really interested in how economic analysis affect policy. With this project, I am researching how government policy is affecting and can affect a business plan or proposition. So, it has been really interesting to see how the inverse of what I am interested in works.
A big part of my research includes learning about obesity in China, where I learned is a major problem in the country. After the United States, China is the most obese country in the world and rapidly catching up to the U. S. Because of this major problem, China has made multiple major policy shifts towards making health a priority when making future policy. I have really been enjoying delving into a specific topic, where I can simultaneously learn about the policy implications for a business and learn about the Chinese development and how that has culminated in serious health issues. In addition to economic policy, I am also interested in development, so gaining knowledge about how Chinese development has progressed for this report has been fascinating for me. Also because Knudsen&Co is a small business, I have been exposed to how a small business can create roots in a foreign country as well as the grit and hard work that is necessary to survive and thrive.
The fast pace of a small business also brings new energy into the office, and allows me to really be involved in the work that they do, allowing me to learn a lot about business, especially international business. Working 8-hour days twice a week when I have other courses and trying to explore a new country and city have been tiring, and I don’t always get to go out when my friends do, but it has been an incredible experience so far. I definitely have to manage my time more than my friends who are not interning do, but I do feel more like a local when I am on the metro when they are, and working the 9-5. It is the study and interning abroad that has enabled me to have these experiences that I am grateful to be receiving.
Christine Logan, a double major in Computer Science and Spanish, studied on the UVA in Valencia program this past spring semester as a 3rd year before graduating early. Check out some of the photos she took in and around Valencia during her time there!
As we continue to look back at experiences students had last spring, let’s turn to Linjiang Han, a Commerce major who studied in Milan, Italy on the UVA Commerce: Third Year Core: Universita Bocconi program to finish off her third year. In this post, she writes about her thoughts from during her second month in Italy!
One of my biggest challenges since coming to Italy is the use of clothes drying racks instead of dryers. I asked around and realized other European countries also use drying racks. When I lived in the United States, I used to wash my clothes once every two or three weeks. After coming here, I must wash my clothes every week because of the lag time for my clothes to dry as well as the small size of the washing machine.
Additionally, everyone places great efforts in sorting out trash in Italy. For example, we have five different trash bins in my apartment with one each for plastic, paper, glass, organic waste, and miscellaneous. In addition, personal bathroom trash must be taken out by each occupant that day. I was not used to taking out the trash every day, so it was an initial challenge to remember every day.
I have been exploring Milan by going to different neighborhoods/bureaus of the city. When I went to the northwest part of the city, I was surprised to find a Chinatown. I later asked around and discovered there is a large Chinese population in Milan. After my realization, I asked some Chinese speaking locals about their immigration and was informed they immigrated to Italy when the economy in the country was good and particularly because they already had friends in Milan. This really resonated with me because I immigrated to the U.S. from China. Beside is a picture I took when the Chinese New Year was approaching and I saw there was a lot of decorations in Chinatown. On Chinese New Year, there were so many Chinese gathered that could cause someone to think they were not in Italy anymore.
Unfortunately, I have had more practice speaking Chinese than Italian since I came to Italy. My Italian is very poor and I also cannot roll my r’s. Some Italians assume I cannot speak Italian because I am Asian and they are correct in this case. Once or twice, people have greeted me with “konnichiwa” or “nihao.” The most Italian I have used is to order food to the lunch lady or the basic phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” However, I shall endeavor to learn more Italian while I also explore more of Milan.
My exploration of Milan includes going to its different museums. From my visits, I learned a lot about the history of the city I’m currently studying abroad in. For example, in Milan, there is one central canal with many restaurants known as Navigli. However, in one of the museums, I learned Milan was once more like Venice with many canals but, due to industrialization, most of the old canals were covered over by concrete and Navigli now remains the only main canal in Milan. While I thought this was rather tragic, I am glad Navigli is still around as I often go there for aperitivo and enjoy the view (seen on the left). I believe that anyone who lives in Milan must have seen this beautiful view as they pass by Navigli.
Through walking around Milan and sometimes taking spontaneous routes and detours, I am becoming more attuned to the pulse of the city. I believe by the end of my experience, I will feel like a real local rather than just a student who attends one of its universities.
A big part of my goal for coming to Italy was not just getting to know Milan, as I wrote about in my last blog, but the country itself. By going to other Italian cities besides Milan, I have been able to see the part of Italy that’s less business-focused. In smaller towns like Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, the pace of life is slower, though definitely not lackadaisical, in which Italians take time to eat meals or sit in a gorgeous park to read. On the other hand, in cities like Venice where tourists outpopulate the locals, many of the locals I find are around retirement age and often keep to themselves.
I believe I am learning more about Italy, not only through a third-person point of view of traveling, but also interacting with local Italians wherever I go. In Venice, I talked to a local who actually spoke Chinese to me, a huge indication of the number of Chinese tourists who visit the city, and we discussed the city itself. He told me about the pollution of the canals that is not only caused by tourists, which I had previously assumed, but mostly because of the wastes from nearby plastic factories. When I brought up how the U.S. would usually fine such companies to clean up the waste, he replied that the red tape of the system means that these factories wouldn’t really be fined. I found this topic really fascinating because I don’t think I would have researched something like this before going to Venice and I got to see Venice beyond all the touristy canals and through the lens of a local.
Currently I have traveled to six different Italian northern cities, most of which are close to Milan. My travels have provided me the opportunity to practice Italian. Since Bocconi is an international school and my classes are all in the English, I don’t meet many Italians at school. When I go to stores and shops, I use very basic Italian phrases such as “how much.” Through my travels, I seek to gain a better understanding of the Italian lifestyle and culture that are shaped by the country’s history and geographical location. Later this semester, I hope to visit more Italian places, both cities and small towns, in my efforts to become more educated about the country I am living in.
Rachel Fidlow is currently a third year who studied in Israel at Ben-Gurion University this past spring semester. Check out some of her stunning photos from her time there!
As students prepare to start fall semester abroad, we look back at the experiences of those who studied abroad last spring. Shivani Dimri is a History and Environmental Sciences major who spent spring of her third year on the IES: Rome program. Read her pre-departure reflections below, and stay tuned for more posts detailing her semester in Italy.
Warning: My thoughts keep zigzagging between English and Italian, making it that much harder to express my feelings about moving to Rome for the spring.
My name is Shivani. It’s an Indian name, but it has the same pronunciation in Italian. I am from Falls Church, Virginia and I’m a third year double majoring in history and environmental sciences. Let me tell you, I have been looking forward to study abroad since I started college, and I’m so excited that I’ll be departing for Rome at the end of January. I’m eager to improve my Italian, meet new people, and experience new cultures in Italy.
Arguably, the Italian language has defined my college experience more than anything. If you know me, you probably already know that I started taking Italian in my first year at UVa simply to fulfill the College’s foreign language requirement. Yet, I thought to myself, if I’m going to spend four semesters studying a language, I want to do it well. I want to actually be able to speak the language and retain this knowledge. With a positive attitude, I found that I really enjoyed Italian and had a knack for it, reading books and watching videos and finding any possible opportunity to speak it. By my second year taking Italian, I gained something that I didn’t expect to come from learning a second language: a new voice.
I know it sounds strange, but hear me out. Sometimes I’m afraid to speak in front of people I’m not already close with because I don’t want to seem stupid. Sound familiar, my fellow introverts? In a way, I have more confidence speaking Italian because it’s easier for me to assure my brain that it’s okay if the words don’t exactly come out right. It’s always okay to make mistakes, but my brain feels like I have more of a pass when it comes to Italian because I’m clearly not a native speaker. I started learning when I was eighteen years old!
With that being said, I look forward to speaking Italian in Rome with my host family, with my peers, and with anyone else I meet in the city! But of course, there’s more to my desire to go to Italy than learning the language and understanding my identity.
There’s history. My History Distinguished Majors Program thesis is on Italian imperialism in East Africa. The classes I’ll be taking at IES about modern and ancient Italian history fit right into my interests and Rome is the perfect place to take field trips related to what I’m learning.
There’s culture. As an Asian American student, I’m curious about the lived experiences of immigrants, minorities, and expats in Rome. I look forward to learning about their contributions to Roman culture through my coursework and when I’m out and about.
Oh, and I guess there’s food, too?
As a double major and DMP student, it’s taken a lot of planning and some challenging course loads over the last five semesters…but it’s all paying off because now I have the privilege to spend over three months in Italy! I leave for Rome on January 28th. My longer-than-usual winter break has been giving me time to relax at home…and pack, mine the internet for travel tips, and call upon Teresa (my friend and former UVa in Siena student) for advice. Now I just can’t wait for my adventure to begin!
It may be the middle of summer in Cville, but Leah Corbett, a rising 4th year Japanese major, is still finishing up her 3rd year spring semester studying on the JF Oberlin University: Reconnaissance Japan Program in Tokyo. Read her thoughts from halfway through her semester below, check our her own blog at https://leahandjapan.wordpress.com/, and watch her “daily snapshot” video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLN6dASZnU4.
I am almost halfway through my semester in Japan already! Looking back, I’m realizing how far I’ve come since I first arrived here. There was a lot of adjustment, though I didn’t notice it at the time. There were a lot of smaller things that I had to get used to.
For instance, the cars driving on the left side of the road was hard to get used to, and I still sometimes get momentarily turned around by it. Crossing the road without walk signals took extra thinking at first, because I had to double check that the coast was clear. Or, when a car stopped to let me cross, I would nod and wave at the front left seat of the car as I always do, but then realize afterwards that I had accidentally thanked the person in the passenger seat for stopping for me instead of the driver.
Another thing is that Japan is very environmentally conscious, which I think it great! But the annoying thing about it is that there are rarely hand towels or dryers in the bathrooms, so I have to shake out my hands and wipe them on my jeans or shirt. Some students carry hand towels with them for this reason, though I decided that’s not absolutely necessary for me.
For a while after I arrived, I felt very self-conscious when walking around in public. Since Japan is a homogeneous society, I felt like I stick out a lot. One of my first days here, a friendly Japanese man said “hello” to me in English when I walked by, which made me think even more about how not-Japanese I look. The longer I’m here, though, the more I realize it’s not a big deal to Japanese people, especially since there are a lot of foreign students around campus and in Fuchinobe, which is where the international dorms are.
Before I went abroad, I saw a graph on several occasions explaining the cultural adjustment timeline/curve. Right after you first arrive, there’s a honeymoon phase where you’re so excited about everything. Then at some point later the graph drops, which is when various frustrations start to take hold and the initial excitement wears off; the graph goes back up once you’ve more fully adjusted to the environment. There may be more than one drop in the curve.
(Here’s a simple example of the cultural adjustment curve. And yes, I made this in MS Paint.)
I think that right now, I’m in one of those valleys. Midterm season is upon me, and because I and my friends have been so busy I haven’t take much time to go sightsee or hang out much lately outside of school days (though I do have some plans for the upcoming weekend). Life is starting to feel more normal and my weekly schedule is fairly regular, but my subconscious is telling me I should still feel constant excitement and that I’m supposed to have an amazing day every day. When going abroad for an extended period of time, though, I’m realizing that’s not a realistic expectation. Yes, overall I’ve had a good time so far, but it’s okay to have mediocre days, and those don’t take away from the experience as a whole.
Once midterms have died down and once I settle even more into life here, I know my feelings will once again change. I thought that adjustment would happen for a while and then it would be static, but it’s more ongoing than I had previously thought, and I’m curious to see how I will react during my remaining time here.
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!