Rome: Pre-Departure Reflection

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.

So…why 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!

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Preparing for Takeoff

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.

Time Sailing By: Semester at Sea

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bright Yellow Suitcase

Mary Long is a Foreign Affairs and English double major (with a minor in Spanish) who spent the spring semester of her third year traveling from San Diego to Hamburg on Semester at Sea. This is her first post as she prepared to embark on her voyage this past spring.

 

Bright Yellow Suitcase: On being ready to go but unwilling to leave

I first heard about Semester at Sea through an old friend’s Instagram account, which is indicative of a whole handful of things, but especially of the heightened globalization of the world. Without getting technical or meta or anything of the sort: how crazy is it to think that a single series of photographs determined my path five years into the future?

I distinctly remember seeing that friend’s pictures appear on my phone, promptly turning to the internet for further research, and writing down in my journal — right then, right there — that I was going to do that. At some point, some way. And here we are, over 1,700 days later, and I am less than 100 hours away from embarking on that same voyage my tenth-grade self swore to some day do.

Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to these coming moments for a long while. This past summer, when this whole dream began to become a reality, I thought through what these next few days and weeks and months would look like, over and over, and over and over. But as the fall semester rolled along I got swept up in the present — not a bad thing, certainly — and stopped throwing myself into the future.

This happened accidentally, of course, in between the tests, the readings, the car breakdown, the never-ending and hellacious visa application process, that pleasantly surprising date function, that perfectly impromptu trip to Boston where we almost missed our flight. Somewhere along the way, within and without of those innocuous, seemingly mundane moments, I was no longer thinking about spring semester and all the traveling and adventure that would fill it. I had started the semester thinking I was more than ready to go; I ended it realizing I would never be ready to leave.

Those final weeks of December were, for me, full of an uncomfortable dualism, an awkward balancing of excitement and tentativeness. I wanted more than anything to go, I was thrilled more than anything to go. And yet: it was harder to leave than I had anticipated. There is a difference, I realized, between putting yourself in a new place and taking yourself out of an old one, even temporarily. The former is freeing. The latter is frightening.

When debating whether or not to study abroad, a chief concern — petty though it may sound — was that the life I would be leaving at UVa for a semester would continue on without me. I decided to go nevertheless, telling myself that just as my UVa life would continue without me, so too would I continue without my UVa life. There was liberation in that — I wasn’t confined to any one place, any one person, any one rule.

But as the clock ticked down to that moment when I hugged my family goodbye for seven months and began the first leg of my journey to the Semester at Sea boat by boarding the plane to San Francisco, I began to feel that I didn’t want to be completely liberated from the places, people, and rules that I already knew.

There’s a great Modern Love article that talks about this jumbled mix of wanting-yet-refusing to be tied down. It’s called “Security in a Bright Yellow Suitcase”. The author remembers traveling to and from her boyfriend’s apartment each weekend, packing her belongings neatly into a bright yellow suitcase each Friday evening and Sunday morning, coming and going easily and without question, able to leave whenever she so pleases. At the start, she loves that she is able to so smoothly go, that while she relies on the boyfriend for companionship, she simultaneously stays unattached from him; she feels that her ability to move allows for a certain liberation on her end. But over time, things stop being so neatly packed into that bright yellow suitcase, and items that were once distinctly hers begin to be left at her boyfriend’s apartment, signaling a heightened coexistence. Surely there is something attractive and freeing about independence, but don’t we want someone and something to depend upon?

I don’t think I understood that concept so clearly until now. In moments of rejection or doubt, I used to reassure myself of my potential by thinking of all the places I someday hoped to go to, thinking of travel not just as a means for adventure but also for escape.

I’ve traveled before this, but never for such a consecutively long amount of time, and never during the school year. This trip has already made me realize that “escape” is something which is much more attractive in idealistic form than in reality. That I want to have both the mobility to come and go as I please as well as the desire to attach myself to a place and the people that fill it. That I want to take my yellow suitcase far and wide, but be unafraid to occasionally let its contents out of the bag.

Pre-departure blog Japan

Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her pre-departure blog!

 

 

At eleven years old I had this dream of being in Japan, exploring the country, speaking Japanese and indulging in the culture. At eleven I was starry-eyed, pupils dilated with an unyielding love for a country I had neither been to nor knew of my existence. Perhaps Japan was my first love, though hardly romantic. Instead, the eleven-year-old me loved Japan because it was the opposite of everything that an American Black girl at my age was, according to the scrutinizing eyes of society, supposed to love, and at the time I reveled in its difference.

Eleven-year-old me still lingers in my aged heart, pressing her greedy fingertips against the valves and chambers to beg for indulgence in all things Japan. I cave in sometimes, end up spending an hour or three watching vloggers in Japan live their daily lives. Although the topics are not always interesting–how many videos about grocery shopping in a Japanese supermarket can you watch without exiting the tab?–I remain attentive and eager to see even the tiniest glimpse into Japan. I was looking through the peephole, falling further and further into a rabbit hole.

But the difference between eleven-year-old me and Myliyah now is the difference of time and the awareness of my place in the world. Children are beautiful, their naivety and innocence of the world a true reflection of just how important they are. Children are malleable and as easy as it is to mold a child it is easy to strip them of that warm gentle beauty. The difference of nine years and two and a half years of college is stark, unavoidable. My edges are sharpened, my senses heightened, but if one thing has remained it is my need for knowledge.

In a few weeks, I’ll be on a plane for nearly a day of travel to end up in Japan, where I’ll spend a few months studying and exploring. Even now I can hardly believe it. Kids that come from my demographic–working class, minority, from the inner city–don’t get much hope. You can’t do it because society says you can’t. My defiant nature wouldn’t let me be another example for the naysayers, and here I am years later: attending an excellent university, studying abroad with a few scholarships under my belt. I don’t want to use this as a chance to brag but rather as an opportunity to reveal that there is an entire vault of intelligent, bright kids and teenagers waiting for their chance but not always having access to the resources to get there. For that, I am blessed and privileged, and for them, I’ll dedicate this blog.

The closer I get to the date, the more I realize that I don’t have an international mindset. Per Japan’s travel policies, I have to have a visa to enter and stay in the country. I received the documents to obtain said visa in mid-February and decided to make a trip to the embassy on one my days off. It was located in a building on Park Avenue, in the heart of Midtown. I signed in, and a few minutes later a security guard led a few other people and myself into an elevator. On the 18th floor was the embassy. The walls were pastel green and orange with soft carpeting and announcements printed on bright, colorful paper; the feel of the room reminded me of a daycare. After walking through the metal detectors a gentleman pointed me to the visa window, which was right in front of a group of Japanese people watching television.

The woman greeted me and I explained myself to her. It was in the midst of our exchange that she asked if I had my passport, and I froze because I didn’t. I knew exactly where it was too–back at home in a file cabinet. She smiled and laughed some, told me that I could come back once I had my passport. I nodded and apologized, excused myself to the side to reorganize.

I suppose at any other time that I didn’t have my documents I would be highly annoyed with myself. What the hell, Myliyah? I would think. That time around I wasn’t. Instead, I thought, duh. Of course, I would need my passport for a visa into another country. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was in that thinking that I realized that my mind, my actions, my everything, was still so American. Nine-year-old Myliyah couldn’t begin to comprehend how I couldn’t just go to Japan and stay without putting in any kind of work or effort. Beyond learning the language, it’s necessary that I stretch my mindset to encompass both the perspectives of a young American woman and, soon, a young international woman.

To which I now ask myself the question: what does it mean to be international? Does it mean being able to speak another language, do as the Romans? Does it mean forgoing my American identity to usurp a bit of a Japanese one? Does it mean to live and interact in Japan as I have done so all my life in America?

I have no answers for these questions right now. But now with the visa in my passport, I will get on the plane and, perhaps in these next few months of travel, I will find answers to these questions. I won’t say that these will be definite and absolute and will be the same for every foreigner that studies abroad. Instead, these blogs will serve as a recording of my truths and how I will experience them in Japan.

Why I studied abroad

Alexis Ferebee is a third-year currently studying abroad in Lyon for the semester. Check out her decision to study abroad below!

I almost didn’t study abroad. During my first 2 years at UVA I had decided that leaving the country would be more of a hassle than anything. After all, I was probably just going to major in Media Studies anyways. Then, at the end of fourth semester, I realized how much I greatly enjoyed French, and decided to double major. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, at the beginning of this school year, I realized that I would be wasting the chance of a lifetime and that I needed to apply. Luckily, I had this enlightening realization just in time to submit an application for the spring semester, which would have been my last opportunity. And now here I am.

Tomorrow I leave to study abroad in Lyon, France for 5 months. I have done so much preparation for this moment and yet I feel like I still have so much to do. I have realized though, that stressing about it doesn’t help much. I truly do not know what to expect from this experience, and do not have many preconceived notions, but I do have many aspirations. First of all, I want to be able to enhance my French. This seems pretty obvious but the betterment of my French could help sway me in a certain direction career-wise. I also want to make international friends. I say this because I have two very good American friends going with me on this trip and I don’t want to just hang out with them while speaking English. I can do that any time. My biggest goal is to gain more confidence. Even now, I am sitting at my computer worrying about many insignificant details about my trip but I want to be more sure of myself, and I feel like this trip will give me the independence I need to make this happen.

There is such a mix of anxiety and excitement that I can’t explain. I’ve never quite experienced anything like this in my life, so I guess that feeling is pretty normal. I am anxious about my flight, my train, but most of all, my communication. I am confident in my French abilities, but what if I forget and freeze up? I guess I will have to wait and see what the next few days bring. All I know is that I am excited to be in a beautiful country studying a language I love!

 

 

Study Abroad – Round Deux

 Morgan King is currently studying abroad in Morocco for the semester. Follow her travels below!

 

 

Greater known fact: I speak French.

Lesser known fact: I am minoring in African religions.

What do you get when you combine those things and walk into the study abroad office? MOROCCO! Starting January 25th I will be living in Africa… AFRICA!!! My wildest dream is coming true!

For the next four months I will be studying Arabic, taking politics courses in French at l’Université Internationale de Rabat and conducting research for my masters thesis. Excitingly, a week of the program takes place in Grenada, Spain!

I’ve spent years building my French, months building my Morocco-appropriate wardrobe, and days building my courage to finally get on this plane.  I am so excited and incredibly nervous for the intellectual, cultural, and social challenges that the next few months will provide; but I am also soo ready for the camels, couscous, and caftans.

I’ve been asked so many times “why take this risk?”,” why Africa?”, “why Morocco?”.  Honestly, I don’t have a good answer other than this: I’m following my heart. I’ll keep you updated on why as I figure it out myself! For now, here are my goals for my semester in Morocco:

  1. SPEAK FRENCH: This might be an obvious one but, really, I want to force myself to speak French and not cheat by speaking English because it’s easier. I’m here to be immersed and I’m going to do it!
  2. TRAVEL: I’ve been to Europe twice but I’m so excited to take advantage of my close proximity to lesser-known parts of the continent. Marseille, Amalfi, and Santorini are calling my name! Also, MOROCCO IS SO COOL. Rumor has it a $10 bus ticket will take you across the country. We’ll see where I end up!
  3. EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE: Morocco is pretty westernized but as a Muslim State it has so much to offer from a non-western perspective. I am thrilled to learn more about Moroccan culture and to experience some reverse culture shock when I arrive back in the US!

Thanks for reading along as I run around northern Africa in my ankle length dresses! Merci à lire!