“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
Study abroad is strange in the sense that you immediately begin to build a temporary life with people you have met just days before. This temporary life, I have found, does not necessarily coincide with the life I live back home. As a matter of fact, the life I live now is completely different from life as I knew it. Because of this, I am constantly in a state of inconsistency. I am so used to the comfort of conforming with a rigid daily schedule: wake up, go to the gym, go to class, eat, do my homework, go to sleep. Now, everyday is a new adventure. What part of the city will I explore today? Which country will I travel to tomorrow? What people will I meet? What sights will I see? The best outcome to all of these questions never requires a rigid plan or structure. All of these adventures, relations, and experiences form spontaneously.
The days began to pass right by me starting from the Golden Triangle Trip where we traveled to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba.
We hiked through one of the world wonders, rode camels through the same desert that Aladdin is currently being filmed in, and snorkeled in the Red Sea. The weekend after, my fourth weekend here, I was already traveling to Beirut, Lebanon, with my established friend group – people who I had just become close with a week or two before.
Traveling to Beirut felt like I was traveling outside of the Middle East. The heavily French-influenced city was very lively and filled with way too much to see and do than our three day trip allotted.
The beginning of October was when the off-balance really took a toll. I became anxious with time and my inability to time-manage without being on a rigid schedule; inevitably overtaking my emotions. How am I nineteen years old, living 6,000 miles away from my parents trying to manage school, an internship, social events, and marathon training, along with doing groceries, cleaning, and spending hours a day commuting? I grew frustrated over simple things like not being able to find liquid chicken broth in the grocery store, or not being able to have a normal monthly phone plan like I do in the U.S.
I accepted the fact that it takes patience to live this new “off-balanced” life I am now living. My days here will never be the same and that is privilege in itself. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to travel and to grow outside of my comfort zone, while most people never get to move outside of the small town they were born and raised in. Every day I am faced with a new challenge, and every challenge I overcome is a testament to my long journey of growth. There are many moments in life that are breathtaking. A recent breathtaking moment of mine was seeing my second world wonder, the pyramids of Giza.
My entire trip throughout Egypt in Cairo, Luxor, and Hurghada was filled with spontaneous adventure and breathtaking sights and experiences. But all of these breathtaking moments and experiences are opportunities to self-reflect and to simply take a breath. It is not easy to start a whole new life abroad at nineteen years old. I want to do and experience everything, I want to learn and excel in all of my classes, and I want to remind myself to take time for myself. The greatest lessons I will learn are derived from the thoughts I collect when I, just for a moment, find the perfect weight to balance my life and take a long, deep breathe.
Well, well, well… What can I say? Where do I start?
Coming here to Canterbury from the little town of Pembroke has been quite the journey for me. Having to leave my hometown early, due to a devastating hurricane which resulted with my family members without power for over a week back home, set me in a sad mood. HOWEVER, recovery efforts are in full effect back home and everyone is rebuilding quite well. Being here has been a huge adjustment for me. Being older and from such a small town setting have posed several obstacles for me. Good thing I am Wonder Woman and I am able to handle all situations. I quickly made friends here from Malta (yea, Malta), the Netherlands, and Germany. They have been so great to hang out with and whether they like it or not, they are now a part of my family. There are a few differences that I have specifically noticed about Canterbury. They are as follows:
- People are not glued to their cellphones here. Back home in America, I feel like we are dependent on them for survival. People here are genuinely friendly and helpful and they seem to enjoy life and their surroundings (without a cellphone).
- Food. Well, the food here is……different. I won’t say that it is bad, but I have yet to find a restaurant that I like. I find that food here is similar to American food (somewhat unhealthy).
- We walk. Everywhere. This is different for me because back home, I live 20 minutes (driving) from anything. But honestly, I love to walk.
- Technology is more advanced here. I have literally done everything from order my food in a restaurant and joined the gym right from my cell phone. The university is also more technologically advanced than mine back home.
- It is just down right beautiful here. If I am sad or missing home, I literally just walk down the street and enjoy the beautiful shops and scenery.
I hope this gives you some glimpse into my Canterbury world thus far. I have attended my first official tea party, visited the Cathedral, and went to the Harry Potter Studio (bucket list item). I am looking forward to the rest of my journey here!!
I recently had the opportunity to promote the Gilman Scholarship at my alma mater’s annual study abroad fair. It was my first time promoting the scholarship as a Gilman Ambassador with generous support from the organization. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to use my time to present students with an option to lessen the cost of studying or interning abroad.
Compared to last year when I volunteered at the university, more students came to my table to ask about the scholarship, requirements, or both. Additionally, I had help from another Gilman recipient who could talk about her internship in Belgium. Some students heard of the scholarship beforehand, while others were in the process of finishing the application before the deadline of the Spring and Summer 2019 cycle. I was able to assist a student at the table when he pulled out his laptop to discuss an issue with his application. I was able to resolve this issue with him. It was also a nice gesture when the international education vendors who were inside the room suggested that students talk with the Gilman booth about financial aid – this showed me the importance of how much exposure the scholarship had gained. The most heartfelt moments were with students whose faces would light up when I asked about their region or country of interest. It brought me back to the time when I was excited about the possibility of studying abroad in South Korea for a year. They thanked us for our time and some said they would contact me about applying for the scholarship. A couple of days later I also helped a student by sharing information on the scholarship and application process.
Relaying information is essential to promote awareness of international education, especially in the aspect of funding. What I learned from my time at the study abroad fair was that sometimes students need information about funding and a face that can say, “I did it and so can you!” To know someone from your neighborhood, organization, or university who has been in your spot beforehand and who has lived the opportunity you also seek shows students that it is possible. Without the opportunity of the Gilman scholarship, I would not have had the assistance to give back to my community in such a profound way.
I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour writing, deleting, and rewriting just the first sentence of this post. It seems nearly impossible to put my experience into words, but I am going to do my best.
My time in Slovenia was life changing. I laughed. I cried. I learned to love. I tried new things. I accomplished goals. I made life-changing relationships. I would do it again in a heart beat, and since being home there have been several times where that is all I want to do.
I loved my time abroad, not because I wanted to be away from home, but because of who I have become from my experiences while I was gone. In the time I was gone I visited eight countries and lived in two, and the most important thing that I learned from all of it was that I have culture too.
I grew up in a small, conservative town. Everyone in my family going back for generations on both sides are Caucasian. We enjoy family time, camping, card games, eating good food, and finding good deals while shopping. Since I was a little girl I have wanted to travel the world because quite frankly, I didn’t think that I had much of a culture and what little culture I did have was boring.
So, finally, 2018 was my year. At the age of 24, I was going to experience r e a l culture. I left in February to study abroad in Slovenia, and in June went directly to India for an internship.
I forgot to pack a hat in Iceland.
I ate the best gelato imaginable in Italy.
I fell in love in Slovenia.
I sketched in Austria.
I ate delicious halusky in Slovakia.
I stood in awe of the Parliament building in Hungary.
I explored the catacombs in Serbia.
I rode a bike in Denmark.
I swam in the sea in Croatia.
I ate with my hands in India.
It is impossible to describe everything I experienced in these countries. It was incredible, but now I’m home. Back to a small, conservative town that I used to think had no culture. But guess what? I was completely wrong.
I have a culture that is completely different than every one I experienced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a culture. Out of the 10 countries I have now been to, none of them were the same. Each one had something a bit different whether it was the food, the currency, the language there was always something unique.
So now I am learning to notice and appreciate my culture, and I think that by doing that I will be better equipped to appreciate other cultures. I think that traveling isn’t really about going and seeing other places, but it is a way to teach each of us to appreciate what we have. We are all unique and a bit odd, but that’s what makes us great.
Traveling taught me that our cultures are all very different, but most importantly, we’re all human. And it is that similarity that bonds us together.
Cultures will differ, but humans are humans. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, how you eat your food, or what you wear. We all need companionship and acceptance. So where ever you may be reading this, take a look around and remember that we’re all trying our best in the way that we know how to. So let’s just smile and appreciate the differences, because they really don’t matter.
It has now been well over a month since my passage through Mexico and its rich cultures. With that time, I’ve been able to reflect, decompress and once again integrate myself into my home society of the University of Washington. The sense of a new year, new beginnings, it coincides well with the end of such a life changing month. Yet with all this reflective thought, claims of new roads to travel, and new frames of view to see the world through, I can’t stop asking myself the question which has proven most difficult to answer. What has really changed since Mexico? Am I a new different person, changed for better or worse? Have these self proclaimed prophecies of a changed life really taken root or even shown evidence of themselves in my daily life?
That’s why this final return post comes so late, nearly a month and a half after my return. I look back at my field journal and see all these bright hopes of bringing back all this learning and yet I feel I’ve made no effort towards any of these goals. It’s almost disturbing when I think about how fast I returned to my seemingly complacent self within the first couple days back. I’ve heard all these stories of “reverse culture shock” and feelings of loneliness in your knowledge but to me, it seems just like “normal” life.
So after exhausting observations of my physical actions through the world, I turned to focus more on my psyche. It was there that upon closer examination which I could notice the subtlest of changes. These new thought patterns lay deep, where Mexico has embedded itself in my most routine and closely held behaviors. It’s in how I make an active effort to use less water, taking shorter and less showers, trying to wash dishes faster. It’s in pausing for the smallest moments to consider my every action from the lens of an outside observer. The reason I’ve been having so much difficulty with seeing the change is because that change has been so ingrained as to seem natural.
So the way I see things now is this. I’m a busy college student. I can’t expect so much to change so fast. I’m not alone in this experience either. It’s a quest to be taken with classmates and others who dare to journey abroad. A month and a half ago, seeds were sown. These seeds today are only just beginning to take root but given time, they will grow into the most beautiful of orchards. Plans are being made. Work in migration, queer activism, abroad, all seem within the sphere of my future when before, not even a field of work was clear. Not all change is apparent even when given time. I’ll just have to trust my gut to tell me what the future holds, how to take action, and that this trip really has registered new thought. In the end, it really is just a slightly different flavor of the everyday normal.