Category Archives: Western Europe

A day in Cambridge

It’s 6 am and the rumblings of tourist season are already drifting through my window. My room is perched above King’s Parade, a historically significant street that attracts flocks of tourists to its shops, restaurants, and colleges. Since I don’t have class until 10:15 am, I grab my ear plugs and try and doze a little longer. Eventually I am woken by either my alarm, or the humidity from this perpetual heat wave. My family would be quick to inform you that I am the antithesis of a morning person, so it’s not till I have downed my morning bowl of matcha tea that I can contemplate my day’s schedule. Classes, homework, and some sort of evening activity.

 

 

Descending the spiral staircase from my bedroom I pop in my headphones and brace myself for the crowds. After 15 minutes of deftly dodging honking cars, screeching children, and racing cyclists, I arrive at class in the Engineering building. During my final three weeks at Cambridge I am taking one class, Behavior Ecology, which means I have lecture five times a week, and seminar twice a week, for one hour and fifteen minutes each. Lectures usually consist of a standard PowerPoint presentation, whereas seminars are much smaller and we partake in demonstrations, activities, and discussions.

After my morning lecture on predator-prey behavior, I have a two-hour break until my seminar. There isn’t quite enough time to return to King’s College for lunch, so I meet some friends at our favorite coffee shop across the street from the lecture hall. The cafe, Hot Numbers, always has delicious sandwiches, drinks, and salads; I cringe to think of how much of my food money has been spent here.

 After getting a snack and finishing a bit of work, I head to Pembroke College where my seminar group is meeting. Today we are exploring Coe Fen, a semi-rural meadow that adjoins the busy city center. Here hotels and pubs populate one side of the River Cam and cattle roam through wild fields on the other side. We follow our professor to various locations as he points out examples of wildlife behavior he explained in the morning lecture. Even through the heat and humidity is oppressive, it’s exciting to be outside and learning about the local flora and fauna.

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Our professor explaining how animals distribute according to the amount of food resources in the environment by feeding the mallards and Canadian geese bread chunks.

I walk back to King’s as my mind buzzes with damsel fly mating patterns and goose feeding habits. During dinner my friends and I swap stories of our day, or of our lives back home. Evenings here are almost always different. If we have exams I will head to the library, if I feel a bit antsy I will take a sunset stroll along the River Cam, or if I have time I will take part in one of the program coordinated events. Almost every night there is some sort of optional social program or lecture, but everyone’s favorite event is the formal hall.

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Dinner at King’s College

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My bedroom desk where I attempt to study

During the school year most Cambridge colleges have formal hall multiple times a week. Cocktail dresses or suits are required and the three-course meal is always delicious. The grand hall rings with laughter and the tinkling of utensils. After the beautiful candlelit affair everyone goes out to the bar or club to dance off the endless wine.

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Some of my friends before our second formal.

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My friend is also graduating from UC Berkeley when we finish our courses in two weeks.

Since there are only three formal dinners most nights are occupied elsewise. Regardless of the evening activity the best part of every day is returning to King’s College and stepping into the courtyard just beyond the gate. On the right King’s Chapel soars toward the sky, in front is the stunning Gibb’s Building, and to the left is the building where I live. A delicate silence permeates the open space, one that is almost startling after the sudden cessation of the day’s activity. The stained-glass windows of King’s Chapel twinkle from a mysterious inward light and the cool night breeze plays with my sun dress. If the weather permits, the sky alights with thousands of stars. The sweetness of these moments provides a breath of time for reflection and gratitude.

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Gibb’s Building is the first thing you see as you walk through the gates of King’s College.

Heading left to my building, I climb the spiral staircase, rinse off the day’s sunscreen, and crawl into bed. I listen to the murmuring of the late-night lovers or the random guffaw from friends walking home from the pub. These sounds lull me to sleep as think about all that occurred during the day and prepare for tomorrow’s adventure.

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Looking over the River Cam at the back of Gibb’s Building and King’s Chapel.

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Filed under Sofia in England, Western Europe

Ups and Downs

This trip has been something that I have been looking forward to for months, basically since I found out about it. Travel has always been something I’ve been passionate about, and excited about doing and this trip is one of the biggest trips I have ever embarked on. I do not think that I prepared enough.

When it comes to planning, I normally over-plan and map everything out, as I did with packing for Spain. I had my spreadsheet, and a picture of each item attached. With the trip itself though, I decided to just let things happen on their own. Anyway, my study abroad program is mostly figured out for me: 18 days, each day mapped out within the syllabus my teacher had posted. That gave me a false sense of comfort that everything was ready for me to arrive and experience all that Spain has to offer.

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I forgot to account for arriving three days early in Barcelona with two fellow classmates. Thankfully, one of them had done some research and I was able to just ride on her coattails, tagging along on the various tours. Day one was a bit hard, but I tried to stay optimistic. Traveling itself is just extremely exhausting. I spent the whole day packing and getting ready to leave, and left the house around 9 PM to get on a five-hour plane ride at 12:50 AM. We arrived in Spain at 10:30 local time, completely exhausted. Navigating public transport, we got lost for about an hour in Barcelona, trying to locate our Airbnb. It was hard not to get frustrated with my friends, my brain wanted to take things out on someone for being so tired, and so hot, and just completely exhausted.

Day two was really the first day in Barcelona, and it was honestly a bit of a low for me at first. I had been taking antibiotics since before I had left home, and they were making me extremely nauseous and wound up, spending the first half of the day in bed trying to cope with how it was making me feel. Taking a nap in the middle of the day really did not help my jet lag. My friends explored the old town of Barcelona as I stayed in bed until about 6 PM when I felt good enough to go out. It was hard not to get upset at myself for staying in bed. There was a cycle of thoughts, about how I’d come so far only to stay in bed feeling ill, wasting time.

The afternoon made up for it though. We went to the beach and I swam in the ocean. It was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve had in my entire life. The taste of salt on my lips after I emerged from the water for the first time, was something I hadn’t tasted in years. After spending all day in bed, the ocean was so comforting and honestly just fun.

The rest of Barcelona was a similar roller coaster for me. Not so much a roller coaster as a turbulent airplane ride, like the one I had taken into Spain. It’s hard being somewhere you have never been before, and it is scary when you’re surrounded by people that don’t speak your language. I took four years of German back in high school, which is absolutely nothing like Spanish, so teaching myself the basics of Spanish has been a challenge. The first thing I asked in Spanish was where the trash can was, and I was really proud of myself. It was a moment of victory, the fact that someone understood my terrible pronunciation of the word ‘basura’.

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I think the hardest thing has just been exhaustion. My body just is not used to moving this much, carrying so much. The day I had to travel to my homestay, we took a train from Barcelona to Madrid, arriving at 11:10, with another train for me leaving at 20:00 from Madrid to Segovia. I had this gap in time so I could explore Madrid for a few hours, which I don’t regret because of how beautiful and unique Madrid is. Dragging around a suitcase and a full camera bag, laptop included, through the country for hours on end was hard, though. Around 5 PM I felt completely exhausted. We had left our Airbnb a little before 6 AM, my feet and shoulders were killing me. We had spent about 5 hours in trains and the metro and I just wanted to go to bed. So I went to the train station early and waited two hours for my train. From my train, I got on a bus and my host mother picked me up around 9:15 PM. It was an incredibly long day.

The other hard part was needing to overcome a language barrier, because my host mother does not speak English, and I barely speak Spanish. When I say barely, I mean I don’t speak Spanish. I was trying to comprehend her fast-paced sentences. She spoke in a way that seemed so quick, as I was picking up on small words I knew and trying to get the big picture of her meaning. Thankfully Google Translate exists, and I had brought a small Spanish phrase book and dictionary. Even with those tools though, it was still difficult at first. I was mostly just exhausted, ready to sleep, and my brain power was close to 10% after the long day. I stayed up for another hour or two getting to know my host family, and telling them a few things about my life back home and my journey getting there.

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There have been a lot of ups and downs of the trip so far, and it has been a little hard on me emotionally if I’m honest with myself, but I feel good right now about where I am. I’m incredibly excited to get to know more about my host family, this country, and of course photography – the thing I’m here to study to begin with. I’m glad I took the few extra days before my class officially started to really see some of the country on my own with a few friends. I can’t wait to see how much I grow and learn over the next few weeks.

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Filed under Lexi in Spain, Video Bloggers, Western Europe

Meet Gilman Scholar Lexi Morgan

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Filed under Lexi in Spain, Western Europe

Roses and Thorns

After a lovely day exploring the botanic gardens and the city, I lay in bed thinking about my last two weeks and all the ups and downs. Most of my time has been spent in class or with new friends, which has been challenging and rewarding in equal measures.

 

Back in January when I was selecting my courses, I decided to leave my biology comfort zone and try a completely new subject: world politics. I hope to one day work in the field of global health and I figured studying world politics at a foreign university would be a good place to start. As it turns out, trying to understand international relations theory in three weeks is like trying to drink from a fire hose. I am stumbling through a confusing world of Realism, non-state players, and international power balance. Every 75-minute class is a test in mental stamina, but I can already feel my understanding of the world’s political system growing and changing.

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The graduation parade with undergraduate, masters, and graduate students heading to city hall to formally complete their degree.

Before this class I didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of the United States’ influence in world politics. From World War II, to the Cold War, to modern day, the foreign and domestic policies of the US have had far greater impacts then I ever imagined. This realization has been reinforced by several conversations I have had with the locals. I was surprised to find that many of them can speak more eloquently about the US politics situation then most of my friends back home. A Cambridge PhD student even told me that it is “trendy” amongst his friends to keep up with United States’ politics. Two weeks ago I would never have guessed that learning from an Iranian professor at a British institution, surrounded by peers from around the world, would challenge my identity as an American citizen. I am realizing that to truly understand your role as a US citizen abroad, you need to first understand how America’s current and historical actions have impacted the country you are visiting. As I learn more about America’s position in world politics from class, my peers, and the Cambridge locals, I become increasingly cognizant of how I portray myself and my country.

When I am not grappling with political theory, I am meeting scores of new people every day. My program is comprised of 350 students representing many countries. Over our traditional English breakfast, I learn about life in Canada, Singapore, and China. Back home I don’t normally talk to groups of complete strangers, but here I find myself speaking up without hesitation. Walking home from class on Friday I came across a group of three recently graduated Cambridge University students who were circled around a baby bird in distress. After thirty minutes of discussion we finally decided to move the little fluff ball from the busy road to the safer shrubbery nearby. We left the bird with water and sardines and I left with a promise to see my bird-rescuing compatriots again. It’s not always all roses though, being removed from your family and friends can be disorienting, stressful, and sometimes awkward. Last week I was toughly embarrassed to have mistaken a girl in my class for another girl whom I had eaten dinner with the night before. Tactless moments aside, fitting into a whole new social network is a difficult and wonderful experience.

 

My program’s rigorous course load, and vibrant social life, has made these last two weeks feel like two days. With each new experience and conversation my sense of self, and conception of our global community, shifts a little bit more. There are many moments where I have been uncomfortable or anxious, but from each of these moments of difficulty, I grow a little bit more as a person. I believe someone once said the you cannot have the rose without the thorns, and I couldn’t agree more.

 

 

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Filed under Sofia in England, Western Europe

Surviving the British Buffet (This Post Will Make You Hungry)

Remember when you were a kid and everything you put in your mouth was a new experience?  It’s not too late to relive it.

Britain has a reputation for terrible food, and I’m not sure where that comes from. What I will say, though, is that British foods don’t tend to travel the same distances that American foods do, and I suspect this reduces the amount of additives and preservatives injected for shelf life.  In the States, you can hardly find a salad dressing or tomato sauce without sugar added, and salt intake is on the high end even if you don’t own a shaker. British foods, on the other hand, are pretty much “season to taste,” which requires a trifling amount of effort but actually works out rather well if, like me, you’re also starting to realize how shamefully inept you are at the most basic fundamentals of feeding yourself. I’m actually more than a little proud that I’m learning to strike that precarious balance between seethingly bland and plate-of-pure-salt.

 

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A proper British pub spread.

 

The trade-off in Britain is that while perishables perish, they also tend to be RIDICULOUSLY fresh when you buy them. Like, right off the farmer’s wheelbarrow and into your kitchen. I’m starting to suspect that the myth of terrible British food is contrived to keep secret the mouthwatering deliciousness of things.  I do suspect that because foods tend to be fresher and less pre-saturated with flavourings, the British may have a slightly subtler palate. American brands compete for customers with increasingly outrageous combinations (chocolate-chip sausage, anyone?) which I suspect has conditioned our tastebuds to have a very high tolerance and a very low comprehension for more nuanced tastes. The Brits, on the flip side, are unaccustomed to such explosions of flavor and can appreciate a milder experience. (Then again, I notice that they do have a thing for chili spice, which I guess is how they get their kicks.)

I can also say that Britain isn’t likely the easiest place to be vegan or vegetarian. I have observed vegetarian and gluten-free options on products and menus, but on the whole the cornerstone of the British diet is heavily geared to dairy, grains, and meat. By far the most oft-found foods are some form of meat or dairy food in a pastry. There are meat pies, pasties, sausage rolls, Scottish eggs, macaroni pies… more combinations than I can wrap my head around, and all of them infuriatingly delicious. It’s set my efforts to reduce my grain intake back decades. Regrets? Undetermined.

 

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Scotch eggs.

 

One of the things that I missed the most when I arrived here was Hickory Farm’s summer sausage, but a favorite British dish of mine is “Bangers & Mash”: three hefty sausages crowning a simple plate of mashed potatoes and gravy.  I finally took it upon myself to ask the server what kind of sausages they served, which turned out to be Cumberland, and was thus elated to discover these at the market. Cumberland sausages are pre-seasoned with a distinctive combination of herbs and spices, and these have become my staple summer-sausage-substitute.  I would happily stock each, but I fear I may have a harder time reverting than converting.

 

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Bangers and mash.

 

Back in the States, I also liked to keep a block of cheddar in the fridge to slice up for an easy afternoon snack. When I made my first grocery run in the UK, I looked at the cheddar askance. There were no brands I was familiar with, and the blocks were labeled, “Mild” or “Mature” – not “Medium” and “Sharp” as I was used to. Were these equivalent? Would “Mature” have a weird flavor?  I chanced it and bit into my first slice with trepidation, fearing a waste of a good fiver. As the taste hit my tongue, my face reflexively grimaced; it was immediately clear that this was not the cheddar of my experience.

And then the second wave of flavor hit my tongue… little neurons of new information exploding ecstatically into my brain. My eyes widened. I paused mid-bite, savoring the developing taste sensation. It reminisced of something I’d once sampled from a fancy platter of delicatessen cheeses I could never afford. But this was just a common-variety block of cheddar purchased for a few pounds from the bottom shelf of the local grocer. I quickly ensconced another chunk between the roof of my mouth and tongue, lingering on my newfound luxury as the voice of British claymation star Wallace, of Wallace and Gromit fame, burst into my memory espousing the virtues of cheese. Suddenly it stopped being silly.

 

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Butter and cheddar.

 

A similar thing happened with the butter. “It’s just butter,” you’d think. But let me tell you: in Britain, the butter is so delectable you add the bread to it. Butter in the States is erroneously called “Sweet Cream,” but never have I confused it with anything I would consider sweet until it had been compensated by much sweeter ingredients. Your run-of-the-mill square of Scottish butter is another story. Add a pat of it to the plainest bread slice and poof!  Instant decadence.  I’d been prattling fanatically about the cheese and butter to my family over the phone when my mum stumbled across a relevant passage in a book she was reading called “The Cafe by the Sea” by Scottish author Jenny Colgan:

Colton’s face was comical to watch. If Flora, as a massive cheese fanatic, had adored Fintan’s creation, it was nothing to how a man raised on American cheese and finally tasting something so full and bursting with flavor and richness and full-bodied depth and nuttiness was going to react.  “Good God in heaven,” he said eventually… Colton cut himself a thick wedge, then another…  For a time there was no sound except for some slightly orgasmic noises.  “My God,” said Colton eventually.  “I mean, my God. I mean.”

“Taste the butter,” said Flora evilly.

The motto of the American market seems to be “fast and cheap;” perhaps an unfortunate artifact of the magnitude of our population and economy. But the Scots do things a little differently. A bit of googly sleuthing turned up this article on thekitchn.com which says that European butter is cultured, churned, and allowed to ferment longer, resulting in the festival of complexity on your tongue. I’d imagine the cheese-making process is similar. Dairy products, in general, seem to be something you can depend on for happiness.  You might have heard that if you haven’t had proper European chocolate then you simply haven’t had chocolate. Sorry to break it to you, but it’s true. I thought I was above that crutch until a friend introduced me to the real stuff, and now a day is incomplete without a few squares of Lindt with my shortbread (a crumbly, buttery cookie) and tea.

 

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Chocolate and shortbread.

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Coffee on the road

 

I’ve blathered before about my obsession with crumpets, and I’ll blather some more. The pleasure of a crumpet, as I recently lamented to my mum, is almost not worth the sacrifice of finishing it; the flavors still dancing away on your taste buds as you stare at the now tragically empty plate. I call this “crumpet remorse,” and I subject myself to it daily.  The U.S. is SERIOUSLY missing out on these things, and I can’t for the life of me fathom why. Instead, in the States we stock their outrageously inferior cousin, the “English Muffin.” They may appear similar, but English Muffins are dense, dry and taste in my expert opinion like compressed cardboard. Crumpets, on the other hand, are light, airy, porous, buoyant squishy sponges of flavourful fun.  Whatever you put on them, the bread absorbs it so that the entire muffin is thus infused.  When I return to the grievously-deprived States, I may leave my clothes in favor of a carton of crumpets.

How to crumpet: As I understand it, most Scots just ready it in the toaster like your ordinary slab of wheat, but since I like to fry up an egg and sausage for breakfast, I toss the crumpets into the skillet as well. The result is a soft and spongy concoction on the inside with an outwardly crispy crunch. Personally I like to top one off with a square of salted butter and (optionally) a smidge of jam. I lay a fried egg over the other and nibble on my jammy crumpet while I melt a slice of Scottish cheddar in the still-hot skillet. As soon as that’s soft, I pour it over the egg and nip into the most delicious anti-mcmuffin you could imagine.

When they hear you’ve been to the UK, Americans will love to ask: “How was the food?” in tones that sounds more in line with the question, “How was the toothache?” If you ever have the pleasure of the answer, be sure to tell them it’s terrible. More wealth for the rest of us.

 

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Filed under Jordan in Scotland, Western Europe

Self Reflection After Seven Weeks in Italy

I’m sitting in the airport at Newark waiting to catch my flight to Austin. Only ten hours have passed since I boarded my flight to the United States and I’m already homesick for Italy. I wasn’t ready to come home. The last seven weeks have been challenging, exhausting, and inspiring – sometimes all at once!

Since my divorce I’ve been very introverted and reclusive. I purposefully elected to take a study abroad trip to help me overcome my hesitation at putting myself out there and taking risks. As I move forward into the job market, I’ll need to be able to navigate the sea of rejection that will come when I start interviewing. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I’m starting a career very late in life – I’ll be 42 when I graduate. Most of my friends my age have been working in their chosen career fields since their mid-20’s. It’s all new to me.

So, when I left for Italy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the unknowing of it all. How to get around. What to eat. Where to shop. How to dress. What to say, when to say it, and how to say it. And I wasn’t sure if I would ever get past feeling like a tourist to feeling at home in a foreign country. As an older, non-traditional student, I’m kind of set in my way on some things, as it happens when you are a bit older. (You know- I only buy this one type of toothpaste, I only use this one type of laundry soap, I never eat this or that.) I knew Italy would require I be flexible on a lot of things and, as a single mom of four, flexibility isn’t my strongest skill.

However, here’s what I learned after spending seven weeks abroad.

The World is a VERY Small Place!

I was sitting comfortably on a bus headed back to my apartment after a long walk in the Tuscan countryside. A young couple hopped on the bus and asked, in broken Italian, if I knew if this bus was headed towards a certain plaza. I smiled and said back, “Dispiace, solo Inglese.” (“Sorry, only English” – a phrase I got very good at saying!) The young woman smiled and said “Oh good! Me, too!”  We started chatting, I assured her she was headed the right direction, and she asked where I was from. “Texas – a little town called Temple, you’ve probably never heard of it.” Her eyes grew larger and she started laughing, “Are you kidding? I JUST left Temple! I’m a medical student and did my rotations at the hospital there! I can’t believe this!” The twenty minute bus ride flew by while we both laughed about life in Temple. We exchanged emails and have stayed in touch.

I still cannot believe I met a local Texan on a bus in Florence. The odds of that happening seem very unreal. But it happened. And it really taught me that no matter how alone in the world I might feel, I bet if I reach out and start talking to people around me, I’ll be surprised at what I discover. I’m pretty sure we’ve all felt that way at one time or another.

 

tuscan sunset

I broke off from my group and took a long walk through the Tuscan countryside. The view was worth all the effort and the ride home was where I met my neighbor from Temple! I wouldn’t have met her if I hadn’t taken a risk and taken that walk!

American Excess is Excessive

While in Italy I learned I could do just fine with very little. I had a fixed budget while abroad and it had to last the full seven weeks. I wasn’t on a work or student visa, so I couldn’t have worked even if I had needed/wanted to. I quickly learned how to budget and live simply. Breakfast was normally comprised of peanut butter with jelly and coffee – made at home. Instead of taking in a movie at the cinema, a walk through a park was just as relaxing. Also, one thing in particular I noticed: the small housing in Italy was so well utilized it really made me wonder why Americans dream of living in huge houses.

 

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Typical row houses you see all over Italy. These were in Burano, an island near Venice. They aren’t very large at all. But the people live comfortably in them and seem happy within their communities.

Walkability is Amazing

I spent seven weeks in Italy without a vehicle. For this busy mom of four who clocks 100 mile days on the regular, being without a vehicle took some getting used to. But by the end of my seven weeks abroad I had not only really come to enjoy walking everywhere, or taking public transportation, but I also lost 15 lbs! I ate all the pasta and pastries I wanted…and I lost FIFTEEN pounds! (Listen, I’m just an average mom who has an average amount of love for fitness regimens!) Sure there were some days where we were doing a LOT of walking because we were on an excursion. But most of the walking I did was just in “activities of daily living” as they say.

I have lived in suburbia or even on the outskirts of suburbia all my life. Living without a vehicle was something completely foreign to me. In fact, even though in my Public Administration major I have taken classes on urban planning and development, sustainable design, and walkable cities, I have never really understood how one could actually LIVE without a vehicle.

Now that I’m back in Texas, and I’m driving **all over the place** (Texas is gigantic) I genuinely miss the pedestrian-focused Italian lifestyle. In my opinion and experience, it’s a much healthier way to live. I would never have been able to understand this concept had I not experienced it first hand.

 

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These pedestrian-only streets are common all over Italy. Foot traffic or bicycles only. Sometimes Vespas or motorcycles are allowed – but most of the time even those are forbidden.

In Closing

It would be wonderful if study abroad opportunities were moved from an educational “nice to have” to a requirement for all undergrads. It is a requirement for me to graduate in the Honors College with a minor in Honors Studies, and I was fortunate enough to earn the Gilman Scholarship which absolutely allowed me to go abroad. I like to tell my kids’ friends, “If this 41 year old mom of four can figure out how to study abroad, YOU have no excuses!”

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Filed under Sarah in Italy, Western Europe

Study Abroad Survival Tips for Introverts

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am your classic introvert. I like to be alone more than in a group. I prefer the company of those I know to that of strangers. And I like to be home, with my family, more than anywhere else.

Pushing Those Comfort Zones

If you haven’t noticed, my comfort zones are completely juxtaposed to everything a study abroad experience would bring to the table. I am easily overstimulated by new environments, experiences, and challenges. This over-stimulation drains my energy, negatively impacts my mood, and creates frustration in basic day-to-day activities. I knew things would be stressful so I also knew that taking care of myself would be the “make it or break it” aspect of the experience. In this blog post I share a things I did that helped me manage myself through the experience as best I could.

Also, it’s important to disclose…I wasn’t always successful at managing myself. I had a few situations where I lost my patience with a situation, my tone of voice with a peer, or complete tolerance for an activity at hand. But every student in the group seemed to have a tipping point here or there, so I didn’t sweat it too much. Whirlwind activity (like knocking out 6 honors college credits in 4 weeks in Italy) can stir up a lot of anxiety and unease! On top of all the requirements for classes, adjusting to a new country, new language, and new everything, there are roommates, classmates, and teachers to deal with and the dynamics of a large group can wear me down.

Introvert Study Abroad Survival Tips

So how did I manage to make it through four weeks of Italian Life & Culture with twenty students, a very extroverted Professoressa, and various teachers, directors, and tour guides to deal with? Basically I gave myself permission to opt out of many activities that were not mandatory. In Florence, we had a few days where there was nothing planned. On those days, students would take off on extra excursions and I was usually invited but I always declined. This meant I missed getting to see Cinque Terre, but it also meant I had the ENTIRE apartment completely to myself ALL DAY LONG! I slept late, walked to the corner cafe for an espresso & pastries, visited a little antique shop I had been eyeing, and then I holed up in the apartment for the rest of the day and did nothing except watch Netflix, wash my laundry, and order pizza for dinner delivery. It. was. amazing.

 

Italian Breakfast

Buongiorno da Italia! (Good morning from Italy!)

 

Flea Market Finds

Things I would never find at a local flea market in Texas: vintage geographical map of Florence, glass eyes for stuffed animals, doll parts, and books dating to the 1600’s!

 

One of my favorite things to do was to get up early before everyone else and get out the door so I could do some exploring of whatever city we were in, on my own. By 10:00 am, Italy was hot and humid and miserable until around 6:00 pm when the evening breeze would kick in. Getting out to see the sights before the heat of the day kicked in was always a treat for myself. Likewise, when ever I could squeeze in some alone time during the class days via breaks in between classes and required excursions, I would just walk around and explore the area on my own.

 

Florence Sunrise

I left the apartment two hours before class started in order to get to Michaelangelo Plaza and watch the sun wake up Florence. And this photo doesn’t even do the experience justice.

 

When we were in Sorrento, a bunch of the students went to the local Discoteca and not surprisingly, I declined. A loud, crowded, hot, dance floor with a disco ball and stroke-inducing lights sounded just absolutely awful. (Remember, I’m 41. I’ve already done all that!) Instead, I grabbed a bite from a local deli and took a quiet solitary stroll along the Mediterranean sea at sunset. It was just what I needed after a long day of service-learning at a local home for differently-abled adults.

 

Sorrento Sunset

Better than any sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life! Totally worth ditching the Discoteca!

Tips for Self Care While Studying Abroad

In short, carving out alone time was really important for me -as it is for most introverts. Don’t be afraid to take the time for yourself. As an introvert, you need it! The benefits of taking care of your introverted self when studying abroad are too many to detail out in this blog but in short you will:

  • Be able to manage your energy and mood while abroad.
  • Be able to function in your new environment.
  • Be able to succeed in your academic responsibilities.
  • Be able to enjoy your ex[erience abroad.

I knew that spending a summer studying abroad in Italy would completely turn my daily life on its heels. But I also knew that the experience would be worth every challenge that came with it. Going into the program with an open mind, willingly accepting the challenges to come, and knowing that I would need to be my own caretaker, truly helped me get the most out of my program. In closing, take care of yourself while abroad to maintain your sanity and your sense of balance during what will be an overwhelming and challenging time in your life. But, if you are proactive in self-care, you will get the most out of your program. And as a bonus – if you take some solitary walks when you’re abroad, you will discover some really cool places in the city you are studying!

 

17th Century Church

Discovered this quaint 17th century church on a solitary hike around the hills of Sorrento. I’ve researched and researched and cannot find mention of this church anywhere else on the internet and my Professoressa had never seen it before. A mystery! Something to investigate next time I’m in Sorrento!

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Filed under Sarah in Italy, Western Europe