Tag Archives: confidence

Where is Your Home?

I’m home and it honestly doesn’t feel real. And it’s not just me that feels this way. I remember last week my roommates and the other friends I had made in my study abroad program were agreeing with me when I said that it just doesn’t seem right that we are leaving Florence so soon. That’s one change from the beginning of when I got there; the friends that I made. When I first got to Italy, I didn’t know anybody. I had to try to make new friends with people from different schools and people from difficult backgrounds. And now, we have been talking everyday about how much we want to go back. When I look back on my past blog posts, I see how excited I was to venture out into this new world and find different challenges to take on. Now looking back on the past three months, I see that I really went through a lot. Like a whole lot more than I thought I would ever go through. I went into studying abroad looking forward to meeting new people, trying new food, visiting new countries, and of course getting better in Italian. But I didn’t expect to go to countries like Austria, or I didn’t expect getting stuck in the city of Frankfort in Germany. I didn’t expect to leave my passport in Florence and realize that’s probably not the best idea if I am trying to travel to other countries.

When I think of what skills and qualities I have developed over these past three months, the one thing I am thankful for is how much experience I gained in traveling. I truly feel confident in any surrounding I could put myself in. I am also thankful that I have grown a greater sense of responsibility. During the semester, I had a random allergic reaction to something, and I broke out in hives all over my body. It was a very difficult and very uncomfortable time for me, especially because I had a flight to Amsterdam coming up. But I had to find the right medicine and the right treatment to get me through that time and through that experience in Amsterdam.

I have also gained a better insight of the term “hidden racism” through people choosing not to sit next to me on a bus or always being asked to see my passport while I’m sitting down at an airport and being asked, “Why do you have so much luggage?” It was things like this that showed me that the worlds of Italy and the United States aren’t so different. I learned throughout my time in Florence that our people, our cultures, our worlds really aren’t that far apart. The main things that really separate the States from that part of the world is how well we speak our English, what/how we eat, and how interested and involved we are in sports. In my eyes, these are the things that really differ the United States from people and cultures in Europe. At the same time, here in America we try to copy the European lifestyle. We try European food, we try to dress like Europeans. But it also goes the other way around. In Italy, they try to mimic the American lifestyle with how they dress, how they talk, and how they express themselves. These are all things that I miss already.

Regarding reverse culture shock, I am in the stage when I am gradually starting to readjust, but things are still not exactly the same. Florence truly feels like a dream. That’s what I keep telling my friends here when they ask “How was abroad?” “How was it?” “What was the craziest thing you did?” It’s crazy because a majority of people will never really understand or know the answer to these questions, they won’t ever experience the things I saw and went through. It makes me truly grateful for the opportunity to study abroad.

These past few days, I have been a little sad because I don’t really know if I will ever be back in Florence. I don’t know if I will ever be able to discover new experiences there, and do things that I wasn’t able to do within the three months there. One thing that I have realized from the beginning of my journey was how foolish I was to think I would be able to experience a big part of Italy in the three months that I was there. I could honestly compare my time there to the journey I had at the Palace of Versailles in France. I was at the Palace for about 5-6 hours, and I don’t even think I saw 10% of it. That’s how this experience has been for me. I was there for 3 months, but I only scratched the surface. There were trips I didn’t take, people I didn’t talk to, food I didn’t try, and mistakes I didn’t make but probably could have. Three months is nowhere near enough time to really immerse yourself in a brand new culture like that. But one thing that makes me happy is that I will be able to take these experiences and incorporate them into my life here in the U.S., here at Fairfield University. I can show people that studying abroad is truly worth it and you’ll discover things about yourself that you would have never thought possible. The challenges ahead of me- such as trying to finish my last spring semester as an undergrad with a 4.0 GPA, graduating, getting a job, and preparing a path for my future career- don’t seem as difficult as they did before I went to Italy. I know that these things, as tough as they will be, are things that I can handle. These are challenges that I may (ok, definitely will) mess up along the way, but I will be able to bounce back and be alright. My experiences in Italy and the other countries I visited will never leave my mind. Florence was very good to me and I am truly thankful for everything that city gave to me. I will never take it for granted.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

Months of Growth

Hallo! Here in Leuven, Christmas is in full swing! Christmas markets are up, Old City Hall is decorated, and the old church bells have been ringing to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas is You”!

 

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Old City Hall decorated in lights.

 

I can’t believe 3 months have passed and now I’m getting ready to wrap up my time here in Leuven. I’ve done so much since I arrived in Leuven. I’ve made lifelong friends, immersed myself in various cultures, and visited cities that I never thought I would.

Studying abroad has taught me a lot about my strengths, my weaknesses, and quirks about myself that I never realized before. I’ve cultivated an appreciation for the smaller things in everyday life. The late morning breakfasts in the hall, the late night talks with friends, and the laughs shared on a daily basis. I’ve learned to take life slower, to love the simplistic beauty that everyday life has to offer and I know that all of these small things will be what I miss the most when I return to the States. As I prepare myself to leave a town and people I’ve grown so attached to, I’ve taken time to be self-reflective on how I’ve changed over the past 3 months.

One of the biggest ways I’ve grown over my 3 months studying abroad is that I’ve become more confident in my ability to travel and navigate an unknown situation. Travelling internationally by myself for the first time has definitely made me become more self-dependent and also pushed me to ask for help when I need it. Then travelling to different countries during the past 3 months, I’ve become adaptable to the different cultures of the cities and learned to take change in stride. I’ve visited London, Rome, Luxembourg City, Paris, and various other cities in Belgium, and each of those cities have different quirks and their own way of life and being able to adapt to those quirks quickly has been something that I developed during my travels and definitely something that I will take with me as I leave. Also, being an obvious tourist in those cities has made me become more assertive and strong-willed against hagglers and others I’ve met during my time travelling. It has also instilled in me a desire to travel more once I return home, whether it be within the States or internationally, I know this trip will not be my last!

 

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With my family at the Colosseum in Rome.

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Outside of the Palace of Versailles, visiting the beautiful gardens.

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Me and some of my friends in Luxembourg.

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A friend and I at the Roman Forum. It was so beautiful and unbelievable to visit.

 

The friendships I’ve developed during my time in Leuven have made me develop a stronger sense of intercultural awareness. Living in a hall with students from 6 different countries has made me realize the nuances of different cultures and how it effects someone’s view of the world and how they navigate through it. My interactions with my friends have made me grow in my appreciation for difference and ability to deal with uncomfortable situations when those differences come into contact with each other. Being bilingual, I have grown accustomed to switching between languages and had a love for the languages I didn’t know, but by living with my hall mates I’ve picked up small phrases in Spanish, Croatian, Dutch, and German. My hall mates have definitely taught me things about myself that I never realized and helped instill an even stronger sense of appreciation for diversity than I had before. None of us know if we’ll ever see each other again, we can only hope, but I am so grateful to have met these people. They have made me become a better person and have made my time here in Leuven unforgettable and filled with laughter and love.

 

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My hall mates and some friends.

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Meat and cheese party with the girls.

 

Leuven has given me the opportunity to grow so much and it will definitely be an experience that I will never forget and one I will always be grateful for. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave this beautiful town and the unforgettable memories I’ve made, but I know that this experience will push me to explore and learn more when I return home.

Now I’m off to study for my final exams. (Too bad I can’t escape from these!!)

Thanks for reading and I’ll write again when I return to the States!

Dag!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

Open Letter to Humility

I have literally just a few days left here in Florence. Saying time flies would be the greatest understatement to describe where the weeks went. Where the different trips, different countries, different types and tastes of food went. Where the memories with new and interesting people went. As excited as I am to go home and be a part of my home country again, it’s clear that no matter how much I try not to think about it, Florence will always be a home of mine. I will always have an attachment to this street, to this historic apartment (we have a mirror that was owned by the Medici family), and to this dirty but special room. There’s that saying you don’t know what you have until you lose it. But in some cases, especially in a case of studying abroad and becoming accustomed to the life you have here, you understand and know what you are losing before you really even lose it. It is through realizing and thinking about this that I have humbled myself and have thanked each professor, each café worker, and each restaurant waiter that I made friends with; thanked them for allowing me to come to this country and sharing a piece of their life with me…

Humble- As simply as I can put it, I am humbled by this experience. It would honestly be impossible to try to show or explain how great and unique this experience was through words or pictures. I know I would just leave so much out and it would not do Florence justice to do that. Being here for three months put my life in perspective in the sense that I’m not really sure what else I could do in my life that would compare to studying abroad here. These final days make me thankful that I made the decision to get on that plane, and it makes me sad knowing that soon I will be heading on a plane back, with the possibility that I may never come back.

When I say I’m thankful for this study abroad experience, I don’t simply mean just being in Italy or going to other countries. I mean enduring so much, stepping out of comfort zones, making so many mistakes and learning from them and just finding ways to be a part of a new environment. There are people here who did not experience Florence in this way, meaning they simply came here to study because they could. To me, the opportunity to study abroad was a gift that I can’t and won’t ever take for granted.

Humble- I am humbled by the personal and external confidence I have developed in myself throughout these 3 months. Back home, I did not do the traveling thing. I either stayed in New York or Connecticut. And if I did go outside of that, it was something for school and never on my own accord. So the confidence it took to get on multiple planes to fly to multiple countries by myself, the confidence it took to sit on buses for 3-12 hours heading to foreign lands by myself – it’s not like I took time to decide, “Should I do this… can I handle it?” I literally booked these trips and just went with it. I think Florence does that to you without you even realizing it. It makes you want to take risks and take on personal challenges, inside the city and outside of it.

When I’m home, my mother and I communicate here and there. We aren’t the overly affectionate family type, so we check up on each other sometimes, but I know she is always there when something is going wrong or I need help. However, for the past 8 weeks or so, my phone has been messed up and I haven’t been able to talk to her. So when I left my passport in Italy on a trip to Vienna, Austria and almost got stuck there trying to get back to Florence, that’s where this confidence came in. That’s when I didn’t freak out because I couldn’t ask my mom what to do, but instead I took the time to figure out my next move and what my options were, and I’m proud of how I handled  the situation with calm and collected maturity.

Humble- I am humbled by my accomplishments: First-generation college student, first in my family to get accepted and attend college, first in my family to have been to another country other than America, and now, first to have lived in another country for an extended period of time. I am truly blessed. Sydney Johnson, my basketball coach back at Fairfield loves to tell us the quote, “We are living the dream” and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing  – trying my hardest to live out each and every day and take advantage of any and all opportunities given to me. I visited 7 countries (well, 8 if you want to include Italy): Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, France, and England. I visited a museum and a church in each country and visited each of the country’s national monuments. I visited a good portion of Italy as well, seeing cities such as Venice, Milan, Capri, Pisa, Bologna, Amalfi, and even Rome. In Rome, I went to church at the Vatican and got lucky and saw the Pope give a speech. I visited an intense soccer game and saw Florence beat one of its storied rivals. I pushed through an advanced Italian language speaking class and have done well. My writing was also published in a monthly Italian newsletter, known as Blending Newsletter, here at Florence University of the Arts (FUA), and I was also recently published in the first issue of Blending’s semesterly magazine. I thought it made sense to use my Creative Writing major and utilize it in my academics here at FUA. It’s something that will be remembered here at FUA and it’s an accomplishment I can always look back to.

 

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My writing in the Blending Newsletter.

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My roommates and me at the soccer game in Florence.

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“I Am” in Amsterdam.

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A gondola ride through the river city of Venice.

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Beautiful view in Rome.

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View from the top of the Pope’s home in Rome.

 

I have also gotten really good at cooking. I mean, really good. Granted, I wasn’t that much of a chef before so any amount of cooking would constitute as something, but I think I have out-done myself on multiple occasions. I was lucky to have a roommate who is a Food Marketing major but also a chef in training, so I picked up on many things he did in the kitchen to understand what really goes into making a good dish. I’ve been exposed to a new economy, a new way of living, and a new way of building routines. I’ve grown a new understanding of currency and the smart ways of handling money on a big scale. I’m glad for everything I’ve done and how much of an impact these accomplishments have had and will continue to have on me.

Humble- Yes I’m glad to have endeavored on this journey on my own, but at the end of it all, I am humbled by the friendships that I have back home. And by friendships, I mean the real and true bonds that I have with people. I am a senior, and so I have been through that four year process of figuring out who is really there for you and who isn’t in college. So being here in Florence for three months without my close knit group of friends really made me think about the people in my life who mean the most to me. I reflected about this because I saw people planning trips together, visiting countries together, and making memories together, and a quick rush of feelings and emotions flowed through my head and body as I thought about who I wished was here for me to plan, make, and create memories with.

However, I have gotten really close with the roommates that I have lived with in the apartment here in Florence, and it has showed me how quickly new bonds can form. Now we are making to plans to visit each other at each other’s colleges. I was able to visit some friends whom I can consider brothers in Rome and in Austria and saw them playing the game of basketball that they play as a career. I value those times with them much more than I can really explain through words. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I was able to take this challenge head on and come out here by myself. But after having all of these adventures, I am a firm believer that experiences like these should be shared with those closest to you to create memories to look back on, talk about, laugh about, and maybe even cry about.

Humble- I am humble and happy for life. I’m humbled to have the three person family that I have and a mom who did all she could so that I could even jump into this fear of the unknown. I am happy I took this opportunity and came out the same person on the outside, but 100% different on the inside. From having multiple conversations about race relations, to dealing with opinions on America’s new president, to being stared at and always having a free seat next to me on the bus – the cultural perspective I’ve gained here is just so valuable. With the way our world is being more and more internationalized, it is necessary for Americans to understand and gain more knowledge on global issues and societies. I am proud to be able to bring these new perspectives back home and share them with the people around me. I am humbled that I will have memories like this under my belt to help guide me throughout my future relationships, future career, and the rest of my life.

I am humbled by Florence.

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

Finally Home: The Return and Reverse Culture Shock

It has been a week since I’ve returned home and it has been very bittersweet. Before returning home I decided to do a little traveling. When it was time to come back to the United States, reality hit me. When I thought of going home I kept thinking about my little apartment in Bangkok, not my home in Puerto Rico.

Going home.

Going home.

I felt very sad when it was time to leave Thailand. I grew to love my neighborhood and the people I interacted with every day. The food vendors who greeted me every day, the fruit man who tried to teach me the names of the different fruits in Thai, and the coffee girl who spoke to me only in Thai and laughed with me when I didn’t understand anything. But even so I was very excited to return to my island, my family, friends, and delicious Puerto Rican food.

Farewell party arrange by the university

A farewell party arranged by my host university

The hardest thing I’ve experience since coming back has been dealing with the jet-lag. It has been a struggle getting back on track and changing time zones. Because of this I have missed out on some dates to see my friends since I’ve been sleeping weird hours. Another one of the biggest changes to re-adjust to has been the difference in price. Thailand is an extremely cheap country to live in. One dollar meals, extremely cheap transportation, and shopping is definitely the thing I miss the most about Thailand. The expensive prices in Puerto Rico have left me in shock. Going from paying $1 for a meal and $1 for an iced coffee to paying more than $15 for both hurts.

Enjoying our lasts days with student discounts

Enjoying our lasts days with student discounts.

I miss Thailand a lot and keep wanting to talk to everyone about my experience. I know that in some weeks I will probably come to experience more reverse culture shock but for now I’m happy to be back home and to share my experiences with my friends and family. And I also have another adventure to look forward to: Beginning this August I will be studying abroad again in Germany for a full year. Thanks to my time abroad in Thailand I feel more than ready to tackle this new experience.  Studying abroad definitely gave me the confidence to say yes to this opportunity and to not be afraid of what’s to come. I feel extremely prepared to overcome any obstacle, to have an open mind, and to do my best in this new adventure.

The day of our last final. Our class of Beginning Thai.

The day of our last final exam in Beginning Thai.

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Filed under Arleen in Thailand, South & Central Asia

How Studying Abroad Changed Me 

Dozens of smiling faces came rushing towards us with open arms. As my own arms opened, so did my mind, and soon after, my heart. A whole minute had passed and the children were still hugging us as if we were their long lost loved ones.

How do people change? By being inspired. By knowledge and experiences. By love.

 

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My classmates and I with some of the girls we got to play with for the afternoon.

 

My professor scheduled our class to visit a school that is providing poor children in the Lurigancho district with quality education. During the car ride there, I was shocked to see the beautiful bustling city of Lima disappear into dusty street roads, makeshift shack houses, and crumbling buildings in a mere hour from where I was staying. Even now, it continues to boggle my mind that the physical landscape in Peru can shift so dramatically according to the level of poverty and inequality in the area.

 

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A student walking back to her home after a day learning in school.

 

As we neared the school, our group was greeted by Patricia McLaughlin, a benevolent Irish Catholic nun who helped build the school from scratch when she came to Peru in 2001. Today the school continues to enroll children from the surrounding shantytown, providing them with proper nutrition and education. What makes this school’s story even more amazing is getting to see the incredible results. Recently, the 7th grade students have performed higher in reading comprehension and math than any other 7th grade students in all of Peru. Furthermore, many students have moved on to university level education and some have even been admitted into the most prestigious university in Peru.

 

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My classmates and I posing for a picture with the head of the school, Patricia McLaughlin (wearing the blue scarf).

 

As a future educator, being able to witness my dream career lived out before my eyes is incredibly inspirational. I feel motivated now more than ever to teach English to children in underdeveloped countries. In addition, I have a newfound desire to learn my native Spanish language and a greater appreciation for my own Mexican heritage.

Living in Peru has also helped me become a more independent person. Although I still rely on others for some things, I can now proudly state that I can cook food for myself, take public transportation by myself, go grocery shopping, and complete other adult tasks. Additionally, I am better at problem solving when presented with a difficult or stressful situation and I have become even more open-minded than ever before. Furthermore, I am more aware of my surroundings and can ask for directions and find different places. For the first time ever, I actually feel like the young adult that everyone around me sees.

 

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Learning to cook some traditional Peruvian dishes at SkyKitchen. Pictured here, I stand holding my finished Papa a la Huancaína dish.

 

Reviewing my experience as a whole, studying abroad has given me a new perspective of how to view the world I live in. Before, my world was centered around me and the people that I interacted with. A successful life was one in which I landed a secure job, had a beautiful home, and became married with a family. Now, I see the world and all the people in it. I appreciate the life I have and know that I can live without all the luxuries and material things. I am blessed to have a roof over my head, nutritious food to eat, and a safe community to live in. To me, a successful life is one that involves helping people in need and inspiring them to follow their dreams.

As my month here in Peru comes to an end, I look forward to sharing my study abroad experience with others and using the knowledge and skills I have learned back home in the United States. Until my next adventure, ciao!

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Filed under Isabel in Peru, south america

Dear Prague, How you have inspired me…

Having returned to the United States, the way I function in relation to the rest of the world is completely different.  I would consider myself a homebody who typically leaves the home to go to school or work but not to explore or be part of the community simply for the sake of being part of the community.  I am happy to volunteer for specific events or dedicate time to activities that have set times, but I don’t generally go for walks in unexplored territory or further than a radius beyond a couple blocks of where I live.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to increase my footprint in the world.

As an adult student registered with Students Services for Disabilities, I think having that mark really impacted my view of myself and what I am capable of doing.  I know that I have overcome a lot but due to the amount of time I have spent in hospitals or convalescing I am comfortable being indoors.  Now that I know that I can explore the world, I am empowered to continue to do so.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to empower myself.

This week, for example, I spent time with one of my classmates from our study abroad program.  We are both adjusting to life back in the States, and it was a beautiful connection to meet at home with a friend who lived a similar experience.  It became clear to me that I can travel around the city at my will and that I am not limited to my little corner of the city of Chicago only going to campus to study or to a job site.  Armed with a liter of water, my UPass, and supplies for the day I can spend a day out in the city of Chicago just as I did in Prague.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to live in a more worthwhile way.

My friend and I shared with each other that it was a bit of culture shock to return to the States and encounter common behaviors of Americans.  From O’Hare airport and back to our neighborhoods, we traded stories of how we missed walking down the streets of Prague because the people we encountered had a quieter, more respectful, perhaps, demeanor.  We laughed about how we can look at behaviors of Americans in the Lincoln Park or Lakeview neighborhoods and how those neighborhoods specifically cater to the idea of remedying hangovers.  In Prague, however, Pilsner Urquell is a commonality but the expectation is that people enjoy their beers with friends and won’t require a “Hangover Smoothie” the next day.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to have a beer every once in a while.

My new-found feelings of limitless exploration and self-empowerment are perfectly timed as I extend myself into the professional world looking for full-time work.  I have decreased anxiety about a commute to get to a new location and don’t mind the idea of visiting friends in different neighborhoods.  The confidence I have gained from traveling is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  And because of my travels, I am confident that now my life will be more interesting.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to test my limits and look for new challenges as I continue to write my story.

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Filed under Culture Shock, Eastern Europe, Lissette in the Czech Republic