Tag Archives: #cultureshock

Different is Not Bad

My name is Coryl Jackson, and for the next four months I will be studying abroad in Ghana. Follow my blog posts to hear and see all that I will engage in during my experience here.

 

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About a week ago, I arrived in a country within West Africa called Ghana to continue my studies, and also to experience as much of this wonderful country as I can. My main goal for this blog is to describe Ghana to the best of my capabilities as I experience the country with a desire for an expanded, open mind that can absorb this new environment.

While my attempt at describing what I have already seen and done here in Ghana may be in-efficacious, I can only hope to share a taste of what I have absorbed and grown from already. When reading about culture shock, it seems like a fairly basic concept. One might think that they are prepared for not being used to what they have always known, but experiencing culture shock is not something that can be left with a few words. As I begin to adjust to my new life in Ghana, I can not help but comparing everything to what I have always known. The music, people, places, and even the toilets are foreign to me. One aspect of the culture here that is considerably unusual for me is the concept of time. Today, I showed up for class about thirty minutes early only to find that the professor was not to come today. It was a bit frustrating, but the Ghanaian students seemed to accept it without any hostility towards the professor.

At orientation we learned the saying ‘time is time.’ Time is treated differently here, and many are late even to important events like weddings and funerals. It is easy to get angry about little differences here that I have never had to experience before. ‘Time is time’ has become a sort of a motto for many of the international students here when dealing with a difficult situation. I have begun to accept certain characteristics of the culture here (such as what I would call at home an invasion of personal space) with the outlook that this is how things are done here. Market vendors may grab a potential customer in order to get their attention, but no one finds this strange.

However, there are so many parts of the culture here that I adore. I love going to the night market by my hostel and bargaining for fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. I cherish the people who have welcomed us here with open arms and minds because that is the way it is done here. I get excited when I wear the garments that the local seamstress sewed for myself and many of the international students. It is vital to understand that different is not bad, just different. I have only been here a week, and yet I feel I have seen more than I ever have. I had the chance to canoe to a village that resides on stilts in a thick marsh west of Accra. I have been paddle boarding in the Atlantic Ocean on a lovely beach on a particularly hot day. I have been to a bustling market in central Accra where people barter for various goods. Moving forward from this point, I wish to learn everything that I have the chance to immerse my mind in, whether this be through my classes, or the adventures I will partake in outside of the classroom.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

Hello again! Since my last post, classes have started and I have been getting more acquainted with the city of Leuven. I’ve had my fill of Belgian frites and warm waffles and have explored different cities. The past 3 weeks have been an amazing roller-coaster and now I feel like I’m coasting on a high. But it didn’t start out like this.

When I was preparing to go abroad I knew that I would feel homesick but I thought that the idea of being in a new country would overshadow most feelings of homesickness. But the first few days here were a whirlwind of emotions. I was feeling really excited to be in Belgium but I was feeling so alone, even though I was on a hall with 13 other international students. After spending a month and a half at home with my parents prior to leaving, I was missing them a lot and missed being able to talk to them whenever. I also felt some FOMO (fear of missing out) with my friends at my home college and in turn started to miss all of my friends. Along with loneliness, it was hard to talk with people back at home because of the 6 hour time difference. There is only a small window of time when I can FaceTime with anyone in the States.

All of this made me sad and intensified my homesickness. This was definitely my lowest point during my time here in Leuven. But after a few days those feelings went away and it became easier for me to enjoy my time here in Leuven. When classes started, that definitely helped put me on a schedule and once I got comfortable navigating Leuven I started to explore other cities in Belgium and have planned a few trips to other countries. So even though it was a rough start, once I became settled it has been going smoothly ever since!

One of my favorite memories so far has been visiting Brussels. It was beautiful and definitely a sight to see. Like Leuven, in Brussels everything is within walking distance. I went with a group of girls from my hall and it was definitely a bonding experience for all of us. We walked to see the Manneken Pis, the Peeing Boy statue, which had a lot of hype surrounding it but in reality was a statue that was only a foot tall! People clamored around the fence protecting the statue to take pictures. Even though it was small it was definitely worth the experience. We visited a breathtakingly beautiful cathedral that garnered a lot of visitors. We also stopped at the city square, and the buildings there were absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of how surreal it felt to be in a foreign country. At every street corner, you could smell the fresh fried Belgian frites and sugary scent of freshly made waffles. The chocolate shops had window displays that were drool worthy and there were lots of fun little shops to buy souvenirs in. We tried to visit the Chocolate Museum there but missed it by 20 minutes, so it’s a must for the next time I go!

 

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Me in the middle of the city square in Brussels.

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Me and the girls in Brussels.

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Outside of a beautiful cathedral.

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One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the cathedral.

 

My absolute favorite part of being in Belgium so far has been the friendships I’ve been making here. The people in my hall are all amazing people and they have made my transition to a new country significantly easier for me. They’re all so kind and so fun to be around! We definitely have a mix of students too, ranging from America and England to Croatia, Spain, and Germany! All of us are already dreading having to leave once December comes around. I know I’ll always keep them, along with the experiences I’ve made abroad, with me as I go through life. We’ve also had a hall family dinner where we made tacos and just caught up with one another, so that was super fun! This was definitely one of my biggest fears when preparing to go abroad- the question of whether or not I would be able to connect with the people I live with. But I am so happy with the group of people in my hall and am so thankful for them!

To end, being in Belgium has already given me so many lasting memories and has helped me grow as a person. I’m off to a local flea market at the town square here, so I’ll be checking back in in a few weeks! Tot Ziens! (That’s good-bye in Dutch!!)

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

Where is My Space?

I no longer feel the everyday high. Ups and downs are constant. One day I feel ecstatic being in the back of an auto-rickshaw, sticking my head out looking at the city traffic. The next day, I am frustrated with the constant noise and air pollution that I cannot seem to escape from. Although I am taking a Tamil language class, I still struggle to communicate with locals. Regardless of how many times I repeat my statement or question in Tamil, the locals do not understand my American accent. Everyday, auto-drivers charge me twice or triple the actual fare. I have been in India for a month and a half now but everyday I face a challenge.

 

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The view of the morning traffic from an auto rickshaw. There are no lanes or traffic laws that anyone abides by; therefore, traffic is very scary.

 

Here in India, nothing is within my control. I’m required to go to the SITA (South India Term Abroad) Center everyday for class. At the SITA Center, I’m always on. I’m constantly interacting with the other students, making lunch plans, or engaging in conversation with professors. As an introvert, this is the biggest challenge I face everyday. Sometimes I simply want to eat lunch alone or escape the “American bubble” that we seem to create wherever we go. When I return home after a long day at school, I still have to be on. In no way am I required or forced to interact with my host family, but I pressure myself to be engaged with my host mother and host grandparents. Although my homestay house is my designated space for the next semester, it’s not really my space. If it were my space I would walk around wearing shorts and a tank top, eat whenever and whatever I felt like eating, and probably shut all the doors and windows so that mosquitoes don’t get into the house. Instead, I always wear a long skirt or pants with a t-shirt that covers my butt. I always eat at 7:30 PM (which is considered an early time to eat dinner, by Indian standards) when my host family decides to eat dinner. And I always sit in the living room, armed with my mosquito bat, hesitant to close the front door and window because I know my host mother finds the outside air to be cooling. At the end of the day I look forward to the moment I go upstairs to my room and sprawl myself out on the floor, looking up at the ceiling with a burnt out brain.

 

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Locals casually burn trash wherever they can find space. I cannot walk past a pile of burning trash without covering my entire face with my handkerchief.

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That split second when you almost get hit by a bus. (Buses don’t stop for anyone. I learned it the hard way.)

 

My time in India has been an interesting one. I have been forced to step out of my comfort zone. Maybe I’ll never find my comfort zone in India. I have yet to find or create a space that is completely mine. I may not sound chipper in this blog post but I’ve learned a lot from my frustrating, stressful, uncontrollable experiences. I have a greater appreciation for personal space. I will never take for granted a routinely Bowdoin breakfast where I sit by myself, read the newspaper, and eat in peace. Here in Madurai, nothing is mine. My status of being a “study abroad student living in a foreign host country” automatically makes me an outsider. I’ve acknowledged that I will never be an insider in the country of India or even in the city of Madurai. I don’t look the part, I don’t speak the language. It is challenging to make a country and a city my home when I clearly do not fit in. Maybe this is the subtle purpose of study abroad: students need to experience being an outsider constantly in search for a place they can call their own.

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Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

The Return

It feels like planets have lined up in order for my graduation day to come. At this point, I feel like the happiest person on Earth, because not only have I returned with such profound experiences in Argentina, but now I have the freedom apply what I have learned to my life at home. I have big plans for the future, but it starts here at my mother’s home where I will be moving in after graduation to help her around the house and start fresh.

 

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Graduating with honors, class of 2016.

 

I didn’t come back with reverse culture shock like I had imagined, but I did go to the grocery store and came back with loads of cereal, junk food, and things I didn’t know I missed since I’ve been gone. I hope I don’t pick up any old habits! But in other terms of culture shock, I haven’t had any. However, I do feel like everything I have learned has significantly strengthened my critical thinking skills and my respect towards others. I can’t be any more thankful for having the support from my family and friends during these last few months and years.

 

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My family.

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I can’t help but miss Argentina. I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss traveling, I miss the conversations I had with people on the streets, and I miss the music and culture. I feel like there’s always a surprise in Buenos Aires….I’ll be back soon, but not before I explore other parts of the world. My experience studying abroad opened my eyes and I think I caught the travel bug.

 

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Wanda Abramor, a tango instructor in Buenos Aires.

 

One of my plans is to travel across the United States. While in Argentina, I realized I have hardly explored anything in the States. This summer I will take it upon myself to travel across the country to New York from Los Angeles. Not just for fun, but also to get a sense of what it is to be a North American. There are tremendous differences in all parts of the world and I want to know what make the States so different. Especially because of my experience in Argentina where I met people who felt strongly for or against North Americans. I need to experience it for myself.

 

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Protesters during National Day of Memory (“Dia de la Memoria“) where nearly all Argentine citizens gather to celebrate democracy and memorialize the 40th anniversary of the civil dictatorship (1976-1983).

 

In the meantime, while I prepare for my trip across the country, I plan to publish a lot of the material I have from my study abroad experience in Argentina. One of the things I did was work with talented individuals by documenting their lives and their art. Because of them, I was able to experience an Argentina that exists outside of tourism. Now I owe it to them to publish this material and create for them more media presence. In addition, I will be posting a YouTube series of my 10-day trip in Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. This should be exciting because I have some real stories to tell, like the time the bus broke down and no one told me we changed buses and I almost lost all my stuff. I think this series will not only be fun to watch but will be of good use for anyone who plans to travel these northern regions in Argentina.

 

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Beef empanadas.

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Catholic Church in Angastaco – Salta, Argentina.

 

Something I feel most certain about traveling is that there is nothing I can be certain about. For example, I can plan to travel from point A to point B but I can easily be thrown off course by all the exciting things that are happening around me. I’m not saying one should always take the road not taken. I’m saying that sometimes our plans should be open to the circumstances that present themselves. I can’t do everything I set out to do, but I will make the best of my experience wherever I go.

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Filed under Robert in Argentina, south america

Culture Shock

You hear a lot about culture shock when preparing to go abroad. Ranging from a short trip to a permanent move, culture shock is something that all travelers will experience at some point. Studying abroad is probably one of the most direct ways to encounter culture shock in my opinion, and I’ve definitely had my fair share of it since going abroad for the first time five years ago while I was in high school.

I find myself comparing my bouts with culture shock here in Japan to my high school experience in Thailand, and while there are quite a few similarities there are also quite a few differences. For one, I feel that when I lived with a host family in Thailand I had to confront my language inability and misunderstandings of the culture much more quickly than I’ve had to do here, living in an apartment. Also, having studied abroad before gave me a lot more tools to prepare for the first initial lows of culture shock and how to get myself through that phase with more ease. However even with my previous knowledge and preparations that I tried to make for this experience in Japan, I still found myself getting hit extremely hard with homesickness, something I still struggle with with only approximately ninety days left of my exchange.

 

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These photos are from a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in Nikko. You wear traditional Japanese yukata and use the onsen (the public baths, although they also have some private ones at this ryokan).

 

However at this point I’m getting into the more exciting phase of my study abroad experience by starting to accept the cultural differences that I’ve learned here and starting to see Japan as not just my home, but a place where I understand the culture and am starting to be able to say that I’m a part of – even if it’s not in the traditional way. Just a couple days ago, I was showing some of my roommate’s friends from Canada around Tokyo and I realized that I’m much more integrated into the culture than I see myself sometimes. To further elaborate, this week in Japan is a celebration called “Golden Week” which is basically a term that encompasses several holidays that all happen within a very short time span. So I suggested to my roommate’s friends that we go to Meiji Jingu to see if there were any activities going on at the shrine. Sure enough, there were a ton of things to see — several wedding processions, traditional performances, and markets. I found that I was able to answer all the questions asked of me. I could explain why something was happening a certain way or translate what was being said. It felt, in a way, that I was explaining things that happen in the culture that I’m in and apart of, even though I’m not Japanese and it’s not my nation’s history, but just because I’ve gotten so used to being here and have started to get a deeper connection to the people around me.

 

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This can be seen at many shrines in Japan. It is the water used to purify yourself before prayer by washing your hands and mouth.

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This is another common aspect of the shrine culture in Japan: If you go to get your fortune read and have a bad fortune, you tie it on these in hopes of getting rid of the bad luck.

 

With only ninety days left of my time in Tokyo, I feel quite conflicted about the idea of going back to the United States. On one hand, I’m excited to be returning to see my friends and family and to start back with my traditional studies. But I still feel like I haven’t had enough time here to fully grasp my surroundings and the language and cultural understanding that I was desiring before setting out on this experience. I think I’m starting to realize that maybe that’s one of the saddest things about studying abroad. It’s such a rare occurrence to be able to live in a different country in the way that you do when you’re studying abroad, and in the end it feels like the time goes too fast. Yet in the end, even if you do feel sad, you would never change the experience for anything else in the world. In my opinion, the ultimate bittersweet moment.

 

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This photo is from Ueno Park during sakura (cherry blossom) viewing time. People usually have picnics together and walk around the parks with their friends and family to look at the iconic trees.

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Finding Inner Strength to Combat Culture Shock

Hola!

Culture shock is the really yucky part of the cultural immersion experience that happens to most people at some point. It’s the point during study abroad where a person may face information overload or begin feeling especially frustrated with adjusting to different aspects of a new culture such as a language barrier. With 29 more days remaining until the completion of my study abroad program, I think the best kind of advice I could ever give to any future students going on a language exchange program in the face of culture shock is to be patient with yourself when coping with stressors, don’t compare your journey to other students’ in your program, be strong, and don’t give up.

Being patient with yourself means understanding you are human and with that comes limitations when facing frustrations. I had this idea in my head that coming here I would soak up the Spanish language like a sponge and that I would leave here completely fluent. It’s my seventh month into my program in Costa Rica and I still have days where I wake up and I feel like I can’t express everything I want to say correctly. This started a cycle of me being hyper-critical of myself and with that, the language barrier seemed to widen between me and the culture here because I would be so focused on wanting to prevent an error or sounding foolish when I speak that I would sometimes lose the ability to communicate clearly altogether! As a learner of Spanish as a second language, I have to accept that my ability to communicate is not comparable to native speakers—but that’s completely okay because I came here to grow with a new language! Learning a new language is a challenge in and of itself, and with that comes inevitable mistakes! I have a professor who speaks English fluently, and he has even admitted that despite having several years of experience in another language, he also makes errors!

 

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On weekends, I have been able to assist a fellow student, Liz, with English. This past month we worked on a project where she needed opinions from native English speakers about learning a second language. She is as enthusiastic about learning and speaking English as she is helping me out with my Spanish..

 

Not comparing yourself to your peers means accepting that you’re on your own unique journey and that adjusting to a new culture is different for everyone. The classroom setting where you learn a new language is a culture in and of itself, and this is a time where it’s important to focus on personal growth in the language. For the first time in my life, I am taking a full course load in another language which is something I never anticipated I would be doing in my life. That being said, I have had some intense moments of feeling overwhelmed with information, especially in my advanced Spanish grammar course. Sometimes I would also catch myself comparing my struggle to students who seem to so easily grasp a complicated subject when I’m needing to ask the professor to repeat the same thing several times. I think comparing myself exacerbated my sense of feeling overwhelmed because then I would start second guessing my own knowledge which definitely does not help me learn. If you ever feel yourself making a comparison to others during your time abroad, it helps to take a step back to acknowledge that everyone comes from different walks of life and thus handles situations differently. In my case, there are native speakers in some of my courses, and naturally their transition into our courses may have been different than mine as someone who is acquiring Spanish as a second language—therefore there is absolutely no good reason to make such an unjust comparison!

Being strong and not giving up means finding your strength with a support group and realizing that you can accomplish your goals with a positive outlook. Though my culture shock has bestowed moments of frustrations, and intense moments of homesickness, learning to develop an attitude of gratitude has allowed me to finish my year off strongly.  I am really fortunate to have been blessed with a loving support system–my host mom, a really incredible best friend in my program, and my parents in the States whom I can call during times of distress. My host mom has been supportive by checking in on me, and just spending quality time with her has helped me so much. We actually just finished reading Charlotte’s Web together in Spanish. I read it aloud to her each week for the past few months, and I must say, even in Spanish this book makes my eyes water!

 

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My all time favorite book that my host mom and I read together.

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This is Sharky, the family pooch taking his weekly bath with my host mom. She is the only one who can bathe him because he only trusts her. He is so cute! My host mom completely lights up when she gets to groom him.

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One day I came home from school and my host mom randomly asked if I wanted to go pick mangoes off the neighborhood tree. It was one of the richest moments I got to spend with Maryela. It took us probably a good twenty minutes to come up with a plan to get the mangoes down! She is so crafty because she found a large stick to knock them down with!

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These are the mangoes we collected–we also picked some lemons too! When we came home she chopped the mangoes up and put a spicy sauce on them and we ate them together. They were so good!

 

One of my best friends in the program has also been really emotionally supportive by volunteering with me at the Reforestation Center at our host university. We’ve been helping bundle trees in small bags with soil so that the university can reforest areas around Costa Rica. The professors and students who work at the center have also been so friendly and kind to us with enthusiasm to teach us about the different species they have in the greenhouse and around UNA (Universidad Nactional de Costa Rica).

 

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This is me and my really good friend Nikki. After class her and I volunteered together in the campus reforestation center. This was us putting arbolitos in fresh soil for future reforestation.

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The weather was perfect that morning! I had a great time learning about the different species of trees located around the university!

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One of my close friends Kristin and I on went on a chocolate tour together! We got to learn so much about how chocolate is processed, made, and distributed for economic growth. Plus we got to drink and eat chocolate!

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I took a trip with two of my friends to Arenal and we swam in the caterata which translates as “waterfall.” It was so beautiful, especially when the rain came!

 

And lastly, my parents at home have also been supportive of me when I’ve felt overwhelmed. While it’s important to be conscious of spending too much time Skyping with family because it may intensify homesickness, I think it’s important to keep in contact with family who can offer insight on your personal strengths, which my parents definitely do. They’ve given me so much encouragement to finish my year abroad strongly—which is exactly what I’m doing!

Also, when facing culture shock another powerful tool is to always take time to acknowledge the little things that are special about the culture you’re living in–like Costa Rican iced coffee!

 

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My favorite treat while studying will always be cold coffee in Costa Rica.

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Another “little thing” I love to stop and admire is the sloths that casually hang around in the trees. Apparently they sleep 21 hours a day.

 

Hasta Mayo,

Alexandria

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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America

Do as the Chileans Do

Hola, me llama es Natalie. I am spending this semester “studying” abroad in Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, Chile. I’ve placed those little quotes around the word studying because spending a semester abroad is so much more than studying. Using the word “studying” is just an easy way to explain to strangers or your relatives what you’re doing.

Stranger or relative: What are you doing in Chile?
Natalie: I’m “studying” for a semester.
Stranger or relative, (impressed): Oh, wow!

The context of that word reveals itself to me a bit more each day in many surprising forms. A few ways you’ll know that you are “studying” abroad:

  1. You stare at street signs in frustration and wonder why you can’t read these easy public oriented messages.
  2. You ask your host mom for directions somewhere and understand about two words of the conversation, one of them being el metro.
  3. You feel kind of like a child who lost his mom in the grocery store.
  4. The waiter asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  5. The clerk at the store asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
  6. Your host mom asks you a question and you say ‘Si, si.
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This is a typical view in the city of Valparaiso, known for its colorful alleyways and care-free spirit.

 

Alas, I’ve only been in the country of Chile for a week. There is still hope! There is a long list of anxieties I had before I came here and still am having, i.e., I don’t know enough Spanish, I’m too shy, I’m not the “type” to study abroad, I don’t belong here, I picked the wrong country, I’m not trying hard enough.

 

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This is the university that I am attending this semester. The building is located in a very urban part of Valparaiso, right next to a market that has the most beautiful fruits. There’s a constant flow of people, buses, and vendors.

 

As time progresses I’m beginning to feel more of a connection to things here. Upon first arrival I could acknowledge that everything is pretty and great, but I felt as if I couldn’t be a part of it, or that I couldn’t belong to it. I think that’s a huge factor in culture shock. Now that I’ve made daily trips to visit the ocean, it’s starting to feel like the ocean is there for me too. Claiming stake to things requires confidence in yourself and comfort in your surroundings. Both of those things take time and effort.

 

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There’s something about being by the ocean that calms a person instantly.

 

Another thing that I’ve picked up on and discussed with friends is the breadth of emotions you can go through in a single day. At one point you may be in love with the craziness of the street vending and performance art and hours later after being overwhelmed by the language barrier, questioning why you wanted to be here in the first place. It’s exhausting to keep up with yourself, but it’s a natural process of adjustment.

 

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“What are you doing to change the world?” Colorful, thought-provoking murals are at the core of Valparaiso’s spirit.

 

I’ve been trying to think more in depth about what I want to accomplish here, but I think its necessary to first understand what Chile can offer. And those possibilities seem to be endless. I’m going to allow a little more time for adjustment before I set specific goals. There’s a lot to think about. And a lot of ice cream to eat while thinking.

 

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The helado (ice cream) here is both cheap and fantastic. I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best helado in Chile. Chileans know their sweets.

 

 

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