Tag Archives: #firstimpressions

Arrival and Orientation

Yesterday I arrived in Arica, Chile after spending the night in a hotel at the Santiago airport. Traveling was long and stressful. I left on Sunday from Jackson, Wyoming and arrived in Santiago early Monday morning. Customs and Passport Control was a bit shocking. I figured that everything was going to be in English but I wasn’t ready for how fast everything was going to be. At customs I got in trouble for not declaring the two packages of beef jerky that I was bringing for my host family, but was fortunately allowed to keep them. Then when I checked in to the hotel, I was informed that Passport Control was supposed to give me a piece of paper but I never got one. This made me really anxious. At that point, I was very overwhelmed and starting to doubt whether or not I was prepared for this semester abroad. I decided to take a nap and relax at the hotel pool to try to de-stress. Then I went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. One of the waiters started speaking to me in Spanish and we had a conversation about how I was a student from the United States who was studying abroad in Chile for the semester. He told me that my Spanish was good and that was what I needed to hear. Then I went to bed since my flight was early the next morning, but I wasn’t able to sleep.

At 12:40 am I decided that it was useless to try to sleep anymore and I got up. I packed up my stuff and checked out of my room and headed to the airport. I was there a bit too early so the line to check bags at Latam wasn’t open yet. I waited about 10 or 15 minutes before they opened the line up to people on the 4:25 am flight to Arica. Then I went through security. I was anticipating security to be similar to the United States but when I got there it was very different. It looked similar but I wasn’t asked to show any ID, only my boarding pass. Then I watched as the people in front of me simply placed their bags down to walk through the body scanners with their jacket, shoes, belt, and jewelry still on. I was given strange looks for putting my phone in my backpack before going through. At the gate I was even more surprised to see a Dunkin’ Donuts.

As we started the boarding process, every announcement was in Spanish. I didn’t really understand that much but I was able to figure out what was going on based on what everyone else was doing. Once we where on the plane they started saying the announcements in English as well which was nice. The flight was about three hours long and I was excited that they not only had drinks but gave us a choice of four pastries for breakfast. And we were allowed to pick two! I was starving at that point so that made me really happy.

We landed at 7:00 am and the earliest pick-up time that my study abroad program, SIT, had given us was 9:00, so I was shocked to see a taxi driver holding up a sign with my name on it. I was honestly a little unsure of what to do but I figured that he had to have been sent by SIT. As we were leaving the airport, the sun was starting to rise. All around me were sand dunes. Only sand dunes. It looked like Mars or a scene from Star Wars. I knew that Arica was in the desert but I wasn’t expecting it to look quite like that. As we approached the city, a colorful arrangement of crowded houses appeared. The taxi took me to a small hostel where three other girls who had arrived early were spending the night. I was brought up to their room where we did brief introductions before I fell asleep for an hour in one of the beds. Around 9:00 am, one of the other girls woke me up to get breakfast. Despite having had food on the flight I was hungry again. The owner of the hostel had set up a table for us with several types of rolls and coffee and tea. He then asked us if we would like eggs and made us scrambled eggs. The other girls filled me in that SIT was picking us up at 11:30 am to go back to the airport to pick up the rest of the group.

The rest of the day was spent meeting everyone and getting settled. The Program Director and Director of Student Affairs picked us up and brought us to a gorgeous hotel in Arica. We were paired up for rooms. My roommate for orientation is a girl named Allison who spent the week prior to the program backpacking in Patagonia with 4 other students. The room was small but nice. However, the patio and the view are the best part. The hotel is right on the ocean. There is a patio with a pool that overlooks a rocky stretch of coast and right next to the hotel is one of the best beaches in Arica. After getting set up, we headed to lunch on the patio. We were sitting with the Program Director, Brian, so all the conversation was in Spanish. I felt like I understood most things but I wasn’t feeling confident enough to join in very much. I was also starting to feel the affects of only getting two hours of sleep. However, after lunch we had two hours of free time before orientation really started and I joined a group of students who were headed to the beach. Being from Wyoming, beaches aren’t something I see on a regular basis and I was excited to be there. The water was cool but felt really nice. There were tons of people there. Most of them seemed to be Chilean. There were also people selling drinks and fruit salad out of rolling coolers that they were walking across the beach with as they yelled out what they were selling.

At 5:00 pm we started orientation. We went over the schedule and structure of the program, then we moved on to icebreakers and get-to-know-you questions. At this point in the day I was feeling a lot more confident in my ability to hold a conversation in Spanish and I felt like I was understanding most of what was being said. Afterwards, we launched into a few mini-lessons about Chilean history and several famous Chilean artists like Pablo Neruda and Violetta Parra, among others. This all lasted about three hours.

After orientation ended for the day, we headed to dinner. I was starving at this point despite the massive lunch we had earlier. However, for most Chileans and other Latin Americans, lunch is the largest meal of the day, so dinner was not as filling despite being three courses. Again, conversation was all in Spanish and this time I was a much larger part of the dialogue. By the end of dinner I was exhausted from the past few days and headed straight to bed.

The next morning my roommate and I got up around 7:30 for breakfast. Breakfast was buffet style and the tables were filled with fruit, rolls, slices of bread, and various spreads for the bread. There were also crepe-like pancakes, scrambled eggs, and chorizo. One of the spreads for the bread was dulce de leche which was delicious and very thick.

After breakfast we headed into Arica for a guided tour of some historical sites around Arica. We visited a church designed by Gustave Eiffel that is made completely out of metal. We went to several markets. We visited the location where some of the oldest mummies in the world were found. We also went to the Port of Arica and saw some sea lions. The tour was really informative and it was awesome to see so many places in Arica but I also felt very touristy. We were given bucket hats and nametags. We already stand out as a large group of Americans based on clothing and appearances, but this really made us stick out. Local people would often pass us and speak in English welcoming us to the city. It was very exciting to see that so many people were happy to have us there and willing to speak to us.

 

Fishing and tourist boats at the Port of Arica.

After the tour was over, the group was split in half. Half went to the police station to begin the process to receive our temporary Chilean identification cards and the rest of us went back to the hotel. The rest of the day, and tomorrow is going to be spent in sessions covering program policies and classes, including information about SIT’s Independent Study Project and the Healthcare Practicum. The rest of the group is going to go to the police to get their Chilean IDs and then we are going to visit El Morro, where Chileans won a battle against Peruvian forces in 1880, as well as Playa Chinchorro, another popular beach in Arica, and the ex-island Alcarán. Alcarán used to be an island but has been converted to an artificial peninsula. I’m excited to see more of the city and I can’t wait to be able to explore it more myself.

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Filed under Brooke in Chile, south america

Gilman Scholar Jeff Prasad Shares His First Impressions of South Korea

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

A New Sense of Reality

Hi! I’m Nhi and I’m currently studying at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium! I’m an Anthropology major and Museum Studies minor and will be continuing my studied here in Leuven. I arrived here on September 19th and have slowly been acclimating to Belgian culture.

Leuven is a small city east of Brussels. It’s a beautiful city where biking is the main mode of transportation. But I am a little skittish of riding a bike so I’ve been walking everywhere.

This was my first time traveling internationally alone and I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about flying and figuring out how to get to KU, but navigating the airport and surviving the long flight was easier than I had initially thought! My study abroad program gave me pretty straightforward directions on how to navigate the airport and what train I had to take to get from Brussels to Leuven. Leuven was a short 15 minute train ride from Brussels. From the train station my dorm is a 3 minute taxi ride or about a 15 minute walk. I live in a residential dorm with 14 other international students. We share a kitchen and bathroom and have grown really close within the past week. There are people from Spain, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, England, Croatia, and America. So it’s really fun not only learning Belgian culture, but the cultures of all of these other countries!

 

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Ready to board my flight with some Generation Study Abroad gear!

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My view from the windows of my dorm room! I can see the sunset every evening!

 

The first thing I noticed when I got to Leuven was how differently the roads and streets work here. Unlike the States where we have traffic lights and usually separate bike lanes, around where I live in Leuven there are no traffic lights and no separate lanes for bikes! Pedestrians, bikes, and cars all share the same road with no traffic lights and have to fend for themselves on the road! You just have to zoom across the street, because there is no guarantee a bike or car will yield to you. The streets are mostly all stone roads from what I can tell, so paved sidewalks and roads bleed into each other with almost little to no distinction.

Another thing I found surprising is that every store you go to requires you to buy a bag to hold your purchases. The bags can cost anywhere from 5-25 cents. I was expecting it at some grocery stores, but it’s at EVERY store I’ve been to so far and that has ranged from a grocery store, to a Belgian version of CVS, to a tech store. I usually try to stuff my purchases in a bag I already have but sometimes I have had to bite the dust and buy a plastic bag. It’s a funny quirk to me and the other Americans who live in my corridor.

Another thing that is different from America is that all stores are closed on Sundays! There are a few 24/7 stores open but mostly everything else is closed on Sunday and reserved for people to rest and prepare for the upcoming week, which I think is nice for all the workers and business owners. Small things like this took me for spin at first but now it seems pretty normal to me.

 

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This is the main library of my host campus. It’s super beautiful and I can definitely see myself using it to study!

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This is Arenberg Castle. It’s beautiful and currently houses the engineering and architecture departments of my host university.

 

All in all, the time I’ve spent in Belgium so far has been wonderful and has allowed me to meet some amazing friends and see beautiful buildings in Belgium that leave me in awe. The few days I’ve been in Belgium have me so excited for what else the beautiful country has in store for me. I’m excited for my next 3 months here in Belgium and am grateful that Gilman has helped make this trip possible for me!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, Western Europe

New Beginnings

My name is Christopher Amoako-Kwaw, a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut spending my LAST fall semester of senior year in Florence, Italy. No, to just say Florence, Italy would not do this city enough justice. The beautiful, magical, breath-taking Florence, Italy is where I have been the past six days.

I never really had a picture of what Florence would look like. I’ve see photos and things of that nature, but I never could have expected what I have seen now. Before leaving this past Sunday, I can’t say that I was anxious. I’m not really someone that gets anxious because I am willing to take on any challenge. I would say that I felt that things would be a little weird. Not being around my close friends that I have made at Fairfield, not being able to go home in case of an emergency, things of that nature were on my mind. I just made sure I saw all of my friends and family members before I left. I also made sure to see professors and administrators who have supported me during this process to thank each and every one of them.

 

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A beautiful view of the city of Perguia.

 

When I first officially got here, I was actually kind of shocked. I had no idea Florence had so many tourists. I got off the plane thinking my days of seeing Americans all the time and speaking English were over. But to my surprise, they were everywhere. And I can see why. This city is truly something to behold. I am in an apartment with five other students, and my apartment is located three minutes away from the Duomo. Yes, the Duomo. It’s crazy just walking one block and being outside of its grand and mysterious grace. It’s one of the most beautiful and intricate things I have ever set my eyes on. Also, when I first got here I thought that all I would be eating is the best kind of pizza and pasta. But since I’ve been here, the pasta and pizza from the U.S. actually tastes a lot better. I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t been to the best pizza and pasta places yet, so I’ll continue looking around.

This is something worth noting: I am the only black person from Fairfield here in the program. The Fairfield Florence program host students from three different schools, Fairfield University, Providence College, and Saint Jose. I am also the ONLY black person in the entire program. So yes, definitely a difference from my college experience in the U.S. Diversity is certainly an issue back at Fairfield, but I have people like me that I surround myself with. So I’m not really sure if this is a culture shock or a culture change, buts it’s definitely about to be an experience I have never had before. I am definitely happy and excited to take on this challenge.

 

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The beautiful fountain in the square of Assasi.

 

I have actually noticed many differences between the U.S. and this beautiful city. Other than the obvious 6 hour time difference, the way Italians behave is very different. First off, the streets aren’t packed and busy until around 9:30/10 am. Back home, stores are open and people are running to work at 7:30 am, so that is very different. Another difference is the eating patterns. Restaurants, cafes, and little shops close around 3 pm and open up again around 7 pm. Apparently, that gap is used for sleep so I’ll be getting really use to that.

In terms of goals, I really just want to explore where I live. I want to know how to get home from anywhere as naturally as I do when I’m home. I want to be able to walk into a store or restaurant and not look confused at the menu or confused at what they are offering or saying. I want to be able to go to a grocery store and know exactly what the things mean and say. These are little things yes, but I know they will go a long way. My main goal is to honestly just step outside my comfort zone and meet new people. I don’t want to fall into my ways of comfort. I want to experience what others experience, together with them. I also want people to experience what I experience as well, as well as feel comfortable around me.

People were telling me that coming here would feel like I was in a different world. They certainly were not lying. But people also told me that I can handle anything that comes my way and overcome it. They were not lying about that either.

 

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Views from the Basilica of San Francesco d’assisi.

 

 

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Filed under Christopher in Italy, Western Europe

New Surroundings, New Perspective

¡Hola a todos!

Today marks two weeks since the night that I landed in Quito, Ecuador. It is hard to remember the last few days that I spent in the United States. They seem like a blur, a rapid time lapse of the friends and family who wanted to spend time with me and I them before I was on my way to another continent! Mixed with a dose of last minute packing and stressing about documents I needed when abroad made time go even faster, and in a blink of an eye I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend and was ready to board my flight, which happened to be delayed by just a few hours. Little did I know this delay was quite the foreshadowing for the culture that I would be surrounded by later that very night.

A few phone conversations, a layover, and one burger later, I was en route to Quito from Fort Lauderdale! Sitting next to me on the plane were two Ecuadorian siblings who were on their way home from visiting Washington D.C. with their parents. This was my first experience of many to come where I truly had to use my mind as the Google Translator I know it can be. My time here will perhaps even require me to translate my thoughts into English upon my return!

I didn’t expect it, but after my flight landed and the doors slid open to reveal people with balloons, flowers, signs, smiles, tears, and more, I found myself getting a little emotional. I was in a completely foreign place and it was just starting to set in. Beyond the different language, the people around me had a way about them unlike any I had seen before. Their mannerisms, gestures, the colorful tones I heard when they spoke, combined with seeing families and couples reunited after what must have felt like ages, my eyes started to water. I could feel the welcoming environment around me, and even more so when I met my host mom and her friend, who hugged me while asking me endless questions and helping me with my luggage.

 

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The view from my host family’s kitchen!

 

The sky was pitch black during the drive home, but the city of Quito was still awake, with lights from houses, streets, and stores, shining so bright that they created shadows of the seemingly endless and immense mountains that engulfed the city. The next morning, I saw those breathtaking mountains everywhere I went, and I am sure that if there is one aspect of my life here that I will never get used to, it will be this beautiful landscape.

 

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The beautiful landscape I see on my way to La Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the university I am attending this semester.

 

The feelings that my experience two weeks ago at the airport gave me have yet to leave and perhaps they never will. I meet Ecuadorians on the bus, walking on the street, in stores, getting lunch, in classes, anywhere you can imagine, and they are all filled with love that they want to share with you. Although these past two weeks have been filled with ups and downs, of feeling homesick and lost throughout conversations or in classes filled with Ecuadorian students, I am starting to feel more and more at home and have been stepping out of my comfort zone daily, making every day I spend here an adventure that I look forward to.

¡Besos!

-Alicia

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Filed under Alicia in Ecuador, south america

First Impressions of Vienna

“When are you going to start packing for studying abroad? You know you’re going to be there for 6 months. You need to start now.” That’s what my mom said about a month before my date of departure to Vienna, Austria. I laughed and told her my plans for the next couple of weeks, then went on about my business. Boy, was she right! Funny pre-departure story: I cried from the moment I arrived at the airport until I boarded the plane. Serious tears, not crocodile tears. I wasn’t crying because I was going to miss my parents or home, or for any of the usual leaving-home-for-a-long-time reasons. I cried because I forgot to grab my winter coat. Yes, my winter coat, of all things. I think the stress and sleep deprivation from packing was the cause. I mean, after unpacking and repacking three times in a matter of five days, all while juggling an online class, I learned my lesson the hard way.  The good news is that the journey to Austria was a memorable one, and I survived without my winter coat.

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Representing the Gilman Scholarship Program while waiting for my flight to depart.

 

Since the first day I arrived in Austria, I keep thinking Vienna is massive! (Compared to my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.) When I tell the people who live here how big I think the city is, we always end up agreeing to disagree. My initial thought about Vienna is that the number of people on the streets do not amount to the number of apartment buildings in the city. There are so many buildings, and no two buildings look alike.

 

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Nearby apartment buildings.

 

I’d say the size of Vienna is comparable to New York City or Chicago, but the discomfort of walking through those cities just isn’t here. I say discomfort because if you’ve ever visited New York City or Chicago, you just can’t escape bumping into a couple of people or getting lost in a huge crowd. I believe the fact that Vienna is separated into 22 districts is the reason it feels less populated. Every district I’ve been in also varies in the vibe it gives off. One may feel urban while another feels more suburban. I live in District 22 near the Schonbrunn Palace, and I’d describe it as a busy but relatively quiet district. It’s lined with cafes, local markets, restaurants, and art galleries (recent discovery)!

 

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Art from the gallery that is a 5 minute walk away from me.

 

The way Vienna is set up makes it unique and breathtaking, and excites me more than any city I’ve ever visited. There’s a thrill in knowing that I won’t ever be bored because on top of my classes, there will always a new place to visit, or a different restaurant to try out. I love the city life!

 

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Traditional Austrian schnitzel with fries. Yum!

 

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Video Bloggers, Western Europe