March, 2013

Stateside from Pamplona: How We Change

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By: Michael Cross, Foster Undergraduate

I’m home. I’m here. It’s time to see everyone I’ve missed the last 4 months. But wait, it’s weird. Something just feels different. There’s some invisible difference placed between us that’s just not jiving like it did before, but we’re still great friends or family. What is going on? What is this?

Here’s my thought(s):

A study abroad or other world experiences might not be what change us. We go abroad seeking this conversion into a “whole new person”, whatever that means, but that’s not the whole story. Yes, our ideas are challenged, and we’re presented with all sorts of new things that could mold us into the imaginative “whole new person” we’re looking for. But there’s something else going on.

People are what change, so people are what change us.

Pretty buildings, breathtaking views, and famous museums don’t change us. We get from those exactly what we want from them. What changes us are the people we have experiences with. So going abroad, in and of itself, doesn’t change us. Instead, it just provides us with a barometer to gauge the change that has occurred. Here’s what I mean—

At home, we tend to change at the pace of those around us- friends, colleagues, and family. And as a result, we don’t necessarily see the change because it’s so incremental. But when we go abroad for an extended period of time, we’re no longer around those people changing with us. Instead, we have new people and less close relationships. We don’t stop changing, and we still may not be able to see it while abroad but once we return home, we see it. We see when it feels hard to relate with our close friends. The people that were once so easy to communicate with and relate to now seem distant. The relationships haven’t changed, but some undercurrent has. And I think that undercurrent is YOU. You start to see how you changed independent of your friends. You still might not be able to put your finger on what changed, but you sure feel it. Relationships that were easy and close before now feel slightly forced and different.

But give it a little time and you’ll be back in the groove, assimilated just as before.

Use this as an opportunity to enlighten your friends, teach them what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed. Chances are they feel it and see it to, making them quite curious of what caused the distant feeling. Bring it close again through the sharing of the new you!

You’re Abroad. You NEED to Travel

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By: Michael Cross, Foster Undergraduate

I left for Spain without a single weekend trip planned which made me a little nervous for how I would get it all together. But upon getting settled and meeting people I was soon able to put together trips for 12 of the first 13 weekends! I’m so glad I hadn’t put any together prior to my arrival in Spain because I would have done it all wrong. I had assumed the only way to get around were trains and plain. However, in Spain, the ease of travel is incredibly simple through their bus system. In the States, I never would have thought about taking the Greyhound to get around but it’s a very easy, useful, and a cheap system in Spain. Take advantage of this! It makes it easy to purchase cheap flights out of small airports because there’s a bus connecting them, and what’s even better is they let you get around to cool towns and cities that wouldn’t be easily accessible without your own car. For instance, a favorite trip of my friend and I was a day trip up to San Sebastian, an absolutely gorgeous, French-inspired beach town in the tip top northeast of Spain. There we could swim, surf, tan, and just take a break from what was already a break from real life. But this is only the beginning of my travel experiences.

One thing to have in mind is that you’ve already purchased the expensive plane ticket across the Atlantic, so you might as well tack on a ton of cheap trips too.  Throughout my 4 months, I was able to get to 16 cities in 7 countries and 2 continents—all for a little more than the cost of getting to Spain from the US. All of this was made possible through the ease of travel and the economical viability of transportation throughout Europe. If you use Ryanair or other low-cost providers, and avoid trains like the plague, it’ll amaze you how cheaply you can get around. So do it! Don’t waste any weekends. The time abroad speeds by, and perhaps extra travel doesn’t help, but it’s so worth it. This leads me to one of my biggest pieces of advice:

Sometimes you’ll get sick of traveling. Honestly, it’s exhausting traveling weekend after weekend because it’s stressful learning new cities, getting your bearings, and filling your head with memories and your camera with gigabytes of photos. So at times I found myself thinking, “I just want to stay put this weekend and take a breather.” But I’m so glad I didn’t! Here’s my advice— If there’s something awesome going on in the city of your abroad trip, then by all means stay put, go to it, and have an experience. But if there’s nothing, go travel! It’ll be so worth it! You’ll get to make something great out of an otherwise ordinary weekend. And each city has so much to offer you. When you’re back in the States, you won’t be able to sit in class and surf Skyscanner or HostelWorld to plan out your weekend. Take so much advantage of this.

Now, this might be different in other, larger cities, but Pamplona is pretty small so you don’t miss much by taking off for the weekend. You’ll be so happy you did in the end.

Exploring

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

By: Andrea Gagliano, Foster Undergraduate

“I never thought I’d be homesick from my abroad exchange.”

Studying abroad was the time of my life. Why? Because I was continually exploring. People, class, activities- it was all new. Nothing was mundane. Life was never simply “just the same.” This made every single day new and exciting. It made every memory vivid and dream-like. I constantly found quirky words and sayings, tried some pig blood when some black pudding showed up on my plate, took a spur of the moment trip to Poland just to explore something random. I had tea in queens English territory, skied on fake snow in an indoor warehouse, went to the same Christmas market three times in one week just because I couldn’t get enough of it. I could find something different around every street corner, and in every conversation.

Amongst all these differences, I did resort to something familiar and comforting- sports. I play volleyball. But even this, at every single practice, differences were being revealed. I call the ball differently, I interact with my teammates differently, I play by slightly different rules. These findings were my favorite. I got more excited about unexpected differences in my day-to-day activities than going out and exploring a new city. This was the benefit of studying in a culture very similar to America. With English speakers, it was possible to identify these small differences between cultures instead of getting overwhelmed with drastic changes.

Whether I was exploring minute, detailed differences, or exploring an entirely new city, I was continually surprised by the unexpected. Now that I am back home, I try to recreate this. I try to explore Capitol Hill with a fresh pair of eyes, or take a conversation in an unpredictable direction. I gravitate towards any hint of an accent. But it just isn’t the same. It doesn’t replace this explorative craving that now runs through my veins.

The Friendship Experience

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

By: Andrea Gagliano, Foster Undergraduate

When I first got to Manchester, I was meeting so many great people every day. You start off continually meeting so many great people. Then everything settles in. People get into their routine. The British resort back to their long-time friends. The weather gets kind of dreary and rainy. You hear what your friends back home are doing, and you wonder why you left this great life you had at home. I really began to question how I ever made close friends. Not just friends to do activities with, but close, comfortable friendships that make a place feel like home. I was really missing this piece of life and wanted to go back to it. I was homesick.

I was really good at asking someone their name, having a small talk conversation with them, and going to a football game with them, but I was struggling with how to take that next step to being comfortable with them. How to avoid the awkward dinner parties, or pauses in conversation on walks to class? And the truth is, there is no magic trick or strategy. The only thing that helps with this is time and persistence. It took continually hanging out with people until you break that barrier.

Although the friend making experience was a bit of a roller coaster and quite frustrating at times, the rewards in the end were so worthwhile. My heart has been heavy this week, two months after returning to Seattle, because I miss the great friendships I made. In the process, I learned that I don’t need to have super close friends near to me at all times. I’ve realized that I don’t need to hold back in moving to a new location or going someplace where I don’t know anyone because those friendships will come. Going through this process of knowing no one to finding close ones is absolutely invaluable.

Post-Study Abroad Reflections

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

By: Travis Rind, Foster Undergraduate

The last few days spent in Manchester were bittersweet and filled with some of the most memorable times of the entire experience. Fortunately, most lectures were cancelled to give students extra time to prepare for examinations in January (or, perhaps to have an earlier Christmas holiday). In any case, the exchange students had the short end of the stick as we were stuck finishing up our final essays. Traditionally classes let out mid-December and students return towards the end of January for final examinations. But, being on exchange and unable to return, our assessments consisted of 2,000 to 3,000 word essays. Just two of mine were due before leaving Manchester, so I was working on my remaining three well into the beginning of Winter Quarter at UW. Results aren’t returned until early March, so there is a long and anxiety-filled waiting period!

Already I miss the sense of spontaneity, adventurousness, and openness to try new experiences. Not only visiting, but truly living in, another country forces you to change your mindset, learn to be more flexible, and adapt to the unexpected. For better or for worse, I have returned to the relative comfort of home. There are no more missed buses, language barriers, or unusual foods here in Seattle. While it was often times frustrating and stressful dealing with such circumstances at the time, I now cannot help but long for the feeling of knowing that there is so much left to explore and experience right in the palm of my hands.

Having met so many people from more than a dozen countries, I am proud to now say that I have forged such strong friendships with these individuals and sincerely cannot wait until I can see them again. I know I will travel again soon, and encourage everyone to grasp that opportunity.

My advice to anyone considering living, working, or studying abroad would be to simply do it. It’s too easy and convenient to make excuses for not doing it – it’s expensive, I don’t speak the language, it’s uncomfortable, I don’t know what I’m doing, what if something goes wrong. I’m sure your experience will be similar to mine, in that you’ll find that the similarities vastly outnumber the differences and that at the core, most people are truly benevolent and overwhelmingly welcoming towards others.

 

Cultural Differences

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

By: Travis Rind, Foster Undergraduate

This was my first Thanksgiving spent outside the US, and the first time experiencing it with non-Americans. We took the opportunity to share a cultural tradition and host a potluck. Everyone brought dishes from their home countries to share – with everything from crepes to sashimi! (But don’t fear, we still had the traditional oven-roasted turkey and mashed potatoes.) Everyone was very curious about this distinctly American tradition, and I enjoyed sharing our culture with others.

I was particularly surprised with how wide-spread American influence was overall. Grocery stores had Thanksgiving displays, and even our dormitory dining hall offered a ‘traditional American’ Thanksgiving feast complete with spicy chicken wings, chili dogs, BBQ ribs, and French fries. Clearly there is a bit of a cultural gap that may take a bit more understanding.

Europeans were also very interested and well-versed in American politics. Because the US is such an influential power player in global affairs, many felt that their nations were directly impacted by American policy. The presidential election was followed ardently, and a lot of the other exchange students and locals even stayed up through the night to watch the election results live on television.

These experiences have made me realize how lacking Americans typically are in understanding other cultures. I’m not sure how many people know what St. Andrew’s Day is or can name the prime minister of the United Kingdom, but being abroad has helped me realize the importance of educating oneself about global affairs. Not only is it practical knowledge for being in the realm of business, but you are able to have much more lively and engaging conversations with others when you expand your knowledge base.