Overcoming the American Stereotype

16 Oct

There are many characteristics about
Americans that make us stick out when traveling to another country. Our values, traditions, manner of dressing and communicating, set us apart. Although this is to be expected, there are some negative  stereotypes that can make it hard for students to integrate themselves into their study abroad country’s community.

Common American Stereotypes:

  • Our daily attire consists of sweatpants and t-shirts a.k.a we don’t know how to dress (with the exception of New York).
  • We are ignorant.
  • We are loud.
  • We think our country is the best – this goes a long with not wanting to speak anything, but English when we arrive in another country.

You may or may not agree with some of these stereotypes, but one way or another, they exist. Studying abroad is an opportunity to prove people wrong about us, or at least attempt to.

Style

I’m not going to suggest students go out and get a whole new wardrobe for abroad because that’s a) unrealistic, and b) very unnecessary. I think it’s important to keep in mind though that most teachers value professionalism, and with that, they expect students to dress appropriately for class (I’m sure our teachers in the States do too!). It is more customary in the States, however, for students to dress comfortably and casually. While going to class at a foreign university can seem intimidating, even worse (in my opinion) is being the only one wearing a neon cut-up t-shirt. Use your judgement. Students don’t need to dress uncomfortably and elegant to look “appropriate for class.” If you want style tips on what clothing to pack for abroad, check out this Pinterest or this blogger’s style.

 

Americans are Ignorant Informed

Before arriving in your host country, do some research on their political, historical and economical state. Not only will you be able to understand the people and country better, but you will be able to start conversation with locals. Knowing what’s going on can also be vital to your safety in the case of protests and rallies.

WE TALK LIKE THIS

I’ll admit that some of us are loud, but there is a place and time for people to be loud. On the metro in Denmark, where there are quiet zones, one cannot be loud. From my abroad experience in Barcelona, I noticed that students often spoke across the metro to each other in English. Not only was it obnoxious, but it was disrespectful. Students should be more mindful of their surroundings.

Americans are the Best

I love America, I really do, but Catalans love Barcelona, Italians love Italy, and the French love France. When we’re in another country, it’s important to realize that we are guests. Students who want to criticize foreigners should reconsider going abroad. I’ve heard form several students that one of the biggest adjustments they had to make was not having all of the American luxuries. For example, hang drying your clothes, little customer service and paying for “extras” (condiments, bread, etc.). Students should keep an open mind and be willing to comply with their host country’s culture.

Click here to view another blogger’s  list of common stereotypes about Americans.

Document Your Stay

15 Oct

Some universities require that students keep a journal throughout their study abroad experiences. Although it may seem like a time-consuming task while you’re abroad, when you return home, you’ll be glad you did it! While physical diaries and journals are excellent ways to record your thoughts and experience, here I will discuss the creative ways students can use new media to document their stay.

Blogs

Blogs are popular among study abroad students because of the easy accessibility and casual-writing style that bloggers frequently write in. You can blog from your hostel, the airplane, or the beach (I did this!). Some of the most popular blogging platforms, include WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr — all of which are free! With these blogging platforms you can create a “look,” blog name, connect with other bloggers, and include visual and audio elements.

A blog is a great way to document your
day-to-day activities, and let your family  and friends know what you’ve been up to. You might even be interested in using your study abroad experiences and blog for professional reasons. A great professional travel blog, that I began writing for when I arrived home from Barcelona, was iExplore. It was easy to blog about different countries because I had done a good job of documenting my travels in a written journal.

[Check out  The Time I Studied Abroad Tumblr for a good laugh.]

Photo Blogging: Tumblr and Flickr are particulary good sources for integrating photo elements to your writing. A great example of an Abroad Tumblr is, What a Beautiful Life!

Pinterest

My travel Pinterest board.

Pinterst is a content sharing service
that allows members to “pin” images, videos and other objects to their pinboard. A couple of ways you can use Pinterest while abroad is to create a “places you’d like to go,” international cuisine, and sightseeing pinboard. Prior to studying abroad I created a pinboard called “Take me there.” I frequently “pinned” places I wanted to go, and travel articles. While abroad you can create pinboards for individual countries, or themed pinboards, such as, food, castles, cathedrals, etc. You can share your boards with your friends by connecting your Pinterst with Twitter and Facbeook.

[Check out the Travel Channel’s Pinterest for some travel inspiration!]

The Art of Pick Pocketing: Study Abroad Edition

15 Oct

Although studying abroad is a culturally enriching, fun experience, some situations can

Pick pocketers come in all shapes and sizes.

cause study abroad to lose its luster. It is important that you take some necessary precaution before and while abroad to ensure that you return home with all of your belongings.

I can not tell you how well my university drilled into my brain the idea that I could be pick pocketed. At the time, I thought it was a little obsessive, and that pick pocketing only happened to people who were careless. I was wrong. Pick pocketing is an art. These people are so creative and smart about how they pick pocket that you would think they went to school for it.

Spot a Pick Pocketer

Most of the time there is no “badge of honor” or distinct physical feature that sticks out about pick pocketers. Don’t assume that a child or an elderly person would not pick pocket you.

Some pick pocketers work in groups. They’ll put on an entire act. First, they’ll drop a bag of groceries in front of you and apologize. While you’re help them gather their things, another pick pocketer is behind you stealing your belongings. Keep an eye out for people lurking on public transportation. You may notice that they never get off the metro, or get off and on the same metro line several times. They may be watching you and your belongings intently, or they may be in groups, but just standing apart from each other.

Pick pocketers have no shame. I’ve seen and heard of pick pocketers going right up to someone and putting their hand in someone else’s pocket. It’s actually kind of funny to see the person being pick pocketed’s reaction. The person being pick pocketed usually calls them out on it, and then the pick pocketer responds by shrugging. Ridiculous.

What can you do?

It is your job to keep your belongings close. I suggest that girls keep their hands on the fold/zipper of their purses, and that guys, if you are wearing a backpack, make sure to pack your most important belongings closest to your body. Public transportation, such as the metro and bus, are prime pick pocketing locations. Wear your backpack in front of you on the metro. It may sound silly, but you’ll notice that most people, including locals, do that as well. Regardless of where your backpack/bag is, make sure your money is hidden in a safe place, not in an outside compartment, easily accessible to anyone nearby. Some people  carry two wallets with them, a fake one with no money in it, and then there real one. That way, when a pick pocketer reaches in your bag, your easily located, fake wallet will be the first one they take. Never anything of value, in your back pocket.

I am not trying to scare you, I am just trying to get you to think cautiously about your belongings. Not many students in my program were pick pocketed, and I think this has to do with our pre-abroad preparation. Before going abroad, think about the type of bag you want to carry, and where you’re going to put your passport, money and IDs. If you want to be extra cautious, you can purchase a locks. Locks are sometimes useful in shared hostel rooms when there is no place to put your things. When you arrive abroad, you will be able to get a feel for what feels safe, and what doesn’t. In bigger cities, pick pocketing is more frequent.

Study Abroad Student Q&A

13 Oct

Ethan Scholl is a senior English major at the University of Maryland. In Spring 2012 he studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. I asked Ethan to participate in a Q&A to understand  another student’s perspectives on study abroad. Enjoy!

Did you meet locals? If so, how did you go about doing so?

While I did not meet as many locals as I would have liked, in retrospect, I think I had a fair amount of interaction with the local people of Barcelona. I didn’t make any lasting friendships, but my broken Spanish and charming personality allowed me to communicate with people on a very basic level. I met a number of people while going out at night, ordering food or asking for directions that that I shared surprisingly revealing conversations with. In general, I found that people like to talk about themselves, and the best way to meet new people is to approach them on their level and ask them questions.

What was the most important lesson you learned from studying abroad?

The most important lesson I took away from my study abroad experience, from my interactions with Spanish people, people from other countries and from my own classmates and friends from the United States, is that when you boil everything down to the basics, we are all just human beings trying to figure out what makes us happy in the world. Regardless of one’s language, interests, upbringing, gender, religion, or any other label you can apply to others or yourself, we all are just stumbling around in this world, not entirely sure of how to act and what to do but trying to do our best at each individual moment. Coming to this realization during my time abroad and bringing it back home has allowed me to relate to the people around me, and more importantly, be more understanding and compassionate in my relationships with friends and strangers. Once you realize that most people are just trying to do what they think is best based on what they know, people tend to seem a lot more similar than different.

How did you manage your school work and exploring your new city? Do you have any time management recommendations?

My workload in Barcelona was not particularly stressful. It really did not cut into my time exploring the city all that much. To be honest, I would say school was more of an occasional nuisance than a focus in my life. One thing I would recommend is for students to choose classes that will allow them to learn about and explore the city during class time. A number of classes took field trips to museums and other sites in Barcelona or studied the history and culture of the city. I think taking a class or two like that would have been much more rewarding than more general classes I chose to take.

Did you get homesick? If so, how did you deal with it? 

I did not really get homesick at all, mostly because I was having such an amazing experience almost all the time. I know many who did, though. Luckily, modern technology allows us to do all but be physical in the same room as each other via the internet and computers and smart phones. With Skype and the like, you could see the faces and hear the voices of your friends and family members and even pets every day, if one chooses to or needs to.

How did you overcome the language barrier?

I had only a basic knowledge of Spanish before my time in Barcelona. I took up through Spanish 4 in high school, but had not taken a Spanish class in roughly four years before study abroad. As soon as I was immersed in the city, though, I was surprised to find I remembered a large amount of what I learned. Once I began to force myself to attempt to talk to people, just by asking for directions, ordering food and asking other simple questions, my level of Spanish quickly grew to surpass where it ever was during my high school years. Simply through surrounding yourself with speakers and making the effort to interact with them yields very tangible results very quickly. By the time I left Spain, I could occasionally hold something that resembled a real conversation with a local.

Did you experience a culture shock? What was it like?

I didn’t really experience any sort of culture shock upon arriving in Barcelona. I adapted very quickly to all the customs and language and layout of the city and all that. Because of this, I assumed I would be fine coming home. I had heard of “reverse culture shock”, but the concept seemed silly to me. How could I have trouble re-adjusting to the place I lived my whole life? I hadn’t become all that Spanish in five months…But, while I interpreted this reverse culture shock to be the shock of leaving the Spanish culture, I didn’t realize that it probably was referring to the struggle of leaving the study abroad culture. I found this to be enormously difficult. Studying abroad is an experience unlike any other. There really is no other opportunity one gets where they can live in a beautiful foreign city with loads of their friends with a very disposable income, taking weekend getaways to other countries and spending nights out in some of the coolest clubs and bars in the world. After living like this for months, suburban American life just seems, well, dull. It really is a bummer when simply waking up in the morning and walking out your door isn’t exciting anymore, when you realize that on Friday night you have to choose between the same crappy bars, and, most of all, when you think back on your memories and realize that you will never be able to live the life that you had again, in the same way. It simply takes time to get over. It took me months to come to terms with it, slowly re-learning to appreciate my old life. I still haven’t completely stopped missing the life I deal, nor do I think I ever will. Still, life goes on, and the best we can do is to attempt to recreate the things that made our life abroad so special in our “real lives”…at least until we can all move back and live there together.

Communication Abroad

8 Oct

For worrisome parents, loving grandparents and close friends, communication is everything. Naturally, our family and friends want to be able to keep in touch with us throughout our time abroad. Thankfully, times have changed and we don’t have to rely on “snail mail” to hear from our loved ones. Modern technology has given us the tools to communicate across the world in real-time.

Skype | Skype4Free.com

Video Chatting

I have to admit, seeing my Mom, Dad and dog’s faces after one month of being abroad in Barcelona, eased my mind. By no means was I homesick, but it was comforting to see familiar faces. Instead of spending half an hour on the phone with your loved one, which mind you will cost them/you a lot of money, video chatting services, such as, Skype and Oovoo are free (provided you use the basic plan), and allow for face-to-face communication.

Facebook’s Video Call | Albamedia.net

Facebook’s “video call” and some email services, also have video chatting capabilities.

Phone

You may already be able to send and receive calls all around the world depending upon what type of phone you have – lucky you! Most phone companies offer international phone plans at an additional cost. Unfortunately, I did not have an international phone plan. Instead,  I purchased an international SIM card. International SIM cards are available from Telestial, Lebara and a number of other companies (Google search it!). Lebara’s SIM card gave me the option to “pay as you go” and to put money on my phone online. I used the Lebara SIM with my phone from home (Samsung Galaxy II). My parents were able to call me for free at any time, and I was able to call and text anywhere in the world as long as I had money on my phone. Most European supermarkets will put money on your phone. Another option, is to purchase a phone abroad. Several students I went abroad with purchased a Vodafone cell phone for 20 euros ( in Spring 2012). They too were able to put money on their phone at the supermarket.

Whether you plan on purchasing a phone or using a SIM card, I suggest using your phone only when necessary. I’ve heard from a number of students that they rarely used their phone because they kept in touch with family through Skype, and met up with other study abroad students through Facebook and other social networking platforms. Phone calls can get costly, and unlike students in the States, study abroad students use their phones infrequently.

WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp is a cross-platform mobile messaging 
app for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and other smartphones. The application allows users to send, text, and video/image message each other from anywhere in the world. The greatest thing about WhatsApp is that you can text your friends and family from home, just as you would if you were in the States.

Also, a lot of countries use WhatsApp as there main method of communication. My cousin living in Barcelona, texts me all the time using WhatsApp. Download WhatsApp for iPhone here – $0.99/year). Download WhatsApp for Android here – First year FREE! ($0.99/year after).

Email

Although email, is not always accessible while traveling, email is the one consistent form of communication I had with my family. I frequently used email to update my parents and friends on my weekly activities, and to send them flight information. Email is also the best way to keep in touch with your university advisors and abroad coordinator(s). Email your advisors about the status of transfer credits, course enrollment, etc. My abroad coordinator regularly emailed me about community trips and abroad meet-ups.

Before going abroad…

  • Make a list of emergency contacts, including your parents, university advisors, abroad coordinator, and abroad roommates.
  • Check your phone company’s policy on “roaming charges” and international phone plans.

Lost in Translation

7 Oct

One of students’ biggest concerns before going abroad, is how they are going to get around if they can’t speak the language, second to, how they are going to make foreign friends if they can’t communicate.

First, I would suggest that you check whether or not your university’s study abroad program offers the opportunity to take a foreign language course abroad. Most study abroad programs require that you take at least one language course. Whether you take a beginner’s or advanced course depends on your prior knowledge of the language. If you feel comfortable with the language, you may even want to push yourself and take more than one class in another language. If you don’t have the opportunity to take a language course, or  if  you’re interested in further improving your language skills, the following resources and strategies will help you do just that:

  • Purchase (or rent from your local library) language-learning audio courses for your car. This past summer I listened to French CDs during my hour commute to work. I can proudly say that I can now ask who, what, where, when and why types of questions! A couple of minutes to an hour of practice a day can help.  Some recommended audio books, include, Learn In Your Car, Berlitz and Innovative Language, or visit the iTunes Store to download language-learning audiobooks to your Apple product. Another great tool is Rosetta Stone.  Rosetta Stone is a language-learning software that uses images, text and audio to teach people languages in the same way a first language is learned. For another blogger’s recommendations on how to learn another language using Rosetta Stone, click here. Rosetta Stone can be quite expensive. Download a free trial, or find out how to download Rosetta Stone on your Mac for free (I Love Study Abroad).
  • Set your web browser’s homepage to your country’s newspaper. Not only, will this help you familiarize yourself with what’s going on in other countries, but you’ll pick up on colloquial terms.
  • Set your Facebook settings to another language. You will probably still be able to figure out what each tab means based on your familiarity with Facebook!
  • Purchase, rent or borrow an English-(another language) dictionary. Get a pocket-sized one so that you can take it in your bag wherever you go. You can also download dictionary language apps for your iPhone or Android. The Google Translate App is one of my favorites. Speak or type a phrase, and have it translated into more than 60 languages!
  • Watch TV, and listen to music in another language.

While most of my recommendations are plausible for students intending to speak Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and probably a couple of other languages, some languages, such as, Chinese and Danish, are more difficult to learn. My friend who studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark told me that it would have been a waste of time for her to take a Danish class at her school because it’s nearly impossible to learn Danish in four months if you haven’t grown up speaking it. Luckily for her, nearly everyone in Denmark speaks English. She did say, however, that the language barrier proved to be more difficult when trying to locate street names. All of the letters in Danish words aren’t always annunciated; this makes it extremely difficult to know what street or place a person is talking about. She recommends you ask people to spell out the word if you find that you don’t understand what they’re referring to.

Packing Checklist

24 Sep

Before embarking on their abroad journey, most universities will provide students with a rough outline of what they should bring on their trip. In the case that they don’t, check out University of Washington’s abroad checklist here or Your Study Abroad’s checklist here. Depending on your destination, gender and loyalty to your clothing, what you pack will vary. Household, bedroom and hygienic necessities will depend on whether you  do a home-stay, an apartment or hostel. A good place to get household and bedroom necessities once you’ve arrived abroad are the “Chinese bazaars.” There you can find anything from towels and kitchen appliances, to school supplies and costumes for a (very) affordable price, quality products are debatable.

Keep in mind that no matter where you study abroad, there is a pretty good chance you’ll encounter every type of weather if and when you travel to other countries. My advice is that you do some research prior to visiting these countries. Things to consider when packing: season/climate, excursions, transportation (walking vs. metro), night life, study abroad duration and country’s currency.

Necessary items (no matter where you study abroad):

  • European outlet converter (2 at the very least)
  • Backpack or small carry-on bag — good for weekend trips
  • Chargers (laptop, cell phone, ipod, etc.)
  • Lock — for hostels, traveling
  • Multiple copies of your credit cards, passports
  • Deodorant — I haven’t had any luck finding ‘normal’ deodorant in Europe
  • Medication (prescription drugs should be taken in your carry-on)
  • Emergency phone numbers and contact information
  • University contact information

Other items (if you have room, these will save time and money):

  • Shampoo, conditioner, toiletries — it’s nice to not have to worry about these for the first couple of weeks with all of the rush and excitement surrounding your arrival
  • Sheets — if you have extra room in your luggage, bring disposable sheets for your bed
  • Rainboots — If you were to be studying abroad in, say, London, it may be necessary to have these!
  • Sunglasses
  • Weather appropriate clothing: raincoats, snow jacket (skiing??), heavy coat, snow boots, etc.
  • Umbrella
  • Alarm clock — my personal savior
  • City maps and guidebooks of your region
  • Journal
  • Camera
  • Local currency
  • Light-weight books/iPad/Nook/eReader

Any items you bring with you that you plan to throw out before returning home, will give you extra room in your suitcase. Luxury items, such as, straighteners, blow dryers, electrical razors and toothbrushes, are more likely to break or blow a fuse than to last you the duration of your stay. All of these items can be purchased at a Chinese bazaar, supermarket, or mall abroad. Generally students will do a lot of walking abroad, and in some cases they will have to throw out their shoes before returning home. Reconsider bringing your nicest boots if you plan on living in a city or on rough terrain.

When I studied abroad in Barcelona, I packed very little clothing thinking I could buy things I needed. The outcome was me spending more money on clothing, and spending less on eating out. Use your own judgement. Keep in mind the amount of space you have in your suitcase and how much you want to return home with. Shipping items to and from home can be costly (40 euros in some cases). I brought two large suitcases because my airline allowed me to, but typically airlines will allow you to travel with one suitcase and one carry-on and a purse. Check your airline’s policy on additional baggage, and suitcase weight limitations.

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