Thursday, November 17, 2016

Missing Food

So, whenever I went to the UK, I knew that there were some things that were going to be different about the food. I knew that I probably wouldn't be able to find Cheerios for my cereal or peanut butter based on some of the research I had done. And I was right in one of those respects: peanut butter is really hard to find in the UK. Cheerios were actually on the shelves in Sainsbury's but I decided to stick with the Frosties cereal to put into my tea mug shaped bowl (I am that level of a tea nerd).

One thing that I wasn't expecting was how much I would miss some of the food that I had gotten accustomed to finding whenever I got back. So here is a list of the foods that I've missed since I've gotten back.

1) Jaffa Cakes
jaffa cake


These wonderful mixtures of cookies and sponge cakes are exactly what I just described them as. They are spongey cookies covered in a light chocolate and with an orange center. There is debate in the UK as to how you should eat them, but I always ate them by the box thank you very much. They are incredibly addictive which is probably why I finally caved and bought a three-pack of them off of Amazon and was willing to wait for the two weeks for them.

2) Digestives
Image result for digestives

These are like Jaffa cake's older and cookie-er brother. Rather than having a sponge cake base, these are cookie based sometimes with a chocolate covering and sometimes without. They are really nice to dip in a cup of tea before you run to class. Also, yes, I am aware that that could have been the most British thing I could have said.

3) Pasties
Image result for cornwall pasties

This might have been more of a Plymouth thing since the city is so close to Cornwall, but pasties are freaking great. They are almost like calzones, but instead of tomato sauce and cheese, they are made with beef chunks and sometimes vegetables. They are meals wrapped up in a doughy container and are really easy to simply enjoy while you sit on one of the benches watching people walk by.

4) Irn Bru
Image result for scottish soda

I realize that this isn't technically food, but I can't find this soda in US grocery stores so it's going on the list of things that I miss. This drink is really hard to describe and even harder to explain why I like it. It tastes a lot like the fake citrus taste that they add to medicine to help kids take it, but there's a kind of addictive quality to it that made it one of my favored drinks even though it's technically Scottish.

5) Jelly Babies




Okay, so if you're a classic Doctor Who fan then you will probably recognize these a little. These are Jelly Babies, little gummy candies that are covered in a thin layer of something resembling flour. Even though I sort of gorged myself on them in the first month, they were still really good and something that I miss.

Even though I know that I could probably find most of these if I ordered them off Amazon, I realized that I didn't want to do that just yet. Probably once more of the nostalgia sets in I will be willing to do that. But for now, I will patiently wait for my Jaffa cakes and try and reconcile the fact that I have to wait so long for the things that I had grown accustomed to while abroad.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An Open Letter to My Bilingual Friends (Part Two)

Part one here.

I recently decided that I'm going to get my Spanish minor this summer, something I'd previously thought of as impossible due to studying in Sweden for a year. Indeed, it's something that's still totally possible to accomplish, but it's difficult. While in Sweden, I naturally didn't speak much Spanish, which resulted in me losing a lot of the language. In order for me to be ready to take Spanish classes this summer, I have to get back that language that I lost.

In doing so, I ask myself almost daily if I'm being too ambitious and want to give up. I believe that relearning Spanish is the most difficult and exhausting thing I've done in a while. I have Spanish-speaking friends helping me out, texting me in Spanish daily and conducting the occasional conversation in the language. I panic every time they speak to me. When someone says something to me in Spanish, I feel my heart begin to race and I almost always ask the speaker to repeat what they've said in English, even if I understood them. Sometimes I'll put up a fight and try to convince my friends, my teachers, to speak English, even though I know that what they're doing is for my own good.

Basically, at times I feel like I'm in the same boat as plenty of the friends I made in Sweden last year who were not confident in their English speaking abilities as well as some new friends I've made since returning to Maryville. It makes me think that it's time for a second open letter to my bilingual friends, and maybe I'm even talking to myself a bit as well.

Dear bilingual friends,

Do you realise how freaking awesome you are? You probably don't, but that's what I'm here for. It's challenging, perhaps even maddening, to conduct your day-to-day life in a language that still feels foreign to you. Sometimes you might feel like what you're doing is too difficult. Sometimes it might feel easier to just give up.

Don't give up.

Why? Because you're doing great. Sometimes you may think you're doing an awful job, but just remember that we are our own worst critics. It's difficult, but you're doing it, and you should applaud yourself for that.

You're still learning. I understand that and so does everyone else. That's why no one is judging you when you open your mouth to speak or turn on your English keyboard to send a text. And with each day, you're learning new words and phrases and gaining even more fluency in the language. How awesome is that?

It's okay to admit that it's difficult to say some words. It's okay to have an accent. It's okay that you make mistakes. It's okay. You got this. You're doing fine. You're not stupid when you make a mistake; you're brave for trying to speak a foreign language. It's not embarrassing to have an accent; it's courageous to roll unfamiliar words off your lips. I know it's not fun when someone corrects you or when you catch yourself making a mistake, but think of it this was: you're learning, growing, and becoming even better each and every day, and that's nothing you should ever be ashamed of.

What I'm trying to say is everyone starts somewhere.

I think I've about come to the conclusion that everyone that wants to really learn a language has to, at some point, swallow their fears and anxieties and just jump off the deep end and dive into the unknown because that's the way you learn a language. That's really your starting point. It's a long journey, one you and I both know isn't easy, but the end of the road is one worth waiting and working for.

You, my wonderful, fantastic, amazing, and generally awesome bilingual friends, make my life a happier place so it makes me so sad whenever I see you beat yourself up over struggling with the language because, to me, you're doing so great.

So before you apologise for your English - don't. It's not something you should ever be apologising for.

Thanks for everything, friends.

(PS - if someone ever makes you feel bad or ashamed about your English, send them my way and I'll make them feel bad or ashamed for making you feel bad or ashamed about your English)

Lee is exploring with a group of international friends during her year in Sweden. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Studying Abroad as a Minority

Greetings!

This autumn, pensive morning is evoking a reflective mood within me. As J-term study abroad sessions are approaching, I thought I would share some of my experiences studying abroad as a minority.

Studying abroad as a minority was an interesting and fulfilling experience for me. As a student of color, my identity as African American stayed at the forefront of my mind, acting as a filter during my destination decision process. I was fortunate enough to choose a study abroad program to Ecuador during my January term.

As I prepared for departure, I worried about things like my hair and my skin tone causing me unwanted attention or curious stares. I was brave despite my hesitation, and pressed on.  My first night in Ecuador we landed outside of Quito. We were met by our tour guide, Ivan, who was of a similar skin tone to me. I looked around at other Ecuadorians and realized that brown skin was dominant everywhere! While I didn't specifically look like locals, I felt normal compared to my American day to day racial experience.

One day after many hours swimming in the ocean, making new friends, and riding a boat on the lovely Pacific Ocean, I exhaled a sigh of relief. Ecuador was allowing me to be a global citizen beyond the barriers of my racial, American identity! I was genuinely enjoying myself.

The people of Ecuador are warm and accepting. Perhaps it is the humbling effect of being surrounded by such overwhelming beauty, whether it be the deep ocean or the luscious jungle, that causes these people to understand humanity better. Whatever it may be, my experience in Ecuador allowed me freedom regarding understanding of  myself and of others in new and seemingly unregulated boundaries.

To all my minority sisters and brothers, if you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it! You might be surprised how much you can give and receive when you cross borders.

Blessings,
Halle

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Being sick abroad and other stressors

I quite possibly have the worst immune system of anyone I know, not counting my sister. While I have been here, I have had three different colds, something almost flu-like, and a throw up bug. It has been a wild wild ride. I should drink plenty of fluids and have copious amounts of rest, but instead I find myself dragging my sick body through the cobblestone streets of Prague. I can't stop traveling. My past self (stingy and timid) would be in shock about the amount I have spent and the multiple times I've been spontaneous. I have talked to many strangers, everyone here is practically a stranger. Last weekend I found myself having Tex-Mex in Prague with an Australian, Indian-Canadian, and Filipino man, all hostel-goers that my roommate met. They, and others, are all wonderful people that I wouldn't meet if I stayed in my bubble.
Balancing school and fun is hard. It was hard back at Maryville but it is much harder here because all of Europe is calling. I plan when I will study and when I will go to Sweden at the same time. I recently made a trek to the end of the metro-line in Milan to find an obscure Steak and Shake with my roommate (the fries are different, but still delicious). I did this while ignoring the fact I am semi behind on all the readings I have to do my next week. Ah yes, exams are upon me....weeks after they struck their terror at Maryville. Let me tell you, I am nervous. There i no such this as a study guide here. We just have to know EVERYTHING. In a class where we have three readings per class, that is downright scary.
I promise I am full of happiness despite these issues. After Midterms, I am going to Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. This weekend I am going to Florence. I will be in Paris by Christmas time. What the h*ll. I never thought I would have such opportunities.
I am overjoyed and overwhelmed and signing off for now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life at Kansai Gaidai thus far

My time so far at Kansai Gaidai has been pretty eventful. My first couple weeks were composed almost entirely of paperwork for the school and communicating (arguing) with the three airlines that were supposedly responsible for my lost baggage. Though all the paperwork got completed and my baggage has been returned, it was definitely a hectic start. The CIE office was amazingly helpful. They helped me deal with the language barrier by talking to the one Japanese airline involved, as well as the various Japanese airports on my behalf. One of the best pieces of advice I have for people experiencing difficulties is for them to ask the people in charge of their program to help. Ask however many people from your program you need until you find one who can, and makes sure that they understand what you need (especially if there is a language barrier).

Kansai Gaidai student area/ food court 
Kansai Gaidai Center for International Education
After this rough start was over, I was really able to take time to appreciate Kansai Gaidai's campus. It is really very beautiful.  A majority of my classes are contained in the CIE building (shown below, behind the flags), though there is one other building I have a class in. That building has multiple levels, and a terrace with skylights, and greenery growing out of the concrete. The entirety of campus is just so well thought out.

Through campus sponsored events and from my own trips, I've seen a fair bit of both Osaka and Kyoto. I've seen the Yasukuni Shrine, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Kiyomizudera Temple so far. All three were lovely, but Kiyomizudera is the most beautiful place I've been to yet. When travelling, I think it's best to see as much as you can (within your budget, of course). I've attended a events that didn't even particularly interest me, just to me able to go see a new location with a group.



Fushimi Inari

Kiyomizu dera temple
Some cats in Makino City
Not all the things I've seen have been grandiose either. Sometimes it's good to look at the area around you, to see what life is like in the city you're staying in. If I hadn't, I'd never have found these kitties in the neighboring city. I've found adorable cafes, lovely walkways, beautiful parks, and adorable old ladies who give out candy ( That's a thing in Japan, apparently.  Little old ladies just carry around candy to give to kids and people who stop to chat.). Always take the time to appreciate your surroundings, especially since you never know when you'll be able to go back. 

I especially like exploring now that the leaves are changing. In Japan, the period in which the maples (momiji) turn red is called kōyō( 紅葉 ). The kōyō period is famously beautiful in Kyoto. Japanese maples have slightly different leaves than the ones we have in the states. They almost look like a certain kind of illegal plant leaf, but with slight differences in the shape of the arms of the leaf. They turn a very bright purpley red. They are often quite a bit smaller than American maple leaves, and so when you look up at a canopy of them the leaves look like little stars.

Leaves turning red at Kansai Gaidai
This is also the Halloween season, and though trick or treating is pretty uncommon, decorations,candies, costumes, and parties are. And, because this is Japan, all of the food items are absolutely adorable. They make your heart sing and your wallet cry.
Halloween ghost bread
By: Ray Cleavenger

Monday, October 10, 2016

Looking to Immerse Yourself into Your Host Culture?

Immersion is probably the #1 thing someone hopes for when they study abroad. In theory, it's easy - all you have to do is hang out with students from your host country! But in practice, it's anything but.

Some of the friends I made in Sweden were Swedish,
and some of the friends I made were international,
and that's okay!
Make no mistake - immersion is totally possible, but it's not an easy thing to accomplish in the slightest.

There's a lot of reasons for this.

A large reason can be a language barrier. I was very fortunate to be in Sweden, where almost every spoke English as well as they do their own language. However, if you go to a country where a large
portion of the population doesn't speak English and you don't speak the local language, this can pose problems.

Another thing that can hinder immersion is the fact that exchange students typically tend to hang out with other exchange students. There's no problem with this and it actually makes a lot of sense! You're all in pretty much the same boat. You're studying abroad, probably don't know anyone other
than each other in your host country, and the easiest thing to do is hang out with one another because you likely all have similar schedules. At the same time, local students already have their own friend
groups established, and even if they do ask if you want to hang out with them and their friends, you'll often feel like an outsider if you decide to join them.

This, and many other reasons, is why immersion into the host culture is a pretty daunting task, although it's almost always a student's goal when studying abroad. Lucky for you, I have a few hints and tricks on how you can better immerse yourself in your host country's culture!

Let's start by again addressing the issue of language. Speaking the local language makes immersion a thousand times easier. So if you go abroad and know the local language, don't be afraid to speak it! It's good to challenge yourself and push yourself out of your comfort zone because that's the best way to learn. Locals won't laugh at you if you make a mistake; they'll respect you for trying to speak their language.

If you don't speak the local language, your host university will most likely offer classes to learn the language, and you should definitely take those classes! You probably won't become perfectly fluent during the time that you're there, but it'll give you the basics you need to know about the language, which is obviously helpful.

Additionally, try to take some classes with local students! In many schools, there are classes specifically for exchange students, and in these classes, you won't get any interaction with locals. Taking classes with locals may seem hard to do if you're in a non-English speaking country and don't speak the language, but you'd be surprised at how many people take English language classes or even complete their degrees in English! In some cases, it may be easy to figure out which classes are for fexchange students and which classes Swedish students take (for example, I took a class called Swedish Society and Culture, which obviously a native Swede wouldn't take, but I also took a class called Hospitality Management, which had a lot of Swedish tourism students completing their degree in English!) so if you're not sure, don't be afraid to consult your advisor at your home university and ask for their advice.

And once you get into classes with local students, don't be afraid to interact with them! More often than not, local students are just as excited to meet international students as you are to meet local students. 


Remember that time my professor straight up
forgot about class so we tweeted him to
get to the bottom of things? Because I do.
Which leads right into my next piece of advice! Don't take the local students that show up to all of the functions for international students for granted!!! They're there because they want to meet you and get to know you. They're also really good people to ask for advice whenever you need it. So these people can be very, very important to you if you just let them be.

My final piece of advice is to try to find some activities to do outside of school that locals participate in. I tried a lot of weird things I never would have tried at home, such as pub crawls and stand up comedy in the basement of a sketchy looking building, and I had the opportunity to meet and interact with locals during these times. And, if you can, volunteer or get an internship! You can do this in English almost everywhere in the world, so if you don't speak the local language, don't let that hold you back!

There's a lot of difficult things when it comes to studying abroad, but immersion into the host culture is perhaps one of the most difficult. It's something that takes a lot of effort and certainly doesn't happen overnight. But immersing yourself into the culture is so incredibly rewarding. Once you accomplish that, you start feeling a bit like a local yourself, and when you go home, you'll find yourself referring to your host country as "we" or "my country!" :)

Friday, October 7, 2016

5 Things Every International Student Should Know Before Coming to MC

I still vividly remember the day I packed my stuff, and came to the United States to attend Maryville College. It was literally flying towards unknown; I was terrified, yet the thought of new discoveries was thrilling. I did not know what to expect from an American college, how to study, how to meet new people and of course, how to survive on my own. Therefore, for every international student planning to attend Maryville College, I assembled a list of 5 things (advice) that they should know prior arriving:

1) International Students Are Minicelebrities

As international students, we all have those thoughts about fitting in, and making new friends. It was the same case with me, but as soon as I walked intomy first ever college class, a girl introduced herself and we clicked right away. She (#BrookeCummings) was so excited to know that I was from a different country, and her first question was "Do you know how many questions I have for you?" Even though she sounded detective-ish, it made me feel home. Soon everyone I met were genuinely interested in me, my background and thought my stories were cool. Therefore, I want to tell incoming internationals that don't worry about finding friends, they will find you.

2) Professors CARE About YOU!

Unlike in big universities, the class sizes in Maryville College are small (10-15 people). Your professors will get to know you, and if you end up taking multiple classes with them, they become your life coach. If you tell your professor that you are and international student, they will be happy to help you not only with classes but also with adjusting. My favorite professor is Dr. Gibson, who is also my thesis advisor, is always there to help me in academics and just life in general. I remember coming to her office after my General Chemistry lecture and having a two-hour conversation about my career goals. Thus, your professors care about you as a student and they truly want to see you be successful.

3) MC Has Rigorous Academics

Maryville College is considered one of best colleges in southern United States. It is for a reason: classes are hard and professors expect high performance from the students. From the fist day of classes, professors make it clear that you need to work HARD for that grade, and there are no shortcuts. I still recall studying for my first exam freshman year, when I spent hours studying and feeling guilty for going to sleep.

Image result for no time to be dead got to study
This was literally me before my exams and made me realize that MC is no joke. Although I have been feeling like
 for four years during finals week, I know that MC prepared me very well for my future career.

4) There Are Lots of Resources Available

MC faculty and staff recognize the intensity and the workload for the students, hence, there are a lot of support to help you succeed. I am a big fan of MC Writing Center; I literally worshiped them during my freshman English Composition class. I was certainly camping in their office, they helped me to get an A in that class. Also, every class has a group study leader that prepares study guides before exams (and brings food) and helps you get through the class. There are also services available for time management, planning out your college degree and finding internships and even counselors when you are in need of therapy (especially during finals week).

5) The Location is GREAT

Maryville College is located 30 min away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and 30 min away from Knoxville Metropolitan. Whether you are seeking alone time to reconnect with mother nature or go all out on Friday night, you don't have to go far. Furthermore, downtown Maryville is within the walking distance from the college, there are lots of places to eat and to see.
s1 11 connor temple im not really outdoorsy
Here is the wrap up of my list of things I wish I knew before coming to Maryville College. These are the things I learned during my four years in Maryville College (you can call me an expert), and by the way, YOU ARE WELCOME!



Friday, September 30, 2016

5 Things I Didn't Know Before Studying Abroad

I read all of the blogs that I could get ahold of on what it would be like to study abroad. I thought I was more than ready for the culture shock and the ensuing reverse culture shock whenever I got back. I thought I could handle being away from my family and friends and only seeing them through a computer screen. And for the most part I was right, since I have successfully gotten over most of my initial reverse culture shock and have resituated myself into my life here before I left. But here are a couple of things I wish I knew before I left:

11)      Culture shock can hit you in very weird ways
As far as I can tell, I didn’t get what most people would consider culture shock. I didn’t go “Oh my god, I’m in a new country and everything’s new and scary what do I do?” and panic and want to go home. Instead it was smaller things that were just slightly different. Immersing myself in the culture itself definitely helped, along with the first little events that the International Committee at my university put on for us. Being able to find people who were having similar experiences definitely helped me get past that first wave of shocked confusion. Not a lot of things in the UK are terribly different, but there are enough things that it can be a little jarring. Seeing a Sainsbury’s where you would normally see a Walmart or a Tesco where you might see a Shell station is a little confusing, especially since I couldn’t see a great deal of difference between the two beyond size. Which brings me to point number two.

22)      That thing about everything in America being huge compared to the rest of the world? Yeah…
Okay, so I honestly didn’t think this one would be true whenever I left. I grew up in a fairly small town so I thought it wouldn’t be that different. Hoo boy was I wrong. There are about two groceries stores within a ten minute drive of my house from home. Both of them are reasonably sized, by American standards. In the UK, there were two groceries stores: the Wilko’s and Sainsbury’s that were about a ten minute walk from my flat. I’m fairly certain if I picked up the Wilko’s and dropped it into the Walmart at home, I could have fit around two of them. The Sainsbury’s was a little bigger solely because it mostly housed food and freezer items, so maybe only one Sainsbury’s could have fit in the Walmart, but there would probably still be walking room. This made it simultaneously easier and harder to shop for things because while you knew exactly what you needed to get and where, you couldn’t get it all in one place. Also, speaking of shopping…

33)     People will judge you if your banking technology is not up to date with theirs
So, before I left, I was told that I would be able to get a chip-and-pin card that would work in the UK. But unfortunately, even after I’ve gotten back, we still haven’t gotten them and people here are really, really confused by them. The card that I primarily used while abroad was my debit card, which only has a pin. I’m sure you can see the distinction here. At one point I went into an hmv, which is an entertainment store, and whenever I went up to pay, they actually had to pull out a log book to write down what kind of card I had and my information. If that didn’t make me feel behind on technology, I don’t think anything else would have. Luckily most of the pin machines in the UK could be used to swipe, but only after the cashier knows to change the machine to that. Moral of the story: Get a chip-and-pin card because people will judge you since most of the UK at least has been using them for a few years now. But if there’s one thing that definitely made me stand out was my accent. Which brings me to number four.
44)      If you think you don’t have an accent, you’re wrong.
I honestly didn’t, and still don’t to be totally honest, know what my accent was going into the UK. A lot of people in the US thought that I sounded vaguely European, which I hoped would work in my favor. While no one outright criticized me for being American (though I did get quite a few questions about our presidential candidates once they found out), I was spotted fairly quickly once they heard me speak. At one point, there were some petitioners on the sidewalk for Brexit, though I wouldn’t be able to tell you if they were campaigning to stay or leave. Since we were so close to the university and from what I knew most of the uni students wanted to stay, I would assume they were campaigning the rest of the town to stay as well. Regardless, one of them comes up to me and asks, “How are you planning on voting in the referendum?” And me, being the flustered and confused American that I am, started to explain,

“Well actually—“ Apparently these two words were enough for the petitioner to realize that he was barking up the wrong tree and immediately he said,

“Oh! You’re American, I’m sorry.” And went about his merry way trying to convince people to stay in the EU. Speaking of the EU…

55)      You might not know much about the politics. Not a lot of people care.
I knew just enough about British politics in order to sound at least somewhat competent and not just like a silly American who thought that everything was ruled by the Queen (I mean, it isn’t really, but who doesn’t love the Queen??). But Brexit threw me through a loop and I honestly didn’t know enough about the implications of leaving or staying to have a solid opinion on it. I knew that a lot of younger people wanted to stay because it gave them more freedom to travel and to immigrate to other countries if they desired to do so. I knew that older people believed that the EU was overstepping its bounds by having the countries take in a certain number of refugees. But that was about it. The good thing was, I think a few of the local students understood this since they didn’t ask me a lot about my thoughts on the situation except for whenever they wanted an outsider’s opinion. Which to be fair… is totally fair. I did the same thing whenever it came to this year’s election.


So why am I talking about all of these things? Well, I figure that if you’ve done your due diligence and taken your courses and read your books, there might still be a couple of things you don’t know about studying abroad. And I hope this will help you know just a little bit more.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ciao from Milano

Apparently, I have been out of the country for almost a month. It feels like just yesterday when I was dropped off at the Atlanta airport to go to my new home in Italy. When I first got here, I traveled with friends from home. I saw Rome, Capri, Athens, Santorini, and Mykonos. I always knew the world was huge but I never expected this. What a wonderful continent Europe is. I have had struggles and barriers to cross, but so far none of them trump the fact I am living in Italy: land of wine, pasta, and people ready to run you over in vespas.
Most of my issues I have faced stem from my anxiety. I have been nervous about making knew friends, traveling alone, not being fluent in the language, traveling enough (and to the right places), and overall about regretting missing half of my senior year.
I promise, the bad is not outweighing the good.
There is so much good.
I am going to Oktoberfest this weekend, Venice the next, and after that Prague. I have met friends from all over America and the Globe. I am taking challenging and fascinating classes not offered at Maryville. Even though I cried to my mom on facetime my first day here, I am getting acclimated. I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. Arrivederci for now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My Lessons From Abroad...

As I begin my final year of college, I have found myself reflecting more and more on how my education has changed me. While the social and academic transformations I’ve experienced have shaped me a great deal, a huge part of the woman I see myself as now was shaped by my experiences abroad.
My first trip abroad with Maryville College was part of a class focused on global child welfare and exceptional children during the spring of 2015. Our group travelled to Switzerland where we were immersed in a culture very similar, yet very different, than the place we had come from. We spent time at the UN, WHO, UNICEF, and countless other organizations that strive to better the world we live in. We spent time at schools for exceptional children, even learned about gravitational particles from a 12 year old. If that’s not mind-boggling, I don’t know what is. We also examined other educational programs as we went through the country, all while learning about Swiss culture and making some incredible memories.
My trip to Costa Rica the following May was with the school’s Bonner Scholars program and the focus there was to immerse ourselves in a small community and serve however necessary. We were placed at a facility that housed boys 7-17 that had had some sort of run-in with the law and were working to better themselves and get out of the situations they were in. We spent our off-days exploring the country and getting to know our host families.
My most recent trip abroad was this spring, studying Tropical Ecology in Bonaire. On this trip, 5 senior studies were completed, countless SCUBA dives were logged, and we spent time at a research center that was focusing a great deal of work on the invasive lion fish problem. We explored national parks, ate some amazing food, and learned a great deal about conservation and diversity.
So now that you know where I’ve been and have a skimmed idea of what we did abroad, I’d like to hit on some amazing ways that studying abroad changed my life.

1.   I strive to get out of the box.
By studying abroad, I learned to adapt to things that were not my “normal” and learned to speak with respect, but also listen to differing perspectives and examine things from multiple angles. I experienced the Swiss educational system on a very surface level, but seeing the students’ focus and their joy when it came to learning was something I hadn’t experienced much of. Those students were not bound by numbers and expectations, but freed by the ability to learn from each other and express their talents in ways that don’t follow the “normal” path. In addition to that, the focus of the program I was with in Costa Rica was to break the normalcy of life and culture in that area. Treat others with respect, have the intentionality and initiative to go beyond what you’re required to do, and celebrate everything. In Bonaire, we learned a great deal about man’s effect on ecology and how small efforts can make big changes.

Standing on the Hilma Hooker, an iconic Bonaire dive site, about 60' under

2.   I think I know what I’m doing with my life… and if I don’t, that’s okay.
No, I didn’t have this epiphany moment of, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!” Instead, I found the ability to take a passion for something and turn it into my own version of great. I was able to see the health disparities around me while abroad, and then find them in my community at home and plug in. Seeing organizations like UNICEF and WHO made me take a hard look at what I am passionate about and explore how to turn that passion into a career. I’m now headed for dental school, if all goes as planned! I have a great deal of interest in public health and education, also, so who knows? I learned about a world (literally) full of opportunities, none with a direct “Pass Go and Collect $200” option. It’s all relative. If I have interest in something, then nothing should stop me from looking into it.

On a hill overlooking Bern, Switzerland

3.   I am not afraid of making mistakes or things not working out as expected.
I love food. Whether it’s Croquettes (pronounced like the game, not like "crock-et"… the chef got a kick out of that one!) or gelato in Bonaire, Casado in Costa Rica, or Swiss chocolate. All is good and well until those menus are in French, German, Dutch, or Spanish… I might know a few words, but I am by no means multilingual functionally. You know what, though? Food is great everywhere, so order what looks cool, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and keep an open mind. Try new things! Disclaimer: I’m now spoiled to Swiss chocolate, Costa Rican fruit juice, and gelato from Bonaire… life will never be the same.







The Airport Olympians
I ran full-tilt-boogie through an airport trying to catch our flight to Switzerland, only to miss the plane by minutes. Our airport obstacle course included yells of “Vote Maryville College the Top Outdoor School!”, with people hurdling over suitcases, sliding around corners, and dodging small children- If the 2020 Olympics include Airport Obstacle Courses, you’ll know where it originated. Our group spent that night in a hotel stateside, eating massive pieces of pizza and laughing into the wee hours of the morning. 

The Culprit

I swam to a sand bar off the little beach we sat on in Costa Rica and got my lunch stolen by a monkey while I was swimming back. I literally watched him open my bag, look each direction, and scurry up a tree with my food. If I was afraid of the long swim, I might have had my lunch, but not a cool story about being teased by a monkey that ate an entire box of granola bars and dropped the wrappers down to me.   






The Coordinated Ones + Me

I agreed to go out with my host family one night in Costa Rice, despite my mounting exhaustion. Next thing I knew, I was in an indoor soccer complex, kicking balls around (trying to) with my host family and some professional Costa Rican soccer players. 




On a dive in Bonaire, waters were choppier than expected and we almost dreaded this legendary dive we had been so looking forward to. On that dive alone, I got pictures of 3 sea turtles. 




Life passes by and you never know the great things you could miss if you try to glue yourself to expectations or perfection. Study abroad taught me to accept the unexpected and have a great time with it. 
My study abroad experiences have affected me most through the way that I perceive myself and the situations I face. These adventures have been an incredible addition to my college experience and life and I cannot wait to see what the future holds!

Happy travels! ~Alyssa

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