Month: August 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Learning and Living in Lecce

Nearly every day presented something new for me to do and I loved the sense of adventure and opportunity to learn about a completely different Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 2.05.46 PMculture. There is no one memory that sticks out further than all of the others; my entire experience in Lecce, Italy was amazing. I could narrow it down to a top three experiences which would be: the week off of class when my mother (who has never been out of the US) came to travel Italy with me, the weekend when 2 of my newest and closest friends and I traveled to northern Italy to stay with a friend we met in the first month of school, and the last days I spent in Italy with another of my friend’s authentic Italian family (that was a real test of our language lessons, let me tell you!) being fully and completely immersed in the Italian lifestyle. But, because I could write about all of those experiences for days, I’ll just stick with telling about the most treasured thing I came back to the States with: newfound friendships.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 2.05.34 PMWhen you are thrown into a strange apartment in a foreign country that speaks a different language, I’ll be completely honest, it is quite terrifying. However, then you start meeting people and you realize that this is the best thing you have ever done. Sharing an experience like this is indescribable. It creates a bond between people that words cannot explain and pretty soon you have your own little community and get to know everyone in your study abroad group like you’ve been friends for years. I met some amazing people from our own U of O as well as from other countries and other places in the US.

I share memories with these people that I met over the summer that I will never forget and no one other than those who were there will ever be able to fully understand. Even when I explained stories upon my return to friends and family members, I felt they could not fully grasp my experience. Studying abroad and being submerged in a new culture can only be truly appreciated if you yourself go and do it. You cannot rely on stories from other people about their experience, you have to see for yourself and make your own memories. This sounds extremely cliché, but studying abroad truly was the best experience of my life so far.

– Sydne Sloy, Lecce Italy

Gaining Confidence Through Study Abroad

MykelSutherlandI must admit, I have never been confident about my own abilities and potential at any point, and I am not sure I ever truly will be. The option of studying abroad was something I had always put off, coming up with reasons for looking into it next term, or next year. I went into this experience expecting that I may end up departing early, that I would not be able to handle being somewhere so different when compared to my relatively tiny hometown and life.

The first thing was using a foreign language, with anyone. I had never been comfortable using Japanese in or out of class at the University of Oregon, so I had no idea how I would manage in a situation where it was required most, if not all the time. My confidence in communication is poor even with English. This became an even greater concern at the time when my host family’s details were finally made available, and their monolingual background. The thought of going into another person’s home, where my weakest language was the only means of communication, amidst all the other changes felt beyond me. While I must admit, compared to others my family may have been the simplest and most open in expectations, I was amazed at how well I took to living in Tokyo and using the language, and how well life went with my host family. My time there showed from the very start that my language proficiency, while not without the occasional mistakes, was actually much more advanced than I had allowed myself to believe. I was able to communicate with very few issues with my host family who spoke no English, and that I was able to effectively communicate in general conversation and day to day activities outside my host families place and class. This experience really helped build confidence in my language skills, especially Japanese.

MykelSutherland5Another major thing I was able to work on to some degree while abroad was my difficulty with public speaking and presentations. While at Waseda University I had the opportunity along with a friend to visit Seikei University as guest speakers and speak at two seminars under a professor we had worked with at Waseda University. I have always questioned whether I can actually manage a position as a teacher as that is what I would like to do in the future. What was supposed to be simple introductions followed by observation turned into four hours of constant discussion and presentation with the students of these seminars, as the professor joined the students and left everything in our hands for the day. I found that not only was I able to manage this situation, but I actually did enjoy it, and a good time was had by all.

In all this, I was able to see what I was capable of, and what I should to improve upon in communication and the way I treat myself. While I already knew this, my time abroad really brought out the issue of self-confidence, and how excessively hard I am on myself. This is clearly something I need to address if I ever wish to advance in education.

– Mykal Sutherland, Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan

Pasta and Passion in Macerata

The Italian culture and lifestyle would be nothing without the people of Italy. The rolling green hilly landscape and amazing delectable cuisine full of handmade pasta and gelato help-but the Italian people themselves are truly special. Stereotypically Italians are known as being loud, passionate, confrontational, and full of gestures. My first day in Macerata, a friend and I were walking down the main street Coso Cavour and immediately heard two very loud voices outside a “pasticceria”(pastry shop). There were two middle-aged women standing very close to one another screaming high-pitched Italian at each other. One was carrying a plastic bag full of vegetables and using her other hand to wave dramatically up in the air while the other was looking up into the sky rolling her eyes with a hand defiantly on her hip. Walking towards them, I whispered to my friend and noted, that they seemed very angry they must have be in an argument. Not thinking anything of it we walked past them and went into a store.

Coming out five minute later and still hearing the same voices I turned toward the two women. To my dismay the two women were air kissing each others cheeks while smiling and enthusiastically singing, “Arrividerchi, Ciao, A Demani” (Bye, See you later); pleasantly walking away from each other grinning. I was stunned, was itDavidson1 not minutes earlier that I had just witnessed these women in a huge fight. Confused I thought back on the situation. Although I didn’t realize it then, Italians are very passionate people and very family oriented. What I first assumed to be an argument from my Americanized perspective was actually just a normal Italian conversation that consisted of loud voices, big gestures, and highly engaged conversations. Passionate is the best word to describe Italians in my opinion. Italians demonstrate passion in forms of love, friendship, and for their homeland and country.

This passion transfers not only between friends and family but strangers as well. One of the most memorable experiences and true representation of the Italian people and culture was meeting my neighbors Silvia  and Marco. The first month in our apartment in Macerata, my roommate and I were cooking dinner for some friends in the program and had the door slightly open for them to walk in. As we were cooking dinner chopping fresh vegetables and boiling water, we heard a knock on the door and bursting in came this older Italian lady into our tiny apartment filling the small hallway with a huge smile.

She was tall and had a head full of curly grey hair with piercing blue eyes and was wearing layers of jewelry on her neck and fingers. She looked at our stunned expressions and started greeting us with “Ciao” and other Italian phrases with such a warm smile that it didn’t matter that we had never met. She quickly enveloped both my roommate and I into a huge hug and put a gift-wrapped bag into our hands, which we later discovered was full of lemons and a mason jar of prune jam.

I was stunned, who was this Italian lady and why was she being so nice to us? In Italian she was asking us our names and where we were from. I was surprised I understood her after only a couple weeks of Italian. Silvia was smiling and was genuinely interested and seemed overly excited to meet us. After exchanging names and that we were from America, Silvia kept pointing up to the ceiling and then to herself. Silvia was telling us she lived upstairs and rapidly grabbed my roommate’s hand and was rushing her out the door up flights of stairs. I quickly grabbed my Italian dictionary and followed them up to her apartment. Unfortunately, the basic Italian phrases would only last us so long. (put somewhere else)

Davidson8[3]My roommate and I ended up spending a couple hours with Silvia. We met her husband Marco and their son. She fed us delicious traditional Italian Easter cake and gave us a tour of the apartment. The older couple pulled out old family photos and went through each one of them with us pointing out their other children and different vacations around Italy they had taken in the past. They showed us pictures of the Italian coastal beaches and slowly pronounced the names of the cities making us repeat it with an Italian accent. Then they would either smile energetically at our achievements or sourly shake their heads at our botched Italian and would repeat the word until it was identical to their smooth Italian dialect.

We also discovered that Silvia’s husband Marco was an artist and Silvia proudly displayed all of his many types of artwork to us making gestures of painting on a canvas. All of this time, it was my roommate and I speaking English and Marco and Silvia speaking Italian. Although there was a language barrier, it was as if it didn’t really exist because of hand gestures or commonalities. Somehow we managed to understand one another without the use of language. They taught me so much about the Italian landscape, and I even learned the days of the week from Silvia and Marco later on.

We left with smiles on our faces and I felt truly at home. Silvia was the perfect Italian grandma and opened her house to two random strangers she just met. I don’t think she realized it at the time, but she created a sense of family for me, without knowing it. Although Silvia didn’t speak English, and I never really knew in-depth Italian we managed to create and form a relationship and her passionate persona is one I will never forget.

* All names have been changed for privacy

– Rachel Davidson, Food & Culture in Macerata

The Value of Adventuring

One of my favorite experiences in Vancouver occurred on the first weekend! I love hiking and exploring the outdoors so I did a lot of research before the trip on the best hiking spots in the Vancouver area. This allowed me to waste less time looking up the information when I was there and spend more time exploring. The first weekend I sent out a message asking if anyone in the group wanted to hike Bowen Island, letting them know it was a fairly intense hike and that we would need to leave by eight in the morning if we wanted to return before dark. I figured it would be a really good way to get to know some of my colleagues and spark good conversations. I woke up the next morning and was so excited to realize six of us were about to embark on an amazing adventure.

The sun was shining and the sky was clear. A perfect day for hiking! We began by taking the bus from Downtown Vancouver through North Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. From there we boarded a giant ferry headed for Bowen Island. Bowen Island is a small island with a tiny town located off the coast of North Vancouver. The majority of the island is an ecological preserve and the forest is defined by enormous red cedars, green bogs and huge granite outcroppings. Once on the ferry we spent the entire ride on the front deck taking in the picturesque mountain landscape. Very rarely do you get to see mountains and forest that come directly to the ocean edge.Tucker_img_2

After arriving on the island we followed a set of directions I had written down to find the trail head and began our four hour ascent. The hike was incredible. It was steep and fairly demanding but the surroundings were exquisite and the giant tree canopy kept the forest floor nice and cool. As we hiked and talked we learned more and more about each other and I really enjoyed the company. I was excited to spend a term exploring and learning with these people. At the top the view was indescribable! We were so high up we were looking directly at the mountain peaks north of Vancouver. To the west was the Pacific Ocean, appearing endless and directly southwest was the City of Vancouver itself. The buildings were so tiny you could squish them between your fingers. The moment was so rewarding. After hiking and traveling all day we had reached our goal.

Tucker_img_9For the rest of the term we always looked back on that hike and the fun we had. You could barely make out the peak of Bowen Island from Downtown Vancouver, but we were constantly pointing it out to people saying, “We were up there!” It encouraged us to continue spending our time outdoors and experiencing the lifestyle and culture of Vancouver, BC. The time I spent in Vancouver was very rewarding and I am happy I had the opportunity to participate in the program and make so many good friends.

– Cody Tucker, Architecture in Vancouver

My Semester Abroad in Norwich

It’s difficult to summarize five months abroad in few brief sentences. When my friends and family ask me how the semester in England was I tell them it was great, that I got to travel a lot, meet so many new people and I learned a lot about other cultures and myself. I’m so lucky to be able to say that I have friends from all over the world now. I even got to stay with a few of them in their homes. I traveled to eight different countries and saw landmarks I thought I’d only ever see in textbooks and on the internet. I assimilated to British culture and by the end of the semester I found myself slightly confused when someone would interrupt me and ask if I was American because I forgot I had an accent. But here I won’t reflect on the adventures I had or the places I saw or describe the people I met. Instead I will reflect on a few personal moments that I realized changes in myself.

Participating in a solo exchange instead of a group program allowed me to reach a new level of independence. Of course there were advisors at both universities to help me if I needed it, but I was on my own. Two months into the semester I admitted in my journal, “I have surprised myself with how comfortable I feel here even though I’m here by myself.” I had to step out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to so many people. At first, it was like dating, but for new friends. I became more confident asking questions if I encountered something new or culturally different. I could see how well I was handling my new freedom and I was overcome with this feeling that I could do anything. It felt so empowering.

Another personal quality I improved while abroad was my patience. Whilst traveling, things don’t always go as planned and traveling involves waiting in a lot of queues (the British word for line). Not only did I have to be patient as I traveled from country to country, but I also had to be patient with myself. I was experiencing cultures different than my own and I had to learn and adjust. I couldn’t expect that everything would come naturally to me. Sometimes I made mistakes, but that’s okay because I learned from them.

One particular moment that really stood out to me occurred when I arrived in Berlin. I was traveling alone and I had to take a train from the airport into the city where my friend lived. I made a mistake and got on the wrong train because the train lines were very similar in color on the map. As soon as I realized I was going in the wrong direction I got off at the next stop. The stop was in a rural area and there wasn’t anyone around, the sun was setting, I was in a new country, unable to speak German and I had no way to contact my friend. Usually I would start to panic, and I almost did, but I told myself that getting emotional wouldn’t be helpful because the only person who could get me out of the situation was me. I took a deep breath and used the map to find the best route to get to where I needed to go. Two hours after landing, I had made it to my friend’s flat safe and sound. I was so proud of myself for not shutting down despite the situation I got myself into and I figured it out on my own.

Studying abroad this semester was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I am so glad that I worked hard for the opportunity to go. The world is a beautiful place. I cannot wait to explore more of it. The places you visit and the people you meet are not the only things that make study abroad worthwhile; it’s the things you learn about yourself and the personal changes you experience too. Some of the changes I have highlighted here may seem minor, but overall I feel significantly different. I know that I have returned a more mature, independent and confident woman.

-Alexandra Mullen, University of East Anglia Exchange

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