Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Going Back to Your Host Country

I’m currently in the beginning stages of planning a trip to the Netherlands this fall. This will be the first time I’ve returned since my time studying abroad in the city of Utrecht twelve years ago. This will be the last of my study abroad locations to go back to. I’ve been to Dublin/Ireland twice since that summer in 2001. The first time was four months after the program and the second was four years later. My return trips to London were similar: four months and three years later. This one, comparatively, is a bit overdue.

Oudegracht, Utrecht, Netherlands
Oudegracht, Utrecht, Netherlands

On my first return trip to Ireland I donned the hat of tour guide for two girlfriends from Utrecht. I knew what shuttle to take from the airport, what hostel to stay at, how to get around easily, and what pubs were the best. I was too busy living up to my nickname ‘Let’s Go Lindsay’ to really pay attention to anything other than showing off my old stomping grounds. This was primarily to keep myself distracted and emotionally disconnected from the trip. I knew it couldn’t possibly live up to the summer and I was fearful that something might happen to tarnish that time.

Inevitably, I began to compare things. The group dynamic was different. These two girls weren’t the six people I hung out with four months ago. The time of year was different. Instead of being able to be outside in the summer sun, it was December with signs of Christmas everywhere and snow keeping us indoors. The overcast days mimicked my mental state.

3rd time's a charm for kissing the Blarney Stone
3rd time’s a charm for kissing the Blarney Stone

But soon I realized that different was also good. With less of us, it was easier to stay together in hostels, or find a place to sit in restaurants and pubs, and there were less personalities to please. These girls wanted to do things that the summer group didn’t. The cold weather showed me another side to the cities and their inhabitants. And who doesn’t want to spend more time in a warm pub? I was also able fill in some missing gaps from the summer such as finally getting my picture taken kissing the Blarney Stone, which my summer photographer didn’t take in time – twice (ahem, Kevy). This trip added to my experience of Ireland, made it more dynamic. Whatever concerns I had before going turned out to be fruitless.

I am really excited to go back to the Netherlands, which is 180 degrees from how I felt when I left. I just wanted to go home and put all that had happened (9/11, culture shock, anxiety attacks, broken heart) behind me. I am returning with a purpose. There are plenty of other travel destinations on my list, but I think it is time I pay homage to a place that was the backdrop to a very formative time for me. Perhaps I’ll even gain some closure on a few things. I’m not quite sure what to expect, or even know yet what I hope will happen, but I’m ready to find out what does and expand my experience of the Netherlands.

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Posted in Study Abroad

My Irish-Bred Drinking Habits

Heading to Ireland on my first study abroad program, my 21st year came a year early. Not a frequent drinker, I was going to at least try my hand at Guinness and Jameson with the legal age for drinking being 18. Over the course of the next eight weeks, I unknowingly shaped my drinking habits from that point forward. To this day, from what I prefer to drink to what environment I most enjoy drinking in has its roots in my time in Ireland.

Prior to departure, this was my profile: occasional drinker, not a heavy partier, enjoyed some mixed drinks but mostly enjoyed shots, always drank to get drunk but never knew I was drunk until it was too late to not be really hungover the next day, and preferred drinking at someone’s apartment or dorm to being out. By the time I returned to the US, most of that had changed.

On my first night out in Temple Bar in Dublin, Guinness was my first drink. Yuck! I had to choke down that pint. How could my sister love that beer? It tasted disgusting to me. I wasn’t taking any chances after that so I ordered a Heineken. At least I had tried it, I thought. At the next bar that evening I tried someone’s Carlsberg and was happy to have found a beer I hadn’t heard of before that was palatable. This experience is all about trying new things, right?

Over the next couple of weeks Carlsberg led to Smithwick’s (Smid-icks) which then led to Kilkenny, another Guinness product. This became my favorite beer. I wish I could get Kilkenny here in the States (lucky Canadians). Kilkenny is red in color and, as a cream ale, is thicker than Guinness, which, much to people’s disbelief, is actually relatively light in texture. That I was enjoying a cream ale shocked me; my taste buds for beer had come a long way from Heineken. It was time to try Guinness again. I did and I loved it. Still do.

St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny, home to Smithwick’s

As for Jameson, I enjoyed it, but then at some point near the end of my program I lost my taste for liquor. Once I returned to Wisconsin I found that I could not down a shot without my gag reflex being triggered. Still can’t. I had officially switched from being a liquor drinker to a beer drinker.

Limits were a nice thing I learned too. I quickly began to understand that I wouldn’t feel well the next morning if I had more than four pints of draught beer, keeping in mind that an Irish pint is 570 ml or just over 19 oz as compared to the US pint of 14 or 16 oz. I became in control what kind of evening (and the following morning) I was going to have. It helped in maintaining the balance of work and play. Paying attention to how much I’m consuming and of the consequences at different imbibing levels still plays a role in my drinking.

Also, being allowed into bars was new for me. I wasn’t sure how I’d like them. Back in Madison the college bars seemed to be meat markets, something I wasn’t interested in being a part of. Maybe it’s because they were my first highly frequented bars but I loved the pubs in Ireland. From the stereotypical “traditional” pub to the brightly lit workman’s pub to the loud metal bar to the country western pub, I loved them all. What I loved most about the pubs was the seeming overall acceptance of people of varying ages coming together to share a common space, having a pint and enjoying the craic.

I have yet to find a bar in the US where this is comfortably accepted. While their pubs had an air of mutual respect amongst the differing age groups, here in the US there seems a palpable distaste for other age groups. I have to say I’m as much a part of that as those I see around me. I’ve been known to say a negative thing or two about those younger than myself. Is it because I didn’t grow up in a culture where respect across age groups was valued? If I could find a bar that replicated the feel of any one of those pubs (well maybe not the metal bar), I would definitely go out on the town more. As it is, I get a closer feeling at a friend’s house or in my own home.

Upon leaving Ireland my profile became and still is: casual drinker, enjoys beer and trying new beers (I’ve noticed how my preference in type of beer has changed over the years as well – I used to really like wheat beers, now I prefer hoppy beers), I know my limits and pay attention as they change with different drinks, and though I still prefer a house/home to a bar, I enjoy going out now, and I’m still in search of a place that captures something similar to that in Ireland. If I learned to drink somewhere else, I don’t know what kind of drinking profile I’d have today. But I can’t imagine having a better self exploration and transition period from being underage to being of age than I got from my time in Ireland.

Posted in Issues, Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Internet and the Study Abroad Experience

An educator recently posed the question to a study abroad listserv I subscribe to about whether or not there have been recent studies conducted comparing the study abroad experience for students pre- and post-Internet. He was seeking to know if the Internet had fundamentally altered the study abroad experience due to increased ability to remain connected to home.

Image: Kevin Law

I find this to be a very interesting and important topic to be discussed, particularly as international educators continue to promote the study abroad experience as being vital for our students, and as technology continues to advance and reach parts of the world that did not have access before. Are the “vital” components being undermined by technological advancements? The research on this topic would have great implications on a number of areas including education, marketing, communications, and economics.

Before I dive in, here’s my technology background: I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I recall life before cell phones, Internet and digital cameras. I was computer-less my freshman year of college and thought nothing of it. My first cell phone was purchased in 2004, was pay-as-you-go, and was used primarily for texting, which was done without a full keyboard.

My initial thoughts to the question posed were that yes it has changed the experience and not for the good. At first glance I see the computer mediation as a hindrance. If a student keeps in contact with friends and family on a daily or hourly basis, what time are they allowing for the act of being present in their new environment, getting to know the people around them, and learning or unlearning parts of themselves? Not only is time being invested, but also the mind and emotions.

My first cell phone looked very similar to this one. Image: ifixit.com

If a student only spent five minutes a day connecting with home, that may be a short amount of time, but there is a much larger deposit in the emotional bank. If he is having a bad day, that five minutes could perk him right up, but what happens when he cannot reach those at home in a moment of crisis? Unfortunately, he’s felt so supported by those at a distance that he has not taken the time to seek out a local support system. Where does he turn in these moments? Also, there may be times when his best friends can’t help him because they are physically not there and he needs someone in person to aide him.

Also, why are students keeping in touch? Are they concerned they will be missing out on their life at home, who’s dating who, and what’s happening on campus? Newsflash. While they’re worried they’re missing out at home, they’re also missing out where they are. People at the host institution who have direct contact with a student studying abroad (fellow study abroad students, native students, advisors, teachers) are friendly and welcoming. They can also perceive when someone is disinterested or preoccupied. I don’t know that I would take the time to get to know someone those first crucial days if I thought they came across that way. There are plenty of other people to befriend.

While in Ireland for the summer I wanted to keep in touch with my friends. I only had Internet access in a computer lab that had limited hours. I would send mass emails weekly letting everybody know what I was up to. I was trying to set a routine early on as at that time I would be away an entire 12 months over the course of both my study abroad programs. I didn’t want them to forget me or lose touch. Eventually people stopped replying (which was frustrating to me) and I became too busy. When things are going well or as expected there is less reason to connect with home. In my experience, only when sh*t hits the fan, issues come up, or something is unresolved does the desire to reach out to a known support system increase and contact is made more frequently.

If, on the other hand, students are keeping in touch as a requirement or request from their parents to contact them at a preset interval or as in one such case I read about where the student’s parents required her to use Skype in order to see that she was in her room each night – that’s a whole other issue. All I have to say on this topic is if you’re okay with your child going, then let your child go.

My second thought was that this might not be that simple because I believe the study abroad experience to be very personal, and, therefore, very subjective and contextual. If I had a friend or family member who had sacrificed a lot for me to go abroad or had never been abroad but was really invested in my experience, I would probably send them a photo daily and tell them I’d go over the photos with them when I returned. Students might be forwarding articles and information about a local event or local opinion on an issue to their friends back home thus feeling connected by sharing a new perspective, and, consequently, expanding the knowledge of the entire group.

As I’ve discussed before, my time in Utrecht, Netherlands was much different than Ireland. Yes, I made friends, traveled, and enjoyed most of my classes. I also encountered minor issues with course scheduling, funding, and equivalences. And some major ones: debilitating anxiety, culture shock, and 9/11. All of these required increased communication with home, either with my parents or my university. Dealing with the school issues made it hard to just get on with my time and achieve some normalcy which is all I wanted while navigating my culture shock and newly found anxiety. Then 9/11 happened and I didn’t know if the program would end or how much I was at risk being an American student abroad. Many people felt on edge and initially we really weren’t turning towards each other for help.

Here’s what I wonder – if Skype had been released and I had been a regular user, would I have reached out to my friends back home during that time when I felt lost, worried, and lacked a local support system, and, consequently, have stayed the whole year?

I can’t ever know for sure but I want to say yes. Not only being able to hear their voices (inexpensively), but to see their faces would have brought great comfort. I know they would have been cheering me on to stay, and talking me through my darker and most paralyzing moments. In that set of circumstances, turning to my established support group so instantaneously, so tangibly, so completely through the technology rather than trying to forge a local one from shaky ground would have been greatly appreciated and wanted. Even if the result wasn’t to have completed my year abroad, having that access at that time would have changed the experience for me and for the better.

Overall, I find this topic fascinating. More thoughts went through my mind on this than I could write, let alone organize for a post. I’ll be very interested to read more research as it’s published and hear firsthand accounts of students as they reflect on their use of the Internet as means of connecting with home and their experiences abroad.

Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Saying Goodbye

It’s August. Summer study abroad programs are coming to an end. Students are packing up, returning home, and within a couple weeks will be headed back to their college campuses for the fall semester. But while thinking about going home, they’re also figuring out how to say goodbye.

I was very tired at the end of my summer program in Dublin, Ireland. It was without a doubt the busiest eight weeks of my life: attending class, doing coursework, going on program excursions, sightseeing around Dublin, and traveling every free weekend. That was just the physical side. Don’t forget the emotional roller coaster of meeting new people, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, and experiencing something new daily. A part of me was looking forward to the rest that would come with being home but I didn’t want to leave this amazing place and these awesome people I had befriended.

As the final week approached there was a sense of things winding down. My friends and I were all in agreement about how special the summer had been and what it had meant to us; we dared not speak a word of it ending. But you couldn’t ignore the sadness in the exchanges when you would run into someone else also doing their last minute shopping on Grafton Street to pick up gifts and purchase those items they’ve long had their eye on. And everywhere there’d be students with their cameras out snapping photos of their friends and sights around the city obsessively making sure they’d captured everything.

Inishmore, Aran Islands

Then came my friends and my last trip together. We headed west to Galway, the Aran Islands, and the Cliffs of Moher. Sure, there had been arguing and attitudes on other trips but there was a different tone this time. Everyone was on edge. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to do collectively. Plans changed numerous times all within the first few hours of arriving in Galway. Splitting up proved to be our best solution – a precursor to what would happen in less than a week.

We came back together that first evening to celebrate the 21st birthday of the girl who became my best friend (and still is). Tension was still in the air but we rallied and ended up having a great time. With our bad moods exorcised, we sailed to the Aran Islands a much more cohesive group. We realized how far we had stretched our comfort zones by how much we found we trusted each other. Our gaiety, lightness, and silliness returned amplified.

On the last leg of our trip we chose to hike the couple of hours from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher along the coast rather than take the 20 minute bus ride. We just wanted more – more mishaps, more adventure, more laughter, more anything. And we got more. There was an incident with an electric fence shocking one of us as we crawled underneath. There was the discovery of someone’s fear of cows, which we had to walk amongst. And there was a moment of panic as we passed an ‘Extreme Danger’ sign as the land rose up higher, the path drew nearer to the edge, and the mud grew slipperier in the falling rain.

While waiting for the bus to take us from the Cliffs back to town, our conversations leaned towards the reflective and back to the beginning of the trip. We began to share our first impressions of each other unedited. This moved into sharing our favorite highlights from the summer. It was bittersweet to know we didn’t have much time to make more memories.

Back in Dublin, the last night arrived. The evening started with a party sponsored by the program. After drinks and dancing we said goodbye to the rest of our program. We headed to our favorite club and danced till the wee hours of the morning. Once back at the dorms we met in the boys’ kitchen for sustenance and some final rounds of our favorite card game of the summer – Hearts. We tried to stay up all night as everyone was leaving early in the morning. Unfortunately, we didn’t all quite make it.

Hugs and goodbyes took place in the kitchen. One girl passed out playing cards on which she’d taped her contact information – an homage to all our Hearts playing. She and I then talked in the hallway outside my dorm suite until I needed to get ready to meet my parents. They had come to Ireland a week prior to do some traveling of their own before we went as a family to Scotland and England.

Cliffs of Moher

I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes before leaving but the sound of suitcases being wheeled across the courtyard below my window as people left to meet their bus, train, or taxi kept me up. It was a somber moment when I did the same. I met up with two others who were also leaving at the same time. I walked them to their bus stop and then went to meet my parents on the nearby O’Connell Bridge.

All the goodbyes felt hasty. None reflected the gratitude, sadness, and elation I felt. I was glad my parents got to meet these people. In some way this made my summer real. Outsiders had witnessed our bond and were given a glimpse at how I felt about these people and this place.This helped the saying goodbye process – a little bit.

As I would be studying abroad the following school year, I wasn’t sure when or if I’d see any of these fantastic people again (we were all UW students). I wanted them to have something that would remind us all of the great summer we seven strangers shared together. With my mother’s help, I made everyone a collage of photos of our time in Ireland. For me, this was how I was able to say goodbye properly.

Posted in Study Abroad

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

While studying in another country, you may miss some of your own national holidays. But they can still be celebrated. They are what you make them. Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, here in the United States. I thought I’d share the journal entry I wrote from July 4, 2001 while on my study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. As I’ve stated before, the style (or lack there of) of journaling I did while on this program was the catalog, boring, “this happened and then this happened” variety. But by the end of the day, our group of Americans managed to celebrate the day with some ‘back home’ touches.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Happy Fourth of July! I am wearing green! I had class in the morning. The thing here is that their voices tend to lull one to sleep unlike @ home where it is boredom that puts you to sleep. So this means that I slept thru most of class. Then lunch woke me up.

Me (and friends) awake in class

On our way to class we picked up our play tickets and received info on where to be on Sunday for hurling. Then we went to history. Normally I can understand what he is saying. However, today every time he was saying something important he would turn his head the other direction. I had to look on my neighbor’s notes for many things. Then the next class was boring but somehow the guy’s voice just keeps me going.

Then Kevin, Zara, and I went to buy the tickets for the concert on Friday!!! Lisa is going. So is Becky and Caitlyn. Then we went skirt shopping for Zara. I bought blue pants at T.K. Maxx. Zara got 2 shirts + skirt.

At Bruxelles. It was, at the time, a jazz/blues bar (another American touch). The mentioned Sandy (and friend, Mike) dancing.

Then I went home and cooked dinner, caught up on my journal entries and rested. The speaker about pop culture was good and funny. Then we were treated with a drink at the Buttery. We sang songs – American ones in honor of the 4th. Poncho and I did a nice duet to Son of a Preacher Man.

Then we left and went to Mulligan’s. Then we checked out “Fireworks” which is a dance club. We decided not. Then we went to McD’s and that Big Mac + fries tasted so good. Then we went to this place called Bruxelles. It was cool but a bit smoky in the basement. Sandy & I tried to have open wrists to pick up guys – negative.

The group photos. We posed for a bunch of these. Took us a bit of time to get centered in front of the camera before the timer went off.

Then we went home. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and toasted w/ a shot of vodka courtesy of James. We then took group photos. Then we all checked our email. I wrote Amy, Sam and Trevor and yelled @ them for not writing. Then I walked home and went to bed.

Beers: 3 + 1 shot

Posted in Study Abroad

Class Assignment: Haiku

While organizing my parents’ basement over Memorial Day weekend, I came across my papers from my courses in Dublin, Ireland. The program was through USIT and my group was comprised of students from the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan. In the mandatory module taught by a faculty member from the University of Michigan we talked about haiku as another way to express our experiences while in Ireland. As I had been casually writing rhymes and raps for years I actually looked forward to completing this assignment of writing our own haiku. I remember being quite proud with how mine turned out.

I wrote some of these while sitting on the green at Queen’s University, Belfast. These first haiku were describing what was happening during the lunch break that day.

She tries to juggle fruit
Practicing the toss she fails
Even with two fruit

He can do it well
Juggling is his forte
She still fails at it

 

 

Hearts was the card game of the summer. Games could get very competitive, tempers flared, and tantrums were known to be thrown. One girl, in particular, would bring out the anger “Claw” when a certain card would be played that she had to pick up.

Pass them left then right
Queen of spades and hearts are bad
Many points are bad
Rage comes with the Queen
His eyes wander card to card
He has shot the moon

 

 

A group of us liked to shake our groove things every now and then. These two haiku are about one night out in Belfast when I was giving a dance lesson to a fellow classmate.

Dancing at the Globe
Sex on the Beach fills me up
Move hips side to side

Did you drop something
Here, let me get that for you
Doesn’t that feel good

 

 

What poetry exercise is complete without some tale of love, or, in this case, a crush.

His eyes tell a tale
Places haven’t seen not touched
Unobtainable.

Says he has seen me
Hands on my shoulders, warm, new
Fades into the east

 

 

 

Posted in Study Abroad

Let’s Go To The Movies

We have entered the summer blockbuster season. I have had a few movie-going experiences that have made lasting impressions or provided new experiences. Below are four such times – on Nantucket, in Dublin, Utrecht, and Rotterdam – plus my two experiences at movie premieres while in London.

There once was a girl on Nantucket…

I was ten years old. My family was visiting friends staying on the small island of Nantucket. We kids (two 11 year old boys, who wanted not to be stuck with me, and I) were shooed out of the house by our parents. The boys did everything they could to lose me but I stayed close-by. Mid-afternoon I followed them to the movie house in town. They wouldn’t even let me stand with them while we waited to go in, let alone sit with them. I had never seen the first Terminator and I hoped that this would be an action flick; I had a history of not faring well with scary films.

Courtesy IMDB.com

I found a seat three quarters of the way down on the right side of the three-sectioned seating. The AC offered a nice reprieve from the summer heat. The auditorium filled up quickly with college and high school kids. People were getting antsy for the film to start. A boy a few rows in front of me let out a huge belch which drew much cheering and applause.

Then the lights went down and I heard the crescendoing ‘DA-DUN DUN DA-DUN‘ for the first time. My heart pounded so loud and fast under my Hawaiian Punch pink shirt and Fla-vor-ice blue with pink flowers overall shorts (that’s how much this day sticks out in my memory). My eyes never wavered from the screen. Terminator 2: Judgment Day kicked ass. When it was all over there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation before we all stood up and cheered.

Why Hello, Clive Owen

Having returned earlier that afternoon from Kilkenny, and then having written a short paper for a class assignment, I decided to treat myself to a movie at the theatre just down road from my housing at Trinity College in Dublin. The film was Croupier. I didn’t know how things worked in Irish theatres. I saw on my ticket that I was to sit in seat GA GA. It wasn’t until I noticed that the rows didn’t have markings that I had my ‘duh moment’ realization of GA = general admission. I headed to my usual center-of-screen seat. 

After finding a seat, a couple came and sat down leaving an open seat to my left. Then as the theater began to fill I knew I’d be sitting close quarters. I saw a small group approach from the right and figured they’d ask me to move over one to fill the gap. Instead they asked me to let them in the row as they knew the folks on my left. I obliged but was annoyed to loose my perfect center-center location. But then the lights dimmed and I was introduced to Clive Owen with his deep voice and piercing green eyes. All was forgiven.

The Discovery of National Pride

In 1992 Dutch author Harry Mulisch published The Discovery of Heaven (voted “Best Dutch Book Ever”). In 2001 I attended the film adaptation in Utrecht. You would never know by the large turn out that the film had been released three weeks prior. People around us outside of the entrance were buzzing with anticipation of seeing a Dutch author’s work played out on the big screen. It was like everyone knew Harry personally and were there to show their support.

We made our way through the crowd to try and get good seats. I noticed as we passed the concessions that the offerings were a bit more fancy than I had seen before. They sold wine and beer, which you could take into the theatre with you! Also, the film being 2 1/2 hours long, had an intermission during which practically everyone purchased ice cream. Overall, I was blown away by the festive national spirit, the luxury of the concessions and the heaven-sent intermission (I needed to use the little girl’s room).

Who’s the Philosopher?

Courtesy harrypotter.wikia.com

I had not read any of the Harry Potter books. But on a cold December afternoon in Rotterdam, I didn’t care if I hadn’t read the book; I would see the movie. Most films I had seen in the Netherlands were either in Dutch with English subtitles or in English with no subtitles, as much of the adult population speaks English. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first children’s film I had seen and, therefore, my first English film with Dutch subtitles.

My friend Leslie pointed out that the film used the original UK book title of Philosopher’s Stone as opposed to the US title of Sorcerer’s Stone. I had to admit I had no idea what the philosopher’s stone was nor that it had any actual historical context. She explained that those marketing the book figured US kids wouldn’t know either and that sorcerer was familiar and gave a similar connotation.

Also, the names of the characters changed for the Dutch translation (and I would assume for the books as well). I never really thought that names would be changed even if they weren’t in the language of the audience. Someone’s name was someone’s name. Hermione Granger became Hermelien Griffel and Ron Weasley, Ron Wemel. Harry Potter, however, remained Harry Potter.

Leicester Square Shenanigans

Leicester Square in London has a movie theatre on at least three of its four sides and is often HQ for UK film premieres. While my sister was visiting we happened upon the premiere for Aviator. The red carpet was rolled out for the film’s stars. We were close enough to snag this photo of Leo DiCaprio:

On a rain day I went to check out the Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith premiere. This one was a bit more exciting, what with the orchestra playing the soundtracks while the films played on a screen, not to mention the life-size fighter plane (fans, please forgive me my ignorance on the actual name) complete with its own R2-D2.