As I am getting ready to leave for The Netherlands this upcoming Thursday, I am absolutely amazed at how fast time went by. It feels like it was just yesterday that I timidly brought up the topic of study abroad to my family. I've always had the wishes of doing study abroad since freshman year. That was the first time that I learned that you could do Advanced Criminology in the Netherlands. I am a Criminal Justice major, so it caught my eye quick. I've been plotting on this opportunity for a couple years now. My friends told me about this opportunity in class and began to look more into it immediately.
Study abroad is a unique experience. It allows students to study courses for their degree overseas and in different programs or at different institutions. Based on this alone, there’s already some sort of excitement factor. As I prepared for my upcoming abroad experience in Australia, there have been a multitude of things that I am looking forward too. Rather it be the vastly different culture and food, the different education system and learning style, or getting to meet new people, this trip has all sorts of reasons that ring excitement in my mind.
One of my European friends once told me that traveling around Europe was much like exploring the United States – all the countries being like the states with their proximity, and it is possible to go from one to another with ease. I have been profiting greatly from my downtime on weekends and utilizing that as an opportunity to explore the world. The first country I visited, apart from France, was Switzerland; I spent a weekend in two cities, Biel/Bienne and Geneva, and the other country I have seen so far was Luxembourg.
As an American, what we believe, dress, and act comes natural to us and we don’t think twice about it. However, the rest of the world around us has preconceived notions of how we act and look. Throughout my first week and half in Italy, I have noticed unintentional communication through the eyes of natives abroad directed towards me. People say natives abroad can pick out Americans by their loudness, drinking, and white tennis shoes. And believe we have a lack of respect for that country’s expansive history and culture.
Having now been in Florence for over a month, I have begun to notice certain aspects of the culture here. Everyone walking the streets who doesn’t happen to be a tourist is dressed in some of the most high end clothing pieces from Gucci to Prada. Along with these stylish dressers, there is a specific culture within non tourist driven restaurants from the amount of food expected to be eaten to the tip at the end.
First, my wallet. It was the second day of class. I was running behind and in a hurry to make it on time. Although I don’t recall all of the details, as I was walking out of the door, I must have put my wallet into my pocket and had it fallen out during my walk because I realized that it was missing from me soon after. I wouldn’t have minded having lost my wallet as much as I did if it had solely contained my cards but I had gone to the ATM the day before and had around $250 cash inside of the wallet, (ouch) alongside my credit/debit cards, my drivers license, my Bronco ID, etc. I searched my house and the streets with no luck. I went to the police station to make a report so that if the wallet were to be found, they would know who to return it to. Sadly, my wallet has yet to be found. Rather than dwell in this, I’ve decided to move on. I want to enjoy my time here and I won’t be enjoying any time that is spent uselessly stressing.
Not speaking the native language of the country you are studying in can be very difficult. Although many shopkeepers and workers here speak English, often it is only a few phrases, just as I only know a few phrases in Italian. More often than not, those who speak English more fluently are in more touristy spots that are typically overpriced and relatively tacky. This aspect has made it harder to integrate into the culture here and while I know over time, I will learn more from the failures I have to communicate, it is relatively down putting when you aren’t sure of how to order food or ask where the toilet is.
Tomorrow’s the big day - I depart for my three-month Europe adventure. I have made a list of my take on what packing essentials one should travel with.
Before leaving, I would clearly have some apprehensions about staying overseas; five months is a long commitment for living in a foreign location. I had many concerns – How would I take public transportation? How would I overcome being homesick? What if I went to a store and someone asked me a question that I was unable to comprehend due to the language barrier? What if my bank accounts or phone got suspended because I was abroad? What if I got lost? These are just few amongst many others of my fears before leaving. However, I have faced all these anxiety-inducing subjects since my arrival and made it past them all successfully.
In the fall of 2018, I, along with nine of my peers participated in a short term study abroad program in Beijing, China led by Dr. Xiaojun Wang and sponsored in part by the Confucius Institute. While at WMU I have found those courses which invoked the greatest passion and enthusiasm to me, to be those pertaining to my pursuit of fluency in Mandarin. Therefore when the opportunity arose to travel to China on a short-term basis, allowing me to test the waters as it were, I was thrilled. Through the course of less than three weeks, I felt my life change around me.