Monday, October 14, 2013

Chile: Valparaíso

   View of Valparaíso from the Dunes in ConCon
 Alex Grinberg '14

What is your major?
I am a physics major!

Why did you decide to study abroad? 
Studying abroad was always a part of my plan no matter where I went to college. I think it is the best way to learn about a new city, country, culture, and it forces you completely out of your comfort zone. Being out of the US for months at a time gives you a whole new perspective on life and makes you realize what a small portion of the globe you inhabit. Also, I felt I was at a point with my Spanish where I could not improve until I really immersed myself in the language. 
Torres Del Paine

Why did you choose Chile: Valparaíso?
I chose to go to Chile because I had already done a summer program in Spain in high school and wanted to go to South America since I had never been before. I knew I wanted a program that was going to be language intensive and not only LC students. 

What was your living situation like?
I lived with a host family in the next city over from Valparaíso, in Viña del Mar. The family consisted of a single mom, a 21-year-old boy, 20-year-old girl, and 6(!) host animals. I had my own room and a half bathroom. 

Sunset in Viña

Highlights of the program:
I think what really sets this program apart from the other LC programs is that it is not a strictly LC program. It was great being able to meet students from other universities across the US. CIEE, who runs the program in Valpo, was an incredible resource, with a very hands-off approach, which was extremely important to me since I wanted a more independent abroad experience.  Another part of the program I was thankful for was that we didn't have to take classes with other Americans (except for 1). I was able to take classes in the Art, physics, and Geology departments with the Chilean students. 

 Overlooking Valparaíso

The university we were attending was on strike for the majority of our time there so we were able to learn about the student protests that are not so uncommon in Chile. Because of this time off, I had the opportunity to travel the majority of Chile as well as parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. It was awesome to really get to know all of Chile and see glimpses of its surroundings countries. Chile has so much to offer in terms of the variety of climates, I saw glaciers and penguins in the very South as well as the driest desert on the planet that lies in   the very North. 

Challenges of the program:

 Backpacking an unmarked Volcano
Studying abroad is one of the most emotionally exhausting things you can do. There are moments of extreme joy and there are times when the 6,000 mile distance from anyone you really 'know' gets to you. There are times when the bus driver acts like he doesn't understand you even though you are speaking as clearly as possible and you just need to get to class. No matter how fluent in Spanish you consider yourself, everyday interactions will be 10x more exhausting and that can really get to people. Also while I enjoyed the host family experience, it was hard to adapt to a huge family and how they operated. 

In the end, the challenges were really what made the experience. When I talk about my time in Chile it seems that those are the best stories even though they may not have seemed so funny at the time. You have to remember that difficult experiences, like getting dropped off by a bus in the middle of nowhere Patagonia with only a backpack and a friend, are just a part of the experience. 

 Taking pictures with Guanacos in the South

Jumping at the Altiplano Lagunas in the North
Advice you wish you had been given before your program?

Chile is not cheap. In fact, a lot of things are going to be more expensive than in the US. That being said, girls should bring as many feminine products as they are going to need for the semester because they are extremely expensive. I would also say to travel as much as you can afford (both time-wise and financially) but also get to know Valparaíso and its beautiful Cerros. 

Additional comments?
It is really important to put yourself out there as much as possible. I think if being abroad taught me anything it was humility. You endure so many incredibly awkward experiences while you are abroad and the most important thing is learning to laugh at yourself.

If you have any questions for Alex or about the Chile programs in general, please follow this link to the Ask An Alum moodle page. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

England: London

 Taylor Herbert '14

The famous Tower Bridge, right next to the Tower of London!
What is your major?
I am majoring in Psychology.

Why did you decide to study abroad?
Before I went abroad, I had never traveled out of the country. I really wanted to be more well-traveled than I was, and studying abroad gave me the perfect opportunity to not only travel out of the country, but completely immerse myself in another culture.

Why did you choose London, United Kingdom?
I have always wanted to go to the UK, ever since I first started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone back in the fourth grade. I chose London because I really love the culture of England, and London in particular, and was really interested in doing a General Culture program instead of a Language-Intensive program. Also, London was supposed to (and does!) have incredible food, despite its reputation!

 What was your living situation like?
The entire London group in front of Buckingham Palace
 right at the start of the program!
FIE, the organization that we studied with, split our group of 25 LC kids into two flats on the same street. We lived in singles, doubles, triples, and quads in an apartment-style space, with essentially the British equivalent of an RA living with us as well. We had our own kitchen and living room, with tons of space to chill, study, and catch up on all our adventures! We had laundry in the basement of the flat, and our classrooms were only about a five minute walk from the flat. I think that the flats were a perfect living situation for London, because it gave us the ability to be very independent and explore the city for ourselves, while still having the familiarity of each other to come back to. The only thing about the flats that was difficult is that everything in London – and Europe for that matter – is smaller! It took some getting used to, but by the middle of the semester, 15 Manson Place felt like home!

Highlights/challenges of the program.
When I left the States, I expected to be more homesick than I actually was – one of the greatest things that the program did was give us a nice orientation to London and the area in Kensington and Chelsea where we lived, which made it feel a little bit more like home. One of the biggest challenges for me was having the courage to go out into the big city by myself and explore. At first, I would go with friends to the local pub, or to a museum, but there was a point when I realized that in order to really experience everything I wanted to, I would have to venture out on my lonesome. Over time, it got easier to travel around by myself and I soon got more comfortable on the Tube and buses. By the end of the semester, I was able to go to Italy and Greece by myself!
Big Ben, taken from Parliament Square.
One of the real highlights of the program was my internship. I worked with Newham Education Business Partnership, which helps the students in London learn employment skills and gain actual work experience. While I was at first hesitant because it had little to do with my major, I soon fell in love with working there, partly because of the great work I was involved in, and partly because my colleagues made working there a real delight! More than anything, it made me reconsider my real interests moving forward onto graduate school – had it not been for that internship, I don't think I would have as clear of an outlook on life as I do now!

Advice you wish you had been given before going on your program.
How British classes operate. Even though the classes we had were just LC kids, the professors still taught in the same style that they teach their British university classes, and there are some major differences. Mainly, all of the work tends to come at the end of the semester, which can be overwhelming when you have two papers to write, three books to read, a film reflection to finish, and a city to explore!

For Spring Break, some friends and I went to Ireland, where we experienced 
the absolutely fantastic Cliffs of Moher.

Additional comments?
Going to London was absolutely amazing and the best experience of my life, and anyone that is interested in going to London definitely should! It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience in what I think is the greatest place in the world!
Places to go: Soho, St. Paul's Cathedral, Borough Market, Brighton, and Bath, just to name a few!

If you have questions about the England: London program, you can find program alums on the Ask An Alum Moodle page by clicking this link. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Russia: St. Petersburg

Kyiv, Ukraine
Ana Frigo ‘14

What is your major?

I'm majoring in International Affairs with a minor in Russian language.

Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to study abroad.  I was a figure skater for 13 years, and many of my coaches and friends were foreign (many of my coaches in particular spoke Russian). Studying abroad was an opportunity to connect with other people and have a better understanding of how the rest of the world thinks and views the United States.

Why did you choose St. Petersburg, Russia?

I've always had a strong interest and connection to Russia, especially Moscow. When choosing between St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, I decided that I wanted to be closer to Moscow and the rest of Europe for traveling purposes. I always knew that St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe- and probably the world, with a lot of culture and history behind it, and I wanted to spend time there and learn more about it.

Dinner with my host family.
What was your living situation like?

All the American students were placed in families at the beginning of the program in order to integrate us more into society and have a better chance of practicing the language. I absolutely loved my host family and the location of the apartment.  I lived on Vasilevsky Island, about 15 minutes walking to the famous Hermitage Museum. In addition to my host mom, I had a host brother and a wonderful cat named Marcel. The apartment itself had 3 rooms for each of us, a toilet, shower, and the kitchen. Overall, it was very cozy, and it gave me an opportunity to really view the city from a local perspective. 

Highlights/challenges of the program.

Smolny Institute
The most obvious challenge I think many people faced was culture shock. It was difficult hitting the ground and realizing that you are no longer in your comfort zone.  For a while it was difficult to understand the Russian perspective of life, but after a while, you learn to understand and appreciate the things that the people and country have been through.  The biggest highlights were of course going on excursions, meeting new friends, seeing all the museums, and studying in an absolutely beautiful university. However, in the end the biggest realization I had was that all people are fundamentally the same, but are separated by language and culture. This is common sense when you think about it, but experiencing it for yourself is life-changing and helps you see the world in a completely different way.

Advice you wish you had been given before going on your program.

Relax. I wish more people told me to relax and just go with the flow of things.  We had a good number of meetings and information sessions where we learned what to do/not do, but the most useful thing I learned was that the experience of being abroad is much more enjoyable when you're not stressing over every little thing that you're not used to.

Additional comments?
I really recommend that anyone going abroad should keep a positive attitude and participate in all the events/excursions the program sets up. You are only abroad in this type of setting once, and you should take complete advantage of it!

 If you have questions about the St. Petersburg Program, you can find program alums on the Ask An Alum Moodle page by clicking this link. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

France: Strasbourg

A fountain in the Jardin de Luxembourg, in Paris
Eve Ben Ezra ‘12
What is your major?

Why did you decide to study abroad?
I wanted to experience life in another country and culture. As much as you can read about different cultures in books or online, nothing really compares to immersing yourself in it. I also wanted to have a better grasp of the French language.

Why did you choose Strasbourg?
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

I thought a lot about whether I should choose Strasbourg or Nancy (the other France program). In the end, I decided on Strasbourg for several reasons. One, it's an old city with so much history and culture behind it. Strasbourg is, of course, in France, but Alsace (the region) has switched back and forth between France and Germany many times, and the culture, the buildings, and the history reflects that. Additionally, although the city isn't huge and I can walk everywhere I want, I've never been bored and I've never run out of places to explore. Strasbourg is also the seat of the European Parliament, and so as a member of the program I got to go on tours of the Counsel of Europe and the Parliament.

What was your living situation like?
I lived in a tiny cramped apartment in the middle of the city with a kind woman in her 30s. When I say tiny cramped apartment, I mean it. There were really two rooms and a bathroom. I lived upstairs in a sort of lofted bedroom area, and downstairs was the kitchen which also functioned as the living room and where my host mother slept. Despite the close quarters, I never felt smothered and I never felt like I didn't have enough privacy. The location made up for it. I lived in the middle of the city, literally a block away from the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. It was a 20 minute walk from campus, and probably a 10 minute walk to any of the places my friends ever wanted to meet up. 

Highlights and challenges.
A street draped in holiday lights for the Marché de Noël, 
which brings in 2 million tourists annually.
There were a lot of highlights and challenges on this program. Some of the biggest challenges I faced were culture shock challenges. The French way of life (such as no one ever smiling or making eye contact with you) as well as being expected to show up somewhere five minutes late as opposed to five minutes early was taxing on me. I definitely faced some frustrations, especially with my language learning. For a long time I felt like I wasn't learning anything, or that I was a failure, or that I would never make any friends. But all of those things came with time, and they were all highlights. I'd say that my personal highlights were finally realizing how much progress I had made, and how every conversation I successfully have in French is a huge accomplishment and something to be really proud of. As for other highlights: I got to intern in a French bakery, where I met young French people who then became my friends and invited me out with them, and I got to travel a lot, with and without the group. The LCCF (Lewis & Clark College in France) group all went to Paris for the Toussaint vacation in November. Additionally, we got to go to the Château de Haut-Kœnigsbourg, a huge castle that also has traces of being both French & German, and had a great view looking out over the Alsatian plain. But I'd say that the biggest highlight is how close I became to everyone else in my group. In the four months I was in France, I really depended on the support of my friends, and gave them support as well. It was a huge highlight knowing that I was never alone, and that I've made friendships and memories that will last the rest of my life. I also got to meet Matthew Lewis in London, so that was awesome.

Advice you wish you were given before you went on your program.
A picture from my bedroom window of Strasbourg in the Snow
I wish I would have been told some of the bigger differences between France and the USA. Well, not bigger differences. I guess I would have been told the teeny-tiny differences that bother you. Such as: there are no index cards, you NEVER challenge your professors, you don't smile or make eye contact with strangers unless you want them to consider you 'simple', and the paper is a tiny bit longer than in the US. Don't be picky about food, you will try a lot of new and seemingly weird things and they will all of them be delicious. Eat at the green place (called Fournil) across from the University, they have the best sandwiches. Bring some emergency money and have a way to get money to you if your bank decides to go nutty. At the beginning of the program it took a week and some change to get my French bank account set up (all foreign accounts have to be approved in Paris) and in the meantime my American bank decided that I was obviously a thief and so cancelled my card and wouldn't reinstate it unless I personally went into a branch, which was impossible. Lastly, it should be known that things in France take a long time. A long time. Which can be good and bad. Don't go to the super market if you only have five minutes (it will take 20).

Additional comments?
 Keep an open mind, and don't be too offended if someone yells at you, it's just their nature! Also, the Strasbourg program is the best, and you should go on it. If you go to Paris, make sure to go to the Marché des enfants rouges!

If you have questions about the Osaka Program, you can find program alums on the Ask An Alum Moodle page by clicking this link.