Citizen of the World

I have not written a blog post since I have arrived. Why you may be wondering? The experiences I have been through in nearly the two months I have been studying in the Czech Republic have been so incredibly life-changing that it’s evoked a feeling of lethargy. Thats weird isn’t it? I expected the opposite to occur; I thought I’d feel alive, empowered, ready to overcome procrastination, and be the best most productive version of myself. But the truth is that it has taken some time to process everything I have been living day in and day out while abroad. I had to give myself time to truly reflect on my experiences here before being able to write about them. So without further adieu, I share with you the insights I’ve gained from my journey here.

 

For starters, arriving in Prague was like a fairytale. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. The architecture, the history, the theatre and arts are only some of the various things Prague has to offer. Don’t take my word for it see for yourself:

Brunch in the sky

 

 

The view from my classroom makes it hard to focus sometimes

In the beginning, everything was so fast paced it was truly hard to take it all in. One day I’d be visiting Terezin, the former Jewish ghetto where terrible, horrible atrocities occurred, and the next day I’d be hanging out at a pub with people from all around the world. Now that I have a firm grasp of my surroundings, I have finally been able to settle in and reflect on my experiences. I travelled pretty much every weekend since late September up until late October. I visited Germany, Holland, Greece, and Poland. Each and every single country I’ve visited has somehow taken a piece of my heart. The history I’ve learned and the people I’ve met have undoubtedly changed my perspective on life. I no longer label myself as only being Colombian or American but rather a citizen of the world.

My point in saying this is to emphasize that we are all one human race and identifying ourselves with being of a certain nationality, many times creates a division to understanding people from other backgrounds.

Let me ask you something. What do you see in this picture? Look closely… You see a group of women of different ethnicities and even ages. The woman all the way in the back was my Airbnb Dutch host in Haarlem, Holland (right outside of Amsterdam), which I learned as I arrived is a rich white neighborhood. Now I don’t know how a group of six very different women were able to break the walls within us all, but the openness of our conversation was truly something beautiful.

Our Airbnb host opened up to us about the preconceived stereotypes she had of us when we first walked in. She wanted to express to us the shame she felt just because she was experiencing something she wasn’t used to. We spoke for what felt like hours about racism and thanked each other for destroying many stereotypes our very different societies had instilled on us. Connecting with people in such a raw and real way is what makes traveling so worthwhile.

 

0-100 Real Quick: Dealing with Culture Shock in Milan

This post is loooonngggg overdue. I’ve been caught up with traveling and assignments and just living my life that I haven’t had much time to sit on my computer and be consistent with this blog (which I will work on from here on out). However, tonight I am feeling motivated! I went out to dinner with my close friends that I’ve made here; it was the first time I stayed out past 9PM here in Milan. Being out late made me realized how living in Milan no longer feels like a foreign feeling, but like second nature to me. So, I thought, why not use this time to reflect on the changes and differences in cultural norms I experienced during my first weeks here in Milan.

The food here is all pasta and cheese and meat! Sounds like a dream to most right? As a vegetarian/vegan, I actually found it quite hard to go out to restaurants and find a vegetarian/vegan option, let alone find a vegetarian/vegan restaurant. However, I did make friends (unintentionally) who all happen to be vegetarian! We make it our mission to find good vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and we’ve stumbled upon a few so far.

Dress here also happens to be completely different than what I am used to. After all, I am in the fashion capital of the world! At home, I am used to wearing off-the-shoulder tops, jeans and my vans or boots everywhere I go- overall, super casual. Here, you are expected to be more modest yet still fashionable. Exposed skin definitely gets you some glares but it is something I’ve come accustomed to- my collar bones are my favorite feature, how can I not show them off? Another thing I noticed is that women wear sneakers with EVERY outfit which I’ve come to love and be inspired by. Women wear sneakers with slacks, jeans, dresses and so much more; I never considered sneakers fashionable until this point and now, I can’t stop wanting to buy them! I have a pair of Nike Cortez’s waiting for me at home 😉 Overall, being here makes me that much more into fashion and style; not to mention I’m taking a course titled Sociology of Fashion in Milan at my university here.

A social interaction I wish I could bring back to the states with me is aperitivo! Aperitivo is basically like Italians happy hour; you buy a drink (which can range from $8-$12) and then you either get chips, a meat and cheese platter or even a buffet depending on the establishment. Aperitivo is a great way to socialize with your friends after a long week of classes and have a good time.

I’m not going to lie and say that it was an easy transition coming to Milan- like I was warned by the study abroad advisors, I definitely did get frustrated about certain things not being as convenient as they were in America. However, it is safe to say that I finally am in a groove here in Milan, and I am really enjoying my time here.

Ciao Milano!

I landed in Milan bright and early on a September morning. It was chilly and sunny, which is the perfect weather for me. It had blown my mind that just 8 hours before, I was in NYC, in my home, with my parents and my pets, all of whom I hold close to my heart. I was excited, yet super nervous to start this journey, especially without my parents, siblings or even best friend to hold my hand through it all- literally.

When I stepped off the plane and into the airport, everything felt normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or different; people in the airport spoke English, and there were other Americans in close proximity considering we had just gotten off of a plane that departed from JFK- my main concern was getting from the airport to my apartment which was an hour away. I made it to a train called the ‘Malpensa Express’ which connects you from the airport to the central train station in Milan. My 5 foot 3, 135 pound self trucked my 80 pounds worth of bags and luggage across towns, transferring from the airport, to the Malpensa Express, to the metro. What an experience! I was so determined and focused on getting from one point to the next that I couldn’t even think about anything else.

However, when I got to my apartment, that is when reality set in. I am here. IN MILAN. WHERE I WILL BE LIVING FOR 3 MONTHS. Is this real life? I couldn’t believe it. I felt so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t help but cry. I knew that these next couple of months would bring intense change for my life, and although I knew that it was necessary for this change to occur at this point in my life, I wasn’t exactly ready to step out of my comfort zone and accept that it was going to occur starting now.

A Semester Abroad…

One week from today, I will be 4,081 miles away from home for three and a half months. To be completely honest, I didn’t even make a list of things I should pack until yesterday. I’ve been too busy enjoying my summer working and spending time with friends and family. Lately, everyone around me wont stop asking me how I’m feeling about these upcoming months, but how can I feel something that hasn’t happened yet? It feels unreal. It’s like starting a new temporary life, I don’t have the slightest idea of what’s to come.

I’ve dedicated this summer to self -care and self love, something that is not stressed nearly enough these days. Practicing being present and living life in the moment may just sound like this inspirational quote you saw on Instagram, but many people make it their life motto to re-learn how to live in the now. If you can quiet your thoughts and de-attach from them, you learn to live a more peaceful and overall happier life.

So while the idea of spending a couple months alone in a country where the people don’t speak English may sound daunting, I feel mentally capable of handling any obstacle that may present itself. More importantly, I am full of gratitude for having the opportunity to get to know another side of the world.

So why did I choose to study abroad in the first place? Well besides the obvious reasons of wanting to expand my horizons, being able to travel inexpensively all over Europe, having the opportunity to become more independent, and being able to take awesome classes from a very different perspective, I chose to study abroad mainly for the immense amount of personal growth I know I will achieve during these couple months. There’s something about being alone half way across home that brutally forces you out of your comfort zone and into the world of adulthood. I don’t know what’s to come but I do know I will make the most out of it.

 

Goodbye USA!

China: The Awakening to a New World from a small long islander

Hello all! I am currently writing this post from my dorm room in Guilin China at 11:37 PM. Before I discuss how my 2 weeks have been so far, let’s rewind to the day of me leaving America (and I guess I should also introduce myself a bit.) My name is Beth and I am from a small town on Long Island called Cedarhurst. I was born in China but came to America when I was 15 months old. I have always wanted to go to China and experience my culture firsthand ever since I was a little girl (age 7 or 8) I have never traveled to another country on my own, which as you can imagine, seemed super exciting as well as super terrifying (haha).

The trip to get to China was a bit hard considering I didn’t sleep the entire way there (20 + hours awake) but when I finally arrived at the Hong Kong airport, I was in such awe. It was a huge airport! There were at least four  floors and each floor was like a maze. The flight from Hong Kong to Guilin, Guangxi, China took about an hour. As soon as I got off the plane I was greeted by a taxi driver who spoke zero english and that’s when it hit me, I was truly in China! (I know, you’d think it would’ve hit me earlier) The taxi was organized by my host institution, CLI (the Chinese Language Institute) I got to the dormitory at 3:35 PM. (I was super jet lagged) I was given a tour around the campus by CLI interns 5 minutes later. My intern’s name was Elben. She was very nice and spoke english very well. That night I fell asleep at 8PM (earliest I probably ever went to be in my entire life). I was extremely happy to be in China, I could not wait for the next day to occur.

When the next day occured, it was not what I thought it would be like. It was very rough and confusing because no one really spoke English in my dormitory, not even the staff… My expectations of having New Paltz abroad were slowly disappearing. No one spoke english well enough to understand me, which was super scary! I remembering sitting in the main lobby of the building, freaking out, wondering when I would get food (none of the local shop owners speak english in Guilin) Luckily, I met my first Chinese friend named Andrew. He spoke fluent Chinese as well as English. ( my savior who took me to Walmart, YES, there is a Walmart in China!)

Now let’s fast forward to now. (2 weeks in Guilin) My language skills have improved so much in just a small amount of time. Before China I knew about 30-40 Mandarin words, now, I know at least 100! (It’s only been 2 weeks!) I can understand the locals enough to get by and order food and of course go shopping for clothes (be warned: Chinese clothing sizes are much smaller than American sizes, a small in America is a large, sometimes even extra large in China!) I have met some amazing friends that I can not wait to share with you guys later in my posts, I have also been on some beautiful sight seeing excursions, organized by CLI, and I am becoming more and more fluent in Mandarin everyday! Who knows, my next post could end up being all in Chinese! (Don’t worry, I won’t do that to you guys)

       

 

Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.

Backpacking Europe slowly, but surely :-)

Hey there, it’s been a while. This whole experience has been incredible and it’s flying by. I find myself saying, “write a blog post now” but my time abroad is fleeing and I want to take as much of it as I can.

It’s finals week here, well more the middle of finals which is crazy to think about because it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my two week language course thinking, “this never ends” and now it’s ending too soon. Luckily for me, I’ll be staying an extra month to volunteer and I’m so thankful I was able to find a way to stay because once you’re here you don’t want to leave.

But let’s get to my title, one of the best things about studying in Prague is how central in Europe it is. This is a major advantage to traveling across Europe because it’s so easy to get to other countries for a very nice price. So far, I’ve visited:

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Spain
  • (and this very weekend, TOMORROW in fact) Paris, France

it’s been my dream to do this, it’s such an amazing opportunity that I can’t even really believe that I’ve been to all these places that I’ve only ever looked at through photos. I will not say that some places were better than others, everyone has personal opinions, but some put me under this enchantment and I found it hard to leave.

It’s amazing seeing different cities, the people are the best. You can witness how the culture is in different places not even that far from each other. And even though NYC will be there when I come back, I find myself looking for it in the cities I visit. Berlin especially reminded me of NYC, it felt like home and if I could I would study abroad there next maybe.

It’s hard trying to express the amount of feelings that I’ve experienced. Seeing the Berlin wall, something that brought so much devastation to so many lives; biking around all of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum after years of dreaming of seeing it. Or walking through the city that inspired Gaudi and Picasso, I could cry because I spent my whole life learning about these amazing things that some never get to experience for themselves. So passing through historical cities like Dresden where you know how bad things once were, you feel humbled.

I travel alone, partially because I don’t mix well with others and because alone you can do anything you want whenever. I enjoy putting myself into a situation where the only option I have is to step out of my comfort zone, for instance I always try to talk to locals and get a sense of what the cities are really like, not just my tourist-y version of it. That’s what I would say is one of the most important things, get a sense for the true city and not the one made for tourists. Don’t spend your whole time on the phone taking pictures; take pictures of course but make actual memories.

As for traveling within the Czech Republic, this country is overall so charming and special. I’ve gone to Pilsen where the famous beer is made and I was able to get a tour of the brewery which taught a lot about the history behind the beer. I’ve also gone to Kunta Hora earlier in the semester and saw the famous Bone Church, I’ve seen a concentration camp town, and I’ve gone hiking in their Bohemian Paradise (Česky Raj). The hike was the most memorable so far because it’s truly a paradise for hikers and people who love forests. But when I went, it was pouring hard and hailing, so it makes for a funny story.

I should get back to working now, I’m not sure if anyone reads this, but if you’re like me and you’re incredibly anxious you want as much information as possible. I hope I can help.

On the Verge Again

I’d like to talk a little bit about the benefits of staying in school a little longer, especially as it relates to study abroad.

If the fear of losing time is a factor, screw it and do it.

I’ve been in school, with one or two semester-long breaks, for about eight years now. This was partly due to extenuating circumstances, partly my taking on a second major at New Paltz, and partly my decision to study abroad. I’ve watched three of my senior classes graduate without me, which has been a wee heartwrenching – that being said, being here longer has allowed me to make more connections with more students and artists, which in the theatre business will be a huge help!

Some of my fears about staying longer in order to study abroad included “But I’ll miss the chance to be involved with the SUNY New Paltz shows this semester!” and “I’ll only be a year older and a year further behind when I hit the streets as an actor – have I got the time to waste?” and “What if I’m just stalling?”

Well if Taraji P. Henson can move to California with a baby and just $700 at 26, and end up starring in Hidden Figures, I know it’s possible for me. And while I was sad to miss the New Paltz shows, I got a chance to see some incredible theatre and gain a foothold and understanding of another country. So trust me – it is not wasted time. Take the time you need to fully experience what you need to! Don’t rush, especially now that New York has made college so affordable for lower-and-middle-income students! Studying abroad is worth it – you get a chance to really take some time and get to know another country, develop your independence while enjoying the safety of an institution, and save money on such an experience. Not to mention in London many things are cheaper for under-25’s, and Brexit has (fortunately for us, less so for them) made it much more affordable for Americans to travel there. So take advantage of that.

Never let the pressures of society keep you from living your dreams. I am better equipped for the world now, because I took the time I needed to grow into myself and become a more prepared, well-rounded person. Have patience with yourself, even as you dare yourself to go further than you’ve gone before.

Now that I’m graduating, once I’ve worked my butt off for a bit, I’m finally going to take that road trip around the country that I’ve always dreamed of. Three weeks. Scared as hell. Can’t wait.

On the verge again.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

If I Could Do It Again

About a year ago I found out for certain that I would be studying abroad in England. I could never have anticipated how this experience would broaden my sense of empowerment and understanding about how rich and enormous the world really is. Truth is, it only started a landslide of wanderlust – since that trip, I organized a group of schoolmates to travel to Louisville KY for several days, and I felt no reservations, no fears. Only a desire to get back on the road. Traveling is second nature to me, and no place seems too far to explore now. I plan to leave Upstate New York as soon as I can, find a new corner of the world to explore.

While my experience abroad is one of the fondest periods of my life, I learned that there are pros and cons to going there with friends, or as I did in my case, going to the same study abroad program that my boyfriend at the time was attending. Maybe this advice will help someone approaching a similar situation.

The pros were that when I got terribly homesick, as I did often especially after the 2016 U.S. Election, it was great to have someone I was very close to nearby so that we could relate and talk each other through it. It was especially helpful when I received the bad news from home that my dog died suddenly, to have someone who cared who could physically be there to give me a hug. Not to mention that I was terribly nervous about traveling outside of London alone, and having a traveling companion made me feel much safer and like I had someone special to share that experience with. And of course it was incredibly fun to explore a new place with a familiar face, to react together to the novelties we encountered, and to deepen the relationship through these adventures.

All of this being said, the cons have become clearer with time. The swathes of time I spent with him were times I didn’t bond as closely with new friends, unless we hung out with groups. It also became draining to be each others’ only vestiges of home when we were homesick for the whole home, friends, family, et al. The biggest con, of course, is that the relationship is over, and so now there is a keen sense of sadness and missing what I’ve lost when I look back at my million billion pictures of my time exploring English, Scottish and Irish castles and landscapes with someone who is now my ex. All of these memories are colored with him, making it sometimes pleasant but oftener very wistful to reflect. While his presence made everything more vibrant and meaningful at the time, and in no way do I regret sharing these moments with him, there were comparatively very few moments that I could call my own, and I feel regretful that I didn’t explore more as an independent person, or make myself more available to make new friends. I feel that my attention was always pretty evenly divided between the places we went, and the person I was exploring them with – and now, reflecting back, so are most of my memories.

If I could give advice to anyone studying abroad who might be doing the same program as a close friend or significant other, I would say really make sure to take a significant amount of your time doing your own journeys. Really, once a week is plenty for a date or hanging out with your American friend or partner – save time to bond with the people of the land, or get to know a place on your own terms. Ultimately, I think if you sojourn on your own study abroad program without knowing anyone at all, while it involves maybe a lot more bravery and discomfort, I imagine that no later shifts of relationship can take away the satisfaction that these memories give you. You will have given yourself entirely to a new place, and that place will not break up with you later.

All I know is that I am not quite done with the United Kingdom and Ireland – I plan on really taking some time with just me and them someday. Can’t come soon enough.

Remember that Studying Abroad is your time to get to know who you really are, when your home culture’s been pulled away. So don’t carry too much on your back with you. Letting go is not disrespectful – it’s giving those you love room to breathe. Brave the bracing wind a little. Those few moments that I did, that it was just me and the world, gave me a sense of aliveness that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Study life

The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.

And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.