Traveling on My Week Off

Half way through the semester Kingston has what is called Enrichment Week also known as Reading Week. This week is supposed to be where you get ahead on the work for the next half of the semester, but no one does that obviously. It is like spring break at New Paltz. People are supposed to do work during it, but that barely happens (unless you have a paper or test right when you get back). Since they barely give work here most kids either go home or go on trips. As a study abroad student, I obviously made plans to go somewhere during this break.

My first stop was to see my friend who is studying abroad for the full year in Munich. She was kind enough to let my friend and I stay in her apartment the few days we were there. She was a huge help in showing us around and the fact that she understood the language really helped. She was a great tour guide and showed us everything we wanted to while we were there. We even were luck enough to see a Russian opera in Munich. It was so nice to catch up with her and talk about everything and anything with her. Munich is such a pretty city and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going.

My next excursion—after a day or two of rest and exploring London—I was headed to Amsterdam with a tour group. We didn’t have much time in the city itself, but it was still a lot of fun. We had two nights there and the days were either traveling or seeing some of the cities around Amsterdam. We saw Edam and Volendam, which were both beautiful and worth the visit. I also got to go to Anne Frank’s house. That is definitely something you want on top of your list when you go to Amsterdam. You do need to get tickets ahead of time, but it is worth it. You walk through their hiding space and walk in the same space they lived in for two years. It is a moving experience and is definitely a must see.

I had a great time seeing different countries during my week off. I wish I had more time to explore more countries, but that just means I need to return to Europe in order to see more countries that I wanted to see. The week was a lot of fun and made me want to travel more. I highly recommend traveling to as many countries as you can while you study abroad because it is so easy to get around—as well as is very cheap to travel.

Adjusting: Culture Shock is Real

I definitely experienced culture shock when I first arrived in England. It was not a walking town like New Paltz. I was in a dorm in the middle of a neighborhood where it’s a 15-minute walk to a town. I was mainly overwhelmed with having to take buses everywhere I went and having to buy food for every meal. I slowly got used to it, but it was difficult at first. I was very open with the friends I had made since I arrived, so I didn’t feel so lonely with everything. They were experiencing the same things I was. That was a great thing to do because I felt so much better after. What made me feel better was knowing that other people were feeling the same way I was.

I also let my family know how I was feeling. With the help of my family, I took it day-by-day and focused on the next big adventure—normally a trip into central London. In order to make myself feel better, I made countdowns to everything: my Ireland tri, when my aunt and cousin are coming, when my family is coming to see me and when I am leaving. Another big thing that my sister told me to do was to keep my mind busy. I made sure to keep myself busy that way I didn’t get homesick as easily. I had to get UK Netflix in order to stay busy, but it gives me something to do at night. I also started hanging out with my flat mates more, which helped a lot.

I do not feel as overwhelmed or homesick anymore since I have been keeping myself busy, but I know I will always miss my family. I will see them soon enough, though. Plus, there is always Skype and FaceTime. I chose to study abroad because it was a dream I had since I was in high school. Now that I am finally here, I am going to make the most of it since I am only here for a short time. It makes me feel better knowing I am here for only a short time because it means I will see my family in a few short weeks. I just need to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone because I know I will love the experience after it is done.

Milan and Finals

It is now November.

 

Which means I survived Midterms and what is next is of course Finals the most wonderful time of the semester. No mater where you are in the world Finals are Finals. This is the time where you really have to show what you have learned this semester as a student regardless if you are in NY our comfy home in New Paltz, or in Milan!

 

What I learned from Midterms in Milan was that it truly wasn’t that bad. The tests were really a straightforward summary of most of the lessons of the semester. I am currently taking five classes here and to some that may seem a lot especially while studying abroad.

 

But you learn how to delegate your time, your assignments, and your studying time.

 

My Midterm grades came out fantastically. I was and still am so proud of myself especially because this is my first experience abroad this could have been a really trying time for myself EXCEPT it was not.

During my Midterms some fellow new paltz study abroad students NICK ENDERLE AND GAM LAFRANCE came to visit me. Oh boy, some may think how was I able to focus during this time especially when my two best pals were here!?

Well guess what? I did it. Because rightly so when my friends came I was overjoyed to finally have a piece of comfort with me. I know first and foremost I am a student! This is my right!

 

I made sure to devote time at night to really review my material. But honestly, the whole time prior to my friends arrival I have been spot on in class and quite aware of whats been going on in classes. Maybe my friends gave me a boost of luck and renewed purpose.

 

To sum it up, classes in Milan are doable especially if you are the kind of student to engage in class and do work outside of class. If you are not you will be overly stressed. Basically, if I could do it so can you!

 

Picture below is Gam and Nick at Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan. My great pals!

 

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Hope This Helps!

I’ve been in Spain for 21 days and to be honest, I got super comfortable the first week. The people here are so amazing and they definitely know how to fiesta! I’m still getting used to it because leaving your house at 1:20 a.m. is apparently way too early.

Another hard adjustment was dinner time. You know how you normally eat around 5pm? That doesn’t exist here. That’s siesta (nap)time and dinner time is around 9-10pm. It sounds crazy but, now I’ve become so accustomed to it and I’d probably cry if I don’t get my siesta time!

An adjustment that I’ve struggled so hard with since I have arrived in Spain is the fact that tipping is not a thing here. Since I am the type of person who tips a LOT and even over-tips (Does that even exist?) all the time, it has not been easy. I was speaking with my friend from Spain and she said that the maximum that people give is around 10-20¢. Who does that? If you were in New York, people would definitely spit in your food the next time you went. Right? I am constantly tempted to leave at least 1 euro and it is just unheard of. I tried to do this at a bar while it was really busy and the bartender gave me the most confused look EVER. So yeah, don’t tip while you’re in Spain.

Below I am going to put my personal tips on cultural norms in Spain and adjusting to studying abroad:

  1. Don’t tip.
  2. Do not skip siesta.
  3. Do not walk in the biking lane, they will hit you.
  4. It’s okay to talk to a stranger, you might make a friend.
  5. Don’t get freaked out if you see people openly partying in the streets.
  6. It’s okay, you can wear the same outfit… no one cares.
  7. Walk slow, you’re not in the concrete jungle anymore.
  8. I hope you have someone like Alyssa as your partner in crime.
  9. Give your body some time to adjust to the food, I am still trying to.
  10. All you have to say is “I’m from New York.”
  11. Don’t book three trips in one week. You’ll want to die. I almost did.
  12. Ask questions, remember, just like your first-grade teacher told you, “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”
  13. Speak with other internationals, they’re having similar experiences too!
  14. DO NOT EAT OUT EVERYDAY.
  15. Don’t leave your friends and family at home completely out of the loop, they miss you.
  16. When it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, I am bilingual and I don’t understand half of the food options.
  17. Get Sprint, the international service is beyond amazing. Seriously, I had to ask three times to make sure that there will be no international fees.
  18. Well, this is all I have so far and considering it’s only my third week abroad, I’m sure things will change. However, I will keep you guys updated.

P.S. shout out to Alyssa for helping make this list!

 Ta Luego 

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Update!

What a busy week it’s been! I guess that’s why I haven’t had time to update this blog.

On Monday, Lauren and I were able to pick out what classes we’re going to be taking. Since we’re both doing psychology and needed similar classes in order to fulfill the major requirements back at New Paltz, we wound up with the same (AMAZING) schedule. On Thursdays from 10:15-11:15, we’re taking Intro to Narrative (we’re supposed to take one English or history class in addition to our psychology classes), then from 11:15-12:15 we have Individual Differences, which, given the description we heard, sounds like Psychology of Personality. On Fridays from 9:15-11:15 we have Exploring Investigative Psychology, which involves forensics–something I’ve always been curious about, and from 12:15-1:15 we have Health Psychology. AND THAT’S IT. Only four classes, only twice a week. I’ll sure be doing a lot of traveling during my weekly five-day weekends!

In fact, Sarah (my roommate in New Paltz who is studying in Dundee, Scotland right now), Lauren and I are planning a trip to London and Paris in a few weeks! I’ve actually been to both London and Paris before, but it was when I was 11 and was with my dad and stepmom for our “family honeymoon”. We only spent five days in each city and, being so young, I don’t think I was really able to appreciate it as much as I will this time around, even if I’ll still only be spending about five days in each city.

On Tuesday we had to go to campus to meet with our tutor groups, which every course (major) has several of. Tutor groups are groups of about 15 students, led by one professor/advisor, that meets once a week to discuss anything related to the course the students are on. I think this is a great idea because it helps to build the community which can be hard, especially at a large school like Huddersfield. Everyone in our group, which is, aside from Lauren and me, comprised of first years, was nice and welcoming and a bunch of us ate together during our lunch break, which was nice. The only part of the group that I’m not terribly enthusiastic about it that it meets on Wednesday afternoons, so we’ll have to go to campus when we otherwise wouldn’t have to. Such a hard life I lead!

On Wednesday, Lauren and I went to the not-as-exciting-as-I’d-hoped Societies Fayre (fair), a big event in which all the societies (clubs) and sports teams tabled and tried to get students to join. That night, I went to the first meeting of the LGBT society, which was held in the Graduate, the bar in the Students’ Union, and then moved to a bar in town. Some “meeting”! It was definitely a lot of fun though and I met some great people.

On Thursday, I met up with two of the girls I met the night before, both of whom are named Kirsty, and their friend Maria, for the Freshers Fayre, where local businesses came to campus and bombarded all of the first years with free EVERYTHING that no one really wants! I spent most of the rest of the day with the Kirstys and Maria.

Friday was pretty low-key. At night, I went to a party outside (yes, literally, outside) one of the halls in the complex I live in with one of the Kirtsys and a few of her other friends. Eventually, a group of us went back to one of their flats where it was actually warm and where we were audible to each other. We spent a few hours there, which I enjoyed. People really seem to enjoy my accent!

Yesterday, Lauren and I went on our trip to Manchester! We had to leave pretty early in the morning and I was extremely tired from the night before, but once I’d finally had some breakfast, I was ready to begin exploring Manchester–which is a wonderful city! There’s a lot of shopping there, a TON of pubs, and many beautiful buildings which I must admit, give New York a run for its money. It was too bad I was so tired or I would have liked to do more exploring. Lauren and I did sit near Piccadilly Square for about an hour and watch the people and pigeons go by, which was both entertaining and relaxing. I fell asleep on the bus ride back (as I did on the bus ride there), and when we got back to Storthes Hall, we ordered Chinese food and had a quiet night in.

This morning I was supposed to go to Liverpool, but I woke up still feeling exhausted and a bit sick, so I decided to skip it. Lauren tells me it was absolutely amazing and that she, Berit, Lucie, and a new friend they made from Finland, Marianne, want to go back very soon, so it looks like I’ll be able to see the city shortly anyway!

I start class on Thursday, which is probably a good thing since I can definitely feel my brain rotting. I’m glad I have this blog to update (even if I did slack off this week), otherwise I’m pretty sure I’d actually have no brain left at all.

Here are some pictures from Manchester:

Huddersfield Has A Lot of Mini Coopers…

And I attempted to count them all today. I stopped after about ten, when I passed by an uncountable number of them parked in a parking lot and couldn’t decide if they were worth counting anyway. It’s all fine by me though, as my dream car is the Mini Cooper.

So today, I got up at about 7:45 and got ready for a 9:30 orientation, the first of many that will be taking place throughout the next two weeks. Lauren and I made our way over to the Central Services Building (which, for all you New Paltzers, is known as “CSB”, so we felt right at home) where all the international students were told what would be happening as far as class enrollment and activities for the next few weeks goes. We found out that we don’t begin classes until the 27th instead of the 20th, which is when I originally thought they began, so I’ve still got a lot of time before I have any schoolwork to do. After waiting in line for a while for our Visas to be scanned—this was somehow the process for “pre-enrollment”—Lauren and I went into town to get a couple of things, signed up for day trips to York, Manchester, and Liverpool. The trip to York is on Sunday, Manchester is the following Saturday, and Liverpool is just the day after!

A little before 17:00 (5:00) we made our way back to campus for a meeting of the International Students society, which met in the Coffee Bean in the Students’ Union. I was expecting it to be led more formally than it was, but what wound up happening was simply that international students trickled in and sat with each other at tables, randomly. Lauren and I became friends with Berit, a woman from Denmark whose 33rd birthday happened to be today, Lucie from the Czech Republic, and Rizwan from Pakistan.

After talking for a while in the Coffee Bean and having small conversations with some of the staff members of the Students’ Union, who are students and recent graduates of the University, the five of us went out to dinner at a place called The Cotton Factory, where we had really good pizza (though it was not like New York pizza) and a couple of drinks. We then went back to the Students’ Union, where there was yet another International Students event—though it wound up being populated with pretty much every kind of student—at the bar on campus, The Graduate. We stayed there for a few hours before splitting up and going back to our respective homes.

Tomorrow we have enrollment, and the rest of the day free. Hopefully we’ll find something fun to do like we did today!

Souvenirs and Memories

As my departure date increasingly looms over me, I finally realized the weight of what’s happened in my life since September. Coming to a foreign country for three months isn’t exactly something that many people do at one stage of their life, and my own reasons for coming here were more than to learn the customs of another culture. My friends have noticed a change in me lately, that I’m not as talkative or energetic in going out than I used to, when you’re trying to wrestle the joys of coming home to your friends and family but at the same time leaving behind those who supported you in a new environment for a semester; you can’t help but be a little introverted.

Each passing day we share our experiences of our first night in Dundee and those few harsh days in September slowly come back to life. As we do this we take stock of what we’ve learned, who we met and all the good times we shared. We were set to re-enact our first days of kindergarten when we arrived in Scotland; the excitement of going someplace new, not knowing where your class is, taking those first few awkward steps onto a strange bus. As time progressed we grew into our lives here more; going grocery shopping at Tesco, visiting the Union for drinks with friends, and planning trips to discover what the UK is all about. By this point I’ve become too engrained in Scottish culture and society. I shop for music at HMV with my membership card, know where some of the best pub food is, can estimate our time of arrival in Edinburgh by bus or train and use slang several times a day (chips and all). Although my heritage is not Scottish, I’ve learned enough to make my way here without anything getting to me. When life gets to you, you accept that there are flaws, but instead of wallowing in them, you persevere. I think that’s the Scottish attitude to life because if you can imagine the weather right now; it isn’t what you would consider “tropic”, yet I see people walking around in t-shirts when it’s 0 Celsius and are perfectly content. But understanding the mindset isn’t the only thing I’ve learned here.

The other day I was cleaning out my room in preparation for my departure home. On the desk buried underneath my graded assignments and matriculation information were several American dollar bills that I had brought over as emergency cash when I first arrived. It had been a while since I saw George Washington’s face on a crisp bill; as I was more used to Adam Smith and Robert the Bruce when handling money. I picked it up and held it for a while. It felt strange, coarse and stiff; not like the paper thin Pound Sterling I had been using all this time. I was feeling things I had never felt before; a strange disconnect from the United States and for some reason sensing that when I return, I will be a stranger in my own home.

My friends from back home talk to me with an increasing urgency, wishing me a safe flight back to the United States and inviting me to a night out in New Paltz or Albany. In my communication with them I sometimes slip into British colloquialisms like “flat”, “Chips”, “Taking the Piss”, etc. I don’t do this to flaunt my worldliness; it’s just something that’s happened as a result of interacting with people from the UK every single day. Just as easily as I’ve forgotten what my national currency looks like, so too have I adopted the words of another culture.

When I said I was bringing home “Souvenirs” I did not expect to bring home the Scottish mentality to life, but here I am with a few days to go feeling more attached to Scotland and its people more and more. I don’t really know what the future has in store for me when I return, but what I do know is that my experience here has shaped me into a new person. I’ve become someone who has seen the world from a different perspective and force to look at his own culture through another and as a result has become slightly distant from his nationality; save the New York accent. I’m going to miss my friends here and the nights we’ve spent going to pubs and visiting castles. I’m especially going to miss my UK and European friends who’ve welcomed me into their lives with open arms and were willing to show me how to live life day by day. As for now I’m off to do some house cleaning and throw out the clutter of a semester abroad, but I am making sure that my final days here are lived to their fullest.

Entry 3: In the Crowd-written 9/28/09

We all remember our first college party, the feeling of anticipation hoping to make new friends while enjoying the evening as we look ourselves over in the mirror hoping to give off a good first impression. Now fast-forward a year or so, your socializing gets you a throng of friends and you’ve gone to ‘80’s Night enough times to know every song by heart and you never go alone, but suddenly you are dropped someplace entirely new, with a different culture, people and none of your friends to give you that extra boost of confidence. Meeting new people in Scotland your first time abroad might at first appear challenging, but as long as you be yourself, be confident and are willing to try new things, you can make the transition into the Dundee social scene easy and fun!

When I first arrived in Scotland, I was lucky enough to be traveling with a small group of friends already; and after making more at the airport I realized that meeting people and making connections wasn’t so hard to do. We were going through the same experience of being in a foreign country for three months to a year and something as simple as that is enough to form friendships that not only last the time abroad but forever. Within minutes we were trading contact information and our flat addresses so we knew where we all lived until our computers and international cell phones were set up. No matter who or where you are, having several friends (or even just one good friend) can be enough to make you feel more at home.

As we are centrally located on campus and therefore the most convenient to get to, the flat Sydney, Julie, Lauren and I are living in has become the “de-facto” meeting place if we decide to go out to a pub or club, have a group dinner, travel meeting or just hang out. In fact we have so many people over and get along so well, we have been called “The Cool Flat” by our next door neighbors.
In order to survive mentally and physically abroad, you have to learn to work together. After our first exciting, yet un-nerving night in Scotland, we realized that if we acted more as a team and less as individuals, we could make our lives more comforting and our stay in Dundee exciting and fun. For example, when shopping for our flat we try to go out in either a pair or group. I grocery shop with my other flat mate as we both eat the same foods; so when we do visit the supermarket we buy for the both of us and we each pay half. This not only saves us money, but ensures we don’t buy so much food as to take up space in our refrigerator or cause it to spoil. Likewise with cleaning essentials for our bathrooms and kitchen, we agree to share so we save money individually while helping out the flat as a whole.

The buddy system also works if one or both us is having problems either adjusting to life overseas or with school. Talking about your personal feelings with someone who you can relate to helps and gives a much needed confidence boost. This boost comes in handy especially when you go out to the student night club (or Union). At The Union, you will come face to face with students from around Scotland and the world at large. Everyone flocks to the Union throughout the day as its restaurants and sports bars give the ideal place for students to congregate and unwind from a hard day’s studies. During “Fresher’s Week”; a week long orientation session, the Union is filled to maximum capacity with students socializing in 4 separate bars and dancing the night away at “Mono”; the basement dance club. Speaking as someone who (despite similar experiences at home and a senior in college) felt like a stranger in a strange land, the prospect of going to The Union at first appeared daunting and made me feel like a freshman all over again. Luckily my friends were going as well and in that respect I didn’t feel so bad and just focused on enjoying myself and having fun. The club was loud and packed with people, and I still found it hard to start a conversation with anyone. However some of the people I did approach were very friendly and curious about where I came from, what my “Study” (or major) was, and if I enjoyed Dundee. It was strange being the center of attention all of a sudden, but when you’re the foreigner I suppose everyone is curious to hear your opinions and thoughts. I told them what British television shows i watch and what bands i listen to (most either British or Scottish in origin). It was strange as when I responded to the same questions at home I got quizzical looks and had to explain the band or premise of the show. Here everyone knew what I was talking about, and in thus it was comforting to talk to someone who could relate, despite the fact they were from another country. I finally knew what it must be like to be a study abroad student at New Paltz, some of them were in my classes last semester and I often wondered what it must be like for them to adjust to life in America; this time the roles were reversed.

After my first several nights at the Union, I was still having growing pains but slowly got more confident. Despite the accents, the slang and style of dress, Scottish students are the same as American’s when it comes to socializing with others, if you have enough confidence to walk up to someone, introduce yourself and start a conversation, you will make many friends here. In fact I’ve made a couple of friends just by doing laundry, standing in line at the student run convenience store, and waiting for class. Never underestimate the power of your own self-worth.

However if you are still having trouble meeting people, Dundee offers a variety of clubs and organizations that conform to everyone’s interests. There is an activities fair during Fresher’s Week in which one can join whatever club or sport piques their interest. For example there is a Forensic Anthropology Club, Psychology Club, Music Club, Gaming Club and LGSBT organization in addition to a variety of other groups. These clubs meet regularly and sponsor field trips, dinners, dances and events in which one will get to meet other people with a common interest. My fellow abroad students and I joined several (including The International Students Association and Peer Connections).

The latter group I highly recommend. Peer Connections is run through the International Programs Office at University of Dundee and is a discussion group made of students from around the UK and other countries and helps first year internationals get acclimated to life in Dundee while giving them a place to socialize with other students from around the world. The first time we went to a Peer Connections meeting, my friends and I took two students from Switzerland, one from Lithuania and one from Scotland out to a pub for dinner and then to The Union for drinks and dancing; needless to say they have become regulars at our flat and are the newest members to our “Family”.

As I look back at almost a month abroad, I realize how far I’ve come since those first exciting steps into Edinburgh Airport. Making a fair amount of friends from all over the world and taking part in campus activities has made me feel more than just a student from New York studying in Scotland; I finally feel a part of the campus at Dundee, meeting fellow students for tea at Costa or dinner at a local pub and taking trips with my friends to the many historic castles and sites that dot the area surrounding Dundee and Scotland as a whole. I consider myself no longer a student of SUNY New Paltz, but instead a student at The University of Dundee. If this is what anthropologists have warned against (i.e. “Going Native”) then I fear I have become their most wanted man.