The Fear of Missing Out and Other Thoughts Before Departure

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The fear of missing out: a condition wrought with feelings of nostalgia and nervousness due to separation from exciting moments shared with family and friends.

The fear of missing out plagues the minds of all those looking to study abroad. For myself, it comes in waves. Since I committed to the Sustainability and the Environment program in Monteverde, Costa Rica, pangs of nervousness occur around friends and family whom I will miss during my time abroad. It’s a homesickness before even stepping foot out of the country. And unfortunately, it is the reason many students avoid studying abroad; they fear their friends will move on, Temple will dramatically change in a matter of months, or Philadelphia will go through some renaissance without their knowledge. Coping with the fear of missing out is not and will never be easy, but this is how I deal with it.

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John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, America’s First Urban Refuge

First, I think of the climate ahead of me. The warmth of the Costa Rican sunrise filled with the renewing air of the misty season reminds me that I will not miss the Blizzard of 2016 and Philly winters. Then I imagine what my host family likes and dislikes, the food we will share around the dinner table, and terrible fumbles I will have speaking Spanish. I remind myself of the program’s two field trips, two weeks each and full of travel around the entire country and into Nicaragua. Vivid colors and sounds surround my senses as I peruse my textbooks on tropical nature and biodiversity. I feel the rocks stuck in my boots on the way to class to meet two dozen new faces who will accompany me on this journey. And suddenly, Philadelphia, becomes a source of pride and identity, not anxiety and missed opportunities.

Hic sunt dracones is the Latin phrase for “Here be dragons.” It was often used by mapmakers as an indication of unknown and uncharted territory and has become my motto recently. While Costa Rica is not unknown territory to those who ascribe to the tico lifestyle, it is new to me. To explore and discover cultures and environments unfamiliar to my own is an opportunity not to be ignored. It is a way to flip the fear of missing out on its head. No longer do I fear missing something at home; I fear losing out on an adventure elsewhere.

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The Birthplace of America

I have taken this extended winter break to explore my home country a bit more. I expanded my cheesesteak horizons on trips to South Philly and for the first time visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. I spent five days in Texas with Temple’s Newman Center and visited numerous state and county parks around the area. I discovered the nation’s first urban wildlife refuge across from the Philly airport, challenging all typical notions of urban hiking. Most importantly, I spent valuable time with my family and friends. This is how I prepared mentally for my time abroad.

Friends will have fun without you but await your return. Family will miss you. Temple University and Philadelphia will keep progressing. The fear of missing out is no longer an excuse. It is the motivation to get out there, to challenge yourself, and to study abroad.

 

 

The warmest welcome.

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However much I try to fight it, I seem to never get good sleep before flying. Following the usual trend a.k.a habit, me and my best friend Alina, who always sees me off at the airport, went to bed at 12 and woke up at 3 in the morning. Driving through Saint Peter’s suburbs, I realized that I have never been this ready to leave Russia – at least not when I depart for the United States. Maybe staying on the same continent makes the distance seem shorter in mind. Not maybe, it does – being closer to home does make my heart happy. See you very soon – we said to each other. Come visit. I hugged Alina, my mom, waived goodbye to my beautiful city and went for the security check. The hardest thing about traveling and moving they don’t tell you in inspirational books is parting ways with the loved ones. This time, however, it didn’t feel nearly as much of a burden.

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The flight seemed extremely short – only an hour to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, and then 2.5 more to Zagreb; we have barely taken off, and it was the time to land already. I knew I was being greeted at the airport (which was quite a relief, to be fair) – by my friend Filip, whom I met while solo-traveling through the Balkans this past summer. Filip has a heart of gold and an amount of enthusiasm very unusual for a modern human being – he has made my stay unbelievable so far. Pleso airport is Zagreb is tiny, so there’s no chance of getting lost. I passed the customs, smoothly and quickly – as compared to the U.S., where I have to wait in line for two hours and then be inspected. Walking out, I saw my friend all smiling, with a tablet reading “Welcome Anna!” and a Milka chocolate in his hands.

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Filip and his dad took me all the way from the airport to my new home – a lovely two story apartment on Novakova street, up on the hill. Zagreb is definitely a place to be if you like a bit of a physical challenge; all those ups and downs keep the leg muscles working. Upon my arrival, we had to meet with the landlord and the agent, to discuss the policies and the rental term. After all the formalities were cleared out, my landlord, teta Štefa (aunt Štefa), a 50-60-something-year-old woman, invited us over for some juice. Caution: when a Croatian invites you for a drink, it entails some 2 hours of talking about life (and possibly complaining  :) ). As I was used to it from my own, Russian culture, a warm-hearted conversation with teta Štefa wasn’t a surprise – more of a discovery of yet another similarity between us. I was actually very interested to hear more about Croatia and Yugoslavia, especially because the conversation was carried out entirely in Croatian. The older generation mostly does not speak English – which leaves me with nothing but a necessity now to practice the language often.

After the conversation was over, teta Štefa said “Vi su moje djece” – “You are my children”, as if signifying that there’s no distinction between me and Filip for her, even though I am not a Croat by blood. We are all Slavic descendants, distant relatives – but not immediate ones. She grabbed my cheeks in her hands and chucked them a little, just like Russian grandmas usually do. I’ve suddenly felt skin crawls all over my arms and shoulders, the good crawls though. Did she really say that to us – to me in particular? Does that mean I am ‘accepted’, to a certain extent? Then, Filip and I went for a stroll around the town – and it looked just the way I left it in August, only the leaves on the trees have fallen down. I could feel my heart beating faster with every new turn we took, every other building I’ve recognized. We bought some delicious Croatian milk, other dairy and fruits, purchased a SIM card, and walked back to the house to unpack. That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the last sentences we’ve exchanged with teta Stefa, and a smile didn’t come off of my face for another day.

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First glimpse on Zagreb – I am so happy to be back for good!

 

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Main Square, Ban Jelačića – Croatians decided to celebrate Chinese New Year this time apparently :)

 

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Oh these streets…

I opened my eyes the next morning to witness the sun wake up above Zagreb, slowly, like a lazy cat on a hot mid-summer afternoon – lighting up the steeples of Zagrebačka Katedrala (Zagreb Cathedral) and orange, almost toy, brick roofs. The location and the apartment itself is better than I have ever imagined – it is in the historic part of the town, and all the main attractions, as well as some of my favorite eating/coffee places and bakeries are right around the corner. The best part is, however, the view that I have a privilege to enjoy every day.

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The view from my very own (at least for now) balcony.

Winter break in Germany

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Back in 2011, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Germany on a scholarship. It was my junior year of high school and I was 16. During the 10 months I was in Germany, I stayed with a host family in Loxstedt, which lies in the north of the country and very close to the North Sea. My experiences there were of course beyond helpful for my college study abroad, but really my life now in Tübingen is much different from the life I had then in Loxstedt. I think the biggest difference, which came with its wonderful advantages and also some frustrations, was living with an actually family. I am so thankful for my host family for all the comfort and hospitality they gave to me, as if it was easy to take in a random 16 year old girl. This Christmas, four and a half years since I left them in July 2012, I traveled all the way back up to the north to see them again.

I rode the train from Tübingen, located in the very southwest of Germany, to Loxstedt all the way in the northeast. The whole trip took about 10 hours including waiting time between trains, but when you are waiting to see people who you consider to be your 2nd family–people who you haven’t seen outside of a computer screen for years–the trip seems to drag on interminably. I am forever grateful that the train system keeps Germany so well connected that I was able to easily go from opposite sides of the country with no problems in less than a day.

My break from university was from December 21st to January 6th and I spent the whole time with my host family. About one third of people living in Tübingen are students so I expected the town to be a ghost town during the holidays. Many of the European exchange students had flown home for the break (even some US-Americans I know) and many other exchange students were using the break to travel a bit, so to stay at school would have been a lonely couple of weeks. I felt so lucky to have been able to spend the holidays with my host family and to see the German traditional celebrations.

My host family actually lives in a tiny village called Düring, which is mostly a cluster of homes and then lots of fields. There in the north, the land is completely flat (in contrast to the sometimes insane hills of the south) and the weather can be very rainy and overcast because we are so close to the sea. Lower-Saxony, the state my host family lives in, is also known for having plenty of farms and horse stables. One of the first things I did once I got situated at the house was to go visit my little sister’s horse. My host sister Lilly is 14 and very serious about all things horses and she is not the only one. When I was going to school in Loxstedt before, it seemed very common for girls to choose horseback riding as a hobby, whether they lived in the country or in the neighboring city, Bremerhaven.

On the 24th of December, my host dad and my little sister Jette (8) and I woke up at 7 AM to go the fisher’s harbor to gather fresh fish for our extended family brunch the next day. One of the perks of living near the coast is the delicious amount of fish we eat! It was necessary to go early on Christmas Eve because all establishments would be closing down for the next two days and we were expecting chaos anywhere selling food.

Later that day, we went to our local church for a Christmas service. It seemed like the whole town was there. It was so full to the brim and we were left standing. Upon returning home, we had coffee and homemade Rollkuchen, which is basically a very thin waffle rolled into a cylinder leaving you with a hole right down the middle for some whipped cream. Christmas Eve, or Heiligabend, is the main festive day so German kids don’t have to wait until the next morning to see if Santa arrived. After coffee and cake, we exchanged some gifts and then went next door to our grandparents’ house. At grandma and grandpa’s (Oma and Opa in German), we ate a traditional Northern German meal of sausages and potato salad along with some other dishes such as bacon wrapped apricots. After hanging out for a bit longer with the family, I went out with some friends from high school to this old dance club in another village, which is a Christmas Eve tradition in our area. This club is so old that even my host parents and host grandparents were there as teenagers.

On the next day, the “first Christmas day,” we had the extended family over to eat a glorious brunch consisting of German staples such as fresh bread rolls, lunch meats and cheeses, fish, and asparagus soup. The 26th, or the second day of Christmas, my host family and I went to a horse show in Bremen as part of my sisters’ Christmas presents.

The days that followed were relaxed and full of family time since my host sisters were on school break within the same dates as me. We just did normal things. We walked the dog, went sledding, watched movies. I was so happy to just slow down for a bit and to spend time with my host family.

I know that holidays can be a difficult time for exchange students and homesickness can peak now when they are missing traditional seasonal festivities, but having my German family made it all such a wonderful experience. Living with a family in Germany is how I was able to learn the language so fast, get a better accent, and learn fundamental German traditions. Living in student housing in Tübingen is more independent and I love it, but you get the chance to have a host family while studying abroad in Germany, you might want to consider it.

A tale of a girl who won’t stop moving.

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“But you’re already studying abroad, aren’t you?! And why Croatia?” – exclaimed each and every one of my friends, as I was getting the course approvals ready for Zagreb. Just a short note on my bio here: I was born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where all of my family resides up to the present day. Last year was the first for me to actually live in the United States – I’m a happy sophomore now.  Adjustment has been difficult, both emotionally and physically (imagine not being with family around Thanksgiving time, or carrying all those boxes on your own on the move-in day… exactly). However, I have no words to explain how lucky I am to have an opportunity to live and study here; the opportunity that all of my former classmates didn’t have.

I was introduced to Croatia two years ago, and immediately felt this thrust and urge to know more. Being  a person very curious about the world and its people in general, the thought of a whole new country completely alien and undiscovered to me was uncomforting. I picked up a few words of Croatian here and there, while researching on the country’s present and past. And this is where it all began.

Back to the initial question: Yes, I am technically abroad now. As much as I admire the U.S., it didn’t hold me back from falling in love with yet another culture, so ethnically close to my native. Croatia is a small, not very well-known country especially among non-Europeans, yet very culturally enhanced, with the most beautiful coast I’ve ever known. It is located in Eastern Europe, right across the Adriatic sea from Italy, in an area called the Balkans. Croatian nationals are descendants of the ancient Slavic tribes, that moved from central Europe to southeastern as far back as in the 6th century; we, Russians, share Slavic ancestors with Croats, however our tribes decided to resettle in the far north. As a result of the many centuries worth of separation, once the same nation grew into two different ones. Still, our languages and traditions resemble each other to an incredible extent; I shudder a bit and smile every time a new similarity between the two opens before my eyes. We both take our shoes upon entering a house, say “da” (”yes”) when we agree on something, and have grandmas who can’t help but grow veggies in their very own gardens. As I keep on learning more about our mutual past, I feel as if reuniting with a long lost family that has always been around, only I was too blind to notice. Those who’ve ever researched their antecedents would understand.

If I only could put down in words the myriad of feelings that overwhelm me at this moment. The moment when everything is signed, approved, stamped and sent, and the next step is waiting. Waiting until the greatest adventure, which I have been awaiting for about a year, begins. “Are people going to understand me when I try to speak? What do they think of Russians and the similarity between us? How do young people prefer to spend their spare time? Please, I so hope they would like me.” These and many other questions and thoughts roll over in my head as I write this blog post in my secret magical spot – our house’s attic in the nearest suburb of Petersburg. I am nervous and excited, trembling like a little child before his first day of school. I know it’s going to be okay, but for some reason there is still a bit of nervousness that just has to be present before any important life event. Breathing in and out. It’s going to be okay. Besides, I am starting far later than the Temple students this semester – my program beginning date is scheduled on February 2nd, which gives me more days to spend with family and dear friends in Russia, before heading out on a new adventure. An entire semester of learning, understanding and readjusting again – I have hardly settled down in Philadelphia, and it’s already time to start anew. But what could be more thrilling than that? See you soon, beautiful Zagreb. Vidimo se uskoro, lijepi.

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My lovely attic, a/k/a working laboratory – ah how many books have been read here, how many essays written.

 

How to Guarantee Crying on the Flight Home

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After moving my flight to stay in New Zealand for an extra five weeks, I left the country a few days ago. It was a long flight. For my seat mate, it was probably longer, since it’s always awkward when your seat partner’s crying. Sorry Brian.

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Goodbye NZ!

I’m currently in California visiting relatives for a little while to further satisfy the travel bug, so I haven’t yet returned to Philly. People tell me I’ll “settle back into the swing of things,” “get back into the rhythm of it,” “feel like you never left.” But I did leave, and I don’t want to feel like I didn’t. Christchurch was good to me and for me; I’m not ready to go.

But that’s life, and I’m not the only person who feels this way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful experience abroad, and there’s nothing stopping me from coming back to Christchurch, except the price of airfare. (ChCh is hosting the First Social Enterprise World Forum in September 2017…coincidence that I graduate that May?) The real point of this post is to offer my two cents on how to have a study abroad experience that makes you feel like you’re losing something when you go back home — how to create that new life that you don’t want to leave.

  1. Don’t try to become “transformed.”

Studying abroad is very much promoted as a transformational experience. You’re supposed to live in another country for not even half a year and return a changed person, a better person than who you were before. If you don’t go home with some obvious sign of your rapid personal growth and accelerated self development gained from X country, did you even ever leave?

This semester, I noticed a lot of my fellow international students feeling this pressure. People tried to figure out their transformation, the change they would present to people at home as proof that their semester had been fulfilling. But if you’re expecting an experience to change you in some preconceived way, it probably won’t. Many of my peers ended up catering their time abroad to suit whatever change they’d previously identified as wanting to have instead of letting the experience unfold on its own and influence them naturally.

So float with the tide of your time abroad, and don’t actively try to become transformed. Studying abroad is a way to live in a different place for a few months, so do that. It will be a much more fulfilling experience if you simply live, instead of trying to figure out how it’s going to change you.

  1. Stay off social media.

STAY FAR FAR AWAY. Social media is great for keeping in touch with people, but horrible for adjusting to a new place. Looking at pictures of your friends from home at a football game is not going to help you understand rugby and meet new people. You’re going to feel left out and homesick and you’re going to doubt your decision to go abroad. I don’t often get homesick, especially if I know I’m going back in half a year, but the first few weeks in New Zealand were rough.

In New Zealand, I also chose to buy a brick phone instead of swapping out the SIM card in my American smartphone. I say “chose,” but “forced” is more appropriate, since my SIM card is apparently un-swappable.

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The Alcatel One Touch, in all its glory.

However, being unable to go online helped me focus on talking to people and living more in the moment, and some of my friends who chose to go the SIM card route said they wished they’d gone with the Alcatel One Touch (however primitive) like I did.

  1. Get to know the locals.

Meeting people while abroad can be really intimidating, and so it’s natural so drift toward other exchange students — especially other Americans. Sometimes you just need somebody to talk about our own culture with, and as an added incentive, locals aren’t always willing to start up a conversation. At Temple, how often did I make an effort to talk to the international kid in class?

In New Zealand, I had to work  to make friends. Of course, I had a group of American friends who were also on exchange, and these were the people I did most of my traveling with because these were the people who wanted to explore the country. But stereotypically, American study abroad students go abroad and party with other American study abroad students. This is heaps of fun, but just be careful not to stop there–do an internship and join clubs and follow up with people you want to get to know. Locals will make fun of your accent (affectionately of course), but they’ll also show you the ropes, include you in their social circles, give you an authentic look at your host country, and let you stay with them when you have to move out of your flat three days before your flight back to the States (thanks Loz!).

Personally, I met people by joining UCanDance, UC’s ballroom dancing club, getting involved in the community through my internship with Ministry of Awesome, and constantly inviting people for lunch or coffee until we became friends. It worked (!) and I’ve formed friendships with a lot of New Zealanders that I know will last.

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Annual UCanDance Ball!

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Some UCanDance friends and I on a short hike during my last day in NZ.

4. Depth over breadth.

You are not going to see everything while abroad. Half a year, or usually less, is but a blip. I’ve noticed that many international students try to go somewhere every weekend, or travel to as many neighboring countries as possible, but personally, I think the “depth over breadth” travel philosophy is better. Instead of getting glimpses of many different places, get to know a few in-depth. People ask me if I left New Zealand while there — no, I didn’t, but I know and understand NZ and I have relationships in NZ.

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Missing those mountains already.

So, if you want to be like me and make your airplane seat mate uncomfortable, get to know local people in your host country, stay away from social media, and don’t try to cater your experience abroad to what other people expect. Let it be an experience, and take it slowly.

 

 

 

The End

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This is it. As I write this it is currently Tuesday, December 15th, and I leave Scotland in exactly one week.

I’ve written a lot about the ways in which being away from home have affected me, mostly because I’ve never been so far away from home for so long. I’ve written a lot about settling into a new place, getting to know new people, and doing things I’ve never done before. But I’ve also written a fair amount about doing things that are familiar to me and finding new routines, both similar to my old ones and not.

The fact is, going to a new place does not inherently entail any kind of change other than the change of environment. I’ve been done with finals for a little over a week, and I’ve filled that time with activities both new and familiar. I went to Dublin with Levi and Ben the day after I handed in my last paper, and I went to a Christmas market at the Gleneagles Hotel with Rose and Rosalie on Saturday. I have also played a lot of Mario Kart, and I made cheesesteaks for my housemates and neighbors one night.

Living abroad does not guarantee a completely different routine. In fact, sometimes it is rather difficult to do things that I couldn’t do at home, especially in a city like Stirling, where even taking the bus from campus to town costs money. Over the course of the semester, I’ve had a harder time of putting myself out there and doing new things than I thought I would, mainly due to the fact that it is nice and easy to stay in my townhouse and read, or watch Netflix, or play video games, or just sit around with my housemates.

Despite this enticing level of comfort at home, I have made great efforts to do things I can’t do at home. I have traveled to other European countries, I have gone to a horserace in Edinburgh, and I have celebrated Thanksgiving with nearly a dozen international students who had never celebrated the holiday before. I have probably drunk twice my weight in Irn Bru, the national (soft) drink of Scotland.

Now that it is almost time to go back to Philadelphia, I feel no regret. There are many things that I wanted to do and just couldn’t make time for, but I am not upset about that. What is upsetting me right now is how deeply I will miss the life I have made for myself here. I will miss the amazing people I have met. I will miss the relative ease of traveling to a completely new country and experiencing it with people I am still getting to know. I will miss Irn Bru.

While it is certainly upsetting to be leaving Stirling, there is a sweetness to it as well. I am happy to have experienced something that I will be sad to leave behind. I am happy to have met all the wonderful people I met here, and every time I think about them in the future, I will also think about how glad I am to have them in my life, even if I never see them again (which I hope is not the case). Finally, I am happy to be going home, and I am greatly looking forward to seeing all my friends and family, and to share with them all the love that Scotland has left in me.

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Thanksgiving in Stirling. I’m way in the back. Photo credit: Maite Janssens.

WWOOFing as Things Wind Down

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One benefit of studying abroad in the Southern Hemisphere is extra time — a normal semester is four months, but because my classes in New Zealand started in the beginning of July and exams ended mid-November, I started school two months earlier than Temple and was also able to extend my time abroad for an extra five weeks with no rush to be back in Philly. I’m lucky to be able to spend six months abroad rather than the usual three or four.

An extra month and a half abroad free of academic responsibilities, however, begs the question of how to fill it. Personally, I decided to spend a week volunteering at Unreasonable Lab New Zealand with my internship in Christchurch (mentioned in a previous post) and then two weeks WWOOFing before saying my (hopefully temporary) goodbyes and packing up my life. If you’re wondering why I haven’t written any posts in a while, WWOOFing often features limited Internet.

WWOOFing stands for both “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and “Willing Workers On Organic Farms.” The basic premise — WWOOFers work for a few hours each day in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food from their host. Usually, this happens on — you guessed it — farms. In New Zealand, however, people use the term “WWOOFing” to refer to other types of jobs in hostels, childcare, or small businesses as well.

I’d wanted to give WWOOFing a try for a while, and it’s a good option to travel cheaply. I impulsively decided to work in a hostel in The Coromandel, a beach paradise on the North Island of NZ and the “hippie capital of New Zealand.” The hostel I worked in, called The Lion’s Den, was homey and friendly, and in exchange for two hours of cleaning/gardening every morning I got to sleep in a bed, do my laundry, go to the beach (one of the top 10 in the world!), check out some cool hikes and Coromandel landmarks, and meet people from all over the world. (The Lion’s Den is also the name of an adult video chain in the States, but that’s not important.) My hosts, Abby and Sy, were so welcoming and I really felt a part of the community in Coromandel Town, where they live.

 

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Day trip to Cathedral Cove (tagged along with some other hostel dwellers).

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Sunset in The Coromandel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In hindsight, WWOOFing was the perfect experience to cap off my time in New Zealand. I’ve been lucky enough to attend uni and intern here, and form lasting friendships with many Kiwis.

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A lovely place to WWOOF!

Living in The Lion’s Den gave me a taste of the true backpacker life, though — and backpackers are a very common sight in New Zealand. I met a lot of solo travelers, a lot of wandering souls, my rad WWOOFing partners Frankie and Hank, and three super cool English guys who were living in the hostel as well (George, Ash, and Jez — there’s your shoutout. Hope you appreciate my American vocabulary). There is no doubt that I have the travel bug, and WWOOFing gave me a taste of what I’ll hopefully be doing after I finish my degree.

 

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The Lion’s Den common room.

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Cards after a group dinner in the hostel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WWOOFing jobs are available all over the world, as are Helpx and Workaway gigs (similar “work for accommodation” opportunities). Naturally, you have to be wary of being taken advantage of or treated poorly, but overall WWOOFing is a great way to meet people and travel inexpensively. I highly recommend it as a life experience, if nothing else.

Things are winding down — as I write this, I have T-minus five days until I fly back to the States. Luckily, I’ll be visiting my cousin in California for a little while before I head to Philly — anything to keep the travel bug satisfied a little longer!

The Scoop on International Internships

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While in New Zealand, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience both uni life and professional life by interning at a super rad start-up called Ministry of Awesome. Before going abroad, I had planned to do an internship for credit — not because I actually wanted to do an internship, but because I thought international work experience would spice up my resume. And it does look good, and it is a plus in the job market — but I sigh at my pre-New Zealand self for being motivated solely by a resume.

It has to do with American career culture, for sure. On my first day at Ministry of Awesome, my boss, who moved to Christchurch from California herself, smiled at my questions and said, “You’ll be fine. We never have a problem with the American interns.” And they haven’t — at Ministry of Awesome, Lauren, Catarina, and Erica (my bosses) valued my opinion and entrusted me with real responsibility. I wasn’t around to observe; I was around to be involved. Honestly, it was a treat.

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It would be helpful if I explained what Ministry of Awesome does, exactly. In a previous post, I blogged about the rebuild efforts in Christchurch following the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and the entrepreneurial hub the city has become. Ministry of Awesome is one of those start-ups that emerged from the earthquake, and focuses on helping social entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.  Social enterprise start-ups are like non-profits, but support themselves by making their own money rather than relying on donations. What’s not to love about helping the world while also making money?

Ministry of Awesome (MoA) is central to the Christchurch community as well. MoA only has three full-time staff (the aforementioned Lauren, Erica, and Catarina) and operates a co-working space out of their headquarters to help support themselves (office space is lacking in Christchurch at the moment). MoA also

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Yours truly hosting Coffee & Jam.

provides resources to entrepreneurs (they are the self-proclaimed “starting point” for New Zealand entrepreneurs) and runs a weekly community event called Coffee & Jam where two speakers pitch ideas on how to improve and rebuild Christchurch. Coffee & Jam also features delicious locally sourced coffee, bread, and spreads, and allows time for people to chat and get to know each other. There are regulars, there are newbies, and mostly there are inspiring, organic conversations. At the end of Coffee & Jam, anyone can give a “20 Second Shout Out” asking for a job, advice, offering a service, etc. It’s a lovely event, and I’m actually hoping to start something similar once I am back in Philly.

This week is my last week with MoA, and I’m wrapping up my time here by running the social media campaign for Unreasonable Lab New Zealand, a social enterprise conference that MoA is running in conjunction with a start-up in Boulder, CO called Unreasonable Institute. It’s an absolutely inspiring conference — check it out! Or help me out and see the hashtag #AUL15. (apologies for that shameless plug)

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Unreasonable Lab interns and volunteers!

 

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Unreasonable Lab New Zealand in action!

So, to give you the scoop on international internships — they’re invaluable. Working at Ministry of Awesome, I’ve become more aware of both the pros and cons of American work culture. New Zealand has taught me that leisure time is invaluable, that networking should be about forging real relationships rather than just using people for their connections, that competitiveness and overstress are overrated, and that a sense of humor and social skills go much further than a spiced-up resume. That being said, I also value the “American work ethic” more — we definitely get things done in a timely fashion. But I have never felt so supported by a community as I have in Christchurch, and I’ve never felt so nurtured in a professional environment.

I highly recommend an internship abroad. Not only did mine illuminate the highs and lows of my own culture, it also enriched my experience abroad by exposing me to more than one type of community. Do you really know Philly if you only hang out with college students? Of course not. I’m indebted to New Zealand and indebted to Ministry of Awesome for an incredible ride, and who knows? Social enterprise could finally be my thing.

*(all photos courtesy of Erica Austin)*

 

 

 

 

 

Finally starting school

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My classes started around the time students back at Temple were taking midterms. It felt strange to still be going through a more relaxed “syllabus week” while my friends at home were stressing out over papers and tests. I’m coming to an end with my fourth week of classes here at Tübingen Universität. It’s not as if I am in a storm of projects and papers, but I am still starting to feel the stress. I feel I have to study very hard in order to stay caught up with everything. I think it takes me longer to digest everything said in a lecture being that I am studying in a foreign language, but I think I’m also just getting adjusting to the German style of education.

I am taking 6 classes altogether, but only 3 of them I think would be considered “real” German classes. The “real” ones are general university lectures taught in German and attended by anyone from the university. Being that they are lectures, there is of course no emphasis on in-class participation, but I was really surprised that we have absolutely no side work (essays, group presentations). Our grade comes all down to attendance and one big test at the end of the semester. It truly makes me a bit anxious to think I will be expected to completely understand and remember all the course material so that I can bring it together in a test come February. What also surprised me was that professor-student relationships don’t really exist, at least not in the lecture settings that I have experienced. The professors have the job of delivering and analyzing course material and to give suggested reading, but it is expected that you can go forward on your own from there. Where problems arise, you should first seek the answer on your own or ask a classmate. Emailing the professor should be the last resort. Universities are places to learn so to go straight for the answer without doing your own research first would be denying yourself that education. This way you can form your own opinion from your own experience.

The other half of my time, I am in Deutsche als Fremdsprach (or German as a second language) courses. In theses classes, there are about 20 students and most of them I already know from having our earlier 3-week German course together. This makes it so much easier to feel comfortable expressing opinions and asking questions because we recognize that German is a foreign language for all of us. These classes are just like any Temple seminar course. We have weekly homework assignments, we have to write papers, and we have to give presentations. Everything is completed in German, but there is nothing daunting about it. Not only do I feel confident in my Germans skills at this point, but there is also comfort in knowing that all of the other students in class are still learning the language. If I were asked how confident I would feel in a real university seminar, I think I would give a different answer. It also helps that all of my professors are so patient and helpful. They take time for our questions on the material and enjoy explaining German culture to us.

When I talk to my German floor mates, they don’t seem as stressed out as I feel at times. They have plenty of work as well and some are even here to get their master’s or PhD. But it appears that they are more used to finding a balance between classes, homework, and actually living a life with friends. German students are taught self-dependency and organization from a pretty young age. Here at college, my classes meet only once in the week for about two hours. There rest of the week is ours to understand whatever material the professor went over in class and to prepare for the next week. Time management is key for keeping up with everything. I am not trying to get too comfortable thinking about how there are six days between each class to complete my work.

I think the goals of students at all universities are to get a true education, to become an individual with opinions and to be able to handles our responsibilities, but I really feel the pressure here in Germany. I suppose I never realized how helpful weekly assignments and quizzes are to make me familiarize myself with the course content and put it in practice. I think my experiences in Tübingen are weaning me off this dependency and helping me truly take charge of my education.

And below are photos of things I have been doing besides studying! Including two pictures from my recent trip to Croatia.

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This is what the small creek by my house looked like in September….

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And this is what it looked like a few weeks later. It changes everyday. I wonder what it will look like in winter.

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In front of the biggest waterfall at Plitvice Lakes National Park

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Just layers and layers of waterfalls at Plitvice

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Me and some of my roommates took advantage of beautiful Saturday afternoon to go hiking into the hills of Tübingen.

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This is the Neckarinsel, or the Necker Island. The tiny strip of an island in the middle of the river flowing through town. During this time, the ground was concealed almost completely with large, burnt-orange leaves.

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This was another unbelievably warm and beautiful fall day where my roommates and I went for a 5 hour hike to this chapel. It is called the Wurmlinger Kapelle. I thought this sight looked like a painting.

 

Comfort and Crisis

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I am having a rather difficult time writing this blog post given the events of the last few days. Since Friday, most of the conversations I’ve had with people in my townhouse have been more political than ever before. We have been using words in order to help us deal with the tragedies that took place in Paris and elsewhere, and naturally, these conversations have begun to bleed into my own personal thoughts and reflections.

Five of my housemates are from Continental Europe. Two are from Germany, only a six hours drive from the French border, one is from Denmark, one is from Spain, and one is indeed from France. To say that the attacks in Paris hit fairly close to home would not be hyperbole. Contrary to the United States, where the discourse is generally about the tragedy of the situation and showing support for the people who were affected, the conversation here is a bit more urgent. People are scared for their lives and for the lives of their loved ones.

I really don’t know what to say about these attacks, and in any case it is not my intention to write anything political. I currently do not feel afraid of the threat of terrorist attack, but I think this is because of how surreal it all is. I will be traveling to Budapest this upcoming weekend, and I am no more afraid to get on an airplane now than I ever was. Despite this, several of the people I have met in my time here are genuinely frightened, and just being exposed to that kind of fear—a fear directly induced by terrorist attack—is difficult for me to come to terms with.

It’s strange, but a part of me feels like I should be scared. A vague sense of guilt has begun to come over me due to the fact that I, unlike some of my housemates, feel a notable degree of detachment from these tragedies. I am having conversations here that I know I would not be having if I were still in America. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it is a little disconcerting to think that if this had happened six months ago, it would not have affected me like it has now. If I were still in America, I would not be witness to the kind of fear and sorrow that tragedy like this is capable of causing. I feel very fortunate to be a visitor to Europe during this rather unfortunate time because the reactions to and conversations revolving these events are influencing my perspective in a way that would not take place otherwise.

As I type this post, countless new sentiments come to mind and now I feel as if I can keep typing for hours. The final thing I will say is that while this whole situation is undeniably tragic, it is also wildly complex. It pains me to see people argue senselessly in the wake of such tragedy, especially when the issues at hand are so exceedingly difficult to grasp. Differences of opinion are inevitable, and they are not worth fighting over at a time like this. I think we have to decide to act with compassion and empathy, and to know when to throw our hands up in bewilderment, because it is a bewildering situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding not to turn a situation like this into a political debate.

I will digress now by briefly mentioning a few things unrelated to the events in Paris. For one, my dad and my sister came to visit me last week. They weren’t crazy about haggis, but they both enjoyed Irn Bru, so I’ll count that as a win. I was very happy to see them and to show them around Stirling, and they left way too soon, taking a small bit of comfort and familiarity with them. Also, it has not stopped raining since my last blog post. I am not exaggerating—we have seen at least three straight weeks of daily rain here in Stirling. But like with everything else, I am adapting to the rain. After an initial stretch of reasonably good weather, it’s finally beginning to feel like the Scotland I signed up for.

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My meal from Mother of India in Edinburgh (with the obligatory glass of Irn Bru, the national soft drink of Scotland), enjoyed with my dad and sister.