Photography by Brianne Lee

Photography by Brianne Lee

Dear Future Study Abroaders...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dear future study abroaders,

WARNING: the trip you are about to go on will be life-changing.

First things first, when it comes to packing or trying to figure out what you’ll experience, everyone is going to tell you something different. I remember trying to talk to as many people as I could that had previously studied abroad and every one of them had some sort of insight as to what it would be like and what I should do to prepare. The first thing I’m going to tell you about coming abroad is that no one truly knows what it is going to be like. No one person can tell you every single thing that you’ll need, what your going to experience, or what you’ll miss. All I hope to do is inform you on some of the things I wished I had known or thought about before I left.

Don’t take everything you hear too seriously. I made that mistake once or twice. I panicked about sleeping in dirty hostels with sketchy people lurking and waiting for me to leave so they could steal all my stuff. I stressed about bringing too many of this or too little of that. Take the things your loved ones (and random advice you find on the internet) tell you, to heart, but don’t think that it’s all 100% true. It may be true for them, or for me, but not necessarily you. This semester will be about making mistakes and finding yourself in less than ideal situations. You'll find yourself having to rely on your intuition and gut feelings more than ever.

Keep an open mind. This is probably the most valuable piece of advice I can offer. In order to fully experience all that a country can offer, you must step outside of your comfort zone, let go of expectations, and try things that may seem weird or foreign to you.

Pack medicine! You will not find things like Advil and Nyquil and you ­will need it at one point or another. Trust me, when that cold or headache hits, you’ll be very happy you packed it!

Expect an emotional roller coast ride. There’s something about studying abroad that really intensifies your feelings and experiences. Between different time zones, missed flights, language barriers, money conversions, outlet conversions, pickpocketers, no wifi, jet lag, and a long time away from family and friends, studying abroad can get pretty stressful, but you will be OK! Consider every obstacle a challenge and face it head on with grace and confidence.

Enjoy your home base. Within the first week of classes, many were already off exploring Europe. Myself included. But try to make time to get to know your new home and explore your neighborhood

Call your family and friends. Or Skype, e-mail, facebook, blog, snail mail….anything to keep them up to date on what's going on in your new and exciting life. Do this sparingly though, if you are in touch with loved ones back home 24/7, it will be harder to fully immerse yourself in your present situation and may leave you feeling homesick or even wishing you could be back doing what your friends and family are doing.

Take in all you can from the people you meet along the way. Studying abroad exposes you to new places, foods, languages and most importantly, people. Whether it's the German/Polish photographer you meet at a bistro in Paris or a Brazilian hostel-mate in Ireland, everyone travels for different reasons, and everyone has something to share and something to teach, including you.

Travel!  Oh, I cannot stress this enough! Traveling around Europe is cheap and easy. Yes, I may have had to wake up at 4 am to catch an 8 am flight on occasion, but I wouldn’t take it back for anything. I was worried about how I was going to pay for my travels but if you do your research, you can spend a weekend in any city you want for a reasonable price. Book your flights early; find a decent hostel and go! That’s all there is to it. Explore that place you’ve always wanted to see – or pick some place completely random. Some of my favorite trips were the ones that were never on my radar before going abroad. So don’t worry about not knowing exactly how to get where you’re going because getting there is half the fun. Europe has a surplus of different things to offer, and I promise you, there will never be a dull moment.

Realize that you won’t ever be the same. By choosing to study abroad, you are inherently agreeing to step miles and miles outside your comfort zone in order to find something you feel is missing. Studying abroad is a personal journey both literally and figuratively that affects everyone differently at different times. When I returned to the States, it took a couple weeks for me to figure out how to fit my newly invigorated, adventurous and well-traveled self back into the life I left behind. Reverse culture shock is real, but keeping in touch with the people I traveled with and talking about my experiences with others definitely helps keep it alive.

I could sit here and go on and on about the do’s and don’ts of studying abroad but for me, learning all of those things turned out to be some of the best life lessons I’ve ever experienced. The bottom line is – your semester/year/summer/week abroad is going to be the most spectacular time of your life; that I can say with complete confidence for every single person. You will learn more than you could have ever imagined about yourself and the world. I truly don’t believe anyone could ever regret studying abroad. So if you’re going to take one thing from this post, I hope it's this; don’t spend too much time worrying because half of the things that you experience while abroad, good and bad, you’d never expect or be able to anticipate. So just make the best of every crazy situation and never regret a second of your time abroad because one day you’ll blink and you’ll only have a few weeks left.

P.S. If have any questions related to Study Abroad, any at all, please do not hesitate to message me via Facebook or shoot me an e-mail. I am more than happy to share advice, packing tips, recommendations on where to go , insight from experiences or really any thing related to travel!

Reverse Culture Shock

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The moment I got in the car with my family at the airport to go home, it felt as if my entire semester in Florence had been a dream. In my jet-lagged daze, I remember quietly asking myself if the past four months had been real or if I had just had imagined them. The ending to my semester in Europe was probably the most sudden ending to anything in my life. For almost five months, living in Europe was my life and in less than 24 hours, I was back to my “normal” life.

Before any student leaves to study abroad, there are countless thoughts swirling through their minds as they wonder what life will be like over these next few months. The mental battle waged between the fear of the unknown and the thrill of adventure penetrates the whole pre-departure process. I know that I personally a multitude of emotions before leaving, but while I was so consumed by thinking about the challenges I would face abroad, I never stopped to think about the challenges I would face when returning home. This is one aspect of a study abroad experience that I think gets overlooked by students until they actually experience it. But the thing is, there is no way to truly prepare someone for it.

I’ve heard various perspectives about reverse culture shock but one that’s been repeated time and again says that when you return from studying abroad, you will have changed dramatically as an individual but everything and everyone back home will have remained the same. I speak from experience when I say it’s a very surreal realization. You return home after so much has happened to you and you can’t quite grasp why it feels like you were out of touch with “reality” for so long. It’s like you just woke up from a one of those very realistic dreams and realize that only a few hours has passed when it felt like days. I recall coming home after four months in Italy and seeing that my town looked exactly the same, the baristas I have come to know at Starbucks were still there, and my room looked just as I had left it. I had missed my family and friends and felt overjoyed to see them again, but it was hard to accept that nothing and no one had truly changed, except me. I was seeing the same things I remembered, but through a very different pair of eyes.

The first few weeks back were very strange to say the least. On the one hand it was easy; I could use English everywhere I went, confidently order a coffee without feeling ignorant, and I no longer had to mentally convert Euros to Dollars. 

On the other hand though, the same things that came back quickly reminded me of what I was missing. Trying to pass myself off as an Italian, casually grabbing gelato after class and living life at a slower, more relaxed pace. But the absence that I felt most was the indescribable feeling of discovery, the distinct rush I felt as I realized that I was experiencing Italy firsthand and that I was actually living on my own as a resident of a foreign country. Pair this with the sense that even when I performed a mundane task, like walking down a city street, I was surrounded by history and culture on a truly magnificent scale, something I had never experienced before. 

Time, as they say, heals all and the initial awkwardness I felt being back home was eventually replaced by old routines taking over like muscle memory. Reality began to fall back into place as I realized that I had responsibilities and priorities to deal with. As I started to resume my daily life, another realization began to sink in. I understood that there was one final, unstated, side of reverse culture shock that could take effect if I wasn’t careful. It’s a subtle development that doesn’t even feel like it’s happening. As I started to remember my life in the States, I was at risk of forgetting my life in Florence. The true challenge of reverse culture shock is not remembering life back home, given enough time that’s an inevitable result. As the pattern of everyday life consumes your attention, the much more difficult challenge will present itself to those who don’t want to forget their time abroad.

I know this sounds like a negative situation, but there is no doubt that this can be spun into something positive. While remembering can be difficult, the word “difficult” is certainly not the same as “impossible”. I have found plenty of ways to keep my time in Italy alive and well in my memory and in my everyday life. And that right there is a very big reward for those who are able to see reverse culture shock in a different light and appreciate the incredible perspective it bestows.

Think the Way a Traveler Would

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pretend for a minute, that you are looking at something right in front of you, but you’re not seeing it. You twirl around, squint your eyes a little bit, but still you really can't see anything in front of you. You’re puzzled. Stop there and take a step back. Adjust your glasses a bit, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open them again. Are you seeing it now?

Welcome, my friend, to this vast, magnificent world. 

My adventures, close to home and across the world, have given me the ability to dig deeper and explore further than I could have ever hoped for. Getting lost without a map taught me how to ask for help. Getting stuck at the airport because of bad weather forced me to make the best out of a situation. Having less-than-polite encounters with people built my tolerance and patience. Experiencing the kindness of strangers who went out of their way to help others left me deeply humbled. And exploring cities with different cultures and customs taught me that stereotypes are quite often inaccurate, and that people are all human.

So I ask of you this: open your eyes and think, act and see the way a traveler would. Listen to what others are saying. Take every opportunity for what it is, not just what it looks like. Be eager and curious. Ask questions. Lots of them. Understand that the world is infinitely more complex than anyone knows. Admit your mistakes and express your strengths. Know that everyone has a story worth telling, and everyone has the opportunity to make a change in this world.

Take the risk; let go, leave home, and throw yourself into the great unknown. It will be worth it. I pinky promise. 

Two Weekends in Minneapolis

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Have you ever traveled somewhere, and it pulls on your heart so much that you think to yourself, yes, I could live here – I never want to leave!

Minneapolis, Chicago, Ireland, and Scotland are four places that have completely captured my heart to the point where I could get up and move there in a heart-beat if given the opportunity. 

Over the years I have realized that when I feel strongly about a place, I get so attached to the point where it leaves me with a great feeling of sadness when it’s time for me to leave. I seem to be at a constant battle with the mysterious, complicated emotion that is nostalgia. Why I can’t be a normal person with normal feelings, I’ll never know.  (:

When I start to get the restless urge to simply hop in my car and go somewhere, I am reminded how fortunate I am to only live 4 short hours from Minneapolis; the city I was born and raised in until around the age of 9. 

Whether it's visiting family for the holidays, seeing friends for the weekend, or even a simple day trip, I take every and any chance I can to make the trek. 

Two weekends ago, my friend Dani and I decided we wanted to get out of town, so we packed our stuff, got in my car, and drove to Minneapolis without any real plan. I'm starting to really enjoy the spur-of-the-moment, impromptu trips. There is something thrilling about not knowing what may happen and having the freedom to make spontaneous decisions. 

You would think that after traveling for four months I would want a break now that I am home…wrong! I guess one weekend in the cities wasn't enough, because four days later I found myself back in my car with a sense of deja vu as I drove the familiar route along I-94. 

I spent the weekend visiting and catching up with my good friends from school; Morgan, Kayla and Garrett.

 We discovered a quaint little lunch spot, explored parts of Minneapolis I've never been to, acted like 5 year olds at Skyzone, challenged ourselves by taking pictures with Kodak disposable cameras, drank a lot of Caribou, and spent our Sunday helping out with photography at Morgan's church.

Until next time, Minneapolis. I'm sure I will be seeing you again shortly.

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