Letters from Abroad

Villanova, Up until a few weeks before the study abroad deadline I had never considered spending a semester away from Villanova. I felt like I couldn’t leave all the people and activities that have made ‘Nova such an amazing place for me. I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go or what I wanted to study, but after hearing about all the amazing experiences that my friends had abroad and getting to see their experiences first hand while visiting friends studying in London and Italy, I realized that studying abroad was an opportunity that I could not pass up. After spending some time with the study abroad office and looking at the different programs, I chose the BU Internship program in Sydney, Australia. This program offered a wide variety courses that would count towards my communication major and political science minor, as well as an opportunity to complete an eight-week-long internship in the industry of my choice. This is one of the first times in my academic career when I can honestly say that I love my classes, and I look forward to attending them. My internship experience not only exposed me to potential job options, but also to the unique Australian culture. At first glance, Australian culture can seem somewhat similar to our culture. A friend once told me that if he was going to sit on a plane for 18 hours they had better be speaking a different language when he gets there. I was worried that I had picked a culture that was too safe, too easy to get used to and not going to force me out of my comfort zone. However, on closer examination, there are so many subtle yet important differences in culture. Life has a different pace here, people seem happier and friendlier. They value life and pleasure. Australians are passionate; they love to eat and drink, share good times with friends, play sports, and they especially love being outdoors. Australia is an incredibly beautiful place, the landscape, the weather and the people are all gorgeous. I once heard a semester abroad referred to as “a learning vacation.” Meaning that for four months you get to explore a whole new part of the world, meet fascinating people, travel to new places, take different and exiting courses, and get spend the majority of your time and resources engaging in once in a lifetime experiences.Studying abroad has afforded me the opportunity to do things I never even thought of doing. I’ve had more exciting and thrilling experiences in the last few weeks than I have in my whole life. I learned to surf, went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, took a helicopter ride around the Antarctic Ocean, white water rafted down the world’s most dangerous river, went sandbarding in the dessert, and bungee jumped off a 200 ft. tower into a rainforest lagoon. Besides chasing adrenaline rushes, I’ve also grown and changed a great deal personally. I’ve become more independent, discovered a career path and solified lifelong friendships. Every aspect of my study abroad experience has taught me something about myself. Although I’m far from the people I love, the last two months have definitely been the greatest of my life. It has been a constant adventure and an invaluable part of my college experience. I can say with great confidence that chosing to study abroad in Australia is the best decision I’ve ever made. -Liz Malinowski

Villanova, Cat Stevens said that “it was a wild world” and as I round out my semester abroad in Prague, Czech Republic I certainly share his sentiments. Haunting in its medieval splendor, the city of Prague sits at the crossroads of two worlds – straddling Europe just as its famous Charles Bridge spans the Vltava River. Here the West meets the East; Czech elderly woman, sporting hair in shades from fire engine to tangerine, sit next me on the morning tram ride. Side by side, we watch the paved roads outside of town give way to the narrow lanes of cobble stone in the city center. When I first arrived I felt like I had found a forgotten treasure that history had left behind. Time has proven my naivety and with each spring time bud another hundred tourists storm upon Europe’s “golden city.” As they multiply with warm weather, we feel – in all our three months here – that they’re descending upon our city, our secret place where you can live in history. Kafka, Goulash, Hapsburg kings and a church made entirely of human bones (really, it exists) all have a place in this eclectic little city and after this semester so do I.The same turrets that bore witness to the Thirty Years War, Nazi Invasion and Communist uprising, loom over me as I go about my day. Indeed any inquest to the history of Prague resoundingly points to one fact: this city is a survivor. Constantly conquered by every major power and the notorious looser of every battle, it stands beautiful and richer for the experience. In this way, the city is a perfect allegory for those international students dwelling within it. Studying abroad is not easy and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. With abundant learning comes sacrifice and work in equal parts. Though in the beginning you ache for home, with each day the experience becomes easier and more meaningful Yes, as my transcript indicates I am doing a great deal of learning – 15 credits in fact – inside the hallowed halls of the medieval Charles University. However, what one really learns abroad cannot be summed up in credits or hours. Leaving everything I know forced me to begin by looking inside myself. Living and learning away from the familiar challenges me to think about myself in the context of a global citizen. What do you learn while studying abroad? I’ve learned to adapt to new situations, to be skeptical of unmarked cabs and that all you can eat Chinese buffets in Prague are a bad idea (they cause food poisoning). I’ve also made life-long friends, had a conversation in a restaurant with former Czech president and playwright Vaclav Havel and lived in a city that has inspired fairy tales. Studying abroad has made an indelible impression on my life. Separating from what I loved in its familiarity, forced me to see my life in perspective. I can truly cherish everything I left behind with new found appreciation and ardor, while knowing that there is a world beyond it. No matter where you choose to study, I promise that this “destination” is only a journey in itself. I think I always knew it was “a wild word,” but now I believe that above all it is a beautiful one. – Robert Keller

Villanova, Unlike most of the students in my program, I had no intention of studying abroad until my first Parents’ Weekend, where my family spoke to the director of the Global Citizens Program, Mr. Lance Kenney. Global Citizens allows first-year Business students to travel abroad in London during their second semester and take a 10-week course schedule followed by six weeks of an unpaid internship. The courses focus on both Business topics (such as Macroeconomics) and adapting to English life (done through the British Life and Culture course) and all of the courses act to both instruct and orient you with your new surroundings. The internship is set up in a field of your interest and the people responsible work as hard as possible to find you a position that is both enjoyable and potentially relevant to your future. Plus you receive 15 credits, three of which come from the internship, so it’s not as if you will be graduating late if you go.Coming to London was a hard decision to make, but the experience has been once in a lifetime. London is the social hub of Europe, meaning that the culture of London is extremely diverse and provides something for anyone to enjoy. Museums (all of which are free), theatres, cinemas, clubs, pubs, attractions, comedy shows, live music, street festivals and just about anything else are in supply here in London. More amazing still have been those special moments that you don’t read about in travel literature, such as the sight of the Parliament building at night from the London Eye, hearing the chants and screams of thousands of fans at a football (aka soccer) match, or just the peaceful feeling you get watching leaves float slowly down the Serpentine as you jog through Hyde Park. Traveling to other countries is also amazingly easy and cheap. I’ve taken the opportunity to visit Dublin, York, Oxford, Liverpool and all of Scotland (including Loch Ness) as a warm up to an eight-country, 18 day European vacation this June. That being said, there’s so much to see and do in London that you could easily never leave and feel completely satisfied. Of course not everything is bliss. I miss my family, but they are always a phone call away (which is very cheap by using your computer with Skype). I miss my friends too, but through all the different modes of communication I still feel completely in the loop. And it may be difficult to have to get used to so many new things, but it’s not like we’re the only Americans here. I’ve managed to watch all of ‘Nova’s NCAA basketball games this year, I can still eat at McDonalds’ or grab a coffee at Starbucks, and we’ve had a great deal of visitors from the states to help us feel at home. While so much has been new to me, the change I really took for granted was how much I would learn about living on my own. It’s not until you have to be up at six to exercise before your nine to five job, which is followed by cooking dinner, cleaning the flat, calling home and working on assignments that you appreciate how much you learn by being away from home. I feel extremely fortunate to be here and would recommend the program to anyone able to participate.-Joe Kressler

Villanova, I am abroad in Freiburg, Germany, which is located in the Southwest corner of Germany, just minutes away from the borders of both France and Switzerland. Freiburg is a university town of about 220,000 people and is called the “greenest” and “sunniest” city in the country. I am abroad with the IES European Union program, which focuses on political science and economics within a comprehensive study of the EU. In addition to our classes, our program takes us on a month’s worth of academic field trips where we attend meetings with high government officials of EU member-states. With the program I travel to Berlin, Tallinn, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg. We gain access to the European Parliament, the German Reichstag, the UN, and many other high-profile European government locations. We also have evenings and a couple of days free in these cities to enjoy them without the academic element. So, my experience abroad is quite different from others because of the nature of my program. I have also attended optional non-academic field trips to the Swiss Alps, the Black forest, Alsace (France), and Staufen (a town in Germany where Goethe’s Faust lived). Independently, I have traveled to Amsterdam and Vienna, and have plans to visit Barcelona and the Italian Riviera. Hence, I am not actually in Freiburg a lot of the time, but it is a great place to come home to. It is also at a good location to travel most of Europe during the few months I am here.Going abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made – especially on this particular program. I am genuinely learning so much, and I get to actually visit all of the places I read about. Thanks to the EU Shenghan Agreement, there are no real border controls within most of the EU member-states, so traveling across these countries seems like crossing US states; it is feels unreal when I actually step back and think about what I’m doing. I cannot think of any other way I would have been able to see and do everything that I have.The traveling has made me more independent and exponentially more patient. Patience is more than a virtue when you’re traveling with a group of 35 students; it is a necessity for sanity. Our bus broke down in the middle of the night in the middle of Slovakia en route to Krakow and we had to wait for five hours. When things like this happen, we just have to make the best of the situation.I take two classes in German and two in English and live in university housing with German roommates. Classes are much more challenging than I expected, but are also very interesting. Everything we study is then reinforced by a field trip, which takes learning to a whole new level. It is also amazing to be able to use my language skills on the street when I am in Germany, and I’m enjoying German culture. The food is amazing, yet Germans all remain all so thin. Germans, and Europeans in general, are fascinated with the U.S. Presidential election, and love Barack Obama. I have been told to vote for him numerous times, and have received drinks for free by telling the bartender I voted for Obama. Germans love to talk about politics, and I was surprised by how well they follow the events in the US. They love to hear an American’s opinion. There are equal amounts of pedestrians, cars, and bikes on the streets. We have to get used to the “German stare,” which is a term even used by Germans to describe the way that they stare at everyone as they walk by. Most of the cultural differences are subtle in Germany – or maybe it just seems that way now because I have become so used to them that I cannot think of any other differences to write about. I guess that’s a good sign that I really am getting immersed in the culture. Eastern Europe was much more different than the States, and in Tallinn I felt like I was in Russia. Eastern Europe was the only time I felt truly foreign.I would enthusiastically encourage anyone who is considering going abroad to do it. I was terrified on the plane ride here, but now I cannot imagine being back at Villanova. Yes, sometimes I will go on Facebook and get a little jealous that I am missing things back at school, but then I just look at the map on my wall, and all the dots marking the places I’ve been, and those events lose their appeal pretty quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone the fall, but I wouldn’t change this experience for anything in the world. If you’re considering going abroad – just do it! – Hannah Misner

Villanova, Going abroad as a freshman to London, England was quite a daunting, yet exciting, opportunity when it was offered to me last April. After being a London resident for nearly three months now, I can say that I definitely made the right choice last April. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language”, and he could not be more right. While the similarity in language made the transition easier, these two countries have a very different language and cultural. That is the part I have loved the most about my time here, learning a new culture. I have learned it first hand through football (soccer) games and daily interaction with the locals, and through my classes which all have a British twist. I could have never learned the English culture in a Villanova classroom. Another thing I’ve learned from being abroad, is how to live on my own. While living at Villanova last semester was obviously a big step towards independence, you are much more on your own here. You need to learn to cook, as there is no SPIT, learn to budget, as the British Pound continues to make a mockery of the US Dollar, and learn to live with 11 other people in a flat. All of these aspects of living abroad may seem daunting as a freshman, but they have helped me grow and learn. Living abroad has also taught me that Villanova is irreplaceable. Nothing can replace the great community feel, basketball games in the Pavilion, or late night Campus Corner runs. I definitely miss my activities, the campus, and especially my friends. While it is tough being away from these, I know Villanova will be waiting for me when I come back next August. I can’t wait to go back to Villanova, but as my semester across the pond draws to a close, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed the experience and would speak highly of studying abroad. London is an amazing city, and I can’t wait to return to it sometime in my future travels.- Michael Bobich

Villanova, Just yesterday, sitting inside one of my favorite pubs here in Rome using the free wireless internet I rely so heavily on, I received an email from a Villanovan staff member asking me to write a couple of paragraphs about my experiences studying abroad up to this point. My first thought was, where do I start? I have been living in Italy for close to 8 weeks now, and the experience continues to boggle my mind a little bit more everyday. Rome is an incredibly interesting city to live in, especially because the entire city is built around ancient ruins, so in just walking around the city doing some shopping, it is rather easy to stumble upon the Colosseum, or the ruins of the Roman Forum, and find yourself awed at what has existed here for so long. It is rather easy to forget that you are on a mission for a purse or a new pair of jeans, and find yourself trudging about the most historical sites in the world, taking pictures and fighting your way through tourists. Studying abroad is one of the best ways to spend a semester, especially when, let’s be honest, you have 8 of them to spare. I think in preparing for my trip to Italy, the hardest part was bracing myself for what only felt like a repeat of first semester Freshman year. Once again I would be at a new school, in a new city, and would have to make all new friends. It is a lot like transferring, only you’re going to a country where you don’t speak the language, and even simple things, like getting a haircut, can be a challenge. My first few days abroad, once I recovered from the crippling jet lag, were spent in a euphoric state, traveling about to see the Trevi fountain, and the Spanish steps, trying to wrap my head around the idea of living in Rome for four months. Then it seemed like the time would take ages to pass, and by the time the semester was over, I would be incredibly ready to get back to the states, where I could at least get a to – go cup of coffee when I wanted one. What I have found, however, is that four months is going to be way to short of a time. My program is a little different from most study abroad programs my friends are participating in. First of all, my study abroad group is only 7 students, all of us from different schools in the states. We take all seminar style classes, and all of our classes are with just each other and our one professor. A lot of our workload involves reading newspaper articles, or doing anthropological type studies of Roman culture, then meeting 5 times weekly to discuss what we have just read or observed. We emphasize a lot of culture and language study through presentations and field studies, and not so much of the traditional test-taking and paper writing approach to learning. It is definitely a much more relaxing approach to a semester, and leaves me with a fair amount of free time to explore Rome and Europe on my own. Not every study abroad program is like this at all, so I don’t want to give you a false image and try to generalize all study abroad experiences, but I will tell you to read up as much as you can on all the various programs, talk to people who have been on them, and choose the one that suits you best. As for living in Rome, I am actually doing a home stay with my roommate, and it has probably been the best, strangest, most frustrating, funniest, most educational experience I could have asked for. I live with a 65 year old Italian woman with a passion for mothering. She speaks no English, and my Italian isn’t exactly perfect, so sometimes communicating proves difficult. She insists upon cooking us dinner and doing our laundry, and when we are sick, she makes us tea and soup and scolds us for not wearing jackets. She’s rather quirky, and we affectionately refer to her as “Mamma Fiorella”, our surrogate mother for our time over here. If you want a true taste of the culture while you are abroad, especially in a non English speaking country, definitely do a home stay. Of course the idea of living in someone else’s home is a little weird, it is definitely nice to come home to a family at night, and to have a warm dinner prepared for you, and someone to help you find your way around a new city, and teach you infinitely funny lessons about the culture. We’ve had priceless moments with her in the kitchen while she teaches us how to cook, and we teach her how to say words in English, like “Chicken Breast.” There are a whole lot of things I have come to love about living in Europe, like how easy it is to get around and to travel from place to place, and how cheap it is. If you are willing to travel at some ungodly hours and sacrifice packing certain things so you don’t have to pay extra for luggage, getting around is unbelievably affordable. On top of that, everywhere you go, you’ll meet some awesome people. Whether it is sitting in a pub, or staying in a hostel, or even sitting on the train, you’ll just start talking to people, or they will start talking to you, and just like that you’ve made a new friend. There’s tons of people studying/working/living/traveling over here who are willing to show you around their city, or want to tag along as you show them around yours. You have to be careful of course, just like in the states, but I at least have found over here that people are much friendlier and excited to get to know the people around them. Another thing I love is observing all the little cultural differences. Over all, culture in Europe isn’t too different from the United States, but every now and again you will encounter some silly little cultural difference that you just can’t wrap your head around. For example, here in Italy there is no common courtesy whatsoever when it comes to public transportation. No one will let you off the train or the bus before they try to get on, and if it is crowded enough, it can become pretty much a brawl trying to get on and off pubic transport. It is completely senseless, of course, and if everyone would just wait an extra second, things would move much smoother, but that just isn’t how it’s ever been done over here, so they just go on tackling each other. I’ve learned just to deal with it, and to push back when pushed. There’s way more little things that make me giggle about being over here, but in an effort to get to you consider studying abroad, I am going to leave those up to you discover. There are of course things I miss immensely about being in the states. For example, in Italy at least, getting a cup of coffee to go is unheard of, and frankly, I miss constantly having a cup of Dunkin Donuts in my hand. Coming from someone who ALWAYS has coffee, that took a little getting used to, and I have replaced my daily coffee with Diet Coke. Beyond that, I miss the dollar more and more every day. The Euro isn’t quite as bad as the pound persay, but knowing that you are spending more than 1.5 times as much over here is not exactly a comforting thought. You have to be much more careful about spending money, and about eating in restaurants all the time, which gets VERY pricey very fast. I miss driving as well, and being able to go where I want when I want. Learning to rely on public transportation was a tough adjustment, (especially when in Italy it poses a physical risk as well) but after enough experience with it, and getting used to the system, the desire just to have a car again slowly dissipates. I could go on forever and ever about all of the things I love and hate about being over here, and about all the things I miss about the states, but frankly, I feel like you really just have to experience it for yourself. There’s infinite amounts of quirks and hang-ups to run into over here, and you’ll undoubtedly be frustrated from time to time, but it’s all part of the experience, and when it’s all over, you’ll find yourself laughing about whatever ridiculous mess you wound up in, like getting on a bus heading the wrong direction and winding up riding the entire line around. Sure, the idea of living in a foreign country is scary, and as much as I can tell you what to expect based on my own experience, every person does it a little differently. You just have to recognize what you are afraid, and then not let it stop you from having the best semester of your life. Once you get used to where you are living and find your way around, which will happen incredibly fast, you’ll find that you are having some of the best, funniest experiences of your life, and meeting some of the coolest people. You’ll stop missing the little things about the states, and actually start wishing you had more time, and more money, so you could just stay exactly where you are, having the time of your life. For me, coming back in June is going to be another tough adjustment back into US culture, and if I could just find a way to get a medium iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts airmailed to me in a timely fashion, I would perfectly content to just crash here for the rest of my college career. – Elizabeth Gentes

Villanova, Yesterday I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal; the first leg of my illustrious spring break from the difficult life of studying abroad in Milan, Italy. For the next ten days I will be travelling through Portugal, taking a train to Madrid, and then a bus to Barcelona. For the past ten weeks, I have been living what seems like a dream. Studying abroad has provided me with so many opportunities that I would never had if I had stayed on Lancaster Ave., except watching the ´Cats make it to the the Sweet 16 with my fellow die-hard fans. My fellow travelers and I took a weekend excursion to Norway this past weekend. Norway has some of the coolest architecture, museums, and sights to see. We went cross country skiing through the Oslo forest, and capped off the day watching a sunset over the fjords from the top of a ski jump. While this is a little off my topic of talking about my experience while studying abroad, it goes to show you the depth of the opportunities it opens up for you. I have not looked back once since arriving here in January. And while I miss all of my friends back at Villanova, and can´t wait to see them all in May, studying abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime that you shouldn’t miss out on.-William T. Wiley