What Study Abroad Taught Me

I have now been back in the U.S.A. for a week, and have thus theoretically had some time to reflect on what I learned while abroad. Instead of writing a super long, boring, intellectual article, I am just going to give you a list of 20 things that I learned while abroad, in no particular order.

1) Not speaking for fear of messing up is stupid and pointless. The only way to improve your foreign language skills is to try.

2) Even if you try and fail, like maybe you tell the pharmacist that you have been sick for two years instead of two days, and in that moment you feel as if the humiliation will never fade, it eventually will. And you might even get a free aloe vera body wash with your purchase because he feels sorry for you.

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3) You can’t be afraid to try new things, especially new food. You may discover you like foods you never thought you would. You also can’t be too worried about gaining weight. You probably will gain weight, but tapas are definitely worth those extra pounds.

4) Realizing that everyone else can speak English as well if not better than you can speak Spanish is both motivational and disheartening in your pursuit of perfecting Spanish. It is easy to just rely on their English skills, especially when people automatically start speaking English to you even when you try to speak Spanish to them.

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5) The name Shelly is impossible for Spanish speakers. The closest the baristas at Starbucks will get is “Chelli”. Your host mom will probably take a good month to get it right, and only after you have repeated it a million times, spelled it out a million times, and written it up on the white board in the kitchen for further inspection.

6) Sometimes it’s okay to just walk around the city by yourself. There is no better way to enjoy the scenery and learn to navigate a new place than by simply wandering.

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7) You are not going to get along with everyone in life, and that’s okay. Imagine how exhausting it would be if every single person you met became your best friend.

8) Sometimes the conflicts you have with above non-friends will lead to the sharpening of your argument skills, and will ultimately leave you feeling more confident in yourself and your relationships with the people that actually are your friends.

9) No matter how much you think you are bad at adjusting to new situations, everyone is in fact capable of adjusting. By the end of my four months it felt weird to be leaving my host home, whereas in the beginning it felt weird being there.

10) If you can’t learn to go with the flow and accept that things aren’t always going to go as planned, studying abroad is probably not for you. From your card refusing to let you withdraw money from an ATM, to being forced to take a ridiculously expensive cab ride from the airport, to all the stores being closed when you need to get your boarding passes printed, the universe will thoroughly enjoy throwing wrenches into your carefully thought-out plans. Don’t let it ruin your day.

11) Don’t have too many expectations for where you should go or what you should do while abroad. Some of your best memories may come from plans that were last minute or unexpected, like deciding to go on a trip to Morocco, a place I never considered traveling to before I arrived in Spain.

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12) Currency conversion matters. 50 euros is not equal to 50 dollars. Remember this when you go on shopping sprees.

13) People around the world will either love or hate the fact that you are American. It will be obvious which within a few seconds of talking to them.

14) Things that seem normal about our culture will seem hilarious, weird, or just plain stupid to people from another culture. For example, you will get very strange looks and comments from your Spanish host mom if you try to explain the concept of eggs for breakfast.

15) Switching between English and Spanish is extremely difficult. You will talk in English to your host mom without realizing it. More strange looks and comments will ensue.

16) Levels of PDA vary greatly around the world. Spanish couples seem to think it is appropriate to show their love for each other by kissing passionately in public places such as on a bridge, in a cafe, or on the metro. Americans will appear to be the only people who find this awkward.

17) You will be unable to escape the popular American songs that you kind of wanted a break from. Your host sister will probably blast them at top volume from her room.

18) Though America is a great country, it doesn’t have things like old cathedrals and castles in the middle of cities. You will definitely miss being able to visit historical places like this when you return home.

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19) There is no right or wrong way to do something or think about something. It is amazing how many different opinions, stories and ideas there are in the world. It’s easy to forget that the American culture is not the only culture.

20) Most importantly: I learned never to take anything for granted. My semester abroad might have been the first and last chance I get in life to travel and see the world. Hopefully I will be able to travel like that again, but if not, I will cherish the memories I made and the lessons I learned.

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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

 

Monkeys and Camels and Donkeys, Oh My!

Monkeys and Camels and Donkeys, Oh My!

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not posting last week. My goal was to post once a week, but last week I only had three days in between getting home from Morocco and leaving for Belgium, and I do in fact go to classes (I know, shocker), so I really didn’t have much time to write. So to make up for it, I will be posting TWICE this week! Yeah, try to contain your excitement. This post will be about my trip to Morocco, and the next post will be about my weekend in Belgium.

I have to admit, going to Morocco was never something that I thought I would do while studying abroad. Not that I didn’t want to, it just wasn’t the first location that popped into my head when I thought about the must-see places. But I sure am glad I decided to go! For those of you who are a little geographically challenged (guilty), Morocco is right below Spain, at the very top of Africa. Here is a map if you are still confused:

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We got on a bus Friday morning, and our first stop was Gibraltar, which you can see on the map at the very bottom of Spain. Gibraltar is a British territory, and walking around the town I definitely felt like I was in London (or how I imagine London is, since I have never been there). There were red phone booths and everything!

We only stayed for the afternoon, but it was a lot of fun! We walked through a cave, looked at the beautiful views, and most importantly, got to meet some monkeys! Monkeys just hang out on the side of the street there, and we were able to walk up to them, take pictures, and even touch them (though I opted out of that part).

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The beautiful view of Gibraltar
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Me with my new monkey friend

After Gibraltar we started our very long journey to Morocco, which consisted of long hours on a bus, an hour-long ferry ride, and the worst traffic I’ve ever seen at the border of Morocco. It was exhausting, but definitely worth it. When we arrived at our hotel, we basically just ate dinner and went straight to sleep.

In the morning we got back on the bus (oh joy) and headed to the town of Tangier where we got spend time by the ocean, and, drumroll please, RIDE CAMELS! The ride itself was very short, but just the experience of riding a camel on a beach in Africa is something I will never forget.

The guy who was in charge of the camel rides had obviously just learned a few key English phrases that he liked to repeat, so while we were riding he kept shouting “OH MY GOD!” over and over again, to try to get us pumped up. (The image below is me and my friends with our arms up, per his request, as he shouted his signature phrase).

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Enjoying the ride of a lifetime

Begrudgingly leaving the camels behind, we got back on the bus and headed to Chefchauen (known as the Blue City) where we ate lunch in a restaurant, followed by a tour of the city. I swear, I don’t know what it is about our study abroad program, but I have yet to experience a dull tour guide. Our guide through the city was this tiny old man who we quickly named “Moroccan Yoda” because of his unique voice and tiny stature. One of our guides for the trip told us that this man was very popular in the town, and we soon saw this to be true. Everywhere we went he seemed to see someone he knew. It was an entertaining tour to say the least, and the city itself was beautiful.

After our tour we were given free time to roam around and shop. The only thing I really wanted to buy in Morocco was a purse, so I decided to hold off until Sunday to buy it when we were in the leather market. So I just stuck with getting a henna tattoo, which has stayed pretty well and has been a good conversation starter.

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Chefchauen
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Me and my henna!

We then headed to Tetuan, checked into our hotel, and went to a restaurant for dinner and “entertainment.” Now, the way they described the entertainment to us, I have to admit, made me expect something very different from what we got. They mentioned there would be belly dancers, so I (and I’m sure all of the guys especially) expected a bunch of beautiful women dancing around. What we got was one middle aged woman showing a little too much skin, and dancing about as well as any of the rest of us could if we tried. In fact, two guys from my program got up and let her teach them a few moves, which was hilarious to say the least.

There was also supposed to be music and other forms of entertainment. This consisted of a group of about five men playing various instruments a little too loudly, and coming over to our table to play the instruments in our faces. It was….lovely? There was also a man who danced around with a tray of candles on his head, which was strange to say the least.

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Music to our ears
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The captivating entertainment

The next day we headed to our last stop of the trip, the town of Tetuan. We walked around the town a bit, seeing everything from donkeys to baby kittens to chickens. We then stopped in a Moroccan spice shop, where one of the men who worked there gave us an entire run-down of all of the different products we could buy, from moisturizers, Moroccan oils and lipstick to spices and teas. I bought a rose-scented moisturizer and called it quits, despite the enormous pressure to buy everything in sight.

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Donkeys in Tetuan
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Spices galore!

We then headed to the market area where most of the girls went wild looking at all of the different purses, wallets and jewelry. In all of the shops you are expected to bargain for the prices. My tactic was just to act really unsure and indecisive (which is extremely easy for me) and the man lowered the price to convince me to buy. The end result was a really nice leather purse for 15 euros. Not too shabby!

The trip home was uneventful, so I won’t bore you with the details. Overall it was an amazing experience! It was really nice being somewhere that is so culturally different from what I am used to in the U.S. and Spain. I learned a lot about the Moroccan culture, and witnessed first-hand what it is like to live in a 3rd world country. Here are a few of the facts and take-aways from my trip:

1) Children in Morocco are taught three languages in school: Arabic (their native language), English, and a third language of their choice (either Spanish or French)

2) Though the vast majority of people in Morocco practice Islam, there are Jews and Christians as well, and all three religions coexist in harmony together, with little religious conflict

3) Water is something that we absolutely take fore granted in America and most places in Europe. While in Morocco it was not safe for us to drink any tap water, so I was forced to buy bottled water everywhere I went. As a person that drinks a lot of water, this made me very grateful to live in a place where free, drinkable water is easy to come by.

Hope you enjoyed my post, and maybe even learned a little something about Morocco. Expect another post very soon!

Your favorite world traveler,

Shelly

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My Life in Sevilla

My Life in Sevilla

When I sat down to write this blog, my first thought was “oh no, what will I even write about? This week was so boring!” But then I thought about it and realized that this wasn’t really true. Sure, I didn’t travel to a different country or visit another city this week, but why should that make it any less exciting? I’m living in SPAIN for God’s sake, every week is more exciting than the average person’s dull week (no offense).

So if you are expecting to hear of adventures and new experiences in this post, you may be disappointed. But I spent this week in Sevilla, a beautiful city in Spain, so I should probably not be complaining.

This past week marked my first full week of classes at UPO (Universidad de Pablo Olavide). I haven’t written much about the university yet, so let me just give you a quick mental image:  the campus is bigger than I expected, but still pretty small compared to most universities in the U.S. There are no flower patches that change every week like at TCU, nor are there statues of the mascot (what even is the mascot here?) or fountains around the campus. It is basically just a grouping of buildings, that vaguely look like either a prison, insane asylum or rehab center (though at the orientation they tried very hard to convince us otherwise).

Basically, going to TCU for the past two and a half years has severely altered my perception of what a “normal” campus should look like. As it turns out, not all campuses around the world look like TCU’s. So those of you that are there right now, take a second to get out of bed/off the couch, close your computer, and go look out your window at the beautiful campus that we call home. We definitely take it for granted.

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UPO Campus
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TCU Campus

Now that you are back from admiring the 8th Wonder of the World that is our beautiful campus, I’ll continue. I signed up for 5 classes, but I ended up dropping one so that A) I wouldn’t be too overwhelmed since all of my classes are taught IN SPANISH and B) So that I will not have any classes on Thursdays, which makes traveling a lot more convenient.

My four classes are: Spanish Civilization and Culture, Intercultural Communication, Tapas, History of Spanish Cinema. So far, I like all of them a lot! My tapas class is literally a cooking class, where each week we learn to make a different tapa, and we get to eat everything we make! I’m just slightly excited for this class. And for those of you who don’t know what tapas are, it’s a traditional Spanish food, basically like an appetizer in the U.S. Spaniards go to a tapas bar to try different small plates of food, and to socialize with friends. I have already promised my friends at TCU I will cook tapas for them when I get back, so hopefully I’ll remember what I learn in this class!

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Tapas for days!

For about the last two weeks I’ve been sick, so this weekend I stayed in every night trying to get some rest. My host mom had two 15-year-old boys staying with her this week. They were from England and on a high school trip (wish I got to travel in high school!) Because they had a curfew and I didn’t feel up for going out, I spent Thursday AND Friday nights playing various card games with them. Yeah, be jealous of my oh-so-exciting life. They taught me British slang words like “safe” (apparently it means “cool”), and I taught them them how to say “y’all”. Basically it was a friendship made in Heaven.

Unfortunately, my new besties had to leave early Saturday morning. On the bright side, I am now feeling almost completely well again. Maybe card games cure colds? This weekend I will be going to Morocco! So excited! And as of yesterday, I am officially going to Belgium the weekend after! So expect more exciting blog posts in the future.

Your travel-happy friend,

Shelly