4 Crucial Tips for Study Abroad Preparation

With warmer weather just around the corner, many students at IU South Bend are gearing up for study abroad trips to Costa Rica, Florence, Oaxaca, London, and Edinburgh during spring break or summer break. As a student who traveled on a study abroad trip last summer to Berlin and Prague, the main advice I can give to these students and any prospective student is an old standby: preparation, preparation, preparation. How exactly can our IU South Bend students prepare for their study abroad trips? How can preparation and organization make other students want to study abroad, too? These questions are going to be answered in four ways that I believe all students should know before they study abroad.

1. The first preparation tip should be the most obvious and most important of all: the passport. Do you need a passport to travel to your destination? If so, make sure to apply for a passport about three to six months in advance of the departure date of the trip. Not only that, but make sure to have copies available of your passport with you in case of an emergency. Keep your passport, passport copy, and personal identification card on you at all times during your study abroad trip!

2. The next tip is one that should begin around the same time as acquiring your passport. When preparing to travel to your specific location, you must first become familiar with the place you will be visiting. Researching the location will help you to better understand local cultures and differences between your home country and a foreign country. Two of the most fun aspects to research, in my opinion, are local delicacies and the country’s language. Although you may be tempted to revert to English, make sure to learn a few key phrases in the country’s native language.

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IU South Bend Students in Costa Rica, 2014

3. As a chronic over-packer, my biggest issue was deciding what to pack and what not to pack for my trip. The essentials are appropriate clothes (for layering in case of warmer and/or cooler weather), comfortable shoes, plenty of socks, underwear, or swimwear depending on your location, cell phone/cell phone charger, basic and minimal toiletries, and any books you know you will need for your time overseas (i.e. English to foreign language dictionary, books to read on the plane, sketch books and/or journals). It is extremely important to keep in mind that although it might be tempting to bring all your own toiletries along, most locations will be able to provide you with cheap and small versions of your favorite products. Keeping enough space in your luggage for souvenirs and goodies to bring back home is key when deciding on how much to pack into your suitcase.

4. Lastly and equally as important, when you prepare yourself to study abroad, you must go in with an open mind. Traveling to a foreign country can seem exciting and frightening all at the same time, but just remember that you will learn to grow as a student and as a person when experiencing a new culture and gaining lifelong experience with internationalizing your education. The most important piece of advice I can give you all when preparing for study abroad is this: put yourself out there and have fun!

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IU South Bend students in Prague, 2014

Need more preparation tips and advice? You can find a few fantastic resources for study abroad and traveling here, here, and here. Do you have any study abroad advice or stories? If so, let us know in the comments!

A German Student’s Perspective

11022881_871140402948029_137498649_nTo those of us born in the United States and have little or no international experience, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the vast diversity and cultural differences present in the world outside of our own sphere of influences. This challenge also faces those who were born abroad, when they choose to pursue a study or work opportunity here in the U.S. To these international adventurers, our lives and cultural norms may seem completely new and foreign (literally and figuratively), from their own worldly views. During the fall of 2014, IU South Bend was fortunate to be called home by several international students who decided to leave behind their comfort zones and join us for their academic study. One such student was Alina Felder, who connected with us through a mutual exchange program with the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Germany. Alina is pursuing her undergraduate degree in European Studies and was afforded the opportunity to study in the U.S. before returning to Europe to continue her education.

After sitting down with Alina for an interview, it became clear that she had a very different global view than many Americans I’ve met who have not had the chance to travel or study abroad. Alina reflected, “I do not usually judge people, I attempt to shy away from that. I did have some preconceptions of American life before I came, but in most instances they turned out to be wrong.” One major standout that Alina noticed was in the style of clothing worn by people of similar age groups in Germany as compared to here in the U.S. “In Germany,” she mentioned, “you never see young people wearing yoga pants or sweat pants in public unless they look like they are going to exercise. People, I feel, judge these persons because they are not properly clothed according to societal standards. In America, it is more relaxed. You frequently see young women wearing yoga pants and I do not believe that people judge them as harshly, if at all, as compared to Germany.” From my standpoint, it is difficult to imagine our society actively judging young women who wear these types of clothes in public as part of their casual dress. I often think about Alina’s words, and it is clear that yoga pants and sweats are really becoming staples for many men and women, both young and old. It is interesting to see this small difference through Alina’s eyes and realize we have just become accustomed to seeing such casual clothing without pausing to consider that they could cause controversy in another culture.11024836_871140416281361_1740623346_o

Alina also mentioned a difference in school routines between her own university in Germany and IU South Bend. In Germany, they are much more focused the final result of their learning in classes, as opposed to the gradual result that we employ in the U.S. Alina noted, “the class schedules are very different in the U.S. than in Germany.” The content and frequency of the homework in American institutions also shocked her. “I felt overwhelmed at times. In Germany, we do not have homework, we only have our final exams. It is difficult to complete all the readings and assignments during the semester, especially for someone who does not speak English naturally.” The rigorous classroom assignments and demands cut into her freedom to see more of what the U.S. had to offer outside of the academic halls. Alina is looking forward to wrapping up midterms and having more time to get out and experience American culture to the fullest.

Mao Kitsch and IU South Bend

China has been in the news a lot lately…which reminds me, did you know Mao kitsch is a thing?! Throughout China’s major metropolitan areas, and in areas where there are large amounts of Chinese immigrants, you can find all kinds of items with Chairman Mao’s likeness adorning it. While it’s unclear why this is so popular, it has some obvious influences from Andy Warhol’s silkscreen prints of Mao. This cultural development, this fascination with all things Mao, but in kitsch, is one of the many things IU South Bend students can learn about in an upcoming class with visiting lecturer Ke Ren.

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IU South Bend students have a unique opportunity to learn more about modern Chinese culture in a fascinating 10 week course, “Cultural History of Contemporary China.” This course will explore the rich cultural and intellectual changes in post-Mao and reform-era China. Students will investigate developments in literature, film, art, music, academia, and the mass media, while discovering the interactions between popular and elite culture. Special attention will also be given to how culture has profoundly impacted Chinese social and economic development during the last thirty years. This course starts on Wednesday, February 18, so students should sign-up right away. This is a great way to learn about the side of China Americans don’t often get to see – while getting some college credit.

Course: HIST-T 190 (5866), 3 credit hours Start Date: Wednesday, February 18. Meeting Times: MWF, 8:30 – 9:45 a.m.

Celebrating International Culture Locally or Paczki’s: More than Just a Polish Jelly Doughnut

One of my first memories as a child is having ponchkes Krapfens (sometimes called sufganiyah, but they are not quite the same thing) with my grandmother. Not yet old enough able to talk, I remember the smells permeating from the kitchen and wafting through the rest of the house. They would barely have time to cool before I would devour them, in all of their gooey sweet delight.

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A paczki is a pillow of deep fried dough that is bursting with a sweet filling. They are then covered with sugar, icing, or more traditionally, dried orange zest. The main difference between a more typical jelly doughnut and a paczki is the dough, which is typically richer in flavor. Common throughout Central Europe with slight variations and names, the name paczki comes from Poland. In Central Europe, plum and rose hip jam are the traditional fillings, but sometimes others are used, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, apple, and my Oma’s favorite, apricot. Cream cheese is also common within the United States and is gaining popularity around the world.

In Poland like many other Catholic countries, lard, sugar, and eggs are not to be consumed while fasting during Lent, therefore in many countries, these food items are consumed in a delicious pre-fast celebration. This is the concept behind Fat Tuesday, to eliminate these food products from the household and what better way to do that than by turning them into to a delectable treat like a paczki? Other religious faiths have similar traditions, for example in the Jewish community, ponchkes and sufganiyah, as well as other food fried in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes), are served around Hanukah to celebrate the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

Due to Polish immigration  in the area, there are several local bakeries in South Bend were you can get a paczki during this time of the year. Stone’s Old Fashion Donuts, Macri’s Deli, Baker’s Dozen Bake-Shop, and Dainty Maid all bake fresh paczkis. Even Meijer makes a very good, albeit slightly more Americanized, version of this Central European delicacy. If you have never had the pleasure of biting into a fresh, fluffy, sweet paczki make sure to get out there and try one before they disappear for another year!

Letters from France

I have been asked to contribute some regular updates to this blog about the time I am spending in France as an exchange student. I am a student at IUSB, and I am studying this semester at L’Université du Sud Toulon-Var in southern France. There are a few aims that I hope to accomplish in this space. First, I would like to give a truthful, detailed, and I hope at times amusing account of what it is like to study overseas. Second, I would like to give some of the details of what it’s like living in another country. Third, I would like to provide helpful information for other students at IUSB who might be interested in studying abroad, but who might be afraid of some of the unknowns. I hope to be able to dispel some of those fears, and perhaps convince other students that they can and ought to study abroad. That said, there are some things that one encounters in another country that can be distressing, frustrating, or embarrassing, and I will not gloss over these. It is important to remember, however, that these little misunderstandings are part of what makes living in another country interesting. I should also mention that as a foreigner, the locals tend to cut you a lot of slack. Generally, they seem to realize that you’re clueless, and go out of their way to be nice and helpful.

To begin, I’d like to mention some of the cultural differences that I’ve encountered in my first two weeks here. In my next post, I hope to cover some of the specifically scholastic differences in student life. I’ve been in France several times before, but that was always in Paris, and as a tourist, so this is my first experience living among the natives on their own turf, so to speak. In the interest of balance, I’ll give some of the good, as well as some of the bad, though I’ll begin with the bad so that I can end on a high note.

I think that the most annoying thing for an American getting used to life in France is dealing with the French bureaucracy. Usually, you hear this name prefaced by “the legendary,” and with good reason. I pointed out to another exchange student, who is from Scotland, that the French have to put up with it too, but he replied that this may be true, but they’re used to it, since they have to deal with it from birth. Also, it probably explains why they smoke so much. In brief, things that you’re used to being able to do in the US in minutes can take days or weeks here, and will involve multiple visits to different offices across town to get things stamped and signed by officials. This difficulty is compounded by the French work-ethic, which is not that of Les Anglo-Saxons. It is not unusual to go to an office, only to find that it’s closed because everybody is out on their two-hour lunch, or to find that the office is closed today because it’s the 1300th anniversary of Charles Martel’s victory at the Battle of Tours or something. Also, you know how easy it is to add or drop courses in OneStart? You just go to the webpage, choose the course, and click “Enroll.” Not here. In France, you have to go to the advisor in your department with a signed paper copy of your course schedule. He or she will have to approve and stamp it. Then, you take the paper to Le bureau de scolarité to have it put in the system. I also had to open a French bank account, which has taken over a week and four visits to the bank to sign more papers, wait for approval from Marseille, and go to Toulon (a 30-minute bus ride away) in order to deposit money at the main branch. This can be very frustrating. The last time I opened a bank account in the US, it took about 15 minutes. That being said, they understand that you’re going through a bunch of bureaucratic red-tape, and they try to help you out. When I was getting my dorm room, I was missing a couple of the forms that I technically needed before moving in, but the nice people at the front desk just told me to bring it when I could, and gave me my key. In the US, I think that they would have just told me to get lost, but here, there seems to be a higher level of trust if you show that you’re willing to play by the rules.

Enough of the bad things, now for some of the good things. I flew in to Paris on Thursday the 15th of January, and took the train to Toulon on Monday the 19th. If any of you have taken the South-Shore or Amtrak, both of which do an admirable job in my view with their limited budgets, you would weep if you took the fast, efficient French trains. In France, they have high-speed trains, called the TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse), which travels at up to 200mph. This isn’t new technology either, the TGV has been running since the late 1970s. The trip from Paris to Toulon, which is about 525 miles, cost me 49€ ($56), and took about four hours. Efficiency like this doesn’t exist in the states.

If you like good food, you will think that you’ve died and gone to foodie heaven here. I recommend just walking in to any little restaurant on the main street in a little town and ordering whatever the plat du jour is. I did this last week, and had one of the best lunches of my life. The French are serious about food, and I think that we could learn something from them. There is some value in taking your time to enjoy the little details of life, to be in the moment, and to reject the American “gotta-have-it-now-faster-faster” lifestyle.

I am including a few pictures of my little walk around the old city of La Garde last Saturday. I hope that these also give some sense of how beautiful it is here, and that they will inspire other students to study abroad.

 

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Reflections on “Study Abroad 2013: Oaxaca, Mexico”

We will continue our series regarding upcoming trips by sharing a past newsletter article by 2013 Oaxaca, Mexico trip leader Jake Mattox:

“The 2013 summer program in Oaxaca, Mexico was even more amazing than I had thought it would be. The 3-week immersion was anchored by immensely enjoyable and successful daily classes in language and culture at the impossibly beautiful setting of the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. The daily treks between the Institute and our home-stays in this pedestrian-friendly city took us by too many artisan shops, interesting churches, produce vendors, and local eateries to ever be able to visit them all. The directors (Elaine Roth and I) and students gained immensely from the daily classroom lessons, the conversation hour, and the afternoon cultural classes provided.

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We made lifelong friends—and second families—in our homestays and language classes. We explored the city and surroundings of Oaxaca as a large group and as pairs, learning to look, listen, and feel. (The 4-5 mile runs Elaine and I took with our friend and coordinator Carlos Brito led us through new parts of town, the central market, and even some rural settlements!) We encountered an incredible diversity of cultures, languages, and landscapes, as we traveled within the city and state of Oaxaca, to the pre-Colombian pyramids of Monte Albán and Teotihuacán, past some of the world’s highest volcanoes such as Popocatepetl (“El Popo”), to the beautiful colonial city of Puebla, and to the incredibly rich and vibrant Mexico City. In fact, our final few days in Mexico City provided many of the trip highlights, including an afternoon at Frida Kahlo’s house!

But it’s not just the locale; the trip is also about the participants. The students on this trip took care of each other, pushed each other to try new experiences, and worked both independently and collectively to learn as much as possible from this immersion in another culture. I thank my co-leader, Elaine Roth, and all of the student participants for a fantastic journey!”

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Trip leaders for 2015 Mexico Study Abroad Trip are Prof. Tammy Fong-Morgan and Prof. Hayley Froysland. Trip Deadline is February 2.

Florence and Study Abroad: “An Experience that Money Can’t Buy”

Earlier this week the International Programs highlighted our upcoming summer trip to London and Edinburgh. In this blog we will discuss another wonderful travel opportunity, the trip to Florence, Italy. Florence’s rich artistic and cultural traditions have helped it earn and maintain a reputation as one of the world’s most influential cities. Founded by the Romans, Florence has also been hailed as the birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence is the largest and one of the most beautiful cities in the Tuscany region of Italy. Former trip leader Dora Natella notes that students on the Florence trip seemed to be struck by, “awe and have absorbed, almost by osmosis, the energy from the past.” This amazing trip to Florence focuses on photography and is open to all IU South Bend students regardless of their level of photography experience.

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Students on this trip will have the chance to participate in photo sessions four days a week as they tour around this historical city and the picturesque countryside surrounding it. In addition, all participants will have access to a darkroom in order to process and print their own photographs. Aside from seeing the city through the lens of a camera, students will also have the chance to wander through the museums and art galleries that Florence has to offer and take the time to gaze upon great pieces of inspiring artwork. Trip leader Susan Moore wants to emphasize that, “the assignments are tailored toward individual students” no matter their experience level in photography. This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity with one of IU South Bend’s most well reputed professors, Susan Moore.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

In addition to experiencing one of the most beautiful and artistically important cities in the world, there are other benefits, such as earning college credit or gaining a fresh global perspective. Former IU South Bend student Sarah Demaege reflects that, “going overseas changed me as a person. I feel more relaxed and appreciate the little things in life.” There will never be an easier way to safely visit another country than to participate in a Study Abroad trip while you are in college. Sarah also emphasizes that IU South Bend students should not let this: “opportunity pass them by, it’s a wonderful experience that money can’t buy.”

Applications are available online and at the Office of International Programs. Any student desiring to participate in the program should contact trip leader Susan Moore or Director of International Programs Lisa Zwicker.