Breaking a Stereotype

Social media had a huge impact on the people of 2017, and will continue affecting people for years to come. Every time I got on Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn, someone was posting about not being understood for who they are. Going abroad has allowed me to realize just how important it really is to understand someone for who they are instead of the stereotype that people portray them of being. To begin with, I went to study in The Hague, The Netherlands. On the opening day for the exchange program all one hundred and fifty exchange students, including three University of Louisville students which were the only United States citizens in the room, watched what the school thought was a great introduction video to break the ice. The instructor first began the video saying, “I know all of you have seen this video before, but we can watch it again.” The video consisted of a foreign television host making a fool out of President Donald Trump. I felt absolutely humiliated, because before I didn’t have the chance to speak to anyone, and everyone made their stereotype about The United States. It was only after everyone in the room was laughing at the obscene footage that the instructor asked if any Americans were in the room. Two others and I raised our hands in shame and humiliation. This story is not to convince anyone not to participate in study abroad, because it was an experience of a lifetime. This allowed me to break a stereotype to every single person I had met. Over the four-and-a-half-month period I was in Europe, I had the opportunity to prove that I was not a stereotype. “You can’t be American. You aren’t rude. You aren’t fat. You aren’t something.”  For the entire beginning of the trip, I had to prove to people who I wasn’t before they could get a chance to meet who I was. I had to break down cultural barrier that should have never been built in the first place, and needless to say, I loved it. I got to show my new friends from all over the world what made me a United States citizen, and I stopped letting stereotypes make a name for me. As much as I felt like a victim of being misunderstood, I was also culturally uneducated. I have heard many stereotypes of countries, and as much as I knew they couldn’t all be true, it did give me a bias. One night I vividly remember was my friends and I cornering all parts of the globe sat around and began to allow each other to explain where the stereotypes come from. By the end of the night, we were all laughing at the common belief of people that new absolutely nothing about the culture of our countries. Now, I can finally say I am culturally taught, but I could never be able to assume anything about anyone based on where they are from.

Things I Miss About Madrid

I have officially been back in the U.S. for a month now and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little depressed. When I first arrived in Madrid the culture shock was a huge blow to me and now that I am back in the U.S. the same culture shock is hitting me, just from a more familiar angle. During my time in Madrid, the city, the culture, and the people became my home. I enveloped myself in the Spanish way of life, I made tons of Spanish friends and was treated like family by all of them. I worked on my language skills and became a much better (not fluent) Spanish speaker. I really fell in love with Spain. In this blog post I will talk about the things I treasured most while in Spain, and the things that I will miss the most.

1. The People

There are really no people like the Spanish people. The people are so warm, yet straight forward. I was treated like family by all the friends I made and by default, all of their friends and family too. Once you are let into a Spanish friend group, you are there for life, they are very loyal and loving people who include you in everything and really make you feel like a member of the family. I spent a lot of my time in Spain with Madrileño’s (people from Madrid) and they really opened their arms to me. I had many friends that introduced me to their friends and family and I really built myself a huge network of friends and family in Madrid. I keep in touch with all of them and they desperately want me to come back (I also want to go back). The people in Spain, not just Madrid, are amazing people and if you can conquer the language barrier you will make life long friends in this country.

2. The Culture

The culture of Spain is great. What other culture has siestas in the middle of the day? None that I know of. The relaxed culture of Spain is great. I love and miss how casual and relaxed everyone is in Spain. Everyone moves at a slower pace it feels like and people just enjoy the moment. I miss waking up around 10, getting ready, going out and getting some juice and a croissant, walking around the city and stopping in the little tapas bars for a bite to eat and a beer, and then moving on all at my own pace. No one will rush you in Spain and everyone seems to be happy with what they are doing at the moment. The art in Spain and the street performers are another great part of the culture. Spain is a beautiful country.

3. The Public Transportation

This is a practical thing that I will miss The transportation over there is just amazing. Being able to get anywhere quickly and efficiently at relatively low cost is something that I definitely took for granted and missed when I arrived back in Louisville. The United States, especially Louisville does not have great public transportation systems. Louisville only has the TARC bus system, which in my opinion is not very efficient. We do not have subways here either. In Europe, not just Spain, subways and public transportation is amazingly quick and simple. Trains, buses, and trams run very often and are usually very simple to figure out. I got used to being able to walk to a train or hop on a bus at my convenience while over there, and i is something that I miss a lot here in the States. In Louisville, having a car is almost a necessity and it is very difficult to get around with out one. This was not so in Madrid, I could get anywhere I needed to go by using the public transportation and walking on foot

There are many other things I miss about Madrid and Europe in general, but these are the top 3. I encourage you to go travel abroad as well and find the things that you love most about different cities and cultures!

 

Travel Advice!

After choosing your destination to study abroad, it’s important to finalize the decision on whether you want to travel throughout Europe, or stay in that specific country. With Madrid as my destination, this was a difficult decision considering how versatile the country of Spain is. Since I had other friends studying throughout Europe and Madrid has such a central airport, I decided exploring outside was the way to go. Here are a few tips if you choose this route:

  • Plan a little ahead:

A common misconception is that it is super cheap to travel everywhere. Yeah, it is compared to traveling throughout America since you are going to a different country… but tickets can be up to $200 which can add up if you plan to travel 3 times a month. I would suggest to book tickets at least a month ahead.

  • Transportation:

I would suggest to do some thorough research on different modes of transportation. From country to country, use the budget airlines such as Vueling, Ryanair, easyJet, Wizzair, etc. Be careful with this though because they often charge more for big/extra bags. Just be sure to check the requirements. The Renfe train is great to use throughout Spain. Even busses are a safe option. I ended up taking a bus from Venice to Rome for just 20 euros!

  • Accommodation/Baggage

Pack light!! While abroad, it’s best to learn the art of minimalism. You don’t want too many things because there might be times where you are sightseeing with your baggage on you. With you living situation, check out hostels.com. You can find hostels with the best reviews and best prices. I highly recommend this option because it’s a great way to meet people, especially if you are traveling alone. With that being said, make sure you lock up everything at all times (unfortunately my friend got her laptop stolen at a hostel). Hostels will also usually be extremely resourceful. They include information on all the popular sights in including tickets and transportation to and from as well as restaurant recommendations. They also have baggage storage options in case you leave the destination after check-out time.

Overall, it’s extremely important to do plenty of research to have an efficient, affordable and enjoyable experience in a different city/country, especially if you are there just for a weekend.

London Travel Guides

I spend ten days in London during Christmas and New Year Eve. UK is great and it’s different from USA. The following information I will talk about some travel guides to you.

First, when you come to UK, the voltage in Britain is the same as that in EU countries, which is 230 volts. But you need to prepare a conversion plug, British plug’s shape is different from USA.

Second, if you spend more than two days in Loncon, you can buy the London Pass, it includes more than 70 attractions you can go for free, such as Tower of London, Thames River Boat Cruise and Westminster Abbey. It will help you save a lot of money. In addition, all of museum are free in the UK. For convenience, you should buy oyster card which is the transportation card in London, single ride to take subway is 2.4 pounds and 1.5 pounds to take bus. London divides into many zones, but most of attractions are within zone 1. No matter how many times you take the subway or bus, deduction of up to 6.8 pounds a day within zone 1 and zone 2. It’s very expensive to take taxi in London, but I am not sure the price, because I haven’t took taxi when I was in London.

Furthermore, there is a question in the UK. How to tip in UK? European countries are not mandatory tip. In general, it’s not uncommon to tip in the UK. Some restaurants have ‘Service Included’ on the bill, so there’s no need to tip.

There are lots of delicious food in the London. So you don’t worry you will hungry. If you come to UK, you should try the afternoon tea, there are many flavor of cakes and tea you could choose. When you dine in, it will be expensive than take away. For example, you buy a cake and take away, it only spends 2.95 pounds. Or spend 4.25 pounds to eat in the café.

Differences between the U.K. and the U.S.

Before departure in my study abroad in London, England I thought what could be so different about the U.K. and the U.S.? They both speak English! The longer I was there, the more I noticed the subtle differences between the two. For the first most obvious one everyone probably knows, they drive on the opposite side of the road! They also heavily rely on public transportation. They have the tube, the famous double-decker buses, and trains. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of cars on the road, but there are even more people using public transportation. Another big difference that I noticed is that their restaurants, stores, and pubs close far earlier than ours. On weekdays their stores will close around 9 p.m. or earlier, restaurants around 10 p.m., and pubs by midnight. Another big difference is the variety of cultures. We call America a melting pot, but London indeed is a melting pot. While in London, I only met two people who were actually from London! Also, when we would go out to eat, we would see our server once when we were ready to order, when we got our food, and then when we got our check. Where in America our servers would probably check on us 5-7 times or more!

For one of our projects, we had to go to the tube and compare the differences in the advertisements we saw in London versus the advertisements in America. Some of the main differences we noticed are that ads in the tube are very wordy. They will have nearly a whole paragraph on an ad. Where in America, we are short, sweet, and to the point. We also rely a lot on visual aids to draw attention. Another large difference is they do not focus on interactive advertising as much as we do. We try to get consumers involved and interacting with us and one another. Where in the tubes they mainly used only traditional media. Our main conclusion was that London is about 5-10 years behind America on effective advertising.

My point here is that I was expecting things to be so similar to American culture, which in a lot of ways they were, but the more I explored London, the more differences I saw.

After My Experience Abroad

After My Experience Abroad
This past Fall in Madrid has been a crazy experience. There was good and bad, as to be expected. I really enjoyed being around a new and different culture. However, I did not enjoy my educational experience as much as my experience at U of L. The professors didn’t speak English as well as I would have hoped, but I expected there to be a bit of a language barrier at times so this was not the cause of my problems. The cause was that most of my professors just flat out didn’t teach us anything in the classroom. Then we would have homework assignments over material we didn’t cover in class. Most of the class time was spent talking about the professors’ personal experiences, instead of going over the course material. One of my professors would only go over theoretical material in class. The only stuff he would cover is basically definitions. Then, somehow, we were supposed to figure out how to use this material to solve practical homework problems that were all math. How am I supposed to solve a mathematical problem using a definition? It was impossible to do. I’m not saying this because I do not want people to study abroad because I do. It was a great experience overall, it was just the school that caused me troubles. I would advise to take classes as easy as you possibly could and do not take courses for your major abroad. You will not learn most of the material while you abroad, at least in Spain. The professors there don’t want to teach, they just want to do their research. The administration at my school, UC3M, was horrible too. At the beginning of the semester I had to get some paperwork signed to prove I was enrolled in courses at the school. I went to the international office where I was supposed to get the paperwork filled out. The people at that office then sent me to a different office. I was then sent to a different office by this second office. Then the third office told me I needed to go back to the first office I visited. I went back to the first office and talked to a different person and then they filled out my paperwork. It was just that kind of stuff that made things difficult. People didn’t want to do their job, so they told me to go somewhere else, I’ve never had something like that happen to me at U of L. After reading this it probably doesn’t seem like I enjoyed my time there, but that’s not the case. I actually loved my time there. I made tons of friends from all different countries such as Spain, Germany, UK, and Italy. I want others to go abroad like I did, but I want them to have a fair warning that their school experience is going to be a lot tougher than it is at U of L and it isn’t because the classes are harder. It’s just a different culture and almost different world. Don’t let this get you down though, you will still have the time of your life there

Preparing for Your Study Abroad Departure and Arrival

Preparing for Your Study Abroad Departure and Arrival
There are many things to do to prepare for your study abroad experience. It can be stressful and cause
you anxiety. Looking back now, what would have helped prepare me most for this experience is
preparing for the initial stress of arriving. Just accept that there is going to be stress/anxiety when you
first get there. You are in a different country with a completely new culture. You go from seeing people you care about every day to not seeing them for several months. You might even be the only person
you know in this new country or you may only know a handful of people. That can be quite hard to deal with at first.
When I first got to my study abroad destination, which in my case was Madrid, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. My landlord was late in meeting me at my new apartment, my apartment
was a bit different than I was expecting, and I had gone without sleep for about 24 hours. It was scary to say the least. The no sleep part made everything else seem 10 times worse, obviously because no one
operates well on no sleep. Everything ended up being okay in the end though. It helps to know that
several people are in the same situation as you are, and tons have felt what you are feeling at that
moment.
Get to know your study abroad buddies from U of L in the first few weeks. They will be the closest thing you have to home while you are abroad. They will also give you some comfort because they are in the
same situation as you, scared and excited for this new experience. Also, go to any youth activities in
your country. You will meet a ton of people there and it will be very easy to make friends. In Madrid
there is this group called City Life Madrid, and they help new people/exchange students meet other
people in Madrid that are interested in similar things. City Life also puts on nightlife events that were
super fun. They had pub crawls every Saturday night and an event at a night club with free entry every
Monday. I met so any people at these events and it helped my transition to my new situation so much
easier.
Also, to help reduce your stress it is helpful to knock out all your predeparture requirements as soon as
you can. Get your visa early, because sometimes it takes awhile to process. You don’t want it to be the date for you to leave and still not have your passport and visa back yet. I would also book a roundtrip
plan ticket, so you won’t have to worry about booking your return flight when you are abroad. By doing this, you can spend up to half of what you would spend by buying the trips separate. I did this and
ended up saving about $1,000 on my travel cost. The big thing is to make small goals to get prepared for your experience and knock the easy ones out first. This will make the initial experience so much better.

You Never Know What You Can Find

I didn’t realize how much studying abroad had changed me until I got home. Traveling and being surrounded by other cultures has affected how I view life back home in many ways. Each place that I visited had something unique about the culture and some sort of signature piece to the city. Being back in Louisville has made me curious as to what Louisville, Kentucky has to offer. I have never had any interest in exploring Louisville until now. I can’t help but think “if I was abroad here, what would I do, where would I go, and what would I want to see?” These questions have been on my mind ever since I landed at SDF.

I think my biggest take away from this experience is to learn as much as you can, no matter where you are. Although Louisville has never been voted “the most exciting city in America,” it is still unique and a very important city to me. We have the Kentucky Derby, Thunder Over Louisville, 4th Street Live, museums, and have been home to legends such as Muhammad Ali. Although these are all amazing things about Louisville, I have come to realize that what you find, wherever you are, will surprise you and be unexpected. There is more to this city that just the big-ticket items. I cannot wait to go explore Louisville and learn more about the culture that I have been surrounded by my entire life. I am excited to go see another side to Louisville and see what treasures I can find away from the main attractions.

10 Tips for Studying Abroad

  • DO IT! This is most likely the only opportunity that you will have to travel with little responsibilities. Also, it is a great resume builder!
  • Pack light. When you are going from airport to airport and train to train, having to carry a bunch of luggage can be very tiring and make your traveling experience less exciting.
  • Travel around. Don’t just stay in the city you are studying in. Go experience other cultures and get a feel for how different parts of the world live.
  • Take a relatively “easy” course load. You don’t want to spend every waking minute doing assignments, studying, and being in class. You need to have time to explore the city you’re in and travel around.
  • On the other hand, go to class! It is just as important to learn in the classroom as it is to learn outside of it.
  • Eat the local foods. Even if you are a picky eater, like myself, try something new! You will be surprised at how much you like new things.
  • Call home, but not too often. Keep your friends and family updated on your well-being, but don’t make yourself homesick by always checking in. Life in Louisville will continue while you are away.
  • Bring a small trinket from home. For those times if/when you do get homesick, having something from home can help you get past it.
  • Have a budget. If you go without a budget, you will spend a TON of money. Budget out trips, food, housing etc., and try to stay with it.
  • Have fun. This is an experience that will change how you view yourself, others, and the world. Learn all that you can and just have fun and enjoy it.

Okay, Don’t Freak Out

One of the things I learned about on my study abroad is the value of keeping a cool head and realizing everything is going to be alright. One week I was traveling alone in the grandiose city of London. I was preparing to leave London and my flight to Budapest was at 2:00pm So, naturally, I try to get their two hours early; that’s what you’re suppose to do, ya know. So. I’m sitting on my bus, watching Les Miserables and enjoying life. However, I think to myself, “How weird is it that my flight from Budapest to London was at 2:00pm and that it’s the same time on the way back…” I hurriedly pull out my ticket to check the time and in big bold letter it says flight leaves at 12:15pm. Holy crap! “Okay, don’t freak out.”

My bus arrives at 12:00pm and I grab my luggage and take off running. I get to security and the line is long but luckily the dude at the front let me skip him (shoutout to dude). I throw all my stuff off and ask the lady, “Yo, I need to take my shoes off?” She’s like, “Nah, you good.” Walk through the detector, my shoes set it off. I have to wait to get patted down. The clock is ticking. I finally get passed security; I put my shoes on (don’t tie them) grab my belt (don’t put it on), my jacket, throw my backpack over one shoulder, grab my small luggage and take off running. So here I am dashing through London Stansted airport sweating bullets as I hold my pants up, trip over my shoelaces, and drop my mittens and accessories that I am also carrying. I looked like a damn fool, I’m sure. A few women verbally expressed their concerns, “Shoes untied, jacket barely on, he must be in a rush,” They had no idea. The monitor says “BUDAPEST FINAL CALL”. My gate is 10 minutes away walking but I’m running so I make it there in 4 mins. OH MY GOODNESS there are still people boarding! I MADE IT. I throw all my stuff down and take a breath…go to pull out my passport and ticket…”where’s my passport?” In my frenzy to get to my gate I dropped it at security; I missed my plane. “Okay, don’t freak out.”

This was specifically bad because it was the end of Spring Break week and I had a huge project due the next day (that I admittedly had not done nearly enough work on). The security eventually was able to give me my passport back and then I found out that there were no more flights from London Stansted to  Budapest. “Okay, don’t freak out.”

I looked up prices for nearest airports to Stansted, found a flight to Budapest, made sure that I could get a bus there and headed out. I arrived in Budapest the next morning at 2am and stayed up all night to finish my project.