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The Balkans – Housing and Classmates

We’re currently staying in one of the many small hotels that are all over this city, called Hotel Sokak. It’s just big enough to house our entire group, and only a two minute walk from the pedestrian center. Since we take up the entire hotel, it’s been nice to not have to worry about disturbing other guests.

While I generally think of everything in Europe being smaller and more quaint, that hasn’t been the case at Sokak — doubly surprising because of how small a hotel it is. I really think that we’ve lucked out. We each have one roommate (a couple of people have two), and each room has its own bathroom. The rooms themselves are small, but very comfortable. Every morning there’s a small breakfast spread laid out for us — pastries, yogurt, bread, cheese, cold cuts, fruit, and some dry cereals. It’s simple, but satisfying. The family that runs the hotel is very friendly (though many of them don’t speak English, so communication is limited), and there are often a couple of their kids running around the lobby area.

The hotel being so small, it’s been really easy for all of us in the program to meet each other and go out together. The lobby, which has a couple couches and chairs, is the universal meeting and hang out place; people will do reading or writing while they’re down there, and if anyone’s looking for a group to go to dinner, it’s as simple as asking the crowd that’s gathered in the lobby if anyone else wants to join.

I also think that we have a very well-sized group. There are 23 students total — not so big a group that you can get lost in it, but big enough that several different groups can split off when heading to dinners and lunches and just exploring to make everything more manageable.

The Balkans – Beginning

T-3 days until my departure from Boston to Sarajevo. After spending the past six months at my co-op, absorbed with my life in Boston, this trip has really snuck up on me, and I’m spending the next couple days scrambling to make sure that I have everything I need for a five week adventure in two entirely new countries.
Ever since I was young enough to know what study abroad was, I wanted to study abroad. My mother is a high school language teacher who’s been lucky enough to travel around the world with her job, visiting countries like Spain, France, and China. I’ve done a good deal of traveling myself — both within the United States, and longer trips abroad, to countries such as Belize, Guatemala, and extended times in France, visiting family who live there. I always saw traditional study abroad destinations, mainly concentrated in Western Europe (in fact, I have friends leaving for Spain, Italy, and England within the next couple months), but saw this program as a chance to visit a part of the world that so few people my age ever really get to explore.
Having never traveled this far east before — I’ve never been farther than France — I’m certainly expecting to feel some culture shock. Though the pictures I’ve seen do remind me of places I’ve visited in Europe before, it’ll be a completely new experience to be surrounded by people whose language (and alphabet!) are completely foreign to me, and whose history I don’t share a part of, and have yet to learn about in depth.
I’m definitely hoping to be able to pick up some of the language while I’m abroad; I find language in general to be so fascinating, and hearing how people express themselves can be so different between different languages and cultures. I expect that most of what I do pick up will end up being from exposure rather than sitting and trying to learn from a book or website.
I do have to say that I’m relieved that there are no restrictions on what we can wear — I have a hard enough time deciding what to wear to work, much less what is acceptable in a foreign culture! I’m glad to say that for now there are very few things I’m apprehensive about. For now, I’m looking forward with an open mind to the experiences that we’ll have. And honestly, after six months of working forty hours a week, I’m excited to get back to taking classes!
That’s all for now. The next couple days will be a whirlwind of saying goodbye to friends, trying to pack (even though in all likelihood, that’s not going to happen until Monday morning) and making sure that I have everything I need ready to go. At least I know my passport isn’t expired this year!

Ending

Although my experience abroad was relatively short, it definitely still had an impact on me. Personally, I feel that I’ve grown more comfortable with trying new things, and have become more comfortable putting myself into situations where I don’t really know anyone. This trip also helped to define my academic and career goals. I was able to speak with a lot of professors and professionals who are working in the field I wish to go in-Urban Planning. I learned that I probably won’t be a traffic planner anytime soon but that traffic planning is an important facet of urban planning and I’m thankful to have learned the basics. I was exposed to a completely new field of study, civil engineering, and learned that a civil engineer’s work and an urban planner’s work often closely overlap and they work side-by-side. Because we almost exclusively worked in groups on our projects I was able to see how well this dynamic functions.

My biggest apprehension to studying abroad was missing out on being in Boston for the rest of my last summer. But I knew that this was also the last chance I would have to study abroad with Northeastern. I weighed my options and, as is usually the case, realized that a new challenge and experience is always a good decision. I’m completely happy with my choice, and know that this experience is irreplaceable, mainly due to the people that I shared it with. I believe the friends I made and the experiences we shared together were the biggest benefit of this dialogue. As I’m going into my 5th year at Northeastern I know that I’ve fallen into a comfort zone and am always surrounding myself with the same people. I am so happy to have had the chance to reach back out into the Northeastern community and meet new people.

Advice that I have for future participants is simple: Don’t hesitate! Go! This applies to the first decision to study abroad and the subsequent decisions you’ll make on your trip. Optional group trip to a cheese market? Go! Some people want to bike out to see windmills? Go! Thinking about going on a solo day trip to Brussels? GO!! The study abroad experience is solely what you make of it. Yes you’re going to be in unfamiliar locations, and probably be tired, and you may not even be able to find good peanut butter, but now is the perfect time to do some exploring, drink an espresso, and make the switch to Nutella.

For the last time, doei!

Housing and Classmates: Lima, Peru

I am staying with a host family in Lima. My host parents, Nancy and Tito Patiño, have three children, two of whom live at home. My home here can best be described as a labyrinth. The Patiños have expanded their home outwards and upwards to accommodate more students over the years. At present, there are four Americans, one Brazilian, one Columbian, and three Peruvians in the student quarters, with an additional student set to arrive later this week. There are three different staircases to access the bedrooms; and a single door may reveal one bedroom, or to a three-bedroom suite. Several bedrooms have their own bathrooms, and some their own kitchens. That I have seen, there are 17 bedrooms, 8 refrigerators of varying sizes, 9 bathrooms, and 2 sitting areas. I haven’t explored the family’s private bedrooms, so I’m confident that there are more bathrooms (and probably refrigerators) than I know of. In short, the house is a massive maze. To get to my bedroom, I climb two flights of stairs, a half flight outdoors, cross a common room, and finally walk down a narrow hallway to my bedroom.

My labyrinth of a home is located in San Borja, one of Lima’s many districts. San Borja borders Miraflores and Barranco (the popular tourist districts of Lima) in the west, and la Molina (my university’s district) in the east. I really like my location because I have a short commute to school, and a reasonable commute to bars and clubs on the weekend. Furthermore, because San Borja is not a tourist district, I get to see and experience a more authentic side of Lima.

I’ve had a pretty easy time meeting people here in Lima, since I live with so many students. Two American girls that I live with spent the first week with me on my orientation, so it was easy for us to become friends. I’ve since met many more people at my university’s orientation, including students from America, Germany, France, Austria, China, and, of course, Peru. Most other students came to Peru not knowing anyone, so everyone is eager to meet new people and socialize. It’s been a lot of fun exploring Lima with these students because we are so multicultural–everyone has a different opinion about life here.

Turkey and Germany – Ending

This dialogue has no doubt changed my life. Going abroad gave me a chance to explore the world, but even more it gave me space to learn about myself. I especially loved this specific dialogue because I was able to research a topic that was personally meaningful to me and learn about myself in the process. I think that because of this dialogue I have become a more grounded person. Seeing how large the world is definitely makes you reconsider how you view your own life and problems. This dialogue also showed me how much I still have to learn.

Excitingly, this dialogue also helped me finally decide my major! I went into the dialogue knowing that I wanted to study gender and sexuality, but because Northeastern doesn’t have a gender studies major I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. This dialogue taught me that I really love doing sociology research and that I can major in sociology and still take lots of gender classes.

Before going on this dialogue, one of the things I was most nervous about was making friends, because I always feel the need to feel surrounded by people. Instead, I learned from this dialogue that I need to learn how to be better at being alone. The world is big, and although I will always have people who care about me, I can’t be with them every second and my life will be much better if I learn how to enjoy being on my own. I also learned that I can make friends wherever I go and no matter where you are you can find good friends.

Ten out of ten. Would do again.

Turkey and Germany – Travel and Safety Secrets

While traveling anywhere, staying safe is usually a matter of staying aware, trusting your judgement, and using common safe. Neither of the cities I traveled to during my dialogue were inherently more unsafe than Boston, but you do put yourself at risk when you travel anywhere that you are unfamiliar with. In general, I always tried to stay in groups, in well-lit places with a lot of people.

If you’re considering going on a dialogue, you shouldn’t be worried about safety. Each of my professors were from one of the cities I visited and I also had a local TA in each city so I was always surrounded by people who knew the environment. The professors made sure to go over all the basic safety tips with us first thing in the beginning of the dialogue. We were also kept very aware of our environments. For example, there was a terrorist attack in Turkey (very far from Istanbul) when I was there. We were immediately alerted of this attack and told which areas to stay away from in order to stay safe.

In general, the rule I’ve always followed while traveling aboard is not to flaunt that you are an American, that you have any significant amount of money, or that you are alone in vulnerable. If you act as if you belong, you are more likely to remain safe. One important traveling tip I picked up on in Istanbul is to make sure that your taxi drivers are licensed with a taxi company, use their meters, and actually get paid the amount on the meters. Some taxi drivers will try to charge you more than the meter price if they know they can get away with it.

In the End

Going abroad was always on the top of my college to-do list. I knew it would be an experience like no other but I was not expecting how much confidence and excitement it would instill in me. From the second I walked off of the plane in Berlin, I was swept away with how amazing and huge the world is. Berlin is like no other place I have ever been before and I was surprised at how comfortable and at home I felt there. It really shifted what I thought my priorities were in life and I am dying to see the rest of the world as soon as I possibly can. Berlin was the perfect place for me to go as a graphic design student because the city is so fundamentally based in art and design. Posters plaster every surface, graffiti takes over every wall, and the people just breathe creativity. I was so inspired by the entire city and cannot stop looking back at pictures I took because it was so unbelievable there.

Now that I know I can survive abroad in a place where English is not the first language, I definitely want to either co-op abroad during my time at Northeastern or work abroad right after graduation. There are such distinct styles of design to every city and the opportunity to absorb these different ways of design thinking while I’m just starting my career is just too huge to pass up. I would love to be abroad for much longer than the one month because working and learning while immersed in a different culture would further broaden my skills and experience.

I remember being so nervous in the weeks leading up to the program’s start because I did not know anyone who was going on the trip and I did not know a WORD of german. I was afraid of the stereotypical stern stereotype of germans and the overall feeling of annoyance usually spoken of against americans abroad. But I found the opposite to be true when I ventured out on my own. People laughed with me when I stumbled through trying to order food and they taught me the correct way to say things. Others offered help when I looked lost on the buses, and countless people were happy to chat while we were in line somewhere. The people I met in Germany had a much different way of looking at the world and all that it has to offer. Their focus was not solely based on monetary success but rather success in having a full, happy life which was so incredibly refreshing. Getting caught up in the day to day worries of school, work, and the little things in life so often gets in the way of the simple and enjoyable things in life. I definitely will take a breath and absorb what’s around me much more this semester.

You could say that the best thing about studying abroad was the food. And the people. And the beautiful sights. But the absolute best thing about my time in Berlin is what the city gave to me. Somehow it helped me grow up a little bit more. It gave me this huge sense of self worth and confidence because I survived. I did it! I was plopped in the middle of Europe and learned an insane amount of things from both class and just walking around on my own. It is true that the best way to discover a city is to get lost in it, and I got lost a lot. I got lost way more than I’d like to admit, but I embraced it and found the best things when I stumbled upon them.

So have you ever thought about taking the plunge and going abroad? Do it. Absolutely, positively do it any way that you can make it happen. And when you get there, do not freak out. It is inevitable that you will, but it will get so much better really quickly. There is so much out there to see and there are so many people to meet. And of course, there is so much food out there that you need to try.

The next place on the list to study or work would definitely be Italy. Berlin was amazing because of its funk, grit, and grime, but Italy is amazing because of its beauty. It is a much different lifestyle and culture in Italy that I would love to experience and it would be somewhere still incredibly different from where I have been before. But we will see what is in the cards for me next year.

All the best and more from a broad (formerly) abroad!

-Molly

Everything We Really Need

Two weeks ago we went on a field activity and visited a family’s home nestled into the thicket of the jungle. The man who owned the home kept saying how this was his “little paradise”. It was simple, almost like the house out of the movie Swiss Family Robinson. There was nothing over the top just exactly what he needed. The wood was lightly painted over and the floors were made of stone. But the love that this man had to share with us made the home far more beautiful than it physically was.

We walked through his property which was just over five acres of jungle. We sat by the river and gazed into the curtain of greenery. Every moment I sat there I thought of the words the man said, “It may be simple but this is my little paradise. I am happy and that is all I need.”

Over the course of my five weeks here in Costa Rica I have grown significantly. My ideals and perspective on life are drastically different than what they were when I first arrived. Going to Northeastern many of us can understand that life becomes a little hyper-competitive. Each of us scouring to get the top co-op, develop the best career, be the first to accept that post-grad job. All of what we do at Northeastern is centered on our career and being the best employee that we can be. None of this is bad, but it inevitably creates an environment where our career is the focus of our lives.

As I near the end of my college career I have found myself to become consumed by that next step, the next stop of finding a job and living in the “real world”. I want to be the best at what I do; I want to make it to the top, I want to do something great.. However, as much as this drive has helped me gain phenomenal work experience and open up doors I never knew existed it has also hindered me from remembering the little things. I have found that I have grown out of touch with what’s important in life. There is more to life than just the job and the perks that come with it. When I replay the day at the small quaint home of the sustainable farmer I recall his words of simplicity and love. As a result of choosing to live with what he needed instead of what he wanted he was able to live a happier life that truly gave him all that he could ever ask for. His quality of life transcended anything that material possessions could provide.

Living a sustainable life is not just about being environmentally friendly. The benefits and perks surpass that and touch upon the very essence of living life with the utmost joy. This realization and time of reflection quite frankly blew my mind. I quickly found myself becoming more grounded and thinking outside of what I wanted and started thinking more collaboratively, looking to think about others more so than just myself.

My career still matters and my goals in life are all the same. I want to work in international development and work on tough issues such as agriculture, women’s empowerment and education access in developing countries. But the means in which I reach these goals have altered. My perspective has shifted and has forced me to working towards being more patient, generous and selfless. I am no longer aiming to reach these goals for my own satisfaction and self-righteous ego. Rather, I know I must tackle these issues because it is the right thing to do. My work should not be a reflection of solely myself but should also reflect the community and world I hope to live in one day.

Sustainability is not the silver bullet in development or life happiness. But it is means to an end of creating a world where we can equally share each piece of the pie. We owe it to the generations of the past, present and future. Living life with what we need rather than with what we want can help shape the world to be a happier, fuller and healthier place to live in. We can make our own little paradise just like the man on the farm did simply by thinking and acting sustainably.

My time at EARTH University and experiences traveling and living in Costa Rica this past month have shaped the person I want to be as I enter my final semester in college. It has demonstrated to me the importance of environmentalism and sustainability. But it has also revealed the immense importance of thinking globally and collaboratively instead of individually. It has encouraged me to think of the world as a cooperative unit rather than a series of isolated individuals. In order to create change we must have motivation that exceeds our individual selfish priorities and is rather driven by the desire to change the world for the betterment of current and future generations.

 

New Perspectives

Culture shock can take on many different forms. We can experience culture shock during a meal, at a bar, in the classroom, at work and so much more. Experiencing different cultures and coping with that initial shock is what makes traveling so interesting.

Throughout my 5 weeks in Costa Rica I suppose I have experienced many moments of culture shock where I have had to adjust my perception of cultural norms in order to align with the cultural norms of Costa Rica. The most distinct moment of culture shock that I experienced was when I was with my home stay.

Our home stays spanned over a course of four days in a small town call Siquirres. Similar to many Latin American families our host family was very close and very tight knit. The family had two sons, Philippe (23 years old) and Fabio (27 years old). Although both these men were graduated from school they both still lived with their parents. In fact, Fabio was engaged to be married with a baby on the way. Yet, Fabio had no intention of moving out of the house. Instead, him and his father were building a small home in the backyard for Fabio and his soon to be wife to raise their family in.

In the U.S. many of us are expected to move out and go to college as soon as we graduate high school at 18 years old. Upon graduating college it is looked down upon in our culture to move back home with the family. Therefore, we are strongly encouraged to establish a life of our own and pursue our career and livelihood separate from our parents.

In Costa Rica this cultural norm that we find in the U.S. is completely opposite. Sons and daughters are encouraged to live with their families until they are married. Often times once they choose to get married the sons and daughters move into a home extremely close to their parent’s home. In Costa Rica family means everything. Living close to your family and creating close family bonds is a huge part of Costa Rican culture. Women are encouraged to get married and have kids early in order to get a head start on building their own families and continuing family traditions.

I must say that I do appreciate the fact that Costa Rica puts so much weight on family. I believe that living close to your family and having those close ties make a positive impact on an individual. However, it was challenging for me to become accustom to the idea of marrying young and having children early. In the U.S. feminist groups across the nation encourage women to wait on creating their own family in order to optimize their upward mobility in their career development. Although it was difficult for me to appreciate the concept of creating a family so young I found that because families are so close and provide so much support for one another that having a family at a young age seemed to work out just fine for many of the Costa Rican families I met.

The experience at the home stay supplied many opportunities for me to learn and grow. It forced me to understand other cultures and gain new perspectives of my own culture. Having the opportunity to learn from my home stay family has been a phenomenal experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

China – Ending

This trip has changed me a very good deal, but mostly in regards to being even more independent. When going abroad you have to decide pretty quickly how you’re going to approach the trip, especially without an adult to guide you. Though we did have a professor with us on the trip, she was not teaching us and was not present very often. As a result, the trip felt very much like a bunch of college-aged kids exploring China and learning Mandarin on their own. I absolutely loved the independence that came with this but it was also a little intimidating having so much free reign. 

Since attending this trip, I’m definitely more determined than before to continue learning Mandarin and pursue my minor in it. After having such an intense class for a few weeks and seeing how much I learned I am exceedingly excited to continue learning the language and being able to recognize more characters/understand Mandarin speakers more as I learn.

I have to say that I was extremely surprised by the self discovery that I can succeed in a very intense class just by putting my mind to it and deciding that it’s worth the effort. I didn’t realize I could be quite so successful as I was in the class. 

Before coming I was very worried that the cultural differences would be too overwhelming to embrace and that the language would be an incredible barrier. Though of course there were things I had to get used to and there were moments of miscommunication I realized I was not the only one dealing with these issues and I was able to laugh at the mistakes and embrace the new culture as a new way to see the world. It really helped to have other students around me struggling with the same things I was and working through them together. As a result of being able to work through these differences, I now see the world in a very different light. It cool to be able to see how everyday life differs across the world and to learn the norms of a country. It’s been especially interesting in China with the students that came because a number of them are from other countries than the USA so as they make comparisons to their homes I learn about the cultures they grew up in as well.

Probably the greatest benefit of studying abroad has been seeing how the world operates on a daily level and being able to embrace the differences from my life. A lot of the students struggled with trying new things when they first came but I’ve always liked trying new and different things so even coming into this trip I was excited, despite the nervousness. 

My favorite memory from this trip will probably be the releasing of the turtles ceremony mostly because of how much fun the group had as a whole. Despite having to get up exceedingly early and go find a market that sells turtles, releasing our newly named turtles and making a wish before they went was really cool. It is a Buddhist tradition and I’m not Buddhist but it was still very cool to experience with all of my classmates.

To future study abroad students: I would highly encourage you to study abroad in general as it’s an incredibly enlightening experience, but I would especially like to stress the convenience and excitement of the dialogue program. I loved the length of my trip, and though it was a bit of a whirlwind trying to see everything that was planned, all of the trips were worth it and extremely exciting. The only advice I would have to prospective study abroad students would be to have an open mind going into any study abroad trip. There WILL be differences between the culture you grew up in and the one you’re studying in, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the trip can become pretty bad pretty quickly if you aren’t willing to at least try new things (food and experiences included). No one is telling you that you have to like these new things but trying them won’t hurt you. And who knows, maybe you will end up loving something you never thought you would!

I would definitely study abroad again, and I plan to. However I might choose a country that speaks a language that I speak so I have less trouble conversing. At the same time, being forced to converse in Mandarin has definitely helped me learn the language more quickly so I would also love to come back to China again and study. Whatever I do, this trip was well worth the money and time and the memories I’ve made here will stay with me forever.