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 – Culture Shock

Culture shock always seems to appear in little, unexpected places. Of course, there’s always that feeling of wonder when you first arrive in a new place. Everything looks new and different and exciting and you want to take it all in. You’re comparing the place to what you imagined in would be like and chances are you have no bearings within the new place so you have that feeling of being completely lost. Anything could be out there waiting to be explored.

This is an amazing and exciting feeling, but I wouldn’t describe it as culture shock. These are the wonders of traveling – you expect to see a new place, new architecture, new foods and see new languages. Seeing a new language and new city when arriving in Berlin wasn’t shocking to me, that is what I was most looking forward to. Instead, it’s the little things that amazed me.

In Berlin, people never jaywalk. It doesn’t matter if they can tell the walking sign is about to turn green and there are no cars coming for miles, they wait for the crossing signal to change to walk. Coming from Boston, this amazed me. They also don’t have turnstiles to get into the subway; it is a system based mostly on trust. Speaking of subways, their subway doors don’t automatically open. They dip their french fries in mayonnaise. These are the things that amazed  me. These are the things that showed me that I really wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

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.

Germany and Turkey – Typical Day

I’m lucky enough to say that everyday help something vastly different for me during my dialogue. From traveling to Berlin from Turkey, to the different excursions, to just the breadth of lectures we had during my dialogue, everyday I learned something I wasn’t expecting. Despite this, the two weeks I spent in each country was long enough to get familiar with my immediate surroundings and fall into a sort of routine. When I left my hostel in Berlin after two and a half weeks, the receptionist hugged me and said it was like losing a friend. There’s a certain comfort in getting to know a place, even if it’s very far from home.

In both the hotel in Turkey and the hostel in Berlin, breakfast was provided and most of my classmates woke up early enough to eat it – not me though. I usually rolled out of bed five or ten minutes before my lecture in Turkey where the lecture was in the hotel or thirty minutes before lecture in Berlin where I had to take the subway one stop to reach lecture. By “lecture” I could mean any of a vast number of things – we went on city tours, to museums, to film screenings, to site visits, and had a lot of just plain old lectures with local experts. Usually lecture would begin around 10 am, we’d finish around noon, and we’d have lunch until 2 pm when we’d have another lecture to around 4 pm. After that, the day was mine. This was the time I spent doing my field research, going sightseeing, making friends, eating dinner, and, a lot of the time, taking naps.

Turkey and Germany – Local Living

I was lucky enough to make a very great group of local friends in Berlin. My research in Berlin is on lesbianism and feminism, and I have spent my whole dialogue looking for lesbians and feminists to connect to. I was finally successful when I visited the Young and Queer group in Berlin. This is a counseling group for young queer people hosted by the lesbian organization Lesbenberatung meaning Lesbian Counseling. The group of people I met there was extremely welcoming and even invited me to hangout with them after the group and translated the group in both German and English to help me understand. I found out one of the members will be studying in Massachusetts next semester and we are planning to hangout!

After meeting this group, I would definitely say the best way to meet local people is to reach out to local communities that best fit your needs and interests. For me, this meant reaching out the lesbian feminist organizations, but if you’re into sports, try a sports group or go to a park; if you’re into salsa dancing, check out the local scene! No matter where you are you’re going to make the best friends when you find people who have similar interests.

Being on a dialogue also means that you’re spending time abroad for a long enough period that you should definitely be keeping a budget. Make sure you always convert the amount you’re paying into dollars or whichever currency you know best in your head or on your phone so you know how much you’re paying. Also make sure to shop around and haggle if that’s part of the local culture. I’ve paid triple as much for the same food in a more touristy shop as a local one just down the street. Don’t let yourself get caught in those traps.

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