Spring Break Stop #1: Rome

Spring Break was upon us– a time we had always spoken of in imaginative, hypothetical terms. “Greece would be so beautiful to visit,” we’d say. “The Amalfi Coast could be magical,” we thought. Spring break seemed like this time that would never really come and we would just be able to imagine and wonder and picture ourselves in these places that we had only seen in magazines. But now, it was here and we were able to actually make these imaginative, hypothetical thoughts into real life experiences… something that is still sinking in as I write this post.

So, we planned our itinerary for the 10 days, booked the necessary modes of transportation (two flight tickets and one train) and set out for our first destination, the land of the gladiators and gelato– Roma. Most of what I knew about this monumental city came from the one, the only… Lizzie McGuire movie (a clip shown below). I was excited to see what it was really all about.

After a short plane ride which I slept for the duration (no surprise) and Sophie and Emmie watched episodes of their respective shows, we arrived. We took the bus from the airport to Roma Termini, the city’s major train station, and then took a short cab ride to a little bed and breakfast we had found online for a cheap stay in a great location. We dropped our bags and headed out the door to Trastevere for dinner. We wanted to eat at the restaurant that had been a strong recommendation to us by some friends called Da Enzo, but discovered upon arrival that the entire city of Rome also had this desire. So, we rolled with the punches and walked along the dark, quiet streets until we came across a different little restaurant with dimly lit rooms, large mahogany tables, and a band that walked around to each table when their pasta and pizza arrived. Needless to say, we were happy campers. After filling up on some Spaghetti, we went back to the bed and breakfast to get a good sleep before not one but two three-hour tours we booked for the next day.

The first tour started at 8:30AM so we ate bananas and drank coffee as we walked from our building to the meeting place. We were about to embark on a three-hour tour of Vatican City. We waited in a long line with our tour group to hand in the tickets and go through security, and then were led by a very knowledgable, organized guide through the highlights of the area including the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Fact that stood out to me the most: Michelangelo was in fact not a painter before he was instructed to restore the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel… by himself. No big deal.

Inside the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

Ceiling of the Vatican Museum

After the tour ended in St. Peter’s Basilica, we refueled with some pizza and then met up with our second tour guide who would lead us on a three-hour walk through the highlights of Rome outside of Vatican City: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. Learning about the history of all of these ancient entities was really great, but we were about to reach the activity that would become the favorite part of our day, and one of the favorite parts of the entire trip. This activity was so great that… it requires its own post! Click here to read 🙂

The Colosseum

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Studying Abroad: A Multimedia Post

Studying abroad has become a very popular activity for college students in the United States. It is the product of many goals that both universities and students have when it comes to what they consider a valuable education. Colleges implement study abroad programs into their curriculums in order to give students many abilities and experiences that people look to get out of their education these days. These abilities and experiences include, “…global learning and development, intercultural competence, intercultural maturity, and intercultural sensitivity of students” (1). Students turn to study abroad programs to “…gain diverse attitudes, intercultural skills, and learning within a discipline” (1). These gains do not come immediately, however. It is when students journey outside of their comfort zone and go through the psychological processes that take place that they can fully reap the benefits of such a rich experience.

Studying Abroad: A Mind Exercise

Studying abroad requires students to make a dramatic transition from their normal routines at home, to a new one in an entirely different culture. One person who has successfully made this transition is Emmie Herbstman, a junior at the University of Michigan who is studying abroad in Barcelona. Herbstman spent the semester before this back in Ann Arbor, and arrived in Barcelona in early January. As a sojourner, or “…temporary visitor to another country who [will] return to [her] home country,” , she has had to adapt to the different social norms, expectations, and lifestyle of Barcelona (2). This is quite an undertaking, as there are several psychological processes that must occur in order to become fully adjusted.

Without knowing it, Herbstman has gone through an intense psychological development period in which she has subconsciously engaged in a roller coaster of emotions in response to her experiences abroad. An entire sub-category of psychology known as cross-cultural psychology focuses purely on the effects on behavior and thought processes that traveling across different cultural boundaries causes.

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This graph illustrates a version of the emotional roller coaster that sojourners experience during their time away from home, and after return as well (3).

There are different emotions and feelings associated with each step a sojourner must take in order to have a successful journey. These are important for students who are considering going abroad to be aware of so they somewhat know what to expect. The first phase consists of the preparation for the trip: packing, anticipating, and getting organized for a new lifestyle. The second phase occurs during the journey itself: becoming aware of the cultural differences, figuring out which cultural differences feel comfortable and which feel unnatural, and a greater understanding of the home culture as a matter of fact (2). Then, sojourners take part in the most difficult phase there is: adjustment. This requires both being aware of the differences and changing how one would normally respond to such differences in a home country to a more accepting, understanding way. Not surprisingly, students who study abroad often experience emotional discomfort, mental exhaustion, and physiological stress from the constant realization that they are far from home (2). The impact of these phases and emotions were not too intense for Herbstman, as she has had a pretty smooth adjustment to the ways of Barcelona.

Below is an interview with Herbstman about her experience abroad so far and how she has felt about it:

Where It All Began

Studying abroad: a time to grow, to experience, to make mistakes, and to learn. People have thought of international education in this way for many years, even centuries. Believe it or not, there is a vast history when it comes to the evolution of studying abroad. Emo of Friesland has been deemed the first person to ever study abroad as he travelled from his hometown in northern Holland to study at Oxford University in 1190 (4). Napoleon’s efforts to bring together all of Europe ignited thoughts about opening up boundaries, and after the Napoleonic Wars, the peace congressed raised topics that served as a leeway to the formation of an international education system. An organization was established in Europe in 1876 which would work to develop and maintain international education (4).

In America, the first abroad student came to study from Greece in 1835. Following this, Indiana University provided students with summer trips to countries in Europe where classes would count toward their academic requirements in the US (4). International education was slowly but surely becoming more common and understood as a way to expand on one’s education.

And finally, in 1919, the Institute of International Education (IIE) was established and studying abroad started moving quickly into the minds of students. As technology and communication abilities improved, studying abroad became a much more popular interest (4).

And Where We Are Now

As technology and communication improvements have led to the proliferation of students studying abroad, they may also be the reason that the emotional roller coaster has not been so intense for Emmie Herbstman. During the preparation stage, Herbstman was able to stay in contact with people she knows who have also been abroad to Barcelona and instantly receive advice from them about what to pack, what to do in Barcelona, and what to expect. Since this is the case, the realizations of cultural differences were definitely still apparent to Herbstman, but may have come as more of a shock had she not talked to other Americans her age who experienced the same transition. Communication and technology have also brought together people from all different parts of the world and have spread shared beliefs, interests, and knowledge across continent boundaries. In a highly advanced, bustling, and rather international city like Barcelona, these blurred boundaries can be felt. During the adjustment phase, students can have an easier time since they can easily stay in contact with those back at home. Before technology allowed global communication to be so accessible, sojourners could not feel as strong ties to home as they can these days.

Communication and technology advancements have not only led to an easier connection between students who study abroad and their home countries, but also a connection with countries that surround them in their temporary homes as well. Study abroad students often take advantage of their time abroad to see and experiences cultures outside the country they choose to study in. Instead of being sojourners in these other countries, they become tourists, and usually only see the place they travel to for a weekend or so in between classes. Herbstman has traveled to a different part of Europe for the majority of the weekends she has been abroad. Websites make it easy to plan trips, find cheap flights, and view tourists’ and locals’ ratings on places to stay and eat.

Below is a video summary of the routine that this one study abroad student has adapted, which helps make the adjustment to a new culture easier. The video includes her everyday life, and well as some of the trips she has made over the weekends.

Sources:

  1. Braskamp, Larry A., David C. Braskamp, and Kelly Merrill. “Assessing progress in global learning and development of students with education abroad experiences.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 18 (2009): 101-118.
  2. Sussman, Nan M. “Sojourners to another country: The psychological roller-coaster of cultural transitions.” Online readings in psychology and culture 8.1 (2002): 1-11.
  3. Smyth, Karen. “Sojourners 2.” Intercultural Interactions Psychology. CEA. Lecture.
  4. Lee, Megan. “The Complete History of Study Abroad.” Go Overseas. Go Overseas, 17 Apr. 2012. Web.

Looking Back

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This week we have midterms. Wow. That means we are already halfway through our time abroad which is absolutely crazy and really hard to believe. It feels as if I have been living in Barcelona for a while when I think about how long ago it was that we moved into our apartment. But then again it feels like I just got here a week ago. Time moves fast during the week, faster during the weekends, and so the months roll on and on. So in this post I won’t talk about a trip or aspect of social media– I will make a list of some of the lessons I have learned about abroad, traveling, and living in general.

  1. Not having a dryer can be fun. When we first arrived in Barcelona and realized that we did not have a dryer, we were not mad or anything like that, just a little intimidated. It seemed like a lot to hang dry everything in the dark little patio area right outside our kitchen door. It was drafty, voices echoed all around, and it was, well, really dirty. However, now that two months have gone by and we have gotten used to hang drying, I can actually say I enjoy it a little bit. Now that the weather is nice and warm here in Barcelona, it is calming to take a step outside the kitchen door into the night and peacefully hang clothes on the line. The voices are no longer just voices… now we can somewhat put faces to them. Babies giggle, pots and pans clank together during dinner time, and voices murmur in the darkness as everyone is settling in for the night. So, long story short, not having a dryer is not bad at all.
  2. Pack so so so so light for weekend trips. The first trip we went on, to Copenhagen, I stuffed my bag. Too much. It was a pain to carry in the airport. Most of all, I needed less than half the clothes I brought. Wearing the same sweater the entire time you are away on a weekend trip is not a big deal. You are only there for two days and you will be happy when your bag is lighter and you can more easily and comfortably make your way through the airport. Also, a stuffed bag means the risk of the airline telling you that your bag must be checked before you board, which is not what you want to hear because that means more waiting at the other end, and less time in the city you are traveling to.
  3. Look around as you make your daily commute. When I first started making my daily commute to school on the train, I was only focused on getting to my final destination. But, I have realized, that my daily commute is such an interesting part of my day. I actually get to be a part of the city and see the everyday hustle and bustle of the city. In that way, I am actually thankful that I have somewhat of a little journey every morning.
  4. Write. Even about the little things. I have been taking notes in my phone during weekend trips and whenever I experience something I think I will want to remember when I return home and this all seems like just a dream. I am happy I have written down what I’ve seen, what I’ve eaten, what I’ve loved, what I’ve struggled to understand, and any funny moments that happen. I know I will appreciate these notes down the line.

This is only a starting list of what I’ve realized/what I’ve learned. There is so much more…

London, Eye Love You

The next trip we took was to London. I had not planned on going to London before I left for Barcelona, but I am so glad I did. Our trip started off great until we got on the wrong train from the airport. OOPS. Even signs in English can’t lead us to the right place. Well, it was quite a shock realizing that we were going deep into the countryside instead of towards the heart of the city. When we handed the man our ticket to get stamped on the train, I knew immediately from his crumpled brow and lengthy concentration on the ticket that something was off. He told us that no, we were not on the right train, but yes, it would be easy to transfer back to the right line.

Where did we mean to go? To tea, of course J We had made a reservation for late afternoon tea at the Strand Palace Hotel. I had only had afternoon tea once in Washington, D.C. We got off the metro and stored our bags with the front desk in the hotel. I ordered a mint tea which was absolutely delicious. Then, came the towers of finger sandwiches and sweets. Our eyes widened as we realized that not only one of the four towers the waitress was holding was for us, but ALL of the four towers. We would each get our own tower. Wow. After picking through most of the tower and finishing our last sips of tea, we left the hotel to go check in to our hostel.

We decided to stay at the Generator Hostel which was great—highly recommend. Very cool, comfortable atmosphere. Very clean, as well. Music was playing in the lobby and the people at the front desk greeted us with welcoming smiles. So far, London was great except for the little train incident. We quickly dropped our bags (which was something we would be getting used to during all of our weekend trips), changed, and then went to Wahaca for dinner. I got a pork burrito and Passion Fruit Margarita—perfect meal. The guacamole is superb and must be ordered as an appetizer by anyone who makes a visit to Wahaca.

The next day, we woke up early and had a quick breakfast of eggs and toast at the hostel. Before we left, we glanced out the window and realized it was snowing. According to our friends studying abroad in London, it was the coldest weekend yet of the semester. We bundled up and made our way to the London Eye, warm coffees in hand. We waited for about 45 minutes in the line to get on the huge contraption. I looked across the river at Big Ben as we made the loop in what seemed like a snow globe. After the Eye, we walked to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We took pictures in front of the red phone booths, of course. Then, the cold got to us. All we wanted to do was warm up with a nice hot drink… so tea it was! This time, we went to tea at Harrods. What a store. We shared two types of tea—Vanilla and English Rose—and snacked on warm scones with jam.

That night, we went to a favorite bar of our friends called O’Neill’s. On the first floor, a DJ played music that was similar to what we hear at bars near school. On the second floor, however, a live band played throwback nineties songs that we sang and bounced along to. Such a unique experience and so, so fun.

Another magical trip filled with good music, snowy London streets, and a new found love for afternoon tea.

First Stop– Copenhagen

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt was our first trip out of Spain—our first weekend adventure abroad. We chose to go to Copenhagen because of all the wonderful things we had heard about it. It would be cold—really cold compared to Barcelona. So, we packed our bags with sweaters, hats and scarves and set out on Friday morning.

As we went through security, it hit me. I was about to go to Denmark… a place I had only heard about once or twice in school, mostly in my psychology courses since it has been called the happiest country on earth. We were so excited to see, to taste, to experience everything that we could in the city over the two and a half days we would spend there. As we went through security, our passports or IDs were never checked and that came as a shock. Later we learned that when you fly within the EU, they don’t check for ID until it is time to board the plane. Different. Really different.

The hotel we chose was a short train ride from the airport. We checked in, dropped our bags, and made our way into the magical city. We decided to go to Café Norden for dinner as it was a strongly recommended restaurant from my friend at home. It was AMAZING. And so cozy.

First, we ordered blueberry mojitos. Then, I got the open-faced sandwiches—a Danish specialty. There were three of them (yes I was stuffed after). One was tuna, one chicken salad, and the other shrimp. All piled on thick, toasted bread. Yum. Sophie got the tuna tartar and Emmie got mini chicken burgers. We were quite satisfied. Little did we know we were about to fall in love with the city even more. Big time.

The next day we woke up early to get the most of the day. First we had breakfast at Union Kitchen, which I highly recommend! Then we headed to Nyhavn—the area of town with the line of colorful buildings that sit right on the water. As we approached Nyhavn, we could hear music from the little band that sat on the square in front of the dock. The sun sparkled off the canal and the houses sat in their colorful glory. This is where the love came. I was absolutely amazed at the beauty and simplicity of the place. We signed up for a canal tour where we were taken on a large boat and shown many of the landmarks, including Hans Christian Andersen’s little mermaid, the architecture museum, and the Copenhagen Street Food market where we would go for dinner later. The tour guide told us that the city burns garbage to produce electricity, but they don’t have enough garbage to produce enough for everyone so they have to import more garbage. How perfect could this city get?

After the tour, we warmed up with some Irish coffee at a little café on the canal. We then tried to find the trampolines that are set in the sidewalk somewhere along the water but just couldn’t. Instead, we decided to take a ride on one of the bike-buggies and the driver showed us some cool views along the way. We were cold, but it didn’t matter. The beauty kind of distracted from it.

Then, we experienced what would be our favorite part of the trip. We took a cab to the Copenhagen Street Food market also called “Paper Island.” I had never been in awe so many times in the span of two days. The market is inside a giant warehouse, right on the water. It is bustling and beautiful and warm at night. Music plays throughout the entire place and everyone is just so happy (no surprise). There are stands and stands of different foods from Moroccan flatbreads (which we got) to Italian to Chinese, to every dessert you could imagine. After the market, we met our friends at a small, local bar where everyone danced and sang and requested songs.

In the morning, we packed our bags and headed for brunch before going to the airport. We went to the restaurant Mad & Kaffe where you are given the freedom to pick either three, five, or seven small dishes to make up your meal. The choices range from oatmeal to fruit to avocado to eggs to a freshly baked cinnamon roll. I chose to get three: fried eggs with chives, yogurt with granola, and blood orange slices.

Needless to say, the weekend went by way too fast. Copenhagen was an absolute dream city, a winter wonderland. It was like nowhere I had ever seen before. Even though we were sad to say farewell to our weekend love, we were ready to return to our first love—the beautiful and spirited city of Barcelona.

Far from home and yet not far at all

When I first started preparing for my semester abroad in Barcelona, I couldn’t help but focus on two things– how far away I was about to be and how long I was about to be away. About 7,000km from home for about 4 months. As I packed and collected everything I would need for my time abroad, I noticed the planning and efficiency that had to go into it since I no longer had the comfort of a single item being shipped to me if I forgot it. I would not be able to see my family and friends from home over breaks– I would only be able to see them over FaceTime. I knew that any routine I had gotten used to would be useless and I would have a new routine that would eventually become a new normal to me.

When I got to Barcelona, these thoughts of great distance and long amounts of time apart from the people and things I was used to slipped away. I actually didn’t feel that far away and the span of 4 months didn’t seem too long at all. I wondered why this was and then I realized a huge part of it– it was because of the social networks I was involved with and the power they have to make me feel like I am always with the people I know and love no matter how far or how long I am away. The pictures that are posted on Facebook and Instagram keep my friends and family updated on my life in Spain. There is not a feeling of absolute cluelessness as to what is going on at home, or what is happening with me across the ocean since photos keep everyone informed and spark conversation as if the experiences captured in the pictures were almost felt together.

Studies show that about “…one-half of pleasure travelers post travel pictures on social networking sites” (1). I am definitely part of this one half. I post pictures of the sights I am seeing, food I am eating, and people I am spending time with. My sister at home posts pictures of her senior activities in high school, formal dances, and friends. My friends at home or in other countries studying abroad post pictures of their travels in a similar way to me. Because of all these postings and pictures, I feel much closer to the people who are physically miles and miles away since they can be seen inches away from my face on social networking sites. It is comforting when I talk to my friends and family on the phone or over FaceTime and we can ask each other about specific events or people or places we saw on social networking sites.

Not only has social networking allowed me to feel more connected to the people and places that are far away, it has also given me guidance on my experience abroad. People who have already gone abroad still have the photos they posted on their Facebook profiles. Researchers have noticed how “…images might influence the travel decisions of those who view the photos” (2). During my time abroad, I am able to look at the photos from the places they visited and loved and make sure to travel to them myself. For example, here is one of the Instagram accounts I have looked at with my friends in order to gain some Barcelona food inspiration: Barcelona Food Experience.

Social networking sites and travel are becoming more connected as they become a way to share moments despite a separation of distance and time, as well as a source of travel advice.

Sources:

  1. Boley, B. Bynum, Vincent P. Magnini, and Tracy L. Tuten. “Social media picture posting and souvenir purchasing behavior: Some initial findings.” Tourism Management 37 (2013): 27-30.

  2. White, Leanne. “Facebook, friends and photos: A snapshot into social networking.” Tourism Informatics: Visual Travel Recommender Systems, Social Communities, and User Interface Design, Information Science Reference, USA (2009): 115.