I feel like a Tusconan!

Some of my goals for this semester were to make lifetime friends in another area of the United States, learn more about the cultural differences between Kansas and Arizona, experience learning in a larger classroom setting, and to just have fun. I definitely accomplished all of these goals. I will admit that it did take me a while to step out of my shell and interact with more than just one or two people. After I put in the effort to make the most out of my time here, it was amazing. I started going to various events in Tucson, museums, school events, etc. My only regret with this is that I wished I would have jumped in sooner. I definitely feel like I missed out on some of the exciting stuff at the beginning of the year. But, I still have next semester! I am more than ready to dive back in and immerse myself into everything. My main goal for next semester is to just do more with sightseeing and be more involved on campus. I want to go visit other parts of Arizona and find other cultures and landmarks. I want to join all of the little clubs that are advertised at the club fair. I want to do more.

Overall, there really weren’t any cultural gaps that I had to try and close. Staying in the United States eliminated the issue of a language barrier or major cultural barriers. Instead, I had to focus on quickly adjusting to a completely different lifestyle. It was a change moving from a town with 25,000 people to a city with over 500,000 people and an even bigger change going to a school with over 40,000 people. My smallest class this semester had 95 people in it, which is bigger than any class I ever took at Emporia. I was even in a class with 580 people in it, which put me at the challenge of finding a decent seat in a large lecture hall. This was only one of my minor challenges.

I really didn’t think that living in a different part of the U.S would change any of my opinions and attitudes that much, but it definitely has. I used to have the constant urge to move as far away from home as possible. Now, I understand more of what that is like. I didn’t think I would miss home that much, but I do. I love being in Tucson, but it definitely made me realize how much I loved having my family just a few hours away. One of my other thoughts that changed is that people who live in bigger cities aren’t always nice. The people here are not as friendly as Kansans, but I have met some of the sweetest people at random restaurants and stores. It mostly just helped me remember that people are people, no matter where you are.

Before studying abroad, I think every college student should know before studying abroad is that your time will only be as good as you make it. I remember being told this at the study abroad meeting in Emporia, but I kind of just brushed it off. Like I said before, when I started going to all of the events and sights my experience got so much better. So, instead of taking a nap or just hanging out in your room when you have a chance, get out there and do everything. If you don’t, you will regret it.

My study abroad experience will help me in my future career because I now have the experience of moving somewhere completely different and starting over in a sense. I moved to a school that is 18 hours from home. I had no friends. I knew none of my classmates or professors, and didn’t really know what is was going to be like learning in such a big environment. So, I can now apply this toward my future career because I proved to myself that new and different can be a good thing. Honestly, it can be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

How has my study abroad experience changed me?

Studying abroad made me realize that I want to travel and experience more in this world!

-Madison, Arizona

The Part Where Josie Realizes She Needs People

My illusions of living in Austria–one cannot refer to them as expectations–featured scenes of weekends spent carting off to little Eastern European villages snuggled amongst leafy trails with nothing but Ann The Trusty Trail Shoes, a solid Jules Verne read and a euro for a hearty cup of coffee.

I would power to the Hauptbahnhof train station, stroll up to the ticket booth and knowingly slide the myriads of 10 and 20 euro cent coins that would build up from the grocery budget. I would ask in a smooth and collective voice:

“Ticket to wherever this gets me, please.”

This to which the ticket booth lady–who would be an expressive example of Austrian female power, naturally–would look at me with pride at my boldness for traveling alone. She would compliment my savvy exploration budget, and perhaps teach her daughter to emulate this woman who asked for a ticket that cost €2,30.

Our entire conversation would take place in German, of course, as I fully expected to reach fluency with very little effort in the first couple of weeks. Maybe a month or so; I wanted to be realistic.

This €2,30 ticket would deposit me in the basin of the Austrian Alps; the trail head would naturally be situated directly across from the train station.

I would ease in my headphones, select the newest episode of the Rich Roll Podcast and be on my way up this mountain, dancing over the white-crested boulders, the chilling wind folding me in love and whispering through my hair while Rich Roll and I had an enlightening one-way conversation on the sustainability of the plant-based diet.

I would be constantly surprised at the state of my own fitness; but then I would think to myself, Oh, this makes sense. You walk everywhere all the time, Graz is rather spread out. Of course you are able to average steady 7:30 miles up this mountain. 

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Four months later and we find Josie, situated at a mediocre proficiency of German language knowledge, definitely not averaging 7:00-miles even on the roads, realizing that a €2,20 ticket will get her about 8km from Graz.

I’m not disappointed with the way that things turned out; I adore my beautiful lively, primarily-Bosnian flatmates, I am constantly overwhelmed at the amount of adventuring I’ve gotten to do over the weekends with decidedly the greatest humans of our generation. I’ve fallen in love with the primarily-road-based routes I’ve created for my sunrise running, now looking forward to flashing the peace sign at ensuing runners and remembering previous moments of running in that spot.

The German proficiency could be better, but it can’t all be peachy.

The most important difference between the current state of life in Austria and what I drew up in my mind entirely revolves around the importance of good people.

I completely forgot about them.

That’s what studying abroad has taught me.

I spontaneously decided to meander down to the southern part of Bosnia solo for a few days, badly in need of an influx of Vitamin D and a change of vibe. Because of the nature of planning for it–that being entirely null–I didn’t have any preconceptions of what I would do once I got to Bosnia.

I brought along with me Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, figuring that I would live out my days quite happily running, reading and writing in the full force of the southern oriental-inspired sun.

If that would have been how the entire weekend played out, my friends, I tell you that I would not have experienced the waterfall of introspection and personal development that I did.

Mostar, Bosnia during the end of November is off-season; the hoards of sun-craving tourists flashing oversized cameras at the photogenic architecture was at it’s blessed minimum.

The hostel that I stayed at was this eclectically narrow four-story alcove 10 minutes on foot from the bus station, nestled in an alley and featuring breathtaking mountain scenes on all sides, called Hostel Balkanarama.

Being off-season, I was the only guest; the other members residing in the hostel being semi-full time residents who maintained the hostel.

I have never, ever, ever met such a wonderful, magical troupe of inclusive individuals. They immediately brought me into the sanctity of their fellowship, exuding vibes of love, sustainable living, fascinations with culture and with appreciating life.

They brought me along to a documentary film festival on feminist Bosnians working in non-traditional careers (empowering to say the absolute least), took me out for Turkish coffee with the filmmakers (the funniest people I have ever, ever met), gave lessons on the art of fermentation and sourdough baking, made ample amounts of Turkish coffee for me.

We shared omelettes together, late ravaged lunches of roasted potatoes, ice cream; we spent a few hours together preparing authentic Argentinian empanadas on the last night.

The owner of the hostel was this insane Bosnian rocker who exudes the most extravagantly good-vibes, and his band was playing a gig at a local Bosnian club. The hostel residents invited me to be groupies with them, and we went and jammed to the greatest rock, none of which I understood.

The dance party commenced once we got back to the hostel, screaming at the top of our lungs to Shakira and Salt n’ Peppa and the Spice Girls with our microphones of ice-cream spoons until the middle of the night.

I still got the time to hike and to move, the time to rejuvenate in the sun and read inspiring enlightenment texts, to write and to rejoice in solitary moments with just my thoughts and the mountains.

But the people. The influx, the waterfall, the cascade of beautiful good people.

Everything will always boil down to love.

I need these people. My soul craves this connection, this inclusion, this blanket. This fellowship.

I love traveling solo, I love getting to make snap decisions and having to rely upon my own instinct and have to face challenges unsupported when they arise. There’s a lot of growth that has come from this.

But traveling solo for me has suddenly featured a different kind of end-goal: it’s no longer to recuperate from being around people all the time, to get a significant amount of alone time for me to do whatever I want to do.

It’s become a chance to learn how to understand other people better. To become like a local, to experience the culture through the people that have created this culture.

One can travel and learn and love from one’s own home country. But to do it like this? To experience this amount of travel, learning, love? It has to come from being out of one’s own cultural understanding. It takes traveling to a different cultural world.

My learning is far from over, and thankfully I have another semester to solidify personal development. I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop this influx of perspective and understanding.

I’ve always had the goal of joining the Peace Corps and living around the world, teaching English and writing as much as possible. Before this year, that goal was never fully realistic to me because I had no idea if I would be “good at” living abroad on my own.

Now I realize that I’m addicted to it.

-Josie, Austria

Was sprachen Sie? Tandem Language Learning

When I would envision living in Austria, images of frantic hand-motion communication with only-German-speaking bus drivers on days when I might be late to Uni would ensue. Expectations of having to meander through the bureaucratic process of opening an Austrian bank account with German-only instructions. Perhaps–God forbid–an instance or two of having to search through my English-Deutsch pocket dictionary for the phrase, No, no Herr Doktor. Please don’t amputate my arm, it’s only a rash.

I thought I would only be able to make friends if I knew German; why would the Swedes and the French and the Bosnians speak English in Austria? It’s neither their mother tongue nor the tongue of Austria.

When I actually arrived in Graz and made my way around for the first couple of weeks, low and behold I came to realize that everyone here speaks near flawless English. The Swedes and Frenchies and Bosnians included.

Now it’s uncomfortable imagining myself adapting to the life I had expected to live in Austria; one of complete lingual helplessness for the first while until my brain magically kicked in a threw me a bone by learning German. I am so grateful to be able to make friends and communicate with them, to be able to talk with bus drivers, to open bank accounts and understand what’s happening.

It’s a bit of a problem, actually, that everyone speaks English. The German language learning that I expected has taken quite the back burner and requires a lot more motivation than is currently at my disposal.

Because of the relief and the amount of comfort that has come from me being able to communicate with those around me, I have developed quite the soft spot for individuals who have come to Graz without any knowledge of either English or German, rendered unable to communicate with anyone as I had expected myself to be.

There is this organization in Graz called Tandem Language Partners, where one is able to exchange knowledge and instruction of one’s mother tongue for the native tongue of another. Slovakians can lend assistance to the Slovakian language in exchange for instruction in Finnish. Germans can lend assistance to the German language in exchange for extra practice in Spanish.

It’s a beautiful flow of intrinsically motivated language learners; no assignments, no quizzes, no let’s-write-out-subjunctive-sentences-over-and-over.

In order to “give back” for all of the assistance and patience and aid I have received in German instruction from my Austrian friends, I decided to sign up for this program in hopes that I could benefit a non-English speaking individual to maintain a more satisfying international experience.

The organization is maintained online, very openly and very securely. Messages are relayed through the site, no personal contact information other than email expected. One can simple search for the language speaker that would suit their fancy and send a quick message, asking to meet up maybe once a week or so over a cappuccino or a schnitzel.

Volunteering my services as an English speaker helped restore feelings of self-efficacy and of giving back. I no longer felt so indebted to the society that is helping me better learn German, because I am also contributing what I can. It has given me a wonderful, marvelous opportunity to meet new individual and experience more culture than I can bear to imagine.

Participating in this organization has also given me the chance to spread it’s message to other language speakers interested in contributing their services of language knowledge. I can direct others to this outlet of sharing, as well as give advice to those with the need of practicing a language.

-Josie Rozell, Austria

Helping the Tucson Strays

I had trouble deciding what volunteering experience I wanted to do while I was in Arizona. There are many different opportunities available, but it was challenging to find one that could work around my schedule. I landed on volunteering for the Human Society of Southern Arizona. I connected with the organization because they bring a few dogs to our campus every other week for students to pet in between classes. After visiting their event a few times, I asked the organization if I could help. I don’t plan on working with animals in my future, but I did work with them all through high school and really wanted to get involved again.

I am passionate about this cause owing to my love of animals, but I have also witnessed a rampant homeless animal problem in Tucson. I have learned through my work with the organization that this is attributable to the housing burst, the Native American reservations, and issues with poverty in the city. I have many at home and have missed them a lot during my exchange program. As I cannot be with my own pets, it has been gratifying to help other animals that do not have a home. I am grateful to be a part of an organization doing their part with this problem by finding permanent homes for these animals.

I would consider myself an insider to the organization. They are very kind and accepting people. I also felt like the experiences I had from volunteering and working at a veterinarian clinic in high school gave me an advantage over other volunteers.

I’m not entirely sure how I influenced the organization, but I feel like my leadership skills and experience played a major role in the tasks that they allowed me to do.

-Madison, Arizona

Arizona Culture From My Perspective

The culture in Arizona is significantly different from the culture in Kansas. I didn’t think it would be that different, but it is. The culture isn’t extremely different from being at home because it doesn’t just focus on one culture. Instead, it is a mixture of many different cultures. But, certain cultures are more prevalent in Arizona compared to Kansas. Arizona’s culture mostly consists of Native American, Hispanic, and Spanish colonial history.

A few examples of my host culture that are distant from my own are the gorgeous Catholic missions that are here in Tucson. The one that I drive by regularly and toured is the San Xavier Mission and I have never seen anything like it. It was built in 1797 and is still used for services. Another example of my host culture that is distant from my own is the amount of food trucks, truck vendors, and swap meets. On nearly every corner and empty lot, you can find a Sonoran hot dog truck or someone selling random goods. This seemed really different to me because I think I have seen two food trucks the entire time I have lived in Kansas. Day of the Dead is also largely celebrated here in Arizona, at an event called the “All Souls Procession”. I didn’t even really understand what was all involved with this event until I attended it. It was an amazing opportunity for me to learn more about the celebration.

There are also aspects of my host culture that are very similar to my own because I am still in the United States. Arizona is largely an agrarian society having many ranches and farms, like Kansas. Another simple example would be that there is no language barrier and that my wardrobe from Kansas fits in with Arizona’s just as easily.

I really haven’t had any huge or alarming reactions to the aspects that are distant to my own culture. I really enjoy learning more and experiencing each of the new things that I find different. I have toured a few different museums and have been to different events. Overall though, I haven’t had to make any major adjustments in order to fit in. People don’t even realize that I am not from here unless I tell them. I have gone to a few cultural events to try and understand the culture more though. I went to a festival called “Tucson Meet Yourself”. At this festival, I got to learn about all of the different cultural groups that are here in Tucson. I also got to ask them questions about their culture and try many different foods. I also went to the “All Souls Procession” that I discussed earlier.

The cultural iceberg explores more of culture than just looking at the observable behaviors. Instead it looks at the core values of the culture, like what is good or bad or what is right and wrong. I chose to analyze the Hispanic culture using this iceberg model. Some of the core values of the Spanish culture are that they value the group and not the individual. They often look at their family as being as their own identity. Their families are also stratified on generational hierarchy. So, the oldest male holds the highest power. These are some of the most prevalent values of the Hispanic culture that I found and have witnessed since I have been here.

-Madison Livengood, NSE Exchange Student, Arizona

You’re Not Just American: You’re America

When my international and Austrian buddies ask what I am studying, and I reply with a cheery, “English Literature and Linguistics in the American Studies Program!”, almost collectively I can expect a semi-blank expression.

“Aber, warum?” But why?

Fair. Fair question.

Why come all the way to Austria to study America?

Yes, I understand the confusion.

It’s not that though: it’s not studying America, it’s studying a non-American perspective on important and vital texts that helped shape countries and ideologies. How absolutely, unfathomably more interesting it is to study American literature from this non-American perspective.

To engage in similar debates that I’ve had in my previous classes at Emporia State University, only with profoundly different directions.

It’s getting out of this bubble of the influence of American politics and American ideals in literature and examining texts with a literal worldview.

It’s also excellent insight on how the rest of the world views America.

I will try not to blanket or generalize anyone here, my classmates represent the entire world as much as I represent America. It’s too small of a sample size. But collectively, many agree on similar stances of Americans, so I believe it to be quite representable.

Perhaps the most notable example of insight into American portrays is from my From Rags to Riches? Social Class in American Literature. My professor is this anomaly of information, perhaps the most passionate social class hero and well-informed feminist supporter I have met.

We put pressure on such topics as, “Why do Americans have a higher overall level of outspoken confidence over Europeans?” and, “why do Americans tend to have a lot of acquaintances and few ‘best’ friends, while Europeans operate on the reverse?”

My international classmates view American as a self-confident, extroverted ethnicity will no shortages of self-efficacy. I’ve been told, “you have the certain…passionate light in your eyes that makes you obviously American” multiple times.

I have been told that Americans have obvious and vocal dreams; that our society has raised us to be individualistic and ambitious over the more collectivist societies of Europe.

When you study abroad you become your country in the minds of others. Do you think that the industries should better prioritize the manufacturing of dog textiles? In the eyes of an international student, suddenly America believes all dogs should be clothed.

Are you in the habit of sneezing before you drink wine? Suddenly America sneezes before they ingest alcohol.

Do you like reading Action Adventure novels over Romance? Suddenly America is obsessed with the Bourne Ultimatum and because that Parisian chick in the back of the room likes reading Nora Roberts, the Romance genre is for the French.

Honestly, it gets a bit old to be generalized. To be blanketed together with the more audible values of America that you may or may not agree with.

I welcome this, though.

How else will I learn not to blanket others besides being put in the box myself?

-Josie, Austria

Kansan in the Southwest

When I first left Emporia State this semester, I wasn’t quite sure what my experience would be like since I was staying in the United States. Also, people typically do not think of this as “studying abroad”. But, my experience in the Southwest has definitely been different from the Midwest. I did not realize the differences until I moved here.

The funniest misconception of Kansans that I have found while being here is that we all farm, ride horses, and have seen tornadoes. Although this is true for some people in Kansas, it definitely does not define us and it is not what I thought people would think. Honestly, their response was really outlandish to me. It shocked me because I have never farmed and have only seen one tornado in my entire life.

When I think of being a Kansan, I really don’t think of myself being too different from other people in the U.S.  I have always thought that Midwesterners are friendlier, but that was the only quality that I thought would be different. People in Arizona are still polite and generally nice, but they are not always the friendliest in places like grocery stores or gas stations. Instead of having a five minute conversation with a random stranger, interaction with others is pretty limited.

I think many of these misconceptions may come from the way media represents Kansas. The first that comes to mind are movies that are set in the Midwest, such as Twister. Also, people here always ask me about The Wizard of Oz, which does not surprise me because it is a classic movie with a story line in Kansas. Of course these movies are entertaining and fun, but they don’t accurately showcase how great Kansas really is.

Despite what many Arizonans think Kansas is like, the Midwest definitely offers certain qualities that the Southwest does not. Kansas is not densely populated, so people are not packed together tightly. This is great because I have never fought large amounts of traffic or have dealt with the “big city” qualities that I deal with now. Also, people in Kansas are more kind and honest when you go anywhere. Honestly, Kansas just feels very different compared to the Southwest.

-Madison, Arizona

I Wanna Be Where the Londoners Are

Hello reader!,

My name is Jennifer Bratton and I am a senior Mathematics Secondary Education major (who happens to be graduating in less than 40 days…not that I’m counting or anything). Last May, I got on a plane with a group of ESU students to go spend a week and a half in London, England. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Naturally, whenever I have travel plans, I look up the best places to go in the area. In London, there’s the obvious must-sees: Big Ben, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe, etc.

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On top of my list of locations that many tourists on the web recommended to me through different blog posts and reviews, I wanted to find places where the locals would be. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I would run into people from the UK everywhere I went, but I wanted to truly submerge myself in the culture as much as I could during my short visit.

Instead of searching “best places to go when traveling to London” I started searching “best places for locals to go in London” and discovered places I had never even heard of.

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What really stuck out to me during my research was the markets. I ended up going to four different markets during my visit: The Portobello Market and Borough Market (both full of tourists) and Brick Lane Market and Columbia Street Flower Market (both full of locals). I enjoyed all the markets, but being surrounded by the Londoners…hearing casual conversation about school and work and going to different shows in London…it was a unique experience.

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During my stay I also slipped into small, local pubs that had their own unique menu. At one of the pubs, I was with a group from ESU that met with a group of people that live in London. We ended up hanging out hours after dinner, talking about each other’s countries and learning each other’s slang. I definitely learned things that I would never have learned from a tour guide in London.

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My point is, when I was studying abroad, seeing all the places you want to see as a tourist (I am not ashamed of how much I gushed over Big Ben) was amazing but so was seeing places I immediately loved as a temporary local. It greatly expanded my experience and what I took away from it.

There’s not a day that goes by that I miss being in London! I cannot wait to go back someday and cannot thank Emporia State enough for the experience of a lifetime.

Cheers!

Jennifer Bratton, United Kingdom

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NSE: A New Experience

Hi, I’m Madison Livengood.  I am a full time student at Emporia State University. Currently, I am a sophomore majoring in chemistry at the University of Arizona with the National Student Exchange Program.  I was born and raised in Salina, KS but would travel to Arizona several times a year to visit with family.  I fell in love with Tucson on those trips, so when the opportunity to study in Arizona became available I applied right away.  I am loving every minute of my experience.  Studying in a new place definitely presents challenges, but the experience has been completely worth it.

The first question my colleagues and professors ask me when I tell them I am an exchange student is, “what led you to come here and study?” To be completely honest, I never thought I would study abroad because it was a little too far out of my comfort level to leave my friends and family for so long. I also found that the studying in another country would be cost prohibitive for me.  I discovered NSE at an activities fair my freshmen year at ESU.  The program has allowed me to study in a completely different and new environment without feeling too different from my normal life. It also has been great as far as the cost because it wasn’t that expensive to fly here and my expenses are similar to the ones I have had in the last couple of years.  I decided to study in Arizona because it has always been one of the schools I dreamed of going to and I have an aunt and uncle that live here. Having family in the same city has been amazing because they are always there if I need anything.

Besides visiting national landmarks and hiking various trails, I hope to become more independent from my study abroad experience. Moving to another state and being away from my grandparents and siblings has definitely been a challenge, but learning to cope with this has definitely made me more self-reliant. I also hoped that I would gain the confidence to study in a different country eventually.

The biggest fear I had with my study abroad experience was leaving my friends and not being able to make any new ones. I was concerned about my class sizes as it seemed easier to make friends in a smaller classroom setting. I did have trouble making friends the first month of school. Being in classes with over 500 people was a little overwhelming, making me even shyer than I already am. Eventually, I made more of an effort to talk to others and engage in activities and clubs on campus. I now have many friends, making my study abroad experience much more enjoyable. I even joined a sport that I have never done before, which has forced me to meet lots of new people.

So far, my experience is going very well, but I have felt very lonely at times and missed home more than ever. I never thought I would miss home that much, but I do every now and then. I see my friends posting pictures and updates on social media about things they are doing in Emporia and I instantly start to miss home. I have definitely had a few melt downs and wanted to fly home the next day. To cope with this, I just remind myself that I chose to study abroad and that I am going to make the most out of my experience. I then try go to local events, museums, and fun activities on campus to remind myself that I came to Arizona to gain a different experience.

-Madison, Arizona

Ich heiße Josie. Und du?

I don’t know if one can possibly fathom how large the world is; a person can spend their entire life traveling amongst the countries and yet experience only fractions of what the world produces. It doesn’t matter how many people you meet, how many mountains you climb, how many cups of coffee you drink…there will be more people, more mountains, more coffee.

Sound daunting?

That’s what I thought, too. Especially when it came to narrowing down the number 196 to one country in which I would spend the 2016/2017 academic year.

I had essentially three desires: I wanted to go somewhere were I could learn a different language, somewhere that would take me out of my American comfort bubble, and somewhere nestled amongst mountains.

Oh, also, yeah, the university had to have classes that would fit my major. Yeah, because I study abroad in order to study abroad.

After much googling I settled upon the city of Graz in southeastern Austria. Austrians speak German (but if you ask Germans they would say that Austrians speak Austrian German, not German) and in this magical off-brand accent that fluctuates up and down like a song and differs depending on in what region of Austria one is. Graz itself is perfect because it is quite international, meaning that although the primary language is German one can always count on asking in English for late night assistance back home from a native. Furthermore Graz is the perfect launchpad. RyanAir flies out of two cities in Austria with flights ranging anywhere from a whopping €6,99 to €24,99. The train system from Austria is phenomenal, a ticket to Slovenia costs €9 and a bus ticket costing around the same to get to Budapest.

Studying abroad for an entire is, for me, embodied into one word: practice.

Upon graduation and perhaps a masters degree, I would like to join the Peace Corps and teach English with the Let Girls Learn campaign. In order for this dream to become more achievable I need to practice two distinct things: 1). I need to practice living abroad and adapting to societies and cultural norms and 2). In order to become a good language teacher I should first go through the experience of learning a language.

Studying abroad has given me opportunities to practice both of these things, and let me tell you something: it has been so much harder and so much more humbling that I could have imagined.

It’s hard to let go of one’s comforts. Perhaps this appears quite obvious, but it’s surprisingly harder than what you think right now. I’ve always considered myself to be an adaptable person, choosing to live as mindfully and as empathetic as possible. But living in a foreign country has completely stripped away “needs” I thought I had while simultaneously reinforcing what makes me Josie.

The language learning has also not gone as grandly as I first imagined. I took the German intensive course for 3 weeks before University classes began–which is something I completely recommend for anyone studying abroad in a different-language speaking country–but it came at a bad time. While going to German class 3 hours a day, I was also dancing around Graz opening Austrian bank accounts and registering with the city of Graz three separate times and meandering my way through bureaucracy. I was figuring out how to get to IKEA and how to grocery shop and how to pick my way through the cities.

I had no time to sit down and process what German I was learning. To reinforce it. And the interactions I had with other international students were almost all in English, the universal language it appears, because there was so much else going on we needed some sort of comfort. Also because non-native English speakers seem to jump at chances to practice English, just as I do when meeting native German speakers.

Now that University has leveled out and the bureaucracy nightmare has been handled, now that I have established myself as not-a-crazy-person to my pals here and I don’t have to worry about miscommunications as I would have if we had spoken only German, I have revamped my motivation to acclimate to the German language. To live and play in the language, thereby living and playing in the culture by extension.

The more motivated I am to experience the culture, the better I am at this “living in a foreign country alone” shenanigans that I apparently want to do for the rest of my life.

It’s all coming together now. Slowly. There are still quite humbling moments when I feel quite proud of myself for piecing together a nice sentence, only to be left blank faced with the reply that I get.

I have never had quite so much fun with life as I have had these past three months. And I know that this trend is going to continue. Beauty and enjoyment exists in juxtaposition; in order to experience peace and gratitude and comfort, it’s necessary to know what chaos, discontent and eruption feels like.

Life lived irregularly > the comfort zone.

-Josie, Austria