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Tag: study abroad (page 2 of 3)

When Panama Gives You Papaya…Then You Eat the Papaya

Context regarding the title: well, I’m in Panama. And almost every morning since my arrival on January 5th, my host mom has given me and my roommate papaya for breakfast. I had never tasted papaya before this trip, but I thought I would like it, being the fruit connoisseur that I am. The first morning that I tasted papaya, I detected a slight cat-food flavor (no, I wouldn’t know exactly, but it did have a strange aftertaste and is the color of salmon). I now find the taste to be better than I originally anticipated – kind of like my experience so far in Panama. At first, I had no idea what to think.

I wrote a draft of this blog twice already, first while on a break from classes at the Universidad Technológica de Panamá. The draft was on actual lined paper, scribbled out in pencil. Then I read over my writing…and realized that I absolutely had to start over from scratch. I physically and metaphorically crumpled those two pages up into a tiny ball and threw them in the trash.

Here’s the thing: I’m studying abroad in Panama, right? You know, Panama: the land of the infamous canal? Well, as a result, I’m sure the expectations associated with a post about my experiences thus far involve wide-eyed, travelling wonder. Umm…not exactly.

The problem, which is occurring yet again even in this third draft, is that I’m trying to strike the right tone. For the sake of complete honesty, my trip has been a series of ups and downs. So, yeah, there have been wonderfully positive experiences thus far…but there have also been some not-so-perfect things.

In defense of anyone who hesitates before describing a previous study abroad experience: I believe that there is a stigma associated with anyone who voices that he/she did not absolutely love his/her time abroad. I think that travelers everywhere should be allowed to voice their candid opinions and stories, whether amazing or not-so-amazing.

Pros so far:

(1) The beaches are breathtaking.

(2) The Panama Canal really is all that it’s cracked up to be. Side note: this is the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal. (You go, Panama Canal.)

My real, in-the flesh, sloth buddy.

My real, in-the flesh, sloth buddy.

(3) I saw a sloth. (On an emotional scale, I was an eleven.)

(4) I think that my Spanish is improving slowly but steadily (very turtle-like if this was a tortoise and the hare type race), which was the whole aim of this trip.

A few different things:

(1) The lack of AC in 90-plus degree weather is still unfamiliar. As are the cold showers – hot water does not exist in my host home.

(2) This is a big one: I wish the people were friendlier. Every Panamanian outside of my professors and host mom seems to dislike Americans with a strong passion, as evidenced by their frequent, cold stares and constant use of the not-so-nice term, “gringo/a.” I also suspect that it doesn’t help that Panama /U.S. relations have a somewhat bloody history, with Panamanian university students killed at the hands of the U.S. soldiers in the 1960’s. My group was in Panamá for the national day honoring those murders. Awkward.

With two full weeks left, I’m most looking forward to Bocas Del Toro, which is rumored to be a gorgeous-beyond-belief travel destination. Who knows what those next two weeks will have in store? I’m optimistic that the next 17 or so days will be filled with more interesting, eye-opening cultural experiences. And maybe more sloths. And definitely more papaya.

The Big 2-0

Today I am celebrating my 20th birthday. I have lived for 175,200 hours, 7,300 days, 240 months, and two decades. My teenage years are coming to a close and the reality of “aging” is setting in. I think I might even have my first wrinkle. It’s a pretty groundbreaking moment when you realize that you consider yourself to be old.

More important than the numbers and my need for eye cream however is the fact that it will be my first birthday celebrated without my family. This winter, I am in Washington D.C., fulfilling some credits and (hopefully) making some connections in the field I desire to one day work in. My mom won’t wake me up with a song or a freshly baked muffin. I won’t get to choose my favorite entrée for dinner or blow out any candles. Instead, I’ll get phone calls, a package that is scheduled for delivery some time between 4 and 7 pm, a poorly worded early morning text message from my father.

The cake I make for myself every birthday.

The cake I make for myself every birthday.

This feeling of distance is part of growing up. We are all destined to find ourselves in foreign territory at some point. The most successful people in the world don’t remain homebodies. They seek to see the world, to absorb knowledge, to extend the bounds of their comfort zones. Long distance relationships aren’t just the basis of rom coms or reality television. Chances are that most college students are in one, with parents, siblings, family traditions.

As the timely distance from childhood increases, there is loss. We stop believing in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. We lose the favorite stuffed animal we once couldn’t sleep without. We begrudgingly accept the fact that money does not spring from wallets and that laundry is real life. We realize that our parents aren’t invincible. We give up traditions that once seemed so important (like being awoken with freshly baked goods on the morning of your birthday). Magic is replaced by knowledge.

This year, my birthday will be bittersweet. I’ll be in a city that I love, participating in a program that could potentially set my future career into motion. I’ll be attending a hearing on Capitol Hill, something most U.S. citizens can’t say they have done (and something I am very nerdily excited for).  I’ll be surrounded by new friends. I’ll likely consume all manner of fatty delicacies at Good Stuff Eatery.

However, I highly doubt that anyone will awaken me with a song or a cake, and I don’t think candles are allowed in our student residence. My boss won’t take the excuse “but it’s my birthday” for any lackluster performance and my parents won’t be around to refer to January 9th as “my special day”.  I will miss these little things that once made the passing of a year of life so astronomical, so exciting, that sleep the night before was impossible. But this aging thing brings about a new kind of thrill, new prospects like drinking legally and living in your first real apartment and graduating, more important milestones than an anniversary of being born. 

Erin Dugan

Spending Thanksgiving Abroad

To put it simply, I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I love everything about the holiday: getting to be with family, the food, football, and even the 5K Turkey Trots. It is the one day of the year when it is socially acceptable to think about, talk about and eat food all day. What’s not to love?

However, this year I was a little nervous about Thanksgiving. After all, it would be the first year where I would not get to see my family, eat some of my mom’s famous stuffing, or run as a part of Team Jaegermeister in a local Turkey Trot.  I knew that it was going to be a strange day.

And a strange day it was. While all of you were at home sleeping in, I was waking up and going to class like any other Thursday in Spain. It was an odd feeling knowing that while I was spending six hours in class, my family and friends back home were participating in some of my favorite traditions. Luckily, I was able to catch some live footage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which put me a bit more in the Thanksgiving spirit.

My program was also kind enough to host a Thanksgiving dinner for us. It was the fanciest Thanksgiving meal that I have ever had, and for being cooked by a Spanish chef, it was also quite delicious. While the stuffing was not my mom’s nor the turkey carved by my dad, it still made the day feel more familiar. Although I did not get to see my family on Thanksgiving, the meal with my program made me appreciate the friends that I have in Spain even more.

It might not be home, but it's definitely an impressive spread!

It might not be home, but it’s definitely an impressive spread!

So although this Thanksgiving was different, it still reminded me of how thankful I am for many things in my life. I am so incredibly grateful for my family back home, who not only talks to me regularly through video chat, but who also took the time to video chat me at their Thanksgiving dinner so that I could say hi to everyone. I am also thankful for the wonderful opportunity that I have to study abroad. This experience has been one of the best of my life. And, on a more shallow note, this Thanksgiving I realized how thankful I am for central heating and running water, because I did not have either last Thursday!

This Thanksgiving, like my whole trip so far, was a simply an adventure. It certainly was different, but I know that it was one that I will always remember. After all, not everyone gets to spend a major US holiday in another country surrounded by good food and good company. Now, it is time to focus on my other favorite holiday (Christmas!) and the 2.5 weeks that I have left in Spain. And maybe, if I am lucky, my mom will make some of her delicious stuffing for me when I return home.

~Rebecca Jaeger

Adventures Around Europe

I have never been much of a traveler. Sure, I have been to New York City quite a few times and have visited Honduras and Costa Rica, but for the most part, my travel experience is limited. So coming to Europe and making travel plans for myself was a daunting thought.

 But, so far, I have managed to survive. In the past two weeks I have visited two famous European cities: London, and Paris. Both of the cities were beautiful and intriguing in their own right. And, I can undoubtedly say that these weekends were some of the best experiences of my life. 

To put it simply, London is the most incredible city I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It was clean, had beautiful architecture, and I simply felt at home. Combining all that with the fact that the royal family lives there and there are oodles of attractive men with accents, I did not want to leave! While in the city, I had the opportunity to explore some fascinating historical monuments such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Platform 9¾ in Kings Cross Station. There is so much to do in the city and I had so little time. Of course, my trip to London also featured typical London weather. It was very blustery and rainy. And, in pure rookie fashion, I did not carry an umbrella with me. So, it was a wet and cold weekend. But regardless of the weather, I am already excited to return.

London was also my first experience with public transportation. Thankfully, it was a positive one! When people say that the Tube (London’s subway system) is incredibly easy to use, they’re telling the truth. With a Tube map in hand, I was soon traveling like a pro. I even had an English woman ask me for directions. To me, that was a symbol of my public transportation successes.

Paris, however, was a different story. Although the city was gorgeous and eclectic, the language barrier was immense. I quickly learned that my fourth grade French would not get me very far. However, other than the inevitable language struggles, I enjoyed exploring the city. Over the course of two days I visited the Eiffel Tower, the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, and many of the other sites that Paris is famous for. It was an action-packed (and extremely cold) weekend, but absolutely worth it to get to experience one of the most important European cities.

While my weekends were busy, the experience of traveling is definitely worth it. To know that I have successfully navigated two major European cities makes me very proud. Thanks to these trips I have become more independent and able to conquer daunting things (like public transportation). Prior to studying abroad, I didn’t like walking around Newark at night by myself. But now, after having walked alone in foreign cities in the dark and survived, I feel that I am ready to conquer UD by night!

One of the many benefits of traveling? Getting to take postcard-worthy photos like this one!

One of the many benefits of traveling? Getting to take postcard-worthy photos like this one!

~Rebecca Jaeger

Learning Language

Ever since I was very young, I have always had a knack for language. I enjoyed it in multiple forms, like reading, writing, speaking. In addition to English, I’ve also loved learning other languages, especially Spanish. One could say that those silly Spanish movies I watched in elementary school got me hooked.

My goal to become bilingual was one of the reasons why I chose to study abroad for a semester. I knew that I wanted to have ample time to immerse myself fully in the language and culture of Spain. And, I have to say, learning the language has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my time here.

At first, I was blindsided by the total immersion in Spanish. Although I consider myself a proficient Spanish speaker, it was quite a shock to be surrounded by all Spanish, all the time. And, to make matters worse, I could barely understand a word my host mom was saying, much less think of a coherent response. The first few weeks were tough because of the rapid transition between languages. It was also difficult because I was scared to speak in Spanish for fear of making a mistake. I didn’t want to be that silly American butchering her Spanish, so I just didn’t talk. Slowly, however, I realized that they only way to improve my language was to use it.

Through the past nine weeks, I have experienced many changes regarding my Spanish. I have undoubtedly become more adept at both speaking and listening. Yes, that means less awkward pauses and blank stares while conversing with my host mom (thank goodness). I can also now eavesdrop on the conversations that occur on the street. Granted, that is not a terribly important skill to have, but it makes me feel good to know that I can actually understand the natives without trying.

The strangest part of the experience of learning a language rapidly is the constant jumble of words in my head. When I need to be thinking in English (like when writing this blog) I will think of words in Spanish. Then, when I am in class, listening to Spanish, I sometimes end up writing notes in English. The ever-present jumble of words gives new meaning to the term, “Spanglish!”

I am thrilled with the language progress that I have made whilst in Spain. Although I have yet to dream in Spanish (which some say is the sign of being fluent), I know that my language has come so far. So while I am happy with my language progress, I think the most important thing that I have learned since arriving in Spain is to speak up. For anybody learning a language, speaking it is the only way to get better. Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving fluency. Just put yourself out there and talk away!

It’s just one breathtaking view after another in Granada.

~Rebecca Jaeger



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