Back in the USA

I have been back home for almost three weeks now and the adjustment is still happening. The first day was the hardest. I went to the barn that I have volunteered at for the past eight years to see everybody. It is a place that is like a second home to me and I have always felt welcome. That day I felt like an outsider, a stranger and uncomfortable. I knew that there had been changes while I was gone and even though I kept in contact with the people there it was weird. They didn’t’ seem to know what to say to me and I didn’t really know what to say to them. There was a lot of awkward silences. I wanted to tell them all about my experiences abroad, yet I knew that they didn’t want to be bored by them so it was hard to initiate a conversation.  That day just got more stressful when I went to Wal Mart to pick up some groceries for my mom. I did not think a store could be so overwhelming. There were so many options and brands. In England there were one or two brands of most items at Wal Mart there were eight different types of bread, four different kinds of cherry tomatoes and an entire aisle full of soup. I just grabbed exactly what was on my list as fast as possible and left. Checking out also was weird. They gave me about ten plastic bags for my items, where in England I would have put all of that into two bags and a backpack. Talk about a waste of plastic bags. That first day back was the hardest for me, but after that things started to get easier. Going to Wal Mart is now no big deal, although I do bring my own reusable bags with me and the barn is like my second home again. Driving my car to the store instead of walking is also now part of my routine and even though I miss public transportation I enjoy having a car again. It is so much easier to get places.

One big thing I am glad about was that my family came to visit me at the end of my semester and we travelled around together for a few weeks. This was nice because by the time I got home I was used to being around them again and not on my own, making the transition to living with them again easier.

Having been home for a few weeks life is pretty much back to normal. There are occasionally things that pop up that are nothing like when I was abroad, but I am able to handle them without stressing out :)

Book Smart

I cannot believe that my time abroad has come to an end. It seems like I was just trying to adjust to life in England and now I am going to be adjusting to the U.S. If the book The Art of Coming Home is like The Art of Crossing Cultures I will at least be slightly prepared. My process of integration was a lot like described in the book. The first few weeks were difficult. Trying to figure out how public transportation works, the proper way to greet people and even how to grocery shop were just like described in the book. There were so many little things you would never think would throw you for a loop that the book covered and I am glad it did. Reading The Art of Crossing Cultures before I left gave me a better idea of what I was going to be up against my first few weeks in my new home. That being said there were some things the book mentioned that I never experienced.  Since I was in England there was no communication barrier. I understood what people were saying and they could understand me. The food was not that different and neither was the physical environment. I didn’t move to a place with snow and blizzards or huge mountains. The area I was in was relatively flat and warm. I think this similar environment made my adjustment easier. Yes I did have to learn to dress in layers and always carry rain jacket with me, but I didn’t have to worry about slipping on ice or bundling up against snow. I actually enjoyed being able to bundle up to go outside in the morning, but it was nice that it never got below freezing (just really close to it).

 

Almost Home

I can’t believe my time in Chile is almost up.  Time has really flown by.  I feel that I have had a relatively easier time crossing cultures than the situation described the Craig Storti’s book on cultural adaptation.  He describes and up and down pattern of being shocked by something in the culture and then accepting it.  As I mentioned in a previous post I do not feel like I have experienced the same ride.

 

More specifically, he mentions a honeymoon stage at first where everything is new and interesting and you are very happy.  I felt this from before I even left.  I was excited to be pushed outside of my comfort zone and experience something different, and excited to experience a new language, Spanish.

 

Then, he talks about the eventual down where you begin to get frustrated with the way things work and how miss home.  I don’t think I ever felt this.  The one day I was unhappy was at the Civil Registry to register my visa and the International Police at the airport did not stamp my passport making things very difficult.  However, I internalized this and did not generalize that the entire country was similar.  I really don’t recall any other time where I was upset and generally unhappy here.  Even this incident, was not bad, and by the time my Spanish class started the next day I was all set.

 

The next step is then the return to normal.  For me school started the second or third day in Chile.  By jumping right into school we this normal happened relatively quickly.  However, this period was definitely less academically stressful than normal.  I had only one class that was challenging and every month I took a fairly long trip.  This meant I always had something to look forward to and was never really bogged down with work.

 

Finally, the next step is reentry into your home country.  Some of the same experiences that I had or was supposed to have coming to Chile actually happen on the way back.  Basically, what has happened is my instincts that were finely tuned to my home country culture have been adjusted to the host country culture.  Not unexpectedly, it takes a while to change them back and relearn some of the same things.  Many people are unaware of these changes and therefore do not give you the benefit of doubt that you received as a foreigner in the host country.  It will be interesting to see what cultural traits I have picked up in my relatively short five months in Chile.

 

Reflecting again, I think one of the keys to my relatively easy tradition was my expectation that everything was going to be different.  I was actually fairly surprised that everything was as similar as it was.  I guess the main thing that I learned was that all over the world people are the same.  And these people I am really going to miss.

More than just studying abroad, living.

The overall culture of Chile is fairly similar to the United States with some notable differences. I will elaborate on these as I go along with a special emphasis on differences in communication styles and public versus private spaces.

One of the main differences is how people go to college. In the United States the vast majority of college students live on or near campus away from home. In addition, nearly all colleges, even those located in cities have their own campus separated from the rest of the city. This is different in Chile. I attend a school that is basically it a self-sustaining part of the Universidad de Chile. It has its own systems, and its own regulations, and its own schedule. In addition, I don’t think I ever met someone at school who was not a business student. We really don’t attend the University of Chile; we attend our own specific faculty, in my case of Economics and Business.

Also different is that the students here live with their parents. It is very similar to going to high school in that you are still with your parents. It is in fact a weird mix of freedoms for an American student. You are still at home and have all the responsibilities of family, but also have some of the responsibilities of being an adult. Not that I hate to spend time with my family but I prefer the US model. I really think there is something special about learning how to live on your own in a semi-protected environment. Further, I now truly appreciated the amazingness of living in the US college environment. You are surrounded by your friends 24/7 not more than a ten minute walk away and have the freedom to do practically anything at any time. Your only true responsibilities are to your school work and a job. Plus, there is no commuting long distances like what I do here and what other students do. I commuted an hour each way every day and it has really become important to me for the future to know that I want to live close to where I work and not commute. I did not realize how much extra time this would give me.

The general attitude of things here is also different. I want to say it is more relaxed but in a way it is also more confident and focused. What I mean is that it is common to push something off until tomorrow or until the last minute and then just focus on doing it when it is needed. For example, I did not have a semester schedule until a week before classes started or I didn’t have an exam schedule until a week before. In reality, I did need the schedule until I got it but it is different culturally from the United States where everything is planned and perfected the year before needed. To tie to this anecdote to my original description it is relaxed in that it will get done but confident in that it will get done by a certain date and we will focus on it when the time comes. We really don’t need to worry about it until it is time to do it.

Also, there is a generally feeling of that you work to live not live to work. People work very hard here, but they work for a purpose. They then enjoy the free time they have to do stuff the way they want to do it. For example, during the Chilean National Team games during the World Cup the city literally stopped. If you walk outside it would be silent. Collectively, Chileans found something that was important to them and worked their schedule around it. They worked to live not lived to work.
The manner of communication is a little different here. In some ways it feels more direct than English and in other ways it is more subtle and circular. For example, in English we rarely use direct commands at someone unless we want the harsh tone. We ask things as a question like, “Can you move your seat to the wall?” instead of saying move to the wall. When I first got here this was kind of surprising but really was just a difference in language and the tone is much more important in Spanish. How did they say move? What was the intent of the command?

On the other hand Spanish is more circular and more of an art than American English. We speak very directly and when we want something we ask. For example, when we asked our professor in English to move the class because of the soccer game we say just that, “Can we move the class to watch the game?” In Spanish you would start asking him if he likes soccer, what are his opinions about the team, and then finally ask if there would be a way to move the class to see the game. We are expressing the same idea but executed very differently.

Finally, public and private space is very different here. While in the US it normally requires close working relationships to ever have dinner at someone else’s home and have a business discussion it is way more common here. In fact, after a certain period it is almost expected to have these events. I think this might be related to Chile’s strong affection for family where people and the relationships with them are more than just a means to an ends.

I have experienced some differences in culture from Chile and the United States but I have learned to accept both and see positives and negatives in each.

A look back

Sorry it has been a while since I have written.  I have been travelling around Europe and haven’t really had access to the internet. My experience studying abroad has been amazing. It seems like so long ago when I was overwhelmed with all the new things I was experiencing. Adjusting to a new school and country was hard at first, but all of a sudden it was just my life.

There are a few experiences that stand out when I think back to my first few weeks at UEA.

The first walk to the grocery store was full of complaints and stress. The trip took almost three hours to walk the mile and half there, go shopping and walk back. We started in the afternoon and by the time we were walking back it was dark and cold. The store itself was stressful. We didn’t know where anything was, didn’t know how to get a cart (you have to put a pound in it, which you get back when you return the cart) so we each had two baskets of food. Since we did not know where anything was we kept walking around the store in circles trying to find things. After that first trip it seemed like going grocery shopping was going to be horrible. The next trips got faster and faster and by the end the entire thing took only an hour. Now it is weird for me to think about getting in my car and driving the mile and a half to Publix for groceries.

Looking back at the differences in schools I still cannot say that I got use to Great Britain’s education system. Most of the classes are split into a lecture and then seminar. That wasn’t hard to get used to. It was more challenging to warm up to the way classes are run. My education classes at Stetson are all hands on and we get to be in classrooms in local schools all the time. At UEA the classes did not teach you how to be a teacher. Instead it was about different ideas that should be brought into the classroom, just not how to use them in your curriculum. It was weird that my education classes did not really teach me how to be a teacher, but I guess that is just how the UK does it. I still enjoyed my classes though and learned a lot and cannot wait to bring new ideas to Stetson and my classroom someday.

The culture of the United Kingdom is not vastly different than that of the United States so adjusting to that was not very hard. There was hardly a communication barrier and public and private space was basically the same.

E China II

I cannot believe it’s already been a month! Non-tourist China has proved time and time again to be something completely different from any other place. From eating squid mouth to being able to buy silk worms—to eat—at the grocery store, China offers a daily adventure.

While teaching, I have been able to compare our school system to the one here. Class set-up, teaching style, and hours of class are drastically different. The average student goes to school 7 days a week—private schools on the weekend. Depending on the day of the week, class can go from 6am to 5pm followed by another two hours of private school, then an expectation of studying until around 11pm. And we complain at the length of our school day!

I always thought that people accepted the education system here and thought it is the best option, but all of them—from teachers to students—talk about how unhappy they are and how our system would be much better. They also wish the class structure was more like ours.

When I am teaching, I incorporate lots of games and activities that we did in elementary and middle school. At first, the students were afraid to take part (especially with the shaving cream writing!), but once they dug right in, they enjoyed themselves. Something they said they don’t always do in their other classes where everything is taught by repetition—spoken and written. It presents interesting questions with regards to what type of education system is more effective.

Adapting to the Chinese way of life has been an interesting experience. We all just laugh when I mess up something cultural, like leaving the cartilage of the pig foot on the plate, apparently that’s the best part. I have now been to a baby shower and a wedding, both different from what I am accustomed.

I am often asked how we do things in America in comparison to the way things happen here. If I do something, take for example showering at night, there becomes this expectation that every American must shower at night. It’s been surprisingly difficult to explain how diverse of a society we have and how each person acts differently. We may have some cultural norms, but even those are adjusted from person-to-person.

I have tried integrating myself by watching what everyone else does, like dropping the shells of mussels on the ground, but sometimes I still have to ask questions. I think cultural exchanges can be beautiful when both parties accept that learning is being done. So often people judge other cultures without trying to understand. I still fall prey to that mindset. But when we can exert the effort to try to understand—even if we never do—the world becomes a much different place and each experience is so much more meaningful.

North, South, Old and New.

Chile’s architecture continues a well-established divide between Santiago, other major Chilean cities, and the rural areas. In addition, because Chile is home to so many different climates there is huge variation between the north and the south in a host of areas, but especially in architecture. Remember, that Chile is the equivalent of Baja California in Mexico all the way to British Columbia and Canada flipped upside down. In other words, it is really long and as diverse as the three North American countries which its land is roughly ecologically equal to.
Starting in Santiago it is a mix of classic European architecture and truly modern buildings along with a southwest US feel with many of the homes in my neighborhood. Around the time of Chile’s Centennial in 1910 the government launched a large building spree of great buildings all around the capital city. Following the worldwide style of the time it created great European style buildings with lots of stone and big sculptures in front. This grandiose feel is best depicted by El Mueseo de Bellas Artes and La Estación Mapocho. These large buildings still reflect their importance and serve as reminders to Chile’s early history.
In 2010 Chile celebrated its Bicentennial. Yet again, new buildings and a park were constructed to celebrate this proud moment in history. This time however, the government did not build any buildings, the people did. Parque Bicentenario in the wealthy and trendy Vitacura is the fruit of this effort. Funded completely privately for both construction and operations this beautiful park could be in any modern city. There is a ton of grass, a man made pond stocked with fish and birds, and more stainless steel and class than you can imagine. This truly is a beautiful place to relax and many Chileans hold its private financing with great pride and a reflection of the country’s wealth.
Downtown Santiago is as modern as any other major city in the world and the architecture holds the line. With large skyscrapers mixed in with the more common ten floor building Santiago as a whole is a flat wide city in contrast to somewhere like New York which is compact and tall. In my neighborhood, La Reina, there are basically only houses. They reflect the southwestern US because of their concrete construction and tile roofs. Their design is a result of the tremendous summer heat, homes don’t have air conditioning, and the threat of earthquakes. Overall, buildings are built very solid and there is normally no damage after earthquakes, even some of the larger ones.
In the south of Chile where my group took a cultural excursion is the Island of Chiloé. Roughly in terms of latitude has a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest. The architecture found here is constructed much more with wood and generally similar to the northwest of the US. This is also a seismically active region and many of the buildings are built especially with this natural disaster in mind. On the Chiloé trip we frequented churches. Originally built about a hundred years ago they have tall curved roofs and are generally constructed of wood. The groups that built them developed an ingenious system of construction that did not require nails. This was positive for two reasons. First, there was a shortage of iron and producing nails was a not insignificant task. Next, this construction design allowed the buildings to shift during an earthquake but nothing actually would break; as my dad says “if it bends it doesn’t break.” This design helped these churches to survive years of earthquakes and other natural disasters including the worst earthquake in the history of the world in 1960 at 9.5 on the Richter Scale. In recognition of these factors and their intrinsic beauty they are now collectively UNESCO World Heritage sites, a significant designation.
I have not yet visited the north of Chile to comment specifically on the architecture there, but because it is home to the driest desert in the world I assume desert construction is prevalent. I will be visiting in the end of June and can make an update then.
Chile’s modern development has influenced its architecture as well as its civic institutions, like parks and museums. Chile has a mix of everything with influences from its climate as well as other continents. Chile really has it all.

Different Places, Same Me

The first day that I went to my language class I called my professor “Profesora Coral,” to which she corrected me and said, “Monica”… so I proceeded to call her “Profesora Monica,” to which she corrected me again and said, “no, Monica.”

This conversation was the first of many differences that I found in classes between the United States and Spain.  I would never call my professor in the Untied States by only their first name, unless they preferred it or I knew them outside of the classroom.  In Spain, many students call all professors by their first names, and don’t use general terms of respect in the same way that American students would.  As one of my Spanish professors pointed out, American students always stand out because they are “too polite.”

As a rule, Spanish classes are generally more focused on a single test, or a midterm and a final, and not as varied in their means of grading.  In American classes, there is generally more emphasis on papers and written assignments.  Most of my classes are lecture based, with heavy grades in participation and limited time to participate.  It is important to comment and add to the conversation when the professor opens the floor for discussion because our classes move fairly quickly.

 

One of the biggest changes for me has been the difference in life as a student.  In the United States, students attending a University generally live on campus in dorms, or close to campus in apartments.  On the contrary, in Spain it is much more common for students to attend universities close to home and live with their parents.  On average, Spanish people do not move out of their parent’s homes until their late twenties or early thirties.  In order to maintain that norm, as well as be fully immersed in the Spanish culture, all of the students in the Stetson/Marist program are required to do a homestay.  In the homestay program, our hosts are responsible for feeding us and doing our laundry, which is both nice and frustrating at times.  There are times that I just want to do things for myself, like make a sandwich or cook a meal on my own, but on the other hand it is nice to have someone taking care of me.  In my host family, it has helped us to interact and become like a true family.  My host parents are younger than most, both in their late thirties, and we get along very well.  They do not have children yet, and they both work, so we are all busy… at times it is like what I imagine it would be like to live with an older brother or sister, rather than a mother and father.

 

I eat all of my meals at home, except for two lunches per week that are provided at the school.  I prefer to eat at home when possible, because my host mom is a fabulous cook!  She is very careful to stay away from ingredients that I don’t particularly like, such as mayonnaise!  When I do eat on campus, it is always a cafeteria-like setting, except it is Spanish style, meaning that there is no telling what the food actually is.  I have come to accept the little differences, such as the fact that you have to pay 25 euro cents for a packet of ketchup and they put an enormous amount of food on your plate.

 

So far, the Spanish student experience has been great for me.  There are obviously differences that have taken some getting used to, and there are some things that I will be happy to return to in the United States, but overall I have learned so much and my experience has been positive!  Can’t wait to see what waits ahead!

Adjust… and Re-Adjust

It is truly amazing how the human spirit can adjust and change with time and circumstance.  There are days when I think that Spain is one of the greatest countries, other than the United States of course, and then there are days when I think that I may stay in bed all day because I just do not understand this foreign place.  People are all people, just with different ideas and thoughts.

 

One of the most shocking cultural differences that I have dealt with since being in Madrid was the difference in personal space.  In Spain, people tend to be, what I call, “close-face-talkers,” meaning that the idea of actual personal space is a very foreign concept to them.  When speaking to a Spaniard, they will generally stand about a foot away and maintain eye contact throughout the entire conversation.  To a Spaniard, standing the general American 4-5 feet away from someone during a conversation is perceived as cold and uninterested.  For Americans, standing a foot away is a true invasion of privacy.  As you may be able to perceive, this causes a bit of awkwardness for incoming students who are not used to this lack of space.  My most awkward experience thus far has been talking to my Politics professor, who is about 5 inches shorter than me.  He always stands very close to me when I ask him questions after class, and it is extremely awkward, because not only am I uncomfortable with that small amount of space, but I also have to look down on him in order to make eye contact.  Altogether, I have become a little more comfortable with the conversation etiquette, but I still fight the urge to take a step back every time someone steps closer to me.

Another major difference has been the time of meals in Spain.  Most middle-aged Spaniards eat breakfast at around 11:00AM, lunch at around 3:00PM, and dinner around 10:00PM.  The meal times are evenly spaced, except they are about 2-3 hours pushed back from normal American eating times.  At first, I had a difficult time adjusting to these changes, but now I have become accustomed to it.  I am interested to see how I readjust when I get back to the United States.

Time Flies…

Now that I am a little over half way done with my adventure, I feel like I should take some time to reflect and give a brief update on my life… so here are a few thoughts that go through the mind of a student abroad!

 

For starters, I am pretty well adjusted to the Spanish time line and customs, and I no longer have to get afternoon snacks between lunch and dinner!  The other day, my host mom walked by my room at 1AM and saw that I was still awake, she told me that she had my laundry ready and asked if I wanted it now or tomorrow morning and I said now was fine.  When she came back she had a smile on her face and told me that I was officially Spanish since I was still awake and working at that hour.  I am also starting to feel like I am a part of a family, which becomes more and more helpful as I am starting to miss my own family.

 

As far as school, midterms were pretty difficult in a different language, but now I understand what I need to do to adjust and continue to improve.  I have met with professors and I am starting to better understand their expectations and teaching styles.

 

In the language department, I am starting to realize that the more fluent I become in Spanish, the less fluent I become in English.  It is a very odd feeling to speak like a non-native speaker in my own language.  Lately I have stared saying Spanish phrases in English, which are grammatically correct but are not normal phrases in English.  I sometimes feel like I sound like a Spaniard with a fantastic American accent.  Regardless, I am becoming more comfortable with my Spanish, and have even started to pick up on some of the colloquial phrases.

 

My final update is that I am starting to become a pro of all airports with all of the traveling I am doing.  I have already been to Berlin and Morocco as well as many parts of Spain, and am loving getting to see all of these new places.  I have learned how to pack like a traveler, instead of packing like a tourist, meaning that I have figured out how to pack everything I need for a four-day weekend in my backpack!  I think that the traveling has been one of the most rewarding experiences of this journey.  The more I travel, the more my eyes are opened to the freedom that I am lucky enough to have as an American citizen.  For example, there have been times when I walked through security with my American passport, and the security guards barely even looked at my picture after seeing that it said United States, while people of other nationalities were often questioned.  It is incredible to see the power that American citizenship has in the world, and I have gained a completely new perspective on my rights and the rights of others.