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Welcome to WOU’s Photoblog for Students Abroad!

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I’m pleased to introduce you to WOU’s photoblog for students who are studying or interning abroad.  I  invite you to follow our students on their journeys from pre-departure preparation through the return home.

Photoblogging is a wonderful way for students to share what they are learning, observing, and discovering in their new environments.  Enjoy the journey with them!

WOU’s photoblog is modeled on the Australian “Bringing the Learning Home” project developed by Jan Gothard, Greg Downey, Tonia Gray, and Linda Butcher, and with their permission, utilizes some of the materials from that project.  http://ozstudentsabroad.com/

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Pre-Departure: Abby Goes to Peru!

Hi everyone!

It’s time! Here marks the beginning of my study abroad trip to Peru! I can’t believe it! I am sitting in the Dallas Fort Worth International airport right now awaiting my international flight to Lima and it still doesn’t seem real. As I told my grandma last night, I don’t think it will hit me until I get there.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Granted, I have researched for hours in preparation. But no amount of research is comparable to experiencing something in real life. I think that my host culture will be surprising. Peruvian culture is much different than American culture, so there will be a lot of adjusting to do. I am expecting culture shock and I have brought information about what to do when that sets in. I think that once I get past it, I will more easily dive in and try my best to live like a local.

I am both very excited and very nervous to spend four and a half months abroad. I have been planning this trip for months and months (six maybe?) and now it’s real life. Wow. I’m excited to learn the language, material from my classes, street smarts, how to live in a big city and how to do so independently, but I am most excited to learn about myself. For all of you who love psychology, you could say I’m still in Erik Erikson’s “identity vs. confusion” stage, which essentially means that I am still trying to answer the question, “who am I?” Hopefully this trip will continue to point me in the right direction. I am also looking forward to seeing many parts of the country and tasting all of their yummy cuisine.

As for the nerves, I’m past airport security, so those have definitely decreased. One of the things I have learned so far on this trip is that airport security makes me feel a little anxious. I also got a crash course on the best way to board an airplane, how to not hit people with my bags, and I learned that backing up to an open overhead bin once yours is full is next to impossible. As for the nerves pertaining to being in a new country, I have a lot of them. The first is homesickness. I’ve never been away from my family for more than five weeks, so four and a half months will be a challenge. I grew up in the country and have been on public transit less than five times in my life, so I am nervous about getting around a city as huge as Lima, which is home to about nine million people. Not being fluent in Spanish is another concern, as I have only taken through the 100-level sequence at WOU. However, I seem to acquire it naturally and retain it fairly well, so I’ve got that on my side. The last big thing that I am nervous about is breaking out of my bubble. I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to social situations, so this is hopefully going to be a time of growth for me. I have been mentally preparing for months to go completely alone to a country where I know nobody and only know a fraction of the language, so hopefully my personal pep-talks will get through to my stubborn self and I will make friends, talk to people often, learn lots of social skills (and Spanish), and it will all be fabulous.

I think that despite all of my worries, I will find that I am well prepared. I have done countless hours of research and have had plenty of time to prepare. I was raised to be smart, cautious, and independent. I am a natural problem solver and have learned how to be very resourceful. I have my faith, which helps me to be positive and see the bright side of all situations. I have God by my side every step of the way to guide and protect me. I am grateful for all of these things and because of them I am prepared.

Finally, I am so thankful to everyone who has helped make this trip possible: WOU staff, CISabroad staff, my CISabroad advisor Brian, who has put up with my multitude of questions, my family, and so many others who have been my emotional support, listened to me talk on and on about my trip, and given me advice and warm wishes. I am so blessed to have each and every one of you in my life.

Until next time,

Abby

Here are some photos to represent what I am expecting:

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Intro: Abby Goes to Peru!

Here's a a sideways photo of my face!

Here’s a a sideways photo of my face!

Hello all!

My name is Abby and I will be spending fall semester in Lima, Peru. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to study abroad in Australia. I had dreams of seeing the Great Barrier Reef, seeing koalas and kangaroos, spending time on the beach, and swimming and scuba diving in the ocean. While I still wish to do these things some day, my more immediate plans changed when I transferred to WOU this past school year. I switched majors from pre-dental to education in the process of transferring, and somewhere along the way I rekindled my love for the Spanish language and decided to also pursue a Spanish Bilingual endorsement. I have always heard that immersion is the best way to learn a language, so I started looking at programs in countries whose main language is Spanish. I knew I wanted to travel for a full semester, so that narrowed my choices a little bit. I then started looking into the courses offered at the universities so that I could stay on track to graduate, and the best option for me turned out to be Peru. I’ve heard great things about the country and did quite a bit of research about it, and made my decision. By the beginning of April I had been accepted into my program, had created a Pinterest board with dozens of pins, and I was very dedicated to my Spanish courses. Here I am, almost four months later, about to finally embark on this big, crazy, exciting, once in a lifetime journey!

I have the highest hopes for all that I will learn and accomplish during my time abroad, and I can hardly wait for it all to begin.

-Abby

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Day Before! Finale Coming!

With my program reaching its end. I definitely have no doubt in my mind that my feelings have changed since I have last left the U.S. I was overcome with many different emotions: the idea of being alone in a foreign place without any of my family close by, meeting new people for the first time, and being immersed in a whole new place where English is not the first language.

Now that I have been here for five weeks, I feel bad that I did not feel more excited about coming to Mexico because it is a great place to live with some great qualities to it. I honestly was nervous because I had no idea what to really expect. People are unpredictable, as such I try to avoid any conceptions before actually meeting someone or multiple people. At the very least, I imagined that my host family would be kind and help me feel accustomed. For the most part, I was right. I was blessed with a great host family who treated me well. I was hoping they would be a family I could talk and interact with when the time is right and this turned out to be the case. I did not see myself speaking with the locals too much since I am cautious around strangers, but I wanted to at least interact with some people, and I am glad I did in the end.

As for my feeling about returning, I am very excited to see my mother again and eventually my close friends as well. I feel as though, no matter where I am, I will always feel a sense of emptiness when I am not at home in Oregon. It is for that reason that I believe I could never live far from home, it would be too hard in my opinion. I do have mixed feelings though. I feel like just when I have really started to feel at home here, I already need to leave. I feel like I have developed a sense of place here, and it is ashame that I have to leave now when I am not so busy with homework and studying. It is funny, but I am filled with emotions just like in the beginning. The difference this time is that I am not nervous or scared of being Mexico, but actually a bit sad to leave. I believe all abroad programs are like this. One develops the sense of a second home and they must feel bad for having to leave it. It truly is funny how the world works at times.

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Countdown to Finale! New Friend’s Help with Catch-up!

The time in Mexico continues to pass by, and by this time, I start seeing that my time has not been completely well-spent. My upbringing has made me pretty shy with regards to going out and getting others to accompany me to places. I believe my host mom recognizes that too and has urged me lately to get out and experience more of the culture of Mexico. I have been to a few places already, but I know there is more I can still do. Another student from the U.S has joined us in the household and he is more extroverted than myself. He is always on the move and ready to explore. I cannot help but feel kind of envious. Nevertheless, the other student has helped me to get out and explore more of the city and we have even walked my host mother’s dog who has not gotten a walk in many weeks. We observed some wonderful art done on the streets near the roads and the steady stream that may be would have more of a common sight in France due to its calm appearance and rather wide length as well.  The “Mural” art was another aspect that captured my attention as well. in addition to the museum relics and art, the murals are quite prevalent in Mexican culture, and I thought the ones I saw were really well done and showcased the artistic side of the culture quite well.    We ended up going to a park and some were actually set up a bit like exercise equipment outside. I am not sure if they were wholly intended for the younger kids who come with their parents, but it seemed to be perfect for the other student to comically do exercise of his own. I think it may have been designed for those who maybe cannot go to the gym due to costs. I know Mexico is a country where the people make the most of what they have, and this is just one of many examples of its better qualities.

Classes continue to enlighten me more about the culture here in Mexico in different ways. In addition  to the usual practice with writing and learning of tenses, We learned about the different legends that exist in Mexico and how they can come in different versions. We were tasked with creating our own version, and I took the opportunity to notice how broad the legends are. From volcanoes and lakes, they each hold their old ideas and lessons that are fascinating: the concept of love and how its beauty can remain eternal, and the importance of obedience for the well being of oneself and the family around them. These lessons hold great importance in life, and the fact that they can be told via  legends is all the more reason to appreciate their existence. We also ended up learning more about the nature of superstitions and how prevalent they are in the culture as well. Many people in Mexico believe in superstitions and sometimes resort to utilizing the services of supernatural mediums to turn their lives around when things do not go so well for them. It was an interesting category to discuss since most people in Mexico are of religious (mostly Catholic) faith. Much like with parties, it serves as a means of alleviating the harshness that work and other responsibilities can bring.

With the countdown towards returning already well underway. I believe this last week will be the most interesting of all of the weeks so far, as well the most stressful

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Hello from Prague

Hello again all, just checking in to prove that the amazing Sunny Wen and Jennifer Hight are still alive and well! Last time I was on was back in Paris, and quite a bit has happened since then. We spent nine hours on a train to reach Berlin and it was brutal let me tell you. The first five hours were alright even though we were delayed due to cows on the road. Stupid French cows.

But Berlin was stunning. The city was beautiful, and very clean. Sunny was wondering about how new everything was and apparently was surprised when I informed her it was all less that seventy years old because of WWII. Even the trees there are very young because the Americans blew the old ones up.

We took a walking tour of Berlin because we were only there a day and it was increadible. It was basically a tour of WWII throughout Berlin which I enjoyed because it is my focus as a history major (a little part of me is still sad Germany doesn’t offer history study abroad…) ad I pestered the guy with questions. He was also very sweet, he kept making sure my bum leg wasn’t hurting and said if I ever needed a rest to let him know. There was a lot of strange history in Berlin. From the shopping mall and kindergarden over Hitler’s old office, to the patched up WWI and II memorials (from the bullets), everything was scattered on top of each other.

After that we headed to Prague which is a beautiful city. It remained mostly in one piece after WWII so many of the sold buildings have survived to today. That means walking around we got to see several magificent cathedrals and many old medieval buildings such as the clock tower.

Today Sunny and I went with a tour group up to the Prague Castle. It is the largest castle in Europe with three different churchs standing inside of it. The main cathedral is so massive it was only recently completed in the 20th century. The castle itself is made up of over twenty different buildings all combined into the massive structure that looks out over the rest of the city. It is simply a breathtaking view standing up there looking out over the hills surounding Prague and I was quite content to stay there.

Until it got cold, then we booked it back to the hostel until the weather changes for the better,

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Querétaro, Week 5

Finals week for three courses condensed into five weeks has been much more grueling than I had imagined. Combined with the fact that this is also my last week in Mexico and I would love to be out exploring, observing, and experiencing, I’ve found it somewhat frustrating that most of my time was spent hunched over my computer studying for exams and writing essays. Nevertheless, I feel as though I have achieved something in all of my classes, and I definitely believe that I have learned so much in so many different areas throughout my time here in Mexico.

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This last week we were at a different campus, a former airport. It was interesting to have such a drastic transition within a trip which has already been a transition; the campus was much farther away from my house than the previous one had been, so my schedule was very different and I’ve spent  a lot more time in transit than I would have liked. It was certainly interesting to observe the students at the different campuses; the environments were completely different, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit another educational institution during my time here.

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The house I’ve been staying in is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m definitely going to miss the interesting set-up. There is no ceiling over the main hallway, and all of the rooms are separate entities with heavy doors branching off of the main hallway. This means I’ve had my own living quarters, including a bathroom, without having to share my space. It’s been very interesting to live with a family in another country and observe all the customs and other cultural differences that are so new to me. I’ve only been living with my host mother and her youngest son, but she has many other older children and even grandchildren who are always around the house or pop in for meals. I feel like these continuing interactions have been the most beneficial toward my developing Spanish language skills.

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I think one vital thing I’ve taken away from this trip is that I can have interesting experiences and still do well in school. Back home at WOU, I focus all my attention on my schoolwork, and I hardly leave Monmouth or even my apartment. Being here with so much to see and do while at the same time having academic obligations has forced me to leave my comfort zone and get out and do things. This has shown me that I really do have better time management skills than I had previously thought, and if I want to, I can get all my schoolwork done and still be able to go hiking or visit museums on the weekends and evenings. I look forward to bringing this knowledge into my everyday life in Oregon and continuing to expand my cultural horizon back home.

As excited as I am to return to the U.S. and see my family, I am also going to miss Mexico and my host family, and I am already planning to return on vacation as soon as it is practical. I have enjoyed my time here immensely; I strongly feel that this has been one of the best experiences of my life, and everything that went into making this trip happen was completely worth it.

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Querétaro, Week 4

The bulk of my fourth week here in Querétaro has been largely focused on classes, and I didn’t have much time for anything else until the weekend, when I went to Guanajuato with a few other students. Since passing the half-way point of this study abroad session, I’ve felt as though I am running out of time to experience as many things as possible, and I am very glad I chose to go on one last excursion on my final weekend here. The downside to all the classwork during the week and going out of town on the weekend is that I hardly had any time to spend with my host family or around Querétaro, which I hope I can make up for during my last week here before I return to the U.S..

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Guanajuato was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. They have very much embodied the tourist culture, but aside from all the vendors and attractions, the city itself is amazing with such a wide variety of colorful buildings and architecture. It was very different from being in Querétaro; there were many tourists other than ourselves, and it was interesting to hear such a broad mix of languages, including a lot of English. The people there were also a lot more friendly than those from my experiences in Querétaro, likely because they are more used to tourists stumbling over their Spanish.

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That night in Guanajuato was the first opportunity I’ve had to stay in a hostel, something I’ve been eager to experience for a while. It was the last one available when our resident director made the bookings, and there was probably a reason for that. I am definitely grateful to have had the experience, but from what she said, it is certainly not representative of the majority of hostels. The beds only had one thin blanket and no pillow cases, there were no curtains over the windows, one of our doors wouldn’t close, and the walls had been painted that same day so the paint was wet and the fumes were strong. Everything was tolerable for the price, however, except for the bathroom; aside from having no hand soap, which was expected, there was a red liquid continuously dripping through the ceiling above the shower, forming a large dark red stain on the floor and puddling around the shower drain. It looked exactly like a scene from a horror movie, and the staff member on duty that night had no idea what it was. Consequently, none of us were brave enough to shower there. All in all, it was a very unique experience, and one which I am grateful for but would not like to repeat under the same conditions.

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The next day in Guanajuato, we hiked up through a very steep part of the city to the Pipila, a giant statue above the city. It was mildly exhausting, but completely worth it when we reached the top; the view was absolutely spectacular, and we could see the entire city in all its many colors. It was amazing to be able to look so far out and see generally where we had started, which at that point seemed so far away.

Overall, in spite of the homework, I believe I was able to make the most of this second-to-last week by going to Guanajuato and experiencing a new part of Mexico. I look forward to tackling finals week and getting to see my family when I return home in less than a week now.

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Arrival!!

I have finally settled in China and have been in xiangton for a couple days now and wow talk about a culture shock!

The first thing that really caught my eye was the traffic rules here. What surprised me is that there are none! Driving in your lane is just a suggestion. The average person is swerving between multiple lanes or driving just on the dividing line itself. You don’t wear seatbelts, don’t normally use your blinker and… Honk at EVERYTHING you see. Which is just crazy to me, but it’s normal to them. Back home if someone honks at you there tends to be some anger on the road of yelling at each other or flipping people off through your window.  But here, no one even reacts. It’s so interesting that that’s their norm. Along with that, when the cross walk shows the green man for you to walk, cars are still driving.. So you risk getting hit everytime you walk the street.

Another interesting thing I noticed here is at the dinner table there are no drinking rules. No rules of showing your i.d. to be served alcohol or anything. So kids can be drinking alcohol with the adults. Also, smoking cigarets indoors is allowed at the dinner table. And, remember the saying “no shirt, no shoes, no service?”. Well you can fo image   image rget that. Because men don’t always wear shirts in the restaurant here either.

This experience has already been truly amazing. I love that I am expierencing such a culture shock, it makes me feel like I’m truly taking in China. And it’s very interesting to be able to look at their norms. And compare them with ours. I am looking forward to many more fun expierences to come!

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London Week 2

Visiting London and the surrounding area of the United Kingdom has provided me with a sense of a vastly different culture, or I should say a sense of cultures. The diversity found in the city is greater than I have seen in any other place. Before coming to Britain, the greatest real-life example of diversity I had found was on-campus at WOU. I have heard more unique languages spoken aloud in the last two weeks than I had previously heard in the entirety of my experiences. The city here reminds me a lot of the big cities back home. However, there is a much greater sense of community here than I pick up in big cities of the U.S. Perhaps this is due to the close proximity of everyone in town. People of all races and classes appear to travel on the same path everyday. The trains and tube are always packed with all kinds of interesting folks that do not seem to mind being so close to everyone else around them, and it does not seem that anyone is deterred by the thought of using public transportation either. At home, the public transportation has certain negative connotations, whereas here public transport is just a part of the routine. The public transportation system also seems to be fairly well maintained compared to the systems I have seen back home.
Another aspect of the culture that lends to the sense of community here is the tradition of the pubs. No matter where you go, you are bound to find an assortment of these establishments. The pubs are always bustling during lunchtime, and especially after work hours. It seems that people here do not see alcohol as a negative influence as we do in the states. The people here are used to just grabbing a beer with their colleagues during the day, or after work without thinking twice about it. In the U.S. society in general has a very different attitude towards alcohol; alcohol is a forbidden fruit and people who drink may be judged for their choices. I think this attitude breeds the issue of young people feeling the need to drink to excess. The bars in America are often filled with people who are making a scene and taking things too far. In contrast, I’ve noticed that people here are more apt to go to the pub for socializing with friends and family; pubs are less about the actual drinking and more about the community aspect here. Of course there will always be a bit of mischief associated with overconsumption anywhere, but it doesn’t seem to be a major issue.
A final note on pubs: I was very encouraged when my friends and I were in a local pub and we noticed that not a single person there was on their phone. This was quite a novelty because back in the states, it’s almost a guarantee that half of the people in a restaurant or other public place will be staring at their phones at any given moment. It was refreshing to see that people were very present in the moment and not concerned with whatever social media had to offer.

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Second Week in London!

Hello all!

I have learned many new items following British culture in my mere two weeks of attendance,you can see a different in speech and the written word all around the city in its people and signs. For example they use alternative words for insults, clothing, and phrasing such as knickers for panties. It is interesting to see the contrast in language as both the British and Americans speech English, however use different words for different meanings. You can see the roots of the linguistics’ and at what point the two split in history; it is more apparent being within the city.

British culture additionally has scenery of different that provides to its surrounding culture. The buildings in many of the neighborhoods, even though some are new and involve more modern looks, hold the structure of its original design. Some even have the old stones in which they were originally built as well. It gives London a sense of timelessness as some portion seems to have been stopped in the 18th century, or even earlier. This is additionally seen in the British Museum and the artifacts that it holds. There are many pieces, not only from the Kingdom, but from all over the world that attribute to the culture and it’s since of timelessness and maintain an aura of medieval. The collection of artifacts plays into the intelligence of the people within the city as well. The British seem to value intelligence in the early years of its community. Museums are maintained and multiplied throughout the kingdom, and schools are required to send their students to their grounds. To this point it would seem that the British schooling system is substantially different, and clearly more defined.  Most general courses are accomplished in the early stages of school, and upon entering college fine focus their skills for future career. Schools in the area are of a higher degree, and are generally in the Ivy League range. The college courses do not contain lectures required for a grade or graduation, as grades are no longer distributed and examinations lasting many days determine whether a degree is given.  I find the system of the schooling for the British the most interesting, and would like the Americans to adopt the system. It is a strong portion of the British culture and the types of individuals it produces to the outside world.

The last item of the British culture that was intriguing was their view on alcohol. It is not forbidden to the younger portions of the community as all ages are allowed in at all times. It is also considered normal to go to the pub after work for a drink, or have a drink during dinner. In the British culture drinking is a social item of interest, not a method of becoming obnoxious as is “normal” in American society. Many things in British culture that are forbidden in American culture are made differently because they do not adhere to obnoxious behavior or try to “hide” like to younger generation. You can assume that the idea of adulthood is made known early on. Overall there are many items of interest that make up the British Culture that have shaped my perspective, however the journey continues in its quest to further my knowledge!

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