Tag Archives: study abroad

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My Summer Abroad

(All photos courtesy of Chelsea; featured photo is Palma de Mallorca- Spain)

When the last day of my first year abroad came to an end and I walked out the door on the final day, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I was free! ….And then the weight came back a bit when I realized I forgot my phone there, haha! But in any case, the summer of 2013 was before me, and I enjoyed every second.

Firstly, let me explain the plans I had made for the following year (the school year of 2013-14). When I came to the area, it was with the conviction that I would become fluent in French, which proved much more difficult than I realized. So, for several months, I searched for ways to stay and work on my French. I ended up applying and getting accepted to a French program for foreigners at the University of Geneva, which would give me a diploma and take one and a half years to complete. I also set up a job with a new family actually located in Geneva (as opposed to my location across the border in France the first year), though I didn’t put a lot of effort into the search, which I would come to regret later.

My first three days of vacation were spent house sitting for some friends up the hill, who had a sweet senile dog, a kitchen full of food, and a pool. What more could a girl ask for during her first free days? I attempted to tan, which didn’t work, but it was amazing nonetheless. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed.

Adventure #2 was to take a one week vacation with my Brazilian bestie on the island of Mallorca. The trip was full of cheap food and booze, an endless beach, free floaties to borrow, and hot European men. Seriously the best way to spend time with a girlfriend, especially one as gorgeous as her since there was not one hot guy who failed to look her way. I think Mallorca is a required destination for the young and single.

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(Mallorca beach Brazil)

The next stop was home! Oh, how it’s good to be home when you live so far away! The time spent is never enough, but the memories are always sweet. I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to, but I got the boost I needed to soon return to Europe. I only had one more little trip left before returning to Geneva, and that trip would be my last breath of fresh air for awhile.

My last summer adventure was to Ireland, specifically Dublin and Galway. I went with no plan other than to spend the first two days in Dublin with a friend. I got to explore both cities fairly well and decided I definitely have to return, both for Galway again and to see the rest of Ireland. Everything was magically beautiful, excepting only the dirty streets of Dublin. I really felt like I was in a fairy tale, being well supplied with amazing scenery, kind people and good food. I would love to spend an entire summer or semester there.

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(From top to bottom: the Mini Cliffs of Moher , A “Grandma’s” teashop in Galway, Dunguaire Castle -Ireland)

Finally, it was time to return to Geneva and start my new job right away. Not only that, but I also had to study for my French entrance exam and mentally prepare for proper schooling again. The schooling has definitely progressed better than my jobs, but that’s for the next post  ;)

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(Powerscourt Gardens and Castle – Ireland)

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.

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Long Distance Romance- An Unnecessary Anchor For Studying Abroad

(photo courtesy of www.sodahead.com)

***Disclaimer: This is an editorial piece. The views expressed in this article are solely mine and do not reflect the opinions of guest bloggers or interviewees. My advice may not work for your individual situation. Please read with caution.

You’ve just got accepted into a study abroad program that is going to jump start your career and help you finish core major course requirements- woohoo! But then you remember that you have that special someone to whom you need to break the news that you are going to be in another country for 5 months or more (if going abroad for an academic year). Your first reaction will be to maintain the relationship à la long distance; weekly skyping on a pre-arranged date and time; sending texts and emails throughout the week; running out of class or leaving that social event early because you get that surprise phone call from your sweetie. These are just some of the more common ways that you will try to maintain a long distance romantic relationship with someone in a different time zone. I know this because I did it myself. When I made the decision to study abroad, I had been dating my ex, Peter, for a few years. I, too, had made the decision to embark on a long distance relationship. Looking back, I lost out on so many experiences abroad and also had more severe homesickness because I had a strong emotional anchor (aka Peter) that held me back. If you are going to study abroad for a semester or more, dump him (or her) before going abroad for the following reasons:

1) It’s not going to last: I know that sounds mean but it’s most likely true. The chances of you marrying or becoming the life partner of your 20 year old college sweetie are slim to none. This is completely normal. Over the course of the next few years you will grow and change the qualities that you seek in a mate as you become independent and start to carve out your life. Five to ten months is a long time to not see anyone and when the only thing holding you together is love (or lust) that’s not much to keep a relationship going.

2) Infidelity can be an issue (on either side): When you are away from that special someone for a long time, you will start to miss them and they, you. The missing of that special someone can become a longing for intimacy which may be fulfilled with another person aka cheating. The transition to studying abroad is hard enough without trying to maintain a long distance romance. I found in my study abroad experience that having a boyfriend back home emotionally restricted my involvement in the experience. This romantic connection kept me tied to the phone and email as well as to him instead of freeing up my mind with new experiences and people abroad. I was very committed to maintaining our relationship. When I couldn’t get in contact with Peter and when he expressed physical frustrations, I suspected the worse- and I was right. He was unfaithful; I’m just not sure how long. On your side, you will meet new people in your program and the activities you do (don’t be a hermit like I was- get out and go somewhere!). There is a very good chance that you might charm and be charmed by a native. The natural course of action would be for a relationship of sorts to ensue. If you are still attached, you could find yourself deep in temptation to cheat (and yes it counts).

3) It’s not time or cost effective. Communicating to that special someone back home via text or phone call is not cheap. Even with an international plan upgrade on your American cell phone, there are still additional service fees for every time you use data / send a text while abroad. If you are trying to message your sweetie a few times a day, this can add up quick. But money aside, staying in contact with a love interest in your home country is not time effective. Having to coordinate your schedule with his (and then getting disappointed when he doesn’t make your rendez-vous time) will hinder you from taking on spur of the moment excursions or experiences. And the same is true in reverse. As you spend your time abroad, your sweetie is still in college with his/her buddies. Spontaneous outings and other life events will come up and it’s not fair that either of you should have to miss out just to maintain a relationship that is most likely going to end anyway.

Don’t go abroad with a love anchor. It is not worth hindering this experience for something that is not meant to last. Studying abroad can be tough enough without the added pressure of doubt and frustration from not being able to connect with your sweetie at your scheduled time or have regular disagreements heightened by the gravity of the situation. Open the door to studying abroad by freeing your heart before you go abroad.

  
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Living in France, Part 3: My awakening

(photo by Chelsea of her and her bestie on their first day exploring Geneva)

I had two weeks of vacation to go home for Christmas during the winter of 2012, and it was magical. Even having been gone only a few months, I easily saw the differences in construction on the way home, and may I just add: God Bless American highways. I will always appreciate our highway system in the US now that I know how much they stink in Europe.

I got to see all of my family and many of my friends, and I ate my beloved Tex-Mex and traditional Christmas goodies, and was tremendously happy. It was upon being so happy that I began to realize that there really was a serious problem in my life in France. For why would I feel so blissfully different after only a few months away if I had been well-treated? It was, in fact, because I was not so well-treated, but had originally dismissed it as a different way of life. But I realized that, with or without family around, there are still basic good ways to treat people, and that I wasn’t necessarily given those in my life.

However, I took my refreshment of spirit and my continued hope to become fluent in French back to France to complete my dream of living in France, and I would make the best of it. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign that things wouldn’t go well when my host family made sure I made my own arrangements instead of picking me up at the airport, and that they were not particularly joyful to see me. But the new semester started and I was more comfortable than before, as my job was fairly clearly established.

But then my initial realization grew deeper and deeper each day, with both my situation and that of my friends. We au pairs were definitely not a part of the family and we were feeling it more than ever. My host father, bless him, was frequently very kind and sympathetic to me when his wife was being, well, a bitch. But that didn’t resolve awkward situations. It also became obvious that my friend’s host father down the street had some ancient beliefs of a patriarchal society and home life and thought our jobs were laughably easy, which didn’t help our spirits.

 

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(photo by Chelsea- small organ inside main cathedral in Geneva)

In short, a good number of us became more and more frustrated as we tried to stand up for ourselves, failed in doing so, and gave up hopelessly. Our families were not going to change and we just had to live with it, dreaming of home and better wages. So, the next six and a half months passed very slowly and painfully. The best part was that we were in the fight together, and we always had many ears to complain to with their perfect empathy. Our non-au pair friends even wished they could start an au pair union to improve our conditions, and they helped us forget our troubles with much-appreciated laughter and cheap drinks.

And of course, there was the essential factor of a gorgeous country and cheap travel opportunities to sweeten the pot. My bestie benefitted from more vacation time than I, but I got enough travel in to keep me excited and to fuel my later decision to stay in Geneva. So no, our life was not without positive aspects. We weren’t in danger of dying and we were living in a breathtaking valley. And there’s no greater spirit-lifter than the hope for liberation, and liberated we would be in mid-July 2013. So that summer I finished what I then thought would be the most stressful job I had ever had, and looked forward to a summer full of travel, both to new destinations and back home. And I continue to agree with the old adage: home is where the heart is.

 

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.

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Study Abroad & Travel Tips from WSA Founder Andy Steves

Recently, I had the pleasure to sit down with Andy Steves of WSA Europe to talk about travel and studying abroad. The son of PBS travel guru, Rick Steves, Andy grew up destined to help students travel and explore new cultures. But it wasn’t his dad who gave him the idea to start a student based travel company; it was his time studying abroad in Rome. Come with me as I talk to Andy about WSA, studying abroad and travel.

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AB: Do you think all your personal experiences being abroad in your youth gave you an advantage and/or better prepared you for studying abroad than friends who didn’t have as much international experience? Did you do any additional preparation/ research into the study abroad experience outside of your college info sessions and your own personal experiences?

AS: Studying abroad in Rome was when I first realized there was a serious need in the market for travel resources catered towards the student studying abroad. I began traveling on my own with a few friends and slowly, was leading groups of 30 or more to my favorite destinations around the continent. Growing up, I had learned how to make reservations, get around on public transportation, find off the beaten path restaurants, etc, and my friends appreciated this local insider knowledge. After returning to Notre Dame and graduating, I realized that this was something that could be a real business. I founded WSA Europe, and the rest is history!

AB:Can you briefly describe your experience transitioning into Italian culture when you studied abroad?

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(that’s Andy)

AS: I absolutely immersed myself into Italian culture once I arrived in Rome because this was the first time I was able to stay put in a foreign city for a long period of time. During previous travels, we were always here and there, so I had never gotten the sense for what it felt like to find a spot to be a regular, get to know locals and form actual relationships. As much as I could, I’d strike up a conversation with the person next to me, pushing myself to be an extrovert and pick up the language. I left Rome with incredible life-long friends, a fluency in the language and memories that would last forever because I put in that little extra effort to break out of my own American comfort zone.

AB: What was your toughest moment/time during your study abroad experience?

About two weeks into the semester, I realized I was having a blast, but nothing around me was familiar. Everything took a bit more work – from making friends and getting groceries to ordering my coffee in the morning. I knew people, but wasn’t sure where I belonged and had to push myself to really get involved with things I was into in order to meet others that shared similar interests. It’s crazy to feel like you’re back at freshman year of college, trying to find yourself, but that’s what being in a foreign country will do! It’s important to just remember that everyone goes through that growing pain after the excitement of arriving in a new place wears off, but that after a few weeks, you will have forgotten any feeling of homesickness, and the time will just fly by!

AB: You traveled a lot during study abroad (13 out of 17 weekends!) What tips can you give to students on how to save in advance for these excursions and how to afford being able to travel this much while studying abroad?

AS: I was lucky enough to really explore not only Italy, but the entire continent when I was abroad. There were so many places that I hadn’t been able to head to independently that my list of destinations was too long to even count! Planning ahead is very important – we all want to be spontaneous and “cool” and just show up, making plans along the way, but in the end, this can be much more expensive. Hostels and transportation ticket prices are climbing and you can really benefit by making reservations ahead of time. Pay attention to past traveler reviews to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Shop at grocery stores every now and then to grab a lunch to hold you through a busy day of sightseeing. And get off the beaten path! Restaurants and bars on main squares and tourist streets are overpriced and low quality – they rely on one time customers that will come and go. Instead, frequent places that value your business and want you to have an incredible experience so that you come back again and again. These will not only be better quality, but will also be easier on your budget!

AB: In your blog, you talk about being good at tour logistics. What is this exactly and what advice/ tips can you give students who are not that good at planning?

AS: Figuring out public transportation isn’t an art form, but it does require a bit of patience. Across the continent, each local system has its own quirks, but once you master the basics, you can save a ton of time and money moving through a city this way. Download the local transportation app, dig into whether there are deals to buy a pack of tickets at once and share with friends, check out when the last buses or metro run so that you aren’t stuck out at night taking an expensive cab. All of these things are easy and will really help you to see much more during a quick weekend visit.

AB: Do you prefer map or GPS when visiting someplace new?

AS: I use Google Maps across Europe – in many cities, you can even utilize the map without data or wifi because of the cloud that exists out there. Public transportation route suggestions are also great on Google Maps because it will highlight the different ways you can get somewhere using buses, metro, trains, etc.

AB: What is the scariest thing you’ve experienced during your travels and what advice can you give to students to stay safe while traveling or studying abroad?

AS: I actually had a close call in South America where I almost fell the wrong way while swimming near a waterfall. This was something that could have easily been avoided if I had just thought an extra second about the potential outcomes of what I was getting myself into. I think that the best thing a student can do is just be aware of their surroundings. Always keep your bearings and track of your personal things in order to avoid being caught off guard or taken advantage of. Think through the scenario and whether anything sounds off. It sounds simple, but really is how most unfortunate situations are avoided.

AB: On the WSA website there is a page for parents about how to quell their fears for their students traveling and studying abroad; As a travel veteran, was your father ever scared to let you study abroad? Did he know what to expect?

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(that’s Andy and his dad, travel guru Rick Steves)

AS: Growing up with my dad was a great experience, something that I didn’t appreciate until I was older. When I was 8 or 9, he took it upon himself to teach me to travel, putting me on the metro in Paris, telling me where to change and get off and then saying, “meet you on the other end!” In hindsight, that was a great way to teach me to be independent, think for myself and figure things out. I think many parents who haven’t traveled much themselves might be nervous about their students heading overseas, but with the right preparation, there is nothing to worry about. That’s why we have made it our mission to help students, parents and administrators make the most of the study abroad experience and offer our resources and information as a tool.

AB:Do you feel that it’s better to spend your time traveling abroad or to stay in the city and really get that daily life in another country experience as a student? You did a lot of traveling during your semester in Rome, do you feel like you experienced enough Italian “life” while studying abroad?

AS: Both! It’s definitely important to get a sense for the city you’re now living in and not be so quick to leave to experience other cultures. Many of us take for granted that we are given the chance to really live in a foreign city – something not everyone will be able to do in their life. I pushed myself to make the most of every experience, and that’s what I would encourage others to do. Whether you’re in the grocery store or on an airplane, take it in! Talk to others, people watch, listen to the language and notice how others are acting. Being able to compare and contrast other cultures and ways of life is one of the most important things you can take away from your experience. We started WSA in order to help students make the most of the weekends they do travel –rather than simply wandering through a city, taking pictures of the sights you think are important and checking it off a list, we are there to bring the history and monuments to life so that you walk away a more informed and well rounded person and can bring that knowledge back home with you!

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(that’s Andy smiling on the bench)

AB:How did you get into doing travel workshops and how can we find out when and where you are giving one?

AS: I actually started giving travel talks even before I graduated. People were asking me for tips about how to get around, how to save money and how to make the most of travel, so I realized I could tell a few stories and really help people. Once I launched WSA Europe, administrators invited me to speak during their orientations and workshops as a peer sharing relevant advice to their students. From there, it’s grown to almost 100 travel talks per year at locations across Europe. It’s something I do on the side, for free and for fun – it’s so rewarding to connect with students and see their faces light up when they learn something new or are inspired to get more out of their travel experiences. I’m actually working on putting together a video of the talk I give so that I can share it with others virtually who can’t attend. Stay in touch, and we will share it with your readers!

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