Can’t Help But Brag: Study Abroad Struggles

We live in a society where everyone asks, “What’s new?” or “How are you?” but no one seems to care about the response. We reply with a dull “not much” or “good, how are you?” And then wait for another meaningless answer. We ask these questions to be polite, but how often are people genuinely interested? Especially when your response is a lot more exciting than theirs would be. We are jealous, bitter people– it’s in our human nature. But we ask these questions because it’s common courtesy, and we don’t want to seem rude (even though we are).

The worst case comes when you study abroad because you have so much to share, but to be honest– no one back in the small town of Glenside, Pennsylvania wants to hear anything about your life-changing experiences because while you spent a weekend partying in Amsterdam, your friends went to another shitty house party that probably got busted before midnight. Your constant traveling and experiences in a foreign country will never fail to make everyone sitting back home hate their boring, routine lives. And you.

Some people who study abroad understand this, while others think that everyone is fascinated by their experiences. This doesn’t mean absolutely everyone isn’t interested. I’m sure your mom and dad actually care. But the stories you really want to share are probably the ones best kept from your parents. But how many times can your friends handle listening to you go on and on about your beautiful foreign roommates before they start ignoring your messages. You can’t be mad at them for this. They want to be interested in your life. But while they’re staring at the same four walls of their Oak Summit apartment, you’re out getting a taste of all different parts of the world, and they’re going to get tired of hearing about it.

Even if someone is honestly interested in your trip and wants to hear “all about it” you would never be able to describe it all. Too much has happened. I would never be able to explain in detail all the amazing opportunities I’ve had, the people I have met, and the adventures I’ve taken without wasting hours of someone else’s time. When someone back home asks me, “How’s Australia?” I couldn’t even begin to describe the highs and lows and craziness of everything that has been happening.  Maybe I could tell them about how I spent an entire weekend on North Stradbroke Island learning how to surf and sandboard and kayak, and didn’t have to pay for a single thing (thanks Arcadia!). Or I could mention how last weekend I went to the most beautiful beach in the world, got to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and found my potential Australian husband (just kidding, maybe). I could tell them about the first time I got to hold a koala and pet a kangaroo. Or explain the difference between a nice Australian accent and a bogan one. But no matter what I tell them, it just sounds like I’m bragging. Instead, maybe I could tell them how I felt really homesick so I stayed in bed all day watching Netflix and eating overpriced Nutella out of the jar. Or that even though I’m in Australia, I still have classes to go to and essays to write and all-nighters filled with red bull WITHOUT vodka.  But how lame doeDSCN0530s that make my entire semester seem?

We can partially blame social media. Most likely everyone has already seen all your pictures on Facebook and read all your tweets and hate you enough as it is. The constant upload of beautiful pictures from weekend excursions and simply everyday life in a foreign country is enough to drive anyone crazy with jealousy. Especially when it’s somewhere they wish they could be. Or somewhere they’ve already been that they wish they could go back to. Or when it is winter in PA, and your friends are dreading leaving their heated apartments, meanwhile I’m posting pictures of the beautiful, sunny beaches around Australia.

But what else are we supposed to do? We have to share our experiences with someone. And we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it. I guess that’s why blogging has become so popular. But while it may seem like we are having a much better time than those of you at home (and not gonna lie, we probably are), we still get that FOMO too. Sometimes there is nothing I want more than to be hungover on my best friend’s couch eating mac n cheese and watching Food Network. No matter what great experiences I have abroad, there will still always be a nostalgia for people and places (and pizza) back home. So to all the friends who haven’t had the opportunity to travel and are stuck listening to our awesome stories, try to be patient with us. We’re not bragging on purpose. And I’m sure you have cool stories to share too. Even if it is just about another drunk night at Towers. And to anyone who has studied abroad and has had this problem, try not to brag TOO much to your friends. Keep it subtle. Start a blog. Or share your experiences with us at WanderLUST. And in the midst of all the bragging, don’t forget to remind your friends back home how much you still love and miss them.

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Don’t Shit Where You Eat

by Brittany Tedesco

cigs

There are some people who can take other people’s advice and learn from their mistakes. But there are some of us who have to touch the fire and get burned to learn. I am one of those people.

From the moment I moved into my student accommodation and saw my beautiful (male) flatmates, I knew I was about to be playing with fire. All my friends told me that handy little piece of advice, “Don’t Shit Where You Eat.” And I probably should’ve listened. But when the most beautiful boy you’ve ever seen knocks on your door at three in the morning while you’re both intoxicated and says in the most beautiful British accent you’ve ever heard, “Can I kiss you?” how can you possibly say no?

After that night, I thought nothing of it. Shit happens. But I barely saw him for a while after that. Maybe he’s avoiding me, maybe things are awkward now. Until eventually we crossed each other’s paths again. And eventually he was knocking on my door again. And before I knew what was going on, he had moved into my room– toothbrush, skateboard, clothes, and all.

And still, my friends kept warning me, “You need to kick him out” and “This isn’t going to turn out well.” But I refused to listen, even though I knew they were right. He would eat all my food, use all my shampoo, hog all the blankets, and play loud music in the morning even if I was still asleep. But I was in complete denial. I enjoyed his company. And maybe it was just convenience, sure. We’d watch Netflix, hook up, and go to sleep. There was honestly nothing else that I wanted.  (I mean, have I mentioned how beautiful and British he was?)

But we were never exclusive. And we never wanted to be. Or at least he never wanted to be. And I never admitted that I wanted to be. But nothing burned worse than the night we went out to a club together, and he left with another girl instead of me. And my bed felt empty, and I couldn’t sleep. Things were always subtly awkward after that.  He still stayed over a few more times, but we both knew it had to end. His lease ended and he not only moved out of my room, but out of the apartment. And he slowly faded out of my life, so now we don’t even speak.

But I still wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I had fun with him, and sure I got hurt and used, but I had to. I couldn’t have listened to anyone else, no matter how many times they tried to warn me. So as much as I’d like to stop you from making my mistakes and tell you not to hook up with your roommates, no matter how beautiful and British they are, I know you probably won’t listen. And I don’t blame you.  But if there’s one piece of advice you should actually take, it’s this: If you want to play with fire, expect to get burnt. But don’t let that stop you. Fire is a beautiful thing. What’s worse than getting burnt is how cold you will feel when the fire goes out. But only for a little while. Only until you realize you now have the entire blanket to yourself.

Photo credit: http://blueascookiemonster.tumblr.com/post/87232338084

How (Not) to Study Abroad

by Ian Agnew

happy rainbow

Warning #1: Slightly less humor, slightly more advice. Buckle up, friends.

Warning #2: A lot of what I say here runs counter to many firmly-held opinions and beliefs, and maybe even those in other articles here. This is just my take on things.

I mean, obviously.

Now, I don’t know about you folks, but if I had a dollar for every article, handout, pamphlet, guidebook, bathroom stall poster, and travel/”young people” blog that I’ve come across espousing the magical wonders of studying abroad in a different country, I’d have enough money to purchase my own fleet of yachts (of course, I would only buy the first one; the rest I’d commandeer). Your college, your parents, your friends—everyone tells you what a good idea it is and how much fun you’ll have. After all, college is the best time of your life, right? What better way to spend that time than having all sorts of adventures and life-altering experiences in another culture far away from everything and everyone you know and love?

Look, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s a pretty damn good time.

BUT, there are right and wrong reasons to do it, like with most things. If you want to learn about a new country or culture and be exposed to it (and all that entails) for a semester or two, go for it. If you want to take some time away from your life back home to figure some things out about you, awesome. But if you’re primarily looking to go crazy on the sauce and bang every attractive foreign person you come across, I might suggest you go back to freshman year and rethink your choices a bit.

Still with me? Here, have a bit of a break: “A priest opens up a gym for Christians; he calls it ‘Jehovah’s Fitness.’” Nicely re-humored? Excellent; carry on.

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you a lot of things. My advice (since you’re clearly here to hear it) would be this:

DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE OTHERS’ ADVICE.

I realize that seems a tad (completely) contradictory, but hear me out; too often I see people telling others to, when they go abroad, “Do everything, go everywhere, never say no, go crazy at bars, do things you would never do, live dangerously, never be content with sitting around doing nothing, you must always be doing things.” Honestly, for some people that works (clearly; I’ve seen them at it), but it is by no means the ONLY way to live while abroad.

I don’t think you should actively go out of our way to “do something crazy;” if you feel like doing something crazy, then by all means, you should. But there is nothing wrong with spending a weekend in your flat, writing a story or just laying on your bed with absolutely no outside stimulation at all and just letting your mind wander and have thoughts on its own. I believe that studying abroad should not be treated as a second take on people’s freshman year at college (unless you were a completely rational human being at that point; if you were, I applaud your parents); it should be you, living your life, but in a new place and context where you get to do different and fun things. Seriously, how much fun are you having if you’re doing things just because you feel you should, as opposed to things you want to do, regardless of where you are?

I had the opportunity to go bungee jumping in Queenstown (not really; I had nowhere near enough money) but I didn’t, because I really did not want to and it is something that is way too far out of my comfort zone (also the money thing). We should be comfortable from time to time, even when studying abroad. Content and happy is a perfectly valid way to live, and don’t you let anyone try to tell you you’re wrong for living that way. If they do, I’ll Cage them so hard, they won’t pee for a year (feel free to ask me if you want to know what Caging is).

Lastly, you should not expect studying abroad to change your life/worldview forever. Sure, some people come back changed for the better (or weirder), but having some massive revelation about life or your “grand purpose” is nowhere near the norm. I think that’s a very American thing to believe; we (especially college students) believe the world outside to be so much more informed and culturally superior to our closed-minded America when, in reality, most of the world’s people behave pretty much the same way, barring language and some more efficient governmental practices. There’s no need to feel bad if, upon return home, someone asks, “Did studying in [COUNTRY NAME], y’know, change you?” and you can’t honestly answer “Yes.” You look them in the eyes (eye, if they’re that kind of pirate) and say, “No, bugger off.”

Everyone studies abroad in his or her own way; advice can hurt as much as it can help. At the end of the day, it’s got to come down to who you are as a person and what you want and need to get out of your experience. Don’t let anyone else shape how you spend your time abroad for you, not even me.

But if you do let me, be sure to cite your sources.

How to Climb a Mountain

by Ian Agnew

1. Rethink your decision to climb a mountain.

2. After rethinking your decision to climb a mountain, decide to do it anyway, despite the fact that the most exercise you get on a regular basis is carrying groceries up the massive hills of wherever you live (which may or may not be Wellington, New Zealand). If you actually are fit enough to climb a mountain, do not climb a mountain; you could probably impress people just as easily by showing off your muscles or something.

3. Assure yourself that you’re more than capable of climbing a mountain; after all, you once completed a half marathon without training for it at all (note: it is key that you disregard the fact that you wanted to die at the end of said half marathon and were in pain for days afterward; also, your 15-year-old brother finished before you).

4. DO NOT PACK UNTIL THE DAY YOU LEAVE FOR SAID MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING. This step is essential, as packing any time before this date could render you too prepared, and will detract from the necessary experiences of dehydration, sunburn, delirium, etc. If a friend asks you to bring something for them, simply laugh, put on sunglasses, and pee on them (effective for/on both genders).

5. Arrive at the mountain early in the morning wearing too many layers of clothes, because your friends told you to. Do not worry about overheating; within the first hour of the climb, you’ll step off the trail a bit, strip down to your underwear, and only put back on the lightest pair of pants/shorts you have with you. It is important that you believe there will be no need to keep warm later on in the day.

6. Now you must actually climb the mountain. Keys to this step are: stopping every 5 to 10 minutes because one of your friends is somehow more out of shape than you are, not wearing enough sunscreen (even spf 50 didn’t cut it), and regretting your decision to climb said mountain immensely.

7. If you make it to the top, congratulations! It’s freezing cold, despite it having been sweltering 20 minutes ago; by no means should you attempt to warm yourself. Simply sit there, sore and in pain, while you wait for the rest of your friends to make it up because you ran ahead and just wanted to be done with the thing (of course, that’s if you have friends).

8. Once you’ve been sitting there, in the frozen crater of what you’ve now been told is a dormant volcano, begin to think about the trip down and pray for a gondola or helicopter or flying bison to come and make your life easier. None of these will appear, but it is important that you create false hope for yourself.

9. Begin the climb down while attempting to wingman for your friend, as the girl he likes has come on this trip with you. Don’t worry about his constant slipping and falling ungracefully; these only add to his desirability in her eyes. After you’ve made it down a ways, it is important that you feel as though you’re going to die, mostly because you ran out of water two-thirds of the way up, but also because your limbs are telling you that you’re going to die.

10. Somehow, miraculously, make it to the bottom first, hobble into the visitor’s center, and spend five minutes at the water fountain before everyone else; this solidifies your status as “Biggest Asshole” of the day. Take off your socks and hobble everywhere like an old man/woman while complaining endlessly about all of the pain you’re in.

 

Congratulations! You’ve climbed a mountain! Now forget all your pain and suffering and go climb another one next weekend.