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Being Cliché

21 Jan 2018

I must admit, I felt a bit cliché when deciding to study abroad in Europe. 

It felt almost like cheating. Not pushing myself enough. Last semester I spent 5 months in Quito, Ecuador during my first IES Abroad study abroad experience, enriching myself in an entirely different culture and becoming fluent in a language I used to stumble over. I would be lying if I said it was an easy transition. South American culture varied greatly from my small northeastern town in the United States. I adjusted to living with a host family, which as marvelous as they were, left me feeling frustrated at points, as any family would. Ordering food at a restaurant or coffee shop was a mixture of asking the cashier to repeat themselves and then nodding, pretending I understood. Of course with time and newfound friends, I blossomed, became fluent in Spanish, traveled throughout the entire country, and called Ecuador my home. 

As I prepare to embark on my journey in Amsterdam, I’m realizing that being cliché is okay. Although what I perceive as the majority of study abroad students from my university, the University of Rochester, and from universities in general, venture to Europe, it’s still a completely different culture full of rich history worthy of exploring. Amsterdam is not the United States. Although I’ll be comforted by a multitude of pancake restaurants and a broader LGBTQ-friendly community, I will still experience culture shock, I will still be homesick, and I will engage with obstacles that cannot compare to those I experienced while in Ecuador or the United States. I’ll have to learn a respectable amount of Dutch (which I currently know only about 10 words of). I’ll have to navigate a new city, cook for myself, ride a bike through the street and make new friends. 

It will be tough. And beautiful. I think those are the two biggest points I’d like to get across in this first blog post. I went into my year of studying abroad being terrified to venture to Ecuador and thrilled to venture to Amsterdam, not realizing that both places will be a mixture of both these emotions as well as every other one in between. 

Going abroad can be challenging. Especially if your race, sexuality, religion, social class, gender, etc. is viewed differently in your study abroad location than in your hometown or home country. I realized that being a white, queer woman in Ecuador gained me a plethora of unwanted attention, both “positive” unwarranted compliments and negative, hurtful interactions. For my friends of other intersectionalities of race, gender, sexuality, etc, they had different obstacles and worries. Navigating these cultural differences motivated me to start my first blog, which is linked here:

I’m going to continue this blog as well while in Amsterdam, and it will be different from my IES blog in the sense that I aim to explore how the culture I live in interacts with me and my differing characteristics and background, and how I interact with it. I have a variety of posts about my experience in Ecuador currently on that blog if you’d like to check it out (I recommend it, but I’m also extremely biased).  

In my IES Abroad blog, I aim to delve into the beauty of study abroad, including my adventures, my new found friendships, knowledge acquired through classes and the joys of living in a new country. But I also want to be transparent. I will discuss culture shock. Language barriers. Being homesick. The loneliness of living in your own apartment while in a big city. These are things which the majority of us feel and experience when immersed in a different culture than the one we’ve known. These feelings are not often pretty, and thus not often talked about. I vow to be honest and to share these experiences with all of you, in a hopes to normalize discussing our hardships and leaning on others in times of need. Since mental health issues are a wide spread phenomenon which I would like to draw more awareness to as well, I will investigate how to manage my anxiety disorder while abroad in Amsterdam, in the hopes that some people will relate and benefit. 

I am also using this blog to complete a portion of my service project as a Gilman scholar. This scholarship program is amazing and applicable to anyone receiving a Pell Grant and going abroad. I highly recommend applying. Since I am financially independent from my family and have to put myself through college on my own, this financial aid, along with the financial aid I received via IES Abroad, is the reason I am able to engage in such a magical year of travel and immersion. I recommend applying to any and all financial aid/scholarships possible, at all stages of your study abroad and college career in general.

Along with my hope that many will be able to relate to my blog, I need to acknowledge that we all have different circumstances that define us. We have varying motivations, drives, fears and desires that influence our decisions and behaviors. You may have a totally different study abroad experience than me because of your background, goals, or just who you are as a person. If you’re reading through IES Abroad blogs for advice, solidarity, or knowledge, it’s okay if you don’t find that here in my blog. If you do, that’s awesome, I’m glad I could help. Either way, I would like to emphasize that everyone’s motivations for going abroad and experiences while abroad are absolutely, completely, 100% valid. 

And finally, when studying abroad in any popular tourist and/or study abroad city, feeling cliché is okay. Actually, that small twinge of “should I do this even though everyone else is doing this as well?” is kind of expected. You do you, and I’m almost positive that although you (and I) may feel cliché, we have absolutely no idea what’s in store, and it will surprise, challenge, sadden, enlighten, and thrill you, as well as me. 

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