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An Open Letter to Pre-Study-Abroad-Me

Hi Em,

I know you’re scared out of your wits right now, even though you’re too proud to admit it. As much as you want to put on a brave face for your mom, who will worry about you for the entirety of the time that you’re away from her, it’s okay that you’re scared. Believe me, a little fear keeps you on your toes.

Whatever they told you in the off-campus orientation, remember it, but don’t cling to it. Ultimately, this is your experience which is completely unique to you so don’t leave expecting that everything will be exactly like what people had told you it was going to be. I know it was fun to hear from other students who had studied in France before you, but you can’t always expect their highs and lows to be the same as yours. I know you want to speak French all the time with your classmates and have a really awesome professor, but you have to go in with an open mind. At the same time, what was difficult for others might not be difficult for you. Regardless, listen to other people’s stories, but don’t cling to them as your reality.

When you meet people who act and believe in ways different than what you’re used to, don’t shun them, befriend them. You wanted to get out and meet ALL different types of people so do it! These new friends are going to be your lifeline for the next four months. Be open and try to understand where they come from before you make up your mind about who they are and what they stand for.

FOMO is real, but believe me, you are not missing out. It’s really hard to say goodbye to all of your friends, knowing that you won’t see the majority of them until the fall. But, the journey that you’re about to embark on is far more important than worrying about what’s going on back home without you. Knowing that life is going on without you there is a hard pill to swallow, but you ultimately have to trust in the strength of the relationships you’ve formed and believe that what was meant to be will be. Your friends will not forget you.

For goodness’ sake don’t stop learning. Yes, you have accepted the task of attending school in a foreign country, but that’s only one of the environments in which you’re going to learn in. The whole of France is your classroom so get out and learn about it! Not everything can be learned from a teacher or a textbook. The other side of it is experience and you have the perfect opportunity right here to go and experience all that you can and grow from it.

Sit down and have a conversation with your host mom. She may tell you the same stories over and over again, but with each repeated story, she always has something different to say. I know it’s intimidating to speak more than you listen when using a foreign language, but the more effort you put into telling Katherine about yourself and what you think, the better she can get to know you. She might even learn a thing or two. You tend to rush through your meals at home, but in France we take them very seriously so make sure to dedicate time to them. A meal is the greatest opportunity you have to really get to know someone. Sit down and relax over mealtime instead of jumping immediately into the next task at hand.

Don’t be so stingy. It’s scary to look at your bank account and know that you only have x-amount to get you through the entire semester, but don’t skip out on the things you enjoy just so that you can have a little extra cash. Go out to the cafe, have lunch with your friends, take that weekend getaway you’ve been thinking about for a month. You and your wallet will make it through just fine.

Your parents miss you, call them!

People will try to tell you that, because you’re abroad, you have no excuse to feel unpleasant emotions. Don’t listen to them. Just because you are in an incredibly beautiful corner of the world doing what you’ve always dreamed of, it does not mean that any of your emotions are invalid. It’s perfectly acceptable to be down and upset. It’s okay to feel loss. Of course you want to be happy because of the amazing opportunity you’ve been granted, but that doesn’t mean you will always feel like that. Your emotions don’t have a GPS; you will feel how you feel regardless of your geography.

Lastly, when you get home you might feel overwhelmed with everything: a different environment, responsibilities you haven’t had to think about for months, and people who haven’t the slightest idea about what you just experienced. All of this, at once, is a lot to deal with and you are perfectly valid in feeling as if you don’t belong in the very place that you once called home. You’re different now and so is the way in which you see things. Give yourself time to process through these emotions. You were just living life at a million miles a minute, it’s okay to slow down and re-introduce yourself to this society.

These coming months will be quite arguably the most intense and incredible of your entire life. You will meet so many people; you can’t possibly remember all of their names. You will go to places you never thought you’d make it to so soon. You will make memories you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Soak it all in and don’t regret even a second of it because it’s going to be amazing.

With love,

Emma

 

Wading in Wadis

This past weekend, I jumped off a cliff!

Well not exactly, but it was still really high. Our group went out to a place called Wadi Shab on Saturday. We also visited a place called the sinkhole. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of rocks and water involved. A wadi is a stream bed that is typically filled by rainwater. Wadi Shab is one that is often filled with water (I think). However, before we actually got to the wadi, we had to hike. And even before the hike, we had to take a short boat ride to get to the side where the hike began. It wasn’t the longest or roughest hike, but it was fairly difficult. The only thing that made it hard was the fact that almost all the rock we walked on was smooth and slippery. On top of all of that, I am very afraid of heights; just over 70% of the hike was on steep cliffs. I could be exaggerating, but it was a lot of single-filed cliff maneuvering!

Once we got to the wadi, we got into our swimsuits and began wading through the shallow water. It was about a five-minute trek before we got to a point where we could swim. Yet, just like the hike to the wadi, the water was littered with large mossy rocks, and many in our group (mainly me) took a few tumbles after slipping off the slick surfaces. The only upside was that the water was there to catch us! We finally made it to the deepest part of the wadi, where there was a small rope attached to the rock outcropping. I, along with one of our director’s young girls, took turns climbing the rope and leaping off the edge of the rocks! After a bit of the rock jumping, my classmate Anna and I ventured into the cave just a few feet from where the girls and I were jumping.

To get into the cave, we had to swim through an opening that was barely wider than my shoulders. We ended up doing a kind of side crawl along the wall of the cave opening. We used a very tiny ledge and moved in a single file. The small entrance gave way to a large cave with a small waterfall inside! Right where the waterfall was, there was a much larger rope that many people were using to climb up the waterfall. I did not witness many people going all the way up the rope because, I assume, the rock was extremely slippery and the rock was quite steep. Most people made it halfway and would jump from there. It looked to be about 8-10 feet above the surface of the water! I decided to pass on the opportunity to jump from that rope, but I did enjoy just swimming around the cave.

After leaving the cave and spending a bit more time playing with the smaller rope, our group began heading back. We went back to our vehicles on, roughly, the same route. I decided to attempt a shortcut after getting a bit lost and ended up sinking thigh deep into a marsh that looked like grass! Luckily, I was still in my swimsuit and some shorts so very little damage was done. Well, except for my pride.

Once we got across the small river on the same boat, we went to a small Bangladeshi restaurant. We had quite the feast of stewed lentils, grilled fish, biryani rice, beef stew, flatbread, and the list goes on! Due to how deliciously distracting our lunch was, I had forgotten that we had one more destination before heading home. We got into the cars and made our way to the sinkhole.
At the sinkhole, a few of the women in my group and I decided to go down the three-ish flights of steps to the actual body of water. My friend Anna and I were the only two that decided to attempt jumping off the edge of the rock outcropping. I started out by heading to a spot I had seen a man climbing. After a few steps, however, I quickly discovered that I would have two options. The first being to turn around and try to climb up from the water (we had already tried unsuccessfully) or proceed with the second option (because I was stubborn and determined to make the jump) to continue this ‘hike’ down a balance beam width off hang. It started out just fine until we reached a boulder that took up all but three inches of the path we were heading down! I pretended to know what I was doing and I tried my hand at getting around this giant obstacle. It was only by God’s grace that either of us made it to the other side of the boulder, and didn’t end up falling into the very rocky part of the sinkhole. Finally, after going through all of that, we reached the place we were hoping to get to. Well, at least we figured it was far enough. After a count of three, I jumped off my second 2-meter cliff!

I really enjoyed seeing all the landscapes Oman had to offer, this past weekend. The water, the rocks, and the marsh! It was all so different and exciting, and I regret nothing I did; no matter how terrified I was. It helped to have gone on these adventures with people I can have fun with, despite my fears. The moral of this post is that I am now the new “Indiana Jones,” and you can find me jumping off rock formations in Oman in the name or heroism! (I’m fairly sure for copyright reasons I can’t actually say that, but I’m an adventurer now and I live on the edge)!

The scene from the hike before the wadi

 

My friends and I walking through the first half of the wadi

 

 

Graduation and Beyond!

Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I wouldn’t wanna live there.

These words penned by Owl City (or to the true OC fans, Adam Young) have been a sort of mantra for this gal for many years. As an idealist and a *bit* of a perfectionist, I love sitting in my imagination and fantasy of how future events will look/feel like. Graduation, for me, was one of those things. After working so hard throughout school, one can look ahead toward the goal of graduation and  feel as if it is unattainable. Yet, here I am, 4 long (boy, do I mean long) years later with my B.S.N. Looking back, reflecting on all the events and challenges that I’ve faced in those four years, I feel so incredibly grateful that I’ve graduated from Hope College a different person.

As I finished the last days of my internship, I soaked in every moment knowing how much I had learned and grown as a nurse. Even more so, I was eager to become an independent nurse. Yet, what really captured me, as Lizzie (my Mercy perioperative buddy) and I were offering our appreciation and saying goodbye to the nurses, was that I had come to feel like a part of the Mercy family. We Hope students were the first to complete a full semester of leadership in this unit at Mercy; so, you could say that we were the guinea pigs who figured things out along the way. I grew in my assertiveness as a future independent practitioner, confident in my nursing abilities, and learned how to advocate for patients of various backgrounds, races, socioeconomic statuses, ages and cultures.

All the CS nursing students with Michelle (our instructor) in the lab coat
CS (most*) students on the last day of classes

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I sat through my last class of undergrad ever, it felt unreal that this was “it”. My roommates and I were so sad to leave each other and return home. We had gone on so many adventures and explored so much of the city together. This having been the first time I lived with people other than my family, I was so incredibly grateful to have shared a living space with two patient, kind and generous people. The semester was a difficult one for me, and they supported me in matchless thoughtful ways.

My roommates, neighbors, and I all pointing on the Chicago map where our internships were
Last roomie pic ever

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning home, I was eager for the excitement of commencement and pining ceremony. For those of you who don’t know, graduating nurses are pinned by another nurse to show the effort and dedication the student has put forth toward the profession and honor their diligence. The whirlwind of moving back to Holland, where I live, and the two days filled with celebration had me feeling all kinds of exhausted. Not like the bad kind though. The wow-I-am-actually-done-with-my-BSN kind that ends of a deep, contented sigh.

Jacob Guyer (my geriatrics buddy) and I, after commencement

Caroline (my best nursing bud) and I, after pinning.

To be frank, my life has become less organized and more uncertain as I emerge into the world as a new graduate, but the potential that lies ahead of me is too great for me to have a stinky attitude. My plans for the next few months are to 1) pass the NCLEX (nursing boards) to obtain my licensure 2) find a job 3) enjoy my summer filled with the joys of weddings, new beginnings and the start of graduate school. For me, starting my “real” adult life is pretty scary and daunting. Yet, there is a certain peace that I find in knowing Whose I am and that He has a magnificent plan for my life. Fear of failure, while not reserved only for me, is an aspect of moving forward in life that I believe serves two purposes: 1) to remind me that all the achievements and accomplishments can only be attributed to the goodness of my Savior and 2) let’s me know that I am heading toward the tremendous blessings of my Father.

To all those out there who aren’t graduating, keep persevering because  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23, ESV).  The Lord has a plan so perfect and full of immeasurable purpose for YOU. Don’t forget that or allow anyone/thing derail you from maintaining your focus on Him.

To all those who are, we made it! Despite the terrors of the world as we know it today, I see a generation rising up for the sake of Christ and creating a world that looks more and more like heaven every day. Therefore, I will leave you with this:

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” 

-II Thessalonians 3: 1-5, ESV

 

 

Hasta Luego, Ecuador

Dear Study Abroad Quito,

You’ve changed me and my story. Maybe rather than changed, you added to my story. 4.5 months is not a long time, but it is plenty of time to be transformed, renewed, and strengthened. You were a risky choice in my college career because I had to give up a semester at Hope to become someone open to the unknown. The opportunity you presented me gave me a new posture of standing with opened hands toward my Heavenly Father for whatever He had in this experience for me, and for the life He has in front of me.

Thank you study abroad for giving me confidence, independence, vulnerability and new strength. I am more self-assured because I escaped comparison and encountered contentment in the person the Lord created me to be. I am more independent because of my time spent alone in a place of adventure. I am willing to let down my guard, and to ask and receive help when it is needed. I have been granted new strength in the midst of identifying the lies the world would like me to believe.

You taught me that some things cannot be planned, but rather are to be figured out step-by-step as they come. You showed me a new perspective of the same world I live in and gave me a spirit of gratitude for the nation in which I was born. You placed me in a new culture to live for a semester that inspires me to change the way I live within my own culture when I return home.

Thank you for the opportunity to be immersed in a new language, culture, and landscape. It provided me with incredible travel opportunities to locations that most of the world have no idea exist. Thank you for a semester of lightened class work so that I could take the time to focus on learning to care for myself, and learning the importance of being still, daily. Thank you for taking away my comforts of having my family, friends, and regular activities always at my fingertips—for showing me that my strength, assurance, and joy can only come from the source of having the presence of the Lord as the first place I run to. Ultimately, you taught me to live where my feet are—not one step forward nor one step back through the lives of Ecuadorians.

Ecuador, I am going to miss your breathtaking landscapes that surround me daily. I am going to miss the tranquility of your lifestyle and living in a culture where people focus on people above their work. I am going to miss the simplicity of life you demonstrate. I am going to miss having free time to plan my own schedule and not have to worry about other demands. But, more than missing things from this semester, I feel forever thankful for the time you’ve given me to learn and experience this way of living. I feel rejuvenated and ready to see how I can modify my life in the United States to better reflect the life lessons I’ve learned this semester.

Hasta luego, Ecuador—gracias, gracias y gracias!

Morgan

Mourning Abroad

As you can tell from the title, this post will be on a slightly heavier subject. However, I by no means want to end this incredible semester with a sad topic so there will be one more post following this one so that we can end on a happy note. I write this because I know that there are many other people out there who may fear going abroad because they are afraid that something will happen to a loved one while they are away, and I hope that what I write here may be of encouragement to them.

The third of February, 2019. I got up, showered, had breakfast with Katherine, and proceeded with my normal Sunday morning routine. I wandered back into my room to find that I had a missed call from my mom. What time is it over there? I wondered to myself. I was about to call her back when my phone started to ring in my hand again. There was something wrong. I knew it because my parents always let me call them back when I had the time, usually figuring that I was busy and would call when I could. When I opened FaceTime, my fears were confirmed. My mom’s face was red, the way it normally is when she’s upset, and my dad’s blue eyes shone even brighter than normal, something only seen when he’s exhausted. Passed the formalities and they informed me that my aunt, Nancy, aged 63, had passed away just hours before.

This was the moment that I had been dreading since I went to college. Nancy was diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer just two weeks before I left Minnesota for my first year at Hope. At the time, I didn’t realize how serious her illness was, what odds she was up against, but as time passed and her condition worsened, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. I soon realized that there would come a day… I may be at home or school or even in France when she would finish her journey on this earth, and I may or may not be able to be there with her when she does.

A year and a half later and it was January 5, 2019; hours before I would get on a plane that would take me incredibly far away from home. I hugged my aunt and kissed her on the forehead. As I looked at her in her bed, she was not peaceful and she wasn’t without pain. Words cannot explain how difficult it was to convince myself that it was okay for me to leave, that she would be so upset with me if I didn’t get on that plane and go have the adventure of a lifetime. So I got up the next day and I got on the plane, fully aware that I most likely saw my aunt for the last time the night before.

Now was the day that I had been dreading for so long and I was without words. I cried, of course, but I also felt so relieved. Nancy was not in pain anymore and she didn’t struggle to form a coherent response to the simplest of questions. She was no longer holding on to a body that had failed her. She was free.

At the end of that phone call, my parents told me I should do something for myself that day, something that Nancy would have loved to do with me. I went and got coffee. I walked around for over an hour on a Sunday when everyone is brunching in the cafes until I found a place that seemed suitable. I sat under the awning with the classic Parisian wicker chairs that faced the street, and for the next two hours I watched people pass by as I sipped on the most expensive coffee I have ever purchased. The whole thing is laughable to me now because Nancy would have thought it was the most absurd thing, but she would have loved to just sit and people-watch for hours. After I finished my ridiculously overpriced coffee, I decided to go for a walk and, oh boy, am I glad I did. When Nancy got sick, she started to go for really long walks and I think she would have loved this one. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was time to go home. I followed to streets to Place de la Concorde and there I saw the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen in Paris. The sun blazed orange along the horizon but the sky remained a pure blue, the clouds a glorious purple. At that moment I knew, that after everything that I had seen my aunt go through, she was okay and I truly believe that that sunset was the surest sign to let me know; to reassure me that everything was going to be okay.

The reason for my delay in writing about this loss is because for the longest time I didn’t feel like what had happened had really sunk in or that I was really prepared to talk about mourning, in general. For a while, I almost believed that when I got home I could just pop over to my aunt’s house for a chat, and play with her cats while enjoying a coconut La Croix together. It scares me to know that my world over here in France has existed entirely separately from my world at home. So, I fear that going back will be like learning the news all over again because I will finally see for myself that she is no longer there. Despite how difficult it has been abroad and how difficult it will be when I return home, I wanted to write about this because I know that there are many other people like me. People who are afraid to go abroad because they fear something might happen to a loved one while they’re gone. I want to let all of those people now that we can’t put our lives on hold just because we are afraid of missing something. I know that if I had missed out on going abroad because I wanted to be at home with my aunt that she would have been so mad at me. Life happens regardless of where you are, but when it comes to losing a loved one, you can’t let that fear keep you from following your aspirations.

Some days I feel the loss more strongly than others, but I know that Nancy would not want her death to be an excuse for me to sit inside and watch life pass me by. When grief hits me like a ton of bricks, there are some things that I’ve noticed help immensely:

Do the kinds of things that you enjoyed together. I’ll go for long walks, runs, drink coffee, or read for fun, literally anything that I know that she would want to do. At first, it’s really weird to do these things on your own because you desperately want your loved one to be there with you, but it’s a great way to honor and remember them.

Treat yourself with kindness. This means getting out of bed, showering, eating food in proper amounts, and getting some kind of exercise. Grief, believe it or not, puts a lot of stress on the body so it’s really important to take care of yourself. Your loved one would want to know that you are treating yourself well.

Talk about it. My sister (who was also studying in Europe) and I were able to get together and be able to talk about what that day was like for each of us, and it was incredibly cathartic for the both of us. Keeping all of those complex emotions bottled up isn’t good for anyone so it’s important to try and talk about them. It doesn’t even have to be another person. I monologued to myself in the shower about all of my feelings frequently trying to put into words I was experiencing. From doing that, I feel more at ease like I know the situation better.

Allow yourself to be sad, if you want to. I know that Nancy would not want me to be sad and grieve over her loss, but it is a completely natural response to a loss so if you start to feel those emotions, let them out so you can start to process and heal.

Closure. When I told a friend that my aunt had passed away, they asked me if I was going to fly back home for the funeral. Nancy didn’t want a funeral or a memorial service. No, she wanted a party and thankfully this party is taking place when I get back home so I don’t have to feel like I missed out. However, funerals, for a lot of people, are a means of closure and remembrance, so a lot of people feel like they have to be there in-person. I’ve talked with some friends about what has/would happen if they were in the situation of being abroad when they lost/lose a loved one. Most of them said that they would stay abroad, and they’d just Skype in to the service or whatever event was held in that person’s honor. There is no right or wrong choice and, ultimately, it has to be yours. Whether you want to be there in-person or not, you know yourself best and what would best help you to start healing.

These are just a couple of things I have done that have helped me start processing through my grief. Obviously, what works for one person might not work for another so it’s important that you listen to your emotions and do what feels right for you. A lot of study abroad programs also have counselors or can arrange for you to meet with one should that be something that you feel might be helpful.

I’m still apprehensive about going home and facing the new family dynamics, on top of the reverse culture shock I will no-doubt experience as well. I won’t lie, dealing with this loss while abroad has been difficult. Yet, I believe I made the right decision in studying abroad and I know Nancy believed so too.

Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights

Last weekend, my classmates and I got the wonderful opportunity to attend a show at the Royal Opera House in Muscat! The show had performances of traditional Arabic music. Although I couldn’t understand a single word of it, it was amazing! The upbeat rhythms and the syncopated accompaniment of the harp-like instrument and tambourine was something I was not very familiar with. The vocalists were incredible and each had their own genre-specialization.

The show began with a male vocalist, Mohamed Al Jebali. Many of his selections were upbeat and quickly cadenced. He sang so beautifully and he had incredible runs. However, the runs were extremely different from the western music many of us are familiar with. The way he sang, he used a technique very similar to vibrato. It sounded similar to the vibrato on a string instrument, but not quite. On top of the very difficult runs, he would hold long notes for 15 or more seconds! He was an extremely talented vocalist. In addition to his voice, it was interesting to hear how different instruments were used and amplified in different songs and throughout some songs. The hand drum, I think, was the most interesting to hear and watch. The technique was similar to the kind used when playing the tambourine. Yet, there were some songs that the drummer would produce, quick sixteenth notes with one hand, and it was difficult to tell how they did that. The entire experience was new and exciting. Although I was not sure what the words were or what they meant, I could really appreciate the vocalist and the accompanying band.

After intermission, the next vocalist, Leila Hejaiej came out. She seemed to be well known by the audience and well liked. Many of her songs differed from the songs of the first vocalist in the sense that they reminded me more of ballads. It was very interesting to witness how many songs resonated with the audience. There was more than one moment that the instrumental would start and people would begin clapping along with the beat. This hadn’t happened in the previous performance, which I found a bit odd. Then I started to get the feeling that the songs the female vocalist had chosen were folk-type songs that many members of the audience knew, and knew well. At certain points, in some songs, she would be singing and she would then cue to the audience, and they would respond by singing what seemed to be the correct part. It was very interesting to witness a performance that was so interactive after just witnessing a performance that was not. I enjoyed being in a space where the performance of traditional Arab music became a celebration of tradition.  When she was finished with her set, the female vocalist gave a speech and invited the male vocalist back on stage. They finished the night with a set of duets, and then it was all over.

It was such an incredible experience to witness a culture through its music. In the time we had been living here, most of our cultural knowledge came from the classroom or field trips. Though I couldn’t understand the words, the music still told a story I could follow. The vocalists’ voices painted a picture. The performances I witnessed Friday night added to my understanding of the culture I was in. I was able to appreciate Oman’s beauty from a different perspective, and I am so thankful to have gotten the opportunity.

We weren’t allowed to take any photos in the auditorium so we took a picture in front of it

We also had a dress code to adhere to so we took cute pictures of our nice outfits

 

Finding and Keeping Friends While Abroad

Me, Monse, and Saira at their Alpha Gamma Phi formal last year.

We all know about Hope culture, and the Hope “Hi!” It was one of the things that attracted me to Hope when I was a senior in college. I knew it was the right environment for me and because of it, I made so many friends just that way. But being abroad is a completely different atmosphere, especially when you’re in a program with students from all over the country, different backgrounds, levels of maturity, school culture, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made friends here despite its difficulty, but it’s still not the same as having the people that I have spent the last 2 and half years getting to know at Hope.

In a study abroad program, you find that in the first few days everyone is in survival mode, literally. It’s like freshman year, but the pressure is kicked up because you are tired from jet lag, being in an unknown place/culture, meeting new people, possibly speaking or using a new language, and ultimately, you are stressing out. I had a strategy from day one; be kind to everyone, if you find a small connection see it out, and trust your gut. There’s plenty of studies that tell you that in a matter of seconds you have already made your judgment about a person you meet for the first time. Often, it’s used to talk about job interviews and how you should dress for them, but I think it can also be applied to the way you live and choose friends. No, you can’t know everything about a person in a matter of seconds, but people definitely show you who they are deep down in small instances from the time you meet them. We all have gut reactions to people and our bodies pick up on it way before our mind usually does, in my experience. I mean, I know what it feels like to really want a person in my life, I describe it as a warm glowy feeling that just makes you light up. This is then amplified as you begin to get to know the person and they affirm your feelings with actions that build trust. So this was my strategy. Who do I trust?

At the beginning, it was easiest to try this with my housemates, but as you know that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I knew it was best for me to leave the situation. However, there have been some consistent characters in my study abroad experience. Those people over time have showed me that I can trust them, and gave me some hint of a glowy feeling. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people give off signs that they don’t mean to emit. I would say two of the people I trust the most in this program were not showing their true selves in our first encounter, but over the course of the program and multiple encounters, I’ve found them to be the people who help me keep my sanity as a person of color in this program. As you might guess, they are also people of color and we share the experience of being minorities within a minority while studying abroad in Spain. We are able to build trust and our relationship over that shared experience and others that we go through as students in PWIs (predominately white institutions) in the US. If you think about it in another way, it’s the thing that makes us feel most alone in the world that brought us together and gave us a deeper connection. In that way, I am grateful for the experiences I had at the beginning of the program that were not so genuine because its made me go out of my way to find the right people for me and my study abroad experience.

About two months ago, I was really feeling that loneliness kick in. I was the only person of color in my apartment and most of the students were not understanding. Of those who were, they offered minimum support. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I had already been in contact with program directors about what I was experiencing and it helped me change my environment. Although, what really helped me was my internship. I’ve made so many friends of color in Madrid from various ethnicities, nationalities, and ages. It’s made my experience richer in ways that the average study abroad student might have to fight for a connection so profound. I remember praying on a day that I didn’t have classes, I was affirming the idea that what is meant for me, God will bring it into my life. From that day on, I met new people of color each day, specifically African Americans and Latinos who are either studying abroad or teaching abroad. It made me feel like I finally was out of the minority ad, if anything, casted into a positive and affirming space that gave me time to reflect on my experience from a non-white perspective/narrative. I felt free.

Although I’ve made great connections here, at the end of the day, I still miss my friends from back home. Those are the people who were there for me during some of the hardest times of my young adult life. Love has always been an interesting concept to me and a feeling I didn’t truly understand, but this experience abroad has definitely helped me sort through the complexities of this feeling. Love takes trust and trust takes love. I trust the people that I’ve developed deep and honest relationships with from Hope, and it’s made me love them for the support they continue to give me even while I’m abroad. I will say the drawback is that I can’t see them when I want or share this amazing experience with them in the same way that I can with my new friends here. However, their love for me and mine for them is felt across the big blue pond that separates us. The friends that I felt the greatest connection with are the ones who are easiest to stay in contact with and it says a lot about our feelings toward our friendship. It has shown me who I care about most and who cares about me.

To my friends who are reading this, thank you for being here for me. I’m grateful for having you in my life and our senior year is gonna be amazing! I hope you all have a great summer 🙂

 

A Once in a Lifetime Chance

Earlier this week my group and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the United Arab Emirates. We were there to witness and participate in the Papal mass in Abu Dhabi! It was the most surreal experience I think I have ever had. Getting there and returning back was really difficult, but I would go through it all again just to experience something so extraordinary one more time.

The mass was on the 5th so we left a day early to make sure we would have ample time to get to Abu Dhabi, and the stadium the mass was held in. We left before the sun rose and arrived in the late afternoon. We took advantage of our time in another predominantly Muslim country to explore the different buildings of worship.

First, we visited the church because we were out around the time the Muslim evening prayers were happening. The church we visited was called St. Andrews Anglican Church. We went on a tour and learned about the church and its history. The actual building hosts over 45 different Christian congregations. I thought the church was especially interesting because it had been in the country for 50 years. The Emirati government allowed the church to be established in the 60s by the Anglican missionaries who helped build up the country’s medical infrastructure. I think the culture of religious tolerance, that began so long ago with this partnership, lead to the events of the pope presiding a mass in the UAE.

After the visit to the church and the evening prayers, we made our way to the Grand Mosque. It was really interesting to see the Emirati Grand Mosque after already having seen the Omani Grand Mosque. It was difficult to be subjective when going through the house of worship, but I enjoyed it. The compound the mosque is on is ginormous and it is as detailed as the actual building. One thing I really enjoyed is the serenity the fountains and lights gave the mosque. The courtyard is decorated with meters of crystal-clear water illuminated by soft blue lights and the light flowing from inside the mosque itself. It was so extremely surreal to be in a Muslim majority country, in a Muslim house of worship, knowing the next day I would be attending a historic event for Muslims and Christians alike.  All in all, the mosque was a wonderful experience and it was interesting to compare the different stylistic choices in both of the grand mosques I had seen.

The morning of mass had finally arrived. The only problem was that we had to queue for the bus at 3:00 am. We woke up around 2:15 to be out of the hotel in time to get to the bus stop. We had about a 15-minute walk to the bus stop. The only way we could get to mass was by regulated buses provided by the Emirati government because no cars were allowed anywhere near the stadium. That being said, they were Abu Dhabi public buses that had routes to complete so they ran from 2:30- 5:00 am. We waited in line for about 90 minutes before we got onto a bus. We arrived at the stadium around 6:15 am; the mass began at 10:30 am. Although we woke up early, we had a chance to get a quick nap in before the service actually started.

Around 8 am, the stadium began to fill up and spirits were rising.  People began chanting and doing the wave! It was incredible to see so many Christians, from all over the world and from different denominations, celebrating and worshiping together! I loved seeing how many Emiratis and Muslims were attending, as well. It was truly an image of tolerance and acceptance. The anticipation was so intense that when the pope arrived in his vehicle, the crowd erupted! The cacophony of the attendees lasted for minutes! When everything finally calmed down, the service began.

The Pope’s homily was completely in Latin so I didn’t understand much. However, there were screens with English translations on them. I gathered that he was preaching of tolerance and acceptance. The homily that was so fitting for the situation we were in: a Muslim majority country working on its religious tolerance. After the Pope’s sermon, he was escorted off the stage and mass proceeded like any other mass. At the end of the full service, the choir sang a sort of outro as everyone filed out of the stadium into chaos.

I will forever remember being a part of something so monumental and inspirational. I am so grateful for all of our coordinators that helped get us to where we were. I will hold an extremely touching and beautiful service in my heart. I will never forget the struggle of getting to and from the auditorium, and staying awake after getting two hours of sleep! Overall, the experience was one for the books and will continue to impact my life.

The arena was very dark and fairly empty when we got there.

The sun had begun to rise and the stage looked heavenly!

Pardon my French

One of my primary motivations in choosing to study abroad in France, as opposed to anywhere else in the world, was to improve my French. Before I came to France, I had studied French for 5.5 years, 4 in high school and 1.5 in college. From those many years of studying the language, I was able to carry out conversations on pretty much any subject with minimal difficulty recalling vocabulary, and I was capable of reading and comprehending relatively simple novels with ease. I could also understand about 80% of what a French person would say in conversation.

So what’s changed?

Before I arrived in France, I had constantly been told that English is so well-known here that French practically isn’t necessary to get around. Well whoever told me that clearly has not had to live with someone who only knows the English words “yes,” “bye” and “stop.” When I got here, I was immediately dropped in the deep end, but my French is so much better for it. Instead of being able to just drop an English word here and there whenever I didn’t know something, I suddenly had to speak all French all the time and look up what I didn’t know. Over the span of four months that gets to be a lot of new vocabulary, resulting in better, more fluent French.

There is also the matter of grammar. While I tend to be able to get away with plenty of grammar mistakes with Katherine, my professors at CIEE, especially MC, fix grammar on the spot. That, too, overtime tends to iron out the kinks in my French. Grammar remains my primary struggle in French. Although, I find myself being able to form sentences with increased ease and, on very few occasions, I don’t even have to think about what I’m saying, the French just comes out and it’s right!

As of right now, I can’t exactly tell what has changed other than these more obvious factors, but it will be interesting to see what will be different when I return to French classes at Hope. I do believe there are other aspects of my French that have improved, though it’s hard to really measure or quantify those qualities of my French. For example, my accent. I’ve been really lucky to have had several great French teachers who all speak the language either as their native tongue or with an incredibly good French accent. From listening to those teachers, I was able to grasp the basic sounds of French so I have been able to speak with a relatively good French accent. Since I’ve been in France, I’d like to believe that my accent got better and more natural-sounding, but I can’t really be the judge of that.

To someone who doesn’t know French as a first language or even at all, I likely sound like a native speaker. However, to the French, I most certainly do not. I remember my first day of class at French university with my professor who is Russian. She speaks perfect French, and I had absolutely no difficulties in understanding her. Yet, soon after she started speaking, she made a comment about her being a foreigner and having an accent. All of the French students in the room nodded their heads. It was completely ridiculous! I couldn’t hear an accent, but to these French students it was clear as day! So no, I don’t sound like a native speaker to the French, but I have been told that I sound like the next best thing: German! I’ve actually had probably three conversations, all with different French people, where I’ve been asked if I was German. I replied “no, I am American,” which is always shocking to them. I asked a man that I met why he thought I was German and he said it was because I spoke French quite well with a good accent. I asked if he’d met many Americans that could, but he said that they generally don’t. Of course, it made me feel good to know that my accent is good, but only time will tell how much it has actually improved. I suspect when I get back to Hope that the French professors will have a thing or two to say about it.

There is also the matter of speed. Generally, I don’t speak very quickly in English so I definitely do not in French. However, the French people seem so driven by talking ridiculously quickly that I had to try to learn to do that as well. Overall, I find that French-speakers speak significantly quicker than English-speakers, but I find that a lot of it is very situational. The situations where I hear people speaking the quickest are on the radio and also in in-class discussion at school. I tend to think this comes from French people’s habit of speaking over one another when they have something to say. I guess they feel it necessary to speak as quickly as possible so as to say everything they want to say and avoid being interrupted. I found that when I spoke in class at French university, the professor and other students were much more respectful. They let me talk without cutting me off because they could tell very clearly that I was foreign, but when a French student spoke there were absolutely no limits. I remember a class discussion I didn’t even try to participate in because the French students were just talking over each other the entire time. There was no way that I would be able to jump right in and say what was on my mind. However, I have found that I am now quicker at organizing my thoughts and being able to speak off the cuff without mentally rehearsing what I’ll say (though sometimes that has ended in a grammatical disaster).

There is also the matter of using the ‘f-word’… fluency. I have never before said that I was fluent in French because I never felt like that accurately described my language ability. My family has been describing me as fluent in French for quite a while now, even though they had scarcely heard me speak it at all. My parents just assumed that, based on how long I’d been learning the language, I was probably coming up on being fluent if I wasn’t already. However, after they came to visit me in France and actually heard me speak French they said that I definitely was. Fluent, to me, meant flawless. Let me be the first one to say, my French is not flawless. But fluent, by definition, does not mean flawless, not even close. To be fluent means simply to be able to write or speak in a language with ease, so, by that definition, I guess I am fluent.

Truthfully, I still tend to stray from using that word because it brings a sort of intimidating expectation with it. If I say that I’m fluent in a second language, there are two responses: 1. That’s really cool! 2. How do you say… Sometimes when people ask me this second question and it’s something that I have no idea how to say, I feel like a complete fraud because I can’t “prove” my fluency to them. But, something that I wish was more evident to people is that being fluent is not the same thing as speaking at a native-level. I know and have accepted the fact that I might never speak French at a native-level, but that doesn’t mean I can’t constantly continue to improve my abilities.

Bottom line: language learning is a long and complicated journey and there is no definite way to determine your progress. But, there are little tests here and there like stopping to give directions to someone or checking out at the grocery store that reassure me that, yes, my French is getting better.

 

Also, for your entertainment, here’s a list of fun words or phrases that I learned throughout my time here in France:

Schtroumpfs: smurfs!

I just like how it sounds.

Cerf-volant: kite

Literally translates to “flying deer”.

Dodo: nap; sleep

This is a fun one because it’s actually the little kid way of saying sleep so it’s English equivalent is something like “sleepy time” or “beddy bye” (Katherine actually uses this one all the time).

Yaourter: to make up words when singing

I need to explain this one. So there is this show on French TV where people compete by singing songs with difficult lyrics and they have to try to remember them, but if they mess up then they lose (it’s weird but stick with me). So when the singers don’t know the words they will yaourter. I would also like to mention that the literal translation of this verb is “to yogurt”.

Bobo: hipster

I hear this word all the time, especially in reference to the 10th, 11th, and 20th arrondissements. I will also say that a hipster in France is usually a millennial with a job so bobo-style is more high-end, but not bourgeois.

Chou: cute

Katherine frequently calls me “mon petit chou” which can literally translate to “my little cabbage” but it is generally a term of endearment.

Cocotte: dear

Katherine also uses this one as a term of endearment. She’ll say “ma cocotte,” but it literally translates to “my chicken”.

Wrapping Up the Semester & Returning Home

It’s only been a few days, my semester in NYC feels like a dream, and I’m already missing the people I met there! But there will be no sadness in this post, only fond memories and a celebration of my time in NYC! Here’s how my semester wrapped up:

During my second-to-last weekend, my roommate and I decided get dressed up, do our makeup (i.e. she did both hers and mine because I know nothing about makeup), and go to the Museum of Illusions and take fun pictures together!

And as always, my roommate and I concluded our weekend by meeting up with the local chapter of the international writing group, Shut Up & Write!. The group meets for an hour every Wednesday and Sunday evening where participants literally gather to write silently for an hour. This group has been key in helping me complete my final project.

For those of you who don’t remember: the NY Arts Program is a little different than most off-campus programs in that instead of enrolling in classes, most of your time is taken up by internship(s). This is paired with seminars, artist talks, journaling and a final project. Final projects can be anything that you want them to be, as long as they’re in-depth and you’re applying something that you learned over the semester.

For my final project, since I was interning at a science fiction & fantasy publishing company, I decided to continue working on the next draft of my fantasy novel (a story I actually started in Dr. Trembley’s Novel Writing class last spring!). I ended up turning in 100 pages to my advisor! This was not even the first quarter of my planned out plot, but that’s okay because if my internship with DAW Books has taught me anything, it’s that fantasy books can be SUPER long. (As in, google “list of longest books” and you’ll find a DAW book on that list.)

In between my last two weekends, my roommate and I managed to snag some lottery tickets to the Broadway show, Beetlejuice, on its last night of previews! It was such a bizarre, but hilarious performance and I’m so glad I was able to see another Broadway show before I left NYC (I saw Anastasia the first weekend I was there).

beetlejuice broadway curtains

Now, for my final weekend in NYC, both my parents flew down to help me pack (I had way too many things, and this didn’t even include the many books I accumulated over the semester and had to mail home) and explore the city. We visited Central Park and simply walked around for a couple of hours and caught up, which was so gratifying and refreshing. We also went to this chocolate restaurant called Max Brenner, stopped by the famous Strand bookstore, and visited the Statue of Liberty. Here are a couple of pictures, most of which my father took, because he’s much better about taking pictures than I am:

My parents and I flew back to Michigan on the morning of April 29th. As I said before, I was sad to leave the people I met in NYC, but I was very much ready to return home. It has been weird readjusting (I have to use a car to get to places now?! Omg, there’s so much green grass everywhere!), but I’m glad to be back for the summer. Seriously, how is it already summer?? I don’t understand–time flew by!

My time with the NY Arts Program was an amazing experience and have no doubt that I made the right choice by enrolling in it. I learned so much about the publishing industry and grew in so many ways.

New York was an incredible trip, but I can only hope that it was the first leg of a longer journey, and that I’ll be able to find my way back there in the coming years.