Monthly Archives: April 2016

Comprehending Reverse Culture Shock

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Those curious to study and work abroad are always threatened by the thought of reverse culture shock, but often wonder if it is real or if it will really happen to them. With one study abroad experience under my belt, I thought that reverse culture shock wouldn’t happen to me after being in Paris. What I realized, though, is that I was in Paris for almost twice as long as I was in Spain, and my graduate school and adult realities now are much different than my previous realities in the comfortable space of undergrad.

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Source: http://www.lumesse.com

With a week gone by since I have arrived back to the United States, I have noticed reverse culture shock in both subtle and big ways. First of all, I experienced a physiological adjustment, with little to no sleep the night before my flight home, too much food during my flight, and the threat of a cold and cough after traveling near others who were sick. It took me almost five days to catch up on sleep and feel normal again. Fortunately, I am now physically feeling back in the Eastern time zone, but facing other adjustments in the transition process from student in study abroad mode, to student in vacation mode, to soon-to-be intern mode.

Another observation is that all my senses were heightened. I would “jump” with surprise when I heard English in France, and upon returning to the United States, I felt that jumping sensation repeatedly until I realized that English is normal again. The sound of candy wrappers on the airplane seemed to bother me and I have never noticed that before. My sense of smell was much more present, as I noticed how fresh the air was in my hometown of Rochester, Michigan after living in polluted city air in Paris. My sense of taste was heightened as I came to appreciate the diversity of my diet in the United States again, rather than the routine cereal, sandwich, and pasta that I had everyday with my host family in Paris. My eyes were very observant that I am now in a familiar environment again, rather than being surrounded by historical wonders, the constant fear of getting lost, and the constant desire to explore and learn about the world. I also felt a need to hug all of my relatives and friends more than usual, after being distanced from them and only being able to send a Facebook or WhatsApp message.

Building on the need for hugs and human touch again, I have noticed a difference in my relationships with loved ones. After four months of limited communication and light-hearted conversation, focusing mainly on my adventures, reality seemed to smack me in the face that my loved ones are facing challenges and they are not in this little safe bubble that I warmly remember as home. While home is warm and safe, there are the same challenges and changes as anywhere else in the world. After four months in explorer mode, I have now returned to daughter, sister, girlfriend, and friend modes, which bring me much joy but also bring hardship that is easy to forget as an explorer. The hardship has made it more difficult to get along, likely because of the pent-up energy of missing each other combined with the fact that I now live a 12-hour drive away from home for graduate school. My goal is to apply the life lessons about being a better person that I have gained from my study abroad experience, in order to merge my two worlds of exploration and relationships.

On a more positive note, I have realized that I have much to be grateful for in the United States, with a loving family, supportive friends, a safe home, a nice car, a great education, and exciting opportunities to advance in my career. During this study abroad experience more than my first one, I have realized that I am very grateful to be American, and have become more aware of the many benefits that the United States provides for its citizens. Leaving home for a while has provided me with more gratitude when I am home, cherishing special moments with loved ones and doing my best to avoid conflict in our limited time together. With another language and greater understanding of world issues from my international classmates in Paris, I have a wealth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have gained had I not studied and lived in Paris. This worldly wisdom will help me as I enter the world of international business and interact with diverse people from around the world.

Going forward, I am reminding myself everyday to be patient with the transition process. I am sharing photos and stories with family and friends to combine my two worlds of being abroad and being home. I am finding comfort in nature, with seasons and sunsets reminding me that there are some parts of life that are constant and foreseeable. And finally, going abroad and returning home again reteaches me the importance of living with an inspirNational mindset, where I find joy in learning from new cultures, seeking new opportunities, and having an open mind to the world around me.

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What I Will Miss About Studying in France

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With a blink of an eye, almost four months have passed and I am now at Charles de Gaulle on my way back home. My winter and early spring in France have been some of the most exciting, challenging, and thought-provoking times of my life, and I could not be more grateful to have studied abroad here.

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Every time I go abroad I enjoy reflecting on what I will miss and not miss about the country I have experienced. Below I have captured some of the highlights:

What I will miss about studying in France:

  • Connections to new cultures. By learning French, I am now able to speak the language of 72 million people throughout the world, helping me connect personally with those who speak French. I have found that one of the most rewarding parts of life is connecting with others, and language is the first step in the connection process. My spirits were lifted when I was able to speak French and be understood by others, especially when I started to think in French about a month ago. I am grateful to now be able say more than “bonjour” and “merci” when I travel or work in France, Africa, Canada, the Middle East, and other Francophone regions. As a French student in Paris, it is interesting to think that I actually ended up meeting more foreigners than French people, since the foreigners were in classes with me also learning French. My classmates were from every continent except Antarctica, and often times our only language in common was the one we were learning. Not only did we learn French together, we discussed the differences between our countries and our cultures, related to all facets of life (food, family, history, law, politics, etc.). I was able to connect with so many unique people and develop a better understanding not only of the Francophone world, but of the world of all of my classmates. In many ways I felt like I was in the United  Nations. I truly think that if we all have the opportunity to learn a language or take any class with peers who are different from us, we will develop a better understanding and stronger appreciation for diversity.
  • Freedom to explore. A student by morning, I had the afternoons free to “go wherever the wind blows” as I like to say. Each week I visited a variety of tourist sites, balancing being a tourist with the fact that I needed to rest, stay in touch with loved ones, plan travel, complete administration work for my university, and prepare for my summer internship. It was so refreshing to have some time all to myself with no boundaries except the ones I created. I took advantage of my free time and learned about centuries of history with disciplines spanning from art, to food, to history, to cuisine, to sports, and more. I think it is important for all of us to take a break from our normal regimented routines in order to expand our minds and allow creativity to come to us.
  • Attention to detail. Each French person has/her own specialty and he/she does it well. The boucherie offers excellent meats, the fromagerie offers world-renown cheeses, the vignoble offers wines that make your taste buds smile, and the boulangerie offers breads and pastries better than you would ever imagine. The architect builds some of the most intriguing buildings in the world and the fashion designer creates styles never seen before that change the world of fashion. I will really miss eating gourmet cheese and drinking gourmet wine as part of my regular routine. The  exquisite attention to detail is unlike any other country I have visited before, and inspires me to have my own specialty.
  • Work-life balance. I have observed that the French prioritize life outside of work just as much as work. The strict labor laws in France dictating a maximum of 35 working hours per week encourages the French to spend time with their families and friends, develop new hobbies, and focus on their health and fitness. While our careers are one of the most rewarding parts of our lives, we have to remember that our lives outside of work can also be enriching. This lesson strongly resonated with me when I first studied abroad in Spain and changed my mindset about how I want to organize my life. My experience only helps that lesson grow stronger as I advance in my career and grow older.
  • Ease of travel. With the small size of countries and access to public transportation, you can be in four different countries with four completely different languages in one day. I took advantage of this while in Paris and traveled to Bordeaux, Normandy, Brittany, Strasbourg, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal during the weeekends.

What I will not miss about studying in France:

  • Poor customer service. This was by far my strongest pet peeve, as I often felt mistreated in restaurants and stores. I realize that expectations for customer service vary by country, especially from the United States where tips encourage excellent service. I wish that there was an international code for customer service, ensuring that whether a person is given a tip or not, he/she will treat customers with respect and a friendly attitude.
  • Overgeneralizing about Americans. Almost every day I heard negative comments about Americans. At first, I accepted the comments as many of them were partially true. After a while, though, it became irritating because not all Americans are the same and we have so many positive qualities about us. The United States is fortunate to have one of the best democracies in the world, equal opportunity for all citizens, innovative businesses, one of the best healthcare systems, and the best university education system. I often wondered, if the people who criticized Americans hate us so much, why are they using an iPhone, listening to Justin Bieber, watching American reality TV, following American politics, wearing Nike shoes, and speaking English? I often felt that people made negative comments to follow the bandwagon of what they have heard in the media. With the current United States political election, I recognize that we are on everyone’s radar throughout the world with the controversies discussed on TV. Rather than fighting back, though, I have chosen to demonstrate the positive qualities of Americans by being an ambassador of sorts. This is food for thought for us as you meet others and represent your citizenship!
  • Overcrowded public transportation. The metro and bus system in Paris are fantastic in principle, but they are often so crowded that it is difficult to breath and get on/off the metro/bus. My commute time to class and tourist sites on the metro was not pleasant, and naturally made me have more of a negative attitude. I learned that the metro system has not been updated recently. With a growing population, it will be necessary to add more public transportation options for Parisians and tourists to ensure the safety and health of the population.
  • Public health issues. While smoking in public has decreased immensely in recent years, I was still amazed by how many youth smoke and throw cigarette butts on the streets in Paris. My exposure to second hand smoke was probably equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, which is dangerous! Besides smoking, hygiene was different than I’m used to even after traveling the world, especially oral hygiene. I have learned that oral hygiene is prioritized more in the United States than in other parts of the world, but I hope it becomes more of an international standard. I have learned from my dad (retired dentist) that oral health is significant to overall health.  Overall hygiene, including oral and body odor, will also help make the crowded public transportation more manageable and pleasant for everyone.

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Combining all of my thoughts, I am so grateful for the personal and professional growth I gained from my experience studying in Paris. As always, the people were what made my experience so memorable, and I am happy that social media will enable us to stay connected. I look forward to continue growing and learning about the world as I travel and work abroad throughout my life.

What Makes Salzburg Magical?

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The hills are alive…with the sound of music! With the filming of the world-famous movie, The Sound of Music, there has to be something magical about Salzburg, Austria. After visiting Salzburg for two days, I can confidently say that it will bring an ear-to-ear smile to your face.

As you’re planning your to trip to Salzburg, I have the following recommendations to make your trip magical:

  • Go on The Sound of Music Tour! Whether you are a fan of musicals or not, The Sound of Music Tour provides you with picturesque views of Salzburg and an interesting history of the city. If you have seen and enjoyed The Sound of Music, you will love the dramatic tour guide who will share insider stories about the filming of the movie and will encourage you to sing along the way. I promise, when you see the mountainous scenes, you will want to sing “Do Re Mi” too.

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  • Visit Mozart’s home and birthplace. You will learn about Wolfgang Mozart’s upbringing in a successful family and how he became famous. You will see pianos and other instruments dating from the 1700s and letters that provide perspective of the era. You will also notice the Mozart family’s significant influence on Salzburg, with several restaurants and cafes named after Mozart. I stayed in a fabulous hotel called Hotel Mozart, which provided a quaint Austrian breakfast and was within walking distance of the main tourist sites.

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  • Walk and shop along river and the main streets for fashionable boutiques and great souvenirs. Great streets and pedestrian areas include Getreidegasse, Judengasse, Alter Markt, Waagplatz, Mozartplatz, Linzergasse, and Kaiviertel. You also will want to check out the local open-air markets near Mozart’s birthplace for local goods, books and foods. I tried one of the famous Austrian sausages with sauerkraut and loved it.
  • Go to Zwettler’s for dinner and try weiner-schnitzel, spätzle and beer. If you are hungry, you couldn’t ask for a hardier or more filling meal. The flavors are heavenly and filling, perfect after a long day of touring the city. The ambiance is friendly and German-influenced, with dark wood, rustic decorations, and large groups of people laughing over a pint or two of beer.
  • Walk up the hill to see Fortress Hohensalzburg. Even if you don’t have enough time to tour the fortress, you get a spectacular view of the city, and see what appear to be little villages within Salzburg, including cemeteries, homes, and churches.

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  • Check out the Beer Hall, which is ironically connected to a church. You will go back in time, seeing kegs with refillable mugs and local vendors selling food, surrounding a large open room full of long tables for people to gather. I had the interesting experience of meeting a few Michiganders. It’s a small world, and it feels even smaller and more connected in a beer hall.

All of these experiences combined into one trip make Salzburg a magical place, one that I will forever cherish.

inspirNational Mindset with French Influence

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Why is it that every time I study abroad or a travel, I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulder? Literally and figuratively. I tend to always lose weight despite indulging in the local cuisine. I tend to fell less stressed and more free spirited.

Is it an escape from reality? No, I am still studying, working, paying bills, socializing, and working on my health and fitness.

Is it a lifestyle that is incompatible with my lifestyle at home? No, having traveled to 27 other countries, there are many similarities and transferable lessons I can learn from other countries and bring back home.

Is it the fact that I can speak new languages with new people to learn new perspectives? Yes and more importantly, it is a shift in a perspective. A new mindset. An inspirNational mindset as I have described over the past few years. My inspirNational way of thinking began during my study abroad in Spain. It became a true test when I was in Cleveland, not studying abroad, and had to choose every day whether I wanted to live like a traveler. I applied the mindset to my daily life, seeking opportunities to learn about the world by visiting museums, attending concerts, exploring the city, meeting people from around the world, and teaching English to foreigners to enable them to experience America as I have experienced other countries throughout the world.

As I have always said, having an inspirNational mindset means that you seek new opportunities, try new things, meet new people, think global and act local. It enables you to become more worldly, less stressed, and more open-minded to new opportunities.

Now having lived in France for 3 months, I would like to broaden the mindset and provide more food for thought on the topic. Here are some of my most significant life lessons that I plan to live by upon returning home:

Live simply: Life does not need to be complicated. Eliminate all waste in your life that does not serve you, such as unnecessary stress, negativity, overcommitting, overeating, and dust in your home. Prioritize what matters most to you and focus, rather than trying to do everything or please everyone. With easy access to photos and news from our peers, it is easy to feel “fear of missing out,” but remember that your life is your life. Only you can determine the difference between prioritizing what you want, eliminating excess, and missing out.

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Organize your life: Organize your room, your kitchen, and your plans. Don’t forget to give yourself free time to allow for spontaneity. Related to eliminating clutter, organizing yourself will allow you to find more space for all things creative, for all things that will expand your mind and welcome new ideas and opportunities into your life.

Live in the present: Enjoy each moment and each part of your day. Try to avoid multitasking, especially when you are with loved ones. When I visited my host mom in Salamanca, I noticed that she has little notes throughout her home to remind herself to enjoy each moment, from brushing her teeth to showering to listening to music. By feeling the water and imagining cleansing, her spirit feels cleansed as well.  By listening to music, her mind is at peace and her ears are enjoying the sounds.

Live in faith, not in fear. This study abroad experience has challenged me with threats of terrorism, and fear of not knowing the local language. I only had 6 months of  French preparation before the language immersion, rather than nearly 10 years of Spanish language preparation before my Spanish study abroad. Living in fear brings negativity into your life, and takes energy from what keeps you moving forward. Being cautious is different than being fearful. Watch your surroundings, take care of yourself, take risks within boundaries, but don’t let your nerves overcome you. Have faith, have a vision, work hard, and anything is possible!

I hope these French-influenced insights inspire you to continue to live with an inspirNational mindset!

 

inspirNational Music: Renegades by the X Ambassadors

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Next up on the inspirNational Music playlist is Renegades by the X Ambassadors. While I have listened to this song over the past several months, it was not until this week that I watched the music video on YouTube. I was very inspired by the song’s lyrics, as they remind us to fight through life’s challenges. And rather than viewing our lives as a series of challenges, viewing them as opportunities.

The music video begins with a dialogue of a blind woman and man. The man describes that when facing life’s challenges, “It’s not a matter of enjoying [life] more or less. It’s about enjoying it differently. It’s enjoying it through a different vision. Through another lens.” I’m reminded of the famous quote that “You can’t always change your circumstances, but you can change your attitude.” As we take on the week ahead, I hope that we can all remember to enjoy life no matter what we face each day. Carpe Diem!

48 Hours in Budapest

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Tourism in Budapest has grown tremendously and during my language immersion in Europe, I wanted to be part of it. After  spending 48 hours in Budapest, I now understand why and found it to be one of the most exotic places I have ever visited in Europe. With limited time in Budapest, how can you see the highlights? Below are some of my tips:

  • Go on the Budapest Walking Tour. You will learn the interesting history of Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River, and will see all the major highlights of Budapest. Major sites include Danube Promenade, Municipal Concert Hall, Gresham Palace, Academy of Hungarian Sciences, St.Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge, Castle District, Royal Palace, Matthias Church, Fisherman Bastion. I was amazed to learn about Hungary’s contributions in the world of science and art. It was also interesting to understand the struggles of Budapest during the Communist era.

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  • Focus your next day on your favorite sites based on your walking tour. I ended up visiting the Matthias Church and Fisherman Bastion was in awe!

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  • Go on a Danube River Dinner Cruise. Savor the buffet which allows you to try the native Hungarian cuisine, such as goulash, porkolt, stuffed peppers, and cabbage rolls. Never have I seen a more beautiful city at night along a river!

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  • Dance in the ruin bars. My favorite was Szimple, which was an old ruin with an eclectic mix of decorations – recycled bikes, jars and cans, and a bath tub! I enjoyed listening and dancing to American music along with locals and other tourists from around the world.

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  • Stay in an AirBnb to meet local Hungarians. My AirBnB host was incredibly friendly, driving from the train station to his apartment, explaining sites to visit, and helping me whenever I needed anything. AirBnB is a great way for you to get more of a local flavor of Budapest or anywhere throughout the world.

Have you been to Budapest? What other recommendations do you have to see Budapest in a short amount of time?