Studying (And Traveling) Abroad: Learning About Europe, And Myself

Cheap airline flights. Long train rides. Overnight bus rides. Random layovers. Inconvenient arrival times. Why is it that abroad students are so willing to bend over backwards to make such travel arrangements?

Well, namely to stretch the dollar – or, in my case, the Danish krone. The cheapest flights are also the ones that charge you for a carry-on and to drink water on board. They’re the ones your parents would never think of flying, but are the ones we rely on to get from city A to city B. Not many people would want to take an 11-hour bus ride overnight to Munich if there is an option to fly, but when you’re a college student, you do.

The other reason we do this is because we don’t know when else we will be able to. When students look past graduation, there are a lot of question marks. Where will I live? Where do I work? Am I surrounded by friends from college? How often will I see my family? All of this uncertainty makes us fairly certain about one fact: Being abroad is a time to travel. We will be in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia or Australia for a fixed number of days, and we will end up filling this time with memories of new cultures and new experiences.

Before I left America for Denmark, I blindly signed up for a trip to hike and rock climb in southern Sweden. I had never been to Sweden before, and I thought that if there was a time to go, it was now. And as the trip came closer and closer, I began to wonder why I spent so much money going to a random destination when I saw pictures of my friends going to places like London, Barcelona or Paris.

But, with the trip already paid for, I figured I shouldn’t be going into it with a negative attitude. And, being from California, I am open about the fact that I have high expectations when it comes to hiking. I miss the redwoods being next to the ocean, and I miss the fact that there were trails 10 minutes from my high school.

But when I got to Sweden, I could safely say these were some of the prettiest views I’ve ever seen on a hike.

22049891_10155618400596702_6026568562629572994_nAlongside three of my favorite Villanovans, I was able to explore a part of the world I never envisioned seeing. I saw beautiful pale pink cliffs against a dramatic blue coast. I saw pebble-lined beaches with the clearest water. I saw deep green hills studded with Swedish sheep.

If you asked me a year ago, I would never have known I would spend a weekend in Kullaberg National Park, Sweden. I would never have envisioned myself rappelling down the side of a cliff. And, no matter how much I miss Villanova or California, I know this is the time to explore more. To explore new cities and countrysides, yes, but also for exploration of my own growth and for the development of new friendships. Planning trips with new friends has given me an appreciation for exploration and excitement, one that I hadn’t necessarily had before embarking on this journey in Denmark.

22089216_10155618400206702_6254975837997917276_nAs I write this on a train from Hamburg, Germany, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, it is not lost on me how fortunate we “abroad kids” are. Many college students don’t have the resources to have such eye-opening experiences. That is why it is so important that we appreciate travel for what it teaches us, as opposed to looking at our travels as a list of accomplishments.

22519538_10155662789501702_5524107813148865955_n

The ability to travel is surely a blessing. It allows us, as students, to have a more developed sense of self and place in our communities. It allows us to see history, society and politics from different perspectives, contributing to our overarching human education.

22549922_10155662789191702_3276423758989853776_n

Do Something Nice Day – Everyday?

During the first week of my first year, I distinctly remember walking from the South Campus dining hall back to my residence hall, Good Counsel. This was probably one of the residence halls that had the shortest walks to the dining hall, and I don’t even want to do the math of how many times I did that walk. Hundreds upon hundreds. So what was different about this one walk?

 

Well, as I turned the corner to go to the main door, I saw someone was walking in ahead of me. This person stopped, turned around to see if anyone was coming in, and then waited. We made eye contact, and I thought, why is he waiting there? I looked down to see if he’d dropped something. He continued to prop the door open, and then I thought, is he waiting for me? I proceeded to physically turn around to see if one of his friends was behind me, but there wasn’t. Once I got to the door he smiled, and I thanked him, and he said, “No problem.” I definitely had a confused look on my face, because I have literally never had anyone hold the door for me that long.

unnamed

Obviously people have held doors for me, but in a more reasonable way – when I was getting out of a car or when I was right behind someone walking into a restaurant. It wasn’t a foreign concept to me, but rather the sheer amount of time that someone would wait to do something like that is what shocked me. That someone would take the time to wait, and to have the awareness to look around to.

 

I, however, learned that I should grow accustomed to this. I have literally never known so many young people to hold pretty much every door open for others. I don’t know what it is about Villanova, but I have had my door held for me more times than I can count in any given day. And, if you’re a student, I’m sure you can attest to this – people will hold your door if you’re in their eyesight. Sometimes I have legitimately felt so badly about having people wait for me that I walk faster just to relieve them of their duty, so that I can take up the post to hold the door for someone else.

 

When we’re on our commutes to work or class, it is easy to plug in and zone everything else out. I think it really says something about the students at Villanova that even if we have headphones in and are in our own world, we still are conscientious enough to look around and see if we can do something small for each other.

1494611334126

So, I hope Do Something Nice Day reminds us to be the best versions of ourselves. That we remember what it feels like when someone gives us a genuine “thank you” or a big smile. To feel that our kindness and genuine care for others has a real impact on our communities. I’ve learned that Do Something Nice Day at Villanova is not a holiday, but everyday. I’ve learned from others in the Villanova community to truly care about the people around us. These actions of kindness do not only help individuals on a day-to-day basis, but also help to foster a community of encouragement and support – a community that I am proud to be a part of.

When Streaming Brings You Together

The Emmys are coming up this week, which means we’ll all have the opportunity to hash out which shows we think are the best with friends and family. If you’re anything like me, and you don’t watch Game of Thrones, you probably are feeling just as much of a social pariah as I am right about now as well. Thinking about how many group-viewing sessions I have missed out on because of this is quite impressive – this show has some really dedicated followers! There are full coffee houses that have been rented out to view the next episode of GOT in Copenhagen, which never ceases to astonish me. It’s impressive how much one show can bring people together. Whether it’s with your friends or family, there’s something comforting about gathering to watch your favorite drama or sitcom.

For my family, this would be 60 Minutes.

60MINUTES2012_620

Yup, that’s right. It’s that show that your old uncle probably watches. It’s been running since 1968 on CBS, and is still running strong. From the age of 7, I can recall watching news pieces about advancements in technology, interviews with famous politicians or celebrities and tensions overseas. It soon became ingrained in me that after Andy Rooney’s segment was finished, I could have Sunday dinner.

When I was in high school, I would get so annoyed with this tradition. My parents always made a point of calling us downstairs, informing us it was time for 60 Minutes. I would moan and groan about how it took too long to watch the whole program through, and that I was always too hungry by the time it was over. I always pretended I had better things to do, like homework (a classic high school excuse). But as I spent more time at college, I began to realize how much I missed such a tradition. I missed taking the time out of my day for just something I did with my family. I missed talking about what Leslie Stahl reported on at dinner, or joking around about something we learned about a beloved politician. For some reason, despite all of my complaining, I missed Andy Rooney.

I wanted to have a tradition like this at school, but didn’t know what to do. Luckily, in the midst of a conversation about how much I love Sophia Bush, I learned I could record real-time television shows online, right in my dorm room. Needless to say, this changed my life.

The girl who I was discussing Sophia Bush with then informed me that she records Chicago PD and watches it on Sunday (and that we should watch it together)! Again, this changed my life.

14322693_1098507520185871_8140750389356356143_n

So, that Sunday, we watched the new Chicago PD in her dorm room, with her laptop up on her desk for an optimal viewing position. And the Sunday after that, the next one. This then became our new tradition.

This is when I learned that family traditions don’t have to stop at your family’s front door. You can bring them with you, change them, alter them and make new ones. It doesn’t have to be in your family’s kitchen where you have your favorite dish for your birthday –it may turn into a tradition you start with your new family at Villanova, eating it your friend’s apartment. I didn’t have the comfort of my own family room, but I was able to create that tradition with a friend I now consider family, in a dorm room in Sheehan.

15401036_1180464798656809_3248877621676035076_n

Wildcat Abroad: Lessons Learned in Europe

It was the usual drive to the airport. Flying between Philadelphia and San Francisco at least four times a year, I feel like a professional. I know where to eat, what my usual gate is and how much time to leave myself to get through security. But instead of pulling up to my beloved American Airlines gate, I pulled up to the International terminal. I looked at my ticket for Scandinavian Airlines and felt unsettled. It reminded me much of the feeling I had when I left to start my first year at Villanova. The feeling of intimidation and excitement, knowing that the next adventure would hold some struggles and produce some precious moments.

 

I looked out of my window, nearing the end of the 11-hour flight, and instead of seeing a wooded Main Line landscape evolve into a Philadelphia city-scape, I saw wind turbines in the middle of the ocean. I saw lush flatlands of the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. I saw the weaving waterways and canals that help define Copenhagen’s geography.

21192678_10155530418836702_7734853207005379406_n

Instead of moving into Good Counsel on South Campus, I was moving into a quintessential European flat, positioned right above a coffee shop on one of the busiest streets in Copenhagen. With no Orientation Leaders to help us in, my flatmates and I struggled to pull our 50-pound bags up the staircases. All I wanted in this moment was to leave my bags in my room and go to Connelly to grab a caramel iced coffee with my best friends. I wanted familiarity and comfort. I wanted my best friends with me to help me navigate a new, overwhelming city where they spoke a funky language.

 

The first few days in the city, I felt like a tourist. Everything was still so new, classes hadn’t started and I was still meeting so many new people in my program. I kept forgetting what the time change was, annoyed my friends wouldn’t respond until a few hours later because I texted them at 3 a.m. I treated my first week here like a vacation, too turned around to go grocery shopping. I didn’t understand what the labels meant, the currency still felt like Monopoly money and I didn’t know what my schedule would be like yet. I couldn’t tell what was “expensive” for a coffee, and what was simply unreasonable. I then thought to myself, if I can figure out the differences between meals, points and MPES, I can figure this out. Once you get the acronym down (Meal Plan Express), you understand it’s just like a meal but you use it at the grab-and-go options. I have now figured out the easy conversion for Danish Kroner to US dollars (you just type it into Google).

21106501_10155536480416702_7650287941254103397_n

During my first day of classes, I started to feel more confident after seeing more familiar faces on my way to class and was very excited about all of the classes I would be taking (with the possible exception of Danish – nothing sounds remotely familiar!). After my first day of class, however, I came back to my flat and questioned what I was doing.

 

I saw photos and Snapchats of all of my friends reuniting after a summer apart. I saw all of the fun times they were having without me, all of the memories they would be making that I was missing out on. I longed to be in my apartment on West Campus with my friends, watching a movie or talking about something funny that happened on my way to class. I wanted to be where comfort and familiarity were. Yet, I had to remind myself of how I felt my first week at Villanova – that despite all of the kind people I’d met, engaging professors I’d learned from and exciting experiences I’d had, I still felt scared.

IMG_7438

Now, with Villanova feeling like home, I can see that these intimidating experiences often lead us to the most rewarding journeys. Once an incoming freshman, scared to move across the country, I now think of Villanova as one of the most comforting places to me. Now, a junior in an unfamiliar city in a different continent, I’m excited to see where this journey leads me. I look at how much I’ve grown since enrolling at Villanova, and I hope that this experience abroad will only help me further what I’ve learned.

 

Although nothing can replace the feeling of sitting by the Oreo with some of your best friends, nothing can replace the feeling of taking class in the middle of a beautiful European metropolis – both experiences will help shape an unforgettable college experience.