Study Abroad

Following the Dog Out of the Window

I am not one of those it’s-for-the-best feel good types.  I’m with Josh Ritter when he says, “if the best is for the best then the best is unkind.”  I am not generally described as fatalist or optimistic. Yet, here I am. It was for the best. I wanted to go to Honduras in November, because I needed SPACE and warmth and travel and there were some enticing prices.  But it wasn’t as good of a deal as I had hoped, so I stayed home.  But I got my space anyway in December, and I got a chance to save some money for the next opportunity coming down the pike. I investigated Alternative Spring Break, which was exciting because there was an opportunity in Honduras with a do-gooder focus and a longer time-line.  But then I looked at the cost, authority on the trip, and simply lost enthusiasm for the project.  For some reason I felt like I needed validation on this decision, like I needed permission to not spend my time and money on ASB. Then I got the most fantasy-fulfilling opportunity of all: I was invited to apply for an all-expenses paid fellowship in Saudi Arabia.  This would allow me to visit a country that is normally off-limits to Americans, do it in a non-scary and not-too-long way, get to travel for free, be back in the Middle East, and get to continue some of my research.  I know, I know, how many American feminist 22 year olds fantasize about wearing an abaya and niqab for two weeks in a Gulf country in which they cannot drive?... read more

Ego Goes Both Ways

Normally when I travel, yoga is a daily occurrence or more.  It calms me down, helps me sleep better and often attracts friends.  This past week, however, I did a few stealthy backbends and that was about it.  And man, was I suffering because of it. In yoga, one of the internal (eternal) quests is to shed the ego, something I have a lot of trouble with.  This means no mini victory dances when I get twistier than the tiny chick in lululemon pants.  In fact, I’m not even supposed to compare myself to lulu. Generally, not wearing my glasses and closing my eyes helps, but there’s still that little voice that makes me keep going when my flat feet are killing me, because I don’t want people to think I’m too terrible to hold a warrior I. This past week, I saw the harm of my ego cutting the other way.  I was uncomfortable joining in the small ragtag group doing yoga in the middle of breakfast.  This is totally unlike me, as there are pictures of me doing yoga pretty much everywhere: airports, bars, hotel rooms, parties, restaurants, the Sahara dessert.  I laughed, gave some superior advice from afar, and watched the group of newbies look confused and redfaced. Meanwhile, my back was aching for a good chataranga.  Given how easy it was to be “one of them” (gooba-gabba!) once I allowed myself to do it, I wonder how much of that otherness I was feeling was self-induced. By one of them, I mean a part of this new segment of NU’s population.  For them, I am... read more

Un Dia Perfecto

…but it really didn’t start out that way.  I was most of the way through a week filled with business students, bucket showers and no booze.  A deadly combination. I dragged my heels home down the dirt road covered in all manner of detritus.  The rooster started that strangled howling as I got into bed by headlamp-light, sometime after 1 am.  I had recently been given the “honor” or presenting all our research.  This dubious task meant I was quiet, bad at public speaking, and told how to use a flash drive by everyone who spoke english within a 20 ft radius.  I couldn’t have been more insulted. I didn’t wake up; rather I finally admitted defeat and stopped trying to sleep.  I dropped Stella and set to work on the presentation, eventually relocating because the “help” from everyone was getting a bit overwhelming.  We worked through breakfast, only to cram onto a bus and spend that precious travel time anxiously looking out the window without words, instead of sleeping or finishing the presentation. The presentation came and went and I felt so utterly useless, so removed from the process.  I was like a token placeholder.  I longed to take a stance, to defend or assert anything.  I even almost passed out, as I always do at such inopportune moments.  Annoyed, I changed into cooler clothes and ate lunch before heading out on the afternoon’s visits.  Our newly-formed group rumbled along in an air condicioned bus, sitting on subwoofers and coolers of soda.  A whole cooler, just of soda!  And the air was cold, all on its own!  It... read more

10 Hardest Things About Working in Study Abroad

Students tell their parents little to nothing.  This is scary because then they call you, usually owing money or unable to locate their child or crying. Most people are fairly certain that they are the first human being to ever go abroad, and there’s just no way you actually know what you’re saying. Travel-envy!  Seriously, I have mentally planned so many fantasy trips that when I have the time and money I can just pull one out from the vault. The things you can’t help students with.  There are so many different programs, so many students, and so many intense visa regulations; I cannot memorize them all.  I wish I could help you, but I am not in charge of everything, and I’m not responsible for ensuring that every possible aspect of your trip is covered.  I am not a travel agent, and you really need to talk about Financial Aid with Financial Aid, and your Academic questions need to go to your Academic Advisor. The stuff you can’t tell students.  Yes, most of you will get in.  Almost all.  But if I tell you that, two things will happen.  1) You won’t turn in all your stuff on time, and 2) via Murphy’s law, you will be our only rejected student.  So no, I can’t tell you your chances.  Just turn in your damn application on time! Everyone else on campus thinks they know better.  So often other students, administrators or faculty members start telling people what will or won’t happen, how much things cost, or a what a policy is.  If it didn’t come direct from this... read more

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be.  Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent.  When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there. I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo? This is where... read more

Lessons Learned from Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen found, world traveler, social entrepreneur and all-around badass wrote the book The Blue Sweater.  Ms. Novogratz is one of a growing group of business people who believe that we can combine the goals of philanthropy with the methods of for-profit business and come up with a sustainable way to help people.  The emphasis is on providing opportunities for people in developing countries to make their own money, rather than simply giving it away. I’ll be writing about the book and these ideas quite a bit on here, since I greatly admire her path in life and would like to emulate her.  Before a formal review, though, here are some take-aways from her book: Don’t create more dependence Invest in good people Listen.  Really, really listen. Involve people in the formal sector of the economy If you want to be taken seriously, take everyone else seriously.  That means real logos and an office, but it also means that if someone defaults on a loan, there needs to be some sort of punitive measure.  Just because the work is motivated from a place of humanitarianism doesn’t mean your customers and clients can do whatever they want. Focus on building upon systems that are already in place.  Starting scratch often means failing. Sell to them on their terms, not yours (know your audience) Everyone can contribute You need feedback, something the market can provide that is often missing from traditional philanthropy Don’t leave people behind The world’s poor are active customers, not passive receptacles of charity We are all smarter for knowing one another... read more

How to Get What You Want from College Administrators

Working for Northeastern for the last six months or so, combined with going here for four years, has given me a lot of insight into wrangling the system.  Here, we call it the NU Shuffle: everyone you speak to sends you to a totally different office.  Sometimes, they’re the exact right office, but they still try to pawn students off on others.  Even worse, most offices at such a large university have little to no idea what the other offices do, so often they’re making their best guess.  Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve gleaned.  Some may seem obvious, but I’ve still seen hundreds of students make these mistakes, so I guess it bears repeating. Go to the top. There is always that someone in each department who will make exceptions.  Ask friends, make lots of appointments.  If you can’t find them, complain as much as possible all the way up to the president.  They usually just force the office to comply with your wishes. Tell them if you’re a veteran. Obviously, this only applies to people who have actually served.  But if you have, most universities will bend over backwards to make sure you receive proper treatment. Have a good subject line. I get tons of emails with subjects like, “Study Abroad question,” “REAALLLY IMPORTANT!” or even blank subjects.  These are all obnoxious and unhelpful.  Something like, “Greece Housing Spring 2011” is far more useful.  That means I will answer your much quicker. Make a phone call. Emails, especially those that I have determined not to be urgent, can linger.  A phone call, on the other... read more

How I Pay For It

Financial Aid. Because I travel through my University, all of my financial aid applies as normal.  I’m getting regular credits, so the travel part is really an extra. Scholarships. NU gave me enough money that it would cost me about the same to go there as to UMass (without full scholarship tuition.)  I’ve also been looking into the additional, overlooked scholarships both at NU and elsewhere, and I’ve been coming up with some serious dough.  A thousand here and there doesn’t sound like much, but for me $1,000 is round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and at least two weeks of accommodations and food.  If your travel is for legitimate, educational purposes, you can find a lot of people/institutions willing to fund it. Loans. Luckily, my loans are all some sort of less-scary student loan.  But I will have debt when I graduate, so that will limit my options a bit.  While I know I can live on $100 a week in some random place, I still need to make enough to pay off my loans. My parents.  Because my travel is educational and embedded in my college costs, and my parents are helping me pay for college, they’re also helping pay the cost of travel.  As an aside, I honestly have no idea how much they are or are not helping, which is part of why there’s no dollar-for-dollar breakdown. I go to cheap places. I love the developing world for oh so many reasons, but that one I always jokingly tell people is that it’s cheap.  A three-course lunch with a beer for $1?  Isn’t Cuba sounding nice? ... read more

One Word for 2010

Maris sent me a great article about this, and then I read about reverb over on Kandace‘s blog.  their very first prompt was this: December 1– One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? This year, I think my word was ‘march.’  As in the verb, not the month.  I did a lot this past year, and it happened by just putting one foot in front of the other.  I went to Cuba for three months, I went to Paris and Benin, West Africa.  I got a coop job that appeared less prestigious but turned out to be awesome. Sometimes, if we dwell on things and leave ourselves time to think and analyze, we find all the bad stuff.  The cost, the homesickness, the worry, the safety concerns, the impracticality.  But one foot in front of the other doesn’t give you the chance to let the bad things sink in. I think if I could choose a word for next year, it would be ‘grow.’  Perhaps something a bit more deliberate, more hopeful.  This coming year will be my last full calendar year of college and my last coop, which I hope will be international.  It will also contain a lot of my last chances around campus, for Model programs as well as other clubs I wish I had joined earlier. And can I add ‘brave’ or ‘try’?  Because I would like to be brave enough to send out my writing to... read more

Learning the Language Matters

I’m sick of reading posts by bloggers who assure you it’s okay, they had a magical and revelatory experience in a foreign country wherein they knew basically none of the language.  Good for you.  Do you know how we treat people in America who don’t learn the language?  Like dirt.  Even if someone knows the language but has a little trouble, or a bit of an accent, we give them a hard time.  We insinuate that they’re clueless or stupid, and make jokes about their lack of credentials.  We say, “It’s AMERICA, learn ENGLISH!” Do people even understand the phrase doesn’t work that way? At least, “We’re in England, learn English,” works rhetorically, but the America one just makes you sound ignorant.    Every time someone goes abroad and doesn’t even have to try the language, they’re demonstrating a tiny bit of why people hate America.  We get whatever we want, and no, we’re not working hard for it.  We just collectively have so much money and pull, and other countries have so little, that they have to accept our 2.5 gpa English-only students.  Don’t pat yourself on the back for getting by with gestures.  Try moving away from the backpacker code or the study abroad rut and learn something real about the place you’re going to.  Something that doesn’t involve alcohol, hooking up or a beach.  Maybe it will involve a local meal for more than just the one token time, which inevitably will become a blog post or oft-repeated story.  Or try spending time with people who are not also fellow travelers, people who are not expats... read more

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