“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton
I surprised myself in so many ways when studying abroad in France, I experienced culture shock and homesickness like I never have before. While everyone told me to expect it, I figured that as a seasoned traveler and someone who’s lived abroad before, I would not miss New York so severely that I’d want my fun experience to end. However, between clashing with some aspects of the culture, finding myself lost at my host school, and balancing my U.S. life with my French life by keeping up with friends, family, and my involvements at school and work, I wished more and more each day that I could just give up the experience and go home. I remember crying to a friend, telling her how much I missed the Bronx.
This is why I am surprised to be going through some common symptoms of reverse culture shock. I was excited to return home for so long, and my return was truly phenomenal. Meeting friends and family, giving out gifts, telling stories, and even reuniting with my good friend A at our school’s graduation kept me from feeling the burn. But with every adventure I spoke about, with every story I told, and with every song I played that made me nostalgic for Paris, I felt more sadness to not know when next I will return to these wonderful places.
As time goes on, it gets increasingly difficult to explain my experiences as thoroughly as I wish I could – experiences that I feel genuinely shaped the course of my life. While in Paris, I couldn’t amply describe what it felt like to have no one from my culture to relate to around me. I realized the stages of culture shock were hitting me hard. I definitely felt excitement to return home, which was even more amplified when I got home.
I felt a bit of frustration and sadness at the inability to buy 3 euro bottles of wine and fancy cheese three minutes from my apartment. I missed the welfare state, where a doctor’s appointment without insurance cost me 23 euros; here in the US, now that my insurance hadn’t been renewed since my leaving, an appointment at my local clinic would cost $125 starting. I felt real sadness at the impossibility of traveling 4 hours to Germany to see my family, and a little bit of material frustration at the added shipping costs of some of my new favorite European vendors like Asos and Yves Rocher.
Now, I genuinely feel as though I’m beginning to fit back into my old world, but with a new me. My new experiences, the knowledge I’ve gained, new tastes, all have turned me into a different person. Sure, my friends and family still love me and see me the same, but even without my repetitive stories of the good times and wonderful experiences I had abroad, as well as the shocking stories of bad experiences and weird adjustments, they know that I am different.
I have been in Peru for three weeks, and feel as though I have lived a lifetime of experiences. I have surfed the longest wave in the world. I have been to the archaeological site of the most ancient people in the Americas. I have held ancient human remains which were desecrated by grave robbers. I have seen sacred mountains and valleys. I have heard ghost tales passed down a millennia. I have danced with Peruvians and joined in the music which always wafts through the streets. I have found sea glass washed ashore by the Pacific Ocean. I have had my heart broken as my peers and I meet with natural disaster victims each week, and had it lifted again at their hope and love and strength. I have learned from traditional healers and shopped for medicinal herbs. And I want everyone to be able to experience life in this beautiful country!
Of course, not everyone can live in Peru long enough to experience everything, so I’ve put together a list of must-sees and must-dos (including some must-eats!) in La Libertad, Peru.
Top 7 things to do in Trujillo and Huanchaco:
- Visit the Plaza de Armas in Trujillo. This historic town square was the center of Spanish colonialism, as seen in the incredibly well-preserved architecture and art. It is also the site where Peru declared its independence from Spain (giving the region its name “La Libertad”). The shops, artisans, and cafes will not disappoint.
- Visit the archaeological site Chan Chan. Chan Chan is a site of the Chimu people (the civilization just before the Incas). There are nine palaces across this 14 square km city, each with original engravings, art, ceramics, and rich histories. Here you will learn about the importance of the ocean in Chimu religion: the water provided everything (food, transportation, protection, etc.). Waves, fish, and pelicans (which showed fisherman where the fish were) are engraved in nearly every room. Duality is also an important element of Chimu religion: male and female, sun and moon, sea and sky.
- A bonus feature of Chan Chan is most (if not all) of the site of wheelchair accessible! This is because the governor of the city was not supposed to have his feet touch the ground. He was carried everywhere by 4-6 men. If he were carried up or down stairs, he would have fallen off, so the palaces are constructed with flat paths and ramps.
- Visit Huaca de la Luna. Huaca means temple. This is the temple of the moon, which lies on one side of an ancient city, while the temple of the sun (Huaca del Sol) lies on the other side. This archaeological site was once inhabited by the Moche people (the civilization which pre-dates the Chimu). Huaca de la Luna is full of incredible murals and tombs with the original paint still on the adobe.
- Go to El Brujo/Museo de Cao. This is another archaeological Moche site, but with an exciting twist! Most of the archaeological record in Peru shows male rulers and healers. However, at this site, a powerful woman was found! Señora de Cao was either a Moche ruler or a high-ranking priestess, which challenged the idea that only Moche men could hold such positions. She passed away at age 25, possibly due to complications in childbirth. Her body was so well-preserved that her skin and hair remain in-tact, so much so that her extensive tattoos are still clearly visible.
- Buying souvenirs at the gift shop on site is pretty expensive. However, souvenirs of equal quality can be found at the nearby city of Magdalena de Cao.
- Spend some time on the beach in Huanchaco. Huanchaco has been a settlement for thousands of years, originally by the Moche, or Mochica. As such, it has an incredibly rich history. Huanchaco is famous for having the longest surf in the world (more than a mile long!) There are plenty of excellent surf shops which can provide lessons, boards, and wet suits for a VERY low price! While on the beach, you’ll also be able to see the traditional (2,500-3,000 year old) caballitos de totoro or “reed horses” which are long slim boats made of dried reeds Fisherman use them as wave riders, and these boats are likely the earliest form of surfing.
- Eat Ceviche. This famous Latin American dish has its origins in Peru nearly 2,000 years ago! It is a meal of fresh raw fish cured in lime juice and spiced with aji (a peppery hot sauce). Order some chicha morada (a sweet beverage made from purple corn) to wash it all down. It’s a must!
- While you’re here, don’t forget to enjoy the incredible street art! Peruvians have found a way to turn graffiti into absolute masterpieces. Take some time to go on a walk during siesta and look at the paintings decorating nearly every wall and building in the country.
These things are just the beginning. The possibilities for your adventures and your studies are endless in Peru! If you’re interested in archaeology, you’re in luck: La Libertad region is rich with as-yet undiscovered evidences of ancient civilizations. If you are passionate about art, the entire coast is filled with artisan shops. If cooking is your path, there are incredible chefs everywhere. If you are going into medicine, you might be interested in learning from traditional healers about medicinal herbs and healing practices. I hope if you come to Peru you’ll find it as thrilling as I have. There is so much to learn and so much wonder to see!
“I’m signing up to study abroad in Italy, which is 4 weeks long, and I may stay over a few weeks longer to visit friends in Europe. I know that life for you will be very different with me gone all of June, and maybe most of July, but I really need to do this.” My four children looked at me, at each other, and back at me. Then the question I was waiting for fell out of the 17 year old son’s mouth, “But…who will buy the groceries?”‘
As a single, forty-one year old, work-at-home mother (and primary caregiver) for my four children, committing to a study abroad program was not an easy nor simple decision. Many considerations had to be taken into account. Who *would* actually buy the groceries? How would my 17 year old get to work? My sons are old enough to manage themselves. But, what would I do with the girls? They certainly couldn’t just stay home – alone – for two months while I bounced around Europe. Planning for this experience abroad has been both overwhelming and exciting. Between my last minute anxiety about being so far away from my children to spending my third night in Florence at the local ER, getting to Italy and settling in has come with its fair share of ups and downs.
At the root of my struggle has been the internal conflict of being a fully autonomous adult in America versus a suddenly very dependent study abroad student in a foreign land. For my younger classmates, being here in Italy isn’t that much different than being in the dorms at college. Run out of money? Call Dad. Get lost? Smartphone Map App to the rescue. Health takes a turn for the worse? Mom will call your family doctor and take care of you. But when I ended up in the ER (dehydration is a buzz kill!) calling my study abroad contacts (teacher, program, insurance) was the last thing on my mind! As a health-conscious adult, I knew that I was dehydrated to the point of needing medical attention. So I took myself to the local hospital and communicated as best I could with the staff. After a long, frustrating, night in the ER, it finally occurred to me, “I should totally have brought an Italian speaking person with me.” I mean, obviously, right?
It’s here in these little moments where I realize as an older, non-traditional, study abroad student my mindset and outlook on things is just different from my classmates. Over the last week I’ve learned to ask for help with more things, double check my prerogatives to make sure I’m not being overly ambitious, and communicate with my group about my day-to-day agenda more than I ever would have to if I were stateside. Personally, I think it’s a great lesson for me in the value of community. So many times as Americans, we operate in a sort of self-imposed solitary confinement. And for the most part, it probably works for most of us. However, experiencing the value of an in-person team has taught me more about myself than I expected.
This is the power of a study abroad program. Yes, I am a 41 year old mother of four. But I’m still on a journey. I’m still growing and changing. And I’m so grateful to be able to experience the whole of this experience. And as for my 20, 17, 15, and 13 year old children? They are fine. I get a text from one or two of them every day asking me things like, “How do I use the toaster oven, again?” to “The iPad mini isn’t working, Mom!” To which I’m having a lot of fun replying, “Sorry, can’t really help you with that while I’m 5,000 miles away. YouTube it!” My children are not youngsters anymore. They do not need me to personally feed and water them every day. They must learn to be more independent and what a better way for them to learn some life-management skills than with me in Italy?
After my last exam, I walked aimlessly across the city – visiting my favorite spots one last time. With friends, I walked through Burrough Market, grabbing Ethiopian food from one of the many stands lined up outside. It was sunny, a rarity in London, a beautiful day that called for us to sit outside in the grass.
The next morning followed a similar pattern. Making the most of my last full day in London, we started the day with a small picnic on the grounds of the Victoria and Albert Museum, complete with scones and clotted cream. We visited galleries in the Kensington area and spent the rest of the afternoon walking through Westminster, past London Bridge, Big Ben, and St. James’s Park. We winded through the city, purposefully making our way through all of our favorite places.
Still, it never solidified that I was leaving until I was well past the security checkpoint at the airport, which served as a tangible barrier between me and a city that I had grown to love. Frazzled, I spent the next 8 hours of my flight trying to make sense of conflicting emotions. Upon landing, I messaged my parents to let them know that I was safe. Mechanically, I lugged myself past crowds of hasty travelers and through U.S. customs.
However, as I caught up with the world and scrolled through social media, an eerily familiar Safety Check notification turned on. During my time abroad, Safety Check had allowed me to let people know that I was okay during the attacks in Westminster. This time, it was Facebook, seemingly unaware of my transatlantic flight, that let me know that something else had happened. As I read the news, friends reached out asking if I was still in London. Quickly, we located each other, making sure that everyone was accounted for.
While it is often difficult to understand why these things happen, it was clear that the placement of these tragedies were meant to target the spirit of England. Only two weeks after the attacks in Manchester, the developments in London depicted harrowing images of London Bridge and Burrough Market. Yet, it was during this time that it was truly possible to see the heart and soul of what makes the United Kingdom so special. Beloved to both locals and visitors, Burrough Market is place that frequently serves as a meeting spot for hasty professionals, aspiring hipsters, and self-proclaimed foodies. As international students, it was a place where we felt welcomed. At 10:00 am, only eleven days after the attack, Burrough Market promptly reopened, reminding the world of England’s unbreakable spirit.
It is hard to put into words how rapidly, and often violently, the world is changing. During my past few months studying abroad, I never once felt unsafe. Yet, I also witnessed a country, like my own, go through unsettling ideological battles. I saw how broken communities across the world struggle to come together during a time when our differences often seem to overshadow our similarities. Still, in times of tragedy, I saw how those same communities stood together in solidarity – consistently reminding us that humor, charm, and unity outshine even the darkest parts of humanity. There is always a clearing after the rain and this type of hope, as it turns out, is a universal lesson that I’ll always remember.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
“You are constantly off balance”. Indeed, I am.
Let’s be honest here. In the first few weeks of studying abroad I have encountered obstacles I never imagined stumbling across. I had been preparing to travel to India for the past six months. India?! I thought this post was about Costa Rica, you might ask. Well, it is. Let me catch you up:
I had just landed in Leh, India, in the northern region of the Himalayan country side. Thrilled, nervous, but most importantly, excited about the opportunity of being able to volunteer for a non-profit organization.
Well, dreams sometimes are shattered faster than they’re created.
Culture shock, jetlag, and altitude sickness did not come as a surprise to me. I was mentally prepared for what this novel country was going to throw at me, I think. Those things did not affect me whatsoever. However, it was rather the level of carelessness, unprofessionalism, and lack of respect, not from the country, not from its people, but from the individual who I had gladly agreed to travel halfway across the world to volunteer for. That’s what shook me up the most.
I will deviate from upsetting you with the negative, and I will tell you that even negative experiences provide positive learning lessons. Being completely alone (and I mean that literally) in a country I had never traveled to before, with a language I had no understanding of, with no family, friends, communication, or even someone to guide me through the unknown, made me feel completely vulnerable, completely striped down to just me and my ability to survive. It made me appreciate not the materialistic things in life, but rather the spiritual and the emotional. It made me appreciate the love and the care I received from my friends, from my family, my teachers, and my mentors. It opened my eyes to the power of benevolence, of selflessness, and of compassion that I received from my loved ones.
Cesar Pavese is right.
Now, 16 days later, I am in a new country, experiencing a new culture, savoring delicious local food, dancing to the rhythm of music played in the street, and overall enjoying the little things I never thought I’d miss; the love and the warmth from the people I encounter. I must note, India is an incredible country. The cultural differences present make you see your current life in the United States as something from another world. It is a shame that I had to depart, but I am confident I will be able to return sometime soon in the future. But for now, it is time to focus on the present, and make the most out of every experience here in Costa Rica. My video blogs will provide more of an insight of what I am doing, make sure to check them out 🙂
Gilman Alumni Ambassador Lea Gober reflects on her experience sharing her study abroad journey with students and the international education community.
The Gilman Scholarship opened my mind, my connections, and my career prospects to an international spectrum of possibilities. Since my return from studying abroad in London during the 2009-2010 academic school year, I have made it a personal mission to promote the importance of international education. This especially rings true in promoting the importance of international education within low income and communities of color.
This 2016-2017 academic school year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Gilman Alumni Ambassador program. Through this program I was able to provide my testimony on the impact a global education can have on your career, self development, and contribution to society. I spoke at a study abroad seminar held at Barnard College, and at a Gilman advisor workshop held at the Institute of International Education New York office.
The Gilman advisor workshop was my most memorable experience. I spoke directly with approximately 40 faculty and staff members from universities around the country. My presentation focused on how Gilman affected my life and the critical value of helping low income and students of color pursue study abroad experiences. This exchange helped the attendees feel empowered to better assist these student demographics.
I really appreciated their earnest interest in solving how more students could participate in study abroad. Collectively we knew cost was a significant barrier for many first generation college students. I spoke with one attendee, a law professor who was doubling as the International Education Advisor at a small college in Brooklyn. At this institution many of the students are first generation college students who, like myself, faced financial insecurity. Remembering my own apprehensions with funding my program, I could certainly relate to the concerns of the students. I provided my first hand account on how I funded my study abroad, which included additional scholarships outside of receiving Gilman. Seeing someone like me who resembles their students showed advisors the possibility of making global education a reality for their scholars.
I fully recommend participating in the Gilman Alumni Ambassador program. Not only was I able to get the word out about Gilman and network with other international education enthusiasts, I had the opportunity to develop my public speaking skills. This is a great opportunity for anyone- from students newly returning from abroad to a veteran like myself who studied abroad 7 years ago. Apply and let your voice be heard!
Gilman Alumni Ambassador applications are now open! Apply here by July 24.
It had been exactly 2 years since I had boarded my bus to Vilnius, Lithuania and left my host family behind in Riga, filled with the memories of my adventures and time spent with them. Before arriving in Latvia for the first time in 2015 I was honestly not looking forward to having a host family. I had grown accustomed to a tenacious independence in my first year at West Virginia University. My schedule was fixed, my stubborn perception of adulthood was cemented, and I had convinced myself to gather as much emotional distance away from my host family as possible. This lasted less than 2 days. Gita, Odriya, and Orist welcomed me to Latvia with such compassion and support that I attempted to avoid. My first night, my host Mother, Gita, was working late and was not able to greet me right away. The kids, Odriya and Orist, did their best to entertain me as most kids of age 11 and 14 do by showing me their favorite YouTube videos. I found comfort in their simplicity and approachability.
The next morning, I woke to the smell of fresh eggs and blini (pancakes) lingering in the air and calling me to the kitchen. It was here where I realized that Gita, my host mother who always remained with a vibrant smile on her face, did not speak English. While you might think that it is quite problematic, I embraced the circumstances pretty well if you ask me. Relying on my, at the time juvenile, Russian Language skills accompanied with my above average charades capabilities, we had a pleasant first interaction for which I will never forget. As the weeks went on, every day I felt eager to come home from class and experience the love and compassion that I had never expected. I taught Odriya and Orest how to throw a football and they taught me the value of being a positive exemplar of culture in the lives of others. Gita and I often had tea together, as she assisted me with my homework and spoke with such candor about the history of Latvia and life in the Soviet Union. I gained so much from these intuitive discussions, which arguably solidified my interests in the region, and served as my reason to return. On my last day, they escorted me to the bus stop even though I had persisted that it wasn’t needed. They looked at me as if I had gone crazy. Over the weeks I had experienced life with them, and it had been quite the life indeed. I felt as if I had been there my whole life in my short 4 weeks staying there.
Once I arrived in Riga roughly 3 weeks ago, I immediately sent Odriya a message from the airport, it wasn’t 20 minutes before I received a reply of “When will we meet?” My hectic work schedule and the office’s location away from the city center prevented me from immediately going for a visit. Finally, one evening I had my chance and informed them of my free evening in Old Town. We had decided to get ice cream somewhere in the city. I instructed Odriya to choose her favorite ice cream place in the city for our gathering, and she replied: “McDonald’s it is”. She had not changed much after all. We met and Gita ran into my arms like a horse charging into battle, giving me the warmest and most tender of hugs. The children, well I guess “teenagers” now, followed suit. Gita then pulled from her purse a black sleeping mask, for which I had been searching for since I had left in order to evade the long sun-filled nights in the Baltic. After all this time she had kept it for me. “I knew you would come back, and it would be here for you,” she said laughing.
We purchased our ice cream and went to the neighboring park for a stroll. We relived the memories of my visit two years ago as we walked through the tumultuous crowds feeding the birds along the canal. My Russian had drastically improved since Gita and I had first met. We held a pleasant conversation (no charades this time), with Odriya and Orest (who don’t speak Russian) chiming in to translate Latvian occasionally or add in their thoughts on a particular memory. I had informed them of my bike escapades in the city, and they had reflected on the time I had nearly lost my eyebrows to the flames of a charcoal grill I had claimed to know how to light. In this way, we also spoke about our current dreams, and the dreams we once had sought. I felt like I had never left them, speaking to them as I had spoken two years ago. They walked me back to the bus stop before making plans to travel to the countryside in the beginning of July for a relaxing hiatus. I assured them that this time I would not be responsible for the charcoal grill. We chuckled. And like all conclusions to our conversations, Gita told me she loved me, as a mother would tell her own child.
Looking back at my experiences with my host family, I was wrong for first forming a stubborn divide. Going to Latvia in 2015 I put up a barrier to shade me from experiencing what I missed the most: the love of my family. I learned that a host family can reciprocate just as much love as your own can show. My tip: a host family is your way of truly assimilating into a culture. You must embrace your caretakers and learn from them as you are learning in your own classrooms. They are valuable resources for your education abroad and who knows, they may change the scope of your life through their kindness. Gita, Odriya, and Orest showed me that love and compassion reach beyond borders and beyond culture. I am glad to have them present in my life still today. Another update is due for our further visits. Who knew coming full circle could be this thrilling?
I’ve been back in the United States for about a week now. It didn’t really hit me that I was leaving Chile until a few days after I got home. I felt as if I was just going on another trip as part of my program. Even stranger though was the fact that I felt as though I had barely left the U.S. when I got back to Dallas. It didn’t feel as if I had been away for around four months. The time went by much quicker than I thought it would.
I still feel like I’m adjusting but it’s gotten easier. Probably one of the hardest things to adjust to at first was all the English I was hearing. I had been so used to having to focus on a conversation to really understand what was going on. I was so overwhelmed by being able to understand everything people were saying. I couldn’t tune out all the conversations going on around me for a few days. Also, I kept responding to questions asked in English in Spanish. This was especially apparent on my flight from Santiago to Dallas. The flight attendants would ask me something in English and I would almost always respond in Spanish. I am still saying ‘permiso‘ instead of excuse me and ‘gracias‘ instead of thank you. I often find myself not being able to think of the English word I want to use in conversations. I also have started using strangely translated English phrases. This means that when trying to say “a lack of something,” I have said “a fault of something” instead because in Spanish the phrase is falta de algo.
Other that this, I don’t feel like I’ve experienced a ton of reverse culture shock. One of the things I was not expecting was how my body would react to eating food that I was accustom to eating in the U.S. before leaving. After four months of almost only bread, meat, potatoes, and avocado, my stomach is not up to the task of processing spicier food or even large amounts of vegetables.
Also, it’s been interesting getting back into working and being on my feet for long hours. The last month and a half of my time in Chile I was inside talking to people or working on my paper. I had been doing a lot of work but it was mostly on my own time. Being on a strict schedule has been a change and I’m still getting used to that. Additionally, I have been used to spending almost all my time with the same 23 other people who have similar schedules to me. Most of my friends from Whitman College live in other areas of the country than I do and many of my friends from high school are spending the summer elsewhere or have since moved away. I keep thinking that I should text other students from my program before remembering that they are all around the world at the moment. I also keep thinking that I see people from my program when I’m out, even though I know that none of them are close to my town.
I am so thankful for all of the experiences that I had in Chile during my time there. I am even more thankful for the people that I met. My Putre and Arica host families were amazing and I am so lucky to still be in contact with them. I hope that I stay in contact with them for the rest of my life. I also hope to remain in contact with the people I met on my program. It was so amazing to talk to people with so many different perspectives. Almost all of my classes in college have very like-minded people and many are majoring in the same subject with similar career interests as me. On my program in Chile, there were anthropology majors, biology majors, chemistry majors, public health majors and sociology majors. There were people who also wanted to go to medical school, as well as people wanting to go to nursing school, work in public health or who wanted to pursue careers in anthropology. Overall, I think the people that I met, both Chileans and other study abroad students, were what really made my experience in Chile what it was and it has been the hardest to adjust to being away from these people after returning to the United States.