Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Tokyo, take my heart (And to an extent, my sanity)

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Tokyo is the largest city in the world, and one tenth of Japan’s population resides within its sprawl. It is the most amazing place I have ever been. I went there three years ago but was severely limited in what I saw due to the nature of that trip. This time around I got to see much more, even though I am still far from satisfied.

I traveled with a few other friends from KGU and we flew domestic. We booked an Airbnb in Aoto, a laid-back residential area on the eastern edge of the city. The house in question was traditional Japanese style, which was a treat. The quiet streets of Aoto, which had a very high population of elderly people and young children were quite a contrast to the rest of the itinerary. Aside from sleeping and a late night dinner at a restaurant, we did not spend much time here.

Over three days we visited Tokyo Skytree, Akihabara, Ueno, Shibuya, Harajuku, Tsukiji Market, Asakusa, Ikebukuro, and Shinjuku. Wow. Just typing that makes me remember how exhausted I was. As amazing as Tokyo is, this trip really drove home to me that to truly appreciate a city like this – it pretty much needs to be at least a weeklong vacation if not more, not just a three-day trip.

I also started to feel homesick for Osaka even though it had only been a couple of days. Osaka is also a huge city, with jam-packed markets and crowded stations but Tokyo is on another level. Many of the areas we visited were claustrophobic. The stations are so crowded you often must shove your way through people if you do not want to get separated from your friends. People are smashed up against each other on trains. I cannot think of any other place where I have seen so many people in such a small space. Any other major metropolitan area I have ever been in is cozy compared to some areas of Tokyo.

Navigating Tokyo can be tiring, but the city is unrivaled in terms of pop-culture, entertainment, fashion and sightseeing. There are a lot of things in Tokyo that can be found in other parts of Japan to be sure, but they are often harder to find, or are “lite” versions. Almost everything in Tokyo is bigger, better, and there is more of it. For example, in Osaka you can find five floor anime stores. Tokyo has Akihabara, which is basically an anime/electronics/pop-culture city with multiple of these places next to each other stretched out over several blocks.

Also, while there are some shady areas of Tokyo, the city is extremely safe and clean considering the over-crowding. Shinjuku now holds the record for the dirtiest streets I have seen in Japan, and the majority of that was cigarette butts. I have always been impressed by the cleanliness, infrastructure and overall public transportation of Japanese cities and Tokyo is no different.

This was a hectic and exhausting trip but absolutely worth it. I certainly learned a lot and gained a new sense of understanding and appreciation of Japan’s capital.

Side note: Props to anyone who understands the reference in the first part of my title 🙂

Asakusa is one of the more historical areas of Tokyo.

Almost anything can be found in Tokyo, that includes a replica of the statue of liberty.

View of Tokyo from the the Skytree, the tallest observation tower in the world.

Harajuku is known for its amazing shops, and that includes giant cotton candy.

Shibuya.

Shinjuku.

Anime and video-game themed pop-up cafes are very common in Akihabara.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Making Friends While Doing So

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One thing I have always loved about the randomness of life is meeting new people. Not over a technological or social platform, but randomly meeting someone at a cafe, at a movie, a school event, or anywhere really and having an instantaneous connection with them. One thing you learn all throughout life and while studying abroad is that these true connections might not happen very often. There are many circumstances as well where you meet new people and you just don’t connect with them, and that is just a part of life. It’s the moments when you meet people and do connect right off the bat and enjoy being around them, that can change the course of your life in so many beautiful ways. While studying abroad, I have found myself in both of these situations. There have been many people that I have met and haven’t clicked with at all. The hardest part about those instances is that at first I thought I was connecting with them. But overtime I learned that it was because I had simply just met them and didn’t know them yet. Moments like these though just make the instant connections that you do experience with others that much better. I’ve experienced many situations like that while studying abroad, but one of the most memorable friendships I have found while here was when I was least expecting it.

Facebook is a huge thing here in Australia. Everyone here is on Facebook, it is used more than any other social platform. All of my friends at the University of Newcastle use Facebook messenger to talk to people, make events pages on Facebook, and simply keep in touch with all of their friends through this platform. To find out what is going on around town and around wherever you are, you check Facebook. So one night I was randomly looking through Facebook events in my area, I found a movie that was premiering for one night only at the local theater. The premise of the movie is talking and discussing the birth of the conservation movement for the oceans and water systems of the world. So being an environmental science major, this interested me very much. I asked some friends of mine if anyone would have liked to go, but everyone was either busy or weren’t interested. So I ended up buying a single ticket and planned to go to the movie event with myself. I was a little nervous about this because the movie theater was quite a ways away and I would be going there alone during the night, but I wanted to push myself to do something new so I went for it.

When it came to be the day of the movie, I got myself ready and took the bus to the movie theater. This wasn’t like any ordinary movie event, this was a one time premiere where the makers of the film were there and would be answering questions after people had watched the movie! It was an amazing time. I got to the movie and got myself a popcorn and got ready to watch the movie. As I walked into the theater and was searching for a seat, I saw an open seat next to a random girl. Almost all of the other seats were taken, so I just chose to sit by her. Before the movie started we had introduced ourselves and were chatting about our shared interests in environmentalism and ocean conservation. We had really connected and wanted to talk more with each other, but the movie was starting so we quieted down and focused on the screen. After the movie the filmmakers did a Q&A, which lasted longer than I had expected since I had planned to take the 9:45PM bus back to campus. The Q&A went until about 10PM, and the next bus wasn’t going to come until 11:15PM. I really didn’t feel safe sitting at the bus stop for more than an hour by myself so late at night, so I asked the girl I had met if she could possibly give me a ride back to Uni. Thankfully she was happy to help me out and said she’d be able to give me a ride! During the ride we chatted some more and planned to hang out again to see Caves Beach, a famous beach near Newcastle. So the next weekend we ended up hanging out again and headed down to Caves Beach where near it the “Living Smart Festival” was going on. We spontaneously went to the festival and walked around, then we ended up going to the beach and spent the day laying in the sun.

All three pictures from Caves Beach near Newcastle

After that we have hung out a few more times and have really bonded. She graduated University with a degree in environmental science and marine biology and has helped me make connections for potential jobs in the future (in Australia and the US). I was so grateful to have met her and to have pushed myself out of my comfort zone by going to a movie alone in a new place. If I had never done that, I wouldn’t have met Abby and made the connection I did with her. Overall, I hope people will hear this story and that it inspires them to get out of their comfort zones while abroad, because you never know what may happen or who you may meet wherever you go.

An Unorthodox Study Abroad Experience

Author: Mia Casas

Location: San José, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

For my senior year at Valparaiso University, I planned to study abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica. Truthfully, the semester prior, I waited til the last minute to decide that this was an experience I wanted to commit myself to doing. I was unsure if it was possible, given that I needed to fulfill certain requirements in order to maintain my May 2020 graduation date. Still, I worked diligently to meet with my academic advisors, talk with my study abroad advisor, complete application forms, apply for scholarships, etc. all within a limited timeframe. I am proud to say that I did it. I met all the deadlines and was accepted into the program, and even earned a scholarship from the Study Abroad office. For the rest of the summer, I worked to save up money for my study abroad experience, and looked forward to the payoffs, come Fall Semester.

Sadly, exactly two weeks prior to my scheduled departure, I was in an accident that left me with several severe injuries. I fractured my nose, my orbital socket, two fingers, my shoulder, and four ribs. In the process, I punctured my lung, causing it to partially collapse. So I was hospitalized for 5 days, and advised not to fly for at least a month. I was devastated, and couldn’t bear the thought of not going to Costa Rica and trying to register for classes at the main campus. Nonetheless, I needed to inform the Study Abroad office of my change in circumstances and told them I could not participate in the program any longer.

To my surprise, I received an email back from Heidi Michelsen, the Director for the Costa Rica study abroad program, pitching the idea of arriving to Costa Rica at a later date. She wrote to me saying, “We are willing to work with you on other configurations of classes and timelines,” in addition to sending prayers for a speedy recovery. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support I received from her to help fulfill my dream of studying in Costa Rica. She offered me support in every way possible, from modified class schedules, homestay accommodations, learning accommodations, and even healthcare accommodations — more help than I ever could have imagined. 

This building is commonly known as Casa Adobe, but also serves as the Praxis Center and Valparaiso Study Center.

Ultimately, we made arrangements for me to arrive about a month into the program, September12 to be exact. I was able to complete online coursework with Heidi and the rest of the cohort for the first four weeks, and arrived just in time to travel with the rest of the cohort for our study tour to Panama and the Caribbean coast. Heidi even helped make arrangements for my mom to travel with me for the first few days. Although I certainly did miss out on some experiences (the cohort has already participated in several other excursions),  Heidi and the rest of my peers went above and beyond to make the most of my situation. I participated in class lectures via video calls, I even attended sessions with guest speakers via video calls, and the group took pictures and recordings of their excursions to share with me. 

Outside the wall enclosing Casa Adobe you will find a number of poetic verses painted for the public.

When we arrive back to San Jose, we will all begin Spanish classes at the University of Costa Rica, and I will resume the rest of the Costa Rica program as normal. I salute the Study Abroad office and Heidi Michelsen for their efforts and concentration in accommodating each student’s specific needs. The level of service Heidi and other staff have demonstrated is not found in every college campus, nor in every office at Valparaiso University. I am grateful for my experience, thus far, and look forward to continuing this experience in Costa Rica.

(left to right) Director Heidi Michelson, student Madeline Brown, Casa Adobe Resident and Valparaiso alumna Hannah Purkey, student Veronica Campbell, student Tate Elie, student Mia Casas, and Praxis Staff Roland Harris enjoy dinner as a cohort.

The Blue Mountains UNESN Trip: An Adventure You Don’t Want to Miss

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While I have been here in Australia, I have realized how eco-friendly and conscious a lot of people and places are. Literally no one uses plastic straws or packaging, the grocery stores push the use of reusable bags, there are talks and conferences every week regarding climate change, and there are many designated places for national and state conservation areas. Of these places, one of them is the Blue Mountains National Park and Conservation Area and UNESN (the international exchange group on the University of Newcastle’s campus) has a trip they put on for people to go there!

An hour outside of Sydney, you will find the Blue Mountains National Park, a beautiful place with many stories and folktales that are tied to the breathtaking landscapes you hike through when there. UNESN puts on a weekend trip that sells out fairly quickly to the Blue Mountains every semester at the University. Paying for this trip gets you two nights in a backpacker hostel in Katoomba (the small and cute city bordering the National Park), two breakfast meals, and two dinner meals. When you get there you have the opportunity to meet new people, eat some pretty good food, hike all around the National Park, and get to see some of the amazing landscapes of New South Wales. I recommend whoever does choose this study abroad program or finds themselves in this area of Australia in their lives, this is one place you don’t want to miss.

View from the Wentworth Falls Trail at the Blue Mountains National Park

The best part about this weekend were the endless hikes and views we got to see on Saturday and Sunday. We all woke up early both days and split up to hike the different trails found throughout the National Park. My friends Linneya, Krista, and I went and walked the Charles Darwin hike into the National Park. One fascinating thing we discovered about this trail is that it was named after Charles Darwin due to him visiting this area in Australia once in 1836. This is a very easy hike that has no steep inclines or challenging paths that is a great time for anyone! This trail then led to the breathtaking cliffs, overhangs, and waterfalls on the Wentworth Falls trail that is found deeper in the park grounds. The Wentworth Falls trail is more challenging of a hike. With steep stairs, ladder climbs, tricky footpaths, and more, this trail may be physically demanding but is absolutely beautiful. This was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. My friends and I decided to walk the entire thing and got to see some pretty epic landscape views of the National Park. We stopped throughout the trail to either catch our breaths, eat a little snack, or take pictures of the beauty that was surrounding us. As we were hiking, one of the most spectacular things happened. We randomly stopped and looked at the waterfall when all of a sudden a rainbow appeared right before our eyes glowing in the waters flow! It was a rare moment that we randomly were able to witness and remember from this trip together.

Rainbow seen in the Wentworth Falls Water Flow

Wentworth Falls at the Blue Mountains National Park

Krista and I on the Charles Darwin Walk

Another hike we took on Sunday was to the famous Three Sisters viewpoint in the National Park. This was an adventure I will really never forget. For the month of September in Australia, it is still considered winter time since the seasons are opposite that of the US. So when we did go to the Blue Mountains it was around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit the entire weekend. This didn’t ever affect us when we were hiking on Saturday since we had trees to block out most of the wind. But when hiking to the Three Sisters lookout, there were no barriers to the cold wind that was hitting all of us. Google Maps made us believe it would be a short 15 minute walk to the lookout, so we were all down for it. But this walk ended up being around 30 minutes of us fast walking to get to the lookout where the sun was setting. We were all freezing cold and barely able to move our fingers, but the view was amazing. Not one of us didn’t have a smile on our faces as we watched the sun set over this breathtaking scenery. Overall, this weekend was truly magical as seeing these amazing sights really puts into perspective what is truly important in the hectic world we live in. Simply breathing and looking at the natural beauty of the world can put you into your place found on this planet that sustains us, and show you that we should try to return the favour.

Sunset over the Three Sisters Lookout Point at the Blue Mountains National Park

Do You Really Know the Country You Studied in?

Author: Elisabeth Walters

Location: Trier, Erfurt, & Cologne Germany

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When students study abroad in a foreign country for a semester, they come back saying they have seen and experienced the culture of that country. However, one of the professors, here in Reutlingen, mentioned how “one cannot go to Washington D.C. and say they’ve seen America; just as one cannot say they went to Reutlingen and seen Germany”. Thus, my roommate and I decided to visit all sixteen states of Germany.

When we made our decision to complete this task, we had already visited five of the sixteen states through both school-guided and personal excursions. Therefore, we decided to focus on the ones we had not visited yet. The first stop was the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, which we had chosen Trier as the city we would visit. When visiting Trier, we walked around the city and saw the Porta Nigra, which is a Roman Gate.

Also, we visited the Aula Palatina, originally built as an audience hall for Emperor Constantine’s Palace, and the Electoral Palace, which is attached to the Aula Palatina. During our travel to Trier we witnessed how the state and city was focused on its production and sales of wine, whereas in Reutlingen this is not the case.

While in Erfurt, we first visited the Krämerbrücke (Merchant’s Bridge). The Merchant’s Bridge, which is the longest Medieval Bridge in Europe that has inhabited houses, was beautiful; however, it is still a mystery on how one gets to the middle buildings on this bridge.

Next we visited the beautiful Erfurt Cathedral, here we realized that a majority of people in this state did not speak English very well. Thus, our German language skills were utilized more. Lastly, we visited the Erfurt Zoo; however, when traveling to the zoo, we witnessed a demonstration pertaining to chemicals in food products. Through witnessing this demonstration, we were able to observe the importance of health among the German people.

The third state that we accomplished was Nordrhein-Westfalen. For this state, I visited Köln, with another Valpo student, on German Unity Day. During this national holiday, all schools have off alongside a majority of shops and museums being closed. However, while in Köln, I was able to visit the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) and the Schokoladen Museum (Chocolate Museum) as well as a stroll along the Rhine River. The first stop in Köln was the Kölner Dom because the cathedral is directly outside the train station. Although I did not get to go within the cathedral, I was able to marvel at its towering height from outside. The second stop was the Schokoladen Museum, there I was able to learn about the different ingredients, the evolution of brand advertising and production, and even about different countries’ economies being affected by chocolate production. Although I learned a varying amount of fascinating information, my favorite part was when we received free chocolate throughout the tour because who does not love free chocolate. Once we visited the museum and cathedral, my friend and I strolled along the Rhine River. Overall, through this experience, we were able to observe another side of Germany, one where chocolate is just as important as beer to the culture of Germans.

As of now, I currently have eight more states to visit before my time in Germany concludes. However, although I have not seen all the states yet, I’m starting to get a better image of what Germany is really like. Through the states I have visited, I am able to diminish the stereotypes of Germany that I once believed and replace them with real facts about the culture and behaviors within the country.

Adventuring in Sydney

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Sydney, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Travelling around when studying abroad is a must. When you have free weekends, long breaks, or time where you can get out there and bop around, you should try to take the opportunity. One thing I didn’t realize about Australia before I got here and figured out the transportation system is that Australia is HUGE. Australia has around 20 million people populating the entire country and it is almost the same size as the US. This means that it is way less densely populated than the US, which has almost 300 million people living throughout it. This makes travelling around the country a little more challenging since things are more spread out. In saying that though, there are still many ways to get around this country if you have the time to do so. And luckily, Sydney is a short two and a half hour train ride away from Newcastle where I am currently studying abroad at.

Getting into Sydney is an easy trip. Simply take a 15-minute bus ride to the Hamilton Train Station. Then ride that train for about two and a half hours straight to Central Station in Sydney. Then you’re right in the middle of the city! Sydney is a beautiful and diverse city that strangely reminds me of Chicago whenever I have gone there, which now has been about four times. The first time I went into Sydney it was with a bunch of my American friends for a boat party put on by UNESN (the international exchange group found at the University of Newcastle- HIGHLY recommend joining). The boat party was on a Saturday, so we ended up taking the train in on Friday and stayed two nights in Sydney at the YHA Backpackers Hostel (one of the best hostels in Sydney and very inexpensive for those on a tight budget). The boat party was a blast. It was a beautiful day, the boat took us all around Darling Harbour, and this was the first time many of us got to see the Sydney Opera House!

My friend Holly and I in front of the Sydney Opera House

The next day after the boat party, we all stuck around in Sydney and explored. We walked the entire city and tried a bunch of great food along the way. We also walked up to the Sydney Opera House to get a better view of it. While there, I learned that the Sydney Opera House opened on October 20th, 1973 and hosts almost 1,500 performances annually. It was also the youngest finalist in the New7Wonders of the World campaign that lasted between the years 2000-2007, compared to the other finalists that were all built before the 1900’s. This building was absolutely breathtaking. You can’t really tell from far away or even in most pictures, but the entire roof is a mosaic of beautiful white and blue ceramic tiles. Seeing this building in person was something that is hard to explain. I’ve seen pictures of the many wonders of the world growing up in school, but when you actually see one in person it is unreal. The entire time I was standing there looking at this detailed and inordinate piece of art, it was hard for me to believe I actually was. While I was touring around the Opera House, I had many moments that made me realize to a deeper degree where I was in the world, that I was really all the way on the other side of the world, over the entire Pacific Ocean, and in Australia. This may sound like a silly thing to recognize a month into my travels here in Australia, but when you study abroad and feel it you’ll understand.

Amber, Sammi, Me, Holly, and Joey in front of the Sydney Opera House

So after this first trip into Sydney, I have been there now three more times. Once for new tattoos, another time for a 1975 concert, and another time to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake. Even though it can be hard to travel around Australia since everything is so spread out and you may need to take a flight to some places, it’s fun finding things near you that are easily accessed and great fun! One piece of advice I would have to anyone studying abroad or planning to is to not forget that even though traveling to these exotic places around the world is a blast when studying abroad, sometimes there are things right next to you that are worth taking a look into, seeing the beauty in, and being grateful for.

Sunset over Newcastle Beach in Newcastle, Australia

Mid-semester Highlights

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai Region, Japan 

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Okay, so I am officially through the halfway point of the semester now. There is still so much I want to do it, but I am very happy with what I have seen and done this month. It has been awhile since I posted, so I figured I would talk about some of what I have experienced over the past few weeks.

Nara Deer Park

This place is very well known and a very hot tourist spot, but I can say there is nothing like it in the states and is well worth the trip. I would like to come to Nara once more before the semester ends, as we only really had time to go to the park and some of the shops in the city. Our journey was delayed that day because someone jumped in front of a train on the Kintetsu line (A sad reminder that mental health and suicide is one of the largest problems Japan has – looking at this may be a future post) and it was hard to find an alternative route.

However, the park was amazing. The deer roam completely free, and years of exposure to humans means that they have no fear. If you bow to them, they will sometimes bow back. Deer snacks can be purchased at the park and hand-fed to them. I have heard some stories of over-aggressive deer, but I think most Americans would find them extremely tame. The most aggressive deer I encountered just kept following me around until another visitor lured it away with their own snacks.

 

I would highly recommend feeding the deer.

The main city/shopping area of Nara.

Kobe

Kobe is a more modern port city to the west of Osaka. There are not as many shrines or historical locations when compared to Nara or Kyoto, but it is a large urban city with its own distinct culture while being smaller and more compact then Osaka.

I need to do more exploring, but I would say to visitors that eating Kobe beef is a must, along with visiting Kobe port tower and the surrounding area. Another student that came here went zip-lining.

View of Kobe from the top of Kobe Port Tower.

This is right by Kobe Port Tower. Recommended photo spot.

Universal Studios Japan

I have not been to Universal Studios in America, so I cannot draw comparisons between the two, but I enjoyed my time here. The crowds are massive though, especially because we went on a national holiday. The over-crowding can almost be overwhelming. We were only able to get on a few rides, but I think being able to walk around and take in the atmosphere was worth it. USJ also has the most over-priced food I have yet to encounter in Japan, so that may be another thing to take into consideration. Lastly, I did not realize how huge Halloween was in Japan. Many, many people were dressed up in the park that day and it was not even Halloween week yet.

Outside of the Harry Potter attraction at USJ.

Malls and Markets

My favorite thing about Japan is just how many insane shops, malls, markets, etc. there are. Malls in the United States are dying, but in Japan they are still thriving. Also, they are huge. I have been to the local mall in Hirakata four times. I also went to markets in Nipponbashi, Osaka, and ate some of the most incredible food. Fried eel, fried pineapple, a whole pineapple with juice and ice-cream inside, and so on. There is an infinite amount of fun and interesting things so close together, especially in the Kansai region. I can’t wait to see what happens in the second half of the semester!

We rented Kimonos after exploring Nipponbashi.

When Homesickness Hits: Feeling Lonely on the Other Side of the World

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While studying abroad in a foreign and unknown place, being without those who ground you and support you can make things challenging with the feelings of homesickness and missing people creeping in. Before going abroad, I knew that there would be moments of homesickness while I was away. But being a very independent person I didn’t expect it to hit as hard as it did about a month into my program. Things had been going very well. I was enjoying my classes, meeting friendly people, eating great food, and doing pretty fun things almost everyday. But then things took a turn as more challenges were put into my path. Things started to die down as we all got into our normal routines with starting classes. Less things were happening all of the time and there were many days that just involved classes and mundane activities rather than the rapid movement and travel of new adventures that the first weeks contained here in Australia. For me personally, many overwhelming situations came into my path as I started classes.

This all started with being in a class that ended up being way more challenging than I had expected. I needed to change my class schedule, but trying to accomplish this was very difficult. That was since to do this meant having to communicate to people at VU during their summer hours while also being in a completely different time zone. Overall a very overwhelming situation that was also paired with busting my phone, seeing some true colors of new friends I had just made, and missing those whom I love back in the states. It was when hard times hit me while being abroad that homesickness found a way to creep into my mind. Not being able to even contact those whom I missed or be able to travel much off campus because my phone was busted made things even more difficult. I felt stuck, and was upset that I felt stuck simply because I didn’t have my mobile phone.

Pulling yourself out of these negative mindsets can be one of the most difficult things in life. When they are occurring you barely know that it is happening or what to do to help yourself because things can make you feel very hopeless. Asking for help was something I struggled with. I knew I was feeling down and in the gutter, but felt as though I needed to fix everything myself. That’s where I went wrong. After about a week of finding it hard to get out of bed and do things off campus, I finally found the strength to talk to a new friend for help and tell her that I was struggling. She really helped me with a vast amount of things including figuring out public transportation without a mobile phone, knowing what’s happening in the downtown areas, and simply being there to talk and care about me. Talking with her helped me to empower myself to do more things by myself, do more things with new friends, and be confident with the unknown that surrounded me.

Overall, things started to get significantly better once I put myself out there and pushed myself to do more with others. Now this may seem like a very obvious thing, but when you find yourself in moments of loneliness it may not be something so easily seen. Even though the feelings of missing people were still there, they were less frequent and less intense. What I learned is that when homesickness hits while you are abroad, which it will, you simply have to breathe and keep going. Call those you love and care about, but don’t forget to really immerse yourself in the community where you are when abroad. You will meet amazing people if you remain kind and open-minded. These new friends will understand the feelings you are going through more than those back home and you will create a new community and connections for the short time you are abroad. Even though it is a short time, remember to not look at it like there is an end that is slowly approaching you. Simply live in the moment and don’t forget to be grateful for the experience of beautiful growth that is going on within your soul.

My new friends, Sammi and Holly, I made from the US at the University of Newcastle

Sandboarding Adventure with new friends, Linneya, Joey, Kimmy, Kendra, and Holly I met through UNESN (University of Newcastle Exchange Student Network- A MUST TO JOIN)

CIS Abroad Beach Day and Hike to Port Stevens (with bunches of beautiful people)

What is Studying Abroad Really About?

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When you hear the words ‘studying abroad’ what comes to your mind? Is it a whirlwind adventure every second of every day? Do you see yourself constantly traveling, meeting new people, living on the edge, and feeling free? While some of these things you may find true, studying abroad is much more than what is advertised when you are looking into it.

When I started considering my study abroad adventure, I really had no idea what to expect. No matter how many people I talked to, or how much I researched Australia, none of it could have prepared me for what I actually experienced being here. When talking to people who have previously done the same program I chose, of course they talked about the highlights and the best moments they had while abroad. This happens a lot within those conversations people have when looking into studying abroad and trying to get a grasp of the unknowns that it brings. These conversations can unintentionally sway people who are preparing to study abroad to believe that it is a consistent and crazy adventure. But in reality, it is a lot different than most may believe and also something that is hard to describe unless you personally have studied abroad before.

Studying abroad is exactly what it says it is. It is studying and taking classes while you are living abroad. You are taken away from the blanket of security you have created when at VU. Knowing almost every face you see when walking down the hallway, with friends and teachers you recognize, places you know have great coffee, the best study locations on campus, and even the language that you grew up with. The constant things in your life that you never really thought had such an impact on your daily mindset leave your life for a short while. You’re taken to a place where you really don’t know anyone, you don’t know what places have the best coffee, heck you don’t even know where those places are. But I’m not saying all of this to scare anyone out of studying abroad. It can feel like this for quite a while at the beginning, but these feelings fade overtime. As you push yourself to grow in a new location, you find your footing and learn more about yourself than you ever have before. You slowly realize and stop pinching yourself that you’re actually there. Studying abroad and living in a brand new place of your choosing. You then begin to see that it’s not such a dramatic change as you may have previously thought.

When talking to people from the US here in Australia about their experiences so far, a lot of them have told me how studying abroad isn’t what they had expected or assumed it would be like. Many of these new friends of mine talked about how it’s not a vacation. They mentioned how when they were first researching study abroad, all anyone ever talked about was the wild and crazy things that they did throughout their studies. Failing to mention the mundane and simple things of life that you experience more of when being abroad. Doing laundry, going grocery shopping, figuring out public transportation, and many more things are briefly spoken about while traveling abroad, going out to parties, and other extravagant things are what the majority of the conversations are about. These things do happen and are incredible, but a majority of study abroad is simply living life wherever you are choosing to go and becoming a part of the community that is found there. This is when you will start to feel more comfortable. When you know where the best coffee places are, you know how the buses work, you know the people around you as they smile and know your name. It’s moments like these that truly make studying abroad this beautiful experience that so many people remember and cherish throughout the rest of their lives.

Glenrock State Conservation Area Scenic Beach Walk

Whale Watching Expedition on the Shores of Newcastle (during Orientation Week)

Bar Beach located in Newcastle, Australia

Taking the First Steps to Study Abroad

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Something as wild as living in a foreign country for almost 5 months by yourself being surrounded with new cultures and people, while also having to take classes alongside it all can sound extremely daunting. As you talk about it with friends and family while making your decision to study abroad, there are many different conversations that can occur. People may question your decision and think that it isn’t the right idea, others may encourage you and want you to experience this for yourself. No matter what conversations ensue while discussing study abroad, in the end it is YOUR decision. One that I would personally recommend to anyone who is debating whether or not to take the leap.

Though there are many people that decide to study abroad in their paths throughout university, every person has a different and unique experience with what they feel while abroad. Even if you go to the same place, you will experience things in a different way than those that surround you. This is one of the most beautiful things about studying abroad. That even though it is a very individual experience, you will feel connections to those around you in ways you have never felt before. So trust me when I say you should take that first step. Talk to an advisor, a family member, a friend, or yourself about the possibility of studying abroad. I promise that you won’t regret it. Because the growth and challenges you feel while abroad are feelings that staying at VU all four years will never be able to give you.

I had my challenges with taking these first steps when I was at VU. I had been wanting to study abroad even before I got accepted into a university. When I got accepted to VU, one of the first things I looked into was the study abroad program they offered. It wasn’t until my senior year that I found I was able to take the time and study abroad, with facing challenges ranging from changing my major, to required classes, to family illnesses, to simply figuring out when the ideal time for me to actually go was. Even though it felt like the right time to go, I found out that there will never be that exact right time to do something. There will always be things that you wished you planned for. That you had more spending money, that you needed more time mentally to figure out things, or more items you needed to bring abroad. But in the end know that it isn’t a permanent thing that will be forever happening. For only a short 5 months you will be experiencing what it is like to study abroad. If this is something you have always wanted to do, figure it out and take those steps to getting to a new country! The benefits of travel are so amazing, diverse and vast. I believe that everyone should try to push themselves to take the chance. Sometimes just taking that first step is all you need to open up an entirely new chapter in your life that you could have never expected to happen. And it will be an unforgettable adventure with whatever you choose. As long as you are kind, compassionate, loving, and most of all courageous.

Overall, deciding to study abroad can seem like a big step, but in reality it isn’t that big if you take time to make those small steps towards your goal of traveling and experiencing new things around you and inside of yourself. It all revolves around those first steps that you feel inside of yourself. To decide to go for something that feels strange and potentially uncomfortable. Because it’s when you push yourself to do those things that make you get out of your comfort zone, and that’s when you have the potential to grow and change. This is when you begin to see that everything that happens is meant to happen. You will be able to understand that in such a deeper way once you start doing things that take you out of the comfort zones we have all unconsciously created for ourselves. To take these first steps is a courageous and strong thing to do for yourself. Just know that whatever you choose, you will begin to feel growth and change within you the first step off the plane.

Sand Dunes of the Northern Shores of Newcastle, AU

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