Introducing the Bloggers: Elisa

Blogger: Elisa Espinosa

Location: Valparaiso, Chile

Major: Professional Writing with a Spanish Minor

I chose to intern abroad because Brittany Reynolds participated in the same internship last summer and encouraged me to apply. I am most excited to get more experience with TESOL and to better my Spanish fluency.

Opportunity Costs and Payoffs

Blogger: Abbey Little

Program: CISabroad – Newcastle, Australia

Opportunity cost (noun): the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

I have been educated on the concept of opportunity cost in courses like economics, but I tend to overlook the real-life application of the matter. My experiences in Australia so far have given me an authentic insight on what an opportunity cost truly entails. I would like to defend this concept and preface my explanation by saying that choosing one alternative over another is not necessarily a negative action. However, the reality of it is absolute.

It was obvious that I would be sacrificing some parts of my everyday life when I made the decision to pack up and come to Australia for a year. I would miss celebrations such as birthdays, holidays, and graduations. I would miss family, friends, and all the familiar faces I encounter in a week’s time. Ultimately, I was sacrificing familiarity and comfort for an unexplored world full of excitement.

Melbourne, Australia

Throughout the month of April, I was fortunate enough to do some traveling in southern Australia. I visited Melbourne, which is a lively city booming with art.

From there, I traveled to Tasmania, which is easily the most picturesque place I have ever been to. Worlds could never truly describe the sense of happiness that Tasmania gave me, and pictures will always fail to capture the true beauty of it.

While in Tasmania, I was given back a little piece of joy that I had sacrificed to come abroad – a group of friends and I rented a car. That may sound silly, but constantly checking bus times to get around and hauling groceries from bus stops across campus is far from appealing. The fear of driving on the opposite side of the road from the right side of the car was masked by pure excitement. There were two groups of us, with four to each car. We all agreed to take turns driving, respectively.

The morning of our first full day in Tassie (Tasmania) rolled around, and it was my turn to get behind the wheel. I would be driving the first two hours of our four-hour road trip to a destination in northeastern Tasmania know as the Bay of Fires. From there, we would head south back towards our AirBnB in Cremorne and make a stop at Wineglass Bay for sunset, then return home for the night.

The sun was not properly risen as I pulled out of the driveway, and there was an eerie mist amongst the mountains. We were finally in control of where we would go. Josh and Josh made themselves comfortable in the backseat as I passed the aux cord to my trustee and co-pilot, Elena. we were on our way.

A sense of freedom was upon us. The boys both dozed off in the backseat as the sun began to come over the caps of the mountains on our right. Ahead, I could see a wall of fog, but did not think much of it. Within minutes, I was driving up a mountain through a thick cloak of fog. The road was demanding that I take sharp, slow turns. Eventually, I hit a patch of unpaved highway. The sense of accomplishment after getting through that drive was sublime. I have been given the opportunity to drive again; I was in control. That privilege had been absent from my life for months.

Our journey continued, and we had the glory of properly seeing Tasmania by means of the most outstanding road trip I have ever taken part of. Ever since, I seem to dread public transportation a little more, but again, I remember that I will get to be in control of my direction again someday. The privilege of driving daily was something I sacrificed by studying abroad in Australia. This sacrifice along has led me to the most glorious days I’ve had the chance of living. I have been in the land down under for approximately three months now, and I have come to the realization that I have indeed sacrificed a lot of normality since my arrival. Nevertheless, I would not trade any experience I’ve had for its alternative. I can confidently say the payoff of each opportunity cost I’ve encountered has been well worth it.

Cheers! xx


Sossusvlei – An Impromptu Trip

Blogger: Katie Karstensen

Program: Windhoek, Namibia

There is an International Windhoek Facebook group for people that are traveling through Windhoek from other countries. People usually post about travel details asking for companions, or help traveling from one place to another. I returned to Windhoek from Luderitz Tuesday night and saw that a group of women were heading to Sossusvlei for the next couple of days and still had one extra seat. I called to see if they were still looking and then met them at a car rental place Wednesday morning at 7AM. So two women from Germany, one from Holland, one from Switzerland, and one from the United States packed a rental car full and headed to the sand dunes at Sossusvlei. And during the journey we only received one traffic ticket for accidentally driving on the right side of the road as opposed to the left as is the law here in Namibia, which I would argue is pretty good for none of us having experience driving on the left side of the road before.


Blogger: Kortney Cena

Program: San Jose, Costa Rica – Study Center

No one ever said that learning a new language was easy. I did expect it to be a massive challenge, and the experience has certainly risen to meet my expectations. But learning a new language has had a lot of interesting side effects that I had not expected upon my ability to speak English and on the manner in which I normally communicate.  

  1. 1. I can’t spell words in English anymore. In elementary school, I once won the spelling bee and have always found spelling to be natural for me. But the way things are spelled in Spanish is so consistent. Each letter makes the same sound almost all the time, and there aren’t any strange letter combinations like ch or gh, so there is little guesswork when it comes to spelling Spanish words. They don’t even really do spelling bees here, because it is not impressive to be able to spell words in Spanish. Now, I find myself second guessing each word I write in English and sometimes I find myself writing in a kind of Spanglish. (Ex. Consentracion?)

2. There are certain phrases that are just said differently in Spanish than in English. When you are hungry, you say yo tengo hambre, which literally means “I have hunger”. So sometimes, when talking to my cohort here, I’ll say in English something like “I have so much hunger right now” (and then they laugh at me for speaking Spanish words in English). Similarly, to introduce themselves, people often say “I am called…”, or “I call myself…”. But people think it’s very odd to ask “what do you call yourself?” in English.

3. In Spanish, there is no fast or slang way to do possessives. In English, you may say “Jenna’s shoes” but in Spanish you would have to say “the shoes of Jenna”. I find myself avoiding possessives even in English now. (Ex. “Erin, can we all go to the house of your mom?”)

4. The last one is more about the difficulty I have with speaking Spanish than the language itself. My Spanish skills are limited, so whenever I respond, I usually have to do so in a roundabout way in order to use the words that I know. So sometimes, when I talk to someone in English, I’ll be thinking about what words I know in Spanish to convey my thought. I plan my response with very simple, basic words. And then I realize, wait, this is English! I can use whatever words I want!

Learning a language is difficult, but very fun and rewarding! Just don’t forget to laugh at yourself for your mistakes.  Go ahead and try even if you sound like an idiot. Because people appreciate it when you at least try, and you learn 5 times as much that way (and are therefore investing in a future where you don’t sound like an idiot). But now, you can be aware that there are a couple of side effects that come along with becoming bilingual!

Getting Involved

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center


One thing I really appreciate about the Reutlingen program is that it provides the opportunity to study abroad with little knowledge of the German language. However, since this is not an immersion program, one thing I did not expect was to struggle with becoming more involved in the German community. This is one thing that I wish had more insight into prior to my study abroad experience.

It can be intimidating to go out and join an organization without even being able to understand what the members are saying. For me, I found that I was only able to push through this fear by joining organizations where I felt comfortable with the activity. So far, I have gotten involved in two groups around campus. The first is a Christian Campus Connect group. In many ways, I feel more at home there than anywhere else in Germany. I know some of the music, the progression of the service, and I know the people have similar beliefs and values to my own.

I have also become involved with the orchestra on campus. I have played violin for nearly fifteen years, so to me this is an activity where I can be comfortable and confident. It is a place where I feel successful, which helps counter the uncertainty which comes from the language barrier. More than that, I find it easy to connect with the people there because we have similar interests. I have always said that music is a universal language, but here I really use it as one.

In a few minutes, I actually need to practice some music I am playing with a trio from the orchestra for a charity event on Wednesday night. Our trio is also looking into playing at the big campus fest event coming up in a few weeks. Playing in this group has actually reminded me why I love music. It is a means of communication which transcends language and cultural differences and provides a means of emotional communication.

For me, the thing to take away from this is to encourage students to get involved in local groups when studying abroad. More importantly, I encourage them to do this by thinking about which things they feel comfortable doing, and finding groups that match with these interests. I didn’t realize when I came here how crucial it would be to think about how I could get more involved, and I wish I had thought about it a bit earlier. I would have loved to be involved in these groups for the entirety of my study abroad program. I hope that my experience in this regard will help someone else get involved more expediently than I did because this involvement is something I have really come to value.

Vigilant Pirates

Blogger: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

Dear readers, let me tell you about my friends, the vigilant pirates. They’re swashbuckling, treasure-plundering guys with peg legs who sail ships and say, “Arrghh!” a lot.

Just kidding. They’re actually men who wear camouflage and red berets and bulletproof vests and carry big assault rifles and walk around Paris and the surrounding cities making sure that nobody’s planting a bomb on the metro. They’re called VigiPirate.

The first time I saw them, I did a double take. I was shocked to see weapons so prominently displayed in a heavily populated tourist area. I forget where I was the first time I saw them, but it threw me off because I had been telling myself that France was peaceful again. That there was no danger in coming here.

Seeing the VigiPirate guys reminded me that the threat of violence is still very real. The France that I fell in love with during my first study abroad program four years ago is a different place now. It’s still healing from the November 13, 2015 attacks on the Bataclan and the Stade de France.

I remember exactly where I was when I heard about that attack. I’d been at work all day, so I hadn’t seen the news. I went to a friend’s house right after, where somebody mentioned it. I was crushed, devastated by the vast and unfathomable violence that had befallen the place I so loved. Why would anybody want to hurt France? Why would anybody want to hurt anybody, period?

And where else have similar attacks taken place since 2015? Belgium, Sweden, London, and France. To name a few. And what do we do when we hear about this violence? We change our profile pictures to show the affected country’s flag over our carefully positioned selfies, and we say, “How terrible!” And then we move on.

But what else are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to rally in anger and send bombs into heavily populated areas in war-torn countries like Syria and just kind of hope that we hit the right people? Do we drown in grief, and thus cease to function? Or do we stop living our lives because of the sheer terror of the threat of violence?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. I wish I knew the way to stop all of this violence from happening, period, but I don’t. I am a twenty-one-year-old woman studying abroad, and I know no more about maintaining world peace than does the seventy-year-old man sitting in the capital of my own country.

Of course, it’s not like the United States has never been the victim of terrorist attacks. The World Trade Center was a thing. There are some people my age who will tell you that they remember 9/11 happening, but I don’t. I wasn’t yet six-years-old. My time was occupied with playing with my brothers and trying to convince my parents to let me adopt a dog.

I may not have specific memories of 9/11, but I’ll remember November 13th, 2015, for the rest of my life. I’ll remember Thursday, April 2017, too. It was just a few days ago that a young police officer (a member of France’s gendarmerie) was killed by a terrorist on the Champs-Elysée. His partner gave a speech at the memorial. And France mourned yet again.

I said before that I don’t know what to do in the face of this kind of violence, but that’s not completely true. I know that we must not succumb to hatred. We must not fear each other, because we are all we have. If we live in a world where hatred and violence are the norm, we will lose the only thing that keeps us human: each other. In the words of someone who knows much more than I do, “You will not have my hate.” Vous n’aurez pas ma haine.


Blogger: Kortney Cena

Program: San Jose, Costa Rica – Study Center

During Holy Week, the Costa Rica study abroad program took an educational trip to Nicaragua. Though the trip was technically to teach us about the realities of poverty, the impacts of historical events upon current day circumstances, different types of healthcare systems, and many other things about the unique Nicaraguan culture, it conveniently served the dual purpose of fulfilling Costa Rican immigration law, which only allows foreigners to stay in the country undocumented for up to 3 months at a time (After a week in another country, we were safe to re-enter Costa Rica for another couple months)!

To make sure we are all on the same page here, geographically, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are so close to each other on the map that they share a border (neither Costa Rica nor Nicaragua is islands, they are both small countries that make up part of Central America, connecting Columbia to Mexico). So, driving up into Nicaragua from Costa Rica only took a couple hours. The weather in Costa Rica is amazingly temperate most days– Ticos say it’s cold when it gets down to 65 and they complain of heat when we get to the upper 80s. I expected Nicaragua to be similar since it is so physically close to Costa Rica on the map.

But Nicaragua is different. Now I have experienced heat—I was born in Arizona, have lived through a Midwest summer, and even have visited Texas during the hot month of July—but heat is different when there is no air conditioning, no ice, and no possibility of a break from the constant heat. The only moment of any day when I did not feel smothered by heat was when I was taking a cold shower (which was good because warm water was not really an option). Nicaragua has the kind of heat that makes your clothes stick to you, that makes it hard to concentrate, and that saps all of your energy. Being in the car felt like being in an oven, and opening the windows only let more warm air in. Erin, Daniella, and I, who were riding in the back seat of the car, ended up plugging in little USB powered fans into the phone charging port of the car order to survive car trips!

Knowing that us extranjeros were delicate, my Nicaraguan host family provided a fan for me. I became very attached to this fan— It is funny how valuable something so simple can be when it is all you have. My first host family was a middle class, typical family in Managua. It consisted of about 11 people living in one (relatively) big house. There was one shower and one toilet, both in the backyard. I didn’t mind using them, though I haveto say, there is a special trick to being able to put on new clothes while in the shower, with sandals on, in the dark, without dropping all of your stuff or old clothes in the soaking wet. They fed me gallo pinto most meals, a simple mix of rice and beans and a staple for poor families in Latin America. But often, wanting to make something special for me, they were nice enough to make me fruit juice from purified water, since I couldn’t drink the ordinary water which often harbors bacteria or even parasites.

After only a couple of days, the people of my host family were talking about me as part of the family, and I was amazed how fast these people had accepted and decided to love me. The mama of the house, a delightful older lady who loves to tell stories, wanted to share everything she had with me. She even paid a motorcycle-taxi to take us to the house one night, just so I could have the experience of riding in one (which was very exciting by the way). The little girls of the house did my hair, gave me stickers, played games with me, and one even translated my homework for me! The stories go on. From these people, I learned about the openness, kindness, and willingness of the Nicaraguan people to share their lives, their limited resources, to teach what they know, and to welcome you into their midst.

More than learning about generous hospitality, I also learned some practical skills as we traveled in Nicaragua. I learned to wash clothes by hand and hang them up in the courtyard to dry overnight. I also learned to play “duck duck goose” in Spanish. Some ladies taught our whole group how to handmake corn tortillas, laughing at our weak hands which get burnt so easily, and explaining how some days they make over a hundred of these tortillas. We also learned to make some traditional Pascua (Easter) deserts. When it came to the farm, we learned how to milk a cow with your bare hands and how to catch a baby chicken (tip: you get a local kid to do it).

Of all these things that I learned, the most impactful experience was in rural Nicaragua, a small town called El Bonete. The people in this town were severely impoverished and had little access to resources. It was explained to me that the only way to have a real house is to have a family member in the States. Despite the fact that every adult in the village had at least one school degree, and many had two or three, they were all struggling hard and fighting to get by. Recently, this has become a fight against their very environment, as each year it gets hotter and the rain starts later. Most of the livelihood of this community comes from agriculture or livestock, and those things directly depend on the environment. As I looked at each dusty, brown field where herds of emaciated cows tried to find shelter from the sun in the scant shade of a couple trees, I wasn’t sure who was going to win this fight. The change in the environment for these farmers has been partially due to the deforestation of Nicaragua. Most Nicaraguans still cook with wood rather than electric or gas stoves, and as the land is deforested it gets hotter and has worse soil. But additionally, Nicaragua has the severe misfortune of being geographically situated where climate change has great effects. “Our children don’t know what it was like before, they only know what it is like to grow up in this heat,” said one mother. “Go back, and tell the United-Statesians, how we are suffering from the heat,” said the Pastor of the town. As we drove out of El Bonete, seeing the heat waves radiating off of the road in front of us, we noticed on the side of the road a bony, white horse laying in the dead grass, unmoving.


Homestay at a Kindergarten

Blogger: Katie Karstensen

Program: Windhoek, Namibia

I had the privilege this past week to spend time with a family in Soweto, a neighborhood of urban Windhoek, at Pashukeni Kindergarten. My household consisted of “Meme,” the fantastic, inspirational, independent principal as well as matriarch of the family, and one older sister and brother. My host brother, at 24, is currently studying at University, and my sister helps with the kindergarten and has two children, one boy (age 8), and one daughter (age 2). Meme also took my youngest brother (age 7) into her home as an orphan when he was a young child. Besides the property holding a Kindergarten school, Meme rented out the other buildings for community members to live in, so I felt as if I were meeting new people every day. The setup of the property was interesting as I’m used to one central house and perhaps a garage as the only buildings. But there were many small buildings making up a collective of rooms with the yard almost acting as the living room or the main sitting room.

I had the blessing of being there for Meme’s birthday. We had her favorite meal, which happened to include a dish very similar to one of my favorite dishes from home. They didn’t have a name for it, but as soon as I tasted it, I started tearing up because it tasted almost exactly like my mom’s German potato salad, a dish we make every holiday, family reunion,  and  birthday. It is the food my mom makes for me to take to take back to school with me, so I eat well for the week. It was my favorite dinner while I was there.  The simple potato dish led to a conversation where I shared some of my own family’s traditions while Meme shared important traditions to her and her life story with me. Meme did not grow up with an extensive education, but she had a job at a primary school as a janitor. She said she would do her work, but she would always make time to play with the children. Her supervisor told her if she did not stop playing with the children and neglecting her cleaning duties, he would fire her, but Meme continued her work, visiting with the children as normal, but hid from her supervisor to not get in trouble or fired. Meme grew tired of the supervision at her place of work, so she told them she would be leaving to open her own Kindergarten school. The rest of the staff responded by laughing at her as she left, not believing she would be able to begin her own business, especially without an education, money, or even a place to begin such an establishment.

Meme began with nothing but has now taught over one hundred children, and has multiple classrooms and teachers. Her business has been rapidly growing over the years, always with children as a priority in her life. Next year she plans to extend her Kindergarten into a pre-primary through fifth-grade school. She’s done a lot of hard work to get where she is today and received support from many people over the years. She returned to her original place of work to tell them about her kindergarten, and they again responded by laughing at her, not believing she could have done it. People ask her all the time how it’s happened, and who is the man of the household behind all of these operations. They accuse her of having a secret man or lover who gives her the money and land that she needs to continue her business, but it isn’t true. Meme told me if people have enough of a problem and keep bothering her about who this man is, she points to her oldest son. She says because he’s tall people seem to believe her and are satisfied. I’m honored to have been able to be in the presence of such a strong, independent woman. She is also very involved in the political system. While I was there for the week, I went with my host brother to pick up Meme from a SWAPO party meeting. She told us about how difficult it is to make all the much-needed changes that are happening in the country, but they’re doing what they can to solve them. At the end of the week, when Meme was showing me pictures from her life, she even shared a picture of her and the first president of Namibia, saying that they are good friends and were very close to one another for a time. I’m so thankful to have met Meme. When I left, she kept telling me never to forget her, to come back and visit whenever I’m able, and that I would always have a job as a teacher at her kindergarten.

I spent most of the week with my host brother. He is studying at University and currently doing an internship working on the newest skyscraper in Windhoek that can be seen right across from the Independence Museum. He is very intelligent and curious about the culture of the United States and my perceptions of that culture. Some of his pre-conceived notions about the United States were highly comical. When his family began hosting students, he was surprised to host a Chinese and black student, originally thinking everyone from the U.S. was white. He was also surprised when I braided my hair, telling me he thought white people didn’t know how to braid. My host brothers were also surprised at the concept of freckles, how you could see them on my arms, how you could see my mosquito bites, and how my skin reacted to being in the sun. They couldn’t believe I didn’t eat pop (cornmeal mixture we had with everything) with my meals and asked what I ate instead. They also found it odd that my family owned our own cows and that we did not slaughter our own cows but instead we bring our cows to a facility and pick up the meat a few days later.

My family was very open to whatever activities and conversations the week would bring. Every day the family would get together and asked about each other’s days, jobs, and classes. My religion class brought up a conversation with my host family. We shared in class a presentation about how our religion or faith had affected our self, family, community, country, and the world. My host brother asked to hear the presentation, which led into a conversation about my personal faith journey and, in turn, my host family’s relationship with religion. Meme spoke very critically of the church and some of the extreme actions they’ve been a proponent of over the years including prosperity gospel. On other occasions Meme would talk about being successful only by the grace of God, and being thankful to God for all he’s done with her, hoping God would keep me safe in His arms while I continued to travel around the world. On Sunday, I thought all of my family would go to church. Meme even told me what I should wear to church and approved my outfit to make sure it would be okay, but only two of my host brothers and I went to church. The three and half hour long service was a lot different than my home church, including all being in Oshiwambo, but thanks to Lutheran liturgy, I was able to guess what was going on for some parts of the service. It may have been one of the largest church services I’ve been to, with a congregation well above one thousand. It was the definitely the largest place that I’ve been in where I was the only white person. My younger host brother went to Sunday school during the service, and when it ended early, he came and found us in the congregation to sit with us. With such a big congregation, my older host brother asked how he was able to find us, and he simply replied, “Because of Katie, duh.” A woman mostly led the church service, and when I asked if it was the pastor, my brother said no. The only part led by a man was the pastor giving the sermon. Another interesting part of worship was a blessing ceremony for all the marriages that happened so far this year. Likius translated saying the blessing consisted of telling husbands to love their wives, and wives to respect their husbands. I asked why men weren’t told to respect their wives, and Likius replied, that they could if they wanted, but it wasn’t the same expectation as for women.

My homestay was filled with a lot of hospitality, family, and compassion. I felt very ill the last day of my homestay, and my family took care of me as one of their own, but it didn’t feel any different from the rest of the week. They gave me an opportunity to be a part of their family, and we shared a lot with one another. I feel like I have a lot more to learn from them, and already have plans to go back and visit my family and spend more time with them before I return to the U.S.

My host mother (on the right) with the President of Namibia (center).

Pashukeni Kindergarten

Traditional Oshiwambo skirt and necklace my host mother made for me

My host brother and cousin on our hiking trip

View from the side of a mountain in Windhoek

Meme (mom in Oshiwambo) and my oldest host brother

— Katie

Birthday Celebrations in Greece

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center

During my study abroad experiences, I have gone to places that I thought only existing in stories, textbooks, and myths. Nowhere was this truer than with my travels in Greece. To celebrate my birthday, my mother visited me, and we traveled to the Greek island of Santorini and Athens. I was impressed by the variety of sites I found in Greece, as some areas were valued for their beauty, but others for their history. Although I have seen many amazing sites during my time abroad, I don’t think I could ever be as impressed by anything as I was by the beauty of Santorini and the antiquity of Athens.

The Greek island of Santorini is recognized as having one of the most beautiful sunsets. When I looked at pictures on Trip Advisor, I thought that there was no way the island could actually be that beautiful. It was. Santorini has all white adobe-like buildings, often with blue roofs. These buildings were almost always built in a terraced style up the side of the cliffs. From our table on the ledge outside our hotel room, you could see an absolutely breathtaking view of the sunset and the surrounding islands. As I looked at this beautiful view (shown below), I remember feeling like I stood alone on the edge of the world.

One of the best things to do in Santorini is to take a Caterman sailboat ride so that you can see the nearby volcanic island and enjoy the warmth. You can also view the red, white, and black beaches (named for the color of the rock). This was quite possibly the highlight of my vacation. At one point, our boat anchored near a natural hot spring, and we were able to swim from the boat to the hot spring. Of course, in order to do so, you had to swim through the chilly water between the boat and the spring!

As if that were not enough adventure, we went next to Athens. Easily the most impressive aspect of Athens was the Athenian Acropolis, which contains the Parthenon along with numerous other ancient Athenian temples and ruins. Perhaps the most enchanting part about the Acropolis was recognizing the part it played in history. If I had not studied Greek mythology, Athenian democracy, the writings of Greek Philosophers, and world history, no doubt the Acropolis would have seemed a lot more like a bunch of impressive marble rocks. However, I was able to imagine what they might have been like during the height of ancient Greece and what Aristotle might have thought as he contemplated his Nicomachean ethics and looked up at the same Parthenon that I, myself, was viewing.

It was a humbling experience. Realizing how long these structures (dating back to nearly 500 BC) had stood in that same place and how many people over the centuries had viewed them made me realize how small a part I really play in the long history of humanity. The Parthenon has stood through numerous empires from the Persian wars, to the Peloponnesian wars, Roman influence, and even later, through the Ottoman Empire. Not to say that my life is insignificant, more that this just provided a humbling experience, which reminded me how important it is to save these antique structures for posterity so that they too can appreciate them as I did. Perhaps in the year 4000 someone will write about how the ancient peoples of the early 21st century influenced and viewed the Athenian Acropolis!

Until next time,

Alyson Kneusel

A Calm Under the Waves

Blogger: Abbey Little

Program: CIS Abroad — Newcastle, Australia

Upon my arrival in Australia, I was regularly confronted with the question, “Why Australia?”  Invariably, I had two justifications—firstly, the lack of a language barrier, and secondly, the claim that math is the same across the world (which pertains to my Actuarial Science major).  After week 1 of lectures, workshops, and tutorials, I found flaws in both of my rationales.  I caught myself asking my Australian friends to repeat themselves three or four times before finally, if ever, really grasping what they were saying.  Sometimes, a soft smile and a nod would have to suffice.  I was writing statistics terms in my notes that I have never come across in my studies thus far. These events did not cause a sense of doubt in myself or my decision to study abroad here in the remarkable country of Australia, but a feeling of wistfulness crept upon me.

It was a feeling so distant, foreign to say the least.  It’s bittersweet, yet soothing, the feeling of wistfulness.  As in melancholy, something that distance cannot repair.  Accompanied by a cloud filled with drops of despair.  As in nostalgia, I’ve spent moments yearning.  But overall, of myself I am truly learning.  This feeling of wistfulness was unusually soothing, I must say.  Bittersweet, yet so foreign in the most comforting way.

I suppose I was not prepared for the load of culture shock I would experience, because I continue to feel that I belong here day in and day out.  There is a change in scenery, of course—I am awakened by the screeching sounds of cockatoos each morning, rather than a blanket of snow.  Bell peppers are not a thing here, but capsicums are.  Pronouncing words such as herbs, basil, oregano, and aluminum in front of a group of Australians will cause confusion and laughter amongst them.  An American friend of mine told her Australian roommate that she was struggling to get her joggers over her calves, which completely baffled her roommate, given that joggers are the equivalent to our tennis shoes.  Brekky is now my first meal and lunch is served in the arvo.  I no longer shop at malls; I shop at shopping centres.  I sit on a bus or in the back of Tayla’s car (yes—Tayla, not Taylor) in traffic on the left side of the road—something I have adjusted to quite easily!  I flip switches “down” to turn outlets “on” and turn door locks to the left rather than to the right.  You won’t find a car in a parking lot, instead a car park.  At first, these modifications seemed troublesome, but now I don’t give them a second thought.

What I have found most refreshing about my first month in Australia is the generosity of the individuals I have interacted with.  Liz, a fellow American, and I woke at 5 one morning to catch brekky at a kiosk on the beach.  We ordered an Uber from outside of West Tower where we reside, with plenty of time to enjoy the sunrise.  We stepped in to a Cadillac that was in the control of an older man, mid-60’s if I had to take a guess.  Conversation has come easy for us because we always get posed with the, “where are you from?” question.  We discussed some major U.S. cities—i.e. New York City, LA, Chicago—and then babbled on about our love for the beauty of Australia.  The driver then asked us where exactly we were planning on going to see the sunrise.  When we told him, he shook his head slightly in disapproval.  “Let me take you somewhere better. It’s the best place to watch the sunrise,” the man suggested.  We were then en route to Newcastle’s iconic Nobby’s Beach—a place we had only seen midday.  What was so humbling about the whole experience in the Uber was how serene we were to change our plans because someone who had only just met us cared enough to share a piece of his home with us.

As we pulled up to the beach, the sky was filled with storm clouds, but we were still anticipating a beautiful sunrise.  Liz and I strolled in to the Swell Kiosk when they opened their doors at 6:30 am and ordered our coffees and food before wandering across the pavilions.  We sat silently, listening to the wave’s crash in to the rocks near the shore.  It wasn’t too long before we realized we were not going to see the sunrise we had expected.  Instead, we were greeted with a calm under the waves, welcoming the collision of two worlds—a storm ahead racing towards clear skies behind us.  We savored our brekky under a pavilion as we watched the storm roll in.  Within the chaos that was brought on by harsh winds and the beginning of rainfall, we made the decision to order an Uber back to the city as the storm settled in over the beach–a delicacy that we could only attempt to capture in photos.  I long for more unforeseen adventures such as this peculiar Tuesday morning.

Being 9,000+ miles away from home is undeniably challenging, but there is an incomparable beauty within it that.  Stepping outside of my comfort zone has allowed me to form friendships that I will cherish forever, with both Americans whom I already look forward to visiting in the states as well as Australians who I cannot imagine leaving someday.  I am living in the glory of a foreign culture and I have found true gratification in that.


xx Abbey

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