Tips and stories: Transitioning back to reality

I’ve now been back in the good ol’ US of A for about a month – a month filled of happiness, great food, and some confusing transitioning moments.

Happy times back in Tejas

So far, time at my lovely home in Texas has been filled with some great moments. I absolutely love spending time with family and I have missed my parent’s home cooking! Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day in our traditional Sunday night way – with a cookout. Afterwards, we headed over to Steel City Pops for the best popsicles in the world.

This summer, I’m also working at my first ever big-girl internship for Fort Worth Sister Cities! The Sister Cities Program basically functions as the international department for Fort Worth. I even get my own office in the City Hall Annex Building downtown! This month, I have been working hard on planning for FWISD and Sister Cities’ Spanish Immersion Camp. Currently, 10 college-age facilitators from our sister city Toluca, Mexico are visiting Fort Worth and teaching a group of 70 FWISD elementary schoolers Spanish! The students are so extremely intelligent and speak incredible Spanish – I’m jealous!

I also got to take a little getaway trip with my boyfriend, Harrison, for his birthday trip. I found this adorable Airbnb out in the country in Texas on a cattle ranch. We spent the weekend exploring the property, cooking some great food, feeding the animals (INCLUDING AN ALPACA NAMED PERCY), and doing yoga on the backporch. It was such a relaxing getaway!

Transitioning back home

Time abroad was an absolute whirlwind of challenging classwork, meeting new friends, traveling to new places, and figuring out things independently. After the best 5 months of my life filled with adventure and extremely difficult moments alike, finding my “place” back home has had its trials. “Reverse culture shock” is an actual thing. America is quite different than Europe as a whole. People work more, everything is open later, there is little public transportation available… among other things. Even though classwork abroad was challenging, I appreciated it because I was always growing and learning and changing as a result of the challenges I was faced with.

At home, I am not quite as carefree and independent as I was abroad. I don’t have the luxury anymore of hopping on a plane and landing immersed in an entirely different culture for $50. The stress of working full-time is much different than the stress of balancing schoolwork and travel because its not all as enjoyable. 

However, time at home can be just as exciting as life abroad, it’s just up to you to make it that way! Here are some things I’m focusing on to seek out the adventure in my own daily life:

1) Creating new adventures

At home, it is easier to get caught up in the monotony of life than when you are abroad and forced to adventure. I love going into Fort Worth or Dallas for dates with Harrison, going to the lake, trying new restaurants, or searching for cool Airbnbs in the area!

2) Starting a new project

Quite recently, I spontaneously bought a Fujifilm Polaroid-style camera and I am a bit obsessed. There is something about these cameras that capture moments in such a different, nostalgic, and real way. You only get one shot and it better be good! I’m trying to take one photo each day all summer. Memories captured can be special moments, people I meet, or “boring” things turned interesting by the camera capture. Check out how handsome my boyfriend is – this was my first Polaroid shot attempt! If you are interested in following along with my project, you can find me on Instagram at @Polaroidsdaily !

3) Remembering to make time for things I enjoy

Sometimes, after a long day or week of work, I am so tired  that I become complacent. But, I actually feel better when I keep pushing myself and participating in the summer activities I enjoy. For me, these include yoga, reading, lake time, and sand volleyball! Activities that you love often have a cool ability of re-energizing you!

4) Getting involved in the international community here at home

One of the reasons I love my internship at Fort Worth Sister Cities is because it allows me to still connect with the international community right here in DFW! Volunteering is another great way to get involved.

5) Listening to people

Just the other day, I met a fellow co-worker at Lifetime Fitness who recently moved to America by herself from Honduras. Her story, filled with emotion and the sorrow of leaving her family behind in Honduras was extremely powerful. People are so interesting! Through listening to peoples’ stories whether in person or through books, we can interact, learn, grow, and challenge ourselves.

 

 

Whether you’re adjusting to life back home or just seeking renewal and rekindling, remember to make time for the things you love – adventure is out there!

 

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what is is, go at it full speed, embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all, become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.” – Ronald Dahl

Reflections Study Abroad 2016 United States

Blues, Bath, and “The Bod”

Whether you’re on a weekend trip or abroad for months, it can be hard to find a “new normal” in a foreign place. Picking out negatives is easy: Schoolwork is hard, traveling is stressful, and being away from those you love can feel lonely. When you’re traveling long-term, it is completely normal to experience ups and downs. No one can be happy for four months straight!

Here’s how to keep the blue days away!

 

1) Let go of expectations and the concept of “normal”

Traveling is full of expectations, goals, and bucket lists. Most of the time, expectations will fall short not because they are too high, but simply because they don’t match up with what the country or place is actually like. In a foreign country, sometimes nothing will feel “normal” and nothing will go as expected and that is okay! Stepping outside our our comfort zone is what helps us grow. Saying yes to things without expectations and appreciating what is different can be so fun! Similarly, if you constantly are comparing your experience to someone else’s, you will be disappointed every time. This is one I really struggle with! FOMO is real!

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One thing that I always find interesting is seeing what different grocery stores are like! Here is me freaking out because in Switzerland, you carry around this mini scanner as you shop for your groceries and scan each one before you drop it into your bag. Every 10th person or so gets “checked” to keep people honest. When you’re done shopping, you just scan your card and walk out!

2) Combat negativity with positives

Since I tend to gravitate towards time alone, I have made it a personal goal to branch out at least once a week to someone and make plans. This gives me something to look forward to each week and allows me to meet new people. Choosing positive people to spend time with is also extremely important. This week, I attended a cocktail making event at the Slug and Lettuce, made plans to get dinner with one of my Swiss friends, and had a delicious wine and cheese night at 1855 wine bar in Oxford.

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3) Explore your own city

Between a heavy workload and various weekend travel plans, it is easy to overlook the awesome city that you’re actually calling home! This Friday, I had an awesome opportunity to visit Oxford’s famous Bodleian library (affectionately known as “the Bod” with a small crew of other Elon kids and Professor Kevin Boyle. If you are in Oxford (and especially if you are a Harry Potter fan), please do this!! An hour tour only costs 8 pounds. You’ll get to see the “heart” of Oxford University, one of the best gothic ceilings, and the Bodleian library itself which opened originally in 1602 and boasts an absolutely incredible 12 million books, most of which are housed underground.

Arguably best of all, you will walk through several rooms featured in the Harry Potter films, including the “Restricted Section”!!! I’m still not over it. Seriously, please visit.

Unfortunately, pictures in the library are not allowed but I did snap a few of the lecture hall and other downstairs rooms.

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Oxford is so beautiful!

4) Always say yes to free things

I’ll thank my Dad for teaching me this valuable life lesson. Say yes to free things! This Saturday, the lovely St. Clare’s hosted a free day trip to Bath. While we are still responsible for paying for our own activities, the transportation is free and you bet your bottom dollar I am not saying no to that offer.

We only spent a short time in Bath but I loved the historical feel of the city! I toured the Roman Baths, Jane Austen Centre, and saw the Circus and the Royal Crescent – two historic sites featuring expensive flats that are incredible works of architecture -#homegoals for sure.

For lunch, we ate at the Pump Room right next to the baths entrance. This place was incredibly classy (an orchestra played as we ate) and the food was delicious. I tried crab risotto and creamy potatoes. I would love to spend more time exploring this city!

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Keep up with my adventures as I head out to Venice, Italy in just 5 days!

england Study Abroad 2016 Trips Uncategorized

Weekend in Switzerland

This weekend, I stuffed my giant purple backpack full of the warmest clothes I own, triple checked my paperwork, and headed out for my very first weekend trip to Zurich, Switzerland!

 

Not only did I get to go to SWITZERLAND, but I got to stay with some extended family – Alice and Natalya Stämmer! I cannot thank y’all enough! Even though Natalya and I hadn’t seen each other since we were both babies, Alice welcomed me into her home and spent the weekend giving me a glimpse of their Swiss way of life!

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Here’s how we made the most of my 3 days:

Night 1

My trip kicked off with a couple bus rides to London, Gatwick where I was absolutely blown away by European efficiency. Let me tell you – America is doing it wrong! At Gatwick, you scan your boarding pass and make eye contact with a machine, walk right up to the security scanners where there are 7 mini lines at each station, keep your shoes on, and you’re off to your gate! In the bathroom, stalls are actually big enough to bring your luggage in and each sink has a personal hand dryer. Gatwick gets a 5/5 Yelp review for sure.

Alice was kind enough to pick me up right from the Zurich airport and we headed downtown via train to grab a Swiss meal! This was my first time in a non-English speaking country and I really enjoyed learning about various cultural differences. Switzerland is split into 26 cantons or subdivisions and has 4 official languages: French, Italian, Romansh, and of course, Swiss German which is spoken in Zurich! We ate at a cool casual place with a great view called Sternen Grill where I tried a mushroom veal dish with späetzle (a delicious hashbrown type side!).

Afterwards, we swung by the hotel where Natalya works to say hello before heading to bed.

 

Day 1

What better way to spend my first day in Switzerland than by heading out to the mountains! Luckily, we were blessed with incredible weather the whole weekend. We drove about 2 hours to Shilthorn, a part of the Bernese Alps of Switzerland with a 2790m summit! All bundled up, we took cable cars up to check out the views. At the Birg stop, we went on a Thrill Walk along the mountain’s perimeter. Words cannot describe how beautiful the views were and pictures do not accurately convey how immense these mountains are. You must go check them out for yourself!

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Next, we took the final cable car up to the summit for lunch and of course, the scenic backdrop used in James Bond 007. The restaurant spun 360 degrees as we ate and once again, I opted for a Swiss meal, this time a delicious Schnitzel and a post-lunch coffee with amaretto. Nothing will ever beat this lunch view!

 

Afterward, we walked around the top deck and James Bond tourist attractions. This was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget.

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On our way back down, we stopped in the mountain town of Murrän, a tiny town with a 1,630m elevation that is completely unreachable by car, yet is complete with its own post office, fire station, grocery store, and church.

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I miss the mountains already! With full hearts and tired legs, we headed back towards Zurich. For dinner, we made a pit stop in Luzern (Lucerne) Switzerland. The architecture here is noticeably different from Zurich and quite lovely! Walking around the little adorable cobblestone streets is one of my favorite activities. Alice took us to a cool penthouse bar atop the Astoria hotel that she’d discovered by mistake one night. The pizza and drinks were good but the conversation and company was even better. Alice and Natalya made me feel comfortable right away and I loved learning about the differences between us and (maybe) more importantly, our similarities.

 

Day 2

You know how you typically Google image search a place before you go on a trip and then end up being disappointed because the place doesn’t fully live up to your expectations? I solemnly swear that this will not happen with any city in Switzerland. Zurich is full of history, cute places to eat and shop, and stunning views everywhere you turn and of course, the lake! Even though it is winter, locals and tourists alike take every sunny opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

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Natalya and I spent the afternoon just the two of us. Our first stop together was Cafe Felix, an adorable coffee and cake shop with a grand staircase and elaborate decorations.

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For dinner, we cooked cheese fondue together! (Okay, mostly her) before heading out to check out Zurich’s night life.

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Day 3

On our final day, we started off with a beautiful hilly hike in the forest near their home. There is so much nature to be enjoyed in Switzerland and I got just a taste. The hills were full of kids sledding down and dogs happily prancing. Sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

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After our walk, it was time to say goodbye to Natalya as she had to work. It was a sad goodbye! Alice and I finished up our day with a short trip to the nearby Rapperswill! Once again, this small historic looking town had an entirely different look than the others I had experienced thus far. We walked around, saw a castle, and watched the sunset. Alice knows so much about each of these places and the history behind them and it was incredible to have her as a friend and guide.

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After a lovely risotto dinner cooked by Alice, I was off again.

Goodbyes

Once again, I would like to thank Natalya, Alice, and her husband Zeno for being so generous as to host me and spend their time showing me around! It is always so lovely to spend time with family and truly relax for a weekend.

To Switzerland: your mountains, cheese, chocolate, and people did not disappoint! (However, no one would mind if things were a bit cheaper!)

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Study Abroad 2016 Switzerland Trips

Pre-Abroad Feels

My plans –> Oxford, England

For those of you who haven’t heard, in exactly one month and two days I will be headed abroad to Oxford, England! My semester in Oxford at St. Clare’s International runs from January 8th – May 6th with a couple breaks in-between. I will be flying out of DFW on January 7th and returning on May 18th after a visit from my mom! While at St. Clare’s, I will be taking my usual English and Education classes, completing an internship in a local school, and spending my free time immersing myself in English culture and traveling as much as possible.

I cannot believe that my lifelong dream of traveling Europe will actually be set in motion in such a short time! Meanwhile, I have been spending my time procrastinating my finals work by spending my time researching trips.

 

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Travel Plans

As of now, I have a one trip in the works and a couple others on the list. We have two weeks off in the middle of April for Spring Break during which I plan to backpack with a couple friends through Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, and Amsterdam over the course of 17 nights.

Several friends and family members have also been kind enough to plan trips with me! My boyfriend, Harrison, will be visiting me during his March Spring Break and my good friends Morgan and Ally are coming the week after! Additionally, extended family in Switzerland have offered to host me for a long weekend – an opportunity I am all too excited to take advantage of. At the end of my semester, my mom and grandparents are visiting and we will be exploring London, Paris, and the surrounding areas.

If you have any connections abroad or will be in Europe from January-May please let me know! I would love to make plans with you.

 

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Visa Applications & Internships

I had absolutely no idea that my Visa application would be such a hassle! This semester has been filled with Study Abroad meetings and numerous hours dedicated to filling out my Visa, going to fingerprint appointments, and getting everything in order. I will be on a Tier 4 Student Visa which allows me to work/intern.

Luckily, Teaching Fellows has hooked us up with awesome teaching internships when I am abroad where I will be working with 15-16 year old second language students at Cherwell Secondary School in Oxford! One day a week we will be spending a full day working in the school. Additionally, I will be enrolled in a comparative education course as part of my studies and am really looking forward to studying a new culture while living there.

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Nerves

Despite being ridiculously pumped to go abroad, I’ll admit that I am a bit nervous too! I don’t think that it has really set in that I will be away from America for a full 4.5 months! Mainly, I am worried that the time difference will create a barrier between those who I have relationships with at home and myself. I know that balancing will be necessary so that I do not spend too much time communicating with those back home to the point of missing out on new things! Furthermore, I really want to make friends with some of the international students which I know will require extra effort since they may not be in my classes. Like any semester, being abroad is full of ups and downs that I must prepare for.

 

Overall, I am extraordinarily excited to embark on this journey! Please feel free to follow this blog to keep up with what I am doing abroad and here at Elon! Again, if you have any advice or insight on what places I must visit, I would love to hear it.

 

Thank you to my family for making this all possible!

Much love,

Courtney

 

 

 

Reflections Study Abroad 2016 Trips