Category Archives: Abroad Blogs of the Week

ABOW is a weekly series posted every Wednesday highlighting international bloggers around the world.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Taking Nominations

Image credit: birdsandshoes.com

Well, dear readers, I need your help. After more than 20 great Abroad Blogs of the Week, I want your recommendations and nominations. Who should I be reading? Who is doing great stuff abroad? Who have you added to your reader recently? If you write a great abroad blog or know of someone who does, read through the directions below and nominate your favorite abroad blogger via my new form. I can’t wait to get some new reading recommendations!

Criteria to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. The blogger must either be about to go abroad, currently abroad, or recently returned from abroad
  2. The blog must predominately be about culture/travel
  3. Posts should be fairly regular (at least once or twice a week).

Requirements to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. Let me ask you 4-6 questions via email
  2. Send back your responses by the following Monday
  3. If you want (i.e. this is not a requirement), welcome any new readers from Global from Home the day I post our interview.

Easy, peasy.

If you would like your blog to be an Abroad Blog of the Week or know of another blog you think I should scope out, let me know! You can anonymously submit your nominations at the Abroad Blog of the Week Nomination Form.

 

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Abroad Blog of the Week: willtravelwithkids

If you have children or not, this Abroad Blog of the Week is definitely one you should add to your reader. Even though Hubby and I don’t currently have children, I have been enjoying willtravelwithkids now for several months. The author blogs from her home base in San Diego but she is no stranger to travel with her two little girls. Her posts detail their adventures exploring God’s creation whether they be in Japan or Nova Scotia. My personal favorites so far include her exploration of cemeteries around the world and her reminisces of Anne of Green Gables while visiting Prince Edward Island. When not traveling, willtravelwithkids is a global from home expert and explores San Diego just like she were abroad. I caught up with the author via email and found out more about her family travel the globe with stroller in tow.

This is just after dawn in Istanbul, before the tourist buses arrive and the view is continually obscured.

Why do you think it’s important to include your children in your travels?

I want my kids to grow up experiencing the unfamiliar and understanding that just because something is new to them or different, it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable, scary or considered inferior to what they know.  Experiencing new things should be a normal, desired part of life experience.

From your experiences, what are some of the easier places to travel with kids?

We don’t usually pick our travel locations based on ease.  I could push my stroller down the aisle of the train in Germany, which made traveling in Germany with small children ‘easier.’  We had wonderful kid-friendly travel experiences in Germany utilizing public transport.  However, when we visited family in Africa, we took the baby carrier/backpack, knowing the stroller would not be practical.  Transport with a baby was not ‘easy’ and required significant pre-planning.  But, the people we came across in Africa were so glad to meet our baby and were thrilled when we let them hold and hug her.  They were more touched by our willingness to share our precious child with them and come all that way than anyone I came across in Europe.  They did not take our effort for granted.  In the same way that raising kids isn’t “easy,” traveling with them is also not easy.  But we know that raising children and also traveling with them are both extremely rewarding.  The positive outcomes outweigh any negative experiences along the way.

How does your faith play into how you see the world?

My faith is the primary component that impacts how I view the world.  People, cultures and geography were created by God to show us some aspect of his nature.  The more experiences we have outside of our cultural comfort zone, the more opportunities we have to learn something new about God or have God show us something new about himself.  Of course, most people can step out of their cultural comfort zone without spending a lot of money and globetrotting.  That why I like your blog, Elise!  It’s a good reminder that we can stretch ourselves and seek new experiences without owning a passport.  It’s a mindset.

Considering all the places you’ve lived and traveled, where do you feel the most at home?

Home is wherever we can be together as a family or, as I often say, home is where my toothbrush is.  Last summer we spent three months away from our house so we could be together while my husband worked on the east coast of the U.S.  I felt more at home in that hotel than if I had stayed at our house on the west coast with the babies (3 months and nearly 2 years old at the time).   No matter where we are in the world, when we are together as a family, it’s home.

What advice would you give other parents who are about to embark on family travels?

  • Focus on what is important – time together as a family sharing an experience.  If you show up to a museum and it’s closed or a visit to the zoo is cut short because of an ‘accident’ or your hike gets rained out, all is not lost.
  • Try new, local foods together.  You can even do this from home!  If it turns out you don’t like what you ordered, you will laugh later about the experience.
  • Germs are everywhere and are normal – get over it.
  • Don’t focus on the places, but focus on the people.  People matter.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Milk and Whisky

Since I’m American, I always think of an abroad blog being outside of the U.S. But if your Cambodian, Argentinean, or French, the U.S. is definitely a foreign country. So when I found Andy’s blog, Milk and Whisky, I thought it would be a great abroad blog of the week. Andy is a British college student who is studying at Ball State University in Indiana for the next year and pointing out the cultural differences along the way. He’s funny and opinionated and he has made me learn new things about my own culture.  I was able to catch up with Andy to ask him about his experiences so far in the middle of America.

How did you decide to study abroad at Ball State?

It’s not a terribly exciting story. Our university offered a study abroad program. I thought it might be fun. I’d always been kind of interested in going to America. A side effect of too many Hollywood movies. That and I knew I wouldn’t have the patience to study anywhere where English wasn’t a first language. I put down three colleges that did my course and I happened to get Ball State.

Did you watch the presidential debate last week? What did you think?

I watched long enough to get a feel of what was going on. I get tired of political debates because you simply don’t know who’s telling the truth. There’s no way of quickly checking whether what’s being said is actually correct. On a purely charismatic level, I thought Romney was better whereas Obama appeared hesitant.

What have been the most surprising differences between home and Indiana?

It’s not really the major differences that get you but the accumulation of small differences. That being said, the two most noticeable differences were in assessment and night life. When it comes to night life, Ball State has made me so glad to be British. I miss our students union and university bars.

The college does organise events but with a few exceptions, they’re pretty poor. I feel sorry for the RAs because I know how badly they want people to go but at the same time I’m rarely interested in what they have planned. If you want to have any fun around here you’ve got to go off campus and find a good house party.

I knew I was going to have frequent assessments before I came but I wasn’t aware of how difficult it would be to adapt to it. It’s good that it forces you to consistently study and you get a deeper knowledge of your subject as a result but at the same time I think the workload for some of my classes is unreasonable.

Will you give football another chance?

Maybe. Probably not college football, I don’t really enjoy standing on crowded bleachers for hours pretending to care about something I barely understand. I did watch an NFL game recently which wasn’t too bad. There was a lot of commercial breaks though. Like every fifteen minutes. It got a bit tiresome.

What do you love/hate about being a Brit in the U.S.?

The best thing about being here is the people I’ve met. I’ve made some great friends. Our university offers a friendship family program and their hospitality has been mind-blowing  Going sightseeing in New York. Taco Bell. Corn dogs. The library computers here have two monitors. Ask me when I’m back in England and I’m sure I’ll have a list that would run for pages, haha.

A few things have bothered me, mainly to do with the lifestyle shift. The night life I’ve already mentioned. Meal plans are a nuisance. It’s only real purpose is to restrict what, where and when you eat. I’m not at school any more. I can buy and cook my own food.

I’m also not a fan of room-sharing. I don’t have any problems with my roommate but I like having my own room. Room sharing doesn’t really serve any purpose (except for being a good excuse to squeeze more students into dorms) and it’s just an unnecessary nuisance.

What advice would you give to another student planning to study abroad in the U.S.?

Meet Americans, straight away and as soon as possible. They’ll know where to go, what to do. If you’re only hanging around with people from your home country, you’re wasting an opportunity.

Remember you’re not there for very long. Here’s one of your few chances to try things with no long-term implications. Make of that what you will.

Here’s Andy with two of his fellow study-abroaders from England tailgating before the football game. He’s in the middle holding the squirrel, his university’s mascot.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Turkish Musings

I started following Hayley from Turkish Musings almost four months ago when she was just in the process of preparing for her semester in Ankara. As a study abroad advisor, I can say from experience that Hayley put a lot more time into preparing than most. She debated whether she would wear a headscarf, started learning Turkish on her own, and even got a pen pal. Hayley is now in her fourth week in Ankara and though she’s had her ups and downs, her research and preparation have definitely paid off. Her posts are now filled with her stories in which Hayley has a way of making you feel like you’re traveling with her. For the next four months, she has officially given up Lake Michigan and figure skating (she’s an official for USFS) for the Mediterranean and exploring the history and culture of Turkey. I was able to catch up with Hayley this week to learn more about Turkish Musings and her first few weeks in Ankara.

Your very first post was actually not written by you. How did Turkish Musings get started?

Oh, I forgot about that one! Yes, my friend started my blog for me and she wrote the first post as a type of “friendship love letter.” I keep it because it reminds me of the primary audience I write this blog for: my friends and family back home. After I found out that I was accepted to study abroad at Middle East Technical University, I told everyone that I was going to create a blog to keep in touch with them. But for me, the study abroad process started several months before I arrived in Ankara; I began researching about Turkish and Muslim history and culture and bounced my thoughts, ideas, fears, and goals off my friends. They suggested that I start a blog as soon as possible to share my ideas but I was wary because, really, who wants to read a study abroad blog when the person isn’t even abroad yet? Finally Elizabeth, who I think was sick of my silly excuses, started Turkish Musings and wrote the first post. It jump-started by blogging; I edited some drafts I had been working on, posted a couple posts, received positive feedback from friends and strangers….and here I am right now!

 Now that you’ve been in Turkey for a few weeks, what have you found the most surprising?

This is going to sound silly, but everyone back home told me to look out for Turkish boys because they love blonde girls. But actually, no guy seems to be interested in me–which is awesome because it was never my goal to “find love” or anything like that while I’m here. From what I’ve observed, 1) Most of the people on campus are already in a relationship, and Turkish men are loyal to their women; and 2) If a Turkish guy is looking for a foreign girl, he is first-and-foremost looking for a Russian or Ukrainian. Don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve noticed so far here. I would say guys seem more interested in me in the more touristy parts of Turkey (such as Alanya), but at least I’m safe in the capital!

A second surprising thing is that despite being in a Muslim country, I have yet to see anyone pray during the day. I have noticed several mosques in the city and I hear the call to prayer on campus (in fact the sundown one is going on as I type this), but Turkey is truly secular in that the work day continues and you can’t deter from it!

 At this point, how would you spend a free day in Ankara?

First-and-foremost I would visit a mosque because I have yet to get to one. The largest mosque in Ankara is the Kocatepe Mosque and I’ve heard that it’s worth seeing. I would grab some lunch at a little restaurant (none in particular, there are so many and they’re all good!) and accompany the food with çay (Turkish tea). From there I would go to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations for a few hours–by myself–and take my time going through the exhibits. Even though I went there with the orientation group, we only had 45 minutes and that is not near enough time for a place like that! Shopping would be next; I’d probably start to buy little gifts as Christmas presents for my friends back home (because it’s never too early to shop for Christmas). Finally, I would venture to Kızılay, Ankara’s downtown, with friends and finish off the evening in a cafe with İskander (a meat, bread, and tomato sauce dish that is to die for), live music, good company, and nargile (Turkish water pipe).  🙂

 How are you feeling being away from ice skating?

Being away from skating is somewhat like a double-edged sword. On the one hand it pains me to be gone from my skating family (i.e., other USFS officials) because they have been a formidable part of my life since I was fourteen. Yet I know that in leaving them, if only for a few months, I will come back with my own travel stories and evolving perspective on life which will make me a better-rounded official of U.S. Figure Skating. And actually, a few of my peers will be on a Mediterranean cruise this fall and will be in Izmir in early November for a day. I’m currently researching the possibility of me meeting them there–hopefully I can make it work!

 What did you do that helped you best prepare for your semester in Ankara?

One of the things I did extensively over the summer was listen to Turkish music and watch Turkish movies. I played music constantly during my commutes in the car–probably much to the chagrin of my friends and family. Basically, I found find several songs and artists that sounded cool, found the lyrics to them (and if possible, the English translation) and listened to them….over and over and over. This helped me learn how to pronounce the letters of the Turkish alphabet, learn the inflections and emphasis of longer words, and it helped familiarize my brain with Turkish in general. Even though I didn’t know the meaning of the words, by the end of the summer I could sing along with many of the songs. And now that I’m attempting to learn Turkish here, I can concentrate more on vocabulary and phrases than on my pronunciation.

Hayley, thanks for the great interview!  

Abroad Blog of the Week: Lauren Livingston

Well, dear readers, I am finally back in OKC after a week in Georgia and happy to bring you another great Abroad Blog of the Week. I found Lauren Livingston’s blog a few weeks ago while searching through the study abroad tags. Amongst the many blogs from Spain and Italy, Lauren stood out. In my six years of working with study abroad students, I personally have never sent anyone to Indonesia so I was fascinated to read about Lauren’s experience. It wasn’t long before I realized that she has a great writing style and quite the adventurous spirit.  I caught up with Lauren via email to find out what brought her to Bali.

How did you decide to study abroad in Indonesia?

Sophomore year I discovered SIT (School for International Training), clicked through their website and optional programs, and thought their hands-on approach, in-depth language concentration, and field study requirement clicked with my idea of how students should learn in an international setting.

SIT’s Indonesia program is centered around art, religion, and culture.   All of which I knew relatively little about.  Religion and its influence on society has always been a huge curiosity of mine, but to be honest, my knowledge of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Christianity was(is) sparse. I  also enjoyed the idea of learning about Southeast Asian art and music and was upset by how ignorant I was of Indonesia’s culture- a society consisting of around 220 million people. As I read the program’s description and researched the country and region, I knew Bali and Indonesia involved a complicated history and culture that I wanted to know and learn more about.  So I applied, and here I am.

 What are you reading right now?

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom which follows the progression and ups and downs of a fictional, middle class American family.  Within the novel, Franzen highlights “freedom” as a term that has ongoing consequences for humanity and the world as a whole.  It was interesting to read about American family dilemmas while experiencing and adapting to the family structure in Bali.

I read Freedom because of a book exchange a friend and I had started.  Over the summer, we would write reviews on books and mail them to each other.  One of the questions he asked was  what conclusion did Franzen draw on the idea of kids inheriting characteristics from their parents.  Are we in a constant cycle of inheritance, and, if so, what traits are inherited?

I’m starting to believe that our identity is not necessarily formed through characteristics or traits we inherit, but in what we, as individuals, believe we have the capability to do with those inherited characteristics.  Our own perceived capabilities and aspirations as human beings develop out of a cultural context, and our family is just a bi product of that culture.

Currently Reading:

  • Course required readings mostly on religion in Indonesia
  • The Bhagavad-Gita Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation
  • What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr-I’ve seen a few of the author’s talks online, and it was on the summer reading list for my university.

 How is the Balinese language coming along?

For our first week in Bali, we practiced Bahasa Indonesian five hours a day.  We learned everything from the alphabet to the Happy Birthday song.  I acquired more of the language in that one week than I have in the three weeks that have followed.  Now we’ve moved to 2.5 hours of class, four days a week.  I find myself forgetting a lot, and I know if I want to get better I have to start memorizing outside of class.  It’s hard to do when there’s so much more out there to explore.

Speaking with my host family has been fun.  We can talk about daily activities, poke fun at each other, and bond over food, but it’s definitely Indoglish. My goal is to be conversational to the point I can communicate easily with the village kids, my bargaining skills are perfected, and I understand the local bemo drivers.

So far, what do you love and what challenges you about Balinese culture and traditions?

There’s so much to love about studying in Indonesia-the people, the villages, the weather, the religion, my classmates, our adventures, I could go on and on.  In Bali, for the most part, the way of life is deeply rooted in the makeup of the family and Hindu traditions.  Bali has taught me how meaningful family support and love is.  I find I often take for granted my family in the States and fail to make an effort to spend time with them. Being here has shown me how incredibly important they are to me, and I appreciate that.

Of course the language is a huge set back.  It’s hard to talk about ideas and compare thoughts with another culture when you have such a barrier as language.  After being in Bali, I desperately long to study and to know other languages.  Language is the first step in getting to know someone and their feelings.  If you can’t  grasp the emotion in their speech, you cannot connect with them and understand who they are.  I’m not only talking about spoken language, but body language and mannerisms as well.

It can also be difficult to get away from the Western, American stereotype, but that’s an aspect of traveling and living in other cultures one has to understand.  People are welcoming as long as you respect them and their beliefs.  As an international student I can offer them a new perspective while also gaining their insights and beliefs as well.  It’s an amazing collaboration I am so thankful to be a part of.

It seems you don’t know a stranger. How do you like to start up conversations with the people you meet on your travels?

When I think back about past travels, it’s definitely been the people I’ve met who made the trip versus the places I went.

Meeting people, sharing experiences, and life stories is the absolute best reward I’ve gained from traveling.  Being open to having a random conversation with anyone you walk by can lead to so many fun and interesting interactions, and you can talk about anything-food, pop culture, religion, life.

I’ve found, in Indonesia, it’s quite easy to talk to locals if you’re enthusiastic about practicing the language.  They are very excited when you speak their language and they start asking questions.  From there, the conversations can go in any direction.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Suitcase on the Sidewalk

As someone who went on the same study abroad program three times, I always love to see students who just can’t study abroad enough. Haley from Suitcase on the Sidewalk fits that description perfectly. Now on her third of four overseas programs, I think Haley is the most “studied abroad” student I’ve come across. With a year in India, a semester in Ghana, currently in Buenos Aires, and now planning her semester in Prague, Haley is definitely experienced and adventurous in her travels. She has now been blogging for over a year and her posts cover everything from Argentine graffiti, to homesickness, to her series, Wanderlust Wednesdays. I was fortunate to catch up with Haley and ask her all about her study abroad adventures. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you choose your study abroad locations?

I can’t really take credit for choosing India; the Rotary program that I was selected for reserves the right to send you whenever they want or need to. They asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “Anywhere, as long as you send me!” My flexibility landed me a spot in the program, and was I eventually given a few choices off the beaten path. I picked India for the culture, for a taste of the exotic, but where I could still speak English.  (That part wasn’t so adventurous.)

As for my college study abroad locations, I still wanted to pick places that were less common, that I knew less about.  All the places I am studying have a campus for my college, so it feels a little like cheating. Language and classes have played a huge part in where I chose to go.  For Ghana, it had a lot of classes I wanted- a fine arts minor, some post-colonial studies classes, and it was a chance to see some of Africa. Argentina was a chance to explore South America, and to work on my Spanish.  I’ll be heading to Prague next semester, and I am actually following a specific teacher there, but there is some language flexibility and the chance of exploring Europe.  I have friends in Germany and Hungary I am hoping to visit!

Now that you’re in your third country, has the adjustment process gotten easier for you?

The adjustment is definitely less stressful, though it’s exhausting and scary every time I get on a place.  I’m luck that my friends and family are used to me traveling, and so I don’t need to email or skype all the time.

The best part of having some experience is knowing how to manage my time and my resources, so I don’t feel as overwhelmed my first few weeks. I have a more clear sense of my priorities- for me, going out to party is less important than traveling and exploring my new home.  I do some research and pre-plan some things I want to do, which I think isn’t as common but helps me feel grounded.

I’ve also seen my fair share of travel disasters- pick-pocketing and getting lost and being lost in translation- and I am still here to tell the tale.  That gives me a lot of confidence, even though sometimes I have no idea what I am doing!

From your post on 5 things to remember when studying abroad, what is the most difficult for you?

Never say no!  A dear friend from Rotary gave me that mantra and it has always served me well.  But I still sometimes find myself not buying a sandwich because I’m nervous to order in Spanish, or something equally squeamish.  The golden rule of study abroad is really “what you give is what you get,” and if all you give is “no,” you’ll find yourself only receiving “no” in return.  Saying ‘yes!” can be scary but I very rarely regret it- instead I end up with better experiences, better memories, and a better education in the cultural exchange.

How do you maintain relationships from home, India, and Ghana?

It’s not easy.  I had to make a resolution that I wouldn’t let the distance ruin my relationships with the people I care about.  My family is great, and at this point they treat my going away to study in another country the way other parents treat going to school a few hours away. I still miss them but the Internet is a life-saver, and now I can text my mom from Argentina with a smart phone.  How lucky am I? I also email my host families in India every few months.   It takes a long time for us to go back and forth, but we manage.

Friendships are harder, and take more work for me.  I have friends not just from my hometown, but from New York City (where I go to school), and also all the places I’ve lived.  Facebook is invaluable, as is email and skype, but what it really comes down to is putting in the work to maintain those relationships. I’ve learned I can’t expect people to chase me. I have to be the one to say, “I’m really interested in what you’ve been up to, can we catch up?”  I spend at a couple hours a week skyping and facebook-ing friends; for me it’s time well spent.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself before all your adventures started?

Don’t be scared!  So many people allow fear to dictate their travel experiences- fear of being embarrassed, fear of failing, fear of the unknown.  I travel specifically because it scares me, and I think its important to face those fears and explore what the world has to offer.  My biggest fear when traveling is always looking stupid, which is the worse reason to not do something that I can think of- I’m still trying to outgrow it.  It would be much more reasonable to fear bodily harm or strangers, but India got rid of both of those fears.  I am constantly grateful that I took a gap year alone somewhere far away- I had so much time to mess up and recover and learn, and it was so different from everything I ever knew, that I can brush off a lot the fears that come with study abroad for the first time in college.   Aside from looking stupid, my greatest fear is not using my time abroad to my best advantage, and the two usually balance out well.

Abroad Blog of the Week: About the Author

Due to technical difficulties in Turkey, I’m having to go a bit off script for this Abroad Blog of the Week. I thought about highlighting a few blogs that I’m following but I would rather just make them an ABOW in the future. So when a friend suggested that I interview myself, I decided to take her advice. If you’re new to Global from Home, I am study abroad advisor who has decided to seek as much international culture as possible within 30 miles of my front door. If you’ve been reading for a while (thank you!), here a few facts I haven’t shared before.

What is the best part of being a study abroad advisor?

I love hanging out with students, hearing their adventures, and listening to them as they figure out their path and plans. There is something about the age bracket of 18 to 22 that I find energizing. Their lives are so dynamic and they have so many options and decisions to make. Plus the students I’ve worked with are incredibly creative and motivated. They amaze me daily and inspire me in so many ways. They are what make me want to go to work every day. Now that I’m currently not working in an office, they are what I miss the most.

If you could do it all over again, would you still have studied abroad in Italy?

Yes! As an Italian Studies major, Italy was really the only thing that made sense. Because I was so focused on the language and I went three times, I felt that I became acquainted with an Italy different from many study abroad students. It wasn’t so much about seeing the Coliseum or visiting the Vatican, but rather living like an Italian that was so important to me. The one thing I would change is that I would have gone for longer. I really wish I had lived in Rome for a full year.

How did you come up with the idea of Global from Home?

This past May I found myself a bit frustrated. I hadn’t been abroad in over three years and in all honesty, I was mad about it. Hubby’s job was really intense so he had little vacation time and because we had moved so much in the past three years, going abroad really wasn’t an option. I finally realized that I needed to stop complaining and look at what was around me. Living in San Diego at the time, international culture abounded. I thought that if I started a blog it would keep me accountable to seeking out culture. The blog has made me more intentional about going to festivals, cooking ethnic food, and building relationships with people from around the globe who just happen to live in my hometown.

Now that you’re in Oklahoma, what are your plans?

That is a bit up in the air but I have some thoughts. I do plan to keep up with Global from Home and continue to explore international cultures from OKC. I’m also applying for the PhD program at the University of Oklahoma in Higher Education with hopes to research the study abroad returnee experience. Currently I’m meeting with study abroad offices in the area to talk about starting a study abroad returnee conference. And finally, I’d like to start a Meet Up for people who enjoy exploring other cultures like I do. But in the end, I’m open to anything that comes my way that will allow me to help students have their own international experience.

What advice would you give someone who wants to be global from home?

Food is probably the easiest way to start being global from home. Google authentic recipes from a country you are interested in and try to make them. Research ethnic restaurants in your area and order the most traditional dish on the menu. Other easy ways to explore culture are to look for cultural festivals. The Greek Festival and Oktoberfest are pretty common ones to start with. If you are a reader, internationalize your reading list and add authors who are from a country you’ve visited. The same applies with movies. The most important thing is to just start and be intentional about adding culture into your weekly routine.

Me (in the yellow shirt) with three of my fabulous students