Tumultuous Times

The last few months have been, well, tumultuous times.

The Weltzeituhr
The Berlin World Time Clock

Not so much in my own life; I am still employed locally, working on a lot of technical writing and quality control for my employer. On the side, I freelance, with editing and graphic design taking up the most of my spare time. I still enjoy what I do, I am just not so sure I enjoy where I am doing it.

The America I grew up in, the America I am most proud of, is changing – or changed. The close of 2016 brought a new uber-conservative regime into power with a thin skinned and hot headed commander at the helm. With few exceptions, each day since the election reveals more scandal, more corruption, and more threats against civil securities than I ever imagined – 0r at least, only imagined in my wildest nightmares and worst dreams.

While budget cuts threaten the arts, education, and the environment (all things I am passionate about), it appears there are endless funds for the American war machine (which I am by far less passionate about). I simply do not believe continued armed conflict will ebb the already existing tension and distrust among world cultures. We meddled and tried all this before, and I expect similar results in the future – angrier enemies and a larger rift in an already seemingly unsurpassable cultural divide.

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The Prague Astronomical Clock: The oldest still functioning.

Tumultuous times, indeed.

So what am I to do?

In short, all I can do is all I know how to do: communicate, advocate, network, and educate. Feeling more and more like an outsider in my own land, the draw of continuing my education and career abroad is stronger than ever. If America is no longer a place I find personal belonging, perhaps I must consider my future not merely on economic and educational concerns, but rather ideological concerns. America may no longer represent me, but I will continue representing America. The peaceful, pro-education, pro-environment, pro-world America I know it can be, and will be again – someday.

The best way to do this will be by stepping away, an unofficial ambassador in a faraway land. Thus, I am eliminating my consideration of graduate school in the United States.

With growing issues surrounding international travel, border controls, and visas, this path could become one wrought with ever changing policy and bureaucratic hurdles. Preparation for a (likely) permanent move has to be well-researched and thoroughly thought out. Aside from obtaining the necessary funding, I will need to close up and sell off my home and belongings. I will need to assure my cats can come with me. Services, insurances, memberships, and residency must be cancelled and reestablished elsewhere.

I suppose to some this comes off as a wee bit scary, and all too complicated.

I do not disagree, but I have the passion to persevere.

goabroad
GoAbroad is a great resource for anyone considering life overseas!

In recent weeks, I read a few articles encouraging life abroad, and “Five Unconventional Reasons to Study Abroad” on GoAbroad.com stood out because, as a participant, I now recognize the deeper value gained from the overseas experience, beyond the basic and obvious stuff. The fifth reason the article refers to  is experiencing the world beyond what the media shows you. Although the article is older, the importance of actual cross cultural interaction means more now than ever before. In my experience of the refugee crisis in Europe, I know there is truth in this. Back home, news networks were broadcasting nonstop footage of violence and fear along the borders of the Balkans Route, and while there were certainly pockets of turmoil, Europeans, for the most part, continued with their daily routines. There is no religious takeover, no holy siege, no martyring mass. Not the way some news organizations would have you believe, anyways.

If I am going to make a difference, I am going to have to go out there and prove it to the sceptics back home. Likewise, if I am going to convince the world Americans are not all self-serving warmongers, I better get out there and become a part of it.

 

What Comes Next

Graduation is fast approaching, it is a time for transitions – within days I will complete my final assignments, say farewell to my professors, collect my awards, earn my degree, walk the walk, and pull out of the student parking lot one last time.

Just like that.

I do not spend too much time thinking about it, honestly. Maybe this is strange, but I already have my head wrapped up in what comes next -preoccupied with my future.

I am ready to work, eager to work. Freelance projects are in the the early stages, and I look forward to focus my attentions and talents on nonacademic assignments… for a while anyways.

The truth is, I have every intention of working my way through Graduate School, and I plan on doing this within the next few years. With interest in intercultural communications to bolster my value within the international education advocacy field, it behooves me to consider earning my degree abroad.

Yep, as in packing it up, cats and all, and heading to Europe to earn an education ten times more valuable and (hopefully) at a fraction of Stateside costs.

I would be gone two years, and maybe even forever.

Crazy, right?

While it sounds so at first glance, the more I consider it, the more I wonder if it is not the most reasonable idea for continued education and international experience.

The word “Invaluable” comes to mind.

Over the next few months, while I seek employment and work on freelance assignments, I will also begin seriously researching Graduate studies abroad. Reports and reflection, progress, and frustrations will all be documented here. If this site is going to live up to its Dodging Borders moniker, I best start blueprinting plans and making moves.

I am entirely optimistic.

Graduation feels but a happy stop along the way.

 

 

Studying Abroad: a Reflection & a Reaction

I have now been home for as long as I was away,

and it still feels like I never came back.

The months are piling by now, pushing my experience abroad further behind me. The long, cold, dark days of winter are ebbing into the fresh, chilly sunshine of spring, but my mind is still elsewhere; my mind is still there.

Returning to the University of Rhode Island for my senior semester was no easy feat. Perhaps the winter months added to the gloom, but I was not excited about returning to forty-five minute commutes and American courses dependent on “busy-work” rather than independent study, as I had in Austria. So much of my study abroad experience resonates with me still. There is so much to see and learn about the world outside of what we can see from within our own borders. I truly believe those who disagree only do so because they have never left. Once seen with their own eyes the benefits, differences, or even drawbacks of outside cultures, they will gain an unmatched, clear perspective of not only the world, but of their own culture and their own selves.

During this final semester of graduation preparation and portfolio curation, I have thought about my future very much, and with renewed vigor look to ways I can extend and continue my overseas experiences, whether by attending Graduate School or through my career (or both!). Before leaving for Austria, I expressed interests in international education, and I still am, except now my focus is more on advocating for study abroad and more students to spend time in cultures unfamiliar to them. The educational benefits go so far beyond what is in the classroom. While studying in Salzburg, I was assigned little to no “busy-work,” or homework, outside of weekly readings, which I was never quizzed or questioned about, but needed to know for papers and finals. With this system, I managed my own time and deadlines (without any handholding) and it was a great lesson in personal responsibility and time management. Some students handled this better than others did, but they still handled it. In America, daily assignments and handholding force an unrealistic dependence on the educators, and not enough personal responsibility on the students.

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The European educational experience summed up in one photo: a balance of modern classrooms immersed into historic sights. Indoor and outdoor learning abounds at the University of Salzburg, Austria.

The greatest side benefit of academic independence and less busywork is the additional free time for student exploration. On weekends, my friends and I would hop on a train or bus to historic and cultural landmarks with our notebooks, readings, and flash cards to study for our classes. Not only was it comfortable, but it was affordable. I travelled to Dachau, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Venice …all while doing schoolwork. Once at these locations, I learned first-hand about the World Wars, the Holocaust, Classical music, Architecture, and European politics and culture. No amount of American homework could compare to the history I saw, heard, and felt while studying abroad.

No amount. None.

Since returning to the States, I have been following the news in Europe closely. It is a way I found to feel close to the land I am still a part of. I am also fortunate to remain in close contact with my friend and roommate in Austria. The world is growing closer every day, and the transition is anything but smooth. News of the continuing Refugee Crisis and strains between governments is disheartening, but not a deterrent. Perhaps in lieu of the recent attacks in Belgium this sounds too optimistic, but we must believe there is a future beyond the hate and the harm facing the world today. Europe may now be a hotbed of activity, but I cannot and will not let it dissuade me from my dreams or my purpose. I would not have advised any Europeans to avoid studying in the U.S. after 9/11 and I will not advise any Americans to avoid studying in Europe now.

Our problems do not disappear simply because we refuse to face them.

It is why I must spread the word and work in a field to expand, improve, and influence the students of our future. Conflicts and terror and misunderstanding are rife, and the best way to combat these issues are through experience and exposure, paving the way for communication and understanding.

Never miss an opportunity to live beyond your wildest dreams.

#gostudyabroad

Re-Entry Emptiness

My days and weekends are quiet now. My free time is no longer packed with detailed travel plans and exciting destinations. Every day is not an adventure; every day is just like every other day – empty. None of my friends are available to travel, they are all caught up in their busy routines as they were before I left. I miss having a group of friends around me willing and able to take off for a day or two –relatively cheaply- and visit new and exciting places. 20151211_194609While I do have some friends expressing a want to do so, they share none of my urgency or enthusiasm. These days. the idea of getting together and just “hanging out” bores me to sleep.

In the meantime, I am a little surprised more of my friends and family are not calling me up and banging down my door to hear more stories about my time in Europe. Why are they not asking to see pictures? To watch videos? Maybe I would not be so bored “hanging out” if we spent more time talking about that four month long major  life changing event in my life.

But what’s there to say?

When friends or family do ask to hear something, or how it was, or what happened, I find myself grasping for words, for stories, for examples, for answers. I can imagine my vacant stare while my mind whirls back in time over all the memories, the experiences, the moments, the places….  I get lost. I stumble over choices and fail to express myself convincingly or wholeheartedly to them. They will never know what it was. To me it was everything and to them it is nothing – It cannot be known through hearing but only felt though being.

20151211_160847Which is why every minute I have been home I feel so disconnected and distant from everybody. I am living in a surreal, dreamlike mood not grounded in either Austria or America, but disconnected from both physically, emotionally, and socially. It is as though my entirety has been divided between here and there: heart, soul, body, mind. I am everywhere and I am nowhere at once. My time abroad is distant and unreal while home is not yet reality. For now, I float between the two.

To overcome these dreadful re-entry challenges I must have patience; all matters resolve with time and tolerance. I knew my homecoming would be a challenge before going abroad so I am prepared for an onslaught of strange, uncomfortable transitions in the days and weeks immediately thereafter.  The timing of my return during the onslaught of a cold winter causes a lot of preoccupation and hibernation among my friends and family. This will pass, and with the approach of Spring there will be new enthusiasm for interaction and adventure. By then, with a new semester, a new season, and a new routine, I will snap out of my post-abroad daze, landing once again in reality back home. With time, stories of my semester abroad will be told. There is no need to rush them or the emotions carried with them out all at once. In this way, I will truly never box my memories, but keep them on hand for relevance and reliving in the future.

Accomplishment Abroad

Looking back to the months before my departure, I remember entertaining plans of all the accomplishments I would achieve while overseas. In my head, there was a neatly defined list of goals lined up waiting for the distinguished checkmarks of an imaginary green sharpie.

But, as with all things, my list became victim of reality, of circumstance, of chance. As the days of my semester abroad clicked by the green sharpie lay dormant, and the neat list forgotten. It is not that I abandoned my goals, but redirected them, sometimes consciously, sometimes not.

Originally, I planned to continue my German language courses while in Austria. It makes sense, right? To learn the language in the land of its origin? I definitely touted that line repeatedly in the last few years, but you know what? After the initial two-week crash course in German provided by my program, AIFS, I decided to discontinue my study of the language while in Austria. Crazy, right? To explain: my previous skills in German were satisfactory for basic communication and the course level offered to me in Austria was redundant of my previous courses in America. While this was discouraging, I admit to not working up over it. There was a great amount of pull coming from the other course offerings. Taking German would crowd my schedule, and my new environment got me interested in learning more about life in Europe so I opted instead for classes on European Socialism and culture. No regrets there.

As simply as that, achieving German fluency in my semester abroad was silently crossed from the list.

Additionally, I looked forward to volunteering in an Austrian classroom helping students with English since education is an interest of my professional future. Alas, the week of sign-up and orientation I was ill, stricken down with feverish sweat and nauseous trembles. The mysterious Euro-flu captured me and took over my immune system, ravaging me for weeks. I make no excuses, and do not deny I missed a unique opportunity, but overcoming my illness was a priority, and I faithfully believe one closing door merely opens another.

With a hint of disappointment, I regretfully crossed volunteering in an Austrian classroom from the list.

Finally, it was a dream of mine to live abroad in an Austrian homestay with a middle-aged or older woman or couple so I might get the most authentic experience possible of what life is like for an adult in Europe. Due to the shortage of homestay opportunities in Salzburg, however, I was unable to do so. At first crushed by the news, it is now what I consider the grandest stroke of good fortune to come my way thus far. Instead of living with a family, I live in a dorm with my European roommate, Ramona.

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Ramona introducing me to Austrian Christmas Market cuisine and culture.

A native of nearby Bavaria in Germany, Ramona is 14 years my junior and in her first year at the University of Salzburg. From the day she first arrived, we hit it off. Whenever we are not studying we are talking, and talking about everything. I am so curious about life in Europe and realized almost immediately how lucky I was to meet and live with somebody as outgoing and likeminded as I am. In our months together, I have learned so much about European and German outlooks, opinions, concerns, and ideals. Through her, I experience what life is like for a college student in Europe, and I could not be happier. While I have many questions about her homeland, she too, has many about mine, and I am eager to share with her all I can about my country and culture to dispel any misconceptions or clarify any details.

A few weeks ago, Ramona admitted to me that before we met she had no positive inclinations towards America, American policies, American values, or Americans in general. I was not mad; I was a little hurt and caught off guard about her comment, but before I could respond, she continued. She confessed she was originally not over excited to have an American roommate with what she thought were typical American ideals, but her opinion changed, and she now has a positive attitude towards America –all because of her time with me. Through our discourse, she discovered what was stereotype and generalization in American culture. Whereas the world media portrays America in one way, I showed her another, and it was enough to turn her heart and mind, which I have come to consider one of my proudest moments, and a great achievement of my lifetime.

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Ramona and I enjoying a popular American homemade meal… pizza!

Perhaps I did reluctantly cross the homestay from the list, but I eagerly replaced it with a fresher, updated achievement: I changed the mind of somebody with a mind already made. I turned negativity into positivity; I succeeded where I never thought to try -and this accomplishment is worth more than a prewritten checklist could ever be.

Hallo from Austria!

Well, it has been a while… several weeks to be precise, but here I am, ready to post on the first days of my overseas experience. There is much to say, much to discuss, and yet still more to discover, but for now I will highlight my overall first impressions of studying abroad in Austria.

Thus far, living in Europe is both everything I expected and everything I never expected. I knew coming here would be a giant leap out of my comfort zone -and it is- I spent months researching Austrian culture to prepare for such an adventure and inevitable culture shock so I have not entirely been knocked of balance, but there are certainly a few uncomfortable daily struggles I was not quite prepared for. They are as follows…

First, much to my surprise, it appears the European Union may very well be the black hole of WiFi services in the developed world. Don’t get me wrong, many locations and establishments boast wireless availability, but do not expect them to be consistent, reliable, or efficient by any American standards. My super new high-tech devices struggle to find and keep signals, and getting booted by run down, over used connections is an everyday reality now. While my study abroad program assured the students internet connections would be available in the dorms, this is a stretch and a long shot. Even now, a week and several phone calls and complaints later, the connection at my dorm is spotty at best, and nonexistent at worst. Not exactly an ideal situation for someone trying to blog and complete online courses. I am ashamed to admit much of my free time my first week in Salzburg has been spent at McDonald’s, the one place I can find with WiFi services reminiscent of those at home. Frustration and disappointment overwhelm me, I did not travel halfway around the world to work at a McCafe!

My advice to those preparing to study abroad? Bring your older technology, make sure your computer has an Ethernet port, and forget about running anything newer than Windows 8. So far European high speed technology reminds me of America five plus years ago, so be ready. Buy stamps and calling cards. Pray. Dance. Do whatever it takes to get connected when you must!

Next, and this caught me by surprise considering I believed I was coming to the land of coffee aficionados, is the inability to actually find a coffee. I am one of those first thing in the morning drinkers, the kind who can barely think straight without a caffeine fueled kick-start. Uh-Oh for me! Most coffee shops nearby in Salzburg do not open before my morning classes, making it incredibly difficult to gulp down a coffee or two before my day begins. I walk, I bus, I hunt down the nearest places… only to be given tiny portions of my favorite beverage. Another fact: Nowhere yet in Austria have I found a to-go cup even half the size of the ones in America. To those like me, be forewarned: You will not find a 32 ounce big gulp of flavored heaven anywhere in the foothills of the Alps. Just forget about it, start drinking red bull, pack your coffee maker from home, or be prepared to buy one here. The only other option to satisfy your needs? You guessed it… McDonalds. And even still… the large is a medium and the medium is a kid cup.

Two scoops of vanilla instead of Ice!
Two scoops of vanilla instead of Ice!

Are you into iced coffee? Well, unfortunately, you can forget about that too. In Europe, ice cubes are as nonexistent as the WiFi. You can order an ice coffee, and while I guarantee it will be the prettiest coffee you ever saw, it will certainly not come with the watery cubes Americans know and love.

Adaptation is necessary to survival, and I am adapting -albeit rather sleepily- but it has been slow going. Luckily, the land and the culture here are beautiful beyond words, and distract me from the technology and comforts I long for, but more about that next time. Until then…. Auf Wiedersehen!

A Week From Tonight

There is this sensation, a rumbling, no – the beginnings of a rumbling, the sensation of a tremble really, of excitement building. I can feel it somewhere behind my stomach but before my spine. A low roar; the longer I think of it the louder it gets. The louder the bigger, too. So big I feel my insides push out against my skin – or start to, and want to.

I am going to burst.

A week from tonight I leave for Europe. This morning I woke up knowing it was the Friday  – the last Friday – before my departure. Things are starting to feel very real. A year’s work come down to a week, and there is still so much to do. The days get shorter and my lists get longer. Every day there is shopping, cleaning, prepping, laundry, packing…. writing, research, paperwork, phone calls. And now, I must make do with gulping over this bubble of excitement growing in the base of my throat.

It is a bittersweet notion, if you think too long about it, knowing the world as you know it is ending in exactly a week from tonight. Soon, I will be surrounded by strangers in a strange land. My Country, my state, my school, my home, my family, my friends, my cats, my comfort – gone. To prepare for the unfamiliar, I have been stocking up and gorging on all the familiar I can get my hands on. Making time to meet friends, say goodbye and set up Skype accounts, download music, watch movies, shop for overseas essentials, driving and dinners. Essentially, doing all the things I won’t be doing or can’t do while traveling and studying in Austria.

The best of the gorging has of course been the food. There are so many delicious things I will miss while away, and while I am sure there are yums just waiting to be discovered overseas, there is no harm in celebrating with my personal favorites while I still can. Between the anticipation and the food, it’s no wonder I feel like I will burst. Come to think of it, the food might be the only thing keeping this bubble of excitement from carrying me away altogether…

One last seafood dinner by the water with friends.
One last seafood dinner by the water with friends.

…Back to the food; being from the Ocean State, I have a strong connection to the sea and all the tasty creatures found there. Unfortunately, I have a feeling my residency in the foothills of the Austrian Alps will be devoid of my favorite seafood. To curb any future cravings my week has been filled with shrimp, mussels, oysters, calamari, quahogs, and steamers. Not such a bad way to pass mealtimes, if I do say so!

I wonder if Austrians have ever heard of quahogs and steamers, let alone eaten one. I also wonder what foods they have that I am unaware of. I am sure regionally and culturally there are menu items to hold special places in the locals’ hearts (and stomachs) just as the shellfish does in Rhody. Our quahog has become infamous as the official state shell (yes, that exists – since 1987) and television star (This too – Family Guy). Will Salzburg have anything to match the reputation of the quahog, in all its stuffie glory – or the steamer, in all its buttery goodness?

A week from tonight I will start getting answers.

Tick-Tock. Tick-Tock.

Two Weeks to Take-Off

Two Weeks.

14 Days.

336 Hours.

And I am gone.

Goodbye family, goodbye friends, goodbye country. Goodbye to everything I know.

It’s almost hard to believe, after a year of researching, planning, and saving, the time has finally, really, come. So much preparation has gone into this upcoming semester in Austria: applications, essays, paperwork, forms, documents, identification, physical exams, emails, phone calls… the list goes on. Attending university abroad is not for the lazy or the unmotivated, that’s for sure. The process involves 100% dedication and commitment – before you even leave the country.

Two Weeks.

Time is closing in, and I am starting to consider those I will miss the most.

While I am confident I will easily keep in touch with family and friends through telephone, email, skype, and social media, I remain concerned for my cats. Thelma and Louise, calico sisters who never went more than a week without me. They cannot understand my absence, they cannot know I will return. There is no way for me to reassure them, and I feel more than a little guilty. My partners during those long nights studying for exams and writing papers – but not this semester. Hopefully, a counter full of the best treats money can buy will keep their spirits up while I am away.

14 Days.

Days are passing by, and I am starting to consider things I will miss the most.

Some netting, an air mattress, and some coolers... camping made easy.
Some netting, an air mattress, and some coolers… camping made easy.

Of all the amenities, of all the stuff, of all the materialistic things in my life, I am unashamed to admit it is my truck I will long for while away. My great, big, gas-guzzling, trailblazing, American SUV – my baby. From the beach to the mountains, riding solo or loaded with kids, the truck is essential to my life in the states.  On a moment’s notice the hatch is up, the seats are down, and the mattress is ready for a night of camping under the stars. How typically American can I get? My truck goes everywhere I go – but not for long. Public transportation will be my new ride, the freedom of my truck and the open road nothing but a memory.

336 hours.

That’s it.

And I am gone.