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.

world-astronomical-clock
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 America may no longer represent me, but I will continue representing America.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.

 

AIFS Abroad Photo Finalist!

I am so honored to have been selected from thousands of submissions for the 2016 American Institute for Foreign Study photo contest!

I, along with 19 other students, are now in the final round of the competition, where we depend on viewer votes to win. Please, head over to AIFS’ Instagram or Facebook pages to like, comment on, or share your favorite photos!

Even better if you choose to Like mine! Thank you all for your support, it is much appreciated!

AIFS Photo Contest
Click above to vote for my photo on Instagram!
AIFS Photo COntest 2
Click on the above image to vote for my photo on Facebook!

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