Options and Ideas… but Decisions?

Ok, I admit I was gone for a while. Silent.

No peep to my blog, no post to my gallery; surely forgotten by my handful of followers.

What a letdown.

But, please! Do not give up on me!

I promise I have not been slouching around, satisfied with my grades and all set with my goals. I swear I have been here all along, on a course of post-grad “adulting,” which I admit swept me up and into the workforce sooner than I ever imagined. what-is-the-course

Two days after graduation, I landed a great position in the Art Production department of a nationally known local company. Anyone who has visited my web portfolio knows my love and talent for both written and visual communication. I am happy to have secured an opportunity to work in a commercial industry utilizing my artistic and rhetorical skills.

Always in the back of my mind, however, I still consider ideas for further educational and intercultural experience. I think about my endgame. Where I see myself in my retirement, in my twilight years, looking back on a career well founded and well built.

My next steps need be considered carefully, options are not endless, but they are diverse and interesting and, I believe, all potential leads to the same end – continuation of my studies in intercultural communications, bolstered by international experience in education. Decisions must come carefully; they must be grounded in purpose.

As of now, I consider myself having three options for my graduate studies… which-road-is-for-me

  • Keep It Stateside – attend a local university part-time while working full time. It will take nearly four years and I could begin immediately with financial aid, which I will need, since my choices for an MA in communications will run me at least 40k.
  • Grad School Abroad – attend university full time while living in Europe. It would take only two years to complete my studies. However, although the courses are free, I would need to save roughly 20k before leaving to support myself.
  • Teach and Study Abroad – earn my TEFL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certification online to teach abroad immediately. Upfront capital is under 10k, and allows me to work and support myself while attending university part time. which-way-from-here

Each carries its own pros and cons, but also its own levels of risk and commitment. I know saving several thousands of dollars will take years, making loans and local university slightly more appealing. Of course with that, I lose what I advocate most for: intercultural experience. Teaching English abroad while attending grad school seems the happy medium, but how difficult will balancing work with school be in a foreign country?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

This is where I leave you, for now; the research and soul searching continues.

Updates will follow.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.