Interview; Melissa takes on Europe
This past semester, Melissa Luther had the opportunity to study abroad. I met up and interviewed her on her experiences. It's awesome to get a first-hand outlook on studying abroad by someone who has actually done it. If you're thinking about studying abroad, this is a great resource. Here is what she had to say;
Where did you travel to this past year?
I studied abroad in London for 4 months - while there I traveled to 15 countries (Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Ireland, Budapest, Switzerland, Poland, Prague, Scotland, Belgium, Sweden, Copenhagen, and Iceland). Every weekend I could, I’d travel at 4 am from my dorm Friday and get home Sunday night or Monday morning. Travel was easy and cheap since London is such a central location. Most of my trips were only three or four days, but after my semester was over I stayed out there for two weeks extra and travelled through Scandinavia and Iceland. I would travel with one of my friends and stay in any decently rated hostel that we could find open for the given weekend. Hostel’s are like going back to camp with strangers, they are giant rooms with up to 20 bunk beds; you only rent the bed for the night. You stay with complete strangers and hopefully get a locker to store your stuff in. It seems somewhat sketchy but realistically it was fun and an easy way to meet people in all the other countries.
on her expectations:
I am a late planner. I was packing four months worth of clothing the night before I left. Out of the other four people traveling from SHU, I only really knew one. I was somewhat nervous because I had heard that people hate Americans in all other parts of the world. Because of this, I refused to bring anything that screamed (my flag to hang in my room or any sweatshirts or hats that had the flag on it). I was nervous for my dorm housing that I was placed in, as I didn’t know if I would like any of my roommates. Other than that, I have always loved to travel and am use to the lack of planning ahead of time so I was more excited to see what the new semester was going to hold for me.
on the first week abroad:
The first week was relatively overwhelming. My friends were freaking out more than I was so I tried being the more relaxed despite not knowing what was actually happening. Thankfully, the first week was orientation week and our school only had one mendatory event - we had a whole week to get acclimated with the city before starting classes.
The first night while skyping my American friend in the US, I heard voices in my hallway went to go see who it was. I walked out and found two Australians, a German girl, a French girl, and a couple of Americans from Chicago. We stayed up talking until 4 am - our favorite topic was how the Australians use different words than Americans. For example, “pie” for Americans means dessert with ice cream, for the Australians it means a dinner food similar to Sheppard’s Pie. I noticed everyone around had to take one look at me and knew I was foreign - I didn’t know how to use the tube system, or the buses. Dealing with exchange rates was difficult; trying to figure out how much we were actually were spending in USD was a disaster. The 2nd night, all the SHU kids and I planned to go to dinner at a place nearby our dorms, I invited some of my roommates and the others did the same. In the end, we ended up with about 16 kids from all over the world at this little dive bar. We all ate and talked and tried figuring out where everyone was from by their given accents or things they would say. Little did we know that this would then form our friend group for the next four months.
on her biggest challenges:
My first time traveling outside of London was a bit nerve-racking because I had no idea what I was doing. With that said, I knew much more than the friend I was going with. I learned right away I had to ask for help if I needed it, there was no way I was going to solve my own problems or questions myself without some sort of help. If you are in another country and are lost looking for your hostel from the public transportation, you want to ask for help rather walking around for three hours in an unfamiliar city.
on the best parts of her trip:
Since being back I've been asked this question so many times. Every time I have no idea what to say to portray what I’m thinking. Living in another country changes you in some ways. Not for the negative, not necessarily for the positive either, just in some way you change. I became much more independent, outgoing and adventurous. I also became more aware of cultures. Some of the best parts of my trip were the people I met, going to places I never imagined I would go like Auschwitz, the Louvre and the top of the Swiss Alps. Overall, learning how to live independently while staying happy.
On free days, I didn’t sit down and watch TV as I usually would back in the states, rather I’d go into different parts of London and get lost in some new town. I loved going to museums, more so to people watch than to look at artifacts. Some of those days wandering through London alone are some of the best days I had there either because of the things I saw or the random people I met.
The adventures I got to go on also will never be able to be forgotten. Switzerland the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen; the top of the Swiss Alps was beautiful, no picture could do it justice. The sun was reflecting off the snow; you could see all the way to other countries from the top.
On the other hand, going to Auschwitz was remarkable. It felt like just yesterday they escorted everyone out of the camps. A very eerie feel while walking the path they walked from the trains that arrived into the gas chambers. It was incredible seeing all the suitcases and shoes of people whom once were forced to live in the concentration camp.
on the main cultural differences
The language at times was different, they used different words for things or the spelling would be very different. For example, in the UK, chips are fries but in the US, chips are potato chips. They call “z”, zed. They also replace most words that have an “o” in it and use an “ou” or the z/s’s change. Or how us Americans couldn’t grasp the idea that their eggs are not kept refrigerated. London is a face pace lifestyle and not so outgoing of people. When traveling to school every morning by the tube, I brought books and music to listen to during off hours since it is so silent..
on the difference between expectations and reality:
I learned right away people don’t care much in London where you’re from; not many people actually hate Americans (at least where we lived, the financial district, they didn’t). I realized that we, as Americans, assume so many things about other cultures but we are very, very wrong. For example, Australians don’t put “shrimp on the Barbie”, they don’t even eat shrimp, they have prawns. On the other hand, Australians think Americans are actually like people from the Jersey Shore. They celebrate their 21st birthday because they see on TV that Americans do it.
I’ve heard from people that Americans think other countries are just vacations spots rather civilizations - I kind of realized that’s partially true. A French friend and I exchanged music and movies and I gave her my iPod and she had most of the songs and movies, when she said she had most of them I was astonished and didn’t realize they too can watch Elf and Mean Girls - its not only for American viewing.
on tips she has for others:
I have so many tips for the people who are traveling abroad. To keep it short, one of the biggest tips is not to be afraid of being a tourist. At times you want to try so hard to fit in with the new culture but you only have four months overall and maybe even three days in a country. Go on the double decker hop-on hop-off bus tours to see the entire place you are staying; take the cheesy tourist pictures, or go to museums. You may never be back again, make it worth remembering.
Here are some more great pictures of her trip: