by Elizabeth Byrd
When you tell people that you studied abroad in the Middle East, they tend to get this wide-eyed look of amazement and demand that you tell them everything about it. I have come to accept this as part of living in a non-Western country for a couple of months. The number-one question that I get asked is if I had cover my head—if you too have this question, the answer is essentially no. In Jordan, where I spent most of my time, only Muslim women cover unless you go into a mosque. Another common question is if there is anything about the culture that is different from our culture in the States. Time in Jordan did seem to move more slowly because schedules are based on the completion of activities (kairos time), rather than the clock (chronos time). The open-air-cafe culture was one of my favorite aspects of Jordanian culture. Any time is tea time, which was a great way to cool off and catch up with friends. They also had some fresh fruit drinks that I brought back to my own kitchen in the States. Another aspect of the culture that I enjoyed was the hospitality. Anytime I went into a restaurant or shop, I had an immediate connection with those who worked there because we recognized the humanity in one another. This was something that I had to deprogram myself for in order to do. I didn’t realize how often we treat others as vending machines for what we want. It was a totally different experience to have an actual conversation with someone who was checking me out or serving me. Another thing that was surreal was the history that was everywhere. Some archaeological sites date back to as early as 7250 BCE. Amman, Jordan’s capital city, is ancient Philadelphia and is the site of many Neolithic, Greek and Roman ruins. Amman is not just a city of history, but also a city of modernity full of malls and international hotels. Above all, my favorite part of Jordan was interacting with the local people and learning to look through their eyes at our world today. Stepping outside of my culture and myself was one of the best gifts that I could have been given.
by Blake Plimpton
Studying at the University of Oxford was something that I had always dreamed about. As a kid, it seemed like this far-off place filled with books and steeples. And it is, all of those things, completely! The city itself provided me with so many favorite spots to read in, and the parks gave me somewhere to go when I needed a mental break from it all. I will be completely honest: Oxford was the most rigorous academic adventure I have taken part in, and that is why it was, and has remained, the most important thing I have done. Whether it be in lectures or in my tutorials (which were in Shakespeare and Modern British Literature), or over dinner with friends, I was constantly being challenged to think in ways I had never done before. I remember vividly writing on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and discussing police brutality with my tutor and the education crises happening in both of our native lands. It taught me to be OK with not having every answer, because even my tutors, who are leaders in their fields of study, could have a conversation with me (a small, barely learned American college girl) and discover new ways of looking at their life’s work.
I do not know if I could say if I have a favorite part of my study abroad experience–how could you pick when there is history on every corner and more books than you could ever read?–but the people I met were some of the best I’ve had the pleasure to know. Living in another country with others for a period of your life is incredibly special. The passion to wake up every day and soak in whatever experience or lesson you could was a shared passion in our house on Headington Hill. I not only lived with them, but also traveled with them. Gallivanting through Europe with newly-formed friends bonds you in ways that will be hard to explain to those watching. All this to say, I will always remember the streets I got lost on (all roads lead to Turl Street–remember that), the Blue Moon pub that I wrote poetry in with our Thursday-night writing group and the challenges that I had the opportunity to learn from. If you can, head there and make a home for as long as you can.
by Matt Wolek
I talked to SaraGrace Stefan who is currently studying abroad in St. Andrews, Scotland. The one question that I really wanted to have answered was what her absolute favorite part about studying abroad there has been. She says that her favorite part has been the North Sea. Having the ability to look out the window every morning and see the sea is just magical. She continues to say that the culture is just so warm and welcoming there and that the Scottish are so funny and friendly.
by Meganne Beach
For Spanish majors choosing between Argentina and Spain, it’s certainly not an easy decision. My advice—do both. I chose Spain because I wanted to travel across Europe during my time abroad, and it’s extremely cheap to travel from Spain to Portugal, Morocco, Italy—the list goes on. For four months I lived in Sevilla, Spain, a beautiful and ancient city that has a population of 700,000 people, but still feels small. Having never lived in a city before, I quickly got acclimated to public transportation, sleeping in spite of rowdy soccer fans chanting outside my window and finding the best churro y chocolate stand in the city. I stayed with an elderly woman and her adult daughter, and living with a Spanish family was one of the best aspects of the program. Her cooking was incredible, she did all my laundry and it was an intergenerational opportunity to learn what it means to be a Spaniard, especially following the reign of Franco. The classic Spain is at your fingertips—dramatic bullfights, passionate flamenco shows, the enormous springtime flamenco fair that takes over Sevilla—but Spain will also surprise you. Your identity as an American and Christian will be challenged in the best way possible, and you’ll find yourself considering being late to a meeting because you need to catch up with a friend, putting in that extra effort when getting dressed or wondering why in the world there are no plazas in American cities. My advice for students going to Spain is to speak Spanish even when you become “that girl,” befriend as many Spaniards as you can and never say no to an adventure.
by Sarah Hart
On September 13, I walked 2.5 miles to a community in Malawi, Africa to interview a low-income family. Being low-income in Malawi is very different than in America. They owned a house, but it was the size of a shed Americans would have in their backyard; they did not have beds, and they did not own any livestock of their own. This was the first time I experienced the weight of what it meant to live in poverty. I did not simply interview this family once, but I got to build a relationship with them. Malawi is called the “Warm Heart of Africa” for a reason. While Malawi is a beautiful country, the people are even more beautiful. Although we live in different countries and were raised in different cultures, I found many fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Malawi. They are seeking the Lord each and every day just as I am. What was so unique about studying abroad in Malawi was that we were living what we were learning. For the first time in my life I loved learning. I looked forward to writing papers and sitting through lectures. There were subjects I had expected to dislike that I found fascinating. I learned about agriculture and how the Malawian people can maximize their yield. I learned about the challenges of development the Malawian people face. Eventually I reached a point at which all of the information I had learned finally hit me. I had a wake-up call and realized I have been living my life half-asleep. For so long I have put up blinders and ignored the suffering around me because at times it can be overwhelming. I want to stop looking away. Malawi softened my heart, and I came back feeling empowered to make a difference. I long to play a part in God’s plan of restoration for His people.
by Anastasia Carroll
This past spring, I spent a semester abroad in Córdoba, Argentina through Spanish Studies Abroad. Although not actually a Spanish major, I decided to challenge myself to experience a new culture. Perhaps flying nearly 5,000 miles away from home may seem a bit extreme to try to find a new culture. However, it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I left behind my family, my friends and my own language for a suitcase, a passport and the peace of mind that I would be going back to the U.S. five months later.It took a little while to adjust to the Southern Hemisphere’s opposite climate, and it took a little while longer to get used to the fact that I couldn’t switch to English if the cashier/waiter/taxi driver didn’t understand me. But through the sticky climates and even stickier situations, I was given the opportunity to love the place I was in and the people I was with.
Sure, I had to sit through classes at the university every week, but the memories I hold fondest are not rooted in my time in the classroom. Instead, I remember the look in Profesora Beatríz’s eyes when she spoke about her 90-year old mother. I remember my friend Lucas who would walk me back to my apartment even though it was in the opposite direction of his bus stop, just to make sure I got home safely for the evening. I remember reading the newspaper to our doorman, Enzo, while he was on night shift because he knew I needed to practice my Spanish. And I remember when my host mom Paola left work early to take me home on her motorcycle when I wasn’t feeling well. The way that these people received me into their country and showed love toward me sent me back home to the States with a newfound sense of love and appreciation for people. The love that I found in people like Profesora Beatríz and Lucas and Enzo and Paola is not exclusive to Argentina–we see it every time our professors stand at the front of the classroom or when the person in front of us holds the door open; however, it did leave me longing to go back for more.