I’ve a Feeling I’m Not in Massachusetts Anymore by Jake Runnals

Yesterday I returned home from a 10-day road trip from Boston to New Orleans, and tomorrow I leave for a week long vacation with my family around the Northeast. I feel as though time is flying by now, as September 5th inches nearer and nearer. Everyday I am trying to cram in quality time with the people I care about for the last time before I travel the world for nearly a full year.  Since, at this moment, the plan is to fly straight from Taiwan to Copenhagen and begin my second semester abroad straightaway, every moment is bittersweet.  However, I could not be more thrilled to study in Taiwan.

I visited Taiwan with my high school 6 years ago, after studying Chinese for a whopping 2 months. Obviously, that trip did not do much to improve my language skills since I did not really have any to begin with.  However, after 6 years of mostly enjoyable, though at times excruciating, study, I am confident that this visit will yield much more tangible results in the form of speaking and writing skills.  I am most excited to meet not only the local Taiwanese, but also the various other internationals that I will be living with. National Taiwan University is supposedly a very international school, so I am anticipating meeting people from all over the world.

I have been reviewing my Chinese textbooks from past semesters to refresh a little bit before being dropped into the middle of a Mandarin-speaking country.  From everything I have read, it seems that English is not all that prevalent in Taiwan, so this will truly be a test of my speaking abilities.  I am confident that I will be able to make my way through the semester, but I am definitely a little nervous about whether or not I will be capable of conversing with the locals.  All in all, I wish I had some more time before disappearing to the other side of the world for a year, but I am eagerly anticipating this unique opportunity.

Zai Jian,

Jake

Bizarro World by Jacob Magasanik

In Superman lore, there is a world known as Bizzaro World, wherein everything is the exact opposite; Bizzaro-Aquaman cannot swim, Bizzaro-Marilyn Monroe is renowned for her ugliness…you get the idea. Throughout this month and change abroad, I have noticed that Taiwan is often my Bizzaro World; rarely a day goes by where I do not see something that makes me go, “Wait, what?”

In Taiwan, one is more likely to see someone using an umbrella on a sunny day than when it rains. Why? Taiwanese folk, unlike their Western counterparts that prize being tan, view being pale as a sign of wealth. In Taiwan, to call the police you dial 119; it doesn’t get more opposite than that. Today, after accidentally walking into the wrong room (yes, that still happens), my friend was shocked to find a room stockpiled with guns. You would be hard pressed to find an easily accessible, unwatched gunroom next to classrooms in the United States (to the NRA’s dismay). Taxi drivers rarely know where they are going; any open seat is fair game to fall asleep in; and clothing with children’s cartoon characters on them is all the rage.

But despite the obvious and sometimes absurd differences between Taiwan and my home, it has by no means been an unenjoyable time. In math, for one thing to truly be something’s opposite, then it must share one point of symmetry. To me, that point of symmetry is the people here. Everyone is beyond friendly and they work very hard to help foreigners. It’s quite a reassuring thought that you can go halfway around the world and still find kind people.

From Robberies to Rituals: My Adjustment to Argentine Living by Cara Williamson

Embarking on a journey to South America, a region of the world I had not previously been to, I knew I would need time to adjust to living here. Before arriving, I felt really nervous about standing out too much. I consulted google and Middlebury’s handbook (from my program) to learn what to wear, what to expect when going out, and what life would be like living with a host family. Middlebury also tried to help us adjust through a two week orientation, in which we picked our classes and studied Argentinean culture. Though this really helped to give me a general idea of what to expect, I still encountered many obstacles in my attempts at assimilation.

One of the challenges I had anticipated was Spanish language immersion. On the first day in Buenos Aires, I sat in a café for almost two hours with Grant and Brad because none of us were sure of the correct way to politely ask for the check. Additionally, the Argentinian pronunciation and lunfardo (slang) threw me off. All of their y’s and double l’s sound like j’s, which took some time to get accustomed to and incorporate in my own Spanish.

Other aspects of culture shock were more unexpected. Basic tasks like figuring out the public transport system in a strange city required considerable focus and effort. My lack of understanding of the Argentinean currency led me to believe that I could just easily withdraw pesos out of an ATM in the city. Not only did most ATMs not accept my card, but they also put limits on how much I could take out, and offered a poor exchange rate. Had I known that the black market for exchanging currency in Argentina (currently 15.7 pesos:1 USD, official rate: 9:1) was better value and a lot easier to use, I would not have spent an unsuccessful day travelling to a dangerous part of the city to find a Chase ATM. Additionally, my nonchalant attitude led me to not pay attention to my bag while sitting in an outdoor café. After lunch was over, I realized my bag containing my laptop was gone. After telling the story to many locals, I realized my cultural blunder and that you always have to be very cautious with your possessions here.

Some challenges were more unusual. Knowing how to use a match to light a manual water heater was not a skill I thought would be necessary, but it left me with freezing cold showers for two weeks. Furthermore, when choosing a place to eat, random cafes do not always provide the best quality food or service, and pizza is not a safe bet here. During one particularly bad experience, several homeless people approached my table indoors trying to sell me items and share my food. This is not to say that all of the surprises from adjusting to a new culture were bad. Many aspects of culture shock were also positive, like the importance people place here on family or the intimacy of family rituals like parrillas, which is the Argentinean equivalent of barbeque. Day by day I learned to embrace the challenges and thrive on the exhilaration of cultural immersion. Instead of seeing one giant obstacle, I assigned myself daily issues to confront. By changing my perspective and focusing on the achievement of step-by-step goals, I have overcome what seemed like a daunting challenge. I now look forward to my remaining time in Argentina.

Home by Ruth Yao

Stale air, stiff chair, and numbed ears. I begin the 7th hour of the transpacific flight. I left my home at 3:30AM for Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Having grown up moving frequently, airports and planes create a mix of emotions for me. This time as I leave behind my home, my university, my family, my friends, I approach something not completely unfamiliar. I went to Concordia International School in Shanghai for three years in high school. But to be honest, I know I am drastically underprepared. I am never able to properly prepare for the new destination. A positive spin would be that I “live in the moment”. My personal view is that I just can’t wrap my mind around being in a new place, a new life till I’m there. And then sometimes it even takes weeks before it becomes “real” that I am living there.

While I should have been thinking about how to properly prepare: exchange money, packing power adapters, etc. Before leaving and now, sitting miles above the ocean, my mind keeps drifting back to the idea of home…whether home is a physical house, a loved one, etc. For now, I decide that every home has become embodied in me: my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions.

I am leaving behind home. This sounds sad and makes me feel melancholy. However I know my new home in Hong Kong will make lasting impressions on me, just like my homes have done in the past.

Ruth, finding her way!
             Ruth, finding her way!

Mantené la calma by Grant Lewis

I have always been a “go with the flow” kind of person, so I try not to worry too much when I encounter a new situation. Given my previous abroad experiences with a homestay in Bolivia and Spain in 2005 and 2012 respectively, I felt somewhat prepared to take on Argentina for the semester. That being said, I did not really make any deliberate preparations for the specific culture of Argentina. Looking back, to aid my transition, I would have researched more about Argentina’s aspects of nightlife, food, transportation, money exchange, and academics.

I would say that I am now comfortably adjusted to my surroundings in Buenos Aires; however, this was not always the case. To briefly summarize what “shocked” me at first: this city never sleeps, people eat dinner very late, public transportation is vital to navigating this city (download Moovit!), other means to obtain money besides ATMs, such as Xoom, give you better exchange rates, and the academic system is much less structured than that of the U.S.

Out of the previously listed aspects that shocked me, the nightlife adjustment reigns supreme. Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, aside from the obvious language different, I noticed that people here NEVER go to bed. For example, dinner is usually served around 9 or 10pm and people leave to go to bars around 12am. However, the bars are not the end destination. Clubs, known as “boliches” tend to get popular around 2am and people often stay well past 4am, sometimes not going to bed at all (speaking from personal experience). I had to ease into this adjustment.

In addition to this shifted, nocturnal schedule I am now accustomed to, higher education in Buenos Aires is also something that takes time to adjust to. Most notably, the concept of strict directions for tests, essays, and homework is seemingly non-existent here. While many of my U.S. professors outlined exactly what to do for an assignment (e.g. 10 pages, 12pt font over topic X, Y, or Z), my Argentine professors do not, and opt for a more open approach to evaluating students. For example, after my class read our assigned novel, El Juguete Rabioso by Roberto Arlt, my teacher told us to “write something intelligent about the book that shows you read it closely.” When we asked him about the specifics of the paper, he said, “It can be 1-120 pages, single or double spaced, any font, what else do you want me to say?” and then proceeded on a tangent, with rather strong arguments, that ridiculed  the restrictions of the U.S. education system.

In summary, while many cultural differences between Argentina and the U.S exist and may cause initial discomfort, I find it best to go with the flow and embrace, rather than worry about, this wonderful, albeit occasionally frustrating, experience abroad.