Marketing & Outreach Intern, Education Abroad
CIEE Seville, Spain – Spring ’17
*Editor’s note: Aryiana Rackham is one of our Global Buffs. This is the first in her series of posts about all things life in Australia. Sound interesting to you? You could be featured next – submit your own post to Michal.Greenberg@colorado.edu for a chance to become a part of the CU Boulder Education Abroad blog! (Pro-tip: posts accompanied by their own high-resolution photos from abroad get mega brownie points.)*
When I talk about the land where everything is poisonous and/or will eat you, including the trees, what’s the first thing you think of? Most would chuckle and say, ‘Australia!’
Until recently, I was guilty of the same assumptions. When I met my best friend a little less than a year ago, he showed me that there was more to Australia than poisonous creatures and intense nights of bar hopping. My heart was sold on it before I ever set foot in it, because he encouraged me to experience his country, just as he had mine. I worked for three months with the Education Abroad office at CU to find an Australian university best fit for my studies while stomping around a new continent, and it is the BEST decision I have ever made. Australia is aussome.
While Australia, and in particular Sydney, is phenomenal, it is also confusing, daunting, and expensive. I’m here to help you navigate that, give you hacks for cheap meals, exciting sites, and the most efficient ways to get around the Land Down Under. My first month has been filled with laughs, missteps, and lots of lessons – and I hope to impart some of those to you, so that it’s smooth sailing when you check it out yourself.
While both the US and Australia have plenty of parks, I feel safe in saying that Australia takes theirs to a whole new level. There are heaps of them in large cities under mandate of the government, so no matter where you are, you’re likely no more than a mile away from a slice of nature in the urban jungle. The most famed one: Hyde Park in central Sydney, where I type this very blog. Towering trees arch across cobbled footpaths, and their vines tickle ivy hedges. Fountains dedicated to the late and great of this country babble across soft grass.
Hyde Park is divided into two parts, the first containing gorgeous fountains that singers and dancers often busk around. The second is more like walking through an outdoor museum. Statues mingle with monuments dedicated to Captain Cook, fallen Anzac Warriors, and honour the Indigenous Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. An entire day could be spent wandering this stretch of a few city blocks, soaking up history and local talent. Just across the road are petite cafes to grab coffee and a fresh macaron. The best part about this day? It is FREE. The park costs nothing, the entertainment costs nothing, and short of buying a three buck cup of coffee, there is no out of pocket cost.
I live in a small, predominately Asian suburb in western Sydney, so I have the good fortune of learning about different Asian cultures and enjoying what they have to offer by simply walking down my street and into the plazas. One crisp Saturday morning, my boyfriend and I decided to walk through the park to check out what it had to offer and we were greeted by a celebration of the Chinese Lunar Festival. Right there, two blocks away from us, a culture was celebrating one of their holidays in the park. When it’s not filled with festivities, that same park offers a pond with a massive weeping willow towering out of it and lorikeets, cockatoos, and seagulls splashing around the pond. A small cafe next to a garden cottage draws in customers with fresh pastries to be enjoyed while admiring another memorial dedicated to Australian history.
These are just two parks in the urban sprawl that is Sydney. Parks are free, abundant, and absolutely beautiful. Some are massive jungles, like Hyde Park, or there are quaint bustling ones, rich with local culture, but regardless: they’re always free. There are also national parks, which I have yet to experience, but as soon as I do, they will make their way into my upcoming blogs.
But – how do you get to all these parks, especially ones like Hyde, if you aren’t living in the city?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of using Sydney public transport, especially their train system, so here is a quick how-to.
There is something called an OPAL card, and it’s how you pay for public transport in Sydney. You can walk into any kiosk, convenience store, or grocery store, and buy one. The card itself is free, but you load whatever amount of money onto it you see fit. If you are a student, ask your university in Australia to issue you one, and your fares will be half price. I have found that $20 a week is a good place to start. OPAL cards are refillable, so if you’re running low, use a station kiosk, add some cash, and you’re on your way. When you tap on and off the entry of a train station with your card, it always tells you the balance, so luckily, it’s never a guessing game.
Download the TripView Lite app on your phone as well. It gives you all the train, ferry, and bus maps, schedules, and locations in Sydney. Just pick your beginning location, where you want to go, preferred mode of transport, and voila! From there, it’s a smooth, safe ride. I have found this to be the most reliable, inexpensive, and safe way to travel around Sydney.
By Shannon McElroy
Hello hello! Greetings from First Day of Uni! I am sitting at a little café on campus with my friend Molly before we attend our ~first~ class of study abroad. I’m feeling quite blissful, as it is comfortably overcast (perfect for reading a laptop screen outside) and I’ve just ordered an iced coffee, which they make quite tastily here (and it’s funny because the Aussie baristas always ask you if you want ice or ice creamin your iced coffee, as if ice cream is just as viable an option as ice. They’re just so fun here, dammit). Upon first impression, the University of Wollongong campus is an absolute dream: a lot of architecturally impressive buildings utilizing modern but organic materials and decor, all of which are enhanced by lush vegetation and the perpetual soundtrack of those pesky birds–almost makes you feel like you’re in a ginormous ecolodge in the middle of the jungle. And it’s constantly buzzing with action. UOW holds a student population of 38,000, so there are just masses of people hanging around cafés, lounging leisurely on the grasses, having a pre-class drink at the UNIBAR (yes, folks, this is a bar-on-campus-type situation), or making the jaunt to their next class. This is very unlike CU–I would often go home in between classes at Boulder, even if it was just a half hour break. But here, I feel like I could spend the day. And I probably will at points during the week, since my home dormitory is a 15 minute bus ride from campus.
I’d like to express some general observations about Wollongong / Australia and its inhabitants that I’ve been able to pick up on in the short time that I’ve been here:
So far, it’s been an incredibly valuable experience playing local resident rather than tourist. It’s something I enjoy immensely, to be immersed in a place further than a visit on vacation. And it’s something for which I have my parents to thank, who are fearlessly supporting me on this journey, even though they had no certain guarantee I would ever be going to actual class. So here’s to you, Ma and Pa! I’m off to school, off to school, to prove to you I’m not [always] a fool!
Generally, students study abroad sometime in their junior year, but really anytime starting the summer after your freshman year is fair game. Here’s what the process will look like once you get there.
Sometimes this process can take longer than expected, and it’s better not to be caught off guard. Plus, you know you have one big thing checked off your abroad to-do list!
While these things can feel like a far-off dream, it’s really never too early to start planning for a semester, year, or summer abroad. If you’re stoked now, get the ball rolling with these early steps:
If you know you’ve always dreamed of living in Paris, but you don’t speak a lick of French, now’s the time start honing your language skills. If you have high school language credit under your belt, continue your studies at CU.
For those with no language experience, CU offers excellent beginning level language classes (anything from Farsi to Spanish are available and can be continued throughout your undergraduate career!). But, if you don’t have any language background or a desire to start one – don’t worry. We have plenty of options for you, be it an exchange in a country that speaks English too, a U.S. study center, or even an internship abroad. You’re not limited to just England and Australia, either.
By planning ahead, you can make your experience abroad all the more fulfilling. Start making a budget now, you’ll be better set up to pick the perfect program without breaking the bank – and, you can even start saving up for those weekend excursions and late-night takeaway runs!
You can compare extensive breakdown costs between different programs here, and peruse our affordable travel tips here. Our program cost breakdown sheet is an excellent place to start a budget. You know how much those sections will cost – now try to make a breakdown of how much you want to spend on food for the semester, bus passes, or even concerts and other fun activities. With a good breakdown of costs, you can ensure you get in on the option that works best for your finances.
Our website is a one-stop shop for anything you could ever wonder about going on a CU study abroad program. Start looking at programs now, so you know what kinds of things you do and don’t want in your study abroad experience. You might find out a program you love can only cover 3 major credits,
and then you know to start socking away humanities and elective credits that will be a breeze to gain abroad. But, there are plenty of ways to gain major/minor/certificate credit abroad as well.
If you know your major, check in on your audit and cross check it with our course approval list.
Education Abroad alumni love to chat with their fellow future Global Buffs! No one knows the in’s and out’s of your program better than a fellow Buffalo that did it themselves a semester previous. Seek them out – either through our Facebook page or our office – and ask questions to your heart’s desire!
Got a question? Come on in and ask! We have walk-in’s from 9-4:30 in the Office of International Education in the C4C whenever you’re ready.
But, if you’re feeling a little less social, our online resources won’t let you down. Live chat us from our website to answer quick, easy questions, toggle around abroad.colorado.edu to get a feel for the different things to keep in mind, visit our Instagram to see what our current Global Buffs are up to, scroll the Facebook page to find alumni and other buddies to help you out, get tips about everything from the region you’re studying in to travel journal inspiration on our Pinterest, and read alumni stories and advice on our WordPress blog.
So you’ve been accepted to your program, you’ve been to your orientations, you’ve finally gotten your passport back with a probably sub-par photo of you staring back at you from your visa. All that you can do is sit and wait for the impending chaos of study abroad now, right?
Not even close. There are all kinds of things that can give you an extra edge before you even touch down in your host country. Here’s a helpful list of those things those orientations won’t cover from those of us who learned these lessons the hard way.
If you’re going to a non-English speaking country and have no background in the language of your host country, seriously, do your Duolingo. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to this wonder app, you can download it for free on iOS, Android, and Windows phones. It’ll walk you through the basics of most major world languages through pictures, matching, and writing.
Most people swear by this one, but there are also other great apps like Busuu, Babbel, and Fluent Panda. Doesn’t matter if you only get through the first three lessons on the plane to your program- it’s going to help. Being familiar with high frequency words will be incredibly helpful, especially in the first few days. And while you’re at it, commit the phrase “Where is the bathroom” in the country’s language to memory, because literally anything else will be more dignified to try and act out in those first frustrating days.
Check weather averages in your host city
I know this seems obvious, but this was my (and several other Buffs) biggest mistake before going abroad. When you’re wading through subzero conditions in a Colorado blizzard, 32 degrees and drizzle sounds downright tropical. By the same token, an 85 degree dry heat is extremely different from 85 degrees at 100% humidity.
If you think you have a good idea of what the weather will be like without researching, check again. I went to Italy in the winter expecting a mild, Mediterranean winter, and ended up living in a parka for two months, not to mention dropping a good chunk of money on extra winter clothes I didn’t think to bring. To add insult to injury, in many countries heating is limited by law as to how much you can use each day (7 hours in Italy). Older buildings, however beautiful and unique they may be, tend to be drafty and poorly insulated. Likewise, be prepared for no air conditioning in locations with hot summers. If you do this, you’ll be geared up at best, and pleasantly surprised at worst.
Possibly the saddest moment of my life was coming home from study abroad, and then discovering the wonders of CityMapper. It’s like Google Maps, but with easy, straightforward transit directions you don’t have to break out the Deerstalker cap and pipe to decipher. It’s your best friend if you’ll be traveling to or living in any major city abroad. In addition to US cities, Citymapper currently has London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, Mexico City, Moscow, Rome, Sao Paolo, Sydney, Seoul, and Singapore, to name a few. You may or may not have data while abroad, so look up directions while you have wifi and screenshot them. It works just as well. Seriously, this thing runs on pure magic.
Bring clothes you can say goodbye to.
You’ll probably be traveling and going places much, much more than you’re used to in Boulder, and this can take its toll on clothes- especially shoes. If you’re living somewhere that dryers aren’t an option, line drying can also leave you with starchy, itchy clothes after a while. You’ll probably have at least one pair of shoes fall apart completely. And, inevitably, you’ll lose something.
I’ve heard many a lament of Zeppelin shirts abandoned in Munich, Scotland sweatshirts forgotten under hostel pillows, beloved gloves left behind in restaurants. But there’s a bright side: more space to bring things home!
At the end of your program, some providers will give you the opportunity to donate clothes you don’t want to bring back and aren’t entirely trashed. If they don’t, you can research donation centers locally.
Things won’t fit the same going back anyways (they never do), and this way you buy yourself a little grace and souvenir space at the end of semester. Travel sometimes lends itself to having to make some tough decisions, and choosing to bring clothes you can let go will save you a lot of pain.
Pack towels and a blanket.
While we’re on the topic of packing and clothes- bring towels you don’t care about and a spare blanket. A lot of programs require you to bring your own towels, and having an extra blanket is always a good idea. Some hostels don’t provide towels, or charge to borrow one.
A lightweight blanket is good for those early morning bus rides, late night flights, or an extra layer for your bed. Lay out your blanket and towel at the bottom of your suitcase before you add anything else. Ditch them in your host country at the end of your program. Same deal with the old clothes- donate when you can, and you’ll magically have some extra suitcase space coming home.
Buy an adapter before you leave.
A lot of us have been there, knowing that the outlets will be different, knowing that we’re going to have to get an adapter, but deciding to buy it once we arrive. If this happens to you, it won’t be the end of the world, but bringing an adapter along will make the beginning of your program a lot less stressful.
This is a preference thing, but I also recommend getting a second, cheap adapter if your laptop or phone are known for spotty battery quality. See if you can find a place in-country that won’t jack up the price for tourists. It’s not a necessity, for sure, but it will make home life when you’re doing homework at night a little easier.
Learn how to do laundry in a sink.
Yeah, yeah, sounds gross, but it’s really not so bad. My life improved significantly when I realized I could cut down on the day-or-two long Italian laundering process (between a washing machine that took four hours and line drying in a cold apartment) if I found myself facing an impromptu weekend trip and no clean socks. Even better, if you’re going on a long trip for a week or two, knowing you can flash clean some little things in a hostel sink helps tremendously. It’s pretty easy- warm water, add clothes, add laundry detergent, scrub, rinse in cold water, let dry.
I learned that adding a little hair conditioner can keep things from getting too starchy with this method. Google’s your friend here – there’s a rainbow of hand washing tips and tricks at your fingertips. Bring a plastic baggie with a couple of those laundry detergent pods with you abroad, and keep them for such emergencies while traveling.
Research the trash situation.
This mostly applies to you if you’ll be living in an apartment, but it’s good knowledge if you’re in a homestay or residence hall too. In many countries, garbage protocol varies extensively from the United States. When I lived in Italy, we had to sort our trash into different colored bags by paper, plastics and glass, compost, and general trash. Each type had a different day we had to take it out, at a certain time, in the correct colored bag, at the exact designated spot. Wrong day, time, color, or place? You could get slapped with a fine. It was a serious adjustment when I first showed up, and I found myself thinking about trash approximately a thousand times more than I ever did in the United States. Even worse, the city switched the colors for paper and plastics in the middle of our program. Germany recycles their glass by color, and has something called the “Green Dot System.” In Beijing, inhabitants of a hutong dump trash on a designated street corner, which is cleaned several times a day. Prepare yourself and Google your host country’s garbage guidelines once you know your specific housing situation.
Acknowledge that you’re American.
This is the biggest thing I hear from returned students. Social norms when it comes to interacting with one another are going to be completely different from what you are used to. Many European countries value a certain level of uniform presentation (men and women) before you leave the house. Wear bright colors, leggings, converse, and backpacks? You’re going to get stared at. Stores are going to open and close at different times. In many places, people will be just as curious about your life in America as you are about theirs. People are going to want to talk about American politics- and to an American, that can be a shock to the system. Stateside, politics are a sensitive discussion, but it may not be at all in your host country. During a language exchange event, one of the local students immediately asked my thoughts on gun control, on Obama, on Trump, on every hot button topic under the sun. On the other end of the spectrum, some subjects may be completely off-limits, or social concepts completely alien to members of your host country. Your host culture will likely have a very different system of values from what you are used to. This isn’t to say you need to necessarily assimilate entirely, but it is important to remember to be adaptable, open minded, and respectful when it comes to these cultural differences.
These are a few good ways to start preparing beyond a packing list and really start thinking about your life abroad. While you’re gone, you’ll probably formulate your own long list of things that you wish you had known, but that’s all a part of the experience. You’ll become more resourceful and adaptable, and find your own creative solutions to the challenges your host country may throw you. And this time next year, who knows, you may be passing along your own sage study abroad advice through anecdotes of your own failures and some silly gifs. We look forward to reading.
One of the most daunting things about going to a foreign country can be trying to communicate with people who don’t speak your language. Even if you choose to study in an English-speaking country chances are good that you will travel somewhere that people speak another language.
Here are some tips to help you out!
Yes, many people speak English- but not everyone
English is increasingly becoming a global lingua franca. Especially in big cities, international airports, and tourist hot spots, it’s widely used to communicate with basically everyone outside of the local population. It can be comforting to know that most places you can find people proficient in English who have a basic understanding and are able to communicate. So keep in mind that people may understand your English, even when you may be talking among friends and think no one knows what you’re saying (this is directed at you, Americans on the Paris metro, who didn’t realize that other passengers could understand what they were saying).
However, on the flip side, it’s not wise to assume that everyone speaks English, and you shouldn’t expect them to either. As a visitor, it’s up to you to be respectful and to make the effort to communicate with the people in your host country and not expect others to accommodate to you. People often sincerely appreciate when you make an effort to learn their language, even if you make mistakes and it’s not perfect.
Do your research beforehand
There are so many resources to learn languages these days — YouTube videos, tutorials, movies, TV, music, podcasts, books, websites — a myriad of ways to get exposure. Pick one, or a few
mediums, and get a head start before you go. I particularly enjoy foreign music, a good podcast, and a small personal dictionary as resources.
Survival phrases and knowing how to ask polite questions is essential (although ideas of politeness can be culturally different). In France, for example, you always start with bonjour; it’s polite to greet someone before asking something of a stranger. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry,’ ‘no thanks,’ are always a good idea to know no matter where you go. If you know that you will be doing certain activities like buying tickets, ordering food/drinks, or needing to go to the bathroom or getting lost and needing to ask for directions, it’s good to look those phrases up too. Another great one is always, do you speak english?
This might all seem painfully obvious, but I had experiences abroad where I sincerely wish I would have taken my advice. When I was traveling by myself I took an overnight bus from Greece to get to Istanbul, Turkey. It was an 8 hour trip and there was no bathroom on the bus, and no one that spoke English. Trying to ask for a bathroom break with zero Greek or Turkish knowledge was very difficult and awkward and not something that I would recommend.
Use your resources (technology!)
Google translate can be your friend. It’s a good tool for rapid, rough translations. It tends to be very literal which can be problematic for words that have multiple meanings or for idiomatic expressions (think: google translate let it go song or sirenas translation). I mostly use it to translate other languages into English to get the general gist of something.
When I want accuracy and actual reliable help, I use WordReference. It gives you full sentence examples in both English and the target language (including many romance languages and other major world languages). They give synonyms and different usages, idiomatic expressions, and lots of examples. There is also a tab for verb conjugations as well. As a language major, WordReference has been my lifeline. It is also super helpful because it includes slang and vocab that people actually use when they talk.
Old fashioned techniques can be helpful too
Write things down. I would not have been able to hitchhike around Iceland without writing down the names of my destinations and showing it to the drivers. Take pictures of important words, addresses, metro stops, streets, and hostels that you may not otherwise remember. Especially if the country uses a different alphabet. This is also a good strategy if you are ever in France, because many French words are absolutely not pronounced as you would assume from their written form.
Speaking the local language will make things easier
Life will simplify exponentially once you become proficient in the basics. Once I was able to understand what other people were saying and I was able to communicate my needs. I felt like I could finally enjoy being abroad. Small interactions like ordering food or buying things at the supermarket no longer felt like daunting, monumental tasks. My level of stress and anxiety calmed down once I became competent and confident in the language.
It’s also way more interesting to actually understand what people are saying around you and more fun to finally be able to get jokes. It is a humbling but rewarding experience to try and learn another language, and once you do you open yourself up to a whole new world of connections and experiences.