Sunday, January 29, 2012

In my head, I'm still overseas

            After a week of gorging on pizza, deli sandwiches, and bagels, I’m well over the missing New York stage. Yes, I’ve returned to the land of Brooklyn accents, tough-guy attitudes, and a Super Bowl Sunday preparations, but in my imagination I’m still abroad roving around on the London Underground.

            “You don’t really know your country until you leave it” is just one of the many things people have said to me about study abroad. I certainly do have a greater appreciation for the States than I did before I left. On my first day back, I hung up an American flag I’ve had here for a while, but never did take the time to display before. This is always going to be home and I love my country. U.S.A. and its people are unique and there’s still so much opportunity here that is lost elsewhere.
The next bit of decorating my new dorm room after handing up the American flag, was to plant the four leaf clover seeds I brought back from Ireland and unpacked my British pub food cookbook. When professors, friends, and family see me for the first time after my trip, study abroad incites a conversation that reminds me of the great adventure I had. The memories and constantly explaining how going abroad benefited me makes me want to go again. More than the appreciation of New York and America in general that increased during my time abroad, I now have developed a longing for somewhere else, another place to miss. As I apply for summer jobs and research positions, the ones that would station me in London or a city in Europe that I never made it to during my travels stick out from the pack. I’m still afflicted with wanderlust.


On my flight back to the States, Icelandair provided envelopes for passengers to donate their extra change, which is particular convenient for those not planning to carry around their spare coins until they one day return to a country that accepts them as far off as that time could be. The charity supported by Icelandair’s envelopes provides ill children with air flight and expenses like souvenir money for the trip of their dreams. I’m so grateful that the Gilman Scholarship program supported my trip that I otherwise would not have been able to afford so, save for a souvenir or two from each currency, I poured my little satchel of pence, kroners, and euro cents, anything I didn’t use for the laundry machine, into the envelope. I didn’t quite hand get to hand it to the stewardess myself, but the nice lady in the aisle seat passed it along for me as I laid passed out exhausted from all my travels.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One last excursion

            In late December, I returned from Christmas break spent with a French classmate’s family road tripping back and forth to Spain and then sitting for Christmas dinner within the walls of the most amazing castle I saw during my entire European adventure. When I returned to the UK, there was an extensive amount of revising and studying that I had procrastinating doing all semester while I concentrated on exploring and having an enjoyable experience while abroad. Thankfully, the education system at University of Hertfordshire meant that I still had until the middle of January before finals started. After muddling through some really tough exams, I headed from my last one right to the bus stop after saying some quick farewell to the seriously amazing friends I met in England. I waved goodbye to those that walked me to the station and helped me carry my luggage. I could have stayed an extra day to have more time to say goodbye, but I trust I will one day see my friends again and I couldn’t leave Europe without visiting at least one more country!

            One thing that I wish I had known before leaving for studying abroad was that Icelandair will schedule you a stopover in Iceland for no additional charge. The trip back to the States with a long layover in Keflavik, Iceland actually turned out to be cheaper than a direct flight home on the airline I took for my initial flight from New York to London. It was cheaper and I got to spend a night and day seeing a bit of Iceland. The shared six person hostel room I booked was upgraded to a really nice apartment with free dinner and taxi service due to some computer error. That was a nice bit of luck for my last night abroad. Just after a filling breakfast of I don’t know what, I took a bus to the Blue Lagoon, a hot spring heated by Iceland’s volcanos. I’d heard that Iceland used hot springs to power its geothermal plants and as a source of chemically unique bacteria and white silica sand sold as skin rejuvenating products. Though, I was mostly there just to swim in the neon blue water. I can’t tell you how interesting and amazing swimming in the Blue Lagoon was; you’ll have to go for yourself one day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How has study abroad influenced my academic and personal goals?

I got to set off on the adventure I always wanted. This trip, studying abroad in the United Kingdom, has been the fulfillment of a dream. The chance to study in a foreign country as well as travel around a continent I have never been to before has introduced me to ideas, concepts, places and people I otherwise probably would not have encountered anytime soon.

The courses I studied here introduced me to fields and analytical techniques, many of which are not covered by my course of study back in the States. A lot of the new perspectives and concepts I have learned have been thanks to the broad array of classes available to students on exchange programs. They allow students to take courses in different majors and many of which are not offered at their home institutions.
Before I applied to study abroad, I carefully examined programs to see which courses were available where. When I was accepted to the international academic program at the University of Hertfordshire, I was surprised to find out my courses were chosen for me. I had written an essay about my academic interests and goals. The tutors here decided what I would study while abroad based on that my transcripts and that one personal statement. At first it seemed like there was a lot of variety in amongst the modules they selected for me. As I near the end of my studies here, I have come to realize that plenty of the material covered in each course overlaps.
Thanks to one module I took, I now have hands on experience administering ECG examinations, and bloodletting. In another course, we studied the essential nutrients and protein precursors found in the blood and pumped throughout the body by the contractions of heart tissue that results from the same electrical impulses that an ECG records. Yet another course went over how toxic chemicals like mercury that can accumulate in the environment and enter the same blood stream. Despite each course being from a different major, or “course” as Europeans say, I found myself most interested in topics of each course that happened related to each other. I then realize that parts of each course that most garnered my attention where those that overlapped with my main academic interests, the lectures and workshops that I most enjoyed were those most based in chemistry. I was particularly interested in the study of toxins that enter it into the body after accumulating in the environment and exactly how they affect us. This subject appeared in three of my four courses, sports health, environmental management, and biochemistry. The library here has been a great source of books on work in regulating chemical accumulation in the environment. Without realizing it at first, my semester abroad helped me confirm what I am most interested in perusing in graduate school and hopefully my own future research and work.
So my future, or the future that I hope to pursue anyway, is a bit more clear to me. However, I wouldn’t say that I found myself on my trip to Europe. At most, this all just reminded me of what I already know about myself and gave me a new perspectives to view myself. The only cliché thing that I can say about what I’ve gained from this trip is that it did broaden my horizons. I mostly used the time here getting to know the other international student who provided endless conversation comparing every little difference between our respective nations. They view much of daily American life as foreign and different. I showed the English what a Thanksgiving dinner was about. Friends shared Kings’ Cake and Malaysian coffee with me. When one of the French friends I have made here even visited New York as a tourist for Christmas whilst I visited France we were able to compare the tourist versus local perspective when we reunited. In general, I feel like I have a better grasp of how foreigners view American as well as how the world outside of the States differs. I have also made connections with countless people from England, Europe and the rest of the world that may be helpful in my future endeavors.

From a practical perspective, I have actually accomplished a lot here. Besides the few credits and the academic knowledge I gained along the way, all the wishes I have crossed off my bucket list was my next biggest major accomplishment whilst here. I kissed the Blarney stone, saw Stonehenge upfront, made pilgrimage to Lourdes, spoke Spanish in Spain, and explored Ireland, the home of my ancestors. I’m hopefully also going to get to see the northern lights when I stop in Iceland on my way back home. I am having adventures I never would have imagined before as well. I tested an actual patient’s blood and explored London on bike. I spent an afternoon in a castle that doubled as a space observatory. I took a road trip to Barcelona. I swam in the Mediterranean and I saw the most amazing sculpture park in Norway that I never even knew existed before. I’m having a blast collecting currencies along the way. I have made memories and new friends to last me a life time.

My life has changed. I was an independent person before, but by managing to studying abroad I have demonstrated this. Now I have all my experiences to cherish and learn from as well an accomplishment on my resume establishes that I am capable and mature enough take the initiative to relocate, adapt to a new environment, and learn from new resources.