For this week's column, we decided to ask students who studied abroad in the fall one question: What was your most unforgettable moment of the semester? Here are their responses:
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Devon Shapiro '13 tells of his humiliating yet humorous face-to-face encounter with Latin American culture while on the IFSA-Butler program
I was bad at giving besos (kisses) as greetings. It's one kiss on the right cheek, but it's not like a kiss: you just make the kissing noise and touch cheeks with the person. I committed myself to getting better at it. My host parents had a dinner party and invited a lot of people over. I was having these awkward encounters where I would try to shake someone's hand, and they would look at me weirdly and try to kiss me, and I wouldn't know what to do. I thought "Okay, these people are family so I have to do it." I just went in and gave my host brother's wife's father, who was not a small guy, a big, wet kiss on his cheek. He looked at me in shock. The rest of the night was spent making jokes about me.
Lydia Singerman '13 discusses her time on the CIEE program in Ghana and the the trials that befall the simple act of running in a third world country.
I ran a 10K in Ghana with three other girls from my program. The runners were a mix of white people and Ghanaians. All of the white people showed up in their running clothes and sneakers, and then the Ghanaians showed up. A third were blind, a third were nine years old, and a third were barefoot. One woman had flip-flops taped around her feet. I think it only started an hour and a half after it was supposed to which isn't too bad for Ghana. There was no starting line, instead the man in charge called everyone toward him and asked if we wanted to start now. We said okay, so he shot the gun and we all went running off. My friends and I were keeping pace with the blind man, who was running and holding hands with someone. The race was in an area of the city along the ocean, and they were supposed to shut down the roads. They didn't. We got to a main road and were running in the middle of the road with traffic going both ways. Ghanaians started running next to us because they thought it was funny and don't understand why white people like to run so much. Drivers kept sticking their hands out the window trying to grab us to put us in their car because they didn't understand why we were running. All the little kids won, but at the end we got coconuts.
Jay Spry '13 shares the joys of airport travel in Europe while on the IES program.
Apparently Prague doesn't have customs...well sort of. I studied in Madrid this fall, and a friend and I went to visit Prague for a weekend. We walked off the plane in Prague and immediately noticed a group of five guys walking by us in full body armor and black berets and holding shotguns and assault rifles. We figured this was part of the second world's culture (old Soviet bloc), when three more guys in body armor with assault rifles started walking towards us. They actually reached out with their hands to stop us and started barking orders at us in Czech. Clearly we didn't speak Czech, but while this was happening, the first group of five guys came up behind us and circled us so that we were surrounded by the eight Czech soldiers with shotguns and assault rifles. After a minute of speaking Czech to us, one of them asked for our passports in broken English. They inspected our passports for a minute, then exclaimed that we were American, shoved our passports back in our faces, and let us go. The rest of the airport stared at my friend and me, in our Bowdoin and UVA sweatshirts, as if we were terrorists. I had never been so scared.
Eliza Warren-Shriner '13 describes how she added some Italian flair to her French education whille on the Dickinson College program.
I decided to take Italian in France because I am a romance languages major and needed to get more Italian credits while abroad. I ended up choosing classes that were above my level, and the French are inherently better at Italian so for them speaking the language is a lot easier. I had three different professors to get just 1 credit in Italian, which meant 7 1/2 hours of Italian every week and 3 hours of translation from French to Italian and Italian to French. One of the professors and I developed a very strong bond because I was there all the time and didn't skip class, ever. Sometimes it was just another Italian girl, the professor and I so we had a lot of cultural conversations about Italy, France and America. I was traveling by myself over one of the breaks and went to Italy and my professor gave me his family's contact information. If it weren't for the floods in northern Italy, I would have tried to stay with them.
Nani Durnan '13 exposes what goes on behind closed doors on Swathmore College's french homestay program.
In France, they're supposed to treat you like you're a part of the family, but that was awkward for me because there were no locked doors in my host family's apartment. There was no privacy. My host baby brother always kept his toys in the bathroom, and the laundry machine was right next to the shower, so I could never find a time when the bathroom was unoccupied. One day, my host family had cousins over, and there were a million babies screaming in the living room. I meekly put on my old lady bathrobe and crept into the bathroom, trying not to be noticed. Right as I took my bathrobe off to get in the shower, my host parents' 6-year-old niece flung the door from the bathroom to the living room wide open. I was looking into the eyes of adults I'd met an hour ago. I just hit the floor and made a noise because in that moment I couldn't speak French. It was a mild howl. Their niece finally shut the door, and I laughed through the rest of my shower because I did not want to cry.
Kenny McCroskery '13 and Hannah Young '13 who went on the same IES German program, recount their experience in a lawless society: a train heading through Germany to Oktoberfest.
KM: We both studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany, which is a 7-hour train ride to Munich. But we're cheap and bought this special pass that cost 40 euros for 5 people's fares and you can go anywhere in Germany with this pass. So naturally we chose to use it to go to Oktoberfest. To maximize our time, we chose the earliest train, which left at 5:15 in the morning. We woke up at 4 a.m. and walked for 45 minutes to the train station. And it's freezing. Hannah's wearing a traditional German dress and I have on my Bavarian hat and my traditional jacket, which I had bought off the vendor's back at a flea market the day before. Only when we get to the train station do we realize that the passes don't work for express trains. The train we got on would stop every five minutes in every bumblef--k town in Germany and Switzerland. The first stop was Basel, Switzerland, which is in the complete opposite direction of Munich.
HY: We were nomming on peanut butter sandwiches and we were now eight hours away from our final destination at this point. We essentially left the country to get back into the country on the cheap train.
KM: So then a mountain biking team comes onto the crowded train.
HY: Germans really love taking bikes onto trains.
KM: Germans do not love wearing deodorant. This German woman and I looked at each other in repulsion at the odor emanating from this one man's pits. We transferred trains again and again and again.
HY: We followed the hordes of people wearing girdles and lederhosen. We joined the bandwagon to go to Munich. What's the moral of the story? Immersing yourself in the local forms of transportation is inefficient. We finally get on the train that we're going to be on for another four years that will take us to Munich. This train was an alternate universe. I felt like we were in a different era on a high-speed train. And everyone was so drunk.
KM: So keep in mind, there are no other Americans on this train.
HY: I had no idea what was going on because I don't speak German.
KM: These old men on a soccer team were pretty intoxicated, singing and being bros. They were in the aisle, and the train was packed at this point. Hannah and I casually swig a bottle of rum and everyone's looking at us.
HY: Everyone was like, ''Why are there Americans on this train? This is for locals." There was this huge man standing next to us in the aisle. He was part of the soccer team, definitely the social captain. They were all just heckling each other like crazy.
He kept trying to talk to us as I'm awkwardly laughing. So then we take out the rum. And he's like "Oooohh!!" So we gave this man the bottle. And then sitting in front of us was this cute old couple. We thought they were pissed at first because we were being pretty rowdy. That's the biggest difference between people there and here. They totally thought it was hilarious. The little old lady fell asleep eventually and the old man beckoned to us. We got the message. We passed him the bottle of rum, and he pointed to his wife and lifted his index finger to his lips and went, "Shh, don't tell my wife!"
KM: No chaser by the way.
HY: Finally we got there. At two in the afternoon. You would assume you would walk onto the street and find Oktoberfest. False. Oktoberfest is strategically hidden in the city.
KM: Imbeciles, imbeciles.
HY: Because our train tickets were so cheap we couldn't get onto public transportation. So there were eight of us wandering around Old Munich, and we thought we would just follow around the people in costumes. But everyone's wearing costumes, and no one knows where they're going. Finally, we stumbled upon Oktoberfest.