Shoes optional.

Shoes optional.

There’s a reason it’s called culture shock and not cultural differences-that-are-to-be-expected. Here’s six examples of things that were shocking about life in New Zealand:

  1. Driving on the left. It only took a few car rides to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road, but I still have to consciously think “right, left, right” when crossing the street. Driving on the left also means people go to the left when passing others on the sidewalk, which is why I may or may not have almost walked into like 10 people on the first day of class.
  2. Kmart is nice and no one calls McDonald’s by its name. Just because stores and fast-food chains are owned by the same company, it does not mean they are the same as back home. I never thought that I would hear someone say “Let’s go to Kmart” in an excited tone, and I wasn’t prepared to go from the dollar menu at McDonald’s to prices in the double digits at “Maccas”.

  3. It’s socially acceptable to not wear shoes. I thought it was interesting that the dining hall had a sign that reads “Please wear shoes in the dining hall” but then I learned that it’s normal to go barefoot wherever, including the grocery store and Kmart.
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  4. Roommates don’t exist. At LVC, I was blessed with not one, but two amazing roommates (s/o Caite and Julia), who I lived with my freshman and sophomore year. Whenever I mention having roommates, people look at me like I’m crazy and say things like “so wait, there’s three of you…in one room?” and “I could never share a room like that” and “Having your own room here must be nice, huh?” and “Would you rather have roommates or your own room?” (to which I always respond: “I’d rather have my roommates than my own room”).

  5. Scheduling classes is crazy. At LVC, there are Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes, Tuesday/Thursday classes, and night classes. In New Zealand, there’s lectures, tutorials, and labs. One class could meet for lecture for an hour Monday evening, an hour Thursday morning, and an hour Friday afternoon. There isn’t a set schedule, so it is more likely that class times will clash. On top of lectures, you have to sign up for labs and tutorials. It’s basically like the Hunger Games trying to get the time slot you need before it fills up. Some students have overlapping classes, so they have to leave one class an hour early to go to another.

  6. School spirit (or lack thereof). During my first week here, I went to the on-campus bookstore and was surprised to see that it was just that: books. There is one sweatshirt for the university, but you have to order it online and nobody really wears it. The university doesn’t have a mascot either. It’s the opposite of back home where everyone is wearing college gear. Even as I’m writing this, I’m repping an LVC Dutchmen shirt which a girl from the Netherlands asked me about since they don’t really have school apparel at her school back home.

 

It’s an adventure..

It’s an adventure..

I arrived in New Zealand almost two weeks ago, and been keeping busy since the minute the plane landed. Classes didn’t begin until our second week here so we had time to find our way around and recover from any jet lag we might have had.

There is one other student who is studying abroad in New Zealand this semester so I wasn’t totally alone in going into life abroad. Within the first hour of moving into our new dorms, we met two other students on our floor from Holland, as well as a girl from France who lives on the floor above ours. A few hours later, we were already off on our first New Zealand adventure: taking the bus to the grocery store. It was this trip that started our motto of “It’s an adventure” for whenever we do anything new or exciting.

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Dear LVC, thank you.

Dear LVC, thank you.

Dear LVC,

Thank You.

For the memories I’ve made here. The weekends filled with fun and new experiences, but also for the late night study sessions and 9am classes

For my dorm room that has become my second home, where I can binge watch Netflix, but also have it filled with people laughing at my accent

For teaching me that I can do things when I put my mind to them, like moving away for a year from my hometown, even though 8 years ago I couldn’t go to summer camp without crying and wanting to come home

For the things I’ve learned in and outside the classroom

For vacations from studying just at the right time, when I’ve been able to travel all around the place and stay with friends (and getting food other than Metz)

For letting me experience all different seasons, 2ft of snow to 90F/35C temperatures with humidity. I quickly learnt that I need sunscreen every time I step outside in the sun

For pushing me to step out of my comfort zone in class, with presentations and cultural experiences (Although professors definitely grade me easier because of the accent)

For being in N. America because that’s where Chick-fil-A is

For my professors who loved me that little bit more because of the Irishness and their obsession with Irish cheese, leprechauns and Guinness

For showing me what American culture is really like and dispelling the myths and stereotypes I had about Americans. You’re not all obese and stupid, promise

For the people who have supported me, the team in the Center for Global Ed, my advisors, RAs, everyone

For forcing me to appreciate and be proud of where I come from, but not scared to experience new things and see how others do things differently

For giving me a new perspective on life. Even though so many of you see Annville as the most boring, conservative town in America, it has done more for me than you can imagine. Yes, LVC might have had some tough times with diversity and acceptance recently, but it has shown me how a community can come together and rise above it

For allowing me my independence, but also for everyone who kept me right when I needed it

For the lifelong friends I have made here. At the risk of getting really soppy, these people have made this experience the best one of my life, and you best believe there’s always a place for you all to stay in Ireland!

Finally, for making it so damn hard to have to leave

Dear LVC,

Thank You.

16 things an Irish student loves at LVC

16 things an Irish student loves at LVC

  1. There are fries literally everyday. Criss cross, wedges, old bay, crinkle cut. Don’t know what to get with that chicken? Fries. What about that sandwich? Fries. How about that ice cream? Fries.
  2. Everyone holds the door open for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re literally 20 feet from the door, someone will probably still hold it open for you.
  3. Why are there so many puppies on campus?! It’s amazing! If my university at home had that many puppies I don’t think I’d get any work done.
  4. Sports are taken very seriously. If you play a sport expect to practice 6 days a week and possibly twice a day. Compare this to Northern Ireland where you might practice once or twice a week and have a game on a Saturday.
  5. Slang like “What’s good?” and “Came in clutch” just don’t make sense to me, but then neither does “What’s the craic?” (Irish slang meaning ‘what’s up’ or ‘how’s it going’)
  6. Redbook trips are so freaking awesome. Free trips to New York City? Yup. Hersheypark? Yeah. Skiing? Uh-huh. Phillies baseball? Of course.
  7. We got to ask the President for an extra day off because the football team beat Albright. That is literally the coolest thing ever. I don’t even know who plays sports in my university at home, never mind go and support them and get a day off for it.
  8. I’ve never experienced anything like the UG. Music I’ve never heard in my life (we don’t really listen to rap music in Ireland) and sweat running down the wall. Sure it’s all part of the college experience, right?
  9. Walking tacos in the C-Store are honestly my favourite college food. I could eat those things for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  10. The professors actually want to get to know you. They want to see you do well in their class and facilitate that as much as possible. Some even have you meet their family and go to their house for dinner. Yes, that really happened.
  11. An Irish accent on campus will literally get people you’ve never met coming up to you and asking you to “just say some words”, followed by me having no idea what to say in response.
  12. A lot of people like to tell you that they’re Irish too (no matter if its 2.43% Irish), but that’s okay because who doesn’t want to be Irish?!
  13. Racquetball is my new favourite sport. Everyone on campus has played at least once and it can get very competitive.
  14. I always forget about the sales tax they add on at the register in Turkey Hill or any other store off campus. Basically it’s a complete guessing game as to how much I’m about to spend.
  15. College academic life is very different. Participation and discussion is 100% required and can sometimes count for up to 30% of your overall grade. You will have homework every night and quizzes throughout the semester, instead of one big exam at the end.
  16. But most of all, I love the people of Lebanon Valley College and how proud they are of their College. It’s an amazing place and community!
The beginning of my adventure…

The beginning of my adventure…

My Lebanon Valley College study abroad journey began back when I first applied for University in Northern Ireland. Although I didn’t know the specifics at that point, I knew I wanted to spend a year studying in America and so this became important to me when choosing to study at Queen’s University Belfast. I knew they had a great Study USA programme and as soon as I could, I applied, was interviewed and got a place on the scheme!

I trawled through a list of about 100 colleges throughout the United States, but finally settled on Lebanon Valley College. At first, it stuck out to me because it was close to many places on the East Coast like Philadelphia, New York City and Washington DC. The campus also looked amazing and it seemed to give a real sense of community and acceptance.

The weeks before my departure date, 22nd August, were the slowest weeks of my life. I was in complete excited anticipation of what the year would hold, as well as a bit of nerves and worry, as expected. Finally, I was off to Dublin Airport on a cold summers morning (but it wasn’t raining for once), knowing this would be the last time I’d see my family for 4 months before I came home for Christmas break. My Mum had cried every day for about a week by this point, but I was determined that I would only feel excitement the morning I left. It suddenly hit me and reality set in when I had just said goodbye to my parents (with Mum in floods of tears and Dad as cool and collected as ever) as I walked through security at the airport. I let out a few tears (this is the first time Mum and Dad are hearing this, oops) but quickly gathered myself and excitement rushed back in while waiting in line to go through United States of America pre-clearance. The only thing I wasn’t looking forward to was the 17 hours of travelling ahead of me.

Late on the night of the 22nd August I arrived at Lebanon Valley College. I had been picked up by Caitlin Murphy, my amazing International Advisor, and got my first look at where I’d be living for the next year as we drove from Harrisburg to Annville. Caitlin has been such a brilliant help this year when I’ve needed something, haven’t been sure how something worked or when I just wanted someone to chat to. Caitlin, Jill and the whole Center for Global Education deserve a lot of recognition for the massive amount of work they put in and the pure passion they have for their jobs and for making a LVC a more diverse campus.

I’ve never slept better in my life that night, despite the anxious thoughts and worry. I was to be up at my first orientation session at 9am with the rest of the new International students. Orientation was incredible as I met so many new people so quickly and made lifelong friends in those first few days. It was overwhelming, as it is for any new student starting College, but at the same time exciting and new. I was ready for the experience and open to meeting as many new people as possible.

I quickly found out that the LVC campus really is as beautiful as it looks on the website and I knew I had come to the right place. The people have also played a huge part in my life here. They truly are a wonderful community who are willing to listen to new people, learn about new cultures and are just genuinely kind and caring. This is definitely the reason why I haven’t been properly homesick (sorry Mum and Dad). The LVC community are my adopted family.

At this point I figured I’d just share some photos of my first few days and experiences at Lebanon Valley College. More posts coming soon!

My first day at Lebaon Valley College!
My first day at Lebaon Valley College!

 

So so hot!
So so hot!

 

Flag raising ceremony
Flag raising ceremony

 

Group of International students
Group of International students

 

First baseball game- Phillies
First baseball game- Phillies

 

First trip to Walmart
First trip to Walmart

 

I slid down this, I'm not joking
I slid down this, I’m not joking

 

Hangzhou

Hangzhou

The first time I heard of the West Lake was during our trip to Beijing. We went to the Capital back in September during the first month of our study abroad experience. Our program visited the Summer Palace after walking most of the day through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, both political and cultural relics of China. The Summer Palace was beautiful; resting adjacent to a picturesque lake that I presumed was naturally formed. Little did I know that the entire grounds of the palace were seated on the soil that was dredged up to form this man-made lake. The lake was created by workers hauling buckets of earth and depositing them nearby, surmounting in a great hill that is at the center of the Palace grounds. I wondered what the inspiration was that would drive the Emperors of ancient China to build such a place. What were they trying to replicate? It was the West Lake in Hangzhou, over 1,300 kilometers south of the Capital.

 

Hearing of the Lake’s beauty, and considering how the emperors of old replicated it in the Capital I was eager to finally see the original lake. We departed from out dorm for Hangzhou around 8:30 in the morning last Saturday, taking a high speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, arriving just in time for lunch. Meeting a local friend of our program coordinator, I was glad to have the chance to practice my Chinese and learn about the area. We headed over to restaurant near the station. There we had a family style meal chock full of local dishes including dumplings, seafood balls, meat, and vegetable dishes. There was not one thing on the table that I didn’t like, and my favorite was a peanut dish. They were soaked in a kind of vinegar sauce that made you pucker; they were so good I had to get a doggie bag to snack on them later.

 

From the restaurant we walked through the downtown area, past a canal and some old-style residential areas. I noticed the streets were much less crowded than Shanghai or Beijing, Hangzhou being a city of only 8 million. This comparison would have shocked me before coming to China, as the closest city to my home, Baltimore, has just over half a million residents. But now, having lived in a city of 24 million for over three months, the streets of Hangzhou felt relatively unoccupied. It was somewhat refreshing.

 

We passed Halal restaurants and western-style coffee shops, heading towards the lake. Here the crowds became denser, waiting to walk across a small arch bridge then along a zigzagged path that spanned part of the shoreline. Our group made it out onto the bridge and got a quick photo. Next to the lake shore, we saw the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains. Off in the distance to the left was a pagoda, and out on the lake there were many boats ferrying people about. We would find out where the boats would take us the following day. We ventured along the shore, walking through several parks where people were playing folk instruments, singing songs, and dancing. This is one thing I will miss about China, how the older generations fill social places with music and life. It makes me smile.

 

The next day we took a boat across the lake to an island where we found trees bursting with fall color encircling three small pools. The island was small and we were able to explore it in its entirety in about an hour, snapping a ton of great photos with the beautiful backdrop nature provided. Taking the same boat back to shore, a bus was waiting to take us to the next destination, one of the biggest Buddhist temples in all of China. Through a short spat of traffic around the lake, we made it to the temple grounds in good time. First we saw Buddha’s carved into a cliff face, I estimate there were as many as 20 of them strewn about the rock. A placard revealed that some of them were over 1000 years old. I enjoyed this place because it was truly ancient, whereas in some other tourist destinations the structures I found had been reconstructed within the last 20 years or so. As were the temples that we would see next, which were rebuilt during the 1990’s. Still they were a sight to behold, housing massive Buddha’s and occupied by the devoted. We burned incense, explored the temples, and headed back on the bus to our final stop in our tour of Hangzhou.

 

The Ancient Cultural Street that the driver took us to reminded me a lot of the area surrounding the Yu Gardens in Shanghai. Full of handicrafts and local treasures, this place was also crowded with tourists, even a few westerners. I tried to stay off the crowded main street, so I stuck with our local friend Tom for this part of the trip. He took me into some traditional Chinese medicine stores, which I found fascinating. They had a barrel of free tea and boxes upon boxes of natural remedies. People sipped tea and discussed with the shop’s proprietors (who wore white lab coats like doctors) about their ailments and such. I did not dabble in any of the cures, though. Maybe the next time I am in China I will. We left the cultural street late that evening and began our journey back to Shanghai.

 

It had been a long day, and the bus ride back was relaxing. I reflected on the city and our activities there, and I wish I had known about the treasures of Hangzhou sooner.  It would have made a great place to do some personal travel and really get a feel for the town. To me it seemed the people there were in less of a hurry than Shanghai, where the streets and metro lines are full of the daily rush hour drama. Having run the gauntlet of rush hour transportation in Shanghai, Hangzhou was a welcomed break. I enjoyed the trip very much and hope to go back in the future.

Parents Abroad

Parents Abroad

Spending four months living in an entirely new city, immersing yourself into an unfamiliar culture and engaging in a foreign experience abroad should be on the top of everyone’s to do list. Luckily, I’ve had the chance to embrace that livelihood. Spending this time abroad has opened my eyes to new adventure, my mind to a different understanding and surely made me wish that everyone I love could experience these same thing.

Theresa exploring Rome with Colin Albright and parents Gina and Mike.
Theresa exploring Rome with Colin Albright and parents Gina and Mike.

Since my arrival, my parents have been living vicariously through my pictures, Facetime chats and stories i’ve shared with them. To all of our excitement though, last week they no longer had to do that as they traveled thousands of miles across the ocean to visit me in my new, lovely, home away from home.

They’re lovers of Italian food, history and interested in culture, but what they weren’t big fans of were the hill top cities I trudged them through! On Friday, they arrived in Rome where I met them at the train station. We spent the day exploring a residential part of town, and when we weren’t out and about, my father always found time to rest his eyes sitting in almost any position. On Saturday, we adventured into ancient Rome where we explored the city that most definitely was not built in a day. Although beautiful and full of wonderful history, there was some competition for the most favorable city on their list.

Parents Gina and Mike at the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy.
Parents Gina and Mike at the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy.

Sunday we traveled to Perugia where I was able to show them around the hilltop city that is full of beautiful views and countless charming features. We checked out some of my favorite food places, hangout spots and aspects of everyday life. Later in the week, we took a trip to Florence and Assisi. Both admirable, but Assisi truly did steal my father’s heart.

Hanging out in front of the Colosseum.
Hanging out in front of the Colosseum.

Parents abroad is such an amazing thing to experience while studying in a new country. Not only did I get a little taste of home, some treats from the States, and loaded my parents with things to take back with them, but I got to introduce my favorite people to many of my new favorite things, and that is something I will cherish forever. Now not only will I share stories of my study abroad trip, I will share memories that will last with us forever.

With 18 days left in this amazing country, I have to admit that I’m sad to be leaving but excited to be returning to the people and places that I have missed so much.

Ciao,
Theresa M

Rise

Rise

Something I’ve learned while studying alongside Chinese students and studying under the local professors it is that the world is about to be turned on its head. Their creativity, work ethic, and devotion to success cannot be compared to the students of the United States, who seem to have fallen far behind the rising global standard for education in my opinion. Additionally, any class taught in the U.S. on Asia and the Pacific cannot compare to the firsthand experiences gained from living here. The more visible indicators of Asia’s rise, including the increase in share of global GDP and prevalence as a manufacturing superpower are clear, but I do not think the capture the pace at which the change has begun to occur.

Any walk down a street in Shanghai and you will see young professionals, dressed to a T moving hurriedly through the swarms of pedestrian and electric scooter traffic, their phone conversations drowned out by frantic honking. Shanghainese spoken loudly by shop owners and slurred over intercoms at bus and subway stations, cab drivers hailing passengers rather than the other way around. Open stalls where peddlers sell fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and stranger things that I’d rather not mention are commonplace. Overladen scooter-bike hybrids full of bottles that can fetch 10 Mao (about 5 cents) take part in the hustle of city life, where each person is trying to earn their stake. Hurling themselves into a world of commerce and progress, some westerners would question the tactics these people are using to eek out a meager living under the feet of foreign brands. But I think it is for just that reason that these people will scrape and claw to gain ground in any way that they can. They have been under the Louis Vuitton boot, the heel of Prada, behind the screens of  our Apple phones, melted down into the plastic toys, sanded into the furniture and shipped to the west.  As long as this machine grinds unceasingly, the west may still have the advantage. But I think something else will happen. Chinese ingenuity can’t be kept under the thumb of the west for much longer. Collectively the people are advancing at a mind boggling pace. It is time we start teaching children in the U.S. Hanyu.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of Missing Out

Despite the beautiful views, hundreds of pictures and indescribable experiences, I always have that feeling that I’m missing out on something. That “something” is essentially everything that’s happening at home while I’m away. As my junior homecoming quickly approaches and festivities kick off, I really don’t think there’s any place I would rather be. Of course, I love being in Italy and it is absolutely amazing here, but there are a few things I would trade to be able to spend this specific weekend at home.

Now when I think about it, I know that this feeling is just temporary. As I scroll through social media and realize that i’m not experiencing all of these amazing things at home with my friends, I then think to myself… “wait, but i’m in Italy”. Sure, i’m missing homecoming, but I’m spending my weekend adventuring around the next beautiful city that I decide to explore. This weekend happens to be Venice, and I get to spend the time with some of my favorite people.

There’s a few other things I miss about home…

Not paying for water:

Every time I go out to dinner, I can’t just expect to get water for free. It’s usually about $3.00 for a large fancy glass bottle. Even though I’ve been here for a month, it’s still tough getting used to that.

My car:

Public transportation isn’t the worst thing in the world, I’ve actually adjusted to it quite well. Even though it’s easy to navigate, there’s times that I wish I could just get in my car and go instead of having to wait for the next bus to come around!

Football:

Yes, football. I miss listening to people yell at the tv, going to football games, football season, the atmosphere and everything that comes along with it. With that being said, Happy Homecoming Weekend at the Valley!

PerugiaLookoutMessenger

Until next time,
Theresa

30 Days

30 Days

Thirty whole days have gone by since I’ve been home and I’ve found out that a lot can happen in thirty days…

We spent our first night in a hotel where we met our roommates. From that moment on, the memories, challenges and excitement began! Over the past four weekends, I’ve traveled around Italy and have even been out of the county to experience one of Germany’s largest festivals.

The start of my adventure: 
During the first week, the Umbra Institute provided us with four days of Intensive Italian so that we would become comfortable and more familiar with the language. They also provided us with a delicious night of pizza at a local restaurant. The rest of the week was full of exploring the beautiful city of Perugia, and attempting to remember the names of the other 90 students at Umbra!

First Italian Pizza
First Italian Pizza

Monday morning rolled around and all of our traditional classes started for the semester. It was exciting to get back into the swing of school, but I wouldn’t mind being in Italy to study Italian and spend the rest of my time exploring the culture. At the end of  the week, I went on my first excursion and visited the beautiful Firenze. Sights like this are unimaginable, and no picture could ever do the view justice.

View from the Duomo in Florence
View from the Duomo in Florence

“Family” dinners, school, traveling and memory book club are what occupy most of my time during the week. Surprisingly enough, every time my friends and I get together for dinner, we always end up cooking some type of traditional American food. Stove top burgers has been our favorite meal so far! At the end of the week, my favorite person and I decided to take a weekend trip to see the beautiful Italian Coast. On our way to Cinque Terre, we stopped in Pisa to take the cliché leaning tower picture of course. While at the beaches in Cinque Terre, we were able to visit four out of the five towns and it was amazing. The sights were beautiful, and it was so easily to float in the water!

Manarola, Cinque Terre
Manarola, Cinque Terre
Hanging out, holding up the leaning tower!
Hanging out, holding up the leaning tower!

The next week consisted of the usual: Breathtaking views of Perugia, attempting to understand Italian and eating a whole lot of food. The weekend on the other hand may be my favorite part of my entire study abroad trip so far! Colin and I traveled with the company Bus2Alps to Munich, Germany where we spent our weekend camping and attending the opening days of Oktoberfest! On Friday, we spent our day on a bike tour through Munich learning about the history and current customs of Germans. The bike tour wrapped up with a nice downpour and soaking wet clothing! On Saturday, we traveling to the festival (still raining mind you) in our lederhosen and dirndls! The best part was that we were in the Shottenhamel tent where the opening ceremonies were held. At noon, the kegs were tapped and we were served the Oktoberfest beer of the Shottenhamel beer tent! On Sunday, we stopped at the Dachau concentration camp to visit an important piece of history. The weekend in whole was amazing and although it consisted of long bus rides and cold, rainy weather, I wouldn’t have wanted the experience to be any different.

Celebrating at Oktoberfest!
Celebrating at Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest Camping!
Oktoberfest Camping!

While I will have so much to share about my time abroad, that’s all for now. Over the next few weeks I’ll be spending more time traveling and taking advantage of every exciting opportunity that is offered to me.

– Theresa Messenger