There and Back Again
Stories From a Semester Abroad
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 01:01
The Irish people, no matter the country’s fiscal uncertainty, always had smiles on their faces and as Georgetown students focused on grades and futures, there are moments our smiles fade for stupid reasons. The Irish taught me to always keep smiling and of the beauty of “tomorrow” — hopefully, my professors can catch on to that idea as well.
As much as Ireland was great, I’m glad to be back. There was one night in late November when my friends and I watched the phenomenal video narrated by University President DeGioia about the Campaign for Georgetown. As the camera panned away from the front gates, I can assure you the waterworks were not from the gray skies but from the Georgetown students who had sincerely enjoyed their experience abroad but were ready to come home to the Hilltop. In all seriousness, we didn’t actually cry — it was our allergies to the mold growing in our bathroom, which we didn’t clean for the four months.
Samantha Lin (SFS ’14)
I went to Amman, Jordan knowing very little Arabic. And I’m not being modest — I hadn’t taken a single Arabic class, the alphabet looked like a mysterious code I would never unlock and the only phrases I knew were “Do you speak English?” and “Where is the bathroom?”
But I didn’t want the language barrier to stop me from studying in a region where I had always wanted to go. So, I took a huge leap of faith and hopped on a flight headed to the Middle East. At first, I was completely overwhelmed. I had to pick up survival phrases (“Give me my money now!”) and learn how to live with four host siblings in a two-bedroom apartment.
Studying abroad in the Middle East is, to be honest, terrifying, but entirely worth it. Everything from my three-year-old sister’s confiscating my phone and refusing to give it back until I had correctly pronounced a new Arabic word to hiking through a river and rappelling down an 80-foot waterfall to hearing air sirens in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem to successfully bargaining for a lamp (all in Arabic!), my time in Jordan was adventurous from start to finish. In the end, I surprised myself in my ability to jump into unexpected situations without knowing what I was doing but with the faith that I would not only get out of it but also learn something from it. That was the most surprising thing about study abroad: myself.
Alexandra Buck (COL ’14)
St. Petersburg, Russia
Imagine a Lady Gaga concert: crazy costumes, bright lights, provocative dancing and a building full of “little monsters.” Now imagine a Lady Gaga concert in Russia, where an anti-gay propaganda law prohibits the promotion of homosexuality to minors.
When I received tickets to the concert in St. Petersburg, knowing I would be studying abroad, I never could have anticipated what the event would be like. Months before the date, the city seemed to have mixed feelings. Some Russians I spoke to were very excited that she was finally coming. Others, however, found it embarrassing and a threat to society. While homosexual acts are not illegal, any sort of representation in public can get you in a lot of trouble. Even before Lady Gaga’s plane landed, she was being threatened with a $150,000 fine or arrest if the show took place. Between her manager and Russia’s prime minister, everything was smoothed out. But it still felt like Russia wasn’t ready for her quite yet.
The night of the concert, the crowd was restrained by police holding shields and batons. Nothing major happened outside, but it felt like the police were waiting for just one person to make a wrong move. When the concert finally started, I wasn’t surprised that the crowd was low on enthusiasm; the opening bands were nothing like the pop stars the Russians love. I was in for a big shock, though, when the crowd remained at a dull roar when Lady Gaga came out.
My friends and I were singing along and jumping up and down to every song. Our paws were up, and we didn’t have a care in the world. Beside me, people stood completely still, with their arms folded over their chests. In the stadium area, most stayed seated for the entire concert. Even when Gaga yelled for them to stand up and dance — and had her message translated — very few got up. It was unlike any concert I had ever been to. She later told the crowd via translator that she was so thankful to be in Russia and wouldn’t end her fight until equality existed for all her little monsters. While my friends and I went crazy over her speech, crickets could be heard elsewhere in the arena.
I later found out that many Russians went to the concert for bragging rights only — something I never would have guessed. It turns out her fan base isn’t as large in Russia. Also, it turns out the cultural norm is to sit down for concerts and enjoy whatever type of music or show is going on. I think a lot was lost on the crowd because she spoke and sang in English. It’s definitely not a popular second language in Russia, and the people who have studied it tend to be younger.
It makes sense to think that concerts would be different all over the world, but I never expected a Lady Gaga concert to be so subdued. I learned so much about Russian culture in one night, and I’ll never forget that concert.
I think I’ll stick to U.S. concerts from now on, though.
Nicholas Dirago (COL ’14)
There were essentially three responses that I would get when I told people I was studying abroad in Cuba. By far the most common was, “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that” — a tepid combination of surprise, uncertainty and suspicion. Beyond that, they were about evenly split between genuine interest (“Wow! What a great opportunity!”) and circumspect cross-examination (“What exactly are you going to do there?”). At this point, I don’t even remember what my exact motivations were for choosing Cuba as a destination for studying abroad. I do know, however, that I was looking for a place that would be substantially different from the settings to which I was accustomed; I wanted to maximize the proverbial pushing of my comfort zone.