Category Archives: Living Abroad

Interview Martha – A Polish Girl in the UK

Hello!

Q) What is your name?

I am Barbara T.

Q) How old are you?

I am 24 years old.

Q) What is your home country?

I was born in Poland, I spent my childhood there.

Q) Where do you currently live?

I live in the United Kingdoms.

Q) What field do you study?

I have always been fond of fashion, I’ve been studying it the 6 last years.

Q) Where have you been studying?

I was at Central St Martins, London , a school of fashion ! I am planning to be the next Alexander Macqueen !

Q) Why?

This choice was more a professional one than a personal one. Although, England is a country in which fashion is very present (as well as in France), so I was already interested this place.

Q) What were the most positive aspects in having such an international experience you would underline?

Well I had for first a great time and i think it was a fulfilling experience .I was able to perfect my English and meet new people .

Q) What were the most negative ones? Why? How did you face it?

Being far away from home was hard but i got used to it. My parents called me often..

Q) Did you already have experiences abroad (such as scholar exchange, internship and so on)? Where?

No never this was my first time. I hope not the last !

Q) Were local people always friendly and open with you?

Indeed they were ! Everybody was very welcoming and friendly . I never had any problems with that

Q) Who helped you to face the daily problems you may have had to face?

Mostly my tutors over there and rapidly, my new friends.

Q) Did you have to deal with the « cultural shock »? What were the symptoms? How did you face it? Back home, any reverse cultural shock?

Well not really ! I must say I got used to the culture so quickly that it wasn’t a shock ! I guess it was more weird to go back to my usual culture!

Q) Do you consider this experience as globally beneficial to you? In a personal way? In a professional way?

Well in a personal way , I made new friends and interlarded my relations. In a professional way it was a great opportunity for me to travel abroad

Q) A word to conclude?

(Censored) :)

How to deal with Culture Shock

According to our favorite but not officially-recognized-as-a-reliable-source Wikipedia, culture shock refers to “the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown culture such as one may encounter in a foreign country.”
Indeed, some people may feel… let’s say uncomfortable after having spent some time in a foreign country. This syndrome actually really depends on the person in its intensity. Some of the people I know don’t feel it at all (also my case), but for some, it is apparently a concrete problem.
The main symptom is a boredom felt about anything (people, habits, architecture…), coupled to a will to “go back home” (sweet home…).
The main advice I could give about this disease is not to isolate yourself. Stay close to people you know, and try to get to know new people. Don’t stay passive: admit the problem, and face it! If you have moved to a foreign country, you should have good reasons, keep those in mind.
Even if you’re looking for total immersion, don’t forget to keep in touch with people who stayed in your home country, new technologies help you to do that efficiently.
Several way exist, to help you deal with Culture Shock:

  • E-mails, which are the most used way of long-distance communication.

  • Facebook, used by most of young people, is a good way to stay aware of what’s happening in your friends’ countries.

  • Msn, or windows live messenger, is efficient to have real-time written conversations.

  • Phone, even if expensive for international calls, is important. It is a good way to show to friends and family that you think about them, or to wish a happy birthday for example.

  • Skype is a useful software used by more and more people each day. It is a free way to have vocal conversations, as well as conversations through web cam. If you need to “speak” to someone who is far away from you, this might be the solution you need.

If good relationships are not enough for you in order not to regret leaving your home country, try to create, at least in your room, an atmosphere that reminds you your sweet home. Posters, presents from friends, pictures and so one help to create a friendly environment. Also check out these great tips if you really miss home a lot while being abroad and how to make the most of your stay abroad.

The hardest step: Dare to speak in a foreign language

Here, I could tell you about my own experience. I have recently given classes, as a French teacher.

The classes took place in a restaurant owned by a French guy, in a very friendly atmosphere, and were followed by about 20 persons. One of the thing I have noticed during those classes is that the shyness was not the main reason preventing people (Americans) to talk in French.

Many people had facial expressions showing how few they were ease with speaking in front of people, but they did the effort.

Why? Because they knew that their French skills were better than others’ ones, therefore they had no problem to try to improve them, even with 20 people staring at them.

Oppositely, people with weak French skills were ashamed to try to speak, and to communicate in French, even if they were the ones who needed it the most.

You might be put in the same situation while having experiences abroad. Indeed, it is very hard to perfectly master a foreign language, only a very few people are able to do it, often after many and many years learning, reading and speaking it.

Not to try is the worst mistake you could possible make. It won’t change the status of the problem, it could even make the situation worst.

On the other hand, to dare to speak in a foreign language means to give you the opportunity to learn it through the most efficient way. In addition to the listening sills improvements, you will develop the ability to speak faster and to be more reactive.

To be able to fluently speak a foreign language means that you will give you the best opportunity to discover the local culture as well as possible.

Indeed, you won’t be ashamed to speak to a random person anymore, what implies that you won’t hesitate to ask any question you might have, and consequently, find the most appropriate answer to it, thanks to the most appropriate person to answer it.

As soon as you feel confident, what is in general traduced by the ability to be understood anytime, independently of what you’re saying, the foreign country in which you are doesn’t look like so… foreign anymore.

Because this is the final aim, to feel like at home, abroad.

Interview with a study abroad student from Bosnia Herzegovina

What is your name and how old are you?
Haris LIBIC, 20 years old.

What is your home country?
Bosnia Herzegovina

Where do you currently live?
I currently live in Irvine, CA

What field do you study?
I am a student at University of California Irvine (UCI), where I am currently doing a Bachelor in International Business Operations and Management

Where have you been studying? Why?
I was a student in Bosnia, in an International Business school, but now I am studying at UC Irvine-Extension.  Because it has a solid reputation and I wanted to study in California.

What were the most positive aspects in having such an international experience you would underline?
The multicultural classes, we are in an international group with more than 15 different nationalities represented.

What were the most negative ones? Why? How did you face it?
Some classes were not as interesting as they could have been, but this was mainly due to the fact that I already studied the same topics in my home country.

Did you already have experiences abroad (such as scholar exchange, internship and so on)? Where?
No

Who helped you to face the daily problems you may have had to face?
The teachers are very open to questions and there to listen to our problems if we have some.

Did you have to deal with the « cultural shock »? What were the symptoms? How did you face it?
No cultural shock. Maybe about food.

About food, what are the different aspects? Is it a shock between US and European culture?
I don’t cook as much as in my home country, eat less vegetables and more fat. Food we eat here is unhealthy. It is quite a shock.

To summarize, that do you retain this experiment abroad?
A great experience that I would totally recommend to anybody that is interested in studying abroad.

What is Culture?

According to Gary Wederspahn, culture is the shared set of assumptions, values, and beliefs of a group of people by which they organize their common life. In our world we can distinguish lot of cultures because of the number of countries for example, but also we can see some scales in these ‘country cultures’.

When you travel all over the world ,you have to face these different cultures with their own meaning and perception of words or gestures. Understanding culture will help you to be more aware of these differences and so avoid big mistakes in your behavior, what we call ‘cultural adjustment’.

How does culture “express” itself?

Even if the contrary can be thought, we are not spontaneous in our behavior. Our cultures, our education, and so on, influence us in everyday situations. That is why once you know people’s values and beliefs, you can often expect and predict their behavior. We can say that our behavior is a reflection of our culture.

Culture is often compared to an iceberg: the visible section of the iceberg is so much shorter than the invisible part under water. Each culture has some aspects which are observable and others that can only be suspected or imagined. Thus the part of culture which is visible, such as behavior, is only a small part of a bigger picture.

To give you a better idea of culture expression, here are listed some examples of cultural behavior: facial expressions, religious beliefs, religious rituals, importance of time, paintings, values, literature, gestures, holiday customs, nature of friendship, notions of modesty, foods and eating habits, understanding of the natural world, concept of self, work ethic, concept of beauty, music, style of dress…

Where does culture come from?

How do people get their culture? How do they learn all the behaviors that are regarded as right and wrong in their society? This process, also known as cultural conditioning, is present in every culture, but the specific behaviors that people have, the precise content of their conditioning, is different from group to group.

Everyone knows that common culture come mainly from a common history which shapes our mind and so have influence on our behavior or way of thinking.

The most important part of your culture will be acquired during your childhood, but you will acquire new behaviors until the end of your life:

  • In Childhood: children learn basics activities as eating, walking, talking, dressing, bathing, etc. These basics are the origin of the future children’s behavior.
  • As Adults: people learn new behavior or new ways to perform thanks to education, travels, etc. Adults learn how to adapt themselves.

How to analyze culture? Or how to have the right behavior?

We can find five steps of culture analyzing:

  1. Observation/Instruction: you become aware of a particular behavior but have not yet tried to do it yourself.
  2. Imitation: now you try to have the same behavior
  3. Reinforcement: people help you by correcting you or showing you.
  4. Internalization: you know how to behave but you still need practice.
  5. Spontaneous Manifestation: you no more need to pay attention to your behavior, it comes naturally.

To go further in behavior/culture analysis, you can make research about Hofstede’s parameters and Hall’s parameter.

Why is understanding culture so important?

When you go into another country than yours, you will be confronted with different behaviors, different foods, and different ways of life. Most of people are amused when they see that. But most of the time they are making fun about, being narrow-minded, forgetting that everybody do not have the same culture.

Understanding culture is important, as it makes you  aware and more sensitive to differences, and you could avoid big mistake in your behavior or maybe adjust, but at least to respect the people that belong to other cultures than your own.

Moreover understanding culture does not only exist in the aim of helping poor little students but it is also a real challenge for international businesses. You will not promote a product in the same way in France or in Germany or in Russia.

Understanding culture is the most important thing when dealing and respecting people. It does not mean, you have to go out of your way to mimic a culture that is different than your own, but you should respect the other culture and treat it a different, not inferior yours!

Differences Between Living in Spain and France

Two European countries with a common border. How different can they be? After having lived many years in both, even though the cultural differences are not shocking, there are some disparities in the daily life.

I have always lived in the Spanish Basque Country, although at the age of sixteen I lived for 2 years in France to attend High School. Just a two hour drive makes such a big difference.


Concerning geographical and climate differences, Spain is considered a “warm” country (it depends also where you are located within the territory), while France is colder. These disparities are basic when comparing any two countries. We will go more deeply and compare French and Spanish lifestyle.

First of all, time schedules. We could say Mediterranean countries have a much more flexible and late schedule, but Spain is well-known for its, some call it, crazy schedules. As I already developed in the post called Differences between living in Spain and the United States, Spanish restaurants serve until 12 or 1 am, and bars and clubs are opened until 6 am.

When I turned eighteen, I decided to continue my studies in the French capital, where this kind of flexibility can also be found as it is the number one location for tourism in the world. As a consequence, it is not a typical French city and could only be compared to other big capitals in the world.

For my first five or six months in France, I did not recognize any big cultural difference. Of course, the language was not the same, but like with any other foreign country. The more time I spent living around French people, the more I realized disparities between these two cultures were based on humor, social values and life perception. You have to get very involved with the French lifestyle in order to be aware of this.

Humor in France is very implicit and many times related to playing with words. I had a hard time understanding French humor at the beginning, but once you get how it works, it can be very funny. I personally consider French humor more harsh than Spanish. They use an indirect style to say what they want and their humor topics are many times controversial for society.  I would say French humor is a smart type of humor which not everybody can understand and have fun with.

Perception of life as I have experienced in France is less “ Carpe Diem” than in Spain. Spain is considered a latino country we live more each day as it could be the last one than the French do. Concerning social values, family is as important in France as in Spain, although less conservative.

Finally, criticism has become the best hobby for French young or older people. I was very shocked with this since my arrival. Unfortunately,  you get used to it very fast without even noticing. As a Spanish saying states: Everything can be copied except for beauty.

Studying abroad with 13, should it be allowed?

Kathleen Megan wrote an article in The Hartford Courant this month concerning a case of discrimination in the University of Connecticut. Colin Carlson, a 13 year old prodigy was denied to attend an African ecology course involving a summer field study in South Africa. Even after his mother offered the university to go with him so as to become liable for his child, the university kept a firm “no” as an answer. On the other side, the university of Connecticut remains silent, even if they say their most important consideration when letting students study abroad is safety.

This article leads to our problematic: Should 13 year old kids be allowed to study abroad?

First of all, considering a 13 year old capable of attending a double-degree carrier is considering that the individual is intelligent and mature enough to deal with the duties and responsibilities that this implies. If this person fulfills these, why would he or she not be able to benefit from the rights and advantages of it?

Studying abroad is an important decision to make and before taking the step, the student should feel prepared and comfortable with the idea of being away from their family, friends and culture. Once he has thought about all of this, age should not be important. Age and maturity are sometimes not linked so age should not be considered as a factor when deciding whether a student is prepared to study abroad or not.
Safety is very important for students abroad no matter the age of the individual, so once again, it is not a question of how old someone is, but how responsible these people are.

Back to the article, Colin Carlson’s teachers and mentors all stated that he is a very good student, responsible and mature. The reason why the University decided not to accept his request is still unknown. We will follow this case closely, so as to discover what justice will determine as fair or ethical.

What is your take on this? Do you think a 13 year old should be allowed to study abroad? Please share your opinion in the comments. We are interested on your opinion on this topic!

Why study a foreign language?

What does ‘study a foreign language’ mean?

Nowadays, more and more people speak at least two languages; it is not an ephemeral trend but an essential way in our changing world. Everything (from people to information) is closer and closer connected thanks to Internet but also thanks to our ability to move and our ever growing desire of knowledge.

Studying a foreign language can be boring (especially in French schools). When you are young, you do not care about English, French, German, Spanish etc, you only know that you are waiting for the break whereas your teacher is trying to obtain from you a word in that incomprehensible language! When you grow up, you begin to understand why knowing a foreign language could be interesting: for egocentric people , it is a way to speak about themselves “I can speak English, Spanish, Chinese blablabla” ; for adventurers, it is a way to communicate with locals; etc.

Firstly, the main aim of studying a language is communication. Human beings love to communicate, to tell their stories and adventures, to slander, to share knowledge… Then language is closely linked to culture, so learning a foreign language also means learning about a foreign culture. And learning more about another culture will make you more open-minded, more able to critic, to compare, to understand people. In our current world there are at least 6,700 different languages with their own history. This means 6,700 ways to communicate but most of us do not speak these 6,700 languages and lot of people speak only one language. In accordance to that knowing only one language seems to make you narrow-minded.

Ten reasons to learn a foreign language

1. To increase your understanding
According to Federico Fellini, an Italian film director, “A different language is a different vision of life.” And he is right! Learning a foreign language will open your mind to another culture. Maybe you will not search to learn more about this other culture but no matter it will increase your memory capacities.

2. To improve career chances
Did you know that around 52% of Europeans can speak two languages fluently whereas only 9% of Americans can? It means that Americans can only work with countries or people speaking their language but also their adaptability in other countries is limited: how can they understand other people if they cannot speak their language and therefore their culture. To know foreign languages does not mean only that you can help your company to trade but also that you are clever or open-minded.

3. To increase native language ability
”Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said. How could you say your language is the most beautiful if you cannot compare it with others? Moreover learn a foreign grammar will make you more awake about the one of your own language.

4. To sharpen cognitive and life skills
Richard Riley, a former US Secretary could say that “We have strong evidence today that studying a foreign language has a ripple effect, helping to improve student performance in other subjects.” To know different languages improves and encourages critical reflection, you have two words with a same meaning, it makes you aware of the outside world. It forces you to open your mind.

5. To improve chances to get into college or university
Nowadays it is almost unthinkable to speak only one language; if you want to study you need to know at least two languages. Moreover, the more languages you know more it shows your willingness  to communicate, your intellectual capacities for example.

6. To appreciate international literature, music, and film
Movies, books, music everything can be translated. But, unfortunately, when you read poetry, a translation will not give you the exactly feeling, the jokes in the pronunciation etc. Can you understand the sarcastic tone of Oscar Wilde in German as good as in English? I do not think so. How much gets lost in translation? Even in movies, translations are often bad and when you are watching a movie in English with subtitles in your language it is easy to note the differences of meaning.

7. To make travel more feasible and enjoyable
When you go to another country it is not only to visit but also to discover the peoples culture. To know their language will make you able to talk with them and so to know and understand  this foreign culture better. And if you are lost (especially in the countryside) it is better to know the native’s language or at least have the basics down.

8. To expand study abroad options
Obvious reason, you might think. But do you know that in Germany, in France, in Italy etc more and more universities offer classes in English and so people could think that with English they can go everywhere. I agree for universities but not for the daily life.

9. To increase understanding of yourself and your own culture
Knowing another language and another culture gives you the opportunity of having an outside perspective about you and your culture. It will make you multicultural and give you a new view, a new way to see yourself.

10. To make lifelong friends
“The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.” Henry Boye said. Wa all like to have ‘foreign’ friends, we learn so much from them. But how could you have them if you cannot speak with them.

Thus, studying a foreign language it is not only learning about others or giving you more opportunities for your future but also learning about you.

Differences between living in Spain and the U.S.A

As a Spanish citizen that has spent 10 months living in the USA, I am going to develop the similarities and differences of life in Spain and in the United States.

First of all, Spain has a national official language Spanish, while the United States does not have any official language even though the most spoken language is English. As a matter of fact, there is over 10% of Spanish speaking population in the American territory and 25% of non-native English speaking population in Spain.

This means understanding each other can sometimes become a cultural problem, depending on the state or region where we are in each country.

Secondly, timetables are very different in Spain than in the U.S. In the everyday life, there is a 2 hour gap between the American and the Spanish timing. So as to say, Spanish people have breakfast between 9 and 10am, lunch between 2 and 3pm and dinner between 9 and 10pm. Americans do most things much sooner throughout the day.

Going out is also very different in both countries. Spanish people are used to go out much more often than Americans, no matter what age. In Spain you can see 6 years old children at 12 or 1am in the evening with their parents in a restaurant or a bar enjoying each others company. This would be very shocking for Americans.

Businesses and public places have different timetables too. Businesses in Spain, only stores and boutiques, open from 10am to 2pm and from 5pm to 8pm, while they are opened from 10 am until 7pm in the U.S. That is what is defined as the “siesta”, but mainly by foreigners. This custom is becoming less and less popular in Spain. Also, restaurants serve dinner until 11pm or even 12am while kitchens normally close around 9 or 10pm in the U.S. And bars and clubs close at 5 or 6 am in Spain while at 2 for the Americans. This makes a huge difference in the night life style between these two countries.

A very big difference of consumption is the sizes of goods sold in the U.S.A comparing to those sold in Europe as a whole. Americans buy enormous bottles of shampoo, for example while those sizes do not even exist in Europe. At the same time, housing is not also the same. Houses are smaller in Spain because more expensive. In big cities the majority of people live in apartments while in houses in the U.S. This is a notable difference.

The cultural disparities, such as food, music or art are different, but like between any other country in the world. Clothing is “owned” by multinational companies like Zara, Gap or luxury companies in both countries so this is not a shocking difference.

Even though there are many differences and clichés from both countries, living in the U.S has been an amazing experience for me. I know that living in Spain for an American will be as a valuable experience as it has been for me to live in the U.S.A.

ECUADORIAN CUSTOMS AND MANNERS

Are you thinking about moving to Ecuador for work or study abroad in this beautiful country?
Sara Mercedes Arevalo Lopez contributed this informational blog post about Ecuadorian Customs and Culture to Maria Abroad! Thank you very much!!!

ECUADORIAN CUSTOMS AND MANNERS

Every country has its specific costumes and manners. When you come to Ecuador, it is important to know what Ecuadorian people expect you to do and what they don’t expect you to do in order to make them and you feel comfortable. So if you want to enjoy your trip, pay attention to these recommendations.

1. Make yourself at home

When an Ecuadorian invites you to his/her house, it won’t be a surprise that the first thing you will hear from your host when you arrive at his/her home is “welcome” and “make yourself at home”. In contrast, in other countries, people never say welcome to their guests. The only thing they say is “how very nice to see you” and that’s it, but Ecuadorians will give you the most warming welcome.

2. Never go to an invitation with your hands empty

If you are invited to an Ecuadorian dinner, it is advisable to buy a small gift such as some candy or a bottle of wine. Doing that, will make your host think you really appreciate his/her invitation. But getting a gift is not a rule; so they won’t think you are not a nice person if you don’t give them a present. They think your presence is the most important thing.

3. Be ready to help

While the host is setting the table you can help him/her by putting the napkins or the forks. If you do that, for sure you are going to be invited another time and also you will get a good reputation. The same thing happens when you finish eating. If you help at least lifting your plate, they will think you like to help.

4. Don’t be so quiet!

Ecuadorians enjoy table conversation. So if you don’t talk and remain almost quiet, your host will feel offended. They will think you are weird and that you don’t like them or maybe that you feel uncomfortable. Sports and politics are good topics for conversation. Talking about the last soccer game will create a social environment. Also it is not bad to ask personal questions such as “Are you married?” or “What do you do?” But never ask too personal questions like “Why did you get divorced?” Although they will answer all your questions they won’t feel comfortable if you ask that kind of questions.

5. Finish all your meal

Ecuadorians don’t consider it polite to leave food on your plate after the meal. If you don’t finish your meal completely, they will think you didn’t like the meal or that it didn’t taste good. Usually hosts make a huge effort to prepare the most delicious meal for their guests and they want them to like the meal. So even if you are fed up you should finish your meal.

6. Don’t go immediately

After you finish eating don’t go immediately, usually after dinner Ecuadorians like to talk, to play the guitar or to play any card game. If you go like if you were in a hurry, they will think you don’t feel much comfortable or maybe that you have to do something more important than to be with them. However, you shouldn’t stay too long. But if the hosts are old people, the best idea is to stay a few minutes after the dinner.

7. Thank your hosts

When you leave, don’t forget to thank your hosts. It is advisable to say the dinner was delicious, even if you didn’t like it much, or that you really enjoyed their company. Ecuadorian people like to hear those things.
If you are the kind of people that like to enjoy a trip, you already know what to do if you come to Ecuador. Knowing about Ecuadorian customs and manners will help you to have a good time there.