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Taking the Edge Off of Culture Shock

August 9, 2011

Taking the Edge Off of Culture Shock

by Mariah Proctor

When you’re preparing to study abroad, the images that illustrate your anticipation are the ones that you’d find on postcards. You have romantic images of sunsets and famous buildings but you often neglect the mundane – the Dumpsters, the traffic, the bathrooms. You fail to realize that your study abroad will see you taking on a new place in its entirety and those routine, everyday things are not only present but are done differently than back home. That moment of ‘that’s not how you’re supposed to do that’ or ‘the people here are so _____’ is called culture shock; take the edge off by anticipating its inevitable arrival.

There’s an emotional sequence that one experiences sojourning in a foreign land. You arrive, buzzing with the anticipation and gleefully jet lagged. Everything is still new and exciting at this point but after the novelty wears off, a sinking feeling that most don’t expect kicks in. You feel overwhelmed and overstimulated, you start to develop anxiety if you are not filling every moment with something new and valuable and, most of all, those little quirks of daily life that aren’t at all like your home life stop being charming and start being annoying. It’s obnoxious that the shower and the toilet are in two separate rooms and the people here seem determined not to smile or laugh and find it a nuisance when you do. Everyone is so quiet and punctual, not like your loud, late family back home.

Though you’ll try to stave off that sour phase for as long as possible, it will come. You will get homesick and things will not be as you’re used to. Then there will come a day when you suddenly realize that you’ve fallen in love with your new home; you didn’t even feel it getting under your skin but suddenly, you’re hooked. It’s also usually at that same time that you’re scheduled to leave.

Studying abroad is not an adventure every minute and it’s a lot harder than the recruitment people at your school will ever let on...but oh the delight in finding you love a place that at one time you’d only dreamt of visiting.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Study Abroad: Don’t Let Your Schooling Ruin Your Education

August 15, 2011

Study Abroad: Don’t Let Your Schooling Ruin Your Education

by Mariah Proctor

A good study abroad program is designed to seamlessly integrate the graded classes into the active, living experience so that the two aspects don’t find themselves in conflict. That is the hope but, as my roommate will tell you through frustrated tears, that is not always the way it goes down.

You’ve got to feel for the professors – they are often experts on the place you are visiting and they look into the blank, ignorant and often not properly appreciative eyes of their students and want to tell you everything there is to know to make you see what they see. Your average student, however, cannot synthesize all of that new information while simultaneously managing a new climate, new customs and money that, it turns out, is not Monopoly money and actually does deplete your savings as you spend it. All of this while trying to have a completely carefree, time-of-your-life, otherworldly good time? It can’t be done.

My advice is to forget the classes. Don’t misinterpret my meaning: Be the person who goes to class, is present in body and mind, takes in everything they can, inhales knowledge the way they inhale gelato and fancy pasta outside of class. It truly will add depth to the place. If you’re the person who is a perfect GPA, point-pinching, anxiety-ridden, stress cadet that thinks that excelling in the classroom will make you excellent as a person, studying abroad will break you.

Do as well as you can and keep up on your classwork but if you have to choose between an evening in studying or going to the opening event of the world’s largest international dance festival downtown, choose the dancing. If you can either finish some back reading for class or go to a procession celebrating Corpus Christi, don’t let a textbook literally rain on your parade. I know it will be hard but please when you prioritize, remember not to let your schooling get in the way of your education.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Choosing Your Study Abroad Destination

July 6, 2011

Choosing Your Study Abroad Destination

by Mariah Proctor

Most peoples’ perfect study abroad destination is dictated by major. Should you find yourself studying English, you will likely want to go to the land of Shakespeare, Keats and Wordsworth. Ancient Near Eastern Studies will likely send you to the modern Near East. Music may see you joining me here in Vienna. But if you’re undecided, here are some helpful hints in choosing a study abroad destination.

If you want to remain comfortable, have frequent Internet access and see sights you’ve heard about your whole life, go to Europe. In doing so, know you’ll see thrilling sites and learn royal history but also know that the people accompanying you will probably be on their parents’ dime and may be inclined to constant shopping, checking items off their bucket lists and taking countless photos. If you are one of those people, perfect fit.

If you’re ok with a little sweat and dirt in your shoes, explore the Middle East. It will be full of things religiously significant to multiple sects so prepared to be bowled over by devotion and the drama of clashing beliefs. Desert heat is dry but desert dwellers know spices so be prepared for some incredible taste sensations. You’ll be joined by students with specific passions; people that travel to the Middle East aren’t just traveling for the sake of traveling so make sure you aren’t either.

If you want a daily helping of potentially incurable culture shock and an environment that is both stringent about formal propriety and laid back about everything else, head to Southeast Asia. Your travel companions will likely be humanitarians and adventurers. Just avoid getting stepped on by the elephants that will be lumbering down the street.

Every study abroad has a distinct student culture. Thoroughly research not only the place but the kind of people that choose that destination to ensure it is paradise for you. But rest assured, no matter where you choose to go, there will always be plenty of ice cream.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Getting Along With Your Host Family

July 15, 2011

Getting Along With Your Host Family

by Mariah Proctor

A practical stranger just walked into my room in her underwear to tell me not to be so rough with the cold water handle of the kitchen faucet.

Yes, living with host families is an adventure but can also be one of the most rewarding parts of a study abroad. It’s an adjustment to suddenly be sharing personal space with people you hardly know but here are a few rules of thumb that can help make the whole experience a little smoother for all.

Follow their rules, not yours. One of the biggest adjustments of attending college in general is that not everyone grew up with the same sensibilities as you did and the things you thought everyone knew (i.e., obviously mustard should be kept in the fridge) might be a ‘just you’ thing. That gets compounded fourfold when you are in a different family and a different culture so when your host family sets up initial guidelines, follow them. Even if it’s not how you would ever do things, you are in their home and you should respect their rules.

Monkey see, monkey do. For all of those other things that just have a big question mark and for which those new strangers whose , two words: watch and learn. Try to be observant and aware of the way things are done and follow suit.

Communicating isn’t stepping on toes. Don’t assume, ask! If there’s a language barrier, use some clever props or charades; through giggles and victorious discovery, they’ll figure out what you mean. Don’t feel like you’re being silly or an imposition for communicating your issues. Solving those issues will make you a less imposing presence.

Show your gratitude. Most of all, remember to be gracious and courteous! Your host family has opened up their home to you; learn all that you can learn from them because you will have no better opportunity for cultural immersion. Maybe, just maybe, these complete strangers can become like family after all.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Prepping for a Study Abroad: Social Edition

June 13, 2011

Prepping for a Study Abroad: Social Edition

by Mariah Proctor

When I was preparing for my first study abroad to Jerusalem, I envisioned myself walking though the cobblestone streets and trying exotic foods and seeing wonderful sights. The one thing that my pre-departure vision never included was other people. I always imagined myself alone and having the time of my life. It wasn’t until we got together, all in one room, that I realized that girl who asked that silly question was going to be there and that guy who looked too cool for school was going to be there and that this trip was going to be full of people and not just places.

I ended up falling in love with my Jerusalem group. Those bad first impressions resolved themselves over time and we found ourselves attached to one another in a way that is much more than the “false intimacy of fellow travelers.” Study abroad rules often dictate that you travel everywhere in groups, meaning that these people are going to punctuate every experience you have in your destination of choice. Don’t let that punctuation be big ol' question marks or – worse – frustrated exclamation points.

As you start your journey looking into the faces of strangers that you will ultimately get to know better than you can currently imagine, remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him." Everyone in your study abroad group will have something unique and wonderful to offer your experience, so be open to accepting that contribution. When you discover some great and respectable trait in a travel buddy, be confident enough to tell them so. Everyone will be feeling a little out of whack in a new place and that kind of lift will connect you and improve the adventure for you both.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Logistics Edition

June 6, 2011

Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Logistics Edition

by Mariah Proctor

Experience has taught me things that the people whose excitement I share as our departure date rapidly approaches have yet to learn. Luckily, I can split my study abroad knowledge into three categories of preparation: what you’ve got ahead, what you’re leaving behind and what to bring along.

What you’ve got ahead: Being overwhelmed by the stuff you have to do before you leave can block your ability to be excited and grateful for the coming opportunity. Prevent this by finding out everything you can about your destination. Research the city where you’ll be staying and look up all the oddball entertainment in whatever genre entices you to get a real picture of what’s in store for you. If there’s a prep course, don’t miss a single moment of it.

What you’re leaving behind: Sit down a make a list of the things you need to do while you’re still weeks out and then carry it with you so you can add items like a new journal or travel-size deodorant as soon as you think of them. Studying abroad (particularly in summer) often means missing family reunions, weddings and road trips; don’t be an absent friend or relative and keep people updated on you so you don’t just fall off the map. You will get homesick – be prepared for it.

What to bring along: Give the clothes you’re bringing a trial run at home to be sure you really enjoy wearing them. Whatever you bring will be worn a lot; don’t let eight outfits become three because they’re not fun or functional to wear. Bring entertainment with you (books, movies etc.); you’d think that three months abroad would be constant exotic experience, but there will be downtime and you will want to unwind in a way that’s familiar.

Remember that no matter how well you prepare, there will be surprises. Just find joy in that journey and you will have a brilliant experience.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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A Major Decision

Choosing Your Field of Study in Three Easy Steps

May 20, 2011

A Major Decision

by Mariah Proctor

So I’m sitting there, my entire head engulfed in paste so that they can make a plaster replica of my face for use in molding masks even when I’m not on campus for the summer. It was while sitting there – staving off bouts of panic and claustrophobia and completely unable to move – that I had another “what am I doing with my college career?” moment. These moments happen fairly often (like when a teacher requires us to roll down a grassy hill or play scream tag) that I take a step back and realize what unusual learning experiences my tuition money gets me.

Majoring in theatre was a no-brainer for me because in no other field have I ever felt more alive, more myself or more enthused by the idea of attending classes. I know, however, that the choice isn’t quite so obvious for others, so have a couple of pieces of advice to help in the choosing:

  • If you’re starting from scratch, get a copy of your university’s course catalog and just let your eyes scroll down the list and see where they naturally linger. There are probably a few areas of study that already appeal to you; get the course requirement sheets for those majors and when you’re getting an idea of the shape of your college career, be sensitive to what gets you excited.
  • Even majors that have glamorous-sounding names can be made up of classes that are awful fillers and not at all what you thought they’d be. Ask students in those majors how they like them and what they really think they’re learning.
  • Take note of what you think about when you aren’t thinking about anything. Chances are, there’s a major for whatever it is that occupies your unsupervised thoughts and that’s the one you should go for.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Financial Edition

May 26, 2011

Prepping for a Summer Abroad: Financial Edition

by Mariah Proctor

When people hear I’m getting ready to leave on my third study abroad, there are no questions asked – just resentful looks that say ‘Well, aren’t you the cultured little rich girl.’ Okay, maybe the looks aren’t that venomous but the idea holds true. If you are considering studying abroad but think you can’t afford it, listen up: You can.

My first study abroad was paid for in the way many people pay for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land: through money left by my grandparents. There was something tender about imagining my grandfather working hard as a schoolteacher and saving every penny – pennies that would one day take me to Jerusalem. But the inheritance-type funds had run dry when I was asked to go to Southeast Asia for a summer, so my second study abroad saw a more creative, financial-finagling me.

The first step in paying for a semester of international intrigue is finding funding from your home institution. Most international study programs have discount or program-specific scholarships. Also, make sure you fill out the FAFSA to get a Pell grant if you’re eligible. Not everyone knows those government pick-me-ups can be applied to international study...but now you do. Go after one!

There are study abroad-specific scholarships all over the Internet (Scholarships.com is rich with financial opportunities that can be applied). The Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship are two of the most well-known sources of study abroad funding, plus oodles of country-specific and area of study specific-grants.

If you are persistent about diversifying your sources of funding, studying abroad can be less expensive than staying on campus. The most important thing is not to let the cost of a plane ticket or the dollar-to-euro exchange rate scare you away from what will be a fulfilling experiences in your young life. There’s no rule that says only rich kids can travel; if you dream of pyramids or tropical breezes, stop dreaming and start doing. Bonus: Studying abroad provides rich material for grad school application essays.

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Spring Semester Woes...and Wows

May 11, 2011

Spring Semester Woes...and Wows

by Mariah Proctor

This is my third year at BYU and I’ve never stayed on campus for a spring semester before now. I have, however, been at a wedding reception after the couple has gone away and the festivities are dying down and I can now tell you the experience is comparable.

The campus runs as before, only at half-mast as far as sheer volume of people...but I kind of like it. Taking class once the hustle of the fall and winter semesters has ended is sort of like an academically-inclined summer camp. When the weather cooperates, I forget I’m taking classes altogether.

Now, here comes the but: trying to cram in nine college credits in six weeks makes for very, very long classes. Sitting for long periods of time has never been a particular trial for me, but when you’re sitting in a lecture, no matter how interesting it is, for longer than you sat through the third “Lord of the Rings” movie, it starts to get tough. You pick up habits you never indulged before; suddenly you’re a knuckle-cracking, leg-shaking doodler with a twitch and you don’t know how you got this way. This condition is aggravated by the sunshine you know is shining outside, the swimming pools you know are getting ready to open and the smell of flowers on the brink of full bloom.

That said, now that attending college has taught me my own capability for a whole new level of productivity, those lazy summer days I used to welcome in high school are a bit torturous. Long, idle hours when I could be getting some of those generals out of the way faster and cheaper than I could during the traditional school year is just time wasting away. Ultimately, despite its struggles, I recommend this post-party wedding reception we call spring semester. It’s a collegiate freebie...try it!

Mariah Proctor is a senior at Brigham Young University studying theatre arts and German studies. She is a habitual globe-trotter and enjoys acoustic guitar, sunshine and elephant whispering. Once the undergraduate era of her life comes to an end, she plans to perhaps seek a graduate degree in film and television production or go straight to pounding the pavement as an actor and getting used to the sound of slammed doors. Writing has and always will be the constant in her whirlwind life story.

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Congrats! Or Not…

With False Acceptance Emails on the Rise, Be Sure to Double Check Your Admissions Decision

March 26, 2014

by Mike Sheffey

Imagine receiving an email from your dream college or university congratulating you on your acceptance. It's a great feeling, right? Now imagine receiving a follow-up email from that same school stating that admissions decision you waited so long to hear was sent in error. Worst. Day. Ever.

This unfortunate scenario has been a reality for many students, as the number of colleges sending out acceptance emails by mistake has increased in recent years. Gone are the days where you could determine your post-secondary fate by the size of the envelope in your mailbox; now, admissions decisions are often released first electronically but the system is far from foolproof. Technology isn't all it’s cracked up to be sometimes and people aren't perfect...but when you're dealing with students' futures, these mistakes should never happen.

For the colleges that have been messing up: GET IT TOGETHER! These emails are nothing more than an added comfort so if you can't get it right, don't do it at all. This isn't a small error: It's a life-changing one. As a center for higher learning, you need to care about your future students a little more. If you can spellcheck an email, you can also check to see who it's going to.

So students, if you've received an electronic admissions decision, just double check before starting the celebration. Look elsewhere online, email somebody or call the school directly as soon as possible. The last thing you want is a false sense of relief. Once you're sure, however, go crazy – getting into college is a big deal and should be treated as such!

Mike Sheffey is a senior at Wofford College double majoring in computer science and Spanish. He loves all things music and has recently taken up photography. Mike works for an on-campus sports broadcasting company as well as the music news blog PropertyOfZack.com. He hopes to use this blogging position to inform and assist others who are seeking the right college or those currently enrolled in college by providing advice on college life, both in general and specific to Wofford.

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