Category Archives: Preparation

I’m Going to Greece

This news has sort of trickled out in dribs and drabs, but for my last coop I’m going to Greece with NUin.  There’s a bit of info on the Greece page under the “Where I’ve Been” tab, as well as on my original announcement of employment.

Reasons I’m excited about Greece:

  • It’s another Mediterranean country
  • I get to go to Parker and Lauren’s wedding.  The locations have different departure dates, and only Ireland or Greece would accommodate their August wedding.  I know it sounds silly, but they’re my cousins and I would hate to miss a family wedding.  I can’t think of a way to feel more homesick than to miss a big, fun event that my whole family goes to without me.
  • I love foreign language settings (the other options were all English-speaking or Costa Rica).  I’m sure I’ll have plenty of adventures to write about stumbling through Greek.
  • To that end, this will be my first time to go abroad with no experience at all in the language
  • That being said, i got a phrasebook and some language software (NOT Rosetta Stone.  I’m not a fan.)
  • I can go to Istanbul easily–it’s an 8 hour ride from Thess, and ACT runs a cheap weekend trip there every semester.
  • I love the whole Greece/Cypres/Turkey dynamic
  • I’m BEYOND pumped to submit an article to the NU Political Review about the Eurozone and Greece’s current economic situation.  As my dad said, “Greece used to be fine, and then it wasn’t, so Delia decided to go!”

At this point, I have met my Site Director(SD), Chis, who is a retired history teacher and has tons of abroad experience. Plus, he speaks Japanese and has run 4 marathons–how cool is that?!  There are three Assistant Site Directors (ASDs), Jennifer, Staci and Kelly.  Jennifer was an intense corporate consultant before teaching English in Korea for a year.  Staci just moved back from Baha, Mexico, and has also spent a lot of time in Australia.  Kelly just had her birthday during our second orientation (yes, we sang and made the participants sing a bunch of times, too), and just finished her masters.  All of them have masters degrees, actually.  I’m really psyched to work with such a fun, smart group of people.  We’ve all been getting along very well, and I’m excited to meet the other International Student Advisers (ISAs).  There are 7 ISAs plus me.  I’ve already met them all, and the general consensus is that Team Greece=Rock Star Team.

We’ve already had all three pre-departure orientations, or PDOs as the Boston staff insists on calling them.  During orientations I’ve been able to get to know some of our Greece participants, watch the SDs and ASDs of other locations run their programs, and get the hang of how NUin runs their pred-departure.  I’ve done pre-departure for study abroad, but it’s different when people stay overnight, their parents come, and they’re paying $30k for a semester.  Plus, for NUin participants, this isn’t just a semester abroad–it’s their first semester of college, and for some it’s their first time out of the country or even their first time away from their parents for more than a week.

This job in general is pretty amazing, because it is really getting into the niche of using study abroad as a way to motivate people toward social responsibility.  There will be a service-learning aspect, with a 30 hour volunteering commitment as well as a 1-credit course for reflection and discussion.  I’m hoping I get to TA one of the sections, since so much of what I enjoy is examining travel, foreign cultures and volunteerism, so we can make the biggest, most effective impact possible.  I’m also looking forward to some of the programming, from going to the movies in Greece (I always go to the movies abroad if I can help it) to climbing and camping on Mt. Olympus.

Let me know if you have any tips/advice on Greece, or on leading 145 college freshmen in a foreign country.  I’ll need it!

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be. 

Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent. 

When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there.

I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo?

This is where it gets dicey and where I get all Bell Jar.  Each place I choose is a million I don’t.   And of course, money is always a factor, and my career, and the strength of what I intend to do in this new place. 

How do you pick where you live, go on vacation or work?  For me, a co-op abroad will be all of those things, in its own way.

Ten Things No One Tells You About Study Abroad

  1. You will have at least one nervous breakdown.
  2. People don’t really want to hear that much about your trip30 seconds or less will do.
  3. Other countries are really not that scary.  The people are pretty much just like us–they just dress, talk and act different, and eat different food.
  4. Some days, it will suck. This is because it is real life, not an extended vacation.  So laugh and keep moving.  Even if you have to fake it, you probably won’t notice when you stop needing to.
  5. You will spend too much money.
  6. No matter how carefully you pack, you will have brought too much, and still manage to have left behind something you totally miss
  7. It’s harder to adjust to life back home at the end of the trip than life away from home at the beginning.
  8. Everyone gets in.  Well, pretty close to it.
  9. Everyone lies about how perfect study abroad is.  Study abroad is awesome, but not perfect.  I promise, your friends don’t post pictures, blogs or status updates about feeling overwhelmed, having trouble making friends, or being ridiculously homesick.  No one wants to admit “defeat” especially since everyone else’s time seems so perfect.  But everyone is having their rough days, too.
  10. You will, in fact, spend the same amount of time on facebook and watching movies/television as you did back home.

Turning Down Travel

Earlier this week, I made a very difficult decision: I’m not going to Honduras this November. 

I haven’t been anywhere outside of the US (not that I haven’t travelled!)  since I got back from Benin this past June, and my feet itch.  My would-have-been travel companion and I are both working full time on co-op, which makes a looong weekend away seem even more enticing.  It would be warm, they speak Spanish, and there are amazing Mayan ruins and renowned scuba diving.  We’ve traveled together before, and have similar styles (fast-walkin’, mystery meat-eatin’, history-lovin’ sarcastic types.)  It’s notoriously cheap, (once you get there) and we even found bargain basement airfare. 

But alas, we are not going. 

Travel is only really cheap if you have time.  Time for a less direct route or slower method of transport; time to spend in a cheap country for the plane tickets to balance out across your cost per day. 

We have neither of these. 

When it came down to it, we both realized our food wouldn’t be as cheap as we hope, because there’s a learning curve on that one.  And our lodging probably wouldn’t be too bad, but still more per night than I’d like.  But when it all comes down to it, it’s about time.  We wouldn’t be able to stay long enough for the bargain flight to cost little enough per day to make it worthwhile.  And then throw in diving and we’re well about the $100/day mark. 

Sad, travel-less faces for Emily and I. 

On the bright side, we both realized this about the same time, so there is no fighting, crying or betrayal.  I’m choosing to focus instead on saving up for another, longer-term adventure.  Because really, we all know that five days wouldn’t satisfy me.  So maybe I’ll check you later, Honduras. 

But in the mean time: damn you co-op, for giving my just enough money and time off to make this almost possible, but not quite.

You Know You’re a Yovo if…

  • You think women should probably wear shirts, most of the time
  • You like your roads paved, and with potholes fewer than three feet wide
  • The only thing you knew about Vodoun before Benin came from movies
  • You wear sunscreen and bug spray, have a bug net and carry bottled water everywhere you go
  • You talk about showering more than you actually do it
  • You had never heard of Benin before you decided to go there
  • …but now you can’t wait to go back
  • You don’t wear heels to walk in the mud, but you DO carry your own bag
  • You don’t know how to successfuly carry things on your head
  • You’re afraid to cross the street, never mind get on a motorbike
  • You will probably never attempt to breast feed while carrying something on your head AND riding a motorbike
  • You’ve never authored a “Nigerian Prince” email
  • You refuse to swim in the standing water, and maybe even the ocean water too
  • You eat peanut butter
  • You point and yell (or perhaps whisper) every time you see a Yovo you don’t already know
  • You’ve been kidnapped (in a good-natured, well-meaning sort of way) at least once
  • You’re still annoyed by street harassment
  • You’re taken aback every time people ask if you’re a Christian
  • Your shirt and pants don’t match EXACTLY, and your family does not wear matching clothes
  • Your head has a maximum of two braids at any given time
  • You’re still a little surprised there’s never any cold beer–oh yeah, and you drink “Beninoise”, not “33”
  • People laugh when you eat with your hands
  • You don’t speak Fon, Yoruba, Goun or many of the other local tribal languages
  • When you go home, you’re confused by all the white people, and the fact that everyone speaks English
  • You have an awkward Mean Girls-style moment of assuming every black person you see speaks French
  • You don’t know the end of the yovo song, because no one ever finishes

Ignorant Traveler

That’s me right now. I feel strange going to Benin.  I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.

Here I am, researching oh so much about Ewan and Nicole...I mean, Benin.

We went to the embassy today, and it was great to meet the ambassador, but I was embarrassed.  I didn’t know the square footage or population size.  I already spoke French well, so I look and sound more prepared than I am.  I knew about some of the languages, but only because of Benin’s ties to Cuba and my mind’s sponge-like properties.

I feel very unprepared for this trip.  Part of that is great; I’m laid back and go with the flow.  I don’t need to know everything, to schedule everything, to be in charge of everything.  But part of that disgusts me. Some travellers discuss the virtues of going with a totally open mind, of being sure “not to over-research.”

Over research?  Is that even possible?  To me it just sounds like an excuse not to do your homework.

I’ve never been somewhere I knew so little about before.  And yet I remember saying that about Cuba.  I was rather prepared for the French exchange in high school, and I deifnitely know more about Egypt than is expected for an American.  But that doesn’t mean I was prepared enough.  In-country I was embarassed and frustrated by my poor Arabic skills, by the fact that I’d only taken one semester of formal Arabic.  I’m not used to not being the best at things like languages, to not knowing all the answers and to not always being right.

So maybe I’m never as prepared as I think.  There are always excuses: Arabic is hard, Cuba is soon, no one does research on Benin. But there are also millions of people who travel every year without studying the language, religion, geography, culture and economic situation of the destination before packing their bags.

Perhaps, its just time I let travel teach me that I don’t always have to be the best, and that being unsure (or heaven forbid: wrong!) is acceptable and even kind of interesting.

What About Benin?

I’ll be going to France on May 8, and after a week in Paris I’ll go to Benin until June 5.

Benny-what?

Benin. It’s a small country in West Africa.  It’s mostly known in history for its sad part in the slave trade as a major departure port.  I’ll be spending some time in Cotonou, as well as the capital of Porto-Novo

The Basics

Map courtesy of the UN website

I’m going through Northeastern University and the Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Instead of taking summer classes, I’m doing this.  I’ll get the normal summer credit for it (8 credits/two classes) and will be graded and such.  It’s like what I did in Egypt, except entirely different. 🙂

French is the official language of Benin, so I’ll be taking some lessons while in Paris and practicing my rather dormant French skills while there.  Many people also speak Fon, of which I know nothing, and Yoruba, a language that found its way to Cuba (and modern Cubañol) via the slave trade.  The country is considered very safe, but is severely lacking when it comes to infrastructure.

For our safety/for the sake of NU’s lawyers, we aren’t allowed to ride on motorbikes and will only be eating from a select few restaurants.  I have malaria pills and got my yellow fever vaccine, whose injection site still kinda hurts.  Blast, yellow fever, you’ve done it again!  I’m waiting with bated breath for my visa to come back (this seems to be a theme with me…) and already scoping out luggage and drawing up packing lists.  Here we go again!

Service-Learning

While in Benin, we’ll be meeting up with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to learn more about the country, such as development, culture and politics.  We will each be working with a local NGO for a few weeks, ranging from health care to orphanages to micro-enterprise(!) and lending a hand any way we can.  More on this later, since it’s most of the reason I chose this program.

Songhai Center

I’ll be living in the Songhai Center in Cotonou.  There are several of these throughout the country, and they are used for training Beninese people about agriculture and such.  It’s also thoroughly Green with a capital G, with each part of the center helping to fuel another.  Which brings up another point: I’ll be taking chilly rain barrel showers for most of the summer.  Basically, I’m going to refer you to the video contained in the link below, courtesy of BoingBoingTV, because it does a far better job of explaining than me.

Songhai Video link