Thursday, December 17, 2015

     I am home!!!!  I loved being in Wales, and enjoyed every moment of it, but am also very happy to be back.  In this, my last blog post, I wanted to share some things I learned while studying abroad.  The point of this blog was to chronicle my adventures AND, perhaps, encourage someone else to study abroad.  It is in the spirit of that second point that I will sharing things I leaned that would have been nice to know before I left. 

     Ask for help:  it is always good to figure things out on your own, but it is fine to ask for help.  Please note:  asking means asking.  In some cultures it is odd to constantly be asking others how they are, so if you need someone be direct.  Most people are willing to help if you need it.

     Police officers are your allies:  feel uncomfortable walking by yourself, waiting for friends in a new area?  Go stand by a police officer.  Explain that you are by yourself.  Unless they are rushing away they should be happy to let you stand by them.  If they are in a hurry, ask for a nearby well-lit area where you can wait.  Will you feel a little dorky?  Yes.  Will you also feel 100% safer?  Yes.

     Learn the vocabulary:  at some point you will say something that makes the "natives" laugh, like:  pants or fanny pack.  Recognize that no one is being mean, ask for clarification, explain how your own culture uses the word/phrase, and then use your new found words to more fully embrace the new culture you are in.

     Meet your instructors:  this is a good idea at home or abroad.   But with a new system it is key that you have a way to understand what is happening.  And, there will likely come a point where you miss class either for travel or sickness.  When that happens, you want the instructor to know who you are.

     Try new things:  you may not love Blood Pudding but may enjoy Haggis.  Don’t let someone else tell you what you will or will not like. Try it for yourself.  Pro-Tip:  want to try something new?  Check the appetizer/starter portion of the menu.  That is the perfect place to find a cheaper/smaller portion to determine whether or not you like something. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. Not all restaurants can give out samples, but it never hurts to ask. 

     Remember, it's okay to do things from home.  Do you miss Taco Tuesday?  Make tacos!  You don’t have to abandon every normal practice from home just because you are abroad.  Of course you want to be as engaged in your new culture as you can be, but don’t abandon the familiar all together.

     Travel as much as possible:  day trip to a nearby city?  Go for it!  Trains and buses can be very cheap, and often have student deals, so don’t be afraid to go someplace multiple times. 
BUT, remember you can do more than the “touristy” things.  See a cute tea shop?  Pop in and enjoy a pot of tea while watching the world outside. This leads into the next point…
Remember to relax:  you don’t have to be moving 24/7.  At many points, you will have to decide between being a tourist and a traveler.  Tourists run from place to place, see as much as they can, and never stop to breathe.  Travelers see what they want, stop when they want, and go with the flow.  It is more than fine to be a tourist, and if you have more than one day in a city, it is great to play the tourist the first day so you know what you want to come back and see.  BUT, it is also okay, and necessary sometimes, to slow down.  Oftentimes the best experiences you have will be the ones you stumbled upon rather than planned from your guide book. 

     Don't assume that your way of doing things is normal.  Just because you are expected to order from you table at almost every establishment in the states, doesn’t mean that is the same everywhere else.  There are lots of pubs where you are expected to order at the bar.  It’s different, but it is also not an issue.  If you are ever confused about the protocol, ask.   

     Talk to your friends/family:  with modern technology it is easy to stay in contact.  Your parents will feel much more at ease with you traveling if you keep them updated.  Also, remember the world keeps spinning while you are away from home. Stay in contact with friends; you don’t want to miss out on this portion of their lives just because you are abroad.

     Don't focus on friends/family to the point that you miss spending time with new friends.  Having a rough day?  Of course stay in and call your family.  BUT, remember that you can always talk to the new friends that are there with you too.  It can be tempting to focus only on the people you left behind, or only on those you have recently met, but the most enjoyable time will be had when those two focuses are balanced.  It takes some work, but it is worth it.

     Talk to other people about their native cultures:  be honest about what you know and what you don’t.  It is amazing the things you can learn! 

     Answer questions asked of you.  They may be repetitive, like "what are the differences between here and home" but people are asking because they are genuinely interested.  

     Be prepared to have people single you out and make assumptions based on your accent.  Realize it is because they don't know any better, and remember how it makes you feel.  There will come a point when you are not the one with the accent anymore.   So remember that feeling to help others in your future feel more secure. 

     Finally, enjoy every second of your experience.  Whether you are traveling the world or sitting at home with your flat mates, know that this is a once in a life time experience, and savor each and every moment.
     For anyone reading this that wants more information about studying abroad, or more specifically the Brad Henry Scholarship please email me at or contact me via social media (Facebook:  Chandler Steckbeck, Twitter:  @feminist_ace).
     As my final note, I would like to say thank you.  First and foremost a huge thank you to Governor Henry.  Without your generosity this fabulous adventure would not have been possible.  Secondly, to all the faculty and staff, both at NWOSU and at Swansea who have made this trip enjoyable and productive in terms of academic credit.  Finally, a huge thank you to my family:  you have supported me in so many ways while I was away.  I am so thankful that I had this experience, but also very happy to be back with you.

     Thank you to everyone who has followed this blog and my adventure!  Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

     Tonight is my last night in Wales.  Tomorrow night is my last night in the UK.  I plan to come back, but for now, it is goodbye. 
     This last week has been incredible.  For some reason, everyday things seem so much more meaningful when you know the clock is counting down. 
     I have said it before, and I will say it again:  I am going to miss Wales and the people I have met here.  I know I still have two trains, a bus, three airplanes (with two shuttles and a sleep in-between 1 and 2), and a car ride before I am home, but it already feels like I am gone.  Other than the few essentials for tomorrow morning, my room is packed.  My clothes are laid out, my bags have been weighed, and I have said goodbye to many.
     So in this, my last blog post in Wales, I want to say a heart felt goodbye to anyone I didn’t have a chance to see in person.  I will miss each and every one of you.  Whether we met in class, on the bus, in church, or in another country all together, please know that you played an integral part in the amazing adventure I have had.  I love and will miss you all!

     To my US friends and family:  I will see you soon!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

     There are so many different kinds of beauty in this world.  There is the loving beauty of a family and the security they provide.  There is an innocent beauty in children.  Places have beauty too.        There is an impressive beauty in Paris where the buildings are tall, towering, and very old.  There is a wild beauty in Scotland where there are miles of untamed hills.  There is impressive and terrifying beauty at the Cliffs of Moher.  There is powerful beauty in the movements of ballet dancers.  Finally, there is majestic beauty in certain buildings, like Bath Abbey.
     Since coming to Swansea, I have learned to better appreciate beauty.  I have had the opportunity to walk through some of the best museums, view the best collections, and see some of the variety this world has to offer.  Two of those recent experiences, watching the Russian State Ballet perform The Nutcracker and visiting Bath Abbey for a service, were truly amazing.
    I initially bought tickets to see Nutcracker because it was being performed by the Russian Ballet.  After watching Cinderella earlier though, I was genuinely excited for the performance.  But nothing could have prepared me for it. 
     Every move was perfect, every costume shone, and every leap was impossibly high.  The show felt as if it lasted 20 minutes because it was so engrossing.  The live orchestra was fantastic and there was never a moment to focus on the coughs or uncomfortable seats that I am sure where there.  The beauty of this ballet was powerful, because it successfully pulled an entire audience, or at least just me, away from the mundane world filled with buses and essays, into a world where the Rat King will always fall and Sugar Plum Fairies dance.
     Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Bath Christmas Market, thanks to Swansea Uni.  I enjoyed every aspect of the trip.  From visiting the Jane Austen Centre to exploring all 161 little booths, everything seemed to be perfect.  Then we went to Bath Abbey.  A friend and I happened to be walking by the front of the abbey, as they were welcoming people in for a short service.  We decided to go.  It was one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made.
     I had visited the Abbey previously, and had admired the HUGE organ, but hearing it play was a different experience all together.  In modern churches, the idea is to have carpet everywhere to dampen the sound.  All the reverb is cancelled out, so the notes stay “pure.”  I think the Abbey was designed with the opposite in mind.  Apart from the seat covers on the pews, the abbey is made of hard surfaces, stone and wood, so the sound echoes again and again. This means that notes sometimes linger, leaving a “sour” sound.  But it doesn’t sound wrong.
     The notes linger because they are powerful.  To dampen the power would be to take away from its beauty.
     To say I love the city of Bath would be an understatement.  Lively yet relaxed, unlike London or OKC (although those are two vastly different sized cities), Bath seems to offer something new and beautiful around every corner.  I understand why Jane Austen was so focused on Bath:  it truly is an amazing place.
     Well, as I write this I am officially in my last week in Wales.  I leave Cardiff Sunday and layover in Dublin for 16 hours.  Then I fly from Dublin back to the US.  I am excited to be going home, I can’t wait to see my family!  But, I want to come back.  I want to go home and see my US friends and family and then come back to my Swansea family.
     I am not ready to leave the church that has so welcomed and loved me here.  I am not ready to leave the Uni that has provided a fun and exciting education.  And I am not ready to leave my Swansea family.  I want to see my family at home and then come back here.  I want to wake up in my flat, lack of hot water and all, and walk down the hall to hear giggles from my flat mates.  I want Nandos on the weekend and walks to Spar through the rain.  I want trips to Mumbles and adventures in Bath.  But I also want my family from home.  In a perfect world, I could combine Swansea and NWOSU, and I could merge Alva, Enid, and Swansea.  But this isn’t a perfect world.  I can only be in one place at a time.  Which means, in just a few short days, I will be leaving this home, and headed to another. 

     So with my remaining time here, I am determined to enjoy myself.  I have a week left to make memories here, and I intend to make those memories good.  

Welcome to the Christmas Markets!

The Jane Austen Centre

Jane, Bill, and I.  :)

At Bath Circus looking at the Crescent.