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Sahana Sharan - a resident of India studying at New York University
Richard Romeo - a Texas boy studying in Hong Kong
Cynthia Hall - a world-class writer studying in Budapest, Hungary
This was one of the most interesting, exciting, unexpected seasons of BlogAbroad yet. Maybe it was because of the bloggers themselves—the mix of personalities was astounding, from the philosophical, intellectual Gabrielle to Michal, the bon vivant who seemed to enjoy every moment of her time in France; and from Judd the wry adventurer to Joe, the meticulous, incisive, brave traveler of lands that many Americans would, frankly, be too scared to visit.
Or maybe it had to do with the places the bloggers studied abroad: From India to France to Jordan to Germany, this season’s bloggers seemed to have been spread out across the globe, both in geographic as well as in cultural terms. And such a wide range of cultures and countries absolutely made for a season of excitement.
Perhaps, though, in the end, it was some combination of these factors, coupled with that intangible something that manifests itself when intelligent people do extraordinary things and let the rest of us in on their adventures.
Alchemy. Excitement. Uncertainty. Honesty. All of these added up this season to result in one thing: A heck of a ride.
In today’s world, few places are more misunderstood and feared than the Arab Middle East. Indeed, recent years and events around the world have led to “Middle East” and “frightening” becoming synonymous. But Joe managed to get past those issues, make himself at home in Amman, Jordan, and delve beneath the surface. If there is one quality that defines him, it’s bravery. Whether he was traveling to Egypt or interviewing an administrator at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Joe never failed to find a way to understand the nature of the people, the country, and the culture of his home for the semester. And as a result, we all learned a whole lot more than we probably ever expected to about this part of the world whose importance will only continue to increase in the coming years.
Gabrielle followed in the footsteps of so many of history’s most incisive and sponge-like minds and ventured to India. But unlike so many travelers who have found themselves on the sub-continent before, Gabrielle’s journey became just as much an internal one as it was external. She had her share of struggles, to be sure: From trying to find a research project for the end of the semester to learning how to communicate in Hindi, Gabrielle’s time was not always easy in India. But she always managed to pull through it, and usually with a healthy dose of self-realization and a sharing of the kind of wisdom that usually only comes from people much older than she. As this season ends, she is leaving India for other lands—Fiji, Singapore…you name it, chances are that Gabrielle will travel there. She has been an inspiration to every one of us who dreams of distant horizons and of shores in lands not our own. Hers truly looks like it will be a life less ordinary. And lucky for us, she has shared it for a few months.
As far as Michal goes, there is an expression in French that perfectly applies to her: La vie en rose. It means much more than its literal translation, which is to see the world through rose-colored glasses. And through Michal’s eyes, and through her blogs, we have all gotten a little glimpse of how joyous life can be when you allow yourself to experience it deeply. And while she still may not be able to smell all the different aromas in a glass of wine (though she tried mightily, and several times at that!), she’s learned to speak French, she’s seen some of the most beautiful parts of that fabled country, and she’s learned that the key to living a good life is sometimes nothing more than being open to the opportunities that come your way. If only more people had her worldview…
And, finally, there’s Judd, whose time in Germany is probably best summed up in his most recent posting: "Jon and I walked into Switzerland today to visit a Chocolate factory. We stopped at a super-market where we asked for directions and met a man who offered us a ride to the factory, as it was quite far away. Now I wouldn't normally suggest or accept rides from complete strangers, but Jon was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, so I went along complacently. We arrived at the factory in one piece I'm happy to say. In retrospect I think it is shame that we had to question the motives of someone who was just trying to be kind. In any event, we walked into the factory, but sadly, they were not running tours at this time of year. It's a shame too because I imagined it to be just like Willy Wonka's Factory inside. I suppose I'll have to wait till Spring to find out. We didn't walk away empty handed, however. We bought some cheap chocolate and then rode the train back to Konstanz.” There’s a lesson here: If you keep yourself open to new experiences, and to meeting new people and always remaining hopeful, then you’ll be able to accomplish anything. By the time he returns home, Judd will have been away for a full year. And by following his adventures, all of us are sure to be better, more interesting people for having done so.
Just remember that it’s not all over: The new season is beginning in just a few weeks. In the meantime, though, this is a great time to reflect on all that the bloggers have been through, learned, and experienced. It’s also a good chance to give ourselves a breather. Because once you meet next season’s bloggers, you may never want to leave your computer.
After having arrived in Amman, Jordan, University of Richmond student Joe Barresi went through the usual homesickness and soul-searching that study abroad students all over the world experience. His lack of understanding of Arabic, the striking foreignness of the culture mingled with surprising Western influences (women in traditional Arab garb ordering lattes at Starbucks), and a shooting during his first stretch of time there—these all contributed to Joe’s whirlwind of impressions of this bustling capital city. He has, however, found himself feeling ever more at home in Jordan, his host family is friendly and willing to engage in conversation on any number of topics, and Joe is acclimating beautifully. This semester promises to be one of great personal change for him.
Gabrielle DeNevyn has been through India before, and despite the fact that during that sojourn she was briefly kidnapped, she nonetheless has a deep and heartfelt love for the country. Since she arrived a few weeks ago, she has gone through all the normal doubts and uncertainties study abroad students experience, but her confidence (despite her occasional claims to the contrary) and her ability to adapt have seen her through even the most difficult moments. Her Hindi is improving, she’s getting along rather well with her new rickshaw driver, and her acclimation to India is continuing along.
Judd has made more friends in his first month in Germany than most people make over the course of their entire study abroad experience. And his group consists of what might be called a mini-United Nations—students from England, Ireland, Estonia, Mexico, Germany, Lithuania…spin the globe and point to a place, and there’s bound to be a student in Judd’s program from there. All told, he’s really only occupied these days with his intensive language course until classes begin in October, which means that there’s plenty of time for him to explore the city, hang out with his friends, and perfect his macaroni and cheese cooking techniques.
Michal’s adventures in France so far have read like a page out of a movie—from visiting ancient cities and looking out over breathtaking vistas through castle windows once used to fend off invaders with bows and arrows, to conducting an extensive and ongoing tour of all the many versions of croissants at boulangeries and patisseries in Nice and Montpellier, every day seems to have been filled to the point of overflowing with new experiences. Classes have begun for Michal, so her schedule is a bit more full than it was, but she’s adjusting to it just fine. And with the group of friends she’s made, there’s no telling what kind of adventures wait for her.
Season 1 - Emma's Blog (Senegal)
Season 1 - Jackie's Blog (Chile)
Season 1 - Phil's Blog (Rome)
Season 2 - Amy's Blog (Egypt)
Season 2 - Jon's Blog (New Zealand)
Season 2 - Keri's Blog (USA)
Season 2 - Vanessa's Blog (Sea)
Season 3 - Jeff's Blog (Prague)
Season 3 - Sarah's Blog (London)
Season 3 - Tammy's Blog (Costa Rica)
Season 3 - Taylor's Blog (Japan)
Season 4 - Gabrielle's Blog (India and Fiji)
Season 4 - Joe's Blog (Jordan)
Season 4 - Judd's Blog (Germany)
Season 4 - Michal's Blog (France)
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