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Layers Yet Unseen: Extras

Have you ever had so much to say and too little time to share it? Perhaps someone asked in passing about a passion you've discovered, and you immediately attempted to convert them into fanatics! Or maybe you had an incredible experience and wanted to explain it in detail to a friend. Perhaps you took a trip abroad and soaked in every aspect of the culture and location. This last scenario is the case for some of the culture connoisseurs we interviewed a few weeks back. Sometimes our experiences with the new and unfamiliar leave so many imprints on our minds and hearts that there just isn't time to share them all! For this reason, we've compiled the thoughts and insights that didn't appear in our Studying Abroad post to give you a fuller picture of life abroad.

Jennifer Ryan had a lot more to say about people and what they can teach us about culture: "As a person, living abroad made me more dependent upon other people. We had to have guides to show us safety measures in the city, how to renew our visas, how to travel within the country, and how to live without a car. Every area had its own idiosyncrasies and we had to ask frequently for help to do the most basic tasks. How do you mail a letter? How do you pay a gas bill? It made us more connected to local Costa Ricans, and them to us.

"It made me very appreciative of second language learners in the US and the hard work that they go through to build a new life in an environment that they often do not understand. Some of our dear friends have received their Ph. D. from universities in foreign countries. This is an amazing feat. It is also no small thing to raise children in a foreign country with the school system and all of the new culture's influences bearing down upon your kids. There is a layer of work that most parents in these situations have to do just to understand the daily experiences of their own kids.

"If you want to have friends in a new culture with any depth of relationship, you must speak their language. This is a powerful motivator. If I want to buy bread from the local panadería, that requires one level of Spanish. When I am building trust with a friend, I must be able to hear their heart about complicated emotions and situations. I can't do that with surface-level Spanish.

"When you are planting roots that you hope will go deep, you need those close relationships to help you through the hard times that come when you are far away from your original support system."

Stacy Frazier wrote about her own culture in light of her new environment: "My Jewish identity became much more salient for me during my stay in Spain for a couple of key reasons. First, one of my study group friends was being hosted by an older Jewish woman, and I joined them at synagogue one weekend (where women were required to watch from the upper balcony). It was during my visits to her home that I learned the history of Sephardic Jews which I knew nothing about before traveling to Spain (interestingly, it was only a few years ago that Spanish Parliament offered citizenship to descendants of Jews expelled 500+ years ago). Second, Madrid was also the first place I remember where I experienced anti-Semitism. Growing up in a predominantly Jewish community in New Jersey, I really hadn’t been confronted by bigotry before then. But during my daily walk to the International Institute, I passed by a graffiti covered wall with swastikas and slurs while holding onto my grandmother’s chai, which I wore on a necklace."

Though these were originally not included in our article, these women included them in their stories. Time can run short, and we may not have the opportunity to thoroughly understand another's experiences or culture in the time allotted to us. There is always another layer both of a people and of a person that we can explore, and we should never guess that we've heard the whole story! When have you found out that there was more to a place or a person than you originally thought? Comment down below!

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