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How do you navigate another culture while being true to yourself?

me at the El Gato de Botero

Traveling has always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. Unfortunately, my socioeconomic background never fully supported the financial stability an individual needs to have in order to travel abroad. For the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland and don’t Dublin is beautiful don’t get me wrong, but SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has taken its toll on me after being in Ireland for more than a month. Dublin much like Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon is cold and rainy, especially in the winter months. Which has made it harder mentally and emotionally to have the energy to explore or walk long distances in order to go grocery shopping and other daily tasks. 

While navigating Ireland’s weather has been a challenge for me, my partner and I were more than excited to get a break from the Isle of Emeralds rainy and 40 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. For reading week or spring break as we call it in the states, my partner and I decided to go to Barcelona, Spain not only for the warm weather and beaches, but for the local history and culture as well. Since Spain is now the second country I have ever been to outside of the United States and Ireland, I expected the language to be a huge culture shock and challenge. However, the biggest challenge I have been facing so far since arriving in Barcelona is being comfortable to hold my partner’s hand and give public displays of affection as well as the style of clothing we wear.

After being in Ireland’s cold and rainy weather for a month now, the thought of being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt sounded marvelous. On our first day of being in Barcelona, we decided to pack up and head to the nearest beach. When most people think of going to the beach they wear swimsuits and or light clothing, so that’s what my partner and I did, we wore shorts/leggings and t-shirts, but were only met with stares as we walked across the city. After researching this puzzling event, wondering if others felt the same as I am not particularly religious and never have been. I truly didn’t see the issue with wearing leggings/shorts, the weather was above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which was way warmer than anything we both had experienced for the last month. While we are here in the winter months of Spain, I can see why some people would have had the looks they did, but it still raises the question of how do you navigate another culture, while being true to yourself and who you are, without disrespecting anyone.

My partner at the El Gato de Botero

completely understand that you may not be able to please everyone, but from the number of results, I found of other people also wondering whether or not it was acceptable to wear shorts in Spain. It made me think harder and more critically as to how far is my personal boundary for respecting an underlying culture tradition and doing what makes me personally happy. Along with how societies as a whole change cultural norms, whether or not we wore shorts/leggings my partner and I still would have gotten stares as we are obviously tourists. My partner is seriously pale as we haven’t seen the sun for about a month and I’m darker than the average Spaniard. 

Before arriving in Spain we did our homework and decided to go to Barcelona/Spain since it is often called the most LGBT friendliest places and Barcelona in particular as being one of the LGBT-friendliest cities in the worst. So while we may not get as many stares for PDA or holding hands as we might in other countries, we are still wary of being in another country and refrain from for our safety as it only takes one individual to sway a groups perspective. So between wearing legging/shorts and not being able to give my partner affection publicly, Barcelona has been challenging, but exciting to travel to so far, as it is unlike any other place I have ever visited.

JAZZ – FIE Student Stories: Studying Abroad During COVID-19

When planning for a study abroad trip, the process starts about a year out from when the program actually starts. Throughout that year, long nights are spent researching different programs for their opportunity academically and not to mention the touristic aspect of living in a place like Rome, Paris and London. However, many long nights are spent researching or attending study abroad meetings to prepare you for different situations like being mugged, going out late at night, drinking culture in another country. There is so much that goes into a study abroad experience and only so much you can prepare for. 

Unfortunately, after spending the last year planning out my study abroad trip and getting two months into my study abroad experience it was cut short. No one could have seen or prepared those of us studying abroad for a global pandemic. While study abroad has always been referred to as a life-changing experience with new adventures and new fears being faced, students who were abroad this Spring 2020 will forever have their study abroad experience marked by the coronavirus. At the first major headlines of the coronavirus breaking out in China, there was always a bit of belief that the virus would not be able to be contained. Unfortunately, I was right. Country after country began to confirm cases and study abroad experience after experience was canceled. No one in my generation has ever been through a pandemic. Nowadays news, rumors and other false information spread very quickly with how linked social media is, which can aid mass hysteria. This became a moment in my life where my friends, family, co-workers and professors were unsure of what was going to happen and how to help. The stress of knowing at any moment we could get the email like so many other students studying abroad that calls us home to the U.S. was anxiety-inducing. Travel restrictions were also quickly being put in place and could leave us trapped abroad. 

While that email did eventually come as Trump put travel restrictions on most of Europe and soon would include the U.K. and Ireland, it was bittersweet to leave after so much preparation and adjustment to living in Dublin. Though the airports were packed because of travel restrictions sending people in a hurry back to their home country, I had the opportunity to connect with other study abroad students from the U.S. who were  studying abroad in Ireland, Germany, Spain and France. Despite all of us being a bit bummed out that our experience was cut short, I could see how eager they were to just be with their families and to see familiar faces. In the face of adversity and restrictions out of our control, it was amazing to see how other passengers traveling were comforting those who were anxious about missing their next flight or not being able to return home.

The influence of Dublin

Growing up in the south meant that I was not able to experience vast amounts of diversity in different races or socioeconomically. Since being in Dublin, I have been taking classes at Dublin Business School (DBS)  as well as interning at a local advertising agency called BrandX. During my internship at BrandX I have been able to truly interact with Irish, Australian, and South African citizens. These experiences have allowed me to learn what it is like to study in a multicultural city like Dublin and how these experiences can help me develop to be a more well-rounded person. There are many more benefits to learning and living in a multicultural city like Dublin that will greatly benefit me in the future. 

One benefit of studying abroad in a multicultural city like Dublin is that diversity can offer a platform that drives creativity and innovation. By having multiple cultures, personalities, and perspectives communities can benefit from open communication that results in out-of-the-box thinking. Diverse knowledge and insight mixed with creativity, innovation, and open communication aids teams to be more productive. This is an experience I have personally gone through will attending classes at DBS as a result of discussions and learning with classmates all from different cultures and perspectives.

Another benefit of being in Dublin is the challenge to be able to communicate efficiently between multiple cultures which can be difficult when facing negative stereotypes as well as prejudice. However, daunting this challenge may seem it can offer experience in learning how to continue being open-minded, patience and flexible when confrontation and miscommunication. There have been several times within my study abroad trip to Dublin that accents, social mannerisms, and the difference in linguistics between cultures have made daily tasks like giving directions or basic small talk a bit more challenging. Through these situations, I have grown as a person and developed skills like open-mindedness, patience, and respect for different perspectives and other cultures.

Lastly one of my favorite benefits of living in Dublin aside from the amount of diversity between culture and learning how to deal with conflict at the moment is the greater chance to develop personally and professionally. Working whether in my internship or class project has been a truly enriching experience that allows me to learn about other cultures, perspectives, and values in a different country. I am so thankful for the opportunity to live and learn in Dublin as it has impacted me heavily in so many ways. Despite being scammed and getting lost walking or in a taxi, Dublin has been an amazing experience and came to an end much sooner than expected.

Overall, learning and living in a multicultural city like Dublin has not only inspired me to continue traveling to new countries to further develop being a well-rounded person, but also allow me to help others by learning new skills and cultures, and engage in deep intellectual discussions.

The Benefits of working abroad

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that since being abroad I have been completing a semester-long internship with a local company, Brand X. BrandX is a local company in Dublin that focuses on advertising, marketing, gaming and in house technology services. I’m currently in my third year at Elon University, where I major in Computer Science with a minor in digital art. Within my internship, I primarily work on building wire frames for client’s mobile and web applications, alongside the Creative Director. I have held different types of jobs within the United States before and during my college career, from being a supervisor at a shoe store, a cashier at an arts and craft store, and working at a cafe. 

Despite my experience working in different roles and in varying levels of responsibility, the working culture in Ireland took me a bit of time to adjust to. Even now, more than halfway through the duration of my internship I still myself learning new similarities and differences in the working culture in Ireland to America. In contrast to the United States working culture, Irish companies value flexibility, informality and a jack of all trades type of worker. Titles aren’t typically used in Ireland within the company to define and restrict one’s roles, responsibilities and daily duties. As a result of the Irish culture being more relaxed, coffee breaks throughout the workday are quite abundant and the lines between the hierarchy of each person to another are very blurred. It took me until about a month into my internship to realize that one of my co-workers was in fact not a coworker, but an owner of the company.

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When I originally arrived in Ireland I thought that I had figured out my career path and had revised my resume, portfolio and finally determined what kind of career path I wanted to pursue after college. Since beginning my internship at BrandX, I have been fortunate enough to complete a task related to what a software engineer would be doing on a daily basis. These opportunities have allowed me to learn new software and skills like Sketch, Invision, UX and what software and skillsets are attractive to foreign countries. While any company or program can teach technical skills like new software or applications, I have also been able to continue to build my soft skills. 

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Working at a company in a completely different culture has taught me a valuable lesson in being able to assert my skills and comfortability doing certain tasks, while not being overconfident or coming off as being cocky. My internship at BrandX has awarded me multiple opportunities such as working on large projects and making creative decisions that ultimately make a difference in the designs of client’s web and mobile layouts. Leaving the United States for the first time was a daunting challenge that took a year’s worth of planning, but it was definitely worth the hardships and late nights researching different programs that would best fit me. Ultimately, I am so glad that I choose to study abroad in Ireland and combine it with an internship. I have been able to gain more work experience in the field I hope to go into after college than I would have been able to do due to the difficulty and overcrowding of my major in the United States. By completing an internship abroad I have not only been able to gain new skills, but also work on further developing skills I didn’t even realize would be important to my future career.No block selected.

The Emerald Isle and The Tar Heel State

Even though I was born and raised in North Carolina I had never really considered myself as a Southern girl. After arriving in Dublin, I found it difficult to explain to people where North Carolina is as the East coast covers a lot of states and many people don’t know where North Carolina is geographically off the top of their head. Dubliners often use the county or town they are from instead of state and only the most common/popular states are really known. This is only one example of cultural aspects of Ireland that I thought would be easy, but have found to be quite interesting and harder than I thought. 

Me at a weekend trip to Galway,Ireland

Since I’m from the South you would think that I would be used to navigating through thick accents and deciphering what an individual has said, since the South is often stereotyped as having thick country drawn-out accents. Unfortunately, this part of my culture and background has not been as much of a tool as I thought it would be living in Dublin. I find myself often having to ask people with Irish accents thick or not to repeat themselves, having to really lean in and listen as well as watch their lips sometimes to make out what they are saying. 

Another example of differences in the cultural aspects that have left me in some awkward situations is walking into restaurants and having to seat myself, as well as others with me, instead of being seated by the host. Although I had spent time familiarizing myself with the local currency and being aware of my surroundings when walking around in the city center, I thought that my experience living in Los Angeles every summer since my Freshman year of college would prepare me for dealing with walking around a huge city and a prevalent amount of homelessness. I found myself unexpectedly caught off guard one day when approached out of nowhere by a woman who didn’t seem homeless asking for change for a €10 bill to use for the bus.

It was midday, otherwise,  I probably wouldn’t have stopped and engaged in conversation with her honestly, but again I thought that my tactics used in Los Angeles for navigating these situations would work in Dublin. I did my normal routine of making sure my back was against the wall, holding my wallet tight against me and only taking out the change they asked for. I repeatedly asked and saw the €10 dollar bill to make sure that it wasn’t ripped in half or damage. After exchanging the two fives for her €10 bill, we both went on our way. Sadly, it wasn’t till later that night when I was doing my budgeting that I realized that the €10 bill she had given me was a prop copy.

The prop copy the lady had given me.

Now I could have gotten angry at this. I could have regretted trying to help someone out and had this event make me feel differently towards helping out homeless people, but it hasn’t. Instead, this event and the others mentioned previously have made me appreciate the experiences and cultural differences not only within the United States, but in Ireland as well. Cultural aspects found within every society show a part of that area’s history and experiences that invoke those cultural aspects negatively or positively will continue to educate me in ways that I can’t be taught from a book, video or without traveling to different cultures than my own.

“What’s your major?”

Since entering college and even after being in Ireland for about a month now, this question has been asked to me over hundreds of times. If I had ten cents for each time I was asked this question I could probably pay for a full semester at college. It took me until the end of my sophomore year and trying out different classes to figure out what I wanted to major in. Eventually, I came to the decision to be a computer science major. It took many nights of critically thinking of what I enjoy doing and what I can continue to grow in without losing passion for the subject. I decided on computer science as my major once I realized the iceberg of knowledge that digital technology holds.

Even though I am not taking computer science classes abroad in Ireland, it doesn’t mean that the knowledge I am learning from class now and the knowledge I hold from my past computer science classes isn’t being used. Fortunately, I have had the amazing opportunity to intern at BrandX, a local marketing, advertising, and gaming company, during my time in Dublin for the next few months. While I do help with assignments that are directly related to my major, future career goals and technical background, I have learned while being abroad that it is very typical for an individual to wear more than one hat, especially in smaller companies. They often don’t use titles or positions as no one is bound to only doing one type of work and only that type of work.

Studying abroad as a Computer Science student has helped me to continue to develop my soft skills like teamwork, adaptability, creativity and most importantly communication. When most people think of computer science they think of Information Technology or (IT), which is a part of computer science, but only the tip of the iceberg. While having technical skills like knowing multiple programming languages and different software is definitely a huge part of my career, it isn’t the only set of skills or knowledge that a future employer is going to look for. Anyone can teach you a certain software or programming language. However, soft skills are developed more internally through experiences and a lot of self-reflection.

“People with highly transferable skills may be specialists in certain areas, but they’re also incredible generalists – something businesses that want to grow need.”

– Leah Busque (American Entrepreneur and founder of Task Rabbit.

Since arriving in Ireland about a month ago, I have already had a lot of opportunities and challenges to develop my soft skills. These experiences have come in the form of working with new classmates that have completely different backgrounds, values, traditions and cultures than myself. I often find myself having to take a step back, breathe and try to open my mind to why someone is saying something or how they are feeling. This moment of reflection has especially allowed me to see how other people use digital technology in their daily life and how it has changed their mindset or skill set. Digital technology is an ever-expanding field that no one will ever know everything about it. While the depth of digital technology can be a rabbit hole and be a bit daunting at times, this challenge has been one of the main reasons I picked computer science as my major.

Helping other people abroad with IT-related issues or discussing with others how they use technology differently in their daily lives has been helpful to my career. These experiences have allowed me to see how other individuals and cultures view technology with a fresh pair of eyes. Conversing with others, even those outside of my major, has allowed me to further build upon the soft skills I came abroad with that will one day help me land that dream job.

How being a triple minority has helped me abroad

Me during a Local trip to Howth, Ireland

The day I was born I was automatically labeled as a minority because of my skin color and my family’s low socioeconomic status. Fortunately, thanks to my aunt I was able to attend schools in one of the best school districts in North Carolina. However, this did not come without its own set of challenges. Although I grew up in a major city, my school, neighborhood, friends and work places lacked diversity. Throughout all of my education I have attended primarily white institutions. My peers, colleagues and professors often didn’t resemble me, even though most of the people I have encountered growing up came from different backgrounds, different levels of socioeconomic status and often different sexual orientations.

I am beyond thankful for being a triple minority as it has allowed me to be open-minded about other cultures and to learn more about what people show on the surface. While I have experienced collaborating with other people, learning about different cultures and working through differences, until a week ago I had never left the United States. I am currently studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Until now I have never lived in a totally different culture than the one I had grown so accustomed to. While I thought I understood how to navigate other cultures and new territory, living in Ireland for only a week has made me realize the true importance of being able to be fully open to embracing different opinions and different cultures. The world we live in today is becoming more and more diverse as well as connected. The barriers that once stood between different cultures, religions and opinions are changing now more than ever. The ability to keep an open mind and to place yourself in someone else’s shoes is a valuable skill. Not only have I been able to connect more with locals through finding common ground between us, but I have been able to make stronger connections and grow personally as well as professionally through keeping an open mind. These are transferable skills that will help me in all aspects of my life by giving me the ability to make connections in the real world to develop my professional life. Exploring a whole new culture outside of America has allowed me to observe how other leaders, professionals and students just like me are working towards their goals.

While being a triple minority has helped build a foundation for me to openly accept new opinions and cultures, studying abroad has put those skills into use and is developing them more than I could have possibly fathomed.  Skills like being open-minded, knowing how to communicate in different methods and the ability to work with other people are universal skills. These are skills I have used so much in my daily life, but never truly realized how critical they would be to my future and development until going abroad.

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