Phonetics: The antidote to hilarious miscommunications

All of you, no matter how confident you are in your spoken French, are going to have a least a handful of embarrassing miscommunications while in Paris.  It’s unavoidable.  It’s part of the experience.  So don’t let it get you down, laugh at your mistakes and learn from them.  Jump at every opportunity to engage in a conversation and don’t worry about if your grammar is correct.  The more you speak, the more your French will improve.

Having said that, I found taking a phonetics course to be invaluable for bettering not just how I speak French but my understanding of how native speakers talk.  The class is one two hour session per week and has minimal homework, but you will have fun and you will learn a lot.  Not to mention the professor is fabulous.  I considered myself to have a fairly good accent, but with this class, I learned of many little mistakes I made – mistakes I wouldn’t have been able to identify and ameliorate on my own.  After this class, I no longer had to live in constant fear of asking where the war was when inquiring about the location of the train station, or describing something yellow as young, or, God help me, saying “nude” when I meant to say “we.”  I also had a lot of fun learning the phonetic symbols and how to transcribe written phrases into their phonetic form…but I could just have a twisted sense of fun.  Either way, I could not encourage you more to sign up for this workshop.  You will learn so much and, often, with classes held in cafes and homework assignments to watch movies or read newspapers, you won’t even realize how much your French is improving until a waiter or cashier backhandedly compliments you on your lack of an American accent.

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Final Thoughts

I definitely feel more “well-rounded” now. My experience was truly poignant and inspiring on way too many levels to describe in words. My career goals are what they are today because of the time I spent in Ghana. -Suhaly, Ghana & Florence

I really think I opened myself up and just allowed for absorption of an entirely new and wonderful place.  Just like home, there are good and bad aspects of any culture.  Just being there, experiencing the sights and people, and not trying to over-interpret anything until I’d come home and had a chance to sit alone and think was the best way to do it, I found.  Those who over-analyzed while they were there ended up not having as good of a time, because they felt bad about how much ‘more’ they have than people there.  But to just be there with the people I met, some friends from NYU, and an open mind, was utterly amazing.  I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. – Amanda, Ghana

I don’t think that my experience ended with me exiting the plane in New York. I have a lot more to learn about China. Studying in Shanghai was an excellent start to a process that I want to last for a lifetime. – Julia, Shanghai

To really be “abroad”, you have to work diligently at connecting with the local culture of your site. It might be tempting your first week to plan a different trip to a different country with your new NYU abroad friends every weekend of the semester, but I promise you will evolve so meaningfully as an individual just by meeting locals your age, or older, or younger, and letting yourselves teach each other about your respective cultures. There is a powerful gift in soaking in what is foreign to cross-reference it with what you think you are as American. You will find both a new country, and a more poignant sense of self. -Sarah, Madrid & Florence

One of the many concerns when planning to study abroad is thinking about how well you will be received in another country as an American. There are always rumors floating around about how Americans are unwelcome in foreign countries, which may deter some from wanting to travel there. As a student of color, who had never been outside of the country, I was even more nervous about how well I would be accepted in Shanghai, China. I strongly believe that it is necessary for people from diverse backgrounds to come together so that we can be properly understood and any misconceptions can be corrected. It is the first step to becoming united as a people. -Jasmine, Shanghai & Madrid

Going abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I think it honestly made me appreciate different cultures more, and I also feel that now I am more mature and grown-up.- Bernie, London

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Reverse Culture Shock

Believe it or not, after returning to the states you may experience a period of time where you miss studying abroad and need to readjust to life in the States. Different students experience varying degrees of “reverse culture shock.” Global Ambassadors is a great program to reconnect with other students in this position and provides an outlet to talk nonstop about your study abroad experience to other students who care about what you have to say!

From any travel experience I’ve had, the thing I force myself to remember is that not everyone at home has had the same experience.  For example, if my mom has never dealt with the diverse and somewhat high tensions of culture clash in the Middle East, I cannot expect that she’ll understand my grappling with the situation. Or if my friends who have never really left home don’t understand why I keep leaving, I have to understand that it’s an experience they’ve never had.  Then, it’s not a matter of being closed off from them, but of trying to express your experiences in a manner that’s relatable to them.  Only then is it easy to get over the difficulties and really connect someone to the same story you have in your mind and the same experience that really meant so much to you. – Margaret, London

After my first semester abroad, I came back disgusted at the lack of culture in the States, and was dying to go back to Europe. After a semester in Madrid, however, I realized that eight whole months abroad helped me realize what was missing from my life without the states, and I began appreciating the American things I took for granted before. Beach Boys, 24-hour diners, big breakfasts, and the freedom to be who you want to be. -Sarah, Florence & Madrid

I at first felt a little disgusted with huge supermarkets, and just the overabundance of everything in America in general. But then I realized that if I cannot cope with that, how can I ever hope to bridge a gap between the people I live with and speak with each day, and the special new friends I made in Ghana? To be able to connect the two and make some sort of understanding in my own head and to others, I have to be able to deal with and be proud of where I was born and grew up. Additionally, It was hard to answer big questions like ‘how was Ghana?’ because there was just so much to say.  Also, not everyone ‘gets it’ in terms of understanding certain experiences, and how you came to feel a certain way about a place. – Amanda, Ghana

I’m still adjusting. I stayed in New York this summer because I thought it would be easier to return there than to the suburbs. What happened was that I experienced all my culture shock in the city I had once loved so much. I’ve taken solace in blasting Italian music on my iPod every day, and once a month I go to Luzzo’s (1st and 13th), which is the most authentically Italian restaurant I’ve seen outside of Italy. The waitstaff is all Italian – I drink spumante and order in Italian. It gives me amazing peace of mind. – Anah, Florence

I had trouble reconnecting with New York when I returned.  It was all too loud, too big, and quite different from the more reserved nature of Prague.  For the first week I felt like a stranger in a city I love.  No one really discusses with you the difficulties of studying in two different cities and the trouble of returning.  In order to reconnect with NYC, I did the things that made me happy: go to my favorite café, take long walks, do some shopping and especially see my friends. -Jeremy, Prague

Immediately upon leaving the airport, I made several comments about the sizes of automobiles and the strangeness of the scenery.  I was glad to be back in the States, but I couldn’t grasp the concept of having a car available for me (which, despite being a “compact car” here would be one of the largest cars abroad), not living with 14 other students, feeling like every basic task is an adventure, etc. Only initially, I felt sort of distant from my group of friends at home. I guess I coped by sharing lots of stories with them, but eventually I started feeling like I was talking about my experiences too much. – Stephen, Florence

Returning home, I missed a lot of the great parts about the country I was in. In China, [I missed] eating tons of really good food and drinking bubble tea. I missed speaking Chinese and French, being around foreign people all the time, and being stimulated with new ideas. – Angelo, Shanghai


Going back home was very weird for me. Although I had not been away for that long, everything just looked so different to me and I felt a little bit like a stranger in my own country. My friends and family told me that I was constantly telling them how great London was and how I wanted to go back, which obviously did not make them feel very good. Also I was using quite a few English words (my native language is German), simply because I could not remember the German ones as easily or felt that it was more fitting to express myself in English. While I did not do any of these things to hurt anyone, quite a few people got annoyed with me. You really have to bear in mind that you have been privileged enough to study abroad and not everyone gets a chance to do so. Other people would not even want to go abroad. Therefore, some can get jealous, others are just disinterested. Just bear in mind who it is you are talking to about your experience abroad and respect their feelings. Whenever I had moments of difficulty with reconnecting with home, I just reminded myself that this was a sign of a great accomplishment: I had been able to adapt to another so well that I had become part of it and was now experiencing what some call reverse culture shock. – Maria, London (From Germany)

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Changes in Myself

After spending months in an foreign country and being exposed to the local traditions, attitudes, languages, and fashion trends, you will surely notice changes in the way you approach certain issues or react to thoughts and actions of others. Here are some examples of what others have experienced upon their return.

Surprisingly, I felt a bit estranged from American culture in general.  Living abroad, I watched most American news stories (especially the election primaries) with a wary eye.  I was fascinated by the world’s perception of America and a bit disgusted to see American tourists who acted like they were somehow superior to the rest of the world.  I’m also more likely to show interest in European news stories, since I can now associate with many of the cities. -Stephen, Florence

I found that I forgot normal courtesies such as letting others off the subway first before getting on, not jaywalking, etc. I also had to get used to paying tips and adding tax on to all my purchases as well. – Cheryl, Shanghai

Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned from traveling is to always understand who you are from the inside out, but to also remember what people perceive from the outside in. – Margaret, London

In Spain, I felt that there was such a sense of Patriotism and camaraderie that I don’t find in the States. While sitting in a restaurant one table would start singing happy birthday to their friend and the ENTIRE restaurant would join in. I was also in Spain during the soccer championship games which Spain won. Every time there was a game you would see a slew of people with their faces painted and carrying Spanish flags singing Olé. You could also hear the shouts and screams of excitements coming from people watching the game at home. I wish we were a little more laid back and had a strong sense of unity like the people in Spain. – Jasmine, Shanghai & Madrid

I found myself more open minded to different experiences and people. Before I left for Shanghai, I felt somewhat distant from the NYU community, Since I’ve come back I find myself appreciating America and being grateful for what I have. I’ve learned and felt first hand experience that the world does not revolve around America. I feel that there are plenty of opportunities outside of America, it just takes some effort to find it. I feel that I’ve evolved into a much more knowledgeable person, not only academically, but also socially.-Jennifer, Shanghai

For me, it was an interesting experience because I’m Chinese, but have grown up in New York City where most of the Chinese population is Cantonese (and more recently, Fujianese). Living and traveling in China showed me how diverse the country really is. – Patty, Shanghai

Once you’re submerged into a culture (if you allow yourself to let go enough), you will undoubtedly adopt some of the cultural norms, sometimes subconsciously.  In Ghana, I found myself becoming closer to my friends and family (because of the strong familial foundation in Ghanaian culture). My peers and I also adopted new gestures (talking with our hands, emphasizing words etc…) and saying particular Ghanaian sayings about a month after we’d been in country. – Suhaly, Prague & Ghana

Living in the U.S. you assume that everyone should be open and welcoming, but some countries haven’t had the influx of immigration that the U.S. has had. You also learn so much about other cultures and traditions that you became more aware of the ways in which you may stereotype other people. – Olivia, London

I think, as Americans, we automatically bring numerous assumptions with us when entering a new environment, region, country, and even to a continent.  What is so pressing about the concept of diversity is the need to recognize those assumptions and see what challenges those ideas within the site where one studies. I never expected to learn as much as I did from my experience abroad, and I think being willing to have my assumptions challenged and explore the Czech Republic was one of the largest factors involved. – Jeremy, Prague

Meeting people of all nationalities and backgrounds while in Paris, studying at AUP & traveling, made me realize just exactly how “self-centered” (for lack of better word) the US is. I generally felt that the people I met abroad had a better understanding of world affairs, partially because of their own interest in these matters but also because they are more exposed to it, especially in Europe because of the EU. Travelling also showed me the extend of American corporate imperialism (particularly in Prague). I also really envy the European way of life, which really values relaxation. They make sure to take the time to enjoy themselves, have leisurely meals, enjoy the company of their friends, etc. – Angela, Paris

Without a doubt, the time I spent in China is one of my major selling points right now in my interviews. It has completely diversified me from my peers and has provided me with so many learning and growing experiences that any task seems absolutely doable. –Melissa, Shanghai

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Saying Goodbye

Not sure how to spend your last 24-hours of studying abroad? While some chose to revisit their favorite places others spent the night out with friends. There is no right way to have a memorable conclusion to your experience abroad.  However, we do recommend that you plan and pack ahead so you can make the most out of your last day!

If I could turn back time, I would definitely make sure to stay on top of things and not leave packing to the last minute. Also, I would try to coordinate my flight with my friends, so we would all be leaving at about the same time. Unfortunately, I ended up packing and taking boxes, which needed to be shipped, to the post office all day. Because of that, I did not even get to say goodbye to some of my friends. Looking back, I wish I had made my last day more special! – Maria , London

My last night in Madrid I spent the day going to see the Plaza Mayor one last time, and souvenir shopping. The last night was spent together hanging out with friends and dancing at our favorite nightclub. – Jasmine, Shanghai & Madrid

Since I left towards the end of summer, few of my friends still remained so for my last day, I treated myself to a generous helping of xiao long bao (a.k.a soup buns), people-watched in my favorite park and just took in as much of the city as I could – Cheryl, Shanghai

As much as I could, I spent my last day in Florence visiting all of my favorite places in the city and any of the ones I had not yet made it to.  It was kind of hard seeing some of the places for the last time before I left, but I really had a good time.  Packing was the most difficult part…I left it completely to the last minute and stayed up the entire night before my flight home. – Stephen, Florence

I went to Boboli Gardens in the morning, blew all my money on Italian CDs and a Fiorentina shirt in the afternoon, watched the sun set over the panoramic Piazzale Michelangelo in the evening, and went to my favorite restaurant, gelateria, and bar at night. It was a perfect summary of everything I had done over the past four months.– Anah, Florence

I spent my last day in Ghana with my very close friend (a local Ghanaian) and his family as well as with my roommates just hanging out and taking as much of Ghana in as we could before leaving. – Chanelle, Ghana

I spent my last day saying good bye to friends and going to the Champ-du-Mars one last time. If the weather had cooperated, we could’ve actually stayed there and hung out but, alas it started to rain. That was probably the best way to really spend my last day though, seeing that many of my friends I met at AUP do not go to NYU. – Angela, Paris

For the last day, I would love to go to the Pudong Pearl TV Tower with my friends. A perfect end to that would be cooking a meal with my friends and sitting down, having a nice dinner to share all the memories and experiences we had. – Jennifer, Shanghai

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Missing Home

One day, without warning, it might hit you. You miss home. You miss your friends back in New York or your sister back in Ohio. You suddenly don’t want to be abroad anymore. Or it might not. Either way, it’s okay. But if you do miss home, here are some things that could make it a bit easier.

My family was great – they sent me a care package with ingredients for Jamaican food, and I definitely wouldn’t have found those items in China. It was good to have a taste of home, plus I had the chance to share my culture with local friends. – Julia, Shanghai

One place that myself and many of the other NYU students frequented a lot was a cafe above a grocery store that sold a lot of American food called Max Mart. Max Mart had the most delicious iced cappuccinos and amazing donuts. It was a nice place to go to sit and relax at a New York-esque cafe with coffee and donuts, especially because coffee, something I have everyday in America, was almost non-existent in Ghana. – Chanelle, Ghana

There is an American food store called Taste of America that sells marshmallows, mac & cheese, maple syrup, and brownie mix that I had been missing. I made an entire American meal for my European roommates. They had never toasted s’mores before…– Heather, Madrid

I loved going to Starbucks or McDonalds. Not talking to my family when I missed home is a good strategy so I wouldn’t miss home even more. Going out and doing something either with friends or by myself in the city brings me back to Paris.  It reminded me how fortunate I was and how amazing the trip was! – Laura, Paris

One of the hardest things about being abroad was keeping in touch with my friends back home. I felt that even though communication was easy, I didn’t spend enough time talking to them. It was a contradictory feeling because I wasn’t homesick at all, but I felt bad that I was barely talking to my closest friends and not keeping up with their lives. – Jennifer, Shanghai

I went to Bohemia Bagel. Everyone that works there speaks English and they have BAGELS and tuna fish sandwiches and pancakesbasically you feel like you’re back at home. They had unlimited refills on soda and you could sit there all day if you wanted to, so a lot of my free afternoons were spent there, doing homework or just sitting with my friends, talking and guzzling Coke Light. – Joyce, Prague

Around spring break, a bunch of my friends hosted an “American Party” for charity. It was well needed.– Anah, Florence

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Encountering Cultural Differences: Racism

The single incident of racism that I experienced was towards the beginning of the semester. While walking through the little shops between Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, I stumbled into a tiny little toyshop filled with tourists. The young Czech man sitting at the register jumped up from behind the counter to see what I needed.

Before I could even finish describing exactly what I was looking for, he cut me off to say that they did not carry such an item. Then before I could turn to walk out of the store, I was surrounded by what seemed to be either his friends or co-workers. They were standing around me, staring, talking to one another in Czech and laughing. After a few minutes I just pushed through them and briskly walked out of the store. The other people in the store just kind of stood and watched as this happened, but no one said anything. I just tried to brush off the incident and not let it bother me; after all, I was not physically hurt.  I think my advice to other students of color would just be to always stay aware of your surroundings. – Patricia, Prague

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