Lessons from both sides of exchange student life

Xuehui Sun and me at the dinner for Chinese New Year that she prepared.

One of the only sad things about being a college senior is that you don’t meet many new people in classes or on campus. After several semesters in the J-School and Spanish department, I repeatedly run in the same circles with the same people. But this semester, I’ve had the pleasure to become friends with three Chinese students in here for the semester from Nanjing University.We met in our Changing Media Business Models class (the class with the Seattle Trip I wrote about last week).

Last weekend, they invited me to join them for a dinner they were preparing to celebrate the Chinese New Year, a celebration in China that is on the scale of Christmas in the United States. They prepared a wonderful dinner of several traditional Chinese dishes that were quite tasty and outdid the “Chinese food” you get most places in Missouri. As someone who has been an exchange student, I know what it’s like to be away from the normalcy of your home country, especially during holidays, and I was glad they shared this experience with me.

Chinese food

My friends prepared several super tasty. traditional Chinese dishes.

It was exciting to have dinner with them and learn more about their interests, families and university. We spent more than two hours swapping stories and answering each others questions about cultural differences. It was interesting to see how similar the questions they had about Mizzou were so similar to the questions I had when I was first abroad.

I also realized I’m now a much more compassionate and culturally-aware person for having gone through the experience of acclimating to a new environment. I know what it’s like to take classes in a language you’re not 100 percent comfortable with. I know what it’s like to get thrown into a new town and different university system. I know what it’s like to spend much of the time confused about what I’m supposed to be doing.

Being an exchange student is hard. I relied on so many people to help me understand the system. When I was abroad, I consistently was clarifying things with my classmates or asking other students questions about how things worked. It’s a really humbling experience to go from an environment where you understand how things work to a place where you’re uncertain about everything and other people have varying levels of patience with your non-native communication abilities. Continue reading


Pamplona Guide: Things to know before you go

By Laura Davison

There is so much you can’t plan or prepare for before you study abroad. That’s part of the experience. You learn as you go. That being said, here is a random compilation of things about Pamplona and the University of Navarra I found helpful to understand before I got to Spain.

Running of the Bulls/San Fermín

Hemingway traveled to Pamplona several times during the mid-1920s.

Hemingway traveled to Pamplona several times during the mid-1920s.

Read “The Sun Also Rises,” preferably before or during your stay. I didn’t get around to reading it until my plane ride back to Missouri, and I wish I would’ve read it earlier so I could’ve checked out the places Ernest Hemingway describes in his novel.  It’s about a group of Americans and Brits who travel from Paris to attend San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

Even if you can’t stay for the festival, it gives you a nice picture of what it is like. In Spain, the Running of the Bulls is called San Fermín and because you are a foreigner, everyone is going to ask you if you are going to stay for the festival. I wasn’t able to stay because it doesn’t start until July 7, but do stay if your schedule allows it. Many students from the University of Navarra live in or near Pamplona and several international students will stay as well.  Continue reading

When I first saw Gangnam Style and other important events of 2012

davisonLast winter, I created a timeline of the things I accomplished in 2011 as part of an application for an internship. This year, I have no such requirement, but I found creating the timeline was a good exercise in reflecting over the events of the past year, as well as help me form goals for the coming one.

This past year was a year of many firsts. My first time studying abroad. My first time in many of the places I visited. My first taking all my classes solely in Spanish. I don’t think I can ever adequately communicate the breadth of experiences I was so fortunate to have or the variety of people I had the pleasure of meeting in 2012. But these few megabytes of a two-dimensional imagery are a start.

So, here’s a look back at some of my favorite parts of 2012.


Learning to laugh at mistakes

I’ve learned a couple things from blogging:

1. I get a lot of traffic from people searching for mentorships at Barkley (an advertising agency in Kansas City), possibly because this blog is the second thing that comes up in a Google search. You can find specific information about this year’s application process on Barkley’s site. I’m also willing to answer questions you might have for a former Barkley intern. I worked there the past two summers, learned a ton and had a fantastic experience.

2. Blogging is a great way, especially for journalists, to explain why you did something. It’s also a good way to justify the silly things I have previously created. This is one of those blog posts.

Here is a video I created as a part of the application for an internship at Barkley:

I made this video when I was studying in Pamplona. The prompt was to create a video, any video, explaining why I should be hired for a summer internship.

The idea for this video stemmed from a cheesy radio advertisement for what was either an Italian restaurant or a jewelry store. The premise of the commercial was an overly dramatic voice speaking Italian and then an English “translation” saying something that was clearly not what the original line said.

Using my friends who spoke a whole host of languages, I created this video where they said terrible things about me in their native languages and I subtitled it  with positive statements. This video probably isn’t funny unless you have all of this explanation. When I made it, my mom mentioned the humor was a little hard to find, but I continued forward with the idea.

I recently just watched this video again. While it makes me cringe to think that less than a year ago I thought this was a good idea, I’m also glad I have it for the memories.  It also reminded me of a few more things:

1. When your abroad, you will make stupid mistakes. It’s OK. Laugh at yourself. It’ll be a joke in a few weeks.

2.  It’s definitely a good idea to listen to your editor…and your mom.

Pamplona Guide: Top six things to know about classes, exams and grades at the University of Navarra

UNAV students study in the Sala de Lectura in the lower library.

By Laura Davison

Think about the jump you made from high school to college. In college, there are less daily graded assignments and smaller projects. Instead, there are a few big projects and/or tests that compose the majority of your grade. Going from Mizzou to UNAV is even one more step. Rejoice! There are no Blackboard quizzes, clickers or weekly blog posts.*

But that means the assignments you do have are weighted much more heavily. It is not uncommon for exams to be worth 60-80 percent of your final grade. The only graded work for one of my classes was a final exam and a paper, both of which I turned in on the same day. Other classes had midterm exams, essays and projects. In general, I had between three and six larger assignments for each class.

The academic structure at UNAV is substantially different from the system at Mizzou and many other American universities. A few weeks ago, I wrote about credits and finding courses to take. This week I share ways I found to do well once you’re on campus and in the classroom.

1. Grades are figured from 1-10, with 10 being the best. Mizzou and UNAV both consider 5 to be a passing grade. As a Mizzou student, you’re classes will transfer back as passing, so long as you get a 5 or higher. Grades in Spain aren’t inflated like they can tend to be in the United States. Students aren’t obsessed with getting just 9s and 10s. Those grades are reserved for students who truly do extraordinary work. If you’re a student that is used to getting all As in the U.S., don’t be discouraged if you get some 6s or 7s. While we might see that as getting a C or a D, academically-gifted Spanish students are quite accustomed to getting grades at this level.

2. Exams take place during a three-week period in May. Exam dates for each specific class during the exam period will be published sometime during the middle of the semester. It is wise to schedule a flight home after this exam time. Professors will probably not push up the exam for you. While the exam period is much more spread out than it is at many American universities, it can also be more stressful because the majority of your grade is dependent on you doing well on the exam.

UNAV students on the courtyard in fron the the Facultad de Comunicación building.

3. There is a make-up/re-do exam period after the original exam time. This is offered every year for students who didn’t pass the exam the first time around. Because the final exam comprises the vast majority of a grade in any given class, failing an exam pretty much ensures you will fail the class. Students fail final exams in Spain. It’s normal and doesn’t quite have the stigma it does here. That is why they always offer the second exam period. Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Fashion and weather edition

Spanish university students “dress up” for class in comparison to American students. It’s what some might call snappy casual.

Spain—beaches, sun, warm weather, right? Well, not in Pamplona. It’s nice, but not balmy—Pamplona is to Missouri as southern Spain is to Texas. The weather is, however, more temperate than in Columbia, Mo. It’s not as cold in the winter, but it also doesn’t get as warm in the spring. February is typically the coldest month, with many days being less than 0°, Celsius that is. (It’s also not a bad idea to start brushing up on Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion).

So as you pack for your semester, bring warm clothes that can easily be layered. People won’t shed their winter clothes until the very end of the semester. Scarves, coats, boots and tights are still common even when it’s 65°F.

The fairly consistent weather makes it easy to pack. Don’t fret thinking you need to bring 10,000 outfits, because while the Spanish dress nicely, they also don’t have as many clothes as your typical American. They wear high quality clothing and then layer and accessorize. I frequently saw my classmates repeat the same outfits every week.

Sorry guys, my clothing advice is mainly for the ladies. But here are some things to throw into your suitcase and some things you can leave at home.

Chart courtesy of TripAdvisor

Take it!

Thick socks: My roommate Bridget lovingly called thick, wool hiking socks, “European socks.” They work well under boots and keep your feet warm as you spend lots of time walking outside.

Cardigans: Cardigans, blazers or any type of layering pieces are super popular. One friend who studied in France made the astute observation that the French wear the same few articles of clothing, but just layer and accessorize them differently.

Scarves: Guys, listen up. Scarves are also a commonly worn by guys, and not just as an outerwear item. Males and females will typically wear scarves as an accessory item year-round. Scarves are a lightweight, easy-to-pack accessory that can make it look like you have many more outfits than you actually do.

Tights: Spanish girls wear tights with everything, even when it is pretty warm outside. Of course, they wear them with skirts and dresses, but they also wear them under shorts and cropped pants in the winter time. Tights in simple, neutral tones like black and brown are a must-have for your trip.

Flats: While Spanish women are known for wearing heels much more than Americans, students and professors wear flats most of the time on campus. Simple ballet flats, in neutral tones and brighter colors, are probably the most common footwear item worn by students. Seen frequently are also tall and short boots and Converse/Keds-like tennis shoes.

Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Having an International Experience

A group of my friends and I stand outside the Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudí in Barcelona.

My biggest takeaway from my semester abroad is now having friends all over the world. Finding housing, living in another culture, using the language I’d been studying for so long and navigating a new university were all rewarding experiences. But when people ask me, “How was Spain?”, the first thing I tell them is about all the friends I made.

Making meaningful connections with students from all over the world made my experience so memorable. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and that turned out to be a good thing. There are two types mentalities that many American students start a study abroad experience with.

Scenario No. 1: “I want to fully immerse myself in the culture.”: I was definitely guilty of this mentality before I went abroad. Of course, we go abroad to speak that language, learn what it is like to live in another country and trade your culture for another one for a few months. But a complete immersion experience usually isn’t possible. Think about your life. How many times has your group of friends befriended an exchange student? Sure, we all meet international students and become friends to varying degrees of closeness. But students at your university abroad don’t become best friends with the international students for the same reasons that you don’t do that at home. They’re busy, they have a full load of classes and they already have established lives, friends and obligations. Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Finding housing

This is the second installment of a multi-part how-to series for students going to study at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. Last week’s installment focused on the best modes of public transportation to and from the city.

You’ve arrived safe and sound, whether by bus, train or plane to Pamplona. Now what?

The University of Navarra hosts an orientation for international students on a Saturday, with classes beginning the following Monday. I found it helpful to arrive several days before the start of orientation to find housing and explore the city.


Iturrama is a mostly residential neighborhood located near the University of Navarra.

Most international students and a large number of the Spanish students live in apartments, or pisos, near the university. The University, however, does offer student residences. They usually require students to participate in various religious, social and service events.

The University website lists apartments that are available. You can research these and make appointments with different landlords before you arrive, so you are able to move in quickly. Most landlords won’t let you sign a contract before you are there in person, nor is it recommended to do so. In a few rare cases, students have signed leases and paid a down payment and then never heard from the landlord again.

Continue reading

Hire me! Highlighting international experiences on your resume

Typing Resume

How you present international experience to a potential employer can make all the difference in showing versatility, adaptability and cultural skills

It might just be me, but it seems like real world realizations have started hitting everybody this week. It’s October already. Where has the semester gone? Holy crap, it’s time to start seriously thinking about jobs, internships or grad school. 

So as you freshen up your resume and polish your applications, here are a few things to consider when talking about your international experience.

1. Give them context. Not all international programs are the same. If you studied at a university, highlight that under your education. If you did an internship, frame it like other internships on your resume. Briefly and clearly explain what you did and the skills that you gained.

2. Don’t just tell them, show them. Many journalism or strategic communications internships require you to submit clips. Including a clip of something you did while abroad will not only give your potential employer a more robust understanding of what you did, but showcases a different set of skills, whether technical, cultural or linguistic.

Continue reading

Five ways to maintain the connections you made while abroad

There are two good reasons that everyone should keep up with the professors,

students and professionals they meet while abroad.

1. You care about the research/careers/studies of the people you meet

2. You care about the people themselves

If you don’t find yourself nodding in agreement, you should be.

This is exceptionally relevant for students who go on exchange programs. Your home university and the international university have a relationship. Other students from both universities will continue to spend semesters abroad. Professors will make trips to the other university.

At least three of my five professors at the University of Navarra had visited Missouri  at least once in their career. You never know when there will be back to visit. And if your paths do cross (whether in person or in the digital world), it’s helpful to know what they’ve been up to.

Here’s how you do that:

Continue reading