Friday, December 28, 2012

In the meantime..

Greetings from South America!!

If you're looking to know about my time in Brazil, it will be posted here:

Feel free to check it out, otherwise, I'll be in Venezuela soon, wait for you there!


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ay Ay Ay, Here We Go Again and With a Scholarship!

Here I go again!  I'm packing up, getting out, and leaving home.  Of course, the leaving home thing is only partially true.  I haven't lived at home since I moved out the summer after I turned 18.  I didn't move out on purpose, but rather I moved out to go on an exchange to Brasil as a Rotary Youth Ambassador.  I didn't want to come back and so I extended my stay and eventually by the time I got home, I was looking for an apartment in the cities, so that I could start going to college.  Back to the leaving home comment though, I'm leaving Minnesota, my comfort zone, and the closeness and freedom to see and call my family whenever.  I'm sure in the beginning it won't seem so weird, because I'm going to my second home in Tangará da Serra, to be with my family and friends there.  However, eventually I'm going to arrive on that one plane, all by myself, and I'm going to disembark on a whole new territory, an unknown culture, and with minor language skills.  This is going to be fun!

I'm working on packing up my room because I will be subleasing it for the spring semester!  This is great news because I don't have to pay for it while I'm gone, however it can become slightly stressful having to think of everything I have to do before I leave!!  An added bonus is that I don't have to move my big furniture, just my personal items, because there is an agreement that I will be coming back and that my subleaser can make himself at home to my larger items (i.e. bed, dresser, couch, etc.)  If I wasn't so conscious about making sure he had closet space, I probably wouldn't move my clothes and shoes either.

My time with my family and friends is dwindling.  I am stuck in the cities until after work on Friday the 21st, 2012.  Then I will get to spend approximately 4.5 days with them and I will be off again.  Whether or not I'm going to get to see my dad is still a mystery to me.  He may or may not be taking off to the great oil fields of North Dakota before Christmas and that would mean that unless I can find time between work and studying tomorrow, I won't be seeing him until May 2013.  As awful as that makes my heart feel, these things happen and the full house of us 5 kids and mom will still feel warm and almost complete.

While I'm getting everything together, I can't continue to think of a way to thank the Institute of International Education enough for awarding me with the Gilman Scholarship.  My mind has been eased of many financial burdens.  I had been working three jobs, while taking twenty credits, this semester to ensure that I could pay my bills and save some extra money.  I was trying hard to be able to study abroad with the least amount of debt as possible, and with my stubborn ways, I refused to ask my parents for money.  Earlier on the day I found out I was a recipient, I had been talking to my mother on the phone and telling her about all of the loans I was going to start looking into.  Later that night I called her in tears.  She was quick to ask what was wrong and based on a medical scare in the family we were all a little emotionally distraught that week.  I couldn't tell her, I could only squeak out the words "the scholarship".  She took this as a bad sign and her condolences began.  "Oh, Peanut, Aletha Honey" her sweet voice dripping with pain for me.  Then I laughed and cried a little more and said, "No, no!"  I explained to her that I got it, the more competitive scholarship, the one I wanted most, my long shot scholarship.  Then she started crying too and we shared that moment of financial liberation together, until my father started getting worried about why we were doing all that crying.  "Strong work" came his voice through the phone when I told him the story.  Few times before have I ever been so proud of myself as I was when I opened that email.  I was speechless and full of emotion and my trip hadn't even started yet.  When the scholarship came in, I totaled up the estimated expenses, subtracted the aid, subtracted the scholarship, and subtracted what I had already put into the trip, and I was left with little to nothing.  Not only was this option in Venezuela the best for my major it was also the cheapest, and now I know that I am going to get to reap the benefits of all of my hard work that I have put into my life thus far without the burden of worrying about finances.  This really was the best of Christmas presents.  Thank you again!

May your spirits be merry and bright,

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Getting Started

I suppose this would be as good a time as any to start blogging about my upcoming adventures:

My application for this program was due early October and I had been to meet multiple times with my major advisor and with the Study Abroad center.  I didn't even know I wanted to study abroad, or that it would work, until September.  It has all been happening so fast and it definitely takes someone who is dedicated and not afraid to jump through hoops, to keep going with the programs.  If I wasn't as dedicated to my studies and my experiences as I am, the complexity of everything and all the extra work would have caused me to desist a long time ago.

After I was accepted, I had to confirm within two weeks to the program.  The confirmation takes place in filling out most of the paperwork they want you to on their online checklist.  This list is extensive and has multiple things you have to fill out, print off, sign, scan, and upload to your personal checklist.  I was so turned off by this because I don't have a printer or a scanner that work with my computer and therefore it is so much extra work for me to have to get things together.  However, I went into the study abroad office one day and it turns out that we can print things off right there for free, we don't have to bring our own paper even!  This was wonderful, and seeing as I had that day off (the one day a week I do) I printed off everything.  They also have scanners there for us to use and so I scanned and uploaded almost everything.
Passport Photo Goddess

The University of Minnesota's study abroad center is amazing, as they also do passport photos.  Passport photos are at an additional cost of course, but I couldn't complain because that meant I didn't have to rush to somewhere else to get it done.  My passport photo on the other hand was absolutely hideous, as I am using it for my visa and in some countries they don't approve of smiling.  I didn't smile.  That was a mistake.  I was so excited because I was wearing one of my favorite flannel shirts and my hair wasn't frizzy, nor was it misbehaving too much.  However, I think it's the smile on my face that makes me who I am.  I look like a criminal and this is my headshot.  I wonder what I have been arrested for here.

In the near future I will have a meeting to get more information about the program, but I have been spending most of my free time buying flights to and from the places I plan on going, which in itself is a major and stressful feat.  The flight to Brazil and from Colombia were so easy, and although stressing financially, they were fine.  I chose to fly with Delta because I have always flown with them and I am building up my miles, however mostly because they were the cheapest on the dates I wanted and I was pleased to see that I could use them again.  The flight from Brazil to Caracas took some work.  I had to find a cheap one (as cheap is my favorite price) that arrived in Caracas with enough time to meet the rest of the group.  The main ones I found led me across Brazil, then to Panama City, Panama and then to Caracas.  Oh the stress of international travel.  This would have been okay except the one that was cheapest and fit my schedule perfectly only had a 45 minute layover in Panama, which I thought too close for comfort.  I waited a couple days, in a panic, and then another one came up that had a longer layover there and so I purchased it.  However, with the booking agency I used (Brazilian Express) I had to also print off a Credit Card authorization form, sign it, scan it (along with the front and back of my credit card and a state issued idea) and upload them to an email.  My other option was faxing, but that was even less resonable.  Now as stated I have the utmost difficulty finding scanners and printers in my leisure time, but eventually I got a chance to borrow my roommate's and it worked out.  Now the flight from Caracas to Colombia that I found (and note that Mérida is on the border of Colombia) was a cash only buy.  This meant I would have to go to one of the 3 available banks and make a direct deposit, and then I would have to fax or scan and email the receipt to Brazilian Express.  I wanted to kick something.  With my 20 credit school schedule and two jobs, I didn't have time to run to the bank and when I did I found out that there were none of these banks available in a 100 mile radius.  Then after I spent my entire free morning running to find one and failing with ATM finds, I got a call from Brazilian Express where I am tended to in Portguese, Spanish, and English, and they told me that I can't use that company anyways because they only issue paper tickets and not electronic tickets like I need.  Needless to say, I have not purchased that flight yet.

Next for me is my Visa paperwork, which requires yet more time, more paperwork, more things to print, and more money.  I'm sure that'll be a fun and stressful hassle.  I am looking forward to it, very little.  I will also have to meet with more advisors and plan my classes and my financial aid options.  This is the most fun part that almost makes me regret my decision, but in the end, I know, it will be a beneficial and a great experience.

My spring semester will be spent in Mérida, Venezuela at the United States's institute, VENUSA.  It is located in one of the "coldest" regions of Venezuela, however from what I've heard it will be about 70ºF year round.  I'm not too worried, seeing as I'll be leaving on this adventure in mid winter.  My school year will start around January 22nd, 2013—of course this is all tentative seeing as the world is supposed to end before that—and I will finish my semester on May 3rd, 2013.  While I'm at VENUSA I will be taking spanish classes that will hopefully all count towards my major, which will help me graduate with a 4 year BA in 2.5 years!

The program itself is at the most $15,000 which is a little more expensive then living on campus for one semester.  However I have been seeking out scholarships and am hoping to spend as close to fairly nothing on this trip as possible.  However, college is never cheap nor free, so I can't stress out about that too much.

In Venezuela I will live with a host family again and one other University of Minnesota student.  I am nervous but excited and being I have a nice background with homestays, thanks to my Costa Rica trip with the Northfield High School Spanish Department and my stay in Brazil with North Star Rotary Youth Exchange, I'm pretty sure I will be able to handle just about anything that could possibly come my way.  I will be living in the Andes mountains and I will be in a college town.  I plan on indulging myself in the food and salsa dancing as well as other cultural activities.

We will have some time off from school every once in a while and go on excursions (which the costs are part of the program fee) and we will also have some free time where we can go off on our own.  There are some forbidden places however (Cuba, Colombia, and Caracas) which we can't go to during our program, but other than that anything is fair game.  I for one am going down to Brasil the day after Christmas to spend time with my family and friends there and then I will fly over to Caracas to meet the group for our travel to Mérida.  Then after May 3rd I will fly to Colombia to visit my friend that I met on my exchange in Brasil and then I will fly into Chicago in mid May only to continue my adventure by busing home.

As brief of an overview as this is for now, I hope it gives some insight as to what will be happening in my life.  I'll post more as I get more paperwork done and scholarships come in, to better keep a detailed process of studying abroad in college.

Besos, Beijos, Kisses,

Aletha Rose Duchene