Borders and Barriers

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From crossing international lines to testing new tongues, studying abroad will present challenges the second you leave home. Getting lost on the Tube in London, eating bugs from a market in Bohol, and cuddling a kangaroo Down Under, here are the stories from a few first time world travelers.

London, England

As far as language, you might think you’re safe traveling to a country with the same native tongue, but don’t be fooled — the smallest variations can make a world of difference.

For junior Natalie Morello, who studied abroad in London during the month of June, it was small mistakes that she laughs about now.

“It wasn’t difficult at all to communicate, but certain things we say in the States mean something completely different here. Like the word pants; in England, pants are your underwear and trousers are what we call pants or jeans,” she said. “On a particularly chilly day, I made a comment saying I’d wished I’d worn pants, and got the strangest look from a few bystanders in ear shot while riding the Tube (equivalent to a subway in America). It was only later that I realized my mistake.”

Keep in mind that even English speaking countries have variations in language, and it might be worth it to do a little research beforehand.

Bohol, Philippines

For those who don’t know, the Philippines is a cluster of 7,107 islands located in southeast Asia and surrounded by three seas: South China, Philippine and the Sulu Sea. As a first time world traveler, the Philippines would no doubt come as a culture shock, especially when compared to places like the United Kingdom, which appear to have a lot more in common with the United States culturally. Senior Alison Trumble, who is studying to be a veterinary technician, was lucky enough to spend an entire semester abroad in the Philippines, where she swam under crystal clear waterfalls and ate the head, liver, feet and embryos of a chicken. With such a vastly different culture, language could also easily be
an issue.

“In the Philippines most people spoke English as a second language, but only the younger people were confident enough to speak it to me,” said Trumble. “This was hard when trying to move from city to city using public transportation, so what I did to lessen the language barrier was ask a few of my Filipino friends to teach me the basics: Hello, goodbye, yes, no, those sort of things. I also took a three-week language class at a local language school. This helped me to learn how to say things such as ‘where is that’ or ‘how much is that.’ Still pretty basic sentences, but they were very helpful for me when traveling around the country.”


They say the most expensive part of traveling is getting there; which is why sophomore Hannah Morello’s nutrition study abroad program really allowed her to get the most bang for her buck. Many students opt to backpack or continue traveling even when their program ends, however in some cases Michigan State University’s study abroad programs include many different countries as a part of the experience and education. While this can be ideal for those who wish to experience many different cultures, it can make it that much more difficult when it comes to language barriers and travel. Not only are you constantly packing, but you must also be adaptable to weather changes, culture, travel and, of course, language. Morello discussed her experiences with jumping borders and tongues from England to France to Switzerland.

“England was pretty straightforward for the most part, it was France and Geneva [Switzerland] that were more of a challenge. Generally, people are willing to help if you attempt to speak their native language, but you do occasionally get someone who is less than willing to help, and in that case you just have to ask someone else,” she said. “As far as learning the language I was lucky enough to have a friend who studies French, and she typed me up a list of phrases and words to get by on and their pronunciation, which was helpful. I was lucky in that Geneva was also a French-speaking culture, so that was nice.”


For those willing to sit on a plane for 24 hours, Australia is the perfect study abroad destination for you. While the time spent getting to this secluded continent might be less than appealing, getting a glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef is more than worth it, according to sophomore Allie Koestering, who is studying physical therapy.

“It was really weird because it was summer in the U.S. but winter there,” she said. This, however, didn’t stop her from testing the waters and surfing for the first time. As far as the language, Koestering took a different approach. “I learned on the fly. That sounds unprepared, but you learn fast and it’s really all about trial and error. If I had a question or I didn’t understand I just asked. People are helpful and they can tell we aren’t from there because of our accents. It’s actually a great way to strike up a conversation with someone.”

Whether you take a class, utilize a friend, Google translate or learn as you go, as long as you are willing to learn, you should get by in other countries without a problem.


Megan Gilhooly is a senior studying professional writing and communication as a double major. Her talents range from finishing a full Netflix season in a week to reading an entire book in one day. She also enjoys coffee, the gym and creative writing in her free time.


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