Used to be Archy
Join Date: Jan 2007
Hi. I have studied abroad in high school, undergrad, and grad school (check out current location).
Well, that's not really true. The only time I officially went through a company to study abroad was in high school when I was a foreign exchange student to Berlin (wonderful city, btw). From there, it was getting into musical groups with the university and we went on tour (China, SW Europe), and then volunteering on digs or being a research assistant for several professors (that alone has taken me to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Kenya, Israel...I think that's it). I'm currently finishing up my dissertation research in Peru.
The tough part about not going with a program is that you really rough it. As in, after a week you don't mind the bugs in your bed because you're tired to get them out. Or fixing a car so that it will either run or explode. Or your professor forgetting that he has students that have never been to that country, know nothing of the language, and asking them to basically fend for themselves. That and a million other stories.
I doubt that anything like that would happen to you. We happened to stay with some SIT students five years ago in Nairobi and they seem to be cool, although they definitely were not toughing it out.
Let's see about your choices:
1. I love, love, love Oaxaca. It's gorgeous, the people are great, if the climate is bad, just walk for five minutes and it changes. Plus, it's the best place in Mexico to get tortillas, since they have more than 40 breeds of corn there. There's this place that makes awesome tortillas, but I can't think of the name (I believe it's squash flower in Mixtec, I'll PM you). You'll have a great time there, although careful. Mexican hospitality is Mexican hospitality, and you will no doubt get a 5 pound plate full of rice, corn, tortillas, meat, cheese, and avocado. For every meal.
About the rest, I don't think I can say much. I've never been to the Balkans, my time in Brazil was an ill fated trip attempting to get from Iquitos to Manaus, and I've actually never made it to Manaus. From what I hear though, Brazil is the most developed country in South America. But not in the upper Amazon, it's still like the wild west out there.
My experience in Africa was a two night stay in Nairobi and six weeks looking for fossils in the Kenyan desert.
I love Spain, I'm going back there in January for some RnR, and to give a paper about my research.
I don't know if you have ever been to a 3rd world country, if you have this may be a bit of the obvious.
*Bring a good supply of medicine (a decent antibiotic, Aleve, anti-histamine, anti-diarrhea, Pepto Bismol, birth control, and anything else you take). Trust me, the drug black market is huge and you never know what you'll get from a pharmacy.
*If the country you are going to requires proof of immunizations BRING IT. I've had one friend contract Hepatitis A because he forgot his and since it was a requirement they used this dirty needle on him. He is very lucky he did not get HIV. Oh yeah, and get all of the immunizations.
*Bug repellent. Never leave home without it. The ones you buy over there actually attract the bugs.
*Get a money belt or sew a pouch into your panties. You purse/wallet/pocket is no place for money. Travellers checks are worthless, dollars will serve you better. And while we're speaking about money, make sure your dollars are impeccable. They falsify dollars around the world like no ones business, so if you have a rip, writing, or anything else wrong with your bills, they might not exchange it or exchange it at a lower rate.
*Don't go out alone at night. Go with a group and stay with them. If it's a group of girls, expect to get leers or worse.
*That guy hitting on you, it's because you're American and have money. Unless you're a minority, then he won't believe that you're American.
*Don't wear watches or expensive looking jewelry. And keep your iPod safely hidden away and never out in public. Even in broad daylight, you are asking for trouble.
*Never, ever drink the water. Not even to brush your teeth. I follow this rule and have gotten typhoid twice. Don't know how, but I've still gotten it.
*Be culturally sensitive, but not jumpy. You're an American, no one really expects you to act like them. Unless you're in an Arab country, and then really follow the rules.
*The times that I have been on programs I've found them a bit bland. Go out and talk to the people. Yes, they will ask you endlessly about the US, our current administration (ad nauseum), and a bunch of personal questions, but it is really worth it. I went with a group my first time to Israel and by far the best times I had was when I escaped and talked to the people.
*Many of the places you mentioned you can rent a cell phone or buy one really cheap. Highly recommend it. Plus, using Skype or some other service your family can call you cheaply.
*If you don't know the language, write down the address in which your staying at, all phone numbers, and even side streets before you go out. If you get lost, I've found that banks and the expensive hotels are reliable for having someone there that speak English. That or get a Mormon or other Evangelical churches. They are really helpful, and have saved my lost self a couple of times.
Whew, I thinks that's enough for now. PM me!
February Tri Challenge COMPLETED!