Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks | The broads abroad
Think Twice | Unraveling four months of art, cheese, travel and life lessons
January 9, 2013, 12:00 am·
Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
Hola! Como te llamas?
Ali and Hayley here, and after a semester traipsing across the pond, we’re back! We could tell you that going abroad was a really amazing experience because it totally expanded our horizons but blimey! That is … obvious.
As much fun as we had chillin’ with the Queen and attending class clad in bikinis, we definitely missed being busy (and you!).
Since we know you’re anxious to hear our take on grinding in Europe, here’s the 4-1-1: Ali observed that Barcelona boys complement their pelvic gyrations with truly sensational footwork while the London boys? Well, Hayley could only tell you about one of them. Email her for a coffee date.
But Ali also took matters into her own hands (and feet) in bachata classes, which really put the dirty in Dirty Dancing (she soon switched to salsa, a PG option). Meanwhile, Hayley schmoozed in the pubs and bopped around to S Club 7.
Shimmying aside, abroad presented us with hurdles significantly larger than your average bouncer. Although studying abroad might seem like it met our sky-high expectations at first glance, we did notice a bug spreading among the American students: disenchantment.
“Where’s our Italian stallion on a mo-ped?” Lizzie McGuire had failed us.
Joking aside, even the little things like nagging the waiter to bring the check or looking for peanut butter became irksome. But the lack of peanut butter opened the door to exciting condiments like Nutella, dulce de leche, Vegemite and clotted cream — in a jiffy we forgot Jif.
And that attitude was key to the abroad experience. We had to be open-minded to breach our comfort zones, from ignoring a grumbling stomach until 11 p.m. — Spanish dinnertime — to having Rosh Hashanah dinner with a friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s grandma’s English friend and her husband (true story) because within forty-eight hours of landing, you didn’t have any other place to go. The initial discomfort made these meals all the more savory.
Forging our own happiness proved more daunting than we had expected. It’s challenging to insert yourself into an established community when you’re there for just a jaunt — unlike freshman year, you’re the only one who’s new.
But at least we were part of the “Penn in Europe” network, which included 285 students on established programs according to Ling Tran, the enrollment coordinator at the Penn Abroad Office. Our friend, College junior Sean Burke, on the other hand, was the only Penn student in Khon Kaen, Thailand — the first Penn student to go there in six years.
Sean lived in community homestays while working on development and environmental grassroots projects. As Sean said, she “learned enough Thai to get by on [her] own and establish relationships with Thai villagers” and made friends with a “mischievous” monkey named Jobe. Though she lacked the free time to gorge the gelato we enjoyed in Europe, she “would not trade [the] experience for anything, even Oktoberfest.”
And bloody hell, that was an awesomely (un)forgettable weekend.
Studying — or doing everything but — abroad emphasized how we take Penn for granted. Penn’s faculty is not only world-renowned, but they also actually show up for class.
Though some of our Penn education occurs outside the classroom, abroad was defined by this kind of learning. It was on the days when classes were cancelled due to Catalonian secessionist protests that Ali, as a history major, lived history. Hayley’s most rewarding classes were not at King’s College, but in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
So not exactly the “Mary Kate and Ashley Do Europe” movie we had imagined, but the bursts of earned fantasy proved so much better than some bullocks rom-com plot. We return to Penn with more mature moves (randy, baby!) and exotic recipes, but more importantly, the notion that we’re just naive 20-year olds with so much to see.
And now that we’re back, we’re excited to combine our newfound perspectives and talents — fending off pickpocketters, mastering metro systems and kissing cheeks (left first, then right, don’t miss) — with our familiar campus.
All while thinking twice about the little things that make our world so big.
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College juniors from New York, N.Y. and Ft. Lauderdale, F.L. respectively. You can email them at email@example.com or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every Wednesday.