Mental Health Conditions and Workplace Accommodations

By: Alissa (Disability Specialist & Guest Author)

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the year-long collaboration we are doing with the Disability Resources office on the UMD Campus.

Today on the blog, we are going to talk about three more common mental health conditions and what might be some reasonable workplace accommodations for each of those. Did you know that approximately 61.5 million Americans, one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013)? One in seventeen individuals lives with a serious mental health impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2013). We see many different kinds of mental health conditions working in disability and higher education, but a majority of the conditions we primarily work with would be students with anxiety, depression, and/or different mood disorders.

There are a number of different functional areas that these conditions can impact such as concentration, attendance, focus, organization, memory, sleep, stress, handling emotions, fatigue, and coworker interactions just to name a few. The next few pieces of information are found on the Job Accommodation Network website and include many of those different areas that people with mental health conditions could be impacted in and what accommodations would help to reduce those barriers if need be.

Mental Health Reasonable Accommodation Ideas:

Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the work area:
    • Provide space enclosures, sound absorption panels, or a private office
    • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
    • Allow the employee to listen to soothing music
    • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Allow flexible work environment:
    • Flexible scheduling
    • Modified break schedule
    • Work from home/Flexi-place
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Memory:

  • Provide written as well as verbal instructions
  • Provide written checklists
  • Use a wall calendar
  • Use a daily or weekly task list
  • Provide verbal prompts and reminders
  • Use electronic organizers, handheld devices, and /or apps
  • Provide a mentor for daily guidance
  • Provide reminders of important deadlines via e-mails, memos, and weekly supervision

Organization:

  • Use daily, weekly, and monthly task lists
  • Use calendar with automated reminders to highlight meetings and deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers, mobile devices, and/or apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Time Management / Completing Tasks:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
  • Provide organizational tools such as electronic schedulers, recorders, software organizers, calendars, watches, and apps
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Schedule weekly meetings with supervisor, manager, or mentor to determine if goals are being met

Stress / Emotions:

  • Encourage use of stress management techniques to deal with frustration
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Use a mentor or supervisor to alert the employee when his/her behavior is becoming unprofessional or inappropriate
  • Assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer the employee’s questions
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions during times of stress
  • Refer to counseling, employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Provide backup coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks
  • Allow flexible work environment

Panic Attacks:

  • Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises
  • Allow the presence of a support animal

Sleep Disturbances:

  • Allow for a flexible start time
  • Combine regularly scheduled short breaks into one longer break
  • Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
  • Allow the employee to work one consistent schedule
  • Provide a device such as a Doze Alert or other alarms to keep the employee alert
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting

Fatigue:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide a goal-oriented workload
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress
  • Implement ergonomic workstation design

Attendance:

  • Allow flexible work environment:
  • Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
  • Allow the employee to make up the time missed
  • Modify attendance policy
    • Example: count one occurrence for all PTSD-related absences

Coworker Interaction:

  • Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations
  • Allow the employee to work from home part-time
  • Provide partitions or closed doors to allow for privacy
  • Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors

All in all, it is good rule of thumb to remember that people with mental health conditions or disabilities are just as capable of completing  tasks and doing an amazing job at whatever they may be working on – as there sometimes is stigma around these conditions due to lack of understanding, judgment, and being uneducated on the topic of mental health. If you are curious about learning more there are many great resources available to you on the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website and Active Minds website about mental health conditions. Education, awareness, and understanding are key. We must not be afraid to talk openly about these conditions and encourage others to share their awesome stories. We all have something to say, so don’t be afraid to just simply listen.

Also read: #BulldogOnTheJob: Bri (she talks about experience with depression and anxiety and the impact those illnesses have on her professional life)

Read our other Disabilites in the Workplace posts.

First Time Experience at the Job Fair

By: Kimberly

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Time is ticking and every time the hand on my watch moved it seemed more surreal that in just a few minutes I would be at the job fair. In my right hand, I had a folder with twenty resumes I prepared to distribute to as many recruiters as possible and in my left hand, I held tightly onto hope. Hope for a variety of reasons; hopefully, I am successful today, hopefully, I land an internship, hopefully, I am different from the hundreds of other students and hope because I need it.

As I entered the building and quickly got myself signed-in, I made my name badge and wore it trying to contain the cold chills running through my hands. I had thousands of thoughts running through my mind such as, “What if I’m not as good as anyone else here?”, “What if I forget my elevator speech?”, “Don’t make a fool out of yourself!”, and it continued. Despite these thoughts, I managed to remind myself that like any other obstacles I had faced in life, I will conquer.

Immediately you could hear tons of voices from conversations between students and recruiters or students socializing among themselves. I quickly took a second to negotiate a deal with myself; I promised to stop stalling time after a quick tour of the entire job fair. During this tour, most of the of the recruiters I walked past were waving to students and welcoming them with a “hello,” and some even tried to engage in a conversation with you to attract you towards their booth. Students were offering their resumes and portraying emotions of excitement, eagerness, and confidence. Towards the end of my tour, I realized many of these recruiters weren’t so scary after all and it was time to take initiative. I also recalled a great tip I received to help burn off my nerves, speak with an organization that I wasn’t interested in yet, I wouldn’t be nearly as disappointed if I failed miserably.

Overall, after several conversations, I learned that many recruiters were eager to speak with students and were most likely going to be alumni from yours or another familiar university/college. They were immensely interested in hearing about what I was currently involved in, where my passion was, and the reasons why I pursue what I do. In addition to recruiters sharing with me about their position and what they do for the organization, they were sharing great pieces of advice. For example, when to look out for internships within my area, who I could reach out to specifically, and what they had in store for students with my major.

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Kimberly (2nd from left) and fellow UMD students at the University of Minnesota Job & Internship Fair.

After meeting with every organization on my list I ended my day at the fair by heading to the student lounge area for a brief evaluation of everything I accomplished. I reflected on each of the conversations I had while actively jotting down notes. Although it was hard to believe, I was quite surprised at how fast the day went by and at the number of recruiters I spoke with. It was a great feeling knowing I made some awesome connections with a few recruiters. I couldn’t wait to add them on LinkedIn or send them a follow-up email, sometime on Monday.

Now, let me remind you that I attended workshops to develop a good elevator speech/pitch, spent days working on improving my resume by getting it reviewed by others, and researched the organizations’ backgrounds prior to the job fair day. All this effort I put in prior to the fair prepared me with the skills and knowledge to engage in these conversations. If I had not spent that amount of effort and time into preparing I know my first-time experience at the fair would have been disappointing. I strongly recommend to anyone who is attending a job fair whether it’s your first time or not – you need to put in effort preparing yourself before going. Like the saying, “You only get out what you put in.”, although cliché it is very true. The second piece of advice I would offer is, speak with passion. Besides telling them what is already on your resume, give them something that showcases the “why” behind everything on your resume. Lastly, enjoy your time at the fair, it is a great way to also network with other students.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kimberly’s other posts

Life Lessons Learned from Working in Retail

By: Lexi

When you first read the title of my blog post, you probably laughed, I know I would. Life lessons from working that boring, part-time retail job in high school, really? I did not enjoy my time while working in the retail industry during high school, but at the time it was the only job I could get unless I wanted to work in the food industry, which I thought was worse. But looking back at it now, I realize it taught me so many life lessons that I still use today, seriously!

Communication skills
Communication skills are great for any career! But I learned a lot of my communication skills from my retail job, it was also one of my first jobs. Working in retail made me develop into a people person. You have interactions with people every minute while working, whether it is with customers, co-workers or your boss, you are constantly talking and interacting. You also have to walk up to strangers to check in on them or help them find what they are looking for, this sometimes pushes you out of your comfort zone, but in the long run, it is great for your character.

How to be the bigger person
In retail, you often get angry or upset customers. At my retail job, the store had a lot of coupons, but along with those coupons came brand or clearance exclusions in the fine print on the back. Let me tell you, the customers did not like this, and they did not understand that as just a sales associate, I did not make the rules to the coupons. This was personally the worst part of my job because I had to constantly deal with angry, yelling customers, but I had to stay calm and patient. Overcoming these rude customers helped me learn techniques to be the bigger person. Which can translate to how to deal with anyone acting rude or in stressful situations.

A friendly smile and kindness can get you far
It is true what they say, kindness is contagious. Simply smiling, greeting or thanking someone can get you far not only in retail but anywhere else. It also helps to keep yourself positive at work, which is a great way to put yourself in the right frame of mind for dealing with anyone, especially those rude customers. Do not take this lesson with a grain of salt, because it can help you in any situation, not just work ones.

How to multitask
This is learned so easily because there is always so much to do in retail, especially on a weekend. You are usually assigned many tasks to do during your shift, but you also have to juggle tending to customers and keeping the store neat. You also learn to adapt and manage your time.

Respecting others is a must
Working in retail means you are working with many people at once, especially in a department store. This means you should work as a team and get along. If you don’t respect your coworkers or get along, it will make for a slow and dreadful shift. Respecting co-workers and team members in any work setting is a must.

Read Lexi’s other posts

Why Major in Communication at UMD

By: David

As a double major, one day you will eventually have to prioritize your majors one over the other. In talking with students with a double major, this is typically the case (though not always) with students having the second major supporting their primary major. For me personally, I would say this is especially true with degrees in Communication and Psychology. My main area of focus being Communication and my supporting major being Psychology. In today’s post, I want to highlight the wonders of the Department of Communication here at UMD and why it truly is a “diamond in the rough.” After having conversations with Department Head, Dr. David Gore, Associate Professor Dr. Ryan Goei, and Director of Internships for Communication, Alastair Knowles, I was able to gather an abundance of information from all three in highlighting the Communication department. With that being said, let’s begin!

Overview of the Communication Discipline  

In order to understand the Communication department here at UMD, I find it important to understand the Communication discipline altogether. Generally, Communication programs will have a mixture or divide of the social sciences and humanities (also known as rhetoric in the Communication discipline). You can think of the two as different processes or approaches to communication. On one end, social scientists seek to observe the present, they prefer data, numbers, and statistics where findings can be generalize to the broader population and are concerned with what can be observed in reality. On the opposite end, rhetoricians seek to understand human nature versus predicting it, they prefer concepts related to philosophy, history, and context, and require one core element – the human experience.

In expanding on this topic of social science and rhetoric, let’s explore the concept of fear appeals as an example. A social scientist might look into fear appeals and analyze the effectiveness of fear appeals on people and its ability to persuade. On the other hand, a rhetorician may look at fear appeals, and instead of analyzing the effectiveness, will analyze the ethics of using fear appeals overall. To end, I like to think of social science and rhetoric as an objective and subjective approach to understanding communication. Social science being the objective, while rhetoric being the subjective. Now that we have a basic understanding of the communication discipline as a whole, let’s explore the elements of UMD’s Communication program.

Why Comm

What makes UMD’s Program So Unique and Special?

(1) Healthy Balance of Social Science & Rhetoric
After explaining the two approaches to Communication, one can easily see how a divide or rift may quickly emerge within Communication programs. Fortunately, the professional environment here in the Communication department is one that is quite healthy and friendly where faculty members are open and respectful to one another’s approach to communication. The faculty here see the value in BOTH perspectives and therefore the program creates a flexibility of the mind. Additionally, as a generalist program that offers and requires courses in both approaches students in the program can pick whichever route they prefer. This is possible due to the program being an open-minded program and thus offering a variety of elective courses.  

(2) Top Tier Faculty Members
For starters, UMD attracts some of the best Communication scholars across the nation (and I’m not just saying that out of my own bias, it’s true!). With current scholars contributing major research to their fields to individuals previously winning “Dissertation of the Year” awards to professors writing top papers on a national AND international scale, they are here at the UMD Communication Department. Here’s a list of the faculty recognition in the past decade.

(3) Research & Faculty Mentorship
Despite being a satellite campus of the University of Minnesota, UMD is an extremely unique institution as a whole due to its high level of research productivity and its student population consisting mainly of undergraduate students. Commonly, a high performing research institution would consist of numerous graduate programs and a high percentage of graduate students conducting outstanding research. Here at UMD, we have 90% of our students who are at the undergraduate level, yet still conducting research just as valuable as other top-tier research institutions.

With this unique dynamic of undergraduate students and high caliber faculty, students in the Communication department have direct access to these professors who conduct top-notch quality research. In comparison to other schools, typically this is not the case as top-tier research institutions would require graduate students (MA, Ph.D candidates) to teach these courses with zero to limited access to the professors. To conclude, UMD is best known for its engineering and business programs, and typically not acknowledged for its programs in the social sciences and humanities. As a student in the humanities & social sciences, I will confirm and say that it definitely requires a lot of digging in terms of finding the hidden specialty and uniqueness surrounding these programs like the Communication program here at UMD. That is why it truly is a “diamond in the rough.”

(4) Internships
So what happens if you’re not into academia, scholarship, or research? Well, lucky for you there are opportunities to find hands-on experience through the Communication Internship Program. Ultimately, the program has two objectives, (1) provide students with opportunities to apply what they’re learning in the classroom into the real world, and (2) provide students with opportunities to acquire internships related to a career occupation that they find interesting. In addition to the two, starting the Fall semester of this year, the Communication Internship Program will be implementing a new course in which it will better prepare students for the internship process. Before ending, if you would like to learn more or are having trouble finding a good place to start in terms of internships, you can always refer to the Communication Internship Program comprehensive web page, or better yet, set up an appointment to meet with Alastair Knowles.

David Quote

Final Thoughts & Reflection

In closing, I would like to sum up by talking about my personal experiences and self-reflection. Coming into college as Undecided, I was the type of student who wanted to do everything and had a very hard time deciding a major. Eventually, I would stick to Communication after my first semester taking “Intercultural Communication” and since then have never regretted that decision. As I slowly progressed through the program, I was fortunate to take courses with different instructors and professors who I found to be extremely inspiring and brilliant. Their teaching philosophies, passion for research, and devotion for students motivated me to acquire a hunger to learn more about being an effective and efficient communicator in addition to being a charismatic leader.

Throughout my time here at UMD I would say that many of my favorite professors are mostly, if not all, from the Communication department. As I mentioned in my recent blog posts, my experience as a first-generation student has been a significant factor to my college experience altogether. As a first-gen student, there were many moments of insecurity in terms of my academics and intellectual capabilities, but that changed every time I came around the COMM department. Essentially, the COMM department became my safe haven to learn and discuss freely about ideas, history, theories, and communication in practice. The conversations, guidance, and criticism from my professors were all key components to my intellectual and personal growth.

In ending, I know I’m biased when I say that the Communication department here at UMD is perhaps the best program at UMD. But my main point for you, my readers and peers, is to find a program you can be excited about when entering your classes and be hungry to learn in whichever topic or topics interest you most. More than often do I see my peers or other students who come into college and zoom right through to get their degrees and start working right away, but if we just take the time to slow down, relax, and enjoy the time that we’re here the end result will be much more meaningful. Talk to your professors, explore related theories, criticize past research, or even conduct your own research. You never know what you’re truly capable of until you try, and it always helps to have a mentor guide you to your true potential.  

Read David’s other posts

Photo source: Unsplash | Aaron Burden

#BulldogOnTheJob: Bri

Editor’s Note: We’re trying something new this year. We are interviewing various UMD Alumni about how their experiences at UMD have impacted their professional lives. They will also be giving their advice for being successful out there in the real world. 

Today we’re also highlighting the impact that having a disability can have on your professional life, as part of our ongoing collaboration with Disability Resources.

Name: Bri Ettestad
Majors:
 Cell & Molecular Biology BS; Biochemistry BA
Graduation Date: 
December 2015

Please describe your disability and history of it.
I suffer from both depression and anxiety/panic disorder. I had symptoms of both since childhood, but my diagnosis didn’t come until later–I was diagnosed with depression at 14 and anxiety/panic disorder shortly before I turned 17. In both cases, I, unfortunately, waited until things got bad before going to the doctor. I struggled to find an antidepressant that worked for me, but I was fortunate to find an anti-anxiety medication that also helps manage my depression without many side effects.

Organization, title, and a brief synopsis of what you do at your current place of employment.
I work for the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities as a research scientist. Since I was hired at the end of April 2016, I have been involved in many projects related to immunology and cancer biology. I am currently researching a rare type of lymphoma caused by Epstein-Barr virus, as well as, studying the killing of cancer cells by natural killer cells. I am looking for a gene that causes cancer cells to become immune to NK cell killing and testing a variety of drugs that make NK cells more efficient against sarcomas.

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Have you or do you plan to disclose your disability to your employers? What advice do you have for people in a similar situation?
I have not disclosed my disability to my employers, and I am not sure if I will do so. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health conditions, and I feel like most employers are not willing to recognize them as a disability. I am extremely open about my conditions with my peers. I am passionate about educating others about mental health and doing everything I can to eliminate the stigma. That being said, I think it comes down to how comfortable one is when disclosing their disability. There is no method that works universally. If you are comfortable disclosing it, by all means do so! If you are not comfortable with it, there is no shame in keeping that information to yourself. There is no requirement to disclose your disability.

Do you use any workplace accommodations related to your disability?
No. I am actually unsure as to what kind of accommodations they could really offer me. My biggest issue is when I have bad mental health days (too exhausted to get out of bed or be productive in any regard, panic attacks keeping me up all night, etc). If I am in a situation where I know my mental health will be detrimental to my productivity that day and it is possible for me to rearrange my schedule, I will take a sick day without disclosing the reason. Unfortunately, science doesn’t wait. Experiments are often on a time schedule and I have had to come in on multiple occasions when I was in no condition to work simply to make sure the experiment was completed.

What were the jobs, opportunities, and/or classes you had that led to your current role?
During my undergrad, I took many lab courses that set the stage for me working in a research setting. In addition to this, I started working as a TA for chemistry labs when I was a sophomore; I taught Introduction to Chemistry and General Chemistry I and II labs along with a discussion section for Gen Chem I. However, the most valuable thing I did was seeking out undergraduate research opportunities. For my last 3 semesters of school (and for a while after graduation), I worked in a research lab in the UMD Medical School where I studied Lyme disease. During the summer of 2015, I was accepted into a 10-week research program at Cornell where I studied neuroscience using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies). Prior to doing undergraduate research, I was planning on going to medical school. Once I got into the lab and experienced the highs and lows of research, I changed my career path and never looked back.

lab

What were some of the lessons you learned while on-campus at UMD you’ve incorporated into your professional life?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. I went into college like many others who wanted to pursue a career in medicine. I was dead-set on my goal and didn’t want to deviate from it. If I hadn’t taken the step into undergraduate research, I likely would not be where I am now. The job I took here at the cancer center was full of techniques I had absolutely no experience in, and it was all very overwhelming. As a scientist, it is important to expand your knowledge of techniques so you have more options when it comes to planning experiments to answer the questions you are interested in. I had a similar experience at Cornell – I had never worked with Drosophila or done fluorescence and confocal microscopy, and I had to pick up these techniques very quickly in order to complete my project. I could’ve chosen a lab that relied on methods I was familiar with, but I am glad I didn’t. Much of my repertoire of experimental techniques came from being open to trying new things, even if it was stressful and a little bit scary.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known prior to entering your role/field?
Research can be slow, tedious, and frustrating. I learned this relatively early on, but it proves true time and time again. We run into road blocks all the time, whether it be because the experiment itself isn’t working, the cells aren’t growing right, we are unable to get the reagents we need, waiting for approval from safety committees, waiting on grant money, the cell cultures get infected, etc. The list is endless. Science is not about instant gratification in most situations. You have to be willing to stick with something no matter what. In the end, completing a project and discovering something brand new makes all the late nights, frustration, and obstacles worth it.

What career advice do you have for students wishing to enter your field? How about advice around living with a mental health condition and working full time?
This goes for anyone who is pursuing something science-related (including pre-med, pre-vet, pre-pharmacy, etc.): Do undergraduate research. Even if you are 99.99% sure you will not pursue research, it will at least be something to supplement your application to grad/med/vet/pharmacy school. It is a lot easier than you think to get involved in undergraduate research. Look for faculty on the university website, find out what they’re researching, and start sending emails! Introduce yourself and tell them you are interested in volunteering in their lab. Many faculty members are more than happy to take on an undergraduate if they have space. Read some of their papers, meet with the faculty, and learn what you can before deciding whether or not their lab is right for you. If you’re lucky, you may even manage to get on a published paper or two before you graduate.

As for living with a mental health condition and working full-time, take care of yourself. You will have bad days. The first few months of a new job are always stressful (even more so if you move to a new place for the job). Stick with it – it gets easier. When you have your bad days, there is absolutely no shame in taking a mental health day. No matter what, your health comes first. If things start getting really difficult, reach out for help and tell your employer what’s going on, even if it’s hard. Keeping them in the loop when something major happens is very important. If you came down with a serious physical illness, you would tell them what’s happening. Your mental health is no different.

Anything else you want to add about your time at UMD, or since, that greatly impacted where you are now?
It may already be apparent because I am writing this, but getting involved with Disability Resources at UMD was one of the best things I ever did during my undergrad. I thought I could manage my mental health on my own, but when it proved to be too much to handle, DR was there to give me the level playing field I needed to excel alongside my peers. I had the opportunity to speak on numerous mental health panels to help spread awareness and educate other students about mental health conditions, and I know these panels made a difference for several students who were suffering from the same conditions but didn’t know where to turn. Even though my career is as a scientist, I am still looking for ways to help spread knowledge about mental health and end the stigma surrounding these conditions.

Read other #BulldogOnTheJob stories!

Read other Disabilities in the Workplace posts

Meet Me in Morocco: Study Abroad Part 1

By: Tori

Bonjour! مرحبا! Hola!…

Hello! And welcome to my study abroad journey. This summer I am headed to the North African country, Morocco (whoo hoo)!

Tori Morocco

Through the UMN program SPAN (Student Projects For Amity Among Nations), I have the opportunity to spend 8 weeks traveling, researching, and immersing myself in the culture of Morocco. Approximately 30 UMD students will be joining me on this journey and taking on a project equal to an Honors thesis. It will be no easy task, in fact, it is quite stressful, but I am stoked to see where these next four months take me.

You may be asking; HOW did I choose this program? And WHY study abroad? Well, let me tell you!

Tori Quote

Coming into college I knew I wanted to take full advantage of what UMD has to offer, including their numerous opportunities to study abroad. However, as I became more involved on campus I realized the deep desire that I had to experience something completely different. I wanted to be introduced to new perspectives.

Morocco is not your typical study abroad destination, which is the sole reason when I found out about the program I said, “Heck yes, sign me up!”. It is opposite of the typical comfort zone I find myself in. Instead of going to an English-speaking, mountain encompassing country – I’m heading to the desert, where my Norwegian skin may fry and my lack of French and Arabic skills will be exposed. Morocco is a country of major diversity and my entire time abroad I will be a part of the minority for the first time in my life.

Meet in Morocco

There is a difference between simply spending time abroad and completely immersing yourself in another culture. Going abroad helps students gain awareness of other cultures and learn to accept people for who they are. Studying abroad even pertains to students future careers. As a young person entering the business world, I have the advantage to use my experiences to affect those around me. And as a Human Resources major, I will be connecting business and people my entire life. There is no better way to be exposed to diversity and become more self-aware than to take a leap of faith and go abroad.

To say I am excited to embark on this journey would be an understatement. I am ecstatic to come back to campus and share what I have learned with my peers, advisors, co-workers, professors, and faculty. Would you like to hear how Morocco changes me and “Meet in Morocco”?

Read Tori’s other posts

Photo sources: Tori; Unsplash | Florian Bernhardt; Unsplash | Sergey Pesterev

How to be a Good Traveler

By: Willow

I had an awesome Spring Break this year. (Yes, I know I’m bragging a bit but I promise I have a point.) I was fortunate enough to be able to visit a family friend in Switzerland and do a little traveling around Europe. I learned a lot on my spring break, and I think this information could be useful if you happen to go on a sweet trip someday.

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I know what you’re thinking, “But Willow, the Peer Into Your Career blog is about helping me with my career, jetting across the world isn’t going to do that is it?” Well, yes and no. While the act of going on a fancy trip itself will probably not advance your career, it is possible that you will find yourself in situations where your actions traveling help or hurt your future. Here are a few tips that will help you make put your best foot forward no matter where you are.

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Learn a little bit of the language. I know this sounds like a given but it’s easy to get by without doing it. In Switzerland everyone speaks English, they teach German, French, and English in schools so literally everyone has a basic knowledge of English. Not only does everyone know at least some English, my hostess is getting her masters in English. I figured I would be fine as I would always be with someone fluent in English and German, so I would always have a translator. This was true, but it got really old. One night, we went to an event where a British author talked about her books. When the author introduced herself she thanked the crowd saying how much of a privilege it was to speak in her native language to this particular audience. The speech was in English and all of my host’s friends spoke English. I had no problem talking to the people around me the entire night. While I was standing with the circle of new friends, I realized they were all speaking English for my benefit. I was the only one who didn’t speak any German, and they were all adjusting for me. And that made me feel like crap. How did I go to a new country and not learn any of the language? How ignorant am I? Ugh! The mix of the speaker acknowledging her privilege and me realizing everyone was speaking a language for my benefit hit me hard. I felt bad, really really bad. If you ever do go somewhere where you don’t know the native language, learn a few key phrases, it will go a long way. People notice when you make an effort, and it will mean a lot to them. If possible find someone who knows the language and can help you practice a bit. Or find a friend and learn together. There are a lot of great resources you can use: YouTube videos, books, or language learning apps. Once again, knowing a little bit of the language goes a long way.

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Willow with British author Laura Penny.

Figure out what the driving laws are. Maybe you won’t be driving at all and you think you don’t need to do this. YOU DO. You interact with cars all the time, even if you’re not in one. so you need to figure out the basics such as: what side of the road to they drive on, what are the pedestrian laws, and how their stop lights work. These all could be different depending on where you are.

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Know the phone number and address of the place you are staying. Again, this one seems simple, but don’t forget. If you do you will get really confused and cry in front of the lost and found baggage lady in the Zurich airport. Uh… At least that’s what I’ve heard…

Always say thank you, preferably in the language spoken where you are. Whenever you go into a store, ask someone a question, talk to anyone at all for any reason, say thank you. It’s just a best practice.

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Finally, make as many connections and learn as much as you can. Traveling is an amazing thing to do and honestly a great way to change your life. You never know who you may meet. Keep these guidelines in mind and they might help you get a job, or make a new friend, or just have a great time.

One last reminder, in all your travels, be safe and have fun.

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Photo source: Willow