Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

My Posts

{photos, text, video}

The Finale (Part Two)

Time May 11th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

I’m home! I’m surrounded by American accents and cars that drive on the right side of the road and boy does that feel weird. I’m out of money, finishing my last few papers, and sleeping in my own bed. I did it! I made it a semester abroad, with getting barely any bumps and bruises along the way. Here are a few things I’m feeling.

Sad. A place that once felt so strange became home and just as I got my feet wet in Cardiff I was shipped back to the U.S. My epic, European adventure has come to an end.

Culture shock. I remember attending my home university’s pre-departure meeting where they told me that I would experience reverse culture shock upon my return to the United States. I brushed that off, not thinking that I’d feel much different or have a difficult time adjusting back. But holy cow does it feel weird to be home. Everything’s the same, but it’s also different in the sense that everyone I left behind at home kept living their lives and whatnot, which sounds like an obvious thing but walking into it after four months of being away, is a lot to take in.

Happy. I am so glad to be home. I’ve missed my family and friends so much, and while I’ve kept in touch through Facetime, there’s nothing like hugging your parents after months without seeing them. In a few days I’ll head to Des Moines to see all of my college friends, so the happy reunions keep coming!

And finally, satisfaction. I’ve gotten most of my travel bug out (for now), and I’ve experienced so many things that I never dreamed that I would. Before I left I set out a list of advice for myself, and looking back at it now I smile knowing that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. I took pictures, even though I’m usually so bad at remembering to. I drank good wine and ate (probably too much) good cheese, bread, and pasta. I called my parents, bought a few souvenirs, and wrote things down in a journal. I visited friends abroad in other countries, and did one or two crazy things that I told my parents about (after, of course). I went to Greece like I kept saying I would, because after all I did pack that swimsuit for something.

This semester I learned how to navigate countries where I don’t speak the native language, I learned how to use public transportation in cities I had never been to before, I learned how to make strangers into friends within one conversation, and I learned that the world has so much more to offer than I thought was possible. I knocked off a lot of countries off of my to-visit list this semester, but as I traveled and heard other peoples’ experiences in other places my to-visit list kept getting longer.

This post marks the end of a life changing, comfort-zone pushing, and challenging experience. I had no idea what life was going to look like once I stepped off of the plane in London a few months back, but I sure am happy I stuck around to find out.

I’m officially signing off, but this isn’t the end of my adventures, that’s for sure.

Cheers,

Alex

 

Share

The Finale

Time May 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Twelve days left in Cardiff suddenly turned into three. It’s Friday afternoon, and on Monday at approximately 3 AM I will be leaving Cardiff to get to the airport to fly home. Instead of telling you all how incredibly sad that makes me, I’m going to reflect on some of my favorite things about Cardiff, Wales, and being abroad.

OH, Cardiff. Where do I begin?

Bute park, obviously. This park is just a few minutes walk from my flat, and has kept me sane all semester. It’s green, has trails all through it, has a river, is filled with flowers, and is just beautiful. It’s where I go on runs, where I walk through to get to the city center, and where I go to when I need a little bit of a break from my little room in my flat. In March it was covered in daffodils, and now the leaves are so full and green that it’s like an entirely new place. Oh, and there’s a castle that’s casually on the edge of it.

cardiff-2 cardiff-4 cardiff-1 Read More »

Share

Oh, Europe–I love you so!

Time May 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

It’s May. In one week from today I will be on a plane back to the states. I have papers and projects to do this week. There are a few things about this picture that really aren’t quite right.

This post is about what I did over Easter break, but before I get to that I need to just acknowledge how crazy it is that I’ve already gotten to the point in my semester where I’m writing this. January was spent getting my feet on the ground and adjusting. April was spent travelling. February and March, however, seemed like endless hours spent planning my Easter break endeavors. And now they’re done—the trips have been taken, experiences have been made, and lessons have been learned.

On Wednesday, April 12th I left Cardiff early in the morning and walked to the Sophia Gardens bus station where I departed for Birmingham airport. I spent most of the day travelling, but by 7 PM I was standing outside of the Barcelona airport, suddenly much too warm for my jacket. Now I won’t bore you with the day-to-day itinerary of what I did, but there are a few moments I experienced throughout the few days I was there that were pretty magnificent. First, walking through the city itself is kind of magical. The trees, buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí everywhere, the sun, and just the feeling of the city had an energy that was contagious. Another part of Barcelona I loved was Bunker Hill. It was an old Spanish Civil War bunker that sat on a massive hill overlooking the city, and the view was incredible. It was the city, the ocean, and the sunset, all in one beautiful picture. It was profound and magical and worth running up a large hill for. Later that night we went to a Spanish club—my last highlight of Barcelona. It was a city that made you want to dance and that night we all danced and laughed and tried to ignore the fact that we all had flights the next day taking us away from the beautiful city. Read More »

Share

Bonsoir and Happy Days

Time April 11th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

After a jam packed month filled with many weekends away, I concluded my March trips with a quick stop in Paris where I met up with my sister Hailey and my cousin Erin as they were passing through on their travels. Writing that sounds crazy, that we just “met up in Paris for the weekend,” because how often does that happen? Life is pretty cool.

Throughout the weekend we did the typical Parisian tourist activities; we walked through the Notre Dame, strolled down the Champs-Élysées, ate crepes and macaroons and drank good wine, and we saw the Eiffel tower. But I think my favorite part was just being with family. At night in our AirBnB we would play cards and chat just like we would any other time back at home, and after a few months away from home those moments meant so much.

paris paris2 eifel

And as for the city and Parisians, they’re a lot nicer than the stereotype suggests. We shopped at a French market one morning and all of the vendors were so kind to us. The city is dirty, as they say, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. To be honest, Cardiff is a dirtier city than Paris. Regardless, I recommend spending some time in Paris if you get the chance. There is literally nothing happier than eating a banana and nutella crepe while strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens. Although as hard as it was to say “au revoir” to the city, it was even harder to say goodbye to Hailey and Erin

Another glimpse of home I got recently was a visit from Joe—something I had been counting down the days for. On Wednesday at 2 AM I left my flat for the early bus to London, where I took a second bus to Gatwick airport. After waiting the longest 30 minutes I think I’ve ever waited, I saw Joe coming out of Arrivals and we got our movie like airport reunion. Okay that may be a little dramatic but it was so nice to see him after so long. We took a bus into the city and spent the afternoon in London. Read More »

Share

Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Spring has sprung! And Cardiff is filled with blooming daffodils that are literally everywhere. Each day that I run through Bute Park (gotta counteract all of those Welsh cakes) brings more and more of the bright yellow flowers that are sprouting up everywhere. I’m pretty convinced that by the end of the month I won’t be able to see grass anymore, just daffodils. Speaking of the end of the month, it’s March. Who would have though I’d have made it this far?

Anyways; it’s March, my hair has gotten longer, I’ve turned in three essays, I’ve learned how to make a proper meal, and I’ve gotten to season six of Gilmore Girls. And if you have any intentions of watching Gilmore Girls sans spoilers I suggest that you stop reading this now because I am about to spoil the ending of season five, and I’m deeply sorry for any pain this may cause. Rory is leaving Yale. She’s dropping out. She’s having an existential crisis, doesn’t know what she wants out of life, and is making rash decisions that will have pretty big repercussions in her life.

So you’re probably thinking, Alex, why are you writing about Gilmore Girls? Well I’ll tell you: watching her make these big, monumental decisions made me feel some sort of solidarity with her. Not that I’m dropping out of Drake, or Cardiff, or moving into my grandparents’ pool house, but I’m reaching the point in my semester where I’m questioning what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. I’ve blinked and suddenly I’m halfway done with my time here. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m realizing one distinct fact: four months is not enough time abroad.

I remember my first week here—I was so sick, which made me homesick, which made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. I remember talking to my mom about how many of my friends who went abroad for j-term were just getting home and getting ready to go back to Drake for the semester. I asked her, “Should I have just done that?” She told me no, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t have a whole semester.

Mom, I know you’re reading this and so I’m just going to encourage you to refrain from jumping up and down with glee as I write these three words: you were right. A j-term simply wouldn’t have been enough time. It wouldn’t have given me a chance to get homesick every now and again, to struggle through the tough days where everything seems unfamiliar, and to learn how to be on my own. All of which aren’t always pleasant experiences, but what self-growth comes from easy days and familiarity? A j-term also wouldn’t have been enough time to travel everywhere I want, to see all of the sights that are on my bucket list (which seems to get longer and longer every time I go to cross something off), and to make the friendships that I’m finding myself surrounded by. I’m not even sure four months is enough for all of those things even with every weekend jam-packed with travelling like mine have been, which I will now segue into describing.

The other weekend I left my cozy room in Cardiff to head to the lovely town of Lucerne, Switzerland—a place I fell in love with completely. It was one of those places that make you say “I have to come back here someday.” It had all of my favorite things—mountains, a lake, and really great cheese. The weekend was magical for many reasons, but there are two things in particular that I will probably always think back on with a smile when I reminisce on my trip to Switz: Fasnacht and Mount Rigi.

Fasnacht taught me something about the Swiss people—they are doing something right. It’s a carnival that runs from Thursday to Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday that’s dedicated to eating, drinking, and dressing up in elaborate costumes that put my 20 years of Halloween outfits to shame. Confetti covers the streets where marching bands parade up and down playing music all throughout the night (and at 5:30 on Monday morning because apparently that’s part of the tradition too). Food trucks are everywhere with grilled sausages, raclette cheese, and warm wine. There were people of all ages, all adorned in costumes, and all seemingly having a wonderful time. It was amazing. It was filled with joy, and I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky that my one weekend in Switzerland fell over this carnival.

fasnacht

But it gets better. Ever heard of the Swiss Alps? That was a joke I’m sure you have. Have you ever seen them from across a sparkling lake on a sunny day? I’m bragging now but Katie, Annelise, and I hiked up Mount Rigi and had lunch on a grassy hill with a view that can only be described as a glimpse of heaven. I’m pretty sure I heard the hallelujah chorus to Handel’s “Messiah” as I took a bite out of my prosciutto sandwich.

swiss

My final note on Switzerland is the inspiration for this blogs title “Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM.” I’ve decided that when I’m old and rich and much less spry I am always going to get the most direct mode of transportation everywhere I go. And I say this because Katie and I left our flats at 2 AM to catch our first bus, which took us to London. After, we took a second bus to get us to the airport. We flew. We landed in Zurich, late, and had to find our way through a Swiss train station and figure out how on earth to get to Lucerne. Our trip took 15 hours. That’s all that needs to be said on that.

Another trip that took half a day (literally 12 hours on a bus) was my journey to Scotland. Riley and I left our flat at 6:30 AM and were on a bus for pretty much the rest of the day. We ate dinner that night at a place called “The Boozy Cow” and were so hungry I think we both finished our burgers in under four minutes. On Saturday we went on an all day tour through the highlands, saw loch ness (the lake not the monster), and met a few other girls who were also travelling. We went out with them that night and on a walking tour through Edinburgh with them the following day. Then it was back on a bus for 12 hours, but Scotland was beautiful and the trip was so worth it.

scot

In between Scotland and Switzerland was a weekend trip to Lake District, England planned by IFSA-Butler. The food was delicious, there were mountains abound, we went Ghyll Scrambling, and most of all: it was a trip that I didn’t have to plan a single thing for. I was told when and where to be places and all I had to do was show up and enjoy the weekend, which feels like paradise after a weekend of navigating a 15-hour long puzzle of transportation.

ghyll ld

So I’m at this point in the semester where I’m halfway through and I’m wondering what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. And here’s the answer: I don’t know what I want out of it anymore, but I’m getting something. When I first signed up to come abroad I thought it was going to be all adventures and wild stories but I’m finding it to be more of an educational experience than anything. I’m learning how to travel, how to interact with people who have had completely different upbringings than myself, and I’m learning what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve learned how to travel independently, how to cook a meal, and, thanks to my flat mate Katie, how to say the longest Welsh city, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

So you stuck with me through this odyssey of a post and another small glimpse of my time abroad. Enough realizations about life and such for now—I’m off to go eat more Welsh cakes.
Cheers,

Alex

Share

Normal, Mundane, and Other Synonyms for School

Time February 21st, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

Sometimes you do pretty normal things even on a different continent.

As I said in my very first, pre-departure post, you get a lot of advice before you leave the country. You hear a lot of stories from those who have studied abroad before you and you see pictures and blogs from peers who spent semesters in Spain, Rome, or wherever the wind took them. But here’s the problem: they only tell you about the adventures. The beautiful sunrises they saw over mount-whatever; the fun nightlife in a certain city; the amazing and inspiring people they met. Yet there is a fundamental detail that is left out of all of these tales—studying abroad involves a lot of completely normal moments. No one tells you that you will still binge-watch Gilmore Girls in bed, or that you’ll have quiet nights where you do nothing, or that you actually have to study for the classes you’re taking.

While this seems like a pretty obvious part of being away for an entire semester, it took me two weeks into classes to actually be okay with it. For the first part of my time abroad, I hated any gaps of free time I had in my schedule. I felt like I always needed to be doing something to make my time here valid and worthwhile. If I didn’t do something fun every night, I wasn’t getting the full “abroad” experience. It wasn’t until I was sitting in my Wednesday morning seminar the other week that I had a huge breakthrough—we were discussing the reading we were supposed to have done for class and I sat there not knowing a thing. I didn’t do the reading because I’m a student abroad, and students abroad most certainly don’t need to do the readings. But as I sat in class in a bubble of confusion wondering why pre-Raphaelite art was considered scandalous to upper class Victorian-era citizens I realized a fundamental fact: I came here to take classes because I’m in college. Read More »

Share

Three Cliffs Bay, Bath, Stonehenge, and Snowdonia National Park

Time February 7th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

The other night, I couldn’t sleep. I spent the day doing pretty average stuff; I went for a run, made myself breakfast, walked around the city with some friends, and worked on homework. You couldn’t pick this Monday out of a lineup, but that night I couldn’t sleep. And here’s why: I started to get an itch. A hum in the back of my head. A small little devil-version of me sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Hey Alex, let’s go somewhere.”

It all started with Three Cliffs Bay. It was a day trip my friends and I signed up for that looked like a promising way to spend a Saturday. After a two-hour bus ride we arrived to what I can only describe as a photo out of a National Geographic magazine. The ocean was bright blue and framed by beautiful, magnificent cliffs. We hiked along side the cliffs for a bit, then climbed down a steep slope to the beach. After a few miles up and down the beach, we hiked back up the cliffs and to an old, rustic castle that overlooked the ocean. It ended up being somewhere between eleven and twelve miles of hiking—we were all so tired by the end of it. But every second of the hike was insanely beautiful.

16387184_10207916342097775_3991708008571813486_n 16174905_10207916346377882_1566753570149248555_n Read More »

Share

Classes, Welsh Cakes, and the Great Outdoors

Time January 30th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

As I start this post the first thing I’d like to say is that I love Wales. With all of the emotions I feel on a daily basis here, whenever I’m out and about in the city or walking around on campus the feeling I experience most overwhelmingly is excitement. While the past week and a half have felt somewhat like a dream, the reality of a semester abroad has finally sunk in as classes have begun. I did it. I followed through on accomplishing a goal I set for myself long ago, and made my dreams a reality. Now all I have to do is remember that excitement as classes, and real work, begin.

SO, about those classes. Before leaving for the semester, one of the most common questions I was asked was “Alex, what classes are you taking in Wales?” Well, after months of not knowing and not actually figuring out my schedule until the first real day of classes, I can happily say that I am registered. I’m taking three 20-credit courses, each equivalent to about 6 credits on the U.S. scale. I’m taking a Victorian art class, an environmental politics class, and a class looking at how different countries have developed culturally, environmentally, and economically. While normally I wouldn’t be exactly thrilled for classes to start, I am actually very eager to begin learning and have some of my free time taken up. So far the classes seem promising.

Now onto something more exciting than school… Welsh cakes. This past two weeks in Wales has introduced me to something that has exposed the naivety I hold in my culinary experiences. The gap in my pallet. The type of breakfast pastry that I’m convinced could cure the ill, could put an end to all international disputes, and could bring a grown man to tears. A pastry called a “Welsh cake.” For those who don’t know (like me a week ago), a Welsh cake is somewhat of a cross between a cookie, a pancake, and a scone with chocolate chips or raisins. It’s life changing. In my book, Welsh cakes are right up there with Beyoncé. I’ve gotten them a few times on the way to class, and I got them with some of my flat mates when we went into town together. I have a strong feeling that I’ll have to allocate a chunk of my abroad-budget specifically for Welsh cakes.

To work off all of the Welsh cakes, I’ve taken some time to explore the great outdoors. My favorite spot to run so far is this beautiful bike path that goes alongside the river near my flat. Not only is it a stunning view, but it’s a good break in my day and lets me get some fresh air. On Wednesday, some friends and I went on a night hike with a club on campus alongside the bay. It was actually very random, and the club we went with was really strange. It was about a 4 or 5-mile hike in the dark that went through back wood trails that led to a path on a cliff that overlooked the bay. It was one of those experiences that ended with us asking ourselves “what the hell did we just do?” After warming up at a pub and deliriously laughing about how weird it was, we decided that the experience was worth it.

While the night hike isn’t necessarily something I’d do again, it was the kind of experience I was craving. I needed to get off campus and do something a little random and adventurous that I’ll have good memories from. This weekend we’re headed to Three Cliffs Bay for more hiking, and the following weekend I will visit Stonehenge and Snowdonia National Park. I’m starting to realize that if I go into this semester with the right attitude and continue to do things that push my boundaries, I can shape it into whatever experience I want it to be. Hopefully, I’m able to create a semester that exceeds my expectations. So far, I’m thinking I’ll have no problem doing just that.

 

That’s all I’ve got to say for now.

Cheers,

Alex

Share

From London to Wales

Time January 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Wow, has everything changed! After a long journey from the Minneapolis airport to the Newark airport and finally to the Heathrow airport in London, I can now say that I have hopped over the pond. We arrived in London around 7:30 AM, went through a long customs line, and met with our IFSA-Butler guide. At this point I was feeling so many emotions, but most of all, I was exhausted. I had woken up at 4 AM on Thursday and we landed in the morning on Friday. I managed a 2-hour nap on the flight but surprisingly, plane seats are not to best accommodation for a good night’s sleep. But I didn’t have time to feel tired, because we had landed in London and had a full day ahead of us. I was excited enough to be able to push my tiredness to the side. Read More »

Share

Pre-Departure Advice… For Myself

Time January 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

Hello, and welcome to my little blog of adventures. My name is Alex and I’m a sophomore from Drake University studying abroad in Cardiff, Wales. I leave in two days but that hasn’t really sunk in. I’ve started to say goodbyes, I’ve begun packing, and I’ve also managed to come down with a horrible cold (great timing, too). And although this week feels like every other week, I am about to embark on a journey that will change my life in a profound way that I won’t be able to understand until it has already happened. I think that’s pretty neat.

The past days, weeks, and months have been filled with preparation. But one thing that every student about to go abroad gets lots of is advice. Those who have studied abroad before you will tell you about how incredible their experience was, what you should do when you’re abroad, and of course where you MUST visit. I love hearing what everyone has to say about traveling—I’m a sponge when it comes to taking in travelling tips and knowledge. But I also want to go into this experience with my own goals and some pieces of advice for myself. So here is what I have to say to the future me that’s about to board a plane into five months of uncertainty and excitement:

It’s okay to cry at the airport when you leave your family, just for the love of God make sure you’re wearing waterproof mascara.

Be frugal and wise with budgeting but don’t freak out about money the whole time. It’ll work out just fine.

Take that trip to Greece that you keep saying you will. You packed that swimsuit for something and it’s not just to take up space in your suitcase.

Drink good wine. Eat good cheese. And bread. And pasta.

Try weird local foods that you probably won’t love but it’s all about the experience amiright?

Do something crazy like bungee jumping or cliff jumping, just don’t tell your parents until after you’ve done it and survived (sorry mom and dad).

Speaking of mom and dad, give them a call every once in a while to make sure they know you’re alive.

Buy little souvenirs for yourself and loved ones.

Visit friends who are abroad in different countries, even if you only get the chance to meet up for lunch.

Take pictures. You suck at this. You brought a camera for a reason. USE IT.

Write down things in a journal because no matter how memorable an experience feels, details will become blurry once you’ve been traveling for five months.

Make friends with people from other countries!

And finally, have a blast because you’re only 20 years old in Europe once ya crazy kid.

This post marks the very beginning of a life changing, comfort-zone pushing, and challenging experience. I have no idea what my life is going to look like in a few days–your guess is probably just as good as mine. I hope you stick around to see how it all plays out, it should be an interesting few months!

Share