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The Less You Look, The More You Find

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | 2 Comments by

If there is anything I’ve learned from Costa Rica thus far it is that, as the title states, the less you look, the more you find. This gorgeous rainbow was spotted on a walk in Monteverde. On many other occasions since being here I’ve seen nature’s beauty when I least anticipated it. One example is when I saw a troop of white-faced monkeys while on a walk back from a waterfall or a Basilisk (also known as a Jesus Lizard) while looking for the source of water from the pool I was in. Moving forward I suppose I should expect the unexpected.

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Week One (Primera Semana): Maintaining Sonrisas

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

My Cuban host father picked me up in a black Led Zeplin t-shirt and what appeared to be a pair of new, dark-brown Timberland’s. His wife, my new host mom, emerged from behind him, a giant, welcoming smile — “sonrisa” (I love this word because it sounds like they refer to smiles as sunrises) — in tow. I ran to them and awkwardly planted the traditional Cuban-one-kiss-greeting on their cheeks as we embraced. This is mi familia for the next four months, along with their twenty-five year old daughter, Nelli, and two adorable dogs: Sombra (Shadow) and some other name I have yet to make out (it starts with a “C” I think, but only those with an ear for the Cuban accent can confirm, which is not me — at least, not yet).

I live in the most amazing old casa. The ceilings are so high I get dizzy looking at them, the long halls are stacked with painting after painting (in which I find a new detail each time I pass), and the sound of birds chirping on the red-budded tree outside the stain glass window in our room greets my roommate and I each morning. I am immediately filled with questions about how a family living off of the equivalent of twenty dollars a month can afford such a beautiful home, but maybe it is government owned or maybe they are able to afford it because they are paid so much to host us (and in the past, tourists). And what are the homes of other Cubans like? I want to ask about my host dad’s job with the radio station — whether he can broadcast whatever he wants or only what the government tells him — and I want to ask my host mom about being a woman in Cuba and what she has done with the prestigious, free education she has benefitted from. I want to know the word for every foreign object and type of food, the instructions on how to unlock the front door (I’ve been fumbling with that), and the biographies of every human who seems to come and go daily from this big ol’ house. Most of these are questions that I expect to either find out the answer to myself in the coming days, or questions that I feel can only be asked after a close, trusting relationship has been formed. My host padre has already said that he is here to answer any and all of our questions — just not to comment on politics. We’ll see. Read More »

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Home-stay Weekend

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

January 20th-22 I stayed with a Scottish family! This is one of the many cool aspects of studying abroad with ifsa-butler. I was very excited for this adventure! It brings a unique aspect to studying abroad. One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad was in order to be fully immersed in the culture. Seeing an average weekend of a Scottish family is the perfect way to experience the culture!

On Friday I was picked up and the family provided a wonderful pasta dinner! It was so nice to have a home cooked meal! I was also greeted by the most adorable kitten named pickles! I have two cats back home and it was great to actually pet and hold a cat. Surprisingly, it made me a little less homesick. After that we sat and talked with the host mom for several hours! She was engaging and had a lot of great stories to tell! We were up until 1am talking about all sorts of things! There was never a dull moment in the conversation. It felt like being at home with my mom! It was comforting to feel at home in a foreign place.

pic_10211070 pickles the cat Read More »

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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 »

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Academics Away from America

Time February 2nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

Academics Abroad: The reason why you chose the country/program you chose. The most important thing about studying abroad, the studying! And yes, I still focus on school while I’m abroad having fun, but going through IFSA-Butler made it so much easier.

Prior to leaving: I had no idea where to go. I knew I had to make sure I would still graduate on time, since I had not planned to go abroad (again). I knew I had two psychology classes and statistics that I needed specifically, and two electives. I made many phone calls and emails to the IFSA staff once I had chosen Ireland, wondering how many classes Irish students take (typically 6, or a lightened course load of 5). I knew I needed Tulsa to approve the classes before I left. I had Tulsa approve 8 classes with the help of the IFSA staff and their syllabus bank, and contacting a professor as statistics can have prerequisites and as a sophomore I was planning on taking the senior-level cognitive psychology class! Ah! Luckily they had previous students take the psychology classes that had passed the class. Statistics was still in the air, but we would see when I got here.

While here: I got to meet the other 15 IFSA students here. Luckily, I had students in both of my psych classes, and one of my electives, Celtic Mythology! As I went to my first sociology lecture, I realized it wasn’t for me, but here at NUIG there is a two-week add/drop period. I contacted Ashley, the IFSA rep, and asked for help to switch into Celtic Archeology, another elective class that had many IFSA students in it. She easily helped me and I emailed the international office here to get a course outline, to email back to Tulsa! And within a few days Tulsa had approved it too, yay! The only thing left in the air was statistics, so I waited after the first lecture to introduce myself to the professor, who was incredibly kind. He said that last semester half of his class got high honors (basically an A) and he wanted to help me achieve that. His office was open Monday – Wednesday for tea and help, gave me two class representatives to ask, and the campus resources and the hours that they have statistics tutors. I knew I could succeed in such a positive environment (he also passes around candy each class, so that was a perk). After the two-week add/drop period, we had to register online to get Blackboard and register with IFSA. Ashley came to campus to help us through the process – wow! Read More »

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How I Kept Cool Before Studying Abroad

Time February 1st, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Studying and living abroad was a dream that I’ve had for as long as I can remember, but as my date of departure for the University of Glasgow crept closer, I found that my excitement for living in Scotland was overtaken by my worries about leaving. What classes will I take there? Will I make any friends? What am I going to do when I inevitably miss home? How am I supposed to fit my entire winter/spring wardrobe into one suitcase??? For me, the best way to combat these haunting questions was to make the most of my time with my family and friends, who provided me with the comfort and support that I needed to keep cool.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-52-39-pm Read More »

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Voice From Beyond (or perhaps not quite that yet)

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

Hi again! It’s been a little while since my last post, but this is just to say that I’m alive and, um, doing. I’d say doing well, but at the moment I’m currently struggling with what is probably the flu. I’d like to say this has lent me a lot of time for introspection, but really, it’s just been kinda gross all around. Still, I have some awesome stories from before I landed myself with a cold, so I’ll share them now to valiantly ignore my current well-being.

Last weekend I got the chance to head back into London for couple days, to visit my friends Rebecca and Miranda! They’re also on the IFSA program, just at Kings College in London instead of out here in Norwich with me. We had promised each other many adventures together, and we did our best to start that. Rebecca spearheaded this weekend’s charge. Our target? The Magical Lantern Festival, out in some middle-of-nowhere park in London. As a newbie to the tube, I was wholly reliant on the solid one week of experience my friends had to guide me around. I’m honestly surprised we didn’t get lost. I was half-expecting to be like, one of those ghosts just doomed to eternally wander the London underground without ever reaching my destination. I have it on good authority that that’s a thing. That, and apparently the story behind the “mind the gap” voice guy will make you cry every time you hear it.

So we made it out to Chittiwick Gardens (the spelling of that may or may not be atrocious), and after some fruitless wandering and then defeatedly asking a friendly passerby for directions. Once we were finally there, though, it was worth it. The Magical Lantern Festival definitely lived up to its name, with displays of cultures from all across the world rendered in brightly-lit cables and sculptures that stretched across the lawns. I got myself a mulled wine to keep my hands warm, and wandered among designs that showcased the entire Aladdin cast to a rendition of a giant masted galley ship in bright blue and white lights. For lack of a better word, it was a magical night.

The following morning, I had to go back to Norwich, but I wasn’t in too much of a rush. Plus, morning by college standards more or less means any time before dark. We spent a little time wandering Hyde Park, and then went off and had afternoon tea at a tiny little french cafe that made me feel horribly underdressed on principle. It was a wonderfully British experience.

Anyway, all good things must come to an end, and it’s not like Norwich doesn’t have its own appeal as well. I came back to campus, went to class, got the chance to do a little pub exploring (the Adam and Eve pub is apparently over a thousand years old, which amazes me), and visited the beautiful Norwich Cathedral as well. I’ll tell you more stories later; right now, I’ve got a cold to beat.

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People of Glasgow: Hannah

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

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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

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Sunrise Leaving Boston

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

pic-1-airplane-window-sunset

 

Today has been a mix of every emotion from aching sadness to nervous excitement to an eerie calm. With my bags packed, goodbyes said, and tears fallen, I feel prepared. There’s nothing left to do now but get a good night’s sleep and take a leap of faith into the unknown. My excitement has faded as reality has hit that tomorrow is the day I’ve been waiting for for the past 5 months. Now I’ll be spending that amount of time in another country at another university in another language. And I’ve never felt more ready for it than I do right now.

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Colombian charm: an introduction to my travel blog

Time January 25th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 1 Comment by

It is difficult to believe that it has already been over two weeks since I left the United States behind for six months of traveling through South America and studying in Valparaiso, Chile. Although there has been plenty to write about, I have been hesitant to start this blog documenting my study abroad experience until now. Admittedly, part of that decision was motivated by how often Colombian whiskey has impaired my ability to put pen to paper over the few weeks. But, more importantly, I am unsure how to document my travels in a way that is compelling, not only to my friends and family but to people who do not have a personal interest in my journey abroad.

In a world so deeply divided by greed and hatred, my hope for this blog is that I am able to write about my travels in a way that encourages people to understand and celebrate our differences as people with the recognition that they are greatly outnumbered by our similarities. I believe that the primary responsibility of the modern writer should be to restore faith in the power of our human solidarity to reach across divisions of race, religion, gender or ideology to bring peace and prosperity. Read More »

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Pre-Departure (Antes de Cuba)

Time January 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

I wake to tiny flickering lights tens of thousands of feet below me; a warm glow reflecting off the oval window pane and into my eager eyes. I’ve always loved flying, ever since I was a little kid. Christmas flights to Nana’s house in Arizona were arguably something I looked forward to more than the holiday itself (shh, don’t tell Nana that). I loved the people watching in the airport, the order and poise of the flight attendants — rulers of their own little, tight-squeezed floating worlds — the dainty plane snacks, and the chance to have a Shirley Temple, which was always quite the treat in my household. But mostly, what I loved and continue to love is the perspective one gets from hurtling hundreds of miles an hour, soaring high above the world. The moment when everything I know to be true vanishes into indistinguishable dots and I realize how small everything actually is, and in turn, how small I actually am — I live for that moment.

The lights now dancing in my eyes make up the city of Miami, where I’ll be staying the night before leaving for a semester abroad in [drumroll………………..] Havana, Cuba. The most common question I get when I tell people that is “Why? Why Cuba?” There are lots of easy answers I sometimes choose to respond with: as an International Politics and Economics major with a minor in Global Health, I really have nowhere better to explore my interests than a country with a very complicated and unique political and economic history and one of the best public healthcare systems in the world; I want a host family and a challenge with language, not a semester of partying in Spain where I would no-doubt speak English in my apartment with my friends; I need to study abroad somewhere where the semesters align with my Middlebury semesters, as I have that important end-all-be-all-almighty-determiner-of-future-junior-summer internship, meaning that while I adore Chile, that’s out of the question; etc. But in reality, I have chosen Cuba for the same reason I enjoy flying: I chose the experience that I believed would provide me with the most drastic change in perspective. I want to remember how tiny I am in this world, but how capable I am at the same time, how different viewpoints change the way history, policy, and social norms are perceived and taught, and how real human connections, not the wifi connection on my iPhone, are what matter most in this world. Alas, Cuba. Read More »

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Discovering Scotland by Night

Time January 23rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

There is beauty everywhere you look in Scotland — the stunning hills surrounding Stirling, the architecture of Glasgow, and the historical sights of Edinburgh are all breathtaking during the day, but Scotland truly comes alive at night. These pictures were taken mostly on the first few nights of orientation in Edinburgh. I definitely recommend walking along the Royal Mile at night; it was surprisingly calm and it was nice to be able to explore Edinburgh Castle up close without crowds!

Edinburgh Christmas Carnival

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Even though we arrived in Edinburgh on January 2nd, the Christmas Carnival was still in full swing! There were lots of rides and food stands to celebrate the holidays and the new year.

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My First Week

Time January 23rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

My first week abroad was mixed with so many different emotions! I honestly think that I felt every emotion possible this week. I was excited to move into my dorm and see how everything was set up. I was surprised to see that I had my own bathroom and shower right in my room! I was so happy to finally unpack my bags! Living out of a suitcase was really  drag and it was starting to get to me.

The day after I moved in I got to meet my flatmates. I was very nervous about this because I really hoped that I would like them all. I was so delighted because all of my flatmates were wonderful! It was amazing how all of us just clicked and instantly got along! One of my biggest fears before studying abroad was that I would not get along with my flatmates. Luckily, all of my concerns went away after meeting them! I must say that I feel lucky to have been placed in such a wonderful flat with amazing people.

Unfortunately, on Sunday night I started to feel regret. I began to feel as if I had made the wrong decision to study abroad. I kept thinking that it would just be easier if I was home in my usual routine. I could be at home with my family and friends enjoying life the way it was. I was feeling so down that I even looked up how much it would cost to fly home. I had only been in Scotland a few days and I was already missing home. Even though everything was going right, I felt that my decision to leave was wrong. I went through this inner struggle most of the day on Sunday. Then I was watching the sunset and my feelings started to change. I was walking outside and the sunset had been perfectly placed behind a tree. The branches were lit up by the sun and in that moment I felt complete peace. I knew in my heart that studying abroad was the right thing to do. In my life I will never get to experience anything like this again! I felt a type of tranquility that I’ve never felt before. It was like something was telling me that I had nothing to worry about.

16114442_1351103798243184_1814365309122428851_n Here’s the image of the sunset behind the tree

Once I actually started classes my week started to get even better! I’ve always liked school and part of studying abroad is learn things that I may not learn any other way. In my classes I was even happier with my adventure whilst studying abroad! I felt that my life began to be structured which was missing from the trip so far. Now that things were starting to get settled I’m very happy with my decision to study abroad! Even though I struggled to be where I’m at now, it was worth it.

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Adventure to Cork

Time January 23rd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | 2 Comments by

Here I am, a mid-west girl adventuring around Ireland! Booking my first bus ride around the country (8am…probably not the best decision), booking my first hostel, and marking off items on my first checklist, here are some pictures from my two days in Cork!

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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 »

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The First Week

Time January 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

Hey guys! My name is Kate Leahy and I’m a sophomore Speech-Language Pathology Major studying at the University of Tulsa. I’m from St. Louis, MO and excited to spend my semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway! Follow my journey as I explore this beautiful city, some of the country, and hopefully a few other adventures around Europe.

One week in Galway, Ireland includes departure, a city tour, trying to find campus, good food, live music, trying Guinness for the first time(!!!), getting lost (at least) four times, exploring down the coast, and making new friends! Read More »

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Weary Arrival (England, Spring 2017)

Time January 12th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Hi everyone! Spencer here, and I’m to be one of IFSA-Butler’s Spring 2017 bloggers.

First off, apologies for not posting sooner. I arrived in England (Heathrow, to be exact) early on the morning of the ninth, coming off from a fresh snowstorm back home in Massachusetts and about half an hour of sleep nabbed on the plane ride over. I meant to post before coming, but things ended up happening so fast that I lost track of time and wifi faster than I anticipated. I’ll give you a brief overview of my feelings pre-departure now: panic (did I remember to pack everything?), excitement (accents, yes please), and restlessness (enough of things about to happen, let’s get to the things happening part). Thankfully, once transportation actually started all of that faded into the background as I tried not to look too helplessly lost.

Given that I arrived in London at the same time as the tube system workers were going on strike, travel into the city and to the St. Giles Hotel promised to be… interesting. My flight was due into Terminal 3, the same location as the group flight, only about half an hour ahead of them. Originally, this meant nothing – I was to make my own way into the city and meet everyone else there. Thankfully, the IFSA-Butler team reacted quickly to the news of the tube strike and instead of panicking I got to hitch a ride with the coach the group flight was on instead. I still spent three hours in the airport waiting due to a delay, but everything ended well, and more importantly I got some coffee. Then came orientation.

First off, London is huge, and moving around feels not unlike moving through the centuries at times. Building styles changed rapidly as the coach took us deeper into the city, ranging from more modern cement-block-of-gloom types to buildings that’d seem right at home 300 years back. It was exciting to watch the change from out the window, and a welcome distraction to keep my eyes from closing of their own accord. The hotel where we were staying at was more modern than some, and built with the high cost of space in the city in mind (politely, the rooms were a cozy size. Less politely… well, I had a bed. I’ll count my blessings). We had a run-down on safety and emergency and contact procedures for IFSA-Butler over the next couple days, a guided tour of London, and a lot of free time for those who could keep their eyes open after seven without keeling over from jetlag. Pub life is everything you might imagine it’d be; I had a porter and Fish&Chips and felt very British.

Yesterday, I came to UEA. The train ride (while squeaky) was efficient and comfortable, and the countryside sped by in shades of green, grey, and sheep. I arrived a little before noon, caught a glimpse of Norwich – which along with being absolutely gorgeous apparently has a castle in the middle of it – and then started to move into my flat. Haven’t met my flatmates yet, but it should be interesting when I do get around to it. The room itself is nice and the kitchen looks good, so that’s a plus. I’m living with the U.K. equivalent of freshmen, so that’s a… something to deal with as it comes. I had a bit of sorting out to do classes-wise, but everything is a lot more settled now, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of campus with every passing day. East Anglia is quite modern, and quite pretty, and promises to have everything I could want so long as I’m willing to look for it.

I’ll end on that note for now. The rabbits here are as large as some cats I’ve seen back home. I worry about an uprising, but comfort myself with the knowledge that I probably won’t be the first to go.

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Pre-Departure Jitters

Time January 11th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Fall semester came and went faster than I could blink. I told myself that I would not focus on studying abroad so that I could enjoy the fall semester! Once the semester ended, I decided to wait until after Christmas before focusing on study abroad. Since most of my gifts were focused around travel, I was forced to think about the drastic change that’s going to happen in my life. I started to think about the fact that I need to try and see everybody before I left. My schedule began to fill up. Looking back, I think I only had one day where I didn’t have plans with somebody or some type of appointment. Part of me wishes that I would’ve had more days to myself, but in the long run I’m happy that I was able to say goodbye before I left. In some ways it was easier to cope with leaving since I was able to see everybody!

I have traveled internationally for my whole life, but I’ve never done it alone. Something just seemed so ominous about doing it all on my own. Nobody to watch my things if I need to go to the restroom or quickly buy something to eat. There will also be nobody to comfort me if I get stressed out. There’s something about being with my parents that makes me feel safer. Even if they’re in an airport they’ve never been to it’s like they know their way around. I’m going to airports that are quite large and I’ve never been to them! I’m hoping that I can navigate my way through effectively.

Even though these thoughts go through my head I know that studying abroad is the right choice. I know that even though everything before seems scary it will be worth it in the end! I’m excited and ready to start my adventure abroad!

 

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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!

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Pre-Departure Video Blog

Time January 9th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

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Time January 9th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, Ireland, Scotland | No Comments by

After officially being home for two weeks, I decided that it was time to write my final blog about coming home. There were many things I missed while I was abroad. The number one thing, of course, was my family. Christmas was even sweeter, especially after missing Thanksgiving. Funnily enough, the second was Dunkin Donuts iced coffee! During customs and baggage claim, I was lucky (and spoiled) enough to have my parents get me my normal Medium Iced Coffee with Caramel Swirl and Cream from the Dunkin at JFK. Thirdly, I’ve missed my friends. Many of them I kept in constant contact with during my semester away but others it had been awhile since we had talked. Either way, we fell back together like we always do and it was comforting. Read More »

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Final Thoughts: Post Studying Abroad

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, Ireland | No Comments by

Happy New Year!

It’s easy to go into the New Year with the frameset of “new year, new me”, and as I greet 2017, I’m optimistic about diving headfirst into my professional and personal goals for the year.

2016 was a hard year. I know personally that I’ve been struggling to attempt to clarify exactly who I am, and what I want to do with my life and how to move forward to reach a point where I’m happy.

But indubitably, I can point to studying abroad as being the highlight of my year and an experience I’ll treasure for years to come, for a variety of reasons.

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Traveling Tips: Things I Wish I Knew

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Hello all,

I’m currently writing from Chicago, Illinois as I have returned home after my absolutely wonderful semester abroad. After my Michaelmas term at Oxford ended, I spent two weeks traveling around Europe with my friends. Prior to studying abroad, most of my traveling was with my family. It is an entirely different experience to travel with peers. There are many important decisions to make and rather than simply following my parents, it was on me to determine the best course of action. Prior to my semester abroad through IFSA-Butler, I would have considered myself a novice traveler. However during my study abroad experience, I saw eight different countries, navigated the public transportation system of foreign nations, and learned to communicate despite language barriers. I honestly learned just as much while traveling as I did during the academic term. The following are some tips that I noted during my adventures:

  1. Know the measurements of your suitcase. Even if your suitcase is always allowed as a carry-on for various American airlines, it may be too large for certain European airlines. Either take a picture of the original tag of the bag or look up the exact suitcase online and write down its exact measurements. Additionally, while traveling it is really important to fully understand the luggage requirements of the specific airline. Sometimes the flight may be cheaper but they may charge for carry-on luggage and with the extra charger, that flight may become more expensive than the second cheapest option. Another important thing to consider is that it is often cheaper to purchase baggage online rather than at the airport, so if you expect to pay for your bag try and pay for it earlier rather than later.
  2. Bring locks. Locks are really useful if you plan on staying in hostels because many of them have lockers available. I brought a lock for my suitcase (that is TSA approved of course) and one for my backpack. One of the biggest tips I received was to be wary of pickpockets so whenever I traveled I kept everything locked. Then when I arrived at our hostel, I would take the lock off the suitcase, put the suitcase inside, and then use the lock for the locker.
  3. Carry a filtered water bottle. First, look up whether your country’s tap water is safe for drinking. If I determined that tap water was safe, I would fill up my Brita-filtered waterbottle. This was not only convenient for having water on hand, it ended up being a cost-saving measure. I found that many restaurants would only provide bottled water and they will subsequently charge to your bill.
  4. Don’t overuse the currency exchange. It is important to remember that every time you exchange currency, you are losing money. I found that in the beginning I was overestimating how much cash I would need at each location. It is really helpful to get a credit card that does not have international transaction fees. I figured this out prior to leaving the U.S. and found it incredibly valuable. With this kind of credit card, I learned that I really did not need too much cash. By the end of my trip I was only taking out a little bit of cash and reserved it for things I knew I couldn’t pay for with card such as cabs and small food stands.
  5. Protect your passport. While I advise against carrying your passport everywhere, I also advise against leaving it in anywhere that might not be secure. If the hostel I was staying at had a locked locker, I felt comfortable leaving my passport. Otherwise I kept it within an zipped inside pocket in my jacket. It is definitely the most important thing you have and by far the most difficult thing to replace. A good rule of thumb is that at any point in the day, any day of the week you should be able to say where your passport is currently located.
  6. Google Maps is great for public transportation. Using public transportation is such a great way to save money. Furthermore, it is much easier than I ever anticipated. Google Maps worked in every city I was in and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Additionally, I found that in places such as train stations and bus stations it is relatively easy to find someone who speaks English and they can tell you exactly what kinds of tickets to purchase. Google Maps not only tells you which bus or train to take, it also tells you the time it will arrive and when the next one is coming. Furthermore, you can download a city to your saved “offline” locations and then you can use Google Maps without any wifi or data.

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An English Thanksgiving

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Thanksgiving is consistently one of my favorite times of the year. It comes at a very stressful time during the semester, so it’s always so nice to go home for a week, be spoiled by my parents, and eat comfort food. I completely forgot that the English don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (understandably so) and come September I realized that for the first time in my life I would be celebrating the holiday away from my family.

Initially, I was really nervous – truthfully more than I expected to be. My parents even offered to fly me home for the long weekend because my tutorials on Monday/Tuesday allowed me to do so without missing anything important. However, I declined their kind offer because I felt that a part of being abroad is to adapt to new, potentially uncomfortable situations. Being away from my family on a day that I have never been without them definitely fell into this category. Read More »

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