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

Getting Around By Bus

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by


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I’ve never been more pleased with public transportation than I have been with the bus system in Costa Rica. Instead of a thirty minute walk to class, for fifty cents I can get there in seven. I’ve seen drivers pull over to pick up people standing with their arm out on the side of the road where there wasn’t a designated stop. I’ve been able to go to San Jose, a national forest, and a beautiful waterfall, all through this system. And when someone holding a baby, an elderly person, or a pregnant woman steps on, the handicap seats become instantly available. Not to mention the gorgeous view of the country you get to see along the ride and the support for the national soccer teams on some of the drivers’ dashboards, as pictured here.


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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Philosophical Moments in Neuquen

Time December 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today I’ll be Talking about…

I. Neuquen

II. How to make empanadas

III. Vocabulario

IV. Musica

V. Previous posts

VI. Coming soon


I. Neuquen


I spent the first half of my September spring break in Valparaiso, and then I popped down to Neuquen to visit my friend Yamila who recently graduated from Soka. (1 hour stopover in Mendoza between Valpo and Neuquen—just enough time to brush my teeth in the bathroom and change my shirt. Felt like an absolute BOSS at traveling.) Both were great visits, but I never want to spend that much time on a bus again.


As much as I enjoyed Chile, it still felt so good to be back on Argentine soil. I hadn’t realized until I’d left how much Argentina had become a part of me, and not just in my accented Spanish. Although Neuquen was about 12 hours south of everything familiar to me in Argentina, I knew I was back “home” when I heard Yamila shout, “Che boludo!” in response to being tackled by a friend.


Neuquen probably won’t show up on your list of must-see locations in Argentina—it was pretty quiet—but I’ll say that it was definitely a pretty place. For me, it was the site of a lot of needed reflection on my experiences.


More than anything, it was a relief to reaffirm that I really had learned something about Argentine culture and I understood it now. When I first met her and learned she was from Argentina, it didn’t mean much to me–I had no idea I’d be living there for half a year. She could have just as easily been from Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, or Venezuela as far as I was concerned. So, the reality of her life outside of Soka was a complete mystery to me. Between arriving in Argentina and meeting up with her, I had a secret fear that upon talking to her I’d realize that I hadn’t actually learned “real” Argentine things or that I would have learned the “wrong” Argentine things…but there were no secrets and no mysteries. Her Argentina was the exact same Argentina that I was coming to know and love.


We spent a lot of time discussing what it meant to us to have traveled (while she was at Soka, she did her study abroad in Japan) and what we learned about ourselves in the process. After living in the US and Japan, she’s not purely Argentine anymore, culturally speaking. She lives in some gray zone in between all of them that will never exist on a map. And that’s how I’ve begun to feel too. I want to keep traveling until my body and/or budget force me to stop, I want to surround myself with people who also like and understand traveling, and I want to maintain a worldview that doesn’t cut off at the edge of my backyard.


And I guess that’s some of what they mean when they say you can never go home again.


One night we went to classical music concert, put on at one of the congressional buildings because they still don’t have an official concert hall building. (Yamila plays violin, so she had plenty of opinions about that. However, she’s also one of few Argentines I’ve talked to who actually likes la presidenta Cristina Krischner.)


By far, my favorite thing we did together was to sit on the bank of the river where she goes swimming every summer, sipping mate.


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A close second was making empanadas in her kitchen.


However, neither of the high points of Neuquen beat the moment when I came home to Mendoza. GLORY HALLELUJAH I’M OFF THE BUS. (Too bad the next weekend was the one I went to Cordoba—another long bus ride.) Because I got off the bus with a great big green backpacking backpack, hostel representatives came flocking to me, trying to sell me a night in one of their beds.


“Thanks, but I don’t need a hostel,” I said to one of them.


“Why not?”


“I live here, che!”


II. How to make empanadas


I think the recipe on this website explains it better than I can myself right now.  (I tend to use more hand gestures than words when explaining how to cook.) But I can offer you a couple of additional tips.


-Empanadas can be fried or baked, depending how unhealthy you want to be. Both are pretty simple—common sense, once you’ve read through these directions, but if you want to be very precise about it you can Google around and find exact temperature settings, how long to leave it in etc. (After using my host mom’s Oven of Death to make mother’s day cookies, I’ve kind of given up on precision.)


-You can also get pre-made dough if you don’t want to make it from scratch. Here in Argentina, you just buy the little circles of dough at the store. At home, flattened Pilsbury biscuits give you that flaky, buttery goodness.


-This bears mentioning again, even though it’s also included in the linked recipe: use water each time you want the dough to stick to itself. That’s the only real trick to it.


– Once you start using other fillings, you’re departing the territory of “authentic” empanadas, but if you like to cook and experiment, I say go for it. There’s not much that wouldn’t be delicious tucked inside an empanada. Here in Argentina, I’ve mostly seen beef (Chile has almost the exact same thing, which they call “pino” and includes hardboiled egg and one whole olive) but you can also find capresse, cheese, ham and cheese, chicken… etc. Once, back home in New Mexico, I had a sweet one with a sugary glaze on top and pumpkin inside. Let your stomach be your guide.


-That said, I wouldn’t recommend using salami as a filling. We attempted it and, although they were still tasty, it did a weird textural thing after we fried them.


III. Vocabulario


           Lomo – I believe I’ve told you a bit about this word once before. Well, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It can refer to a) a cut of meat, usually in a sandwich, always delicious. b) A hot bod. c) Un lomo de burro, a speed bump. Turns out it’s because that cut of meat is off the rump reason, which is where all 3 uses come from.


Lloviznar – raining lightly (sprinkling, drizzling)


IV. Musica



In honor of Yamila’s Spanish-Japanese culture shock and its intersection with mine, here’s a song about a guy getting his Latin dance on in a Japanese city.


V. Previous posts

1. Antes de que me voy  Before I Leave 

2.  Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation

3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”  

4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires

5. Looking Good, Mendoza!  

6. A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro 

7. Trip to Las Termas

8. Daily life in Mendoza

9. Habia una vez en los Andes… 

10. Night of the Soccer Game 

11. Road Trip! 

12. My Mate for Life 

13. Ringo vs. Chuck Norris 

14. Pros and Cons 



VI. Coming soon

The Student’s Life
Trabajo Voluntario
Rafting in San Rafael

Chile Part II
The return to BA

Mar del Plata

A few tips on hostels

Reverse culture shock

Goals – accomplishments and compromises



A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro

Time August 29th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Today I’ll be talking about:

I. How to catch a bus

II. How not to catch a bus


IV. Musica

V. Links to Previous Posts


The buses were the thing I was most afraid of before arriving in Mendoza. Public transportation just stresses me out, always has. But the buses here are very manageable once you work it out. It’s a little chaotic–taking the bus is an art, not a science–but it’s easy enough, and it’s a fast and cheap way to get around.


I. How to catch a bus


You’ll hear all of this information at orientation, but I’ll tell you about it too.


First, you’re going to need to get a RedBus* card, unless you want to pay exact change for each bus ride. (And considering that change does not seem to exist in this country, you’re gonna want to get the card.) The card costs about $A 3 at almost any kiosco. There will be signs on the kiosco advertising RedBus. You can recharge that card as many times as you want—they also do that at kioscos. To use it, you just wave it in front of the sensor inside the bus. Easy.


The second thing, which is a bit more complicated, is to figure out which bus you need. There are two important numbers, the group number (1-9 are most common) and the bus number. The buses are also color coded: all group 3 buses are yellow, 5’s are green, etc. You can look up the bus routes (to see which numbers go where you need to go) online, but you can also ask your host family or even IFSA. I got really lucky and the last girl who stayed with my host mom left me a list of all the buses I need. Whoever stays with Susy next will also inherit that sucker! It’s been a life saver. But I’m also really excited that, after being here a month, I don’t really need it anymore.


Now you wait for a while. The buses are generally pretty timely (every half hour)…but it takes a little luck. The buses can arrive late, and once or twice I’ve even been on a bus that has broken down. Time to wait again. So, it never hurts to have a book on hand.


When you see a bus, it’s time to be aggressive, B-E aggressive! If there’s any chance it could be your bus–because the group number is large but the bus number is tiny–go fast and stick your arm out like you mean it. As in, get in the road (but don’t get run over!) GO!


Hop on and hang on. Try to give yourself two free hands if you can to steady yourself, because it can be a bumpy ride. Keep your purse close to you while you’re on the bus, preferably in front of you. Everyone’s heard the horror stories about bus pick pocketing.


When you get close to your stop (or streets you recognize) get moving to the back where the button to stop is located. Again, be fast, be aggressive. Be aware of acequias and traffic as you’re getting off.


Bus accomplished.


II. How not to catch a bus


The collective wisdom from my friends and me:


Two things you need to know:


1) the routes are not circles but lines. If you miss your stop, the bus will not loop back around to it eventually. It’s going to the bus depot.


2) WHERE you catch the bus matters, because buses go in more than one direction. Great example: when trying to get to or from Cuyo, OJO, because I know of at least three #3-33 buses, and they all go to very different places.


If you do get on the wrong bus, try not to panic. Some way or other, it’ll work out. If you haven’t gone very far/you see non-sketchy streets you recognize, get off and get another bus. If you’re in a scary looking part of town and have no idea where you are, DO NOT GET OFF THE BUS. Just let the bus take you to the depot. Explain your situation to the driver and they’ll help you out, especially if you look foreign and terrified.


Bonus tip: Try to keep an eye on your phone minutes so that, in the event of bus mishaps, you can let your host family know you’re not dead, just delayed.


When in doubt, ask the driver if the bus goes to/passes/goes near the street you’re trying to get to BEFORE YOU GET ON. I have seen other Argentines do it too, FYI. Everyone gets confused by the buses.


Most importantly, enjoy the journey. The micro system is a little confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s totally manageable. If you get lost, laugh it off. It happens to just about everyone eventually. Call it part of the adventure.





*Red – network

Tarjeta – card

Parrada – bus stop

Micro = omnibus (omni for short) = colectivo

Subir – Get on

Bajar – get off

Tropezar – to trip



IV. Musica

Going with the theme of confusion and getting lost, pleas enjoy this song, courtesy of the one and only Jose.


Senal que te he perdido – Adres Calamaro


V. Links to Previous Posts


1. Antes de que me voy (Before I Leave)

2.  Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation

3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”

4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires

5. Looking Good, Mendoza!


how to ride the bus!

Time April 18th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hopefully with these directions, you’ll be all good to go with the buses (known as micros) when you get to Mendoza! 😀

I’ve shared this clip before, but this video illustrates the funny differences between the US (Europe in the video) and Argentina (represented by Italy). Our program director actually introduced the video during orientation and I thought it was too funny. 1:36 makes the point about buses.

1. Find your bus. This sounds simple, I know, but it’s quite complicated. First, you have to figure out the number that corresponds to where you’re headed. Say you’re going back to your house, and your bus is in the 5 group. Then you have to walk down the street to find a bus stop with a big 5 on it.


not my photo, but basically what some buses here look like


2. Next comes the WAITING. This is the worst part. The bus schedules (they have “schedules” online, but only use the source to get a rough idea of the time) simply don’t correspond with the arrival of the bus. Rarely, they’ll arrive early, or even on time. 99.9% of the time, they’ll be late. The average wait time spans from 10 minutes to an hour. Which may not make sense considering how fast the buses go down the streets and usually manages to escape traffic.

3. After much waiting, you see a number 5, which means the bus is in your group, but then you have to check the small number on the front left hand corner of the bus to make sure it’s going to your destination. Let’s say your bus number is 52. But by the time you can make out the tiny 52 written on the window, the bus speeds on by. Too late!

4. Luckily, another 52 bus approaches you. Flag it down! (be warned: when the buses are too full, the driver will just pass you!)

5. GET ON THE BUS. The bus driver won’t stop completely to make sure you’re on, so once you have a foot on the first step, hold on tight!

6. You must swipe your card at the front of the bus, but you have to hold it in a certain way. A magnetic chip inside the card will beep, then the machine will print out a receipt of how much money you have left on your card. But you have to do this super fast, as the bus will be going at a crazy speed any second and there will be people behind you, all impatient.

7. I was wrong about step 2. THIS is kinda the worst part. You have to squeeze past people to find a suitable place to stand. Unfortunately, there won’t be seats left and there will be so many people that you’ll be forced to stand in the middle, knees bent, one arm guarding your belongings, attempting to maintain SOME balance during the ride (many curves and bumps), and trying to breathe. The bars are too high on the bus so no one can even hold on to them for dear life. Brace yourself, and try not to bump into other passengers too much!

8. You see your stop. How to get off? You have to make your way over to the back of the bus, press a buzzer, then get ready to hop off. SIGH. Fresh air!

*Lesson learned: Plan accordingly! You should always be prepared to have something to do (book, ipod, etc). Lots of waiting around and frustration are to be expected.