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

Life After Abroad

Time May 22nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Ireland | No Comments by

Wow, I never thought this day would come. I was so back-and-forth on going abroad in the first place, I never thought that I would go and miss it so much. The only thing that’s getting me through being back in The States is knowing that I will go back to Ireland one day and show my loved ones around.

Looking back, there were many challenges. Adjusting at the beginning of the semester to a new country, seeing my friends go back to school and having FOMO from parties, figuring my way around a new city, new school, and new grading system, finding a balance between time by myself and with friends (as it was my first time living in an apartment), learning how to cook, the list could go on and on. But the challenges were little speed bumps. They were hard for a day or maybe even a week, but I was over them in no time. I knew how temporary this semester was going to be.

One of the first weeks I sat down and wrote out all of the weekends I had in Ireland. Then I added the two IFSA trips, a few travels of my own, and I realized how short the semester would actually be. Thinking about it being so temporary made missing out on fraternity parties and tailgates much easier – especially when I was traveling around Ireland or the rest of Europe! Read More »


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.

Read More »


Pre-Departure Thoughts

Time January 8th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | 1 Comment by

What’s up? My name is Connor and this semester I will be studying at The University of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland.

I’ll start this thing off by giving you a little bio on myself.  I’m a junior and an Economics major at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Originally, I’m from Middletown, New Jersey (shout out the 732) which is a big town located a few miles in land of the northern Jersey Shore.

I’m very excited for what the next four months has in store for me.  Returning to the country that my grandparents emigrated from to study in the city in which they were born is a dream come true.  I have always taken great pride in my Irish heritage; that is something that has been instilled in me since I was as a child.  Therefore, it has always been a goal of mine to return “back home” as my grandparents, Rita (Siobhan) and George Ryan, say.

I’m unsure of how to feel before I leave. I don’t know what to expect therefore I haven’t really conjured many expectations, which I think may be a good thing.  However, I do know that I am excited and anxious to submerse myself in the Irish culture.  I look forward to meeting with family and friends throughout my stay in the Emerald Isle.  In addition, I plan to visit some of the very same landmarks/locations that my grandparents grew up around, which I will display throughout my blog as I make my way.  On top of all that, I’d love to make a few trips to other European countries and see what they have to offer.

As this is the first time I will truly be on my own (other than being two and a half hours away from home when at F&M),  I hope to learn and grow both intellectually and culturally.  This should be one hell of a ride… Stay tuned!

‘Til next time,






Easter in Eastern Europe

Time April 20th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Ok confession time, I had every intention of posting a separate blog post about every city we visited over spring break but alas, the real world happened and I just didn’t have the time (or the internet connection) to be able to post as frequently as I wanted. But fret not! I am back in beautiful Cardiff with a steady Internet connection and a laptop that I know will not let me down on the posting front. Instead of a post for every city I’m going to do a little bit of condensing, but I think I’ve got it all organized! Without further adieu I give you Easter in Eastern Europe.

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The Tower of People in Barcelona

Time June 30th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

According to Catalan tradition, every year dating back to the 18th century, the people of Barcelona are to build a human tower, and every year they aim for new heights. The towers of people are split into three sections: Pinya (the large, bottom ring), Manilles (one or two additional/middle rings), Tronc (the trunk, several levels of people on the top). The Pinya stabilizes the full structure, and is also organized to soften the fall of the castellers on top. The very top is a small, forth section called the pom de dalt, the tower dome. The pom de dalt is reserved for children due to their low weight.

The name resembles French, as well as Spanish, being that Barcelona is in the Catalan region. Catalan is a mixture of French and Spanish, and so most of the street signs are in three different languages, and occasionally they will mix in English, which actually does help. My brother and I travelled to Barcelona together, and although we both took Spanish throughout lower and secondary school, his grasp on the language is much better than mine. However, I am somewhat well versed in French, and we both know English, so together it kind of worked.

Anyway, being a castell is an honor in the Catalan culture, and many train to do so. The tower is carefully organized and reviewed to attempt for few injuries and/or casualties. The pinya, however, according to our tour guide, often looks disheveled and random in order, unless you know the plan exactly. After setting up the base, the next tier climbs up in their order. To build a strong tower, the lighter people are reserved for climbing, and the stronger, broader bodies stabilize the base. The symbol of a finished tower is raised by the anxenta, a small child who climbs to the top and raises an arm with a flag to salute the crowds. Although the tower buildup is complete, the tower has to be taken down first without falling apart to be crowned a winner and absolutely done. Recently, children have been permitted to wear foam – padded helmets; otherwise there is no protective wear.

Traditionally, during the construction of the tower, a flutist and drummer accompany the process with the melody Toc de Castells. The tune follows the supposable process and phases of construction and helps with the communal emotions of visitors. The towers are built during large festivals, and the usual season is summer – autumn, or June to November. A few years ago, to commemorate the tallest tower built yet, a sculpture was placed in a local square near Las Ramblas showing the incredible height (see picture below).

The rest of our time in Barcelona was spectacular! We used the same tour group that I used when in Brussels, the new Europe Sandeman tours. Like in Belgium, the tour was fantastic, and actually probably a better tour guide here. We went to the beach and walked the coastline for two miles or so, and grabbed supper near our hostel. Then, we went out to a local restaurant to try a local drink – although we were looking for sangria, they didn’t have so we each tried something different.

On our second day, we headed up to Costa Brava for some scuba diving fun! Stupidly, I forgot my underwater camera in London, and although we looked once in Barcelona, we couldn’t find one. So, I took a few photos before and after, of us in our wetsuits and swim gear. The diving aspect took some adjustment, but I actually got the hang of it rather fast, and my brother certainly took some more time. Once under, about 33 feet down, we explored for a little while and saw some cool sea urchins, a few anemones and several schools of fish.

The following day, my brother and I were driving each other plenty nuts, and so we separated – it was also our last day in Barcelona. We both walked with all our things (just a backpack, really) across the city to Segrada Familia. I was happy to walk around the outside and not go in, as I had had my fill of churches on my big Europe trip, but my brother wanted to go in. We separated; he went in and I headed to Montjuîc to see the castle and Joan Miró Foundation/Museum. Both places were fantastic, and together with the price of the lift up the mountain, cheaper than the entrance fee to Segrada Familia (with student discount). My brother and I were then supposed to meet at 2:30 at L’Placa de Espana, but he wasn’t there. After twenty minutes, I gave him a call and apparently he sent me an email that somehow I was supposed to know to look at. Anyway, he was still at Segrada Familia, so he wanted to meet at the train station, where we would catch our bus at 6 or 7pm – those were the last two. During my leftover time, I considered heading to Park Guëll, but instead I went into the L’Placa de Espana colosseum, which is a shopping mall with a lookout onto the city, at the top, and had a really good smoothie place! Then, I walked up to the National Museum of Catalán, and had my wonderful taste of sangria before heading back down the 300 or so steps, which they provided escalators too, but I persevered and walked all the way up and down. Then, I took the metro to our train station for the 7pm bus, which apparently doesn’t run on Fridays – something I certainly did not know before. I was stuck in a 60 minute downpour rain from walking to the metro, to searching for the bus, finding there was no bus and getting back to the train station for a train to Reus Barcelona airport, in order to catch the flight – clueless to where my brother was and soaked head to toe. Whilst on line for train tickets, my brother snuck up behind me and we caught a last minute train to Reus, and from there a taxi to the airport, and arrived five minutes before our flight was called and security closed – it was tight, but it’s a small airport and there were no other flights there, so we made it. Barely.

We got back to London around midnight, and caught a bus back to central London, and then walked the rest of the way to Ramsay. Overall, we had a really lovely time in Barcelona, and I really appreciate that my brother came to visit – although we did kind of drive each other insane.


How the Aussies Talk

Time June 5th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Whilst traveling through Europe, my tour group was almost entirely Aussies, and 2 New Zealanders, 1 Colombian, and me.  Over the 20 days spent together, I discovered some interesting Aussie slang.  So if you choose to do a tour, it will most likely be filled with Aussies, as almost all of these tour groups cater to Aussies, and now you will know how to speak – or at least understand how they speak.

Meaning: Converse shoes.

Meaning: Barbeque

Don’t get your knickers in a knot
Meaning: Don’t worry.

Meaning: Lots and lots!

Meaning: Looking good!

Meaning: flip flops
{So when they say, ‘Do you think it will matter if I wear thongs to Vatican City?’ you will know it is actually okay because they are not talking about underwear.}

Breky {Not sure about the spelling on this one}.

Meaning: McDonald’s

Meaning: Sunglasses

Good On you
Meaning: Good for You!

Go for Gold
Meaning: Go for it!

Meaning: Thanks.

Meaning: Trousers

Ear bashing
Meaning: Constant chatter



“There is no room for idleness.”

Time November 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It has been a pretty exciting week.

After a very lazy weekend and feeling like I needed to do something, since after all I do live in Ireland, one of my roommates and I decided to go on a tour of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. Even though we had to get up at 8 am on a Sunday and it was freezing outside (literally, it was 32F…) and of course, its western Ireland, it was raining! Regardless, it was actually a really good tour. Dublin Tour Company has deals for students so we’re able to buy one ticket and go on tours of Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher as often as we want, which is a deal, and the tour guides are always informed and entertaining.

Picture of a fairy ring- or as historians know them: ancient rings built by people as forms of protection. They built trenches around the ring and dug into the ground for safety from enemies and wind.

A portal tomb on top of a cairn: basically an ancient/Neolithic burial ground where bodies were normally cremated and buried, although this one had partial remains found in it. You can also see the rocky landscape of the Burren surrounding the tomb.

Me, in front of the Cliffs of Moher, aka those cliffs you see in Harry Potter, The Princess Bride, and a bunch of other music videos and movies. Also known as: the most breathtaking place ever.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Then of course, there were was the US presidential election.

It was interesting viewing things from Ireland’s perspective, and Europe in general. People here love Obama. I mean LOVE. I’m used to being around politics and having involved debates over political ideals as an International Affairs major in Washington, DC, but you usually have a good mixture of opinions and a whole lot of passion when it comes to those debates. I’m not however being used to having people randomly ask me who I voted for or if I’m a Republican or Democrat as soon as they find out I’m American. Not that I mind exactly, I loved talking about politics with people who are somewhat removed from the debate (although the campaign and election were followed closely by the news here and as the US is such a big power people are invested in who wins, regardless of whether they’re US citizens or not). It was just overwhelming how much people love Obama in Europe and Ireland!

I’m taking a few political science classes at NUIG and I love them. One of them is a large lecture class on European Politics, but my professor really knows how to make things relatable to students, especially international students, and regularly brings up America as an example or as something to compare a case study. It’s kind of fascinating viewing how Europeans see us, especially since I always had this idea that Europeans thought all Americans were loud and fat and patriotic and a little stupid. Yes, they do think we’re loud (and that’s not really a stereotype because in general we actually just talk louder) and we are definitely very patriotic especially compared to many European countries, and maybe they think all of those other things but aren’t going to tell us. But they by no means hate us. They know a lot about us. They watch almost all of the same movies and television shows we watch, their news has a regular section on America, and they keep up with our current affairs much better than a lot of Americans do. If an Irish person came to America they would probably be much more culturally comfortable than any American is coming to Ireland because they just know more about us than we know about them.

In general Europeans tend to pay more attention to the political activity of other countries. This makes sense since they’re geographically close to several other nations that they constantly interact with and are part of the EU with and share currency and open borders. They also seem to know more about even South America or Eastern Europe or Asia’s political activities as well though. I’m a little biased since I’m around a lot of political science majors here, but it’s still pretty evident that most average Irish people are more internationally aware than most Americans. Maybe it’s because Ireland is a small country population and border wise and because they’re geographically and politically connected/reliant on more countries than the US is, but I wish more US citizens would take on this mindset of reading up on current affairs. It’s something I definitely plan on taking home with me and spreading!


Six Weeks of Europe

Time May 7th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Internet access, I have come to find out, is not always the most reliable when you are European-country-hopping for six weeks and staying in budget hostels.

Nevertheless, I have returned from the excursion of a lifetime back into the eagerly awaiting and open arms of my dear Oxford. Yet another reason why I urge anyone studying abroad to spend at least a whole semester (two terms at Oxford) abroad: It will take at least the first several weeks just to get acclimated to your surroundings. Come Spring Break time, you’re eager to get out and explore, which is amazing and mandatory in every sense of the word. Yet it is an equally wonderful feeling to know that, while you are looking forward to going back to your home home, you have a new home-ish city to return to. Coming back to Oxford really did feel like coming to a home away from home. It’d be such a shame to miss out on that feeling– I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye yet.

I decided the next few posts will be more photo bloggish on account of me feeling like I’m swimming in photos. I’ll pick a few pictures of from each city I traveled to (in order, for the most part): Wales with the Butler group, Dublin, London, Matlock, Paris, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam. I’ll spread them out over the next few posts, however, so as to not entirely crash the internet.

(I’m hoping to create some sort of video slideshow with music and all of that nice stuff, but I can’t make any promises as to when that will be accomplished. If I put it in parentheses I don’t feel quite as guilty if it takes longer than planned.)

It was a beautifully, delightfully long six weeks of travel. I feel like I soaked up a big part of the world I’d never experienced before. And, let me tell you, it feels good.

So now, let us begin in Wales, London, Matlock, and Dublin.

The Butler excursion to Wales was unbelieeevably fun. A couple weeks before you go, they let you list some top picks for activities you’d like to do. Some choices are half- and full-day hikes, a castle tour, a trip to a beach town that I currently forget the name of (Welsh is not a pronounceable language, mind you), kayaking, canoeing, a high ropes course, mountain biking, etc. I elected to do the castle tour to get a bit of history, a trip to the beach town, and a half-day hike (a word of warning. By half-day hike, they do not mean ‘leisurely walk through a nice park.’ It is very, very much a hike. But a breathtaking one, at that). It was a wonderful three days conveniently placed right at the end of my term. Lovely to see all of the Butler friends we met at the London orientation, and the perfect way to start of what was to become an insane six weeks straight of travel.

I then headed off to Dublin for about a week to visit a friend of mine who’s living there. I elected to take the ferry, per one of my tutor’s suggestions. Cheaper than flying? Probably. It depends. I for one went during the week of St. Patty’s Day, so all of the flight prices were painful to even look at. The ferry will cost you about £40 each way. It’s kind of a fun, new way to travel. Depending on the ferry you take, it can take either 3.5 hours or 1.5. The 3.5-hour is essentially a floating hotel. It is massive and comfortable, though pretty slow. The appropriately named “Jonathan Swift” ferry is what it promises. Swift. But in ferry-speak that also means 1.5 hours of so much sloshing around that it takes all the concentration you have in you just to make walk 20 feet to the bathroom. I’ll leave the pro and con weighing up to you. Overall, I’d recommend it as a method of travel.

ANYWAY. Dublin is just wonderful. It has all the old-world-y charm of London, but at about a quarter of the insanity levels. It’s a much easier city to be in, overall. Don’t get me wrong- I absolutely love London. Dublin is a bit more relaxing, however. Some must-sees: Trinity College, the Book of Kells (staggeringly awesome), the Guinness and/or Jameson factory tours should you so desire. Also! I HIGHLY recommend catching a train to Howth. A lot of tourists seem to be under the impression that you can’t see the impressive, obligatory Irish cliffs/ocean views unless you’re on the west coast. THIS IS SILLY. The train takes all of 45 minutes, and plops you down in a charming seaside village. If you walk away from the station east toward the ocean, you can walk up into some of the neighborhood streets, which will then lead you up to some mind-blowing hiking paths. Do it. For the sake of your Dublin experience, please do it.

My Dad then flew into London, where we stayed for a couple days. The must-sees here are all pretty obvious and easy to find. Unfortunately, I haven’t spend enough time there to really have insight into the cool, lesser-known things. But I’m sure all of the London study abroad folk have and would be happy to recommend some. All I can say is, prepare to be impressed. London is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s stressful, busy, sometimes difficult to navigate, and if you don’t go in with an open mind and a patient attitude I can see it being easy to be overwhelmed by (especially if you’re like me and until now have been inept in the ways of travel). So the solution is simple: be open-minded and patient. You will get SO much out of the city when you are. Trust me. So much.

And lastly (for now) is Matlock. Matlock is an area of the Peak District, Derbyshire in England. It’s a couple hours outside of London, I believe (after taking at least a dozen trains, I can’t even remember the timing of it all). Let me attempt to convey the beauty of this place. Have you seen the 2005 Pride and Prejudice? Do you remember Mr. Darcy’s house? Firstly, if you haven’t, I recommend that film. Secondly, and more importantly, I recommend this place more than just about anything. The kindest people I’ve encountered in Europe to this day (we got hopelessly lost, found out we were a whole town away from our hotel, and a realtor offered to drive us in her miniature car to the hotel, if that helps describe it). It’s like wandering around some kind of dreamland. Full of the tiniest, most charming towns you can imagine. Hills everywhere. And just. So. Much. Green. London and Oxford are relatively flat, so this place was very unexpected. Chatsworth House (Mr. Darcy’s House) is, in my opinion, THE must-see here. It’s a massive palace full of some incredible art (the sculpture room, also in the movie, is stunning). And the grounds are enormous. Gardens everywhere, one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, and I just can’t even think of anything else to say except ‘go there.’

I think you’re probably with me when I say that’s enough for this time around. I’ll return with some, hopefully slightly more brief, words and photos of the other cities. And then I’ll return to blogging about life in Oxford, when I can focus on some more interesting writing rather than feeling completely overwhelmed by how much I have left to post. Stay tuned for Italy!

Travel-high-ly, sincerely, and until next time,