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

To the Cape!

Time June 22nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, New Zealand | No Comments by

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Cape Reinga is the northernmost tip of New Zealand, known for its picturesque lighthouse, giant sand dunes, and 90 mile beach (which, by the way, is not 90 miles long. It’s not even 90 kilometers). I didn’t know I was going until 24 hours before we picked up the rental car, but this spontaneous trip was one of the best weekends of the semester.

At least, it was after the first night.

We started the drive at about 4:30 pm so that we could get to our “holiday park,” sleep, then wake up and have a full day ahead of us. This was all fine, until it was time to sleep.

In case you’ve never stayed in one, a holiday park is not luxurious. Essentially, the five of us were staying in a metal box with just enough room for the bunk beds. Which is fine, because we’re all on a pretty tight budget at this point in the semester.

The place was BYOB (bring your own blankets) and I SEVERELY underestimated how cold it was going to be, and of course these tiny metal boxes did not have any heating. So I spent the first night shivering under my duvet cover (just the cover. Not the duvet. Somebody tell me why I thought this was a good idea), wondering if I should pull down the curtains to use as an extra blanket and silently cursing the tiny metal box called a “holiday park.”

But finally the sun came up, and the next day was spectacular.

After breakfast we drove straight to 90 mile beach, which isn’t your typical lounge in the sun, read a book and dip your toes in the water beach. The point of going to this beach is to drive on the sand alongside the Pacific Ocean from the very bottom to the very top, and it was so much fun. We sped, we ghost drove, we waved to the surfers, and we blasted music the whole way. Hanging out the window and pretending to be Beyoncé in her Formation video is not optional.

88 kilometers later we didn’t think the day could get any better, but it did. Whoever decided that boogie boarding down giant sand dunes was a good idea might be one of the most underrated brain-powers of the 21st century. We rented boards, trudged up an enormous pile of sand, and threw ourselves down the steepest dunes we could find for the next three hours. It was like none of us had ever stopped being kids.

The sun was starting to set and we still had one last item on our bucket list, so we sped off (on a real road this time) towards the very tip of the cape. Here we saw the iconic lighthouse and the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. We could actually see a line of choppy waves that marked where two bodies of water collided, and just above this line the sun was sinking slowly below the horizon. It was a very peaceful end to an action-packed day.

Back at the holiday park we made s’mores in the communal fireplace and watched a movie. Thankfully someone lent me a blanket, so I was not completely miserable in our tiny metal box that night.

At the end of the day we collectively agreed that this trip might have marked the happiest we’ve ever been in our lives. But then again, we say that every other weekend in New Zealand.

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Final Reflections

Time June 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a few weeks now, with a busted laptop and a ton of responsibilities concerning moving and starting a new job. I’ve taken time to reflect on the good and the bad of my semester abroad in Glasgow, and here are some tips:

  • If you attend the art school, your tutors will not be around a lot of the time. If you need feedback, or advice, it is up to you to go find them and articulate what you need specifically and concisely. This, in addition to primarily working independently, can make your time pretty isolating if you don’t work to socialize. Introduce yourself to your neighbors around the studio, go to events at The Vic, go to zine fairs at the CCA and vintage sales down by the Trongate. It’s not that people won’t be friendly, they just tend to focus on their work pretty intensely.
  • I might have considered independent housing after seeing some of my friends’ apartments in Glasgow. Much of the architecture is very old, so the flats had high ceilings with wide open floor plans, and could be as little as £300 per month. However, if I had done this I wouldn’t have met the close friends I was fortunate to have been assigned student housing with. (There are also security, safety, and insurance reasons associated with student housing – but ask your Ifsa-Butler representative to go over options with you!)
  • Take pictures of everything!! Film things!! Especially if you attend GSA, try to draw daily! I personally entered a pretty bad rut this past semester with my work; I had a lot of trouble creating, and that made me feel useless a lot of time, cause like duh, I’m an art student, I’m supposed to make art. Sketching, filming, taking pictures – even splurging and getting yourself some really nice watercolor paper – can make you feel more productive, even it means taking baby steps.
  • Yo if you’re Jewish and you miss celebrating Passover when springtime rolls around, go to Cafe Cossachok in the Trongate area and get some smoked salmon potato pancakes and borscht. I missed Kosher delis, but Russian food is pretty close. P.S. they do not call smoked salmon, “lox.” Nobody will know what you’re talking about if you ask for it.
  • Soak up your time in the highlands as much as you can. The Argyll forest and Isle of Skye are really indescribable. Words will not do their beauty justice – just go.

I can say that this semester has proven to be one of my most challenging, but in ways that differ from past semesters at my host college. At a liberal arts college in the U.S., students find themselves juggling an array of subjects while trying to complete their decided major and graduate within 3-4 years. This, of course, poses its own challenges and may nudge more neurotic thinkers (such as myself) into a worm hole of self-deprecating thought processes: “I’m taking classes X, Y and Z at levels A, B and C and I’m better at Z than X – why aren’t I better at X? Why aren’t I good at everything? That person over there is great at X. If I’m not good at X I must not be good at Z either. Oh, my god I’m not good at anything.”

At the Glasgow School of Art, however, I focused on one thing: my artwork. No assignments, no exams. I had one midyear paper for a gender studies class that met once a week, which didn’t really compare in intensity to my classes back home. My hubris led me to believe that that would make things easier. However, focusing exclusively on one thing actually put more pressure on it. But, like my tarot-reading former housemate has observed in her monthly horoscopes, “calling your capabilities into question doesn’t really help anyone much. It’s very subjective.” Perhaps people should think of themselves from the perspective of cover letters that embellish our talents for the grazing hand of employment. If one exaggerates their faults, they should be allowed some self-indulgent arrogance to balance the morale see-saw. I had an incredible time in Scotland, I 3000% recommend it to anybody thinking about studying abroad, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t face challenges; I reached out to my Ifsa-Butler representative and she set me up with a therapist that was payed for with the program’s insurance. I didn’t expect to have such a hard time adjusting, but I did, and it was the definitely the right move to make. Self-doubt is an easy labyrinth to fall into, especially in a new environment. Remember to look up – there is sunlight above the hedges.

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Colors of the Sea in the Mountains

Time June 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This picture was taken on my last full day in Costa Rica, which was spent with a friend in Prusia, a forest in the province of Cartago. I’ve never seen so many gorgeous mushrooms nor ones with colors I would only expect to find in the sea. This was one of my favorite days spent in this country. I’ve met so many incredible people towards the end of my time here and I feel disappointed that I wasn’t closer to them before so I could have enjoyed their company for longer. However, these people are so great that I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to spend any time at all with them.

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Passionate Professors

Time June 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This photo was taken on the last day of my “Human Genetics, Society, and the Environment” class. My professor taught us many things about eastern medicine and self-care. We spent this day practicing Aikido, a type of martial arts. It was incredibly refreshing to learn alternative ways to heal one’s body through nutrition and meditative activities, as opposed to western practices. It was also very obvious that he is passionate about what he teaches, which shone through in his lectures and always kept me interested. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him during my time abroad.

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Mountains, and Stars, and Penguins…Oh my!

Time June 14th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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Return Home

Time June 12th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Coming home has been such a bitter sweet experience. Towards the end of my journey I was really missing home and the lifestyle that I have. Colorado is such a beautiful state and I was really looking forward to seeing my family and friends again! I was so happy that I didn’t have to be long distance from my fiancee anymore and that we could finally be together! Long distance was one of the hardest things that our relationship has faced and I was glad to have it over. At the same time it meant that I had to leave Scotland and all of my friends there. Even though most of my friends are a short plane ride away, it’s so different than living together in the same flat. I’ve been home for two weeks now and I still feel like I should be waking up next to my friends and going on an adventure in Europe. Study abroad is such an interesting experience that I think only your friends abroad truly understand it. Of course I can describe to everybody back home how I feel but, nobody really understands it unless you experienced it.

I was supposed to return home on May 29th but my flight ended up getting canceled so I didn’t end up leaving until May 30th! Of course I was slightly sad to go home yet but, I was so happy that I got one more day in Scotland. That last day really made a difference. It felt like closure. The extra day I spent in Edinburgh with my closest friends and it felt so nice to have that last gathering together. I never would’ve thought that extra time would make such a difference but it really did! It was more relaxed and laid back than trying to pack everything and say goodbye to everybody at once.

Coming home and being able to reflect for a couple of weeks  made me realize a lot of things about myself. Before studying abroad I felt like I couldn’t handle the real world. I felt so dependent on my parents that I didn’t think I could handle graduating college. Even though I’m engaged I was worried about starting a life with my fiancee. Study abroad changed my view on being alone. Of course I still missed everything back home but it made me realize that I can do it. I can be on my own away from my parents. I will be able to get married and start a life with my fiancee. I would say that my view of the world is completely different as well. Traveling and going to new places really changes your perspective on how vast and wonderful the Earth is!

If you’re reading this and even considering study abroad you should do it. It’s the most incredible experience that will impact you for a lifetime. Don’t worry about expense because it’ll be worth it no matter the cost. In retrospect study abroad really is a pretty good deal. You’re paying much less than you would to live abroad for 5 months in a different setting. The best advice I can give is to go out and explore. The world is just waiting for you to go and see it!

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Everyday Sights on my Walk to the University of Glasgow

Time June 7th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Murano's Cat

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This is one of the many cats that I saw around Glasgow. It must have lived near the Murano Street student flats because I would always see it nearby. Here, it is walking along a wall next to one of Murano's stark brick buildings.

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Santiago

Time June 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

 

This post is a compilation of photos from three separate trips to Santiago. The first two were through IFSA-Butler: the first to learn about immigration in Chile, and the second to visit the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (the Museum of Memory and Human Rights) and learn more about the political history of Chile. The third was to visit my Chilean sister Cata who studies in Santiago. The first trip was interesting and fun. We went to the Parque Palestina for a discussion on middle-eastern immigration in Chile, had lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant, spoke with a professor about racism, and went to a street festival celebrating immigrant culture. The second trip was interesting, enlightening and upsetting. At the museum, we had a tour about the history of the Chilean dictatorship during the 1970s-80s. Then we went to a memorial park which—from 1974-1978—had been the largest torture center in Santiago. There we had a tour with a survivor of the camp which was difficult to listen to but also very important and insightful. In the evening, saw a play about a Mapuche boy that was murdered by a police officer. It was an emotionally exhausting day but very important and interesting. The third trip was super fun and it was great to spend the weekend with Cata. She took me to San Cristobal and Santa Lucia–two beautiful cerros (large hills/small mountains) with great views of Santiago. Overall, Santiago is a great city with lots to offer. It has history, culture, and nature as well as great places to eat, see, and/or visit. Each of my trips were distinct and gave me a unique perspective on Chile and its’ lovely capital.

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Ese post es una compilación de fotos de tres viajes distintos a Santiago. Los primeros dos fueron con IFSA-Butler: lo primero para aprender de inmigración en Chile, y lo segundo para visitar al Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos y aprender más sobre la historia política de Chile. En lo tercero, visité a mi hermanita chilena Cata que estudia en Santiago. El primer viaje fue divertido e interesante. Fuimos al Parque Palestina para una discusión de inmigración árabe en Chile, almorzamos en un restaurante mediterráneo, charlamos con un profesor sobre el racismo en Chile, y fuimos a un festival para la cultura inmigrante. El segundo viaje fue interesante, esclarecedor y triste. En el museo, tuvimos un tour sobre la historia de la dictadura chilena. Después fuimos a un parque de memoria que—durante 1974 y 1978—era el centro más grande de tortura en Santiago. Alla tuvimos un tour con una sobreviviente que fue difícil de escuchar, pero importante y perspicaz. En la tarde vimos una obra de teatro sobre el asesinato de un chico mapuche por un carabinero. Fue un viaje muy pesado pero muy importante e interesante. Mi tercer viaje fue muy divertido y fue genial pasar el fin de semana con mi hermana en Santiago. Cata me trajo a San Cristóbal y Santa Lucia—dos cerros muy lindos con vistas maravillosas de la ciudad. En fin, Santiago es una ciudad con mucho de ofrecer. Tiene historia, cultura y naturaleza además de muchos lugares para comer, visitar, y/o ver. Cada uno de mis viajes fueron muy diferentes y me dieron una perspectiva única de Chile y su lindo capital.

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Homeward Bound

Time June 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Well, that’s the semester done. I traveled, trained, trammed, troubled, traversed, and triumphed. And then I had my exams, and I have an entirely different slew of words for how that went, mostly of the four letter variety. Regardless, though, I made my way through, and I’m currently using my phone as a hotspot in Heathrow because the wifi here is allergic to functionality.

It’s a weird feeling, knowing that by tomorrow I’ll be back in the states. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling – I have missed my home, my friends and my family quite a bit these past six months –  but it is an odd one. Nothing feels quite real right now, because I’ve just packed up and left a place I got to call home for a half year, and there’s a good chance I’ll never be back in the area again. I don’t know that I like that, so for right now I’m determined to keep as many memories of the place as I can. In my own fashion, that probably means I’m going to have Norwich, if not UEA, appear as a backdrop in one of my next novels. It’s certainly suited for it, with all the charm and old architectural styles that surround the city center. Even if I don’t end up walking those streets in person, I get to write about them, and that’s almost as good.

Studying abroad has been an adventure in self-maintenance, or personal growth if you’d prefer the self-help phrasing. A lot of what I’ve been doing, both by virtue of living completely alone and without an immediate, close support network as well as the far more hands-off approach of universities in the U.K., has been entirely driven by me. Figuring out what I want or need to do every day and how I’m meant to manage that hasn’t always been easy, especially during my recent trek through Europe (I think I might have run at least a mile just trying to catch my trains alone). It has been edifying, though, and it’s one of those moments where once I’ve done something, no matter how unpleasant or hard the experience was, I know I can do that something again if it comes to it. Out of all the things I’m bringing back with me, that knowledge is probably what I’m most grateful to have.

I also brought back some fancy tea, of course, but that sounds less impressive. I’ll have one more reflections post in the next few days to wrap things up, but for now, I await my plane and try and figure out for the tenth time if everything is where I left it. It is, but try telling my anxiety that.

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Isle of Skye Trip

Time June 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Our second trip that IFSA organized was to the Isle of Skye. It was a long 5 hour bus ride to get from Glasgow to the large island in the north west, but it was broken up by fun, quick stops in highland towns and continuous historical facts from our tour guide. Everyone was struck by the beauty and vast wilderness of the highlands which felt so purely Scottish. I hope my pictures can somehow do it justice.

Highland Shepherd

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One of our first stops on our way up to Skye was to a working sheepdog farm. We were able to watch the shepherd's border collies wrangle the sheep at the sound of a whistle or a simple command.

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Road Trip (more UK travels)

Time May 26th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

My flatmates and I decided to take a little road trip to the northern part of England and Wales! We all really wanted to go to Wales and the only way to do that would be by renting a car and driving down. My flatmate, Julia, graciously offered to drive! She also let us stay at her aunt and uncle’s house! It was such a great opportunity so I couldn’t say no! I really love road trips and I was so happy to be going on one with my friends! We started our 3 hour journey from Glasgow! The drive really wasn’t terrible at all and to our surprise there wasn’t many cars on the road the whole drive. Of course a lot less people live in these areas than most places in the states! After our long trip we made it down to England. The house we stayed in was very quaint and it was along the shore about 10 minutes from Blackpool! We had a lovely home cooked meal and no meal is left without drinks. Without even realizing it I had a whole bottle of prosecco to myself! Luckily, it was over about 6 hours so I felt fine!

The next day we ventured to Liverpool in order to see the Beatles museum! Getting there was easy but parking in Liverpool was atrocious! We drove around the same street several times before we were able to find a parking lot! After the whole parking fiasco we walked up to the street to get to the museum and there was some type of train parade! We had no idea what we just walked into! It wasn’t too hard to navigate through the crowd but it was still strange! We saw a ferris wheel and decided that we wanted to go on it! The top was such a wonderful view of the city! We could really take in all that is Liverpool. Once we got back down to the ground it was time for the Beatles museum! The museum was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. It was one of my favorite things I’ve done this entire semester! It wasn’t set up like a normal museum. It was as if you were walking through their lives. It didn’t contain that many artifacts rather it contained storytelling and recreations of the actual pubs they played in. The audio tour provided most of the information. This is something that I would highly suggest for anybody who goes to the UK! I could really go on and on about the museum but you’ll just have to visit for yourself!  beatlesstory Don’t want to show too much so this is just the entrance! Read More »

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Mendoza, a city of culture

Time May 25th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

One thing I was looking forward to during study abroad aside from a new academic environment, was getting to know and even getting involved in the community. Mendoza may be a smaller city, but cultural events are not only important, but varied, frequent and often free or of little charge. Several areas in the city are known for screening movies weekly, often for free. You can find older and modern movies and movies from Argentina, the US and many other countries (of course with subtitles). Live plays happen all the time too so if you’re Spanish is good enough to follow them (mine is not) they are also a cool thing to check out. There are not only formal concerts like celebrations of classic rock and Argentina’s take on jazz and the blues as well as classical music events, but you can often happen upon informal mini concerts in the parks and plazas. Some even involve dancing. Personally, I really enjoy going to events that involve dancing. Not boliche-type dancing (I can’t dance at all) that happens late into the night at clubs, a young person’s typical pastime here, but actually watching the small dancing events put together by the city or other groups. Sure you’ll see much more tango in Buenos Aires, even in the streets, but I have been lucky enough to attend events involving the tango, mamba, samba, milonga and baile folklorico (which is more traditional). They all have different histories, dress and meanings and derive from around South America, but I can saying that I’ve been impressed by all that I’ve seen. Last week there was even an event in the one of the largest theatres in the city where you could watch a world famous traveling dance troupe. Tickets were only about $3.50 USD plus a donation of milk powder to the local food bank. Of course I was too late and the tickets sold out, but this just speaks to one of the great opportunities I’ve seen in the past few days. There’s a lot to discover if you look for it and luckily IFSA sends you updates of upcoming events too! As much as I like to watch dancing, I refuse to actually learn it it seems. However, if you are interested, not only can you take dancing classes at a local institute and possibly get some credits for it, depending on your university, but there are free dancing classes at the park too (as well as low-cost painting, photography, and other skill classes). Mendoza is a city that truly celebrates culture and has a wealth of events for those interested!

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The Little Things

Time May 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, New Zealand | No Comments by

At first glance, not much is different here in New Zealand. They speak English, eat all kinds of food, go to school, talk about Donald Trump, and watch their own version of the Bachelor – pretty much the same as the United States. However, after a couple months of living here some small differences stand out.

  1. Shoes are not required. I often walk around the grocery store (which is in the middle of Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city) and see people grocery shopping without shoes. I’ve also seen this is in at least two restaurants. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.
  2. The farmers’ markets. They are freaking incredible here. Not only is the produce big and beautiful, but it’s all locally grown and organic. Now you may be thinking, “yeah that’s what farmers’ markets do.” But I know that when I think of farmers’ markets back home, I think of the hefty price tag that comes along with this uptick in quality. However, in New Zealand, these plump fruits and vibrant veggies cost about half of what they do at the grocery store. When you’re a student on a budget, it pays to get up early on farmers’ market mornings.
  3. The “as…” mystery. It’s really common here for people to say “sweet as,” or “nice as,” when they’re describing something. But they never finish the sentence. The beach was “sweet as” what? The cheap take-away restaurant was “dodgy as” what? The essay you just turned in was “crap as” what?? They literally give you no point of reference for what their saying, and this linguistic trend just leaves me hanging time and time again.
  4. Tea time. This might be one of my favorite parts about New Zealand culture. During our program orientation and during the short time I worked on a vineyard I was on a schedule made by New Zealanders, and both of those schedules included two strict tea times per day. Essentially, halfway between breakfast and lunch everyone stops what they’re doing to have a cup of tea (or a cup of coffee) and a snack and chat with each other. And then they do it again between lunch and dinner. If you suggest to a New Zealander that tea time be pushed back, shortened, or ignored, they will give you a look that says, “Americans are crazy and I would be perfectly happy never to see another one of you again.” Tea time is no joke.
  5. Speaking of warm beverages, coffee. In New Zealand, filtered coffee only exists in the memories of exchange students and other foreigners. So if you’re coming here, either prepare yourself for instant coffee or bring your own French press.

Overall, the differences between New Zealand and the US are not extreme. Some of them I would like to keep (snack time twice a day? Yes please) and some of them I could do without (please wear shoes in the grocery store, I don’t want to smell feet while I’m picking up bananas). When it comes down to it, New Zealand is a land all of its own, and I’m glad this is the place I get to spend my semester abroad – even if it turns me into a tea drinker.

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Second Year Gallery Show

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

Footage from the set up, opening, and critique for the end of the year show for GSA second year students. It was rewarding to be a part of such a collaborative production that showcased everyone’s hard work.

 

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Flights, Trips, and Over Preparing

Time May 17th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

The title is actually a misnomer. I’ll give you a hint: there’s no such thing as over-preparing for a trip that involves needing your passport and leaving the country you’ve been given temporary permission to stay in. I’m a fairly laid-back person, and even I get that forgetting a detail here is a terrible idea.  I’m leaving to go on a nice, not-quite-two-weeks trip through Europe on Friday, and the only reason I’m not panicking right now (or possibly being dangerously oblivious) is because I’ve done a fair amount of plane travel before this. If you’re interested, I have a few tips and reminders to share. After all, it seems a shame not to make at least one big trip while traveling abroad – there’s so much that’s usually far away now just right next door.

First things to remember is the most important: your passport. Everything else you can usually find a way to print out, show an email of, or otherwise replace so long as you have enough time to do so. Passports aren’t replaceable, and they’re you’re only ticket into and out of any country you choose to visit. So remember to bring it with you, put it in a place that you’re sure you won’t forget about and you’re sure it won’t fall out from, and most definitely somewhere on your person that someone’s not going to just reach in and steal it from. Buy one of those stupid-looking necklace pocket things if you have to. Yes, you’ll look like a tourist, but I have news for you: you’re a tourist. Better to look stupid than to be stranded.

Second is the other important, can’t do without stuff. Boarding passes are next on the list. Different airports allow you to check in before your flight at different times, and only give you a boarding pass once you’ve done so. Figure out when you can check in, do so at the earliest opportunity, and then print out a couple copies of your boarding pass: one for your backpack, one for your bag, maybe even a carefully-folded one for your pocket or wallet or something. Make sure you have something to show to security when you arrive, is what I’m saying. After that, email records for where you’re staying. If you’re hopping from one hostel to the next on a daily basis like I am, this can get overwhelming, but their records aren’t perfect. Keep track of that confirmation email that says you’ve checked in, just in case their computer goofed and lost it. Train and bus tickets should also be printed when you can, and easy to pull up on your phone fast as well. Itineraries, meds, personal requirements, enough clothes for the right weather…. beyond that it’s a little more like the usual preparations. It should be fun, and well worth the effort.

See you in a couple weeks.

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Flying solo/Viajar sola

Time May 15th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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Exam Time

Time May 15th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

Essays done. Exams loom. It’s a big thing back in the US, but the way exams are viewed over here puts that to shame. At UEA, at least, this period is called Revisions, because that’s what you need to be doing all the time: revising. Now your essays, mind you; those are already turned in, and whatever grade you’ve received on them is already written in stone and on your final grade. No, revisions refers to the near-endless process of preparing for all the things you need to write during exams, and that’s a lot. I’ve received a lot of advice I can best term as faintly alarming, the most memorable of which was to practice writing out an essay for an hour so that I can clock my handwriting endurance, how long it takes for my hand to start cramping, and just how many words I can squeeze out in a 50 minute period. When people tell me to practice my words per minute, I start to get nervous.

A large part of this, I think, comes from the difference in class structures and grading systems from the US to the UK. Exams are weighted a lot more heavily; I have some friends for whom their exam or final essay counts for 100% of their final grade. That’s a lot of pressure on  one small, timed event, so it’s little wonder that every professor is stressing heavily just how much time you ought to spend preparing to take it. I’m lucky in that I only have one exam to take, for my Witchcraft course. I’m less lucky in that I’m not fond of the course material and I’m not looking forward to reviewing and memorizing it all, but still. Another difference is the amount of guidance that you’re given. Optional readings outnumber required course reading for courses over here by a sizable amount. Essay questions you’re given on exams, and given early to prepare for what questions might be asked during the exam, are the definition of open-ended given to extremes. There’s no bullet-pointed list of things for you to memorize and regurgitate: you need to have an answer ready that you’ve come up with yourself.

It is, in short, a bit stressful. But such is the price you pay for a more relaxed workload during the rest of the time. In a couple weeks I have a break until my actual exam, so I’ll be traveling a lot. And studying. Should be fun, and I’ll post again soon.

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Much to See Walking Around Glasgow

Time May 12th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | 1 Comment by

As the semester is nearing, I’ve been reflecting on how jaded I’ve become to how many amazing things one can witness in a day just walking around Glasgow; such as performers busking on Buchanan and Sauchihall street, wandering the necropolis, or discovering unmarked book stores tucked away in a close. I’ve had to remind myself at times that even when I feel as though I’m accomplishing very little, I’m still seeing and experiencing more than I might appreciate in the moment. Looking back, I really haven’t had many dull days.

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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

 

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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.

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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 »

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Returning in time for the time crunch

Time April 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

I’ll be brief. Possibly. Don’t hold me to it.

I’m back from Edinburgh! Seeing my parents again after so long was lovely, as was having the stress of living and stuff taken off my shoulders for a bit. Admittedly I’m a rubbish cook and spend most of my time going to food courts instead of cooking, but still. Nice to have home-cooked food again, at least. Travel, as always, is both fun and exhausting. There’s something to be said for doing a whirlwind trip up the U.K., but the drain that puts on you from having to sleep somewhere new every night isn’t nothing. It’s worth it, though, and I think that’s what matters most.

So. I got back on Saturday night and had a prior engagement (read: Dungeons & Dragons, because I am a Nerd), which meant that Sunday was more properly the time I was back. And Sunday is a lovely day to come home on and all, it really is, but there was a slight hiccup in that I had an essay due. On Tuesday. Not a small essay either. There was some fretting, a lot of time spent in the library, and more coffee than either I or my stomach can comfortably think about. It got done, mind you, but it probably wasn’t the prettiest thing I’ve written. I wonder if I should regret that, that my work suffered a bit, but I find that I don’t. Traveling abroad entails a little bit of putting the experience of travel in front of the experience of schooling, I think. I’m broadening my horizons in a deliciously literal sense, and if the grade I’m getting in a class that is only pass/fail suffers a bit for it, then I suppose that’s a price I can live with. That’s not carte blanche advice to flip school the bird and go off into the sunset, mind, but the scales needn’t be as exactingly even as you might have them be at other times. To each their own.

I’m still daydreaming about Vindolanda. Emperor Hadrian almost certainly stayed there while supervising the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, did you know? They found evidence of a really high-quality home under the stones recently; they think that’s probably where he lived. For buildings that no longer stand, the stones at Vindolanda still house a lot of amazing stories. I’ll tell you more about all that later, though. For now: more essays. And travel considerations. You know the drill.

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The Argentine Classroom

Time April 27th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Argentina | No Comments by

Despite classes starting relatively late in my time here, I have undoubtedly learned plenty both in and outside the classroom. Class registration was last Monday and I finally decided on my schedule; the mandatory IFSA Spanish class, Advanced Spanish and Argentine Culture, another IFSA class, Regional Development (which I love), History of International Relations and Introduction to Sociology (something I’ve always wanted to take in the US) with an environmental focus. Together, I feel like these classes are not only providing me an exciting interdisciplinary semester, but are introducing me to new ideas about Argentina, human rights, international relations, interpersonal relations, a less Westernized view of world history and basically a new perspective on a lot of things I have learned or read about before. Without a doubt, Argentines have a very different worldview (which is pretty varied in itself) than what I have confronted in the US as well as in my home university. With a focus on international studies in college, I find these differences fascinating and it’s really opened the door to perspectives from a country often considered between “developed” and “developing.” In fact one of my History of International Relations classes ended up focusing on the United States’ involvement in global affairs and it was NOTHING like I ever hear in the US. While I agreed with a lot of it, there was also a lot I didn’t agree with or that made me question what I had been thinking my entire life. This led to some fruitful conversation between my Argentine and American classmates (in both Spanish and a little English they were practicing) after class since the Argentine students sought out our opinion. It’s moments like that that really excite me about being able to learn in a culture so different from my own. It’s also perspectives that I am thankful to hear as I continue my studies in international relations where intercultural dialogue and understanding are imperative to efficacy.

Since a lot of you may be wondering what it’s like going to class in Argentine universities, I think I finally have enough experience to share some of my observations. If you choose the Mendoza program, you can choose classes between Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, a giant, beautiful , public renowned college campus located in El Parque General San Martin and Universidad de Congreso, a much smaller private college located in the center of the city. In Argentina, public universities are usually more acclaimed and tuition is free. Most of the IFSA students here take classes in both and there are definitely classes to fit everyone’s interests and needs here. There are even dancing and music classes offered by a smaller offshoot of Universidad de Congreso. I recommend looking at their websites to get a genera idea of what classes are offered. Read More »

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Family/Familia

Time April 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

 

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You are lucky in life to have one loving, kind, and supportive family. I am fortunate enough to have three such incredible families: my biological family, my Spanish family, and my Chilean family. It was so wonderful introducing my original family to my adoptive family here abroad. My parents speak no Spanish and my Chilean mom speaks no English, but (with the help of me and my Chilean siblings translating) we were all able to connect and relate. It was so much fun sharing the people, places, food, and adventures abroad with my family from home. And much of what has made my abroad experience here in Valpo/Vina so great is my host family. I am so grateful for the relationships I have formed here and for the beautiful home and outdoor environment that I get to live in. While I certainly miss my home in the States, I feel perfectly in place here in Chile, in large part to my Chilean family. I have loved expanding my global family and am so lucky to have so many different places to call home.

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En la vida, tienes mucha suerte la tiene una familia cariñosa, simpática, y comprensiva. Yo soy tan afortunada de tener tres familias así: mi familia biológica, mi familia española, y mi familia chilena. Fue tan lindo introducir mi familia original a mi familia adaptiva acá in Chile. Mis padres no hablan nada de español y mi mama chilena no habla nada de inglés, pero (del ayuda de yo y mis hermanos chilenos traduciendo) todos conectaron y hicieron una relación.  Fue tan divertido compartir la gente, los lugares, el comido, y mis aventuras en Chile con my familia de los EEUU. Y mucho de lo que ha hecho mi experiencia acá en Valpo/Viña tan buena es mi familia anfitriona. Estoy tan agradecida por las relaciones que he formada aca y por la lindo ambiente y hogar en que tengo la oportunidad de vivir. Aunque me extraña mi casa en los EEUU, siento muy cómoda y contenta en Chile, y mucho de eso es por mi familia chilena. Me encanta expandir mi familia global y soy muy, muy afortunada tener tantos lugares para llamar “mi casa.”

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Isle of Skye

Time April 24th, 2017 in Scotland | No Comments by

Glasgow School of Art exchange students Eric and Rachel meet up with the Ifsa kids from Glasgow University, St. Andrews, University of Edinburgh, and University of Stirling to attend a bus tour to the Isle of Skye! Experienced demonstrations in sheep herding, a hike up the Old Man of Storr, and some faces were dunked into the fairy pools for 7 seconds to obtain Eternal Youth™.

The sprawling Scottish Highlands, with its towering snow-peaks and glimmering valleys, are sure to make one step back and consider their gratitude to play even a small part as an individual in history and on this beautiful green planet.

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