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

Something about Haggis

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Scotland | 1 Comment by

It’s ten minutes to midnight, the day before I leave. I’m apparently awake enough to write this.

I supposed to be expecting something, aren’t I? I guess I forgot about that. Well, now’s as good a time as any, I suppose.

Haggis. I expect haggis. And kilts. I hereby expect those, too. Beyond that, well, I’m kinda blanking. I know this is supposed to be some giant, life-changing thing, and the last thing I want to do is sound cynical about it. I really am excited. I just don’t really know what I’m excited about, as it were. Not that haggis and kilts aren’t fascinating, but hell if I know what I’m going to see besides that.

I’m definitely excited, though. And so is my family. My little sister and her friends spent a good hour cutting out pictures and decorations for me to put on the bulletin board in my dorm. (They got really into it. I’m going to add a picture of it if I can ever figure out how this post editor thing works. If not, it’ll be in the next post). And the family as a whole went out to a really nice dinner, just because I’m leaving soon. It was great. Steak is tasty. We’ll have to see how haggis compares.

Come to think of it, maybe they’re a bit too excited that I’m going…

Well, in any event, I got everything packed. By which I mean mom got everything packed, while I stood by and watched.

Apparently I have a lot of sweaters.

And now for a random change of pace: I realize I don’t know quite what to expect from the Scottish academic system. I mean, I get the idea that it’s more self-taught than the US system, but how self-taught are we talking? Are they just giving us a reading list and telling us to come back at the end of the semester with a paper? Because that’s basically a semester-long vacation in Scotland with a bit of reading and a paper to write. I can do that.

(To be honest, I do expect it to be more rigorous than that, but I’d much rather blind myself with ignorance and fantasy until I arrive and can no longer leave. Until I’m physically trapped in Scotland, there’s still technically a chance that I could back out of this whole thing by, say, running screaming into the night never to return, or perhaps by committing a minor felony in order to get myself locked in a US jail cell until such time as no one wants to ship me off to Scotland anymore. So it’s fairly important that I intentionally underestimate Edinburgh’s academic rigor; it’s the only thing keeping me out of prison.)

Edinburgh has a fencing team. That might seem fairly random, but it’s quite exciting. I, for one, am of the opinion that there should generally be more fencing in everyday life. In fact, it has taken some self-restraint not to go back up to the paragraphs I’ve already written and insert little instances of fencing just to drive home the point that I think there should be more of it everywhere.

I suppose I should have prefaced that; I like fencing.

In all seriousness, though, it’s one of my few really concrete expectations. Hamilton (my home college) has a fencing club, and it’s good, but it’s entirely student run. That means no paid coaches, and Zach–who runs it–just about has to kill himself trying to fit in the practice sessions around his own schoolwork.

Freshmen, if you’re reading this–and you damn well better be–be nice to Zach. He’s running two of your clubs, now.

And for future reference, yes, my blogs are going to be exactly this rambly. Unless I’m really pleased with an essay I’ve written, in which case I might just post it in full. Is it obvious that the power’s going to my head?


A Quick Turn Around! (Pre-Departure)

Time August 13th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This summer I have had incredible opportunities to experience the world. Being a Texas native, the idea of traveling could simply mean taking a 6-9 hour road trip to another city in our state, like venturing to the beach at South Padre Island or to the mountains of El Paso. This summer I spent way more than 9 hours traveling.

I’ve left hours and hours of my life in airports, on airplanes, train stations and taxis. In June, I participated in a month long study abroad program with fifty other University of Texas students in Beijing, China. During this program we also visited, Shanghai, Cuan Di Xia Village, and stayed overnight on the Great Wall of China. After that, for two weeks in July, I was in Uzbekistan visiting a dear friend and mentor of mine. I got to travel to Tashkent and Samarkand and physically see ancient history in front of me as I witnessed the largest Koran ever made in the 12th century on deer skin paper and an ancient astronomical observatory carved out of the ground.

After a grueling spring semester, the joy I got while traveling became the fruit of all of my labor. However, these experiences did not lend themselves well to rest and relaxation. I have only been back in the great state of Texas for a mere four weeks and three days – which is split time between my hometown of Houston and my apartment in Austin. It’s been a world wind: one week in Houston. Two weeks in Austin. Taking my nephew to visit UT and go kayaking in Austin. Move out of my apartment and move back to Houston.

Between visiting with friends, salsa dancing, and binge watching the Disney TV show “Jessie” with my four nieces and nephews, I can say that this trip to Merida, Mexico seems like a quick turn around. I truly loved my time abroad and traveling but my heart still wants to be here with my family. To see my oldest nephew enter middle school and my youngest nephew finally crawl across the living room.

Homesickness or longing for home is a very new feeling for me. Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to travel and leave home to go to college. Once I got to UT Fall of 2012, I adapted to Austin quickly and loved the university life. I excelled in my classes and loved talking to my professors. It was a chore to go back to Houston since UT and Austin was becoming my home. I usually kept my trips home short – I’m ready to go back to Austin within a few days. Since after my freshman year, I’ve spent each summer in Austin working and volunteering.

For the first time, I’m not ready to leave. If I haven’t gotten tired of my family after 2 weeks of being home, something seems off balance here. Hahah My family is very supportive of me studying abroad – mostly because they know I’ll be brining back souvenirs again. I’m just glad I’ll be in the same time zone and my flight will only last two hours! I’m very excited to live abroad for these next four months. I can’t wait to meet my host family and immerse myself in Merida. I only hope that the last Spanish class I took a year and a half ago comes back quickly!!!


Megan Marie Maldonado


Ready for Action… Almost

Time July 7th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

June 30, 2014


‘Yes!’ Despite the growing concern that all of my belongings wouldn’t fit, I have managed to stuff everything and then some into my suitcase. Along with tightly rolled bundles of clothes, I have managed to stuff all sort of toiletries, hiking boots, tennis shoes, Chaco sandals, and an inordinate amount of Cliff bars into the various nooks and crannies of my suitcase. I stand up and survey my work hands on my hips; I can’t help but be proud.

‘I guess all I have to do now is close it!’ 5 minutes later I’m still on the ground struggling against the bulky zipper. It’s 10:02 pm and I’m painfully aware of the fact that I have to be up in less than seven hours. I’m now sitting on top of my suitcase, steeling myself against the floor in an effort to force the brute shut. The zipper moves about two inches. Some more tugging and then I almost get it to the corner where it stays despite my best efforts. ‘Okay, maybe I’ll try the zipper at the other end.’ I turn over and splay my body across my suitcase hoping that by bearing all of my weight on the suitcase I can get the zipper to move around the bulging and awkward lumps that are threatening to burst through the thick black fabric. After a couple more minutes of seemingly pointless struggle I give up; if I have to break a sweat to get my suitcase shut, I’m probably doing something wrong. ‘Sigh.’ This means rearrangement.

It’s 11 pm now and my suitcase is once again tightly packed, so tightly packed I’m afraid that removing the wrong thing will send all of my items flying out like some sort of Pandora’s Box, and there is no going back from that. ‘Now for the moment of truth.’ I sit on my suitcase and after a small tug the zipper starts to glide continuously, if not smoothly, along the seam. ‘Got it!’ And with my suitcase finally packed and my futbol vocabulary well under way – jugada (play), toque (pass), tira de esquina (corner kick), disparo (goal attempt) and GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL (goal) – I was ready.




And the Countdown Begins… Blog Post #1

Time January 2nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by


Hello friends, family, future Butler students and everyone!

For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Elise Luers and I am a Junior at the University of Mississippi. I am currently pursuing a double major in International Studies and Arabic with a minor in Naval Science. I am a second class Midshipman within the Ole Miss NROTC Rebel Battalion and I also competed for the Ole Miss Cross Country and Track & Field teams my freshman and sophomore year. I am also a proud member of the Nu Beta Chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi. Although I attend school in Oxford, MS, my parents and many friends lie far northeast in Concord, NH. But enough about my background. This blog is not a resume. This blog is going to tell a story, a real story. It will discuss the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the confusing, and the exciting. This is the story of my journey. The countdown for this journey is well underway. In just under ten days I will be 5414.04 miles from home… In Cairo… Egypt.

In 9 days I head for Cairo and shortly following a ten day orientation there I travel to my final destination at the University of Alexandria where I will be studying Arabic, Egyptian dialect, Islamic Culture and History, and Politics and Media. I have filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the scholarships, requested (and received) my visa, secured my health insurance, dotted all my “i”s and crossed all of my “t”s. The time to leave is approaching at a rapid pace. So what exactly is going through my mind 9 days before I wave goodbye to everyone and everything? 9 days before I venture “alone” into the unknown? 9 days before the United States becomes a distant, unreachable, piece of land on some map?

The only close metaphor I can muster that best explains how I feel is the feeling a competitor gets before a big (HUGE) game or match. Whether that be a State Championship or Regionals, Nationals or even the Olympics. This is the big leagues. Its the months (or years) of preparation, of studying and strategizing, of practices and work outs. All the sweat, all the work… for this one moment. You don’t know what will happen. It’s the butterflies in your stomach as you lace up your cleats. It’s the rush, the tingling in your blood as the crowd roars when you step on the field. It’s the nerves and the feeling you might not be able to breathe with so many people looking, watching, scrutinizing. You worry you might choke, that you might not be good enough, that you forgot your lucky underwear. Everyone has given their opinion; your coach, your parents, your teammates. All the ideas are swimming in your head, a little fuzzy but you think you have a general grasp of it all. Then before you know it, everything goes eerily silent. The whistle moves to the refs mouth, the gun is raised, the finger approaches the buzzer… the seconds pass like hours… suspense hangs in the air… the crowd holds their breath…

Right now I am in suspense. I fear I might forget that one piece of advice. That one word in Arabic I should have memorized. I worry about all the items I have bought for my trip. Are they enough? What if I leave something behind? You can drive yourself crazy with all the “What ifs”. My bags are not packed. In my mind I am constantly editing and re-editing what is necessary. The weather in Egypt in January is nothing like what it is in May. How does one prepare for that? Beyond the material items I worry about my family and my friends. Will I change while I’m gone? What if something happens to any of them while I’m away? Or me? There is no way to prepare for that. My biggest fear is that I will get too lonely while I am in Alexandria. That I will sit on my computer and skype my family and my boyfriend everyday and won’t explore, won’t take chances on my own. That I will want to crawl in a ball and cry because it is simply all too much.

Right now, my biggest advice (and what I keep convincing myself) is to trust yourself and let go. Know and understand that you can’t control everything. You can’t pack for every scenario. You ARE marching into the unknown, but its the unknown of the big leagues. You can achieve so much. You can learn so much. You can do so many incredible things and talk to so many wonderful people. Get excited! Get pumped! Turn up the pregame music! Soon the whistle will blow and before you know it the race is over, the final buzzer sounds. I am trying to take it all in stride, to grit my teeth and accept that I will get lonely, I will miss my boyfriend, I might pack completely wrong. But I want to enjoy this moment before the storm, that half a second when anything can happen. The trip right now is anything I make it to be. I can still win the game. I can still make this journey successful, inspiring, and fun. It is indescribable when I dream of at all that it can be. I imagine all the stories I will tell, the food I will try, the friends I will make, the adventures I will go on. And so, I will ignore the butterflies, I will trust my training, grit my teeth, embrace the rush and enjoy the emotional jitters of the big moment to come. Knowing that nothing has yet played out, its still up to me how this trip unfolds. I will watch the hand move, the gun rise, the finger fall with confidence and anticipation. I will continue my countdown by putting a smile on my face and stepping to the line standing tall despite the thumping in my chest, my shaking hands and the butterflies in my stomach.. waiting for the whistle to finally blow…


Antes de que me voy (Before I Leave)

Time June 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Hello, internet!


I’m Yona, but you can call me Paloma. (One is Hebrew and one is Spanish, but they both mean “dove.”)


This is going to be long, so I’ll give you a sort of “table of contents” and you can use ctrl+F to skip around to the parts that interest you.


Today I’ll be talking about:
I. My Background
II. Goals for Argentina
III. Preparing for Study Abroad
IV. El vocabulario de la semana
V. La música de la semana



I. My Background


So…I guess I’m going to Argentina, guys. It’s a little surreal.


For me, studying abroad feels like a rite of passage, because everyone at my university has to take a foreign language and study abroad in a country that speaks that language to graduate. I’m a junior at a small, secular liberal arts university called Soka University of America, not to be confused with our sister school, Soka University of Japan.  I’m working on my bachelors in Liberal Arts, with a concentration (which is basically a minor) in Environmental Studies. At SUA, we’re all about fostering global citizenship (though, of course, what exactly what that means is debatable) and humanitarianism. Studying abroad is a great way to understand and connect to another culture, and you can’t have world peace if you don’t have mutual understanding first.


Soka also does Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and French, but I chose Spanish because 1) I genuinely love the language and 2) I wanted to finish what I started. I grew up in rural New Mexico, an hour from Palomas, Mexico, so speaking at least a little bit of Spanish is required just for self-defense. I’ve had Spanish classes since kindergarten, but I wouldn’t call myself fluent yet. I still speak very slowly, I lack the vocabulary to talk about certain things, and my grammar is a bit wonky. So, I’ve got a lot of room to learn!


See, I love to talk. For me it’s not just a way to convey information, it’s also a way of moving through and exploring the world. My voice is like my third hand. When you can speak multiple languages, you can open doors that other people can’t, and there are entire worlds beyond those doors. When I speak different languages, I feel like I even express different sides of my personality. Living where I do, speaking and understanding Spanish is a really big deal.


In January, I had a chance to beef up my Spanish a little more. I was very fortunate to get into a month-long class (a block period we call Learning Cluster, which allows students and professors to build a class together to learn practically whatever they want) to study mining and deforestation in Guatemala. We were there for 16 days, speaking to locals, companies, NGOs, and governmental organizations, almost exclusively in Spanish. We met so many wonderful people and saw so many things that you just would not believe… but that’s an entire blog unto itself.


On the roof of the hotel in Zacapa


The only problem is that my Spanish is all mixed up with weird border slang (like lonchar instead of almorzar for “to have lunch”) and Guatemala-specific vocabulary (like poporopos for popcorn and chucho for dog.) So finding my way in Argentina will be an adventure, haha.


I decided on Argentina, and on Mendoza specifically, because the university there offers classes in environmental studies. It’s a little terrifying to think about taking university-level classes in Spanish, but mostly I’m excited to take a look at environmental issues from an Argentinean perspective, especially because Argentina has some unique issues: desertification due to overgrazing in the north, glaciers melting in Patagonia. I can’t wait to talk to environmental science students in Argentina.



II. Goals for Argentina


1. Learn how to tango

2. Learn how to cook Argentine food

3. Meet as many interesting people as possible

4. Find an Argentinean friend who’ll have a music exchange with me

5. Make time to write poetry (posiblemente en español)

6. Go hiking in the Andes


There are also a few people I want to see…

1. My lovely friend Ranya will be in Chile at the same time that I’ll be in Mendoza, so I really want to find time to visit her. I mean, not that I need an excuse to want to visit Chile.

2. Another friend, a Soka alumna, lives about an hour away from Mendoza.

3. I found out after I chose to study in Argentina that I have a slew of cousins in Buenos Aires and Uruguay that I’ve never met. After my program ends, I’m going to stay with them for about a month, which will include the Christmas holiday.



III. Preparing for Study Abroad


The most major change I’m making in preparation for study abroad is my eating habits. Argentina is renowned for its beef…which is funny because I’m renowned as a vegetarian. This summer I’ve gone omnivorous again, because the last thing I want is to show up at my host family’s house to find that they’ve roasted up some animal for me and then have to try to explain to them why I can’t eat it. I don’t want to be ungrateful to them. Besides, I’m there to immerse myself in the culture, right? It’s not going to be worth the hassle to try to stick to veggies only. I’m starting now so I don’t shock my system and make myself sick. When I’m back in the U.S. I’ll go back to veggies, and then I’ll have an adventure trying a little bit of everything. :)


I also had a bit of packing-panic: how much clothing is enough for 5 months? Part of the problem is that whatever I take for Argentina is what I have for the summer, because I had to put the rest in storage until I come back in January. I’ve been torn between my vanity and the need to not have 80 billion pounds of things to tote around. The Butler website and friends who have previously gone abroad have both warned me not to over pack. I finally settled on about 2 weeks of outfits. I’ll let you know whether or not that turned out to be the right amount. I’m hoping to get more use out of my summery clothes (which I’ll need for December in Buenos Aires) by layering them up with tights and long socks during the winter. It’s unfortunate that it’ll be winter when I show up at the end of July, because that means I only have 1 pair of shorts and a whole lot of long sleeved shirts for this summer here in sunny California, haha.


I’m staying in California for the summer instead of going home to New Mexico, which is nice because it allows me to visit friends and work, but it’s also sad because next time I do go home I’ll have been away for an entire year. I’m sharing an apartment with friends, and by some weird coincidence all of us speak at least some Spanish. It’s great to have people to practice with, because for me the hardest part is trying to switch into SPANISH MODE after being in ENGLISH MODE. I’ll be all warmed up by the time I leave.


We’ve watched a few movies in Spanish together. The first was Sin noticias de dios. (Sorry—I don’t remember the English title. It’s got Penelope Cruz and it’s available on Netflix instant streaming.) We also watched Como agua para chocolate, which you might know better by its English title, Like Water for Chocolate. It’s cute and silly. I’m also reading the book, which I’m very excited about because it’s actually at my Spanish reading level. I tried reading Cien anos de soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez before, but I kept having to refer back to my English copy of the book to figure out what was going on. (I’m only on page 15. Scuze me while I weep in frustration.) Como agua para chocolate is also very short—only about 100-and-something pages.




Other than that, I’ve mostly been hanging out with friends, trying to get a little writing done, working, cooking, and relaxing. I’m saving my energy for Argentina, I guess, haha.



IV. El vocabulario de la semana




These are words I came across because I needed them to explain/understand something. Maybe they’ll come in handy for you too.


Enjuagar – to rinse

Cochinero – mess

Amistad – friendship 😀

Comprobar – to prove



V. La música de la semana




My Argentinean friend has warned me that some of my most beloved websites, like Pandora, won’t work in Argentina, so I’ve been trying to stock up on tunes while I can. Mostly I’ve been gathering music in English because I have a feeling I’m going to miss it, but I also stumbled onto this cool Venezuelan band called tomatesfritos (or, Fried Tomatoes, en ingles).


If you want to check them out and practice your Spanish, you can download their album Hotel Miramar for free right here (and it’s completely with the artists’ permission, too.)


Predeparture Blog Number One, or The Anxious Homebody’s Travel Jitters

Time January 3rd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Greetings and salutations! I’ve never really blogged for anyone other than myself before, so I shall try to make this as unawkwardly written as possible. For starters I should probably introduce myself: I’m Kelsey, 22 years young, English major, born and raised in sunny California. I’m a thoroughly dependent person in that I’ve never been away from home for more than two weeks and never outside the states. So, this experience is as new to me as it is to anyone (I know everyone says that… but seriously, I mean it). I’m also pretty terrified of change, so it’s probably a good thing I was asked to blog for IFSA-Butler. Any issues that could possibly come up (i.e. severe homesickness, general travel insecurity, magnificently dumb mistakes, etc.) will surely come up with me. In which case, perhaps someone somewhere out there can learn from what I have to say or at the very least feel comforted by the fact that they probably aren’t quite as dysfunctional a traveler as I am.

As I am entirely too paranoid for my own good, I did quite a bit of researching before applying. I had the same questions I’m sure a lot of people had, but had a bit of trouble finding answers to all of them, such as a description of what to expect in the application, financial aid process, etc. As for the application itself– it is long, and it is threefold. At least it was for me, and I’m assuming it’s similar for others. But it all depends on your home university and abroad university.

Something else I’m sure many or most people who study abroad encounter at some point is financial aid. In terms of financial aid, my particular experience has been, in all honesty, an absolute nightmare. I say this not to terrify anyone or discourage you in any way, but to help (really, I swear!). I could write a separate blog entry entirely on my financial aid experience alone, and might do so in case it could prevent anyone else from going through any stresses. But all I’ll really say right now about it is that 1) yes, it is a lengthy, trying process, but 2) if you are as prepared and diligent about it as you can be, that 3) it will work out in the end, and most importantly, 4) will absolutely be worth it. I promise.

As for me, I leave in exactly five days (assuming I get on my stand-by flight). As I said before, I have never been away from home for more than two weeks, and have never been out of the country, save for a three-day trip just south of the border into a questionable part of Mexico. Basically, I am a homebody. I love the idea of adventure, but until now have been rather petrified of big changes. I’m still surprised at how deeply this is all hitting me. A very good friend of mine, who is also studying abroad this Spring (in Wales and luckily only an hour away from me) and who is equally attached to home, agrees with me when I say that it takes a lot out of you in many ways, even before you leave. I’ve never anticipated anything more than this, ever, in my entire twenty-two years of life. That alone is saying quite a lot! Then there’s the anxiety– the sort of half-excitement/half-worry about traveling, getting acclimated to a new city and way of life, and keeping up with an entirely new school, study habits, vocabulary. And then there is downright sadness about leaving your home, family, comfort zone. But everyone reacts differently, and I think the key is to tell yourself it’ll feel very new, very strange, and at times very wrong. You just have to be okay with being a little out of control, and trust in yourself to adjust and appreciate something new.

But all of the worry aside, I am absolutely convinced this is the best thing I could possibly do for myself. As everyone says, this is your chance to run off to a foreign country for six months of your life, meet people, learn things, and adopt a new lifestyle. I know it will be challenging in many ways. I know that within two or three weeks of my stay, I will run head-on into the inevitable wall that is acute homesickness and call my mommy, pleading to come home. But I will have to deal with it, and I will. And then I’ll come to my senses and create a balance that allows me to function through the remaining five months with some semblance of sanity. After all, there is always Skype.

And when it all seems too overwhelming to be true, I just remember the fact that I will be welcomed with open arms into a city with knowledge and curiosity and adventure seeping from every cobblestone. Chances are, if you’re looking into studying abroad, school means a lot to you in some way. The point of studying abroad is, after all, the studying. So when you can’t seem to see past the scary parts, remember that school is always there for you, just as it always has been. A wonderful place of learning for you to get to know. And I cannot wait to introduce myself to my new school. So, Hertford College, how do you do? I’m Kelsey.