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

The First Week

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

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

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

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Traveling Tips: Things I Wish I Knew

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

Hello all,

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

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

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Five Ways To Pack A Semester’s Worth of Stuff into One Suitecase

Time September 29th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

As someone who actually enjoys packing and overpacking, I could not even begin to fathom how I would pack for an entire term at Oxford with a single suitcase. I can pack that much for a week vacation; however, as I’m currently sitting at the airport having already checked my single piece of luggage (coming to 49.5 lbs), I am proof that what seems impossible can be done. Here are 5 tips for how I made it happen:

  1. Plan and Place: When I overpack it’s usually because I bring an article of clothing or a pair of shoes that I really like but never end up wearing because it didn’t coordinate with the rest of what I brought. To make sure that I made the most of my suitcase, I planned each one of my outfits and placed them on the ground. If a pair of shoes was only really fit for two outfits, I decided to leave them and go with a different option of footwear. Additionally, by folding them and placing them on the ground I created an estimate of how much space everything would need. This allowed me to make reductions earlier rather than later as it was much easier to take things from my floor back to my closet than from the bottom of my suitcase back to my closet.
  2. Mix and Match: Now this applies to clothes, but what I mean is to mix and match packing styles. There are a couple different packing styles: folding into neat squares, laying flat with minimal folding, rolling, etc (maybe you’re none of these and prefer to toss things into your suitcase and however they land is how it travels). I found to make the most of my suitcase, I had to do a little bit of everything. If you only use one method,  you have a lot of unused space. I rolled thing t-shirts to put inbetween and around larger sweaters that I folded. Doing this allowed me to fill every inch of the suitcase.
  3. Pack Weird Shapes First: For me this meant my shoes. Then follow tip 2 and add materials to fill in the gaps. It was much easier to pack around my shoes then to try and fit them in on top of everything else.
  4. Rule of 1: I have a lot of clothes and I have a lot of clothes that look alike but are slightly different enough that I will try justify why I need both. Having only one suitcase really knocked this habit out from me. My rule was that I could only bring one of something. One vest, one pair of gym shoes, one navy blouse, etc. However, I did make one exception to this rule. If I could see myself needing the item a couple times a week, I allowed myself two, so a few things that made this cut: leggings, plaid shirts, and jeans.
  5. Avoid Memorable Patterns/Pieces: Some of my favorite pieces of clothing are super unique and as a result pretty memorable. If you’re like me and you’re going to have to a Lizzie McGuire outfit repeater, you might have to leave some of your favorite pieces behind. A plain t-shirt can look entirely different if you throw on a scarf or a necklace; however, there is not much you can do to a brightly patterned shirt with distinct cutouts. I invested in some high-quality basic pieces. It was much easier to fit more necklaces than to fit more cardigans.

So with those five rules and some time spent sitting on my suitcase to flatten everything out, I managed to pack a semester’s worth of clothing into one suitcase. Stay tuned to hear about my adventures when I actually get to London.

 

Till then, happy packing!

 

xx

Zaya

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STUDY Abroad

Time August 18th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, New Zealand | No Comments by

I know it’s been awhile since my last post! Unfortunately, I was bogged down by my first real week of work. That’s not to say that my course schedule isn’t hard, but classes are done somewhat differently, here.

First off, classes are called “papers.” Let’s use that word in a sentence: “I’m taking four papers during my semester at Otago: ‘Gender and the Media,’ ‘Crime, Deviance, and Social Transformation,’ ‘Musical Theater Voice,’ and ‘Sensation and Perception.’” I’m lucky because I get to take papers in a multitude of areas. That’s another thing—unlike at my school in the US, students here choose a major (or more than one), and mainly take classes in those areas. For instance, one of my Kiwi Hosts is a neuroscience major and she is taking all science-heavy papers.

Another major difference is the number of assessments. Back at Wesleyan (my home school), I have homework due every week in my science classes. The homework assignments may be problem sets or moodle posts online but there is always something. There are also more tests, meaning grades are split up among more pieces of work (which makes it easier to get a decent grade if you don’t do well on one of them). At Otago, I have no problem sets, no online posts to make, and only three or so assignments per class. Because of this, I must work harder to do well on all of my assignments. Read More »

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Reflecting on the Last Four Months

Time May 23rd, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

They say all good things come to an end.  Unfortunately for me, my time in Limerick, Ireland is over.  I returned home five days ago and I am still having a tough time coming to grips with the fact that it will be a while before I return back to Ireland.  It was the best and fastest four months of my life and I am so incredibly happy I was able to do something like this.  Since I was young I always wanted to spend time in Ireland.  As I explained in my first blog post, Limerick is the home of both of my grandparents who emigrated from Ireland to the United States in search of a better life; the American Dream.  Ever since I can remember, pride for my Irish heritage was instilled in me and that is something that I hopefully can engrain in my children’s lives.

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From Limerick to Galway Back to Limerick and Off to Scotland!

Time May 4th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, College Study Abroad, Ireland | No Comments by

I decided to take a break from studying for my Irish history final exam (I can not believe I just said final exam… what?!) and catch up on what is going on with me these past few weeks. I feel as though each time I sit down to write, I’ve done something new and unique which I feel has epitomised my study abroad experience… I’m definitely not complaining! Read More »

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The End.

Time December 14th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Never say Goodbye, because Goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting…” – J.M. Barrie

Well this is it.

The end.

And I feel completely unprepared for it.

I feel like there are so many things I didn’t get to see or do or enjoy enough. But then I also think even if I were here for a few years it wouldn’t be enough time. But 4 months is definitely not enough time; that I know.

I don’t think I can adequately express how much I have loved the past 4 months of my life. All of the amazing people that I have met and who I know will be my friends for the rest of my life. All of the breathtaking sites I have seen. Every note of music I’ve heard. Every interesting taste or smell that I know I won’t find at home. Even little things like just walking through town or experiencing the disorganization of a Ryanair flight. Hearing different types of Irish accents around me at any given time, or hearing people speak Irish at the Tesco down the road. Digestive biscuits, fresh doughnuts (emphasis on the dough), mulled wine, pints of Guinness, street performers, the Citylink bus to Dublin I took more times than I care to admit, crappy instant coffee, the 20 minute walk into town, all of the construction on campus, tiny showers/toilets, paying for public toilets, train rides through foreign countries, getting lost in foreign cities and discovering beautiful gardens and buildings. I’ll miss it all.

Yea, some of those don’t sound so great and I’ll probably miss some things more than others, but with the ever-growing-closer date of departure looming a mere day ahead of me, I feel nostalgic for it all already. I went Christmas shopping today on Shop Street and looking at all of the Christmas decorations, which in DC makes me a little homesick for my family, made me incredibly sad to think that I wouldn’t be spending Christmas here, in Galway, in Ireland, in Europe.

I am, of course, beyond happy when I think of seeing my family, my friends, my house, my own room, my dog. I will soon be able to go to the grocery store and recognize every brand, I will spend money without doing conversions in my head all of the time, I will drive a car, I won’t have to walk to the store, I will eat some of my favorite foods and get delicious home cooked meals. I will celebrate Christmas with my loved ones, as well as my 21st birthday and New Year’s. Even with all of that though, and even with one last daunting final to complete, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to leave what has come to be my home, Galway.

Galway Girl

With a broken heart and a ticket home.

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Time November 2nd, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Embarrassing…only half this post went up and I’m not sure why. So here it is again, but different because of course…I didn’t save the original!

Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.

Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.

Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’s no post on Saturdays and Sundays and this past Monday was a bank holiday so again the post service wasn’t open. I finally received my card though, and all is well. But a little word of advice: maybe don’t bring your card with you when you go out and also have some kind of contingency plan with your bank so that there’s a faster way for you to regain access to your money!

Luckily, this little hiccup did not stop me from having an amazing time in Budapest! It was really one of the best trips of my life and I am already trying to find a way to return.

Alleyway in Budapest. St. Stephen’s Basilica is in the background covered by the smog/haze that seemed to coat the city.

View of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament building from the bridge leading to Margaret Island.

Hungarian lace and linen at the little market we ran into on the streets of Budapest.

Me standing on the Chain Bridge that leads over the Danube to the Budapest Castle, it was absolutely beautiful!

Stall at the market where the delicious Transylvanian Chimney Cakes were being roasted over a coal burning fire. These were so good and unique tasting that we went back the next day for more!

And of course we had fun at our hostel when they organized an open mic night and some of the guys sang part of a song…over and over again! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jmcj1Ilqysc&feature=share[/youtube]

Since I didn’t have much money, I had a nice excuse to have a weekend exploring Galway, something I should have done long ago. I went to the fresh market Galway has on Saturdays downtown, and on Sunday walked to Salthill, a suburb right on the beach outside of Galway.

We got some delicious hot and fresh donuts from one of the stalls at the fresh market! Seriously it was so fresh and hot that it got squished from being in the bag for only a minute or so.

Fresh carrots and onions from one of the vegetable stands at the market.

One of downtown Galway’s main roads on an early Sunday afternoon.

Galway Bay, on the walk to Salthill

View of Salthill from the diving platform…where we saw several people swimming in the freezing cold water, some of them not even wearing wet suits!

The little explorations of Galway came at just the right time, though. After having so much fun in Budapest I was feeling the excitement of Ireland starting to wind down after being here for 2 months (especially since school was starting to get a little more serious with midterms and essays and presentations due and that was what I had to look forward to on my return from Hungary), I was just feeling a little tired of Galway. But exploring the city and the surrounding areas got me excited about Ireland again. Sometimes you just need to change up your routine a little to shake off any bad feelings.

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Time October 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” by

Last weekend I took my first international weekend trip since I’ve been to Ireland! I traveled quite a bit before arriving in Galway but it was my first trip to Hungary (the country where my dad’s side of the family immigrated from), and the first time where coming back to Ireland felt like coming home.

Unfortunately, a few nights before I left my wallet was stolen at a bar in Galway. In all honesty it was probably more my carelessness that enabled someone to take it than anything else since I’m the only one from my program to experience any kind of problems here.

Luckily my immigration card wasn’t in my wallet but I did lose some money, my NUIG student ID, and most unfortunately, my debit card. On a positive note, I have some amazing friends who helped me out and loaned me money while I cancelled my card and ran out of the cash I had at home. Since I opted not to open an Irish bank account and my bank is a smaller state bank, I had to wait for them to send my card to my home address in the US and have my mom forward me my card here, where it got stuck in customs for a few days because it needed some kind of special form to be filled out. Then there’

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A Walk of Coogee

Time October 31st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A little walking tour of the town where I live. Only 2 more weeks!

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Orientation

Time February 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The orientation was amazing. There is simply too much to write about so I will highlight the most remarkable things that I experienced. I will start with the food. I can confidently say that I have been overfed and that I have experienced Egyptian hospitality. I do not know if this is the norm, but nearly every meal after breakfast consists of 6 appetizers, drinks, 3 main course dishes, dessert and coffee/tea. I cannot seem to get enough Turkish coffee these days (ah-wah masboot) and they (collective they) cannot seem to tire of feeding me tahini.

Besides the food, the orientation has offered me several opportunities to explore Egyptian historical monuments. So yes, I have seen and been inside the pyramids and ambled by the sphinx; and yes I have seen King Tutankhamen’s casket along with several well-preserved mummies; and yes I have prayed in Saladin’s Mosque; and yes I have been in the Citadel at Alexandria etc etc. This is all well and amazing in its own right, but what stands out are the people.

First and foremost, most Egyptians think that I am Egyptian. Whenever I tell that I am not Egyptian, the second thing they tell me is that I must be Arab. When this too has failed, they still insist that my face is Egyptian (khalass!). For the most part, the locals I have tried to talk most with are the Taxi cab drivers. Most taxi drivers here love to talk. I normally start by telling them where I am from and that I like Egyptian music; typical response: Oum Kulthum! Ya Helwa! Then we play the heritage guessing game (aren’t you Egyptian?) and then the religion guessing game (but you are Muslim yani?) and finally the “what I like about the US” game (Jimmy Carter!!).

We also received several lectures ranging from topics of health, Egyptian music, ancient Egyptian history, archaeology, women in the Arab world, and Islam. We got a lecture from none other than Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities: Dr. Zahi Hawass.

A rather flamboyant personality with an inclination towards stardom (and abhorrence for cell phones), Dr. Hawass explicitly schooled us on the recent groundbreaking archaeological digs he was leading and the arduous tasks he undertook in order to become the best in his field. I asked him what his greatest disappointment was, and he answered without batting an eyelid “I have none”. After the lecture he commissioned a pass that will allow us (as a group) into any historic site monitored by the Council of Antiquities including all Museums for free! This tremendous gift has enabled several of the trips on which we went.

IFSA Butler held a photo contest among us Egypt students. I somehow managed to win! Below you will find the pictures that I submitted. This is ironic considering the number of times that I forgot my camera! The photos were judged by Chris Harrison, Dr. El Komi and very kind  (and famous) photographer whose name I have regretfully forgotten…I am sorry about this; as soon as I can find his name out I add it without fail. The prizes were: a wonderfully painted ceramic mug and what appears to be a wooden-ebony in-layed box of dominoes.

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A New Experience

Time January 4th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Hello, blog world.

My name is Ben Menke and I hope to become a worthy member of this new society I have now joined. I have never blogged before about anything, but I am optimistic that I can take on this new challenge! Expect to hear some outrageous, exciting, and maybe even some plain old normal reports from me over the course of the next 5 months, and I will do the same.

Christmas Eve with my brothers and sister

Christmas Eve with my brothers and sister

This Christmas break has been unlike any other I have experienced up to this point. Now that finals and all of my duties to an American college education are over for the next 6 months, Costa Rica has been on my mind more than ever. I have been away from home for extended periods before, but never quite like this. Driving 15 hours north for college every semester is one thing, but leaving behind a whole culture for almost half a year is another. Add to the mix that I am a one-month newborn into the world of being a fiance and it makes leaving my American home that much more bittersweet. But Costa Rica is a journey I have been looking forward to for quite a while now and I can’t believe that it’s almost here! I just know I’m going to forget to pack some important thing I need for my trip – I can’t wait to find out what it is!

I have spoken briefly with my host family (la familia Vega-Sibaja) on the phone, but we have been emailing periodically with questions that are typical of strangers who are going to be all of a sudden living together for 5 months and will one day be family. Talking with them for the first time really accelerated the reality of this whole thing, and in an incredibly good way. I had to utilize what knowledge I had of the Spanish language to uphold my side of our conversation, and I realized there was considerable room for improvement of my lingual competence. Becoming equally familiar with the Spanish language as I am with English has been a goal of mine for a very long time, and it is going to finally happen. There’s a dream come true for ya! I even get to experience a legit Costa Rican wedding for my host brother while I’m there – how lucky am I?!

Even if I wanted to, I probably couldn’t anticipate all that I am going to experience, and I don’t want to even pretend like I’m ready for it all. But I am confident that I will carry an open mind with me wherever I go and do my best to make the most out of this unique and rare opportunity.

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