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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Experiencing a Wonder of the World

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

This blog is supposed to be about my experiences with the program and explorations around my host city, but with the end coming near I hope you all will indulge me. Here is a blog about one of the natural wonders of the world. It’s the one place all Argentine students must visit – Iguzaú.

Iguazú Falls holds the world record for largest series of waterfalls. That should be enough to convince any person who has the opportunity to go, to go. If that doesn’t, here’s my honest opinion: Iguazú is one of the most breathtaking visions I have ever seen in my life. I have seen a ton of waterfalls, including Niagara, but this moved every bit of me.

When my travel buddies and I arrived at the National Park, we first went up to La Garganta del Diablo. The Devil’s Throat sits on top of the falls, billowing mist and allowing for a spectacular view of many falls. It was a cold day and the mist seeped through my rain jacket, but I couldn’t have cared any less. I spent so long taking photos that I had to tell myself to put the camera down and enjoy the view.

Me in front of Garganta del Diablo   Garganta del Diablo

After a quick tram ride back to the main area we set off on the Lower Trail, which led us to a series of falls and a magical view. The waterfalls all in a row with a mystical island in the center. I wish we had been able to visit the island, but it was such a full day, we wouldn’t have had time.

From all the students who had visited before we had heard about a boat ride into the falls. We took a short trail down to the edge of the water, towards the boat launch. After putting our bags in drypacks and taking off our shoes, we were off. Seeing the falls up close was amazing. I could barely keep my eyes open with all the mist, but I fought it. This was to cool of an experience to miss. After the boat ride was over though, I really wished we had visited on a warmer day.

Falls from the boat

Our last bit of the trip was to hike the upper trail – a path that let us see another inspiring view and the tops of more falls. We sat and watched as the sun hit the tops of the trees. As we walked away from the falls we encountered our one and only monkey. It was unfortunately too quick for me to take a good photo.

A view from the upper trail

This experience was so fantastic. If you visit Argentina or come to study, you must go see Iguazú Falls. It’s worth the trip.

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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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Ode to Recreo

Time June 5th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 1 Comment by

The other day when I was walking home from the bus stop, I was struck by how familiar and comfortable Recreo, my neighborhood in Viña del Mar, feels to me now. What struck me was not just that I feel at home here, but more so that I feel as if I am a part of the neighborhood, instead of just some foreigner stuck in limbo between vacation and immigration. My walk home from the bus stop is essentially uphill the entire way, but I never get tired of it. I get off the bus at Viña’s biggest icon and tourist attraction, “El Reloj de Flores,” which is quite literally a clock composed of flowers planted on a hillside next to the ocean. Now, ironically, the Reloj de Flores was recently wiped from existence when a giant pine tree was uprooted and fell down the hillside in a miniature mudslide caused by the unprecedented torrential rain of the past two days. The precious monument was destroyed without a trace and they are now estimating that it will take around forty million dollars to fix it. In my opinion, not worth it for a circle of flowers, but to each his own.

Anyway, as I was saying, the other day when I was walking home, before that weekend of rain and the Reloj’s tragic death, I was struck by how much my neighborhood had really begun to feel like my neighborhood. I know every dog and cat and where they hang around, basking in the sun and begging for food or attention or both. I know every crack in the sidewalk, every piece of graffiti. When I come up the stairs from the main, I wave to the store owner on the corner who’s almost always standing outside enjoying the day and talking with friends. He and his wife came over on Easter when my Chilean mom’s boyfriend made enough paella to feed a small army. I recognize the homeless men drinking beer on the steps near the park. I smile at the old man who always walks his poodle down to the lookout at the same time that I come home for lunch each day. I know at exactly what point the smell of Papa John’s will drift to me as I walk up to Diego Portales and turn towards my street, Arturo Prat. It seems that Chile shares the U.S.’s traditional of naming streets after historical figures that no one really likes and whom, outside of the nationalistic bias of history books, seem to have done more harm than good.

I have subconsciously memorized the barks of each dog that will sound off in order as I pass by their respective houses on the way to my own. My favorite is the paradoxical German shepherd three doors down who always sits perched on the ledge of house’s fence like a cat and whose bark is surprisingly high-pitched for a pup of (at least) 80 pounds. When I get to my house and take out my keys, I no longer have to study them to see which one has less rust (that one goes to the gate, the other to the house) because I can feel the difference.

I often recognize faces of people I know as I am walking around the Recreo neighborhood and it makes me feel proud. The man at the local liquor store, whose parents sent him to grade school in the U.K. so that he could learn English, always likes to practice speaking with me when I come in for cheap wine. My friend Amelia’s Chilean host mom who owns a boutique next to the sushi place by the train station, who is probably the sweetest, happiest woman I have ever met. My eccentric history professor who I always see reading the newspaper in Café Recreo. The parking attendant that always smiles and says hello when I pass by. The group of neighborhood guys that looked after my friend Colin and I when we first got here and are always excited to see me. Friends that I’ve made, young and old. And not just the people I have met in Recreo, but all of the friends that I have made here, friends that I truly care about. Friends that I can’t imagine leaving in a month and potentially never seeing again. They have all impacted my life here and who I am because of it, in their own way.

I have always been a strong believer that who we are as people is a patchwork made up of the influences of the people we encounter in life and the ways in which they help shape our heart, some obviously more so than others. There is an African philosophy native to the Nguni tribe in southern Africa called Ubuntu which, if you know me well you’ve most likely heard me talk about. Directly translated it means, “I am because you are.” But it is a way of life founded upon the belief that our humanity is constructed and nurtured through relationship with others, that we are all intrinsically connected in this way and, therefore, we should treat one another with love, graciousness and respect.

In that moment, walking down the street to my house, I thought about the people that I’ve met here in Chile and all I could think of was how fortunate I feel to have had them contribute to the ever-growing patchwork of my humanity. My heart is full!

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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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Life After Abroad

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

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

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

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

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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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Italy: The most surreal place

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

My flatmates and I looked up flights to Italy and we found some cheap flights to Milan! We all couldn’t say no so we booked them! We started off in Milan and quickly found a place to get some pizza! I think I ate more pasta and pizza than I ever have over the weekend. The second day we took a trip to Verona. Verona was very much like what I pictured Italy to be like. The architecture of the buildings was exactly what I pictured. Verona was so beautiful and it really felt like spring time! We had a funny encounter with choosing a restaurant for lunch! My friend looked up places to go and she found a cheap place for us to go. Well we walked up to the restaurant and looked at the menu outside. To our surprise there was horse and rabbit meat being served!After a few laughs we ended up choosing a different restaurant! That was one of the most culture shock things that I experienced with abroad! We climbed to the top of a tower where we could see the whole city. Overlooking Verona was one of the most surreal experiences of my life! Italy is seen as this dream destination and it was so surreal to actually be there. I honestly felt so free in that moment. I felt like I had overcome so much this semester and being in Italy made me realize how vast the world really is. It’s so much more than just picture;physically being there changed my view of the world. Read More »

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Saying Goodbye

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

When Ashley, our IFSA-Butler Ireland representative sat us down for our Welcome Event, she mentioned how fast this semester would go. Through the ups and downs, the cold showers, the studying late nights, the friendships, the traveling, and everything in between, I never thought Ireland would really become my home in such a short time. And I never realized how fast the semester would really go.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone. With the other 15 IFSA-Butler students, and a few honorary members, we became a group of strangers to a family. I hope you enjoy my last few photos in Ireland as much as I do.

They say that some memories can make you happy, and some can make you sad, but the memories that make you the happiest looking back years later are the memories of travel. I’m so lucky to have traveled throughout Ireland during this semester, and am so thankful to IFSA-Butler for helping me through this crazy change in my life! Read More »

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Flying solo/Viajar sola

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

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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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Gringa’s first earthquake

Time May 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | 1 Comment by

About two weeks ago, I experienced my first real earthquake here in Chile and, I have to say, it was much more terrifying than I had anticipated. For some reason, I had never really understood the panic about earthquakes. I mean, as long as no buildings collapse, it’s just a little vibration, right? Wrong. As it turns out, I am not a huge fan of them. There’s something deeply unsettling about the fact that the earth, which we often conceptualize to be the most physically stable thing in our lives, can suddenly begin to move underfoot.
I was walking back to my house with a friend when it happened. It probably only lasted for about 20 seconds in total but it felt like longer as we watched the cement buildings around us shake. Strangely enough, my first reaction was equal parts fear and excitement, as if all of that raw energy traveling through the earth’s tectonic plates had continued on through the soles of my feet and up my spine, terrifying yet strangely intoxicating. There was no visible damage where we were standing, so my friend and I shrugged it off and went on our way. I became more unsettled, however, when people started coming out of their houses onto the street and asking us if we were alright. Everyone was wide-eyed and tight lipped and their anxiety made my own heart begin to race.
The streets of my neighborhood suddenly felt eerily unfamiliar. The air cracked with a kind of strange anticipation, as if houses and residents alike were holding their breath to see what might happen next. The only sounds to be heard were the chorus of car alarms going off from the tremors and the dial tones of my neighbors’ phones as they called their loved ones across town. One man told us that we should save our water in case it got shut off and recommended that we go straight home. As the aftershocks started and the tsunami evacuation alarm sounded, the initial ignorant excitement of my first earthquake faded and I decided that he was probably right. Read More »

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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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Travel Fun

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

Greetings from Edinburgh and a cozy hobbit-hole home that’s outfitted like a mansion. The next few posts might be a bit out of order in terms of temporal progression; I’ve been doing a bit of travel, and things tend to get mixed up along the way. That’s a good sign. It means I’ve been having fun.

Now, it was last Friday that my parents came to visit. I’d been expecting the visit and looking forward to it, for the simple reason that I am a very, very tactile creature and there is a necessary adaptation period before you can hug your new friends without it being awkward. No such barrier exists among family; my parents have gotten many, many hugs over the last few days. It’s been very nice traveling across the U.K. with them in a car (the first time I’ve been in a car in three months, in fact), staying at places that range from a ridiculously massive and swanky hotel by the Thames in London to a tiny little inn out in Partney, Nowhere. All of the experiences have been great, especially since I’m not the one paying. Of course, not every piece of traveling with parents is ideal. After three months of setting my own schedule and not having to rely on or wait on anyone else for my plans, being just along for the ride is a bit jarring. Getting told what to do after a time of essentially making your way in life alone takes some getting used to. I imagine this is one of these things that’s more or less tolerable depending on the sort of person you are, and the sort of relationship you have with your family. I’m lucky – as long as I have a book, I don’t really mind what it is we’re up to. And the things we’ve gotten up to while traveling are well worth any small frustrating. Read More »

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UK Travels

Time April 19th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

During the month of April I went to England and Northern Ireland. My first stop was London, England. I was meeting a friend who’s also studying abroad this semester; the same friend that I traveled to Amsterdam with! London is a very busy city with a lot of people in it! At times it was a little overwhelming. It was nice that the public transportation was so easy though. It was also nice that it runs 24/7! That can be something frustrating about Scotland’s public transportation. Although the public transportation was pretty intense in London, it was relatively easy to navigate! Of course I was with somebody who knew where they were but I think it would have been fine if I wasn’t. On the first night we went to a play! It was called “A Comedy about a Bank Robbery”. It was pretty funny and was about exactly what the title says! The humor was just silly and didn’t require much thought! It was nice to just relax and watch a play for pure entertainment.

The next day we went to Westminster, which is the main tourist site! It was interesting because I had been there about 11 years ago and once I walked off the tube I had this overwhelming sense of nostalgia. I was transported back to my 9 year old self. It was such a wonderful and exciting feeling! I’ve never experienced something like that before. The power of nostalgia was so strong! At this moment I captured a picture of Big Ben, which I’m really proud of! I feel like it came out so well! Read More »

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Bonsoir and Happy Days

Time April 11th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

After a jam packed month filled with many weekends away, I concluded my March trips with a quick stop in Paris where I met up with my sister Hailey and my cousin Erin as they were passing through on their travels. Writing that sounds crazy, that we just “met up in Paris for the weekend,” because how often does that happen? Life is pretty cool.

Throughout the weekend we did the typical Parisian tourist activities; we walked through the Notre Dame, strolled down the Champs-Élysées, ate crepes and macaroons and drank good wine, and we saw the Eiffel tower. But I think my favorite part was just being with family. At night in our AirBnB we would play cards and chat just like we would any other time back at home, and after a few months away from home those moments meant so much.

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And as for the city and Parisians, they’re a lot nicer than the stereotype suggests. We shopped at a French market one morning and all of the vendors were so kind to us. The city is dirty, as they say, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. To be honest, Cardiff is a dirtier city than Paris. Regardless, I recommend spending some time in Paris if you get the chance. There is literally nothing happier than eating a banana and nutella crepe while strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens. Although as hard as it was to say “au revoir” to the city, it was even harder to say goodbye to Hailey and Erin

Another glimpse of home I got recently was a visit from Joe—something I had been counting down the days for. On Wednesday at 2 AM I left my flat for the early bus to London, where I took a second bus to Gatwick airport. After waiting the longest 30 minutes I think I’ve ever waited, I saw Joe coming out of Arrivals and we got our movie like airport reunion. Okay that may be a little dramatic but it was so nice to see him after so long. We took a bus into the city and spent the afternoon in London. Read More »

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A Break in Uruguay

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

The weekend before classes really started everyone in the Buenos Aires program was swept away for a short vacation in Uruguay. The first few weeks had been intense, with us trying to get a grip on a new country, getting used to living 24/7 in Spanish, and working with a completely different university system. Uruguay was a chance for a break before we had to buckle down.

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Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM

Time March 29th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | 1 Comment by

Spring has sprung! And Cardiff is filled with blooming daffodils that are literally everywhere. Each day that I run through Bute Park (gotta counteract all of those Welsh cakes) brings more and more of the bright yellow flowers that are sprouting up everywhere. I’m pretty convinced that by the end of the month I won’t be able to see grass anymore, just daffodils. Speaking of the end of the month, it’s March. Who would have though I’d have made it this far?

Anyways; it’s March, my hair has gotten longer, I’ve turned in three essays, I’ve learned how to make a proper meal, and I’ve gotten to season six of Gilmore Girls. And if you have any intentions of watching Gilmore Girls sans spoilers I suggest that you stop reading this now because I am about to spoil the ending of season five, and I’m deeply sorry for any pain this may cause. Rory is leaving Yale. She’s dropping out. She’s having an existential crisis, doesn’t know what she wants out of life, and is making rash decisions that will have pretty big repercussions in her life.

So you’re probably thinking, Alex, why are you writing about Gilmore Girls? Well I’ll tell you: watching her make these big, monumental decisions made me feel some sort of solidarity with her. Not that I’m dropping out of Drake, or Cardiff, or moving into my grandparents’ pool house, but I’m reaching the point in my semester where I’m questioning what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. I’ve blinked and suddenly I’m halfway done with my time here. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m realizing one distinct fact: four months is not enough time abroad.

I remember my first week here—I was so sick, which made me homesick, which made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. I remember talking to my mom about how many of my friends who went abroad for j-term were just getting home and getting ready to go back to Drake for the semester. I asked her, “Should I have just done that?” She told me no, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t have a whole semester.

Mom, I know you’re reading this and so I’m just going to encourage you to refrain from jumping up and down with glee as I write these three words: you were right. A j-term simply wouldn’t have been enough time. It wouldn’t have given me a chance to get homesick every now and again, to struggle through the tough days where everything seems unfamiliar, and to learn how to be on my own. All of which aren’t always pleasant experiences, but what self-growth comes from easy days and familiarity? A j-term also wouldn’t have been enough time to travel everywhere I want, to see all of the sights that are on my bucket list (which seems to get longer and longer every time I go to cross something off), and to make the friendships that I’m finding myself surrounded by. I’m not even sure four months is enough for all of those things even with every weekend jam-packed with travelling like mine have been, which I will now segue into describing.

The other weekend I left my cozy room in Cardiff to head to the lovely town of Lucerne, Switzerland—a place I fell in love with completely. It was one of those places that make you say “I have to come back here someday.” It had all of my favorite things—mountains, a lake, and really great cheese. The weekend was magical for many reasons, but there are two things in particular that I will probably always think back on with a smile when I reminisce on my trip to Switz: Fasnacht and Mount Rigi.

Fasnacht taught me something about the Swiss people—they are doing something right. It’s a carnival that runs from Thursday to Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday that’s dedicated to eating, drinking, and dressing up in elaborate costumes that put my 20 years of Halloween outfits to shame. Confetti covers the streets where marching bands parade up and down playing music all throughout the night (and at 5:30 on Monday morning because apparently that’s part of the tradition too). Food trucks are everywhere with grilled sausages, raclette cheese, and warm wine. There were people of all ages, all adorned in costumes, and all seemingly having a wonderful time. It was amazing. It was filled with joy, and I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky that my one weekend in Switzerland fell over this carnival.

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But it gets better. Ever heard of the Swiss Alps? That was a joke I’m sure you have. Have you ever seen them from across a sparkling lake on a sunny day? I’m bragging now but Katie, Annelise, and I hiked up Mount Rigi and had lunch on a grassy hill with a view that can only be described as a glimpse of heaven. I’m pretty sure I heard the hallelujah chorus to Handel’s “Messiah” as I took a bite out of my prosciutto sandwich.

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My final note on Switzerland is the inspiration for this blogs title “Trains, Planes, and Buses that Depart at 2 AM.” I’ve decided that when I’m old and rich and much less spry I am always going to get the most direct mode of transportation everywhere I go. And I say this because Katie and I left our flats at 2 AM to catch our first bus, which took us to London. After, we took a second bus to get us to the airport. We flew. We landed in Zurich, late, and had to find our way through a Swiss train station and figure out how on earth to get to Lucerne. Our trip took 15 hours. That’s all that needs to be said on that.

Another trip that took half a day (literally 12 hours on a bus) was my journey to Scotland. Riley and I left our flat at 6:30 AM and were on a bus for pretty much the rest of the day. We ate dinner that night at a place called “The Boozy Cow” and were so hungry I think we both finished our burgers in under four minutes. On Saturday we went on an all day tour through the highlands, saw loch ness (the lake not the monster), and met a few other girls who were also travelling. We went out with them that night and on a walking tour through Edinburgh with them the following day. Then it was back on a bus for 12 hours, but Scotland was beautiful and the trip was so worth it.

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In between Scotland and Switzerland was a weekend trip to Lake District, England planned by IFSA-Butler. The food was delicious, there were mountains abound, we went Ghyll Scrambling, and most of all: it was a trip that I didn’t have to plan a single thing for. I was told when and where to be places and all I had to do was show up and enjoy the weekend, which feels like paradise after a weekend of navigating a 15-hour long puzzle of transportation.

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So I’m at this point in the semester where I’m halfway through and I’m wondering what I want out of my time here, and if I’m getting it. And here’s the answer: I don’t know what I want out of it anymore, but I’m getting something. When I first signed up to come abroad I thought it was going to be all adventures and wild stories but I’m finding it to be more of an educational experience than anything. I’m learning how to travel, how to interact with people who have had completely different upbringings than myself, and I’m learning what I like and what I don’t like. I’ve learned how to travel independently, how to cook a meal, and, thanks to my flat mate Katie, how to say the longest Welsh city, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

So you stuck with me through this odyssey of a post and another small glimpse of my time abroad. Enough realizations about life and such for now—I’m off to go eat more Welsh cakes.
Cheers,

Alex

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Losing signal and finding connections

Time March 22nd, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Chile | No Comments by

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The rest of our travels passed in a blur of long bus rides, new experiences and adrenaline. We often went without wifi or service for days at a time and when we did have internet connection, it was not strong enough to work on my computer. Although this made it difficult to blog, it allowed me to take a step back from the comfort and personal value that I had been conditioned to place in my phone as a means to connect with the people around me. Not having access to internet reminded me that the way to truly connect with the world and with others expands far beyond a two by five-inch screen. This, it seems to me, is perhaps the most widely acknowledged yet rarely practiced idea relating to our relationship with technology today. We all make jokes about walking around like zombies with our heads bent into our phones and as soon as the laughter stops we go right back to refreshing our Instagram pages every ten minutes looking for posts and connections to people that we barely even know beyond the realm of social media. And why? Because it has become a social construct that is engrained so deeply within us that it’s difficult to truly understand it as a type of addiction until we are forced from it by one thing or the other. For me, I was amazed by how many times I would be traveling through rural Paraguay or Bolivia and I would unlock my iPhone and stare at the screen or start to open Facebook, knowing full well that I didn’t have service or internet connection. My hands moved automatically out of habit and it took a frustratingly long time to decondition myself but, once I was able to, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and simplicity in being able to enjoy each moment without distractions. Read More »

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Scheduling, Train fun, and York

Time March 20th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, England | No Comments by

This isn’t a process unique to traveling abroad, but it’s rather more applicable now than it is when I’m at home. University is going well; I’m enjoying two of my classes, and surviving my third, which in a pass/fail environment is just fine. I’m enjoying my free time on campus immensely, but a lot of the time I want to travel. Sometimes to London, and sometimes somewhere else. The challenge is finding the time, when weekends are often booked with closer-to-home activities. Thankfully, the trains here run like clockwork, and my schedule has an open Wednesday. Enter York: a one night, one-day trip with a loooooot of train time at both ends. When your weekends are for travel and manuscript editing, creativity, booking in advance, and bringing a good book for the train are your best friends.

York is only about four hour’s travel from Norwich by train. Not awful, but not great either. I picked it because I wanted to meet my friend Conor, who’s currently studying at St. Andrews up in Scotland, somewhere roughly halfway between us. York was the answer we came up, more than slightly influenced by the absolutely gorgeous architecture and historic sites the city is known for. I booked the train tickets and the student hostel we spent the night at a couple weeks in advance to save money, and so the journey was set. We both left Tuesday afternoon, and arrived just in time for a late dinner in the city. We were tempted to stop at the Pizza Express that had taken residence in the fanciest building I’d seen thus far, complete with marble pillars outside and everything. Seriously. I guess that’s what happens when all the buildings in the city center are centuries old: you get to have fun with the space you rent. We spent the following day hitting all the sites York is famous for: York Minster, the cathedral with some of the most stunning stained glass I’ve ever seen and a climb to the top of the tower that almost killed me, Clifford’s Tower (famous for less pleasant reasons, but still a very pretty standing ruin on a hill covered in daffodils), the York Castle Museum, the old Roman bathhouse ruins preserved under a local pub, and of course the walls that still surround the city center. Walking around the city from atop centuries-old walls was probably the best way to start the day that I could have imagined.

And then it was over. We had a great time, and got on our respective trains and back to our respective universities a little after ten o’clock. I don’t know how eager I would’ve been for the trip if I hadn’t spent so much time planning it out in advance, so let me just make that very clear: planning ahead is your friend, especially when you need to get creative about not missing class. Studying abroad has it in two words, and you can’t forsake one entirely for the other. So spend that extra hour making sure everything is good to go a week before it happens, and see if you can’t squeeze in that visit to a centuries-old cathedral between classes.

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Adventure in the Argyll Forest with IFSA Scotland

Time March 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

Our first big excursion organized by IFSA was to the Argyll Forest, one of the oldest national parks in Scotland. We left on a Friday afternoon by taking a private bus into the highlands, including a ferry ride over the Holy Loch from the town of Gourock to Dunoon, our destination. According to our driver, we were accompanied by dolphins on the ferry ride back, but none of us could spot them.

Once arriving at our home for the weekend, the Benmore Nature Education Center, we met IFSA students from the other Scottish universities (Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Stirling) for the first time. We spent Friday night exploring the impressive nature surrounding us through an exhilarating night hike through the gardens in the pitch dark with no “torches” (flashlights) to guide us. Read More »

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Argyll Forest Weekend

Time March 16th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Scotland | No Comments by

For the first ifsa-butler trip we visited the Argyll Forest! We left University of Stirling at 2:00pm and then headed out to pick up Glasgow students! After we picked them up we drove to the coast and then took a ferry across the water! It was crazy that the coach bus fit on the ferry! I had never been on a ferry that was able to hold an entire bus so it was an interesting experience for me! Once we made it to dry land again we had to drive to the hostel that we were staying at. It looked more like a castle than a hostel! Finally, we were able to unpack our things and get settled in our bunk beds. We proceeded to have dinner and then went on a night hike! The night hike was interesting because it was so dark so you didn’t even really know who was next to you! It was nice to be outside in pitch black and have to experience through senses other than sight! I was very happy that I brought my rain boots on this journey because most paths were pretty muddy. After a long day of travel I laid down to sleep! The next day would be action packed! Read More »

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La Campana

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

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Waking up at 6:00 AM is never something I enjoy doing but it was well worth it for this trip. La Campana is a beautiful national park about 90 minutes from the city of Valparaiso. Myself and nine others arrived at the park around 9:30 AM–after taking two buses to get there–and began the steep and challenging 5K hike to La Mina (the mine). It took about three hours to reach it but the time was well spent with stories, laughter, and great views shared among all.  Upon reaching La Mina, we were greeted by a spectacular view of rolling mountains and open blue sky. In addition to the beautiful scenery, La Mina also housed an old mine open for exploration. It was a little creepy and most of us decided not to venture very far in but, what is study abroad if not embracing your discomfort, so me and another girl Kelli explored the caverns and tunnels for a while pondering about the people that would have once worked there and how their lives must have been. After relishing in the beauty of our surroundings and enjoying a nice picnic lunch, we began the journey down the mountain. The trek back  was filled with more bonding discussion and we didn’t even realize we had finished until we were back at the welcome hut. We returned back to Valpo that evening thoroughly exhausted but incredibly happy with the day and the memories made.

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