A Survival Guide to Paris Public Transit

Hey there! Before I start with this post, my first in a series of survival guides for life here in France, I thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Ariel, a junior marketing major studying at ESSEC, a business university in Cergy, a suburb about 40 minutes north of Paris.

That being said, I take public transport all the time. I use it to get to and from class, get down into Paris, and travel around France. I’ve used probably every form of transport available here, from buses to the RER to the Metro. I’ve also had the *lovely* opportunity to get to deal with maintenance being done on the train tracks, resulting in a partial shutdown of the RER, which is how I get home.

So yeah, I consider myself a bit of an expert on navigating Paris’s public transit system. Since Louisville doesn’t really have public transport, the system in Paris can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you don’t speak French. I thought I’d help clear up a few things. Here are my top 5 tips when riding Paris public transport.

1. Vianavigo is your BFF

Vianavigo is an app that helps you navigate the Paris public transit system. You put in your destination and the app uses your location to figure out the best route for you to get from Point A to Point B. There’s also a map of the entire train system and timetables, both of which have proved quite useful for me.

My favorite thing about it is that it lets you know if there’s any kind of issues with the transit you’re going to be taking. That’s how I found out about the work being done on the RER.

2. Follow the crowd

If you don’t know what you’re supposed to do, watch everybody else first. For example, when coming home from Paris one night, the train I was on suddenly stopped and everyone got off. I had no idea what was going on, but I followed the crowd to a group of buses that were apparently set up to get us to various train stops. I use the “monkey see, monkey do” rule a lot when I’m traveling, especially if I don’t speak the language of that country.

Note: you’ll see a lot of people jumping over turnstiles or sneaking in behind people. This is because they don’t have tickets. This is illegal and you will be punished if caught. Always have a valid ticket or Metro pass.

3. Know how to pronounce the name of your stop or have it written down

If you need help, go to the ticket window or look for someone wearing an SNCF uniform. However, they won’t be able to help you if you can’t tell them were you need to go. If you’re afraid of butchering the name, have it written down or pull up your handy Vianavigo app and show that to them. They’ll quickly be able to tell that you don’t speak French, so they’ll use hand gestures and, in some cases, a bit of English to get the point across.

4. There will be armed police/soldiers and baggage check points everywhere

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, the country has been in a state of emergency. This means that at major train stations and tourist attractions, there will be mandatory bag checks. Just have your bag open, don’t act suspicious, and you’ll be fine.

You’ll also see armed soldiers a lot, at train stations, tourist attractions, and even just in the street. I would freak out if I saw this at home, but here in Paris, it’s totally normal. I’ve even walked to the train station near my apartment and found soldiers randomly walking around. The only time I ever get bothered by the heightened security is when “suspicious bags” are found and the trains are halted until the police have checked it out. Aside from that, I’ve actually grown to like it. It makes me feel safe, especially when I’m walking by myself at night, after class or down in Paris.

5. Public transit is easy to use

When there’s not work being done on the rails and workers aren’t on strike, the public transit system here in Paris is very user-friendly. There’s maps in all the Metro stations, so you can easily find out what train you need (if you haven’t downloaded Vianavigo). There are plenty of signs. And to figure out if the train coming up to the platform is yours, just look at the helpful screens on the platform. You’ll either see the terminus station for your direction or, at some of the larger Metro stations, your stop will be lit up. Easy peasy.

There you have it. My top 5 tips for surviving the Paris public transit system. It might seem unfamiliar, but as long as you have a valid ticket, you observe the people around you, and you know how to read a sign, you’re good to go. Just don’t freak out when you see a bunch of armed soldiers strolling by.

One Month In

Having been in Prague a little over a month now, I have definitely come to several conclusions. First of all, when sharing an apartment with five other guys, things get messy. A single refrigerator is not designed to hold enough food for six men. The person who cares the most will end up loading and unloading the dishwasher and taking out the trash. It is best that the same person not be the one who cares the most about everything, or they will be doing all the dirty work.

I have learned that time away from these five people, who you do everything with, is essential. Having just returned from a solo trip to Vienna, I feel rejuvenated and ready to face another week in our loud, slightly squalid, and up all night apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I like these guys, but sometimes you just need a break.

I discovered that solo travel is amazing on multiple levels. First, you get to go where you want to go. There are no conflicts about where to eat or what to see. You don’t waste time looking for members of your group. You can start and end your day whenever you please.

In regards to classes, I have learned that it sounds great to have class only 4 times a week (that would be 4 classes meeting once a week, each for 3 hours at a time), but in actuality, it isn’t as great as it sounds. Furthermore, it becomes less great when there is a bank holiday and a professor decides to make up your class during a time that you already have a class and he doesn’t consider that a good excuse for missing his make up class.

I have found the metro to be a wonderful thing! Once you figure it out, you are never far from a station and a quick way home. You don’t have to rely on anyone to get around and you can leave someplace whenever you choose. You don’t have to worry about where to park or whether you will get a parking ticket for parking there.

I have discovered that I must look like a local, as I have had several people come up to me and ask for directions and have had two women on buses strike up conversations with me in Czech. I have found that the best way to handle these awkward conversations is to nod my head, mimic their facial expressions and laugh when they laugh. So far, so good!

Most of all, I have discovered so much about myself. I have learned that I can survive in a foreign country. I can navigate the transportation system, the grocery store and a dishwasher with Czech directions. I can travel to other countries in a pack of 12 or I can head off on my own. I can balance school, domestic chores, and a plethora of festivals, and still get a good nights sleep.

All in all, it’s been a good month. Time flies when you are studying abroad, especially when it is for just one semester. Seize opportunities, get out of your room and then get out of your country, but most of all get out of your comfort zone and make memories.

Hala Madrid!

If football is religion in Europe, then Real Madrid is the Vatican! Anyone who is in Madrid during a match will quickly learn that the entire city comes to a complete stand still for 90 minutes. Everyone either gathers in their homes, local bars, or makes their pilgrimage to the Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid’s Stadium). Football fans also know that Champions League football is special as it is the competition that brings the best football clubs throughout Europe into one tournament.

On this faithful night Real Madrid was playing Sporting Lisbon (the champions of the Portuguese League last season), in their opening match of the Champions League. As we got onto the metro to the stadium we were greeted by thousands of other supporters chanting Real Madrid’s famous chant “Hala Madrid”. Once we finally got to the stadium we spent about 30 minutes just getting into the stadium so I would highly recommend anyone going leave at least two hours before the match to guarantee you do not miss anything. Additionally, Champions League tickets are a little harder to find then a regular season game, because everyone wants them. That is why we paid a little extra (around 100 Euros) to get tickets through a company who purchases a lot of tickets from the club directly as soon as they go on sale to the public so that we were assured to get valid tickets.

Walking up the stairs to our seats had my heart pumping a hundred miles per hour. The inside of the stadium was beautiful! There is not a single bad seat in the entire stadium. We got to our seats about 45 minutes before the game, but we were entertained by the players warming up and all the prematch rituals that only happen for Champions League games. (Again another reason I highly recommend going to a Champions League match.) In addition, was the starting line announcements with the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Garreth Bale, and Sergio Ramos, the greatest players in the world!

When the match finally started it was incredible! The first half saw Real Madrid stringing passes together all over the pitch only to just finally just miss the crucial pass right at the end. While Sporting was playing a counterattacking kind of game, where they would defend deep until they could regain possession and then would quickly break on the Real Madrid defense. Sporting actually came the closest in the first half as they hit the crossbar right before halftime. The half finished 0-0, but both teams looked like they had goals in them.

The second half was when the goals finally came flying in. Sporting scored first, within 5 minutes into the second half with Real Madrid’s defense made a crucial mistake and the ball fell to Sportings striker, who scored with a very simple shot put Sporting up 1-0. Real Madrid kept pushing for an equalizer, but just could not get the ball in the back of the net. That was until the dying minutes of the game. With 5 minutes left in the match Real Madrid won a free-kick just outside the box. Ronaldo with his trademark free-kick rocketed the shot over the wall and into the top corner to tie the game at one apiece. The stadium went absolutely mad! For a good portion of the game it looked as if Real was going to lose, and then the best player in the world showed his world class! The match was not finished there however. With 4 minutes of added time Real was not looking to just get a draw, they wanted to win, and they pushed everyone into the attack. With 10 seconds left in the match Real Madrid’s winger whips in a cross from out wide and up rose Morata (Real Madrid’s substitute striker) and headed in the winner! Literally the last touch of the ball was the winner. The stadium erupted as everyone in the stands (including us) completely lost our minds and were going crazy.

2-1 Real Madrid, Champions League night at the Santiago Bernabeu! The type of thing football fans dream of and we got to experience it!

Hala Madrid!

The Beauty of Edinburgh

On Top Arthur's Seat

Welcome to Edinburgh. My time here is only beginning, but these first few weeks have opened my eyes to the love and beauty that Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole have to offer. I can safely say that after spending two weeks here in Edinburgh, I have settled in to my new home for the next four months.

My first week here in Edinburgh was filled with meeting new people from around the world and attending the “Freshers” events that the school puts on for all the first-year students. This doesn’t sound like much, but the “Freshers Week” here in Edinburgh, is like our freshman week in Louisville only on steroids. There was so many amazing events to go to, by the end of the second day you could not even remember which ones you went to. The biggest joy out of going to these events was meeting people from all aspects of the world. I have met people from Cayman Islands, Ecuador, Brazil, Nigeria, Poland, Spain, Denmark, France, Netherlands, China, South Korea, Germany, UK, Italy, and many more amazing countries.

My second week entailed the beginning of classes and homework aka “reality”. Schooling here in Edinburgh is quite different from the United States. Instead of taking 5-6 classes, 3 classes is all that the University will allow its students to take. Although this sounds great, some of the more advanced classes here in Edinburgh are quite challenging, but with perseverance and some effort I believe that I will be fine.

Without a doubt, Edinburgh is definitely as breathtaking as people say. Arriving in Edinburgh I could not resist taking as many pictures as I could of every monument, cobble stone street, and all the glorious architecture that envelops the city. Every street corner has a pub on it where you are welcomed with open arms to come inside, drink a pint, and talk football (soccer) with the locals. Traveling around Edinburgh and Scotland is quite manageable. This past weekend I took a trip up to the western highlands which I can say is the most spectacular place that I have ever been. Amazing mountains cover the landscape, all enclosing numerous lochs and open pastures. The hidden beauty of Edinburgh is its location. If you want to travel, its only a four hour train ride to London, one hour train ride to Glasgow, or a 30 minute bus ride to the airport where cheap airfare is available to travel anywhere.

All in all, moving abroad for the first time was a bit daunting, but has been so rewarding and so amazing. I still can’t believe I actually did it, and have already fallen in love with this city and my new home. I am so excited to see where this semester takes me.

Day Trip

Soon after arriving in Prague, I traveled with a group of 12 to Budapest Hungary. The trip was not well organized and it seemed that we spent more time looking for members of our group or trying to make decisions about where to eat than we did on sightseeing. So today I decided to try a solo day trip. I chose to schedule a guided trip to Kutna Hora, about an hour by train from Prague. I got to the tour office and was given a voucher and told where to wait. I then waited a while until the tour guide told us to head out. I was planning to stay by myself for the tour, but as luck would have it I was approached by a girl. She was from Australia and was traveling around Europe for a gap year. She then introduced me to two other girls she had met at her hostel the night before. One was also from Australia and the other was from Germany. They were all traveling around Europe and planned to be in Prague for some time. We walked to the train station and boarded the train. I sat down next to a guy on the tour who was from Australia and had just graduated from University. We chatted for the entire train ride and he was very nice. While on the train, the guide told us about lunch and I decided I would go as it was reasonably priced and I like what I saw on the menu When we arrived in Kutna Hora, we were in the suburbs and had to take a tram to get to the Bone Chapel. We stopped in front of the chapel in the graveyard. We learned about the chapel being constructed because of the silver rush in the area and how it was viewed as being connected to the HolyLand, thus leading to many people wanting to be buried there. However, they decided to build the chapel in the center of the graveyard, which led to them having to dig up some dead bodies. They stacked the bones in a pyramid fashion in the basement of the chapel. Later, the king bought the chapel and commissioned an artist to make art from the bones. We then learned that the chapel is currently sinking into the ground and because of this they are going to have to remove the bones and fix the church and then put the bones back. So essentially, it won’t be the original Bone Chapel, as most of it will end up being replaced. Also, the tour guide told us that they are eventually going to stop allowing tourists in the graveyard and cameras in the Bone Chapel. So if what she told us is true, then I am lucky to have had the opportunity to go before all of these changes go into effect. The inside of the Bone Chapel was not at all what I had imagined. I had purposefully avoided looking at pictures online so that I wouldn’t ruin it for myself. It was cool, but it was a bit of a let down from what I had imagined. After exploring the Bone Chapel, we took a bus to Saint Barbara Church. It is by far one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It is gothic style and it slightly resembles the church at Prague Castle. I learned that it was built because of the silver rush also, with the wealth of nobles. I then got to see some amazing views of the city and St. James Church. My group took a selfie and then we headed to a restaurant to eat lunch at 3. I had duck with lard dumplings. While over here, I have come to like red cabbage and today I got to eat a lot of it. The duck was good and it looked big, but in reality there was not a lot of meat. The lard balls, as I call them, were disgusting to look at, but okay to eat, or so I thought. I really enjoyed the meal and talked to the two Australians I had met, as well as a women who worked at a college in California and some newlyweds from Canada.
The next place we walked past was St. James Church, which was built by the donations of peasants We then walked to what used to be the Royal Mint for the country. It was really cool looking and in the center was a fountain. According to our tour guide, if you threw a coin in you would get good luck. Seeing how I like good luck, I was game. I threw in a 2 cent coin and have now gained eternal good luck. We were then shown an amazing place to take great pictures of St Barbara Church. Unfortunately, the sun was out and kind of ruined the amazing picture opportunity. Finally we went back to the train station, where we split up from the group and I went back home. I enjoyed my solo trip and will head to Vienna, Austria next weekend for another solo trip.

Prague, Vienna, and Oktoberfest


After my first couple of weeks in Prague I can honestly say that I have already fallen in love with this city. Traveling abroad is everything people said it would be and more- overwhelming, amazing, tiring, terrifying, and completely eye-opening.

I hate that I have been here for 3 weeks already yet it has taken me this long to make a blog post, however if I’m being honest I have attempted to start one multiple times but would always end up frustrated and put it off because I could not quite find the right words to describe how completely amazing this trip has been so far. My first week spent in Prague was easily the most unforgettable time of my whole life. Although I may not have gotten nearly enough sleep, I spent the whole time exploring the ins and outs of this unbelievable city with some of the greatest people you will ever meet. The really cool thing about studying abroad is that you meet so many people from all over with entirely different backgrounds than you, however you all have one thing in common: the curiosity, bravery, and desire to travel and explore both yourselves and things around you. I think it really takes a certain kind of person to study abroad and I have absolutely loved sharing this experience with such diverse and fascinating people.


The BelGeekSquad at the Letna Beer Garden… I think this picture accurately sums up our first week in Praha.


IMG_9537 Old town square in Prague


Paddle boating by the St. Charles Bridge


Our first weekend, 6 of us decided to take a trip to Vienna, Austria as our first excursion out of Prague… and let’s just say it was a learning experience. Vienna is definitely an awesome city with lots of cool little quirks about it such as extravagant Churches, Palaces, parks full of people dancing and singing, beautiful vineyards, and most importantly an awesome Amusement Park/Bar called Prater where you can easily spend all of your time (and money) at. Our mistake was going to Vienna without an actual plan and we ended up kind of wandering aimlessly around at times, spending way too much money on train tickets as a result of not planning ahead of time, and personally I was miserable because I ended up spending the whole weekend sick. I feel like this is typical of a first weekend trip though so if anything it just taught us what not to do for the next time.


Roomie picture in a beautiful Vienna vineyard.


Vienna Sausages… enough said.


Vienna Vineyard

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The following weekend a group of us went to Munich, Germany for the opening weekend of Oktoberfest and it was absolutely insane. While the weather was rainy and cold in Munich all weekend people were still lively as ever waiting for the festivities to start. It was especially cool to be there for the opening day on Saturday. We had to get there for around 9am to be able to secure a spot at a table in a tent where we then ate and waited for the tapping of the keg at noon to kick off all of the Oktoberfest festivities. After that the place went insane but it was one of the greatest times I have ever had. One of the best parts was just meeting people from all over the world and getting to know them through this crazy experience. For example, on Sunday we met a group of 22 year old Italian military guys and although they did not speak great English we still spent the day with them and they taught us various games, traditions, and “cheers” from their hometown. We also made sure to make some time to run around and explore the city of Munich for a little bit as a break from the craziness of the festival. The cold and rain kind of put a damper on this but Munich is still a beautiful city and we found that if you go to the St. Peter’s Church- “Peterskirche”- with a student ID you can climb to the top for only 1 Euro and see the most breathtaking view of Munich. All in all Oktoberfest is an over the top experience- sooooo expensive and tiring- but 100% worth it if you can manage to go. I would recommend it to anyone… I really still cannot believe that I was actually there.

The Hacker- Pschorr Tent where we spent Opening Day

The Hacker- Pschorr Tent where we spent Opening Day


Sending some Cardinal love back to the Ville as we beat FSU!!!!


Friends from the 2nd day of Oktoberfest in the Paulaner tent. Fun fact: Steve Carrell was also in this same tent at the same time as us.


The view from the tower of Peterskirche.


The view from the tower of Peterskirche.

The view from the tower of Peterskirche.

There is a quick little update of my first weeks here in Europe! Although my classes are actually really difficult and adjusting to living in a whole new environment has been more tiring than I though I am loving every second of it. I cannot believe I have been here for three weeks already… time needs to slow down! Next stop: Split, Croatia.

10 Tips to Survive and Thrive Abroad

I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain and loved it! Study abroad isn’t just about surviving, it’s about thriving – not just being a tourist, but learning to call a new place home for a few months, making new friends, adapting to a new culture, and traveling to new locations. Here are my top 10 tips for surviving AND thriving abroad:


10. Open a Charles Schwab checking account. 

Open a High Yield Investor Checking Account with Schwab at least a month before you leave the US. Schwab is one of the only banks that offer a checking account with out any international transaction fees (most banks charge 1-3% on each transaction). Additionally, you can use any ATM worldwide to withdraw money for free and Schwab will reimburse fees charged by ATM owners (ATMs generally offer the best exchange rate). You will receive a couple of checkbooks and a debit card with a chip, which is required for most foreign transactions. They provide 24/7 customer service and best of all, the account is completely free with no monthly or annual fees. The account is FDIC insured and you earn 0.06% APY (variable rate) on any balance.
Additionally, they automatically give you a brokerage account, allowing you to invest in the stock and bond markets (Charles Schwab is primarily a brokerage company). There is no minimum balance on either account, so you do not have to use the brokerage account. To fund the account, you can make ACH transfers between your primary checking and savings accounts and your Schwab account. These transfers are free and usually take 3 business days to clear.
9. Look for a local cell phone plan and use Skype for international calls.


This will depend on where you decide to go, but in Barcelona, I found a great deal. I have a prepaid plan with Vodafone with 1.5 GB of data and 50 minutes of calling for €15 per month. When I purchased the first month, they did not charge me for the SIM card, which works perfe
ctly with my unlocked iPhone 5s. Each month, I go to a Vodafone store and pay €15. This month, they gave me 1.5 GB of extra data for free! When I leave, I don’t have to return the SIM or cancel the plan since it is prepaid. Texting and international calling is not included; however, everyone in Spain uses WhatsApp instead of regular texting and Skype has really good rates for international calling when you must call a landline or a d
umb phone.

The takeaway: do your research before you go and when you arrive, find the best ways for you to stay connected. If you plan to use your personal cell phone with a local SIM, make sure it is unlocked by contacting your service provider! I have an iPhone 5s with Bluegrass Cellular (partner with Verizon) and it was already unlocked.
8. Take advantage of excursions planned by your program.
Planning travel on your own is difficult and even more so with a group of friends because of the coordination required. Take advantage of the excursions offered by your study abroad program because you don’t have to do any of the work and many of them are included in the price of the program!

This is especially true if you want to travel to more challenging, risky, or remote destinations. For example, my program is organizing a trip though Morocco over Spring Break – a perfect destination to join an organized trip, rather than organizing one on your own. The trip is all-inclusive and costs €600, but the price is well worth it. We will travel to the desert in 4×4 jeeps, camp in traditional tents, ride camels, and travel to several cities. In previous trips, my program has included special guided city tours; wine, cheese, and cake tastings; and other activities that I probably wouldn’t find on my own.
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7. Travel on your own.

That said, traveling on your own is a great experience and has its rewards. You are forced to do your research about the destination, so you naturally become immersed in a new culture rather than floating in a bubble of American culture with your program friends. You are also more nimble, able to see and do more because you aren’t restricted by the limitations of a large group. Note: traveling with a couple friends is also good. It’s fun to share your experiences with other people and safer than traveling by yourself.
6. Before traveling, research the city, especially the metro/transportation system.

Every city and country has its quirks. Be aware of currencies and exchange rates, especially in Europe. The UK and Czech Republic are both in the European Union, but neither use or accept the Euro. Know that in London, trash is “rubbish” and the metro is the “Tube” or the “Underground.” Also, build a working knowledge of the metro system, especially if you are traveling to a country where you do not speak the language.
If I had not done my research before traveling to Prague, I would have been lost since they did not have clear instructions on how to use the metro in the stations. They have a great metro and tram system in the city, but their ticket system is much different than Barcelona, London, and Washington, DC. If you don’t purchase the correct pass and validate it when you board a tram or enter the metro, you can be fined up to 800 Crowns on the spot and embarrassed in front of the locals.
5. Beware of RyanAir: the McDonalds of air travel.
RyanAir and other low-cost carriers make exploring Europe possible for students with limited budgets. Most of the time, a RyanAir or budget airline ticket will be the same price or less expensive than a train ticket to the same destination! But just like McDonalds, you get what you pay for:  minimal leg room, strict boarding and luggage rules, and forget about the free beer, wine, soft drinks, and snacks offered by Lufthansa (the Panera Bread of air travel).

If you break any of the rules, you will face stiff fees or miss your flight. Also, you will often fly into a city 30 minutes to an hour outside of your destination city, so know how you will transfer into the city and how much that will cost. Will you break even if you pay a little more and use an airline that flies directly into the main airport of your destination? This will depend on the market, your destination, and how far in advance you book. Google Flights is a great resource to make these comparisons. Reference the articles linked below for really helpful information to make sure you have a good experience with RyanAir. Keep in mind, some of them are several years old and may have outdated information, so always reference the RyanAir fine print and policies before buying your ticket. You can get a feel for people’s general attitude toward RyanAir from the article titles below; however, like many before me, I had a good experience and good customer service. The key it to be informed!
4. Get to know the locals: church, homestay, classes, restaurants, professors, etc.

This will enrich your time abroad and help you fully immerse yourself in the culture. One of the best parts of studying abroad is connecting with others and discovering differences and similarities in cultures and worldviews. I have visited three different churches during my time in Barcelona and each time, I met people who shared my love for Christ even though we had differences in theology and perspectives on corporate worship. In my homestay, I enjoy hearing about my host parents’ experiences and perspectives on the vast changes in Barcelona over the past 30 years. Classes are a great place to get to know locals and study abroad students from other countries and just like in the US, getting to know your professors is important and rewarding.
My International Management professor spent many years working for PWC (one of the Big Four accounting firms) in several different countries. I have really enjoyed talking with him about his experiences in assurance, advisory, and tax because I am very interested in public accounting. Restaurants are also a great place to meet people, practice the language, and learn about the culture. I go Subway once a week because they are one of the few restaurants open for lunch before lunch hour (1-4pm) when I have class. I have gotten to know the franchise owner and learned that he emigrated from Venezuela and now owns 20+ Subway franchises throughout the Catalonia region in Spain.
3. Use Pocket Earth.

Pocket Earth is the best, most valuable app that I have ever used. It is a maps program that works offline by using your phone’s GPS and allows you to drop color-coded pins with different symbols. That sounds boring, so why is it so great? When you travel outside of your host country, you probably won’t have data and wifi is much harder to find than many assume. Before you leave your host country, you zoom in on the places where you will travel to download the map data. Many public pins will download too, showing you public transportation routes, metro stops, hotels, attractions, restaurants, hospitals, etc. Then, you can enter the addresses of your hotel/hostel, the airport, restaurants, and all of the sights that you don’t want to miss during your trip and drop pins on each location.
 Pocket Earth
When you arrive, you will be able to easily navigate the city, enjoying your time rather than struggling with a paper map and making yourself a target for pickpocketing and other crime. If you find a cool place or need to remember where your tour bus is parked, you can drop a pin to find your way back. This also allows you to freely wander the city without getting lost. You can also turn on the tracking feature to see where you wandered during the day and how far you walked. If you have friends who are traveling to that city you just visited, you can export your pins for the city and they can import them into their Pocket Earth app!
2. Always have a charged phone and carry a copy of your passport.

  US Passport
Pocket Earth is great, but it is useless if your phone loses charge so monitor your charge level throughout the day. Always know how to find your way back to your hotel or meeting point if your phone loses charge or your phone is stolen. Also, always carry a copy of your passport. The only time you should carry the actual passport is during travel to other countries and whenever you know that you will have to provide official identification (hotels, banks, phone stores, etc.). If you get all the way to the phone store, but didn’t bring your passport, ask if they will accept a copy of your passport or a drivers license as ID, sometimes they will!
1. Be flexible.

Changes in flight plans, closures of museums and popular restaurants, bad weather, and more will challenge your plans. Some adventures will not live up to what you expected and others will be greater than you imagined. To thrive abroad, you must be flexible, always open to a new adventure and willing to learn something new every day.

Adventure in Ireland

The other day I saw a post on LinkedIn by a CEO and it asked what advice you would give him in five words or less, I thought about it for less than a minute and settled on the words “have an adventure.” It doesn’t seem like the first choice and it probably wouldn’t have been 2 short months ago before I got to experience a great adventure in Ireland.

Sure the idea of an adventure appeals to everyone but the real adventure is when you dive into the unknown, you actually do something about the idea and act on it. I have never seen myself as the type of person that takes a lot of risks sure I have plenty of ideas but I never seem to act on them but that has changed. I now carry a little more experience and I have a little piece of Ireland close to my heart that I hope inspires me against all odds or reason to continue having adventures. In my time abroad I visited 3 countries, quintupled the number of times I have flown (it was 5 flights this time, including 2 that were 7hrs, my previous experience just one that lasted about 2hrs—and that was nearly a decade ago.) I have set foot in 6 castles, heard the tales of Irish folklore, met some great new friends, talked to some of the nicest locals, and it all went by so fast.

I have been back in the states for two weeks and I have been putting off writing this blog, not because I’m not exactly sure what I want to say but because this feels like an end to an amazing experience and I’m not ready for that. This was one of those things that you don’t want to end, it was hard enough leaving all the friends I had met a short month ago which seemed like only days. And now Ireland stands out in all the little details I have heard more about Ireland in my everyday life now than I ever have in any year before. Don’t get me wrong it’s great to be home, but an experience like that is something you don’t just take for granted. I will always remember my time in Ireland, and hope I can return some day.

Alicante, Spain

Cultural Differences and Impressions

Life in Europe is different than life in the United States and after my month long abroad experience in Spain, I was able to live with and learn from this particular culture.

Finally we made it to Alicante after flights from Cincinnati to Charlotte, then From Charlotte to Madrid, and Finally Madrid to Alicante. I was definitely feeling nervous since I had previously never been to Europe and although I continued to notice major cultural differences, I also continued to feel more comfortable as time went on.

Pictured above was the view from our flat style apartment. In the distance you can see what looks like a big mountain, but in reality it is a the Santa Barbara Caste (el Castillo de Santa Barbara). As if that view wasn’t spectacular enough, our flatmates were all extremely helpful and nice. In addition to that, we were walking distance to the beach and la plaza de los luceros (downtown).

As Classes started, I began notice some major differences between the U.S. and Spain. The first thing I noticed was how different transportation worked there; In the U.S. almost everyone has access to a vehicle and use this vehicle each and every day to get around. In Spain, there are underground parking garages and some people do drive (like maniacs) but the majority of people rely on public transportation to get from point A to point B. So, as the Spaniards did, my classmates and I traveled to class every day via bus or TRAM.

The next difference that I noticed pertained to the time people ate and went to sleep. As you all know, In the U.S. we eat breakfast around 8:00-9:00AM, lunch around 12:00PM, and dinner around 6:00 PM. This varies greatly from the way things work in Spain. Similar to the U.S. breakfast is eaten 7:00-9:00 AM but many people eat lightly or skip this meal all together. At around 10:30-11:00 AM it is almuerzo (snack) time for those who may have an empty stomach. It isn’t until 2:00-3:30 PM that La Comida (lunch) is eaten and it is ordinarily the biggest meal of the day. But it’s important to make sure restaurants are open at this time since many restaurants close for the daily Siesta time. Merienda (Mid-afternoon snack) is sometimes eaten around 5:30-7:30 PM and during Merienda, many times churros y chocolate are a favorite. It isn’t until 8:30-11:00 PM that Tapas and Dinner are traditionally eaten. It really surprised me to see people of all ages sitting at chairs and benches along la Explanda de España socializing into late hours of the night.

La Explanda de España

La Explanda de España

The way of life in Spain is much different than the way of life here in the United States. Whether it be the food, the transportation, the people, or just the overall way of life, words can not express the impact this experience has had on me. Until I can make it back to Alicante again in the future, I will draw from the invaluable lessons I learned during my summer abroad.

Six Weeks in Seoul, South Korea

Last summer I studied abroad in a very traditional place: Italy. This summer, I yearned for a bigger culture shock, so I decided to go as far away as possible. As I began my adventure to Seoul, I was excited to immerse myself in a new culture (and maybe even master using chopsticks).

Upon arriving, a few things were very apparent. One, Seoul is a technology hub. With Samsung accounting for a large majority of South Korea’s GDP, there is no shortage on technological advancements. This is apparent as soon as you set eyes on the city. I was immediately surrounded by millions of people walking while staring at their phones. Yes, we look at our phones quite a bit in the states. However, it is nothing compared to Seoul. It has gotten so bad, that there are signs painted on the side walks warning you of the dangers of not paying attention to the streets you are walking on. The second thing I realized right away, is that for the first time in my life, I was a clear minority. Even in my classes, I was one of the few Caucasian people. Furthermore, I was one of the even fewer with above average height, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Needless to stay, I was going to be quite the anomaly for six weeks. About twice a week, I was approached by locals asking where I was from and why I was here. People asked to take pictures with and even of me. Little kids stared, pointed, and hid from me as if I were an alien. The last thing that was apparent as I began my journey through Seoul was I definitely got the culture shock I was seeking. Everything from eating to weekend festivals all had a new feel. I was as wide-eyed as a little kid in a candy shop.

Overall, the six weeks continued to bring me new challenges and rewards as I navigated my way through the unknown. I am so privileged to have the new perspective that this trip has given me. The biggest reward, however, has been my increased thirst for knowing the world. One of my favorite quotes about travel is “I am in love with places I have never been and people I have never met.” As I return from my adventure, I felt this way. I have the endless need to travel and Im grateful that U of L provided me with that opportunity.