Top 10 Lessons Learned

With my time abroad coming to an end sadly here are some of the “Top 10 Lessons Learned” I took away that you might find useful while in Madrid or anywhere else you travel. Enjoy!

  1. Trip Advisor can’t always be trusted, usually great local spots are not even on the site but popular restaurants often offer discounts for booking a table in advance which can save you some money.
  2. Always have cash on you, often many places in Europe will have a minimum amount for credit card usage or won’t take them at all.
  3. Pit-pocketing is real. While I did not get anything stolen during my stay I did have an attempt at it. While studying a few kids came up to my table and tried to distract me, I quickly put my phone away and they proceeded to leave.
  4. Download the offline version of Google Maps for cities you will be visiting to save your battery life and data usage. Also this comes in handy if your cell phone service is not very good in the area.
  5. Always pay in Euro when using your credit card. Although it may sound right to pay in USD, fees are often added on rather than your bank doing the conversion for you.
  6. If studying abroad in Madrid, get a Google Campus Madrid membership. It is completely free and a great spot to study and meet new people.
  7. Depending if the water is safe in the country you are in most restaurants will be happy to offer you tap water for free if you request it specifically, BUT if not expect to pay for a fancy bottle of water.
  8. At restaurants bread is not always free if it is placed on the table and sometimes a small service will be added to your bill.
  9. Download WhatsApp prior to leaving the United States or you will not be able to use it in Europe.
  10. Try to space out traveling to every other week or every two weeks, while there are many countries that are cool to visit, traveling every weekend will take a toll on your visit may not be as enjoyable.

-Lucas

Where to Study

Choosing where to study abroad is a tricky dilemma. Unless you have traveled the world extensively, you probably only have a stereotypical perception of most places. I can’t speak for most places from experience, but I can hopefully combat some of the ignorance most students have in making a recommendation.

There are two main aspects to consider while choosing your location. The first is where in the world you want to study and the second is what size of a city you want to study in. When considering the pros and cons of locations, you must consider both aspects simultaneously.  Many students want to study in Australia. Australia has beautiful nature from the kangaroos to the great Barrier Reef. You also don’t have to worry about the language barrier. Yet Australia is quite expensive and it’s difficult to travel inside Australia and to other countries. South America is another popular destination. I’ve never been to South America so to avoid speaking out of arrogance I wouldn’t say much. I will say from what I’ve heard it’s an amazing place, but you pretty much need to know enough Spanish to get around. This is especially true for smaller towns in South America. It also generally applies to any country, the smaller the town the more likely people will only speak the local language.

From a bias perspective, I will say Europe is a great place to study abroad. Now I think where in Europe makes a huge difference. If you want to be surrounded with only local culture, smaller towns are a better bet. Just make sure you are prepared to abandon English for several months. On top of a reduced language barrier, large cities also have the advantage of large airports. If you want to travel Europe, this makes a huge difference. I studied in Madrid and easily found time to visit 8 other countries and 3 other cities in Spain. Europe has ample discount airlines which makes traveling affordable. In addition, I got around easily with minimal Spanish. I recommended a larger city to anyone who hasn’t lived in one. For the record, Louisville isn’t a large city. I was set on never moving to a large city until I lived in Madrid and now it is one of my goals.

Be aware of how expensive cities and countries are. Cities such as London and Amsterdam are wonderful places, but they come with a nice price tag…. on everything. I found Madrid was fairly cheap compared to most other cities in Europe. Prague was the only other city I found comparable to Madrid in size and price. Study abroad is expensive enough even with scholarships so do yourself a favor and study somewhere cheap. Save your money for traveling and souvenirs. So when choosing keep in mind what kind of experience you desire and remember there really is no wrong decision!

Italy

During study abroad you usually get a week off for fall break or for a winter break. While studying abroad in Madrid, I received a week off in December. I believe it is a week meant to study for finals since it fell right before finals started. Of course if you are only in Europe for four months, you want to utilize this time to travel. It’s easy to find down time on planes and trains to hit the books. I used this week to take a tour of Italy. I wouldn’t say Italy was my favorite country because it is a little overdone, but overall a great experience. If I took this trip in a time of my life when I wasn’t traveling every weekend, it probably would have been the experience of a lifetime. Since humans are hopelessly relative creatures, it was topped by other more exotic experiences. None the less, I think everybody should experience Italy.

My trip started in Rome. Rome was one of my favorite cities in Italy because it remains frozen in time. It was very rich in history with ample Roman buildings littered throughout the city. The most famous of these buildings being the Colosseum which doesn’t disappoint. This ancient feat of architecture remains impressive and surprisingly well intact considering its age. I recommend getting a guided tour to fulling appreciate this monument. All these ancient gems make it difficult to get around the city by metro because the architecture limits where tunnels cane be built.  Another major attraction in Rome is the Vatican. One could easily spend hours viewing the endless art in the Vatican museums. The Sistine chapel tops the museums impressive collection. The chapel surprised me because I thought the picture of God and man almost touching would take up the entire celling. It is in fact only a small part of the chapel and the rest of the surrounding art is just as remarkable.

I also visited Florence, Venice, and Pisa in Italy. Florence is a great city where the whole ambience sucks you in. The entire city is beautiful and they have the best gelato in the world. The food in general in Italy will not disappoint. I recommend looking up restaurants on trip advisor for the optimum experience. The only thing to see in Pisa is the tower which is most likely smaller than you think. Still Pisa is less than an hour form Florence by train so it makes for a nice afternoon excursion. Don’t forget to take the overly original picture of you holding up the tower or pushing it down. Honestly watching everyone capturing this cliché photo is better than the tower. Venice is worth the visit simply because it is so different than anything in the states. Having canals as roads makes Venice stand out. Although, it is a tourist trap and expensive so I wouldn’t stay long. I found one day sufficient. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to explore the south of Italy although I’ve heard Naples is beautiful. Perhaps if you are studying abroad you could start at Milan and work your way down to Naples.

Expectations

At their sources, pleasant surprises and frustrations steam from a similar root: expectations. When you have expectations and they are exceeded, you are pleasantly surprised. The vice versa applies for frustration. If you find yourself studying abroad, you may notice you start having expectations for certain cities or countries which results in one of two outcomes. This is a post about a city that left me pleasantly surprised, Istanbul.

The worst part concerning my trip to Istanbul was it only lasted a weekend including the flights. Thus I can only speak from the taste of Istanbul I managed to get, but that taste was  good! I mean this literally and figuratively. Istanbul will keep your taste buds begging for more long after your stomach starting crying for you to quit eating. Istanbul rightfully holds the crown as the meat capital of the world. Anywhere I found myself, I was never far from a sizzling chicken, lamb, or steak kebap. One night for dinner, my food was brought out in a flaming clay pot. The chef proceeded to cut open the top of the clay pot with a sword-like utensil and serve the meal. The level of exoticism in the serving procedure was an adequate indication for the tastefulness of the meal. At the end of my meal, most restaurants offered me tea. I could choose between the local Turkish tea or Green Apple tea. They are both excellent in my opinion, although the Turkish tea is a little harsher especially for novice tea consumers. As a general rule for visiting anywhere in Europe, Trip advisor is a great site to find local gems in the restaurant industry.

Sending your taste buds on an adventure isn’t limited to restaurants. The local desserts need to find a way onto your tongue. Baklava is a must try. My personal favorite is Turkish delight. Try these delicacies for a pleasant surprise regardless of high expectations.

As a city that bridges the gap between Europe and Asia, it overflows with history and a perfect blend of novel and semi-recognizable culture. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are incredible cites to see regardless of your faith or religiosity. The Hagia Sophia started as a church, was converted to a mosque when the Ottoman empire conquered Constantinople (former name of Istanbul), and is currently a museum. If you travel through Europe, a church usually makes the top ten places to see in any given city. Some of these architectural beauties are worth seeing. There are only so many churches you can visit before they all bury together thus visiting a Mosque instead is an enjoyable change. The Topkapi Palace is another top attraction. It’s the former residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman empire. The palace contains numerous cultural rich artifacts although I question the legitimacy of some such as the Sword of David (yeah the David that killed Goliath) and the Staff of Moses. The Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia are all walking distance from one another. Visiting these attractions will provide an amazing, but limited experience of all Istanbul has to offer.            Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on

Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on familiarity that provides uniqueness is what makes Istanbul special and why it tops the charts on my list of favorite cities.

 

Favorite Place

One of the most common questions I receive during study abroad is “What is the favorite place thus far?” Parents, friends, and even your European classmates throw this question your way as means to continue a conversation, gain some suggestion for a future travel destination, or in hopes you mention their home country thus affirming it really is the best place in Europe. Now some people are naturally inclined to lean to a favorite whether it is an ice-cream flavor or a place in Europe. Other people believe choosing a favorite should be categorized as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Regardless of your view, I’ve noticed a general pattern in how people respond to the question. This trend became apparent to me after I visited London and several other cities. On my extensive travel list, London topped my travel plans with an unmatched anticipation and excitement. It was a city constantly mentioned in conversation or scene in movies. After traveling around Europe and North Africa, London fell out of my top 5 favorite cities. I believe there is a pattern in what makes students love a travel experience and it’s not what most students expect before traveling.

In order to elaborate on this pattern, I will start with the thing that stood out most which is what isn’t in the pattern. There are a ton of great museums in Europe and in other study abroad destinations. These are excellent opportunities to improve your cultural awareness and some museums should be visited. Now after mentioning that, nobody I’ve asked the infamous question has responded with “this city because this museum was awesome!”. This could be evidence of the need to acquire more intellectually cultured friends, but I doubt that is the reason. It is much more likely that most people enjoy museums, but museums can’t guarantee to make your trip great like Trump has with America. I have a sense that this rule holds true even for students so passionate about the arts they end up being the overenthusiastic humanities professor that turns an easy Gen Ed into your hardest course. On the other side of the coin, only a certain type of person mentions the city with the best clubs and bars. During study aboard you will encounter the once thought to be extinct Neanderthal who cites the best club as an explanation to his or her favorite city. For the rest of us Homosapiens who know Von Gogh is an artist and not a brand of Vodka, clubbing won’t be it.

So what makes a trip great enough to receive the crown as the best? A friend of mine claims his favorite city was Budapest because he went spelunking in the caves around the city. Another friend loved Santorini because they spent their time riding ATV’s around the island. My friends that loved Marrakesh enjoyed the city because of the unique local culture, camel rides, historic buildings, and lively evening markets. My favorite experience was cliff diving into the Mediterranean by the city walls in Dubrovnik. More often than not, the location with the favorite crown isn’t one most Americans can point out on a map. Students don’t fall in love with a city after visiting a museum in Paris or a club in Amsterdam. Most students have their favorite experiences when they choose a place on a map rarely mentioned and have a unique adventure experiencing the local culture.

 

 

 

 

Cheers Scotland

IMG_0906

It has been a while since I last posted, but my time here in Scotland is slowly coming to an end. It is hard to believe that 3 months have gone by since I first set foot here in Scotland. The friendships I have made and the things I have experienced over the past few months will be something that I will cherish and never forget for the rest of my life. I have been lucky enough to have studied and traveled to some amazing places and been able to experience them with friends from all around the world.

Before we begin talking about my adventures lets mention my studies first. Here in Edinburgh students only take 3 classes, no more and no less. Each class meets about twice a week and expects students to do a lot of self teaching and reading in order to understand the material. Grades are generally based off either a midterm paper or group project that accounts for about 30% of your grade. The rest comes from the final in December. Being that finals have just finished up, I can safely say that studies here can be quite rigorous and you better to be prepared to bring your A game when going to class and taking the finals here.

As for the “abroad” part of study abroad, Edinburgh is definitely a city that knows how to celebrate and party, contrary to the old architecture that envelops the city. Every pub, bar, club, and event usually offers some type of student deal that makes it nice for students to go out and enjoy the city at all times. I must admit that I will definitely miss the city, especially the pub life. In Edinburgh there are over 700 pubs, each one as different as the next one even though they may only be 100 feet apart. The pub life has been a part of my lifestyle ever since I arrived, whether I’m grabbing a meal with some friends, drinking a couple pints with the locals and watching the football (soccer) games, or partaking in a pub crawl or pub golf throughout the night. All in all I am definitely going to miss this city and its unique culture.

IMG_0917

As far as outside the city, my most memorable moments will be up in the Highlands of Scotland. The landscape and scenery that can be seen in a weekend trip will absolutely blow your mind. Anywhere you travel in the Highlands you will be surrounded by 3000 ft mountains with grass on the top along with numerous gorgeous lochs in the middle of the hills. Along with my numerous trips up to the Highlands I also took the train ride down to London to go see the best team in English football play, Chelsea FC. This once in a lifetime moment at Stamford Bridge was a great experience not only because they defeated Leicester City 3-0 that day, but because the atmosphere at the game was special. This atmosphere which was built on the awesome chants that lasted all 90 minutes of the game along with the vast amount of casual banter that the fans partook in was something that I will always remember from my time abroad.

IMG_0194

This adventure would not be complete without all the great people I have met and befriended along the way. I have been lucky to spend these past 3 1/2 months with some amazing people who come from all walks of life and from all around the world. The talks that we’ve had and the things that we have done in our time here will definitely be remembered for years to come. When most people think of studying abroad, most think of all the places you will travel and see. I believe that perhaps the most important aspect of studying abroad is the people you meet and the relationships you will develop while abroad. Many of the people you meet along your travels will probably become your lifelong friends. I’ve met many a friends in my time here in Edinburgh, and I know that some of my friends will be lifelong friends in the adventures that we took whilst here in Edinburgh together.

Surviving Classes in a Foreign Language

Salut! I’m coming up on the end of my semester in Paris. I’ve got five finals this week, including two in a foreign language. Yikes! Taking classes in French has been challenging, especially my one about the EU, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

That being said, here are my tips for surviving classes in a foreign language.

Listen.

I know this may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be pretty hard, especially when your classes are three hours long. The ones that don’t let out until 7:30pm are particularly challenging. It can be tempting to doze off or daydream, but trust me, if you stop listening, it’s going to be hard to get back into the lesson and follow along. Then it’s three hours of material that you’ve missed out on. And that sucks.

Write down keywords from the PowerPoint

If your professor has a PowerPoint, take advantage of it. You don’t necessarily have to write down every single word, but make sure you write the key terms. If you’re confused about something–like, say, the French versions of acronyms for various international organizations–then write it down now and look it up on Word Reference later. Right now, your goal is just to get the information down.

Show that you’re paying attention

Don’t start freaking out. I’m not telling you that you constantly have to ask questions or give your opinion. I’m just telling you to not play on your laptop or message your friends during class. Most of the professors want their study abroad students to pass and if they see that you’ve actually been paying attention and making an effort throughout the semester, then they’re a lot more likely to give you that extra boost you might need to pass their class. Not that you should let your grade get down that low, but it’s still good to know.

You’re not alone

This might be the biggest thing to remember. There will be multiple study abroad students in your classes, so you’re hardly going to be the only one who’s taking a class in a foreign language. If you feel overwhelmed, whether with the course material or just the way classes are taught in your current country, remember that you’re not the only one struggling. Just take a deep breath and focus. Plenty of other students have gone through this same process and succeeded. You can do it, too.

Most of this stuff is honestly the same type of stuff you would be doing back home. But trust me when I say that it’s hard to remember that when you’re just trying to keep pace with the lecture. It might take a bit more effort, especially since you’ll have to adjust to new teaching and grading styles. You’ve already done the hardest part, though, by taking classes in a foreign language. Now all that’s left is to prove to yourself that you’ve got what it takes to succeed. (Which you do, by the way.)

It’s time for me to get back to studying for those finals I mentioned. Wish me luck!

 

LISBOA

With Portugal being right next to Spain and sharing a border I quickly discovered upon arrival that despite the two places being close in proximity they are certainly quite different. From the bright yellow trams lining the street to the different cuisines there was an obvious distinction. Within Portugal I visited Lisbon and once hitting the streets I was really glad I decided to pay this city a visit.

Within a couple hours of landing in Lisbon I joined a “free walking tour” and learned some pretty cool things like the oldest book store in the world is located in Lisbon and the significance of the many monuments that are sprinkled around the city. With Lisbon’s many hills I really appreciated the tour guide pointing out there was actually an elevator that can be taken to one of the hilltops that overlooks the city. My friend Jon and I took advantage of this tip later and the views were incredible, we even purposefully got lost in the town and it was interesting to see the locals going about their evening and chatting with one another in the street.

Anyone who knows me well knows I enjoy food, but those who really know me know that my favorite category of food is seafood. Lisbon just happens to offer some of the best seafood in Europe and it is safe to say it will probably ruin any seafood that I have in the future. The restaurant we went to had about a 40 minute wait but there were no regrets after such a flavorful and fresh dinner. *Travel Tip* The food the restaurant places on the table once you sit down is NOT free, we learned this after see our bill consisted of a few items we never ordered but for an extra $5 it was well worth it.

Our time in Lisbon ended with venturing out to the town of Sentra. Sentra is known for immaculate castles and its historic feel. It took about 45 minutes to reach Sentra and it also happened to be raining the time we went. We made it a point to visit one of the most famous castles that is known for being colorful however once reaching the entrance of the castle we were told that we had missed the last round of tickets by 12 minutes. Although it was disappointing our uber driver showed us around the town by car and even showed us a pastry shop where we could get Sentra’s famous pastry which was quite tasty.

During your time abroad be sure not to neglect the places right next to the country you’re studying in, it may surprise you how much fun you’ll have exploring these places. I am not sure where my adventures will take me next but Lisbon definitely has been a highlight of my study abroad experience.

15250784_10208234998528425_7195000818787347640_o

Santorini Island, Greece

When looking up trips I’d like to take while in Europe, the idea of going to Greece wasn’t realistic until a Times article highlighted Santorini Island as one of the Top 50 places a person must see in their lifetime. That was enough to convince me that I hadto see the island for myself and with already being in Europe it made sense both monetarily and logistically.

Our island adventure started with making a stop in Athens first. Withina couple of hours of hour plane landing we made it a point to see the Parthenon, but soon discovered we only had a short time to make that happen. We sprinted up the hilly cobblestone path and finally made it to the entrance. We made the 6pm cutoff time with just a couple minutes to spare and to our surprise found out entry was free for students. The view of Athens from the Parthenon was inspiring and seeing it up close bought elementary school history classes to life. Following our short excursion we explored the rest of Athens and head to bed relatively early for the 7am flight to Santorini Island the next morning.

IMG_0370

Once we touched down in Santorini I immediately knew this trip would be incredible, from the weather to the hospitable nature of our hostel owners the trip was off to a great start. With Santorini being a small island we thought it was best to explore via ATVs. Myself and two friends rented from a local company recommend by our hostel and shortly after test driving them we were on our way. We started at the southern tip of the island at a black sand beach. I had never seen black sand before but the look and texture of it was uniquely likable. After a quick nap on this beach we made our way to a lighthouse and incredible does not give justice to the views of the crystal clear water and cliffs running along the island.

As if the views from here couldn’t be better we made it a point to watch the sunset from Oía, which is iconic for the glistening white homes and blue roofs. But although I enjoyed the sunset from here it was the journey there via ATV I found even more enjoyable. It was just an awesome feeling having the wind blow in your face as you drive past the massive expanse of the ocean going for miles.

IMG_0530

Our Santorini adventure ended poolside at our hostel which felt morelike a resort honestly with the amazing staff and great quality rooms. The trip was incredibly relaxing and worth every penny for the constant jaw dropping sights we were fortunate enough to experience!IMG_0789

Madrid: Home away from Home

Last year when my roommate brought up the idea of studying abroad together I was pretty skeptical and honestly unsure if it was a good idea. Life was good in Louisville and leaving it behind just did not feel right. I eventually gave in and it wasn’t until my plane took off that the realization I was actually studying abroad hit me.

Fast forward to now and it is safe to say Madrid feels like home. The realization of this first hit me after spending a weekend in Ibiza and despite having an awesome time, I couldn’t wait to return to the familiarity and ambiance of Madrid. While my friends and family aren’t here, technology makes it easy to stay in touch and snapchat and twitter are easy reminders that UofL is pretty much how I left it so I should have no shame being away and making the most of my time in Madrid.

Being here I’ve obviously had to adapt to some cultural differences but I’ve gown to enjoy them and can already tell adjusting back to life back home may be a struggle. For example, life moves at a pretty slow pace in Madrid. Whether at restaurants or walking down the streets, everyone is relaxed and being prompt is not a priority. My friends and I joke about showing up places at Spanish time often because if we agree to meet at a certain time, we usually do not show up until 10-20 minutes after the agreed time. Another cultural difference I’ve grown to enjoy are mid afternoon naps called siestas. During this time a lot of local stores and offices are closed and barely anyone is seen walking the streets. Of course one isn’t obligated to sleep during this time but you might as well since what you’re anticipating on doing will probably be interfering with someone else’s siesta time.

All in all I’m thrilled I choose Madrid to study abroad. It truly feels like a home away from home, and I hope to return again after my study abroad experience is over.

Hasta Luego!