Celebrations

One big difference I noticed abroad was celebrating different holidays and traditions. My first month abroad, Costa Rica had its Independence Day on September 15th. My program had us celebrate by taking part in the Independence Day parade and making faroles, which are decorative lanterns children typically carry through the parade.  We got to walk in the parade and see all of the festivities that took place in the town center.

It was strange being abroad in the fall, because Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving. Some people dress up in the bars on Halloween, so I went with other Americans and we all had some sort of costume, even if it wasn’t well put together. Although it is not as important of a holiday to me now that I am older, it was still strange not seeing decorations up. It did not even feel like Thanksgiving when the day rolled around. I had class in the morning as usual, and in the afternoon I went out with my professor to find a fabric I was looking for to use in a project for his class. I called my family and they all talked about how much they missed me and what they were doing, which felt strange to watch from the outside. Later, my study abroad program set up a dinner for us at a restaurant where we ate typical Thanksgiving food. It was not a bad day, it just felt very confusing.

Learning the Language

One interesting aspect of traveling abroad is the language barrier and learning to speak a new language. I took Spanish all throughout high school, although our classes were not very advanced, and in my first 2 years of college. I was excited to spend four months in a Spanish speaking country. I did not think about my growth in the language much during my time abroad, but it is interesting to reflect and see how far I have come.

 

When I first arrived, I was nervous to meet my host family. My 26-year-old host brother spoke English, but his mother, aunt, cousin, and grandparents who all lived with us did not. I came to their house late at night, so we had a quick conversation before bed. I was able to communicate with them just fine and they kept telling me my Spanish was advanced, but I know it needed lots of work. I started the semester with a month-long class in Intermediate 2 Spanish. I could hear myself improve in grammar as well as my speaking skills throughout the month, and I continued to practice outside of the classroom. When I was with my friends we typically spoke in English, so I made sure to go some places alone. I continued to better my speaking skills in stores, with my host family, and in taxis. I even went to a Spanish conversation group to talk to local college students. Even though I’m not a fluent speaker, I now feel comfortable speaking Spanish.

A Rhein-Main Region Travel Guide

Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is the fifth largest city in Germany, and the largest city in Hesse. Frankfurt has a historic center, neighbored by skyscrapers in the Central Banking District. Frankfurt is also home to the European Central Bank. Frankfurt has several malls including MyZeil, a large shopping district with restaurants and businesses. Transportation is easy in Frankfurt. Frankfurt public transport includes the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, and the Straßenbahn (Tram). Frankfurt is also home to two long and beautiful riverbanks lined with riverboat tours and bridges that offer excellent panoramic views of the city and the Main River. Frankfurt also has a zoo and botanical gardens.

Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden sits about half an hour west of Frankfurt, and offers a small city feel. Wiesbaden features a nice inner district that hosts many festivals and markets. The architecture of the buildings along Bahnhofstrasse is beautiful. The center of Wiesbaden also offers a casino and a large park with a pond that’s great for warm weather get togethers.

Mainz

Mainz is a decently sized university town with an active nightlife and a well connected train station. If you find yourself in Mainz, I’d definitely recommend a stop at Eisgrub-Brau to share a five liter tower of beer with some friends. Mainz is also home to a massive cathedral and the Gutenberg museum.

Oestrich-Winkel

Oestrich-Winkel is a small wine growing town on the northern shore of the Rhein. It is also home to one of the schools that UofL has an exchange with, EBS Universität für Wirtschaft und Recht. Oestrich is a quaint city with many wineries and wine stands. The specialty of this region is Riesling.

Rüdesheim

About ten minutes by train from Oestrich-Winkel, Rudesheim is a touristy town with many restaurants and shops where you can buy souvenirs and trinkets. Rudesheim also has very steep vineyards and a cable car that takes you up above the vineyards to the Niederwalddenkmal, a massive statue monument that memorializes the foundation of the German Empire in 1871. From the Niederwalddenkmal you can see across the Rhein to the city of Bingen am Rhein and the endless rows of vines. I recommend following one of the trails behind the memorial to one of many structures along the high hills that line the bank of the Rhein.

Bingen am Rhein

Bingen lies across the Rhein from Rudesheim. The easiest way to get between these two towns is the ferry that runs several times an hour. Nestled on a hill in the middle of Bingen sits a castle. The tower that protrudes from the top of the Bingen Castle is free to climb, and offers an excellent view of the surrounding city and the river. Bingen also has a lively main-street type area for shopping, ice cream, or wine tasting.

 

Bacharach

Between Bacharach and Bingen am Rhein are at least four ancient castles that sit high up on the steep hills that line the Rhein. Bacharach itself is a very interesting city, and is featured on many travel guides that claim that it is one of the most ‘well-preserved medieval cities in Germany’. I recommend the castle that perches on a high hill behind the city and the main street. There is even a tiny and cheap ice cream shop that will let you try Riesling-flavored ice cream.

 

Runkel an der Lahn

Runkel is the most remote town on this list, but also one of the most untouched and beautiful. Like many of the other cities and towns on this list, Runkel sits on a river with high, towering hills that line both banks. Runkel sits and the Lahn river, which also runs through nearby Limburg. The river in Runkel is picturesque and going down to a small part on the river bank allows you to have a magnificent view of the castle that stands high above the opposite bank. Exploring the castle isn’t free, but it is one of the most untouched and authentic castles that I have ever visited, and there are several vantage points that offer excellent views.

 

Overall, I found the Rhein-Main region to be one of the most beautiful and peaceful regions in Germany. The Rhine Valley is excellent for a drive, if you’re able to travel through it by car or by train.

 

*Note: Rhein is the German spelling of ‘Rhine’

 

Berlin für Anfänger (Berlin for Beginners)

My trip to Berlin was the first time that I traveled away from my host university. Getting a break from the small village I live in was a relief. A few of us decided to make a quick weekend trip to Berlin. FlixBus is a cheap option for traveling across Europe, but the ride was about 6 hours (when it wasn’t delayed). Overall, I think Berlin is a must-see for anyone in Central Europe.

Here are a few of my recommendations for things to see (Sehenswürdigkeiten):

1. Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral):

Located in the “Mitte” district of Berlin, this Cathedral is beautiful. If you have a student ID you can get a discount for entry and go up to the top of the cathedral. ~€5

2. Museum Island:

In the middle of the Spree River there’s an island with many museums.

3. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is very tourist-y but worth a visit. The actual checkpoint is just a shack but still worth the walk.

4. Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

This famous Berlin sight is on the doors of the U-Bahn (Subway), on the Euro, everywhere. Must see.

5. East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that is covered in urban-art pieces and is the entrance to the old East-Berlin. While you’re there, I recommend crossing the river to visit the popular burger joint “Burgermeister”.

 

Overall, Berlin remains one of my favorite spots to visit if you get the chance.

 

Reverse Culture Shock

Coming back from study abroad was definitely the hardest part of my summer. After spending almost three months in beautiful cities built centuries ago and meeting a new abroad family, it was not easy to return to the U.S. Simple things like walking to class seem so different when I’m not hopping on the metro with hundreds of other people speaking a language I don’t understand. I think  people underestimate how quickly a new situation can become your norm. I truly felt like a local during my time in Prague and it has driven me to look into possible careers in Europe. Having a difficult time coming home made me realize how much of an impact study abroad had on my life. If you ever have the chance to study abroad I would urge you to take it. The experience was something I could never have expected and I am so grateful I had the opportunity.

Weekends Away

As my time in Prague draws nearer to a close, I thought it would be an ideal time to share some of the insight I have acquired during the past 8 weeks I have spent in Europe. One of the things I fantasized about the most about my time abroad was taking speedy weekend trips to the countries surrounding the Czech Republic. Now, the number one thing I have learned in regards to this topic is that it is important to make sure you spend plenty of time in your host country. There are so many hidden gems in Prague, 9 weeks would never be enough to make time for all of them, but I found myself having to rush to make time for all of the things on my must-do list. As for the weekend trips, keep it to one city. If there is no city in europe you can “do in a day”, at least not if you want the full experience. The most exciting part of my weekend trips was finding the underappreciated, scarcely known tidbits of culture that you won’t be exposed to if you don’t get passed the famous landmarks. During my time in Paris, I spent my first two days going to a festival and seeing the major sights such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel tower and the Louvre, and as fun as it was to see the sights I had dreamt of for so long, it was the third day that I will remember the most. I spend my final day walking around the tiny streets visiting formaggeria and bakeries that the locals shopped at, watching the locals at a small city park, and perusing tiny hidden art galleries. Needless to say, sometimes less can be more when it comes to traveling. There is so much to see in the world, but traveling is much more than checking countries off a list, it is about full cultural immersion and connecting to a place vastly different than what you may know.

Tips for Visiting Rome, Italy

  • Visit the Roman Forum before the Colosseum

The line to get tickets at the Roman Forum is WAY shorter than the line to buy them at the Colosseum! Choose the option to buy a ticket to see both at the Roman Forum, that way when you get to the Colosseum you can skip the line to buy tickets. The ticket even lasts for two days if you’d like to split your time between the two.

 

  • Take recommendations from locals

My favorite restaurant I ate at while in Rome was a little hole in the wall pizzeria recommended to us by our Airbnb host. The food and wine were amazing and the service was great! We even ate here twice during our weekend trip because we loved it so much. We wouldn’t have even thought to go there if we wouldn’t have asked a local.

 

  • See the Vatican Museum at night

On Fridays, there is an option to take a night tour of the Vatican Museum. I highly recommend this! It was less crowded than normal so it was easier to navigate. It also was very hot in Rome the weekend we were there and there is no air conditioning, so I can’t imagine exploring the museum during a hot day.

 

  • Take time to just wander around

Sometimes when visiting a city for a short amount of time it’s easy to get caught up in sightseeing and you can forget to actually take in the culture of the city. Take time to just walk around with no real place to be and just take in the beauty of the city.

Ten Places to Visit While in Edinburgh

  1. Edinburgh Castle
    • This is probably the most famous landmark in Edinburgh. It sits on Castle Rock, which is volcanic rock. This castle has been in use since the 12th century but has not been occupied since the 17th The Crown Jewels of Scotland are displayed here, which are a sight to see. The rich history and majestic beauty of this castle make it a must-see while in Edinburgh.
  2. Palace of Holyroodhouse
    • The Palace of Holyroodhouse is situated on the opposite end of the Royal Mile from the castle. It is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II when she visits Scotland. This, like most things in Scotland, has a deep history with the royals. Mary, Queen of Scots resided here during her reign and Bonnie Prince Charlie took up residence here during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Since this is the official residence of the Royal Family, be sure to look for when the flag is raised to see if they are home.
  3. Arthur’s Seat
    • Another old volcano, this hill (what the Scottish call a mountain) is worth a climb. It is not an easy hike up, but if you are able, you should do it. Once at the top, the views of Edinburgh are breathtaking. Speaking from experience, go during the day. If you go at night, it may start raining. In the dark and rain, this hike may feel like a near death experience.
  4. Calton Hill
    • If you are not able to climb up Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill may be a better choice. This hill (an actual hill) also gives stunning views of Edinburgh, without being so physically taxing on the body like Arthur’s Seat.
  5. Grassmarket
    • This area is one of my favorite places in Edinburgh. It used to be the site of the gallows, but now it has lots of great pubs and shops. A few places to visit while in the Grassmarket include: Mary’s Milk Bar (great gelato and great view of the Castle), Armchair books (a very cool secondhand bookshop), and the White Hart Inn (a haunted pub which claims to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh).              
  6. Victoria Street
    • Just off Grassmarket lies Victoria Street. This street is full of cute shops with colorful facades. This street’s true claim to fame is that is serves as the inspiration for Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, visiting this street is a must.
  1. Dean Village
    • This is an old village which is just a short walk from Edinburgh’s City center. It is well-preserved old milling village. It is very scenic, with a beautiful creek running through the center of the village.
  2. Royal Mile
    • The Royal Mile, or Edinburgh’s High Street, runs between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It has many gift shops and restaurants and is where St. Giles Cathedral is located. If you have seen Avengers Infinity War, this is one of the locations used while the crew was in Scotland.
  3. Elephant House
    • Another place for any Harry Potter nerd. This is the café where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Many people flock here, but despite the crowds, it is a place worth visiting. I recommend getting a tea or coffee and maybe a slice of cake, the food here is a tad overpriced. This café has a great view of the castle, which served as the inspiration for Hogwarts. If you do come here, make sure to go to the bathroom and check out all the Harry Potter inspired graffiti.
  4. Caffe Nero (Princes Street)
    • While this café is a chain, I still recommend visiting. They have good coffee, but this location has become my favorite in Edinburgh. While visiting, you should go up to the second-floor seating area, because it has wonderful views of the castle. If you can tell from the places I’ve recommended, any place with a good view of the castle is a good place to visit.

Why You Should Study Abroad

  1. Grow up and become independent: Nothing makes you grow up faster than being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you have to learn how to navigate the city, order food, etc. When you’re abroad you’ll be traveling too, and let me go ahead and tell you – you will have travel issues. You will miss flights, you are going to get lost in a foreign city, and dumb things that you never think could happen will. But the good thing is, all of this is going to make you grow up and it will be quick. By the time you come back home you’ll feel like you can handle any situation and do it without the help of anyone else.
  2. You meet people from all over: While I was studying in France and traveling throughout Europe, I met hundreds of people from over 20 countries. There are many people I still talk to and consider good friends of mine. Not only are you going to make lifetime friends when abroad, but you’re going to learn a lot about other societies and their viewpoints on different topics when you talk to them.
  3. See and do things you never imagined: When I was in Europe, I saw 10 different countries in my 3 months, including one in Africa. I got to ride a camel, hike mountains over 10000 feet, experience the world cup in the winning country, see some of the most historic architecture in the world and see more places than most people will in their lifetime. My favorite moment from the summer was when I was staying in Positano, Italy. My last night there, everyone I met at the hostel and I went out to the club right next to the Mediterranean Sea and stayed until it closed down. Instead of going back up to our place, we decided to swim in the freezing cold sea while watching the sunrise at 5am. We later had to walk up the entire hillside and over 800 steps, while it was raining, to get back to our hostel, but it was totally worth the views.
  4. Have fun: The most obvious reason to study abroad is to learn A LOT right? But who says you can’t have some fun while you’re at it? Every single day is a completely new experience and you’ll always have fun. My time abroad was the best time of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Of course, it can be different for some people, but if you go in with the mindset of trying new things and wanting to have fun, you’ll have a blast.

Study Abroad Reflection

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

-Anthony Bourdain

 

This quote has been the story of my study abroad season. Travel is so much fun but it isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes you feel like your running a marathon but it is a cool marathon because you get to travel from country to country. Travel can be uncomfortable. Paris is a dream location for many and has been at the top of bucket list since my childhood. But, often times with city life, it was a little uncomfortable. We stayed in an apartment that was very tiny and I had to walk up five flights of stairs. You definitely want to pack light because you will eventually have to carry all of your stuff with you! Paris is well worth staying in a tiny apartment, though. Getting to see the Eiffel Tower and Mona Lisa was amazing. I never thought I would get make it to Paris to see those things.

Travel does break your heart. I met so many lovely people from all over the world that became close friends. It was very hard saying goodbye but I’m sure our paths will cross again. That’s another thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet or where you will end up. Travel is sometimes an unknown journey but I love the mystery behind packing a suitcase and going.

The journey changes you. My journey opened my eyes to the big world we live in. Travelling gave me a mindset that I can do anything. When you travel to a country you have never been to before by yourself, it can be a little scary but it is the most freeing thing you can do. Your mind becomes an open book, its like turning a page to adventure. It’s the little things in life that are a bit different from country to country. They make your mind second guess why you do what you do. For instance, in France, many people walk to work. This daily habit can be life changing for someone who is overweight in America. Travel changes your mindset and your daily life, and opens your soul to the world around you.

Your visit to each city or each country gives you something different. In France, I took away the need to gather with friends and family. In England, I took the need to have fun and let loose. In Ireland, I look away the need to enjoy nature and the beauty that surrounds us. In Italy, I took away the need to live in the romance that each day provides.

I left behind my smile. A smile has no language barriers. I took it everywhere I went, despite the uncomfortable and heart breaking moments during my journey. I still have my smile with me though as I look back at all the memories made and I don’t regret my journey in the least bit. My wallet is a little lighter than before but my passport is full of stamps!