Weekend Trip: Costa Brava

Along with Italy and France, Spain also has an impressive coastline along the Mediterranean. With my study abroad group we made a trip up the coast for the weekend visiting several Spanish towns; L’Escala, Figueres, Roses and Cadaques. The Costa Brava coastline is far different from our coasts on the Atlantic and Gulf as well as the Pacific coasts. The water is a clean deep dark blue and the coasts are mostly rocky rather than sandy.

Our first stop was in L’Escala for an early lunch at a small beach within the town.

Afterwards we went up to Figueres and visited the Dali Museum. Salvador Dali is Spain second most famous painter behind Pablo Picasso. Most of his work came from his travel to America and this was shown through his work.

After the museum, we headed up to Roses where we spent the night at the Marina Hotel. We spent that night hanging out on the sandy beach and roaming through the town.

The next day we took a trip by boat farther up the coast to the town of Cadaques.

 

After spending sometime exploring the sea village and grabbing lunch we headed back to Roses and headed home to Barcelona.

Three Reasons Why You Should Study in Barcelona

1. City Life

Barcelona provided the perfect backdrop for a student looking for a busy city to study abroad. Within the first few days I had that feeling of a New Yorkesque lifestyle. The busy taxi filled streets into the late night, the never-ending selection of restaurants, bars, and shops, and the blended lifestyles of locals, travelers, artists, businessmen, and wonderers. Barcelona offered an endless list of experiences to be discovered, rather your interests are history, art, food, nightlife, or shopping. Along with taxis Barcelona provided a well-designed Metro that could get you anywhere in the city in under 30 minutes.

2. Culture

The city offered a cultural melting pot that was not mimicked in many of the other cities I visited. This included the rebellious side of Catalonian culture, represented in areas such as El Raval, as well as the beach life represented throughout La Barceloneta. Barcelona’s big city lifestyle was not without the vast choices of food. From tapa bars to fine dining Barcelona had everything to satisfy your appetite. Being a coastal city the seafood was fresh and plentiful. There was no shortage of art on the menu either. This was represented through Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, the Picasso and various other museums, as well as the endless amount of street art.

3. Nightlife

In Barcelona, there is no shortage of nightlife. Around just about every corner was an assortment of clubs and venues. With many of these night clubs not opening until midnight and going until 6am, Barcelona competes with American cities such as Vegas and Miami for the party until the sunrises club scene. There is no lack of extravagance at these clubs either, with many only opening in the last decade. Along with packing them full 7 days a week they also brought in some of the biggest artists from around the world. This included acts such as Tiesto, Wiz Khalifa, and Deadmou5. Along with there being an infinite number of options to choose from our study abroad group also received free guest list entry to many of the top clubs. By avoiding the usual high cover charges this made stopping in to take a look at many of the nightclubs far more favorable and led to nights of endless fun and entertainment.

9 Things I Didn’t Expect When I Came to France

I had studied French during all four years of high school and learned a decent bit about their culture, so I figured I had a decent idea of how France would be like before I studied there. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Here are nine of the things that I wasn’t really expecting before coming to France and some tips to help you overcome them!

1. Clothes: Everyone wears jeans and only jeans. And if you’re a girl, its high-waisted jeans. I tried this for the first few days, then I realized I hated being so dang hot 24/7. I really don’t know how they do it. What’s even crazier is the fact that they are usually wearing jackets too. Absolute madness!!! Now, I just wear my nice shorts and welcome the stares from everyone(may or may not be because the shorts).

Tip: Bring at least two different pairs of jeans if you want to fit in and not get the endless stares like me!

2. Appearance: I really stick out in a crowd. Everywhere I go, I always get many people staring at me. It could be the shorts, could be the fact I’m about a foot taller than everyone else or that I look like I’m from the USA(some have thought Netherlands). I didn’t expect that everywhere I went, I would constantly get stared at because of my appearance.

Tip: Don’t be tall or wear colored, pastel shorts like me.

3. Driving: The drivers here are CRAZY!! They weave in and out of lanes, dodge motorcycles that seem to have no rules and do it all while staying calm, cool and collected. Not to mention, they actually let drivers over when they have their signal on, and they do all of this without undercover cops patrolling the streets to hand out tickets(they use cameras). The best way to describe their driving is organized chaos. It is 10x worse than anything in the USA, trust me.

Tip: Don’t drive yourself unless necessary. Take the metro or walk and burn off those calories from the cheese and bread!

4. Food: Before I came to France, I assumed I’d be eating a lot of French food. Crazy right? But everything in Paris and the major cities has been Westernized and it was like eating back at home, except not as good. Even when we wouldn’t be in residential areas it seemed like all you could find were burger shops and Italian restaurants. Of course, you can go get an amazing crepe at just about any place you go, but you’re hard pressed to find restaurants with truly French cuisine. Don’t fret though, you can still find great food(like the fish and chips above) you’ll just have to search a little harder.

The main thing I didn’t expect when it came to food, was the fact that the seafood tastes could be so different in France than the USA. When I stayed at Mont St-Michel, I ordered a Fruit de Mer(fruits of the sea). I was looking forward to eating some scallops, shrimp, fish, mussels and crab. I was in for quite the surprise when they brought me out a plate with only one of those. My first reaction was to literally throw the plate across the room. Yeah, a little over the top, but it was warranted. It was one of the most unappetizing dishes I had ever seen. I gave it the ol’ college try and had some of these alien snails, prawns that had their insides explode on my hands and much, much more. If you’re like my brothers right now, you’re thinking I’m just a picky eater. That might be true, but even my parents couldn’t choke down this food. Needless to say, it was the worst food experience of my life and it still gives me the heeby-geezies thinking about it. Don’t worry too much though, I had fantastic lamb after that and the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had for dessert.

Tip: Try and ask locals where the best restaurants are and try and eat outside of the touristy areas. Also, try and clarify what exactly you will be getting and don’t assume it is the same as at home.

5. Language: They. Talk. So. Fast. When I listen to them speak it is like one long word that never stops. Add in the fact that they are speaking a foreign language and you’re completely toast figuring out what they are asking/telling you. And before you say, “Well why did you go to a country you don’t speak the language”, I DO!!! I am not fluent, but I know enough to be dangerous. Hopefully by the end of the summer I will be proficient enough to understand everyone and communicate much easier.

Whenever we went out my parents would typically ask them right away if they spoke English and typically the waitress/waiter did. We were at a nice fish and chips place(Poissonpare, highly recommended) on the Loire River in Nantes and my parents went through the usual routine and found out our waitress didn’t speak English and really didn’t seem very interested in having us eat there. So I stepped in and starting using my French skills to ask questions and order all the food for us. Everything changed after that. Our waitress was peppy and sweet, and no longer looked like she wanted to throw us into the Loire. When I went to pay, she was very sweet and was trying to tell me something in French, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying because she was speaking a million miles an hour. After, having her repeat it multiple times, she ended up telling me in broken English “congrats on your French, it’s very good”. HA! I didn’t even understand her complimenting me on my French. So much for being very good… In all seriousness though, it made my day. Let this be a reminder to always try your best to use the local language when visiting a foreign country because you never know what can come from it.

Tip: Know some French before coming. Also, make an effort to show you are trying and they will typically be helpful and speak in English.

6. Beaches: France has some amazing beaches… and they’re not even on the Mediterranean. I usually associated Italy, Thailand and Fiji with having nice beaches, but France definitely had a surprise in store for me!

For my parents last day in Nantes, we drove 1.5 hours outside of Nantes to Ile de Noirmoutier on the Atlantic Coast. What I thought would be an okay day trip turned into us discovering the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. It had nice sand, a great town around it, nice blue-green water and many trails that led to semi-private, picturesque beaches. I may not have been able to get into the water because it was still too chilly, I can say with confidence it is one of the best beaches in France and everyone should go soak up the sun on the beautiful Les Dames beach of Noirmoutier.

Tip: Don’t skip out on the Atlantic Coast beaches. They may not be as famed as the Riviera, but they are just as beautiful.

7. Smoking: I had no idea how many people smoked in France. I am used to seeing a few people a day back at home, but when we were going through France about 50% of people smoked. No, I’m not exaggerating. It was absolutely mindboggling for me, because I now see more people smoking in 5 minutes than I would in an entire day at home. Basically the only place they can’t smoke is inside the restaurants and hotels. If you have issues with smoke, COME PREPARED!!

Tip: Eat inside restaurants if the smoke bothers you.

8. Tourists: I hate being ‘that tourist’, but there are just too many of them out there. We came when it isn’t even peak season, and I completely hated some of the places(Palace of Versailles) that I knew I would like, simply because there were 10x too many people there. I couldn’t enjoy the palace, the Musee Orsay and many other places because you would be packed in like sardines with people who don’t care that you’re trying to enjoy the moment.

At one point in the palace, some short little kid was bumping into me and I had mumbled something like “Watch out little guy”. Turns out it really was just that! An extremely short man, twice my age.

Tip: Visit main tourist attractions during the middle of the week. Also, plan your visits outside of the peak season of June, July and August.

9. Markets: Before I came here, I assumed everyone did their shopping like we do in the USA. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. First off, everyone here has to have their own reusable bags or a cart and if you don’t they will make you buy one. Secondly, most people walk to the market just about every day. They’ll get their fruits and veggies, protein for the day and a delicious baguette. When I realized this, I was thinking, “You mean they don’t hoard away 17 years of food in their basement fridge? Weird.” After going shopping a few times, I realized I definitely like this better. You always have fresh food. You get to exercise and burn off all those calories from the cheeses and baguettes. You just feel healthier.

Tip: Buy a few reusable bags and enjoy the daily ritual of walking to the market for fresh produce.

This list is by no means all inclusive of everything that I didn’t expect, but it highlights the main topics. Be sure to follow the tips to help make your time in France easier and more fun!

P.S. Most of this is applicable to every country I visited in Europe, so be prepared regardless of where you go!

Top Reasons to Study Abroad in Prague, Czech Republic

Location

One of the things I loved most about Prague and the Czech Republic as a whole was the location. The Czech Republic is landlocked and surrounded by Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, with Italy and Croatia nearby. This was especially convenient for travelling on the weekends. We took busses or trains to a variety of places on the weekends, which proved to be faster and cheaper than flying. There are also many unique towns and villages located right outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. Day trips to Pilsen to tour famous brewery cellars or to Karlstejn to tour the 1348 Karlstejn Castle were fun excursions when we wanted to venture outside of Prague.

 Ease of Public Transportation

Getting around the city was much easier than I originally expected. The most common methods of transportation are the underground metro, tram, or walking. Personally, I lived about 20 minutes from campus and the main part of the city, so I took the metro just about every day. After the first several days in Prague, we had the metro schedule down and could figure out how to get almost anywhere around Prague. Walking and taking the above-ground rail tram was great when we were already in the main areas of the city because it gave us the opportunity to see different areas of Prague and learn where everything is.

 Food Variety

After researching Czech food before arriving in Prague, I found that traditional Czech meals consist of heavier foods such as meat, potatoes, dumplings, and goulash. Although this did not sound discouraging, I was going to miss a good plate of pasta or chicken quesadilla. However, after arriving in Prague, I came to realize the city was filled with plenty of restaurants catering all types of cuisine. There were more Italian and Mexican restaurants than I could count, and a KFC could be found every several blocks.  Plus, I learned Czech food was pretty tasty, after all!

How to be a Financially Responsible Traveler

It’s no secret that studying abroad is expensive. Tuition, housing, text books, meal plans, and airline tickets are just the beginning of the amenities you’ll be paying for. Once you arrive at the university, additional funds will be needed for groceries, transportation, souvenirs, etc. Here are some tips (that I’ve learned during my time in Ireland) on how to make your money last:

 

•Research the international fees that your bank charges for debit card usage. Capital One 360, what I am currently using, has no international ATM or foreign charge fees.

•Buy groceries and snacks. Not every meal needs to be eaten at a restaurant! Plus, this will come in handy if you get hungry late night in the dorms.

•Share supplies (and split costs) with your friends and roommates. Tide pods, dish soap, and toilet paper can go a long way when split between people. Plus, sharing is caring!

•Doing laundry can be expensive in some countries. If you don’t have a full load to do, consider splitting the cost and load with a friend. If you only have a few items, hand wash and hang to dry.

•Avoid taxis by using public transportation when available. When I was studying abroad, a cab to the airport was €50 ($58). Although a longer commute, using public transportation for the same route was only €11 ($12).

•When using ATMs, it’s better to take out a few large sums rather than many small sums. Most ATMs charge a service fee for each withdraw.

•If your bank allows, choose to pay in the country’s currency (rather than USD) when using a debit card. Normally a conversation fee will be applied if you pay in USD.

 

Studying abroad should be fun and stress free, but it’s still important to be responsible with your money. Be aware where your purse/wallet is at all times and let your bank know you’re traveling internationally before you leave.

Happy travels!

Book the Flight- Cusco, Peru

 

As I have gotten older in college, the one thing I regret is not starting my study abroad adventures sooner. I have been fortunate enough to be able to complete two summer study abroad programs, one in Mexico and one in Peru, but this still does not seem like enough. In the real world, summer break doesn’t exist. This is something that I realized very quickly once I started applying for internships as I got into my sophomore and junior years.

After spending 9 weeks in Mexico, I decided that it was okay to stop traveling and start getting serious about finding an internship. I had decided that I had had my time and my adventures, and that phase of my life was over. So, I went out and did everything I could to find a successful internship that I could be proud of- and that’s exactly what happened. In January I was hired at LG&E and KU as an intern, and I could not be happier to be working for one of the most successful companies in our city. I knew for sure my traveling days were over at this point- how could I let myself give up such an amazing job?

But the thing about the travel but is that once you catch it, it’s impossible to get rid of. I found myself searching online for 2 or 3-week study abroad programs that I might be able to get approval from my bosses. Having studied abroad before, I know that 2 or 3 weeks is nowhere near long enough to fully immerse yourself in the culture of another country, but I was willing to take an opportunity I could get. Also from studying abroad before, I know that 2 to 3-week programs are hard to come by and typically just as expensive as doing a 4 to 5-week program.

I had no luck finding short programs that weren’t astronomical in cost, but I did find a 5-week program to Peru that really interested me. I was terrified of asking my bosses for permission to go on this trip. I was terrified that I would seem unprofessional and that it would impact my ability to get a full-time job once I graduate. But, knowing that this was my last chance to travel, I asked- and I’m glad I did. My bosses were super accepting and excited about my travels. They supported me, saying that I would come back as a stronger employee and knowing that I was working towards finishing my degree.

I am so glad that I took the chance to study abroad again. I did it for myself. Moral of the story: book the flight, and travel while you’re young. Who knows if you’ll make it to retirement?

Advice for the new Study Abroad Student

I am finishing up my first week at Maynooth University in Maynooth, Ireland. While I still have three more weeks to go, I’ve already learned a lot about the do’s, don’ts, and everything in between when studying abroad.

1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Drink enough water, get enough sleep, eat healthy foods. Flying can cause dehydration and put major stress on the body. After landing in a new country, you’ll want to take advantage of every opportunity, causing even more physical and mental wear. Here are a few things that can help you maintain your health:

  • Purchase a water bottle, keep it filled, bring it everywhere with you! (Just make sure the tap water is safe to drink.)
  • Drink orange juice, eat fruits and veggies, and take vitamin C if needed.
  • Keep in contact with your loved ones at home! Homesickness and culture shock can be hard, but just remember that there is a group of people that love you and are so proud of you.

2. Do not compare yourself to the others in your study abroad program. Some people like to drink, party, smoke, etc. Just because they do doesn’t mean you have to as an attempt to fit in. Like at UofL, there will be a variety of individuals you’ll meet and study with. You’ll find true friends with values similar to your own.

3. Don’t forget the main reason you’re traveling: to study abroad. Don’t neglect your homework and studies. Go to class, pay attention, get to know your lecturers (professors), and bring home some newfound knowledge!

4. Be open to new experiences! While taking care of yourself is the priority, take advantages of all the opportunities you have while abroad! There will be new foods to try, locals to meet, adventures to go on! Live in the moment, take a few photos, and never forget the memories!

 

Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things You Must Do When Visiting Prague

1.Walk Across the Charles Bridge 

The Charles Bridge is a must see when visiting Prague. Built in the 1400s, the bridge is the oldest bridge in Prague. It’s a Gothic Style Bridge that spans across the Vltava River and connects Old Town to Lesser Town. Today, the bridge is flocked with many musicians, street performers, and stands selling jewelry. Most tourists walk the bridge during the afternoon, so my best advice for avoiding the crowd is to go in the early morning or late at night.

The view from the Charles Bridge at sunrise

2. Try a trdelnik
When you’re in Prague, you will find stands for trdelnik everywhere. Trdelnik, also known as a “chimney cake”, is a famous dessert in the Czech Republic. The cinnamon pastry is cone shaped and can be sold plain or with fillings such as chocolate, vanilla ice cream, or strawberries. Although the trdelik is popular in Prague, during my time here I have learned that it actually isn’t a traditional Czech food! Regardless, I still recommend trying one of the delicious pastries while you’re here.

trdelnik with whipped cream and strawberries!

3. Write a message on the John Lennon wall
I learned about the history of the John Lennon wall during a walking tour I took my first few days in Prague. During the 1980s, John Lennon became a hero to the public of Prague. After John Lennon’s image was painted on the wall, graffiti about politics and Beatle’s lyrics soon followed. No matter how many times the wall was repainted, the youth of Prague continuously added to the wall. Now the wall is a tourist attraction where people come to write their own personal messages on the wall. I actually have yet to write my own message, but definitely plan to add to the wall before I leave Prague.

4. Visit Petrin Hill
On the top of Petrin Hill is the Petrin Lookout Tower, also known as “Prague Eiffel Tower”, which gives arguably the best view of Prague. I wasn’t even really aware of just how big Prague is until I saw it from this view. If you’re willing to climb the 299 stairs to reach the top of the tower, I’ll tell you that the view is by far worth it. If you aren’t in the mood for a climb, Petrin Hill has a rose garden and plenty of spots for a nice picnic.

A picture of me at Petrin Lookout Tower

5. Take a look at the Astronomical clock
The Astronomical clock is an absolute historic wonder. The clock was made in the 1400s and is centered in Old Town Square. Sadly, during my time here the astronomical clock is under reconstruction. However, if you are lucky enough to visit while it is up and running, I definitely recommend it!

Traveling Through Belgium for Flemish Higher Education

On 25-27 June 2018, the Fulbright Commission, along with the Flemish Foreign Ministry, hosted seven representatives from American universities to present them with information on Flemish higher education within Belgium and the various institutions their universities can partner with in the future, and I got to tag along for this journey.

Participants included a Vice President of Global Programs, a Senior International Officer, and an Associate Provost for International Initiatives. The following universities were represented: Wayne State University, Fordham University, Brown University, Georgia State University, University of Michigan, University of California Davis, and Boston University.

Flanders inspires at KU Leuven

As higher education professionals traveled across the world to participate in the short time-line, yet busy scheduled Flanders Inspires Tour, we wanted to make sure they were able to see all that Flemish institutions had to offer, all while enjoying delicious Belgian beer and chocolate of course.

On Monday morning, we had a very informative day starting at the Flemish Parliament, where we learned about the ins and outs of Flemish involvement within the country of Belgium. After lunch we traveled to the European Commission and participated in multiple presentations with representatives from the Flemish Parliament, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Youth Culture, the U.S. Embassy to Belgium, and the Fulbright Commission. The evening was spent getting to know each other in a more informal setting at the Errerahuis during a networking reception hosted by Freddy Evans, Secretary General of Flemish Foreign Affairs, and attended by many Flemish university representatives. The evening was filled with great conversation, bottomless campaign, and delicious Belgian food.

City Tour of Ghent

Bright and early Tuesday morning I set off to Ghent with the Flanders Inspires participants and got to experience Brussels morning traffic via car for the first time- the ready and available coffee machine on the bus made the morning much more amusing. After touring Ghent University’s satellite campus and learning about specific university statistics, we were fortunate enough to be welcomes to ProDigest for lunch. The co-founders presented their spin-off business plan and how they have been the leading digestive research company in Europe for the past three years. (I know you’re wondering, and yes, we did have an extremely healthy lunch.) Their business has grown so immensely that in order to stay on Ghent’s campus, they will soon have to move out of the incubator and construct their own laboratory. Before leaving campus, we took a brief tour of the foul-smelling, but very interesting ProDigest lab where human digestive-like contraptions were housed and researched on.

In the evening we took a guided walking tour through the city of Ghent where we were greeted with beautiful canal views and the crave worthy smell of waffles. It was wonderful to learn about the rich history of the city before settling down for a five course dinner at Restaurant Allegro Moderato as we watched the sun set over the old city canal to close out our second day together over fancy wines and great conversations.

Lunch at KU Leuven Faculty Club

On our final day as we set off for Leuven on the Flanders party bus. The day started with information specific to KU Leuven and its studies and research, and with lots of coffee of course. After very informative sessions, we strolled over to the KU Leuven University Library to hear more from current professors and researchers. Lunch at the KU Leuven Faculty Club was a beautiful retreat, greeted by the Vice Rector and mayor of Leuven; it really set the tone for the enjoyable evening to come. The lunch was filled with wholesome conversation and delectable chocolate mousse to really connect the American professionals with the faculty at the University of Leuven.

Following, lunch we ventured away from the main campus to see the beautiful engineering and science campus and learned more about their student and staff diversity in specific programs. We then journeyed to the bustling biomedical campus, the largest hospital system within Belgium. In this metropolis of a medical school, we learned more about the endless areas of medical research funded by KU Leuven and conferenced with a neurosurgeon about his fascinating role at KU Leuven.

Bittersweet Box from Leuven

The evening was filled with multiple surprises and delectable treats. Starting at Bittersweet, a Flemish chocolatier spoke to us about his company and let us taste one-of-a-kind chocolate treats. A short stroll back to the center of the city was enough to make us crave more, and the perfect time to start the native Belgian beer pairing menu at the traditional restaurant Mykene. Over the most amazing food and beer, we reflected on the detailed information we were presented with during the previous days and the worldly connections that we take back to our home institutions. A somber bus ride home ended with big hugs and thorough goodbyes. It was a great experience to help show American academic professionals around the country I’ve called my own for the past couple months and shown a whole new light on Flemish institutions I am surrounded by. I was lucky to meet these accomplished academic professionals, and I know I will continue to be in contact with several of them when I move to Boston next year to start my master’s program.

Breaking Irish Stereotypes

After just a few days in Maynooth, Ireland, I’ve learned that the individuals making up Ireland’s population are more than the assumed stereotypes. Below are some of my findings:

  • Not all Irish people are redheads! In fact, most of the individuals I’ve met have had a shade other than red.
  • The people eat much, much more than potatoes. In fact, Ireland is full of McDonalds (which they pronounce MacDonalds), Starbucks, and Subway restaurants along with plenty of pizza and pasta options.
  • Some Irish individuals don’t like Guniess beer at all. Both my campus coordinator and Marketing lecturer avoid it, choosing other draft choices at the pubs.
  • The Irish accent has many differences compared to the typical US accents. For example, the letter O is pronounced “oar”, while the H in a TH syllable is not pronounced – making the word “three” sound like “tree”.
  • There are many common Irish slang terms:
    • “Having a good crack” – Having a good time/ having fun
    • “Cheers!” – A greeting, goodbye, thank you, etc.
    • “Yurt” – Yes
    • “Crisps” – Chips

There is one stereotype, though, that the Irish hold to be true – they are extremely kind and friendly. They hold doors open, help with directions, apologize when passing by you, and so much more!

If you have the opportunity to visit Ireland (specifically Maynooth), please do it! It’s so beautiful and quaint and I know you’ll love every second of your visit!