- Amsterdam– Amsterdam is a beautiful city with canals spread throughout the city in a spider web design. Bikes are plentiful, streets are bustling and the entire city seems alive. Things to do and see include the Ann Frank House (make an online reservation to skip the 2 hour long line!), the Van Gogh Museum, and simply exploring the streets of Amsterdam where you can take in the architecture, try traditional dutch food, and walk past the infamous red light district.
- Budapest– Budapest had a focus on its more recent history with its WWII Nazi/communist gestapo regime leaving its mark on the city in multiple ways. Notable things to do include the Turkish baths (they are amazing and a must to a visitor) and caving under the city (participants must be able to fit through very narrow openings and cannot be claustrophobic).
- Prague– Prague was simply a beautiful city. The building are gilded in gold, the street food was some of the best i have ever had, the deserts were outstanding, and the architecture miraculous with an enormous castle at its center.
- Krakow– To be honest i found Krakow to be very bleak. However the real reason we went was to see Auschwitz, which was one of the most sobering experiences i have ever had. It was and incredible and overwhelmingly sad sight to behold and I do not believe words will ever be able to grasp what had happened in that spot.
- Paris– I entered Paris not really expecting a lot and was honestly overwhelmed by how much there was to see. Hundreds of different landmarks and attractions were scattered throughout the city. Macaroons and wine overflowing and the Eiffel tower at night was something to behold. There were some things we did not get to see but a few of what we were able to go to included the love lock bridge, Notre Dame, the catacombs of Paris, The Louvre, the Mona Lisa, and a lot more!
- London– I found London to be somewhat underwhelming. We saw the notable attractions- Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, (Big Ben and the Palace were both much smaller than I had imagined them) etc.- but it seemed to simply be a large metropolitan city and was extremely expensive for the most basic of items. I will say my favorite part was visiting the set of Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Studio and seeing all the different props and how the movies were made.
- Dublin– Dublin was amazing. We hiked the cliffs of Howth, covered in green grass and golden flowers, learned of the history of the country and its recent occupation, and enjoyed late nights at some of the many pubs across the city listening to to a violin and an Irish serenade, and visited the Guiness Brewery.
- Rome– Last, but certainly not least, Rome. Rome was my favorite place to have visited. The culture was enticing, the food delicious, and the amount of history was incredible. I saw everything I possibly could including the Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman forum, Palantine Hill, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, Castle Sant’ Anglo, and so much more. I took a day trip to both the ruins of Pompeii and the ancient Roman port city of Ostia Antica. I ate gelato everyday and had spaghetti and meatballs with wine for dinner.
Like all students studying abroad for the first time, the start of my trip was a whirlwind of new experiences, amazing sights, and unknown variables. The information that follows are tips and tricks to studying abroad in The Hague and making that transition as smooth and streamline as possible. One of the first things I noticed after my first few weeks here was that the majority of the UofL students that came here became sick. This could have been due to the new environment or just for the simple fact that they had caught a bug but I believe it is important to keep an eye out for the closest pharmacy (apotheek) indicated by a giant neon green ‘+’ sign located outside the shop. Knowing where to go for medical help can be a great relief and avoid a lot of confusion and misery down the road as well as knowing exactly what your medical insurance coverage is and which doctors you are covered by. The second challenge I faced in my first few weeks was one i never ever thought I would have a problem with- home sickness. I have never been the type of person to miss my home very much and have always considered myself an relatively independent person. However, especially when I was sick, I missed the familiar sounds, smells, and views of home and being able to relate to the culture. I found the best way to deal with this was to get out and go on different adventures and trips with the other students from my home university. The best solution was to distract my mind with the new opportunities waiting around every corner instead of sitting alone in your room belly-aching over what you miss. I also had a problem with jet lag. My first week I was tired all the time and wanted nothing more than to relax and unpack my things. The only problem was that this was when the rest of the students were out exploring and getting to know each other and started planning different things. My advice is to push through the exhaustion and take part in the international community. You will get the chance to sleep and unpack in time but there is only a limited time in which all the international students are very eager to meet new people and make new friends.
Another way to take advantage of your first few weeks is to take a day to yourself and walk around and explore the city while also noting where all of your basic amenities are in relation to where you live. Find your local grocery store, fast-food joints, basic housing supplies, restaurants you may want to try etc. Taking one day to do this will save you a lot of time and effort over waiting until you’re all out of supplies and trying to find everything last minute. It is also important to do things on your own from time to time. When you first arrive you will naturally want to do things in groups and stay close to what is familiar, but often you can succumb to the group mentality which can be somewhat limiting in regards to experiencing things on your own and by your own pace.
If it is your first time in Europe, you may be overflowing at the idea of traveling and seeing all there is to see. While i do recommend planning your trips as soon as you can, there are things you should be wary about. First and foremost is knowing your school schedule, when your classes are, and when your breaks are. Working around these things in planning your trips should be at the top of your list. You also must keep in mind planning your trips strategically. Have a list of the top places you want to visit and remember to be realistic taking into account the amount of time and money you have at your disposal. If you have a long break in which you can visit multiple places, make sure the places you visit are geographically close together so that you do not spend 4 of your 10 days free on a bus or plane. It is obvious that when planning a trip the two big things are booking the hostel and the major mode of transportation. Yet sometimes, the smaller costs get forgotten about. Things like transportation to and from the airport you arrive at to your hostel, day trips and large events your may attend while visiting a city, and knowing exactly what you want to see and how are all just as important as booking your plane ticket. Plan accordingly!
After spending a week in Shanghai, I have found that it is possible to live here and only know a few key Chinese phrases. The Metro has English transitions, restaurants have picture menus, and many people in the service industry know some English. While it can be difficult at times, we are able to get around the city without knowing Chinese. At some points in times, I have felt like I have been charged more for an item, but since I cannot speak the language, I have no alternative. That has been one of the few practical downsides of not knowing Chinese. For the most part, the Chinese have been extremely receptive to us and have been overly polite in our exchanges. The students all seem to have a background in English and can communicate with us, which is impressive to say the least. Furthermore, it shows that it is going to get easier to only know English and live in Shanghai.
However, should we not learn Chinese or other foreign languages just because we can get by without them? I recently read a really interesting blog in The Huffington Post titled “Cheating the Chinese,” which focused on Western businessmen in China who did not learn Mandarin. In quick summary, it critiqued the businessmen who complain about being cheated by the Chinese for not knowing Mandarin, and essentially blamed them for the issue. Chinese business leaders know English, so by not knowing Mandarin, American businessmen and businesswomen put themselves at a disadvantage. Just getting by without speaking multiple languages is not sufficient. Americans must push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and become globally competitive in language acquisition. As globalization increases, monolingual people will be left behind, and we must promote foreign language acquisition in the United States. Gallup conducted a poll of American attitudes toward immigrants learning English, and Americans learning a second language. The results are shown below:
The difference in responses to the two somewhat similar questions is glaring. To the at least 52% of Americans that deemed it essential for immigrants to learn English but not essential for themselves to learn a second language, what enables this attitude? I will attempt to answer it, but I must admit that I myself am curious. At face value, a critical difference between the two questions is that in one case, an immigrant chose to come to the United States. Some might argue that this decision creates an obligation for the individual to learn English, and that is the separating point.
While this might sound fair, it does not describe the entire situation. The United States forces assimilation, and many immigrants make their children learn English. In addition, they sometimes even focus on making sure their children do not learn their language of heritage in order that they can seem more American. We have created a culture that forces people to learn our language and judges them if they sound different. We have in many ways diverted away from our founding as immigrants. As a melting pot, we should not preach assimilation into one; instead, we should allow our differences to exist and look for other connecting points. Furthermore, we are rejecting globalization by not becoming a multilingual nation, and as such, we are stagnating our future as potential leaders in the global system.
Coming back to the Chinese example, learning the language is essential to understanding the culture. Language provides a cornerstone of understanding different cultures, and if we really want to understand the Eastern world, we must study all aspects including language. How can we hope to understand a country without knowing how they communicate with each other? For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language has profound effect on how people think, and in some cases, it constrains the way a person perceives the world. In this model, foreign language acquisition would ease some of those constraints and allow for a better understanding of culture.
Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Language is powerful, and there is more to the world than just English. The American strategy of late has seemed to try and integrate English into as many countries as possible and make English the official global business language. Other countries have responded by making national strides in learning foreign languages, which is allowing easier integration of their workers into the global economy. We must recognize that learning foreign languages is necessary, and we are putting ourselves at a major disadvantage in the marketplace.
My suggested solution would be to increase People to People travel programs in high school and university study in order to give young Americans the opportunity to use the language they are learning. In addition to trips, partnering with other countries to have virtual penpals for students that effectively uses Skype or Google Hangout to allow for language practice. Essentially, these programs would broaden American students’ mindsets and help them see a purpose for language acquisition. Finally, a core piece to the solution is for more states to mandate foreign language study in high schools. As of 2010, only 10 states mandated foreign language learning in high school, which helps maintain the abysmal statistic of only one in four Americans knowing more than one language. While the United States is the global economic leader, Americans must also do their part to maintain this status.
I’m writing my first blog post with only a couple weeks left of “Study abroad” and with three months left of my “traveling abroad”. I’d like to say that I am writing so late due to this semester being a whirl wind of adventure but a more accurate reason would have to be my tendancy to procrastinate. That however, does not mean that this semester has not been a “Whirlwind of adventure” from exploring a Dutch city that I now call home, floating down the canals of Amsterdam, skiing in the italian alps, bumping into a friend from high school in the streets of Berlin, sipping monangaska and eating pastel de nata in Lisbon, exploring the Shoreditch markets in London, wandering Antwerpt for a couple hours on my way home from Portugal, zipping along the Sicilian coastline on mopeds, to freaking out because I thought I lost my wallet during a pub crawl in Dublin this semester has been far from average. I’ve visited 7 countries so far and plan to make that number about 18 before I make my way back to the U.S. of A.
Studying abroad has been something I’ve had my eyes on since highschool. I had never been outside of the United States before coming to The Hague. Since I landed in Europe not a day has gone by that I regret my decision to come. Before leaving many people had questioned whether I really wanted to leave for 7 months and I may have questioned myself a couple times too. Seven months is a long time to go without my family, my friends, my car, Burger Boy, or Dairy Kastle. While I do miss all of those things I am way to busy experiencing what the rest of the world has to offer to really care.
Well, I’m finally back home in Louisville. During the two weeks leading up to my departure, I tried to cram in all of the sightseeing and activities in Barcelona that I had neglected to accomplish. I visited Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and spent a few days on the beach, but I also made time to revisit some of my favorite locations in Barcelona, such as the hill with the stone Cross in Parc Guell. I’m not going to lie, these final weeks have been hard. I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions, but I did pretty well in controlling any sadness that crept into my mind. I put off discussing my departure with my host family until 2 days prior to actually leaving because I just couldn’t handle saying goodbye to the people who had taken me into their home and treated me as if I had been a member of their family for my entire life. I miss them immensely, and I am forever grateful for all of the things that they did for me.
Luckily for me, I only had to take two flights to get home, whereas I took three on the way to Barcelona. In total, I flew 18 different times while studying abroad, so it really had become a normal part of my routine for me to hop on and off of planes. I was thrilled to see my family waiting for me in the airport with “Welcome Home” signs, and that quickly took my mind off of leaving one of the greatest cities in the world. And of course, I immediately began planning where I would eat over the next few days….BW3s, Qdoba, Taco Bell, etc. My mom and sister have put together a party celebrating my return this Saturday, so I am very excited to see the rest of my family and friends.
Looking back, study abroad has easily been the greatest experience of my life. I remember being very scared and sad to leave my family, but I never really dealt with very much homesickness. With modern forms of communication, it really is no big deal being halfway around the world. Of course, it was quite different to not physically be around my family and friends each day, but they were never more than a quick Skype call away from me. I can’t point to a specific moment in my time abroad that really changed me, but the entirety made me significantly more responsible and also opened my eyes to the wonders of this amazing world we live in. I loved the energy that came with living in a foreign city and traveling to other cities practically every weekend. I was always out exploring other cultures and seeing how people live in different parts of the world. I hope that I can take this excitement for exploration and incorporate it into my life in Louisville. I know that everyone always says how amazing Europe is, and they aren’t lying. But, I’m confident that our own city, state, and country can be just as invigorating and magnificent if we don’t take it for granted.
Wanderlust after study abroad is a very real thing. I haven’t been back for very long at all, and I am already thinking of ways to explore the world next summer. I hope I can go back to Barcelona to visit my host family very soon; it will forever be my second home.
**Sorry! Apparently this didn’t actually post to the blog when I first tried to submit it!
I just got back from traveling to Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Spain is ultra-Catholic, so their spring break occurs during the week leading up to Easter. I actually began planning my spring break travels back in the early part of February so that I could get good deals on hostels and flights, which worked out nicely. Traveling throughout Europe is so cheap compared to traveling within the US that it’s crazy, but I saved even more money by always planning my trips about a month in advance. After exploring all of my options, I decided to split up my spring break into three parts: Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague.
I traveled to Amsterdam with 5 of my friends from my study abroad program, and we ended up staying in an airbnb (short term apartment rental). Our apartment was so nice that we probably ended up spending too much time in it. It didn’t help that Amsterdam was cold, windy, and raining during the entire 4 days that we were there. Amsterdam feels very American honestly, which was pretty different compared to the rest of the European cities that I visited. My two favorite things that we did in Amsterdam were visiting the Anne Frank House and visiting the Van Gogh museum. The Anne Frank house really evoked a lot of emotions, but I’m glad that I went to it. Traveling throughout Europe has really caused me to take an interest in art because of how many amazing art museums there are, and the Van Gogh museum was very cool to see.
Next, one of my friends and I flew to Berlin, where we stayed for 4 days as well. Berlin has so many things to do that I’d say a minimum of 4 days is required to see most of it. We were constantly on the move while in Berlin, and we visited the Reichstag, the Jewish Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, and much more. Unfortunately, I slipped and fell onto concrete and broke my tooth while in Berlin. I had to seek out a dentist who spoke English, which I was luckily able to find with the help of the management team at my hostel. The very next day I went and got a tooth filling to fix my tooth, so it turned out to not be too big of a deal. German food is as good as everyone says, but Berlin also has a very large immigrant population from all around the world. So, there are many delicious food options to sample while in Berlin.
Lastly, we took a train to Prague where we stayed for 5 days to conclude spring break. Prague is one of the go-to places in Europe for Easter celebrations, so the city was absolutely packed with tourists. The Easter markets in Prague are famous for their hand-painted Easter egg stands, and there are people out in the streets celebrating from dawn until dusk. Prague also has two beautiful castles, which are both worth a visit. Overall, Prague has one of the richest histories of any of the places that I visited.
It’s been a while! So a while back I had the amazing opportunity to meet up with a former exchange student and visit Paris with her! The city is really cool and lived up to all its hype! I jumped in a BlaBla Car for a 5 hour drive to the city. I only spent a weekend there and you can check out all the adventures here in my vlog!
Here are a few pictures I got while there!
Then more recently was the great King’s Day weekend. A Dutch national holiday celebrating the king’s birthday. The two big days were the night before, where there were bands performing (one of The Dodos, a SanFran band), there were carnival rides and an overall fun exciting time in the city center. The other was King’s Day where we went to Amsterdam and explored the festivities there. (you can click the blue to check out the vlogs)
All this traveling and exploring has led me to start my own project when I get back home. This project is The Great American Roadtrip. It’s a coast to coast hitch hiking road trip with my best friend. We’re putting it up on kickstarter and it goes live today! Any help and support would be awesome! You can like us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Gart2015. And you can check out the KickStarter here!