This post is LONG over due, but better late than never eh?

My study abroad travel experience gave me the opportunity to visit several cities in France, as well as Rome, London, Amsterdam, and Brussels. It was without a doubt the best experience of my life.

The last week of our program took us to Brussels Belgium. I had never been, but I LOVED IT! It was very different from france, but I really enjoyed it. People speak both Flemish, and French there. I found that conversing with people in French was much easier than in france. Not only was it easier for me to understand, but people we also much more friendly.

It is a very international city, and as home of the European parliament it was very interesting. Our program let us do a simulation of law making at the European Union level, and it was very realistic and cool.

The only downside to Brussels is pick pocketing in the subway is a big issue. It happened to a girl in our group as I was walking right beside her, and we never saw anyone. Be careful in large groups, but as long as valuables are out of reach, no fear.

Although I returned home 2 month ago, I still am in close contact with many of the people I met this summer. I even went to Bowling green ohio to visit a few people from my program last weekend. Although I was the only person from UofL  to do the Audencia program, it didn’t matter. I was actually glad because it brought me out of my shell, and I now have new life long friends.



Backpacking Through Europe

I studied abroad in Seville, Spain in the spring of 2013, with the intent of learning Spanish to give me an edge at my job at the racetrack. The experience ended up far surpassing every single one of my expectations. The highlight of the semester ended up being the three weeks I spent backpacking around Europe with my twin brother, Marc, following my home stay. That’s the really cool part about studying abroad in Europe—it’s so easy to travel to other parts of the continent.
The two of us started our trip in Madrid, touring the Prado Museum and Retiro Park, before heading north to Barcelona. We took in a soccer—I’m sorry, futbol—game and went to one of Barcelona’s famous beaches.
From there, we went to Paris, and hit up all the regular tourist spots—the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, the Louve and even Longchamp, the famous racecourse just outside the city.
After a long overnight train ride (the bullet trains move so quickly!) we arrived in Italy and went to all the major tourist cities, starting with the big one it, Rome (and also the separate country within Rome, Vatican City). We toured St. Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum and the Spanish Steps, and of course hit up some of the Roman nightlife.
We then hopped a train up to Venice, where we got lost enough times in the twisting, complicated that we finally caved and took to traveling around by gondola. It was a bit on the pricey side, but I do think that it’s something you should do if you’re even in the area.
Our last stop before returning to America was Pisa, to see the Leaning Tower, and that’s literally all there is to do in Pis a, so don’t plan for more than one day there, haha.
Then, it was time to board the plane and leave Europe behind. It had been an incredible 4 months and as ready as I was to get back to a country that actually sold Mountain Dew, there was a lot I was going to miss about living abroad, and I would definitely recommend everyone to do it at least once.

The Hague, Netherlands!

Hello from The Hague, Netherlands! It has been nearly three weeks since I left Louisville and it has all been a blur. Before I came, I read the other blog entries on The Hague to get an idea of what to expect. I am glad that I did as it has been a huge help. I will tailor my blog posts so that it will give you an idea of what to expect about life in The Hague and abroad through my experiences. It does not take much time to get settled down in The Hague. It is an extremely diverse and international city. I definitely did not expect it to be that way. Almost everyone speaks English and you will see that many of the people are students or young professionals. I am here with another UofL student, AJ Bucci, and we were lucky enough to find an apartment in the city center. The city center is where all of the restaurants, bars/clubs, and stores are located. We bought bikes, which is the primary form of transportation in and around the city. AJ talks about it in his blog post, but biking is a huge part of Dutch life. They have special roads and traffic lights dedicated to bikes only. They even have these rails on stairs for you to use in case you have a bike with you. For us, walking to school or the train station takes about 20 minutes. But with the bike, it is less than half that time. I am not going to lie to you, before I came to the Netherlands; I was expecting to conquer Europe one country at a time. It is definitely easier said than done. It can be tough to plan trips around school but the key is to travel as much as you can as early as possible, before you get deep into classes. A good rule to follow is every other week for travelling out of the country. And you have to plan early to get good deals on planes and trains. Also, don’t be afraid to be the first one to make travel plans. Other people will follow once they see someone else do it. So far, the weather has been pretty good. Good enough to where we were able to make it to the beach one day. That was pretty nice. But everyone is telling us to enjoy it while we can before it gets worse. The classes have been very interesting so far. Group work and presentations are a common theme among all classes. You will get to meet people from all over the world here. In a single group, you could have someone from Russia, Thailand, Mexico, and Slovakia. It has been a great experience so far. I’ll be back to update you on more from The Hague, in the meantime if you have any questions you can send me an email or leave a comment.

Chiraag Bhimani

Homestay Family is the Way to Go!

When I first applied for study abroad here in Turin, Italy, I did not see myself wanting to stay with a host family.  I was afraid that there would be strict rules, I wouldn’t be in touch with my classmates in my program, I wouldn’t go out without my host family, etc.  My high school friend Sara is the one who actually changed my mind.  She recently studied abroad with a homestay family in Barcelona this past Spring.  She absolutely loved having a host family.  They made her feel completely comfortable and at home.  They were able to tell her things about the city itself that she felt she would never find out on her own.  She also loved having a host family for the security part of it as well.  She felt like she had a home away from home.  Now, after applying for homestay, I find out just a few weeks before I depart that I had the privilege of staying with a family!  I was so happy, especially my parents.

Now, just after 11 days with staying with my host family, I feel right at home!  They are amazing.  I have a host mother and father, with two daughters, 12 and 15.  What is ironic is that my host family is weirdly just like my family.  They individually act like each member of my own family, which makes me feel right at home.  I’m close to school to where I can walk or ride a bike.  I do have to admit that at first I felt a little on the outside of my program peers because they all basically live together downtown.  But when classes started, we all started to get closer and hang out after classes.  Also, my host family has already taken me on a little trip to Neive, Italy, just outside of Asti.  We drove there for a day because my host mother’s parents have a house there.  It was such a quaint little town where they make wine fresh from the vineyards.  This weekend they are taking me hiking through the Swiss Alps which will be amazing.  What is also great is that they are helping me with my Italian, which is something my classmates in my program can’t say because they live with each other.  Overall, having the privilege to stay with a host family is something you should definitely consider!  It’s a great experience that you will always remember.

A Few of My Favorites Things in Barcelona

I want to share a few of my favorite things I’ve done/seen/heard in my host city.

Parc del Laberint d’Horta: One sunny afternoon, a group of us went up to the oldest park in Barcelona. Designed in 1792, it is still insanely beautiful and well kept. It feels a little bit like a secret garden because it is located up on a woodsy hillside overlooking the city. The name obviously comes from the fact that there is a perfectly groomed labyrinth in the middle of the park. We went on a Friday and at that time there were a group of school kids on a field trip here. They were all so excited playing hide and go seek and laughing and screaming. Well, you can’t go to a labyrinth park and not actually go through the maze, so we started walking into the tall green bushes. After a few wrong turns, I realized that the kids had it all figured out. I started chatting with a few of them and made friends. When they began to run all of a sudden, we followed and, voilà, the way out! Kids are so smart. It was a really fun afternoon. Part of how the grounds are so beautifully kept is because they only allow in a certain number of guests per day (around 150), so I’m glad we made the cut!

Búnkers del Carmel: Also known as Turó de la Rovira, this spot was actually an anti air-raid bunker made back in 1937 in the midst of the Spanish Civil War to protect the city. It was a perfect spot to do so because, it sits at the highest point of the Turó and has an incredible 360° view of the entire city. It was a little bit of a trek actually getting there because it isn’t much of a tourist spot. We rode the metro up to the neighborhood, only to get off and walk around for an hour trying to find the right bus! Hah! I’m more than certain it was right under our nose the entire time…Anyway, it was worth the wait because the bunkers are spectacular. We had a bright sunny day and a slight breeze. Many people were having picnics and a few others were having real photo shoots for magazines and whatnot. It’s seriously that amazing of a view. The mood is also quite ‘chill.’ Everyone is walking around, laughing, taking pictures, and enjoying the company and beauty. When I go back next time, I think I’ll pack a food basket and bottle of wine. That’d be perfection.

Bó de B: I have a slight food obsession, but this city just keeps getting better! Ok, this is a little Greek sandwich place right downtown by the beach and the old Post Office. Everyone absolutely raves about these bocadillos a) because they will rock your world and b) because they’re pretty cheap for the amount you get. Part of the charm of this places is that no matter the time of day, there is always a line down the block. You can call me crazy all you want for waiting in line for an hour, but I have no regrets! All the meat, cheese, vegetable, and tzatziki sauce was bursting out of the fresh baguette. It was that good. After eating every last remaining morsel possible, I realized that the wait is a deliberate part of the experience. If we hadn’t waited outside for that time, drooling over the delicious smells in our nose the entire time, I probably wouldn’t be as obsessed with a sandwich right now. But I am. So clearly it worked…

L’Ovella Negra: I so wish places like this existed in America. The ‘Black Sheep’ bar (literally) is located in the old Roman neighborhood of El Raval. When you enter through the front, you have to step down and walk through a dungeon-esque entryway. Then it opens up to a big hall with long wooden tables and young people packed in everywhere. It’s a watering hole for international students. Part of the fun is in sharing a huge table with random people and talking the night away over a cubo of cerveza or sangria! Also a huge perk: they bring bowls of popcorn to the tables and refill them all night. I really love the community feeling that fills the place all the way up to the rafters. Also, you can imagine how rowdy things get when the fútbol games are playing on the big screens. Fun times for sure!

Castellano versus Catalán

Spoken language is a very prominent and controversial topic here in Barcelona. Obviously, with Spanish being the official language of Spain, everyone here is fluent in Spanish. Furthermore, the city of Barcelona is situated inside an autonomous region of the country, called Catalonia. Here the people also speak a different language: Catalán. When I say different, I’m not talking about a dialect or something like this. Completely different.

In the time of Franco, Spanish (Castellano) was the only language that the people were allowed to speak or teach in the schools. Amazingly, the Catalans continued speaking their own language with their families in the privacy of their homes. Finally in the 80s, Catalan was allowed back on the streets and in classrooms, so it’s not surprising that it came back with more fervor than ever. I kid you not, every single street sign, restaurant sign, and advertisement is in Catalan. It’s the law.

The root of everything in this bilingual struggle is totally political. Spain has one of the worst economies in Europe, yet the Catalonia region is very wealthy in comparison with the rest of the country. The Catalans are fed up with having to pay higher taxes to support up the rest of Spain, while they see no increase in their salaries. Having a king whom they must support financially, yet feel is useless, doesn’t help matters either. Maintaining their language after all this struggle shows their pride in their heritage. The rest of Spain might see them as close-minded, selfish, and elitists, but they do have some very valid points. Now, to be fair, actually managing to break off and become their own country anytime soon is something I’m highly skeptical of.

Sorry to get into the politics of it, but it is an issue that is in my face daily, so it is something I’ve taken much notice of. It is also the reason that the language is so strong here. The neat part to me is that everyone in this area is bilingual, down to even the very young schoolchildren. I have zero problem talking to people in Castellano on the streets or in restaurants, and I do feel that my Spanish has improved while being here. With that being said, I’m not sure how likely is it that I will also be able to pick up Catalan, too. Being exposed to it all around, it feels more like a strange version of French blended with some Italian with a tiny bit of Spanish on top. Oh well, it’s all good 🙂

It helps to see the difference if you have some background in Spanish, but nonetheless here are some examples of what I’m talking about. It’s still a Romantic language, so it similar but there are major differences. Enjoy.

Tips for traveling in Beijing, China:

1)     I recommend using subway it’s inexpensive. But if you decide to use a cab always check that:

  1. They have a meter measurement
  2. The taxi plaque number starts with the letter “B”
  3. It is better to take a taxi on the road, instead of a taxi waiting somewhere.
    1. Legal cabs are not permitted to wait in front of the gate of the Forbidden City or any other historic sites.
  4. If you take the subway, take care of your belongings. If you have, a backpack tried wearing it in front of you so you can keep an eye on it when walking around the crowed. Additionally, you can use your subway card to ride the shuttle as well.

2)     Crossing the street.

  1. Some locals have little sense of traffic regulations. Some drivers fail to offer priority to the walking people or bicycle. Others tend to ignore the traffic signs; so BE CAREFUL when crossing the street.

3)     Hygiene

  1. For WOMEN:

Things to Pack:

  1. Tampons, pads, etc.
  2. Lots of those little packets of tissue (you’ll seldom find places with toilet paper, so ALWAYS carry little packet tissues on your purse or bag)
  3. Hand sanitizer

4)     Technology

  1. Make sure ALL your items (cellphone & laptop charger, straightener, etc.)  Can handle the voltage in China.

a.1. if they don’t, you can always purchase an inexpensive voltage converter in china (they have all sorts of them for even US$2). Since, in the US those are quite expensive (ranging $50 – $80).

5)     Extras:

  1. Don’t travel around alone
  2. Don’t wear expensive jewelry
  3. If you sense you are being followed, get inside a shop nearby and let them know you are being followed.
  4. ALWAYS carry with you the contact details of where you are currently staying, tour person’s phone number, etc.( in case you get lost).
  5. Leave behind (hometown; with your family), a copy of ALL your personal documents; i.e. Passports, Tourist Visa, if you are an international student then leave also a copy of your I -20, and any other document you feel it’s important.
  6. Know some history and study the major attractions beforehand
  7. You can follow my second post for some “easy and useful Chinese phrases” ^^

I recommend having some empathy (putting yourself in “Beijing’s Shoes”) Be Tolerant, Open minded,& just Have Fun!!!

When In Holland, Go By Bike!

As I arrived in The Hague at the start of the semester, I immediately noticed the lack oftraffic as I know it. Very few cars were present and taxis were almost non-existent. However, traffic came in waves of a much different type, by bike! The Dutch have mastered bike transit better than any city I have seen on my journeys throughout the world. Young children, college students, professionals in the business world and everyone in between can be seen riding a bike. Whether it’s the daily commute to work, a trip to the grocery store or a night at the movies the Dutch go by bike.

Bikes!People bike starting at a young age because there are no school busses, so that is the form of transportation for young students. It’s not so much a choice of transportation as it is a life style. Here in Holland people bike well into their 70’s and 80’s. Holland is geographically very flat and that combined with their mild summers and winters paves the way for a great biking opportunity that the Dutch have clearly taken advantage of.

As a student, I immediately started searching for a bike the day I arrived. Within the first week I was able to purchase a bike from another student. Here in Holland, there are more bikes than people so finding a bike is usually not a problem. Biking to class, the store or even to the beach has been a great cultural experience. In finding my way via Dutch transport (aka my bike) I feel like I am more a part of this culture, and that has proved to be a great feeling. If you ever find yourself studying in The Hague or living in any part of Holland, go by bike. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
– AJ Bucci