Studying in Berlin

I have been fortunate enough to spend the last month in the absolutely wonderful city Berlin, Germany. This may sound odd but most people think of study abroad places such as Italy, Spain, England or some country like one of these. You very rarely here of studying abroad in Germany (at least I didn’t know anyone else who has done it). Honestly it wasn’t even my first choice (Prague didn’t fit my schedule). What I can say though is that I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

The main focus when most think of Germany is WW2, concentration camps, war memorials, Berlin Wall. While these are huge aspects of the trip (I was fortunate enough to see all of these), there is so much more to Germany than just this dark part of their history. You rarely hear of the beautiful lake side beer gardens where you can take a row boat out on a beautiful sunny afternoon with your fellow classmates. You rarely hear about the amazing night life that literally never sleeps (bars and clubs don’t close). You don’t know about the hospitable locals that you will meet during their daily lives. I can say that Berlin and Germany as a whole is so much more than what you typically hear about. I can say that I climbed for seven hours to the second highest peak of the Alps in Germany (seven hours of fun). I can say I saw a beautiful countryside covered in sun flowers and small villages. I can say that for a month beer was cheaper than water (pretty amazing beer if I may say). Not only did I get to experience all of these things, but I also got to meet some absolutely amazing people. Hugo the frenchman from Nice, Chonsu and Cem from Turkey, Noel from Sweden to name a few. People from all over the world who knew no one coming into the program. All of us exploring this amazing city for the first time and being introduced to a whole new culture.

Everyones study abroad experience is amazing. I think that no matter where you go you are bound to have a spectacular time. All I ask is when you are deciding where to make your journey don’t just follow where everyone else is going. Take into consideration going somewhere different. Go somewhere that interest you but don’t be limited by what’s popular. Go explore some place none of your friend have been to and do something unique. Learn something new, be adventurous and be unique.


Tico Traits

While traveling abroad, it is custom to come across many different cultural differences. Here are some that I have observed from the Costa Rican people, known as “ticos”.

1) They throw their toilet paper in the trash because the pipes in most places are old.

2) They shorten everyone’s names. For instance, my name had been changed from “Carolina” to “caro”.

3) They are very comfortable with getting close to each other and even give each other kisses as greetings.

4) Their houses are very close together and it is very easy to hear other neighbors at night.

5) They stay up late (even until midnight) and wake up early cleaning or cooking.

6) Since they are sustainable conscious, they have shower heads that heat to make the water warm.

7) There are no such things as directions in Costa Rica. Everything is relative to one another. For instance, they might say “The house on the right, 200 meters from the old tree, yellow, with a big fence”. Weird, huh? And streets aren’t named either.

8) They have huge sets of keys. I’ve had to use 4 keys to get into my house because of all the gates.

9) It is very common to have rice and beans (Pico de gallo) for every meal.

10) They like to drink coffee at a young age. The nine year old grandson in my house drinks it.

11) They have fresh juice for almost every meal. It’s typically a fruit blended with water.

12) Their groceries here are very expensive due to high import prices…. a jar of Jif is $6!

13) A “fast food” restaurant can take up to 45 minutes to get you your food because of their “Pura vida” (tranquil) lifestyle.

14) It is not uncommon for the entire family to live in one house or the grandma to take care of the grandchild, rather than the mother.

15) Cars do not yield to people.

These are just some things that I have observed, but many things I have observed are very interesting. My Spanish teacher here loves shopping so much that she often gets a brand new pair of sandals delivered to our classroom in the middle of class! I have been enjoying learning cultural differences and adjusting to the Pura Vida lifestyle.

Places to Go and People to See

Now that I am on the last leg of my journey in Europe, I have officially been to 4 countries while knowing a local of three. To start my adventure, I spent six weeks studying in Florence, Italy. Lucky me, one of my teammates from school lived a long and treacherous four-and-a-half-minute walk from where I was staying. Not only is it nice to see a familiar face, but you get to truly experience the city… local style. Even if it’s something as small as going to a gelato shop that the tourists don’t go to (and that later becomes your go-to) to going to an Italian style BBQ, use any connections you can while abroad. With the help of my friend, I had the most delicious pizza that I will forever be missing. Next on the agenda, The Czech Republic. Another teammate of mine lived roughly 20 minutes from where I was staying in Prague. This was more beneficial than ever expected. Czech is quite the language not to know considering I couldn’t begin to pronounce any of the words. While I only spent 2 days in Prague, the troubles seem to go away when you are with a native. The people are friendlier and more understanding when you walk around with a local, which really elevated my whole experience in Prague. Onto Amsterdam, I met my mom’s high school bestie for lunch one afternoon and she gave me the low-down on the city. She gave me a list of restaurants that were her favorite, which boat tours make you look not so touristy (but really, are there any that succeed in that?), and what areas are great for a good look. Overall, travelling to cities where you know someone not only helps you get to see the city from a different perspective, but also gives you a sense of comfort.

It’s Getting Hot in Here

The first three weeks of my adventure here in Florence were amazing. The people were nice, the food was great, and the weather was ideal with the exception of rain here and there. Having the option to wear jeans in the middle of summer is definitely something I can get used to. However, I think I just got hit by a heat wave and It hit me like a freight train. In the morning I start my day at 8:00. I lift my head up from the foot of the bed because it’s closer to the fan, which keeps me cool at night, and start getting ready for class. Naturally, after walking around for about 30 seconds I start sweating because AC is not a thing here in Florence. This is something I knew I needed to adjust to quickly but also something that’s easier said than done. This small concept is something that I am starting to appreciate more and more and is making me realize Florence isn’t as perfect as I originally thought (but still so close). For now, I am getting used to the fact that to keep cool I need to go get a scoop of gelato or just sit on the couch and use my hand fan, but air conditioning will be quite the welcome home for me.

A Day in the Life

My days abroad are everything I expected and I couldn’t be happier. I wake up at 8 and start getting ready for my 9am. I’m used to going to class in my still-sweaty workout clothes from my 6 am practice and being rushed to my 9:30, so this is a nice change of pace. After putting on real clothes, because Italians never dress down, I start to fix my hair, do my makeup and leave the apartment. On my way to class I stop at a café that has the best chocolate brioche that I have found yet and I try not to scarf it down. About two minutes further on my route to class I found a coffee shop that has American coffee; not as common as you would presume. I get it iced with some sugar and have about five more minutes till I’m at my classroom. After sitting in my class for two and a half hours, I start my walk back home and grab a panino (panini is plural from what I’ve learned so far) at my favorite panini shop. I try to speak to the owner in Italian and he corrects me every time. I grab my sandwich with spicy salami, eggplant, and pecorino cheese and I am on my way. Once I’m home, I sit on my bed, eat my sandwich and start studying or doing homework if I have some that day. I wait for my roommate to get home and we plan our evening from there. As stereotypical as it sounds, I usually opt for pizza for dinner from my favorite pizza place right around the corner. After pizza, we have to get dessert so we then swing by a gelato shop that is close. I typically get the hazelnut with dark chocolate, and man is it to die for. My day is on Italian time so I’ve grown accustom to being about five minutes late for everything, which really wasn’t that hard for me. Italians move throughout their day at a much slower pace. America is always on the go so being on Italian time has really made me learn to appreciate what I am doing and who I am doing it with. This concept is one that will for sure be a miss when back in the states.

The 12th Most Beautiful National Park in the World: Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica is a vibrant place with many beautiful cities, beaches, and forests. As classes came to an end two weekends ago, I found myself taking a bus to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Manuel Antonio. On the way to the park, we stopped at the crocodile bridge and saw about forty crocs sitting in the water.  Bear in mind, these were the only crocodiles I could see–there were many more covering the entire floor of the murky river.  It was an interesting site with a couple neat shops nearby where I purchased a typical Costa Rican “batido”, a fresh smoothie made with water or milk and whichever fruits you would like  I paid sixteen dollars to spend my next day, in the national park exploring the nature and seeing the exotic animals. Manuel Antonio is on the top twelve list of national parks in the world—so it is a must to check out while in Costa Rica. You will find monkeys, sloths, crabs, lizards, birds, and many other animals. The water is beautiful and the sand smooth; especially if you visit the less crowded side of the beaches.  After spending all day swimming in the water, I found myself hiking up a trail to see a beautiful view of the ocean.

You can also venture into town after your day in the park and grab a bite to eat and shop around. I recommend the restaurant called “Burú” for a cheaper cuisine.  Their large casado only costs 4500 mil for a great portion size.  Because the park only allows natural foods in the park, I recommend taking smaller snacks and lots and lots of water.  Oh and one other tip… you need to reapply sunscreen more than once. Trust me, my sunburn will thank you later.  Yes, this burn I have may turn into a tan, but putting a shirt on in the morning has been quite painful.  I hope the pictures I have included further incline you to learn more about the amazing animals and beach!

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(Not so different) Culture Shock

It has only been a week since I have left the states on my 4 week stay in Ireland. As a part of my program, we stayed three days in London as a chance to adjust to jet lag and have a little fun before our studies officially began upon our arrival to our final destination: a small college town in Ireland called Maynooth.

Let me start by saying that this experience is my first real venture out of the United States. Sure, I’ve been to Canada and the Bahamas; but never have I crossed that little pond we call the Atlantic Ocean. Being the naive American student that I am, I assumed that London wouldn’t be much different from the United States at all and I thought I would experience little to no culture shock at all. Much to my surprise, my little stopover in London was much more difficult than I anticipated.

Granted, culture in the United Kingdom is not as different from the United States as, let’s say, China. But there were still a surprise number of norms and differences that caught me off guard. I expected to feel at home in the UK- but boy was I wrong. As a result of my three days in London, I have compiled a list of differences that makes a not so different culture from my own stand out enough to give quite the culture shock.

1. “We’re driving on the wrong side of the road!” Before you judge me for not knowing about the laws of the road abroad before I got there, let me explain. Yes, I knew that motorists drive on the left hand side of the road in Europe and the UK. Knowledge of this fact did not stop me from being scared for my life as our bus pulled away from the airport and I thought for sure we were going the wrong way. It is extremely hard to fight the insistence you naturally have to do things the way you have always known to do them. Another shocking element of traveling on the roadways in Britain was the simple way in which the people there drive. Constantly, my bus driver was cutting people off, nearly missing pedestrians by a hair, and all around driving in a way that my fellow students and I considered reckless. Turns out, this is characteristic of all drivers in the UK. With such a fast paced city like London, drivers are darting around and bikers are squeezing in between cars- making one think that there is going to be an accident around every corner. But surprisingly, I did not witness a single accident. This way of maneuvering the city works for them, and it is simply a cultural norm to drive with a little edge.

2. When I said drivers were missing pedestrians by a hair, I was not exaggerating. There are no laws against jay walking in the UK. Meaning, pedestrians can literally walk out in the road wherever they want to. You can imagine how nervous this made me as an American who has always been told to stay on the crosswalk! And don’t get me started on looking before you cross the road- every time I looked to see if the road was clear to cross, I was looking the wrong way! Turns out driving on the opposite side of the road also means you have to look in the opposite direction when crossing it- a habit that was extremely hard for me to form.

3. Food was at the top of my priority list as soon as I arrived in London. It was perfect time to eat breakfast, so my friend and I ventured out to find a decent breakfast to start our first day in London off right. And so my running list of dining nuances in London began… I was surprised to learn that they serve your eggs in the morning on top of your toast. Instead of separating all of the food items on the plate, the eggs were always right on top of the toast, almost as if it were some kind of sandwich topping. Also, they serve baked beans with everything! You can imagine my jet lagged confusion as my first breakfast ended up being scrambled eggs ON toast with a side of baked beans. Definitely not something you see every day in America. Another dining confusion I experienced was the service. It is not customary to tip on London, and your checks are never split. Being an American, I am accustomed to the wait staff separating checks into individual seats. This is not something that is done in Europe unless you specifically ask. So my advice for any future travelers is to always carry cash when eating out- it is a lot easier to just make a pile of cash for the bill with your friends than it is to ask the wait staff to separate a long bill.

4. Some smaller nuances were the road signs and pedestrian signs. All of the street lights were on poles and the side of the street, not hanging over the street like we have them in America. When there was a crosswalk to use, the walk signs appeared different than what I am used to as well. Also, instead of red lights changing straight to green, they would cycle through yellow again.

5. “I don’t have to worry about language because they speak English.” Much to my surprise, I still had difficulty with language in England occasionally. At times their English accents would be so thick that I had no clue what they were saying. This was a bit frustrating for me, because I did not expect to have any difficulty at all communicating with the people of London. From calling french fries chips to having to specifically order “still” water; you can imagine the frustration I experienced when I didn’t understand how to get my point across that first day.

This is just a small list of the cultural differences I experienced fresh off the plane. It made my adjustment to life in another country a tad more difficult than expected, but definitely worth the struggle. I learned many things about how adaptive I can be as well as how to appreciate and immerse yourself into a culture different from your own. Being able to fully experience a different culture is such an amazing experience, and gives you a whole new outlook on the world.

That’s all for now; updates to come as I adjust to living and learning in Ireland!

Sydney Hall

College of Business Junior




Marseille-A Literary Dream

When visiting France the first destinations you hear of are Paris, Nice, Normandy, Bordeaux, etc. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly rare to hear that someone has ventured to Marseille. Why? As the second largest city in France it is bubbling with opportunities and gorgeous scenes along the Mediterranean. If it is becoming increasingly rare to hear of someone visiting Marseille, then why did I choose to venture there?

Perhaps you have heard of the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This title remains to be one of the most well-known works in literature and part of its plot occurs in Marseille and the infamous Chateau d’Îf right off the shores of Marseille. Since I had read the book in middle school, to visit Marseille had been on my bucket list; on this trip I finally marked the task off my list! I was able to explore Marseille’s Old Port, take a boat to the Chateau d’Îf, and visit another island for some time to relax on the rock beaches and swim in the Mediterranean; not to mention visiting the Notre Dame de la Gare and the Palais Lonchamp. Marseille was more than I could have ever hoped for! It may have been a silly middle-school bucket-list wish that led me to Marseille, but it was one of the best decisions I made while abroad.

My time in Marseille was nothing short of a dream. To describe the experience in one word would be ‘mesmerizing’, but even that could not fully capture the beauty of the city, the clearness of the sea, or the layout of the land and islands that is truly picturesque. Marseille is a mixture of a big city with the charm of a small town by the sea, perfect for any traveler looking to experience the Mediterranean in a new way or for the very first time!IMG_0431 IMG_0462

What you need to know about studying in Florence

What you need to know about studying in Florence

Learn their culture.

Florentines are not your typical Italians. They are proud people with a deep appreciation for the arts. They know how amazing their city is and are not afraid to express that.  They are reserved people who dress rather conservatively. Walking around in a tank top and shorts will most likely target you as a tourist.

Learn their language.

The best way to show that you are not just another typical tourist is to try and learn the language! While you sound awful and try to ask for a cup of water and instead ask for a blanket, they appreciate your effort to learn their language. Being patient is also another huge rule of studying abroad. You are an American trying to speak Italian and they are Italian trying to speak English. They don’t understand you just as much you don’t understand them. So getting angry and yelling at them is only going to make the situations worse. Be patient, and download google translate.

Prepare for the heat.

Water. Fans. Handheld fans. All things you will need when studying in Firenze, or FIREnze as it should be put.  Europeans in general are not big on air conditioning, so never expect it. Some stores will have it, but most restaurants and apartments do not. Fans and water will become your two best friends. The coast is  a nice way to cool off on the weekends and the seafood is spectacular.


Travel every weekend that you can. You will never hate yourself for going to see the Eiffel tower, or the Swiss Alps; but you will hate yourself if you don’t. How many times are you going to have this sort of opportunity?  The Italian coast is absolutely mesmerizing and you cannot go wrong. We spent a weekend at the Amalfi coast and the Cinque Terre. Both are an absolute must if you make your way to Italy. The trains are quick and the experiences are life changing.



Studying with a Friend

Before studying abroad I had a really hard time deciding where to go.   My roommate and I were both looking into it and decided why not go together? So we narrowed down our choices and Florence, Italy became our new home for the summer.  Not everyone chooses to study with someone they know, but I am glad I did. It made the transition from American life to Italian life a little easier and a little more comfortable than some of my new friends.  You always have a travel buddy and someone to grab a quick meal with (and to lend you a phone if yours gets stolen, like mine did).


However, if you are doing this I recommend that you schedule separate classes. We did half and half. One class together, and the other separate. It was a nice time to get away from one another and stop breathing the same air at all times.  Studying with someone that you know does not prevent you from meeting new people and making new friends, you just have to be sure to put yourself out there. Overall, I would definitely come back with my friend and do it all the same.