The Beauty of Edinburgh

On Top Arthur's Seat

Welcome to Edinburgh. My time here is only beginning, but these first few weeks have opened my eyes to the love and beauty that Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole have to offer. I can safely say that after spending two weeks here in Edinburgh, I have settled in to my new home for the next four months.

My first week here in Edinburgh was filled with meeting new people from around the world and attending the “Freshers” events that the school puts on for all the first-year students. This doesn’t sound like much, but the “Freshers Week” here in Edinburgh, is like our freshman week in Louisville only on steroids. There was so many amazing events to go to, by the end of the second day you could not even remember which ones you went to. The biggest joy out of going to these events was meeting people from all aspects of the world. I have met people from Cayman Islands, Ecuador, Brazil, Nigeria, Poland, Spain, Denmark, France, Netherlands, China, South Korea, Germany, UK, Italy, and many more amazing countries.

My second week entailed the beginning of classes and homework aka “reality”. Schooling here in Edinburgh is quite different from the United States. Instead of taking 5-6 classes, 3 classes is all that the University will allow its students to take. Although this sounds great, some of the more advanced classes here in Edinburgh are quite challenging, but with perseverance and some effort I believe that I will be fine.

Without a doubt, Edinburgh is definitely as breathtaking as people say. Arriving in Edinburgh I could not resist taking as many pictures as I could of every monument, cobble stone street, and all the glorious architecture that envelops the city. Every street corner has a pub on it where you are welcomed with open arms to come inside, drink a pint, and talk football (soccer) with the locals. Traveling around Edinburgh and Scotland is quite manageable. This past weekend I took a trip up to the western highlands which I can say is the most spectacular place that I have ever been. Amazing mountains cover the landscape, all enclosing numerous lochs and open pastures. The hidden beauty of Edinburgh is its location. If you want to travel, its only a four hour train ride to London, one hour train ride to Glasgow, or a 30 minute bus ride to the airport where cheap airfare is available to travel anywhere.

All in all, moving abroad for the first time was a bit daunting, but has been so rewarding and so amazing. I still can’t believe I actually did it, and have already fallen in love with this city and my new home. I am so excited to see where this semester takes me.

Day Trip

Soon after arriving in Prague, I traveled with a group of 12 to Budapest Hungary. The trip was not well organized and it seemed that we spent more time looking for members of our group or trying to make decisions about where to eat than we did on sightseeing. So today I decided to try a solo day trip. I chose to schedule a guided trip to Kutna Hora, about an hour by train from Prague. I got to the tour office and was given a voucher and told where to wait. I then waited a while until the tour guide told us to head out. I was planning to stay by myself for the tour, but as luck would have it I was approached by a girl. She was from Australia and was traveling around Europe for a gap year. She then introduced me to two other girls she had met at her hostel the night before. One was also from Australia and the other was from Germany. They were all traveling around Europe and planned to be in Prague for some time. We walked to the train station and boarded the train. I sat down next to a guy on the tour who was from Australia and had just graduated from University. We chatted for the entire train ride and he was very nice. While on the train, the guide told us about lunch and I decided I would go as it was reasonably priced and I like what I saw on the menu When we arrived in Kutna Hora, we were in the suburbs and had to take a tram to get to the Bone Chapel. We stopped in front of the chapel in the graveyard. We learned about the chapel being constructed because of the silver rush in the area and how it was viewed as being connected to the HolyLand, thus leading to many people wanting to be buried there. However, they decided to build the chapel in the center of the graveyard, which led to them having to dig up some dead bodies. They stacked the bones in a pyramid fashion in the basement of the chapel. Later, the king bought the chapel and commissioned an artist to make art from the bones. We then learned that the chapel is currently sinking into the ground and because of this they are going to have to remove the bones and fix the church and then put the bones back. So essentially, it won’t be the original Bone Chapel, as most of it will end up being replaced. Also, the tour guide told us that they are eventually going to stop allowing tourists in the graveyard and cameras in the Bone Chapel. So if what she told us is true, then I am lucky to have had the opportunity to go before all of these changes go into effect. The inside of the Bone Chapel was not at all what I had imagined. I had purposefully avoided looking at pictures online so that I wouldn’t ruin it for myself. It was cool, but it was a bit of a let down from what I had imagined. After exploring the Bone Chapel, we took a bus to Saint Barbara Church. It is by far one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It is gothic style and it slightly resembles the church at Prague Castle. I learned that it was built because of the silver rush also, with the wealth of nobles. I then got to see some amazing views of the city and St. James Church. My group took a selfie and then we headed to a restaurant to eat lunch at 3. I had duck with lard dumplings. While over here, I have come to like red cabbage and today I got to eat a lot of it. The duck was good and it looked big, but in reality there was not a lot of meat. The lard balls, as I call them, were disgusting to look at, but okay to eat, or so I thought. I really enjoyed the meal and talked to the two Australians I had met, as well as a women who worked at a college in California and some newlyweds from Canada.
The next place we walked past was St. James Church, which was built by the donations of peasants We then walked to what used to be the Royal Mint for the country. It was really cool looking and in the center was a fountain. According to our tour guide, if you threw a coin in you would get good luck. Seeing how I like good luck, I was game. I threw in a 2 cent coin and have now gained eternal good luck. We were then shown an amazing place to take great pictures of St Barbara Church. Unfortunately, the sun was out and kind of ruined the amazing picture opportunity. Finally we went back to the train station, where we split up from the group and I went back home. I enjoyed my solo trip and will head to Vienna, Austria next weekend for another solo trip.

Prague, Vienna, and Oktoberfest


After my first couple of weeks in Prague I can honestly say that I have already fallen in love with this city. Traveling abroad is everything people said it would be and more- overwhelming, amazing, tiring, terrifying, and completely eye-opening.

I hate that I have been here for 3 weeks already yet it has taken me this long to make a blog post, however if I’m being honest I have attempted to start one multiple times but would always end up frustrated and put it off because I could not quite find the right words to describe how completely amazing this trip has been so far. My first week spent in Prague was easily the most unforgettable time of my whole life. Although I may not have gotten nearly enough sleep, I spent the whole time exploring the ins and outs of this unbelievable city with some of the greatest people you will ever meet. The really cool thing about studying abroad is that you meet so many people from all over with entirely different backgrounds than you, however you all have one thing in common: the curiosity, bravery, and desire to travel and explore both yourselves and things around you. I think it really takes a certain kind of person to study abroad and I have absolutely loved sharing this experience with such diverse and fascinating people.


The BelGeekSquad at the Letna Beer Garden… I think this picture accurately sums up our first week in Praha.


IMG_9537 Old town square in Prague


Paddle boating by the St. Charles Bridge


Our first weekend, 6 of us decided to take a trip to Vienna, Austria as our first excursion out of Prague… and let’s just say it was a learning experience. Vienna is definitely an awesome city with lots of cool little quirks about it such as extravagant Churches, Palaces, parks full of people dancing and singing, beautiful vineyards, and most importantly an awesome Amusement Park/Bar called Prater where you can easily spend all of your time (and money) at. Our mistake was going to Vienna without an actual plan and we ended up kind of wandering aimlessly around at times, spending way too much money on train tickets as a result of not planning ahead of time, and personally I was miserable because I ended up spending the whole weekend sick. I feel like this is typical of a first weekend trip though so if anything it just taught us what not to do for the next time.


Roomie picture in a beautiful Vienna vineyard.


Vienna Sausages… enough said.


Vienna Vineyard

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The following weekend a group of us went to Munich, Germany for the opening weekend of Oktoberfest and it was absolutely insane. While the weather was rainy and cold in Munich all weekend people were still lively as ever waiting for the festivities to start. It was especially cool to be there for the opening day on Saturday. We had to get there for around 9am to be able to secure a spot at a table in a tent where we then ate and waited for the tapping of the keg at noon to kick off all of the Oktoberfest festivities. After that the place went insane but it was one of the greatest times I have ever had. One of the best parts was just meeting people from all over the world and getting to know them through this crazy experience. For example, on Sunday we met a group of 22 year old Italian military guys and although they did not speak great English we still spent the day with them and they taught us various games, traditions, and “cheers” from their hometown. We also made sure to make some time to run around and explore the city of Munich for a little bit as a break from the craziness of the festival. The cold and rain kind of put a damper on this but Munich is still a beautiful city and we found that if you go to the St. Peter’s Church- “Peterskirche”- with a student ID you can climb to the top for only 1 Euro and see the most breathtaking view of Munich. All in all Oktoberfest is an over the top experience- sooooo expensive and tiring- but 100% worth it if you can manage to go. I would recommend it to anyone… I really still cannot believe that I was actually there.

The Hacker- Pschorr Tent where we spent Opening Day

The Hacker- Pschorr Tent where we spent Opening Day


Sending some Cardinal love back to the Ville as we beat FSU!!!!


Friends from the 2nd day of Oktoberfest in the Paulaner tent. Fun fact: Steve Carrell was also in this same tent at the same time as us.


The view from the tower of Peterskirche.


The view from the tower of Peterskirche.

The view from the tower of Peterskirche.

There is a quick little update of my first weeks here in Europe! Although my classes are actually really difficult and adjusting to living in a whole new environment has been more tiring than I though I am loving every second of it. I cannot believe I have been here for three weeks already… time needs to slow down! Next stop: Split, Croatia.

10 Tips to Survive and Thrive Abroad

I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain and loved it! Study abroad isn’t just about surviving, it’s about thriving – not just being a tourist, but learning to call a new place home for a few months, making new friends, adapting to a new culture, and traveling to new locations. Here are my top 10 tips for surviving AND thriving abroad:


10. Open a Charles Schwab checking account. 

Open a High Yield Investor Checking Account with Schwab at least a month before you leave the US. Schwab is one of the only banks that offer a checking account with out any international transaction fees (most banks charge 1-3% on each transaction). Additionally, you can use any ATM worldwide to withdraw money for free and Schwab will reimburse fees charged by ATM owners (ATMs generally offer the best exchange rate). You will receive a couple of checkbooks and a debit card with a chip, which is required for most foreign transactions. They provide 24/7 customer service and best of all, the account is completely free with no monthly or annual fees. The account is FDIC insured and you earn 0.06% APY (variable rate) on any balance.
Additionally, they automatically give you a brokerage account, allowing you to invest in the stock and bond markets (Charles Schwab is primarily a brokerage company). There is no minimum balance on either account, so you do not have to use the brokerage account. To fund the account, you can make ACH transfers between your primary checking and savings accounts and your Schwab account. These transfers are free and usually take 3 business days to clear.
9. Look for a local cell phone plan and use Skype for international calls.


This will depend on where you decide to go, but in Barcelona, I found a great deal. I have a prepaid plan with Vodafone with 1.5 GB of data and 50 minutes of calling for €15 per month. When I purchased the first month, they did not charge me for the SIM card, which works perfe
ctly with my unlocked iPhone 5s. Each month, I go to a Vodafone store and pay €15. This month, they gave me 1.5 GB of extra data for free! When I leave, I don’t have to return the SIM or cancel the plan since it is prepaid. Texting and international calling is not included; however, everyone in Spain uses WhatsApp instead of regular texting and Skype has really good rates for international calling when you must call a landline or a d
umb phone.

The takeaway: do your research before you go and when you arrive, find the best ways for you to stay connected. If you plan to use your personal cell phone with a local SIM, make sure it is unlocked by contacting your service provider! I have an iPhone 5s with Bluegrass Cellular (partner with Verizon) and it was already unlocked.
8. Take advantage of excursions planned by your program.
Planning travel on your own is difficult and even more so with a group of friends because of the coordination required. Take advantage of the excursions offered by your study abroad program because you don’t have to do any of the work and many of them are included in the price of the program!

This is especially true if you want to travel to more challenging, risky, or remote destinations. For example, my program is organizing a trip though Morocco over Spring Break – a perfect destination to join an organized trip, rather than organizing one on your own. The trip is all-inclusive and costs €600, but the price is well worth it. We will travel to the desert in 4×4 jeeps, camp in traditional tents, ride camels, and travel to several cities. In previous trips, my program has included special guided city tours; wine, cheese, and cake tastings; and other activities that I probably wouldn’t find on my own.
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7. Travel on your own.

That said, traveling on your own is a great experience and has its rewards. You are forced to do your research about the destination, so you naturally become immersed in a new culture rather than floating in a bubble of American culture with your program friends. You are also more nimble, able to see and do more because you aren’t restricted by the limitations of a large group. Note: traveling with a couple friends is also good. It’s fun to share your experiences with other people and safer than traveling by yourself.
6. Before traveling, research the city, especially the metro/transportation system.

Every city and country has its quirks. Be aware of currencies and exchange rates, especially in Europe. The UK and Czech Republic are both in the European Union, but neither use or accept the Euro. Know that in London, trash is “rubbish” and the metro is the “Tube” or the “Underground.” Also, build a working knowledge of the metro system, especially if you are traveling to a country where you do not speak the language.
If I had not done my research before traveling to Prague, I would have been lost since they did not have clear instructions on how to use the metro in the stations. They have a great metro and tram system in the city, but their ticket system is much different than Barcelona, London, and Washington, DC. If you don’t purchase the correct pass and validate it when you board a tram or enter the metro, you can be fined up to 800 Crowns on the spot and embarrassed in front of the locals.
5. Beware of RyanAir: the McDonalds of air travel.
RyanAir and other low-cost carriers make exploring Europe possible for students with limited budgets. Most of the time, a RyanAir or budget airline ticket will be the same price or less expensive than a train ticket to the same destination! But just like McDonalds, you get what you pay for:  minimal leg room, strict boarding and luggage rules, and forget about the free beer, wine, soft drinks, and snacks offered by Lufthansa (the Panera Bread of air travel).

If you break any of the rules, you will face stiff fees or miss your flight. Also, you will often fly into a city 30 minutes to an hour outside of your destination city, so know how you will transfer into the city and how much that will cost. Will you break even if you pay a little more and use an airline that flies directly into the main airport of your destination? This will depend on the market, your destination, and how far in advance you book. Google Flights is a great resource to make these comparisons. Reference the articles linked below for really helpful information to make sure you have a good experience with RyanAir. Keep in mind, some of them are several years old and may have outdated information, so always reference the RyanAir fine print and policies before buying your ticket. You can get a feel for people’s general attitude toward RyanAir from the article titles below; however, like many before me, I had a good experience and good customer service. The key it to be informed!
4. Get to know the locals: church, homestay, classes, restaurants, professors, etc.

This will enrich your time abroad and help you fully immerse yourself in the culture. One of the best parts of studying abroad is connecting with others and discovering differences and similarities in cultures and worldviews. I have visited three different churches during my time in Barcelona and each time, I met people who shared my love for Christ even though we had differences in theology and perspectives on corporate worship. In my homestay, I enjoy hearing about my host parents’ experiences and perspectives on the vast changes in Barcelona over the past 30 years. Classes are a great place to get to know locals and study abroad students from other countries and just like in the US, getting to know your professors is important and rewarding.
My International Management professor spent many years working for PWC (one of the Big Four accounting firms) in several different countries. I have really enjoyed talking with him about his experiences in assurance, advisory, and tax because I am very interested in public accounting. Restaurants are also a great place to meet people, practice the language, and learn about the culture. I go Subway once a week because they are one of the few restaurants open for lunch before lunch hour (1-4pm) when I have class. I have gotten to know the franchise owner and learned that he emigrated from Venezuela and now owns 20+ Subway franchises throughout the Catalonia region in Spain.
3. Use Pocket Earth.

Pocket Earth is the best, most valuable app that I have ever used. It is a maps program that works offline by using your phone’s GPS and allows you to drop color-coded pins with different symbols. That sounds boring, so why is it so great? When you travel outside of your host country, you probably won’t have data and wifi is much harder to find than many assume. Before you leave your host country, you zoom in on the places where you will travel to download the map data. Many public pins will download too, showing you public transportation routes, metro stops, hotels, attractions, restaurants, hospitals, etc. Then, you can enter the addresses of your hotel/hostel, the airport, restaurants, and all of the sights that you don’t want to miss during your trip and drop pins on each location.
 Pocket Earth
When you arrive, you will be able to easily navigate the city, enjoying your time rather than struggling with a paper map and making yourself a target for pickpocketing and other crime. If you find a cool place or need to remember where your tour bus is parked, you can drop a pin to find your way back. This also allows you to freely wander the city without getting lost. You can also turn on the tracking feature to see where you wandered during the day and how far you walked. If you have friends who are traveling to that city you just visited, you can export your pins for the city and they can import them into their Pocket Earth app!
2. Always have a charged phone and carry a copy of your passport.

  US Passport
Pocket Earth is great, but it is useless if your phone loses charge so monitor your charge level throughout the day. Always know how to find your way back to your hotel or meeting point if your phone loses charge or your phone is stolen. Also, always carry a copy of your passport. The only time you should carry the actual passport is during travel to other countries and whenever you know that you will have to provide official identification (hotels, banks, phone stores, etc.). If you get all the way to the phone store, but didn’t bring your passport, ask if they will accept a copy of your passport or a drivers license as ID, sometimes they will!
1. Be flexible.

Changes in flight plans, closures of museums and popular restaurants, bad weather, and more will challenge your plans. Some adventures will not live up to what you expected and others will be greater than you imagined. To thrive abroad, you must be flexible, always open to a new adventure and willing to learn something new every day.

Adventure in Ireland

The other day I saw a post on LinkedIn by a CEO and it asked what advice you would give him in five words or less, I thought about it for less than a minute and settled on the words “have an adventure.” It doesn’t seem like the first choice and it probably wouldn’t have been 2 short months ago before I got to experience a great adventure in Ireland.

Sure the idea of an adventure appeals to everyone but the real adventure is when you dive into the unknown, you actually do something about the idea and act on it. I have never seen myself as the type of person that takes a lot of risks sure I have plenty of ideas but I never seem to act on them but that has changed. I now carry a little more experience and I have a little piece of Ireland close to my heart that I hope inspires me against all odds or reason to continue having adventures. In my time abroad I visited 3 countries, quintupled the number of times I have flown (it was 5 flights this time, including 2 that were 7hrs, my previous experience just one that lasted about 2hrs—and that was nearly a decade ago.) I have set foot in 6 castles, heard the tales of Irish folklore, met some great new friends, talked to some of the nicest locals, and it all went by so fast.

I have been back in the states for two weeks and I have been putting off writing this blog, not because I’m not exactly sure what I want to say but because this feels like an end to an amazing experience and I’m not ready for that. This was one of those things that you don’t want to end, it was hard enough leaving all the friends I had met a short month ago which seemed like only days. And now Ireland stands out in all the little details I have heard more about Ireland in my everyday life now than I ever have in any year before. Don’t get me wrong it’s great to be home, but an experience like that is something you don’t just take for granted. I will always remember my time in Ireland, and hope I can return some day.