5 Things About Spain That I Miss The Most

There were many extraordinary things about Barcelona, Spain that I will continue to miss for quite a while. Paella is the first part of Spain that I will miss. It is a traditional Spanish dish that consists of rice and seafood and is served steaming hot. Normally you have to share it with another person because it comes in such a huge portion. If you don’t like seafood, they will serve it to you with any type of meat that you please. By the beach there were dozens of paella restaurants so you could eat your seafood and rice while looking out at the ocean- this was my favorite part!

Gunnar Knetchel is the second part about Spain that I will miss. He was my photography teacher at the University of Barcelona and is a professional photographer himself. He has photographed many covers of magazines for AirCanada and his work is truly remarkable. A part from being an awesome photographer he was an even better teacher. He made our assignments enjoyable and encouraged us to explore the city to take pictures for our projects.  I am so glad that I studied in Spain because I got to learn from a real photographer who also gave me feedback on the photos I took. I may never get an awesome opportunity like that again!

Isabella Cosentino is the third part about Spain that I was sad to part with. She was my International Business teacher at the University of Barcelona. She is one of the owners of a company called Cosentino which specializes in selling countertops for kitchens. Her company is known worldwide and even has stores in America. She is a highly successful business woman and I was honored to be able to hear her story and learn from her as well. She taught us all of the important factors of doing business internationally as well as how to do business with people from different cultures and countries.

The fact that you are not expected to tip waiters at restaurants is another thing I will miss about Spain. The people who work at restaurants there get paid more than what we call minimum wage so they do not expect people eating at their restaurants to tip. This was helpful to me because I saved a lot of money! Over in the United States I usually tip the people serving me at restaurants about 20% and all of those tips start to add up eventually!

Being so close to the beach is the last thing I will miss most about living in Barcelona, Spain. I lived in an apartment near Plaza Lesseps and that was not a far distance from the beach at all. My room mates and I would get home from school most days, drop our backpacks off, and take the metro to the beach. It would only take us about 25 minutes and we were there. Here in the United States I live very far from the beach so it was nice to be near a beach while I was studying abroad.

Now that I am back here in the United States I will try to keep in touch with my professors and maybe take a road trip to the nearest beach more often. Also, I am going to teach myself how to make paella because I miss eating it so much! Although I miss all of these five things so much, I know that I will make it back to Spain one day in the near future!

Returning Home

I returned home from studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain two days ago and it has been quite a process adjusting back to my normal way of life. When I first arrived Barcelona I had no idea what to expect from the people and the city. It surprised me how pretty the buildings in the city were because they were very old and had a lot of character. Everywhere I looked reminded me of what a historic district of a city would look like back in the states, but of course everything there was much older there than it is here. When I first arrived to the apartment that I would be staying at for the next six weeks I met my four room mates and we wandered around our new home to explore. It didn’t take us long though, because families in Spain are used to having much smaller living spaces. We had four tiny bedrooms, a kitchen the size of a small walk in closet, a medium sized living space, and two small bathrooms.

Apart from the size of our apartment, I was also stunned at the fact that no one uses dryers in Spain. Outside the windows of our apartment were clothing lines and clips to hang clothes outside to dry on. The washers are also much smaller there so you can not wash a lot of clothes at once. This made it take much longer to wash all of your clothes because you would have to do smaller loads and hang your clothes outside to dry and that could take up to two days if the weather was not clear.

When I first got home in Louisville I put a load of clothes in the washer, walked through my kitchen, and then my bedroom and felt like I had so much space. Being in Spain made me appreciate the size of everything over here in the United States because everything here is much bigger. People in Spain spend most of the time outside of their house working or enjoying the outdoors, so the places they live in are as small as possible because it makes more sense to them and is probably more cost efficient.

The most challenging aspect of coming back to life in the United States is leaving all of the friends I made while abroad. We are all from different parts of the country so I will most likely not see them for a while. We all had a very close knit bond because we mostly hung out with each other throughout the trip. Another challenging part of coming home was that the food here is much different. I ate a healthy American meal for dinner the night I got home and after it I was still extremely hungry. I attribute this to the fact that over in Spain I received large portions and ate every last bite of the food I could because it was expensive. So when I got back here I had to adjust back to my usual healthy way of eating. Overall, it is nice to be home but I am so glad that I spent my summer abroad in Barcelona, Spain!

Adjusting back to life in The States

I am not the most emotional person, but I will never forget the feeling that I got when I was walking to my terminal at the airport in Torino, Italy. I had not shed a tear about leaving up until this moment, but my eyes filled with tears because it became real that I was leaving the country that had become my home for the past month and a half. Although 6 weeks sounds like such a short time to most, but when you are completely taken outside of your comfort zone, 6 weeks feels like 6 months. I was now leaving the whole new life that I had built, completely removing myself from my apartment in the city, my friends that I made, all of the amazing weekend getaways, and so much more. I cannot even put into words how rewarding this experience was.

Trying to follow the Italian culture was hard because the people do not smile and say “hi” to each on the streets. Being from below the Mason-Dixon line, I have been raised to make conversation with strangers and be cordial with them on the street. I quickly learned that Italians saw this to be insulting and that I had bad intentions. This became one of my hardest habits to break. So, when I arrived in Atlanta, I had extreme culture shock!

One of the most interesting parts of my culture shock, was being able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. I had been completely immersed in a different language, and I never really knew exactly people were talking about while I was gone. I was completely overwhelmed being able to actually hear what SO many people were saying around me.

On my flight from Atlanta to Louisville, I was extremely shocked to finally be reunited with ice-cubes in my drink! The cup was so much larger than any that I had while I was living in Italy. Also having pretzels and being able to read the package label was different. This short flight was reminding me of how different life is in Kentucky.

In Torino, there wasn’t Uber so I didn’t spend much time in actual cars for long periods of time. When my family, picked me up in the airport and drove me home, it was different to be in an actual large vehicle again, with air conditioning! Cars were so small in Italy, and my parent’s Ford Flex actually felt like a bus to me.

My first meal back was Cracker Barrel, and the service industry is so much different in America. The servers are constantly checking on you and making sure your needs are met, and in Europe, the servers only take your order and bring your food, you even have to ask for the check! It felt amazing to have LARGE portions of food, but more importantly breakfast food because I was only able to have pastries and mini cups of coffee for such a long period of time.

It crazy how the smallest parts of life in America such as: free water, ice, cheap peanut butter, air conditioning, and services, are taken for granted, and can be very hard to adjust pack to in America.

Culture Shock- Language!

It never really hit me that I was flying all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, from all my friends and family, to a country where I did not speak the native tongue, until I got there. Wow, that sounds pretty crazy when I put it into words. All I had heard when I would tell people that I was studying abroad in Italy, was that “You will be fine! They speak English in Italy!”, well let me tell you… that is not the case in Torino. I first figured this out when I arrived in the airport, and I was greeted with the hustle and bustle of so many people running into each and not even saying I’m sorry! I ended up eating lunch at the airport, and ordering food for the first time. This experience was interesting because it was a mixture of pointing and smiling, trying to be as a polite as possible.

My non-verbal communication skills were put to the test my first few days in Italia, and I am forever thankful for this. The main example that I have of this is the relationship that I built with the older man that owned a cafe on the street that I was living on. I quickly was becoming a regular at Cafe de Marconi, and one morning a man came up and started speaking Italian to me, and I could understand that he was talking about an older couple had been married for 50 years and still shared their lunch everyday. Mr. Daniele then sat down with me, and I ended up having to tell him that I didn’t speak Italian, and he didn’t speak an English. We still were able to communicate, and he told me all about the city through broken language and of course, Google Translate. He would take my notebook and draw maps of the city of restaurants and gelato places that I needed to try. My favorite part of the morning, was always stopping by to share my adventures with my friend. The day we met was still gives me chills and brings a smile to my face when I think about it. The small moments that you don’t expect to happen are the reason that I fell in love with traveling.

If I were to redo my experience, I would have learned more of the language before I left The States. I should not have expected most people to speak English. When I first arrived, people would point and whisper under their breath, “Americana,” which means American girl because there is not tourism in Torino. By the time I left Italy, people would come up to me and ask for directions because they thought that I was a local, and this was one of the best feelings. I would definitely not study in an English speaking country. Completely immersing myself in a new culture forced me to be completely out of my comfort zone, and made me think quick on my feet. The skills I gained from this experience have changed who I am, and prepared me to take on adulthood and my future career.


A post-reflection on my time abroad

Studying abroad was something I always considered doing, but ended up becoming a necessity. I was at a place in my life where the world had become too small and my days felt like they were full of old habits and just getting through the motions.

As much as I prepared, packed, and studied the country of Italy and Greece, I don’t think anything could have taken away the nerves. I did not know anyone else going, did not speak Italian or Greek, and I was pretty sure it was the first thing I had ever done on my own. I sobbed on my flight to JFK, like I’m sure I made the whole plane super uncomfortable. The scariest part of it all was that I knew it wasn’t something that I could just give up halfway through and retreat back to my comfort zone. There was no way to predict what would happen after I got off my flight or what would happen in 6 weeks.

It’s hard to explain how you change through study abroad, but you definitely do. I’m not sure if it’s the freedom of exploring a whole new culture or how adaptable you become when problems arise or how you start recognizing people from your neighborhood and feeling like your part of something completely separate of your life back home.

My favorite thing that I can take away from study abroad is how much I learned about other people. I learned A LOT living with 7 other American girls in a small apartment in Trastevere. I learned about how to get along with your travel partners as you run around Europe on the weekends. I bonded with an old lady in Italian village who spoke no English with only hand gestures and a lot of smiling. Being a tourist is easy, but being a study abroad student requires you to make deep connections with people. Those human connections are what made my travels complete!

So, if I had to give someone any one tip, it would be to jump into your travels with both feet! Meet people, explore places, and run far away from your comfort zone. This can be an experiment to see how much you grow. Make a country 1000 miles away your 2nd home. It’s hard to not let fear take over in an unpredictable situation, but look at the unpredictability as potential!


Elshadai Smith-Mensah

Travel agent or super adaptable/independent/confident traveler?

For the five weeks I studied in Rome, I loved getting to see Italy’s different regions, seeing the differences in culture, and trying amazing food. Every weekend was a different part of the boot, but the comfort of coming back home to apartment in Rome was always something I looked forward to.

Before leaving for study abroad, I knew that I wanted to take some time after to travel on my own. I did not know where or if I would do it with others or on my own, I just pushed back my flight a week. The closer I got to my summer session, the more nervous I was about this specific week. During my program, I knew I’d at least have a meal plan, a roof over my head, and all of the resources my program presented on the website. But after my program, I would be on my own…

Throughout my 5 main weeks, I became really good at traveling. I learned how to navigate the bus/tram/metro system. I learned how to schedule time in wisely. I understood the perfect balance between touring and exploring. I’m proud to say that I am now a professional at avoiding tourist-y places to eat. By the time I needed to travel on my own, I felt comfortable enough to follow through it.

My heart was set on going to Greece! I loved the Mediterranean, I grew up in the Greek Orthodox church, and Greece seemed to be one country that was always out of my reach to visit. Two of my roommates were staying for the second session in Rome, so they had downtime and decided to tag along. But before they would agree to anything, they wanted to know how much it would cost (because that’s pretty reasonable.) The only problem was, this trip was not a trip because I had nothing planned, had no idea where in Greece I wanted to go, how to get there, what we would do, where we would stay, etc., etc., etc.

I went to the Pinterest and started reading hundreds of blog posts. I asked peers at my international school where they would recommend going. I researched different tour groups and cruises to see example itineraries. I finally decided that we would visit the islands of Mykonos and Santorini, and the city of Athens, but what would we do? So, I went back to researching once again. Pinterest is SUPER helpful for seeing what the highlights of each place are. Airbnb/Booking.com/Hostelworld are great websites for figuring out cheap housing accommodations. Transportation is tricky depending on what country you are going to, but we would have to at least fly into Greece, so any good discount flight website worked, we just planned our trip around the cheapest flights.

If I wrote about every detail of the best week of my life, this blog post would turn into a book. But the main takeaways that I gained from planning this kind of impromptu trip was that I felt completely independent. After planning every detail from how we are going to get to and from an airport/ferry dock, to where we are going to sleep at night, I feel like I can plan a trip anywhere in the world.

I also learned how to be adaptable. I wish I could say everything went smoothly, but that is not how the world works. We ran into some trouble at airports (future tip: make sure to put your exact name from your passport ***middle name too*** on your plane ticket, to avoid a hefty fine!) and sometimes you realize no one speaks English around you, and you don’t know Greek (future tip: download Google translate.) Normally, I would need about an hour to calm down in a situation like either of those, to clear my head and not panic. When you plan such an extensive trip, you feel adaptable enough to go with the flow, find another option, and really learn from the bumps in the road. Sometimes (all the time) the plan will change, and that’s okay!

Lastly, I felt really confident. To go from not riding the TARC in Louisville because no one had ever showed me to jumping on planes every other day, it really made me grow as a person! I accepted challenges, not running from them. I got wayyy out of my comfort zone, and did things that now make for awesome stories. I got to do things that I had always wanted to do in some of the coolest places in the world like riding ATV’s in Santorini, boating in the Swiss Alps, seeing the 1975 in Milan!!!

When you study abroad, find time to get to see one place you’ve had your heart set on. It may seem like a lot of work or additional expenses, but following through will teach you a lot about yourself and how cool some places in the world are.

Happy travels,

Elshadai Smith-Mensah

Surviving (and Thriving!!!) during your first 24 hours!

Before jumping on my plane to Rome, I thought I was the most prepared person on the planet. I had completed all my paperwork, packed like a professional, read countless blog posts, talked to study abroad alum, and made a Pinterest board with even more information. Sound familiar?

Well, when my plane touched down in Italy, it felt like those months of preparation disappeared and I had no idea what to expect. While jumping into new things is half the fun of studying abroad, here are some tips to make sure you thrive in your first 24 hours!

(Granted, I’m studying in Rome, but hopefully these are applicable to you too!)

  1. Jet lag is not a force to recon with!: Right now you are excited to see the whole world, but I promise, first day you are going to be exhausted from gaining/losing hours. Try your best to adjust as soon as possible! The best advice for this is to change your phone’s time to the country you are going to. This way, you have some sense of what you should be doing and when. If the people in your new country are asleep, you should be too! Also avoid naps, it will just throw your whole body clock off!
  2. Bring a good amount of cash with you (and small bills if possible!): On your first day, you’ll want to explore and eat on-the-go. In Rome, cashiers are reluctant to take your card, and if you try to pay for an 2euro espresso with a 50 euro bill, they’ll be mad at you. Have a few 5-10 euro bills and you will be set!
  3. Find the comfiest shoes you own and plan on wearing them 99% of the time: get ready to walk A LOT! You’ll be so mesmerized walking around your new city that you won’t even notice that you’ve walked 5 miles…. But only if you wear comfortable shoes! I never wore Chaco’s before this trip, but now they are my prized possession.
  4. New outfit, new person!: Pack a set of clothes in your carry on! While this is good advice, just in case you lose your luggage, I can guarantee that you will be tired, stinky, and a little overwhelmed once you get off your plane. Changing into new clothes will make you feel ready to take on the city!
  5. Become a sponge: you are going to be exposed to a whole new culture in a foreign country, and you’ll absolutely love it! Be open and learn, because this can really set the tone of your whole trip!

Ciao and happy travels!

Elshadai Smith-Mensah

What to do in Europe’s major cities: Paris, Rome, and Venice




Paris was on my ‘must-see’ list when abroad. After looking at all of my weekends and planning out which cities I would travel to and when, Paris landed on the shortest weekend, 3 days: two for travel, and one for sight-seeing. It seemed like a stretch, but there’s a reason why it’s called a ‘can’t-miss’ list. I booked my train ticket with a friend, and the two of us headed out to conquer Paris in a day. We arrived the Friday evening to a very busy train station. We were heavily warned about thieves and bag-slicers, so we held our bags close as we wandered through the station. We had done some previous research about metro passes (something everyone should do if you are looking to get around a city easily), and were able to find the machine to get them. Stepping out in to the street, well, it is not the Paris we expected. Wave after wave of stench hit our noses as we navigated to our Airbnb. We were a little shaken at the shock of what we thought Paris was going to be like vs. our first impressions. However, we dusted ourselves off, threw on some deodorant, and took a train to see the Eiffel Tower light up at 10pm. We found a shop that made cheesy baguettes stuffed with hot dogs, took them to-go, and found a nice spot on the lawn in front of the Tower. There, we had a nice time seeing the sun go down, the Tower light up, and the lights being to sparkle. It was quite a sight. The next day, we utilized the train and bus system to hit the Palace of Versailles, The Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, the outside of The Louvre, the Notre Dame, and a second visit to the Eiffel Tower. We walked from the Moulin Rouge to The Louvre, which totaled about 45 minutes. It was there that we got to see what we thought Paris ‘really’ looked like: triangular stone buildings and terraces with flowers growing out of them. It was beautiful. We realized that movies would only show the historical parts of Paris, not the modernized ones. By the end of the day, we were exhausted from the amount of traveling we did in a single day. Our wallets, however, were not. A cavet of t-tickets, meaning 10 travel passes on either the subways or buses, cost a mere 14 euros. The banana and Nutella crepes we had cost 5 euros. That was about the extent of our expenses, excluding the Airbnb. It is very easy to do Paris in a day, on a budget. I recommend visiting Paris at least once in your life, but it is not a city I would want to spend more than 2 or 3 days in, simply because it feels just a bit too large.


I have visited Rome once before in high school, and knew I would be back again some day. The high school tour, however, was a bus tour, and all of our meals were set up and paid for. Traveling abroad with a friend is much different. We decided to see both Rome and Venice in a single 4 day weekend. Rome is a 13 hour train ride from our city in Austria, and only 7 hours from Venice. We found the perfect overnight train that would take us from Austria to Rome, and arrive at about 10am. A teacher on the program advised us that the two-tiered bus tours of the city are definitely worth the money if you can haggle it to a decent price. We arrived at the Roma Termini, one of Europe’s largest train stations, after a long night of barely sleeping on the train. After purchasing a metro pass to get from the main city to our Airbnb, we were approached by a man attempting to sell us passes for the Roma Big Bus City Tour. I was hesitating because I wanted to drop our stuff off at the Airbnb before touring Rome, but he lowered the price to only 20 euros, so it was impossible to refuse. We saw all of the ancient sights in a matter of an hour, and got off at St. Peter’s Basilica and did some souvenir shopping. With your student ID, you can get into the Sistine Chapel Museum for only 8 euro (so make sure to bring that cardinal card abroad!). Later, we got back on the bus and cruised around Rome some more. We made sure to stop at the Trevi Fountain to throw another coin into the water so that we will come back in the future. Ended the day with some more gelato and fresh grapes. The next day, we ran into some issues with the public transportation system…a ‘strike’ kind of issue. We decided we would just suck it up and walk the hour and a half to the train station rather than paying for a taxi. We got to see a different, non-touristy side to Rome so that was pretty cool. With the help of the train station staff, we were able to find our train to Venice with only 5 minutes to spare. Talk about a crazy way to end our time in Rome! Final thoughts: I love Rome with all of my heart and would love to live there some day. The history intermingled with daily life is truly unique, and if you get the chance to travel, Rome is a MUST.


The issues with the strikes in Rome carried its way to Venice, because we struggled to find a way to our Airbnb from the train station, and we weren’t wanting to walk 2 hours to it. Eventually we gave in and found a taxi to take us. We were too tired to head back into the main city at 8pm, so we stayed nestled in our Airbnb and got some much needed sleep. In the morning, we found our way to the bus and got a ticket to the main islands. There, we just wandered Venice all day. This city isn’t one you typically learn about in history class, so we weren’t pressed to visit any main monuments or structures. Instead, we took pictures in the alleyways, crossed over bridges, and waved to the gondolas as they passed by. It was a very relaxing day, up until we made the mistake of passing through San Marco’s Square, where there seemed to be thousands of tourists packed into the small alleys. Once we got out of there, we grabbed some pasta at a restaurant along the river and enjoyed the last minutes of daylight in Venice. It was absolutely beautiful, and contrary to rumors, it did not smell in the slightest. Venice is an incredible city, and one that I would love to revisit someday.


Mandy Paganetto, ’17

B.S. in Marketing and Sport Administration

Reflecting on my Time In Italy

When I decided to study abroad, I had no idea the impact that the experience would have on my life. I was certainly hesitant about going, because I am always unsure about the unknown. But as soon as I got there, I felt at home. The friends I made, the places I got to see, and all of the food I got to eat made for some of the best memories in my life. Here are my top four favorite places I got to visit while I was there:

  1. Rome, Italy

Rome was an amazing experience. I got to see all of the things that people say you have to see in Rome, which included the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Vatican City. My friends and I were able to see all of these things in a day, which has hard and tiring, but we did it! Those were all amazing to experience, and I can’t wait to go back to see everything else Rome has to offer.

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2. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, was probably my favorite part of Italy. Cinque Terre  is a string of old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. There are five towns that you can visit along this coastline, each with various types of hiking experiences. It was breathtaking, and cool to see what small village life was like. There were trains that could take you to each of the cities, and they were fast and efficient if you didn’t feel like walking to each of the cities

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3. Genoa, Italy

Genoa was a beautiful town that was rich with history and beautiful scenery. The town had very narrow streets so it was rare to see people driving cars; most people drove mopeds. There were beautiful churches, and the all of the people there were friendly! I loved it. We also got to try focaccia, which is a typical Italian dish from this region.

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4. Alba, Italy

Alba was one of the first trips that we went on, and one of the most memorable. This region is known for being the gourmet capital of the Piedmont region, and they weren’t wrong. Nutella was also founded in this region, which was a cool fact that I was unaware of. The wine here is also supposed to be some of the best in Italy. It was cool to see a region in Italy that did not have a lot of tourists everywhere as well.Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

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Overall, my experience in Italy was one for the books. It was an amazing life changing experience, and it completely opened my eyes about the world around us. I am looking forward to my next international experience, but I know that Italy will always be on my mind where ever I may go next.

Ciao for now!

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What you need to know before Traveling: A Beginner’s Guide

So you finally bit the bullet and decided to look at various study abroad programs…that’s great! Studying abroad will truly change your life, and that of course, is coming from someone who spent a summer month in Europe. It can be both exciting and overwhelming, browsing through all of the available programs via the business school’s studying abroad website. There are beautiful programs in London, Australia, and of course, Italy. Those were places that I was looking for a program, almost strictly because of my comfort level. 2 out of those 3 places speak English, while the other…well, come on, it’s ITALY! My first piece of advice, look outside of your comfort zone. I ended up in Austria, of all places. I decided to look past country boarders, and look into what the specific program provided. Mine, for instance, allowed and encouraged students to travel on the weekends. Because of this, I was able to visit Munich, Paris, Rome, and Venice. I also got to stay in a homestay with a woman who spoke only German. This can seem like a turn off, but it allowed for complete submersion into the culture, something I craved.

When you are abroad, you will have good days and bad days. Some days can seem really great: the sun is shining, the temperature is great, the locals are friendly, and the meal is correct. However, not every day is like this, and that is perfectly okay. You’ll get caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella, the language barrier will cause a fight with a store owner, or what you thought was schnitzel is actually chicken liver soup. Things happen. But it’s up to you to deal with how you react to it. Some days, I just needed to go home after dinner rather than try to stay out later with the group, or I needed to separate from everyone, get my own gelato, and soak in the country by myself. Turn a bad situation into a better one (and chicken liver soup really isn’t that bad…it tastes like a meatball!).

My last piece of advice is to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. If you do select a program that allows independent travel (highly recommended), then you will need to get used to navigating the extensive train system through Europe. You will be knees-to-knees with strangers, passive aggressively fighting for luggage room, and have to do the occasional sprint to the connecting train. The best part? All train-traveling Europeans experience these same issues, so you’re not alone! Try the local food, check out new restaurants, and treat yourself to gelato. For some, it could be your first and only trip abroad, so you will want to make the most of it. For others who plan on visiting again, make this your opportunity to trial-test the train system, ordering at a foreign restaurant, and behaving as a local to make your future trips even more successful. Have a great time, you will love every second.

-Mandy Paganetto, ’17

B.S. in Marketing and Sport Administration