Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 6

Day 38

While walking to school alone isn’t always exciting, minus that one time that some guy followed me, I finish breakfast early and have a little extra time.  I usually buy a yogurt and coffee, but today I used that time to go to the store.

I have one other classmate for the week, a teacher from the USA.  We had a bit of class before I talked our professor into taking us to the changing of the guards at the President’s Palace.  It’s every week, on Monday at 11am, so I never get to go.  He agreed to take us, though.  I usually don’t like overly-ceremonial events, but this was awesome.  This event is free, and purely ceremonial; it is only for the benefit of the viewers.  The ceremonial band was there, they had several groups of ceremonial guards, and several un-ceremonial guards to guard the president.  There were also important government employees, the president, and one government official from Cuba, I believe.  The band and the guards on horses were my favorite part, obviously, but the really interesting part was how exposed the president was.  He was just standing on the balcony next to the other important people, and I only saw 3 obvious guards.  At home, we wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near President Obama, or any president of ours, there’d be swarms of security and snipers and bodyguards.  One possible explanation for this is that the majority of the population here really likes the president.  Especially in comparison with basically every other president they’ve had, President Correa has done a good job and won over most of the people.  So he does have that going for him.  Side note: I confirmed this with my professor; I’m not just assuming and trying to speak for the citizens of Ecuador.  President Correa has a very high approval rating.

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After we finished up our classes, I decided to take the bus (gasp) to the Mariscal district for lunch to find some variety.  With some assistance in locating the correct bus, I successfully took the bus alone.  I also have no intentions of doing it again because I don’t like it.  I decided to eat at The Magic Bean in Plaza Foch.  1) It’s quiet and safe, and not horrendously expensive, especially in Mariscal.  2) Free Wi-Fi.  3)  The food is awesome.  I bought a strawberry milkshake and a Hawaiian sandwich, and I was very pleased.  We don’t get milk at the house, so the milkshake hit the spot.  Grilled pineapple and avocado are two of my favorite things, as well, so my sandwich was just about right, as well.

After lunch, I walked down to Museo Mindalae, an artisanal museum, I believe.  I think I would have liked it a lot more, but it was very dark.  As a young, single, female traveler, I try to avoid putting myself in small, dark spaces when I’m alone, so I was uncomfortable in this museum.  I later found out that it’s normally not that dark, and I probably didn’t set off all of the motion-sensored lights.  There’s lots of history and culture to be learned here.  I recommend starting at the top floor and working your way down, you can exit through the gift shop on the last floor.

On my walk back to the house, I decided to stop at the museum across the street from Parque El Ejido, but it is 100% closed for an entire year for remodeling… So I came back to the house and talked on the phone with my boyfriend. This week was the beginning of homesickness, so the gift that is WhatsApp is a lifesaver.  I repeat.  Download WhatsApp to your phone before going places.

For dinner, I met Bea and Rob at school and we walked to Pizza SA near Plaza Grande.  The host family had recommended it to us for their CUY PIZZA.  Guinea pig pizza, folks.  And that pizza was delicious.  I still am not convinced that cuy in and of itself is worth the price, but I enjoyed it on that pizza.

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Day 39

 Last night, for a reason that I still cannot pinpoint, I didn’t sleep.  I maybe got 2 hours of sleep, broken up into 10 minute segments.  Needless to say, I bought a cafe con leche (my favorite) on my way to school, and made a second during the break.

Despite being very tired, I had a willing companion to do the Teleferico with, so I decided to go anyway, while I had the opportunity.  We ate in the shopping mall in Plaza Grande, the menu del dia (typical food).  We then took a taxi up to the Teleferico ($8.50) and rode up to the top with a sweet woman from Italy.  The views were incredible, and the air was definitely thinner than at the bottom.  It was also chilly, colder than I had imagined!!  I started feeling sick, so we rode back down with a cool couple who had just finished teaching English in Colombia!  We then took a taxi/van thing to Mariscal, and I caught another taxi back to the house.

After a nap, we had sausage, rice and beans and tomato sauce for dinner at the house.

Day 40

After class today, Marilyn and Jonathan, two other students, and I took a taxi to the bus stop and then took the public bus all the way to Mitad del Mundo, the equator museum/park north of Quito.  It takes about an hour to get there, and the bus was PACKED with people: students going home after school, adults going to/from work, there was barely room to stand.  When we got off of the bus, we had a typical lunch ($4.50) near the museum, and then walked to the museum.  It was somewhat expensive, at $7.50 for full access to the museum.  You can also pay $3.50 just to enter and walk around, take pictures, etc… If you didn’t want to go inside anything, this would be a good option.  We could have paid the $3.50 and spent longer at the other museum, but we did enjoy this museum.  This museum is situated where the equator was originally marked by the French when it was discovered.  It is actually a city, technically, and was built to increase tourism in the area.

Afterwards, we walked just down the road to Museo Intinan (the name needs a few accents…), which is where the equator has been calculated to be by GPS.  I preferred this museum to the other, it only cost $4 and we were given a complete tour that included activities to demonstrate the effects that the equator has on things such as water flow and balance.

We tried to take a bus back to Quito, but the bus only took us to the bus terminal, so we took another public bus back to our houses.  I still, after several weeks, am unable to figure out the bus system here.  Thankfully, we asked a very helpful man who told us where we needed to get off the bus.

At the house, we had soup, green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, beets, lettuce, and something similar to potato pancakes (if you have Eastern European heritage, especially Polish, you know what these are) with onion in them.  Then we went out to celebrate Bella’s last day.  She picked a small restaurant on La Ronda that had an amazing hot chocolate drink called the “Chocopaxi,” a play on the name of a volcano: Cotopaxi.  It was sweet hot chocolate with Oreo cookies in it.

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Day 41

Today at school, we shared Bocaditos/Bocadillos, which are snacks typical to Ecuador, particularly Quito.  Some examples: empanadas (de queso, de carne, de pollo, de viento), humitas, tamales (somewhat similar to Mexican tamales), pan de yuca.

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After class, I ate lunch at a cafe in Plaza Grande that served great empanadas de viento.  These are empanadas that puff up when fried, and mine had cheese in the dough, as well.  I also met a sweet little street dog with two different colored eyes that sat on my feet and let me pet his head.

I met Jason and his family in Parque El Ejido to walk to dinner later this day.  We walked down to the Magic Bean restaurant in La Mariscal district and ate familiar food, including ice cream for dessert.

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Day 42

After class today, I walked up the mountain a few blocks to a cafe (that I found on TripAdvisor… touristy, I know).  Leivmotiv Cafe was not only adorable, but the barista/waitress was incredibly friendly and the food was really good.  The menu is very limited, as far as food is concerned, but the pernil (ham) sandwich was delicious.  I also ordered a hot chocolate with cheese, my first one in Ecuador.  I expected the hot chocolate to be sweet, like it is at home, but it was genuine chocolate without sugar.  Once I got used to the bitterness, it was really good, especially with the cheese.  I took a lemon ice cream to go, and went back to the house to blog and watch Orange is the New Black.

I’d had a headache all day, so I went out and bought Pepsi (life tip: Pepsi works almost as well as my prescription migraine medicine).  They sell almost exclusively CocaCola here, so I had to buy a 1.5 liter bottle.  I worked on the blog some more and packed for my weekend in Mindo again.

Dinner at the house was soup with noodles, and rice with scrambled eggs.  I also talked on the phone with my boyfriend for a while before bed.

 

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Kristen, Student Blogger: Cinque Terre

Italian Riviviera Tour

Another weekend filled with hundreds of pictures. I love being able to take so many decent pictures from my phone (and we can keep praying it doesn’t run out of storage). The school scheduled an Italian Riviera tour at the beginning of the term and we finally got to go in it. It definitely was of the most beautiful views I’ve ever. The tour started from the school where we got on a bus that took us on a 2 hour bus ride to Genoa. On the way to Genoa we drove through mountains and then eventually got to the coastal views as well. It was unreal how many people were living in the middle of the big rolling hills, so secluded and on such steep slopes. Once at Genoa we went on a walking, guided tour of the city with a tour guide. Genoa is home to many historical battles and bombings. Luckily, much has been fixed to still be an important port for boats today. One of the interesting facts about Genoa is that they have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Their population has dropped significantly over the past few years because of this reason. Many families are choosing not to have kids or having few.

The first thing we saw was a museum sitting at one of the port entrances. It serves as a piece of artwork for the city. It is very deceiving to people who pass by, as everything is painted on the building, including parts of some of the windows. The church that we entered in after was built in the medieval times, as you can tell with the black and white painted stripes. When we headed back to the port, we went up in a glass ball elevator that brought us to the top to look over the whole port.

After this short tour of Genoa, we headed for Saint Margherita Ligure. Saint Margherita was beautiful with all of its flowers and ocean views. We immediately got off the bus and headed for lunch. We ate focaccia, an Italian version of “white” pizza. You can basically get any normal pizza topping on it, except other options as well, like pesto focaccia. After pizza we headed up a hill in the city to a church that looks over the city. (A common theme in Italy apparently.) We then all headed back to the bus to grab our stuff and check into our hotel.

I think it was an agreed decision between all USAC members without speaking about it, that we would all be meeting at the beach as soon as we dropped off our stuff. Even though their beach was much like a rock driveway that would require a chair or 10 towels to find comfortable, we somehow still enjoyed ourselves for a couple hours all together on the beach. Following the beach, my group of friends decided that we wanted to splurge a little to a nice seafood dinner by the sea. Of course, the TripAdvisor app was my go-to to finding something that qualified and had good reviews. It was less than a mile away. The typical Americans we are, showed up as soon as it opened at 6:30PM and got to pick our table out of the whole restaurant. I ordered pasta with crab, which meant real crab parts in my pasta. Maybe this happens in America too and I just haven’t been to a fancy enough place but I don’t know how you’re expected to get the crab out gracefully at the table. We were all really impressed with our meals, though.

The next day, Friday, we had a day trip to Portofina. We were told Portofina is where a lot of famous people come to vacation. I don’t know if it is cheaper to access by boat or if a charter bus can’t really access the town, but we took a large boat to the island. All the program students headed to the roof for the views. Well, given that that is where everyone headed and we were unable to get a seat up top. We got booted to the bottom of the boat. The bottom of the boat was closed off by greyish plastic windows that we were not excited about sitting behind. Therefore, we headed to towards the front of the boat. We didn’t think about the idea that the ocean would be able to move our giant boat… or the waves the would fly overtop of the side of the boat. In summary, we were soaked in saltwater by the time we got to Portofino. It was fun though, there was an Australian couple next to us that laughed about the whole thing for a 10 minute boat ride that we had of getting soaked.

We went on a hike when we got there and then met up for gelato after. The hike went up around to the other side of the port where we first stopped at a church. On one side of the church was more of the trail and the port. On the other side was the open Mediterranean where huge waves crashed against the side of the rock wall. It was such a cool spot with an amazing view. I definitely can see why the celebrities would choose to vacation there. Our last stop of the hike brought us further up over both the port and ocean where a small castle at the top sat. We were told many famous people choose to have private weddings at this spot. We got the next hour to shop and eat lunch if we wished and then meet up for gelato. We saw a couple of really cute shops on our way up that we wanted to check out. There is a reason that these shops are located in Portofino, though. One of the first articles of clothing that I picked up was a pair of shorts that had a price tag of over $200. We didn’t buy anything in Portofio, except for a post card and lunch.  🙂

Once our boat arrived back at Saint Margarita, we hurried to pack up our stuff out of the hotel and catch our train to our villa for the weekend. Our program set it up perfectly that we spent Thursday and Friday’s days off touring the towns and then we got Saturday and Sunday to ourselves. We booked a villa for Friday night through Sunday morning to stay at near Santa Margarita and Cinque Terre, in La Spezia. Never have I stayed somewhere so nice. It was a bit of a hike for the cab driver to take us to, but he got all 8 of us to the top of a tall hill where our villa sat.  We had a gorgeous view of La Spezia’s port and the mountains behind it.

The closest thing to a store was right down the driveway and offered just as much as a gas station might offer for food in the US. It provided enough that we could make some dinners and not have to eat every meal out although. We stayed at the villa for most of weekend, except to hike Cinque Terre. We walked the 45 minutes to La Spezia’s train station and it took us directly to the trails of Cinque Terre. If I thought our villa had a great view… I was sure to be proven wrong by the abilities of Cinque Terre’s views. There are 5 cities that mark Cinque Terre. They create sections of a trail that connects them all together. We hiked the longest and “toughest” section of the trail, which took us just under 2 hours. The first 45 minutes was all up hill so it required a couple stops to get everyone up. The whole walk up was walking through fields of grapes and other plants.

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Once we got to the main trail is when the real views came in. I don’t even know if my pictures do the views justice. The ocean was beautiful and to be on the side of mountain was even cooler. The trail ended at another little town where we ate lunch and then headed back to our villa. The different colored buildings must be a thing of most those Italy’s coastal towns in the area because most of every town we went to for this 4 day weekend had them. Back at our villa we got to relax and hang out in the pool and beautiful weather for the rest of the weekend.

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Alicia, Student Blogger: Week 2, Part 2 in Ecuador

Day 13

This was an interesting day, and another one that made me want to go home.

We had cream cheese for our bread this morning, which was different. We talked about legends/stories in class today.  Ecuador has lots of stories.  For anyone super interested, there are YouTube videos on them.  We discussed: El Gallo de la Catedral, La Casa 1028,  La Leyenda de la Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia del Robo.  We also discussed the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, here in Ecuador, as it’s different than it is in Mexico. It’s hard to discuss the United States, because it’s so much larger than Ecuador.  Most of our legends/stories are either local, or stolen/borrowed from other cultures.

After class, Jason and I found the market!  We had awesome (fried?) pork and talked politics.

This is the point in which I’m going to keep most details to myself… I wanted to go to a medical clinic after lunch.  It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought I might need some lightweight antibiotics.  Jason offered to go with me, being the world-class nurse that he is.  It ended up being a really rough, 3 hour, $40 experience.  Without Jason, I’d have absolutely lost my mind.  Clinics are supposedly cheap here, which it was, minus the extra charges they nailed me with, but it wasn’t a good experience for me.  They had no clue what was going on, and tried to prescribe me medications for just about any possible scenario in this situation.  Jason and I talked and, bless this man, we figured out a plan without the doctors.

So, with my being emotional and exhausted and frustrated, it was time for salsa lessons.  This was a good distraction, but I was quite tired.  I was partnered with Jason this time.  I have a bit of salsa experience, and Jason had dance experience and had been to lessons for several weeks already, so we had a blast.  I don’t think the instructor liked us much because we moved on ahead of the class, but we had a great time.

Dinner at the house was good, but it marked the beginning of our complicated relationships with potatoes.  We eat lots of potatoes here, which is lovely, but it can get overwhelming.  Tonight, we had potato soup, as usual.  Then we had mashed potatoes flavored with peanuts, with a boiled egg and some cheese on top.  And juice, of course.  It was great food, but after this meal, all three of us students became very overwhelmed by potatoes.

After dancing, I felt better, but I was incredibly frustrated and exhausted, not to mention that my stomach, while much much better, was still not 100%. I had my mini-trip scheduled for the next week.  Part of me wanted to go, to get out of Quito for a while.  Part of me felt unprepared to leave Quito.  Part of me wanted to go home.  Again, obviously there were no plane tickets purchased this night.

Day 14

NEW FRUIT!  With our bread and ham, we had these strange little fruits today.  They’re small, round, and orange.  They taste like a sour tomato, but it’s not a bad taste… I love all of the different fruits that they have here!  There’s so many, and they’re all so fresh.

In class today, we worked on commands.  I worked on commands very early in my Spanish career, and really haven’t used them except the basic ones that I have memorized.  This is the type of thing I love about my classes here: filling in the gaps.  Technically, I’ve seen all of the tenses, but I sure can’t use or remember them all.  Then we showed each other card games from our countries to practice using the commands.

Jason’s family, that was supposed to arrive last night, was still stuck in Texas.  The weather there has been horrible.  Between that, the icky weather this week, and my stress, we were all pretty worn out and not ready to visit another church or museum.  Instead, we decided to do familiar things today, starting with food.  We went to the Italian cafeteria that we like a lot.  I got pizza, Jason got spaghetti, and Fred got a burger.  Jason and I also got chocolate milkshakes, because why not?  Then we got dessert from the bakery.  Jason and Fred got chocolate bread, I got a fruit tart that was delicious.  We then decided to go to the movies, so we took the bus allll the way to the south of the city, where there is a shopping mall with a movie theatre.  We saw the Jungle Book, El Libro de la Selva, in Spanish of course.  The seats were comfy and it almost felt like home.  It was a lovely way to relax for a few hours.

Dinner at the house was soup with some sort of grain, then fried eggs with rice, carrots and green beans, and a dessert similar to a watery rice pudding.  And, tonight, we finally got our laundry back!!

I also added pictures of my room and bathroom, in case anyone is just dying to know how my room is.

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Holi: Festival Of Colors!

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During the afternoon on Friday the 24th of April, 2015, the Office of Study Abroad will be hosting the third annual HOLI: FESTIVAL OF COLORS from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Library Quad of Eastern Illinois University. Admission is FREE, so come out and celebrate the spring season with us in an explosion of color and friendship.

The celebration originated as a Hindu religious holiday, mainly in India and Nepal, as a day to rid oneself of past errors, end conflicts, forgive and forget. It also marked the beginning of spring, and the tradition of spreading colors everywhere is a way to celebrate and encourage the coming growth of spring’s flowers and plants. The festival has since spread throughout other Asian countries and on to countries like the United States. Here at Eastern, the Festival of Colors gives students an opportunity to get together with their friends and work off the stress of upcoming exams and the end of the semester.

People of all ages and professions are encouraged to come and make a mess. As per tradition, colorful powder will be distributed to be spread on friends, family, and strangers. Participants will be sure to leave covered in all sorts of color with a smile on their face. Returning participants will remember the festival well and are sure to encourage new people to remember to wear white T-shirts or at least something they do not mind getting messy.

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It’s sure to be a fun and messy time. Save the date, and I’ll see you there!

[Guest Post]: We Made It

EIU student Samantha DeYoung is currently studying at University of South Wales for the spring semester. Follow her experience with her blog here.

January 3rd, 2015

After a very long two days of traveling, I am finally here! Sitting in my room watching netflix, it is raining, something I will get used to very fast here in Wales. Yesterday was definitely the longest day of my life, literally I was awake and traveling from 3pm Thursday when I left Pittsburgh until 3pm Friday when I finally arrived at the University. With two time changes, two fights, a bus, and a train, we finally made it. Our rooms are nice and have private bathrooms attached to them, our flat consists of 6 rooms that remind me of American dorms, all connected by a hallway that leads to our kitchen.

Yesterday at the airport, I was constantly looking for all of those gypsies I had been constantly warned about, and of course I didn’t see any at all! The airport atmosphere was very safe. Customs gave us all a very hard time since our course of study is only until April, but our documents say it is until June. We were met at the airport by a lady that showed us how to catch a coach to Cardiff. After arriving in Cardiff, we walked from the bus stop to the train station. From what little I saw of Cardiff, I think it will be very fun to visit and wander around down there. Everywhere we go people can’t understand us and they use words we don’t understand either. After several jokes made at our expense, the people here are beyond friendly and helpful. I have never had so many people offer to carry my bags and offer to show us where to go. People here go out of their way to help you, something very foreign to Americans!

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(Cardiff Train Station)

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(Castle on our way to the Treforest stop)

After climbing a mountain to get to the accommodations office, we were shown our rooms and could finally relax. Kait and I went into the Treforest village to buy shampoo, conditioner, water, bread, and soap for our rooms. The village is very cute and we passed a lot of small shops and restaurants. After stopping to get Chinese “Take Away” we walked over the bridge that crosses the railway and hiked back up to our rooms.

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(Our pretty campus)

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(The view from our Flat)

Everything has been very exciting so far, tomorrow we plan to go back to Cardiff to visit and to explore. We choose our classes on Monday and hopefully can start planning for all of our trips after that!

xoxo

Happy Lunar New Year!

Today is the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year!

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The name of the holiday is based on the Chinese calendar being lunisolar which means the months coordinate to the cycles of the moon but the length is periodically adjusted to keep it relatively in sync with the solar year, which the United States follows. Because the Chinese are not the only ones who celebrate this holiday, the name Chinese New Year is interchangeable with Lunar New Year.

New Year festivities are a tradition for celebrating great ancestors, family, religion, and a surplus of abundance. Lunar New Year is celebrated through lantern festivities, fireworks, dancing, music, food, and relaxation. It is also traditional for windows and doors to be decorated with red paper-cut outs with themes of “good fortune”, “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity.”

Check out this from the New Dragon Dance Performers as they dance in honor of the Lunar New Year!

Every year for the lunar calendar is marked by one of the 12 zodiacal animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. This year is the year of the sheep, but there has been some conflict over what the Chinese word yang translates into: ram, sheep, or goat. The ancient Chinese symbol meant goat; so, those in China more commonly use goat as this years animal. People in other Asian countries disagree. In Korea, the symbol more commonly means sheep. All three translations are technically correct. I guess it just depends of what animal you can find in your area.

Do you want to find out what animal coordinates with your birth year? Click Here

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Responsible Travel: Volunteer Around The World

Think its too late for you to travel the world? Think again! Although your time as a student may be coming to and end and it may be too late to study abroad and gain course credit, volunteering abroad will always be an option! Or maybe you’ve studied abroad already and are looking for another opportunity to travel the world. Volunteering is a great choice! Instead of saving up for that family vacation or a spring break on the beach with your friends, why not give back and participate on a volunteer trip instead?

There are all kinds of volunteer programs that you can find to fit your interests and needs. Some of the most common types of programs are teaching abroad, wildlife conservation, marine conservation, or internships abroad. I recently returned from my own volunteer experience in Livingstone, Zambia on a teaching program and had an amazing time.

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Volunteering opens up the opportunity for you to travel while also giving back to a community in need. Connecting with the locals, being immersed in their culture, and living a different lifestyle in a different part of the world is an experience beyond what words can describe.

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Outside of the local culture, you can be exposed to a variety of other cultures and people from around the world. On my volunteer trip I stayed in a house with other volunteers that came from all different countries, and we all became good friends that still keep in touch even though we are hundreds of miles away from each other.

Finally, with my program we had the weekends off from volunteering so we had time to take part in various activities and weekend trips. There are so many opportunities that volunteering abroad has to offer, and it is a great way to travel responsibly no matter what age you are.

Opening Up To Other Cultures

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

Studying abroad can seem overwhelming at times, especially if you have not traveled before. Going abroad with the right mindset can make a major difference in your experience and can help you to truly enjoy other cultures and make your trip the best that it can be.

One of the most important things to remember when traveling someplace new or unfamiliar is to keep an open mind and embrace other people and their cultures. This is applicable whether you are overseas or right in your hometown. You may be surprised to find that you have more in common than you think with people who seem so different than you.

Be careful not to judge others for the differences that you do find. Instead of thinking that what they eat, wear, do, etc. is strange or weird, ask why it is they do what they do.  Many times, when meeting people from other countries or cultures you will discover an interesting story or custom that is tied to that person’s background. This may all sound easier than it actually is. As human beings, it is our natural instinct to judge others who are different from ourselves. But over time, you will find that you can change your behavior to be much more accepting of those with different backgrounds. Especially when going abroad, view differences with others as an opportunity to engage with them and find out more about their culture and customs they participate in. You will gain more by doing so than you ever could from reading about it in a textbook.

So the next time you cross paths with someone unlike yourself, take the opportunity to start up a conversation with them. We would love to hear about how it turns out! Already have a great story about connecting with other cultures? Feel free to share it with us!

Coffee Abroad: Cafe Freddo

It may be summer, but it’s not quite hot in Charleston, Illinois. It doesn’t matter, because I am focused on the cold, sweet taste of a café freddo, or ice cold coffee.

GreeceThis glorious beverage is served all over the world, but I had my first taste in Athens, Greece. Would you believe that this drink is serious enough to have a Los Angeles Times article written about it? It’s true. As with any major event, the 2004 Olympic Games drew the eyes of spectators directly to this ancient place. And, to their traditions.

What I like best about coffee abroad is the process. I really am that snooty girl in the “Stuff Study Abroad Students Say” video who proclaims The Coffee Tastes So Much Better Here in a sufficiently American, valley-girl accent.

But it’s true! When living in Spain I witnessed the flocks of tourists at Starbucks, versus the crowds of locals at cafés. Once I had my first café con leche, I knew. The “to go” culture is built on American ideals: multitasking, hurrying, caffeine as energy. The coffee culture in many Mediterranean locations is based on taste, talk and enjoyment. At least one of us is doing it right!

Whatever your drink of choice may be, take note on how the locals are drinking in more than just the beverage. Are they seated or standing? Alone or with friends? My best memory of a cafe freddo in Athens was sitting outside of a bakery with a stomach full of pastries and my lips locked on a straw. I’m relatively certain I closed my eyes and made the “ahhhhh” sound from commercials, post-sip. When I opened my eyes I saw a shopkeeper looking at me, and I offered a sheepish grin in return, lifting my plastic cup in his direction. He made a deep nod as if to say, “You ARE doing it right. Finally.”

Adventure a la mode

Pasta

Whenever we talk to students about their study abroad experience after coming home, there is a recurring theme that each and every student will talk about for hours.

Food.

Whether it’s Italy’s  pasta, Spain’s churros, or Asia’s curry, the tastes of our destinations stick with us. Like an old song, we seek out those forgotten flavors in hopes of recreating our experiences abroad. But no matter how great the corner bakery may be,  it’s just never the same as snagging a market baguette in Paris, is it? Not.Even.Close.

Instead of paying oodles to try (and fail) to recapture what you ate while abroad at an American restaurant, I suggest making it yourself.

When I was in Rome, I had the unique opportunity to take a weekend cooking class with a few other students through my host institution, the Lorenzo de Medici. Our chef/teacher/guru was Giordano Franci, a professor at LdM Tuscania campus. He was trained in Rome, Paris, Munich, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and probably a hundred more places I could only dream of. He was a real professional and a great teacher. We started with ingredient preparation and ended with true, Italian-style pasta, complete with homemade pesto, steak, and  mustard sauce garnish. I used to frequently over-cook my steak. Now I can tell when it’s done with one touch. We learned how to properly present a meal and the importance pairing wine with the flavors of a dish. It was perfect.

I always say that learning is the best souvenir one can bring home. Instead of trying to describe how awesome that pasta was, I was able to come home and make it for my family. They got a small taste of Italy through me, and they loved every bite! Whether you are practiced in cooking, or brand new to the kitchen, I encourage anyone to take at least one cooking course while abroad.

Now whenever I start to feel nostalgic about Italy, I don’t have to rely on the sub-par spaghetti bolognese from an over-priced restaurant. Instead, I whip out my noodles, boil some water, and get to work. Taste aside, the cooking brings it all back.

Giordano's Class