Traveling Europe while Abroad

Studying abroad in Florence, Italy was a remarkable travel experience in itself. However, due to ample amount of time overseas and yearning to explore, I decided with conscious pre-planning and budgeting to set sail from my home away from home in Florence and discover new cultures in the European countries of Greece, Spain, and France.

My first adventure began with an overnight cruise to the island of Corfu, Greece. My friends and I booked the trip with the #1 European Travel Company Bus2alps, and had a memorable time on their planned excursion. During my time in Greece I jumped the waves in the Ionian Sea, devoured one too many gyros, and even attempted to learn a traditional Greek celebratory dance, key word- attempted.

Next on my travel list was a sporadic trip to Barcelona, Spain.  Two friends and I decided to book a flight with Ryan Air to what later became my favorite visited country outside of Italy.  My first stop in Barcelona was the warm beach on the Mediterranean Sea, followed by a night of shopping down the city’s most famous streets, “Las Ramblas.” While making my way through the city I viewed the enchanting Sagrada Família Cathedral, and thankfully discovered the Spanish delicacy, Paella, which quickly became my new favorite dish!

Before my time abroad came to an end, friends and I booked one last excursion to the French Riviera. Our primary bus stop was to the popular city of Nice, where I admired oceanic views as well as inspiring French couture. In between our destinations, my friends and I took a train ride to Monte Carlo, Monaco to gamble at the world famous Monte Carlo Casino, which consequently was a loss in euros, but a gain in wonderful memories! My journey ended in the city of Cannes, where movie stars around the world gather for the annual film festival.

These three trips fulfilled my experience abroad, and allowed myself to come home a more adventurous, knowledgeable, and cultured individual. Traveling while studying abroad is a factor I am most grateful to have experienced, and has inspired me to voyage to other new and intriguing destinations in my future.


[Guest post]: The first 48 hours

chicago ohare airport

Jocelyn @ the O’Hare airport .. rocking our shirt!


Jocelyn Swanson is a junior Foreign Language Major concentrating in Spanish, with a Music Minor at EIU. She has just kicked off her fall semester at Malaca Instituto in Malaga, Spain.

You can keep up with her this semester via her blog:

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
– Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies, and in my experience of leaving the United States and entering Spain, I felt the same as Dorothy. This was my first time leaving the country and I had only flown once round trip, so I had no idea what to expect. Saying goodbye to my parents was hard, and I didn’t know what to do going through security, so I asked random strangers questions. I was lucky and met people along the way who answered my questions, and I met someone who helped me navigate the Madrid Airport, which was a relief!

To be honest, I expected that customs would be a lot more difficult, but all I had to do was hand over my passport and boarding pass. They looked at it and then stamped it. I had documentation and multiple copies, but didn’t have to use it.

malaca instituto

View from Malaca Instituto

The challenges started when I arrived in Málaga. Going to three different carousels to find my luggage, not understanding the people, and trying to find a payphone to call my mom was exhausting. My first experience of the city was getting lost in 80 degree weather wearing jeans, a hoodie, and hauling around a 40lb suitcase and 25lb backpack, but I managed to get to where I needed to go. I took a bus from the airport and got off a stop too early. Luckily my experiences since then have been better!

I felt really insecure about my speaking skills at the beginning. I hadn’t spoken Spanish for about 3 months since coming home for the summer. Trying to navigate was overwhelming—I felt like I didn’t belong and couldn’t communicate. But a couple days with my host family helped immensely, and my skills have picked up so much since. It’s truly amazing how studying a language in its native country helps to learn it!

airport view

best way to catch a sunset: by plane

One of the most annoying things was that the banks are only open from 8:30-2:45ish. I had brought cash to exchange but I slept 17 hours my first night here, waking up at 4pm. I could only sleep one hour on the plane. Because I was busy, it took me 6 days to finally get to the bank while it was open. I have to admit that I am still adjusting to the food—I’ve had some appetite issues and have been trying to stick to familiar food. I have visited the same Italian restaurant 4 times since being here, though. I’m a sucker for pizza!

Being in Spain hasn’t gone exactly as I’ve expected, but one thing is for sure: I am falling more in love with the language than I thought possible!

malaga mountains

Mountains outside of Malaga

Mil gracias, Jocelyn 🙂

[Guest Post] Everyday abroad: Carnaval del Toro

Everyone was dressed up in different costumes. I saw a cat, even a tomato. The air was filled with excitement.  After all, it was Carnaval del Toro! We meandered through the streets, admiring the festivities and costumes, and eventually saw the fences in the distance. We headed in that direction and found a spot on the fence. The bulls would be running by any minute!


The Carnaval del Toro run isn’t nearly as large as the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona each summer, but it was exhilarating none-the-less. Before  we knew it, the bells were ringing to announce that bulls were in the streets. Five of my friends were standing in the road across the fence from us, ready to face the beasts. As the bulls got closer, the bells started ringing louder and faster. It wasn’t long until we could see the herd and even hear their footsteps. My friends’ eyes were full of terror. In a flash they took off running with hearts beating out of their chests. In a matter of seconds, both my friends and the bulls were gone.

Once the running was over we walked down the street to meet up with the rest of our group. Luckily, everyone made it and none of the bulls got out of control. Overall the Carnaval del Toro in Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain was a wonderful cultural experience. Hands down, it was a great way to kick off the ending of my college career since I’ll be graduating in May!

Elisha Alto is a senior Spanish major studying abroad at the Universidad de Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain this spring.

From Our House to Yours

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our coordinator, Kelly, shares a memory of a particularly festive Thanksgiving celebrated abroad in Seville, Spain.

This time two years ago, I had a naked turkey between my feet on the ride home from school. It was in a plastic bag, but that was all that was shielding Turkey Tom from the elements and my sneakers.

It was so heavy. I had wheeled and dealed with the secretary at our school in Bollullos, who promised he could secure a turkey for me in time for our Thanksgiving feast (difficult to do in Spain). Our conversation was like something from Abbott & Costello.
– You want it cleaned?
– Yes, please clean it.
– Everything out?
– Yes, yes .. everything out.
– But you want the whole bird?
– Yes, the whole thing … empty.
– You want to kill it yourself?
– … WHAT?

I didn’t take him up on the offer, but surely did deliver a turkey to my apartment just a few days before Thanksgiving. Plucked? Yes.. except for those horrible little downy feathers that stuck to our fingers. Cleaned out? Yes.. except for the lungs that I discovered while skyping with my mom. My roommate Alex towering over my shoulder, angling my laptop just so. “Mom, there’s squishy stuff near the ribs.” “Take everything out.” “What the hell is it?” “I don’t know, but you have to take it out.”

There was a package from home, bearing the perfect late November gifts my roommates & I had been craving: McCormick gravy mix, cranberry sauce, Stove Top stuffing. We struck a deal with our group of teachers, and agreed to potluck the side dishes that make the meal. Some comedy ensued when we found ourselves without specific ingredients. Namely, pastel-colored marshmallows instead of basic white, on top of the sweet potatoes.

In the end our table seats fifteen, mostly Americans, with a Spanish couple in the mix. The end result was beautiful. A heavily laden table, a room full of happy, hungry friends and Spanish wine from our guests. We said our own form of grace, introducing our Spanish friends to the simple tradition of saying what you’re thankful for. Me? I was just glad I didn’t have to kill that turkey myself!



Home Away from Home: Living Abroad

January 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, exhausted. Lunch has been a veritable tennis match. My new host family is crowding around the table, peeling apples and gesturing with their hands, speaking at top volume. They’re speaking Spanish. Thickly accented, rapid fire, Andalucian Spanish. I can’t translate fast enough. I thought I spoke this language?

March 5, 2004. I sit back in my chair, laughing. After telling a story about my day at school, my señora has called me out. “Do you remember the day you arrived?” she asks. “When I asked you if you spoke Spanish, you said si, un poquito. You were lying!” And there I am, with my own thick accent and rapid fire Spanish, gesturing to emphasize my every word. I’ve stopped translating; I speak this language.

May 31, 2004. I sit back in the cab, exhausted. The cab driver keeps an eye on me in the rearview mirror as we circle the block. I can hardly see, my eyes are nearly swollen shut from crying so hard. My breath is hitching and I am apologizing, stumbling over the words. As I take a deep breath and try to steady myself to unfold myself from the car, he turns to me and says, “Don’t worry, hija, you’ll come back. They always do.”

And he’s right.

Where will I live? This is one of the most popular questions from students when deciding where to study abroad. The answer: It depends. Many programs offer both on and off-campus housing: residence halls, shared apartments or host family placement, while other traveling programs may include lodging in hotels or hostels.

While in the US, students often choose to live off-campus for the freedom it provides, bypassing on-campus living for an apartment with friends. Some may skip the host family option out of concern for that same freedom. You moved out of your parent’s house on purpose, after all.

In my position, I have yet to see the “end result” of my choice to live with a host family. The relationship that started at that table in 2004 continues today, through Facebook and emails, right up to my host sister’s wedding this past June. When I left the U.S. as a 20-year old, I was hoping for a chance to practice my Spanish, a comfortable place to rest my head and maybe a recipe or two from my señora. What I received far exceeded those expectations, and shaped my interactions with Spain in an immeasurable way.