Keep Your Memories Clear: Curating Your Time Abroad

Guest Blogger: Matt Boyce, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office

Try to imagine yourself in five years… Maybe you’re working on completing a graduate degree; maybe you’re working a desk job in a office building; or maybe you’re volunteering for a cause that you care about. Regardless of what the future holds for you, you are out to dinner and traveling comes up in conversation, so naturally you talk about the AMAZING study abroad experience you had in college. When suddenly you realize something, all of those amazing memories that were once crystal clear are now a little fuzzy in your head.

Though some memories will stick with you forever, there are other details that might fade with time. What was that cute foreigner’s name you randomly had dinner with in Brussels? What was the name of that holiday that you celebrated in Tokyo that you had never heard of before? What was the name of that awesome beach you found on your weekend trip in Costa Rica? And if you’re anything like me – a detail oriented individual who probably drinks too much coffee and has an unnatural desire to get things right – this can drive you crazy.

Fortunately, as I learned, there are many easy ways to curate your time abroad making it easier to remember your experiences. Here’s a short list of simple ways you can undertake to keep your memories organized and alive long after you’re back home:

Blog or Journal

If you are blessed with a skilled pen, use it! You may remember small details of your weekend trip to Florence a month later, but in a year, the name of that awesome hole in the wall restaurant where you had a steak the size of your head (Buca dell’ Orafo in case anyone is wondering.. I would HIGHLY recommend it) might elude you. Whether it be in a personal journal or a study abroad blog, write it all down when it’s fresh in your head. Everything. Like, every last detail. It will help make your stories more interesting, your memories more fond, and the smiles that are a result that much bigger. It is worth the extra time and if anything else it gives you an excuse to sit at a cafe and soak in the culture and environment while probably enjoying something delicious.

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My favorite journaling spot from when I studied in South Caicos.

Start a Postcard Collection

This option is best if you plan on studying somewhere where you will also be doing a lot of traveling on your own. The idea is simple: you buy a postcard from every country or city you visit, date it, and write your favorite memories on the back (restaurants you ate at, sights you saw, people you met, etc). At the end of your trip you put the postcards in chronological order, punch a hole (or 2) in the corner, and tie them together. You’ll be left with a little book filled with cool pictures and fun memories.

Social Media

Social media has made it very easy to document your adventures and provides a dynamic space to share your story. The one thing to be cautious of is not being glued to your computer. Still, it is an easy option to thoughtfully engage your online community and friends, while making memories for yourself. Whether it be a recurring hashtag on Twitter (#LessonsLearnedinItaly or #AussieAdventures), starting a “Picture of the Day” album on Facebook (where you take and post a picture everyday with a little description of the picture), or unleashing the inner model in you and taking a picture of yourself doing the same pose (jumping into the air, a tribute to your sorority or fraternity, or with a certain artifact, the options really are endless. Whatever makes it memorable and meaningful for you is the best!

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When traveling in Europe, a friend and I took pictures of our feet in every location we visited.

Make an Awesome Video

This one takes some dedication and computer skills, but the end result is something that you will not only enjoy, but so will your family and friends. There are a number of devices out now from phones to GoPro cameras that make capturing videos easy, so throughout your time abroad, take as many short videos as you can. Think Ceilidh bands in an Irish pub, friends haggling with vendors in a Moroccan market, playing soccer with children in Quito, or even just footage of your plane touching down. You can use programs like iMovie (if you have a Mac), Adobe, or apps like Pinnacle Studio to edit them and create a masterpiece!

Start a Collection

This is probably the easiest way to physically keep your experiences with you because you’ll end up with a bunch of little mementos and tokens. Decide what you want to curate and stick with it. There are the “classics” like shot glasses, spoons, or pins but also a variety of other options, whether it be seashells from beaches you visit, currencies, bottle caps, or even sport jerseys. You can amass a collection of items that will bring back fond memories well after you arrive back home. One of my favorite collection ideas came from a friend who found a cool looking glass bottle and then layered sand or dirt from all of the places he visited (the finished product was pretty cool looking). The one thing I would caution is that collections can get big fast and nobody likes those overweight baggage fees.

How have you preserved your study abroad memories if you’ve been abroad? Or, if you’re going abroad soon, how do you plan to record your memories? Let us know in the comments section!

Unique & Unknown: Highlighting the Reasons to Consider Non-Traditional Locations

Guest Blogger: Matt Boyce, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office 

One morning, at the ripe young age of eleven, I waltzed into my family’s kitchen after reading an article in National Geographic for Kids and announced to my parents that I would one day bungee jump and study red pandas in the Australian outback. My mom, in all likeliness, gave me the “oh, that’s nice” treatment, and my dad distractedly pointed out that red pandas do not live in Australia, but kangaroos and wombats do, probably while drinking his coffee and working on the Chicago Tribune crossword puzzle. But that didn’t matter. For the rest of my preteen and teenage years the idea of me going to Australia in college captivated my mind. Despite me not knowing what I wanted to study in college, let alone where I wanted to go, whatever major and school I inevitably decided on would also have to be in Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth.

Now, flash forward 8 years. I am sitting next to a crackling bonfire on a beach, s’more stick in hand. My legs are sore after swimming against the strong afternoon currents that rip through pristine coral reefs a short boat ride away. The sounds of friends laughing and waves gently washing ashore surround me, and give the salty air a certain aesthetic ambiance. Several hours later I will retire to my makeshift bed, a yoga mat with a sweatshirt as a pillow, and fall asleep on the cool sand looking up at what seems like an infinite number of stars.

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But am I in the country that marsupials and Aussies call home? No. I am on South Caicos Island, the seventh largest of the Turks & Caicos Islands, an island archipelago lying southeast of the Bahamas. South Caicos, or more simply South (as the locals call it), is an island approximately 368,500 times smaller than the one that mesmerized my mind from the ages of twelve through nineteen. There are no opportunities to bungee jump, there is no outback, and there are no kangaroos. So what happened? Why did I change my mind? And more importantly, why did I “settle” for another experience?

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Studying abroad anywhere is something to be regarded highly. It takes a special kind of person to say, “yes, I want to leave all my friends and family behind and spend a significant amount of time in a different culture that I may or may not know anything about.” The mere thought terrifies some. But of the courageous students who do ultimately choose to study abroad, many do so in “traditional” locations: the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Australia. Despite this,  “non-traditional” regions like Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East present students with the chance to experience more meaningful interactions with communities and more personal growth. This was why I elected to go to South instead of Australia.

During my time on South Caicos I was able to conduct my own research, completely immerse myself in another culture, and grow immensely as an individual. When talking with friends back home who studied abroad, almost none of them can say that they bathed in the ocean due to a lack of fresh drinking water, caught sharks and turtles, or went cliff jumping. Still, even fewer can say that they explored a landing craft boat used in the Allied Forces D-Day invasion, got chased daily by wild dogs on morning runs, or accumulated 70+ mosquito bites in a single night. And none can claim to have befriended men that go by the names of “Juice” and  “Baby Blue,” go out in a nightlife culture dominated by the game of dominoes, or get invited into a home to enjoy a dinner of fried conch. As a result of my decision I was able to get exactly what I wanted from my study abroad experience: something unique and meaningful.

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So, without further ado, my (short list) of reasons to consider the non-traditional:

  1. Non-traditional destinations tend to provide unparalleled opportunities to accomplish academic, linguistic, professional goals, and encourage the development of unique skill sets.
  2. Students often have deeper, more comprehensive, appreciations for the local community they experience.
  3. Living in non-western cultures demands larger changes in attitude, perspective, and problem solving skills as a result of (generally) larger culture shock.
  4. There are considerable amounts of financial aid designated specifically to studying in non-traditional regions.
  5. Having studied abroad in a non-traditional location, students will stand out that much more in future interviews and applications as a result of their unconventional experience.

It is because of the above reasons that I don’t view my experience as “settling” at all. Honestly, I feel that had I done anything else I would have been “settling.” But then again, that is just me. I would like to emphasize that I don’t think a bad study abroad experience exists. And if you want to go backpacking through central Europe, or are majoring in Italian linguistics, then maybe a traditional experience would be better for you. But I would like to encourage you to stop and really think about what you want from your study abroad experience. I have a feeling that eleven-year-old me would be ok with replacing bungee jumping, the outback, and red pandas with cliff jumping, coral reefs, and green sea turtles.

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Adapting to New Traditions and Feeling at Home

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office 

The semester I spent studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden gave me the opportunity to experience the Swedish culture and many of its long lasting student traditions. Uppsala University is world renowned for its strong academics, bustling student-life and other unique characteristics which arguably make it the premier student town in all of Sweden.

DSC02861 One of the most important and cherished parts of the student culture at Uppsala are the “nations.” Now, let me explain. Think of a nation as a mix between a co-ed fraternity and a student union. The nations at Uppsala are named after the thirteen different regional parts of Sweden, or what us Americans would refer to as “counties.” It is entrusted upon the nations to plan a significant portion of the social activities that happen on campus. Each nation has many features, such as a pub, restaurant, a library with study rooms, a cafe with a daily discounted lunches and snacks for students, recreational clubs such as choirs, bands, sports, ski clubs, and a “dance club” night; in which usually the library of the nation building is transformed into a disco. DSC08700 Once you become a member of a nation, you receive a student ID card which gets you into all of the perks your nation has to offer. You might think “hm… that could be exclusive, because what if your friends are in nations different than yours?” But the great thing is, that though you might be a member of a specific nation, you are still allowed to attend any other nation’s club, pub, brunch, or other events. Membership is not mandatory for students, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t join one of these great organizations!

I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (SNerikes, for short), which is the oldest of the thirteen nations and medium in size, hosting around 2,000 members. My nation was quite popular amongst international students, and offered exciting perks such as a cozy pub, a photo club and a dance club on Tuesday nights. Unlike other nations, SNerikes is the only nation at Uppsala University in which the member, if of Swedish descent or nationality, must have a direct bloodline from that region to join! SNerikes was often referred to as “The Pink Castle” — because it truly looked like a pink castle.

During my time in Sweden, SNerikes provided me with many opportunities to get involved. I was even able to work as a waitress in their restaurant, which allowed me to become acquainted with more Swedish students and helped me strengthen intercultural skills when serving patrons. Joining this nation also let me experience a wide range of Swedish traditions and let me make some long lasting friendships. Essentially, being at SNerikes, made me feel at home. No matter what study abroad program you choose, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the local traditions, culture, and people of the host country. The important thing is to take advantage of those opportunities and deeply immerse yourself. I hope that discovering these qualities during your study abroad experience will also help make you feel at home.

Siesta: Fact or Fiction?

Guest Blogger: Jenny Aguayo, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office

Prior to venturing out on my journey to Spain, I had already begun to suspect that many of the preconceptions I had made about Spanish culture would result as myths, and I was more than ready to discover what things were true and what things weren’t. However, there was one particular thing that delightedly surprised me more than I’d expected.

My all time favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the Siesta. I was rather excited to become acquainted with this practice because I was such a “pro” at this back in the States. Or so I thought. All my life I thought the Spanish Siesta was just another way to say “nap time.” To my undoubted surprise, there is a lot more to the Spanish Siesta than napping.

Siesta is when the entire city shuts down and prepares for the apocalypse.

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Or, at least, it seems that way. Gates come down and stores are locked up to show that everyone’s gone home!

Siesta is a time during the day where everyone goes home for lunch aka “La Comida.” By “everyone” I really do mean everyone. Shops and businesses close down and schools arrange time for students to go home around 2pm. The purpose of the siesta is to uphold the traditional values of family togetherness. This value varies quite a bit in the States, but it’s interesting to see how family time is respected by the community as a whole throughout Spain. Siesta is a nationally respected tradition. It is more than break time; it is a time for families to come together and enjoy each others’ company.

As far as the napping portion of the siesta– that’s entirely optional. As I mentioned before,  siesta is about spending time with family, but people also take the opportunity to rest before they continue their hard day’s work.

But for how much longer?

The Siesta culture is at risk of declination. As culture evolves, the practice varies across the country and is being reconsidered for continuation. For a really long time the 2-5pm allotment for siesta has been observed by businesses and for the most part is recognized by the government as part of daily function. Controversies are up in the air about whether or not Spain wants to readjust their norms of break times in the workforce. A lot of this has to do with the influence that American working culture has on the world. Americans are known for being “workaholics” who don’t take breaks and prioritize work over spending time with family. Nonetheless, it is because of these driven qualities of our working culture that we have such a strong economy. Spain’s economy, who is currently not doing so well, might be considering making some adjustments by modeling some behaviors after the United States’.

I was pretty amazed to learn about all the dynamics that go into this aspect of Spanish culture. It was one of the many ways that I discovered that there is always more than meets the eye!

A Study Abroad Adventure in Havana, Cuba

Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brown

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Beautiful Havana, Cuba on warm afternoon.

For my first study abroad experience, I participated in a 4-week faculty-led program to Havana, Cuba during the summer.The program was led by Professor Nils Jacobsen of the Department of History at the University of Illinois. After speaking with my dad and cousin about their rewarding and inspiring encounters in Cuba two years ago, I immediately signed up for the program which took place this past May – June. My study abroad program was the first time the University of Illinois ever sponsored an academic journey to the beautiful island of Cuba! My experience there was incredibly eye opening, and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m so glad I was able to take part in.

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Enjoying the nature of Havana

A special thing I got to do while in Cuba was visit the First Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Havana – or La Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada de Havana - where my cousin and dad stayed during their journey. I visited the church a total of 3 times, bringing a friend from my abroad group with me on the last visit as he’s very involved with religion and was eager to attend a Presbyterian service somewhere other than the United States. During the first visit, I was warmly welcomed by the Pastor of the church, Hector Mendez, who is now a close friend of my family. It was so comforting to know someone who had a connection with my family while I was miles away from home.

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Taking in the historic sites of the city!

Throughout my church visits, I volunteered and gave away donations. I brought a suitcase full of items that we in the United States consider basic necessities but were in high demand at the church where so many turn for help. Items included toothbrushes, toothpaste, Tylenol, aspirin, and feminine products. Through donations and visits, I was able to give back to a community that has taught me so much. I am so grateful that the University decided to offer a trip to Cuba and would highly recommend this program to others!

Oh the Places You’ll Go with SAO (Study Abroad Office)!

Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office 

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A student’s view of one of the gorgeous beaches of Australia

Next to the return of the coveted Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks, acceptance letter season for the winter break 2014 and spring 2015 semester study abroad programs is my favorite time of year! The September 15, 2014 deadline has passed and many of our exceptional applicants have been eagerly opening their e-mails to find congratulatory messages of their acceptance to their study abroad program of choice!

But what about those of us who recently found out about the incredible opportunities at the study abroad office but missed the deadline to go abroad this year? Lucky for you the Study Abroad Office is all about making sure every interested student has the opportunity to go abroad and gain a well-rounded education. There are several exceptional programs that have extended their deadlines in faculty-led programs for Winter Break 2014-15 or Summer of 2015.

Winter Break 2014-15:

Rehabilitation 199: Rehabilitation in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Extended Application Deadline: September 29

Advertising 399/500: Advertising Across Borders – Consumerism in the Dominican Republic. Extended Application Deadline: September 29

Anthropology 445: Primate Behavior, Ecology, Ecosystem Sustainability and Conservation in Costa Rica. Extended Application Deadline: October 1

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Students enjoying the delicious offerings of the rainforest in Costa Rica!

For students who prefer the summer term for study abroad, there plenty of additional options for faculty-led courses abroad:

Summer 2015:

Advertising 399: Branding Italian Cuisine: Rome. Application Deadline: October 29, 2015

English 274/African American Studies 298: Literature & Society: Slavery and Identity in Benin. (The English 274 section counts for Gen Ed credit!) Application Deadline: December 1

Programs with a February 1, 2015 Deadline:

Global Studies 298: Conflict and Post-Conflict Resolution, Cyprus
Art History 460: Introduction to Museology: Paris
Media & Cinema Studies 364: Food Networks: Media, Technology & Sustainability in Sweden
Education Policy 590 SAX: Refugees and Education in the Mediterranean, Malta & Sicily

Please check the SAO website (www.studyabroad.illinois.edu) to view more available programs and find your home away from home today!

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Students enjoying a crisp fall morning in front of Notre Dame in Paris, France.

Summer Sweet: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

In the last of our Summer Recipes series, we steal this delicious recipe from Rahul Panchal’s blog:

Who knew that Jamie Oliver, better known for his nutritional revolutions and healthy cooking movement, would have such a devilishly indulgent recipe up his sleeve? Then again, being British, it would be a shame for him not to have a good recipe for sticky toffee pudding. Addicting to the core, my friend gobbled down three helpings of this stuff in one sitting! With that said, let’s quickly run through the basics and get to this recipe! I guarantee that you that the tray will be wiped clean before you can even swing by for seconds!

In England, pudding is a generic term given to describe many things dessert-like, not just the custardy stuff that most people are used to. Therefore, sticky toffee pudding is essentially a quick-baking cake made primarily of dried dates. Even though they are madly delicious on their own, dried dates add sweetness, bulk, and such a wonderful moistness to this pudding that you’ll be questioning why you don’t have a date farm in your backyard. Cinnamon adds a characteristic flavor that makes this reminiscent of a spice cake, while ovaltine adds a slight malty note in the background.

After the pudding (or cake if you are looking for a more American description) is baked, it is soaked in a wicked awesome toffee sauce, hence the name sticky toffee pudding. The sauce is also superbly easy to make. It’s a simple reduction of cream, butter, and brown sugar. Even though the recipe asks for unsalted butter, I actually went ahead and used salted butter, and believe me, it was probably one of the best decisions that I had made in a while. Using salted butter allows you to offset the sweetness from the sugar, which sometimes can be cloying, especially if you plan on consuming it in liberal amounts (as you must do with this recipe). It also doesn’t hurt to mention that Denmark happens to have some of the best butter in the world, so naturally I try to use it whenever I get the chance! However, regardless of where you live, and whether or not you actually like to bake, please, please, please give this recipe a try! It will have addicted to this new realm of quick-cooking deserts in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ve already made this twice!

Recipe: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Adapted Slightly from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

  • 225 grams fresh or dried dates, pitted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 85 grams salted butter, softened
  • 170 grams sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons ovaltine powder
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt

For the Toffee Sauce:

  • 115 grams salted butter
  • 115 grams light or dark brown sugar
  • 140 ml heavy cream

Method

1. In a medium-sized bowl, cover the dates with about 1 cup of boiling water. Allow the dates to soak for a couple of minutes and then drain. Puree the dates in a food processor or blender until they are smooth.

2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until the mixture is pale in color. Then add the eggs, flour, ovaltine, cinnamon, and baking soda. Mix the batter together until everything is well incorporated. Then fold in the pureed dates and the yogurt. Pour the batter into a greased, ovenproof dish and bake for about 35 minutes, ’til a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

3. While the pudding is baking, make the toffee sauce. Combine the butter, brown sugar, and heavy cream in a small saucepan, and heat the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, reduced, and darkened to a rich brown color.

4. Serve the pudding hot out of the oven scooped out into plates with a generous pouring of the hot toffee sauce. No ice cream or whipped cream is needed. Just the pure pudding, toffee sauce, a spoon, and a happy person to eat it. Enjoy!

Choosing a Program: Finding and Creating a Home

Guest Blogger: Amanda Toledo

On the cover of a journal my mom bought me, there’s a George Bernard Shaw quote that reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about Creating yourself.” Cheesy as inspirational-quote journals may be, I like the sentiment, although I think that life is more a mixture of both seeking and creating. Deciding which study abroad program to go on is no less challenging for some than deciding which university to go to or what to major in. Many students enter the Resource Room knowing they want to go abroad but not knowing where in the world they’d like to go. Program Assistants work to assist these students in finding what works best for them academically as well as personally. When you’re going abroad, whether for a short-term program, a semester, or an entire year, the fact remains that wherever you go, you are creating a home away from home.

Leeds City Centre

When assisting students I often use myself as an example, calling myself a city kid. Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, when I moved to the actual city in high school, I found that the vibrant, swift, and busy life of a city suited me more than slower, mellower pace of  suburban Illinois. When looking for study abroad options, I knew that living in a city would be integral for me. Like most students I’ve spoken with over the past two years, my first thought when it came to England was London. When investigating the programs in London, I discovered there weren’t any options in my price range at the time.

It required more research then, to look up what other English cities the study abroad office had programs in, and which offered classes in my major. I decided on Leeds, the third largest city in England. Of the city options, I chose Leeds because when looking through their class catalogue (“modules” instead of “classes” in the UK) I found a class that sounded interesting to me: an upper level course on the history of witchcraft in literature. In the end, it was a balanced decision between location and academics that landed me on a place I’d someday feel intense homesickness for.

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Gigantic Chess matches in the City Centre

 

 

Leeds gave me my fill of a city, but it also gave me the new experience of a walking city. In between classes and homework and day trips to different locations around the United Kingdom, I’d spend my time wandering down the cobblestoned streets of city centre; passing through the Arcades, stopping in at the (free!) museums and art galleries. As the weather grew warmer, I took the fifty minute walk from my flat to city centre instead of the ten minute bus ride, seeing rolling hills turn into the pubs, shops, and panini places that became familiar and comforting to me over the sixth months I lived there. A fifteen minute walk in the opposite direction from my flat landed me at the ruins of a monastery, towering into the sky, beautiful and stoic in its gorgeous park setting.

The ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey Ruins

This is not to say that life in Leeds was without its struggles, but through those struggles and those delights, I created someone confident, someone who relished the independence of exploring a museum with only herself and the art for company. I created a home away from my family and everything I knew, and discovered the power in that.

At the end of my semester, my mom came to visit for a week. Although her flight got delayed a day, and I really ought to have met her in London (where most of our week together had been planned), I insisted she come to Leeds, even just for the first afternoon. London is my favorite place in the world, it’s thrilling and beautiful on a grander scale than you can imagine, and I would love to live there someday, but Leeds was my home.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake at Cupackes by Charley in the city centre

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake from Cupackes by Charley

I knew the best place to take my mom for fish and chips, I knew all the flavors at the local cupcake shop, and which ones to recommend; I knew Leeds.

I can honestly say I have only met one or two people that did not like their programs abroad. Most people feel about their cities the way I feel about Leeds, whether they picked a setting they knew they liked, or chose something that was perhaps out of their comfort zone, but an exciting challenge. I’ve heard students wax nostalgic about their host families, or excitedly recount their adventures of their host countries. Any program abroad will be a mixture of finding and creating a place for yourself in the world; but it’s a journey worth taking.

Begin your journey now! The deadline for this Winter Break programs and Spring semester programs is September 15th.

Exchange Program Spotlight: Quito, Ecuador

Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish

Located in the capital city of Ecuador, the SAO Exchange program at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito has a lot to offer students looking to study abroad. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Quito is just south of the equator and located in an Andean valley surrounded by mountainous peaks. Otavalo Market, Pleasant Radford, ECUThe city offers a unique blend of modern practices and old world traditions. Most notably is the historical center or ‘old town,’ that is defined by its colonial splendor and indigenous character. Similarly, Quito offers a wide range of activities that appeal to all types of students. You can grab a meal in Otavalo Market, go river rafting, hike one of the surrounding mountains, or participate on a city tour.

 

The program includes four excursions that are planned for the students, giving them a chance to explore the country of Ecuador while abroad. The excursions include day trips to surrounding lakes and nature areas, a trip to the Papallacta hot springs, and a weekend trip to the pristine tropical rainforest, Puerto Quito. Transportation, housing, and meals on these excursions are already covered in the program fees, so students can travel and explore in ease.

Quilotoa Group pic

 

The program at Universidad San Francisco de Quito is direct enroll, meaning the students participating on this program can take any class available at the university. This gives University of Illinois students the opportunity to interact with other international and Ecuadorian students in their classes. A majority of the classes offered aretaught in Spanish, thus making this program a great fit for student looking to get credit for Spanish classes abroad. This program also offers unique opportunities for students to get involved volunteering within the Ecuadorian community. Volunteer projects students have participated on in the past include: environmental protection, women’s shelters, orphanages, public schools and hospitals.

service learning group, ECU

With so many unique experiences to offer students, Universidad San Francisco de Quito may be the best place for you to live, explore, and develop via cultural immersion and stimulating academia. For more information on this program go to Quito Program Page or come in a talk to a Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office!

 

Another Summer Snack: Qubani ka Meetha

Guest Blogger: Rahul Panchal

I spent the summer as a research intern working at a diagnostics lab in Hyderabad, a bustling metropolis in Southern India. I won’t bother sharing all the work-related details here because you can find them on another specially dedicated blog I wrote to document the experience, Andhra-Style: My Life in Hyderabad. Do give it a read if you want to know more about me! I think I was able to make some pretty gritty and introspective realizations about my life at the time.

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The cramped work area where I conducted my experiments

One thing worth sharing are the contradictory emotions. While I was in Hyderabad, I was faced with a culture that was familiar, yet so alien at the same time. There were many days were I felt lonely, bored, and just wanted to fly back home.

Is it weird though now, to say that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad? I miss those rain splattered walks through work along Abid Road, through the full blown sensory assault that would greet me everyday. The incessant sound of cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles honking their horns, the endless flow of humanity spilling onto the streets, the smell of the frying oil wafting away in the mornings from little vada and dosa stalls, the uncomfortable splashes of mucky water, swept up from roadside puddles, seeping into my shoes. I miss the lab, all cramped up in that small and windowless space,  full of the incessant chitter-chatter of my coworkers in rapid Telugu. I miss my initially feeble, but eventually triumphant attempts at speaking Hindi and trying to be more “Indian”.

Hyderabad’s Finest: the Famed Chicken Biryani at Shadaab Restaurant

For obvious reasons, I miss the food the most: waking up to an arrangement of fried goodies and peppery hot masala chai, gulab jamuns and puffy-hot pooris every Tuesday at the workplace cafeteria, spending the weekends at Lakshmi Aunty’s house, where I was reacquainted with her simple, yet heavily satisfying cuisine after so many years, and the biryani, oh, oh, oh do I miss that biryani. Juicy chunks (or legs) of chicken or mutton (goat) layered between intensely aromatic basmati rice and served with a peanut and coconut gravy known as salan, I could probably go on for posts about its uniqueness and how I will never be able to replicate this true Hyderabadi delicacy in my home. That makes me sad because most biryanis found here in the States or really anywhere outside Hyderabad for that matter, just cannot compare. What’s Andhra stays Andhra.

Fortunately, there are some Hyderabadi treats which I can prepare within the confines of my small, apartment kitchen. Best of all, this little dish is chock full of one my all time favorite snack foods, dried apricots. Where my love affair with these bright orange gems began is not hard to trace. I would go through almost a bag a day back in Denmark, for they were both cheap and a good way to hold over the hunger until the next meal. When I learned that one of Hyderabad’s trademark sweets features dried apricots as the key ingredient, it became imperative that there was going to be no way that I would be leaving the city without having bowls aplenty, all to be licked down to the last bit of golden and sticky apricot goo.

Qubani ka Meetha, which translates to “apricot-sweet” in Urdu, the language of Hyderabad’s Muslim community, is a dessert straight out of the kitchens of the Nizams (old Muslim rulers) of Hyderabad, who would have most likely sourced the dried beauties from the eastern lands of Afghanistan and Iran. Today a staple at most Hyderabadi weddings, qubani ka meetha is enjoyed by all Indians alike, but if you want a truly authentic taste, you still have to venture into the old Muslim quarter of the city, across the dried up river bank, to grab a taste at famous eateries such as Shadaab, where I was able to grab a delicious mouthful.

Qubani ka Meetha in its original splendor, how I enjoyed it in Hyderabad

Simplicity is the essence of this dish for the simplest recipes only require a boiling down of dried apricots, water, and sugar, finished with apricot kernels and a spoon of malai (clotted cream). Thus the quality and more so type of product, specifically the apricot, really factors into the final taste of this dish. In India most, if not all dried apricots, are unsulphured, meaning that they are not treated with sulfur dioxide to give them that bright orange color. They have a different taste, one that is often sweeter and more earthy. Furthermore, the pits are left in, and the utilization of the kernels within, little seeds that resemble almonds, both in terms of taste and appearance, provide the element of crunch. As sweets in India are usually only reserved for special occasions, Indian cooks typically show no restraint with the sugar, so during both instances in which I hadQubani in Hyderabad, they were cloyingly sweet, a taste that was only tempered by stirring in some of the malai. 

While I loved the Qubani ka Meetha with all its realness at Shadaab, this became one of the few dishes were I felt that I could actually make it, dare I say better, with the usage of American ingredients back home. There were naturally some big changes I had to make. Firstly, that the dried apricots we get in the US are the more familiar brightly orange-tinted Turkish varieties, which for me, have oddly enough always bursted with a fruity reminiscence of the fresh fruit. Secondly, as these apricots come without the pits, I decided to substitute this textural element by stirring in some toasted almonds. Also, as making malai usually requires long hours spent over the stove, boiling milk down and  stirring it continuously, I opted for serving with vanilla ice cream instead because as a busy and overworked college student, I ain’t got time to replicate all of my ancestral ways. The change I am the most proud of though, is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds.

A key flavor in almost all Indian desserts, cardamom is used as often in India as vanilla is in the US, but the two don’t taste anything the same, save for their floral aromas. Lusty, jammy, and full of the warm aromas of an Indian childhood (thanks to my buddy cardamom), the flavors of Qubani ka Meetha will have you missing it as soon as you finish your first bowl. Good thing, I made it again last weekend.

Recipe: Qubani ka Meetha

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried apricots, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
  • 6 crushed cardamom pods, optional
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving

Method:

  1. Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
  2. Pour the apricots with the water (it should have a nice orange color) into a heavy bottom sauce pan with the crushed cardamom pods. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
  4. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.

Cooking Notes:

  • If you want your Qubani to mimic both the taste and appearance of the Hyderabadi original, try using unsulphured apricots instead of the conventional Turkish kind. Also there are a good deal of Indian grocery stores that carry Indian apricots as well. These may be complete with the pits and will naturally lend you the most authentic flavor.
  • Qubani ka Meehta can also be served with a vanilla custard, creme anglaise, unsweetened whipped cream, or Greek yogurt.
  • My new favorite way to use Qubani ka Meetha is by featuring it as a cake filling. Use your favorite yellow cake recipe, place a thick layer of the Qubani between the layers, and frost with a cardamom whipped cream. It is guaranteed to blow the minds of your guests. It sure did for mine :)!

Find more of Rahul’s recipes and stories at his blog, Cooking Fever

 

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