The 3 Most Important Things I Learned from Study Abroad Without Realizing It

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

When I was really little, I used to think that if I ate the cheese that hangs off the end of a piece of pizza I would choke to death and die. Fortunately, I was wrong. When I was a little older I believed that I if I lost a tooth, a little, magic fairy would come and replace it with a dollar. A little more unfortunately I wrong about this too. I also thought that when my best friend and his family visited “Marco’s Island” they just knew some wealthy Floridian who owned his own island, because if you were in a position to own an island, why wouldn’t you name it after yourself. When I started dating my first girlfriend, I thought that dousing myself in AXE body spray would make me more attractive. And when she left me (probably because of how I smelled), I was once again wrong. In high school, when I began to apply to colleges, I thought that there was no way I was going to end up going to school in the same state I’d grown up in. Then I ended up choosing the University of Illinois over schools in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and New York.

Going into my study abroad experience I thought that I was going to be learning a lot about fish, marine ecology, and conservation biology because I was going to be studying coral reef conservation and ecology. I soon learned that my study abroad experience was no different than melted cheese, the tooth fairy, “Marco’s Island,” girlfriends, and colleges because I was wrong yet again. Clearly I have been wrong about a lot in my life. Probably about everything at one time or another. And while it isn’t always fun, I hope this trend continues for the rest of my life because it is when you are wrong, and recognize it, that you learn the most. You learn without trying. You learn without realizing it. Being wrong means eating arguably the most delicious part of the pizza, recognizing that there are better ways to spend your money than on an island named after yourself, reaping the benefits of living close to home like only needing to drive for 3 hours to get home for Thanksgiving break, and learning about marine biology but also about yourself and life. Here are some of the important lessons I learned from studying abroad:


While painting the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo became ill, had to come down from the scaffold, and had the opportunity to view his work. He realized that much of the detail he was putting into his work was invisible to the eye from the floor below. As a result he changed how he did his work and the biblical scenes on the ceiling actually grow larger and less detailed as you look at them. Michelangelo saw the big-picture. Studying abroad will do the same to you. It allows you to see first hand how cultures mesh, what is unique to your culture, and what is universal to all cultures.  You realize that humans are mostly the same, with the same needs, desires, irritations, and goals. You realize that no matter how much you see, do, or learn there is always more — that with each new place you travel to there is so much more to the people, culture, and customs than you can even begin to fathom. You realize the necessity of looking at the world in a larger sense, broadening horizons, and refining your perspectives to allow you to turn your life into a masterpiece, just as Michelangelo did with the Sistine Chapel.


Not quite the Sistine Chapel, but a pretty darn good mural my friends and I painted on South Caicos.


Well that’s a bit harsh. I’m sure there are plenty of family, friends, and professors that care about you. But as college students at home, more often than not, we say hello to the same people, walk to class the same way, get coffee from the same coffee shop, and complain about the same classes. We fall into routines, that when you think about it are really rather boring, and lead to dumb ideals.  If you say “hi,” to that one girl you had chemistry lab with freshman year but she doesn’t say hi back, it’s just going to be awkward the next time you see her. Or if you slip on ice walking to class, well tough luck, you walk to class the same way every day and now you’re going to be “the guy who fell and ate it that one time” to everybody you walk past everyday. Really, truth be told, you’re probably better becoming a hermit and having Netflix marathons by yourself because you’re just a walking case of embarrassment. But while abroad, you can’t help but constantly embarrass yourself. Whether it’s trying to understand new accents and languages, or having friends laugh at you during moments of confusion, you will inevitably have a lot of awkward moments. The great thing is that you soon learn something important – literally nobody cares. Not now. Not in an hour. Not in a day. There is no one to impress or please. The vast majority of the the time, it’s just you, yourself, and your mind inventing stories. You realize that people are actually quite accepting and that you have no reason to not be exactly who you want to be.


One month, and too many embarrassing moments later this was where my new friends and I were at.


I’m fairly confident that it is impossible for children ages 5 through 10 not to lose their winter clothing. Coats, mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, take your pick, they almost always end up lost at some point. They then embark on a journey from playground, to oversized cardboard box, back to their rightful owner. When studying abroad people embark on journeys all the time. In the literal sense it may be to class, to that one bar with the really cheap beer after a tough exam, or on a weekend excursion with friends. In the figurative sense, they probably embark on a journey to “find themselves” or on some higher, personal quest. Still, that one email saying that lecture is in a different classroom will end up in the spam folder, you’ll forget which street to take a left on, or that shortcut you took will turn into a total inconvenience when trying to go on your mini vacation. By removing external influences — the overbearing advisor, the inquisitive parents, the peer-pressures of unsavory friends — you should gain an unprecedented clarity of your life and values and finally achieve that self-actualization you learned about in AP Psych senior year of high school, but just can’t seem to make it click. You end up confused, frustrated, and lost in uncertainty. But at some point you come to terms with this and you grow. You learn to listen for the announcement ahead of time in class, to ask for directions, or how to read a map. You learn to be analytic, open, and non-judgmental. You learn the important life skill of how to thrive in uncertainty. You learn how to be lost and found.


I could have sworn we were supposed to take a right on Fort St…

Why Studying Abroad Matters — And How It Can Change You

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

Studying abroad is considered to be one of the most important experiences a student can have in their academic career. Studying abroad provided me with three fundamental things which I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else. During my study abroad semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I gained new perspectives and embarked on many adventures, befriended people from all over the world and upon my return, it even opened doors for me in my desired career path.

Studying Abroad Makes You A Global Citizen 

Taking on the challenge of immersing yourself in a different country and a different culture is no easy feat. Before I arrived in Sweden I researched the country’s culture and lifestyle and discovered it was significantly different from that of the United States. The divergence of societal gender roles, the importance of coffee (fika) breaks, and the relaxed yet independent academic atmosphere were just a few of the things I had to get used to. But, I welcomed this adjustment and soon enough I was living like a true Swede.

During my time in Uppsala, I engaged in thoughtful and stimulating conversations with my classmates which helped me gain new international perspectives. I discovered the importance of being knowledgable about other countries and their cultures, instead of only focusing on the United States. Of course, I  also taught my peers about my Dominican and American cultures, usually through food and pop culture. Recognizing how extraordinary the world is can help you — and others, see things in a completely different light.

Due to these new discoveries, I became excited about exploring Sweden and Europe as a whole. While in Europe, I traveled to 10 different countries and I had some of the most memorable adventures of my life. While on a trip to Swedish Lapland, which is above the Arctic Circle, I went dogsledding and snowmobiling in the frozen tundra, visited the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, saw the Norwegian Fjords, visited a Sami reindeer farm, went for a dip in a frozen lake and saw the Northern Lights. And that was just on one excursion. These are things I would have never dreamed of doing, but because I chose to embark on the adventure that is studying abroad, I now have a myriad of stories to tell about these one-of-a-kind experiences.


Studying Abroad Connects You with People From All Over The World 

One of my most cherished achievements from my study abroad semester are the relationships I formed with the people I studied with. Uppsala University boasts one of the most populous student exchange programs in Sweden and welcomes 300+ exchange students per semester from all over the world. In those six months, I befriended people from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Morocco, Belgium, Singapore, Australia, Peru, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden and many other countries. Not only did these people become my friends, but they became my study abroad family. We laughed together, traveled together, cooked together and sled down snowy hills together. We got to know each other on a deeper level because we were all embarking on this international adventure together. As a group, we developed an unbreakable bond. These connections would have been unattainable to me if I hadn’t studied abroad.

Though we are unable to see each other as frequently as we used to, we Skype regularly, chat through Facebook and WhatsApp, and visit each other whenever we get the chance! It’s the people that make the experience and they have impacted me significantly because of the time we spent together in Uppsala.

Just think, of all the people you could meet while on study abroad…


Studying Abroad Can Open New Doors In Your Desired Career 

As a political science and communication double major, culture and international relations are of special interest to me. While searching for summer internships last fall in the field of international affairs, I began to consider how I would convey my study abroad experience on my internship applications. First, I added it to the top of my resume and included a couple of bullet points about the courses I took. While writing the essays for my applications, I knew that I had to express how I had been transformed by studying abroad and how it helped shape me academically, professionally and most of all; personally. I discussed my experience in Sweden, my travels, and how learning about different cultures and their politics from my peers deepened my interest in international affairs. I firmly believe that this part of my application is what set me apart from other candidates and it’s what can set you apart when applying to your dream job or internship. Studying abroad not only demonstrates adaptability, but it shows employers that you can work successfully in a diverse environment and that you can be challenged by the unknown and still succeed.

Just like that, study abroad helped me land my DREAM internship at the United Nations in New York City.


So, why aren’t you taking advantage of this great opportunity? Illini Go Places! The Study Abroad Office provides over 400 programs in 60+ countries, and I just know there’s one out there for you. Pay a visit to the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building) this week, chat with a Program Assistant and discover how you, too can be transformed by studying abroad in more ways than one!

Eskerrik Asko, Euskadi

Guest Blogger: Lauren Andraski

I didn’t title my post with easily translatable Spanish, but with a few words in Basque, that translate to “Gracias, País Vasco” or “Thank you, Basque Country.” I could not have asked for a better place or better people to spend our first vacation with. Our original attempt to plan our trip for Semana Blanca was in vain, and kept changing from Barcelona to Florence to Nice to Bologna…until we finally asked our program director for advice, who suggested we go to Bilbao and San Sebastian. At that point, we were so frustrated with booking tickets that he could have suggested going to the US and we almost would have considered it.

Luckily, the US was not his suggestion and luckily we were willing to put up with an 11 hour bus ride to the northern-most part of Spain. We knew that we would spend the first part of the week in Bilbao, but feared going to San Sebastian because we heard news of intense waves and flooding on the news. When we would ask a Spaniard, they told us how terrifying the weather was only before proceeding to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. While in our hostel in Bilbao, the receptionist (probably the 9th person we had solicited advice from) reassured us that it was in fact very safe to travel there. Our minds were put at ease and we couldn’t be more excited to explore the basque country region!



Almost everyone says that the only reason to visit Bilbao is to see the Guggenheim Museum (pictured above). Despite only seeing it from the outside, we were perfectly content with the rest of our trip there. The first morning, I did my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling. I got ready early so that I could sneak away for my very necessary coffee (yes, I have an addiction. Let’s not talk about that). I like wandering around a new town and peering in coffee shops and wading through the ones that are too crowded and too barren until I find the one that is just right. There, I can strike up a conversation with the barista and ask for their suggestions of the best things to do in town.

San Sebastian


San Sebastian has to be one of the best places I have ever visited.  World famous for its cuisine and lovely beach, I would recommend a trip here to anyone.  Though surely the beaches are nicer in the summer, they are also likely more crowded.


As promised, our friend from Bilbao invited us out with her friends for pintxos (pictured above) and drinks, where they introduced us to the term “bote,” which is where every person contributes a small amount of money in order to buy larger plates of food instead of individual servings.  They also introduced us to the term “sobre la marcha,” which essentially translates to “play it by ear,” which was exactly what we did.  We would wander around, see something pretty, sit and stare at it for half an hour, and do it again. 

Everything in San Sebastian was wonderful. We stayed at a wonderful pension, Pension Goiko, where we met wonderful travelers, cooked wonderful food (eggplant and spinach pasta, to be exact), and spent time with wonderful people.

6 Terrifyingly Fun Halloween Traditions Around the World


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

Ghouls, ghost and candy, oh my! The leaves are slowly drifting off of their branches and every movie trailer seems to have the ultimate goal of making us jump towards the ceiling. I for one realize this can only mean one thing…Halloween is upon us! In honor of the beloved holiday the staff at the Study Abroad Office loves exploring how various countries celebrate holidays with their own unique spin and we believe you will too. I promise this is not a trick so enjoy the treat, check out these Halloween traditions from around the world without leaving your seat!

Did you know Celtic Ireland is considered to be the birthplace of Halloween? Similar to the United States, the Irish celebrate the holiday with costumes, trick-or-treating, and parties. At some of the festivities a game called “snap apple” is played where an apple is tied to the framework of a door or a tree and the players attempt to bite the hanging apple!

What do bread, water, and a lit lamp have in common? A Halloween tradition in Austria! In this country some locals will leave those three items on a table before bed and consider it a way to welcome back the dead souls to the earth.

Teng Chieh is the Halloween festival in China. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed while bonfires and lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night.


Czech Republic:
At nightfall on Halloween several chairs are placed by the fireplace; one chair is used to commemorate each family member and one chair is used to commemorate each family member’s spirit.

Mexico, Latin America and Spain:
Among New World Spanish-speaking nations, particularly Mexico and Aztec-influenced Latin America, Halloween is known as “El Dia de los Muertos.” The day of the dead is a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31 and culminates on November 2. The holiday is normally seen as a joyous festivity in which individuals celebrate family and friends who have passed.

“Alla Helgons Dag” is the known name for Halloween in this country. The festivities are held from October 31 until November 6. If you happen to be in this country during Hallows Eve you’re in luck because this holiday becomes a shortened workday for all. If you are too tired from celebrating, the Friday before to All Saint’s Day is a short day for universities while school-age children are given a day of vacation!


If you’re going (or have gone) abroad in the fall semester, let the Study Abroad Office know how your foreign institution celebrates this spooky good time!

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 


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

bocas 013, CR

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 ( to view more available programs and find your home away from home today!


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

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