I chose to study abroad in Morocco because I had been learning both Arabic and French for a few years, and wanted the chance to practice both languages inside and outside of the classroom. Most importantly, I also wanted to continue to contribute to my Linguistics major and my Arabic studies minor. What some may not know is that in most Moroccan cities, people speak both Arabic and French, and many, in fact, are adept at switching between the two fluidly! So with this detail in mind, the program that seemed perfect for my needs was the CIEE Language & Culture program in Rabat, Morocco.
When I arrived in Rabat, the time came for me to choose my classes for the semester. Taking classes abroad is very different from taking classes at Illinois. For starters, classes never included more than a handful of students because the CIEE program that I went on had only ten students total. Secondly, teaching methods weren’t just lectures, but tutorials, seminars, fieldwork, and some even had guest lectures, field trips, and excursions that were relevant to an academic theme. Like some programs, all of us had to take two required courses: Contemporary Moroccan Culture and Society and any level of Modern Standard Arabic. We then had the choice of two English or French taught electives such as Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, Modern Moroccan Literature, and the Qur’an. Eager to learn as much as I could, I took all three electives, including the French-taught elective about Moroccan Literature. I knew I could handle the burden of taking this additional class because honestly, how hard could these courses be? As it turns out, this literature class turned out to be my most difficult. I had majorly overestimated my French-speaking abilities, and even though I had a longer and richer education in French (since high school), my intense focus on learning Arabic since starting college had overshadowed my French skills. Because our class was only five people, it was discussion based. We would spend most days discussing the themes of the novels and how they reflected Moroccan history and society.
I struggled to keep up in class. Although I had some trouble reading the novels and understanding the professor, I had the most trouble with the in-class discussions. I could not articulate my ideas without pausing and stuttering, or even worse, switching to Arabic. I would sit in silence, dreading the moment the professor would ask my opinion. I understood the books and I developed opinions about them, but I just couldn’t voice them. That was the most frustrating part. However, instead of dropping the class and continuing with the other two electives, I stayed in the French class. I knew it was the best way to challenge myself to get better at French. See, I was comfortable with Arabic; I used it with my host family, with taxi drivers, and with shopkeepers. This class was the only thing that forced me to continue practicing French, so I stuck with it. I had to. Over the course of the semester, I improved my French significantly, and it was really all because of this course. Granted, I wasn’t perfect and it still took a lot more time and dedication to keep up in class, but at the end of the semester, it was extremely satisfying to see the progress I had made.
One of the best ways to see and learn about the world we live in is through studying abroad. It’s an opportunity to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, take classes in a different environment, learn about your major from the perspective of another culture, do an internship (resume builder!), learn languages, and so much more. Students not only cite an experience like this as transformative, but more often than not, life changing. My summer abroad to Italy not only allowed me to learn about the nomads and settlers of Italy, but it also made me realize how easy study abroad can be once you start looking into it. Granted there are a few steps to follow, but if it weren’t worth it, would I be going abroad again to China and Taiwan this winter break to learn about rehabilitation?? And yet, despite the facts, it may surprise you that there are actually a lot of people who don’t take advantage of this opportunity. Here is a list of excuses of why students don’t study abroad and easy solutions for you to begin this experience.
Excuse #1: Money, money, and money.
Solution: Like most things in life, studying abroad is not free. But what many students don’t realize, is that you can find affordable programs that cost about what you’re paying now. Some programs, known as “exchanges,” may even cost less! The rates really do vary, so make sure when you talk to someone at the Study Abroad Office, that you mention cost is a major component, and they’ll point you in the right direction. Just make sure you know your budget, and be flexible. Studying in expensive destinations like Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, may contribute to a higher price tag. The University of Illinois offers scholarships to help you fund your program, and there are also countless third-party scholarships that you can apply to to help you fund your study abroad experience. Remember to apply early to get the most opportunities. Financial aid may even travel with you, but you’ll never know if you don’t talk to someone at the Financial Aid Office.
Excuse #2: I want to graduate in four years.
Solution: Unless you’re in a major that requires studying abroad, many students believe they just don’t have the time to go if they want to graduate on time. The truth is that there are numerous programs that let you complete requirements for your major while you’re abroad. From IB, MATH, PSYCH, and PS courses to SPAN, ANTH, and SOC courses, study abroad programs vary from being language and culture specific to total immersion at a local university (hello course catalogue of options!) Your academic advisor can help you design a graduation plan that will permit you to graduate in four years while also studying abroad. And who says that you can only study during the school year? Spend two weeks of your winter or summer break abroad. There are countless summer and winter break programs out there. With a little research, it’s possible to enjoy study abroad and still walk across the stage on time.
Excuse #3: I’ll be homesick.
Solution: Studying abroad can feel like the first time you moved away from home except you’re many miles further from home, probably even an ocean away. While it’s normal to be frightened by the idea of leaving home and all your U of I friends for a foreign country, you can’t let this chance go by! Do a little research on your dream destination, and remember this: the key to homesickness is your housing arrangement. Many programs offer their participants to choose where to live. Options often include dorms, apartments or a host family. To cure the feeling of homesickness, be sure to connect with your flatmates, host family, or others in the dorm cafeteria. They will be there when you hit your challenges and also there when you want to try tango lessons. But just in case homesickness feels without a cure, stayed connected with your loved ones using technology, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, Skype, Viber or WhatsApp. The only thing technology won’t be able to bring you is mom’s home-cooked meals, but at least you’ll be trying new food in an international country!
Excuse #4: “I’ll travel/study/work abroad after graduation.”
Solution: Ask yourself this question: Are you really going to travel/study/work abroad after graduation? If you have serious plans to do so, more power to you. In reality, though, a lot of graduates say they are going to, and then plans fall through. Rather than putting it off, just go for it now! Our college years are one of the best times to study abroad because we don’t have hefty responsibilities yet. After graduation come adult responsibilities like paying back loans, avoiding living with your parents, paying bills or finding a real-world job. The responsibilities are endless. Our college years are one of the best times to study abroad because we don’t have those responsibilities yet, so take advantage of your freedom. Additionally, once we’re adults, say good bye to scholarships, financial aid, and grants, you’ve got to foot the bill all on your own.
For more information on where to start learning about studying abroad, visit: http://studyabroad.illinois.edu/earlyplanning/where_to_start.aspx
How Hyderabad Ended Up Stealing My Heart: Silver Linings in the Qubani ka Meetha (Dried Apricot Sweet)
Guest Blog by: Rahul Panchal
After spending my spring semester in Denmark, my desire to be a globetrotter pushed me into pursuing a summer research internship in Hyderabad, India. It was there, in the bustling metropolis of Hyderabad, that I worked at a diagnostics lab for three months. Unfortunately, the vision of India that was formed during a glorious odyssey throughout Europe was far from the actual reality, and being a student afforded a much different culture shock than being a working adult.
The first week was stressful to say the least. Being all alone, living in cramped accommodations, and struggling to fit in amongst far older coworkers, I felt very out of place in this alien environment. All those previous trips to India meant nothing, and at one point, I did not see myself as being as “Indian” as I thought I was. These types of challenges are just a part of the package when you go abroad, and you are either empowered to overcome them, or you learn to live calmly in spite of them. For me, while in India, it was a little of both. So, is it weird to say, now that I’m back, that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad, even these cultural nuances that seemed to challenge me every day??
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”.
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, and you can now too. 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.
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 earthier. 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 had Qubani 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 where 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 burst 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
- 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
- Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
- 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.
- Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
- Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
- Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.
- 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 :)!
Note: Rahul has plenty of other foodie reflections on his own personal blog here: http://cookingfever.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/how-hyderabad-stole-my-heart-qubani-ka-meetha-dried-apricot-sweet/
The time I spent in Uppsala, Sweden allowed me to have a plethora of impactful diverse cultural experiences. The Swedish culture and customs I was exposed to made a significant impression in my life in Sweden, and my life today.
Cultural customs are evident in every country. For example, in some parts of India cutlery is not used to eat meals, in Spain every day around 2:00pm most businesses close down for an afternoon siesta (a midday nap), and in Sweden there is fika. Adapting to the culture of one’s host country is an important part of studying abroad. And whether it’s trying a new breakfast food, taking a siesta or having a fika it’s sure to be an enlightening experience for all.
Fika, pronounced (fee-ka) is one of the most essential parts of a Swedish day. To have a fika generally means to take a break in one’s day to have a cup of coffee and something sweet (usually a pastry) together with a coworker, family member or a friend. Fika is deeply rooted in Swedish values, so much so that it’s integral at school and in the workplace. During classes, students are allowed a 15 minute break in the middle to have a cup of coffee and a chat with classmates. Also, at most work establishments, fika breaks are included in the daily schedule. Fika brings people together and encourages dialogue and relationship development between friends, family or coworkers.
Before studying abroad in Sweden, I was a fan of an occasional cup of coffee, usually from Starbucks and filled with all the delicious syrups and flavorings one could find. But, during my time in Uppsala I learned that Swedish people treat coffee like an art form, and don’t taint it with anything that might take away from the natural and delicious flavor. They love their kaffe black, or with just a hint of milk. Surprisingly, I learned to love it too. Everyday I find myself missing the delicious and potent cupfuls I had while in Uppsala.
A traditional fika often includes coffee and a kanelbullar which is a cardamom infused Swedish cinnamon bun, or perhaps a chokladboll which is a rolled ball made out of chocolate, coffee, sugar and oats. All though these pastries are delicious, one can also enjoy salty treats. Knäckebröd (Swedish crisp bread) with cheese, or sandwich tårta, (a cake made with the components of a sandwich) are also delicious fika options.
Just as easy as I had come into Swedish culture, fika came into my life. I was able to integrate a casual fika into my daily routine and it became an easy and enjoyable way to spend time with my new friends. Whether it was after class at one of the student nation buildings or in our favorite coffee shop, fika was a cozy, interactive and totally Swedish way to hangout. It helped me build relationships with my friends and get to know them in a more personal way. Also, it makes for a delicious midday treat.
This unique event is central to Swedish and Scandinavian culture alike. It’s a custom that made for many enjoyable memories in Uppsala. Fika will stick with me through my entire lifetime. At times, I find myself enjoying a cup of coffee on a break between classes and reminiscing with my friends on our time spent abroad in Sweden.
Buying Groceries Abroad: A revealing piece on the difference between what’s stocked on the shelves in Orland Park, Illinois versus Lincoln, New Zealand
Before studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand I was warned of a phenomena known as culture shock. This occurs when visiting a new country and is the result of a confusing or disorienting feeling when experiencing a new way of life. Essentially, your brain is rewiring. Culture Shock, if it does occur, typically happens to students within their first couple days of studying abroad in a foreign country and is remedied after adjusting to the new lifestyle. I say ‘typically’ because not all culture shocks are the same, or happen around the same time. And for those of you who are lucky enough, this ‘disorienting phenomena’ can hit yet again after you return to the United States, even in some of the most familiar of situations you thought you once understood. I was hit with this reverse culture shock at my local grocery store, of all places.
I had only been home for a couple days and was still succumbing to jet-lag by napping at odd hours of the day. My mom determined that that was enough time to adjust back to my life at home and, with a mother’s intuition, knew I was ready to start running errands for the family again. So there I was: in my local Walmart, shopping basket in hand, leisurely browsing the endless aisles. I began in the produce section and was mildly surprised at the prices: only $1.19 for seedless red grapes? $0.69 for a mango? The bananas were practically free! I remembered the cost of living in New Zealand was slightly higher and I had to take into account the dollar conversion, so I chalked it up to the numbers and moved on, quietly suppressing my unadulterated joy for cheap produce.
My daily breakfast in New Zealand: one free range egg on wheat toast, with the country’s signature fruit, kiwi!
The next items on my list were the essentials to any well balanced diet: eggs, coffee, bread, and peanut butter. While picking these up, I continued noticing that all of these products are cheaper in the States, but the options for each were very different. For example, in New Zealand, the produce available is more dependent on seasonality and therefore more expensive and my favorites weren’t always in stock. In addition, there are only free range eggs. Granted, you have a choice among the free range eggs of white or brown, large or regular, etc. but the store only stocks eggs from chickens that are roaming freely in some part of the New Zealand countryside. In the coffee section, all of the brands proudly bore the Fair Trade Logo, advocating their support of fair purchasing prices from the exporters and higher environmental standards. The peanut butter was made in New Zealand and invited customers to take a tour of the factory and farms. Where were these health conscious and environmentally friendly options in Walmart? Was I missing something? Did they forget to re-stock all of the brands labeled organic or non-GMO? It was somewhere in between searching for the Fair Trade coffee logo and the organic granola that I came to the conclusion that New Zealand gave me a crash course on a higher standard of living, one that is less available in the States. Thus causing the onset of my reverse culture shock.
The meat pie is a staple in the average Kiwi’s diet, the organic Cola was just a bonus.
Later, I realized that this higher standard of living is not less available at home, it just comes at a higher cost. A cost that is easily compared when you have the prices of both free range and non-free range eggs on a little yellow label in front of you (and with the former costing almost twice as much as the latter, it’s hard to remember why I care about roaming chickens), as opposed to the grocery store in New Zealand that only has the price of free range eggs as that is the only option. And we do have big chain stores here in the States, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, that satisfy all of your organic needs but they aren’t the average grocery store. This was shocking to realize once I was back home because it was something I had never noticed before. Buying these types of products had become standard practice for me during my time abroad, and this translated to my life back home. For this, I am grateful that life in New Zealand has made me aware of these different choices and that it has made me a more environmentally conscious consumer, but nothing beats cheap produce!
Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
There is no way to truly be ready for a study abroad experience. I bought a NatGeo guidebook from Barnes & Noble, I read Lonely Planet articles, and I searched for blogs and forums in hopes that I could somehow envision what my life would soon be abroad. Although these resources may have told me which sites to visit and what to eat, deep down I knew that they could not possibly convey what my experience in each location would be. And this rang true when deciding to visit the small coastal city of Asilah, a destination my sources recommended. This tiny town has changed hands many times. Previous rulers include the Phoenicians, the Portuguese, the pirates, and even the Spanish. It is a popular vacation spot for many Moroccans yet it retains a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
The most fascinating part of Asilah is an art festival that takes place every summer. This art festival was founded by two men who wanted to bring the forgotten city back to life. Now the festival has grown to include guests from all parts of the world, from Saudi royalty to Japanese diplomats. Hotels in the area are fully booked months in advance. Although I did not get to attend the festival itself, I experienced what was left behind: every summer, artists are invited to paint murals on the massive walls of the old city. The best ones are left up for the next few years. Seeing photos in a guidebook or in a postcard was different than actually being in the town’s reality. Bright, colorful paintings can be found at every turn, down every lane, and every alley. No guidebook could ever do this artwork of Asilah justice. It is simply unimaginable until you see it yourself.
Even the merchants in the old city take on more of an artisan role. Shops sell goods that are difficult to find anywhere else. Most items are handcrafted, making each one unique. You can also enjoy a tall glass of the mint tea specialty while sitting by the old Portuguese fortress walls. Between the sounds of the sea and the magnificent artwork, it is impossible not to enjoy Asilah. Despite all this, Asilah still has not been tainted by the hustle and bustle of tourists. The small town retains an incomparable air of tranquility and serenity.
While in Morocco, I visited this city three times. I discovered something new each time I visited. Even though it was such a small town, I could not explore it in just a day. Even though I had visited it before, I had not truly seen it. Even though I read about it online and in my guidebook, I did not understand it. The encounters you have studying abroad will always surprise you and exceed your expectations, no matter how much you may prepare beforehand. This is truthfully the best part of studying abroad. As many pictures you may see and as much advice you may get, you must experience it yourself to even begin to understand. If I go back again, I will make sure to visit Asilah. And when I do, I’m sure it will surprise me yet again.
Yoga lessons from abroad: Free Yoga Class Open to Students Interested in the Gilman Scholarship or India to Study Abroad
On Saturday, October 19th from 2-3:30pm in CRCE MP1, Kyle Trembley, Alliance for Global Education Ambassador and Gilman Scholarship recipient, will host a free yoga class for students interested in both studying abroad and funding their abroad program. Kyle is majoring in Religious Studies and spent Spring semester 2013 in Varanasi, India studying culture, language, and yoga. Kyle also traveled on train through much of Northwestern India. Kyle will be leading the class with a short discussion on funding opportunities, followed by a yoga class in which the techniques he uses were learned from some gurus in India. Please wear comfy clothes and bring a yoga mat if you have one, but mats are available. We’ll see Oct 19th from 2-3:30pm in CRCE MP1!
Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez
Studying abroad is an adventure filled with new and exciting experiences that will challenge and inspire you in many different ways. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn about yourself, the culture you are living in, as well as the different perspectives the world offers. While I cannot emphasize enough the study portion of studying abroad (how else would I have learned how domestic politics influence Sweden and its international relations?), the simple art of traveling is a great way to accomplish this kind of depth of self and world exploration, and it’s usually a big part of a student’s time abroad.
When I studied abroad in Sweden, I had ample time for traveling around Europe. While there, I took some short trips to the Arctic Circle, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Spain, France, Croatia, and the U.K. Taking these trips with my friends (who included people from all over Europe, Australia, South America, and even Africa) allowed me to develop a sense of independence and cultural knowledge of others that I didn’t have before. Traveling helped me compare Swedish culture to that of its neighbors. It also helped me expand my way of thinking, so that I not only focused on “things of America” or “things of the Dominican,” but rather on “things of the world.”
When planning a short trip, there are a few easy steps that I recommend. You should choose a destination, figure out the best way to get there, find a place to stay, plan what you want to see, and set out overall goals of what you want to learn about the local culture while you’re there.
One might think that choosing a destination is easy, but when you have the entire continent of Europe at your fingertips, it can be a bit challenging. Talk to your friends, host family, flatmates, or International Student Office to see if they can recommend locations that students have enjoyed in the past. Nothing beats a local’s perspective! Try visiting a local bookstore to fan through pages of images and histories of a few countries to see which cities might interest you most. Certainly you can do this part online, but why not get away from the digital world and enjoy a library every now and then? While the obvious answers are usually large cities (Rome, Paris, London), I recommend getting off the well-beaten path and explore smaller countries and cities you may not have heard of before, like Verona, Helsinki, or Zagreb. They, too, offer amazing sights to see and a valuable cultural experience. I never thought I would end up kayaking on the coast of Croatia, but I found myself there during my travels, and it was life-changing!
Once you find a destination, getting there is simple! Look at affordable airlines such as RyanAir and NorwegianAir. These airlines offer specials as low as 50 Euros round trip. That’s $67 dollars to take a trip to another country, amazing! BUT beware of the hidden fees and drop off locations. You may be charged outrageous prices for overweight baggage among other things, so read the fine print. Additionally, the drop-off airport may be far from the city center, and you’d have to grab a cab anyway, adding to the cost of a trip. Don’t forget that the railways of Europe are not only fast and reliable, but rarely have hidden fees. Seeing the landscape and visiting with other passengers are another perk of the rails, and the trains usually drop you off right in the center of town. However, remember that the mountainous region of Europe may not be the smoothest or shortest ride. In summary, it’s good to explore both air and land travel before settling on either. Friends, family, and even travel guide books (found in the Resource Room!) can offer additional recommendations as well.
After finding a destination and organizing your plan of arrival, it’s time to find a place to stay. As college students we are often on a budget, so I recommend staying in a hostel. Hostels are inexpensive food and/or lodging for groups of travelers, just like students. Because they cater to the group, there are often 4-12 beds in a room, and the bathrooms are usually shared, much like the dorms here (bring flip flops!). Besides being very affordable, they are a great place to meet other travelers because of the room/lounge sharing, and are usually located in the heart of a city. Hostels also offer some great resources like free maps, guided tours, and self-service kitchens (more money saving options!) Google “hostels” and you’ll see all the booking sites that surface.
Upon arrival in a new city, what will you do? Plan what you want to see before going. Before traveling, my friends and I researched the country separately and then collectively agreed on the places we would visit. This ensures that everyone gets a chance to see what they want. Hit up the popular sights like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, La Sagrada Familia and others, but also find local, quaint spots in the city to get a feel for the lifestyle and the true culture of the country outside of the touristy areas. Some of the neatest places are ones that are frequented by locals.
So why set out goals for what you want to learn as you travel? Simple: studying abroad is not an extended vacation, and your parents, employers, and professors want to know that what you were up to was impactful for you academically, culturally, and professionally. Make it count by discovering the histories of the cities/regions, and getting past the typical concrete aspects of culture like food, sites, and landscapes. Instead of taking pictures, discover the arts and the history of the Sagrada Familia. Ask your self “Why is this significant? Why doesn’t something like this exist in the US? Why is it in the center of town?” Or ask locals/hostel-mates what they think of a current trending topic. Unemployment, higher education (it looks differently everywhere!), impacts of Gap Years, etc.
No matter where you decide to travel in Europe, it will be a breeze as long as you stay safe and plan effectively. Use your common sense, and be conscious of your surroundings. Traveling is an amazing part of the study abroad experience, it helps you discover new qualities within yourself, and makes for some unforgettable memories and friends from all over the world.
The semester I spent in New Zealand allowed me to experience a lot of firsts in my life. These firsts are usually my go-to stories when talking about my time abroad, probably because they are the most glamorous and fun to re-live. If I were to name a few they would be: the first time I climbed a mountain, the first time a saw a waterfall in person, the first time I tasted the mind-consuming deliciousness that is a meat pie. But my favorite one to slip in casually is that living in New Zealand was also the first time I owned a car. This usually surprises people and thus ellictes a shocked response, which I love responding with: I was the proud owner of a 1996 Subaru Legacy!
Well, to be fair, I wasn’t the sole owner. I purchased the car with four other people at $500 a piece and when all was said and done, I would not have traveled New Zealand any other way. Having our own car entitled us to ultimate traveling freedom as well as allowing us to fully appreciate the wonderfully scenic drives. Whenever we had a free weekend, we would pack up the Subaru, grab some snacks, and head out on whatever adventure we planned. To many people, five to nine hour road trips every weekend seems horrendous but to me, they are what created unforgettable memories and turned virtual strangers into my closest friends.
Furthermore, buying a car allotted me a sense of independence in way I would have never foreseen, as well. With the car came responsibilities such as registration, insurance, and parking permits, all of which sheperded me into a more adult-like life. On one particular night, I was driving with Olivia (another one of the five owners) when we got a flat tire. We pulled the car over, looked at each other, and were at a total loss of what to do. In that moment, I realized that every other time I had car trouble all I did was call my Dad and he would take care of it. But he was miles away! Sleeping on the other side of the world! Completely and utterly unhelpful! After a few more moments of being flabbergasted at our unlucky situation, I snapped out of it and started making moves. I told Olivia to start calling friends to come pick us up while I phoned different towing companies about repairing flat tires. Unfortunately, none of the towing companies were open so we left the car in a parking lot overnight and went back the next day with a friend who showed us the finer details of how to change a flat. So, what started as an unlucky accident turned into a learning experience that made me a more competent driver.
I will continue to be entertained by people’s expressions when I let it slip that I bought a car, but more so I will continue to be grateful for all the memories I created in that 1996 Subaru Legacy. Plus, I can now say I know how to drive on the left side of the road!
Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal
There are many reasons students love studying abroad. Almost every experience is a new one. Students have the opportunity to travel to new places, try new food, take new classes, meet new people, and learn new things. Like any other student, I reveled in the newness of it all. I walked along the Portuguese fortress in Essaouira and drank the Moroccan specialty, mint tea, on a rooftop in Rabat. I learned about Islam in my Qur’an class , but also from a shopkeeper in the open market of Marrakech. I ate countless loaves of fresh bread dipped in endless bowls of red lentils. Of all the experiences I enjoyed during my semester in Morocco, the most memorable one was living with my host family.
My host family was far from average. For my first few weeks in Morocco, I didn’t know who lived in the house. Guests would come and go all day and often spend the night. I couldn’t tell host uncles apart from host cousins. I didn’t even know who my host sisters were. This was because my host family was a large extended family, and our house was the base of all reunions. Everyone called it Dar Kabira, or “big house.” Every weekend, all nine siblings and their entire families would reunite for a family dinner. I had never experienced this type of large family gathering before. Besides my parents and my sister, none of my family lives in the US. They are scattered across the globe and I only see them once every couple years. I had never had this extended family experience before.
Despite being overwhelmed at first, I came to enjoy these family gatherings and looked forward to them every weekend. My favorite meal was the weekly couscous after the Friday prayer. I liked chatting with all the relatives, and it was a good way to practice my Arabic. I became used to the Arabic name they had given me, Jamila. Having guests over also meant having a lavish tea time with delicious pastries and fresh breads and different varieties of jam and cheese. In the evening, the men would watch a soccer match and argue over their Barcelona and Real Madrid rivalries. All the children would sit at a large table and we would play card games, using gestures and broken sentences to explain new games to each other. Somehow, we all understood.
What started out as strange and new quickly became part of my routine. I thought nothing of the communal style of eating couscous from the same dish. I became accustomed to new people visiting and spending the night. I knew all the guests and how they were related. Without realizing it, I had become a part of the household in four short months. Originally an outsider, I was now Jamila, a member of Dar Kabira.