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International Cuisine – A European Food Tour

While you’re studying abroad and dabbling in the various aspects surrounding you, one of the most important ones to consider are the delectable goodies and treats offered in your new host country culture. Though it’s easy to turn to the familiar American comfort that reminds you of home, such as; hamburgers, pizza or a big ol’ burrito, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and explore all of the delicious cuisine!

When I studied abroad in Uppsala, Sweden I got to try so many traditional Swedish meals and snacks. Additionally, as I traveled to other countries and cities in Europe, I made it my mission to try at least one traditional (or popular) food item from each of the places I visited. So, are you ready for a European food tour? Here are the top ten most delicious foods I experienced in Europe (in no particular order)!

 1. Sweden – Köttbullar (Meatballs) 

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If you’ve never been to Sweden, but if you’ve been to IKEA in the U.S, you’ll notice that a very popular Swedish meal is meatballs accompanied by boiled potatoes, gravy and lingonberry sauce. Meatballs are a staple in Sweden and eaten regularly. I had them almost every week during my time there! The meal is hearty and of course incredibly tasty. Add a side of Daim pie if you want a treat twice as special.

2. Croatia – Fusi Pasta 

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Believe it or not, Italy isn’t the only famous country for its pasta. In Croatia, specifically the region of Dalmatia, pasta is a very popular dish and is often handmade and dressed in various ways. This pasta, called fusi pasta is a heavier in texture and can be described as a crossover between a typical noodle pasta and gnocchi. The pasta had a creamy spiced sauce, fresh vegetables and fish for an extremely affordable price! The restaurant also provided gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea at sunset.

3. Spain – Seafood Paella 

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Paella is a Spanish rice dish seasoned with saffron. While in Barcelona, I chose to try the seafood paella. Inside the paella were shrimp, mussels, lobster and scallops. This dish is extremely flavorful and oh so very filling. Definitely set me up for a much-needed siesta afterwards.

4. Denmark – Plaice and French Fries 

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The Danes have a huge affinity for fish since they are surrounded by sea. During a trip to Copenhagen and a stop in Tivoli gardens I decided to try the popular dish of breaded filet of Plaice, french fries and remoulade. Plaice is a type of flounder that is fried similar to a catfish fillet. The Danes like to use remoulade sauce instead of tartar sauce to accompany this hearty meal. The remoulade sauce is a bit sweet and tart but incredibly delicious!

5. France – French Macarons 

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French macarons are one of the world’s best desserts! They’re delicately made and flavored with infusions ranging from coffee, mocha, pistachio and rose petal. My favorite macarons are the pistachio ones. These serve for a perfect afternoon treat to satisfy that sweet tooth. And if you’re ever in a major city, look up La Duree, French luxury bakery they have the BEST macarons around.

6. Sweden – Kanelbullar 

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As you may remember from a previous blogpost, fika is an extremely important staple in Swedish life. A fika is typically deemed as a “coffee break” for people to catch up with each other and enjoy dessert or something tasty together. Read more about fika here. My favorite fika item is the kanelbullar, which translates to “cinnamon roll.” BUT, the Swedish kanelbulle taste much different than American ones. Rather than being slathered with frosting, kanelbulle are sprinkled with crystal or pearl sugar. But, the thing that sets these goodies apart from all the other cinnamon rolls is the flavor and spice. Kanelbulle are seasoned with black cardamom. Cardamom has a very potent and distinctive state, and without it, Swedish kanelbulle wouldn’t be the same.  Check out this recipe I use to make them at home here.

7. France – Croque Monsieur and French Fries 

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In France, croquet monsieur is a very popular snack. Its essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with delicious béchamel sauce. I enjoyed this one with a sweet view of the Eiffel Tower!

8. Russia – Rice, Beef and Piroshki (stuffed bread-rolls)

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During our first day in St. Petersburg we decided to jump right in! We visited a traditional Russian restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt (the main street in St. Petersburg) and ordered the daily lunch special. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the Russian name of the meal but on the menu was white rice, cooked beef and some sort of sweet and sour tasting red sauce and bread rolls. An awesome thing about the rolls in Russia is that they are always filled with something and are almost never just bread. Mine were filled with potato and the other with cabbage and ground beef. Awesome introduction to Eurasian cuisine!

9. United Kingdom – Crumpets 

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Although the most typical British meal we all know and love is fish and chips, a popular breakfast food in England is crumpets! Crumpets are sort of like pancakes and are made from yeast, and are essentially a fluffier English muffin. Brits often dress up their crumpets with butter or jam and of course, a cup of tea. Yum!

10. Spain – Bocadillos (Montaditos)

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In addition to tapas and their other world-famous foods, Spain boasts these delicious treats called bocadillos. Bocadillos are essentially crusty, spanish bread topped with any of the toppings or fillings that your heart desires. We visited a very popular bocadillo restaurant called 100 Montaditos, where on Wednesdays any montadito is only 1 Euro. These make for a perfect snack at any time of day.

So, am I the regretful mess like I thought I would be?

Guest Blogger: Dolly Ahmad, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

I arrived in Istanbul just over 8 hours ago, and have been in my apartment for 6 hours. I thought it would be pretty clever if I posted the conversation me and my sister had just now because I pretty much just recapped everything eventful that just happened, and to answer the question that is on everyone’s mind; is Dolly a regretful wreck like she thought she would be? It would be like the Picasso of blog posts. And would NOT be inspired by laziness, pshh….(goes on to copy and paste convo)

Well that didn’t work out, but believe me I tried, and I am going to leave that paragraph up there so you guys know how much trouble I go through for you all ;)

Lets start with the flight: My first flight landed in London, I had a WINDOW SEAT!!

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Aww yehh I never get those. Then then then my neighbor ended up being another study abroad student except she was from Harvard so she was almost as good as me. Kidding, she was actually super super friendly, we quickly started talking. We were even asked to convert to Mormonism together and took the MTD BUS that takes you from one side of London Heathrow airport to the other together. It was quite chill. Then we parted ways, and I felt the cold breeze of loneliness.

When we landed in Turkey, I had the biggest stupid smile on my face getting off of the plane, and that is VERY unlike me so I must have really felt great at the time. Or was it sleep deprivation? Either way, I was incredibly happy to be in Turkey, just immediately. Then my excitement turned into anxiety when I was looking for the lady I was supposed to meet, a good friend of a cousin of mine. But my anxiety was short lived because I found her extremely quickly! Somebody must have done amazing dua for me because I had the easiest time ever in my journey, alhamdulillah. These are really just a few examples.

So the lady I met, named Zehra, turned out to be the loveliest person ever, period. She was SO SWEET and incredibly selfless, it was a true blessing to have met her. We ended up taking a subway (“metro”) then a bus then a taxi to get to my apartment from Ataturk International Airport. Which ended up not being…too terrible…, but, I was not prepared to be plop in the busiest part of the city, lugging my fifty pound suitcase + more luggage through flights of stairs to catch the bus. The number of complete strangers that grabbed my bag and attempted to help me with my luggage was incredible and left me so touched that it ended being well worth the struggle.

We were so relieved when we were finally at the apartment, and I was ECSTATIC when I saw how lovely the apartment was. These pictures dont do it justice, but I will upload them anyways because I promised you fools more pictures.  Click here for photos.

Downside; it is ON THE FIFTH FLOOR WITH NO ELEVATOR! But then again, I won’t be spending precious time here going to the gym so we’ll call it my daily workout.

After I put down my bags, me and Zehra went to go eat, which, like the taxi and bus rides, I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO PAY FOR! What a selfless person. Zehra treated me better than I will probably treat my future kids, it was just too nice. Too too nice, I didn’t deserve any of it. We parted ways but made plans for the weekend.

And then I came back to my apartment and I officially met one of my roommates, who is great. And she told me that she is meeting with a lady tomorrow TO GET A KITTY!!! Except they are afraid that the kitten will fall out the window since we are so high up and the house is well endowed [with windows], and said windows do not have netting as a barrier and will be open during warm whether since we don’t have air conditioning…:( I hope I never have to witness that.

I really need to tell you all about the neighborhood and its streets and how much I LOVE IT, it is incredibly charming and reminds me faintly of streets in Saharanpur, my hometown in India. But I want to take decent pictures before I go on and describe it, so please ya’ll wait.

I’m so enchanted by Istanbul right now, its beyond incredible. I can’t even explain, there is just nothing not to love, and so far I’ve had what seems like very powerful duas working in my favor (thanks everyone). So hopefully that answers your question regarding the title of the post :)

Please stay tunedd because next time I will grace you with pictures of Rumeli Hisarustu, my lovely but hill-y neighborhood that I am OBSESSED with! I stuck my head out the window and stared at it for 15 minutes, taking it in. The neighbors threw a shoe at me. (jk) I’m actually afraid pictures might not do it justice, it is more of an experience than just a visual. Like you have to be able to smell the kabobs from the hundreds of restaurants here while walking down an acute angle-type hill to really appreciate it. But I will try and convey the beauty of it to you all :)

Time for some sleep.

Stay Fluent: 5 Ways to Maintain the Language Skills you Gained Abroad

Guest Blogger: Jenny Aguayo   Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

After an incredible experience studying in a foreign country, you’re sure to have picked up the local language to some extent. Whether gaining language skills was one of your goals for your study abroad experience or not, don’t let those skills disappear once you’ve returned! Here are some EASY ways to maintain fluency in your target language!

1. Listen to International Music

Music is a worldwide passion. Thanks to the internet, you have access to music in just about any language in the world. Listen to music from your study abroad host country to keep in touch with the culture, read off the lyrics with some friends on a Karaoke Night, or listen to songs in your target language on your way to class!

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2. Watch Foreign Movies/TV Shows

With subtitles or without, challenge yourself to enjoy a foreign film. Check your local events to see if there is a foreign film festival coming to town soon, or stream a translated version of your favorite movie. Netflix has a great foreign film selection, but you can also check the library for free rentals! Check out a projector from the Undergraduate Library and host a movie night with your friends!

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3. Read!

It doesn’t have to be a grammar book, but reading is a great way to maintain your language skills. Depending on your fluency, you can choose to opt for children’s books, bilingual books, or novels written by a famous foreign author. Another great tip is to read your favorite book translated into your target language! This way, you know the story well enough to enjoy the book and can focus more on the language. The foreign reading opportunities are endless! You can also try online newspapers or magazines from a foreign country- also a great way to stay in touch with the culture and global happenings!

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4. Talk to People .. at Cultural Events!

Start a chat group or make friends fluent in your target language! A great source for this is any cultural Registered Student Organization on campus; these student groups often love to share their culture and would be more than happy to practice the language with you. You can also attend social events at the cultural houses and meet diverse groups of people.

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5. Social Media

If you don’t have too much extra time to attend as many cultural events as you’d like, you can also find chat groups online for language learning. WeSpeke is a site made for people around to world to connect for the purpose to learning, practicing, or maintaining their language skills! Connect with a buddy, or talk to someone new each time. And yes, there’s an app for that.

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How to Make Yassa Poulet (Chicken Yassa), a Senegalese Favorite

Guest Blogger: David Silberberg, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

While studying abroad in Senegal, I had my fair share of Thieboudienne, the country’s national dish made with fish, rice, vegetables, and seasoning. My favorite Senegalese dish, though, was Yassa Poulet (or Chicken Yassa), made with a whole chicken, lots of onions, and served over rice or couscous. Luckily, this is something that is not too difficult to make at home! My personal favorite recipe included smoking the chicken, but luckily for college students, using an oven and a pan works as well. Since meals in Senegal are traditionally eaten in large groups, this recipe will serve 6 people.

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The Chickens have to come from somewhere! Here are the chickens raised by my host family in Diourbel, Senegal

To start, you will need:

-One frier chicken that weighs about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds
-3 lemons to juice
-3-4 whole onions, sliced thinly
-1 carrot, chopped
-Salt and pepper
-5 tablespoons of peanut oil (or another cooking oil)
-1 hot red chili pepper, chopped
-White rice
-1/2 cup of water

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Use plenty of onions!

Start by cutting the chicken into pieces and marinading in the lemon juice, salt and pepper, 4 tablespoons of oil, onions, and chili pepper for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. Remove the chicken, saving the marinade, and place in your oven after it has been pre-heating on broil. Briefly broil on the top rack, browning lightly on both sides (be careful not to overcook!)

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Remove the onions from your marinade and add to a pan (large enough to fit all your ingredients) with the remaining oil. After the onions are tender, add the remainder of your marinade and, when hot, add the pieces of chicken, the chopped carrot, and the 1/2 cup of water. Simmer the contents of the pan for about 20 minutes on low-heat, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Place in a platter over white rice, and enjoy!

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Bon Appetit

-College student kitchen-friendly recipe taken with help from: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chicken-yassa-104782

4 Ways to Help You Get Started Studying Abroad

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

Here at the Illinois Study Abroad Office we get an array of questions ranging from “what schools are most similar to the University of Illinois” to “what city has the best student life?” However, one of our most frequent inquires is the age old question “how do I even get started trying to study abroad!?” Well you are in luck, from the comfort of your own couch I will tell you four ways that helped me plan my international abroad experience!

  • Decide what you want out of your academic experience.

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You meet people from around the world, visit breathtaking monuments, and (depending on your location) can travel to other countries as well. However, we must remember the study in study abroad. You don’t want to end up at an institution you don’t like for 4-6 months just because it is in Italy! Figure out how studying abroad fits in with your academic goals. Ask yourself, do you want to take general education classes or fulfill major requirements? Does your college restrict you from taking certain classes away from campus? Thinking about your academic future can definitely help you narrow down your choices for which program you would like to apply to.

  •  Speak to your advisor.

Your home university advisor is not around to just send you pesky e-mails about class registration! Use their guidance to help you decide which classes you can take abroad and how this will affect you once you return from overseas. Here at the University of Illinois we have a specific set of advisors in each department that specialize in helping students choose classes that will keep their academic career going. Click here to see this great resource and contact your Study Abroad 299 advisor today!

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  • Where do you want to live?

The study abroad experience allows students to enjoy a variety of locations in over 60 different countries. So many options can provide a variety of living experiences. Think of what type of environment you want to live in abroad. Do you prefer something similar to your home university? Would you like to be in a small rural city or large city? How comfortable you are with figuring out public transportation? Would a host family or dorm life be a better fit for what you want out of your study abroad program? Questions like these helped me choose my perfect host university!

  • Visit your Study Abroad Office!

It is true that the study abroad experience is a lot of independent research and decision making; however, your Study Abroad Office is always here to help you! One of the best ways to get started is visiting your local SAO advisors and staff. Sometimes talking to someone is the best way to figure out what you really want in regards to leaving the country. Program Assistants at the Illinois Study Abroad Office are students just like you who needed guidance on how to study abroad and now we look forward to helping you out in the same way! Please come visit to talk about your study abroad experience today!

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What to Wear During Study Abroad in Conservative Countries

Before studying abroad we check off a list of everything we’ll need. Passport … check! Travel adaptor … check! Clothes …umm.

In many study abroad destinations the only things you’ll have to worry about in regards to clothing is the weather. But if you’re going to a location where people are more conservative you may want to think twice about wearing those shorts or that crop top.

Before my semester study abroad program in Morocco I thought long and hard about what I should wear. I knew that as an Islamic country, modesty was expected especially of women. In Morocco, as with most North African and the Middle Eastern countries, women traditionally cover themselves from head to toe. Although societies are changing and seeing an increase in women who are uncovered or those who choose to dress in more Western styles, it’s still a good idea to be respectful and mindful of traditional cultural values.

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Shoppers in Moroccan Medina

In addition to being respectful to the culture you should also consider safety. Morocco is very hospitable and excited to meet visitors and I’ve heard the same goes for most Arab countries. That’s a major positive but it does come with it’s negatives. Being a foreigner, you will stand out like a sore thumb and if you are wearing revealing clothing you’ll bring even more unwanted attention to yourself. So please be very careful!

THE SOLUTION: LAYERS

Sweaters: Depending on the weather and the city you’re in you may find it useful to bring a sweater. When you’re in a traditional city and feel the need to cover up you can do that. Or, if you venture into the more modern and younger city centers you can feel free to lose that layer. I prefer oversized sweaters because number one, they look cool and two, I prefer to keep my bottom covered.

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Oversized Sweater (photo from pixgood.com)

Long tunics: I wear these everywhere I go. They’re versatile and figure-flattering without being revealing. While wearing these you can feel comfortable in your own clothes while also being able to blend in. Opt for lighter, breathable fabrics that you can layer to deal with fluctuations in weather.

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Tunic and Leggings (photo from Pinterest.com)

T-Shirts and Tanks: Sometimes depending on where you study you may go on excursions, hikes, or participate in field work. At these times it may be appropriate if not necessary to wear things that allow you to more freedom of movement.

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Camel Ride in Morocco

Leggings: These are a staple in many college student’s wardrobes. They’re easy to where and you can match them with different tops. While abroad I wore them often with sweaters and tunics. I rarely wore them with a shirts that didn’t completely cover my bottom.

Note: If you do decide to wear them without a longer top please be sure that the fabric is thick enough and not see-through.

MEN

The same type of modestly expected of women does not necessarily apply to men. There however a few things guys should keep in mind too. Try to keep your shorts no higher than just above the knee and be careful when it comes to graphic tees. You don’t want to offend anyone with inappropriate images or words on your clothing.

Learning outside the Classroom in Rural Senegal

Guest Blogger: David Silberberg, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Study abroad is an opportunity not only to learn in foreign institutions, but also to learn outside the classroom. Taking a step outside your comfort zone into a place unlike anywhere you have been can be a learning experience that cannot be replicated in any school, at home or abroad. When I studied and interned in Senegal for a semester, I realized that while my classes were certainly great, what made the experience invaluable was the time I spent in places that where far different from anything I was accustomed to in the US. The most profound of these experiences was the time I spent with my internship or host family in rural areas–villages that often lacked electricity or running water and usually had no more than a few hundred residents. Coming from suburban Los Angeles and the University of Illinois, this was something I had never encountered. Even for many Senegalese people, this lifestyle is foreign. The World Bank estimates that 43% of the population is urban, with that number becoming larger each year.

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One of the many villages in the area north of the Saloum Delta

For Americans, hearing or seeing pictures of these villages may evoke feelings of disbelief or pity. For some, this is the quintessential image of sub-Saharan poverty–the small village with simple huts and no utilities. However, being able to visit some of these villages and those who live there reveals a far different reality, showing that these conceptions are deeply misguided.

Village life for many is a exactly as they would like it. Everyone works together: farming, raising animals, building houses, taking care of children. Everyone knows their neighbors, and lives are free of the distractions that have come to define our lifestyles. Without television, cell phones, lights to keep us awake all night, car exhaust, noise, and more, life becomes much simpler, but also much more relaxing and, for many, more rewarding.

Who wouldn’t like to spend a while hanging out under that tree?

Several of my host family’s relatives would live in town to go to school and then return to the villages whenever they had a break. My host father would often go spend time (sometimes taking me along) in the village where he was born and where his mother and brother still live. My host brothers often talked about how after they worked in the city and made enough money, they would like to retire and live in a village.

This is not to say that rural life is better than city life. Of course, there are many challenges and issues facing those who live in villages. But what makes life in villages enjoyable is the lack of the things that we cannot imagine living without in our daily lives–TVs, cars, smartphones, computers, etc. Even more, however, is the lack of rent, boring corporate office jobs, mortgages, loans, debt, bills, and the list goes on forever. To sum it all up in one word, rural life is relaxing. Which is something that I think everyone could appreciate, even if it means no iPhones.

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passing through a village on a hot day

Making the Most of Your Surroundings: My Weekend Excursion to Croatia

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
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No matter if you’re abroad for winter break, summer break, a semester, or an academic year, it’s important to optimize your time and take advantage of the country to the fullest. Of course, the studying part of being abroad is extremely important; but part of being abroad also includes enjoying the culture, scenery and adventure. This was one of my main goals as I embarked on my study abroad semester to Sweden. During these six months, I was able to ravel to 9 different countries, and one of my favorite weekend excursions was to Zadar, Croatia. Croatia itself wasn’t necessarily on the top of my travel list, but after attempting to book a trip to the Greek Island of Santorini with my friend Jessica with no success, we received a recommendation from another friend who raved about her time spent in Croatia, so we decided, why not?! The flight from Stockholm was extremely affordable and it cost us a little over $100 roundtrip! Jessica and I researched the area beforehand, and had a clear plan of all the activities we wanted to participate in, but once we arrived in Zadar we were enthralled by captivatingly blue waters and a city that was riddled with adventure.
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Since we only had three short days to spend in the area, we began to explore as soon as we arrived. On our first day, we rented bikes from our hostel and headed towards the Old Town. Zadar is divided into two parts, and the Old Town harbors a lot of historical sites and ruins, and it remains impeccably preserved. Bikes and cars are not allowed inside the gates of the Old Town, and the area is routinely cleaned by city employees.
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Zadar is located on the coast of Croatia, and is home to the Adriatic sea. The beach is accessible from essentially anywhere in the city. While walking around, we would often discover stairs leading down to the beautiful water. The Adriatic sea is the third cleanest sea in Europe, and the water is crystal clear, (literally!).
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During our second day, we took advantage of an excursion offered by our hostel. Hostels definitely come in handy when attempting to plan excursions or getting to know local culture or cuisine while visiting a new city. In my experiences, hostel staff has been quite friendly and eager to help. Our excursion was kayaking in Zrmanja! The scenery left us dazzled. Only in photos had we seen such beautiful nature! We stopped at this gorgeous waterfall for lunch, and later on, an even lager waterfall followed:
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The excursion lasted all day, and in total we kayaked 14 kilometers, which is almost 8.5 miles!! What a thrill!
 After recuperating from our kayaking adventure, the next day we explored the Perivoj Raljice Jelene-Madijevka gardens and the ruins of the old city. The gardens were filled with blooming flowers, which was perfect for the wonderful spring weather. In addition, we ventured over to the Archeological Museum and the Museum of Ancient Glass, where we observed a professional glass blower in action.

These are only a few of the incredible activities I was able to do in Zadar, and it was truly an phenomenal experience that allowed my friend Jessica and I to wholeheartedly immerse ourselves in the Croatian culture and to explore a country that was previously somewhat unknown to us.

Zadar was beautiful, and the sunsets, even more so. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.
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I would advise any student abroad to fully take advantage of any free time outside of classes or studying. Though studying is the main priority, it’s important to also get to know one’s host country and host city. Then, if feasible and affordable, explore the rest of the region or neighboring countries. Though not all continents are as accessible for travel like Europe, no matter where you’re studying abroad you should be prepared for the adventure set before you. All you have to do is look outside your window!

Join International Illini!

Guest Blogger: The International Illini Executive Board

Have you heard of International Illini? We are an RSO for study abroad returnees and study abroad students here at U of I and we’re looking for people to take on some leadership positions!

We have events throughout the semester for people to connect through fun activities and free food! We also run a buddy program each semester for anyone interested in connecting with someone from another country.

There are FIVE board positions we are trying to fill next year so please contact international.illini1@gmail.com if you have any questions or are interested in taking on a super fun, but not super time consuming, leadership role with International Illini.

We are hoping for people to join us in our meetings ASAP so we can start the transition process for taking over next year! We hope to hear from you soon.

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Food Tourism

Guest blogger: Dolly Ahmad, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Food tourism is defined as “the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism.” It has recently started being considered an integral part of the tourism experience. What’s little known about it, though, is if you look the phrase up in the dictionary, you will find a picture of me. I’m holding some sort of Turkish food in my hand, face shining with a smile, somewhere in the streets of Istanbul. Yes, I am the long unknown mascot of food tourists across the globe and Istanbul is my kingdom.

All ridiculousness aside, there is something about food tourism that I find so thrilling. And it’s not that my whole life and reason for existence is about food when I am being a food tourist, or at least I hope. I like to think that it just means that when we food tourists embark on our adventures for the day, we like to designate a particular food as the end goal. At the end, however, the day was not about the goal; it was about the path taken to reach that goal. When I set out at 7am one morning in search for Kemalpaşa tatlısı, I ended up not liking the dessert. But that was not a failure of a day because the thing about food tourism is that it is not about the food under pursuit; that was just a fraction of the day’s adventure. It was about the friends I made by asking “want to wake up and get Kemalpaşa tatlısı with me?” It was about the shopkeepers and bus drivers to whom we talked in order to find a café that sold it. After finding the café, it was about the feel of the café’s quaint little street with the street cats playing and the elderly Turkish uncles having their tea. We food tourists are not just children chasing the ice cream truck just to eat the ice cream, but adults using ice cream as an excuse to run. Indeed, we are a tasteful and classy bunch of adventurers [gulps down an entire ice cream cone Homer Simpson style].

There is no place better for a food tourist than Istanbul with it’s, what I like to call, “cay [tea] culture.” Think about cay culture as the extreme opposite of fast food culture. It is about taking a break from your day and sitting down with friends instead of eating for convenience and speed. It is about dipping each piece of your morning toast into a different jam instead of slathering one type on the entire slice so it can be eaten on the go. It is about finishing off the meal with as many glasses of tea as it takes for the conversation to die down instead of pouring it in a to-go mug. (It is also about my professor coming in late to lecture so he could finish his tea). In short, cay culture is heaven for food tourist. While Turkey is not the country with an eminent cay culture, its one of the most unique. Its location across two continents lends a unique blend of European, Middle-Eastern, and Central Asian tastes to the cuisine.

With that, I begin my foray into the top 5 foods I have pursued in Turkey and the best locations to have them. Keep in mind as you read that this is not simply a list of foods, but a list of experiences.

 

1. Ortakoy Waffle by the Bosphorous

Ortakoy Waffle by the Bosphorous

Here in the US, we traditionally have waffles for breakfast. In Turkey, you could have it for breakfast, but it’s a bit like having ice cream for breakfast. You would have a bellyache all day. This is not a limp, lifeless freezer waffle. This is a waffle topped with your favorite spreads, and you get to pick them. Think of your favorite ice cream flavors – now imagine them as Nutella spreads. Yup, it’s real. Now add your favorite fruits. You’re not done yet buddy; you still have to pick your favorite nuts and chocolate chips. Want share the bellyache with a friend? Have it served to you at a rooftop café in Ortakoy. Want to sit on the stair steps by the shore and eat it? Get it wrapped into a cone and grab it to go. That, my friends, is the Turkish waffle that calls to me in my dreams.

 

2. Ortakoy Kumpir

2. Ortakoy Kumpir
Photo from bp.blogspot.com

Now across from the waffles stands in Ortakoy are Kumpir stands. It’s traditional to get a Kumpir before and a waffle both when you visit the Bosphorous-side area, but hats off to you if you can stomach them both. What is a Kumpir you ask? Oh you know, you’re average baked potato. NOT. It’s anything but average; it’s a baked potato on crack. You know those award-winning potato and pasta salads that your aunt brings to family barbeques? Those are your options for the fillings. There are peas, corn, and other vegetable-y delights as well to balance out the fat if you dare. I was never a baked potato buff but my friends who were told me it is heaven. To be honest, I was usually too busy looking forward to the waffle when I was in Ortakoy to shower the potato with the love that it probably deserved.

 

3. Sahlep from in the Spice Bazaar

3. Sahlep from in the Spice Bazaar
Photo from getaway.co.za

Honestly kids, forget about hot chocolate. Trust me and trade it in for an orchid-infused steamed milk drink with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. If it makes you feel better, think of it as white hot chocolate and chug it down. And thank me for introducing it into your life. This drink was my personal favorite and can be found year round in most cafés. I, however, far prefer to order it at on a cold day in the midst of a shopping expedition through the Grand Bazaar. Careful not to burn your tongue! It happened to my friend and she refused to drink it again. What a shame.

 

4. Eminonu Balikli Ekmek

4. Eminonu Balikli Ekmek
Picture from baycc.org

Eating fish right after it is caught is only a dream for us chummy Midwesterners. Alas, we will always have to frozen fish imported from somewhere off of the East coast. In Istanbul, however, a town famous for its fishing, frozen fish is not an option. Especially when there are boats where you can buy freshly made fish sandwiches from. Even if you are not a fan of fish, which I am not, you have got to eat a balikli ekmek sandwich in Eminonu for the experience. Do it just because you will never get to eat fish so fresh. You might get to eat the eyeballs too if you’re lucky.

 

5. Maraş Dondurması by the Blue Mosque

5. Maraş Dondurması by the Blue Mosque

 

I know you. You think that you’ve eaten ice cream. Listen buddy; you haven’t. You’ve only had the watered down, artificially flavored lifeless remains of what ice cream could be. You will only have experience ICE CREAM when you’ve had Maraş Dondurması. And you will only have experienced ice cream when you’ve had it on the courtyard of the Blue Mosque with the prayer call sounding and pigeons landing around you. Let me tell you what makes Maraş Dondurması special; it comes from a special region in central Turkey where the goats are sent from heaven (kidding about the last part) and is infused with mastic. Mastic is the same ingredient that gives chewing gum its chew, so as you can imagine, the Turkish ice cream has a very thick consistency. It stretches like melted mozzarella when you take a bite and, if you get it served on a plate, requires a fork and knife to eat. If you could only try one food in Turkey, his would have to be it. Try it as the traditional orchid or pistachio flavor, the better.

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