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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.


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.


passing through a village on a hot day

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

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

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

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.

Why Study Abroad in Jordan?

Guest Blogger: Crystol Dejohnette, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Why Travel to Jordan? Well… if you want to challenge yourself and perspectives during study abroad, Jordan is a great option. The culture is very different from U.S. culture, Jordanians often have very different values than we do, and the country is majority Muslim. With all this difference there is still an element of comfort. Many students find Middle-Eastern culture to be very friendly and hospitable. For example, it’s not uncommon for you to be invited for tea after chatting with a stranger.

Jordan is also a place of great diversity. It’s found in it’s culture, it’s religions, and even it’s geography.

As a majority Sunni Muslim country, Islam and its values are reflected virtually everywhere you go. But Islam is not the only religion practiced there. There is a significant population of Christians as well as a much smaller population of people practicing other religions. Jordan is included in the region known as the Holy Land which features sites that are significant to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So when traveling and meeting people in Jordan you’ll soon learn that there is a strong culture of respect for others’ religion and beliefs.

King Abdullah I Mosque

King Abdullah I Mosque

The Altar of the First Byzantine Church

The Altar of the First Byzantine Church

Often called the heart of the Middle East, Jordan has a central location and has seen the rise and falls of some the world’s greatest civilizations and empires.  Because of this it also maintains a very rich historic legacy.

The region that is now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was once a part of the Byzantine Empire and many of its remnants can be seen today. In fact, it’s quite easy to find ancient ruins in Jordan. The most popular ones are the city of Philadelphia which is in the capital city of Amman.

Remains of the Temple of Hercules at Philadelphia

Remains of the Temple of Hercules at Philadelphia

Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan

Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan

Other civilizations also flourished under the Romans. One of the most famous one is the Nabatean Kingdom which is responsible for building the city of Petra in the southern region of Jordan. Petra, a city carved out of rock has to be the most glorious site I’ve ever been to! If you go be sure to go early in the day because it’s huge and there is oh so much to explore!

The Treasury in Petra

The Treasury in Petra



While in Jordan I was amazed because despite it being in midst of the most politically heated and war-torn regions of the world, it is safe and people there can retain a sense of normalcy in their daily lives. We visited an area in the north of Jordan where you could see the Golan Heights of Israel and very far in distance the border of Syria and it was one of the most peaceful and humbling experiences I had while there.

The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights

We also got a chance to swim in the Dead Sea as well as the Red Sea and each time we were able to see Israel on the other side. At those moments it was hard to imagine that a major conflict was occurring but it was really nice to see people coexist as best they could in light of the situation. I encourage any students interested in learning about the Middle East or Jordan specially to consider studying abroad there. While in Jordan I learned about a region and a society where there’s way more to see than what usually meets the American eye. In Jordan you’ll find a culture that’s rich in history and diversity and is also very eager to meet you!

The 2014 Global 298: Immigration and Intergration Class standing over the Red Sea at sunset

The 2014 Global 298: Immigration and Intergration Class standing over the Red Sea at sunset

Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal Before applying for a study abroad program, I researched every option and picked the one that best suited my needs. Before arriving to my host institution, I read everything from books to blogs about Morocco to get a basic understanding of the culture. While I was abroad, I enrolled in multiple language classes to better communicate with my host family, of which no member spoke English. Along every step of the way, I was reasonably prepared and I knew what to expect. What I was not prepared for was coming back home. The first few weeks after returning from abroad, I was hopelessly nostalgic. Every little thing reminded me of my time abroad, the friends I had made there, and the strangers that had come to be my family. I didn’t know that a semester apart would create a distance between me and my friends. I didn’t know that Arabic classes would no longer be as fulfilling. And I didn’t know that from that point on, I’d have a permanent itch to return abroad, to the Middle East, to speak a language other than English on a daily basis. Of course I planned to return abroad after graduation, to study Arabic in the Middle East and maybe even work there…but that didn’t help with the three semesters I had left to graduate. Three long semesters, during which I was filled with a longing to somehow reconnect with my time abroad. Image When I returned from abroad, I applied to be a Peer Advisor in the campus Study Abroad Office. I liked the idea of being constantly surrounded by study abroad talk and the chance to mentor students before their term abroad. More than a year after returning from abroad and in my third semester of working at the Study Abroad Office, I can say that this was undoubtedly the best decision I could have made. Through this position, I have been able to revisit my experiences abroad and constantly reflect on them and interpret them. Although studying abroad is very important, realizing and analyzing its effect on yourself is just as important. Because I am in constant contact with the study abroad process, I am always rethinking my opinions about my own experience and challenging my original conclusions. One year and two and a half months after leaving Morocco, I am still learning from it. I can’t imagine an experience more powerful than that. If you have returned from studying abroad, or will have in a few months,


I encourage you to think about what your feelings will be and how you will cope with them. Whether you apply to be a peer advisor, join International Illini, or continue on your own, make sure you take the time to reflect on your experiences abroad, how they changed you, and how they will effect you in the future.

Excursion: The Blue City of Morocco

Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal

Nested in the heart of the Rif mountains lies a tiny gem of a city called Chefchaouen. The population of the city is smaller than the student body at the University of Illinois! Despite its small size, this city is famous for its cobblestone medina, its split pea soup, but most of all, it is known as the blue city of Morocco. All the buildings in the old town, or medina, are whitewashed and decorated with bright blue accents. Doors grommeted with brass studs line the narrow alleyways. Instead of the usual French, shopkeepers approach in Spanish, selling their crafts to whoever walks by. Many call it the most beautiful town in Morocco. I had a chance to visit this charming city on a group excursion with other students from my program.

Blog Photo

Chefchaouen is also well known for its handicrafts and artisanal workshops that sell goods not available anywhere else in Morocco. Woolen blankets, beaded tapestries, hand-woven carpets, and painted ceramic ware are visible at every turn in the winding medina. However, I was able to experience these shops in an entirely new way. The director of our program had arranged workshops with craftsmen in the city so that we could work with them in their studios to see how they made their goods. We could choose between painting, carpet weaving, brass work, and leather craft. Along with one other student, I chose to work with brass because I knew next to nothing about this art. I entered the tiny shop that was filled with plates, sculptures, and jewelry. There were small tea sets and large hands of Fatima, a symbol representing blessings and protection against the evil eye. The shopkeeper and his son greeted us both, and quickly started instructing us on making a brass medallion. I sat on a small stool and awkwardly balanced my circular piece of brass on the tiny work surface. With a hammer and a pick, the shopkeeper showed me how to make a border around the edge of the medallion. His lines were smooth, curving perfectly with the metal and mine were crooked, disconnected, and uneven.


Using different chisels and picks, I made a border and a design on my medallion, ending by clumsily engraving “Morocco” and “Chefchaouen” on the medallion in Arabic. This small feat took me about an hour and a half to complete. Other students from my program had laced bracelets out of leather, made paintings of the city, and woven a brightly patterned rug. It was amazing to see how these artisans made their products and how much work went into each piece! This experience also made me realize the uniqueness and effort behind every handcrafted item.

I treasure this memory from Morocco because it is so different from anything else I did, or even from what most students get to do. I was able to be a part of this city by working with shopkeepers and participating in the craftwork it is known for. How many other people can say they have worked in an artisan’s workshop, engraving and polishing brass?

Classes Abroad: Challenge Accepted

Guest Blogger: Ruchi Tekriwal 

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. First of all, 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 my French couldn’t be that bad, right? As it turns out, this literature class was 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.

French books horizontal

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 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.

Honorable Mention Based On Photo

“Reflection in the Sand”
Amy Restko
Study Abroad Program: SAO Spanish Studies in Granada, 2012
Location of Photo: Sahara Desert, Morocco


“Shopper Insights at Pondy Bazaar Fair”
Wan-Ting Lee
Study Abroad Program: BUS Sustainable Product and Market Development for Subsistence Marketplaces, 2013
Location of Photo: Pondy Bazaar, Chennai, India


“Monkeying Around in the Wu-Tang Mountains”
Brian Norberg
Study Abroad Program: SAO Alliance to Xi’an Fall 2012, AIESEC Summer 2012
Location of Photo: Northwest Hubei Province, China

Norberg - Personal

“New Heights”
Jessica Weston
Study Abroad Program: SAO University of Canterbury, 2013
Location of Photo: Castle Hill, New Zealand


First Place Photo Contest Winners

Michael Bojda
“Buen Camino”
Personal Connection
Program: College of Media in Pampalona, Spain, 2013
Location of photo: El Perdon Mountain Range


El Camino de Santiago has been portrayed in many movies and TV shows as the “spiritual journey” that will change your life forever. For Alex, Tom, and I, it was a way to get away from the world and get to know each other a little better. With no hiking experience (and no hiking gear on top of it), we embarked on a 15-mile climb to reach the Alto del Perdon. The statue pictured is dedicated to the pilgrims who walk the Camino, and offers a panoramic view of Northern Navarra. My roommates and I decided to join the metal pilgrims and animals in triumph, posing for a self-timed photo as my camera lay on the ground. The trip brought us closer as students in Pamplona and linked us together for years to come. We set out to climb a mountain, with no prior experience, and succeeded. The 10 hours of bonding that went along with it, with no computers, cell phones, or TVs to interrupt, was more of a summit, because the walls between us went down and the three of us returned brothers.


Lauren Colby
“Lumbisi and UIUC”
Career Connection
Program: SAO – GLBL 298, development and education in Ecuador
Location of photo: Quito, Ecuador


One of my favorite things that I was able to do in Ecuador was to help improve the educational lives of children in a rural community by organizing, teaching, and leading a day camp.  While our group often had to confront struggles and adversity while planning our lessons, we were ultimately able to deliver an unforgettable experience to the children in the camp.  We were also able to leave a lasting legacy of our summer camp in the form of a mural for the students to enjoy.  We created, designed, and painted this mural for our students, and one by one, each student put their handprint on the branches of the tree to act as leaves.  In this photo, my classmate Mayumi is just putting the finishing touches of the fantastic mural we collectively created, complete with names to correspond with handprints.  I believe that the lasting impact that we made on the children by being there as mentors and role models is reflected in this mural.  The students were able to understand that with our combined efforts put together, we are a part of a bigger picture.  I think of the students often, and hope that this mural reminds them of the experiences we enjoyed together.


Rachel Rosenberger
“Experiencing Traditional Moroccan Dress”
Academic Connection
Program: SAO Spanish Studies in Granada, 2012
Location of photo: Tangier, Morocco


In this photo, you can see one of my classmates dressed up in traditional Moroccan women’s clothing. I think it’s a great representation of the kinds of academic experiences study abroad students can have outside of the classroom. How often do American students consider the traditional clothing of Islamic cultures? The majority of us, American (college) women, get up, shower, put on sweat pants or shorts, a T-shirt, and go to class. However, in Morocco, there are symbols for every article of women’s clothing. Each article is put on with attention to detail, without any thought about wearing these many layers under the hot Moroccan sun all day. These are the kind of mentally transforming experiences study abroad students can have abroad.

Study Global Health, Nutrition, Water and Sanitation in Sierra Leone this Fall


Seize the opportunity of a lifetime to study international development and agriculture at Njala University while experiencing and living in the rich West African culture of Sierra Leone. At the heart of the program design is the concept of experiential learning, where students use classes, field trips, internships, and service learning experiences to link theory with critical analysis in ways that sole classroom work is unable to do. Field experiences included in coursework can include:

  • Meeting with local village leaders and chiefs
  • Visiting nutrition project sites
  • Spending time on a beach south of Freetown
  • Studying the Tiwai Island Nature preserve
  • Touring a large market in Freetown


Students from a variety of disciplines—global health, nutrition, agriculture, social sciences, African Studies, natural resources and environmental sciences, pre-med/pre vet, and global studies are encouraged to apply, as the courses and internship component are vast in opportunities. Courses, which are taught by faculty from both the University of Illinois and Njala Universitory and have been approved for credit, include:

  • International Nutrition Policies and Programs
  • Food Fortification for Improved Nutrition
  • Service Learning in the Community – Public Health Education Service Project with Scientific Animations Without Borders
  •  Introduction to Epidemiology
  •  Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Linkages in West Africa
  •  History, Development and Culture of Sierra Leone (Non-Western Humanities credit for ACES, ENG and students)
  •  Public Health Leaders in Residence


The semester will culminate in a 5-6 week internship with an NGO, a public health program, or research at Njala University. Internship sites include: World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, YMCA, Bennimix Company, Helen Keller International, and public health programs and research projects, NGOs, and clinics.

To learn more about the country, university, accommodations, or to apply to the program, please visit the Program Brochure Page.