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!
- 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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
“We should come home from adventures, perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.” –Henry David Thoreau
Before I stepped a toe into any airport to fly solo to the United Kingdom, I spent months combing over blogs, government sites, and even Pinterest – I’m ashamed to reveal that last source – in failed attempts to piece together clues about what my study abroad experience may look like. Although I have lived in several countries in Europe before I never visited the city my program was being held. I was finally bursting out of the “campus-life” bubble and, even though that feeling was invigorating, the idea of not being around familiar surroundings was terrifying!
However…I made it sixth months “across the pond” and returned home –for the most part- unscathed (sorry for those impromptu ear piercings in France, Mom and Dad)! The most rewarding moments I had abroad were the times that I traveled off the beaten path and explored the cities I was so fortunate enough to be in. Here are three tips that helped me make the most of my time outside of the classroom:
Talk to the locals. “But what if they realize I’m a foreigner?” Well you are, so embrace it! Don’t worry if you think a native will judge you; chances are they will find you to be a novelty and will want to know more about you too. Plus, you may even pick up a few new friends along the way. Locals are a great resource to understand a city’s public transportation system, the best eateries, and the coolest places to blow off steam after long nights of studying.
Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. Grab a map, your camera, and just go! Your study abroad program will go by much quicker than you think. Before school starts and things really pick up try to map out some tourist locations you would love to visit around town. You may think you’ll have 4-6 months to see it all but between finals, making friends, and traveling you may miss out on some hidden gems located in the city of your host university.
Travel light on the weekends. If you study in Europe, you’ll soon find out that historic towns with cobblestone streets – although completely gorgeous – are not great for rolling around luggage. If you are taking weekend trips to a neighboring city try limiting yourself to a backpack. You really only need the essentials and it will be much easier to carry if you have to wait for a train or need to pass time outdoors until your hostel room is ready.
Fear of the unknown is absolutely normal but don’t let that deter you from exploring something new! Let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to get lost at one point during your journey but you’re also going to come back with memorable experiences and tons of pictures that will make all of your Instagram followers terribly jealous.
Guest Blogger: Lauren Andraski
I didn’t title my post with easily translatable Spanish, but with a few words in Basque, that translate to “Gracias, País Vasco” or “Thank you, Basque Country.” I could not have asked for a better place or better people to spend our first vacation with. Our original attempt to plan our trip for Semana Blanca was in vain, and kept changing from Barcelona to Florence to Nice to Bologna…until we finally asked our program director for advice, who suggested we go to Bilbao and San Sebastian. At that point, we were so frustrated with booking tickets that he could have suggested going to the US and we almost would have considered it.
Luckily, the US was not his suggestion and luckily we were willing to put up with an 11 hour bus ride to the northern-most part of Spain. We knew that we would spend the first part of the week in Bilbao, but feared going to San Sebastian because we heard news of intense waves and flooding on the news. When we would ask a Spaniard, they told us how terrifying the weather was only before proceeding to tell us that we have nothing to worry about. While in our hostel in Bilbao, the receptionist (probably the 9th person we had solicited advice from) reassured us that it was in fact very safe to travel there. Our minds were put at ease and we couldn’t be more excited to explore the basque country region!
Almost everyone says that the only reason to visit Bilbao is to see the Guggenheim Museum (pictured above). Despite only seeing it from the outside, we were perfectly content with the rest of our trip there. The first morning, I did my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling. I got ready early so that I could sneak away for my very necessary coffee (yes, I have an addiction. Let’s not talk about that). I like wandering around a new town and peering in coffee shops and wading through the ones that are too crowded and too barren until I find the one that is just right. There, I can strike up a conversation with the barista and ask for their suggestions of the best things to do in town.
San Sebastian has to be one of the best places I have ever visited. World famous for its cuisine and lovely beach, I would recommend a trip here to anyone. Though surely the beaches are nicer in the summer, they are also likely more crowded.
As promised, our friend from Bilbao invited us out with her friends for pintxos (pictured above) and drinks, where they introduced us to the term “bote,” which is where every person contributes a small amount of money in order to buy larger plates of food instead of individual servings. They also introduced us to the term “sobre la marcha,” which essentially translates to “play it by ear,” which was exactly what we did. We would wander around, see something pretty, sit and stare at it for half an hour, and do it again.
Everything in San Sebastian was wonderful. We stayed at a wonderful pension, Pension Goiko, where we met wonderful travelers, cooked wonderful food (eggplant and spinach pasta, to be exact), and spent time with wonderful people.
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Ghouls, ghost and candy, oh my! The leaves are slowly drifting off of their branches and every movie trailer seems to have the ultimate goal of making us jump towards the ceiling. I for one realize this can only mean one thing…Halloween is upon us! In honor of the beloved holiday the staff at the Study Abroad Office loves exploring how various countries celebrate holidays with their own unique spin and we believe you will too. I promise this is not a trick so enjoy the treat, check out these Halloween traditions from around the world without leaving your seat!
Did you know Celtic Ireland is considered to be the birthplace of Halloween? Similar to the United States, the Irish celebrate the holiday with costumes, trick-or-treating, and parties. At some of the festivities a game called “snap apple” is played where an apple is tied to the framework of a door or a tree and the players attempt to bite the hanging apple!
What do bread, water, and a lit lamp have in common? A Halloween tradition in Austria! In this country some locals will leave those three items on a table before bed and consider it a way to welcome back the dead souls to the earth.
Teng Chieh is the Halloween festival in China. Food and water are placed in front of photographs of family members who have departed while bonfires and lanterns are lit in order to light the paths of the spirits as they travel the earth on Halloween night.
At nightfall on Halloween several chairs are placed by the fireplace; one chair is used to commemorate each family member and one chair is used to commemorate each family member’s spirit.
Mexico, Latin America and Spain:
Among New World Spanish-speaking nations, particularly Mexico and Aztec-influenced Latin America, Halloween is known as “El Dia de los Muertos.” The day of the dead is a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31 and culminates on November 2. The holiday is normally seen as a joyous festivity in which individuals celebrate family and friends who have passed.
“Alla Helgons Dag” is the known name for Halloween in this country. The festivities are held from October 31 until November 6. If you happen to be in this country during Hallows Eve you’re in luck because this holiday becomes a shortened workday for all. If you are too tired from celebrating, the Friday before to All Saint’s Day is a short day for universities while school-age children are given a day of vacation!
If you’re going (or have gone) abroad in the fall semester, let the Study Abroad Office know how your foreign institution celebrates this spooky good time!
Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
The semester I spent studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden gave me the opportunity to experience the Swedish culture and many of its long lasting student traditions. Uppsala University is world renowned for its strong academics, bustling student-life and other unique characteristics which arguably make it the premier student town in all of Sweden.
One of the most important and cherished parts of the student culture at Uppsala are the “nations.” Now, let me explain. Think of a nation as a mix between a co-ed fraternity and a student union. The nations at Uppsala are named after the thirteen different regional parts of Sweden, or what us Americans would refer to as “counties.” It is entrusted upon the nations to plan a significant portion of the social activities that happen on campus. Each nation has many features, such as a pub, restaurant, a library with study rooms, a cafe with a daily discounted lunches and snacks for students, recreational clubs such as choirs, bands, sports, ski clubs, and a “dance club” night; in which usually the library of the nation building is transformed into a disco. Once you become a member of a nation, you receive a student ID card which gets you into all of the perks your nation has to offer. You might think “hm… that could be exclusive, because what if your friends are in nations different than yours?” But the great thing is, that though you might be a member of a specific nation, you are still allowed to attend any other nation’s club, pub, brunch, or other events. Membership is not mandatory for students, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t join one of these great organizations!
I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (SNerikes, for short), which is the oldest of the thirteen nations and medium in size, hosting around 2,000 members. My nation was quite popular amongst international students, and offered exciting perks such as a cozy pub, a photo club and a dance club on Tuesday nights. Unlike other nations, SNerikes is the only nation at Uppsala University in which the member, if of Swedish descent or nationality, must have a direct bloodline from that region to join! SNerikes was often referred to as “The Pink Castle” — because it truly looked like a pink castle.
During my time in Sweden, SNerikes provided me with many opportunities to get involved. I was even able to work as a waitress in their restaurant, which allowed me to become acquainted with more Swedish students and helped me strengthen intercultural skills when serving patrons. Joining this nation also let me experience a wide range of Swedish traditions and let me make some long lasting friendships. Essentially, being at SNerikes, made me feel at home. No matter what study abroad program you choose, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the local traditions, culture, and people of the host country. The important thing is to take advantage of those opportunities and deeply immerse yourself. I hope that discovering these qualities during your study abroad experience will also help make you feel at home.