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6 Terrifyingly Fun Halloween Traditions Around the World

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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!

Ireland:
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!

Austria:
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.

China:
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.

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

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

Sweden:
“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!

ireland

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!

Adapting to New Traditions and Feeling at Home

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

The semester I spent studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden gave me the opportunity to experience the Swedish culture and many of its long lasting student traditions. Uppsala University is world renowned for its strong academics, bustling student-life and other unique characteristics which arguably make it the premier student town in all of Sweden.

DSC02861 One of the most important and cherished parts of the student culture at Uppsala are the “nations.” Now, let me explain. Think of a nation as a mix between a co-ed fraternity and a student union. The nations at Uppsala are named after the thirteen different regional parts of Sweden, or what us Americans would refer to as “counties.” It is entrusted upon the nations to plan a significant portion of the social activities that happen on campus. Each nation has many features, such as a pub, restaurant, a library with study rooms, a cafe with a daily discounted lunches and snacks for students, recreational clubs such as choirs, bands, sports, ski clubs, and a “dance club” night; in which usually the library of the nation building is transformed into a disco. DSC08700 Once you become a member of a nation, you receive a student ID card which gets you into all of the perks your nation has to offer. You might think “hm… that could be exclusive, because what if your friends are in nations different than yours?” But the great thing is, that though you might be a member of a specific nation, you are still allowed to attend any other nation’s club, pub, brunch, or other events. Membership is not mandatory for students, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t join one of these great organizations!

I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (SNerikes, for short), which is the oldest of the thirteen nations and medium in size, hosting around 2,000 members. My nation was quite popular amongst international students, and offered exciting perks such as a cozy pub, a photo club and a dance club on Tuesday nights. Unlike other nations, SNerikes is the only nation at Uppsala University in which the member, if of Swedish descent or nationality, must have a direct bloodline from that region to join! SNerikes was often referred to as “The Pink Castle” — because it truly looked like a pink castle.

During my time in Sweden, SNerikes provided me with many opportunities to get involved. I was even able to work as a waitress in their restaurant, which allowed me to become acquainted with more Swedish students and helped me strengthen intercultural skills when serving patrons. Joining this nation also let me experience a wide range of Swedish traditions and let me make some long lasting friendships. Essentially, being at SNerikes, made me feel at home. No matter what study abroad program you choose, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the local traditions, culture, and people of the host country. The important thing is to take advantage of those opportunities and deeply immerse yourself. I hope that discovering these qualities during your study abroad experience will also help make you feel at home.

Siesta: Fact or Fiction?

Guest Blogger: Jenny Aguayo, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office

Prior to venturing out on my journey to Spain, I had already begun to suspect that many of the preconceptions I had made about Spanish culture would result as myths, and I was more than ready to discover what things were true and what things weren’t. However, there was one particular thing that delightedly surprised me more than I’d expected.

My all time favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the Siesta. I was rather excited to become acquainted with this practice because I was such a “pro” at this back in the States. Or so I thought. All my life I thought the Spanish Siesta was just another way to say “nap time.” To my undoubted surprise, there is a lot more to the Spanish Siesta than napping.

Siesta is when the entire city shuts down and prepares for the apocalypse.

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Or, at least, it seems that way. Gates come down and stores are locked up to show that everyone’s gone home!

Siesta is a time during the day where everyone goes home for lunch aka “La Comida.” By “everyone” I really do mean everyone. Shops and businesses close down and schools arrange time for students to go home around 2pm. The purpose of the siesta is to uphold the traditional values of family togetherness. This value varies quite a bit in the States, but it’s interesting to see how family time is respected by the community as a whole throughout Spain. Siesta is a nationally respected tradition. It is more than break time; it is a time for families to come together and enjoy each others’ company.

As far as the napping portion of the siesta– that’s entirely optional. As I mentioned before,  siesta is about spending time with family, but people also take the opportunity to rest before they continue their hard day’s work.

But for how much longer?

The Siesta culture is at risk of declination. As culture evolves, the practice varies across the country and is being reconsidered for continuation. For a really long time the 2-5pm allotment for siesta has been observed by businesses and for the most part is recognized by the government as part of daily function. Controversies are up in the air about whether or not Spain wants to readjust their norms of break times in the workforce. A lot of this has to do with the influence that American working culture has on the world. Americans are known for being “workaholics” who don’t take breaks and prioritize work over spending time with family. Nonetheless, it is because of these driven qualities of our working culture that we have such a strong economy. Spain’s economy, who is currently not doing so well, might be considering making some adjustments by modeling some behaviors after the United States’.

I was pretty amazed to learn about all the dynamics that go into this aspect of Spanish culture. It was one of the many ways that I discovered that there is always more than meets the eye!

Choosing a Program: Finding and Creating a Home

Guest Blogger: Amanda Toledo

On the cover of a journal my mom bought me, there’s a George Bernard Shaw quote that reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about Creating yourself.” Cheesy as inspirational-quote journals may be, I like the sentiment, although I think that life is more a mixture of both seeking and creating. Deciding which study abroad program to go on is no less challenging for some than deciding which university to go to or what to major in. Many students enter the Resource Room knowing they want to go abroad but not knowing where in the world they’d like to go. Program Assistants work to assist these students in finding what works best for them academically as well as personally. When you’re going abroad, whether for a short-term program, a semester, or an entire year, the fact remains that wherever you go, you are creating a home away from home.

Leeds City Centre

When assisting students I often use myself as an example, calling myself a city kid. Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, when I moved to the actual city in high school, I found that the vibrant, swift, and busy life of a city suited me more than slower, mellower pace of  suburban Illinois. When looking for study abroad options, I knew that living in a city would be integral for me. Like most students I’ve spoken with over the past two years, my first thought when it came to England was London. When investigating the programs in London, I discovered there weren’t any options in my price range at the time.

It required more research then, to look up what other English cities the study abroad office had programs in, and which offered classes in my major. I decided on Leeds, the third largest city in England. Of the city options, I chose Leeds because when looking through their class catalogue (“modules” instead of “classes” in the UK) I found a class that sounded interesting to me: an upper level course on the history of witchcraft in literature. In the end, it was a balanced decision between location and academics that landed me on a place I’d someday feel intense homesickness for.

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Gigantic Chess matches in the City Centre

 

 

Leeds gave me my fill of a city, but it also gave me the new experience of a walking city. In between classes and homework and day trips to different locations around the United Kingdom, I’d spend my time wandering down the cobblestoned streets of city centre; passing through the Arcades, stopping in at the (free!) museums and art galleries. As the weather grew warmer, I took the fifty minute walk from my flat to city centre instead of the ten minute bus ride, seeing rolling hills turn into the pubs, shops, and panini places that became familiar and comforting to me over the sixth months I lived there. A fifteen minute walk in the opposite direction from my flat landed me at the ruins of a monastery, towering into the sky, beautiful and stoic in its gorgeous park setting.

The ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey Ruins

This is not to say that life in Leeds was without its struggles, but through those struggles and those delights, I created someone confident, someone who relished the independence of exploring a museum with only herself and the art for company. I created a home away from my family and everything I knew, and discovered the power in that.

At the end of my semester, my mom came to visit for a week. Although her flight got delayed a day, and I really ought to have met her in London (where most of our week together had been planned), I insisted she come to Leeds, even just for the first afternoon. London is my favorite place in the world, it’s thrilling and beautiful on a grander scale than you can imagine, and I would love to live there someday, but Leeds was my home.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake at Cupackes by Charley in the city centre

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake from Cupackes by Charley

I knew the best place to take my mom for fish and chips, I knew all the flavors at the local cupcake shop, and which ones to recommend; I knew Leeds.

I can honestly say I have only met one or two people that did not like their programs abroad. Most people feel about their cities the way I feel about Leeds, whether they picked a setting they knew they liked, or chose something that was perhaps out of their comfort zone, but an exciting challenge. I’ve heard students wax nostalgic about their host families, or excitedly recount their adventures of their host countries. Any program abroad will be a mixture of finding and creating a place for yourself in the world; but it’s a journey worth taking.

Begin your journey now! The deadline for this Winter Break programs and Spring semester programs is September 15th.

Exchange Program Spotlight: Quito, Ecuador

Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish

Located in the capital city of Ecuador, the SAO Exchange program at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito has a lot to offer students looking to study abroad. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Quito is just south of the equator and located in an Andean valley surrounded by mountainous peaks. Otavalo Market, Pleasant Radford, ECUThe city offers a unique blend of modern practices and old world traditions. Most notably is the historical center or ‘old town,’ that is defined by its colonial splendor and indigenous character. Similarly, Quito offers a wide range of activities that appeal to all types of students. You can grab a meal in Otavalo Market, go river rafting, hike one of the surrounding mountains, or participate on a city tour.

 

The program includes four excursions that are planned for the students, giving them a chance to explore the country of Ecuador while abroad. The excursions include day trips to surrounding lakes and nature areas, a trip to the Papallacta hot springs, and a weekend trip to the pristine tropical rainforest, Puerto Quito. Transportation, housing, and meals on these excursions are already covered in the program fees, so students can travel and explore in ease.

Quilotoa Group pic

 

The program at Universidad San Francisco de Quito is direct enroll, meaning the students participating on this program can take any class available at the university. This gives University of Illinois students the opportunity to interact with other international and Ecuadorian students in their classes. A majority of the classes offered aretaught in Spanish, thus making this program a great fit for student looking to get credit for Spanish classes abroad. This program also offers unique opportunities for students to get involved volunteering within the Ecuadorian community. Volunteer projects students have participated on in the past include: environmental protection, women’s shelters, orphanages, public schools and hospitals.

service learning group, ECU

With so many unique experiences to offer students, Universidad San Francisco de Quito may be the best place for you to live, explore, and develop via cultural immersion and stimulating academia. For more information on this program go to Quito Program Page or come in a talk to a Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office!

 

Another Summer Snack: Qubani ka Meetha

Guest Blogger: Rahul Panchal

I spent the summer as a research intern working at a diagnostics lab in Hyderabad, a bustling metropolis in Southern India. I won’t bother sharing all the work-related details here because you can find them on another specially dedicated blog I wrote to document the experience, Andhra-Style: My Life in Hyderabad. Do give it a read if you want to know more about me! I think I was able to make some pretty gritty and introspective realizations about my life at the time.

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The cramped work area where I conducted my experiments

One thing worth sharing are the contradictory emotions. While I was in Hyderabad, I was faced with a culture that was familiar, yet so alien at the same time. There were many days were I felt lonely, bored, and just wanted to fly back home.

Is it weird though now, to say that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad? 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”.

Hyderabad’s Finest: the Famed Chicken Biryani at Shadaab Restaurant

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. 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.

Qubani ka Meetha in its original splendor, how I enjoyed it in Hyderabad

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 more earthy. 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 hadQubani 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 were 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 bursted 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

Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:

  1. Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
  2. 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.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
  4. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.

Cooking Notes:

  • 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 :)!

Find more of Rahul’s recipes and stories at his blog, Cooking Fever

 

A True Red Gem: Rødgrød med Fløde

Guest Blogger: Rahul Panchal

After a lot of waiting and crying over blisteringly cold days, springtime has finally come to Denmark. The sun is out almost everyday, the weather is brisk, yet pleasant enough to walk around without a jacket, and Copenhageners have finally stepped out to reclaim their streets. Perhaps the best part of this new season would have to be the large amounts of Danish-grown produce that is slowly arriving in the markets. Just last week, while strolling though the city center, I saw little cartons of ruby-red strawberries, the packaging proudly proclaiming, “dansk jordbær” (Danish strawberries). Excited to say the least, I immediately caved in and shelled out 25 kroner (about 4.50 dollars) for the little half-pound box. Yes, they may have only been like 12 DSCN9563little strawberries in total, but each of them was full of magnificent and richly concentrated strawberry flavor that balanced perfectly between the dimensions of sweet and sour. It got me thinking ahead far into the Danish summertime.

Because the summertime is so short in Scandinavia, people all over the region, including Denmark, savor it to the fullest. Festivals are built around the climate and the sun, particularly in the northernmost reaches of Sweden of Norway, where special parties are thrown to celebrate “midnight sun”, a phenomenon where the sun shines for almost the entire day. Even here in Copenhagen, the sun only sets around 9 pm now, it’s crazy!

DSCN9573It has been built into the mentality of Danish cuisine to only savor certain ingredients when they are at their best, and actually, I think that the same can be said for almost every cuisine. Rødgrød med Fløde is a celebration of the Danish summertime harvest. Translating to “red porridge with cream”, Rødgrød med Fløde traditionally consists of a mixture of red and black currants, strawberries, and raspberries that are simmered down with sugar and water and then thickened with a couple of spoons of potato flour. The resulting “pudding” is then served chilled with a splashing of ice-cold DSCN9617cream on top. That’s right, just pure, unsweetened, unwhipped, and unadulterated cream. The simplicity of everything is   beautiful. The milky cream puts to sleep the tangy chattering of the berries. The contrast is utterly refreshing while still maintaining a measure of substance in your stomach due to the starch in the recipe.

Because currants are not available at all in Denmark until June/July, I used a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, andDSCN9571rhubarb in this recipe. Even though it it’s not a berry, rhubarb is often a traditional ingredient in many rødgrød med fløde recipes. Furthermore, it kind of also has become one of my favorite fruits at the moment, and the pairing of strawberries and rhubarb is not only symbolic and eternal, it’s a match made in heaven.

So, when summer finally hits your homes, take to the kitchens with some Danish inspiration and try cooking up some Rødgrød med Fløde. Sure, it may be a workout to pronounce, but it certainly isn’t a workout to make.

DSCN9625Recipe: Rødgrød med Fløde

Adapted slightly from this recipe found on the blog,  My Danish Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped in half
  • 2 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1/3 pound raspberries
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons potato flour or cornstarch
  • heavy cream, for serving

Method:

Wash all the fruit and then cut up the rhubarb and strawberries. Place the fruit in a large pot with the sugar and water. DSCN9583Simmer over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until the fruit has fallen apart and is tender. Pass the fruit through a sieve to separate out the seeds, but keep the pulp! Return the juices and pulp to the pot. Stir the potato flour with some water to dissolve and make a slurry mixture. Bring the fruit juices and pulp back to a simmer and then stir in the dissolved potato flour in increments. Keep letting the mixture simmer until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, similar to what would DSCN9590happen if you were to be making a custard or a pudding.

Pour the rødgrød into a bowl and allow it to cool in the fridge until completely chilled, about 4 hours to overnight. Serve in shallow plates or bowls with a splashing of ice cold cream on top.

Cooking Notes:

  • There is not a ton of sugar in this recipe, but the idea is that you will be using ripe fruit, and rødgrød is not supposed to be that sweet anyway.
  • If you are not into cream, you can also serve Rødgrød med Fløde with milk or even a spoon of greek yoghurt or cottage cheese.
  • For people with a massive sweet tooth, rødgrød can also be used as a topping over vanilla ice cream.

Find more recipe’s at Rahul’s blog, Cooking Fever!

cookingfever

DSCN9560After a lot of waiting and crying over blisteringly cold days, springtime has finally come to Denmark. The sun is out almost everyday, the weather is brisk, yet pleasant enough to walk around without a jacket, and Copenhageners have finally stepped out to reclaim their streets. Perhaps the best part of this new season would have to be the large amounts of Danish-grown produce that is slowly arriving in the markets. Just last week, while strolling though the city center, I saw little cartons of ruby-red strawberries, the packaging proudly proclaiming, “dansk jordbær” (Danish strawberries). Excited to say the least, I immediately caved in and shelled out 25 kroner (about 4.50 dollars) for the little half-pound box. Yes, they may have only been like 12 DSCN9563little strawberries in total, but each of them was full of magnificent and richly concentrated strawberry flavor that balanced perfectly between the dimensions of…

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Reflection Before Graduation: What To Take From Study Abroad

Guest Blogger: Kenzie Pittman

With my Graduation nearing, I can’t help to think back at each semester as a student at U of I. One semester in particular that comes to mind is the Fall that I spent studying in Verona, Italy. Before my study abroad trip, I had never been out of the country. It was definitely scary, and was going to be a challenge taking, on a new language and culture in Italy.

What I wanted out of my study abroad experience, however, was a challenge. I wanted to try a new language, and expose myself to a totally new culture, and Italy was a beautiful place to do so. I remember being out in Verona practicing my Italian to the best of my ability. It was tough at times, but it made my learning experience that much better. I wanted to learn more about their culture, art, history, and that’s what the classes in my program provided me with. I took Italian, Art History, Painting, and Photography. The curriculum was a lot different than what I was used to at U of I. I hadn’t taken a painting or art class since I was in middle school, but I learned so much from my amazing instructors in all of my different classes. They were so qualified and so passionate about what they did, and it made me excited to be in class every single day. It was such a hands-on learning experience, because not only did we get to learn in the classroom, we got to learn out in the city of Verona and in other cities nearby. We would actually get to see the things we were learning about. The classes I took really opened up my eyes to the arts and my appreciation for them. There is so much history and beautiful architecture in Italy, and it was totally new information to learn and take in.


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As I look back, I cherish my time in Verona for many reasons, in addition to my classroom experiences. The challenges I faced made me stronger, and the people I met made my experience wonderful. My broader view of Italian culture and a completely new country was exhilarating, and I promised myself to cherish every day there. Since then, I stick to that motto even back on campus, and as a soon-to-be graduate. One of the greatest things I noticed while in Italy is that they live their lives with such happiness. They appreciate their friends and socialize for hours, just loving the company of their loved ones. My experience in Verona taught me to do that, and for that I am grateful. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Verona for a semester. That happiness doesn’t have to leave your study abroad experience.

It can be taken back with you and practiced in your everyday life.
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So as you think about studying abroad and what you want out of it, remember to not let it pass you by. Cherish every day, and take every day as an exciting learning experience.

Appreciate the company and the culture around you, and you will come back with the most rewarding experience of your life.

 

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,

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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.

How Strangers Become Family: Cross-Cultural Connection

Guest Blogger: Alissa Dappas

When it comes to learning a new language, there is only so much a student can get out of lectures and exams.  To truly become proficient, conversation practice is essential.  As a Spanish minor, I knew that my study abroad experience had to include as much language immersion as possible if I ever wanted to become a confident Spanish speaker.  To achieve maximum language immersion, I decided to attend the study abroad program in San Joaquin de Flores, Costa Rica because of its approved Illinois Spanish-credit classes and most importantly, because all students in the program had to live with a host family.  Although I was extremely nervous about the concept of moving in with strangers for four months, I now consider my relationship with my host family to be the most rewarding aspect of my semester in Costa Rica.

Throughout my time spent abroad, my host family was my strongest and always-available support system.  No matter what the situation or question, they were the people I turned to for help or guidance.  I was lucky to live with a very caring host mom, Patricia, host dad, Ronald, and two younger host sisters, Diana and Priscila.  Each member of my family took time to get to know me personally and as the semester went on, I began to realize that I really did consider them to be part of my own family.  There was never one specific moment that made me come to this realization; I think it was simply a bunch of small things that built on top of each other.  For instance, my host mom and I were normally the only ones around for breakfast, so every morning, I would begin my day by having a conversation with her while helping prepare the food, eating or cleaning the dishes. hostfam1 When my host sisters came back from school, we would play cards together or I would teach them how to do cartwheels in the backyard.  We often bonded by talking about things we had in common (a mutual Harry Potter obsession was a hot topic) and laughing at my funny pronunciations of some words.  After dinner, my host dad was my go-to person when I wanted to learn more about the Costa Rican government or general Latin American politics.  He always seemed to know a bit about both sides of any story and usually knew more about the events or debates going on in the United States than I knew myself.  So within this one family unit, I came to know each person as an individual and because of this, I learned more than I ever previously imagined I would.  Besides being able to practice my Spanish with a group of people I was comfortable with, I was also able to create lifelong bonds and gain family members that belong to a culture different from my own.

host fam            Looking back, all four months with my Costa Rican family summed up to one huge lesson on the importance of time spent together as a family.  Culturally, this is where I saw the greatest difference between the United States and Costa Rica.  Although many people would argue that the idea of a strong family unit is still very important to most Americans, it would be hard to deny that the family dynamic in the United States is not influenced by parents’ work schedules, sports practices, tutoring, videogames, fast food dinners, etc.  In Costa Rica, time spent together comes before most other obligations.  And from what I’ve heard and read, it seems like this importance on family time is a central part of Latin American culture as a whole, and not just in Costa Rica.  No matter my host parents’ schedules, they always made time each day to make a meal together and sit down as a family for dinner.  Most days, the dinner was usually followed by a game played together or a conversation that carried over from the main meal to dessert or coffee.  host sisterIt was during these dinners and late-night conversations that we would discuss our days, hear about any problems my sisters were having at school or learn news about the extended family (who happened to live in all of the surrounding houses).  During these moments, I learned more about life and the values of Costa Ricans and my family was able to learn about my life in the United States.

Slowly but surely, my new family impacted me in such a way that I now actively try to apply their family-centered, peaceful mentalities to my own life back in the United States.  Not only did my Spanish conversation ability improve, but living with a host family also reopened my eyes to the more important things in life and that above all, the relationships that we have with our friends and family should come before everything else.