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4 Ways to Help You Get Started Studying Abroad

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

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

  • Decide what you want out of your academic experience.

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

  •  Speak to your advisor.

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

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  • Where do you want to live?

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

  • Visit your Study Abroad Office!

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

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5 Tips On How to Be the Best Frequent Flyer

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

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Let’s be honest, we don’t choose to study abroad to be two hours away from home! As exciting as it may be to take in the sites of the “Big Buddah” in Hong Kong or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France we must realize it takes A LOT of time to travel to these places and more often than not we have to get there by plane. From personal experience, I can say that traveling around the world in a high speed Boeing is no walk in the park – unless you’re flying first class. From “stuffed” ears to the delicious boxed meals, sometimes the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I would soon be scarfing down delicious gelato in Rome. Since, I think everyone should capitalize on the opportunity to study abroad I want to share my 5 helpful tips for flying 30,000 feet high in comfort and style!

Tip 1: Drink Water

As much as your parents encouraged you to drink tons of water as a child, I’m afraid to say they are absolutely right! The cabin air is not humidified on a plane and this leads to chapped lips, dried nasal passages and thirst that needs to be quenched. Yikes! However, you should never fear, drinking water can negate all of these symptoms. Many kiosks and stores in the airport sell water bottles after security so stock up and avoid dehydration in between those free cups of soda and juice!

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Tip 2: Bring Travel Size Hand Sanitizer 

This may seem like a small request but it will help out your health in the long run. As you walk through customs and security you will be coming into contact with many people. Traveling, as fun as it may be, does make your immune system pretty low. One way to negate that is to bring hand sanitizer. Walgreens or any local drug store sells TSA approved sizes of sanitizer that can help you avoid some of the flu and cold germs you may encounter.

Tip 3: Bring Healthy Snacks 

Sure long distance flights have in-flight meals, however, you may get hungry in between. Buying snack foods such as nuts, granolas, carrots, etc. can help curve those hunger pains until the flight attendants come around again.

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Tip 4: Pack Light in Your Carry On Luggage

The under seat luggage storage is becoming as small as Alice after drinking her shrinking potion in Wonderland. I would suggest to pack only the basics in a carry-on to alleviate weight and stress when traveling. Make sure you have your required travel documents – passport, acceptance letter from foreign university, visa, etc. – along with an mp3 player and headphones of choice to zone out during the flight!

Tip 5: Get up & Walk Around

…only when your seatbelt sign isn’t on though. For some students, flying around the globe to the Philippines or New Zealand will take almost half a day! I don’t know about you, but sitting slightly upright above the Earth sounds more of a job for an astronaut than your regular day citizen. Being in that position for so long can cause swelling in the feet and ankles because there is such low cabin pressure, as well as dry air. Along with my number 1 tip of drinking water, walking up and down the aisle during safe times can help alleviate this issue. So go ahead, nudge your neighbor and get out of that middle seat – walking around can help your body so you can hit the ground running to your host university…and it isn’t so bad to use that as an opportunity for a potty break too!

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Journaling versus Blogging: What’s the best way for you to document your experience abroad?

Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish

Immediately after my acceptance to the Lincoln University program in Christchurch, New Zealand I began thinking about how I wanted to document my experience. I would of course, like a true millennial, bring a camera along to capture endless amounts of pictures, but I also wanted a median of documentation that would record my feelings, actions, and thoughts while traveling. This lead me to the often-used options of blogging and journaling as means to chronicle my experience with words as opposed to just images. After looking more into both options, I couldn’t figure out which one was for me so I, again as true millennial, decided to not decide and used both formats to document my time abroad. What I found was that each median has its own perks and drawbacks.

 

Blogging

Based on almost no evidence, I think this is the more popular of the two options for students participating on programs abroad and it’s easy to see why. Blogs are easy to start, easy to maintain, and can be shared with loved ones back home who are eager to read about your excursions (I’m looking at you, Moms). I used the popular website Weebly to create my blog page and shared the URL with anyone who would be even vaguely interested in reading about what I was doing in New Zealand. What I really liked about blogging was the writing part, surprisingly enough. It became a fun way to relive and recap my weekend for friends and family at home, and for my future self. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through my blog and read it again after returning home to the States. It perfectly captured my inner voice at that time in my life and in hindsight, I’m really happy to have those stories written at the time I was experiencing them. Plus, blogging is something you can put on your resume! Employers like seeing that you have experience with maintaining and writing via social media as it is becoming widely used by all types of businesses.

Incase you’re interested in starting your own study abroad blog here are some websites to check out!

  1. weebly.com
  2. wordpress.com
  3. medium.com

 

Journaling

Based on even less evidence, I think journaling is the long lost cousin of blogging that students tend to forget about as way to document their study abroad program. Although similar, keeping a journal can be an entirely different experience than blogging. I found this was the case mainly because blogs are written for other people to read and enjoy, while journals are usually kept private. Interestingly enough, I also found that I struggled with writing in a journal upon first starting. I approached it in the same manner I did my blog− writing about events and stories− but found that journals are better for documenting reactions and feelings that are typically omitted in blogs. With the sensor removed, my journal shows the personal transformation I underwent while abroad. The things my journaling focused on at the beginning of the program versus the end reflect the way studying abroad completely changed what I valued and therefore, wrote about. Plus, journaling at a cafe in a foreign country is exactly as romantic as it sounds and it’s fun to play up the stereotype of being a traveler every once in a while.

 

Overall, I enjoyed writing for each of these formats for different reasons and they will both be appreciated by my nostalgistic self for quite sometime. However, if I had to choose one to recommend to future study abroad-ers it would be journaling. The experience of studying abroad is inherently selfish: exploring the world as a student inevitably results in a journey of self-discovery. With every culture you are exposed to while traveling, you learn a little bit more about the world but, in turn, you learn so much more about yourself. And after using both methods, I believe journaling is the most effective way to document the personal growth students’ experience while abroad.

Buying Groceries Abroad: A revealing piece on the difference between what’s stocked on the shelves in Orland Park, Illinois versus Lincoln, New Zealand

Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish 

Before studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand I was warned of a phenomena known as culture shock. This occurs when visiting a new country and is the result of a confusing or disorienting feeling when experiencing a new way of life. Essentially, your brain is rewiring. Culture Shock, if it does occur, typically happens to students within their first couple days of studying abroad in a foreign country and is remedied after adjusting to the new lifestyle. I say ‘typically’ because not all culture shocks are the same, or happen around the same time. And for those of you who are lucky enough, this ‘disorienting phenomena’ can hit yet again after you return to the United States, even in some of the most familiar of situations you thought you once understood. I was hit with this reverse culture shock at my local grocery store, of all places.

I had only been home for a couple days and was still succumbing to jet-lag by napping at odd hours of the day. My mom determined that that was enough time to adjust back to my life at home and, with a mother’s intuition, knew I was ready to start running errands for the family again. So there I was: in my local Walmart, shopping basket in hand, leisurely browsing the endless aisles. I began in the produce section and was mildly surprised at the prices: only $1.19 for seedless red grapes? $0.69 for a mango? The bananas were practically free! I remembered the cost of living in New Zealand was slightly higher and I had to take into account the dollar conversion, so I chalked it up to the numbers and moved on, quietly suppressing my unadulterated joy for cheap produce.

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My daily breakfast in New Zealand: one free range egg on wheat toast, with the country’s signature fruit, kiwi! 

The next items on my list were the essentials to any well balanced diet: eggs, coffee, bread, and peanut butter. While picking these up, I continued noticing that all of these products are cheaper in the States, but the options for each were very different. For example, in New Zealand, the produce available is more dependent on seasonality and therefore more expensive and my favorites weren’t always in stock. In addition, there are only free range eggs. Granted, you have a choice among the free range eggs of white or brown, large or regular, etc. but the store only stocks eggs from chickens that are roaming freely in some part of the New Zealand countryside. In the coffee section, all of the brands proudly bore the Fair Trade Logo, advocating their support of fair purchasing prices from the exporters and higher environmental standards. The peanut butter was made in New Zealand and invited customers to take a tour of the factory and farms. Where were these health conscious and environmentally friendly options in Walmart? Was I missing something? Did they forget to re-stock all of the brands labeled organic or non-GMO? It was somewhere in between searching for the Fair Trade coffee logo and the organic granola that I came to the conclusion that New Zealand gave me a crash course on a higher standard of living, one that is less available in the States. Thus causing the onset of my reverse culture shock.

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The meat pie is a staple in the average Kiwi’s diet, the organic Cola was just a bonus. 

Later, I realized that this higher standard of living is not less available at home, it just comes at a higher cost. A cost that is easily compared when you have the prices of both free range and non-free range eggs on a little yellow label in front of you (and with the former costing almost twice as much as the latter, it’s hard to remember why I care about roaming chickens), as opposed to the grocery store in New Zealand that only has the price of free range eggs as that is the only option. And we do have big chain stores here in the States, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, that satisfy all of your organic needs but they aren’t the average grocery store. This was shocking to realize once I was back home because it was something I had never noticed before. Buying these types of products had become standard practice for me during my time abroad, and this translated to my life back home. For this, I am grateful that life in New Zealand has made me aware of these different choices and that it has made me a more environmentally conscious consumer, but nothing beats cheap produce!

Buying a car abroad

NZ BlogGuest Blogger: Zana Darwish

The semester I spent in New Zealand allowed me to experience a lot of firsts in my life. These firsts are usually my go-to stories when talking about my time abroad, probably because they are the most glamorous and fun to re-live. If I were to name a few they would be: the first time I climbed a mountain, the first time a saw a waterfall in person, the first time I tasted the mind-consuming deliciousness that is a meat pie. But my favorite one to slip in casually is that living in New Zealand was also the first time I owned a car. This usually surprises people and thus ellictes a shocked response, which I love responding with: I was the proud owner of a 1996 Subaru Legacy!

Well, to be fair, I wasn’t the sole owner. I purchased the car with four other people at $500 a piece and when all was said and done, I would not have traveled New Zealand any other way. Having our own car entitled us to ultimate traveling freedom as well as allowing us to fully appreciate the wonderfully scenic drives. Whenever we had a free weekend, we would pack up the Subaru, grab some snacks, and head out on whatever adventure we planned. To many people, five to nine hour road trips every weekend seems horrendous but to me, they are what created unforgettable memories and turned virtual strangers into my closest friends.

NZ Blog2Furthermore, buying a car allotted me a sense of independence in way I would have never foreseen, as well. With the car came responsibilities such as registration, insurance, and parking permits, all of which sheperded me into a more adult-like life. On one particular night, I was driving with Olivia (another one of the five owners) when we got a flat tire. We pulled the car over, looked at each other, and were at a total loss of what to do. In that moment, I realized that every other time I had car trouble all I did was call my Dad and he would take care of it. But he was miles away! Sleeping on the other side of the world! Completely and utterly unhelpful! After a few more moments of being flabbergasted at our unlucky situation, I snapped out of it and started making moves. I told Olivia to start calling friends to come pick us up while I phoned different towing companies about repairing flat tires. Unfortunately, none of the towing companies were open so we left the car in a parking lot overnight and went back the next day with a friend who showed us the finer details of how to change a flat. So, what started as an unlucky accident turned into a learning experience that made me a more competent driver.

I will continue to be entertained by people’s expressions when I let it slip that I bought a car, but more so I will continue to be grateful for all the memories I created in that 1996 Subaru Legacy. Plus, I can now say I know how to drive on the left side of the road!

Coming Home: Reflecting on a Semester Abroad in New Zealand

Guest Article: Mark Sullivan, ACES Study Abroad in New Zealand Spring 2013

As I am finishing up my semester abroad in New Zealand, I have recently spent some time, mostly while procrastinating from studying, to look back at the experiences I have had here. Every time I look back I remember another adventure, or another person I have met along the way and the memories I have with them. One thing that almost all of these adventures and memories have in common is agriculture. I have travelled between farms, studied at university, and of course been on a couple road trips to see the sights of this beautiful country. In that time I have met numerous people who share the same love of agriculture as I do, and even a few who might love it a little more.

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When I first found out I was going to be able to come to New Zealand my first thought was “where is it?” For those of you that don’t know it is approximately 8,000 miles from Rushville IL, and right off the coast of Australia. Although I didn’t know where it was when I started this adventure I can tell you now that I will never forget it. What made my study abroad special wasn’t just my time at school, but also the experience I gained before I started school. I had the opportunity to come here with a group of 17 students and our advisor to study horticultural exports from New Zealand. We spent 2 weeks sleeping in hostels, riding busses, planes, and ferries, all while getting to know each other and this country, sometimes better than we wanted to. In that time we visited agricultural operations that covered everything including cherries, grapes, peaches, pears, apples, onions, potatoes, kiwis, and many more. In addition to the actual operations we were able to visit with government officials in the nation’s capital and discuss issues that they face in agriculture. What I was consistently amazed at was that every place we visited, every person we talked to shared a similar love for agriculture.

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After the first two weeks I said goodbye to my 17 new friends and moved onto my next adventure. I flew to Christchurch and met up with my new “family” for the next month. I was set to spend the next month living on a family dairy operation. After my first few days of getting adjusted and meeting my new family, I started to spend some time doing odd jobs around the farm, some tractor work, helping move the cows, getting to know the irrigations systems, and before I knew it I felt like I was home. Of course it helped that I got to come home to some pretty amazing home cooked meals every night, but the farm was where I truly felt at home, even though I was 8,000 miles from my real home. In the next couple of weeks my new parents made some calls and lined up opportunities for me to work with a variety of other farmers. I spent a few days helping with a wheat harvest on a hill country farm surrounded by sheep, cattle, and deer, then moved to a cropping farm where I ran a catch cart for rye grass harvest. I even spent 3 days with a farmer that also owns/operates the only precision agriculture business in New Zealand where I got to see much of the same technology I enjoy working with back home, used in ways I had never imagined. Among all of the farms I visited I experienced dairying, cleaning bins, cropping over 8 different crops, riding in combines, and my favourite, driving tractors. But among all of these experiences the most important thing I gained, was the opportunity to sit down with other families to dinner every night. The stories and cultural experience I gained from that was greater than I could have ever gained in a classroom. I must say this was my favourite chapter, but I wasn’t done yet.

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For my final chapter I moved into a hall (dorm room) at Lincoln University near Christchurch NZ. Upon my arrival I knew nobody, the only connection I had was a student I had met at one of the farms, and a few other University of Illinois students whom I had never met other than Facebook. After the first 2 weeks I had met more friends than I could keep track of. Other Americans, Norwegians, English, Kiwis (New Zealanders) and others. I partnered with a few of my new friends and bought a car (beautiful Subaru station wagon) and have spent the last 4 months studying a little, going to a few classes, and traveling too much. During our adventures we saw location shoots from Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and a few others. We travelled some of the windiest, scariest, coolest roads I’ve ever been on, and saw many of the most beautiful sites I could’ve ever imagined.  On top of our independent travels we were kept busy some of the time with class field trips. Two of the classes I was in had organized, hands on experience field trips throughout the semester. We travelled to see dairy, sheep, beef, forestry, vineyards, orchards, wineries, etc., etc. Again, agriculture gave me a connection to home.

During all of my time here the one thing that stands out the most to me is the love of the land that you see on every operation you visit. Now, coming from a farm, and having a mother that has an obsession with native plants, and forestry, I was raised with what I consider an “above average” love of the land. But what I have experienced here is essentially a whole new level. I have consistently seen a desire among farmers to keep their farm not only productive and profitable, but also sustainable, clean, and beneficial to the country around it. Farmers giving up pasture and water access to livestock so they can put grass strips along rivers and creek beds to keep the water cleaner. Operations using crop rotations that take 10-12 years with 8 different crops to keep the soil healthy and productive. Although New Zealand may have a thing or two to learn from us about internet access and cell phone coverage, I think we have just as much to learn from them. These six months have given me the opportunity to sit back and take an outside view of what is possible in farming. Not just new technology and bigger equipment, but using old ideas combined with the new to maximize what we have at our disposal. This is an experience I could never have learned in a classroom, and especially not without taking the leap to travel to another country and immerse myself in another way of life.

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

Restko-Personal

“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

Lee-Academic

“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

Weston-Academic

Guest Article: Alum Aims to ‘Enable Abroad’

MATT VANDERZALM, MANAGING EDITOR

Cage diving with Great White Sharks off the Neptune Islands in South Australia.

Photos courtesy Rob Kozarek

Robert Kozarek’s study abroad trip to Australia almost never happened.

During the summer before his senior year of high school in 2005, Kozarek, driving below the speed limit in a heavy rainstorm, had a devastating car accident. The car he was driving began hydroplaning, flipped over a guardrail, and rolled multiple times before finally coming to rest upside down at the bottom of a small ravine. Kozarek survived, but was left with a broken neck and vertebrae. He was paralyzed from the chest down, and would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Jump ahead to 2010. Kozarek, now an Illinois student on his way to earning a degree in English, began revisiting the idea of studying abroad, something he’d considered prior to his accident—and something about a quarter of Illinois undergraduates will do before graduation.

“I have always loved to travel and to experience new and different cultures and people,” said the Madison, Wisconsin native. “I wanted an experience where I could live in a different city, in a different country, and meld into the culture.”

Kozarek wanted to get involved through the campus Study Abroad Office (SAO) exchange program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. To pursue this passion, there would be obstacles. He was told very few, if any, disabled students had gone abroad and participated in Illinois-led programs. The challenges facing any student with a disability going abroad are numerous, according to Susann Sears, disability specialist with Disability Resources and Educational Services at Illinois.

“One thing we discuss with students is the fact that the federal protections in this country do not follow them to other countries,” Sears said. “Things cannot necessarily be replicated as far as supports go in other countries because of that, and because there are cultural differences in how disability is interpreted.”

Things common at Illinois and in the U.S., such as curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, and automatic doors, are often missing in other countries. Also, many students stay with host families while they are abroad. “The reality is that private homes can be particularly inaccessible,” Sears said.

While Kozarek’s disability did create a number of hurdles other students may not face, the most pressing issue was indeed finding an appropriate place to live. It had to be a place that was wheelchair accessible, yet made him feel like he was, well, in Australia. Eventually, with the help of SAO Coordinator of International Programs Steven Dale, the two were able to locate a suitable flat near the university.

Read the entire article about Rob’s experiences abroad as a wheel-chair user in the Illinois International Review

Or watch his video here: Rob Kozarek in Australia