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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for some sleep.

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

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

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

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

Explore The World Like No One Is Watching

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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.

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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.Huff Post Stock Image - Blog Post

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.The Abroad Guide Stock Photo - Blog Post

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.

Why Studying Abroad Matters — And How It Can Change You

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

Studying abroad is considered to be one of the most important experiences a student can have in their academic career. Studying abroad provided me with three fundamental things which I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else. During my study abroad semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I gained new perspectives and embarked on many adventures, befriended people from all over the world and upon my return, it even opened doors for me in my desired career path.

Studying Abroad Makes You A Global Citizen 

Taking on the challenge of immersing yourself in a different country and a different culture is no easy feat. Before I arrived in Sweden I researched the country’s culture and lifestyle and discovered it was significantly different from that of the United States. The divergence of societal gender roles, the importance of coffee (fika) breaks, and the relaxed yet independent academic atmosphere were just a few of the things I had to get used to. But, I welcomed this adjustment and soon enough I was living like a true Swede.

During my time in Uppsala, I engaged in thoughtful and stimulating conversations with my classmates which helped me gain new international perspectives. I discovered the importance of being knowledgable about other countries and their cultures, instead of only focusing on the United States. Of course, I  also taught my peers about my Dominican and American cultures, usually through food and pop culture. Recognizing how extraordinary the world is can help you — and others, see things in a completely different light.

Due to these new discoveries, I became excited about exploring Sweden and Europe as a whole. While in Europe, I traveled to 10 different countries and I had some of the most memorable adventures of my life. While on a trip to Swedish Lapland, which is above the Arctic Circle, I went dogsledding and snowmobiling in the frozen tundra, visited the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, saw the Norwegian Fjords, visited a Sami reindeer farm, went for a dip in a frozen lake and saw the Northern Lights. And that was just on one excursion. These are things I would have never dreamed of doing, but because I chose to embark on the adventure that is studying abroad, I now have a myriad of stories to tell about these one-of-a-kind experiences.

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Studying Abroad Connects You with People From All Over The World 

One of my most cherished achievements from my study abroad semester are the relationships I formed with the people I studied with. Uppsala University boasts one of the most populous student exchange programs in Sweden and welcomes 300+ exchange students per semester from all over the world. In those six months, I befriended people from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Morocco, Belgium, Singapore, Australia, Peru, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden and many other countries. Not only did these people become my friends, but they became my study abroad family. We laughed together, traveled together, cooked together and sled down snowy hills together. We got to know each other on a deeper level because we were all embarking on this international adventure together. As a group, we developed an unbreakable bond. These connections would have been unattainable to me if I hadn’t studied abroad.

Though we are unable to see each other as frequently as we used to, we Skype regularly, chat through Facebook and WhatsApp, and visit each other whenever we get the chance! It’s the people that make the experience and they have impacted me significantly because of the time we spent together in Uppsala.

Just think, of all the people you could meet while on study abroad…

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Studying Abroad Can Open New Doors In Your Desired Career 

As a political science and communication double major, culture and international relations are of special interest to me. While searching for summer internships last fall in the field of international affairs, I began to consider how I would convey my study abroad experience on my internship applications. First, I added it to the top of my resume and included a couple of bullet points about the courses I took. While writing the essays for my applications, I knew that I had to express how I had been transformed by studying abroad and how it helped shape me academically, professionally and most of all; personally. I discussed my experience in Sweden, my travels, and how learning about different cultures and their politics from my peers deepened my interest in international affairs. I firmly believe that this part of my application is what set me apart from other candidates and it’s what can set you apart when applying to your dream job or internship. Studying abroad not only demonstrates adaptability, but it shows employers that you can work successfully in a diverse environment and that you can be challenged by the unknown and still succeed.

Just like that, study abroad helped me land my DREAM internship at the United Nations in New York City.

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So, why aren’t you taking advantage of this great opportunity? Illini Go Places! The Study Abroad Office provides over 400 programs in 60+ countries, and I just know there’s one out there for you. Pay a visit to the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building) this week, chat with a Program Assistant and discover how you, too can be transformed by studying abroad in more ways than one!

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!

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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.

 

Technology Abroad: Put Down the Phone and Live!

Guest Blogger: Kenzie Pittman

I left for my semester abroad to Verona, Italy with my iPhone, but with no intention of using it.  I had no particular plan set up to make it cheaper to use, I simply turned off my data so as not to be charged and that was that.  I had it with me for the sole purpose of music, occasional photos, and in case of emergency on my flight to Europe.  I have friends who went abroad after me, and asked for my advice on what plan to get while abroad or what to do about their IPhone.  I simply suggested not to use it, to embrace what is around you, and to connect with people from home only on your laptop in the comfort of your residence abroad.

Technology is a key part of our society today; most of us use it daily.  Between texting on our iPhones, our social media accounts, email, etc. we are all engaged in our devices daily. But while abroad, I think this constant use needs to change.

I’ve seen many people study abroad since I have returned.  I have scrolled through countless Instagram photos, tweets, and Facebook posts. which are most likely from an iPhone.  I am not going to post about what people are doing wrong here; instead, I am going to post about what I did and what worked for me.

421600_10152090482680237_919353786_nI had an Italian phone that was ‘pay as you go’ and just a tiny little flip phone.  I had an Italian number, and the contact information of my resident director as well as the other girls in my program.  We were able to fill it with Euro and text each other, call each other, and for general safety.  This was all the contact I needed while out and about in Verona, or traveling.  My iPhone was left at home, so that I wouldn’t lose it and so that I didn’t use it.  There was really no need for it.  I found myself so engaged in my surroundings and truly appreciating what I was taking in around me.  Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, why do I need to spend it on my Instagram looking to see how many likes I got on a picture of the Eiffel Tower?  People who study abroad are clearly leading a more interesting life than those in Champaign. They know that, you know that.  Instagram and social media accounts are not meant to be looked at daily when you are supposed to be having the time of your life.  The only time I was on my Facebook, etc. was when I was sitting in my apartment not doing anything.  That’s the time when you want to connect to friends, family, and even post your pictures to Facebook from your camera.  I did that, in addition to occasionally tweeting, but I didn’t ever do it unless I was in my apartment.  This made sure that I wasn’t focused on anything else but taking in my surroundings while I was exploring during my time abroad.  Yes, I wanted to show people my pictures so they could see what I was doing and for my own records.  But there is no need to do this on your phone while walking around.

Posting to social media and being engaged in your phone is definitely part of our society.  But when you go abroad, change that.  It’s liberating to actually just soak it all in, without showing anyone at the moment.  Then, when you get back to your apartment, host family, or dorm, you can show them to the people you cohabitate with!  It’s just all about enjoying what you’re doing at the time.  Social media, our iPhones, etc. distract us from what’s around us.  Studying abroad is the perfect opportunity to put the iPhone down and truly engage in your experience.

Overcoming and Learning from Challenges Abroad

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez 

Before leaving for my study abroad journey to Sweden, I was feeling like any other student: excited for the new adventures and yet a little nervous for what was to come. My itinerary had two connections, the latter was at Heathrow Airport in London, U.K. After landing at Heathrow, I would take a direct flight to Stockholm which would finally deliver me to my host country. But, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

We landed early in the morning in London, and I woke to see the airport runways covered with snow. I could sense the panic in the travelers around me. Something was definitely wrong. I exited the plane and hurried through to find my gate, but once I arrived I was told that ALL European connecting flights were cancelled. This meant that over 400 flights were scrapped because of one fluffy inch of snow. It was unbelievable!

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At this moment, I knew that I would have to face this unexpected challenge head on. I found an airport agent who told me I had to go to the 5th floor re-booking center so I could be put on a new flight. When I got there, I was astonished. There were hundreds of people waiting in line, and the line wrapped around the entire floor.

Then, I remembered some words I was told during my Study Abroad Pre-Departure orientation: “things may not always turn out as planned, but you can do your best to have a rewarding experience while abroad.” This motivated me, and I got in line, hoping for the chance to get on a flight to Sweden.

The day passed slowly, and it was nearing closing hours. I was one person away from the front of the line when it was announced that the re-booking center would be closing until 5am the next morning. I was extremely disappointed, but I had to look at the bright side of things. The airline provided me and fellow passengers with mats and blankets, dinner, and free internet, so I took the opportunity to contact my family via Skype. Hearing their comforting words helped me renew my self confidence.

Despite the circumstances, I encouraged myself and I had a certain faith that I would be in Sweden the next morning. Night passed quickly, and by 8am I was finally re-booked on a flight directly to Stockholm. I made it to the Stockholm airport just in time to catch a bus to the Uppsala city center. There, I randomly met two other Danish exchange students who showed me around and took me to the housing office where I picked up the keys to my room.

Upon my arrival, I had a moment of realization. I had the opportunity to live in a different country and experience its language and culture to the fullest. After two long days, and countless hours of jet lag, I was finally in Uppsala and I was finally studying abroad.

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Now, I look back on those first two days and feel grateful. Though the circumstances weren’t ideal, they taught me that if I could overcome those challenges and uncertainties, I could tackle anything my study abroad semester threw at me.

Perseverance, confidence and support through uncertainty are important qualities that are developed and reinforced while studying abroad. Now, I am always confident that no matter what flight gets cancelled, or where I have to spend the night, I can remain calm, encourage myself and know that I survived that night on a yoga mat at Heathrow airport and everything turned out just fine.

STUDYing Abroad: What You Don’t Know About Learning in Your Host Country Can Hurt You

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez

If you’re anything like me, you can’t afford to spend a semester abroad taking classes that only fulfill elective requirements, which is why I chose to study at Uppsala University in Sweden, for its offerings of communication and political science classes. Most of the classes they offered, in terms of subject matter are very similar to the United States and include areas like integrative biology, computer science, social sciences, humanities and others. Yet, when comparing the set-up and organization of classes, this Uppsala greatly differs to that of Illinois.

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At Uppsala University, exchange students are scheduled to take only one class at a time. Yep, you heard it! Instead of struggling through five classes that meet multiple times each week, at Uppsala you focus on only one course for 4-5 weeks at a time. Though this type of learning method may sound convenient and easy, there are some important factors to consider such as exams, assignments and the learning style.

The learning style in Sweden is very relaxed and independent. Classes are usually small and students can develop close relationships with professors. Typically, classes are discussion based, but you’re expected to work twice as hard outside of the classroom.

A good example of this was my Swedish Politics. The class lasted four weeks and we were assigned two books to read. The class met two times per day, two to three times per week, often times with a discussion seminar on Thursdays. Now, here comes the shocking part—as opposed to American academic institutions where students are assigned multiple quizzes, papers, exams throughout the semester, this class only had one final exam at the end of the class period that determined our grade. But, the discussions I participated in, where students voiced their opinion with the guidance of the professor, really represented the strong point of the learning process.

This type of class organization, you can imagine, allows the student additional time for personal and academic adjustments. But with this added “free” time, comes a heavy responsibility to be independent and self directed enough not to fall behind in your studies. Keeping up with readings and participating in class discussion are the key to success. Reading two entire books the night before the exam won’t be an easy or successful task for anyone, thus time management is extremely important. Other friends who have studied in the European region have had similar experiences. Though their course schedules might not be the same (taking one class at a time), they still may only have one final exam at the end that is the make up of their entire grade.

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In contrast, other locations such as Australia or New Zealand have a class and homework schedule similar to that of the United States. Students may have class for at least 5 hours per day, and then have a long week of finals at the end of the exam.

No matter the learning style you prefer, just know that academic learning varies greatly by study abroad program, and not knowing what kind of learning environment you’re walking into or how to be successful in it can hurt you in the long run. But remember the mantra, that adaptability, even through challenge, is what’s most rewarding about studying abroad.

Unsure of what to expect at your host institution? Ask your Study Abroad Advisor for details!