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Learning outside the Classroom in Rural Senegal

Guest Blogger: David Silberberg, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office

Study abroad is an opportunity not only to learn in foreign institutions, but also to learn outside the classroom. Taking a step outside your comfort zone into a place unlike anywhere you have been can be a learning experience that cannot be replicated in any school, at home or abroad. When I studied and interned in Senegal for a semester, I realized that while my classes were certainly great, what made the experience invaluable was the time I spent in places that where far different from anything I was accustomed to in the US. The most profound of these experiences was the time I spent with my internship or host family in rural areas–villages that often lacked electricity or running water and usually had no more than a few hundred residents. Coming from suburban Los Angeles and the University of Illinois, this was something I had never encountered. Even for many Senegalese people, this lifestyle is foreign. The World Bank estimates that 43% of the population is urban, with that number becoming larger each year.

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One of the many villages in the area north of the Saloum Delta

For Americans, hearing or seeing pictures of these villages may evoke feelings of disbelief or pity. For some, this is the quintessential image of sub-Saharan poverty–the small village with simple huts and no utilities. However, being able to visit some of these villages and those who live there reveals a far different reality, showing that these conceptions are deeply misguided.

Village life for many is a exactly as they would like it. Everyone works together: farming, raising animals, building houses, taking care of children. Everyone knows their neighbors, and lives are free of the distractions that have come to define our lifestyles. Without television, cell phones, lights to keep us awake all night, car exhaust, noise, and more, life becomes much simpler, but also much more relaxing and, for many, more rewarding.

Who wouldn’t like to spend a while hanging out under that tree?

Several of my host family’s relatives would live in town to go to school and then return to the villages whenever they had a break. My host father would often go spend time (sometimes taking me along) in the village where he was born and where his mother and brother still live. My host brothers often talked about how after they worked in the city and made enough money, they would like to retire and live in a village.

This is not to say that rural life is better than city life. Of course, there are many challenges and issues facing those who live in villages. But what makes life in villages enjoyable is the lack of the things that we cannot imagine living without in our daily lives–TVs, cars, smartphones, computers, etc. Even more, however, is the lack of rent, boring corporate office jobs, mortgages, loans, debt, bills, and the list goes on forever. To sum it all up in one word, rural life is relaxing. Which is something that I think everyone could appreciate, even if it means no iPhones.

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passing through a village on a hot day

5 Tips On How to Be the Best Frequent Flyer

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

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330

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!

drinking-water

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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Why Study Abroad in Jordan?

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

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

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

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

King Abdullah I Mosque

King Abdullah I Mosque

The Altar of the First Byzantine Church

The Altar of the First Byzantine Church

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

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

Remains of the Temple of Hercules at Philadelphia

Remains of the Temple of Hercules at Philadelphia

Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan

Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan

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

The Treasury in Petra

The Treasury in Petra

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Petra

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

The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights

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

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

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

Summer Sweet: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

In the last of our Summer Recipes series, we steal this delicious recipe from Rahul Panchal’s blog:

Who knew that Jamie Oliver, better known for his nutritional revolutions and healthy cooking movement, would have such a devilishly indulgent recipe up his sleeve? Then again, being British, it would be a shame for him not to have a good recipe for sticky toffee pudding. Addicting to the core, my friend gobbled down three helpings of this stuff in one sitting! With that said, let’s quickly run through the basics and get to this recipe! I guarantee that you that the tray will be wiped clean before you can even swing by for seconds!

In England, pudding is a generic term given to describe many things dessert-like, not just the custardy stuff that most people are used to. Therefore, sticky toffee pudding is essentially a quick-baking cake made primarily of dried dates. Even though they are madly delicious on their own, dried dates add sweetness, bulk, and such a wonderful moistness to this pudding that you’ll be questioning why you don’t have a date farm in your backyard. Cinnamon adds a characteristic flavor that makes this reminiscent of a spice cake, while ovaltine adds a slight malty note in the background.

After the pudding (or cake if you are looking for a more American description) is baked, it is soaked in a wicked awesome toffee sauce, hence the name sticky toffee pudding. The sauce is also superbly easy to make. It’s a simple reduction of cream, butter, and brown sugar. Even though the recipe asks for unsalted butter, I actually went ahead and used salted butter, and believe me, it was probably one of the best decisions that I had made in a while. Using salted butter allows you to offset the sweetness from the sugar, which sometimes can be cloying, especially if you plan on consuming it in liberal amounts (as you must do with this recipe). It also doesn’t hurt to mention that Denmark happens to have some of the best butter in the world, so naturally I try to use it whenever I get the chance! However, regardless of where you live, and whether or not you actually like to bake, please, please, please give this recipe a try! It will have addicted to this new realm of quick-cooking deserts in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ve already made this twice!

Recipe: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Adapted Slightly from Jamie Oliver

Ingredients

  • 225 grams fresh or dried dates, pitted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 85 grams salted butter, softened
  • 170 grams sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons ovaltine powder
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt

For the Toffee Sauce:

  • 115 grams salted butter
  • 115 grams light or dark brown sugar
  • 140 ml heavy cream

Method

1. In a medium-sized bowl, cover the dates with about 1 cup of boiling water. Allow the dates to soak for a couple of minutes and then drain. Puree the dates in a food processor or blender until they are smooth.

2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until the mixture is pale in color. Then add the eggs, flour, ovaltine, cinnamon, and baking soda. Mix the batter together until everything is well incorporated. Then fold in the pureed dates and the yogurt. Pour the batter into a greased, ovenproof dish and bake for about 35 minutes, ’til a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

3. While the pudding is baking, make the toffee sauce. Combine the butter, brown sugar, and heavy cream in a small saucepan, and heat the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, reduced, and darkened to a rich brown color.

4. Serve the pudding hot out of the oven scooped out into plates with a generous pouring of the hot toffee sauce. No ice cream or whipped cream is needed. Just the pure pudding, toffee sauce, a spoon, and a happy person to eat it. Enjoy!

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.