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Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
The semester I spent studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden gave me the opportunity to experience the Swedish culture and many of its long lasting student traditions. Uppsala University is world renowned for its strong academics, bustling student-life and other unique characteristics which arguably make it the premier student town in all of Sweden.
One of the most important and cherished parts of the student culture at Uppsala are the “nations.” Now, let me explain. Think of a nation as a mix between a co-ed fraternity and a student union. The nations at Uppsala are named after the thirteen different regional parts of Sweden, or what us Americans would refer to as “counties.” It is entrusted upon the nations to plan a significant portion of the social activities that happen on campus. Each nation has many features, such as a pub, restaurant, a library with study rooms, a cafe with a daily discounted lunches and snacks for students, recreational clubs such as choirs, bands, sports, ski clubs, and a “dance club” night; in which usually the library of the nation building is transformed into a disco. Once you become a member of a nation, you receive a student ID card which gets you into all of the perks your nation has to offer. You might think “hm… that could be exclusive, because what if your friends are in nations different than yours?” But the great thing is, that though you might be a member of a specific nation, you are still allowed to attend any other nation’s club, pub, brunch, or other events. Membership is not mandatory for students, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t join one of these great organizations!
I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (SNerikes, for short), which is the oldest of the thirteen nations and medium in size, hosting around 2,000 members. My nation was quite popular amongst international students, and offered exciting perks such as a cozy pub, a photo club and a dance club on Tuesday nights. Unlike other nations, SNerikes is the only nation at Uppsala University in which the member, if of Swedish descent or nationality, must have a direct bloodline from that region to join! SNerikes was often referred to as “The Pink Castle” — because it truly looked like a pink castle.
During my time in Sweden, SNerikes provided me with many opportunities to get involved. I was even able to work as a waitress in their restaurant, which allowed me to become acquainted with more Swedish students and helped me strengthen intercultural skills when serving patrons. Joining this nation also let me experience a wide range of Swedish traditions and let me make some long lasting friendships. Essentially, being at SNerikes, made me feel at home. No matter what study abroad program you choose, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the local traditions, culture, and people of the host country. The important thing is to take advantage of those opportunities and deeply immerse yourself. I hope that discovering these qualities during your study abroad experience will also help make you feel at home.
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. The 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.
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.
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!
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. 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,
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.