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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.
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.
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.
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.
Excerpt from the Blog of: Lindsey Watts
Studied Abroad: Swansea, Wales
This past weekend I explored the other famous part of this city called the Gower Peninsula. It has just been rated the 10th best beach in the world and number 1 in the UK. Naturally, I was going to have to go check it out. I got a few of my friends together and went for a Saturday afternoon. We were lucky because there was 0% chance of rain
and though there were some cloudy skies and it was very cold, it was still a great day for an adventure. We got on the bus for free(!) and went to Rhossili which is a very small village in the Gower. The village is comprised of a church, a hotel, a few shops and that is it. The village is very cutewith all of the buildings made of stone. However, the village only takes about 10 min to look at. The real attraction is what surrounds it. Looking around for miles, as far as you can see, is beautiful landscape. A view that words can simply not express. I was standing on a piece of land that stopped at the ocean before me, creating stony cliffs, covered in bright green grass and topped with hundreds of sheep. Yes, I said it. There were hundreds of sheep both wild and owned living on the same land. They would be about 6ft away from us and then run away.
The Gower is composed of many cliffs and an island called Worm’s Head. There is a rocky sea floor tureen that bridges the cliffs’ main land to the island. Many people go across and hike on the island and then come back. However, you must be careful because when the tide comes in the water goes over the rocky bridge and you can be stranded on the island until the tide goes back out. The good news is that there is a small building at the end of the main land where some cute old men volunteer as a coast guard and watch out for those who go over. By the time we made it to the edge of the main land we only had an hour until the tide would be there. Most of us thought that we did not have time to go across and come back, though my friend, Paul, decided to go for it and ended up having to half run there and back. He said he had a great time though and would love to go back and do it when he had more time. I also would like to do that when my parents come and I take them there.
After adventuring around (me climbing down a little bit off the cliff) and Paul finding some caves, we went to the small hotel and had a nice small meal. I had a nice lentil and vegetable soup with some bread and a side of chips (steak fries). We then looked in a couple of the gift stores they have and then hopped on the bus back by 2:30pm. Before we left we also got a glimpse of a very old church that had graves from the 1800s and some that were from just 20 years ago. I am sure it would be super spooky during Halloween, but it was pretty cool just to see.
Guest Blogger: Alissa Dappas
After studying abroad or spending any time overseas, it’s safe to say that most travelers come back home itching topack up once again and head out for another adventure. I know this is certainly my situation. I have now been back in the United States for nearly a year, and I daydream constantly of the next places I want to visit and explore.
Although I (like most people) desire to travel again, it has become apparent that planning an overseas educational trip in an organized and well-budgeted way is easier said than done. With graduation approaching and no time left to study abroad for a second time, I thought my chances to travel in an educational type setting were long gone. Fortunately, I’ve recently learned about an opportunity for University of Illinois alumni that allows you to travel with fellow Illinois graduates, and like study abroad, learn something about the places you travel to. Through the University of Illinois Alumni Association Explorers Travel Program, you can relive aspects of your study abroad experience in new locations, or for those of you have not studied abroad before, now is your chance to take your Illini pride overseas!
As the graduation date approaches, I’m sure most seniors are constantly being asked, “So what’s next?” As terrifying as this question may be, there are different ways to go about giving an answer. Of course, the expected answers explain a summary of an upcoming job placement or potentially attending graduate school. As exciting as these things may be, don’t forget to talk about grander plans. What else will you do with your life post college years? Travel, perhaps? As an Illinois graduate, the Explorers alumni tour program is perfect for you! There is no certain age to participate, you can convince your friends to go with you while meeting fellow University of Illiniois alumni, the planning is done for you and prices are very reasonable. With diverse location options (Europe, Asia, Africa and more!), programs that offer educational components (recommended reading lists, guest lectures, professional tour guides, etc.), and comfortable stays in 4-5 star hotels, it will feel like an adult version of studying abroad. With 50-60 trips a year, there is something for everyone. Listed below are just a few examples of some upcoming travels! For more information, please visit http://www.uiaa.org/explorers/.
- Croatia’s Adriatic Coast
o Educational themes: Contemporary Croatia, Seafaring History, and Epicurean Croatia o Dates: June 2nd-14th o Cost: starting at $3,695
o Educational themes: Irish music and Dance, the history of Ireland and County Clare, Irish Seanchai, and Finding Your Irish Roots o Dates: June 22nd-July 2nd o Cost: starting at $3,295
- Paris Immersion Program
o Educational themes: Paris and its art, architecture, culture, cuisine, and history o Dates: August 20th-September 4th o Cost: starting at $3,995
- Undiscovered Apulia, Italy
o Educational themes: Italy’s Deep South, Lecce and Ostuni’s Architectural History, and Italy and Apulia today o Dates: September 23rd-October 1st o Cost: starting at $2,395
- Machu Picchu