Friday, July 19, 2019

Miracle in Costa Rica!

   My first night in Costa Rica was an overwhelming experience. Everything moved so fast and my Tico family spoke even faster. When my host mom was explaining the household operations, all I could do was smile and say “si, si, si.” My ears and mind couldn’t fully comprehend what was being said. I just wanted to go to sleep and try again tomorrow.

  ¡Pura Vida! My name is Miracle Johnson and I am a senior biology major on a pre-medicine track. My study abroad experience was in Costa Rica with The School of Health and Human Sciences (HSS). The program was three weeks of Spanish classes and service-learning opportunities. While in Costa Rica, I attended CPI Spanish Immersion School in three different areas: Heredia, Monteverde, and Flamingo. Each site provided me the opportunity to improve my Spanish speaking skills and learn more about Tico culture. I would like to note some key experiences from my time in Costa Rica.

Baby Pablo y yo at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Rich land is an understatement when describing the biodiversity of Costa Rica. 


   Spanish language in Costa Rica was taught differently from my experiences in the US. The “tu” form wasn’t taught in the Spanish language classes at CPI. Instead we addressed everyone, young or old, in the formal “usted” form. This was different because throughout all my years of Spanish learning much emphasis was placed upon the different conjugation forms. Nonetheless, learning only four conjugation forms made it easier for me to conjugate verbs. I didn’t have to overthink if I was conjugating a verb correctly to fit who I was referring to.

¡Pura Vida!

    It did take me a while to get comfortable with my first host family; however, I felt more a part of the family as the days went by. I consider living with a host family a plus to studying abroad in Costa Rica. Living with three different Tico families taught me various connotations of Pura Vida. Pura Vida isn’t just a greeting Ticos use; it is a way of living! My time with my host families lead me to experience the simplicity behind “Pura Vida”. I would volunteer, go to classes, and return to enjoy downtime with my host families. The common activities included playing with the kids and watching fútbol or movies.

Pura Vida can have different meanings. My bungee jumping experience taught me, Pura Vida, means combating fears, taking risks, and just living. 

Service in La Carpio

    La Carpio is one of the “slums” in Costa Rica. It is a rural area with a large Nicaraguan population. My study abroad group volunteered with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation to renovate a mother’s bathroom. My service-learning experience in La Carpio showed me the unpleasant realities of living in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, the people of La Carpio make the best of their living situations. There was a presentation by a group of mothers which expressed their love for their children. There were handcrafts and shops along the street which expressed their creativity, drive, and love for their community. Serving in La Carpio gave me a profound understanding of living in Costa Rica that I would not have grasped from readings.

My study abroad group smiling after a day's work in the sun.

Serving at Life Monteverde

   Volunteering at Life Monteverde was another experience I enjoyed. The people of Life Monteverde were so passionate about protecting and utilizing the land. I always just been one to appreciate those at Farmer’s Markets who take the time to provide communities with natural produce and meats. Volunteering to plant at the farm provided a peaceful feeling. I enjoyed tending to the land for the moment because I felt a part of nature’s process of food production. I love the point the owner made as well. We are not educated on sustainability and it is a challenge to reverse habits of simply going to grocery stores to obtain goods.

Wooden mottos made by students from GLC, NMSU, and MSU on sustainability. 

Although three weeks seems like a short period of time abroad, we experienced a lot throughout Costa Rica. Here is a video made by my tour guide, Marta Rodriguez. The video perfectly encapsulates the study abroad experience with HSS Costa Rica Study Abroad Program. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Casey in Spain!

   I began my journey to Cádiz, Spain with feelings of doubt, fear, and confusion due to unexpected changes in travel plans. With my brain scattered and plans falling apart, I had to leave everything that was familiar and comfortable behind temporarily, whether I was ready or not. Flying by myself was a terrifying thought but I soon found some comfort by meeting my other classmates who I would soon build great friendships with. 

   Upon reaching Madrid’s airport, navigating to get to my bag and then to the train station was an adventure in its own. Who would have thought it would take me three hours to get from my plane to the train? Definitely not me, keep in mind my Spanish speaking skills were equivalent to a toddlers at this point. I finally board the train with a sense of relief and fatigue, thinking all of my troubles are behind me, I was mistaken. Somewhere in Seville our train lost power completely, and with that goes the A/C. Here I am sitting amongst Spanish strangers in what felt like a toaster oven in the middle of a pass over bridge. All information regarding the status of the train was of course given in Spanish at a rapid pace, therefore I had to just sit back and wait in confusion for three hours until the train finally began to function again. I finally reach the train station in Cádiz where I meet my host family, Manolo and Ani Martinez, some of the sweetest and most loving people I have ever met in my life. 

   Over the course of the program, I would soon feel as if I was a part of their real family. As soon as the program started, each day seemed to have flown by. With my many adventures and fun nights with my classmates, I had experiences that I will never forget. My Spanish skills also improved drastically through the classes I took and by talking with the people of Cádiz. The full immersion experience was definitely the best and most fun way to learn the language. Lastly, La Playa de Caleta was an absolute dream. A short ten-minute walk from my host house and I was at the beautiful shore. To study abroad is a major blessing, but to also have the beach close is a miracle. I absolutely loved my study abroad experience, the good and the bad. No other place matches Cádiz, Spain, a city with unique charm and beauty.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Miranda in France!

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
-          Winnie the Pooh

Hi everyone, my name is Miranda Sherman and I have just returned home from my study abroad with the ESDES Business School at the Université Catholique de Lyon (UCLy). It has been just over two weeks since I returned home, and since then, I have had much time to reflect on all the incredible experiences I was able to take part in.
When I was thinking about preparing to leave my host country, I was met with unease and melancholy. How would I transition back home? Would the reverse culture shock be worse than the culture shock going to France? These were the questions I had been trying to grope for the last few weeks of my study abroad program. When the semester ended, the friends I had made slowly began to make their way back home, leaving me and just a few others in Lyon. Each day, I simply went out to walk around for a few hours and soak in the city before I returned to North Carolina. I just wanted to see and remember as much as possible before I had to leave it all. Even after living there for four months, I felt like I had not explored enough of the place I called home.

Antoine at the Only Lyon sign beside the Musée des Confluences, which also shows off Lyon as one of the European Capitals of Smart Tourism for 2019. 
A fellow Honors student, Lexi, and I outside of Buckingham Palace in London with our dragons Antoine and Rory!

At the time, I genuinely could not imagine saying goodbye. That’s all I did for the last few days of the semester; To my host university, to some of the best friends I have ever made in my life, and soon after, Lyon. I couldn’t imagine not walking through the train station each morning to get to campus, not smelling the fresh baguettes and pain au chocolat at the bakery along the way. I think that is definitely one of the things I miss the most already because it became such a routine that it is weird not to have those sights and smells anymore. A part of me was ready to be home, yet another part of me was torn about leaving. So far, being home has not been too big of an adjustment. One day, I did almost forget where I was and try to give someone euros instead of dollars, but other than that it feels nice to have familiarity.

Some classmates and I after a wine tasting in the Beaujolais region of France.
Some of my favorite travel buddies, Ally, Lisa, and Makayla, and I living our Cheetah Girls fantasy at Park Güell in Barcelona.  

When I sit back and think about it, what I went through was utterly insane. To be entirely transparent, the first few days before orientation were difficult. I flew into France on December 30th and knowing no one there meant spending New Year’s Eve alone. I struggled to find the courage to even go to a grocery store because I feared sounding stupid when I tried to speak French. After orientation, all of this changed. I instantly made friends, some of which I will probably know for the rest of my life. I became more confident in my speaking abilities and even spoke about the United States to elementary school kids who were just beginning to learn English. I started traveling almost every weekend and saw seven different countries. I tasted some of the best food in the world, much of which was right in my host city (Lyon is the food capital of France). On top of all of this, my dragon, Antoine, whom all of my study abroad friends adored, got to tag right along with me through the whole experience. Now, having been home for some time, I realize how truly lucky I am to have had an experience which made saying goodbye so immensely difficult.

Found Wall-E and Eve in Disneyland Paris

I cannot wait to bring back all the knowledge I have gained and the experiences I have had to UNCG with me in the Spring, but first, I’m off to Walt Disney World to complete the Disney College Program in the Fall! Thank you to everyone at UNCG and the Honors College who has supported and encouraged me as I embark on all these crazy adventures. I would not be half the person I am without all of you. If you want to see all of Antoine and I’s travels, check out the “abroad.” highlight on my Instagram: @_mirandaroselyn_

Any Game of Thrones fans recognize Kings Landing behind us? Dubrovnik, Croatia is not only a beautiful tourist destination but a major filming location for the famous HBO show!

  Au revoir et à bientôt!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Matthew in England!

Hi. I’m Matthew Pusic, a junior majoring in media studies with a minor in radio. I’m studying at the University of Hull in Hull, United Kingdom.  I live in university housing in the neighboring village of Cottingham, a short bus ride away from the university. I share my block with other exchange students from all over the world. Many of us became friends and that helped make those first few transitional weeks a bit easier as we all had to get acclimated and had to go through orientation together. Since getting off the plane, the semester has been full of new people, places and experiences that have pushed me out of my comfort zone as I began to adjust and explore.

My fellow exchange students and I at Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness. 

Classes were exhausting at first due to the much longer class periods. Despite that, they have been fascinating. Part of the reason I chose Hull was because many of the classes were studies of Hollywood from an international perspective and that intrigued me. The majority of my classes are studies of Disney and American animation from Betty Boop and Mickey Mouse to South Park and The Simpsons. I never thought I’d be watching cartoons for class!

My dragon and I in the Vatican of Easter Sunday.

            Over my first couple of months I mainly explored my host country. Whether it was in the city center of Hull or a train ride away in Edinburgh, York, or Loch Ness, the UK has such a vibrant history. Whether it was just the old buildings as I walked down the old streets or the museums and castles, I tried to take in as much as I could- and take many pictures too! Recently I have made it to the continent. I’m currently on spring break and just returned from a week in Venice and Rome.

The canals of Venice.

As my semester is beginning to wind down, I look forward to doing some more traveling before my return trip home. It has been a challenging yet incredible adventure. I cannot believe that almost four years ago I was writing my application to the honors college to be here. From then to now all I can say is that it was well worth it!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Cameron in Uruguay!

Cameron in Uruguay!

Here’s to spreading your wings, falling, soaring, and all of the moments in between.

My name is Cameron and I am studying abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay at Universidad de Montevideo (UM). I looked forward to studying abroad because I was dying to travel outside of the United States since I was a little girl. Having lived in the same small town for 14 years, I was more than ready to leave (or so I thought). When I got in line to go through security at the airport and turned to say goodbye to my family for what seemed like the fifth time, I realized that they were already gone. I felt a pit in my stomach that I would never forget and I didn’t know this then but that feeling would stick with me for days to come. I had images in my mind as to what my first few days in Uruguay would be like, but my true experiences did not match up to the picture-perfect expectations in my head.

I didn’t know that I would spend my first days in Uruguay feeling so alone.
I didn’t expect to fail having a conversation in Spanish with my host mom and with locals all around me after spending 2 years learning Spanish.
I didn’t anticipate the difficulties of completing simple tasks in a different country; going for a walk, buying groceries, and taking a bus all suddenly became incredibly daunting and mentally exhausting tasks.

Hi MTV! Welcome to my crib! (Casapueblo in Maldonado, Uruguay)

To me, studying abroad is a lot like riding a roller coaster; you initially think it is a great idea, wait in line, mentally prepare yourself, buckle up, wait for crew instructions, and can hardly contain your excitement for the ride to start. Then, as soon as you feel the roller coaster carts move on the tracks, the doubts and fears you tried so hard to push down suddenly appear at the forefront of your mind. What have I done? Why did I choose a place that doesn’t speak English? What if I don’t make friends? What if I make a complete fool out of myself trying to speak Spanish? Are my friends and family going to be okay without me? What will I be missing out on? What if it isn’t everything I thought it would be?

 On top of Intendencia de Montevideo where you can get a free 360 view of Montevideo! I am pictured with friends from all over the world. From L to R: Emmanuel (Uruguay), Juan (Argentina), Me, Janneke (Netherlands), René (Germany), and Marie (France). The cup in my hand is called "mate", a very popular beverage in Uruguay.  

However, after that first incline when you are sitting at the top waiting to drop, you start to realize that there is really nothing you can do except adjust, breathe, and ride it out until the end. Then, you descend quickly; you loop, twist, turn, go backwards and you feel all of this adrenaline, excitement, and joy! But before you know it, the ride is over. When the ride ends, you recognize that the decision you made was a great one. You experienced something incredibly thrilling and you would have never known it had you skipped the rollercoaster, gave into your fears, or tried to make yourself seem too short to ride.

It has been almost two months since arriving in Uruguay and according to my countdown clock, I have approximately 3 months and some days before returning to the United States. Truly though, I haven’t been checking as often anymore; I dread it now. After some time, I have realized that studying abroad and choosing Uruguay was one of the greatest choices I have ever made.
I didn’t expect to make lifelong friendships with people from various countries all over the globe.
I didn’t know that I would hike gorgeous landscapes in Patagonia, visit beautiful beaches in Punta del Este, volunteer with other UM students in Minas, and continue to further explore Uruguay.
I didn’t anticipate to find myself in Uruguay or to grow to love life in Montevideo.

An international students school trip to Punta del Este, Uruguay would not be complete without taking a picture at Los Dedos (the fingers). 

This may have not been the blog that you imagined yourself reading. I realize that, in stark contrast to my colleagues, I admitted to some hard truths about a semester abroad. At the beginning (and even the middle and end of your experience), you will feel threatened, insecure, frustrated, anxious, nervous, and/or homesick; that is completely normal. Those feelings are what make you human and that is what makes your experience so unique. One of the best truths that I can share with you though is that you will not always feel this way. It will get better. You will make friends. You will enjoy your time. Your friends and family still love you back home and think about you every second; don’t worry about them too much though, they still have their own lives. You may have gotten yourself into something completely new, but that doesn’t make it bad.

My dragon, Frijole, in front of the great mountains of San Carlos de Bariloche in Patagonia, Argentina. We traveled together throughout Argentina for Semana Santa (Holy Week), or as known in Uruguay: Semana Turismo (Tourism Week). 

It may seem scary at first but try to enjoy every second and constantly find yourself in the presence of wonder. And for those moments where you cannot seem to find an ounce of joy, dare to learn. Then, prepare for the next ride and do it all over again.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Lexi in Glasgow!

Hello! My name is Lexi Raphael and I am a junior double-majoring in Accounting and Finance currently studying at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. I am super lucky to be studying at Strathclyde’s renowned business school this semester. As I write this, finals season is now in full swing and the weather is finally warming up - spring has sprung here in the UK! The exam period for Strathclyde students is really long compared to UNCG’s, with a full five weeks dedicated to studying and taking our final exams. So now I am able to take the time to reflect on this truly incredible experience and share with you what my life has been like in Glasgow. When my LIHC dragon, Rory, and I arrived in Glasgow I had no idea what this semester was going to be like, but I was so excited to get started on this wonderful journey.

My dragon, Rory (which means "red king" in Gaelic) and I ready to fly to Glasgow.

Rory visits the famous arches underneath the University of Glasgow.

When I arrived in early January it was quite cold in Scotland and the sun would set as early as 4:30pm which was hard to get used to, especially being in a brand new place. However, Glasgow itself is an incredible city that is full of history as well as the strangest creatures - also known as Glaswegians. “People Make Glasgow” is the city’s official motto and could not be more true. I have met the most funny, warm, and welcoming people while staying in Glasgow. Glaswegians are natural storytellers and are always willing to talk (especially if there is a pint involved). They love to go out and have a good time almost to a fault. I say Glaswegians are strange because some of the stories I have been told are so weird they have to be true. Glasgow is kind of a weird place: from eating ground-up sheep organs cooked inside its own stomach (haggis is not actually that bad), to placing traffic cones on the heads of all the statues in the city, to the insane lingo that makes the Glaswegian accent practically its own language. But, I was really happy to find that despite Glasgow being a large city, the biggest in Scotland, the people are just as friendly as the ones in the South. I have also made friends with people from around the world, including two of my lovely flatmates (even though they are actually also Americans). Who knew that I would be able to call people from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, and Denmark my friends?

Myself, my two flatmates from California, and our friend from Australia.

Some of my friends and I on a night out!

The rest of Scotland is just as remarkable as Glasgow, with amazing sights and a landscape that could bring tears to any nature lover. I have been able to travel all over the Highlands to places like the mountains of Glencoe, the ruins of Dunnottar Castle overlooking the ocean, and one of the most beautiful places on Earth - the Isle of Skye, a small island off the Western coast of mainland Scotland. There is so much Scottish history attached to every place in Scotland with castles and old forts scattered across the country. Even without it, the stunning lochs (Scottish term for lake) and mountains are reason enough to come to Scotland. There have been multiple movies, shows, and music videos filmed all around Scotland like Harry Potter, Outlander, and James Bond: Skyfall just to name a few.

Seeing the ruins of Dunnottar Castle with a great view of the ocean.

Climbing the Old Man of Storr in the Isle of Skye.

I have also been super lucky to fulfill my life-long dream of traveling across Europe to the cities I have wanted to visit for years. With my semester abroad being over in just a few short weeks, I am really happy that I was able to see all of the places on my “To-See List” while I was here. Other than places in Scotland, I have been to London, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, Prague, Krakow, and the Canary Islands. (I am tired just typing that). I am so grateful to both the Lloyd International Honors College and UNCG for making my study abroad experience possible. Scotland has been an adventure of a lifetime and I already cannot wait until I come back to visit. If you want to follow my travel adventures or even ask me some questions about going abroad follow me on Instagram @lexiraphael. Goodbye!

Rory and I taking in the views of Reykjavik, Iceland!

The mountains of Glencoe and the Scottish flag.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kayleigh in Glasgow!

I can still remember the thick smell of rain in the air as I stepped out of the airport in Scotland, completely alone and in a new country. Hi, I’m Kayleigh and I am a Psychology major with a Pre-medicine track. Currently, I am studying abroad in Glasgow, the most populous city in Scotland. Glasgow has two main universities: the University of Glasgow (it looks like Hogwarts) and the University of Strathclyde, the school I go to. Strathclyde has student flats on campus and most international students live here. I am in one of the most central flats on campus with 5 other international students. I have flatmates from Wisconsin, Canada, and Australia. Our flat is quite small but it is nice to have my own room after living in a dorm for the last year and a half. It is also really nice being in an international dorm (some international students live with Strathclyde students that have been there all year) because we’re all going through this experience together and they are automatic travel buddies.
Celtics "football" game with two of my flatmates.
The Highlands are my favorite place in Scotland because of their beauty and amazing stories. Scotland was originally a Pagan society before Christianity was introduced here when the Romans invaded. Due to this, a lot of areas in Scotland (really almost all) have some sort of myth or legend tied to it. The common legend everyone knows is the Loch Ness Monster, Nessie. Legend says that the monster lurks deep in the loch, below the water where no one can see it. My first trip out to the Highlands was to see Loch Ness and the area around it. While I did not spot Nessie, the Loch is very pretty and has an amazing view when you look out into it. Also, I was able to see Highland Cows on this visit (or Highland Coos as the Scottish say).
Highland "Coo" I saw on my trip to Loch Ness.
My dragon, Sorcha, in front of Loch Ness. Sorcha is a Scottish Gaelic name meaning "brightness".
Recently, I took a trip to the gorgeous Isle of Skye. It is often said that Skye is proof that sometimes God was just showing off. And that is true! I took a 2 day trip up there with multiple other international students. We visited a few different places on Isle of Skye, all of them more beautiful than the last. The big spot/most famous spot on Isle of Skye is the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man of Storr is a large pinnacle of rock. It is said that the rock formed when a giant died and his thumb was left sticking out when he was buried. You might recognize the Old Man of Storr from Harry Styles’ music video for Sign of the Times.
View out from Old Man of Storr.
Isle of Skye has multiple myths and legends tied to the fascinating sights there. Another famous place is the Sligachan Bridge and the River Sligachan. The legend is that if you stick your face in the river for 7 seconds then you will be blessed with the gift of eternal youth and beauty. Of course, I had to trust the legend and stick my head into the river. It was absolutely freezing sticking my face in the fountain but definitely worth abiding by the legend.
On top of the Sligachan Bridge with the Cuillins in the background.
While there are many legends and myths involved with the history of Scotland, there is a lot of actual history. Bidean nam Bian, a complex mountain, features the Three Sisters of Glencoe. Glencoe is famous for the Massacre of Glencoe. The massacre took place in 1692 and saw the murder of the MacDonalds. 38 men and women of Clan MacDonald died because the clan leader waited until after the deadline to give their oath of allegiance to King William and King William chose to make an example of the clan. Even though Glencoe has a gory past, the Three Sisters are a gorgeous sight.
This picture was taken at the base of Three Sisters.

Sorcha with the Three Sisters of Glencoe. 
Although my time in Scotland is more than halfway over, I am thankful for the time I have had here. It has been completely eye opening to be in another country and see another culture. Since coming here, I have traveled to multiple places outside of Scotland like London, Amsterdam, Iceland, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, and Rome. Before I head back to North Carolina, I have a few more trips planned that will be really fun! Feel free to check out my past adventures and the ones to come on my blog: