Monday, May 22, 2017

Kristena in France!

Hi!

My name’s Kristena and I have been living in France this semester, attending the French business school ESDES School of Business and Management. The time leading up to my departure for France was so stressful that by the time January came around, I really didn’t even want to go, if I’m being completely honest. My family was way more excited and anxious than I was, and I remember the day before leaving I just broke down and started crying. I would have been content with just staying in the U.S. eating cookies in my pajamas, but thankfully I didn’t!

A beautiful morning in the Sahara. Morocco was beautiful!

You make all kinds of friends abroad!


I should first start by saying that my dragon, whose name was Pasha (because he was always in my pocket and I liked Pasha better than Pocky), is somewhere in Barcelona, perhaps at an ice cream shop a few minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia. I told myself I wouldn’t lose him, but alas, such are the consequences of midnight churro runs. Anyways.

There was a small memorial just outside of Big Ben after the attack

In Brussels, I only ate fries and waffles the whole time. No regrets.


France was initially quite underwhelming for me. It seemed very similar to home in a few ways and it wasn’t super pretty. In the city I live in, Lyon, there’s a lot of construction going on. Some parts are very modern, other parts are more traditional and ‘French’, and other parts aren’t that nice looking. This surprised me because I expected everything to be pristine and full of very French architecture, but that’s not entirely true. It is the second largest city in France after all. What I love about Lyon are the two rivers that run through it. It makes it a lot easier to navigate. Lyon is actually a big place, but it doesn’t feel like it. I stay within more of the center of the city, but it’s so much larger than that.

Beautiful, beautiful Amsterdam

The famous Tulip Festival in Keukenhof


I was nervous about a couple of things. One being the public transportation system, which seemed like another language to me, but I’m happy to say I’ve (mostly) mastered it. The map is actually quite small and easy to understand. I was also nervous about the language barrier. Another student who studied here at the opposite experience from me, but I don’t find much English of anywhere. So when I do hear or see it, I soak it up like a sponge. I’ve had encounters where people will say they can’t speak English, but when they realize I’m not joking, they will speak in English to me. I think it’s just that the French are very proud of their language. Sometimes I still forget that I’m as good as illiterate here, and I’ll go to read something before going, “Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t read.” And, of course, I was nervous about culture shock--scared even. I thought I was going to be crying and depressed for weeks and was not looking forward to it, when in reality, that didn’t happen. I think I learned to get over things quickly because I knew I didn’t have any other options, and that was easier to deal with than becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings. Whenever I felt shocked or frustrated, I would just take a breath, accept it for what it was, and keep moving. The biggest moment of culture shock for me, where I actually felt it was when I was grocery shopping (another thing I was afraid of actually!), and I saw the eggs were sitting on this counter, completely out for you to pick them and there were egg containers under the shelf. I remember I just stared at it like “Are you serious???” and I just left the store as quickly as possible. The next time, I did find eggs in cartons though, so it all worked out. The point to remember is that we all adjust differently. It’s not bad if you have a rough time transitioning, or if you’re like me and yours was more subtle. At first I thought I wasn’t doing something right, but it really depends on the person and the place you’re at I believe.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen. Make sure you rent one of the city bikes if you come here!


I also had my reservations about being a black girl in France. Not just because I was worried about lack of hair products (bring your products, guys), but because of how it plays such a big role back home, I couldn’t fathom it being different. I’d be told before by other black students who had traveled abroad that no one really cares, but I didn’t believe them. And I won’t say that no one cares, because that would be too large a generalization. But I will say that from what I experienced, nobody seemed to care. I don’t want to say that you won’t experience anything because that just depends where you are and who you run into, but I’ve never had any issue with it. Lyon is also more diverse than I realize, but yeah. Even in less racially diverse places like Copenhagen, I didn’t have any issues. Some people aren’t worried, but I know some people are, with good reason. Don’t be afraid to rock your fro!

 Pasha in Barcelona. Miss you, buddy!


Before this semester, I’d never been to Europe, and I didn’t know when I would be coming back, so I wanted to travel as much as possible. What I didn’t expect, though, was that everyone was like me. For some people, this was their second time studying abroad. For others, like the Europeans, they weren’t in any rush to get anywhere for obvious reasons. And a lot of people seemed only interested in partying every weekend, which isn’t really my thing. Luckily, I met some nice people and was able to go on some amazing trips!


The Parliament in Budapest was breathtaking

I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, not to wait on people. This is your experience and you have to do what will make you happy. Of course, don’t be stupid about it. For instance, one of my limitations was not wanting to solo travel. The point of that matter is that I’m just not comfortable with it yet, so I kind of have had to wait on people a little bit. But if you’re not like me, then push yourself to go to that city. Start small by doing day trips. And sometimes waiting actually is beneficial. I was planning my trips weeks in advance, preparing to have to bite the bullet and go alone, but because I procrastinate, I never booked them and ended up finding people to go with. The people at my school, while they did have their groups based on nationality and/or language, they were always so open and friendly. Just ask someone what they’re doing and see if you can go or if they want to join you!

Obligatory schnitzel in Vienna. It was below freezing and rained pretty much the entire time, so this was definitely a treat.

Speaking about traveling, I thought traveling through Europe would be dirt cheap: it’s , not. At least not in Lyon. It’s no where near as expensive as the U.S., and there are some cheap snags, but I was expecting it be a lot cheaper. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me. I was able to go to 12 countries while I was here and somehow, I’m still not satisfied, but I’m teaching myself that sometimes it’s okay to sit still for a moment. Don’t feel pressured to have to be doing something every waking minute. You’re not going to sabotage your study abroad if you sit inside and just watch Netflix for the weekend. I promise.

Enjoying Trdlo in Prague


Studying in a different country, and traveling to different ones, has taught me a lot about adaptability. With adaptability also comes prioritizing. I used to stress out about the smallest things (and I still do sometimes, it’s just in my nature), but for my own sanity, I couldn’t do that here, and I had to learn that very quickly. I think that’s what helped with my transition. I can either prioritize the fact that I hate how early things close here or I can just get over it and make sure I get my shopping done before five in the afternoon. If you are focused on everything being perfect, you will sabotage yourself and you will miss opportunities. I wanted to see everything and I wanted to go places for at least three days, but that wasn’t always possible. I could either mope and groan about it and wait until the next best opportunity (of which it isn’t guaranteed), or I could soak in as much of the experience as I possible could. Doing so makes you appreciate everything as much as possible. You’re taking pictures of arbitrary things but that’s because you can’t get over the fact that you’re actually in this new and really cool place! I’ve noticed how easily I get over things now, things that while they do frustrate me, I just shrug it off and try thinking of what I can do to change it, and if nothing, then I have to accept it. My happiness is more important than my ability to be angry at something out of my control.

YUM!


Study abroad is daunting. And if you’re going to come to France, the process to get here is very daunting, and I’m not going to sugar coat because I cried more times before getting in than I did while in France. Let study abroad be daunting. Don’t force things. Accept the negativity for what it is so that you can overcome it. You can overcome something that you refuse to believe exists. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. If your study abroad is as beautiful and as romantic as you expected it to be, well that’s really awesome and I’m kind of jealous of you! But if not, it’s okay. It’s normal. There is a beauty in normalcy and in being let down; it means you have to find extraordinary in seemingly ordinary things. I dare you to do so.

Crepe Day in Hotel de Ville!


If you have any questions, because that was just the surface, please feel free to email me! If you’re thinking about France or even if you’re not. If you want to talk more on anything I’ve touched on here or just random things (like where do I buy lined paper in France? Because they used graph paper, y’all.), then hit me up!

Kristena Armwood
ESDES School of Business & Management
Lyon, France
Spring 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

Danielle in Mannheim!

            My name is Danielle Parker and I am an education major studying at the University of Mannheim in Mannheim, Germany. At the University of Mannheim, I am currently taking psychology classes because they do not offer education classes and I really wanted to go to this school. Mannheim is in the south of Germany, just south of Frankfurt. This city is known to be an international city because of the University and how many international students go there, so finding people that speak English was not hard at all. The hardest thing is to find people to speak German so I can practice instead of trying to make it easier on me and speaking to me in my native language. There have been so many situations where I have tried to speak in German but I pronounce a few things wrong so other respond to me in English. It is such a nice gesture but it has made it a little harder to practice my German skills.


My favorite garden so far in Germany. Schwetzingen Schlossgarten

Hans begging me to get him off this ledge!

            When I first arrived in Mannheim, it was not love at first sight. Previous international students advised me not to have any expectations because most likely, we will end up disappointed. I, unfortunately, failed to take their advice. I had extremely high expectations about Mannheim and Germany in general. This is my first time out of the U.S so I was expecting nothing less that phenomenal. So, when I arrived I was a little disappointed. I was dealing with the cultural shock, getting lost multiple times, and the disappointment of not living on cloud 9 like I expected. I am not ashamed to say this, but I broke down a couple times my first week. By my second week, I was in love. I began meeting friends and I started seeing Mannheim as the interesting city that it is. I have been here since January and I feel like this is home. The city center of Mannheim is called the quadrat. All of the addresses inside of the quadrat go in alphabetical and numerical order, which makes it easier to navigate through the city. For example, the international office is located at L 1,1 and my bank is located at M1,1; so, when looking for the bank, I know I just need to walk down one block because M comes after L. I find this system especially interesting and helpful because it made it easier for me to find my way around faster.

My closest international friends that I’ve made here so far


            I was kind of late to the idea of traveling within Europe so many of my friends had a head start in that area. I arrived in January and I did not start travelling until March. However, when I did start travelling I mainly stayed within Germany and saw as much of it as possible. I chose to study in Germany because I wanted to see Germany, and that is exactly what I did.

Please notice the lovely bird at the top of the statue. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Basel, Switzerland


            A lot of my friends would also go out and party a lot and that was not my typical form of entertainment. So on multiple occasions, I decided to stay in. I preferred to stay in my apartment or hanging with my new close friends that I made from China and Taiwan. I remember I had a friend tell me that I was wasting my international experience by not travelling and going out as much as others were. That comment really stuck with me because I was so excited about studying abroad and to hear that I am wasting my experience really took a toll on me. However, I quickly got over that and remembered that the entire point of studying abroad is that you are studying in another country. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO OUT EVERY WEEKEND AND TRAVEL EVERYWHERE TO ENJOY YOUR EXPERIENCE! That is the number one advice that I want to pass on to future study abroad students. Do not let someone else put their goals on you. Set your own goals for your study abroad experience and stick to them. You do not have the same personality and values as everyone else so it is expected for you to have different goals than them. Do what makes you happy during your experience, not someone else.

Anne Frank House

            I also suggest that whatever you choose to do, take tons of pictures. Whether you travel all over the world, or occasionally have a drink with your international friends, you are going to want to remember this experience. Take pictures! It may seem weird at first and totally touristy, but who cares?

Miniature Wunderland Hamburg, Germany 

 When you look back, you are going to be thankful that you did it. Lastly, make friends and form bonds. I have met so many people that just have the most amazing personalities. I have learned about other cultures from them and have grown to appreciate our differences even more. My international friends have really opened my eyes to how amazing and cool other cultures are. I have also learned how to say I love you in four different languages and I will carry that knowledge with me for the rest of my life.

Bad Herrenalb, Germany

Heidelberg, German


            Before my experience, I was just interested in Germany and its culture; now, I love Germany! I love the language, their transportation system, the nature, the fast pace speed of the Hauptbahnhof (central train station), and everything else. Living here has made me more independent and culturally aware of everything around me. It’s been such an amazing opportunity to study here and I wish I could just stay forever!

University of Mannheim

Danielle Parker
University of Mannheim

Spring 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Katya in Cáceres!

Hola a todos!

My name is Katya Davis, and I’m a junior International & Global Studies major studying in Cáceres, Spain at The University of Extremadura. Cáceres is located in the central-western part of Spain, in the province of Extremadura. (We’re super close to the Portuguese border!) I was lucky enough to have three other girls from UNCG also studying here with me. We actually met a fifth UNCG student upon arriving here that we didn’t even know was coming (Hey Zandra!!) We’ve all been here since late January, and now my semester is almost over; I can’t believe I only have about another month here! L


The most famous plaza in the city, La Plaza Mayor

Cáceres is a very typical Spanish city in the way it was built. Most cities were built as fortresses to protect its citizens from invaders, and over time, modern buildings were constructed all around these “old cities” to become the modern cities they are today. “La parte antigua” (the old city) is what we call this old part of Cáceres. It’s like stepping directly into history thousands of years ago. The first time I explored “la parte antigua” I wanted to cry tears of joy. As a history and overall world-lover, I was so excited to see this part of the city I’d seen so many pictures of before arriving. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I still think it’s the most beautiful “parte antigua” in all of Spain. I found uneven streets made of all different kinds of stones, huge circular and blocky towers and an immense church with a view of the whole city. This is the most distinctive difference I see between the U.S. and most of Europe: people are living in thousands of years of history all over this continent. And somehow, the people of Cáceres mastered the art of driving their cars down these old cobblestone streets without even making a scratch.

 A view of Caceres from the biggest church in the parte antigua


Beautiful Córdoba!

The first month in Spain was not at all easy for me. Spanish culture is very different from American culture—as most cultures are—however, the Spanish tend to be very relaxed. About everything. As a hyperactive, generally on-time American, this was extremely hard for me and my fellow UNCG friends to get used to. We didn’t have wifi in our apartment for a month (the estimate the companies gave us was “between two weeks and a month”), which ended up being harder for our parents than us as we took advantage of local cafes around our apartment! It also took us forever to get signed up for classes; there was a long process of going to multiple offices to get registered, and nobody seemed to ever be ready when they said they would be! All the exchange students (we are lumped in with Erasmus students here) didn’t start classes until about a week or two after all the Spanish students did!

The view of the parte antigua from outside my piso (apartment

The second most difficult thing is siesta. I say “is” because we still forget sometimes! Siesta is such an important part of Spanish culture. During siesta, almost every business in the city closes between about 2 and 5pm, and everyone goes home and sleeps. When I asked a Spanish friend if everyone actually goes to sleep, his eyes widened and he said, “Of course!! I change into my pajamas and sleep the whole time!” Perhaps this is why the Spanish seem so much healthier and less stressed than Americans (not taking into account the extremely high unemployment rate in Spain right nowL)!


So many people told me “travelling is easy and cheap in Europe!” and I really thought they were right. Unfortunately it hasn’t been nearly as cheap for me as maybe students studying in more central places like Germany. Travelling on a budget takes a lot of patience and planning. It has been more difficult for my friends and I since we live so out of the way in Spain. The closest international airports are Seville and Madrid, so a train or bus ticket to and from those cities is about 30 euros every time. Also, flights in and out of Spain tend to be more expensive than between other countries. However, I have found ways to make it work! Within Spain, I have been to Mérida, Badajoz (both in Extremadura), Granada, Córdoba, Madrid, Toledo, and Valencia. I recently finished my spring break here, called “Semana Santa,” and was lucky enough to have visited Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Soon I’ll be heading to Manchester and London as well. I have learned SO much about travelling from these trips. My biggest problem was that I didn’t plan ahead far enough. So my biggest piece of advice concerning travelling would be to do just that; take the time to sit down and figure it all out before you even go abroad. I wanted to wait and see when I could fit my travels into my academic schedule, but oftentimes you have more breaks than you think you will!

Alhambra in Granada!


 Amsterdam, Berlin

When choosing a study abroad site, Cáceres was actually my second choice in Spain. When I found out I was placed here instead of my first choice, I really panicked because I hadn’t planned too much for this city. If this happens to you, don’t do what I did and worry. It’ll only make you feel bad about studying abroad. Be open to many options when making a choice so you’re prepared for anything! If you truly want to study abroad and see the world, you’ll find that there are tons of places that will make you happy. Now I absolutely cannot imagine what my experience would have been like if I hadn’t gone to Cáceres. I have been to so many places in Spain, yet Cáceres continues to be my favorite city. It’s smaller, but much more of a “city” than Greensboro in that you can walk everywhere, there are tons of locally owned businesses, the public transportation is very efficient, and most importantly, the sense of community is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

My friends and I during Carnaval in Badajoz. The Erasmus friends I have made here are just amazing; they really are friends for life!

Time to get down to the “real” study abroad advice. All I can really say is be brave. I had never traveled outside the U.S. before studying abroad, and I had never traveled without my parents either. But I was so excited for this experience that, at the beginning, I was most afraid of flying by myself, not the actual study abroad experience! I have done so many things by myself (or just with friends) than I could have ever imagined. Planning trips without your parents is a very daunting task, but now I’m kind of a pro! Everything comes with experience. I was very nervous about knowing nothing about travelling prior to my experience, but most people don’t know much either! You’re not alone! And the friends you’ll make while abroad are some of the best people you’ll ever meet in your life. There are so, SO many things you’ll never realize about your home country, your destination country, and yourself if you don’t take that chance to go abroad. This is the best time in your life to do it. Be brave, take chances, and become a true global citizen.


As everyone in Cáceres says, ¡Hasta luego!

Katya Davis

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Michaela in Konstanz!

Hi everyone!

My name is Michaela Warlick and I have been in Konstanz, Germany for a little less than two months now! Konstanz is a small town in the south-west part of Germany (Baden-Württemberg) on the border of Switzerland. It’s actually so close to Switzerland that sometimes you will take a walk and end up across the border without realizing! The main attraction that draws people to Konstanz, Germany is the Bodensee, otherwise known as Lake Konstanz. The water is so clear and clean that it is where most people in Konstanz get their drinking water from! 

Swiss Alps on the other side of the Bodensee!

The Bodensee!

            Konstanz is a very old city and is one of the few cities that wasn’t bombed during World War II. One of my favorite places to go to in Konstanz is to the city’s cathedral, “Münster Unserer Lieben Frau”. It isn’t a very large cathedral, but it is so beautiful and remains of a Roman fortress dating back to 400 B.C. were found underneath the cathedral!


The Eiffel Tower in Paris!

            As I said before, I have only been abroad for a little less than two months. My university, like many I believe in Europe, has a winter and summer semester rather than a fall and spring semester. Because of Easter, this year the academic calendar is later than normal. In the winter semester, classes began near the end of October and ended mid- February. The summer semester began mid-April and will end near the end of July. Even though the semester ends, exams can go on for weeks afterwards; in some programs, exams go until at least mid- August!

More Alps on the Bodensee

The statue, Imperia, is one of the main symbols of Konstanz!

For the month of March I participated in an orientation program that aimed to give students a solid understanding of German language as well as to help students get ready for their semester abroad. For four weeks we had German courses every day, from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. Then in the afternoons we would come together as a group and learn about German academic culture, apply for courses, and most important, apply for residency. I am so thankful to have had the university walk alongside the process of applying for residency. It had the space to be very complicated and it was such a relief to be able to go through it with other students!

The Parc Guell that looks over all of Barcelona!

For the first month, I felt so busy that I didn’t have much time to be homesick! Technology really is a wonder. It is so crazy to think that we have the ability to FaceTime, Skype, text, and call those we love even from so far away. Having this technology really did make all the difference for me when it came to homesickness. My mom would always remind me that when she was younger, the only form of communication while studying abroad was through writing letters, which could take weeks to arrive! For anyone who is nervous about missing home, I encourage you to remember the gift that technology can be and to not worry!

Entrance of the University of Konstanz

Munster Unserer Lieben Frau

Between the month of orientation and the beginning of the semester, students had about three weeks vacation to explore, relax, and get ready for the semester. My fellow Spartan and I decided to use the opportunity to explore Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain. Something I have definitely realized is how big the United States is in regards to land mass. In the U.S. one could travel for hours upon hours upon hours and still be inside the same country. However, in the E.U. you have the opportunity to hop on a bus, train, or plane and arrive in another country within the hour! An entirely different country with its own food, language, culture, government, and landscapes! For me I think that is something so insanely incredible and I hope to take advantage of the closeness of cultures as much as I can! 


My roommates from Germany! Katya (far left) is also a fellow Spartan!

This semester, my fellow Spartan Caroline and I will be taking courses focusing on global issues and conflicts as well as discovering possible peaceful solutions. UNCG and the University of Konstanz have started a program (this year!) where students can participate in a service learning project while abroad. While Caroline and I are here, we will be serving refugees in the local area. The city of Konstanz supports serving incoming refugees and has set a city wide initiative to help relocate refugees in the area. Throughout the city there are three large signs posted with the number ‘83’ lit up. It looks very similar to the way gas stations show gas prices except on a very, very large scale. In 2011, the population of Konstanz was 85,524 people. The city currently wants to relocate 83 refugees within the city. The signs campaign that if one family out of every one thousand hosts a refugee, then the refugee crisis specifically in Konstanz can be solved. Currently 75 refugees have found homes and the three large ‘83’ signs will not be removed until all 83 refugees have been settled safely.

There are lots and lots of swans in Konstanz!

This has been a short summary of my last two months in Konstanz, Germany! I encourage everyone to get excited about studying abroad and (with a little bias) I suggest you come to Konstanz! 

Michaela Warlick
University of Konstanz, Germany
Spring 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Olivia at Ulster University, Ireland!

Hello, hello!

I’m Olivia, and I’m a sophomore studying at Ulster University in Northern Ireland! It’s kind of hard to believe, but I’ve already been here for about 3 months and I have about two months left here.

Archway

The weather here is very different than NC weather. We are all aware of the erratic temperature changes that NC experiences this time of year. Ireland, on the other hand, maintains a much more stable temperature range, and it has two types of weather: rain and sun. I thought that I would have to get used to all the rain here, but it is not as bad as I thought. Just a few days of rain, and then a few days of sun. There was one unexpected struggle, however, and that was the limited amount of daylight. In January, the sun rises around 8 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m. I won’t lie, I was kind of horrified the first few days at just how little light we had. It felt so dark here! Now that the days are getting longer, and daylight saving has passed, the sun sets around 7:30. I am amazed at how much light there is now. I no longer feel like I need to be in bed right after dinner.

Mussenden Temple. One of the most breathtaking places I've ever been to!

Ulster University has a wonderful international student program that focuses on Irish studies. I’m learning Gaelic, a language I never even dreamed of studying! The program also places a lot of emphasis on travelling, so we have Mondays and Fridays off, which allows us to take longer weekend trips (or to sleep in two extra days if that’s more your style!). 


Loch Ness. Nessie didn't make an appearance that day!

I used the extra time to plan many day trips around the area and beyond! I went to Scotland one weekend and visited the Highlands! I finally saw the famed Loch Ness, which is one of the most beautiful and impressive lakes I have ever seen. The Irish Studies program also puts a lot of emphasis on Irish history, which is a long and complicated struggle with identity and independence. 

I found Big Fish in Belfast!

You may have noticed that I said I was in Northern Ireland. I wasn’t being specific with my geographical location; I am in the U.K., not the Republic of Ireland. There is a small part on the north side of the island that never gained independence from England, so like Scotland, Northern Ireland isn’t its own country. As you can imagine, not everyone is happy with this. In the 1970s, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest. There were fourteen deaths in total – we now refer to this event as Bloody Sunday. This event occurred in Londonderry, the city I’m studying in. People certainly haven’t forgotten about this event, but before you wonder about safety, this town is perfectly safe. The people here are wonderful and very friendly. We have our southern hospitality, and they have their Irish hospitality. It’s the same concept! All the international students have commented on how welcome they felt here.

Mural depicting those killed on Bloody Sunday

Are you familiar with the saying “what a small world?” Do you believe that statement is untrue? Let me share a story with you: the very first night I arrive here, I met one of my flat mates, an American student also studying at Ulster. To get the conversation going, I ask her where she is from. Her name is
Emma and she’s from Massachusetts. I tell her I go to UNCG, but I’m originally from Asheville. She laughs and tells me that she goes to school near Asheville. Turns out, she attends Warren Wilson College, which is a small university right outside of Asheville. Surprising, right? I met a girl who goes to school in my hometown. She also happens to know some people I went to high school with, but the best part is yet to come. She mentioned the coincidence to her family, and her aunt picked up on my name. My mother and Emma’s aunt went to high school together. There are so many connections, and we had to go across the Atlantic Ocean to meet each other. So, there you have it: it is a small world, indeed. You never know who you’ll meet when you go abroad!

My Dragon, Fraser, hanging out in Scotland!

Now for a few words for the wary student: you want to study abroad, but at the same time, you don’t. You’re like me and you worry about every little detail. You talk yourself out of it. I do not claim to have the best advice for this, and I certainly do not claim to be the world’s savviest traveler, but let me say one thing: what’s an adventure without a few missteps? It won’t be perfect. Nothing ever is. Just take it step by step, then day by day. Celebrate every success, be it big or small. Often, we find ourselves to be more capable than we think. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you can accomplish. This is your chance to dream a little, live a little, and learn a lot. Finally, take photos of EVERYTHING, so we all can see your adventures!


We refer to this building as the Hogwarts building. Hopefully, you see the resemblance!


Until next time!

Olivia Reath
Ulster University, Ireland
Spring 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

Michelle in Carmarthen!


I am a planner. I plan everything, I obsess about every little detail. I like to know exactly what everything is going to be like, and by doing that I tend to think I know already what I will experience before I do. Being abroad has thrown that all out the window. 

My journey began on January 25. Somehow, I ended up to be the only person at UNCG who wanted to go to Carmarthen, Wales. The reason why is probably obvious. If someone wants to go abroad, they want to go to a big fancy city that is foreign and that they at least have heard about before they decided to go there. People also oftentimes think that if you're going to go somewhere totally foreign, why would you go somewhere that speaks English? When I was telling people that I decided to go to Carmarthen, they would ask me things like "Why not London? Or somewhere in Spain? Or Paris? Or Dublin?" etc. etc. To that, my reply was always just: "They have the classes I need." Which, I realize now, was very unfair. It seemed like I was downgrading Carmarthen and Wales as a whole to just another English-speaking place (by the way, Welsh is a language that is just as important as English and just as confusing as any other language here,) that I was using just as a place to live as I took the classes I need and traveled around "cooler" places in Europe. That was totally unfair, and this is why. 

After I got into Carmarthen, I got pretty sick. I spent my first week of freedom, (without any classes,) lying in bed while my new friends got to go to pubs every night. I won't lie, it sucked. It was a good way to make me miss home a lot, and that's coming from someone who has wanted to study abroad since they were 12 years old. However, even though I was feverish and stuffed up, I still traveled around Wales on "cultural trips" that the school here took us on. I vlogged these beautiful and educational trips, (and have since been doing that every week that I travel,) and put them on my Youtube channel. I realized through these vlogs, that it was very easy in all of the bad of my traveling, physical ailments, and homesickness to feel negative about my experiences so far. Nevertheless, when I looked back at all of the good stuff I did, I realized how wonderful of a time I was having, even though it hadn't sunk in yet. 

Since that first rough week, I have completed two modules (classes) at this school. Back at UNCG, I am a BFA Acting major, so here at UWTSD, I am taking BA Acting classes that I would and wouldn't be able to take back home. The first one was a study in Absurd theater. The title of the class doesn't lie, it is absurd. It explores existentialism and Dadaism through theater and how that all informs the Theater of the Absurd. I learned a lot about owning my art in that class, because we had to create our own piece and own up to what we wanted from it and how we performed it. That class has inspired me to be more creative in my art in order to give it a meaning that matters. This week, I completed my Performing Shakespeare class. In this class, we had to all perform a play together, work on a monologue, and complete a process workbook for the monologue's creative process. The play was a cut-up version of As You Like It, and we all played multiple parts in it. For instance, I played the main character Rosalind in two scenes of it, but there were about six different people playing Rosalind. I also played the jester, Touchstone, who is very perverse, but also very fun to play. I learned how to trust my acting choices and to just have fun with this play. It also helped create a sense of ensemble that made it so everyone in the class had to work together to build this show. This contrasted with the monologue portion which we did almost entirely on our own, just with a bit of teacher advice. We had to choose a monologue to perform in front of the class and do in-depth analysis and character work for. I chose a Cleopatra monologue from the play Antony and Cleopatra. This monologue was a huge challenge for me, but doing it definitely taught me a lot about playing multi-faceted characters that need that in-depth analysis that I had to use for crafting a process workbook. The process workbook was basically one huge essay analyzing the monologue I had to do, why I chose to do, the character's psyche, and the style of how I should perform it in using Shakespearean, (Jacobean and Elizabethan,) methods. It was a lot of work to build, but it really helped me dive into the character more. 


Me performing as Rosalind in As You Like It with my Californian friend Megan as Celia

With classes and a new school, comes new friends. Here, I live in one big flat with 2 Americans who are also acting students, 2 Americans in a different major, and 4 students from Malaysia. We all have our own bathroom and bedroom, but we share a kitchen which we hang out and socialize in as we all cram to make dinner on our tiny stove. Those friends often go on the same cultural trips that I go on with the school. Then, there's the new acting friends that I have made. These people are in classes with me, and usually the people that I go party with when we need to relax from all the hard work we did with a "cheeky pint". As I said before with my ensembleI feel very lucky for all of the amazing friends that I have made so far. Everyone is extremely friendly here, and it makes me sad to even think about having to leave them soon. 

Then, finally, the traveling. Like I said, I have not traveled outside the U.K. yet, with the exception of Ireland. That is because there are so many places to look at right here where I live. The places that I have explored so far are: Llanstefan castle (just down the road), Cardiff, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Cheltenham, Dublin, Bath, White Sands Bay, & Big Pit. I thought that I would be going to big cities like London and Cardiff every other weekend, but I have been contented in just seeing all these amazing places that surround me and that I currently live in. Although it rains a lot here in Carmarthen, (it's raining now even as I write this!) I find it peaceful in many ways. Honestly, it only makes the grass that much greener.  


Me with 3 other students at White Sands Bay.


Me with my friend Seb who studied abroad at UNCG at Stonehenge..

 I love it here. I love the grass, I love the hills, I love the cute town, I love how it makes me do crazy things like dye my hair purple, I love the people, and I love the community. It has been hard to adjust to live in a place where I can't always use my phone and I don't understand English words when they're said to me. Nevertheless, this town continues to make me happy even when I am stressed and the people in it continue to be amazing even when I am missing home. 

Now I am on Easter break. Three of my American friends and I are about to embark on a three week trip to explore all around Europe. It is going to be a crazy whirlwind, but at least I know Carmarthen will be here to settle back into when it's all over. 

If you want to see some of the cool locations and the experiences I've had in them, check out my vlog channel: 
I will be posting videos during the Europe trip, and I already have many videos up from what I've done so far. 

Thanks for reading. If I could leave one takeaway for an student reading this, I'd say first, to go abroad, and second, go to the place YOU want to go to. Take risks in the place you want to study. Don't go somewhere just because someone tells you to. Anywhere you go will be amazing, because at the least it will be different, new, and an adventure. At least, that's what I was looking for when I left. 



This is Merlin, named that because Merlin the Wizard is actually from Carmarthen, Wales!





Michelle Mason
University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Carmarthen
Spring 2017