Friday, August 17, 2018

Georgia in Costa Rica!

¡Hola!  ¿Qué pasa?
My name is Georgia Ritz and I am a junior majoring in nursing with a minor in Spanish.  Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with UNCG’s LLC Summer Program focusing on Spanish language immersion and community service.  I have been home for about two weeks now and am settling back into life in the States as I prepare for the upcoming semester.
Costa Rica was an astonishingly beautiful country and I was able to see a lot of it over the course of the month there.  Of course, this meant many long hours on the bus, and my dragon came along for the ride.  His name is Aubrey, named after Aubrey Lloyd, who along with his wife, Georgia Lloyd, are the namesakes for the Lloyd International Honors College.
Aubrey and I in the RDU Airport

Aubrey in Monteverde
Our first week was spent in Monteverde, a small town high in the mountains and cloud forest.  Here, we toured Trapiche, a typical farm that produces coffee, sugar, chocolate, and bananas, hiked through the rainforest, and went ziplining, in addition to four hours every day in class.  My host family was a mom, dad, and their eight-month-old son.  They were so sweet, but I really struggled to communicate as I was not at all confident yet in my ability to speak Spanish.  Thankfully, they were extremely patient and by the end of the first week, I had already made great strides in my spoken language abilities.
Our guide at Trapiche Farm showing us a step of coffee processing.

For the second week, we traveled to Flamingo, a beach town on the west coast of Costa Rica.  My host family, a mom, dad, and their 16-year-old son, lived in a small town about twenty minutes outside of Flamingo called El Llano.  Class continued daily, but we also had plenty of time on the beach.  Halfway through the week, we took a cruise to go snorkeling and see the sunset.  While here, we also did our first community service projects.  Early in the week, we visited CEPIA, an organization in a town called Huacas outside Flamingo that provides daycare and schooling for children from impoverished families, as well as job training and GED classes for adults.  I spent a couple of hours playing with children who were about three or four years old and was reminded of the importance of immersion to learn a language.  The reason living with host families and speaking Spanish for hours every day in class works is because we learned our first language as babies in the same way.

My Flamingo host mom, Shirley, and I at a restaurant for dinner.

Sunset Cruise
Our other service project was with Siempre Amigos, a group that repairs and improves houses for families living in poverty, similar to Habitat for Humanity.  I painted sheets of tin for the roof and walls in the house, sanded down doors and the wooden frame that would become the bathroom wall, and moved rocks, and as others worked on their components of the project, it slowly came together to a beautiful end.  The family we helped had not previously had a bathroom (they had been walking to the neighbors for the toilet and shower), and all nine of them had been sleeping in one room.  Along with other volunteers, we expanded their home and gave them a bathroom of their own.
The home we worked on, in progress.
Our final two weeks were spent in Heredia, a town outside the capital city of San Jose.  My third host family was a mom and her three sons.  Here, for our service projects, we worked with the Humanitarian Foundation of Costa Rica in La Carpio, a slum outside of San Jose.  La Carpio is located right next to the dump where all of San Jose’s garbage ends up, and all day long trucks drive in and out of the town along the narrow road that is the only way in and the only way out.  The waste system is poorly managed, and so the streets are full of trash and the rivers run full of waste, polluted beyond belief.  The people live in homes made of whatever material is available, mostly cardboard, tin, and plastic.  I have never seen such poverty before, and it was a truly humbling experience.  Although I have previously seen pictures of places similar to La Carpio, to walk the streets, breathe the air, and smell the sewage was a powerful, and at times overwhelming, experience.  However, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve there, if only briefly.
This is the door to the school where we spent a couple of hours drawing and painting with the kids. The saying translates to, "Children are the future of peace."
During the final week in Costa Rica, we visited the Irazú Volcano, and finalized our classes and presentations about our service learning projects.  Culture shock was difficult, and reverse culture shock was even harder, but I would not trade the experience I had for the world.  My Spanish has improved significantly, as well as my understanding of other cultures and customs.  I recommend study abroad to anybody who wants to learn about other cultures and languages, and I truly believe there is nothing more life-changing than stepping outside your comfort zone to visit a very different part of the world.

A lake at the Irazú Volcano. 

Amigos (friends) from my UNCG group. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Courtney in Costa Rica!

Hola from Costa Rica!

My name is Courtney and I'm currently on my second week of Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica. I have to say, the Costa Ricans are crazy about their Pura Vida way of life and I decided to take it on for this trip and take it back to the states with me! We have been staying with host families and our school is called CPI. The professors and families are not allowed to speak English to us so we have to figure it out on our own. There is a lot of "lost in translation" but we always figure it out somehow!

Costa Rica has a few different micro-climates, which means there are a lot of different climates all in one small area. Our first week we visited Monteverde which has Mountains and Rainforests. It rains almost every day and is around 65 degrees normally. There are a couple of reserves in the area but we visited "La Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena". They have mountain lions, sloths, tarantulas, colorful birds, and many other crazy animals we don't see on a daily basis. Another adventure in Santa Elena was our ziplining trip through the cloud forest! Since we were at around 4000 feet and inside the clouds, it was very wet and you couldn't see the end of the zipline! The cloud forest is definitely something you don't want to miss out on.

The next week of my trip was in Flamingo Beach. The beach here is about 20 degrees hotter and it rains way less frequently. Our host families don't live right on the beach, but about 15-20 minutes away in a town called El Llano. The water is so clear at the beach that you can put some goggles on and see what's below! While at Playa Conchal, I saw lots of poisonous sea urchins and a bright blue starfish. We also went on a snorkel cruise to a private island where I saw many pufferfish and a camouflaged stingray. The animals that you can see here are very different from where I live in Wrightsville Beach. The tides go all the way up to the road so creatures wash up a lot. A few days ago an Electric Eel washed up next to us and I had never seen one before then. I am definitely going to miss the Costa Rican beaches!

Our next and final two weeks are in the city, Heredia. Some things that are nearby is the Brunca Indigenous Group, the Irazu Volcano, and the Manuel Antonio National Park. Since we are in the city, we are doing a lot of service projects with the Humanitarian Foundation. Even though Costa Rica sounds dreamy, there is a big percentage of people in poverty here. In fact, as I'm typing this post, El Llano's water supply is shut off so no one has any running water. These are common things here, including the fact that 99% of houses do not have air conditioning. All these things come with the package of being immersed in the culture. So I'm soaking it all up before it's over!


These Iguanas are all over in the beach towns!

Me and Luna soaking up some sun at Playa Conchal!

Zipping my way through classes!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

MaryKent in Spain!

Hola, Spartans! My name is MaryKent Wolff, and I am an English major with minors in Spanish and Women’s and Gender Studies. This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, Spain, through one of UNCG’s faculty-led programs. Madrid is actually the capital of Spain, home to what seemed like endless amazing museums (namely the Prado and Reina Sofia), some of the nicest people I have ever met, and the most gorgeous park that I’ve ever seen (Retiro, if you’re curious).

I couldn’t tell you what I expected going into this trip—I had travelled abroad before, but never for an extended amount of time or without my family. I spent the week between the end of the spring semester and the start of my trip in complete denial, anxious because I was unsure of what to expect and how I would adjust. That all changed the moment we landed.

Sure, I was intimidated. I knew some Spanish, but I didn’t feel like it was enough to get by on. I was unfamiliar with the food that I was eating, and felt lost in such a big city. But I’d never felt so excited or so independent! I could ride the metro by myself, eat foods I would have never eaten otherwise (I tried goat!), and expand my knowledge of Spanish by trying to talk to everyone that I could. I explored city after city, from Segovia to Toledo to Seville. I frequented Primark more than I probably should have. I touched an aqueduct built by Romans. I was in a bar full of Madrid natives when Real Madrid won a high stakes soccer game. I saw where part of Star Wars was filmed in the Plaza de España (it was only Attack of the Clones, but still). I started incorporating slang like claro and vale into everyday conversations. I became close friends with people I likely would have never met otherwise, despite going to the same school, and laughed until I cried with them and our host mom at dinner every single night.

I loved Spain, namely its people, food, and landscapes, and I especially loved Madrid. I would go back in a heartbeat. After our classes ended, I traveled to Paris, Brussels, Cologne, and Amsterdam, but none of them compared in my mind.

If you ever get the chance to go abroad, as many of you will, absolutely do it. Do it especially if you have any hesitations. When I applied to the Lloyd International Honors College, I wrote my entrance essay about how I wanted to study abroad as a way to get out of my comfort zone, and my experience was exactly that. Every day was a new practice in growing, in stepping out of the world I knew and was pleasantly complacent in. There’s nothing else like it.

My dragon, who sadly remains nameless due to a lack creativity, and I at a La Mezquita in Córdoba. La Mezquita was a mosque dating from the late 700s that was turned into a Catholic church in 1236. 

One of Spain’s gorgeous landscapes, seen from Alhambra in Granada, a fortress that was the last stronghold of the Árabes during the Spanish Reconquest.

Paella is the quintessential food of Spain! Our host mom cooked it for us every Thursday night, and we looked forward to it this week. Sadly, this wasn’t hers, but a vegetarian paella from a restaurant in one of Seville’s main plazas.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sarah in England!

Greetings from Kingston Upon Hull (as the natives call it ‘Ull)!
My name is Sarah Maske. I am a Junior, History and Archaeology major, studying abroad at the University of Hull in England. My dragon Will Scarlet and I are preparing to say goodbye to the city we have called home for the past four months. Honestly I am sad to leave, this semester abroad has been a huge adventure for me that I will treasure always. I thought I would use my post to share some of the things I learned and encourage my fellow students who are preparing for their own trips.
This semester has taught me not to stress over the little things. Everything will work out in the end, no matter how big the problem seems. There was a professor strike here that left me without one of my classes for a month. It is an understatement to say I stressed over what would happen with my classes. I never thought I would wish to be in class as much as I did during that month. It has truly made me grateful for all the hard work and dedication professors put into teaching their students.

Yes there can be so much uncertainty studying abroad, but it works out…

1.      Will you be able to handle being so far from your family?
Homesickness gets easier. If you stop thinking of home you see the beauty in all the cultural difference and may pick up some habits you will carry back to the US. Like taking a little time to enjoy a cup of Yorkshire tea and just thinking about all the excitement of the day. Those breaks are the best breaks, especially when struggling to do you assignments. They help you regroup your thoughts or just think back to the adventures you had with your friends that day. And if you really are struggling remember that your family is just a Facetime call away.

2.      Will you make friends?
You will make so many friends, because just like you, other exchange students are looking for friends too. They are just as nervous as you and cannot wait to say hello on orientation day. Out of my time here in Hull, it is the friendships I made that I cherish the most. Friendships I know will last a lifetime, and it is my last goodbyes that I dread the most. With having an exam on the very last day of the month long exam period, I have already said some hard goodbyes. I hope that the goodbyes I said will not be forever. I plan to visit every one of them one day… hopefully in the not so distant future.

3.      Are you going to get lost?
Defiantly! The best adventures happen when you are lost. If you get lost, just wander around you will find where you need to go, even if it takes you longer to get there. You can find amazing places you never would have found if you followed google maps. It makes you appreciate where you are. Nevertheless, if you truly having a problem just ask for help. There is always someone out there willing to help you. They can be the most interesting people with the best stories. Without having Wi-Fi or data, I had so much fun wondering around the streets of London and Nottingham on my week long trip I took alone. I found the best views of the city and places to eat that way.

Step as far out of your comfort zone as you can. You learn so much about yourself this way. And do not think about giving up, your friends will push and support you every step of the way. For spring break, my friends and I took a road trip through Scotland hiking more than 30 miles that week. I got to see views I never would have seen if my friends were not pushing me to keep going. Now all that time struggling up the side of the highlands in the sleet are some of my most precious memories. This semester has taught me so much about myself and I will forever cherish memories I made here.  East Yorkshire will always have a piece of my heart.

Lastly, if you get the chance to study abroad take it. Studying Abroad may be one of the best part of your college career. You get to see the world in a whole new perspective and reflect on what values are important to you. I know I am a different person than the girl who stepped off the plane in January. More confidant, more willing to improvise in the worst situations, and more open to seeing what is going on in the world around me. It is sad to see this adventure coming to an end, but I see many more adventures abroad in the future.

Sarah Maske
University of Hull
Hull, England 

Here is some of my amazing friend on one of the last days we were all together. We walk by the sign every day to go to class and just so happened to be where the picket line was during the strikes.

Yes, its cream not red. Hull is the only place in England to have cream telephone booths because it has its own personal telephone company that monopolized the area. 

Mine and Will Scarlet’s archaeology dreams came true after I spent the day visiting Stonehenge. Luckily I went when the weather was nice. Sunny days are rare here, in is almost June and we are still wearing winter coats on the rainy days.

One of the moments when I was in awe when looking over the city of Edinburgh from the ruins of an abbey on the Arthur’s Seat. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Isaac in Estonia!

Tervitused Eestist - Greetings from Estonia!

     I'm Isaac Hawkins, a third year International and Global Studies student studying abroad in the beautiful city of Tartu, Estonia. I arrived in Tartu nearly four months ago, and what a ride it has been. The morning of February 6th, my stomach was in a knot. I had never been on a plane. Heck, I'd never been to an airport. My first flight was going to take me to Europe, and look, y'all, I was nervous. Still, I thought I knew what to expect when I got off the plane. I'd done so much research, and I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong. 

                                                       WARNING: This might get a little sappy. 

      Twenty-five hours of travel later, I rolled up in an icy little town where the sun never seemed to come out. Winter was a hard adjustment; it snowed every day for a month and a half. The food was nothing special, and the locals hardly ever spoke. Courses were structured differently, and I could never tell if I was doing too much or not enough. I tried to embrace the atmosphere and make the most out of winter, I even went on a spectacular trip to Finnish Lapland, well beyond the edge of the Arctic Circle- but even though I was making more friends than I could count, I was fighting an uphill battle with homesicknessIt was all just so different from where I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, and different from UNCG. I was questioning my choice to leave home. Would I not have the life changing experience that I'd been yearning for for so long?  

     Then something magical happened. The sun came out, and the country began to thaw. By April, Tartu was alive, and the quiet winter streets became bustling business fronts teeming with bright and beautiful faces of celebration. Ever since, it has been a non-stop party. Everything is in full bloom. With more fresh ingredients available to restaurants and produce markets, even the food transformed. The sun sets at 10 and rises at 4:30. I've never been anywhere with a stronger sense of place. Sure, I still miss grits and my Granny, but I'm so glad I never gave up on my new home. I truly am having the time of my life. In other words, Estonia is awesome. I'd tell you about all of my adventures (and misadventures), but I wouldn't be able to convey just how incredible they have been. I guess you'll just have to come experience Estonia for yourself some time. 

     Just a word of advice for my fellow Spartans, think of difference as an opportunity, not a hindrance. If you stay stuck in your ways, or if you think you know everything, you won't grow. Embrace a different culture, try new things, eat new food, go new places. Historically, geographically, spiritually, Estonia is all about transformation and identity. And if there's one thing it has taught me, it's that you never know where or how you might find a new piece of the life's puzzle.

Nagemist - see you later!

Isaac Hawkins
University of Tartu
Tartu, Estonia

Monday, May 14, 2018

Erica in Uruguay!

¡Hola todos! ¿Cómo andan? *leans in for a hug and kiss on the cheek*

My name is Erica Yepiz, and I am a Spanish (K-12 Teacher Licensure) major and a Latin American and Caribbean Studies minor.
As I type this, all of my friends back home are posting on social media about final exams and graduation. My friends abroad are currently winding down and making plans to come home or travel after finals. Meanwhile, I just took my midterms. I didn’t arrive in Uruguay until March, so I spent nearly three months waiting and watching as all of my friends either went back to school or went on their own journeys abroad -  Delvin and Ethan to Japan, Christian to Spain, Hannah to Denmark, and, lastly, Lillian to Australia. It honestly got to be stressful and lonely, but, when I finally got here, I was so excited to begin this chapter of my life (also because it was technically mid-summer here, and I live a five-minute walk from the beach).

I had two main goals before I left the United States. One, improve my Spanish. Two, learn to relax a little.

As a Latina, I always hated that I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, so this goal wasn’t just for career purposes; it was very personal. I felt very confident in my reading and writing skills in Spanish, but I felt that my conversation skills greatly lacked. HOWEVER, just a few weeks in Montevideo, I automatically felt the improvement. Obviously, I still stutter or mispronounce something, but I have been able to communicate with locals pretty smoothly. (But I haven’t adopted the interesting way they pronounce their “ll” and “y” or use “Vos” and “Ta”).

I think that I’ve relaxed a little. I generally stress and overthink anyway, so I knew A LOT wasn’t going to change, but I was hopeful. Mostly I’ve learned that I have to adapt and go with the flow. And, finally, that voice in my head turned on to give me advice when I needed it. I missed a connecting flight. There is nothing you can do in this moment except buy a new ticket to get to Uruguay. I didn’t read the bus route correctly, so I got lost. Just walk until you recognize some street signs or buildings. I don’t know exactly how to translate what I want to say. Stick to what you do know because you know more than you sometimes give yourself credit for. These experiences were frustrating and a bit scary in the moment, but they have helped me to not be so discouraged when doing something for the first time.

Considering I still have about two and a half months in this small country, I still have time to grow and learn. I plan to go to Argentina soon and, even though it’s getting colder, hopefully Punta del Este is in my future, too. Maybe even a trip to Chile if my bank account is looking up for it.

¡Que la pasen bien, chicos! ¡Chau! *leans back in for a hug and kiss on the cheek*

Erica Yepiz
Universidad Católica del Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay
One of the first big events CBU (welcoming committee) held for the international students to get to know each other. Asados are very common here, and the food tasted amazing!

Like all tourists, we just had to take a picture with the Montevideo sign.

Fun Fact: There are 3 million people in Uruguay, but 10 million cows! So meat is a pretty big deal here. Chivito literally means little goat, but this sandwich is just steak, ham, cheese, lettuce, egg (hard-boiled or fried), bacon, and mayo. Some people like tomatoes, olives, and peppers on their chivitos, but I'll pass.

View of the city from Playa Ramírez

When I was picking the name for my dragon, i anted something very Uruguayan (or reuruguayo). I decided on Gaucho because Gauchos, similar to cowboys, are an important part of Uruguay's history. I got a chance to go to Museo del Gaucho, and I brought my dragon to meet his people. 

 Murals and graffiti can be found on pretty much every building of the city. "The difference between who we are and what we say is what we do."

 International students from the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Spain, France, and Germany.

Mate (pronounced mah-TAY) is a very common drink here. In this photo, some friends and I are sitting in a circle looking at the sunset by the beach and drinking mate.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sarah in England!


My name is Sarah Seyler, and I’m a Media Studies Junior studying abroad in Plymouth, England this semester. Plymouth isn’t a very big city, but it is a college city, as we have another university in the area. I think I chose to study in England because something in me was just drawn to Europe more than anywhere else. It’s hard to explain, because it is more of a feeling than it is something I can verbalize. Besides, I knew that they had a decent program in Media, and public transport is extremely good and cheap in England.

I could spend time telling you about my adventures. But the truth is that many of them probably won’t sound as interesting as they were to me. So instead, let me tell you about the things that I noticed are different; the general feeling, the tea, the sausages. Fried chicken is NOT fried chicken, and there is probably a strange British colloquialism for just about any word you can think of. I can touch cobblestone and know that it has history, it has weight to its existence. That stone may have been there longer than our country has been around. People go outside when the sun is out because it’s such a rare occurrence.

Let me tell you about the things I love; I was given constant sass for our lack of kettles. People refer to me as ‘the American’ more than they do my own name sometimes. It’s hilarious saying ‘North Carolina’ and watching them try to work out where exactly that could be. People ask me about Trump, but they ask me about the Kardashians more. My flatmates spent the entire first month I was here cramming every British food I had never tried into my face. Sometimes they ask me to say words, and listen with their eyes closed when I sound out the syllables. One of my friends tells me she’ll miss that accent when I go.

It’s been an amazing few months. I’ve definitely discovered a different side of myself. I’ve grown. And as much as I can’t wait to go home, I know I’m going to leave part of my heart here.

Cheers, as the Brits would say,

Sarah S.
This is where I am, right on the coast. They call it ‘The Hoe’ here, and this is where everyone has barbeques when it’s actually warm.

This is an olddd old old cathedral in Exeter. The statues were chipped, but you could feel how much they had seen, how long they had been there.

I really like street art ya’ll I have no other excuse alright? This was in London.

I really like street art ya’ll I have no other excuse alright? This was in London.