Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christian in London!

Hello! My name is Christian Cagle, and I am a third year Psychology major with a minor in Biology. Normally, I would be at UNCG staying on campus and being an RA; this semester however, I am having the privilege of studying at Keele University in the United Kingdom! Keele is the largest single-site campus in the UK with over 600 acres of nature trails, student housing, educational buildings, and historical sites. While I was initially nervous to be going on my own to the UK, it has been the most wonderful experience! Coming to a new place or country knowing nobody there and nothing about the area sounds terribly daunting but has been the best growing experience for me. Before I came to the UK, I had hardly ever used public transportation and had never gone far from home on my own. Now, I am able to moderately navigate how to get from place to place here (either with company or by myself), and while I may on occasion miss aspects of home, I have settled in quite nicely here. Some strange and funny differences or quirks I have noticed about the Brits/Keele in comparison to the US/UNCG:

  • A common greeting here (as opposed to “hello, how are you?”) is just simply “You ok?”. This was confusing to me at first because I wondered if they thought something was wrong with me.
  • They love a good “queue”. Seemingly called the “Great British Queue”, this essentially means they are very accustomed to waiting in line, and don’t mind it or complain nearly as much as many Americans I have observed.
  • The British are much less likely to complain and (when sober) are usually very polite and kind to anyone they meet. I added the sober part because when drunk personal space and manners are nonexistent.
  • Chips are not chips and fries are not fries and what even are crisps? Essentially, “skinny” fries are just called fries, “thick” steak fries are called “chips” and all chips are called “crisps”. This alone has been a great struggle when ordering or having a food-based conversation.
  • “College” is different from University. College for students here is held between 16 to 18 years of age and is a more specialized version of high school where they narrow down what their future University major will be down to a few topics and only learn about those things. University is the same as our college and is commonly referred to as Uni.
  • Most students can get an undergraduate degree in three years and they do not have to take general education courses (which saves both time and money!).
  • They love a good party and the chance for alcohol, and they have easy access to both. On campus, there is something called the Students’ Union (most universities have one here). Basically, they are student ran/focused buildings that contain food, lounge areas, a store/shop, advice, and…massive parties. Almost every night there is a party going on at the SU that cost a few pounds (money here) to enter. They have several fully functioning bars, two dance floors with DJs, pool tables, and lots of drunk people.
  • The drinking age here is 18, and so in addition to the SU alcohol is sold at the convince stores on campus and at campus bars/pubs.
  • Pubs are a common British gathering place. Different than the US bar, pubs usually serve good food and double function as a restaurant. They also can serve some families and are a great social space to hang out with friends or meet new people.
  • Most UK students DO NOT HAVE ROOMATES! For the same price or potentially cheaper, the students here get their own rooms in on campus housing. Where it becomes more expensive is when they add sinks or personal bathrooms into the cost, but that is up to how much you want to spend.
  • The textbooks here (at least where I am located) are much less expensive! In fact, I haven’t had to pay for a single textbook because the teacher either made the textbook available online or the library had it available for me to borrow. I will deeply miss this upon my return home.
  • Some classes have multiple instructors that teach them, and they take turns giving lectures.
  • Assignment frequency is so much different! Whereas back home I would have a test or quiz every week/couple of weeks and had homework constantly due, here most classes save assessments for the end of the semester and don’t give homework. If you do have an assignment or test, it is most likely an essay or project. 

As I was typing the above list (which is only a small sample of the overall environment), I realized I had much more to say than I originally thought, and could have kept going if prompted too. Most everything I would have to say would be positive, as this has been an incredible experience and I wish that I could keep my adventure going for longer. Coming here knowing nothing and nobody, and now about to leave feeling as though I could make a life for myself here, and being happy with amazing new friends is so surreal. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that we are capable of much more than we know; I now feel as though I could potentially move to another country I know nothing of and find happiness given the right motivation and environment. I cannot recommend study abroad enough! Try, something new, put yourself out there…the world awaits.
Guard exchange site in London

Telephone booth in London

Big Ben (under renovation) and parliament

Buckingham Palace with two good friends I met at Keele

Keele Hall at my University

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sara in Uruguay!

Oh well, hi, hey there, hello!

My name is Sara Silika and I am a third-year biology/pre-vet student with a Spanish minor at good ol’ UNCG. However, since the end of July, I have been studying in the wonderful country of Uruguay where the summers are hot and the maté is hotter. I live in the country’s capital city, Montevideo, and attend Universidad Católica del Uruguay. There is a lot to say about my adventures here, but I’ll try to make this short and sweet. Sweet like dulce de leche? I think so.

A few quick facts about Uruguay:
  • Around a third of the country’s population (a little over 1 million) live in Montevideo, Uruguay’s biggest city.
  • Cows outnumber people here. The ratio is about 3.7 cows for every 1 person. So, if you have a thing for cow-tipping, this is the country for you! *
  • The first Men’s World Cup was played here in 1930. Uruguay won, beating Argentina.
  • There is a power dynamic between Uruguayans and Argentinians. You can definitely get Uruguayans worked up about who has the better tango, dulce de leche, etc.

Now, I would like to list some advice for your study abroad experience (or for life because, you know, my advice is liquid gold):
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost. That is the best way that I learned how to get around the city. Of course, please do not do this at night or in a sketchy part of town!
  • Ask questions! If you didn’t hear something, if you need clarification, if you need suggestions for the best bars to go to, just ask!
  • Do as many things as you can. Whether that be trying new foods (I ate kidney, intestine, and something else that I still don’t know the name of), going on trips with friends, getting involved in the community (I have been volunteering with a few different organizations), or simply walking around downtown, do all the things!
  • Make a bucket list of things you want to do in your host country (or continent). They can be completely random (I definitely want to get in an argument in Spanish) or be things that you’ve wanted to do for a while (like go to Patagonia)!
  •  It’s okay to experience culture shock. I thought I was above the thing that practically everyone experiences, but I was wrong. Of course, please do not go around yelling that your host country is stupid, but also don’t beat yourself up for getting frustrated at some cultural differences.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities you are given while abroad but don't take the experience for granted. Just email me if you want me to expand on this!

I could write for days, but like I said, short and sweet! If you have any questions about Uruguay, study abroad in general, or just want to chat, just type my name into the handy little address bar on your UNCG email. I’m the only Sara Silika that you’ll find! Thanks for reading, skimming, or simply looking at the pictures. Adventure awaits, people. Get out there and explore!

Nos vemos,

*Please do not go around tipping over cows. That was my attempt at a joke…

A view from the Rambla of the beach and Barrio Pocitos

My dragon (Mateo, or "Maté", so named after the beverage that 85.4% of Uruguayans drink) ready for the first day of school!

Palacio Salvo and one of the many statues of General Artigas (he's kind of a big deal here)

The Intendencia on the night of the Marcha por la Diversidad. The theme this year was "Ley Trans Ya" which promoted a law that guarantees more rights for transgender individuals.

My friends and I at the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa

 Being a nature freak (or freak of nature?), this mural spoke to me: "The life of all on the planet depends on the health of the oceans"

A buddy we found on our trip to Punta del Diablo. Who says you can't hug stray dogs?

These little nuggets are called "carpinchos" here, but we commonly know them as "capybaras"

Friday, November 2, 2018

Marisa in Denmark!

Hej! My name is Marisa Sloan, and I’m majoring in chemistry with a minor in English at UNCG. Currently, however, I am studying at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. So much has happened in the past two and a half months, but I will try to cover all the highlights.

In Denmark, the power distance is low. This means Danes do not accept that power is naturally distributed unequally. You are expected to openly disagree with authority figures such as your teacher or boss and be informal in dress and greetings. I’ve even seen the princess walking around the city on a sunny afternoon; I walked right by her without even knowing she was someone important. Coming from a culture which requires you to address your professors as, well, ‘professor’… calling my professors by their first name has seemed very rude to me, as if I am dismissive of their wisdom and authority. Additionally, I have learned that most of Denmark’s cultural practices stem from a single set of rules: the law of Jante, which I highly suggest looking up.

These would explain why students and professors interact as if they are equals. Coming from a very capitalist and masculine society, where individuality and the desire to be the best often seems to trump all, I feel as though I am always stepping on people’s toes here. Everyone wears black or grey clothing, so as not to stand out, and even my red hair seems to be drawing too much attention to myself by their standards. But what color the Danes lack in their clothing, they make up for in their architecture. Along the Nyhavn Harbor, there are beautiful historical buildings and ships (including the old home of Hans Christian Andersen, author of fairy tales like ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ and one of the most famous Danes to ever live).

Throughout the city are magnificent parks, palaces, gardens, and plenty of churches. While it’s a largely populated city, it’s very spread out, and there aren’t many areas of the city which are obscenely populated with tourists. I’ve found special solace in the student bar, which has $1 shots during happy hour on Fridays and cheap coffee in the mornings, as well as the numerous bakeries and bookshops. My very first week here I walked in an enormous pride parade with the University of Copenhagen, which was a huge affair that the whole city attended. Denmark is one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world and was even the first country to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions. Soccer is just as popular, and one of my favorite memories so far has been attending an FC Copenhagen soccer game and being surrounded by extremely enthusiastic fans yelling unintelligibly in Danish. It’s easy to be caught up in the excitement of all the events that are constantly happening in such as big city. Oktoberfest was a blast.

And just outside the urban city, there are friendly wooden giants hidden in the woods. They were created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, with the intention of luring people away from the big city to explore nature every once in a while. If you journey even further from the city center, you will find the beautiful Møns Klint, a 6 km stretch of chalk cliffs along the eastern coast of the Danish island of Møn in the Baltic Sea. Whereas most of Denmark is as flat as a pancake, these cliffs (and the millions of stairs it takes to get to the bottom of them) are a real treat. Although it was already fairly cold when I visited, I made sure to go for a dip in the sea near where some seals were playing.

Long story short, I have had a wide variety of experiences in Denmark. I have also made friends from all over the world, and have been fortunate enough to visit Germany, Sweden, England, and Italy, with plans to see the northern lights as well. I am sure that by the time I get back to Greensboro, I will have enough stories to last a lifetime.
Mons Klint

Nyhavn Harbor

Nyhavn Harbor

Pride Parade

Soccer game

Wooden giant

Frederiksborg Palace

Monday, October 15, 2018

Madeline in England!

Hey guys, my name is Madeline Wilvers. At UNCG, I'm a senior double majoring in Drama and Women and Gender Studies. For this semester, however, I'm in the UK at the University of Hull. I have been in England for exactly a month now, and the most mundane things are still the ones I'm unaccustomed to. I still forget that I'm the one with an accent. If I go a while without directly speaking to someone, the next time I'm addressed, there's a split second of "hey, they have a British accent!" before I remember that I'm literally in Britain.

Some of the exchange students friends I've made!

There's alcohol quite literally everywhere. My school's student union has a bar. You can buy straight gin with your between-class-snack at Hull's equivalent of a Sparket, provided you have your ID. There's a pub across the street from the school's main entrance and another one down the road. There is probably a dozen within walking distance of where I live.

A day trip with other exchange students to Beverly, a nearby town. 

As a theatre major, I did not expect 98% of my classmates to outright hate Shakespeare. Apparently, being brought up in England means he's about all you study in terms of theatre and English. The strangest of all the differences so far is probably the age of all the buildings. While attempts are clearly made to update and modernize interiors, the outsides all tend to look like a quaint village from a Christmas card. The sinks have two different taps for hot and cold water. The shower has one shower head, but two pipes leading to it for hot and cold water. The rooms have old radiators, and none of the buildings I've been in so far have air conditioning. They're just not built for it.

Our Singaporean friend wanted to make us a Singaporean dish. There was a LOT of leftover food.

I've only been here for a month, but even with these little things, it feels like I've been here for years. Here's hoping that the next two months go just as well!

My first Kinder Egg!

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.