Monday, May 2, 2016

Anna and Pippin in Scotland!

Hi everyone! I’m Anna and I’m currently studying at The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland with my dragon Pippin! 

Pippin and I enjoy a rare sunny day in Scotland at Loch Lomond.

I’ve been in Scotland for just over three months, and I still have trouble forming the words to describe it. Nothing I say can capture the beauty, majesty, history, heart, and pure magic that this country has to offer. So far I’ve been to all seven major cities, visited numerous small towns, traveled all along the east and west coast, ventured up into the islands, and wandered around some amazing glens, parks, and forests. And despite all that I’ve done and all that I’ve seen, I still want to see more.
If you’ve talked to me in the past three months, you might not know exactly what I’ve been doing or where I’ve been, but you will know this: I am madly in love with Scotland. I would say that I won’t be satisfied until I see everything this country has to offer, but even then I think I would still be yearning for more. It’s already begun, of course: my friends and I are now not only planning trips to places we haven’t yet been, but also trips back to the places we’ve already visited and fell in love with (Loch Lomond, I’m lookin’ at you). When I look back at the past three months, I’m filled with nothing but happiness. Of course, there were things that went wrong—bad days, poorly planned outings, the worst weather I’ve ever seen, etc, etc, etc—but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had had for a million perfect days.

This dragon sits in Irvine on the Ayrshire Coast to protect Scotland from future Viking invasion. Pippin was quite pleased to meet him, but had to stay in my pocket for the picture because it was too windy!

Faeries and magic play a big part in Scottish folklore. If you don’t believe in magic before coming to Scotland, you probably will once you leave. I mean, just look at this water near Luss Glen—there’s no way that’s natural…

Speaking of magic: Hogwarts Express, anyone?

One of the hardest decisions I had to make on this trip was whether to spend my travel time and money on touring Europe as a whole or to spend it on touring Scotland instead. If you couldn’t guess based on what I’ve already written, I chose the latter, and I am so glad I did. If I’d chosen to spend my time on touring Europe, I would have seen a lot of cool places, but I wouldn’t have really been able to experience them. Here in Glasgow, I was lucky enough to find a really great tour company that takes students all over the Scotland, not only to the big cities but also to the most remote places that you would never think to visit on your own. And because the tours are run by a Scot, we not only get to tour around, but also get to hear a lot of great stories about history and local fairytales—two things that are extremely important to Scottish culture. While exploring Scotland I’ve discovered that knowing the history really gives you a new and important perspective on the landscape itself.  It is easy to understand the beauty of the highlands. It is humbling to understand the culture of the people who lived, fought, and died on them. 

The Old Stirling Bridge was the site of a famous battle between the Scots and the English in 1297. The Scots, led by William Wallace (whose name you may recognize from the film Braveheart), used the bridge to achieve an unexpected yet brilliant victory over the English.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone planning on studying abroad would be to really try and experience your home country, not just live in it. Try and learn the language or slang, meet locals, test out all the little pubs and cafés, read up on the history, explore everywhere you can, and most importantly, don’t forget to appreciate the little things. You only get five months (and trust me, it will fly by), so make the most of it.

Study abroad has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but even as I still have a little more than a month to go, I already know that it’s also been one of the best.  I left the US in January without my friends, my family, and (most of) my possessions, but I’ll be leaving Scotland without a piece of my heart.
Slàinte Mhah!

“Where ever I wander, where ever I rove
The hills of The Highlands for ever I love”
-Robert Burns (My Heart’s in the Highlands)

Anna Taranto
University of Strathclyde
Glasgow, Scotland

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rania in Castellanza!

Ciao! When I first arrived in Castellanza, Italy I was a bit disappointed. I thought this little town that I was going to be living in for the next four months would be vibrant and bustling with people –almost city-like. Instead, it was a ghost town and with hardly anyone around. To be fair, it was a Monday morning and most things in Castellanza are closed on Monday mornings, as I would soon find out. I had super high expectations because of the various movies I have watched that were based in little Italian cities (I watched Eat Pray Love on my flight over). After waiting for over an hour at the train station, me and two other UNCG girls were finally picked up by a few members of the university’s erasmus “welcoming” committee. Their cars were so small (much like the other cars in Castellanza, except for the occasional Jeep or Range Rover), that we had to split up so that we could fit ourselves and our multiple suitcases into the car. 

Pisa, Italy: Barely nudging the tower of Pisa back up straight.

Florence, Italy: Me in the busy streets of Florence in front of the Ponte Vecchio

Throughout this journey I’ve tried to be super transparent with how I’ve been feeling and what I’ve been experiencing here, good and bad. I’m not going to lie, the first couple of weeks of being in Castellanza were hard. We were told that we had to get a Residence Permit in order to travel throughout the EU, so the first few weeks after orientation were spent tracking down papers to send our Residence Permit application in. Getting our residence permit and fiscal code was the most trying experience I’ve had since being here. The directions for what to do and how to do it were so vaguely described that it really tested my patience and desire for being here in Italy. One thing that I definitely miss about UNCG is the set class schedules. When we arrived, during orientation week, we had to sign up for classes that we wanted to take. LIUC’s class system is all over the place with some vital classes having time conflicts. It’s a super frustrating process, much like most things in Italy, but luckily it all worked out in the end. 

Castellanza, Italy: My school an old cotton mill. In an odd way, it's pretty cool. When there's sun in Castellanza, it's a huge deal (for me at least). This is a picture taken from the residence hall's outside passageway.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m finally adjusted to the Italian way of life… although some things still surprise me. I would say the first month was definitely the hardest. While I still have moments of homesickness here and there, it’s not as bad as in the beginning and I think it has to do with the traveling I have done recently. Since being abroad, I have gone to: Milan, Italy; Florence, Italy; Pisa, Italy; Trento, Italy; Barcelona, Spain and Paris, France. Each place I have gone to has obviously been different, but they have helped take my mind off of missing home. I’ve tried a few things for the first time since being here too, like skiing on the Swiss Alps in Trento, seeing the tower of Pisa, standing under the Eiffel Tower and staying in a hostel (which has actually been a pleasant experience! I highly recommend the St. Christopher’s hostel chain). My favorite place that I have visited thus far has been Paris, of course. Before even going to Paris many people said that it’s overrated but I loved every bit of the short weekend we were there for. We finally met some Americans, I saw a friend from high school and we even ran into a fellow Spartan. My favorite part about Paris was the diverse Gare Du Nord neighborhood we stayed in and the grounds around The Lourve museum. And of course, you can’t forget the croissants and macarons! Paris was such a great place to visit for one of my last trips and I can’t wait to get back. 

Trento, Italy: Me skiing in Trento for the FIRST time ever! Had a blast, shed tears, laughed way too much.

Before I conclude this post, if you’re like me and have been feeling a little homesick and experiencing culture shock, below are a few tricks that have helped me get through it:

1. Say Yes Often Saying “yes” forces me to get out and interact with people. Sometimes I do say “no” because I just need that alone time. But more often than not, I agree to go out and socialize with the other erasmus students. It helps me get out of my comfort zone and I get to know the others a little better than I did before. 

Barcelona, Spain: Palm trees and blue skies in Barcelona! We were there for a whopping 9 days for Spring Break.
Barcelona, Spain: La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The most beautiful cathedral I've ever seen. Besides the Duomo in Milan.

 2. Talk About Your Problems Actually tell people what you’re going through. Most people will not understand, but sometimes it helps just getting your frustrations and emotions out. It’s okay to cry, too. I spoke to my roommate about my homesickness and now she understands why I may act the way I do in some situations. We now have this mutual understanding, where at first I thought I was only going through this phase alone. 
Paris, France: Being goofy in front of the Louvre Museum.

3. It’s Okay To Be Alone It’s also okay to be alone sometimes too (see #1). You have to let go of that FOMO and make time for yourself. It’s okay to miss out on a night out, and I promise you, having time to yourself will help you stay sane. It can be overwhelming to say “yes” and go to every single event. Having that designated alone time is necessary. 

Milan, Italy: The Duomo of Milan during Carnival.

4. Communicate With People At Home A lot of people say that you shouldn’t communicate with people at home because it can make you more homesick, but I disagree. Sometimes when I talk to my friends or family about what’s going on at home or at school, I instantly feel better afterwards. Just having those few minutes of catching up with them is all I need to feel better and motivated. They’re the only ones who fully get me, so talking to them is refreshing. 

Paris, France: Three Americans and one Scot in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower!

So that's it! Hopefully this post wasn’t fully depressing. I’m having a wonderful time in Italy, it just took me a few weeks to adjust and settle in. Me and Alphonso (my dragon) sign off for now. Arrivederci! 

Rania Bolton
Universita Carlo Cattaneo (LIUC)
Castellanza, Italy

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Brianna in Manchester!

I was both excited and nervous to arrive in Manchester, England because although this was a great opportunity, this was also a big step into the unknown. Not only would this be my first time flying in an airplane in years but I would also have to learn how to navigate living in another country. Despite some of my worries I had a smooth transition into life in England and that is partly due to meeting two other American students who would soon become my fellow traveling buddies. Together we explored Manchester's City Centre and enjoyed our first meal abroad at a restaurant in the Piccadilly Gardens.
Manchester City Centre

As we got settled into our new environment, my new friends and I began to create our own traditions. Every Wednesday after class we visited a new restaurant and had afternoon tea. I had no idea that there were so many different types of tea or how extensive the selection of cakes, sandwiches and sweets that accompany your tea can get. We also began a quest to find the best burger in Manchester/England. So after going to multiple restaurants my personal choice of the best burger is the GBK burger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Bath.

Afternoon tea

There were quite a few things that I had to get used to while in Manchester. One of those things was the weather. It rains a lot in Manchester. On any given week you can pretty much guarantee that it will rain at some point and it's always a good idea to have an umbrella handy. I'm used to driving everywhere but in Manchester it is very common to take the bus or walk. I didn't mind this too much especially since everything you need is nearby and students get bus passes. Another aspect of the culture that I became accustomed to were accents and common phrases/greetings. I quickly learned that although someone might be speaking English their accent can be so thick that you don't know what they are saying. In America, we usually ask someone "How are you?" but in England people ask "Are you alright?" At first I thought that maybe I looked sad or upset so people were asking because they were concerned but it turns out that that is just their way of greeting someone. Some other words that I heard include: marks (grades), cheers (thank you), jumper (sweater), car park (parking lot), and hoovering (vacuuming).
The London Eye at night

I explored different parts of England and also traveled to Wales, Scotland and Spain. My favorite places that I visited were York and London in England, and Madrid and Toledo in Spain. In York, I climbed the ruins of a castle (Clifford's​​ Tower) and tried fudge in one of the many dessert shops. I spent one weekend in London with some other UNCG students and it was great to see major attractions like Big Ben and the London Eye both in the day and night. It was even more memorable because we got to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and ate traditional fish and chips (which are really good by the way!). Spain was so beautiful and it was definitely an adventure learning how to get around using the metro. I also visited Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Chester and Oxford, all located in England.
Clifford's Tower


I learned a lot from studying abroad not only about English culture but about myself. Some advice I would give to those who are going to study abroad is to 1) embrace ambiguity. This was advice given to me and it helps to go into this experience with an open mind because things can, and at some point, will not go the way you expected or planned them to. 2) Be adventurous and try new things. I told myself that I would try foods that I would not typically order every time I went out to eat and it paid off! Having this mentality led me to try foods like pistachio cake, Mississippi mud pie, crumpets and scones with clotted cream. 3) Stay true to yourself. I am a thrift shopper at heart so I made sure to do a little shopping at thrift stores around Manchester. Going to church and being involved in my church community are big parts of my life so finding a local church to attend while abroad was very important to me. Through church I made lifelong friends and they were kind enough to take me to the Peak District (a national park in England) for the day. Ultimately make your study abroad experience your own and do things that are meaningful to you!
Albert Dock, Liverpool

Brianna Henry
Manchester Metropolitan University
Manchester, England

Friday, April 15, 2016

Arjanai and Huxley in England!

Upon arriving in England, my first reaction was that of astonishment, yet fear. I was quickly overwhelmed with the fact that I was in a different country. Not only was I now in unfamiliar territory, but I now had to figure out how to navigate this foreign place on my own. Thankfully, however, I was accompanied by four other lovely UNCG students who made the trip easier. Even with all of my fears and anxieties, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the beauty that England possessed. As I rode the bus from London to Plymouth, my eyes were instantly filled with miles and miles or lush, green hills and houses that sat layered upon them. It looked like a scene straight from a postcard. In that moment I felt all of my worries melt away. As cliché as it sounds, living in Plymouth has helped me gain a better understanding of life around me, and also myself. When I first came abroad, I thought I knew all there was to know about surviving in a different country. I read multiple articles online, talked to previous students who had been abroad, even watched all of the popular shows and music from England. However, no matter how prepared you think you are, everyone’s experience abroad is different. It’s great to talk to previous students about their time abroad, but keep in mind that that was their experience, not yours. With that said, here are my top 11 tips on having a successful experience while studying abroad:

A view of the ocean front in Plymouth called The Hoe

11 Tips on Having a Successful Experience Abroad

1. Studying abroad doesn’t mean you have to change yourself. Instead, allow the experience to build character upon who you already are. When I first decided to study abroad, I thought of it as a chance to “makeover” who I was. You read books and see films about people who go overseas and come back home a different person. They make physically changes such as cutting their hair or changing their wardrobe and this supposedly brings about a new-found understanding of their purpose in life. How crazy is that? What does a shorter hair length or new clothes have to do with gaining a better understanding of who you are? Nothing at all. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to change physically, allow the experience to change you internally. Then you will see the change you want to see. 

2. Say ‘yes’ to everything (that’s legal!). Try new things, you may come to love it! I am the type of person who knows what she likes and likes to stick to it. Back home, I would have never went to a party or hiking. I never liked dancing in front of other people and hiking just naturally seemed like a bad idea. However, once I came overseas, I decided to actually try going to a party. Good thing I did too, because I ended up finding some of the greatest friends there. As for hiking, it turned out not to be so bad. One of my best moments from visiting Barcelona over break was climbing a mountain in Park Güell.

Huxley, my dragon, blogging about his experience in Barcelona

3. If you have to choose between staying in alone and exploring, always choose exploring. You never know what you’ll find. I love my naps and alone time. Anyone who knows me knows this to be true. The friends I made over here just happen to be the complete opposite. They always want to do something and hangout. At first I was reserved about it, but the more I started choosing exploring, the more I fell in love with England. There is always something new and beautiful right around the corner. And since Plymouth is a small city, everything is in easy walking distance! 

4. If you plan to visit other countries during breaks, always plan ahead. If you know you want to go to another country over break, its best to buy tickets early on. Flight and bus tickets are cheaper if you buy them weeks in advance. 

Big Ben

5. Really allow yourself to indulge in the culture. Try popular foods and activities, try using their language and/or slang. Even if you sound crazy saying it, give it a try! When visiting Barcelona over spring break, I decided to order my food in Spanish even though I knew very little Spanish. The waiter was very patient with me, thankfully, and even got a good laugh out of it! But still I felt a moment of accomplishment afterwards.

6. Do not be afraid to use resources provided by your host university. They can be great, especially if you are struggling with coursework. Also, most universities offer weekend tours for discounted prices!

Me and a Guardsman Impersonator

7. If possible, join a club or sport! It’s a great way to meet people who enjoy doing the same things that you enjoy doing. You can join a club for something you’ve always wanted to try, or something you’re already passionate about. Don’t’ worry about sticking out or doing things differently. That’s one of the points of studying abroad: gaining a new perspective of doing things. 

8. While it’s great to visit popular landmarks, take time to explore the unknown hidden gems of your country. My first week here in Plymouth, some friends and I were exploring the city and ran across this beautiful, little ice cream shop across town. Whenever we would tell our other friends, who live in Plymouth, about it, they had no clue about what we were talking about. Now it’s a place where we all love to hangout! 

My favorite dessert from the ice cream shop we found across town

9. You packed way too much. When I came to Plymouth, I only came with two suitcases and that ended up being more than I needed. It’s important that you do not pack too much because you won’t have any help carrying those bags around the airport and your new city. Also keep in mind that you will most likely buy things while you are abroad! 

10. Journal or blog about every experience! At times it will be difficult to consistently blog/journal about your experiences, but when you get home you’re going to wish you did! This is an experience that you will not want to forget. Even if you think the moment is insignificant, write it down. It may become important later down the world. 

Huxley with his boarding pass, becoming an international traveler

11. Don’t let expectations ruin this experience. If something isn’t how you originally thought it would be, make the best out of what it is! A lot of people base their opinions about a country off movies and television. When you go overseas, forget about every stereotype and expectation and just live in the moment. Create your own experience, don’t try to recreate something you saw on television!

A few UNCG students and I jumping on the London Bridge

Arjanai Miller
Plymouth University
England, UK