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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Caroline and Kilgharrah in Wales!

Welsh for a yearn or homesickness for a home that was never yours, or a place to which you cannot return or that never existed.

I’ve been here in Carmarthen, Wales for almost three months and I can’t begin to describe how much this place has become my home away from home. It has given me so much more than I could have asked for: a home, close friends (which will easily become life-long friends), adventure, and, above all else, a space that has allowed me to be the truest version of myself. 
Welsh Countryside

My constant companion is Kilgharrah, my lil’ dragon who travels with me everywhere, even if he just remains at the bottom of my bag as a reminder for just myself. 

I named him ‘Kilgharrah’ after the dragon in BBC’s Merlin TV Series, but little did I know how significant naming him this would be! According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote about Merlin in 1134, Merlin was born in Carmarthen, Wales and was buried in Merlin Hill in the town’s center. Legend said that wine the oak fell, it was to be the end of Carmarthen. While the town remains, the year that the oak fell, the town experienced the worst floods they’d ever had (how eery!). I, incredibly, did not know any of this when I named him after Merlin’s dragon and thus, the coincidence couldn’t have been more perfect - divine intervention even. 

Kilgharrah and I on the London Eye

I am ever so grateful for the friends that studying abroad has brought me. It is so nice to connect with other people who are experiencing the same things that I am but, at the same time, bring their own experiences and lifestyles with them. It is such a unique thing to be able to see the same things as them but to view it in a different way. With spring break upon us, and we have all temporarily parted ways as we travel around and visit family, their temporary absence has shown me how much they’ve already grown to be an integral part of my life. I’m so grateful to call them friends, and soon to call them life-long friends! 
International Pancake Day with Flat 9

In the few months that I’ve been here, I’ve experienced more moments that took my breath away than I can count. We’ve ventured to London, England multiple times and taken in all of the history and regality that it has to offer between the Globe and Buckingham Palace (to name a few), and see the origins of Harry Potter by eating where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few book and walk through the graveyard that she drew names for her characters. We’ve traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland where the magnificence of the castle nearly swept me off my feet (literally, though, with gusts exceeding 50 mph). We’ve visited Bath, England and dressed in regency clothing at Jane Austen’s House and seen the Roman Baths. We’ve been to Big Pit and traveled down to coal mines that have been in use for over a century. Easter break has also given me the opportunity to stay in Paris for 8 days and see Mont St. Michel, a champagne tasting tour in the Champagne Region of France, go to Disneyland Paris, and then spend at least 2 whole days seeing the sights of Paris including the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Sainte Chapelle, the Arc du Triomphe, and the Louvre!

Edinburgh Castle
Arc du Triomphe

One place that quickly grew to be one of my favorite locations in Wales is Llansteffan Castle (pronounced in Welsh as Klan-steph-anne). Its only about a 15 minute drive from Carmarthen, but it feels like you are in a different world. Situated at the top of a hill overlooking a bay with quite a large beach, Llansteffan Castle is only the mere ruins of a medieval castle that was built during the 12th century. This was the first cultural trip that we took on the second day we were in Wales.

I could easily lose track of time at Llansteffan Castle, lost in amazement by how gorgeous the castle is when there is truly little there. While wandering around, I came across a tower towards the middle of the place and decided to lie on the remaining cobblestone and look up through the tower ruins at the blue sky and the silky white clouds running past. It was the most peaceful moment where time stood still and I was completely in the moment.
Lying down at Llansteffan Castle

View from Llansteffan Castle

If Wales has fought me nothing else, it has taught me to relish the little moments. Too much of my life otherwise is spent thinking about what comes next. What assignment is due next? What am I having for the next meal? What do I need to account for while budgeting? What am I doing tomorrow? The list goes on and on. While planning ahead is important, it takes away from the little moments that are so much more precious and can easily go unaccounted for. I am ever so thankful to Wales for showing me the great importance of slowing life down and not taking anything for granted.
Silly faces

Wales has lent me the ability to be my truest self - the crazy self who likes to make funny faces and use a million different crazy voices. The best part, is that it has also gifted me with amazing friends who enjoy my silliness and match it with the same craziness, allowing for so many moments of sheer joy and laughter. 

Therefore, the singular thought that I leave you with is this:

Half of the study abroad experience is the abroad part - the adventure, the joy, the laughter, stopping to smell the roses. Take crazy selfies in front of historic buildings. Get humorous group photos in the most mundane places. Take a comical photo of you jumping for joy any and every where. Find the beauty in the people, not just the places. These are the moments you will remember the most. In short time, Wales has shared with me such: the value of laughter is utterly priceless.

“To laugh often and much… to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kilgarrah and I at Camelot

Kilgharrah and I bid you a farewell from Camelot (aka Chateau du Pierrefonds in France), and wish you all the best! 
Caroline Stamm
University of Trinity St. David

Monday, April 11, 2016

Dominique in Toledo!

¡Hola desde Espana! 

Toledo at sunset

I left the States believing that six months was a long time. I mean, it’s half a year! Yet here I am in the beginning of April already depressed that I have to leave in 65 days. I remember calling my parents two days after I arrived in Toledo and telling them that I was never coming back! My experience in Toledo has been AMAZING. It’s not been without its ups and downs (not finding an apartment right away, trying to figure out the very different school schedule, realizing my Spanish wasn’t as good as I thought it was, etc.). However, in the last three and a half months, I have learned more about myself and what I want to do with my life than I ever imagined. 

Toledo at night

While I didn’t really go through that period of culture shock, I have really enjoyed taking note of all the differences not only between Greensboro and Toledo, but also comparing life in a small city like Toledo to some of the bigger ones like Madrid. I have to be honest and admit that my favorite part has been siesta. I’ve definitely gotten used to living in a country where napping is a national institution! I love living in a culture that’s so family-oriented. My apartment is right in front of a school so one of my favorite parts of the day is listening to all the kids chatter with their parents as they walk home from school. Also, Spaniards have zero sense of personal space. I don’t think I’ve given so many hugs and kisses in my entire life as I have here! That was certainly an adjustment.


School was and still is rather intense. I learned very quickly that my Spanish was not as good as I thought. Between the accents and the speed, sometimes it takes complete concentration to understand even the simplest sentences. Thankfully, my Spanish has improved a lot! The professors here are so relaxed. It’s so weird to me that they don’t care if you come to class! Then there’s the fact that there is little to no homework. So easy to fall into the trap of not studying!

When you try to feed the pigeons.....
One of the best parts of studying abroad in Europe has been how easy it is to travel. So far I’ve been to Lisbon (my favorite so far), Sintra, Paris, Madrid, and London. I have plans to visit Barcelona, Dublin, Valencia, Cuenca, Venice and Rome in the coming weeks once school winds down a little bit.  

Wandering around Madrid

Adventures in Portugal

London trip!
I have to say my favorite part of studying abroad has been all the wonderful people from all over the world that I’ve met. My roommates and I hosted an international potluck with a bunch of the other international students from our school and ended up with thirty people representing fourteen countries! It was so cool to taste a little piece of each country! We had a blast and created some great memories!

International Dinner

International Dinner
I’ll end with this. Don’t take the opportunity to study abroad for granted. Do everything! Face your fears, travel, get to know people. I know it’s cliché, but SAY YES! You never know what amazing memories you’ll have the chance to make. 

I can't believe I am living here!

!Hasta luego!

Dominique Brown
Universidad de Castilla-Mancha, Toledo
Toledo, Spain