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