Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paris, France, *Trevor Felch*

at Roland Garros in Paris seeing the French Open

I studied with the Sarah Lawrence College semester program in Paris. It's a semester long which seemed right. A year would mean missing too much back on campus, though I probably would've done a year with a semester elsewhere if I had not transferred after my freshman year. I went for Spring 2010- like January 3rd to May 15th (stayed until mid June for extra traveling). 

My preparations were pretty typical, had to do the pesky visa stuff. I am an avid traveler/restaurant lover so my preparation was more where to go, where to eat, museums, theatre, and such in Paris and cities I want to visit. I had to buy some winter gear, though I had no idea just how cold and dreadful the weather is in Paris through April.
I immediately didn't hit it off with my host-mom. She had a lovely apartment in a beautiful area but it just didn't work. She was classic formal, unapproachable French, and her meals were repetitive and boring which drove me nuts in such a food culture like France. The host-dad was a lot kinder and very anxious to help me, though he worked and was very busy.

Upon arrival it was freezing and my program had a mostly useless, way too long 2 week orientation. The program's weak suit is its not impressive academic classes but this orientation was pathetic.
I luckily knew most people on my program from the Claremont Consortium and one who I went to Oberlin with. It was like 10 girls and me the only guy, plus 10 or so girls who had chosen to the full year program, but we rarely were with them.
The program's classes were useless. We could take classes at other Parisian universities, a very wise choice. The program also dealt very poorly with my friend who got in an argument with her roomate and they ended up fighting and my friend was wrongfully blamed and had to move out. Really poor that the program found her guilty. The program is not rigorous but likes to think it is, making students sit in class and work more than any other program. The kids at Middlebury and Cornell were far more happy and better at French than us.
The three biggest problems I encountered were homestay, my friend's lack of interest in spending money, and the fact that I had to go to these useless classes instead of being productive and savoring one of the great cities in the world.
Oktoberfest in Munich

The homestay just didn't work, I wouldn't do it again.
I wanted to sample some great restaurants and do day trips and go to museums...my friends just stayed near home and rarely wanted to spend money besides on beers and cheap wine. Paris is a city that must be experienced and they never want to go sit in cafes and explore. I had to do way too much on my own. I didn't get too homesick but this made me get homesick from time to time.
And it is just so hard to sit in class or even worse, convince yourself to do homework, while you have Paris in front of you.

Advice on Paris, in general...
Explore! Explore Europe, explore your city! Don't just do the same thing every week, do something special every day whether it's a cafe or a museum because you will never have more freedom to do things in your life!
Travel! Take advantage of being young and having the energy to do lots of travel in short times. Europe has excellent rail passes for under 25 year olds, so take advantage! If you have to fly, use easyjet. Ryan Air is not the worst but not worth it when you factor in they fly to out of the way airports requiring lots of time and money just to go to the city. Easyjet flies to real airports.

I could make a huge list of all the cities in Europe to visit...but if you're in Asia or another continent I'm guessing it's harder to visit lots of cities since they're more spaced apart. Still, travel is such a key part of the experience.
That being said, be a tourist in your own city too! Be a tourist sometimes, be a local other. Blending both is so much fun and a rare thing you get to do.

Instead of hostels, look apartments if traveling in a group. Often you can find great ones at less than 100 euros and they're spacious and private! I am no hostel fan...had a few not good experiences.
If you're homesick, know that it's a small world. Every city has an American bar. Go to a cafe. Do not go on skype because that just makes you even more sad when seeing parents and friends. Know that this is only a semester and it goes faster than you think.

In Paris...you have to hit the tourist stuff (Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, Montmartre). Make sure to take advantage of your French citizenship/under 25 honors given on your visa, often it's free or reduced price.

Take advantage of the Seine, Jardin des Tuileries, and Jardin du Luxembourg for walks, jogs, reading, relaxing. 
Spend lots of times in cafes, you do have to try the classics Cafe de Flore and Deux Magots just to say you've done it. Get macarons and pastries at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, amazing ice cream at Berthillon (best is caramel au beurre salé). Lots of the leading chocolatiers like Christian Constant and Jean Paul Hevin makes amazing ice creams in the summer. Hot chocolate at Angelina is must but the service is a must. Even better is the tiny Charlotte Ile St. Louis near Berthillon for great hot chocolate in a friendly, cute tea salon. Bars- make sure to get the Andy Wahloo Special at Andy Wahloo in the Marais (they have weird door policies, go early or late), the canadian pub The Moose by Odéon, mango mojitos at La Rhumerie on St. Germain. I love strolling thru the markets of Rue Mouffetard and Rue Cler. Make sure to get cheese at Rue Cler's Fromagerie Marie-Anne Cantin. There are so many great places to buy fresh bread, look for "boulangerie artisinale." I love the bread most at Bruno Solques in the 5th and Bazin near Bastille. Be sure to sample some ethnic cuisines. Moroccan to Paris is like Mexican to L.A., lots of great places like 404 and L'Atlas for couscous and tagine. Visit the African neighborhoods of the 18th and 19th and have lunch or dinner at our beloved Mama Africa. Hacienda del Sol makes shockingly good and innovative Mexican near Montparnasse. The best crepes are at Breizh Cafe in the Marais, L'Avant Comptoir by Odéon, and a nutella-banana one from the restaurant Le Goutte d'Or's stand across from Notre Dame on Ile de la Cité.
at my beloved ice cream maker Berthillon in Paris

Homesick? Go to the Moose or Breakfast in America makes great pancakes and burgers. 
My favorite cute bistros are both on the left bank--Le Timbre in the 6th and Itineraires in the 15th. Be daring and try classic French dishes like escargots, pied de cochon, foie gras, pâté, and steak tartare. Best steak tartare is on Ave. Montaigne at Bar aux Théatres, unbelievably good. Speak in French and they'll be really nice to you. For sure get falafel at L'as du Falafel in the Marais and Jewish pastries and bagels at Sacha Finkelsztajn.
Drink lots of wine, so much cheaper and the cheaper wines are better than they are in the U.S. Franprix has the best cheap selection. Try to learn a lot about French wines and French food.

My favorite nieghborhoods were the Marais, the Canal St. Martin, the Odéon, the Rue Mouffetard.
For sure stroll through Boie de Boulogne and look at the transvestite prostitutes. Take advantage of Paris's great public pools, cheap for students. Piscine Keller in the 15th is my favorite. Lap swimming is as chaotic as New York traffic but worth it.
Don't waste money on Moulin Rouge or the Lido. Do go to a latin quarter jazz club, an opera at Opera Bastille, a ballet at Garnier, Cantatrice Chauve at the Huchette, and an old cabaret like Lapin Agile.
Do lots of picnics!

Lastly, stay optimistic when times are tough, it's all an adventure and you're such a better person for going abroad. It's so important for all of us to learn other cultures and be open-minded. Try to meet people in your city, meet the actual Parisians in Paris. It's scary and hard to do, which is why my American friends and I just stuck together. That's fun but I do regret not meeting more Parisians.

Egypt, *Tori*

Egypt Maymester

I traveled with Vanderbilt University to Egypt during May of 2010. We traveled from Cairo to Aswan to Luxor to Sharm el Sheikh to Alexandria and back to Cairo to fly home.

During the trip, we were fortunate to stay at nice hotels which I would definitely recommend as it is a somewhat unsafe country (although I never once felt unsafe). We went with a travel/tour agency that scheduled our days and provided a charter bus that we visited all of the sites with. As per Egyptian governmental rules, we had an armed guard with us at all times (again, he never had to do anything except save us from the solicitors at Giza.) We visited many churches and mosques as that was the main reason for our class and the highlights of the trip included:

  • Cairo
    • Statues of Memphis
    • The Step Pyramid
    • Carpet making factory
    • Felucca sailing on the Nile (dinner included)
    • Giza Pyramids and the Solar Boat museum
    • The Sphinx
    • Cairo Museum
    • Muhammed Ali Mosque
    • Dinner cruise on the Nile
  • Luxor
    • Market
    • Temple of Karnak
    • Temple of Queen Hapshepsut
    • Valley of the Kings
  • Sharm el Sheikh
    • Climbed Mt. Sinai
  • Alexandria
    • The Library
    • Royal Gardens

We took a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor, which was really cool and wonderful. The food on it, however, was not the best. The food throughout Egypt was mostly Mediterranean- hummus, babaganoush, gyros, etc. and a lot of the locals also smoke hookah nightly.  

As for dress, I would recommend breathable clothing that is modest as it is a Muslim country. The only city where you absolutely should wear long pants and shirts is Alexandria. Also, as in any Muslim country, be prepared for the Call to Prayer to be announced from all of the mosques multiple times a day. Another tip is for girls to wear their hair back, especially blondes- many Saudis visit Egypt and our professor had us stay very modest in their presence in the hotel.

Although I only spent a few weeks there, I really feel that I saw all of the sites of Egypt that I’d wanted to. We took classes in the hotel conference room and traveled a lot, but it was well worth it. It is important to note that I probably would not have felt near as safe if I wasn’t with such a formal group. That being said, most Egyptians are very nice and friendly.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chiang Mai and Nong Khai, Thailand, *Arielle Gout*

My study Abroad Trip in Thailand –Chiang Mai and Nong Khai

I always knew that I wanted to travel abroad in college. Having moved around my whole life, I am a huge supporter and a huge promoter of traveling to as many countries and to as many places as possible. Every country has such a distinct culture. Traveling opens your mind and enables you to learn from others. And as you learn from others, you are also able to take on and to understand different perspectives. If everyone in this world was well traveled, there probably would be greater understanding and fewer conflicts.
Being able to understand different perspectives is probably one of the most important characteristic a person should have—a person must WANT to have. Or else, who are you kidding—you are not fully appreciating some of the best stuff this earth has to offer: diversity at its core.

Originally I thought that for my junior year study abroad, I would to move to Paris for a year. However, then I remembered that although I have moved many times, I am terrible at adapting to new places. Therefore I decided that leaving for a quarter would be sufficient. Also, I decided against Paris, because as I am French and lived in France, I felt a sense of “been there, done that”. I wanted to go live somewhere REALLY different. Then I found out about a study abroad program going to Thailand through Cal Poly. Perfect. The classes would transfer easily, the program is very, very affordable, and I would be going to Thailand—a place that I would have never even considered had it not been for this program—with a bunch of Cal Poly students—that I would actually be able to see and hangout with back in San Luis Obispo. Also I knew that a couple of my friends were considering the study abroad program too. We went in and talked to the program adviser and were immediately sold on the idea.

I left for Thailand at the end of March 2010. I stayed for 9 weeks. The program itself was only 8 weeks long. To be honest, I should have stayed longer.
I traveled to Thailand with a group of four. We packed lightly. Luggage-wise, a couple of weeks prior to our departure, I bought a huge Northface duffel bag with straps I could use as a gigantic backpack. The great thing about traveling to a tropical country is that you don’t have to worry about bringing winter clothes! I filled my bag with shorts and tank tops and swimming suits…and that is pretty much all I needed.

The flight took forever—especially since we have to change planes in Taiwan. Eventually we arrived to the Bangkok International Airport, found the shuffle to the hotel we had booked prior to leaving, and before we knew it, we were riding in the back of shuttle through the streets of Bangkok. I never felt more excited. We left for Thailand a week prior to the program actually beginning. We decided that we would travel around Bangkok before figuring out a way to the Uniserf in Chiang Mai—where our program would begin.
I will always remember our first hotel. It had green walls. There was no internet. It had a pool that looked over Bangkok. And the breakfast consisted of one egg and one piece of white bread. AND everyone spoke Thai. The next morning, as we floated in the pool and read through our handy travel guide (Lonely Planet) we decided to make the most of the week we had, and impulsively decided to go another town several hours away and hike a seven pier waterfall. Our adventure began that day.

We made it to Kanchanaburi (after several taxi and bus rides), and hung out in one of the least touristy places of Thailand. We were literally one of the only white people there. I will never forget when we got caught up in the initiation of a monk, and started dancing in the middle of the parade. Or when one woman insisted on us (me and another girl with our huge bags) getting into her Tuk Tuk, and she biked us to our hotel 20 minutes away in the scorching sun—so she could make the equivalent of $5. These experiences are unforgettable.

I could go on and go with my Thailand stories. I cannot stress enough how amazing it was. Once the program began, we spent 5 weeks taking classes in Chiang Mai. We then spent 3 weeks in Nong Khai (north of Thailand right by Laos). We had to opportunity to do lots of traveling during our study abroad.. We saw the ocean, we saw national parks, we saw Laos, we saw Cambodia… We were there during the Songkram festival (when everyone celebrates water by literally having a huge water fight in the entire city of Chiang Mai), we were there during the riots in Bangkok (red shirt/yellow shirt fiasco), we ran by the Mekong river, we saw monkeys on a regular basis, we were attacked by mosquitoes, we got used to eating rice for breakfast and mango smoothies for lunch…

Of course, I did get home sick. I missed my boyfriend and my friends a lot. I hated skype because it would never work. It was very, very humid and I got sick of literally going outside for 5 seconds and being drenched with sweat, or waking up in the morning being drenched with sweat. I hated the cockroaches and the mosquitoes. And I definitely did not like being stuck in Chiang Mai for 5 weeks because of a couple of insanely easy classes, instead of having the freedom to travel around non-stop. And I missed being able to eat sandwiches. And peanut butter.

The Thais were very good to us. However, you must know how to haggle, that is for sure. It is very easy to be ripped off, ESPECIALLY in the towns or cities where the inhabitants are used to travelers. In fact, I would suggest avoiding the highly touristy places. I whole-heatedly believe that in order to get an authentic experience, you have to travel to the obscure, remote places. Places with hardly any whites. Also, it was fairly easy going around speaking English. I hardly spoke Thai and managed quite well.
Of course, as whites, we would stick out as sore thumbs. And people do steal (one of my friends on the trip got her mac computer stolen out of her own hotel room in one of the bigger island in south Thailand). Also, another group of my friends were sold fake visas when they wanted to cross the border into Cambodia. In fact, the Cambodians at the border were much more aggressive than the Thais and, in my experience, did not seem to like English speaking tourists very much.

I want to go back to Thailand. In fact, I am planning to do so next year. The best part about traveling to Thailand is that is it so close to so many other countries! I would recommend going to Vietnam (or so I have heard—one of the places I want to visit), to Vang Vieng in Laos, and DEFINITELY to Anchor Wat in Cambodia which has to be one of my favorite places ON THIS EARTH.

Studying in Thailand taught me to appreciate everything I have here in the United States. It taught me how to adapt. It taught me how to be resistant. And the beauty…is unbelievable. Pictures do not do justice the view I had of the pink bungalow nesting in the green, green jungle right by the blue ocean. Also, I learned how to drive a scoot!

If you get a chance, please go to Thailand. But be respectful of their culture. Do not be an obnoxious, loud tourist. Also, apart from the touristy areas, Thailand is does not have a night life. Be warned. The Thais work hard to make their country beautiful. Thailand is the “country of smiles”. I can confirm this saying: it is true.

I am not going to lie, after writing this, I feel especially nostalgic.

Florence, Italy, *Nora Boyd*

- I met amazing people, both in Florence and in my program. With a scholl-run program like mine, it's easy to assume it will feel like summer camp or boarding school, with name games and all the embarrassing stuff, but the people I met who were cool and were in Italy for the right reasons: to see some more of the world, to become familiar with a new city, to eat good food, to take advantage of classes abroad, and to travel.

- Italy is not so much the huge culture shock that one could find in other parts of the world, as in Asia, Africa, or South America, but it is definitely an experience! It's important to be flexible, and to try to understand the other culture. On the good side, for example, if there is an old lady cutting you in line at the grocery store, it is totally appropriate to cut her back, and it's considered part of the culture.

- Traveling is fun and more convenient for us while we're in Europe already, but it's nice to spend some weekend exploring the city you're in. Going every weekend to Berlin and Paris and Madrid and Amsterdam (and I actually know people who did this) is exciting, but it's totally exhausting and it gets extremely expensive. I tried to focus on getting to know Florence and traveling within Italy, and only went to different countries during Spring Break and Easter break when I had more time.

- Try every food! Italy is not really a place where you can find the weirdest food, but stomach and liver was not something I was eating all the time at home. I did try it. It doesn't mean I liked it. But I did decided I liked anchovies and fennel, and that was a step forward. On a related note, I really enjoyed cooking for myself, because produce is cheaper than in the US and so much fresher than in New York. It's interesting to see how grocery stores work in other countries, and it gets you more familiar with the kinds of foods people actually eat there (and it's less expensive than going out all the time).

San Luis Obispo, CA, *Pablo Allouard*

Pablo Allouard
Rouen Business School, Normandie, France
Where did you study abroad? 
San Luis Obispo, CA.
For how long?
10 Months.

Pre-departure preparations? 
Just basic things such as searching apartments, money, transportation etc…

Beginning experiences and feelings upon arrival?
It was my first time in the USA and far away from my roots (at least for a year). The first thing was Los Angeles. I arrived in a sunny afternoon, in this huge American city. I spend the first night in a Hotel downtown, because there wasn’t a train for SLO after 3pm. I was excited to discover this new world (and 10 months after, I still discover new things every day). I saw many cultural differences when I arrived: the Amtrak (generally, public transportation), cars, architecture, the coastline with mountains, streets etc… I noticed all the visible differences between California and France, but there are also similarities.
I was surprised to see all these beautiful cars, trucks and houses, compared to a period of economic recession. The opulent way of life was my culture shock, especially the “car society”(everything is easier with a car, compare to public transportation).
After I realized that I was going to spend one year without coming back to France, which was difficult at some point, when you start missing your family, friends, roots etc…

Overall experience
I definitely want to come back, I loved my experience abroad. So many road-trips!  
I discovered a lot about myself, California changed me.
I realized that the French have so much to learn from California:
  • First, an optimistic way of thinking. The French are pessimistic, like tradition and see change as a danger. They always complaining about everything. That’s why I want to come back!
  • Americans are more open to change.  We talk a lot about changing, but when it is time to take actions...
  • A friendly attitude towards people. SLO life seems to be a little bit cooler than the rest of California, but it is still different than in France, where people are a lot more distant, sometimes unfriendly.
  • A lot of sports amenities here. Things changed in France, but it’s not comparable to here: so much sports equipment! Compare to French campus, it’s a lot different. I would say that Californian seem to enjoy take care of their body and health, towards sports activities. A way of life that I’m going to miss for sure!
I’m 100% sure I’m going to have a reverse culture shock when I’ll come back: I’ll miss Californian people, way of life and landscapes (so beautiful).

Any advice you’d give to a prospective study abroad student?
Moving to France:
I think that you will face some barriers such as language: In France, people speak French. If you have the opportunity to learn French in your university (at least some simple “everyday life expressions”), that would help you to meet people and discover the culture (or just to survive ^^).
Unfriendly attitudes: Generally, I would say that French are open-minded and always want to discover more about you. But unfortunately, some people are not open-minded at all. To compare, I’ve always meet friendly and open-minded people in California. French are more distant.
Well, at the beginning, I guess it could be hard to understand the French culture and how French organize their lives. If you’re interested by learning the French culture, there is a class in Cal Poly where the French teacher explains few things to know about France.  
Well, I would definitely recommend you to move abroad as soon as you can! It will change your vision of the world and makes you more open-minded to new cultures. I’m almost sure that coming back in the USA will be hard after a year in France!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sydney, Australia, *Lauren Krensky

Where did you study abroad?
Sydney, Australia (lived just outside at Coogee Beach)

For how long? 
One semester, Spring semester my Junior year

Which program?

Predeparture Preparations?
Minimal. I did open a Bank of America bank account. They have a partnership with the bank Westpac which is prominent in Australia. Whenever I took money out from Westpac banks with my Bank of America card I was not charged the $5 service fee that many other banks charged.
Beginning experiences and feelings upon arrival?
Moving in was scary since I was all of a sudden around the world with no one I knew. But, seeing the beach and moving into my apartment two blocks away assuaged many of my concerns. Also IFSA-Butler had an orientation for everyone involved in their program so I felt more comfortable being in a foreign city after I had met a few other people in my same situation. The program also showed us around the city a bit in the first days - we visited the Sydney zoo, did double decker bus tours, etc. Those sorts of activities made me feel less overwhelmed since I had a remote understanding of the city after.

Best part
My favorite part of my semester in Sydney was my location. Living at Coogee Beach made me feel like I had an actual home, rather than just living in an apartment in the city. The area of Coogee is very cute with lots of little shops and restaurants and is fun to walk around. It didn't hurt that the breathtaking beach was only two blocks from my apartment. It was also ideal because I had the community feeling at home and could go into the city to explore via a short bus ride.
I was also there for the World Cup. Sydney was involved in the World Cup's Fan Fest and had giant screens up in the harbour that played all the games throughout the night. Some of my best memories abroad are sitting outside watching the US play on the screens in the harbour at 4:30 in the morning.

Any difficulties? (cultural, language, etc)
Although I loved living in Coogee, some people may view living there as difficult. The abroad kids joke about Coogee being "Little America." Many of the study abroad programs in Sydney have their students live in Coogee so there are tons of American students located there. This fact makes it easy to find American friends, but living so close to Americans can also act as a crutch. It gets difficult to leave "Little America" to meet Australians unless you really want to.

Information about Sydney (best places to go, watch out for, etc..)
The American dollar is not as strong as it used to be. Food in general is reasonably expensive so I often cooked at home. Alcohol is incredibly expensive in Australia (!!!!) and most Americans only drink box wine (called goon). The beer there tastes slightly different but is good (I liked Pure Blonde).

Favorite places in the city: 
Bars: I loved going out around Darling Harbour - my favorite bar there was Cargo Bar (right on the water). George Street is also a popular place to go out - The Ivy is a really swanky bar that you have to stop by at least once to see (no cover on Fridays, but dress up!). The Rocks is another fun area but a little nicer - The Argyle is a nice bar there.
Restaurants: The Australian Hotel in the Rocks is awesome. Must try their kangaroo pizza, although all are great. Pancakes on the Rocks is a 24 hour restaurant that has all kinds of food but it's fun to go in the wee hours of the morning to have pizza. People eat meat pies (Harry's is the most famous place for those) and kebabs for every meal. Also, if you're ever in Coogee - A Fish Called Coogee is my favorite restaurant. All fresh seafood that you pick out on the spot and they cook for you. Amazing.
Beaches: Coogee, Bondi, Maroubra
Must dos: Sydney Zoo; Sydney Fish Market; boat trip across to Manly beach; Beach walk from Coogee to Bondi (!!); Visit the Opera House and Botanical Gardens; Paddy's Market
Places worth visiting: Great Barrier Reef area (stay in Cairns or Port Douglas); Byron Bay; Melbourne. Also if you get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting New Zealand -- breathtaking.

Khon Kaen, Thailand, *Ana


Where did you study abroad? 
Khon Kaen, Thailand

For how long? (and why did you choose that length?) 
From mid-August to mid-December, only one semester is available with this program. You may choose a fall or spring semester. I studied there during fall 2009.

Which program? 

Pre-departure preparations? 
A physical is essential, but I believe that’s a standard for any study abroad program. Perhaps you may need to get some medical shots, however, if you have traveled to tropical destinations before then there is a good chance you have already acquired all necessary shots. Malaria pills may be necessary if you plan on traveling in Southeast Asia before or after the program. However, malaria pills are less expensive in Thailand and you will not need them for where you will be during the program. Also I suggest purchasing loose, breathable clothes. Linen pants will be your best friends. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any that fit during my trip so I suggest buying those at home. They are super light and usually don’t cost much, a great wardrobe essential for other travels as well.

Beginning experiences and feelings upon arrival?
I absolutely loved it. The temperature and humidity was hard to adjust to at first. Thailand is the quintessential tropical country and Bangkok is incredibly humid, especially during the months between April and August. I suggest learning a couple simple Thai words before your arrival e.g., thank you, hello, and bathroom. This will go a long way; Thai people are very impressed with foreigners who can speak even a little bit of Thai. Although you will have intense Thai classes throughout the program, it’s a good idea to get a head start. Throughout your study abroad experience in Thailand you will be treated completely differently, and will get “star” treatment in Thailand. Also Khon Kaen is located in the northeastern region of the nation, there not many people speak English and you must learn to Thai quickly in order to order food, buy mobile phone cards etc. Unfortunately, Thai isn’t the easiest language to learn since it is tonal. Specifically, it has five tones and a words meaning changes when an incorrect tone is applied, so be careful! The best way to learn Thai is to listen to it. Thai-English dictionaries are often unhelpful especially for a beginner.

Overall experience
The program has completely changed my life. It not only teaches you about the under-belly of development and globalization, buy it also teaches you how to be a better person. The program involves a lot of “group process.” This is a very frustrating process in which decisions in the group are made by consensus, not majority rules. Therefore, everyone must be happy with the decision made. During the first month of orientation the program emphasizes Thai language learning and activities focused on cultivating cooperation skills among the group. However, it is very flexible afterwards and your final project is completely determined by the students. IN fact, after every semester the staff changes the curriculum to reflect student feedback. Honestly, there is too much information for me to write in this entry. But know this, if you want a life changing experience and you want to become a better person, choose this program! In fact, I loved my experience so much that I came back a year later to do my senior thesis research.

Information about Khon Kaen 
There is a huge mall and a movie theater that did not exist there when I studied abroad. However, the restaurants located around the CIEE office offer amazing food. Please try the grilled bananas from the banana lady that can be found to the right of the 7-11. Also Thai massages are a must; you can get an hour massage for less than 4 dollars. In terms of safety, I never felt completely safe anytime I was in Thailand, at night, in cities, regardless. Of course I suggest executing your best judgment at all times, but there is little to worry about. However, before going I would check news on the red and yellow shirts political movements after spring 2010 unrest, the violence is in no way directed towards foreigners. Nonetheless, you don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cooking Sticky Rice at a Homestay

What you learned
I learned how to better communicate with people as well as a plethora of knowledge regarding grassroots and community organization. I applied a lot of what I learned in the classroom and I changed my college major upon my return. Also the Thai “ajaans” (teachers) are incredible at teaching the language. You will be amazed by the amount of Thai you will be able to speak at the end of the program. For example, you will be able to have heart-to-hearts with Taxi drivers in Bangkok…it’s awesome.

Any advice you’d give to a prospective study abroad student?
If you want to party and barely scrape by in your classes this is not the program for you. However, if you want to learn more about the world, become a global citizen, and understand the world as a whole better, don’t hesitate to apply.

Water Buffalo on a Farm
Rice Farmer in the Northeast

Monday, May 23, 2011

Florence, Italy, *Kim Wohlleb

Guide for Florence

Places to Eat:
Paninis: Oil Shoppe, Antico Noe, i Fratellini, Gusto Panino (all of them are under 4 Euro for amazing amazing paninis, quick to-go kind of thing)

Pizza: Gusta Pizza, Za Za Trattoria, Trattoria Mario (pretty much anywhere actually..)

Nice dinners:
1. il Latini (this is a MUST)- its a completely Italian style dining experience, they bring you out tons of food, tons of wine, deserts, everything, its the best (a little on the pricey side, but well worth it) make sure to get a reservation because it gets packed really quick.

2. Coquinarius (our favorite)- less expensive but amazing food, especially the Pear and Pecorino cheese ravioli. Also, if you like brie cheese, they have an appetizer that is to die for called the brie, honey and almond bruschetta.

3. Golden View- right along the Arno River- views of the Ponte Vecchio at night. More contemporary, really good food. If you can, sit by the window, it is beautiful at night.

4. Gatto e Volpe: the only place in Florence that actually gives you really good bread (fyi- Italians dont usually put salt in their bread... a lot different than at home) and they have really good penne with vodka sauce

4. Quattro Leoni- really good, a lot of people take their parents there...

5. Trattoria Tredici Gobbi- another good one

6. Buca Mario- havent been there but we hear great things, a little more pricey as well, but apparently its really good :):)

**Aside from il Latini and Buca Mario, all the rest are pretty affordable places with really really good food. To be honest, its hard not to like everything, but these places are definitely hot spots for us.


1. Grom- really touristy but good. its supposed to be more "natural" whatever that means...

2. The actual best place in Florence though is a place called "La Carraia" and it is two bridges down from the Ponte Vecchio (Ponte Carraia) on the opposite side of the river from the Duomo. (to be clear, the duomo is on one side of the river, and this place is on the opposite side of the river... hah) anyways, as soon as you cross the "La Carraia bridge" the gelato place is right on the corner. Its the best. Get the "biscottini" (cookies)... all of our favorite

3. Perche No? also pretty good

4. Vivoli, used to be like, an award winning gelato place...

Sights to see:
Uffizi Museum
Accademia (the David is here)
Bargello Museum
Churches- Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella (where we lived these past few months)
Ponte Vecchio (famous bridge full of gold jewelry)
**Piazza de Michelangelo: best views of Florence, a little bit of a hike to get to, but worth it. there is a restaurant up there too if you wanted to eat there. Beautiful during the day and night- great spot for pictures.
**Hike the Duomo stairs: really cool views as well, plus a little bit of a work out to help with all of the pasta, pizza and gelato you'll be eating :):) haha
**Cascina Park: non touristy, huge park, great to walk around, kind of an escape from the city.

*My favorite thing to do at night (when we arent drinking): Walk from the ponte vecchio, down two bridges to ponte carraia, cross the river, get gelato from that one place that i told you about, and stand on the bridge looking at the view. the lights on the ponte vecchio and along the river are all beautiful, and its really fun to just enjoy the view and hang out on the bridge.

**Also, some Saturday nights a guy plays the guitar and sings on the Ponte Vecchio, so grab a bottle of wine and go hang out there if you get a chance

Old Stove (right by the Duomo): its an Irish Pub, and the Bartenders are really cool- most of the time they're hammered... so its fun

Shot Cafe: near the Duomo as well- they have about 50 shots to choose from with ridiculous names like "Hiroshima" "Duck Fart" "Lube Job" and "American Flag" and stuff.. we spend a lot of time there... but be careful.. the phrase "death by Shot Cafe" has been used more than once during this trip hahah

Mayday- small bar but decent drinks and they serve popcorn to your table, always a plus

La Dolce Vita (accross the river)- appertivo (buy a drink and get free appetizers) is really good, kind of a swanky place, but fun

Naima- small but fun

All of the bars around the Santa Croce area are cool- Moyo, Naima, XBacco, etc.

Space- two story club, fun to dance at, they make their drinks strong, again- always a plus

21- really fun, smaller, underground, Wednesday nights are hip hop nights

Red Garter- more Americanized- its a bar and it has a dance area. Tuesday nights are beer pong tournament nights

Other things:
-Piazza Signoria is really popular- right by the Uffizi Museum
-San Lorenzo leather markets are really cool, super cheap stuff like scarves and belts and stuff, plus leather jackets and purses for your mom :):) haha
-Lion's Fountain is another great bar, forgot about that one

Buenos Aires, Argentina, *Kathy Smundak

I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina from March to August 2010 (a semester). Instead of going to NYU’s Buenos Aires campus, I enrolled directly at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) by taking a leave of absence. I wanted to immerse myself in Argentine culture and take classes in Spanish which would’ve been impossible at NYU’s study abroad campus. I chose a semester long program because that was the length of time for which I could take a semester off and still graduate on time. I also chose the program because it only costs $400 dollars for foreign students (as opposed to $16,000 through NYU).

I didn’t prepare too extensively before leaving. I applied for the program in the fall of 2009, but honestly, given their system, you could easily arrive a couple of weeks before the semester starts and they would still take you. I found a furnished apartment online that I rented with a friend from high school. Class registration took place at UBA’s orientation.

I was determined to fall in love with Buenos Aires when I got there, but quickly discovered that my Spanish was not nearly as fluent as I had expected. It’s definitely a very different country than the US—it’s not just that dinner starts at 10:00 and that they really haven’t mastered the salad (I once had it served to me in a cup), there’s also a massive bus system to master, the scarcity of coins to keep in mind, as well as the fact that their sense of humor differs radically from the US one—sarcasm is not their forte.

Because I wasn’t there through a program, I didn’t have a built in group of friends. The Argentines at UBA were extremely friendly, and I made some friends through classes—other study abroad students, as well as Argentines.  My roommates were enrolled in a study abroad program at another Buenos Aires university, so I made friends with people in their program. Through them I also met a group of Argentines who hung out with study abroad students. They also introduced me to a big group of Middlebury students. I also posted on a CouchSurfing message board for a language exchange (Spanish/English) and met an awesome girl who was very friendly. We went out once, and it was one of my favorite nights in Argentina.

Not speaking the language fluently definitely made the experience difficult and alienating. It’s hard to make friends when your personality is abridged by a lack of fluency. I couldn’t make the jokes I usually would’ve been able to, we didn’t share the same cultural referents. At NYU, I was very lucky to have found my best friends within the first week. In Argentina, I was on my own for the first time.  Although my roommates were very friendly, and we got along really well, they were both guys (which made living arrangements much simpler) and I wasn’t used to not having close girl friends. In any case, the experience taught me self-reliance. I learned to go out on my own, to get out of my comfort zone. I became much more independent, and, I think, nicer, less judgmental. I gained a greater sense of perspective—gossip and grudges and the social judgments that are characteristic of one’s usual social circle just didn’t matter anymore. My classes were the most rewarding part of my study abroad experience.

The main building was a former cigarette factory; the walls were papered with political posters. Classes never started on time, professors smoked in class. One time a stray dog walked through the lecture. But, the professors were extremely educated, erudite, and funny, as were the students. I learned so much about South American literature. The study part was a huge success.

Buenos Aires is an eminently walkable city. The Palermo parks are beautiful, and there is an awesome bathroom museum in the city in a building that looks like a giant pineapple (roughly). The steak is incredible—go to Desnivel in Sal Telmo, and it will be the best meat you’ve ever eaten. Iguazu waterfalls are gorgeous, and Cordoba is a very fun city. The country is huge, so travel time is always extensive.

The nightlife is very active, and goes until dawn. If you are home at 4 am, you’re not trying. That said, be careful at night: probably 50% of the people I knew there had something stolen from their person.

Advice: get involved in something. I had way too much free time while I was abroad. Only in the last month did I get a job (no I did not have permission, but they did not check papers). I waitressed and bartended at a bar, and not having done so sooner was my biggest regret. It was also a great way to improve my Spanish and meet new people.Overall, it was a very enlightening experience, and I think if I'd stayed longer, I would've benefited even more.

Barcelona, Spain, *John Enos

Where did you study abroad?
Barcelona, Spain

For how long?
One semester

Which program?

Beginning experiences and feelings upon arrival?
I arrived in Barcelona in early September and was disoriented by the heat! Suddenly having to rely on my feeble Spanish was also a wake-up call.

Any culture shock? excitement? nervous?

Best part
My favorite part of my semester in Barcelona was actually the traveling I got to do outside out of the city. I was able to go on trips to Morocco, Amsterdam, Sardinia, and San Sebastian.

Any difficulties? (cultural, language, etc)
I was a bit disappointed by the lack of language immersion from my experience. Obviously, this is in large part my fault, but I often ended up with other Americans speaking English. Catalans and the people on the street usually conversed in Catalan, which is totally different from Spanish. I wish my Spanish had improved more from my time there.

Information about Barcelona (best places to go, watch out for, etc..)
Be on the lookout for pickpockets. You may have to hunt hard to find good, cheap food. Parc Guell is a great place to relax atop the city. I found that Catalans and residents of Barcelona often seemed fed-up with the constant influx of tourists and loud Americans and were often a bit hostile towards us. I thought this was sometimes understandable…I was pretty embarrassed by the loud, culturally insensitive actions that often seemed to go hand-in-hand with many American study abroad kids.

What did you learn?
Overall, I enjoyed Barcelona, but in many ways it was not what I was looking for in a study abroad experience. I became a bit tired of how touristy and expensive the city was and found it difficult to separate myself from the ‘herd’ of American study abroad kids who weren’t really interested in immersing themselves in the city and culture of Barcelona. I think it is a great study abroad destination for many students, but in retrospect I would have gone somewhere else.

Any advice you’d give to a prospective study abroad student?
Go somewhere that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. It is pretty easy to visit Barcelona (or elsewhere in Europe) later in life on your own…it is much harder to travel independently to Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, or the Middle East. Keep an open mind and realize that the US isn’t the center of the universe and that much can be learned by traveling to new places and meeting new people.

Cape Coast, Ghana, *John Enos

Where did you study abroad?
Cape Coast, Ghana

For how long? (and why did you choose that length?)
6 weeks…that was how long the program was. (It was a summer program).

Which program did you go through?
Davidson in Ghana (through my school, Davidson College)

Pre-departure preparations
Read a lot about Ghanaian and West African culture, visited the travel medicine clinic to get yellow fever immunizations and anti-malarial pills!

Beginning experiences and feelings upon arrival?
Amazed by the heat and humidity and thoroughly exhausted after 16 hours of traveling, but I was really excited to step foot on a new continent.

How did you feel at first: culture shock? excitement? nervous?
I wasn’t nervous, but I definitely experienced both excitement and culture shock. I hadn’t been to Africa before and everything was so different.

Best part
Experiencing the Ghanaian way of life, teaching kids at a secondary school, making Ghanaian friends, sampling the local cuisine, learning West African dance/drumming, etc.

Any difficulties? (cultural, language, etc)
I got malaria in the northern part of Ghana, near Burkina Faso. The northern part is quite undeveloped and hospitals are hard to find….somehow I survived!

Information about Cape Coast (best places to go, watch out for, etc..)
Cape Coast is an awesome city right on the water. Most of the touristy bars and restaurants were overpriced and underwhelming; I enjoyed just walking around, meeting locals, and eating Ghanaian cuisine. I learned to watch out for scamming taxi drivers.

What did you learn?
Life is much different in Ghana. Things happen at a different pace, perspectives are often unlike the American view, and the day-to-day life of an average Ghanaian is so much harder than what most Americans experience. It was really inspiring to see how hard-working and ambitious Ghanaians were – particularly the students I taught in the secondary school.

Any advice you’d give to a prospective study abroad student?
Go somewhere that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. It is pretty easy to visit Europe later in life on your own…it is much harder to travel independently to Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, or the Middle East. Keep an open mind and realize that the US isn’t the center of the universe and that much can be learned by traveling to new places and meeting new people.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Central Wisconsin, *Maurice, from Switzerland

Where did you study abroad?
I went to high school in Central Wisconsin.

For how long? (and why did you choose that length?) 
I was there for 1 year, in 2003/2004, and at the age of 15 respectively 16 years old. I chose that length because you really need to spend at least 1 year to really learn a language and culture of any place. Even 1 year is quite short compared to the vast amount of experiences to be done in a different culture and language.

Which program? 
I was a foreign exchange student and went there with an organization called "EF". Even though my program was called "foreign exchange student program", there wasn't actually an exchange happening: My family in Switzerland did not have an American student in return. I went to High School, my level was "Junior" (even though I think I should have been a "Sophomore" according to my age).

Pre-departure preparations 
Applying to a foreign exchange program with "EF" requires you to do most of the preparations; if not, you won't be accepted to the program. This involves things like being interviewed by experienced people to find out if you can handle 1 year away from home, writing essays about yourself, language tests, reading articles/books etc. What I did for myself specifically was I bought a book about American culture and tried to implement some of those lifestyles at home in Switzerland so I wouldn't have to worry about that once I arrived there. In hindsight, you can't prepare much, though. The most important factor is that you can just let go of all of your expectations and opinions. You have to be ready to let go of what you believe in for that time being (without betraying yourself of course). As a foreigner you are expected to adapt and you can't change a whole community's mind just because you think they're wrong. You really have to learn to accept without judging, that's the key.

Any culture shock? excitement? nervous? 

On my very first day I had a huge culture shock. I arrived at my host family's house and only then I realized I'll be here for 1 year. I wanted to fly home that very second. Not because it was a bad house or anything, not at all. But just that feeling of being "gone" struck me real hard that day. I went to bed pretty early and the next day the feeling was gone. After that I didn't have any kind of culture shock anymore. Every day was more exciting because everything was so new. I would repeat this year without hesitating. And yes, of course I was nervous about many things. For example my first day at practice (football, wrestling and baseball). Those were very nervous days for me. I didn't know what the coaches expected and what the other players' would think about a Swiss guy trying out for their sports teams. And then the games and tournaments, the first game I was very nervous, too. Since I, as a foreigner, got the chance to play on the field, I felt like I have a huge responsibility to not let my team and school down. But it was only the first couple times, I felt very welcomed and didn't have any problems after that.

Best part 
Anything that had to do with High School sports was the best part. Practice, the games, the team spirit, school spirit - everything. Joining the teams was the best decision I have made. Thanks to being in the teams, I didn't have any problems finding friends and meeting people. Before even classes started, I already had somewhat of a social circle and didn't feel left behind at all, even though nobody really knew me back then. Anyone doing a "study abroad program" should absolutely join some kind of team or club. It's going to make his/her life much easier. And I think local people like it when you get active in clubs/teams and then it's easier for them to connect with you and accept you (this is just my own hypothesis of course).

Any difficulties? (cultural, language, etc) 

When you live somewhere for 1 year, you will have stressful and emotional situation, where there is not much time to look up words and think a lot about your answers. In some of those times, I wasn't able to express myself very clearly and it lead to misunderstandings. It didn't cause major damage but it would have been nice to stop the time in those situations and look up the culturally correct answers. But as I said, this wasn't an issue in most situations. Only when it got stressful or emotional - when you don't have a clear mind or much time to think about how you want to express yourself - my lack of language and culture skills were an issue and I then couldn't express myself the way I wanted. It's part of the experience and quite a challenge, because you still have to work on your social skills like you would at home. I wouldn't worry about it too much, though, it's normal and everyone who has to deal with foreign students knows about this. Just make an effort and be ready to apologize, because in the end, it's your fault you don't understand their language and/or culture - and not the opposite.

What you learned? 
I learned everything! I still feed upon what I have learned during my foreign exchange year today, every day. It ranges from school knowledge (math, speaking, English, writing etc.) to social skills (arguing, meeting new people, making friends etc.) - and everything in between. I also learned a lot about myself during that time, that is still very valuable today.

Any advice you’d give to a prospective study abroad student? All of my advice I have included in my answers above. To sum up: 1) Keep an open mind 2) Accept what you don't understand at first anyways 3) Don't feel guilty if you can't express yourself the way you wanted 4) Enjoy every day, you'll look back to it during the rest of your life 5) And join some sort of team/club that you find interesting and be active