The Small Coastal Town of Iwami: One of Japan’s Hidden Treasures

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Iwami, Iwami-Gun, Tottori, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I had never heard of Iwami until my friend, Katie, mentioned it to me. It was a small town in Tottori prefecture along the coastline. It was near a place I’ve always wanted to visit, Hokuei, but now close enough for me to know about. She wanted to visit the small town because it inspired the setting of one of her favorite anime, Free! For her, the trip was a pilgrimage through the locations in the anime. I had never seen it, so I felt like I had no reason to go, but then she told me that Iwami was also home to beaches, hidden shrines and a national geopark. Suddenly, my interest was peaked and decided that I wanted to tag along and go to the little town of Iwami. When I say little, I’m not exaggerating either. Japan is facing a depopulation problem and in Iwami, you can tell. Most people we passed by were elderly and we only saw a handful of young people during our day and a half stay there. There are only a few convenience stores which for Japan was extremely weird. I’m used to having three different convenience store chains in every direction I turn. Iwami was a very different place from where I lived in Hirakata.

When studying abroad, it’s important to go out and explore not just the culture you’re living in, but also the environment. Iwami contains a UNESCO geopark which means it has protected areas of rocky cliffs and beaches which you can walk along for miles. Rocks jutted from the ocean, forming small islands for birds to relax on. Some of the rocks formed tall, craggy cliffs that I probably shouldn’t have stood as close to as I did. The waves crashed across the rocks, creating some of the most picturesque photos I’d ever taken. Some areas of the geopark allowed you to walk along the beach and the rocks, which required a whole lot of stairs down to the beach. Katie and I climbed along the rocks into the sea to catch a glimpse of the fantastic view and hopefully some fish. While I didn’t get to see any fish, the sights were stunning and we took plenty of pictures. However, I did cut my hand on the climb back, so when you’re going exploring while studying abroad, always make sure to bring some band-aids and always go with a buddy. If something does happen, you want someone to be there in case you need help.

Over the course of the entire day, we walked 10 miles through rice fields, mountains and more. Another big tip I have for studying abroad is to bring a good pair of shoes. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of walking because you can’t stop exploring or you’re too cheap to pay for transportation if you can walk instead. I fall into both of these categories, so I definitely get my exercise in every day. A good pair of shoes (and socks too) will keep your feet and body from hurting and help you get through the day. I recommend buying them before going abroad, so you can guarantee you get a pair that’s the right size and style for your feet. Preparing little quality of life things like a good pair of shoes before you study abroad can really help the experience be a lot smoother, so you can spend more time having fun and less time with sore feet!

Part 2 in South Africa: Eludini

Author: Alyssa Brewer

Location: Eludini outside of Eastern Cape, South Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

So today we visited Eludini, a small village tucked between mountains outside of the Eastern Cape. Even though we were only visitors for a day and a half, I learned and loved so much throughout this experience. The city life was exciting and new but there is something enchanting about Eludini. The towering buildings can never compare to the insurmountable beauty of the towering mountains. Grey sidewalks can never feel as comforting as green grass does under your feet. And the night sky takes on a different hue when no other light competes with it.

After breakfast, we embarked on a three-hour bus ride cozied up next to each other, silently sweating all the while. The air blasting through the windows was hot and dry. The drive was bumpy, jolting us left and right. But all these miniature frustrations made the destination worthwhile. Once we arrived, we couldn’t help but just sink into the recycled tire seats and gaze upon nature’s wonders.

There is something absolutely breathtaking about being surrounded by walls of lush green. Even though Johannesburg was amazing, the change of scenery felt like a breath of fresh air- quite literally. For me, the best part of it was the culture. Because Eludini was somewhat isolated in the mountains, everyone knew everyone. There was no urgency. People relied on rainwater, vegetables grown in gardens, and goats and cattle roaming about. The atmosphere was peaceful and inviting. Ours hosts were especially welcoming and prepared a gorgeous feast for us that night. My stomach and my heart were quite happy.

So, after we let the food settle in, we decided to carry on the program’s tradition of trekking up the mountain to watch the sunset. It was hot and sticky on the way up but the beauty washed away our discomfort. The view was…breathtaking to say the least- there is nothing like a multitude of colors painted across the sky.


The middle picture depicts Clare (left), Ava (center), and myself (right) laying down partly due to exhaustion but also to appreciate the sky above. We couldn’t help but reflect on all that we witnessed. This was one of the first times throughout the program when we could just sit back and enjoy the moment. At the beginning, we were overwhelmed with information and always on the move- there were so many sights to see and so little time to do so. However, at this present moment, we didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything- we could just be.

After the sun died down, we headed back down to prepare for the night in our grass-roofed cabins. We relied on kerosene lamps for sight which was a first for me. While it might have seemed inconvenient to not have cellar data or electricity, it felt like a great relief. We were completely off the grid- we were just present. So after one of the best night sleeps of my life, we got up early to start our day. It was barely 9am and I was already sweating buckets- I guess I picked the wrong day to wear grey. After what seemed like hours of walking in the heat (it was probably 30 minutes to be honest), we met up with a wonderful woman full of life and laughter. She took us into her kitchen to teach us how to  make bread from scratch. We followed her instructions, kneaded the dough, and waited for it to rise. But our task wasn’t over yet- we needed to gather firewood to cook the bread. All of us sighed when we saw how far down the forest was. The heat weighed down on our spirits but none of us gave up. We picked up as many sticks/branches as we could, attempted to place them on our heads, and carefully wobbled back up the mountain. It was a challenge, but I am proud that I accomplished it!

Next, we molded our dough into little biscuits and marked which ones were ours. Mine had a snowflake like design to it. With the coals created from the fire we started with firewood, we were able to bake our bread. It might have taken us half a day for the whole process, but it was so worth it in the end. Not only did we get to eat our delicious creations, we learned a valuable skill to carry on after this program. The woman full of smiles asked me if I enjoyed the experience- I couldn’t help but reciprocate her smile as well. I explained that while it was a bit challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the day with her. I even bragged that when I return home, I can’t wait to show my family what I learned. She was so patient and accommodating with our group the whole day. I appreciated her welcoming energy and strong personality- she has and will continue to be an inspiration for me. Sadly, I never caught her name but her smiling face will be forever engrained in my memory. Even though visiting Eludini was a short-lived experience, it had an impact on me nonetheless. Thank you for following me along this journey. Part 3 in South Africa coming soon!

As always, keep on keepin’ on,

Hokuei: The Home of Japan’s Favorite Little Detective

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Hokuei, Tohaku-Gun, Tottori, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When you’re studying abroad, it’s important to do something really memorable. Something you thought you’d never be able to do or see, but now you can. For me, that was visiting Hokuei (also known as Detective Conan town) in Tottori Prefecture. I bet you probably have never heard of the town or Detective Conan, so here’s a bit of background. Detective Conan, also known in America as Case Closed, is a Japanese mystery anime and manga series that’s been running for over 25 years. The series is a Japanese cultural icon and a personal favorite of mine. The town, Hokuei, is Detective Conan’s author, Gosho Aoyama, hometown. The town is decked out in Detective Conan buildings, shops and merchandise. I’ve wanted to visit it for the past five years, but never thought I would have the chance. But a friend and I decided to make a weekend trip visting the town and other places in Tottori prefecture where the town is located. So let me take you on a tour of the town that was a dream come true!

My friend, Katie, and I arrived at the station around noon and I couldn’t contain my smiles when I saw it. The entire station was Detective Conan themed, complete with the theme song and everything. Outside the station was a statue of the titular character, Conan, who I immediately took a picture with. Statues of other characters from the show lead us down the street and towards a beautiful bridge. The bridge crossed over a stunning river. Most rivers in Japan are absolutely breathtaking and well-taken care of and this river was no exception. On the other side were a group of buildings all dedicated to Conan. One was a gift shop and another a delicious gelato store! There was also a café and restaurant all named after places in the series. The little details put into the buildings really made me happy.

My favorite part of the trip was the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory. It was a museum dedicated to the series with lots of fun mystery solving games, character statues and a nice gift shop. We were able to try out detective tricks from the series and play with some of Conan’s gadgets. The best part was the section on how manga is made. It’s a long process that requires tons of drawing, editing, and drawing again. I never realized how much work went into creating my favorite manga. The museum ended up being the perfect spot for a Detective Conan nerd like me. And even Katie, who had never read or watched Detective Conan, found the place super cool. Before we left, we wrote on some post-it notes and stuck them on a board filled with them to leave our mark. We were some of the few English speakers that had come to the museum that year, so our notes were extra special!

After the first day in my three-day trip, I was exhausted. We did tons of walking, had taken plenty of pictures, and spent probably a little too much money. But we had to hop on the train to our next location, Iwami, located along the coast of Japan. Weekend trips like this are always super fun, but it’s important not to forget that while studying abroad, you still have your responsibilities as a student. The Tuesday after I would get back, I had a midterm exam for one of my classes. To prepare, I bought a ring of flashcards and wrote everything I needed to know for my exam on them. Since my notes were in a neat and rather small place, they were easy to bring on my trip to study on the go. I was able to study on the train and before bed. Don’t let studying stop you from exploring while studying abroad. There are lots of clever ways to do both at the same time!

The Spanish Culture

Author: Kayla Doyle

Location: Granada, Spain

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ve been in Spain for almost two months now and I’ve had a bit of time to reflect upon my experience thus far. I am currently living in the south of Spain in Granada, which has a different style of life than other parts of the country. This past weekend I traveled to Madrid and was able to distinguish differences between Andalucians (people from the southern parts of Spain) and Madrileños (people from Madrid). I was also able to differentiate Spain and the United States in regard to various aspects of each culture.

To start, in the south they have a much deeper accent than people in Madrid have. In Andalucía, the people slur a lot of their words together and shorten them, making it the most difficult accent to understand in Spain. People from Madrid even admit that they can’t understand southerners. It’s kind of like the accent southerners in the US have and the different slang words they use. Another difference between Andalucía and Madrid is the different way of life each lives.  In Andalucía, they live the stereotypical life of relaxation and fiestas, and then comes work. Madrid lives a life that prioritizes work and school before vacations and relaxation.

Some things that are different in the Spanish culture than I am normally accustomed to in the United States are some of the little things that can sometimes go unnoticeable. For example, the paper here is longer than in the United States. I remember when my professor gave me a handout for the first time and I went to put it in my folder that I brought from the US, I was confused why it didn’t fit correctly inside. I then had that problem with other classes and realized the difference. Something small and insignificant made me curious to find other differences.

In Spain, coffee is a lot cheaper here. Given the portions are a lot smaller, the price is less than half of what I would normally pay for a drink at Starbucks in the US. Another thing is that Spaniards walk almost everywhere, they hardly use cars and some families don’t even own a car. The transportation system is very good in Spain and in most cities it is not necessary to drive places. Something that surprised me coming here was that when you go to a restaurant or out for tapas, the bill is all together, meaning you can’t pay separately. My friends and I always have to calculate how much each one of us owes and exchange whatever change we have to make it even. It sounds easy, until you have ten friends trying to pay for a two-euro coffee and everyone only has a twenty-euro bill, it gets kind of tricky.

A couple other small things that I thought were funny here is that there are always people with dogs walking on the streets, but it is very weird if you pet someone else’s dog on the street unlike in the US where people are a little more welcoming to that. Also, it is normal to invite a friend over to get together at your house, but in Spain it is not that way. It is said here that the house is only for sleeping and eating and the streets are where you get together with friends. This is one of the reasons why Spain is so lively at night.

In general, I enjoy things from both cultures and dislike certain things from each as well. In my opinion, Spain is a more socially driven culture as they frequently meet people in the street to get together. I do like walking here as well, so you can burn some of calories after eating a big meal made by your host mom. I do miss certain things from the US though. I miss iced coffee, being able to drive on my own, cooking whenever I want, and inviting friends over to my house. But don’t get me wrong, I am not ready to leave Spain yet, I still have two-and-a-half months left.

Celebrating Setsubun at Iwashimizu Hachimangū in Japan

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Yawata, Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

On February 3rd, some friends and I traveled to Iwashimizu Hachimangū shrine located in Yawata city in Kyoto prefecture. The shrine is located at the top of a small mountain and to get there, you can either walk up the mountain or take a cable car run by the regional train company. We opted for the cable car and rode into the mountains while listening to the magical music and history of the shrine played during the ride. Once we reached the top of the mountain, we followed a path through a bamboo forest to discover a restaurant and several food trucks waiting for us before the shrine’s entrance. The entire day I had been craving a Japanese crepe and right in front of me was a pink food truck selling exactly that. I decided on a caramel banana crepe which was topped with whipped crème and a small jelly pawprint, the logo of the crepe company. It was a delicious treat to start the day!

Although the food was a pleasant surprise, we had actually come to Iwashimizu Hachimangū to celebrate Setsubun. I didn’t know anything about this holiday before coming to Japan, so I did some research before going to the shrine to learn all about it. Setsubun is about getting rid of bad luck and gaining good luck. The shrine’s priest pretended to shoot an arrow from a giant bow in this year’s unlucky directions to send out the bad luck. Shrine visitors could buy their own arrows and have them blessed by the local priestess for good luck. Another way to get rid of bad luck is for people to throw roasted soybeans at people dressed as demons to send the demons away. At Iwashimizu Hachimangū, the shrine’s priests and priestesses threw beans at a group of demons, sending them tumbling down the shrine’s steps in a silly fashion. From the side of the shrine, I could see a group of young priestesses watching the ceremony eagerly like schoolgirls. It was super cute! Once the demons were gone, the shrine threw bags of roasted soybeans into the crowd. Those who caught a bag are supposed to eat the beans for good luck. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch a bag, but I still think I have some good luck.

Later after the ceremony, my friends and I were approached by an elderly man and woman who were training to be English tour guides at Iwashimizu Hachimangū. They recognized us as foreigners and offered to give us a free tour of the shrine as training practice. We decided to take a tour with them around the shrine and its surrounding area. The shrine was surrounded by other small shrines all dedicated to different Shintō gods or kami although the main kami of Iwashimizu Hachimangū is Hachiman. The shrine is over a thousand years old and Japan’s three most important historical figures, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu all contributed to building different parts of the shrine throughout history. We also saw a surprising American face! There was a memorial dedicated to Thomas Edison since he used bamboo filaments taken from the bamboo at Iwashimizu Hachimangū in his light bulb.

With most of the festivities finished, we decided to take a break and watch my friend, Katie, do one last Setsubun ritual. You’re supposed to eat a long maki roll in the year’s lucky direction all in one bite. While you eat it, everyone around you has to be silent. But the roll was so big Katie couldn’t finish it all in one bite and the rest of us couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing while she ate it. So she fed the rest of her roll to a cat who snuck up behind us. We got to play with the cat for a little bit before it disappeared into the bushes with its food to hide from the coming rain. We decided to do the same and take the train home before we got soaked!

Part 1 in South Africa: Growing Pains

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer 

Location: Johannesburg and Soweto

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Growth. Everyone and everything grows in its lifetime- physically, mentally, emotionally. I knew growing is a part of the process, but I underestimated how quickly and how powerfully it happens while studying abroad. So, I’m here! I am unapologetically growing, and I invite you to join me on this journey.

Week one was overwhelming to say the least. After 36 nonstop hours, 3 plane rides, and one dash through the airport, I finally made it to South Africa! It didn’t really hit me until we landed. The new sights, colors, smells shook me and all I could do was take it in. The culture shock came fast and hard but as soon as it arrived, it left. As a white person in the States, I am in the majority; I have never really felt eyes on me because of my skin until now. This new sensation
gave me a glimpse into what it feels like to be judged for one’s race- something hundreds of thousands of Americans face every day. Often locals would stare at me and some children even asked to touch my hair. I felt embarrassed for qualities I cannot control but this feeling eventually turned into understanding. I may look different, but we are the same underneath. Go on, stare- I’m not your average American tourist. This program is named Decolonizing the Mind for a reason after all. We really go all in- often with no Wi-Fi or electricity- we are just present. Even though Johannesburg’s senses felt sharp at first, the strong leafy smells and bright radiating colors eventually became soft and sweet. It is starting to feel like home. Despite the stark differences, I am falling in love with the environment and the culture a little more each day.

First morning at our guest house in Johannesburg, preparing for the day.

So after meeting everyone and settling into our temporary guest house, the next day we started our journey. The following days we visited the Hector Peter Museum, the Cradle of Humankind exhibit, the Apartheid Museum, the June 16th memorial, drove through the Soweto township, toured a cave, watched a play, and shopped around local malls.

Memorial for students who marched against
the law that forced the colonist language
Afrikaans into schools as the medium of
instruction. Many innocent children lost their lives.

Cave where “Little Foot” was found. The bones discovered in this
cave gave rise to research into human evolution.

Exploring the Soweto township near the location
where the student march took place.

Each new location provided a wider understanding of the culture. The scenery was vast and colorful- we were in awe of the beauty here.

So instead of being stuck in a classroom listening to a professor lecture about the history for hours, we visited the places where it all began to see it for ourselves. There is something raw about exposing oneself not only to another culture- but to its history as well. We met people who lived through the apartheid regime and were personally affected by it.

Antoinette (bottom row, 2nd left) was just a high schooler participating in the march when she found out her younger brother had been killed by police bullets. The photo behind of her brother being carried away was an icon for rallying against the apartheid regime.

Thousands of innocent lives were taken while trying to combat this oppressive regime. Students were shot while peacefully protesting, leaders of underground movements were exiled and/or extinguished, and dozens of innocent children lay in streets after drive-by police shootings. Each museum and each tour we experienced created a deeper understanding of the reality that thousands of South Africans have faced for generations. The most raw part of it all is that the regime ended almost 25 years ago. The liberation is still so fresh and new and people are still affected by this history. Inequality is stifling. Just the other day we visited a gorgeous mall; our touristy selves came alive and we skipped around the stores and restaurants. But on the way there, we passed the poorest township in the region where clutter scattered the streets, people lived in car-sized tin houses provided by the government, and the smell of sewage radiated everywhere.

How can such poverty and such wealth live side by side? It struck me hard. I am only a visitor and soon I will leave. These people will not.

However, they are still full of life and love. I got to witness this beautiful side when I stayed with a host family here. Mamatzi welcomed me and another student, Netta, into her home with open  arms like we were lost daughters who finally returned. It was so easy to adjust to the new lifestyle. We cooked, watched TV, visited local hole in the wall shops, toured the town, and even ate McDonalds (which by the way, is way better here). Mamatzi talked about how she cared for 70 children who were discarded. She raised them like they were her own- providing clothes, food, shelter, education, etc. for generations! She is really a saint among women, and I felt blessed to be in her presence. Her daughter worked as a tour guide and was able to take us around and tell us all about the history here. Museums are wonderful, but there is something real about personally experiencing it all. One of my favorite parts was visiting a hole in the wall nail salon which seemed more like a girls club. The women laughed, danced, and joked around with each other. They welcomed us in like forgotten friends. I felt alive. Leaving the homestay was difficult, but I am blessed to have stayed for the time. Mamatsi and her family will always have a place in my heart.

While the locals in Soweto look bogged down by poverty to passersby, they are still very much awake. Entrepreneurship is gospel here- you can see homemade shops all around. It felt good to spend my money supporting these shops rather than the sparkling malls.

What I learned most from this first week is that despite the atrocities that unfolded here, people are resilient. 25 years may be a drop in the ocean of history but drops make ripples. South Africans will never stay silent and will keep fighting for equality. Growth is abundant here.

Netta (left), Me (center), Noxi one of children Mamatzi cares for (right) The homestay was definitely my favorite part of Johannesburg!

If you want to hear about mountain life, making homemade bread from scratch, shark diving, or other wild adventures, then stay tuned for my next blog: Part 2 in South Africa!

As always, keep on keepin’ on!

Su Casa

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Santa Rosa, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Your house. A phrase spoken by Ivannia and Carlos, the couple who lives in this house with their teenage son Alejandro, multiple times over my first couple days here to signify that this is my house as well as theirs.

I arrived at this house in Costa Rica at approximately 11pm, after having woken up around 3:50am for my flight out of Cincinnati. Understandably, upon arrival I was a little concerned. On top of my not knowing Spanish in order to communicate with the people in this country, the house also seemed a little strange to me. There are three sections of the house. One triples as a garage with plants, and a sitting area with a roof. It seems like the main room, but some of this area does not have a roof and one wall is halfway open to the air, with bars instead of a solid wall. This is like an outside room, which feels more inside than most yards.

On either side of this big area there are indoor rooms. The interior sections are not completely closed off from each other, there are full glass doors which usually stay open, and from my bed room I can easily hear kids playing on the street, cats on the roof, and even the wind as if I were outside. So, the indoors feel more outdoors than I am used to.

I was timid on the first night, but as soon as the second or third night here I had come to a deeper appreciation of the house. There are imperfections such as varying types flooring in the outside room, a cracked tile here and there, missing paint at the bottom of some walls. But I  soon grew to like these aspects of our home, too. And as I got to know my host family better I learned that they built this house, with the help of extended family, themselves. Roofs and all! How impressive is that?

I would not do an explanation of this house justice if I did not talk about the people in it. Not only do I spend time with the three other people who live here, but every day at least 3 and up to 10 other family members and friends come through our house to eat, and talk, and laugh with us. On the first day I must have met at least 12 sisters, nephews, cousins, friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends. This was intimidating because I could not fully understand what was being said, and everyone knew that I hardly spoke any Spanish. But I could understand what was being said a little bit by what was going on. Because the sound of a family together in one language sounds much like family and friends together in other languages, with a difference only in the accents of the voices. Everyone here has included me and treated me as one of them, working to overcome the language barrier, which becomes less of a barrier every day.

Morocco: A country more alike than you imagine

Author: Kayla Doyle

Location: Morocco, North Africa

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I went to Morocco the last weekend of January for the program excursion with eleven other students from my group. Going into the trip, I was nervous as there had been some violence in the news with tourists there only a few weeks earlier. But I did not feel scared one bit during the excursion. I experienced something that honestly has changed the way I look at the country, religion, and people. It was an experience that can only be had going to the country, talking to the natives, and forming relationships.

The first day, we had to travel across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Africa. We arrived in Tangier and walked around a local market with fresh spices, meat, and vegetables. Then we went on a visit to a women’s center where we had a tour of the building and learned about what the organization does for women in the community. After the tour, we lunch and a discussion with three college women about life in Morocco. My eyes were opened further after that talk about Muslim women and their role in the society. After the visit, we traveled to another city along the coast called Asila where we were able to ride camels on the beach. It was a lot harder than you would think! We continued traveling ending in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, to meet our host families and have dinner with them. I was humbled by their generosity and hospitality towards all of us even through the language barrier.

Looking at Africa for the first time!

Camel ride with Rachel

The next day we visited the mausoleum of the kings and ruins of an old mosque that was never finished. I was unaware that there was a king of Morocco and rumor has it he is one of the richest men in the world. Later that day we headed to a place that had Roman ruins that you could literally touch. Then we went to lunch with our host families and tried on traditional dresses. After lunch we went on a walk around the Medina with students from the University of Rabat to get a better understanding of Morocco through students’ perspectives our own age. They were all very nice and similar to us in their hobbies, studies, aspirations, and interests. Then we went to a hammam which is a public bath and we all enjoyed it more than we had expected to!

Ruins of a mosque

Roman ruins

Students from the University of Rabat

The third day we traveled four hours to the next stop, which was a village in the Ref mountains. We met a family and had a discussion about life in the mountains over lunch. Then we went on a hike to the top of the mountain, including mud, neighbors back yards, and crop fields. The view was breathtaking and worth the trek. Then we said our goodbyes and left for the most instagrammable city in Morocco: Chefchoan. We explored the city a bit and had a traditional Moroccan dinner of pastila. The next morning, we headed back to Spain.

Ref Mountains


After reflection of this experience I learned that Moroccans are not that different than us. Yes, they do have a different life and culture than us, but they all have the same dreams and aspirations as people from the US. They are a predominantly Muslim country but have the same core beliefs and values as most Americans. I was overwhelmed by their hospitality from my host family to every person I met. Women are treated almost the same there as they are in the US except it is harder for them to find jobs. This experience has changed my perspective and I would encourage anyone to go to Morocco and see first-hand the culture and caring people of the country.

New Experiences in an Old Country

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Reflections on living in a country that is deeply rooted in history— a new experience for me.

I have always been the type of person that felt interested in history because it was something that I felt like I should be interested in. As a student immersed in creative writing, literature, and humanities courses, studying context has become like muscle-memory to me. As the city’s unprecedented historical depth was continually used as a selling-point for the Cambridge program, I anticipated growing in this forced-interest and I had (and still have) high hopes for the positive influences it will have on my writing and understanding of the world. The beginning of our time here has been jam-packed with British Life and culture excursions all around Cambridge and England in general, the majority of these focusing on famously historical, traditional locations.

Liz and I in front of Ely Cathedral (photo taken by Jasmine!)

I should make clear that I do feel incredibly fortunate to be able to witness and learn from these ancient churches and free museums (all museums in England are free!!); I have been trying very hard to be intentional and not take any of it for granted. But there have been many moments where I’ve become overwhelmed trying to truly wrap my mind around the fact these places have existed for as long as they do.

For example, we climbed 170 steps to get to the top of Ely Cathedral where we were met with a breathtaking (not just from the stairs), misty view. Watching the birds nestle on top of gargoyles, I thought about our newly acquired facts, like how part of the Cathedral is from the 600s, that the magnificent trees used to support these 250 ft. towers were from the 300s, and that, in the 900s, they could create something so tall and long-lasting. I was in awe, but I couldn’t muster the profound wonder that I felt the Cathedral and its history deserved. And it wasn’t like I was reading about Ely in a textbook— I felt one of those trees with my hand and I stood on top of this massive tower!

Liz and Jasmine at the top of the tower.

This photo was taken about halfway up the tower.

I think it was the mindset that history in itself should be enough to captivate and deeply inspire me that often resulted in me feeling discouraged after the first of these excursions. Upon reflection, I’ve reminded myself that everyone’s interests are varied and that that’s okay— it’s not really something I can force. But I’ve also realized that finding personal connections to something historical has led me to the awe that I felt I was lacking.

The following are some parts of Ely where I experienced profound wonder through witnessing the interaction of past and present.

I’ve discovered that it’s often been in noticing the little things that I find wonder and feel like I’m doing something right with my precious time abroad. Some generous-spirited stranger had placed this little painted rock in a perfect little nook, and it really was one of my favorite observations from Ely. Not only was that bird now finally in her rightful home, but it also brought humanity to this indestructible building. It inspired me to consider how many people have come to see this Cathedral (as tourists, church-goers, mourners, historians, musicians, workers, clergy, royalty etc.). Who painted this rock and who brought it here?

I think another reason why I had difficulty sustaining interest in some of our initial historical sightseeing was that when I couldn’t find any personal connection, I subconsciously felt like it couldn’t apply to me or that it was something I was excluded from. But I have been growing in appreciating the vast amount of time that these places have existed, rather than letting its mysterious incomprehensibility make me feel insignificant. And still, there have been times where we’ve been able to magically impose our present lives into the insurmountable past— like how our trip to Ely coincidentally fell on Ellie’s birthday!

An amazing photo that Jasmine took of Ellie at Ely!

Me gusta aqui, es muy bonito.

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Santa, Rosa, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

“I like it here, it is very beautiful.”

I have been in Costa Rica for a week now. During the first few days, people would ask me how I was feeling about being here. With my limited Spanish vocabulary, this was the simple phrase I could use to express what I think about what I have seen of the country. As I walk to class at Casa Adobe, I enjoy the beautiful weather which I do not usually have this time of year, with a warmth of 72 degrees. I like the sun, the wind, the plants, and the sky. In many ways it is different here than it is back in Valpo, and I feel very lucky to be studying abroad here. In the yard outside of my open-doored classroom, there is a garden, a swing set, picnic tables, a hammock, dogs, cats, children playing, and even a cow. How lucky am I? I should be blown away by my good fortune at being able to go to school in such a place. But, honestly, I am not.

The streets and sidewalk are uneven, there are powerlines, paint on picnic tables and the walls of houses is peeling, and alleyways are crocked and, at times, grey. Santa Rosa is not a perfect paradise; it is a place. And just like every other place in the world, it is filled with both beautiful and less-glamorous aspects. I could choose to look at only the glamorous aspects and say that this is a paradise, and Valpo could never compare. But I won’t.

Asserting that I like it here, and that it is beautiful is a natural and appropriate response from a student who is studying abroad. But, in the contrasting beauty and imperfections of this place I realize it is alike in many ways to every other place on earth. I am not going to be duped into belittling other places in comparison. There is beauty to be found everywhere. I can visualize Valparaiso University right now, with its similar colored brick buildings, zig-zagged sidewalks, covered in thick layers of snow. There isn’t a cow in the front yard of the classroom. But, it is saturated in beauty just like every other place in the world. And I am lucky to call Valparaiso one of my homes.

But, what about Costa Rica made it obvious to me that I am fortunate, surrounded by beauty no matter where I am? I could be filled with gratitude for the place I am in, always. Perhaps the answer lies in my expectations for something different. Aware that I am in a new country, I have focused on my surrounding, intent on learning what it is like here. And in doing so I found things that were good, and things that were imperfect. In my anticipation, Costa Rica has simultaneously mystified and under-whelmed my heart and mind. I am left with a desire to travel to more places on this earth, so that I may again observe the beauty and imperfection which underlies everywhere.

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