Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Studying in Japan-What it means to me/early reflections

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, and Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: He/Him/His

A lot of people in my life don’t realize this, aside from some of my closer friends, but I have had a bit of a rough year. While I made some incredible breakthroughs in both my professional and personal development, at the same time I came to realize how flawed and lacking I am in other areas, and how much further I still need to go in order to become the person I strive to be. I won’t deny I spent a decent portion of the summer trying (and not always succeeding) in putting myself back together after taking some hard knocks last semester. On the upside, I had a fantastic internship over the summer, and once that was completed it was with great anticipation and anxiety that I embarked on my first time traveling outside of the United States independently. Living in Japan has been my dream for the past five years, which is why I chose this specific program.

Hirakata-Shi, my current place of residence.

So far it has been fantastic. Having this study abroad has restored my sense of order and purpose while giving me hope for the future. It is also going to be the last semester of my undergraduate, so it also feels like a second chance at having the semester I wanted (but failed to attain) last spring. I would like to use this initial post to organize some general thoughts and observations over these first two weeks as I begin to get more settled in and integrated with my surroundings.

A street in Kyoto.

The first thing I would like to mention is that even broken Japanese and basic reading ability, when supplemented *appropriately* with English – goes very, very far here. I had always heard this but experiencing it for myself really drove it home. Quite a few international students at Kansai Gaidai came with almost no Japanese language or reading skills and they have certainly struggled in some areas. However, I have found that with my current level of proficiency (which I thought was not great) I have been able to do almost everything I have wanted to do with confidence. Ordering food, riding public transportation, quickly finding what I need at a convenience store, and even registering my change in address with the city hall, has not been difficult.

Me in Kyoto.

My language speaking partner and myself.

Additionally, I have found residential life to be extremely fulfilling. I was torn between living on campus or with a Japanese family, but I have found my current living arrangements on campus to be the best choice for me. I live with roughly 300 other international students (plus 300 Japanese), and about 200 of the international students are from either the U.S or Canada. Being in the middle of Japan, I of course encounter and need to utilize Japanese now on a constant basis. Improving my Japanese is something I no longer worry about. Kansai Gaidai may be an international bubble of sorts, but walk a short distance out of the gate and you quickly become a very, very, small minority in which attempting to rely on just English will limit you a good deal. However, living with what is probably the largest native English-speaking community in the Kansai region helps set me at ease when I am exhausted from using a lot of Japanese and reminds me that I am far from alone here. Students also had the option of applying for a language partner. The idea is that they will help you with your Japanese, and you can help them get even better at English. All these things combined act as an overall great support network, one just needs to be willing to seek them out.

Osaka Castle

Overall, I look forward to the coming weeks and months ahead. So far, I have been on multiple trips to Osaka (public transportation is amazing here), went on a Kyoto tour, and have familiarized myself with much of Hirakata-Shi. Classes have just started for the Asian Studies program, a week ahead of everyone else. As far as academics go, this is will be the easiest semester I have had in a very long time. I plan on using that extra time to network, travel, and all around get as much out of this experience as possible.

Outback Excursions

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Outback, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

There are many trips I have been blessed enough to experience while studying abroad in Australia, but one of my favorites would have to be the time a couple of my friends and I road tripped to the outback. A beautiful opportunity to explore the nature that takes up so much of this country.

Our honorary mascot of the trip- Kenny the Koala!

In total, my friends and I spent roughly 38 hours in the Outback—26 of which was driving to and from. It was one of the most jam packed road trips I have ever been on, and I have never been so thankful we were able to do it. After picking up our car from the rental place, we had 13 hours of open road ahead of us, but boy was it full of so much adventure. Once out of the major towns, the amount of wildlife we saw was crazy. Hundreds of kangaroos, dozens of goats and a couple of smaller creatures tried to find their way across the road while we were driving throughout the day which helped keep us awake and alert. There were a couple of close calls, but we are happy to say that any animal that crossed our paths made it to the other side!

On our way to the Outback- this huge rainbow decided to make an appearance!

Road Trip!! (Featuring Sara, Mary, Alexis, Jamie and myself!)

We rented a room for the first night we were there which was the perfect way to rest up for the big day we were going to have the following day. Since the outback is home to mostly animals, and not many people, you are definitely able to find cheap places to stay which helps on a budget. The place we stayed at threw in snacks as well as movies and games for us to do. So we all gathered around the couch and made our night that much more eventful by watching movies.

The place we stayed at set this out for us and so much more! Australian people love to treat Americans right!

The next day we woke up bright and early so we could spend as much time in the Outback as we could. So, we drove to the Living Desert Park to see some wildlife and statues. If you want to spend a full day in the Outback while on a budget, I could not recommend going to their national parks more. If you have the money, I’ve heard tours through the Outback are also incredible. Anyhow, we pulled in and immediately saw some wild kangaroos- not just the ones you find at every zoo in Australia- actual live, wild ones. Can you get any more Australian? We spent the first half of our day looking at these huge rock sculptures inspired by their culture. Then after a quick lunch we spent the next half just hiking on a trail. Throughout the day we saw even more wild kangaroos and some wildflowers and fruits! We then had a long drive ahead of us but decided to drive off the park grounds and pull over to watch the sunset! We seriously wanted to take the most advantage of the natural beauty as we could. We loved it so much, we stayed, and star gazed for a while too. Fair warning in advance- if you pull over to the side of the road in Australia, you will have many Australians stopping to make sure you’re okay because they’re so nice!

The welcome sign to the park!

Spotted wild kangaroo!

Wild kangaroos blend in so well with their environment!

Wild fruit in the Outback! We think a Kangaroo must have had some for lunch!

Some wildflowers we saw throughout the Outback!

Outback selfie with the gals!

Overall, this trip ended up being the perfect way to wrap up my study abroad trip in Australia. If I were to give you one piece of advice after going on that trip, it would be to make sure to plan a final excursion for yourself while on your study abroad program as well. I heard tons of advice before leaving for my program- to make sure to plan excursions- but no one ever told me how much more meaningful they are to you at the end of your trip. Trust me, it helps you appreciate the country you’ve been in for so long- even that much more.

Back to Santa Rosa

Author: Sarah Germann

Location: Santa Rosa de Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

After staying in Limón for a month I returned to my original host family in Santa Rosa for a few weeks before the end of the semester. The culture in Limón and that in Santa Rosa are a little different. The family I was staying with in Limón was a rural family, they did not socialize as much as my family in Santa Rosa, and they used the Spanish language differently. This made it harder for me to communicate, and take longer for me to feel at home in Limón than I had expected.

I had assumed I would feel relief once I returned from rural Limón to the more familiar and suburban Santa Rosa because I would be in a more urban environment. But, what really stuck out to me was the amount of affection I received the first few days of being back. I felt welcomed back into the entire community, first by my host family, and then many others; friends from Frisbee, the other Valpo students, families and young adults who live at Casa Adobe (the house where we take classes), and the other students in the Field Biology program with ICADS. After returning from Limón, it became clear just how many different groups of people I had gotten to know and become a part of in the San Jose and Santa Rosa area during the first couple of months of my semester.

During my last couple weeks staying in Santa Rosa I became much more comfortable in the area. I am not sure if I felt more comfortable because I had grown more use to the culture of Costa Rica during the month of April when I was in Limón, or if I had missed Santa Rosa while I was away. For whatever reason, I felt as if there was a click in those last couple of weeks, as if I had taken on the country’s culture and it had become more natural to me. I greeted people in a typical Costa Rican manner without thinking too hard about it, I rode the train and traveled around with much more ease, and I found the rhythm of life to be more comfortably familiar. It became my home, because I had adjusted. Speaking Spanish also became much easier in the last couple of weeks in Costa Rica. Again, it was as if there was a click in my brain and I could understand much more and speak more fluidly so that I could more easily enjoy conversations and social gatherings. I was greatly pleased with this change in myself particularly because of how far I had come since the beginning of the semester, when I had been shy and uncertain of almost every action I took and had found it very difficult to understand or speak the language.

My integration into the community of Santa Rosa made leaving harder. The people there are very warm and friendly, and have a life style centered around family and friends. However, it was proven to me that it is possible to become a part of another community and make friends rather quickly, even when there is a language barrier. I am encouraged to lean into my community, by getting to know and spend time with people as well as paying attention to the needs of others living in the area around me, when I return to my home in Valparaiso.

Some women of Santa Rosa, from left to right; Erin (Casa Adobe, Ivannia’s former host student), Lydia (Valpo student), Ivannia (Lydia’s host mom), Iva (my host mom), myself, and Teresa (sitting in front, Casa Adobe)

Nicole (left), Paul (right) and myself (center). The three of us all lived in Santa Rosa and played Ultimate Frisbee. We would ride to practice and team gatherings together in Paul’s car, and they became some really close friends of mine.

Breathtaking Beaches in Australia

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Australia is notoriously known for having numerous beaches, all with different aspects worth exploring. So how do you decide which to visit? If you’re anything like me, you love spending a day at the beach more than anything and recognize they are all unique in their own way. Lucky for you, I have been blessed to visit many different beaches here and thought I would give you the insider scoop on what each one has to offer!

Picture of me enjoying Australia’s beautiful weather

The first one is Newcastle Beach, which is one of the closest beaches to the Newcastle City Campus. It is only like a 20-minute walk through downtown and is a staple for most students who go to the University of Newcastle. Since Australia has incredible weather for almost all of their first semester, you will find most students on their days off, or after class hanging at the beach. The nearby area is very high-end, featuring hotels and restaurants, but you can still find some relatively cheap eats nearby! Newcastle beach also features a separate pool, full of seawater, that is perfect for a swim. A bonus sight that is a must-see is the Bogey Hole! Once you get to the Newcastle beach, it is only a half hour hike from there. It’s a gorgeous hike that allows you to see a great aerial view of the ocean, as well as the flora and fauna.

Newcastle Beach

My friends and I grabbing some delicious burgers and chips at Newcastle Beach

The Bogey Hole

Another beach that is worth spending a day at is Nobbys Beach. From first glance it may not seem as interesting as the other ones listed, but it does not make it any less special. Nobbys has a fairly flat landscape compared to the other ones, making it perfect for a chill kind of day. Due to this kind of landscape, it’s a great place to go if you like to swim without the intense waves. After you have had your fill of relaxing, one of Nobbys best features is the Nobbys Lighthouse and Breakwall. After about a half hour walk you will find the lighthouse on top of the hill and then there is a breakwall that stretches on for another 20 minutes. Fair warning in advance, the breakwall gets slippery due to the huge waves that crash against it! So worth seeing.

Nobbys Lighthouse

Nobbys Breakwall

Bar Beach is the next stop that is a must see for its natural beauty. It is a long beach, featuring tall rock features in the landscape. This is also the first beach that I visited and noticed Australia’s trend in having little pockets full of water that deserve a closer look! In some of these water pockets you will find them full of small fish, starfish, and some even have crabs. They are the coolest things to observe, and they alone are worth going to see. I saw not only starfish but even a couple of sea urchins! It was the most surreal moment to see them outside of an aquarium setting. Just another great beach to see purely for its unique landscape features. Once you have had your fill of nature, feel free to fill up on some hot grub! Bar beach is not only unique nature-wise, but also unique in its way of having some cute little stands to get some food from. This is, without a doubt, another beach worth seeing.

One of the many water pockets you can find on the rocks! If you look closely, you will see this one features some starfish and a sea urchin!

Now, if you want to see a beach in Australia that truly displays unique natural beauty, the one to go to is Caves Beach. As you can probably tell by the name, this beach does in fact have caves on it! They are big enough to explore and are so worth seeing! This beach also just has an abundance of rocks to climb on or swim around, making it an all-around exciting and adventurous kind of day. A bonus to this beach is the surfing! If you love to surf, or are interested in learning, this is the perfect beach to do it at! I went with our group of international students here to take a lesson and we had a blast! If you love to laugh at yourself, this is the perfect thing to try out. Overall, a fun filled day you will not regret.

Me exploring the caves at Caves Beach!

Playing around the rocks at Caves Beach!

Lastly, and probably the most well-known, Bondi Beach is a non-negotiable in the list of Australian Beaches to see. Yes, this beach is in fact the one featured in the show Bondi Rescue- so pro tip: if you are going to Bondi Beach, be prepared to tell everyone you know “yes this IS the beach from that show”, etc. because you will get asked about it greatly. Besides the fact, it too is a must-see place for its own reasons. There are plenty of cute touristy shops to hit up downtown as well as fantastic eats. The beach is also known for its street art that is ideal for pictures. If you enjoy skateboarding, be prepared to shred too! The skate park there is a popular place to hang at. Nature wise, besides the gorgeous shoreline, includes a hike to Mackenzies Point that is absolutely stunning to see at sunset. On the way there you will pass the Bondi Icebergs Pool which is another Bondi trip must. If you visit this beach, you will definitely want to make sure you set aside the whole day to experience it all.

The far end of Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is home to many creatures, including dozens of birds!

Of course, these are just my top 5 recommendations to visit while you are in Australia. This only scratches the surface to the amount of beaches they have here! Every beach will give you a different experience that helps captivate the Australian culture. With every beach trip I take while I’ve been in Australia, it has shown me the beauty in finding times to relax throughout your study abroad trip—a very underrated thing every student that studies abroad should learn how to do!

Panama Trip

Author: Sarah Germann

Location: Changuinola, Panama and Nazo Indigenous Community, Panama

Pronoun: She/Her/Hers

The other Valpo student and I traveled to Costa Rica under tourist status, meaning that after 90 days in the country we needed to leave Costa Rica to renew our visas. Thus, in mid-April, we went on a trip to Panama!

There were a couple subtle differences I noticed between Costa Rica and Panama. First, after two days, I noticed that handshakes were normal. At first I thought I was receiving handshakes because the people there knew I was from the United States, trying to be welcoming. But, I received only handshakes and was never offered a kiss on the cheek. I may have imagined it, but the handshakes did seem a little firmer and more practiced than the ones I have received in Costa Rica. A clarifying question to our guide confirmed that handshakes are the normal form of greeting in Panama. The handshake is probably due to the influence of the United States in their country.

Another thing I saw in Panama which may have been influenced by the United States was the military base near the Nazo indigenous community. The buildings in the base were painted with the same brown and green army pattern as I have seen used in the United States. We were told that the soldiers in training were brought to that point, where they learn jungle survival in order to outlive their opponents. There was a platform where the soldiers could face a flag and salute. Embarrassingly, when I first saw the painted buildings I thought the camp was originally a US training camp. It very much resembled a United States style military training camp. I cannot help but think there must have been some really heavy US influence there. By contrast, Costa Rica is a very peaceful country, and basically lacks a military.

In a way, the similarities between the US and Panama made me feel just a little more at home in Panama than I did in Costa Rica. Though there were only very minor differences, having more cultural similarities can make a person more comfortable in an area though they are very far from their original country. This, obviously, applies even when there is a language barrier, as I had the same challenge of understanding Spanish in both Costa Rica and Panama. The realization that even small similarities between a foreign culture and home country can facilitate ease during transition and comfort brings up a number of questions. I would be interested to see if I would be more comfortable in a different culture which speaks English.

My experience in Panama compared to that in Costa Rica serves to highlight the fact that our cultural norms, such as common greetings, is instilled in us so that when our norms are followed we feel “normal” and when we are not used to the norms, we feel strange. From now on I should have a greater appreciation and awareness for people who are new to my own country.

Our boat ride to the military base in the Nazo Indigenous Community

A boat on the beach in the Nazo Indigenous Community.

Getting Involved While Abroad

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Everyone has their daily routines. At college this most likely includes the many jobs, clubs, and activities you find yourself involved in. However, this tends to happen naturally, while in your home country. So how do you get involved while abroad? Here I will share some of the things I did to get involved while abroad, that ultimately changed my entire experience for the better.

Some international students and I at Vivid Lights in Sydney!

When you get to your country that you will be abroad in, the first thing I recommend as a must do would be to take advantage of your new college’s welcome week. It is typically within the first week of you arriving there and is jam packed with optional activities to go to. Make it your personal mission to go to as many things you find interesting as possible! What better way to get your feet wet than by taking advantage of how new everyone is to college life, to meet people, join things, and make memories! Between tours, get togethers, club and sport meet and greets, and activity fairs there is so much offered during this unique week. Out of all the things listed, if I were to pick the top thing that changed my experience would be the activities fair. If you can only make it to one thing be sure to make it to this! Even though you will feel like a freshman all over again, it is something that should not be passed up in order to get involved and acclimated to your new college.


While at the activities fair, make sure to be open to trying new things, but also make sure to get to the booths you know are things you will most likely get involved with. For myself, I love to be involved religiously, so I made sure to get information from those. If you are also interested in spirituality while abroad, you are in for some good news! It is very likely no matter where you end up studying that there will be plenty of options for you! I love getting involved in the Chapel back at Valparaiso University, so I knew this would be a good fit for me! Turned out, between UniChurch and Reality Bible Study at the University of Newcastle, both are where I ended up making the majority of my friends while abroad! I hung out with these friends almost every day, go on day trips with them, and even went on a weekend retreat with them! Such a unique experience to have during a study abroad program! I even became a volunteer youth leader while I was abroad and got to work with kids! Could not recommend this bit of advice enough!

Some of my friends and I during our weekend retreat!

One very easy thing to help you get involved on your new campus is to check to see if your campus offers an international student club/organization. At the University of Newcastle, our international organization was called UNESN (University of Newcastle Exchange Student Network) and it was a fantastic resource to meet people from many different countries besides America and Australia. Through this organization, I had the opportunity to go on many excursions and planned events and got to meet many people and grow close to those people because we all looked forward to seeing each other again on the next event. Going abroad is about meeting people from new places and being a part of an international organization helps this piece of studying abroad become a reality.

UNESN group on our trip to the Blue Mountains!

Another solid way to get involved while abroad is to attend building and/or floor activities! Just like in America, you will find most colleges will still offer events that are just related to the people you live closest to! In my case, my dorm building not only hosted building events, but even floor ones. Making sure to go to them when you have the time is a great way to meet even more people, and it does not require any work! During my floor events we played games, made baked goods for each other and even potted plants together. Each event probably only lasted an hour, but it still made the best impact at getting to know people better. As far as building events go, there are too many to recount! My favorite, and most impactful one that I went on, by far, was when we all went to clean the beach on National Clean Up Australia Day! It was so cool getting together with them to accomplish something that held a bigger impact than just on ourselves. Seriously, take advantage of getting to know the people who are literally closest to you!

Cleaning up the beach with my fellow dorm-building mates!

These are just a couple of ways to help get you involved while abroad. If studying abroad has taught me anything, it is that the more people you meet, the better your experience will become. Why seclude yourself to small amounts of people when clearly studying abroad shows you just how big the world can be? Do not be afraid to branch out and to put yourself out there!

Why should you study abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile?

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: Viña del Mar, Chile

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

As I reflect on my past semester in Chile, I think about all of the amazing people I met, the unforgettable moments, and the many life lessons I have learned in the past 4 months. But before this semester, I was actually uncertain about spending my semester abroad in Chile. I was considering studying in Zaragoza, Spain or Puebla, Mexico instead, and was doubting my final decision to go to South America. But now, looking back, I can’t believe I was second-guessing myself. Studying abroad in Viña del Mar was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions of my life. I can’t stop talking about Chile, and all of the love I felt there, and I want everyone to experience this amazing country! I think other Valparaiso University students would really benefit from this experience, even though it might not be as iconic or well-known as other semester destinations, like Cambridge or other European programs. Chile has without a doubt become my favorite place in the world, and I just want other people to love the South American country as much as I do. So, in no particular order, here are some of the top reasons why other students should study abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile.

  • The UVM International Club: The University of Vina del Mar is really special. Not only are the courses really enlightening, but the social aspect is incredible. I’ve never seen a university that is so accommodating to international exchange students. They have a really well-developed International Club, in which 50 Chilean students organize events and outings for about 100 international students. Every Chilean that I met through this club greeted me with nothing but kindness and eagerness to teach me about their culture and country. In addition, this club was a great way to learn about other countries. Every few weeks, we would organize special events to learn more about other students’ home countries. So we had days about Mexico, France, Finland, Peru, and various others. Every time the club got together, it was so much fun and by the end of the semester, we were like a little family and super sad to leave each other.

  • Cultural Exchange: Because of the International Club, I got to know people from all around the world, not just from Chile. Some of my best friends from the semester were from France, Germany, and Mexico. So I ended up learning about their cultures as well, and we spent a lot of time discussing the differences and similarities between our home countries. For example, I spent a lot of time with a boy, Paul, and a girl, Fanny, both from Paris, France. It was really interesting to hear about their experiences in Europe, and I feel like I learned a lot about French culture just from hanging out with them. Plus, they taught me some really good French slang for when I visit them in Paris!

  • Language Skills: Since not very many people in Chile speak English (mostly just the younger generation), you’ll get to practice Spanish daily and your language abilities will improve so much! I had a friend from Germany, Laura, who arrived in Chile and spoke absolutely no Spanish. But by the time she left, just 4 months later, she had reached level B1 and was speaking really well. Overall, Chile is a great place to practice your language skills, simply because you have no choice but to practice every day. And every Chilean that I met was more than happy to teach me something new or explain something that I didn’t understand.
  • The People: You will meet so many great people and form amazing friendships! By the time your semester ends, you will feel like you have a family in Chile. In all of my travels, I have never met kinder, warmer people than the people I have met in Chile. They go out of their way to make sure you are taken care of and happy. In addition, they understand that you might not be fluent in Spanish, and are always willing to help explain an unfamiliar word. The Chileans I met also seemed to love the fact that exchange students come to their country, and they love sharing their culture. Throughout the semester we celebrated birthdays together, traveled together, and formed really strong friendships. Before I left they wrote me letters, gave me gifts, and went out of their way to spend time with me- just to make sure that I knew how much they loved me and would miss me. They are one of the main reasons why I love Chile so much.

  • Nature: If you like nature, then Chile is the perfect choice for you. As the longest country in the world, Chile has countless places to visit, with so much diversity in the landscape. From the driest desert in the world in the north (Atacama) to one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the south (Patagonia), there are so many varieties of places to visit! Plus, with 2,653 miles of coast, you will have endless beaches to visit. My friends and I loved just sitting on the beach in Viña, watching the sunset. Almost every day, the views were beautiful with constantly changing colors. I wholeheartedly believe that Chile has the best sunsets in the world.

  • Personal Development: You will become so much more confident. Studying in a different country, learning a new language, being independent, and meeting so many new people- all of this helps your confidence immensely. After 4 months, you might not even recognize yourself! I never would have imagined how much I could change throughout the semester. I went from being more shy and introverted in the start of the semester, to actually performing a dance and presenting awards (in Spanish!) in front of 100 people at the university’s goodbye dinner at the end of the semester! I can credit this personal change to nothing but living abroad and knowing I can survive (and thrive) in Chile.

Overall, despite some initial doubts, studying in Viña del Mar was one of the best choices that I could have made. I met so many incredible people, saw unforgettable landscapes, improved my Spanish skills immensely, learned a lot about other parts of the world, and became a much more confident person. Because of this, I really recommend Viña del Mar to every student who is even considering a study abroad program. It was the best semester of my life, and it’s been a pleasure blogging about it and sharing my experiences. Thanks for reading!

Surviving Jumanji

Author: Sarah Germann

Location: Limón, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

OK, so it’s not Jumanji. It’s an agroforestry system in the Costa Rican lowlands of Limón, a tropical region, with many more bugs and critters than I am used to, found all over the area, and a heat and humidity that does not change or abate. But, to this US mid-western girl who’s never been this close to the equator, bumbling around this pathless farm inside a tropical forest, where hardly anyone else ventures, felt a bit like falling into Jumanji.

For the month of April, I am staying with José Moore and his family in his house on the front part of his property. He lives on his farm, where they grow banana and cacao, the plant used to make chocolate, and a few mango trees. My purpose here is to gather data for my independent research project for the field biology program with ICADS (Institute for Central American Studies), in which I am participating for the second half of my semester apart from the rest of my Valpo Cohort, while they work at internships (see my 5th Blog, So Much Traveling!, for more information about my the Environmental/Biology program with ICADSJ). My research is focused on vegetation measurements and bird species analysis. I am comparing two sections of the farm to see if a difference in basal area, canopy cover, and/or groundcover (vegetation measurements) results in more habitat for more biodiversity indicated by the number of bird species found in the area.

Metal trays located at the front of the farm to the side of the house where cacao is dried before it is sold.

A pile of cacao shells, one of many found all over the farm

One day during the first week, I prepared to explore the back half of the farm on my own. No one had taken me into this section of the farm, but I needed to check it out in order to start my research. After staying on the path to bird watch, I tried to walk around the border of the farm along a road and nearly got attacked by a dog which was bigger than the mastiff my family had growing up with. I tried to go down a slope instead, but was unsuccessful. It was so steep I could not walk on it. So, I decided to walk along the creek, which goes straight into the bottom of part 2 along its border. I stepped in a wasps’ nest and ran away screaming and swatting myself. I walked back to the house, my shoulder, chest and back stinging where the wasps had flown into my shirt. After this little adventure I was not too keen on going out into the second part of the farm another time. Indeed, I was afraid of the farm. Aside from these things, I also encountered many other things which deterred me from going into the farm alone; spiders nearly the size of my palm which wove huge golden webs, plants which when walked into, leave stinging red dots in an arching row across my legs, trees with thorns longer than my thumb, very many insects and ants of different kinds, and above all the fear of stepping or falling on a poisonous snake whose bite would be lethal.

A part of the trail running from the house at the front of the farm to the back of the farm. This is the clearest, easiest area to walk on the farm

A view of banana and ground cover

Despite these things I got back out into the farm to do my research. After a few weeks of spending 7-10 hours out walking around each day, I realized that I had become comfortable on the farm. The path has become so familiar that, when in a hurry have jogged the steps it takes to leap upon the concrete blocks and iron bars in order to get across the creek where I had originally gone slowly with caution. I learned by heart the trail and many areas off the trail, and became confident that I knew where I was going. Although I have only been in Limón 3-4 weeks, it has become like a home, and I have learned to love this farm that I originally feared. I am honestly impressed at how quickly I was able to become accustomed to this place.

The Moore family puppy, Mia, following me around during my early morning bird watching

Trip to the Blue Mountains

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One of the many trips I have been blessed to go on during my semester abroad, was a weekend spent in the Blue Mountains. This was an excursion organized through the student exchange club on campus here in Australia. Over 100 students traveled across the country by many trains and buses to experience some of the beautiful nature Australia has to offer.

The student exchange group at Three Sisters.

We spent one full day in the Blue Mountains, which included a jam-packed itinerary. After a quick train ride to the mountains from our hostel, our long day began. Upon arriving everyone split into smaller groups to make hiking on the narrow paths easier. The goal of the hike was to see the beautiful waterfalls at the bottom of the mountain, but the day turned out different than expected. My group of friends and I made it about halfway, stopping every so often to take pictures, when Jamie and I got separated from the group. Me, being very directionally challenged, was nervous for how we would find our way; but through this trip I ended up learning a lot. Thanks to my optimistic friend, we turned our situation into an adventure. We decided to look at our situation as an opportunity to experience the most of our hiking trip. A mixture of taking frequent stops to enjoy the view, and going down any trail we wanted, led us to an amazing lookout point of the whole mountain we would have never gotten to see if we stayed with the group! We were truly in awe of Australia’s natural beauty.

Sara, Alexis, Jamie, Teleia, Sam and I making our way to the waterfalls.

Jamie and I enjoying the view at the top of the mountains.

Finally, after admiring the mountain’s horizon for long enough, Jamie and I focused on making it down the mountain to see the waterfalls. When our group leaders told us it was going to be a full day of hiking, they definitely meant it! It took Jamie and I about two hours to make our way to the bottom of the mountain- there were a ton of stairs! Once we made it to the bottom it was so beyond worth it! The waterfalls were soaring hundreds of feet above us, with gallons of water falling over them causing rainbows to be seen everywhere. To say it was gorgeous, would be an understatement. What’s one thing I never expected to happen while going hiking in the mountains? Getting soaked! So beyond thankful I packed an extra pair of clothes! Then of course, Jamie and I spent another hour or two just enjoying the waterfalls and taking it all in.

Getting soaked at the waterfalls felt so good after a full day of hiking!

After spending most of the day in the mountains, the last thing on the itinerary to hit was Three Sisters at Echo Point. On the walk over, my friends and I made up stories about why it was called Three Sisters and we never actually understood until we got to our destination. Once we saw the rock formation, sticking out of the mountain side, it made perfect sense how it got its name. The whole group stayed until the sun went down, to take in the beauty of the mountains for as long as we possibly could.

Laughing because my friends and I finally understood why it was called Three Sisters.

Overall this trip was an incredible experience and taught me some important things. First of all, I had no idea Australia even had mountains in the first place! Researching more in depth before studying abroad is a great thing to do, so you do not miss out on experiences like this! Next it taught me how taking things at your own pace and going off the main path for awhile has its payoffs! The more you try to squeeze into life, the more you will get out of it! Lastly, it taught me that on any good adventure you may go on while you study abroad- to always bring an extra pair of clothes! You never know when you’ll need them!

Reflections in the Cam

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

The River Cam (taken on my last day)

In between hectic packing and cleaning, I managed to squeeze in one last walk through the City Center the day before I moved out of Cambridge. I could feel the bittersweet weight of goodbyes settling into my chest as I crossed the bridge over the river Cam, automatically shaking my head at the eager Punting guides. This is the last time…kept running through my mind.

But I knew I’ll be back someday; I had often imagined my future self as we met many Valpo alumni over the semester who came to see the house again, exclaiming with nostalgia as they found their Cohort’s photo on the wall. But I also knew that it would never again be the same Cambridge that I’ve grown to love so deeply over the past four months.

Cohort-102: leaving our legacy at our Cambridge home.

There had been multiple nights (mostly in February and March) where I had cried myself to sleep, homesick and longing to return to my family, friends, and pets. But at some point along the way, I suddenly found myself longing for more time in Cambridge.

I think it took many ingredients for me to unknowingly concoct the potion that really opened my eyes to how quietly my time was passing by, how little I had left, and that I really didn’t want it to end. Maybe it was the rapid change of pace with final papers and presentations, or letting go of the many unrealistic expectations I had placed upon myself, or finally throwing myself 110% into deepening our cohort relationships, or the “we only have ___ weeks left!!” type of memories we were making, or something else entirely.

(THIS PHOTO WAS NOT STAGED) Mellie, Demi, Jasmine, and I

Almost all of my trips to mainland Europe happened during the second-half of my semester, and every time I returned to Stansted Airport, the bus or train ride to Cambridge felt more and more like going home.  I’ve said it before in a blog post, and I’ll say it again— the family that grew out of 26A Huntingdon Road, will forever be the most valuable and life-changing piece of Cambridge for me. January hadn’t even passed by the time we started yelling, “I’m hooooome!” every time we walked into the living room after being gone (for an hour or for a weekend).

Unfortunately, I think four months is just enough time for a foreign place to become familiar: to feel at ease in a crowd of locals, to slowly collect grocery stores and pubs that become your “regular” spots, to walk down streets and be greeted with memories rather than curiosity. But one of the best parts of Cambridge is its ancient history, and it is comforting to know that Castle Mound will always be an ancient Roman ruin that overlooks the city, and that as my eyes adjust when walking into King’s Chapel, my breath will always be taken away— at least for a moment.

When my sister Eva visited, she slyly captured my quiet ritual of taking in Cambridge from the top of Castle Mound


One of the things I struggled with while abroad was worrying that I wasn’t “challenging myself enough,” or that I wasn’t growing as much I ought to be.  This irrational fear was in response to a mixture of American culture’s pressure to always be productive, the way that I had perceived others’ experiences abroad, and my own bad habit of romanticizing the future.

One of the moments I’m most proud of: spontaneously reading some of my poetry at local pub’s Open Mic event (special shout-out to the friends who pushed me to do this!).

In retrospect, it was probably only once I was able to let go of that fear which sparked my semester’s turning point. When I left Cambridge, I still did not feel like I had changed (at least not as much as I “should have”), but I could see that I’d grown by truly coming to terms with and being okay with that.

Now that I have been home, visited Valpo, and have begun catching up with my friends and family that I missed beyond words, something I did not anticipate has happened. Of course hindsight always helps, but it seems like I needed to be placed back in my old environments and settings before I could see that I have indeed changed. Thus, this summer (and more, I suspect) has already been a continuation of my abroad experience, as I am slowly discovering the ways—both subtle and instrumental—that I have grown while living in Cambridge, England for four months.

That’s a wrap! With much love and a fond see you later, I say: farewell, England. (Taken at Blenheim Palace)

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