Internship at Hogar de la Esperanza (Home of Hope)

Author: Caylyn Moglia

Program: San Jose Study Center

Hola Todos!

Friday, the 2nd, was my last day as an intern at Hogar de la Esperanza, a super cool organization that works with carriers of the HIV virus. Hogar de la Esperanza was founded 24 years ago by M. Sc. Orlando Navarro Rojas in 1992. It currently serves 28 permanent residents as well as a women’s group. The residents are all HIV+, but that does not mean that they all have AIDS or that they are all dying. Many of them are managing their condition and living their lives. Aside from HIV, the biggest health problem is smoking and drug/alcohol consumption among some of the residents. Over the last 3 weeks, I have learned so much, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have met these people. During my time at Hogar de la Esperanza, I have done a few Bible studies with small groups, and each time I learn something new about the textts. We have studied the stories of Amnon and Tamar, David and Bathsheba, and Rahab.

Some Information about HIV:

It is NOT AIDS, it is HIV.

It is NOT a death sentence; it is a life opportunity.

It does NOT exclusively affect homosexuals.

It is NOT a sickness, it is a health condition.

It is NOT caught; it is transmitted.

Today we had a special meeting, and we read and discussed various Bible passages, including:

Proverbs 19:1-8, Psalm 41, and John 12:20-26

Today we made Christmas decorations…with glitter. I still have some glitter on me, and somehow, when I was done with two pictures, I had glitters all the way up my arms, and I felt like a five-year-old.

I’m Tallinn the Truth

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge Study Center

You never know where you’re going to end up when you study abroad. You sit around with your cohorts and end up planning a trip to Spain. You could be standing in the kitchen with your roommate and ask, “Hey, can I go to Paris with you and your parents?” And you end up going to Paris that weekend. On the rarest of occasions, you could slightly know someone who lives in Estonia and take a trip to the capital of Estonia. I did that last one.

Long story short, I have distant relations in Tallinn, Estonia, who opened up theirdienes-fall2016-tallinn
home to me. I hesitated at first to jump on the opportunity, but then I started thinking, “When will I, or anyone I know, ever be able to go to Estonia or anywhere remotely close to Estonia?” The answer to that question was never, and I booked my tickets. I was off to Estonia, which is a little country bordering Russia, Latvia, and the Baltic Sea.

I arrived and the first thing I noticed was snow. The two things I wasn’t expecting to see with my time abroad was snow and a beach. I have now seen both of those things. I met my host, and he took me on my own personal tour of the old town in Tallinn. It was absolutely breathtaking and pastel. Every single building was pastel. I also saw Tallinn from above when we visited the TV Tower. I also got to experience a supermarket all in Estonian…that was difficult.

It’s weird for me to describe my trip to Estonia. I didn’t go to any museums, if you don’t count the TV Tower. I didn’t spend my time as a tourist there as you typically do in brand new places. I think this trip was meant for me to just be. No set plans or bookings for tours. I was an Estonian for two days, and I was content with that.

This abnormal viewpoint may scare some future travelers. Most people want set plans, pre-booked tickets, and a list of restaurants that they found on Trip Advisor. I think I threw these normal pre-planned tasks out the window for one reason. I honestly knew nothing about Estonia before going. I knew I wanted to see the Beatles sites in Liverpool, and I know I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but I hardly knew what was even in Estonia. I let my hosts be the guides and show me around.

dienes-fall2016-tallinn2Don’t be afraid to take a trip like this. Always make sure you have a way to get somewhere and a place to stay when you get to that certain somewhere, but let the rest of the trip be a surprise. That way, expectations won’t be ruined, and everything will turn out for the better. One thing I will never forget about my trip was being shown a Buzzfeed video of Americans trying Estonian sweets. I watched the video and was then GIVEN some of the sweets that were in the video! It was unexpected, and it was a special, yet simple moment. Estonia was so ordinary, but not at the same time. Places like this are hard to come by.

Stay fresh,


All Roads Lead to Rome

Author: Ian Olive

Program: Reutlingen, Germany

There is an age old saying that claims all roads lead to Rome, and while that might have been true during the Roman Empire, the Italy of today isn’t the center of the world. Despite this, Rome is still a world class city. From the excellent restaurants to the endless art museums and historical monuments. While it is packed to the brim with tourists even on the off season, places like the Vatican City, colosseum and the pantheon are places that everyone has to visit at least once in their life. I only spent three days in the historical city but I was able to experience thousands of years of history. I even was there during the largest earthquake in Italy since 1985! I’m extremely happy that my road led me to Rome this semester, just remember that not every road will lead there. You’ll need to choose the right road yourself!

The Atlantic Coast

Author: Caylyn Moglia

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Hola Todos,

Friday and Saturday I was on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica, in the city of Limón and the town of Cahuita. It was really nice to get out of the house and have a change of scenery, even though I had to work on a paper.

On Friday, Heidi, Erika (one of Heidi’s housemates), Maya (Erika’s 5-year-old daughter), and I left around 8:30 and got to Limón around lunch time. After a quick tour of Limón, we were back in the car and on our way to Cahuita. During this leg of the trip, Maya finally decided that I’m not so scary and talked my ear off, claiming that I am her BFF. 🙂 Once we were in Cahuita, we went to the beach and played in the water. We never went past ankle deep because of the strong rip tides, and we couldn’t make it to the green zone before the beach closed at 5 pm. Maya and I played in the sand and dug a hole all the way down to the water (not very far). She especially liked that she was almost as tall as me when I stood in the hole. After a short “rest” (read: homework time) at the hotel, we went out for dinner at Soda Sola Fe. A soda is a small, family-owned restaurant.

On Saturday morning, we ate breakfast and saw (and heard) howler monkeys at the hotel. There was even a mom with a baby. I wish I had had my camera, but my phone was in the room since I didn’t want it at breakfast. After breakfast, Heidi and I went on an animal tour with Fernando, Heidi’s favorite guide. We took a boat to Cahuita point and then hiked back into town. On the hike,  we saw: monkeys, snakes, more than enough spiders, crabs, a sloth, and a basilisk. It was amazing!

Fernando was able to spot all these animals that Heidi and I only saw with a telescope or when he pointed them out. At one point, Fernando stopped and said, “there is a poisonous snake; you have ten seconds to see if before it sees you.” It was a Yellow Eyelash Viper sitting on a tree less than 15 yards away, and I didn’t see it until I looked through the telescope and then followed the telescope to see it with my bare eyes. Fernando took the following picture, without a zoom lens.


We also saw a two-toed sloth with a baby! It was really cool.


If you are interested in playing a “find the animal” game, feel free to go to my personal blog at: weekend.html

Cruising Up the Yangtze River

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Location: Hangzhou, China 


The dreary weather added to the wonder of the city of Chongqing. It gave the city an eerie feel as we looked out at the panoramic view from the side of a hill. After a delicious hot pot of dinner, a spicy delicacy of the Si Chuan province , we headed to the docks to board the Victoria cruise ship.

leuhrs-fall2016-2Looking around, I noticed that they city had transformed as the moon rose. At night Chongqing was beautifully lit up, and I was enamored by the reflection of the colorful city lights shimmering in the gentle waves of the Yangtze river. As I stepped on the cruise ship, I was excited and curious to see what the next three days on the Yangtze would reveal.


During the cruise, we were able to attend various lectures, one of which was on Chinese medicine. I knew the basics of Chinese medicine: herbal remedies, cupping, scraping, and acupuncture. But that was about it. The lecture was intriguing, and I learned how the methods of acupuncture, acupressure massage, cupping, and scraping relate to the theory of Yin and Yang, a Taoist concept of interdependence between passive and active forces. When your Yin and Yang is balanced, you are healthy, but when your Yin and Yang are unbalanced, there is a blockage of your 气 (qi) or the energy flow that takes place throughout the channels of your body, causing illness or discomfort.

During our journey, we also had the opportunity to go on a few leuhrs-fall2016-3excursions by foot, one of which was to see and climb the Shibao Pagoda. To get to the pagoda, we had to cross a slippery, shaky bridge with a terrifying drop beneath our feet. My usually dormant fear of heights came out of hibernation at full force as I walked along the bridge, clinging to the railing and trying not to look down. The perilous crossing was worth it. The 12-story, red pagoda was constructed out of wood without any nails. Since the 18th century when the temple was built, there have been renovations to the structure to preserve the temple and make it safe to enter and climb.

leuhrs-fall2016-6The saying goes that the higher one climbs in the temple, the more likely your dreams will come true true. You know I climbed all the way up. I even ventured up the feeble, volatile ladder that led to a claustrophobic, square scenic outlook room at the very top of the temple, which only had enough room for around four people at a time. At the top of the pagoda, I was able to look out at our cruise ship along side two other ships amidst the hazy sky and grey waters.

While on the cruise, we witnessed three gorges: Qu Tang, Wu, and Xi Ling. The three gorges were magnificent and unlike anything I had ever seen. It was at Xi Ling Gorge that our journey ended, and we were greeted by the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project. The beautiful mountainous landscape is still present but interrupted by the dam. As Watts, the author of When a Billion Chinese Jump stated, the dam was a “gray scar on an otherwise stunning landscape.”


While the Chinese have been building dams ever since the first was built in around 600 BC at Anfeng Tang in eastern China, the Three Gorges Dam is the first dam built on such a large scale. It generates incredible amounts of electricity, improves navigation along the Yangtze river, and allows for flood control, but at enormous costs.

This gray scar has caused the displacement of 1.4 million people, leuhrs-fall2016-7water pollution, loss of biodiversity, the introduction of new diseases, and an increased risk of earthquakes and landslides. It was amazing and surreal to finally see the dam in person after researching the hydropower project in my Environmental Biology of China class and having watched Up the Yangtze. It was definitely an eye opening and fascinating way to end our 10-day travel excursion during G20. Now it’s time to head back to Hangzhou and truly get started on the “study” part of study abroad. 😉


“But where are you REALLY from?”

Author: Maia Moore

Location: Study Center – Hangzhou, China


“But where are you really from?”

This was the second sentence out of someone’s mouth after knowing me for about 30 seconds. He was Ghanaian and Lebanese, so I was a little surprised he asked this. I’ve been asked this question numerous times since I arrived here by Chinese people and other foreigners alike, but this is the first time I had been asked this from someone who was also black.

“What do you mean?”, I asked him.

“You are black American, but where is your real country?”, he replied.

“I don’t know”, I said, not really wanting to get into the 300+ years of history that black people have with the US.

Even though this isn’t the first (nor will it be the last) time I’ve been confronted by this, I thought more about this than I have before since I came to China. When I think about where my “real” country is, of course, I think of the United States. However, for some reason, others don’t seem to see it that way. When making small talk with taxi drivers, they will ask where I am from and when I say “USA”, every time, they will say “Really?” or say “But where are your parents from?” Even one of my Chinese professors asked me this on the first day of class.

I didn’t expect to come here and have to defend my “Americanness” on what seems like a daily basis. I also realize I can’t expect everyone to know the US’s history and the complicated ideas of identity that we have there. However, it can be frustrating to be asked this regularly especially when your white, American counterparts are never asked this.

This trip has made me think a lot on what I means to be American, what it means to be black, and what it means to be black in America. I may have to defend my background frequently, but if anything, I think it has made me take more pride in my identity and heritage. It’s odd that I’m discovering more about my identity in China of all places, but study abroad involves a lot of self-discovery.

Hosteling in China

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou, China – Study Center


This past weekend, I took a weekend trip to Shanghai since it is only 2 hours
away. To save a few yuan (I am still a poor college student, after all), I stayed in a hostel for the first time. We have hostels in the US, but they aren’t as numerous or widely used as they are in Europe or Asia. Since this was my first time staying in one, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.


moore-fall2016-shanghairoomBooking the room was relatively simple. We went online, researched hostels, found one with good reviews and a reasonable price, and booked it through a hostel website. We had to put down a deposit beforehand and paid the rest when we arrived. The room was bigger than I expected. Since I was with a group of friends, we all decided to book a private suite with three beds, a couch that could be used for an extra person, and a private bathroom.


The next morning after our arrival, I headed downstairs to the restaurant that was located within the hostel. Hostel food has a little bit of a bad reputation when it comes to food. However, it was a good price for my budget, so I took the risk. For breakfast, I chose the “American” breakfast option, consisting of an egg, pancake, one sausage, one slice of bacon, and toast. It was…interesting. Although, it wasn’t terrible.


That night, I returned to the restaurant where breakfast had been served. The atmosphere was totally different. In the morning, the restaurant was quiet and had a little light peeking through the skylight ceiling. Now, the room was darkened but with party lights everywhere. People with a variety of different looks and languages filled the area. A soccer game was being shown on a large screen TV in the corner, and music was blasting all around us. My friends and I met a few new people and played pool with them into the night.

Every hostel is different, so students should definitely do research and look up reviews before they book their rooms. Overall, I had a pretty good experience and would stay in a hostel again.

Fiats, Fast and Furious – An Italy Road Trip

Author: Ian Olive

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center

Traveling in: Italy


Five forward gears, four tiny 15 inch wheels, three thrumming cylinders, two small round headlights, and one massive smile. There is an age old saying that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow. My rental car really embodied the definition of slow. Think your car is slow? Think again. My Fiat 500 had a miniscule 1.2 liter engine pumping out earth-shaking power. (Get it? I was in Italy during the biggest earthquake since the 1980s!) With 69 horsepower and a 5 speed manual, I really needed to wring it dry to get anywhere in any semblance of speed. Driving this slow car as fast as possible on narrow switchback roads really challenged my driving skills, and the best part; it was 100% legal.


Driving in Italy is not for the feint of heart. It’s not even for people that remotely like to drive. To drive in Italy, you must absolutely love to drive and be willing to focus 100% of your attention on the road. The road signs do not matter, neither do speed limits. A road with two lanes basically suggest that there needs to be a minimum of four cars wide. Basically the rules of the road in Italy are merely guidelines or suggestions, but I had an absolute blast.


A car really gave me the opportunity to visit parts of Italy that I wouldn’t have been able to visit at all. Probably the most exciting was visiting the northern Dolomite mountain region near Austria. The landscape was incredible with sweeping mountains that poked out from the westbound clouds. It was simply magical. Because of the flexibility of the car, I was able to travel freely to cities like Pompeii, Florence and Venice. While you might not get anywhere fast or in one piece, an Italian road trip might just be one of the best things you can do.


Yes, I Am Going to School

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge, England – Study Center

People have no idea how many times I get comments on my photos on Facebook that say, “Are you even going to classes?” or “Are you doing any learning over there?” Is it true that most of the pictures I post on social media are photos of me traveling all over the place. What pictures are people expecting? Pictures of me reading a book, studying for a midterm, or typing out a paper? Those aren’t too interesting to look at in my opinion.

With that being said, I have just recently finished midterms over here in Cambridge. I have also been assigned four papers and two presentations that are due in just a couple weeks! So, to answer your question, studying abroad does actually utilize the word “studying”. Students who choose to study abroad just for the ability to travel and to forget about the school aspect of it are in for a big wake up call. You can’t avoid note takings, quizzes, and exams while in another country, even if you get on a plane and travel somewhere even further.

Studying abroad is equally balanced between becoming more book smart and street smart. Some people focus all of their energy on becoming a pro at the street smart part of that equation. If you plan to study abroad, you MUST find a happy balance between the two, or the book smart portion will end up kicking you in the butt at the end. This balance can be entirely up to you though. You know your study / chilling with friends balance at Valpo and, hopefully, you’re able to handle that. Bring that same mentality while you study in a different country. You’re in college to study. Same song, different tune while you’re abroad. I am traveling to all of these places and having unforgettable adventures, but, yes, I am going to school

Stay Studying,

Caroline Dienes

Class on a Sunday?!

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou, China – Study Center

Yes, class on a Sunday.  The opening ceremony for the school year was on Wednesday September 14th but classes did not start that day nor the next because of the Mid-Autumn Festival that took place September thumb_img_1616_102415-17.  In America, most holidays are observed on a Monday even if the holiday occurs on the weekend but in China, they celebrate holidays on the exact day.  This means that you might have to make up for having days off during the week like we had to.  The Mid-Autumn Festival fell on the 15th and while we got three days off, we had to make up for the missed classes by beginning our semester on a Sunday.  But I was more than ready to get started after what had seemed like a never ending summer!

The first day was the usual syllabus day with the overview of the semester, the professor’s expectations, and of course the awkward but necessary icebreakers all in Chinese.  The class I had that day, 精读 (jing du – intensive reading/grammar) is somewhat like our homeroom class and our jingdu professor also serves as an academic advisor.  We have jingdu every day except for one, and our jingdu professor keeps us updated on campus activities, thumb_img_1430_1024holidays, elective courses, class trips, etc.

With the exception of the first day of school, I normally have two 90 minute classes per day with a break in between.  Everyday I have class at 8am except for Tuesdays when my first class begins at 1pm.  Instead of just one main Chinese class that meets everyday I take four separate courses that often overlap in topics, grammar patterns, and vocabulary.  The Chinese courses I am taking include 精读 (jingdu),阅读 (yuedu – reading) ,听力 (tingli – listening comprehension),and 口语 (kouyu – oral).  The way that our classes are split up allow us to focus and gain a deep understanding of each aspect of communicating in and comprehending Chinese.  In addition to the intensive Chinese language courses, I am also taking the Environmental Biology of China course and the Chinese Culture and Civilization course taught by our Valpo program director.

The campus is much livelier than we when we first arrived in Hangzhou now that classes are in session and I have met students from all over the world from places such as Germany, Russia, Scotland, England, Romania, Korea, Japan, and Thailand.  Apart from classes, I usually spend my days going on runs by West Lake, studying at nearby cafes, eating out with friends, roaming around Hangzhou, and playing soccer with the thumb_img_2157_1024boys (in the process of recruiting other girls to join).  The first couple weeks have flown by and I look forward to seeing what else the semester has in store!



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