The Sum of Our Differences

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center

One of the things I was most curious about when I chose to study abroad in Germany was the difference between our cultures. I wanted to know if they were different, and in which ways. Through my own experiences, as well as by talking to a number of Germans, I think I have really started to get a better feel for our cultural differences.

Of course there are numerous small differences, such as the availability of foods. Many brands, such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Goldfish, are simply not available in Germany. Instead, they favor snacks such as Doppel Keks, which are essentially two crackers with chocolate in between them. Also, when you go to the super market, you cannot forget to bring your bag, as they do not provide bags and you will have to buy one! The small differences continue at restaurants as the waiters do not return constantly to your table, tip is much smaller, and water is the same price as Coca-Cola.

Besides these rather mundane cultural differences, there are also some more significant ones. The Germans are much more environmentally friendly than most people in the United States. They have five different trash receptacles for trash disposal. Also, their newer cars have special diesel regulations, they walk (and bike) much more, and they make extensive use of public transportation. Nearly every town has a stop on the Deutsche Bahn line, which is the German rail system. I love that I can pull up the DB app on my phone and buy an e-ticket across the country within just a minute or two. There is simply nothing like that in the USA!

Perhaps some of the most fundamental differences lie in our cultural economic and political perspectives. In my experience, Germans are extremely well informed about world politics and extremely open to discussing them. It has happened more than once that I have learned something about recent USA events from my German professor before seeing it on the news myself. In terms of economics, they have a heavy focus on what is called the Solidarity Principle. This is more or less the idea that people contribute to the wellness of others through a number of compulsory insurances and taxes. Although this is very different from the USA, I have learned to appreciate how it works for them.

All these differences, however, are nowhere near the number of similarities I have noted between our two cultures. Both our countries take pride in being a democratic society which produces educated people who produce top products and research in automotive, technological, chemical, and pharmaceutical fields. We both value human rights and desire to use what we have to help those who are in need. This, more than the availability of Goldfish and Reese Peanut Butter cups, is a significant avenue by which to judge the connection between our peoples. I find the sum of our differences to be interesting, yet insignificant compared to our shared values, and that is what is truly significant for future relations between our countries.

Until next time,

Alyson Kneusel

Guided Visit

Blogger: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

One of the coolest things about studying abroad this semester is that my best friend Quinn is studying at the VU Study Center in Cambridge. We planned our trips specifically so that we could visit each other while abroad. And let me tell ya, it’s worked out perfectly.

I had a week-long vacation in February, so I hopped on the Eurostar and headed over to London. The Eurostar is a high-speed train that goes underneath the English Channel. While the idea of being on a train in a narrow tunnel underneath all that water terrified me at first, it was actually a super cool experience. The ride was about two hours and twenty minutes long. I highly recommend the Eurostar to anybody who doesn’t like the hassle of flying.

Cambridge is a wonderful, quintessentially English, old town. This was my first time visiting England, and I was pleased to see that the country really does look like the movies. I’m talking old, brick buildings covered in ivy. Cobblestone streets. People driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s like a Harry Potter movie.

London was amazing, as well. Quinn, another VU student (Kate), and I woke up before dawn and took the six AM train into London that Saturday. We walked around Trafalgar Square before it was overtaken by tourists. It was incredible to stroll through the streets before people flooded them. Quinn and Kate showed me Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye.

It was interesting to take in London’s own unique vibe. Even in its most touristic areas, I felt like London had its own agenda. We were only temporarily there, and the city would continue with or without us. I couldn’t help but compare London’s vibe with that of Paris. London is stable, regal. It’s the big brother who knows exactly who he is. Paris, on the other hand, is the flighty sister. She’s a people-pleaser. She’s gorgeous, but she’s also quick to change.

Paris is, of course, beautiful in its own way. The buildings are old, and the architecture is gorgeous. When I’m there, I get caught up in the splendor. But sometimes, Paris feels fake. There are people around every single monument trying to sell you cheap Eiffel Tower statues that will be broken by the time you get them home in your carry-on. It’s hard to tell which cafés are tourist traps and which aren’t. To me, it’s hard to get anywhere in Paris that doesn’t feel touristy and overrun with people who are just visiting.

There are parts of Paris that I really love, though. I love going to the top of Sacré-Coeur and looking out over the city, then walking around the back of Montmartre. I love eating crepes at the foot of Notre Dame. I love the Buttes-Chaumont Park, where I can pretend I’m not in the city for a few hours. I even love the metro system, where I once sat next to a hassled-looking guy editing a script in French. But there’s something missing in Paris, and I’m not quite sure what it is.

Either way, I enjoyed showing Quinn and our friend Matthew around the city when they came to visit last week. We went to see all of the typical Paris tourist attractions: the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co., a tiny crepe stand, and all that. Seeing them see the city was really fun. I’ve been to Paris probably a dozen times since I came to France, so the thrill of seeing all this has worn off a little. It was fun to see the city through fresh eyes again, even if it was only for a little while. It was also cool to have them in a place that previously had been separate from my friends from home.

Despite my complicated relationship with Paris, I’m thankful for the opportunity to live so close by. Maybe I was meant to end up here, where my comfort zone basically exploded into smithereens, and I was forced to land on my feet. Maybe Paris, which was not built for me, was meant to teach me not only how to stay myself in somewhere completely different from home, but how to love and accept myself even more. Paris, like London, will continue to stand with or without me. What’s important is the lessons I take away when my time in her cobbled streets is over.

A bientôt,


Cape Town Adventures

Blogger: Katie Karstensen

Program: Windhoek, Namibia

From getting to know the sixteen other students I’ll be living with for the next few months, art and history museums, climbing Table Mountain, and swimming with penguins, Cape Town quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from.

To give a descriptive look into Cape Town, imagine standing on a beach with the ocean on one side, the city itself on a hill above you, and towering behind it lies Table Mountain with soft clouds rolling over the side of it like a waterfall, and to the other side you see Lion’s Head, seemingly coming from the midst of nowhere. During our time in Cape Town, we were able to go on a walking tour of the city to learn

Iconic Nelson Mandela glasses sculpture on the coast.

more about the history behind the hustle and bustle of locals and tourists in constant motion on the streets. Our insightful tour guide, Lucy, was one of my favorite people I’ve met so far. She talked at length about her passion for feminism, but dislike of the term because of how people view it. Cape Town, as I’m realizing with most large, somewhat touristy cities in Southern Africa, contained a lot of juxtaposition. We passed a building that was formerly an execution house for local tribes Europeans were colonizing, that now stands as a church.

We passed a former prison that now acts a university. We went through a museum, another prison that held little attention for those who were imprisoned there. Cape Town comes out of tragedy. As I learn more about colonization of Southern African colonies, the best way I can relate it to something I’m familiar with is the treatment of the indigenous people in the United States. In the U.S. our treatment of Native Americans (taking over

View from the top of Table Mountain.

their land, genocide, giving them small reservations of land to live off of) is similar to how European countries came to a land that wasn’t theirs but took it as their own.

Visiting Robin’s Island was another difficult learning experience. A short boat ride away, our group visited the island where up to 1,000 prisoners were held at a time who opposed the apartheid movement in Southern Africa. Prisoners, the most famous being Nelson Mandela, were kept in terrible conditions, tortured, and sometimes kept in solitary confinement. Only a few short years after the last prisoner was released, the island opened as a museum, “celebrating the freedom of oppression.” Ex-prisoners are now tour guides, most of whom do it for the money. There were only three people from South Africa in our entire tour group; the rest were all white and from different countries around the world. The tour was a strange experience and very intense as we saw the room where our tour guide spent many years of his life and Nelson Mandela’s cell that held him for eighteen years. Then right before we left the island, it was as if a switch had flipped and there was a touristy shop, incredible views, and penguins playing on the beach.

Sunset view on the beach at Camp’s Bay.

Table Mountain is one of the New Natural Wonders of the World. Climbing up the India Venster trail offered views of the entire city of Cape Town along the ocean, and unexpectedly a new friend. I don’t have much (any) experience rock climbing but was feeling ambitious and wanted to take the less touristy trail up the mountain. I was doing really well and cheesily couldn’t stop smiling because of the opportunity to be surrounded

Penguins sunning themselves in Simon’s Town.

by 360 degrees of God’s natural beauty. I was enjoying going along the trail, marked by yellow spray-painted footsteps on the ground when I came to a place in the trail where I couldn’t figure out where to turn and couldn’t find any of the yellow footstep markers.

When I looked up, I found a yellow footprint on a boulder at a 90 degree angle to the ground at my eye level. I could not for the life of me figure out how I was supposed to go up the side of this ten foot boulder to continue on the trail. Then Robin appeared, a 72-year-old member of the South African Mountain Club. We greeted one another, and I told him I was taking it slow, and he could go ahead of me, hoping I would be able to watch and figure out just how to get on top of this rock. Knowingly, he asked if I would like for him to show me how to get up the rest of the trail. Robin climbs Table Mountain once a week to keep in shape. As we hiked up the rest of the mountain together, Robin shared stories of his life with me and saved my life at one particular difficult section when I slipped on a rock but Robin was there to catch the handle of my backpack and pull me up to a rock to prevent me from falling off the side of a steep boulder. Robin was an electrical engineer with two kids and a couple of grandchildren, one who we discovered goes to University with my sister in Indiana (yay for small world moments). His family originally came from Britain, but Robin was born and raised in Cape Town. Recently Robin had retired and become a widower, and in protest of becoming the old man that sits home all day and watches bad television, he makes sure to leave the house everyday, whether it be swimming in the ocean, boating, climbing a mountain, exploring the city, or spending time with his friends.

— Katie

A Bump in the Road

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center


I have now been in Germany for 61 days! I did some quick calculations earlier today and realized that since there are about 124 days in the program, I am officially 49% complete with my study abroad experience. There have been so many unbelievable moments that I will never forget. It is sad to think that in not that long I will be headed back to the United States. Most days I do not want it to end!

However, it is only fair to recognize that there have also been those few days during which I missed both the people and the culture of my home country. Recently, I was sick for about a week. During that time, it was hard to motivate myself to go out and experience new things as I only wanted those things which were familiar to me. I began to sit in my room and talk to people back in the USA for extended periods of time. The last thing I wanted was to go out and try to communicate and socialize.

Ironically enough, this was exactly what I needed. Some friends and I had already bought train, lodging, and bus tickets for a trip to Cologne (Köln) for the weekend I was sick. On the train there, I confided in my family that the last thing I felt like doing was going to a new city. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Getting out of my room forced me to do other things, and all of the new sights and people distracted me from feeling sick. In order to go out, I had to move around and clean myself up, and in doing so, I felt 75% better.

I guess the message here applies to anyone who feels homesick, whether in a foreign country or an hour from home. Do not let yourself hide away, because that doesn’t make anything better. Get up, clean up, and interact with people. I did so, and that made all the difference. On the way back from Cologne, not only did I feel much better, but I was a much happier person, and I was proud of myself for getting out there and pushing through the rough patch.

This bump in the road allowed me to learn how to persevere in the face of an obstacle and come out ahead. If you are looking into a study abroad experience, I would say that although you have to recognize that not everything will always be perfect, the few challenges you might have will allow you to come away from them a stronger person. On the other side of this small bump in the road, I have found so many things to look forward to. I find my classes fulfilling and extremely applicable. There is nothing quite like learning about Gothic architecture one day, and the next day seeing it at the Köln cathedral (see above). Additionally, I look forward to going to Athens and Vienna in just a few weeks (but more on that later)!

Until then,

Alyson Kneusel

Food Experiences

Blogger: Kortney Cena

Program: San Jose, Costa Rica – Study Center

I have never been a picky eater. Growing up, I could count on one hand the foods I wouldn’t eat— I would eat basically anything except those individual slices of American cheese (those tasted like plastic). But coming to Costa Rica, I have discovered myself to be very picky about the foods here! One may be tempted to think that all Latin American food is similar to Mexican food if Mexican food is all they have encountered. But if you come to Costa Rica with this assumption, you will be disappointed! In reality, each Latin American country has distinct food customs—for example, Costa Ricans eat rice at every meal while the Salvadorian’s staple food are pupusas. I suppose I finally have to accept that my mom was right when she told me, as I was growing up, that taste is a learned trait. However, there are many Costa Rican foods or food customs that I do not think I will be developing a taste for any time soon. Here are five interesting food experiences that I have had so far in Costa Rica!

  1. Imagine a pineapple. Now make it twice as big and pour vanilla yogurt inside of it. If you’ve been following along in your imagination, you might have a pretty good idea of what a Guanabana is like. Despite many attempts to get over my gag reflex, I could not finish the slice I was given. The juice is actually very tasty, and if you ever get the chance to try guanabana juice I suggest you get a whole glass! But the texture of the fruit — the creamy, milk-like substance coming out of a soft but stringy inside– it was too strange for me! Some English speaking areas that cultivate guanabana call it the ‘Custard Apple’.
  2. While we are on the topic of strange fruits, granadilla is one fruit that I have mixed feelings about. When I first wrote this, I tried to find a way to describe the seeds that didn’t make it seem gross, but I couldn’t because in reality the granadilla does not look appetizing! A granadilla is an egg shaped fruit with a thin, soft shell. You crack open the shell, and on the inside is what looks like a bunch of fish eggs. This is really a bunch of black seeds mixed in a mess of some grey substance. Granadillas taste great if you can gather the courage to try eating some of it. The grey liquid is deliciously sweet and the seeds are tart, creating nature’s own version of the popular candy ‘sweet tart’. As long as you don’t get all of the seeds in your mouth at once, (which feels to your tongue that you are indeed eating fish eggs), granadilla is a wonderful snack fruit, and pretty cheap to buy!
  3. My family comes from an Italian background, and as such we have some very specific ideas about how mozzarella cheese should be used. Therefore, I was very surprised when one night for dinner I was handed macaroni and cheese, straight out of the kraft box, but with mounds of mozzarella cheese on top. Talk about a double cheese pasta. Of course, I still ate the plate—this was not even close to guanabana-level dislike. But I don’t think I would ever do it myself!
  4. As a special treat, sometimes my host mom warms up milk for Santiago (my six-year-old host brother) to drink before bed. The first time I discovered this, my host mom warmed some up for me too. And I thought ‘oh, warm milk– that should be fine, I mean, I like cold milk’. But I think that somewhere in my mind I had connected warm milk to spoiled milk, and so I could not shake this bad aftertaste (though it was probably imaginary). I pretended to drink the milk until my mom went to bed, and then I carefully dumped it into the sink.
  5. Another custom Costa Rican’s have is to pour canned fruits on top of your ice cream. When I say canned fruits, I mean the kind you used to get for lunch in elementary school. Can you remember the grainy square slices of pear, the green grapes, the slimy peaches, and if you were lucky, a hollow half of a bright red cherry? That canned fruit. Along with all that sweet, syrupy juice that it’s all pickled in. It was not really gross, just different. I felt that the pure taste of the delicious ice cream was compromised by the canned fruits, but, of course, I still enjoyed eating the bowl!

Now you have a little taste of some of Costa Rica’s food traditions! Now I feel like I must defend Costa Rican food by explaining how, on the whole, tico food is delicious! Ticos (Costa Ricans) eat rice at almost every meal, and they like to have beans, fried pork, and plantains as well. But Costa Rican food it is not to be confused with Mexican food. As I have been learning, just as each Latin American country has a distinct culture and history, so also does each have its own food traditions.

Whether it is trying new and exciting fruits, or getting a feel for the different ways people here eat the foods that I already know, it is all a part of the Costa Rica experience. Study abroad really does broaden your mind, as your understanding grows in every topic. As I learn more about Costa Rican history in my mind, my tongue learns more tastes!

Pura Vida,


Started from the Bottom…

Blogger: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

I chose to do my semester abroad in France this year because I wanted to improve my French language skills. In high school, I was given the opportunity to do the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages for High School students, which greatly accelerated my French learning. But since then, I haven’t had many opportunities to use my French, besides in French classes. So, it seemed the natural choice to come back to France and ameliorate my French speaking and reading skills.

My French has definitely improved since I arrived in Cergy. I speak French with most of my friends here. I listen to French music and read books in French occasionally. My classes are conducted exclusively in French. In the first class I had back in January, I was completely lost. I basically understood none of what my professor said and spent most of the time reading off of her PowerPoint. I can follow her much more easily now, thankfully.

There have been a few embarrassing moments, though. For example, I was at the train station the other day, and somebody asked me if the train went to Paris. I told him yes, it does. Just as I was congratulating myself on looking confident enough to be asked questions, he asked me something else. That time, I had to ask for clarification. Once I got from the train station to my destination, I went into a Parfois store to buy a bag, and had to ask the clerk to repeat herself THREE TIMES! That was definitely a little embarrassing.

Every time that something like that happens, though, I remind myself of three things: 1. I’m here to learn, and asking questions is the best way to do that; 2. If the person I’m asking for clarification were in my shoes, he or she would not want me to get annoyed by being asked and 3. Just nodding and saying yes or no when you don’t know what the person is saying often gets you into more problems than you would have if you just asked for clarification. So, I ask. And people get annoyed with me. And then we move on, hopefully the better for it.

Sometimes, people do hear my accent and immediately switch to English, which can be frustrating. I feel like French people often assume automatically that Americans don’t want to practice French. While that may be true for some people, I enjoy speaking French. At this point in my trip, it’s actually difficult to speak English when I hear French being spoken around me, or when my friends are speaking French with each other. My brain is so hardwired to expect French in certain situations, it’s hard to switch back to English.

But overall, I think using French all the time is an incredibly rewarding and interesting experience. Our language is so tied to who we are, how we define ourselves, and where we come from. I speak English because I was born and raised in America; I speak French because I was lucky enough to go to a school that offered classes, and I took the initiative to learn it. French has shaped and redefined my life in ways I never could have imagined when I sat down in my first French class in eighth grade.

Studying French has taught me – and continues to teach me – how incredibly vast the world really is. Yes, we say the world is small because of how quickly and easily we can travel, and the massive use of social media today. But in reality, the world is not small. There are billions of people on Earth, and each one of them has different experiences every single day. Whether that be through language, culture, or religion, every single day is unique for every single person. I am blessed enough to have widened my world by studying French.

This was a rather sappy post, but it’s true! I know I’m going to miss speaking French when I get back home to the U.S. I won’t have any reason to use my French on the daily over the summer. Now please enjoy this photo of some graffiti I liked. It says, “There is no luck, there are only meetings.” Roughly I think it means that there are no chance meetings. People (or things) come into your life when they’re supposed to.

A bientôt,












Blooming in Bloemfontein

Blogger: Katie Karstensen

Program: Windhoek, Namibia

After our time in Johannesburg and Soweto, we reluctantly left St. Paul’s Guesthouse and their lovely manager Sister Jackie to head to our next destination. In Bloemfontein, we stayed at Cherry Lane Bed and Breakfast, a cozy settlement in a rural area surrounded by fields full of horses, donkeys, and our favorite, zebras. The highlight of our stay was a visit to Zanchieta Cat Farm, a wild animal rescue facility. Since they’ve begun their mission, they have rescued 98 wild animals from hunting or breeding lists, animals in need of medical attention, or animals that would have otherwise gone to zoos. Zanchietas claims they are different from zoos as they feed their animals every day and give them wide and open ranging fields they can occupy. They told us their lions are a little “fluffier” than animals in the wild because they feed them a little extra as they are currently doing work in their pastures, plus lions bother you less when they have a full stomach.

When we went to see the lions, the animal handler warned us to stay back about a meter from the enclosure as the lions sometimes would try to pee on people if they were agitated or felt threatened. I was able to get close as they were opening the gate to let the lion enter its feeding station to snap the above picture. William Wallace, the lion, appeared far less threatening than he had been talked up. William Wallace’s partner, Princess (left), was rescued by Zanchieta’s and suffered from malnutrition. Other lions had begun to try and eat her as they didn’t think she would make it. The facility calls her princess because, “even though she’s looked better in the past, she’s still just as beautiful.”

— Katie

Independent Travel

Blogger: Alyson Kneusel

Program: Reutlingen, Germany – Study Center

Hello again!

Today I went on a day trip to Heidelberg, which is about a two hour train ride north and slightly west from Reutlingen. The thing I valued most about the trip was not the Heidelberg Castle, the Philosophenweg, or even the Altstadt Old Town, although each of those sites was breathtakingly beautiful. More than anything else, I recognized the trip as a marker of my own independence and confidence. Four years ago I would have been too afraid to go to a restaurant in my own hometown by myself and order my own food. I couldn’t navigate from my house to the nearest Panera Bread by myself! Yet yesterday, I traveled by myself to a town two hours away in a foreign country via public transportation with a significant language barrier. Not only did I survive the trip, but I flourished and felt that I grew from the experience.

In order to understand my trip, it is crucial to share some information and images from the city, which is just as well because it is an enchanting place (I would highly recommend visiting if you are ever given the chance). The Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) is about a 2 miles walk from the Heidelberg castle. The castle lies on a hill and overlooks the valley which contains the town, including the Altstadt Old Town. The Neckar River runs through the valley below and is traversed by the Carl Theodor Old Bridge. On the other side of the bridge, there is a river walk and another large hill, which contains the PhilosophenWag, which translates as Philosophers’ Walk. This is a peaceful climb up the side of the hill opposite the castle which provides not only a beautiful overlook of the castle, town, and river, but also an introspective opportunity to the person climbing it.

I began my journey in Heidelberg at the train station, walked the 2 miles up to the castle. After roaming around the castle grounds I descended through the town and across the bridge. At that point, I climbed Philosophenweg and sat for a while on a bench near the top where I wrote in my journal and appreciated the view. Looking back on the experience, in that moment what struck me was the realization that I almost didn’t make the trip and nearly missed out on such an amazing experience. I had sat in my room that morning and came up with every excuse in the book for why I should stay home. I was too tired, I had been traveling a lot, I hadn’t done enough research on the place, I didn’t have enough time, I didn’t speak the language, no one else was going, and so on and so forth. The more I think about it, the more I realize that these are not real reasons to not do things; they are mechanisms by which we limit ourselves.

I took away two main lessons that I think are worth sharing yesterday. The first is that Heidelberg is a beautiful city full of life, people, and nature. The other thing is that I am capable of being independent, navigating, and making my own decisions. This is a confidence which I think I was previously lacking, and this is definitely something which study abroad has given me. It broadened my horizons not just geographically, but also mentally. I encourage you all to not hold yourself back with excuses and doubts, and challenge yourself to (safely) do those things which you might otherwise have lacked the confidence to accomplish.

Until next time,

Alyson Kneusel






Blogger: Kortney Cena

Program: San Jose, Costa Rica – Study Center

If you were to look at my Pinterest account, you would notice that I have a deep desire to travel (that may border on the obsessive). I have always been so interested in other cultures– the people, traditions, languages, architecture, history— all of it. To me, the world looks like a fractal of brilliant colors and designs made up of beautiful people, rich music, strange foods, and different ways of life.

Part of it is that travelling is such an adventure. Personally, I love adventure—but I wouldn’t ever be able to be one of those crazy cliff-diving, parachuting, bungee-jumping thrill seekers. The type of adventure that comes with travelling comes in small but common doses. You may not get an adrenaline rush from being utterly lost and trying to catch a bus, in Spanish, to somewhere you do know. But it certainly is an adventure. And you feel so capable when it’s over!

Each place you go also has its own adventurous activities to offer (if you have seen The Amazing Race, you probably have a good idea of this). For example, in Costa Rica the most common activities are surfing, zip-lining, hiking, rafting, and volcano viewing trips.

But something I have come to learn is that it is not the activity that makes a trip memorable, but the people you have by your side.

Last week a friend from Valpo, Krista, came to visit for a couple of days of spring break. She wanted to see the nature and adventure of Costa Rica, so she, along with me and another study abroad student Erin, began to research nearby places with waterfalls and zip-lining. We had a really hard time, since online we could only find the very touristy and expensive places, and of course, we don’t have $75 just laying around to spend on a zip line trip. Luckily my host family hooked us up with a place that had a waterfall hike, some zip-lining, pools, free lunch, and a collection of watersides that we could enter for a daily fee of $30. This was more doable.

But we realized why this place was cheaper when Krista, Erin, and I arrived—the park was incredibly under-whelming. It did have all of the things mentioned, but all done rather poorly. The waterfall hike took all of 10 minutes to arrive, the pool was so cold that we couldn’t stay in for more than a minute, the slides had no water, the zip-line crossed over trash heaps, and even the lunch was sub-par. Perhaps other girls would have seen the poor craftsmanship and the lack of fun activities and decided to go somewhere else. But not us. While this park was disappointing in many ways, I must say that I have no regrets in going there, because Krista, Erin, and I had an amazing adventure there that I will treasure forever.

We took our water bottles, filled them with pool water, and proceeded to drench all of the waterslides so that they were usable. Along the longest slide, we set up stations where we would pour water in as someone was sliding to help them through dry patches. We found the little kids jacuzzi, which was heated, and invaded so we could do some swimming. We climbed to the rocks underneath the waterfall and took some awesome pictures. And the view of ziplining wasn’t spectacular, but the activity of zip-lining was the most fun adventure we had the whole day. The guides were a ton of fun, so we would joke with them and with each other as we went along. One carried around Krista’s phone and took pictures of our adventure (along with a couple of un-planned selfies). And when we got to the rope-bridge section, whoever was on the bridge in front knew to be wary, because those behind would do their best to rock the bridge and knock them off.

This is just one example of how I have noticed that it is the people that make an activity enjoyable. Another example would be the bus trip I mentioned earlier. I really did get lost with Erin in a town we had never been in. The trip home took two hours when it probably should have taken more like 30 mins. After asking the 10th person for directions to a bus stop, or after watching yet another bus go by that goes to the wrong city, it would have been easy to become frustrated (especially since we both had a paper due that night as well!). But instead of becoming exasperated as we sat at the bus station waiting, Erin started to sing to pass the time. So we sang songs together, we talked, we ate some cookies and some watermelon, and when it finally came, I looked ridiculous boarding the bus with half a watermelon in my arms. I will remember this adventure forever.

I have learned that people are what make any activity enjoyable, and with the right people around you, every day can be an adventure! So, I would suggest that all you adventure seekers out there stop trying to find the perfect activity or take the perfect trip, but instead, try to surround yourself with adventurous people. People who like to laugh and who can look past obstacles to find fun solutions. People who make mistakes into memories. And maybe, try to be that person yourself—it is all a matter of attitude!

Pura Vida,


Lessons from Outside the Classroom

Blogger: Abbey Little

Program: CIS Abroad — Newcastle, Australia

Hello, mates! I write to you from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, where the sun shines all day, and the uni comes alive at night –(uni is the word Australians use for “college” whereas a college here refers to another residence on campus). My decision to study abroad was impulsive and brilliant.  Having dealt with social anxiety for years, I was concerned that I would not be able to fully embrace the journey.  Of course, my intentions were to meet new people, explore new places, and embrace a different education system, yet I must admit that I doubted myself at times.  But since the moment I landed on Australian soil, I have been overpowered with kindness from every individual I came across.  The thought of worry is out the window and the feeling of anxiety is no longer present.

Just three busy days after my arrival, my group headed out to the beautiful Great Barrier Reef.  I felt no concern in my commitment to scuba dive in the reef, but once I was fulfilling it, some fear snuck in.  We dove in groups of 4 accompanied by the instructor.  We ran some drills to rehearse the hand signals and ways to pressurize our ears and clear our masks before descending to the reef itself.  Our instructor let the air out of our vests and we began to swim below the surface of the Pacific.  I was having difficulties with water leaking in to my mask (SALT water to be more specific—so you can only imagine how lovely that felt) and I became overwhelmed, causing my breaths to shorten and become insufficient, rather than taking long, deep breaths as necessary.  Acknowledging my hyperventilation only made it worse.  Earlier in the week, a fellow mate, Grant, had asked the group, “when was the last time you took the deepest breath you’ve ever taken?”  This quirky remark snuck its way in to my mind just then, and I remembered to take a deep breath.  As I looked to my left, I was reminded that I was in the company of some of my new best mates. To my right, the liveliness of the spectacular reef.  I was okay.  I was swimming with the fish in the Great Barrier Reef.  I had no reason to be worried, so I simply stopped worrying.

I was welcomed in to tropical Cairns, Queensland, Australia with guidance I am honored to have from the most marvelous site directors, Jackie and Indigo.  I could ramble on all day about how delightful it has been to interact with them and how adequate their leadership has been.  The friendships I have formed in my first week in Australia have provided me with fresh new perspectives that I more than look forward to respecting during my time with those dear mates.  I have already accomplished an ample amount of my goal to meet new people.  My fellow foreign mates here in Newy–Natalie, Josh & Josh, Grant, Gabrielle, Will, Elena, Liz, Moira, Ali, and Josephine—have all positively affected my life in their own way as individuals.  As a group, we are unstoppable.  I have yet to step foot in to an Australian classroom (seasons are opposite here, so they are just finishing their three-month long “summer break” and classes will resume the week of 27 February, 2017) –yet I have already gained such compelling knowledge.  I have learned that I am capable of just about anything—apart from escaping a shark attack, I still have some doubts about that!  I am happy to be settled in at Uni in Newcastle now and I am eager to see what lessons I will learn within the classroom considering the revelations I have already been so fortunate to have.  Remember to appreciate where you’re at and all of those around you.  That’s all for now, mates!



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