Rain, Rain, Go Away

Author:  Zoe Henkes

Location:  San Jose, Costa Rica

One thing that anyone should absolutely know about traveling to Costa Rica anytime from about May to November, is that it rains.  It rains a lot. It’s different from the climate in Valpo where winter weather generally lasts from November to March and summer weather from May to September, Costa Rican summer (AKA the dry season) generally lasts from November to April and winter (the rainy season), from May to October.  I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while since it is such a large part of life in Costa Rica, but I thought now would be the most appropriate time since we are finally at the tail end of the rainy season (fingers crossed).

That being said, it’s important to note that during this season, it rains every day.  That is no exaggeration.  It also rains a lot—like cats and dogs, except that if you try and directly translate that into Spanish, you will get some weird looks because that isn’t a real phrase here.  Additionally, the rain generally falls during the afternoon, but it can rain in the morning or nighttime, as well.  One of the nice things, however, is that if it rains in the morning, it usually doesn’t rain again that same day.

With all of that in mind, an umbrella and rain jacket should be at the top of your list of packing essentials for traveling to Costa Rica during this season.  Some packing lists might lump these together as an “either/or” suggestion, more or less, but in my opinion, they are both necessary.  Especially as a student, you’ll be walking to and from different places with a backpack a lot, so you’ll likely appreciate both in preventing all of your schoolwork from getting soaked.

Furthermore, if you like to wear rainboots, those might also be helpful.  Although I brought them, I don’t like wearing them on a daily basis, but they also could help you avoid coming home each day with wet shoes and feet.  Another thing to pay attention to when picking out rainboots to bring is how heavy they are for two reasons: 1) packing, since you are only allowed to bring so much on the airplane and 2) the heat, because it could be just as bad to walk around with boots that make your feet sweat profusely as it is walking around with wet feet from the rain.

Lastly, this is not to deter you from coming to Costa Rica during the rainy season at all—Costa Rica is a beautiful country, rain or shine!  In fact, I find that the rain can be quite soothing and exhilarating at the same time.  It also helps to keep the temperature reasonable (usually around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day), because the cloud cover provides a little barrier from the harsh sunrays.  Overall, hopefully after reading this post, you know a little more about Costa Rican climate, and will be even more prepared than I was, if you are planning on traveling here!

Experiencing New Cultures

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

One of the reasons I wanted to study abroad  was traveling. I wanted to go lots of places and to see the world! But as I travel more, I keep finding the dynamic between the traveler and the host to be more and more interesting, so let me try to show you what I have learned through a metaphor.

Over the summer, one of my professors taught me that it is impossible to measure a system without inherently changing it. If you want to measure the temperature of a liquid, you stick a thermometer in and read the temperature. But actually, by inserting the thermometer in the liquid, some of the heat that was in the water has transferred to the thermometer. That heat was taken out of the system and that has permanently changed it. Now, one thermometer reading will not significantly change the temperature of a normal sized system. But imagine we have an insulated cup of boiling water. If we leave the system by itself, it will continue to stay piping hot for a very long time. But if we jam it full of thermometers, each which take a small amount of heat. We have now dramatically changed the system we are measuring. We may think at first that it is good to have so many measurement readings, but in the very processes of measuring so many times, we have eroded the heat that was there originally.

I think traveling and tourism can be exactly like this. We are like a thermometer. We want to experience a place and the people by dipping ourselves into the environment momentarily, enjoying what a place has to offer, and allowing it to change us, in whatever small way. The thermometer takes some heat from the system, in the same way that we take back home some of the experiences of that place. But this is not a one way exchange from a system with endless amounts of heat. Eventually, the thermometers take all the heat that they were trying to measure. When we take a small part back with us, we take it away from the place we visited. Tourists and travelers can slowly chip away at a places’ culture and traditions until it is so eroded that only a flimsy caricaturized stereotype is left standing. Hundreds of vendors sell the same three things that a place is supposedly known for. The depth of culture and tradition that stood behind a traveler’s experience from long ago is no longer there, it was eaten away by those who wanted to take a bit away with them. The heat that once made that system special is gone.

Recognizing this, it is easy to see why people may not want to be especially hospitable or caring to us as travelers. It is easier to see that as travelers and hosts we are in a unique position, each vulnerable to each other. In realizing this vulnerability, it is important for us to travel with a new mindset, one of preservation and understanding. We should seek to be in the culture, instead of around it.

In my recent travels to Italy and Germany, I have tried to be in the culture instead of around it and typically I enjoyed myself all the more. In Germany, I enjoyed eating some traditional lentils and spaetzle from a delicious authentic restaurant. I walked down the bustling cobblestone streets listening to the German equivalent of a hipster singing and playing the guitar. As soon as he finished, some German middle school girls start cheering and screaming and of course then some German adults walked by and rolled their eyes. I went to the Deustche Oper to see the opera Aida. I loved how when I got up to let an old German woman move past me to her seat she patted my hand like a grandma and said, “Danke schӧen.” I think these experiences of being part of the culture give depth to other experiences like visiting the Reichstag or buying lots of pretzels. By merging these two together, travelers and hosts can equally enjoy each other’s company.

In Italy, driving up the ridiculous mountain and coastal roads also gave me a taste of being in the culture. Numerous times we accidentally took the long way, but we enjoyed it more. I loved walking around the beautiful roads of Erice and interacting with the people there. At one restaurant, we sat down and a little boy, not more than four gave me my breadstick, smiled, and then shyly ran away. The rest of our meal comprised of laughing as the same boy would continually walk up to our table and stare at us, but as soon as we looked at him, he darted away. Eventually, his mom yelled at him in Italian. I’m not sure what she said, but it didn’t seem to deter him that much.

These small interactions, these authentic moments, I think are what create the basis for sustainable and respectful travel. Traveling can be made of both observing the culture and appreciating it. But I think when we take an extra step to interact authentically with the people and places we explore, we travel, not as gawkers or tourists, but as equals who seek understanding. For me, this type of travel produces the best memories, and I think for the host culture, the best preservation.

Life Update: The Final Countdown

 Author: Jessica Hanson

 Location: Newcastle, Australia

Howdy friends!

I can’t believe I am already saying this, but that time of year has come: classes are over, all my assignments are finished, and I am in extreme study-mode to prepare for my finals over the next couple weeks. In 14 days, my responsibilities here at the University of Newcastle will officially be completed….and about a week later I will be home!

As the end of the semester draws near, I have started reflecting on all the things I have accomplished so far, as well as the things I didn’t. Every once in a while I get a bit disappointed thinking about the things I wish I had gotten to do (Thailand, New Zealand, Uluru, Frasier Island, Daintree Rainforest, the list goes on)…. But then I realize that four months in general is nowhere near enough time to see all the amazing things Australia has to offer without also having to balance being a responsible student. That being said, I have to remember all of the amazing things I HAVE done- between starting my trip with scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, seeing Tasmania and Melbourne over spring break, and getting involved with various activities around Newcastle, I would definitely say it has been a successful semester. I wish I could do it all, but I have to accept that I have made the best out of the time I’ve had- and will definitely have to make the most out of the time I have left!

What an absolutely beautiful day we had!

Before I go hide in a hole and study for finals, I wanted to give everyone a small update on what I’ve been doing since I last checked in. Due to my dwindling financial situation (proven by the fact that I have officially reached the poor-college-student status of living off of ramen…), I decided that in lieu of buying more plane tickets to other places, I would treat myself to local adventures instead. The first of these was going whale-watching up in Port Stephens (student tickets are only about $40 USD so it was an opportunity I definitely couldn’t miss!) Living in Wisconsin, I obviously am nowhere near the ocean, and thus have no opportunity whatsoever to see whales and dolphins (at least not in the wild– sorry Shedd, you don’t really count!)

My excitement for this trip was definitely proven by my excited squeal and mashing my face up against the window like a 5-year-old when I saw my first dolphin next to the boat (if only I had that moment on video so you guys could all get a good laugh at me). October is the end of whale-watching season, so we were nervous we weren’t going to see any- thankfully, that wasn’t the case! It was such a magnificent experience to see whales and dolphins just hanging out and having a good time in the water 😀 Unfortunately, I did not get any good pictures, but here’s at least a little proof that I’m not lying!

There she is, right in the middle!
Notice the dolphin up-close in the bottom right corner 🙂
Perhaps a little better view? (not sharks I promise!)

After the cruise, we also took a detour to hike up the beautiful Mt. Tomaree and get gorgeous views above the water (by “hike” I mean a 15 minute walk up man-made stairs.) We ended up seeing another momma whale and her calf hanging out in the water just below us, so we actually got pretty cool views from above! Whales or not though, this was such a perfect and lovely day taking a break from classes and just enjoying the beautiful land that is Australia! This one is an experience I will remember forever 🙂

The next treat to myself turned out to be an incredibly inspiring opportunity: attending the Beyond Plastic Pollution Conference in Sydney this past Monday and Tuesday. I’ve wanted to attend an environmental conference forever, so when I saw it posted on Facebook, I knew I had to go. Attending this conference was an investment I decided to make as an educational opportunity beyond the normal scope of what I learn in the classroom. I listened to speakers for two days talking about not just the depressing havoc that plastic pollution is wreaking on the environment, but more importantly how people and organizations are investigating real solutions to tackle this issue. It was a bit unfortunate that all these programs are based in Australia so I can’t join the movement, but maybe I’ll even start one like these when I get home! ;D

Image result for beyond plastic pollution
Cocklebay Wharf Conference Venue Day 1
Australian National Maritime Museum Conference Venue Day 2
For a laugh, here’s my Snapchat from the train station before the conference….
(don’t worry, I recycled it!)

Over the course of the semester, I occasionally found myself worrying that I was missing out on opportunities or not making the most of my experience. But in the end, I realized that my study abroad experience doesn’t have to fulfill anyone’s expectations other than my own- it should only be exactly what I wanted to get out of it. For me, the best way that I have taken advantage of studying abroad has been taking the time to invest in my life and myself. Yeah, school and exploring is pretty cool, but I came into study abroad knowing there were a lot of things in life I wanted to figure out. I’ve grown more confident, I have a better understanding of my values, my priorities and my goals, and I have a different perspective on my place in the world. Most importantly, Australia has ignited my passion for environmentalism and inspired me to come back to America ready to change the world. I know I’m not quite done with the semester yet, but I know I’ll leave proud of what Australia has given me for the rest of my life.

Cheers friends, I’ll see you in a few weeks!

Jessica <3

Language Barriers

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Any traveler will know that one of the biggest hurdles to cross in an unfamiliar place is a language barrier. It is difficult enough to travel around a new place, but to try and do it in a country that speaks many other languages that are different from your own can be challenging. I was lucky; English is the official language of Namibia. The official language could have just as easily been German or Africans but the new government following independence wanted to shed their colonial roots and adopt a new language. Because English is an official language on paper does not necessarily mean it is in practice, and sometimes communication can be difficult.

In South Africa for example it is regular for person to know around six languages. Namibia is similar with each of the ethnic groups having a distinct language. The English that is spoken in Namibia is even jokingly referred to as Namish because they incorporate many of their languages words while speaking English. I was confronted with this language barrier full force when I completed a rural homestay with a local Damara family on their farm. For context South Africa and Namibia have some of the most interesting languages in the world that involve clicks, and the Damara language incorporated four different clicks into their language. For some reason I picked up these different clicks pretty easily, but it is certainly not a natural thing for most people.

It was a joy to learn a little of their beautiful language and try to converse with the locals. They even gave me a name, “!Nombate”, with the ! signifiying a particular click. My name translates to English as ‘difficult’ so perhaps I wasn’t grasping the language quite as easily as I had thought. The beauty of their language didn’t compare to the beauty of the people themselves, who welcomed me with open arms and eagerly wanted to show me how the live. It is something I will never forget. ‘/Namsi ta gea Khorixas’.

It’s the Ups and Downs that make the Journey

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location:  San Jose, Costa Rica

Studying abroad can be an amazing experience full of new and exciting adventures.  However, there can also be difficulties along the way.  I think that we tend to fixate on only the good things, when in reality, the challenging times can be just as beneficial to one’s experience and personal growth.

The first and probably most obvious challenge that one might face while studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country is the language barrier.  I expected this to be difficult, but not this difficult.  I have been taking Spanish classes since the 7th grade, and am also a Spanish minor at Valpo, so I thought I would be somewhat prepared.  This was not exactly the case.  First of all, they talk so fast.  It really catches me off guard sometimes, as it takes a few seconds to process the information.  You wouldn’t think that’s a long time, but the next time you have a conversation, think about how it takes all but a split second for your brain to interpret what is being said and generate a response—it’s fascinating how that works!

Another thing that has been difficult is that there is so much slang used in daily conversation that you don’t learn in regular classes.  For example, if you are talking about a challenging situation or activity, they will say, “cuesta mucho.”  The literal translation is that it “costs a lot” so this really caught me off guard when my host dad said that in conversation with me because I thought he was talking about money.  The phrase is actually used to describe something that is really difficult or enduring.  There are also phrases specific to Costa Rica that I had never used before coming here.  Examples of this are “mae,” which means dude, more or less, and “pura vida,” which one could equate to the infamous phrase hakuna matata.

A selfie with my host mom, Isabel, and host sister, Ashly

At first, I was super overwhelmed by the language immersion to the extent that I was sort of on a sensory overload.  However, I’ve gotten used to it and now I can tell that my Spanish is improving.  My piece of advice for others who plan to become immersed in a different language for the first time, like myself, would be to not get too frustrated or embarrassed if you don’t understand everything right away.  At times, it can feel like you are boxed in because you can’t communicate everything that you would like to or as effectively as you can in your first language, but you have to remember that learning a second language takes time.  Additionally, as a part of the semester program in Costa Rica, you will take intensive Spanish Language courses from the University of Costa Rica during your first month, which helps a lot in jumpstarting your grammar and conversational skills.  In all, even though Spanish has been more difficult than I had expected, I have tried to be less shy about making mistakes, for the best way to learn is to make mistakes.  Even still, I continue to learn new things and take each new day as it comes.

Secondly, the United States is described to have an individualistic culture, whereas Costa Rica has a more collectivist culture.  In other words, in the United States, we tend to like our personal space and privacy.  In contrast, based on what I’ve noticed from living here for almost two months now, there is more of a what’s mine is yours attitude.  In my host family, there is a lot of time spent out in the common space.  To say the least, there’s usually never a dull moment.  Frequently, we have family friends, relatives, or other guests over.  It’s also not uncommon for someone to be blasting reggaeton or pop music (surprisingly, a lot of US pop songs are also popular here).  Sometimes, I catch myself wanting to revert to my room to do homework or read a book, but I have tried to make an effort to spend more time with my host family.  Along those same lines, it’s been an adjustment getting used to living with a family, in itself.  This sounds weird when I put it that way, but think about it: at Valpo, we are on our own and independent.  We live away from our parents and can go get food whenever we have time or whenever we are hungry.  We can go visit our friends in different rooms or dorms even if it’s late.  We can go to the library if we need a quiet space to study almost whenever we please.  Living with a host family is sort of like being back in high school.  By that, I mean that your host family will worry about you if you come back late or if you start feeling a little sick.  They will cook delicious food.  And yes, you do have a curfew named the sun (as in the big star the shines during the day).  While the neighborhood is pretty safe, it’s not advised to walk outside alone at night.  This means that by about 6:00 pm when it gets dark, I can’t really go do anything on your own.  Usually this isn’t a concern, but it can sometimes be irritating if class goes late or I want to go somewhere at night.  Overall, these differences aren’t bad by any means, they just take a little time to adjust to.  Even though there is sometimes a lot going on at once or I miss the level of independence that I have at college, I love the camaraderie and love for one another that my family expresses.  In the end, I feel blessed to say that I have a second family that cares about me and my well-being, and it has truly been an amazing journey getting to know and love them.

In conclusion, I think it is good to reflect on the challenges as much as the successes because the both contribute to the journey as a whole.  In this time, I have been able to construct a bicultural identity in which I am both Tica and estadounidense.  There are aspects of Costa Rican culture that I like and would like to incorporate more in my life, and there are aspects that I don’t like as much.  Likewise, there are things that I do and don’t like about life in the United States.  In all, this time has really broadened my perspectives on different lifestyles, making it more clear as to which aspects I value the most and what kind of person I truly want to be.


Don’t Judge a Town by its Brochure

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia 

​My first few weeks in Africa were full of traveling around South Africa and traveling around Namibia. Mostly, I was getting a taste of my new home for the next three months. In most study abroad experiences, this phase is one in which you are in all intents and purposes a tourist. You usually dress like a tourist and any local can easily spot you in a crowd.

This phase is a great time to learn and to see new places as you begin to make the transition from a tourist to a student who is living in that country.  It took about two weeks after this traveling before I really felt like I was here to stay. Although I had a great time traveling and seeing the sights, it was only when I started classes that I was really able to critically reflect on some of my experiences. It is important to engage with your experiences on a deeper level than the surface, especially in countries like South Africa and Namibia, where history isn’t always clearly evident.

For me this realization hit home when we traveled to a small town on the Namibian coast called Lüderitz. Famous for its diamonds, this former German settlement is a popular tourist attraction for Europeans. Before learning about the legacy of German oppression and the subsequent apartheid system under the South Africans before Namibian Independence in class, I would have just thought Lüderitz was a quaint town little town with striking German influences. If you delve even further into the history of Lüderitz you will find that it was the location of the first concentration camp of the 20th century, 30 years prior to the Nazi regime in Germany. Germany only recently publically apologized for their genocide in Namibia, which targeted the Herero and Nama ethnic groups. Almost everything that the Nazis did in their concentration camps of WWII can be traced back to their concentration camps in their former colony of Namibia. The actual location of the camp in Lüderitz is now a local campsite and bears no memorial to those that died there. One of my tour guides even made a passing joke that the railroad that, in colonial times, took 11 months to build was just renovated over the period of 11 years. What our guide neglected to mention was that in colonial times slaves were used from the concentration camps and were worked to their deaths while building the rail lines.

My point in sharing this sad story is to show that you can visit and even study in a country without really knowing what you’re looking at. Even if you study or travel abroad in countries like Australia or Germany I would urge you to look deeper into their history, and you may find something you would never expect. I know that reflecting critically on my experiences has made them more meaningful. As a final encouragement, try not to be a tourist for too long, or you might miss out on being a true student in your country.

What You Need to Know When Studying at University of Newcastle!

Author: Jessica Hanson

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Well it seems to be getting to that time in the semester where many of my fellow Valpo students are trying to decide where they want to study abroad or, if they’ve already chosen their program of choice, are getting anxious to see what all the hype is about! For any of you considering University of Newcastle (UoN) here in New South Wales, Australia, I figured I’d give you some tips and tricks to make your transition into the Aussie lifestyle as smooth as possible!

First, I thought it would be helpful to orient you to Australia as a continent and where we are in relation to, well, everything else! Fun fact- Australia is the world’s largest island as well as the world’s smallest continent. Australia is the about the same size geographically as the United States, yet has less than 10% of our population! The name ‘Australia’ comes from Latin Terra Australis meaning ‘land of the south.’ It is also lovingly referred to as the Land Down Under, or even, the Land of Oz (which, may or may not have anything to do with Dorothy, but that is for you to find out!) It consists of 6 states and 2 territories. Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria are the three states along the East Coast of Australia and contain about 3/4 of the population, which totals just over 24 million. Sydney (NSW), Melbourne (VIC), and Brisbane (QLD) are the three largest cities- if you like the city life, Sydney is about 3 hours south by train and you can get round-trip flights to Brisbane or Melbourne for a weekend get away for around $100-$150- I would definitely recommend taking the time to check these out if you get the chance. You will also notice while you’re over here that many cities have some pretty odd names thanks to the Aboriginal culture- Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, Katoomba, Toowoomba to name a few!

(Travel tip: while everyone is immediately going to recognise your American accent, you can save yourself some embarrassment by knowing the correct pronunciation of the city names. They don’t have a hard ‘r’ sound like we do in America, so you might want to practice these a few times before coming over: Melbourne–> mel-bin, likewise Brisbane–> briz-bin, Cairns–> cans (yes, like the soda!) I probably butcher the Aboriginal names as much as you would but they seem pretty phonetic to me, so good luck!)

As far as where you’ll be living, University of Newcastle is often shortened to UoN or referred to simply as Newy! Where you will be living and going to classes is the Callaghan campus, although there is also the city campus with the NeW Space (an architecturally abstract building that opened this fall- definitely check it out!) where many of the business and law classes take place. If the program is still the same, you will most likely be assigned a single studio apartment in one of the really nice new residence towers- you get your own kitchenette and bathroom, which means, unfortunately, you’re responsible for buying your own groceries, cooking your own food, and doing your own dishes. Thankfully, you get a weekly bathroom cleaning courtesy of the lovely cleaning ladies in the building. The campus is much bigger than our small Valpo home- say goodbye to rolling out of bed 10 minutes before class and making it on time! However, most professors are also pretty lax so making it to class a few minutes late won’t hurt. Make sure you take the time to do some exploring when you get here but it only took me a few days- once you find the Shortland building in the centre of campus, you’ll figure out the rest from there 🙂 Night life on campus is also a little different than what we’re used to in the states- most of the buildings/dining on campus close around 5 and any activities are going to be over in the city. Make friends in your building fast so you’ll have people that know the good places to go out if you’re looking for something fun to do!

The Aboriginal, or Indigenous, people and culture is also something you might want to do some research on before coming over. It is very complicated and a dark part of Australia’s rather-recent past. The Aboriginal Australians are thought to be the oldest tribes in the world and most of their population was wiped out due to violence or disease during the British colonisation of Australia during the late 18th century (you will find many parallels with British treatment of the Native Americans during our colonial history, although the issues have continued up through the 1970s and  is still a very sensitive subject in the culture.) The good news is that Australia is in the progress of amending some of this dark past, such as working with some Aboriginal tribes to give them control and ownership of their original lands. One thing that I find very touching is that often when people stand up to talk in front of crowds, perhaps for class or giving presentations, they will pay respects to the Aboriginal peoples by saying something along the lines of: “I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the [insert local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island Nation]. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.”

Finally, thanks to our lovely US standard system, it will take some time to get used to the metric system! I wrote down a key for reference before coming but you won’t reeeally need it, especially thanks to phones that have automatic conversion apps. However, I still am not used to seeing 100 on speed limit signs- 100 kilometers per hour that is, which is akin to our 65 mph limit. It is also important to remember that since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are flip-flopped and they use Celsius as well. If you are planning to study here next semester, you will be leaving snowy cold Valpo and arriving in the lovely hot Australian summer (unfortunately, I get to do the opposite transition…) It will be around the 80s/90s, or around 25-30 degrees Celsius, so pack your summer gear, but be prepared for temperatures to drop to ‘chilly’ fall temperatures around 50F (10C) by the end of the semester. Also, they aren’t kidding when they tell you to be prepared with a LOT of sunscreen- especially coming in the summer since Australia is positioned right underneath the hole in the ozone layer- sun blisters are NOT something you want to deal with!

Alright, I think that’s enough of my rambling, but I am going to leave you with some Australian lingo that it will be helpful to be familiar with! Thanks for tuning in, and good luck if you’re off to Australia next semester!

Kebabs– an Australian staple, kebab shops are fun places to grab a bite!
Capsicums– their odd word for bell peppers
Avo– avocado! Australians love shortening their words, but they might like avocados here even more! They’re a tad expensive, but oh so delicious.
Vegemite– another Australian staple, but one that is extremely foreign to the American food palate- you definitely much try it (its a spread for putting on toast), but make sure an Aussie prepares it for you, otherwise you’ll likely end up spreading it on thick like nutella, which is a terrible idea.
Lemonade– sprite. The word sprite? Also sprite. Our idea of lemonade does not exist over here, but you can find some fizzy lemon-flavoured sodas that are pretty close. Also, if you love rootbeer like me, I’m sorry to say it will be very difficult to come by 🙁
Soft Drink– soda or pop or sodapop, however you call it! If you’re at a restaurant and want to know what ‘sodas’ they have, you should ask them for their soft drink menu instead.
Wooly’s– short for Woolworth’s, your go-to for all your grocery shopping needs.
Hungry Jack’s– the same thing as Burger King, just called differently. They also have Domino’s and Pizza Hut if you’re craving some American fast food.
Macca’s- a country wouldn’t be complete with out a McDonald’s right? Aussies lovingly shorten it simply to Macca’s, and I’m sure you’ll be at peace knowing you can get your late night chicken nugget or McFlurry cravings taken care of!

Op Shop– short for opportunity shop, these are the lovely Australian thrift stores- Vinnie’s (St. Vincent de Paul) and Salvos (Salvation Army) are the most common!
Thongs– yes, they will probably laugh at you if you forget and call them flip flops anyway.
Runners- tennis shoes
Swimmers– swimsuit….makes me feel like I’m in the 60s but I guess you just roll with it!
Jumper– sweater
Sunnies– sunglasses

Other Lingo
Dodgy– sketchy
Rubbish– trash/garbage
Footpath– side walk
Carpark– parking lot
Trolley– shopping cart
Life– elevator
Revision– review
Mozzies– mosquitos (The word is definitely cuter than the thing itself)
Timetable– class schedule
Concession– student prices- always ask if there are concession prices for events/tickets!
Power point– NOT the Microsoft Word program, power points are little orange lights on the power switches letting you know if it is on or off
Boot and Bonnet– the trunk and hood of a car
Aluminium– notice the extra ‘i’, it might take a while to get used to saying this metal element the way it is actually written on the periodic table…
Bubbler– for all of my Indiana friends who make fun of us Wisconsinites who use bubbler, guess what- so do the Australians! This was definitely a win for team Wisconsin <3

Alright, that’s all I have for today, hopefully this helps alleviate some of the frustration before you get here, and best of luck figuring out Australia!


P.S. Make sure to finish all your favourite binge-worthy Netflix shows before you get here! Australian Netflix has a different selection, and unless you’re really skilled at figuring out VPNs (Netflix recognized my preliminary attempts and I gave up after that), you’ll have to live without a few American shows for a couple months!

Meet Elise!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Hi Friends! Welcome again to Utrecht, NL. Today, I will introduce you to one of my best friends here, Elise! Elise (pronounced Ill-ee-za) is 100% Dutch and was born and raised not far from Utrecht, in a small town called Hilversum. Whenever I want to explore the Utrecht area she knows just the place to go! My favorite time with Elise is when she took me on an hour bike ride! We rode to the small village of Lage Vuursche about 15 km away, where we had a dinner of Dutch pancakes (like crepes) with bacon and apples and cheese. Elise also showed me the outside of the former Dutch Queen’s current residence! We couldn’t see much because it had a huge fence in the way, but like Elise said, “That’s normal considering the Dutch version of Barack Obama basically lives there.” She is quite funny and is always interesting to talk to!

Elise is studying law and politics as she wants to go into international relations, specifically dealing with border conflicts. Her international interest is so strong as she speaks Dutch, English, Spanish, and French fluently, even though she was born and raised in the Netherlands. I asked Elise about herself and her interest in international studies, so here are the answers so you can get to know her too!

Me: How did you get so interested in international affairs?

Elise: I’m not sure. I’ve always really liked listening to the stories my grandparents would tell me when I was little and especially when I was old enough to start connecting what they would tell me to what I learned in school. For example, in school we learned about the Hungry Winter of 1944. This was when one part of the Netherlands was liberated, but the Allies couldn’t cross the big rivers in the South to get up North. It was a historically cold winter and people were walking from Rotterdam to Germany (about 90 miles) to get food because there was so little. Then, my grandparents told me about their specific experience and it was so cool to see how regular people fit into history. They survived by eating flower bulbs and making soup out of the most basic things. It’s interesting but sad to hear of how regularly had to people behave. It was also so crazy to hear about the German soldiers. Even though they were fighting for the Nazi’s, my grandparents said they acted nice, grateful, and welcoming. Not hostile at all. It is hard not to vilify someone who supported the Nazis, but it really makes you think how any of us could have been there if it was our country. Hearing these stories makes you think a lot about the individuals in different countries throughout history and what they were really like.

Me: You see history as an important part of understanding people?

Elise: Yeah, history is especially important when understanding conflicts between people, I think. Conflicts are so complex and you have to trace the origins of a specific conflict back so far to understand why these problems have come about, particularly when thinking about border conflicts. In the past, some borders were simply drawn arbitrarily, but it is interesting to think about how borders and country sovereignty determined our world today. That’s why I wanted to combine history, law, politics, and biology. Especially when dealing with political issues like border disputes, it is necessary to know about history and law. They are intertwined, like with the Arab-Israeli conflict you need to understand history to work effectively in politics today.

Me: Interesting! How does biology figure into that?

Elise: Oh. Well, I like Biology, so that’s for fun!

Me: Ah! Now that is a real Liberal Arts and Sciences student talking!

Elise: Yeah. I’m just genuinely interested in lots!

Me: What do you see yourself doing in the future?

Elise: Traveling. I really want to travel. I’ve been to the U.S. and various countries in Europe, but I really want to travel to Asia. My country gets so boring; I want to see something completely different!

Me: I feel that! Why do you think I came here?

Elise: It’s so cool that you chose the Netherlands to come to! It’s cool for me to see people interested in my country. I also love to talk to people from the U.S. There are so many opinions and ideas that I find interesting to listen to, so you should tell more people to come here from Valpo!

Elise is so easy to relate to! Even though we have grown up in very different places, we both have an interest in studying and learning about other cultures. We both love to share our culture and our experiences with each other. I hope you enjoyed Elise sharing a bit of her experience with you too!

Understanding Culture Through History

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is most known for its breathtaking environment and biodiversity, so sometimes it is easy to overlook its rich culture and history.  Although I have always been intrigued by Latin American culture, after being here for a month, I realize how surface-level my understanding really was.  In order to fully understand and appreciate Costa Rican culture today, I think it is imperative to first gain an understanding of the nation’s past.

In the ethnology class that we all are required to take here, we learn about the history of Costa Rica, as well as Central America, as a whole.  We are then able to use this knowledge to make connections to the phenomena that we see in daily life, and deepen our understanding of it.  For example, in front of the Central Bank in San José, you will find a group of statues depicting poor farmers and peasants directly outside of the main entrance to the bank.  After learning about Central America’s history of huge inequality, it is apparent that these statues were put in place to remind the wealthy bankers that the bank was established for the common people.  This image is a very stark contrast to image of Wall Street and affluent business tycoons of the United States.  Another thing that makes Costa Rica different than the United States is that it doesn’t have an active military.  Since the abolition of the military in 1948, the Costa Rican government has been able to take the money that would have been used for the upkeep of armed forces, and apply it to other endeavors such as education or the universal healthcare system.

Furthermore, I was lucky enough to be here to celebrate Costa Rica’s Independence Day.  On Thursday, September 14th, we went to my host brother’s school, where the young children sang and danced, then closed the night with a parade of lanterns.  On Friday September 15th, I went to a parade in Santo Domingo with my host family.  It was very similar to what I have observed in the United States for the 4th of July—there were marching bands, flags, dancers, and more.  While it sometimes it is easy to assume that the United States is bigger, better, or more patriotic, it was apparent that Costa Ricans have just as much, if not more, pride for their nation and history.

Overall, while there is still much more to learn, I have already gained a deeper level of understanding of Costa Rican and Central American culture.  Of course, the vast biodiversity and beautiful beaches are important parts of Costa Rica, but even more so is the nation’s rich history.  I think that in general, for anyone looking to truly appreciate a nation’s present-day culture, he or she must first understand the nation’s past.

Taking Time to Unplug

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Have you ever taken a day or more to fully unplug from technology and the stresses of daily life?  While it might seem crazy or even impossible, it was just what I needed.  Recently,  the other students and I took a weekend trip to Savegre, a private biological reserve located in the Talamanca Mountain Range of Costa Rica.  While we had electricity and hot water, we did not have any access to internet—the point of the trip was  to relax, enjoy nature, and reflect on our time in Costa Rica thus far.

Although Heidi, the director of the Costa Rica study abroad program, warned us that it would be cold in the mountains, I was definitely not prepared.  We arrived in Savegre late Friday night.  It was raining, and the cabin that we were staying in had no heat, so we piled on the blankets in order to keep warm.

The next morning, we had a host of different activities to partake in, the first being birdwatching at 6 AM.  While I would never ordinarily wake up practically before the sun itself, as a nature enthusiast, I couldn’t pass up this amazing opportunity.  Many birdwatchers come to see the quetzal bird, which is famous to Costa Rica.   While some people come in search of the bird and don’t see one the entire time they are there, we got lucky and spotted one right away.  Our guide had a special telescope for birdwatching so that we could see the birds from far away.  It was a beautiful creature with bright green feathers on the back and red feathers on the breast.  I watched in awe as it sat perched on a tree branch so peacefully.  It was a truly amazing experience—I stood there and just listened to the sounds of the forest.  I can’t remember the last time I felt such a strong connection to nature.

Next, we had the opportunity to go horseback riding through the mountains.  It had been several years since I had ridden a horse, so I was a little nervous.  I was expecting the path to be fairly level and smooth, but that was far from the truth.  While we started out on the road, we soon branched off into the forest.  As we waded through rivers and climbed high up into the trees—it was so amazing to see how powerfully, yet gracefully these horses navigated the difficult terrain.  We eventually found ourselves at a waterfall, neatly hidden within the thick forest.  The water was so cold and refreshing.  I had been feeling silly about wearing my bright blue rain boots on the excursion, but then I was thankful for them.  As we turned back and headed back down the mountain, I could see all the valley and forest beneath us—wow.

Overall, among other things, these were the highlights of my trip to Savegre.  While we were only there for a short time, arriving late Friday night and leaving early Sunday morning, I had an amazing time.  It was so liberating to take a break from my phone and social media and just enjoy my surroundings.  I will never forget feeling so close to nature.  I felt at peace.  I felt at home.

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