Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Trip to the Blue Mountains

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

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

The student exchange group at Three Sisters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections in the Cam

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

The River Cam (taken on my last day)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Easter Island

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: Easter Island, Chile

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Hello friends! About 2 months ago, I was researching flights with some of my friends, trying to find the cheapest option to get out of Viña del Mar and explore a different part of Chile. And I found an incredibly cheap flight to Easter Island (called Rapa Nui by the island inhabitants or Isla de Pascua by Spanish-speakers). It was about $250 roundtrip, which is especially cheap because usually flights can go for around $1000. So I booked immediately, even though none of my friends wanted to go (their loss!). It would be one of the major solo trips that I’ve taken this semester.

So on Wednesday, I caught a 5am bus from the Viña del Mar bus terminal. I had a 9:30am flight, and wanted to make sure I was at the terminal with plenty of time. But about an hour into the bus ride, I was sleeping and suddenly heard the bus driver tell us that we would have to get off, unload all of the luggage, and get onto a new bus to continue the journey to the airport. We were given no explanation. So around 6am, we were all standing on the side of the highway in the cold, waiting for another bus to come pick us up. Off to a great start! I really thought that I was going to miss my flight, but thankfully, the other bus came around 7am and I made it to my flight with about 20 minutes to spare.

The flight was technically a domestic flight (Easter Island is a Chilean territory), but lasted about 5 hours. It’s the most remote inhabited island in the world, and has a population of about 7000. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I immediately saw how incredibly green everything was, and felt the sun and the ocean breeze. It was such a nice change from the clouds and rain in Viña del Mar! I spent the first day on the island getting to know the other people in my hostel, and wandering around the center of town. I visited a quiet beach with clear blue water, and saw the sunset from the best place on the island, according to locals. I could see a few of the iconic Moai statues (built around 1400 AD), with the sun setting and the clouds changing colors behind them.

The next day, I wandered around the city center with a new friend from New Zealand, who was traveling around South America for 6 months.  We walked along the coast for a few hours and stumbled upon some caves that served as the protection for the indigenous people during attacks, many years ago. After walking for a few more hours, we sat on a tiny beach near our hostel, surrounded by cute dogs. So relaxing! And later on that night, I went with some new friends from my hostel to a performance of the traditional dance of the island, called Kari Kari. It was so entertaining! I could see on the performances’ faces that they genuinely enjoyed dancing and loved showing their culture to visitors. That made it even more engaging and fun to watch. At the end of the show, all of the dancers went around and took pictures with people from the crowd.

With two days left on the island, I fully intended to take my time and explore the majority of the island. So I found a few Chileans (an older married couple from the south of Chile and a younger woman from Viña del Mar) who were going around the island in a rented car. We left at 5:30 in the morning to catch the sunrise from the best place on the island, called Ahu Tongariki. When we arrived, we could still see the stars. After waiting for a few minutes for the park entrance to open at 7, we entered and I could see the 15 infamous Moai statues. We stayed there for about 2 hours, simply watching the sky change around us. Every few minutes, the colors would completely change. It was one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen in my life. After, the Chileans and I drove around the island to a few stops, like a beautiful beach called Anakena, which had a herd of wild horses grazing underneath the palm trees. Such a beautiful, tranquil place!

My last few days on the island were spent with my new friends from the hostel- a few Chileans, an international couple from Germany and France, and a traveler from New Zealand. It was really cool to meet so many people from around the world, and really fun to swap travel stories! And I’ve come to learn throughout my travels that although I might start a trip solo, I never actually end up solo. I always meet new friends, who are really interesting and very open to hanging out with a solo gringa from Chicago! And because of that, I’ve come to love my “solo” trips, and I’ve gotten much more comfortable going off on my own. Plus I love telling all my friends to go on a solo trip too! It’s a great way to learn about your own abilities, increase your independence, and meet new friends from different parts of the world. So next time you want to go somewhere but none of your friends want to go with you–go anyway!

Viña del Mar Advice

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: Viña del Mar, Chile

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ve loved my semester in Viña del Mar! I’ve met some really great people, had some incredible experiences, improved my Spanish skills immensely, and learned a lot about myself. With that being said, I really want the next students to enjoy it as much as I have. So I’ve compiled a list of things that I wish I had known before coming, or words of advice that I think everyone should keep in mind during their semester abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile.

The Chilean dialect is really distinct. Well-known for talking fast, with every sentence full of slang, Chileans don’t pronounce the ends of words. Even some of my friends from Spain and Mexico told me that when they arrived, they struggled to understand the dialect too. So don’t feel bad if you’ve spent years studying Spanish and don’t understand a word they say! Just be prepared to say “¿Cómo?” or “¿Qué significa?” a lot! More often than not, Chileans know that their dialect is difficult, and they’ll be really kind about explaining themselves.

Invest in a change purse and carry coins with you everywhere. Chileans don’t like big bills! Even though they have bigger bills like 10,000 or 20,000, they sometimes refuse to accept them and ask if you have anything smaller (“¿Tiene más sencillo?”). You will start to accumulate a lot of coins, and make sure to carry them with you! If you hand a bus driver a 10,000 for a 300 peso bus ride, he will just look at you and laugh.

Always carry hand sanitizer and tissues. Free toilet paper and soap in public restrooms are rare! Sometimes you have to pay for the paper, sometimes there isn’t any paper, and other times you might even have to pay just to use the bathroom. I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I have been thankful for hand sanitizer and Kleenex, especially at bars or clubs.

Be careful on public transportation. In Chile, the buses are called micros. And usually they are pretty safe. But always keep your guard up! Don’t pull your phone out, don’t text, and keep all of your pockets zipped! A few of my friends have had their wallets/phones stolen from them simply because they weren’t paying attention. Keep in mind, I’ve never feared violence or anything scary like that. For the vast majority of the time, stealing phones/wallets is their only objective, and it’s easy to prevent! Just be smart and keep your valuables safe and out of sight!

Eat street food. Some of the best food I’ve had here has been from tiny, random places around town, not from the fancy places catering to tourists. Of course, be smart about where you eat- make sure there are local people eating with you before you eat the stick of meat from the lady cooking off a shopping cart in the street. But I swear, fries from the street in Valparaíso are a step above. And I’ve had an eggroll from a street vendor in Santiago that puts my favorite Chinese restaurant to shame. Seriously- don’t be afraid to eat street food!

Get to know Chile. This country is the longest in the world. That means there are countless places to explore. From gorgeous and green Patagonia in the south, to the dry Atacama Desert in the north, there are endless places to explore. Maybe they aren’t as iconic as the typical European destinations like the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum, but Chile is unique and special on its own. Take time to get to know different regions, and you’ll feel like you have a much deeper understanding for the country by the end of the semester.

Make Chilean friends. At the end of your semester, you will probably have friends from all over the world (Mexico, Germany, France, etc). But be sure to also make an effort to spend time with your Chilean classmates as well! They will be able to show you cool lesser-known spots around Viña, help you with the Chilean slang, and by the end of the semester, they will be one of the main reasons why you loved Chile.

Say yes to everything! Some of my best experiences this semester have been the ones where I originally didn’t want to do anything, but just said yes anyway. You didn’t come all the way to Chile to stay at home, or be comfortable- you came to challenge yourself, to improve your Spanish skills, or to know a different culture. Whatever your reason was, saying yes to (almost) anything will pay off. You’ll have a great time and be thankful you said yes, or at least you’ll have a great story.

Bring stuff from home. For example, I brought Reese’s peanut butter cups, chocolate Rolos, and other typical American snacks because I knew they didn’t have them here and I wanted to share them with new Chilean friends! My other American friends also brought things like postcards from their hometowns, the USA flag, and other “American” things to share with our international friends. It’s nice to give them a little something to share your culture, and also give them something to remember you by when you inevitably, unfortunately, leave to go back home at the end of the semester.

It’s Not Goodbye

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One of the biggest chapters of my life is coming to an end. Reflecting on my experience here, there were some important moments I would like to share with you. These are moments that changed how I view the world and how I view myself. These are moments of pure joy and raw uncomfortability. These are moments of subtle grandeur.

5. Waking up to watch the sunrise in the Namib Desert.

In the middle of the Namib Desert, with no technology, no alarm clock, no lights, I woke up a little before sunrise. It was bitterly cold and calm- and oh so peaceful. I walked up one of the nearby sand dunes and watched the sun peak over the mountains. Gold, pink, blue. The sky looked like painting. In this moment, I felt content. I felt no need to check Facebook or Snapchat. Nothing on my phone could ever compare to the beauty before me. Moving forward, I hope to wake up for more sunrises and give myself time in the morning to do nothing. In a time when we are constantly fed information through social media and text messages, it felt good to just be alone with my thoughts. I encourage everyone to take a few hours of your day to just sit and be present.

4. Surfing with my best friend

Throughout this trip, I have been blessed with the opportunity to check so items off my bucket list- one of them being surfing. Brennen, who is also from Valpo, shared the experience with me. While the water was freezing and the waves were relentless, I was proud of us being able to overcome the challenge. It may have taken us three hours and a few accentual gulps of sea water to get there, but we eventually rode the Atlantic waves. I have shared many great moments with Brennen- this will be an experience neither of us will forget.

3. Balcony Party

One of my favorite aspects of my time living in Windhoek was meeting new people. Some friends we met at Karaoke night invited us over to their balcony party. It was a great night of laughter, dancing, and enjoying the city view. Local Namibians are so welcoming and friendly- even though we were strangers at the party, it didn’t feel that way. I hope to keep in contact with the people I met here- they have made my stay in Namibia all the worthwhile.

2. Interacting with CGEE staff

While I have talked a great deal about my experience with my study abroad friends and cohort, I often forget to mention the people that make this possible. I was blessed to be the student of Lamont Slater for Politics of Development, Albertina Shifotoka for History of Racism & Resistance in Southern Africa, Monika Shikongo for Environmentalism & Sustainability, and Alex Sikume for Internship Class. Throughout these classes, I learned about Namibia and South Africa’s rich history and its connection to the United States. Not only the professors, but the support staff impacted my journey as well as Evelin, Sara, Passat & Donna. They were always full of smiles and deep wisdom. I am thankful for everyone who made this experience possible.

1. Dedicating the garden

Throughout the semester, we students decided to create a garden. It was difficult- the dirt is dry and rocky- but it was so worth it. In addition to the garden, we decided to paint the posts above it- each with our own creative flare. Mine is Namibia’s mountain scenery with the phrase “Seek Discomfort” on it. I got inspired from my favorite Youtubers Yes Theory that wholeheartedly believe in the idea. Throughout my journey here, I have sought a lot of discomfort so this phrase stuck with me. Not only that, but the whole collaboration just shows how diverse and creative our group is. Each person has greatly contributed to this beautiful group dynamic and I am blessed to be surrounded by such incredible

Overall, I am grateful for my time in Southern Africa. I learned about topics never discussed in my classes in the states- such as apartheid. I overcame obstacles such as hiking up a rocky mountain to overlook the city. I embraced a culture both different and similar to my own. I made lifelong friends both in Namibia and throughout the cohort.

But now as I am packing to leave, I remember this is not goodbye- it is see you later.

Catching Waves

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Swakopmund & Walvis Bay, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

So last weekend, we embarked on our last trip. Our last long bus ride. Our last places to visit–Swakopmund & Walvis Bay. While most people assume Namibia, and Africa in general, is quite hot, our visit to the coast proved otherwise. Because the hot dunes met directly with the cool ocean, there was a thick fog consistently overhead. The sun went MIA. The breeze from the ocean snuck into our jackets. Our sun-burnt bodies were not prepared for this level of cold. However, the views of the ocean made it all worthwhile.

One of our first stops included learning about the Namibian Dolphin Project- an organization dedicated to gathering data on the abundance, distribution, and habitat whales and dolphins use in Namibia. Not only that, but they perform sea rescues for stranded animals and educate the public on the importance of marine conservation. The speaker Becca also handed us a booklet full of information about what they do and the animals they research. The booklet even included facts about the infamous leatherback turtle!

Honestly, listening to Becca reminded me of when I was a little girl obsessed with the ocean. I would read as many
books about marine life as the library would let me check out. Sharks, dolphins, turtles, clownfish, whales- you name it. Throughout my studies at Valpo, my passion for the marine world fell out of view. However, being right beside the ocean reminded me of it all over again. The trip to the Namibian Dolphin Project was both rewarding and reinvigorating.

So after we gulped down our lunch, we visited a fish factory. To be honest, my stomach was not prepared for the experience. They suited us up in what seemed like a cross between lunch-lady material and a hazard-mat suit. The rest of the tour was cold, loud, and left me with a strange taste in my mouth. While the two educational visits were fascinating, the real fun was just about to start.

The rest of the weekend we were granted free time to explore the city and I took full advantage of this opportunity. First, some friends and I went to kayak with some baby seals. And yes, it was amazing. The pups are so curious and playful- they come right up next to your kayak and splash around. Also, they sound like sheep for some odd reason. I couldn’t stop laughing about it! For so long, I just saw seals as some big floppy blob on TV but being up close enlightened me to how cute
they are. They are just so cute. Seriously, like water puppies.

After a morning of being surrounded by the cutest creatures in existence, my friends and I set off for another adventure. Growing up near the ocean for the first few years of my life propelled a passion for anything aquatic. However, I never got the chance to surf…until now. Luckily, a surfer around our age took us out onto the open ocean to learn how. After three hours of failing, flopping, and tiring myself out, I finally got to catch that wave. My eyes were red from the salt water and my body numb from the cold, but it was worth it. I successfully surfed a wave- and hopefully this won’t be my last.

The next day, before we left, we decided to fulfill a study abroad tradition and hike up Dune 7 (named that way because it is 7km from Walvis Bay). While everyone climbed up the steep and quickest side, my roommates and I followed a longer and less strenuous route. However, it didn’t matter how we got up there, the view was worth it. The sun glistened off the dunes in a golden hue. Miles and miles of sand. It was a sight unlike any other. Sitting down and watching the sunset was
the peaceful ending needed to conclude our last adventure in Namibia.

Ramadan in Rabat

Author: Garrett Gilmartin

Location: Rabat, Morocco

Pronouns: He/His/Him

So my study abroad program is over and most people are headed back to the United States to see their family and friends and enjoy the summer, however that is not what I am doing. I am kickin’ off my summer by visiting some amazing people I have met throughout my time abroad. First I stopped in Madrid to leave a bag with a friend who teaches english there. Now I’m in the capital of Morocco, Rabat. After this I’ll make a stop in London then make my way home, but my time here in Morocco has been one of the most impactful trips of my life.

The first time I went to Morocco was through my study abroad program. My program group took a ferry, in the beginning of the semester, from the south of Spain to Tangier, a major port in Morocco and a beautiful lively city. We quickly hopped cities to see as many sites as possible, forts, Moorish and Roman ruins, markets, and such. We went from Tangier to Asilah and then Rabat. Rabat is large city but it is not filled with skyscrapers and pushy independent people. Rabat is filled with the usual banks and supermarkets but also street markets and friendly neighbors. We stayed overnight with families for two nights and it was a blast. The last day we had to leave to see Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of Morocco, but I didn’t want to leave my new friends in Rabat. Alas, I had to return for classes but I promised I would visit them soon.

Now, here I am in Morocco in the end of May. Every year around the world Islamic people fast until the sun goes down every day for a month. This year the month of Ramadan was May. I am now staying with the family that I had originally met on my first visit and I couldn’t feel more at home. I am constantly reminded by my host father here that I am family and that I will always have a place within their family. In addition, my Moroccan family is fasting for Ramadan and refuse to let me fast with them. Instead, much like the islamic children, the family still prepares food for me. Many islamic children do not fast until they are older so they do not get sick or impede physical growth and development. The Moroccans I have met all stay up until two or three in the morning on a normal day but when it’s Ramadan they stay up until four or five in the morning. This is because once the sun is down they prepare and eat a meal but this is not dinner. It tends to be dinner like food, however, my Moroccan sister tells me that it is the second meal around midnight or one in the morning that they call dinner. There are two meals because when fasting, Muslims can eat from when the sun goes down to the first of the five daily prayers. So, I eat way too much every night and drink copious amounts of mint tea, the Moroccan special.

Ramadan changes more than the time Muslims and Moroccans eat and sleep. Rabat has a beautiful beach that is usually full all day and clear by the time the sun is down. During Ramadan the beach is full all day and full all night as people gather on the beach to watch the sun set and then to eat, sing, and dance. I got to experience this right thanks to my wonderful Moroccan family who prepared amazing food and showed me how to drum a Moroccan beat on the table. Ramadan also changes people’s moods because it is meant to be a time of giving and generosity. Many stores or stands say something like “Ramadan generosity” but in Arabic, of course. I have truly never seen anything like Rabat.

Now as I prepare to leave I remember all the things people said to me before Morocco. “Isn’t it dangerous?” “If it’s Ramadan you’re going to starve!” “Are you sure that’s a good Idea?”. It’s obviously important to think about food and safety when travelling but it’s important to not jump to conclusions about places that we don’t have experience with or research on. Morocco is super safe and there are so many welcoming people. I highly recommend Rabat for future or current study abroaders, but to be more broad, a take away for students wanting to study abroad is that if you want to go somewhere different, and maybe even shocking culturally, DO IT! You never know what you will find and who you will meet. The more scared or hesitant you are about that kind of trip the more you miss out or don’t enjoy the trip if you end up going. Embrace culture! Embrace life! Go out there and live.

Leaving Japan…But Only for Now

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

With final exams right around the corner here at Kansai Gaidai, it means that my time left in Japan is growing short. Once exams are over, I only have a week left in Japan. I plan on spending that week with friends and finish buying last minute souvenirs for friends and family back home. Leaving after a semester studying abroad is bittersweet. Part of me is excited to go back to Valpo and see everyone at home again. My family got a new puppy named Cooper and I’m so excited to meet him. I’ve literally been waiting months to get to see him for the first time! But on the other hand, I’m going to miss my friends and life here in Japan so much. Some friends are actually coming home with me since I met lots of other study abroad students that live around Chicago like me. But my Japanese friends will literally be a world away and they won’t be the only thing about Japan I’ll miss.

I’ll definitely miss the conveniences of Japanese life. Being able to walk ten feet to go to a convenience store or conbini that sells everything you could possibly want is a luxury that cannot be understated. I’ll miss being able to take a train to anywhere I want to go even if it’s across an entire country. I’ll miss seeing people walk their adorable Shiba Inu (my favorite dog in the world). Seriously, these dogs are everywhere and they’re super cute! One of the things I’ll miss the most are all the vending machines where I can instantly buy water, juice, coffee and more. As a cross-country runner who is used to running around towns with no water in sight, I’ll be thinking about these vending machines a lot when I get home. All these reasons for missing Japan are a little silly, but they are all part of why I love Japan so much. However, I won’t be gone for good.

My time studying abroad in Japan has helped me figure out my future. I’ve wanted to work in Japan for some time now but lacked the confidence that I’d actually be able to do it. But after being here for almost 5 months with the support of all the wonderful people I’ve met in Japan, I feel like I can do it. I want to be an English teacher in Japan at least for a little while and I’ve gotten to practice teaching with Japanese students here. My Japanese professor has helped improve my Japanese by leaps and bounds, but also shown me ways I can better learn Japanese in the future which I’ll have to do on my own starting next year. I feel more determined than ever to go after my goal of working in Japan after my studying abroad experience and I’m immensely grateful for that. I know that I’ll be returning to Japan soon to follow this dream, so I won’t have to live without conbini and Shiba Inu for too long.

How to Conserve Water

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: NaDEET, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Namibia is a dry nation. Most if its rainwater evaporates before it reaches the ground. Wet clothes are ready to wear in an hour’s time. Lotion is a must. Chapstick your new best friend. That being said, water conservation is of the upmost importance. While living in this sunset-colored country, I have learned a few tricks or two on how to live “green.”

(Right to left Support Staff and wonderful friend Donna, me, Professor of History Albertina).

Casually, us twelve students hopped into the van for another 6-hour drive to another location- this time the Namib desert. We have become pros by now at handling long road trips. Once we arrived, there was sand, sand everywhere. For the remainder of the weekend we would find sand in a million and one places. I am still emptying out sand from pockets and backpacks. But oh, did that sand become so beautiful at sunrise and sunset. We would run it through our fingers and watch the rays illuminate it as it trickled down. Living in the desert posed its challenges, but it all became worth it at nighttime. Each sunset, we would climb the nearest dune and stare endlessly at the horizon.

Then, we would stay there waiting for the stars to appear. Orion, the Southern Cross, then Scorpio. Sometimes we made up our own constellations and told our own stories. It felt so natural to be immersed in the world around us. And yes, we took lots of pictures.

While watching sunsets and counting stars were great aspects of the trip to the Namib desert, they were not the real reason we traveled there. We stayed in cabins run by NaDEET (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust) a conservation revolving around water preservation and sustainability. Each day the staff there taught us a new way to reduce our waste and conserve what we have. First, we learned about light pollution. NaDEET lives in a Dark Sky District which means they need to cover their lights sources as to not pollute the night sky. For example, in my cabin, a tin can covered the lightbulb so the light only directed downwards where we needed it. Most lights, especially streetlamps, project light out not down which contributes to light pollution. Even though I live in a relatively small city in the states, I still have never seen the milk way or more than a few stars at night. I had no idea how much nighttime lights affect the sky- but now I have the knowledge to change my habits to reduce pollution and increase efficiency. 1. Cover lights. 2. Get LEDS- they last longer and use less energy. 3. Turn them off when not in use.

Another fun activity we did was make pizza- but in a solar cooker! A solar cooker works by concentrating the sun’s rays (which the desert has lots of) and trapping them to heat up the food like an oven would. It was a delicious and energy efficient experiment.

Might I add that my group’s pizza was the best.

But of all the activities and all the experiments, the most crucial was water conservation. Each cabin competed to use the least amount of water. Some people were joking about not showering for the whole time… No one wanted to sit next to those people. But in all honesty, this was one of my favorite parts. We learned how to use the shower-bucket method which reduces the use of water. The energy from the solar panels heated up the water in a tank, you collected it in one bucket, poured it into the shower bucket which had a valve that could release the water by gravity when needed. Instead of using gallons of water for 20 minutes, I used only a few and was still able to get clean. Also, the trip to get the water was a deterrent for using too much- maybe it was laziness of contentiousness- but either way it worked.

In a country that is mostly desert and receives little rainfall- especially this year during the worst drought in generations- I have learned how to conserve as much water as I can. So here are a few environmentally friendly tricks I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Turn down the temp of your water heater. Often it is too hot anyway, so you must go back and forth between the cold and warm knobs to get it right. This technique saves energy, water, and money!
  2. Compost. It reduces the amount of waste thrown in landfills.
  3. Take showers over bathes. They use less water. Keep them short and turn off the water in between lathering and shampooing.
  4. Fill up the sink with soap and water to wash dishes rather than letting the tap run.
  5. Reusable water bottles. This reduces the use and waste of plastic.
  6. Fix leaking faucet! A single drip for a year can waste over 2,000 gallons of water. That’s quite a bit of money down the drain too.

As I reflected upon my experience at NaDEET, I realized not only how beautiful the Namib desert is but also how important it is to conserve as much as you can. I am forever blessed for having this experience-it has opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Picture Book Come to Life

Author: Alyssa (Aly) Brewer

Location: Etosha, Namibia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Conservation. What is it? Or more importantly, what does it do? Here in Namibia, 20% of the nation is designated for conservation- particularly for preserving the local wildlife, land, and livelihoods. Recently, I was blessed to visit one of Namibia’s most well-known conservations Etosha National Park.

Throughout the drive to the camping ground, we were able to spot dozens of different species including zebras, elephants, giraffes, and springbok!

Even though there is a misconception that all of Africa is like this, the percentage is quite small. Throughout my travels to the rural North, the coast, and the desert, this was the first and only time I saw these types of animals. Like the United States, most of Namibia is spotted by farmland and cities. However, it was still breathtaking to be so close to animals I have only seen in picture books. You had to be incredibly quiet in the van as to not startle them. Some of the animals even stared back at us in question. It made me wonder what it felt like to be observed all the time- to be gawked at by tourists while just wanting to get a drink. The unease I got from the realization reminded me of my distaste for zoos. But at least here the animals are in their natural habitat.

Once we arrived at the campsite, we all took a collective nap. We have been traveling on and off for the past two weeks and craved uninterrupted sleep. After settling in and relaxing, a few of us took to the watering hole. We sat upon a large wall of rock observing the elephants and hippos who bathed right in front of us. It was a sight unlike any other. The crowd was so hushed if one person dropped a pen, scowls followed them. I remember holding my breath at times as to not disturb the peace. The silence paid off because we were able to observe these natural behaviors without the disturbance of a moving van.

At one point in the night, a herd of elephants came to visit. They played with each other, splashing water, bumping sides, and dancing around the watering hole.

The experience reminded me of how incredibly amazing they are and how small I am. So often our society gets wrapped up in the significance of our own existence, we forget about other life. Here, dozens of tourists and students sat for hours just paying respect to the beauty of elephants. We are in their space after all. Even though this moment brought me peace, at the same time, it saddened me. I recently saw an article about how the giraffe has made its way to the endangered species list. I worry about future generations only knowing what one looks like through old photos. These native animals, and basically all animals around the world, are important to earth’s eco-system. Polar bears need ice. Turtles need reefs. And giraffes need grassland. The more I learn throughout my time here, the more environmentally conscience I am becoming. But what can I do? What can we do?

If you are asking these same questions, read my blog that dives deeper into this topic. It takes place in NaDEET (Namib Desert Environmental Education Trust) a conservation that practices sustainability in the heart of the Namibian desert. To be quite honest, it has been my favorite place we visited in Namibia so far.

Also, enjoy this National Geographic like picture I took in Etosha.



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