Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Getting Settled in Viña Del Mar

Name: Micah Koppang

Major: Spanish

Location: Viña del Mar, Chile

Hey! I’m Micah Koppang, a second year Spanish major currently studying abroad in Viña del Mar, Chile. It’s already been a unique experience since they’re in the southern hemisphere and  thus in their fall semester, which didn’t start until March! As such, I’ve only been in class for a few weeks (and will unfortunately have a short summer break since classes go until mid-July), but it’s already been so much fun! 

Torre Costanera Center

I flew down here a few weeks before school started and got to explore Santiago a lot. Some of my favorite places were Torre Costanera Center (the tallest tower in all of South America!) and Cerro San Cristóbal, where I took a cable car up to go see so the amazing Christian art and architecture the hill offered (shout out to Professor Buggeln for teaching a wonderful class that gave me such a greater appreciation for this subject!)


Cerro San Cristóbal

Since classes have started, I’ve made friends with a lot of Chilean students as well as many of the other international students (most of whom come from Spanish-speaking countries) through the international club. We’ve gone on outings to the dunes of Concón, the Teatro Municipal de Viña del Mar, and the Palacio Vergara! At the time of writing this, I’m going to be attending a lesson in Cueca (the national dance of Chile) later today with the club!


Taken on an outing to the Palacio Vergara

If you get the chance to study abroad in Viña del Mar, I highly recommend it as it is accessible to all levels of Spanish-speaking and is just such a unique and eye-opening cultural experience where you really feel a part of the community you’re living in!

Life and Travel in Cambridge

My name’s Simeon Klepac, and I’m studying abroad at the Valpo Study Center in Cambridge, England! Here are some of the adventures I’ve had so far during my time abroad.


Here I am in the King’s College Chapel, one of the largest buildings constructed without steel in all Europe!

With plenty of amazing architecture all throughout the city, Cambridge is truly a beautiful place to live and study.  I’ve loved immersing myself in the history of the city and working with the excellent professors! One of my favorite parts of study abroad in Cambridge is weekly tea-time, where the students and faculty of the Valpo Study Center come together for fellowship, snacks, and delicious tea!


There are also many other awesome destinations in the UK, and with the national rail system they’re pretty easy to reach.

A group of Valpo students went with a tour guide to see the towering pillars of Stonehenge. They’re way bigger in person! I loved learning all about the history of ancient peoples in the area and marveling at how this epic monument was constructed.

Here I stand beside an old Roman fort at Hadrian’s Wall, nearly 2000 years old!














Studying abroad is a great opportunity to see even more countries than the one in which you study, and with the international rail system, getting back and forth is cheap and easy.

Here I am at Neuschwanstein Castle, the fairytale masterpiece of the Dream King, Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Here I am at the Eifel Tower in Paris. After the sunset, I climbed all the way up to the second level and took in the view of Paris in night time. The Tower glows with light from the floodlamps, and once every hour, they have a lightshow running up and down the whole structure!











My Home Away From Home

Name: Grace Jendreas

Program: Kansai Gaidai University (KGU) Exchange

Location: Back Home in the US

It’s been three months since I returned home from Japan, and to say I’m still adjusting to life back in America is an understatement. I miss the convenience of life there, my friends, and all the amazing memories we made together. While in Japan, I was able to grow a lot in my personal, educational, and professional life. I learned so much about the language and culture from the classes I took at KGU, my friends, and the places I visited. While I could talk about all the ways Japan has impacted my life for days; I wanted to reflect on some of my daily life at KGU. 

Dorm life

I stayed in the Global Commons -YUI- which is the international dorm on campus. You live with both international and local students so it gives you a lot of opportunities to become friends with people from all over the world. The rooms are all single rooms but we all spend a lot of time in the shared commons areas which allows everyone in the unit to become friends.

My dorm room!

I have so many memories from hanging out with friends in the lounges and making dinner together in the kitchen. We were always studying, watching movies, or making weekend plans together. Every month our unit would come together to do fun activities planned by our RA’s. Some of my favorite events we had were making maki rolls together for Setsubun (a Japanese holiday in February) and visiting the Sakura Festival during cherry blossom season. 

Campus and classes

KGU actually has two campuses that are only a 10-minute walk away from each other. While you can have classes on both campuses, I only had classes on the main one. YUI is located on the second campus so I had to walk to the main campus every morning. Since I didn’t feel like walking between campuses after every class I spent a lot of time in the International Student Lounge. So many students spend their time in that lounge so lots of international and Japanese students came up to me and started conversations. It’s so easy to make new friends just by sitting in the lounge!

Me and my best friend at the main campus

The classes offered to international students are all pretty interesting so it was difficult for me to decide what classes I wanted to take. They also range in difficulty so if you want to challenge yourself academically or take less tolling classes to allow yourself more time to travel there are so many options for both. Everyone is required to take a Japanese language course which really improved my language skills and confidence in speaking. I also took classes about Japanese religion and art but there are so many other courses like cooking, fashion, and even manga drawing that I would have loved to take. Class sizes are fairly small with a mix of both international and local students. And there is a lot of group work and class discussion that lets you get to know your classmates really well.

Field Trips 

My floor unit at the Sakura Festival

There are so many opportunities to experience the country through field trips as well. Many classes offer at least one field trip if not more than one field trip during the semester. It’s a great way to see the country and experience the culture first hand with your peers. The YUI dorms will also hold field trips throughout the semester with your units and others. My favorite field trip I went on was visiting the Sakura Festival. It was so pretty to see all the cherry blossom trees and there were so many delicious food vendors. 

KGU and Japan quickly started to feel like home for me in the five months I was there. I made so many amazing friends and created so many memories. I have definitely felt a little homesick since coming back but I’m already planning my next trip to Japan so I know I’ll return to my home away from home soon.

When in Rome!

Name: Mikayla Flanagan

Program: Valpo Study Center in Cambridge, England

Location: Rome, Italy

Mikayla in front of the Trevi Fountain

My name is Mikayla Flanagan and I studied in Cambridge, England this past Spring. I am a sociology major with a criminology concentration as well as a political science minor. I will be a senior this fall and am planning on graduating next Spring! I have always wanted to study abroad since I was in high school and when I heard of this opportunity, I took it immediately. This would be my chance to see Europe for the first time and this would be the only time I would be a student in a different country with this type of opportunity. All of the trips I have been on have meant so much to me and it is difficult to just choose one. One of my favorite places I visited was Rome, Italy.

Pasta that Mikayla made in Rome.

I have always wanted to go to Rome, and I was able to go during my final days in Europe. It was such a surreal moment walking around the city of Rome because everywhere you turn there is a piece of history waiting to be seen. There are fountains, churches, ruins, and pieces of buildings that have seen so much history. The streets themselves are a piece of history when thinking about all of the people who have walked down them. I took a pasta-making class because what better place in the world to learn how to make pasta than Italy! 


When visiting Rome, I was able to see the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and the Colosseum. The Vatican Museums showed so many beautiful pieces of art, and seeing with my own eyes Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment and Creation of Adam was something I will remember forever. Since you are not allowed to take photos in the Sistine Chapel, I ingrained those pieces of art into my memory. The Colosseum was unreal since it has such a rich history. Walking around the ruins where emperors and citizens alike watched gladiators fight was something I never thought I would get to experience. Being in a place where history is so rich and has been preserved for so many years was incredible.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

Studying abroad has been one of the best choices I have made. I have learned so much about myself as well as the world around me. There is so much to see, and it is at our fingertips! It is an experience of a lifetime no matter where you go. The sights you see and the cultures you learn first-hand are something that cannot be matched. Studying abroad is such a unique experience, and I recommend it to whoever is able to do it!

London Stage: Spring Break Trip

Name: Carolyn Dilbeck

Location: London 

My friends and I

Hello! I’m Carolyn , a class of 2026 Communications major! I first heard about the London Stage spring break trip, from a friend of mine, and I knew it was an opportunity I needed to take advantage of. I have long had a passion for theatre, musical theatre in particular, and participated in many productions with my high school as well as CYT (Christian Youth Theatre). In fact, the friend who had mentioned it to me had been in several CYT shows with me, and also had the opportunity to go on this trip, which was so special, and definitely a full-circle moment for me. London had also been a travel destination on my bucket list for years, so I knew I could not pass up the chance to study one of my favorite subjects in the world in a place I had been wanting to visit for so long!

I was initially a bit intimidated, however, because I didn’t know anyone else going besides my friend, and had never been to Europe before, or out of the country with my family, for that matter. However, Professor Lee Orchard, who was leading the trip and had done it many times, was very knowledgeable about the itinerary, which immediately helped put me at ease.  He had learned from his experiences with other groups and was able to tell us everything we needed to know beforehand, which made the process of preparing for the trip much easier and less stressful, for which I am very grateful. Additionally, all of us who attended the trip got to know one another fairly quickly and became a close-knit group by the end of it. Although we all came from different backgrounds and studied different subjects in school, we shared a passion for theatre and an enthusiasm for learning, which was really cool.

I have to say it may have been one of the most exhausting but exhilarating two weeks of my life! In London, we usually had class in the morning, where we discussed the show we were going to see that day. We were split into pairs, with each pair having to give a presentation on one of the shows. We saw ten of them during our time there! They ranged from adaptations of Greek tragedies to comedies like The Play That Goes Wrong, and everything in between! They were all of very good quality, but each was definitely a unique experience and gave us a lot to talk about in our discussions of the shows. Time was also built in to see many of the major historical and cultural sites as well, such as Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.


Big Ben

Additionally, we had 4 days free for independent exploration in smaller groups, during which we could choose what we wanted to see. For example, I had the opportunity to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, as well as to meet up with other Valpo students studying abroad in Cambridge! As much as we got to see, though, there were also many other things I wish I would have, so I would love to make it back someday. Overall, it was an incredible experience that I would recommend to those who are passionate about theatre, or the rich culture and history of London!

Spring Break Healthcare: Study Abroad Trip in Italy

Name: Jasmin Bonilla

Location: Italy

When I first got accepted into the spring break study abroad program last November, I was thrilled! Initially, I was nervous that I wouldn’t get my first choice. It didn’t feel real until the week before my departure date. On March 4th, I was filled with anxiety and excitement as I boarded the bus to Chicago O’hare. After an 8-hour flight and a layover in Frankfurt, Germany, I finally arrived in Rome. I felt a great sense of gratitude as I got to see the famous Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Overall, I gained so much knowledge about Italy’s healthcare system, history, and its culture. Many are unaware of the concept of socialistic medicine, but I learned that Italy’s National Health Service provides universal coverage to all residents and citizens, including migrants. I also visited Binario 95, which is a social welfare center that provides services to migrants or individuals who need assistance. It was surprising to learn that many Italians don’t obtain a college degree unless they are pursuing a career in STEM.

As a group, we explored Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. Some of the historical sites we saw included the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Accademia Gallery. Our program tour leader, Matteo, made the experience more enjoyable as he brought enthusiastic energy everyday.


Spring Break, Study Abroad Group

The first thing that I noticed about Italian culture was the food. A typical Italian meal consists of an appetizer, first course, and second course. Now you bet I was full most of the time! Overall, the food was very delicious, and some of the main dishes were risotto, rigatoni mezza maniche, ravioli, and lasagna. The best desserts were gelato and tiramisu! My favorite study abroad experience was touring the vineyard and winery at La Pineta Farm in Florence. I did my first wine tasting and learned to drink it the right way. After the trip, I felt like a changed person, but in a good way. I made new friendships and was exposed to an entirely different life. I learned many aspects of Italy’s qualitative healthcare system, which I will take with me as I work towards reducing health disparities and improving population health. . Overall, if you are unsure of studying abroad for an entire semester, I highly recommend participating in a spring break study abroad trip! It’s a life changing experience that you’ll never forget.





A picture of me












A Weekend In The Kansai

Name: Grace Jendreas

Location: Kansai, Japan


One of my favorite things about living in the Kansai Region is always having something new to do. I’m a quick train ride away from cities like Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, so weekends are always filled with so many fun adventures. I will be highlighting on what a regular weekend spent in the Kansai looks like!

On Fridays, I love to meet up with friends after classes are over to get dinner. There are so many great restaurants near Kansai Gaidai University. You’ll always find a new place to try when you go out. My friends and I love going to this small yakitori place which is right down the street from KGU.

I like to spend my Saturdays in Osaka. There is so much to do in Osaka like visiting one of the many shopping malls, going to the aquarium, seeing the Osaka castle, or trying street food in Dotonbori. My favorite place I have visited in Osaka so far has been Dotonbori because there is so much to do around the iconic Glico sign. There are so many food stands that all look so good, but a must try is Dotonbori’s well known Takoyaki. There are so many stores, karaoke rooms, and pachinko slots to enjoy. After having some amazing food and doing some shopping I love to take my friends to round one where they have arcade games, photo booths, karaoke rooms, bowling alleys, and claw machines. It’s a great place to go on cold or rainy weekends.


On Sundays it’s nice to wake up early and catch a train to Kyoto to visit temples and shrines during the day. Kyoto has so much culture and history with shrines, temples, and museums no every street. It is so peaceful walking through the beautiful gardens and intricate shrines of Kyoto. It’s very common to wear traditional kimonos to the shrines. I haven’t been able to yet but I would love to wear a kimono to the shrines in the future.

With cherry blossom season upon us I can’t wait to visit all the shrines with the cherry blossoms. I haven’t gone to Nara yet, so I hope to visit one weekend while the cherry blossoms are blooming. There is still so much to explore in the Kansai Region and I can’t wait to go to so many other places here in the future.


A Glimpse of Spain

Name: Andrea Correa

Location: Sevilla, Spain

I always knew I wanted to study abroad, and I didn’t just do it to complete my degree requirement of a semester abroad, I did it because I felt there was something out there for me. I am a Junior, with a double major in International Business and Marketing and I graduate in 2024. I studied abroad Fall of 2022 in Sevilla, Spain and it has now become my second home. The memories I have, the people I met, and all of the places I saw will forever be nostalgic. Not only did I experience living in a different country, but I also saw the beauty of different cultures surrounding each country in Europe. As a first generation, Hispanic student, I dreamed about having the opportunity to study abroad across the world, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity Valpo gave me and how easy the process went for me. 


A picture of me in Plaza de España

I remember the day I had to leave, I did not feel nervous or anxious, I was leaving my comfort zone and my family (I’m a commuter and I have never been away from home,) yet I was overwhelmed with excitement about this new journey. I got on a plane by myself, and left to a country where I knew absolutely no one. I learned how to be independent and I came back with so much more confidence. I experienced so much culture shock, from languages, to the way people live, the food and the overall school experience. I mean, when will you see an American student, hop on the metro with their carry-on luggage to class, on a Friday because they’re traveling to a different country that weekend and heading to the airport right after classes? Most likely, never. However, I was able to quickly adapt and immerse myself into the beautiful Andalusian culture. I became used to seeing horse-carriages outside, a 30 minute walk became the norm for me, seeing women dancing Flamenco in every corner, and siesta time (my favorite). Spanish people prioritize socializing with others, which is why from 2-5pm, you will see all the locals having tapas at the bars with a glass of wine in their hand. I realized how much of a work/life balance there is in Europe, something that I believe does not exist here in the U.S.

Sunset from the Setas de Sevilla

Horse Carriages


It was also fairly cost efficient to travel around, so I visited 7 other countries to broaden my horizons. Basically, here is how some of my weeks would go in Spain: I would go to class from Monday through Thursday (no one had class on Fridays), and from Friday to Sunday, I would spend it in another country with my roommates. I was privileged enough to visit: France, Italy, Vatican City, Portugal, the U.K., Belgium, and the Netherlands. Each and every one had so much beautiful history and I loved trying my best to learn certain phrases from each country. I also traveled to many parts of Spain, like Ibiza, Barcelona, and many of the southern regions that border Seville.


You might think that I traveled more than I went to class, but that is not entirely true. I took 4 courses: International Business, International Marketing, International Economics, and my favorite, Food & Wine in Spain, which was my only class that was in Spanish. I learned so much about the gastronomy in Spain, like Iberian ham being extremely popular (and good) and of course I learned how to make Spain’s most famous dish, Paella! The lovely culture of wine with every meal, and how religions have impacted the gastronomy in Andalusia. I also had a better understanding of what was going on with the current Ukraine/Russian War because we always talked about it in my IB class, and now I know how companies market themselves differently in every country they are in. I also participated in a 10k marathon with over 20 thousand other people. Studying in another country really opened my eyes and made me realize how much we, as Americans, don’t talk about certain topics or how little knowledge we have on other cultures.


The Famous Paella!

Oranges on every tree in Sevilla! 



My roommates and I


Studying abroad helps you understand and appreciate different cultures, it broadens perspectives and it teaches you new ways to measure quality of life. I truly believe that every person should have the opportunity to study abroad because it changes you. It makes you a better person and a better qualified person in a pool of applicants when applying for jobs. I will end this blog with a famous quote from Saint Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” 

Costa Rica Study Abroad Experience

Name: Dominic Yanke

Location: Heredia, Costa Rica

Me in scrubs

Staff and I at the Christmas Party


My internship was on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-7pm at Dra. Franco’s medical clinic. I took vital signs/patient histories, assisted with minor medical treatments such as wound cleaning and ulcer treatments, brought the requested medicines and checked expiration dates, and helped with various other tasks. The staff and I volunteered at a community health fair, and we also had a Christmas Party with a secret Santa gift exchange. Everyone was sad when my internship ended.

Staff and I at the Health Fair


I took Tropical Ecology and Introduction to Translation at Universidad Veritas. Tropical Ecology was centered around field trips. One field trip was to La Selva Biological Research Station. The other field trip was to the botanical garden at the University of Costa Rica. During both trips, we sampled biodiversity. My group chose arthropods, and the other group chose birds. 

A colorful crab at Cahuita

At Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana, I took a class on Indigenous and Afro-American religions. The class involved a lot of writing assignments. The final essay was the hardest part of the class because it was 10-15 pages in Spanish, not including the title page and bibliography. It also required a minimum of 10 sources for the bibliography. The class was very challenging yet rewarding because I had to read and write in Spanish on theological topics. 

I had History and Ethnology of Costa Rica with Prof. Heidi Michelsen, the VU Study Center Program Director. It focused on the history and culture of Costa Rica as well as other Central American countries. The class had two field trips; one to the Caribbean Coast and the Cahuita National Park in Limón and the other was to a small farming community populated by Salvadoran refugees that also included a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park in Puntarenas. Both parks were beautiful and had a variety of wildlife. I swam in the Pacific Ocean at Manuel Antonio Park, and Heidi and I snorkeled at the beach in Cahuita Park, on the Atlantic Ocean.   Both were amazing first-time experiences for me. 

Host Family

I had a host mom, Maritza, and a host brother, Ronaldo. My host mom gave me gigantic meal portions and I eventually had to tell her that I wanted smaller portions. They took me to the farmer’s market (Fería) with them a few times and took me shopping once. Once my host brother got a car, he was able to help drive me to school for a field trip early one morning and to the airport when I left. Overall, my host family was really nice, helpful, supportive, and they enjoyed my higher level of Spanish because we could communicate with each other easier.

“La mejor de Limón es la gente” (The best thing about Limón is the people)

Experience in General

Overall, I very much enjoyed my internship, classes, and my stay with my host family. The main challenges I faced were bus transportation and planning my classes. I recommend, if possible, choosing classes that match the train schedule so that the need to take a bus is limited.  (The train gets you there faster and has a more predictable schedule.) 

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Name: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

It has been over six weeks since I was recalled from studying abroad in Cambridge, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experience. Leaving to live in a country that I had never been to was very difficult, but it doesn’t compare to how I felt when I had to come back to the US. Adjusting to change has never been a strong suit of mine, and this has been one of the biggest transitions of my life. Oddly enough, my whole study abroad experience has prepared me for something like this, and I’m doing my best to focus on being adaptable and calm in a situation that I cannot control.

I know that many are experiencing grief at this time about all kinds of things. Friends and family are missed; plans, trips, and graduations are cancelled. Some deal with financial instability, job loss, or even the illness itself. This virus has changed almost all aspects of life and everyone has been affected by it in some way. I never expected to come home to such a halted society, which has been one of the hardest things that I have had to cope with since I have returned. Slowly, I have found a new “normal” and have learned to accept my current situation. As cliché as it sounds, I really do believe that everything happens for a reason, and sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for new things.

As for now, I try my best to focus on the positives. Slowly but surely, I am finishing up my schoolwork for the end of the term, which will be over in just a few weeks. As the weather improves, I am spending more time outside and going on walks. I am video chatting with my Cambridge cohort every week, as well as my friends from Valpo. I am learning to be gentle with myself each day and doing my best, which is all I can really ask from myself.

I cherish my memories of Cambridge and everywhere else that I was able to travel to– I am so grateful to have had the opportunity. I met new people and learned so much about myself and about cultures that are different from my own. I know that someday, when all is well, I will return to England, as well as the rest of Europe, to see more of the world. For now, I pray for healing and look forward to when we can all be together again.

To all the students who read this blog: if you’re considering studying abroad, you should do it. Everyone who comes back always says that “it changes your life.” It does, but maybe not in the way you think it will. Not every day is going to be the best day of your life. Just like home, you’re going to have good days and bad days. It turns out that you have to study while studying abroad, too, and it can be hard to balance while experiencing so many new things at once. But you learn so much from this, and you come back home a little bit different than before. The best part of my study abroad experience has been this growth that I have realized within myself, and I want to encourage everyone who has the slightest curiosity about going abroad to go. It’s worth it.


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