Meet our Spring 2017 Bloggers!

alyson_kneuselBlogger: Alyson Kneusel

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

Alyson is a Chemistry and Biology double major with a Music minor and a Christ College associate! She is studying abroad at our study center in Reutlingen, Germany! She is excited to be a Valpo Abroad blogger because it will allow others to view her experiences in a more personal way! She can’t wait to share this incredible opportunity with all of you!


natalie_wilhelmBlogger: Natalie Wilhelm

Location: Cergy-Pontoise, France

Natalie is a French and International Relations double major studying abroad in Cergy-Pontoise this semester! Natalie has always been interested in blogging, so she can’t wait to incorporate two of her passions together: writing and traveling! Natalie is excited to share her adventures with her friends, family, and the Valpo community!

katie_karstensenBlogger: Katie Karstensen

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Katie is an Elementary Education major with a Mathematics minor! Katie loves to travel and can’t wait to see where her semester in Namibia takes her. She is thrilled to share her adventures, thoughts, and challenges during her time abroad. Katie is looking forward to this major life endeavor and can’t wait to share what she learns from it!

kortney_cenaBlogger: Kortney Cena

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Kortney is a Global Service major with an Engineering minor and a Christ College associate! She loves how blogging allows her to think deeper and reflect on her experiences! Kortney hopes studying abroad will allow her to experience difference cultures and broaden her world view! She can’t wait to start blogging again and share her love of traveling with others!

abigail_littleBlogger: Abigail Little

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Abigail is an Actuarial Science major and is off to Australia for the semester! She hopes to inspire others to pursue the experience of studying abroad through her international  experiences. Abigail is very passionate about expressing herself through writing and can’t wait to share her story with all of you!


The End

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China

Four months ago, I was sitting on an airplane wondering what the next few months would be like. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone. Well, technically, I wasn’t alone. I was traveling with a fellow classmate. However, it was a coincidence that we happened to be on the same flight. Before I left, I wrote a letter to myself about what I expected and what I hoped for the semester. I can’t recall what I actually put in the letter, but I’ll probably laugh when I read it.


There are many things I feel right now. Excitement, sadness, a sense of loss, happiness, gratefulness, a feeling of “what now”. The end is finally here but it’s so bittersweet. I’ll never forget the day I got here (how can I? It was my 20th birthday!). I was so nervous, so unsure of myself. I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve changed in many ways. I probably won’t know the extent of the change for years to come, but I do recognize a few changes within myself. The most drastic change that I have noticed within myself is my newfound independence. Now, I have always been an independent person, I like to rely on myself before I rely on anyone else. I am used to living far from home and having to figure things out for myself. However, I am not afraid to ask for help if I need to.


Living in Indiana with my family being in Alabama is very different from living in China while my family is in Alabama. When you are living in a different country, it’s not so easy to ask your family and friends for help because they are so far away. While in China, it was even more challenging because of the language and cultural barriers. The biggest challenge for me was going to Shanghai by myself. Like I said before, I am largely an independent person, but going to the one of the world’s largest city by yourself when you only speak half of the language is scary for most people.

Last year, I went to Chicago on my own to meet with a friend and I thought that was a big deal. I didn’t realize months later I would be undertaking the challenge of going to Shanghai on my own. I think that trip was a large testimony to how much I had adapted to challenges while abroad and how much more confident I had become in my own language skills.


The memories I have here, I’ll cherish forever. Some were good, some were bad, but there will never be another time like this. Of course I’ll travel again and meet new people and have new adventures. But this adventure will always hold a special place in my heart. I feel sad, because while I had my highs and lows on this trip, I can honestly say this is one of the greatest experiences of my life. But I also am very happy because while this trip may be over, this is not the end. It’s a beginning of many more good times to come.

Buddhist Nunnery

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


I had the privilege of visiting a Buddhist nunnery/university. We did many different activities at the nunnery. First, we took a tour of the compound. We saw many different temples. While at the temples, we saw people coming to pray to the different Buddhas. This was my first time visiting a Buddhist nunnery. Actually, it was my first time visiting a nunnery at all.


For our second activity, we walked to the male part of the university. There, we participated in a 30 minute long chanting session. I wasn’t really sure what we were saying or what exactly what we were doing but it was interesting.


One of the final things that we did was eat with the nuns and the monks. This experience was extremely interesting to me because we ate completely in silence while others came around and passed out the food (rice, a variety of vegetables, and soup). If you wanted a dish, you left your bowl to the edge of the table. If you didn’t want any, you moved the bowl closer to you.

This way of eating is entirely different from the typical way I have witnessed Chinese people dine. Typically, there are a great variety of dishes, that have lots of spices and there’s a lot of noise and everyone shares. At the nunnery, we were all silent, with small individual bowls and the food was very bland. It was very different. I’m glad that I was able to experience another side of Chinese culture while I was here.

Take a Sad Song and Make It Better

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge Study Center – England

What can I say? It’s bittersweet. My semester in Cambridge has come to an abrupt ending. My trips to Liverpool, Spain, Estonia, and many others seems like years go, but they all happened pretty recently in retrospect. The four people I have been living with for almost five months will now just be classmates and not roomies. A few relationships I created there ended in the phrase, “If you ever find yourself near Chicago, let me know.” I’m leaving the life I created in Cambridge.


However, I left a very familiar life when I decided to study abroad for a semester. I left my family, my friends, my Valpo, my comfort zone. I let all the adventures that I could have had a Valpo slip by. I’ve been virtually absent from the lives of all my closest friends. They’ve learned to deal without me, which may seem like a harsh thing to say, but it was one of the most important things I had to remember before I started my journey.

I was told this interesting consequence of studying abroad and immediately got a little upset. I never really thought of that aspect of being away. Your friends learn to move on with their lives without you around. However, I had to remind myself that I was doing the same thing. I honestly thought I was going to be a wreck without my friends around, but I learned to live life without them as well. It’s something you need to accept if you decide to study abroad. Your friends will inevitably change while you are away, but so will you.

While you’re studying abroad, things change – whether you like it or not. I’ve noticed  changes in me, all of them improving my outlook on myself and things around me. I couldn’t be happier with the person I grew into with my time in Cambridge. Ever since I arrived in Cambridge, I became aware that I was laughing, smiling, and appreciating more. This is the Caroline I was trying to look for with my time abroad. New and unknown little qualities inside you rise to the surface when you go somewhere new and unknown for a few months.

All in all, a brand new edition of Caroline got off that plane at O’Hare while it was 6 degrees, a temperature I didn’t necessarily miss. I gained so much out of my time abroad, and I plan to put all that I gained to good use. It’s a little sad coming back and leaving the life I created in Cambridge, but I have an endless amount of memories, whether they’re in my head or physical things like pictures of videos. Here’s some final advice. Never delete any Snapchat videos you take while you study abroad. On certain occasions, they may just brighten up your day.

Stay Fresh,




Write that Down. Write that Down!

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge Study Center

I know keeping up with a journal isn’t the easiest thing to do. It starts with one night where you forget to write in it. That one night turns into two nights. The next thing you know, you forgot an entire week’s worth of things you’ve done. And finally, you give up. If you plan to study abroad, or just travel in general, I highly suggest keeping some kind of journal. You won’t regret it.

I personally have had three ways of journaling with my time abroad. The first is video blogging, where I have been taking a 5 second video each day. The little videos range dramatically, from walking under the Eiffel Tower to trying to open frozen mac and cheese. You could also create a little video blog through Snapchat now, thanks to the option to save your memories. This has been a lifesaver.

dienes-fall2016-journal2A second, and more conventional way I have been journaling is with an actual journal. I received this journal as a gift from a good friend before I flew away in August, and it was intended to just be a book where I kept tickets, brochures, and receipts. However, this little book turned into quite the stuffed book, full of those three things, but along with descriptions of what happened each day I was abroad. Not a day went by where I didn’t jot down tidbits of what I did every single day.

The third way of journaling is probably the easiest way to journal ever. It is called a one line a day journal. However, you write in this diary for 5 years. You can write as little as you want each day, and the diary repeats itself for 5 years! So you’ll have 5 years worth of memories, and, in my case, one of those years will include my time abroad. I cannot wait to read all that I’ve done in the future.

Deciding to journal was a monumental decision. Flipping back to the earlier days dienes-fall2016-journalabroad makes me recall the little things that happened those days. Not only did I write down the major things that occurred each day, but I also scribbled down funny things my cohorts said or noted times where I felt truly content with what was happening. I know when I look at these different journals down the road, it will be as if I am reading a book. The story in the book will be my story. The characters will be me and the rest of the Cambridge cohort. The adventures outlined in the pages will be indescribable memories. Journal. When you really think about it, you are writing yourself a personal autobiography. That’s something I would love to read.

Stay Fresh,


Hello Kitty Heaven (or Hell)

Author: Maia Moore

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


How many people can say that they’ve been to a Hello Kitty themed restaurant? Well, I don’t know the answer to that one, but I do know that I can say that I am now one of those people. I’ll admit without shame that I, a 20-year-old college junior, am a fan of Hello Kitty. Maybe even a huge fan, but that’s beside the point. The Hello Kitty Bianco Bistro in Shanghai is truly one of a kind.  Even non-fans should take the opportunity to visit this restaurant if they can simply because it’s weird and fun and they even sell steak with Hello Kitty’s face on it.

The restaurant is located on the top floor of one of the 6 trillion malls in Shanghai. It was actually a bit hard to find since they don’t seem to advertise it much. The only reason I found out about it is because I had heard of a Hello Kitty theme park located on the outskirts of Shanghai and, after I read the scathing reviews for it, decided that it was probably better to check out the restaurant instead.


Somehow, I was able to convince my entire Valpo group to come along with me (because who wouldn’t want to eat overpriced Hello Kitty pasta?). The restaurant was composed of two floors. The first floor was a gift shop that I later spent a solid 30 minutes in (and came out the proud owner of a limited edition Hello Kitty blanket). The second floor was the actually restaurant. The walls were covered in Hello Kitty, the tables and chairs were Hello Kitty, there was a Hello Kitty couch, and the waiters had Hello Kitty apparel. We were the youngest people there. Everyone else were men and women who appeared to be middle aged, with no children. Hello Kitty seems to be universal.

moore-fall2016-hellokitty2As for the actual food? Well, this isn’t a review of the restaurant, so I won’t go into detail about that, however, the menu was quite expansive and composed of nearly 60-70 different items. That day, they maybe had 15 available in the kitchen.

As a fan of Hello Kitty, I have to say I was 100% satisfied after a day of Hello Kitty.

Bird Watching

Author: Tiffany Luehrs

Program: Hangzhou Study Center – China


Last week I had biology class in the middle of a wetland. In the biology course, my classmates and I had just completed a couple chapters from  When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts about the loss of habitats and biodiversity China has been experiencing. We wanted to see evidence of successful conservation of nature by visiting the Xixi Wetland. Throughout civilization, wetlands have served and continue to serve as a source of life as they provide water, natural resources, transportation, and regulate the climate.


The creation of the Xixi Wetland can be dated back to 5,000 years ago  when the wetland began to expand and develop. During 1912-1949 and the following periods of intense industrialization, the wetland shrunk. Today though, the conservation project led by Hangzhou’s government has improved the quality of the wetland, and currently, 70% of the wetland is water area.

The wetland was especially wet the day my Valpo cohort and I visited as rain poured from the overcast clouds above. What surprised me about the wetland  is how it is strangely situated within the bustling city of Hangzhou. Walking through the wetland, I noticed how muddled the sound was of the busy traffic and horns blaring just outside the entrance. It was hard to believe we were still in the urban heart of Hangzhou when we could barely hear the noises of the city and were surrounded by so much greenery. The rain lightened upon our arrival at a structure built especially for bird watching.

leuhrs-fall2016-9We sat, elbows propped up on the wooden tables and peered through our binoculars in the search of wild grebes diving below the water’s surface, swallows flying overhead, Chinese bulbuls in the reeds, spotted doves in the trees, and a beautiful grey heron perched on a wooden rod sticking out of the water. I never thought I would have my first bird watching experience in Hangzhou, but I would highly recommend a visit to the Xixi wetlands. And bring a pair of binoculars!


Now You All Heard What Momma Said?

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge Study Center

People say that I am my parent’s shadow. I share their same interests. I have a perfect blend of both of their senses of humor, and I even, apparently, walk and  stand like both of them. With my time abroad, I went to longest time without seeing my mom or dad. That is until they came and visited at the end of October. That was when the two people who truly understand and share my love for The Beatles entered into my abroad world.
dienes-fall2016-castleThe plan for the parents was to take a trip to Scotland, take a highlands and castle tour there, and then spend the rest of the time exploring Cambridge with them. The moment my parents arrived to the Cambridge house, my dad made an announcement that I wasn’t expecting, but, honestly, I should have saw it coming. He got out his wallet and pulled out a little picture of a trojan rabbit that appears in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This  implied that we were going to recreate the exact scene of the rabbit approaching the French castle at the real life Doune Castle in Scotland. And people wonder where I get it from.

Back in England, we went on a tour of Stonehenge and Avebury, two well-known mysterious rock formations. When we arrived at Stonehenge, there were probably hundreds of tourists there all gathering around to look in wonder at the stones. What were my parents and I doing? We were trying to figure out where The Beatles were positioned in relation to Stonehenge when they were filming Help!, one of their movies. I guarantee that we were the only three people at this worldwide known destination pondering over that particular dilemma.

dienes-fall2016-parents2Having your parents visit you while you’re abroad is similar to having them visit Valpo but times 100. They may have the intuition that you know all there is to know about your new home for that semester. In reality, you don’t. You may take them on a three-mile walk, thinking you’re heading to a specific tea place, but end up walking in the complete opposite direction. You may slightly run out of things to do in Cambridge and just end up watching Mary Poppins. Trust me, this is okay.

When you’re abroad, you’re almost thrown into this completely, independent realm. You don’t have a meal plan, and you’re in charge of making flight, bus, and hotel reservations. Your parents are not there to help you out and tell you where to click next. If your parents decide to visit when you finally get used to this sense of independence, things may be a tad off at the beginning of their visit. But let’s get this straight – it is no one’s fault when rocky situations arise. Your parents may not be used to the way you’ve been dealing with travel issues and unexpected circumstances. On the flip side, you may have forgotten your own regular family vacation routine. It honestly takes some getting used to it.

dienes-fall2016-parentsOne thing you MUST remember to do it this: be thankful your parents are there. They made the trek to visit you. They put in the money and effort to spend time with you and enjoy every second of it. Having my parents visit made me remember all the other family vacations we had the pleasure to go on. However, I stayed behind after they began their long walk home. You never know how much you miss your parents until they see you in a whole new light. I felt a little different from being away for so long, but they still saw me as the same old Liney they left at the airport back in August.

Stay fresh,


Internship at Hogar de la Esperanza (Home of Hope)

Author: Caylyn Moglia

Program: San Jose Study Center

Hola Todos!

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

Some Information about HIV:

It is NOT AIDS, it is HIV.

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

It does NOT exclusively affect homosexuals.

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

It is NOT caught; it is transmitted.

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

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

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

I’m Tallinn the Truth

Author: Caroline Dienes

Program: Cambridge Study Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay fresh,


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