Constantly Changing, Constantly Shaping

Author: Emily Nelson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

        Since arriving in Japan, I’ve made some exciting strides that are often achieved while studying abroad, including grasping the language, completing complex paperwork, solving unanticipated problems, and navigating social circles. However, what’s surprised me most is my ability to adapt to living on the opposite side of the planet. Granted, some of that was achieved prior to coming through numerous visits to family. I truly didn’t realize the magnitude of this move until a few people complimented me as brave. Actually, it puzzled me. I wrote it off as something miniscule, that I had simply planned on going to Japan for numerous years and it was destined to happen.

I perceived this sense of awe, and may I say respect without being too condescending, when discussing my athletic activities with others as well. I seem to have a reputation for being “cool” as a weightlifter and ballroom dancer(and nerd, although I think that’s a stretch!) At this point in my life, I’ve begun to realize just how courageous I’ve become. I do not like risks, and therefore I’ve always erred towards the conservative side. Yet over the past few years, I’ve branched out more and more: Socially, physically, etc. I discovered that my life is so much more colorful when learning to accept the possibility of loss. Studying abroad has helped me graciously lose and gratefully gain, from the best of friends and the hardest of days.

A shrine in Kyoto

We often become trapped in a web of routine, and studying abroad challenges this head-on. While I do have a schedule here, I often find myself getting lost or digressing, creating plenty of new adventures. Sometimes I wish I could say that I was even more intrepid, but I take this day by day and accept the person I am now while looking forward to the person I’m becoming. It is so important to accept the fact that changing yourself is okay, especially if you want to and with the right reasons. So for now, as I’m soaking in Japanese culture and understanding what my role is in a cultural context, I’m content with not having my life completely figured out.

Kyoto Tower

The last statement would have frightened me as a teenager. Actually, I am still 19, but that’s besides the point. As someone with most of their ducks in a row, I still prefer comfort and stability. As I’ve become older, however, I’ve let my experiences and individuals around me shape who I am, while still keeping my values in mind. I never understood why my mother always told me not to take things so personally, but now I believe I do. The world can crush you if you analyze it too much. Studying abroad is horribly stressful if one thinks they have to do everything perfectly, and it simply isn’t realistic. Your perception is the one thing that can be used to set yourself free. Mistakes are where the greatest learning occurs, and persistent work is propelling me in the right direction. I’m not exactly sure what direction that is, but for now, I will steer myself where my heart sees fit.


Open Houses, Open Hearts

Author: Katherine Germann

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Your first impression when you walk through the barrio (neighborhood) of Santa Rosa might be that people don’t like talking to their neighbors: they prefer to stay shut in their houses and close themselves off to the world outside. This is because almost every house on the street displays bars in the front. The first impression may strike visitors as hostile, but I soon realized that my host family’s house is actually quite open to the outside air. I can feel wind coming in through the garden and the garage when I am sitting in the kitchen, because the house is not fully closed to the outside. Furthermore, the door leading into the living room is never locked. The front gate on the house, then, functions like the front door of a typical house in the States, which is naturally locked most of the time so that people can feel secure inside.

This is a photo of the front of my house. Most houses on the street have bars on the front and a gate.

Just like the houses is Santa Rosa are open to the outside air, the neighbors are open to unexpected conversation. My host mom sells merchandise, such as perfumes and cosmetic goods, to people in our neighborhood. Her job takes her everywhere in Santa Rosa, as she visits clients at their houses to sell. By accompanying her on several trips around the neighborhood, I have been able to see the way that our neighbors tend to interact. I think that the openness that I have observed in this community is beautiful.

The kitchen

Another photo of the kitchen









When we arrive at a client’s house, they sometimes invite us inside, and we can chat for a fair amount of time. My host mom and the client catch up on things that are happening in their lives, taking their time to talk and listen to each other. This aspect of my host mom’s job takes time. But despite the fact that she has about 100 clients to visit each week, she is never rushed. This affirms something that Heidi, our director, told me about Costa Rican culture. The emphasis of daily life is not to get tasks completed, but to have relationships with people. Two specific instances of relationship building really stand out to me.

The first was when I was visiting clients with my host mom, one of the women who invited us inside and invited us to sit down. We stayed there for about 20 minutes, or maybe a little more. The conversation went pretty deep into the women’s lives. They shared personal experiences, encouraged each other, and laughed together. This woman is my mother’s friend, so perhaps the occurrence was not too abnormal. However, I am still impressed that they took time for each other right on the spot. They did not have to schedule a time in advance to talk to each other. Both were open to stop what they were doing and build the relationship.

This is a picture looking down the street from in front of my house.

Other neighbors were open to long conversation with me, as well. Another time there were three gentlemen. I was pleasantly surprised by their openness toward me and their genuine desire to get to know where I am from and to teach me a little bit about Costa Rica. I commented on how colorful Costa Rican currency is, beginning a conversation about the artistic colones. The bills have historical people on them as well as animal and plant species that are important to Costa Rica. The gentleman went inside to get a wide variety of bills to show me. He taught me what he knew about the historical people and the species of plants and animals. In this way, I learned a lot about Costa Rican history and biodiversity.

Colones: Costa Rican Currency

Finally, he showed me a 5 colones bill (which are no longer used in Costa Rica). The bill displays a copy of a mural, and he explained the mural to me and the history behind it. Finally, he gave me a 5 colones bill as a gift! This amount of kindness took me by surprised and made me feel welcome in this community. In short, I have been extremely pleased by the openness of the people that I have met in Santa Rosa and the willingness to share in each other’s lives.

5 colones billete

I am finding that the culture in Santa Rosa is also open to spontaneous interruptions in everyday life. Or, perhaps more accurately, taking time to talk to other people in the neighborhood is just a part of everyday life. People will stop what they are doing to engage in relationships and conversation. Sometimes as we are walking through the neighborhood, my host mom stops at someone’s house just to say hello and chat for a bit. The first time that she did this, I asked her if it was rude to just stop by someone else’s house in the middle of the evening. They could be in the middle of doing something, I thought, maybe they have other things to do. In my past experiences, I usually don’t go to someone else’s house without planning to do so ahead of time. She assured me that it isn’t rude at all. She walks up to the front of the house and calls “Upe,” which is a greeting commonly used in Costa Rica to call on someone at their house. If the neighbor is home, they usually invite us inside and we talk for a while. The same process goes the other way around – sometimes neighbors call on my host family and we invite them inside. It is also very common to simply stop and talk to people that we meet in the street. In general, I think that the people of Santa Rosa are beautifully open to share their lives with their neighbors and to build community. I love the experiences that I have had in this way.


Author: Maria Clemens 

Location: Newcastle, Australia

My study abroad travels began with a CISabroad orientation in Cairns, Australia. This is a city much farther north than my current home of Newcastle. Cairns is a beautiful city is nestled on the coast between rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. Of course this was an amazing place to start my Australian journey.

An overview of the City of Cairns and the Pacific Ocean.

My first full day in this country was spent snorkeling and scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. Being an environmental science major, I was living out my dream of seeing one of the great wonders of the world. There was a great deal of noticeable damage done to the reef, which was unfortunate to see, but it was reassuring to know that efforts are being made to rehabilitate this natural phenomenon.

After a long day spent rocking away on the deck of the boat and gazing through goggles at anemones and sea cucumbers, my fellow world travelers and I retired to an evening of relaxation and kebabs. For those who do not know, kebabs are about as common in Australia as a burrito bowl from Chipotle in America. A kebab is essentially a tortilla with chicken or pork with other toppings like lettuce and sauces. Like pretty much every meal I’ve had here so far, the kebab is delicious.

Forwarding to the next day, we took a bus up into the mountains and spent the afternoon in the rainforest. The other CIS students and I were given the opportunity to try kangaroo meat. Not having the strength myself to try the meat since I would be petting and feeding the cute little creatures later that day, I heard that the kangaroo tasted similarly to steak. That being said, the day was filled with fun activities such as throwing boomerangs, listening to the tunes of the digeridoo, and taking tours into the rainforest itself.

A picture taken in the Rainforest inland of Cairns.

The following day I headed back to the airport for my flight down to Newcastle where I will be doing my studies for the semester. My time spent in Cairns was brief, but incredibly memorable and a great way to be introduced to this country’s wonderful nature and history.

Staying in Reutlingen

Vlogger: Nicholas Kwiecinski

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

Devin’s Photo Blog

Photographer: Devin Powell

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church): This is the main church of Reutlingen which is centered in the middle of the marketplace downtown. Here, Matthäus Alber spread the word of the reformer, Martin Luther, to the small town of Reutlingen during the early 1500s. Lutheranism now has a large religious presence in Reutlingen as well as the state of Baden-Württemberg, and a majority of Germany.


Tübingen Universität: The University of Tübingen is a mere 10 minute train ride from Reutlingen and is full of historical context. One thing to note in particular is that Tübingen was one of the few towns not completely destroyed during World War II, so most of the buildings are as old as they look! Only a small portion of the town was destroyed due to a bomb that was actually meant for Reutlingen. Other than that, there was no need to bomb the town due to the high number of students living there and no factories or production being exported from it.
Tübingen University is one of the oldest universities in Germany, established in 1477, and has remained one of Germany’s top universities throughout the years. Many of the studies include theology, philosophy, medicine, and law.


Berliner Dom: Our first trip consisted of traveling 8 hours via train to reach Berlin and further explore an area that was of great interest during war times. This “cathedral” was built in order for the Protestants to have something of equal stature to that of the Catholic Cathedrals often found throughout continental Europe. I use the term “cathedral” loosely because the Berliner Dom is not deemed a cathedral due to it being a place for the Protestant faith, not Catholic. However, the Germans often overstep this trivial difference and refer to it as a German cathedral.


Johann Georg Elser: However odd this may sound, Hitler often gave speeches in public pubs and/or bars in the evenings due to the presence of alcohol and being able to keep people in one place in order to listen to his speeches. One evening in particular, a man named Johann Georg Elser decided to kill Hitler and all of the top Nazi officials that had followed him to a particular bar in Berlin. He created a bomb and set it below the stage, but Hitler had taken the train into Berlin this night in particular due to the weather and had to leave early in order to make his train back. As is such, the bomb exploded minutes after Hitler and his officials had left killing 12 people instead of the men he was initially after.


East Side Gallery: A quick train ride to the east side of Berlin allowed us to explore the remnants of the Berlin Wall that were still standing. Here, 118 artists had decorated each paneling of the Wall with various images, each representing their own unique artistry. The Wall spans 1.3 km and officially became the world’s longest open-air gallery in 1990.


Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp: This was single-handedly one of the most sobering and eye-opening experiences on this trip. Every step puts you into the shoes of those who found themselves prisoners of the Germans under Hitler’s rule. The heavy feeling that surrounded the camp made you stop and really take into account the fact that these atrocities actually happened and were no longer words on paper that you read for history class but rather a reality that caused the suffering of millions of people.


Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe/Holocaust Museum: Rows upon rows of either thin cement blocks or short concrete slabs lined up in front of you create an almost eerie scene of getting lost in a maze. There are 2,711 of these concrete slabs, each one attempting to capture the atrocity that swept through Europe. Architect Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold, an engineer, designed this field of cement in order to give those who were massacred a place to rest and be remembered.


Filmmuseum Potsdam: Fun fact number 1—most film industries in the US have used the set in Babelsberg to shoot very popular and successful movies such as: Valkyrie with Tom Cruise, V for Vendetta, and Captain America Civil War. So if you’d like to catch a sneak peek at someone famous perhaps walking down the street, make your way over to Babelsberg instead of Hollywood!

Sometimes You Just Want to Sleep in Your Own Bed

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

Before I left on my study abroad adventure, I attended a few meetings last semester to prepare students who are studying abroad this semester.  I was told quite a few times about the culture shock cycle, which if you haven’t heard about, is a theory that describes the four stages of culture adjustment that a person faces when going abroad.

There are different takes on the theory and different terms for each version of it, but in general you have the honeymoon stage, culture shock, adjustment, and then adaptation.  To briefly describe the stages in my own interpretation, honeymoon is just what it sounds like.  You basically are in awe at all these new things, people, places, and all of the cool stuff around you. You can’t imagine how any of these things could be considered anything less than amazing.

A few weeks or months into your time abroad is when the downward slope takes place, moving you towards culture shock or frustration.  In this stage, things that were once new and cool aren’t new anymore and you start to see the differences between what you’re used to at home and how the people act here. You start to get frustrated with those differences.  However, it doesn’t just end there with this sense of frustration.  Gradually you start to adjust to this different and new way of life, potentially being annoyed with certain things, but also seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and the positive aspects of the culture around you.  This moves, then, into the final stage of cultural adjustment which is adaptation.  Essentially in this stage you have become part of the culture you are living in and may even consider it your own.

You might be wondering why I would describe the culture adjustment cycle.  At first when this cycle and these stages were being explained in those meetings I attended, I thought a lot of it was over exaggerated and that nothing in Spain could be bad because I would be traveling all the time, doing things I can’t do in the U.S., meeting new people, and all of that great stuff.  However, now I know that this whole culture shock/adjustment thing is real.  I am not saying that I’m hating anything over here by any means or that I’m not enjoying my time, because I truly am.  All I’m saying is that sometimes you just miss home and things that you don’t think you’ll miss before you go abroad are the things you miss the most.  So to share with you some of the things I personally miss:

  • Being able to go into the kitchen to grab a snack
  • Having less than 7-8 hours between lunch and dinner because midday hunger is a real thing
  • Eating not so extremely late at night and then going to bed an hour or two after eating (hardcore metabolism adjustment had to take place)
  • Living close/having access to a gym that isn’t packed with equipment and has a normal locker room
  • Real dessert instead of fruit for dessert (which is the cause for the hoard of chocolate in my closet)
  • Watching TV that isn’t just Spanish news
  • Going to bed early and not feeling like a “grandma” for it because your host mom and host grandma are still up
  • My own bed
  • Central heating (I knew about this before I left, but who thought it would be a good idea to let the inside of houses be colder than the outside all winter??)
  • Being able to communicate fluently and not think about what you’re going to say 5 minutes before you say it
  • Not having to ask everyone to repeat themselves 3 times which causes them to give up and come back to you in English
  • Wearing sweatpants/leggings outside and not standing out as an American
  • The internet working on a regular basis
  • Being able to watch networks like Amazon Prime or any other form of American TV
  • Free water & bathrooms

Honestly the list could go on simply with little, everyday things that I take for granted at home in the U.S. and don’t have access to here.  But again, in the big scheme of things these are just minor details of what it’s like living abroad and the fact that there will be good days and bad, there will be things from home you miss more than others, and at the opposite end of the spectrum there will be things you wish you could take back home with you when your time here is done.  I know this list might sound like a long file of complaints, but I really just wanted to put life into perspective a little bit.  Studying abroad for me so far has been amazing with lots of high points, but there are also a few lows here and there.  As a personal take away, I would say that studying abroad has not only opened my eyes to the beauty of different cultures around the world, but it has also shown me those things I take for granted and how much I appreciate my own country and where I come from.

Your Everyday Granada (From My Perspective)

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

I’ve talked about the adventures I’ve had in Granada, Italy, and Morocco, but not much about what happens during the everyday life of Granada.  A little bit about the city and people of Granada and my daily life experiences, some good, some bad, and others just simple observations or as we say here in Granada, “no da igual”:

  • People are always shopping (don’t ask me where their seemingly constant flow of money comes from)
  • The majority of stores and restaurants close around 1:30pm and reopen around 4:30pm every day for siesta time
  • I’ve eaten more bread, oranges/nectarines, soups of all kinds, and drank more hot chocolate in the past month than I have in my entire life
  • Tapas are also a very regular activity to go out with friends and get after dinner.  If you don’t know what tapas are, they are essentially an appetizer that you get for free when you purchase a drink whether the drink has alcohol in it or not.
  • The architecture in Granada is very heavily influenced by the Arabic culture when they were inhabiting Granada before the Christians conquered the city.  Hence, the Alhambra exists, which if I’m not mistaken is an Arabic palace.  There are also many side streets where you can see the remains of the Arabic influence.
  • Siesta is now a daily activity for me
  • I also have more free time than I ever have in my life and don’t really know what to do with myself (plus no class on Fridays–I’m definitely not complaining about this one)
  • Wake up late, stay up late.  Pretty sure that’s the motto here in Granada
  • Everyone smokes, and when I say everyone I mean everyone (down to the 14 year olds)
  • You concentrate your brains out to understand what a professor or someone else is saying to you in Spanish and still don’t catch it all so you have to ask for them to slow down or repeat it and feel like a dummy
  • In this same manner, it’s a mini achievement when someone in a store speaks Spanish to you and then continues to speak Spanish to you even though you know you’ve totally botched what you were trying to say
  • When I first arrived, many of the locals were telling me how small Granada is and I didn’t believe them because for me it seemed huge.  However, after a month and walking around the city quite a bit, I have to say that they’re right.  There are two main roads to orient yourself by (Calle Recogidas and Camino de Ronda) and if you know where those roads are you’re all set.
  • Granada is a seriously gorgeous city.  If you look up to the east (I think) you have a clear view of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can look out to the country side, there’s beautiful plazas everywhere, a river that goes through the city which makes for a nice walking area, and so many other places to adventure to.

Although I’ve observed and experienced quite a bit in my short time I’ve been here whether good, bad, or just simply an observation, there is so much I still don’t know about Granada, the people, the language, and Spain in general, but I guess that’s why I’m here so that I can learn all I can about this awesome place.

​Forming a Far… Far… Far Away Family

Author: Hannah Purkey

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica 

One of the best things about studying abroad is getting to interact with different cultures. I can’t think of a better way to do that than living with a host family. The thought of living with a host family can be overwhelming. You may not speak their language well, the food could be very different, and the cultural norms may be different than the United States. All of the above are true for me. Spanish is not my first language, the food is different than the food in the US, and I do not understand parts of their culture. Because of this, I had many questions about living with a host family. After living with my host family for four weeks, I can definitely say this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The following are important things I have learned from living with my familia tica (Spanish for host family).

All of the families, that students are currently living with in Costa Rica, have hosted students before. Because of this, my host family generally knows what I need help with, what is different for me, and what my academics are like. This has made the process of adjusting to a new family easier for me. Even if a student is a family’s first student–that is awesome too! It is important to know that all host families are evaluated and screened. Before any student lives with a host family, the staff of the study site (for Costa Rica the staff are Heidi and Alfonso) will interview the family and look at their home. They make sure the family is capable of housing a student. More than that, all of the host families here love hosting students! They love building new cross-cultural relationships.

I was very nervous about my family placement, but I ended up loving my family. My family and I both like music, Disney movies, are involved in the Christian church, and like to spend time simply hanging out. No matter what family a student is placed in, they will find common interests. This is a great way to start making connections.

My host sisters (Chiara and Maria Celeste) and I playing together!

As a United Statesian, I grew up believing in the power of my own independence.   This idea of independence was one of the first differences I noticed between the culture of the US and the culture of Costa Rica. People from Costa Rica (known here as ticos) function as a collective culture. Their families and friends are one of the most important things in their life. If someone in their family needs help, they will do everything to help them. I experienced this first hand. Last week, I was pretty sick. I couldn’t go to class and spent a lot of the day in the bathroom. My host mom (Maria) checked on me frequently, and she advocated for me when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the doctor. She constantly worried about my wellbeing. This kind of love in seen through out familial life in Costa Rica.

Spending quality time with our host moms!

This idea of family accompaniment is a new concept for me. Yes, families in the United States are close, but it is different here. Family is the central part of Costa Rican life. I am not just a student living with a family. My host family has completely brought me into their family. Everyday when I come home from school I get greeted with many hugs, giggles, and smiles. My mom always says (in Spanish), “It’s so good to have my daughter back home.” It has been a true blessing to be a part of a my Costa Rican family. I can’t wait to spend more time with them!

Kyra and I eating fruit and ice cream with our host siblings


Berlin, Cologne, and Finally Brussels

Vlogger: Nicholas Kwiecinski

Location: Reutlingen, Germany


Chase Your Dreams

Author: Abigail Little

Location: Newcastle, Australia

G’day. I apologise for my absence. I will be the first to admit that I have not been the best with any means of communication since I have been in Australia (it’s almost been a year since I’ve been here..crazy!) .. I do not have an excuse. I am simply living. I love sharing my adventures and I am blessed with the opportunity to do so through Valpo Voyager, but to have things to write about, I must first live them out. Which is exactly what I have been doing!

I want to dedicate this blog to anyone who has, at any point in time, did not believe in themselves. If you are reading this and you have felt that you are not enough –YOU ARE. You CAN do things that you never imagined. I PROMISE. I am in my third semester studying at the University of Newcastle, Australia. I am living in the most beautiful country (in my opinion) in this world. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be where I’m at in this world today. Maybe that is why sometimes I struggle to find the words to describe my experiences abroad –because I am still so amazed that this is my life.

The purpose of this blog, or any blog I share really, is to inspire anyone and everyone else to chase their dreams (all of which I assume include going abroad if you are here reading this). I want to share my stories of spending Christmas in Australia, of working for an Australian company, of falling in love in a foreign country, etc. And I promise I will share those stories eventually. But for now, I feel compelled to encourage you to live your best life.

I want you to think about this: one definition of the word ‘follow,’ is “move or travel behind” … the definition of the word ‘chase’ is “pursue in order to catch or catch up with.” I point this is out is because it is necessary to chase our dreams first if we intend to then follow them. It is up to you to go out there and pursue your dreams. They are waiting to come alive!

Through studying abroad, I have been fortunate enough to travel further and more often than I have in my lifetime. Since last February, I have lived in two different countries, boarded 15 separate aircrafts, and visited 8 states worldwide. I went below the surface of the Pacific and swam amongst the life in the Great Barrier Reef. I have been able to do amazing things, that is undeniable. Each time I reflect on that, I remind myself of how I almost did not follow through with my impulsive decision to study abroad. Wow, that would have been a horrible mistake! Each experience is unique, of course. That is true for everything in life, but I find it to be quite peculiar when it comes to experiences such as studying abroad. I embarked on this journey to get away. I was on a hunt for myself because I was stuck amid insecurities and unhappiness. I would have done just about anything to get out. Not only have I found myself on this beautiful journey abroad, but I have found love and a support system as well. The daily relationships I have now are ones that I have made on Australian soil.


You may be sitting there thinking, “but it’s so expensive.. I can never afford it.. all these people going abroad must be rich!” I am here to tell you I once thought that. I am here to tell you that if you are thinking that, we were both wrong. If you are thinking that, I want you to do two things: (1) Accept that you are wrong, and then (2) fill out your application to go abroad. I come from nothing. Yet here I am, entering my third semester of study in Australia. I may be deep in student debt, but I am rich in experience. I am rich in resilience. I am rich in love. I am rich in determination. I am rich in inspiration. I am rich in understanding. I am rich in life.

Through plates of grief served to me since being abroad, I have found my way to serenity. Through facing adversities, I have been humbled with a deeper sense of gratitude. Through the formation of significant relationships, my heart has swelled with appreciation, allowing me to love more genuinely. I have spent too much of the past 23 years in the back seat of my own life, but I have finally found my ground to take control of my direction in this fascinating world.

Several times a week, I am faced with the question, “when do you have to go back to America?” And each time, I am speechless. I have become so immersed in to the Aussie lifestyle that the thought of going back to live amongst the American society is not an option. I want to stay here forever. That is my dream. It’s time for me to go chase that now. I hope you do the same.


Cheers x


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