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

 

The Longest January in History

Author: Gabrielle Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

I keep seeing these posts on social media about how January 2018 seems to be never ending.  I’ve been pretty disconnected from what’s going on in the world to make people think that January has been such a long month, but I have to agree.  I’m sure, however, that my reasons for this month seeming to last forever are very different.  January started out with arriving in Granada, Spain, meeting new friends and a new host family, learning more about the Spanish culture and the city of Granada, taking grammar classes, and finally taking two Spanish level exams.  Yet it didn’t end there.  Right after we took our official placement exams to see what track we would be placed into for the courses we are taking this semester, we left for Morocco.  I don’t mean that we had a day to think about the class choices.  No, we got our test scores and left 45 minutes later to embark on a trip to Africa for 4 days.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but from hearing past students’ stories about their trip to Morocco, I had no doubt I would enjoy myself.

In Morocco we met our American guide, Nate, who knows Arabic and has lived in Morocco for about 5 years.  Nate is a pretty awesome dude who knows some pretty awesome people.  For two nights we stayed with host families in traditional Moroccan houses in Rabat.  Traditional Moroccan homes have holes in the floor as toilets which are combined with the shower since running water is precious commodity in the country.  The home I stayed in luckily had a “normal” toilet (not a hole in the floor).  The beds were essentially cushions or benches surrounding each room, but they worked.  Meals in a Moroccan home also consist of everyone eating with their hands out of a large dish in the middle of the table (now that was an experience).  Apparently this happens in Spain too, but it’s not as typical as the Moroccan meals.  The most interesting part of the trip for me, however, was the Hammam.  Hammams are the public Moroccan bathhouses, where one can get their dead skin scrubbed off by a Moroccan woman.  The locals we talked with raved about the Hammam, telling us that when you leave it, you’ll feel the cleanest you’ve ever felt in your life.  Let’s just say it was a first and a last time thing for me, but definitely something you have to do once in your lifetime.

We only spent 4 days in Morocco, but I could continue on and on about it.  Every day, with the exception of the last day we were there, we met and talked with local students and families.  We talked with college students about politics, education, and Moroccan life, walked around Rabat with some of those same students, shared a meal with a farmer and his family in their home, and learned so much about the Moroccan people and their culture.  Before going to Morocco, I never really thought about the people we would meet, their outlook on life, or how similar people across the globe actually are.  After spending 4 days with them, I can confidently say that generally speaking they are no different than many of us.  They have dreams for their country to become a great nation and believe that there is hope for their people, even if their situations currently are not as positive as our own.  I never knew you could learn so much about a people and their culture in just 4 days.

After returning from Morocco on Saturday night, a group of 4 other students and I left for Italy early the next morning to get a small trip in before classes started on February 1st.  We visited Rome, Florence, and Venice in 3 days.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted but so excited for what the rest of this semester has to bring.  January may have seemed to be the longest month in history, but for me it was a good one.

The Beginning of an Adventure

Author: Gabrielle Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

 

If my calculations are correct, I’ve been in Granada, Spain, for about 6 full days now.  You would think that nearly 6 days isn’t enough time to get to know a new place or learn anything about the culture you’re living in.  I beg to differ.  First, I’ve experienced traveling on my own for the first time and how to deal with transportation mishaps.  While it wasn’t too fun at the time, looking back on it now I definitely learned more from things not working out rather than I would have had it been smooth sailing the whole way.  People always say that you learn from your mistakes, which is hard to fully believe when you hear it, yet now that I’ve taken part in that experience, I can vouch for its validity first hand.  About 28 hours after I started my adventure in the U.S. I finally made it to Granada.  Then the facts that I hadn’t eaten for nearly 12 hours and had slept for a cumulative of 4 hours during that 28 hour trip hit me hard.  Plus then there was the lovely aspect of jetlag to deal with.  Long story short, sleep is a beautiful thing and so is the city of Granada.

On Monday I was able to wander my new city for about 5 hours, taking in the different sights and beginning to familiarize myself with the main roads, yet most definitely not understanding where I was at that time.  A major point of success was being able to make my way back to the hotel I was staying at.  Tuesday began the first “real day” when we met all of the other students we were going to be spending the rest of the semester with—people I had only seen on Facebook (if you ever want strangers to become quick friends, send them to a foreign country together—it works wonders).  Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.  I hadn’t previously known these people yet they were the ones I would be spending a lot of time with over the next 5 months.  I can confidently say after one week that I’m so fortunate to have these 13 other students around me and that I already know that some of them will be lifelong friends, as cliché as that sounds.

Tuesday was also the day that we met our program director and our host families.  One of the first things our program director, Veronica, told us was that she wanted us to get lost.  It was my third full day in this country and I had successfully done this…twice.  Soon after making it to my host family’s home (my host mom and family are both great by the way), I left to make photocopies for the next day of meetings and quickly achieved the “goal” of getting lost.  All is well, obviously, but it wasn’t as enjoyable getting lost alone on small side streets as Veronica had made it sound.

Over the next few days our group experienced the city center of Granada through a tour with our awesome guide and teacher, Jose, along with a walk through Albaycín which has amazing views of the famous Alhambra (seen in the pictures).

There is so much more that could be said about this adventure after only one week, and the pictures don’t do justice to any of the views of this beautiful city.  I have so much to look forward to these next 5 months, even more to learn about the people, city, and culture, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have an endless amount of mistakes to make and learn from.

Mixing Cultures

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

You’ll probably hear this from anyone who has spent a semester abroad, but it’s so true—the time goes by so quickly.  One day you’re arriving, overwhelmed by so many new people and customs, and the next, you’re leaving the new family and friends that you’ve grown to know and love.  However, that is one of the beautiful things about study abroad as well.  You get to share the culture of your host country with that of your native country.

One of the first things you should know about Costa Rican culture is what is known as “tico time.”  This phrase refers to Costa Ricans’ (ticos) tendency to lose track of time.  A few phrases you might hear include “tranquilo” and “suave,” which are synonyms meaning something along the lines of “chill” and “easy.” In the same sense, Costa Ricans spend a lot of time on greetings and goodbyes.  For example, if you are having coffee with a friend, even if you are getting up to say goodbye, you could be there for another 30 minutes chatting.  Since being back in the United States, I feel that I am more calm and relaxed about my schedule.  This could be just the fact that it’s winter break and I don’t have schoolwork to worry about anymore, but I also definitely cannot discount the tico lifestyle that I lived for the past few months.

Next, one of my favorite customs from Costa Rica was afternoon coffee time.  Around 3 or 4 o’clock on most afternoons, Costa Ricans gather in the kitchen for afternoon coffee.  The coffee was always excellent—it was made with a traditional Costa Rican coffee maker known as a Chorreador.  The coffee was always so smooth, and my host mom always added the perfect amount of cream and sugar.  In addition, there were always rich breads, pastries, or cakes to go along with the coffee.  Then, we’d all enjoy our coffee together with family and friends alike.  Overall, it was such an amazing time of fellowship and tradition which I’d like to incorporate more in my time with my family in the United States.  

Lastly, I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed the food in Costa Rica.  A few new vegetables that I tried were “chayote,” which can be described as a cross between a celery and a potato, and “yuca,” which is like a very dense, starchy potato.  An interesting fruit that I tried is called “granadilla,” which is sort of like a pomegranate, as the seeds are coated with a jelly-like sac, but it has a tarter taste.  Furthermore, there were plenty of meals containing beans and rice, but there were also different varieties of soups, pastas, fried chicken, and more.  However, one of my favorite meals is called “gallo pinto,” translated to spotted rooster.  This is a very simple, yet traditional dish eaten in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua that is made of beans and rice.  In Costa Rica, it is usually eaten for breakfast, alongside with a scrambled or fried egg.  Another dish I really enjoyed was a dessert called “arroz con leche,” the same thing as rice pudding, and is best-served warm.  My host mom graciously shared with me the recipes of both gallo pinto and arroz con leche, so I will attempt to make them both for my U.S. family over the break!

In the end, while it is so great to finally be home in the U.S., I realize more and more the things that I miss from my time abroad.  My host family was so kind and welcoming to me and really did an amazing job of engaging me in Costa Rican culture.  Now, I have the privilege of sharing that culture with my family and friends at home.  

 

Pro Tip While Travelling: Find Familiarity

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

When you’re traveling abroad, you may instantly feel overwhelmed by the many changes and new experiences.  Things may even seem a little out of control at times.  The daily routine that you’re so used to may not even exist anymore.  

One thing that I would suggest when studying abroad is, even when everything around you seems so foreign and out-of-the-ordinary, is to try to have some sort of familiarity.  Whether that includes pictures of your family or friends, or your colored pencils because you like to draw, that familiarity will help a lot when everything else seems so different.

 

For me, that familiarity is regular exercise through running.  Even if I weren’t studying abroad, exercise is a good way to release endorphins and lower my stress levels.  But this is especially relevant now.  Ironically, I have not run one step since coming to Costa Rica.  The neighborhood is pretty safe to run in, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t feel right.  

At first this was fine because I was constantly tired and didn’t even have time for exercise because classes went form 8 am until 5:30 pm.  However, after those classes ended in October, this lack of exercise actually caused me a lot of discomfort.  There was a voice in my head that told me I should be getting exercise, but I still felt too tired or scared to run outside.  Eventually, there was a time when I got a pretty bad case of the flu, and I spent three days inside, not seeing the sun once.  This was a real wake up call for me, as I realized how sedentary I had really ben this entire trip.  Even though I am in a totally different country, exercise isn’t something I should have to forfeit (This goes for any sort of hobby or interest—if it’s something that you enjoy, please don’t give up on it just because you are studying abroad.).

So maybe running isn’t really your thing.   No worries, there’s Zumba!  I was honestly a little nervous the first time I went Zumba here.  I had done Zumba a couple times in the US, but since Zumba originated in Latin America, I felt very out of place.  However, it was honestly so much fun!  No one judged me for my poor dance moves.  In fact, I’m sure the instructor (who is crazy good) saw me struggling, but he made an effort to encourage and even compliment me on the things that I could do.  

Next, if neither running nor Zumba are up your alley, there are these public exercise machines in the parks of most neighborhoods.  To give you a better idea of how they work, none of them are motorized, they instead focus on lifting one’s own body weight.  Other machines use resistance or work the cardiovascular system.  When I first saw these, I actually laughed a little bit, thinking to myself do people actually use these silly machines out in the open?  The answer is yes!  Even though it’s not what we are used to, they are free to use and will give you a basic workout.  

If none of this appeals to you, there is a gym that you can get a membership in.  I considered this, but it did seem a little expensive for my taste.  But hey, if that’s something that is important to your everyday schedule, don’t shy away from that!

Overall, what I am trying to say is that even if you are spending a semester abroad, which is supposed to be filled with all new experiences and adventures, if something is important to you or your mental sanity, don’t give that up.  In the long run (no pun intended), when everything else is so different from the norm, that one familiar thing could help tremendously.  

 

Reflecting on the Netherlands

Author:  Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

While abroad, one university professor told me that while I may come to this place as 100% American, I would leave only 95% American. Over those months spent in another country, we start to act, think, and feel at home there, even if just a little bit. This has certainly been my experience in the Netherlands. A once far off dreamy, tulip and bike clad land, Nederland has in a way, become a second home. While I may not speak the language, or look Dutch at all, the sounds and sights of the country do not seem strange or foreign anymore, in fact they feel quite comforting.

When I came back from my fall break trip to Italy, as soon as I got on the plane back to Amsterdam, I started to hear Dutch. Italian was foreign to me and having spent a week in that environment, I was excited to get back to what I knew! When I heard the throaty g’s and unique accent of the Dutch language, I immediately felt at home. This was the strangest feeling though, because I did not even recognize what these people were saying, yet somehow it still felt like home to me.

I wanted to come to Utrecht to become a global citizen and I have grown in that venture. I love how I was able to adapt to another culture and start to feel a part of it. It was a challenge in learning to be frustrated, confused, and hopelessly lost, and being able to conquer those feelings. At some moments, I felt like a complete outsider, unable to communicate or effectively function in this system. Other times I felt like I completely fit in. When I had to tell the cashier or store clerk, “sorry, I just speak English,” I felt like I was an intruder. But on the other hand, when I had a “conversation” with an old lady speaking Dutch by smiling, nodding, and laughing at the right moments, I felt completely Dutch. I felt like this sweet old woman could have even been my grandmother. There were hundreds of other moments on both sides of the spectrum, but through these moments I grew the most. I learned to try my best to adapt to a different way of living, to not feel defeated if I couldn’t the first time, and to realize I could try again.

 

I think this best summarizes my stay abroad: feeling like an outsider, but growing in my understanding and action to start to feel like I belonged. While my experience at University College Utrecht was heavily shaped by my transition to Dutch culture, it has broader implications. At first, I struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle, but eventually I was able, and it even started to become like home. Regardless of the specific culture I adapted to, I now know I can adapt, fit in, and be at home in another place. Through study abroad, I have not only learned that I can adapt to new environments, but I have also learned how. I think this is the most important lesson I have taken away from this experience, learning how to be, not just an American, but a global citizen.

The Long Road Home

Author: Keith Nagel
Location: Windhoek, Namibia

As I close out this semester with one final blog, I thought it would be an opportune time to talk about my long journey home. Today I will travel to three different continents, pass over great deserts and wide open oceans, and end up in my back yard playing fetch with my dog. From Windhoek Namibia, to Amsterdam, and finally across the United States to my home will take a full day of travel. Even though the travel seems rigorous, it was certainly not the hardest part about my trip home. For me, and many other people that study abroad, the hardest thing about leaving is saying goodbye to new friends and your home away from home. The final week is most likely going to be stressful with final projects and last minute souvenir shopping, so my advice is to try and get as much done in advance as you can.

 

Another thing that that is not often thought about is the need for re-integration into your own home culture. It seems odd to think that you need to be reminded about life back home, but it is important so you don’t end up having a culture shock in your own country. Coming from Namibia I anticipate having a bit of a culture shock with the amount of people in the United States, the relative wealth of America, and even driving on the right side of the road again. These societal differences will be different for each study abroad experience but one can expect that it might be hard at first to get back in the swing of things. This includes reconnecting with old friends after spending so much time with new ones you made while away. In these final days it is important to spend time with the people and places you most connect with on your study abroad experience. One day I hope to think of the amazing people I met long ago, and wonder what they will go on to see in worlds that I shall never know. Be conscious of the fact that you experienced a world that many of your friends will never know, and be reassured in that your study abroad friends will continue to experience the world in new ways you never will as well. It is important to look back on the memories you shared with friends, I have included a few memories of my own favorite moments in the images in this blog. A few final remarks: pursue your dreams, take as many pictures as you can, never trade the thrills of living for the security of existence, immerse yourself into what your learning, and never take your experience for granted. Goodbye Namibia, see you soon.

Living Off the Grid

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia 

 

Living off the grid isn’t just for doomsday preppers and Bond villains. For roughly a quarter of the worlds population living without access to electricity, it is an every day struggle. Although it is usually a novelty or unfortunate economic reality for many, living off the grid can actually be a good thing. This is one of the many realization I had while staying at the NaDEET desert camp in the Namib desert of Namibia. The camp’s focus was to educate us students on sustainable practices in almost every aspects of their lives.

During our stay at the camp, our food was cooked by the sun in solar ovens, our electricity was provided by solar panels, and our water was strictly monitored. The unfortunate reality is that for dry countries like Namibia, these practices may not just be a option but a means of survival in the near future. Developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, and Namibia is already struggling to provide enough water to its growing population.

While traveling in new places,​​​​ I have always thought that it is important to learn about the physical land itself. Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity to do so because chances are you’ll be learning in a completely new environment that welcomes some exploring. Living sustainability and off the grid in the Western world should not just be a way of life reserved for people who drive Prius’ and organically source their kale chips. Tech leaders like Elon Musk of Tesla are already planning of a world where a home’s roof tiles will power the family car and the rest of the house fully off any grid. This trip was so influential to me because it motivated me to take an honest reflection on my practices and understanding of global impacts. If we are one day able to realize the dream of tech geniuses and conservationists, the results may be just as magical as the stars in the light free Namibian night sky.

Don’t Forget to Have a Little Fun

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

It’s not every day that you get to see flamingos, eat amazing food, take atv’s into the desert with a bunch of your friends, or sand board the tallest dunes in to world all in the same day, so when you get the chance to…you better take it. After the honeymoon phase is over at about 3/4 of the way through your study abroad experience things may start to plateau as you concentrate on essays, tests, and the rest. A little fun is a great way to break the monotony. I know one of the best decisions I have made on my time in Namibia has been to take advantage of every adventurous opportunity I can get my hands on. Because the Namibian program is so structured around travel, it wasn’t hard to find new fun each weekend. If you get the chance, take the long road trip to the coast, climb the tallest thing you can find (unless your studying in Nepal, in which case you should probably train a little before doing so), book a flight to a new country, or just take a walk around your new home. I guarantee it will change your life. It has certainly changed mine.

One of the best places to pursue these carpe diem adventures in Southern Africa is in Swakopmund, Namibia. This historically significant town on the Western coast promises thrill seekers and scenic travelers alike an experience they wont forget. Actress Angelina Jolie loved the town so much that she chose to give birth to her daughter at the local Swakopmund hospital. We had learned about the town in class, but it turned out to be far more than just the small coastal town we read about in books. It’s pointless for a student to paint scenes of a place in their mind when they can go outside and stand in it. We studied the lasting German colonial influence, the first genocide of the 21st century, the rich fishing industry, and the effect that growth has had on the marine populations. This made the extracurricular activities we did even more enriching because we felt like we really knew the town and it’s history far more than any tourist off the street. And we certainly had a good time as well.

Swakopmund sits at the edge of the skeleton coast, where the tallest dunes in the world meet the Atlantic Ocean in splendid fashion. What is even better is we were able to rent ATV’s and explore the dunes in all their glory. I think this trip was the programs best mix of academic and fun activities that we had all semester. It is so important to not forget to have a little fun on your study abroad experience. In a place like Namibia it seems like fun and adventure is around every corner. So get out there and explore as many as you can.

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