Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Author: studyabroad (page 1 of 40)

Arriving in England

Author: Emily Gustin

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I arrived in Cambridge, England, a little over a week ago, and it has been filled with great adventures already. Each day is filled with opportunities to explore this new (actually quite old) place that I get to call home for the next few months. The center of Cambridge is a short walk from the Valpo dorm, and it’s such a beautiful city. It’s not anything like a typical city that you would find in the US, with skyscrapers towering over you. The buildings are old, some with moss growing on their rooftops. The rows of shops and businesses wind down streets that seem endless, each one different than the next.

Walking the streets of Cambridge

When my cohort and I arrived, our coordinator, Caroline, had planned things to help us get acclimated to the area. We did a walking tour of Cambridge and explored two (of thirty one) colleges that are a part of the University of Cambridge: Pembroke College and King’s College. King’s College Chapel is world famous, and often used as an icon of the city of Cambridge. The inside features fan-vaulted ceilings, amazing stone work, and beautiful stained glass windows. Caroline also arranged for us to have an English Sunday roast at a local restaurant. The meal included a roasted meat of choice, roasted potatoes, greens, and Yorkshire pudding (which is not pudding, by the way). It was all really delicious!

Inside King’s College Chapel

Caroline also took us on a trip to London this week. This, I think, has been my favorite day so far. We took an early train from Cambridge to London, and then took the Underground (or the Tube, as they call it here) to St. Paul’s station. As the name of the station implies, it is right near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was our first stop of the day. When we walked inside, I was left speechless by the artwork on the ceiling and all over the walls. After walking around for a while, a group of us decided that we wanted to climb up the cathedral and see the view from the top. The stairs wound through tight spaces with short doorways (which are not ideal if you are a taller person, like me), but we finally made it to the top after climbing for a little while. All in all, we climbed 528 steps, and the view did not disappoint. We stood in awe of the panoramic view of London, and it was spectacular.

Inside St. Paul’s Cathedral

Me at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

After coming down all of those steps, our cohort headed to the Tate Modern museum, ate lunch, and explored the artwork. As someone who is fascinated by art history, I enjoyed seeing pieces that I had learned about by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. I hope to go back to the Tate Modern soon– it’s free, like most museums in England!

Our final stop in London was a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe. The building is a replication of the Globe Theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. I enjoyed hearing the history of the theatre, and appreciated the old style of architecture that copied the original. After our fun filled day, we got back on the train back to Cambridge and returned to the Valpo dorm.

I am nervous about classes starting very soon, but I know that they will only give me more opportunities to learn, grow, and meet new people.

Wish me luck!

What Have I Done?

Author: Julia Riordan

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

It is currently 1 a.m. in Cambridge and I cannot sleep. Often times I can adjust to the time change while traveling to other countries. Yet for some reason, adjusting to the time change and to my new life in Cambridge is proving to be rather difficult. When I went to Italy with my family in 2016, It was widely understood that I was a sightseer and a visitor. However, I am not in Cambridge because I have decided to embark on a short trip or even take a vacation. I have moved here. The permanency of my decision is unsettling and scary. During these quiet nights I ask myself if my decision to study abroad was a mistake. How could I have anticipated what this move would feel like?

I think that what is different about my current experience in Cambridge is my need to recreate my old life within a foreign place. I have acknowledged that Cambridge is my new home. It is human nature to try and find comfort or familiarity within the unknown. When we are visiting another country, we acknowledge these cultural differences but also find comfort in knowing that soon we will return to the familiar. Yet, Cambridge will be my new home for the next couple months. Therefore, I must find ways to make my current life in a new country more comfortable. Yet, this is a tricky process when we are surrounded by the unfamiliar.

After talking with my cohort, it seems that many students similarly yearn for the comforts of home. What helps however, is wandering our new home and enjoying aspects of the city that are wonderfully different. Perhaps you will find an ornate building that immediately demands your respect. Or, you become infatuated with the historical context of the new city. Rather than focusing on the differences of another country and your own discomfort, it seems helpful to find an appreciation for certain aspects of your new city. My new favorite church is pictured below.

These feelings of discomfort or anxiety are normal. It is not surprising that students feel far from the comforts of their homes. However, confiding in your cohort will prove to be extremely beneficial. Your cohort is undoubtedly experiencing the same discomfort or fear. By confiding in each other, you can validate and encourage one another. You may even become friends with the students in your cohort.

Despite my feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and doubt I am excited for the experiences to come. Although my decision to study abroad has completely altered my life, it is also a fruitful opportunity that will help me to become more independent. It is easy to view studying abroad as exciting, yet it can be harder to anticipate the difficulty of adjusting. It may be helpful to think about ways you can cope with these adjustments before arriving in a new country. However, you have more support than you realize from your cohort and from your family and friends back at home. Take a deep breath and enjoy your new adventure. It’s going to be amazing.

Moving In and Hardly Moving

Author: Ella Speckhard

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Before arriving in France, I had created this image in my head of how things were going to go the first few days. I was going to arrive early in the morning, take a taxi past the Eiffel Tower and watch the sun rise before meeting my host, who would click with me immediately. Reality was a lot less glamorous. My flight arrived at Charles de Gaulle around 6:45am and as I lugged my carry-on and my backpack through the airport to the baggage claim, I was in a terrible mood. I couldn’t sleep on my flight, my knee was killing me, I was sweating, and then to make matters worse my suitcase was broken, and the wheels were barely working. Then, I got into a taxi hoping to relax a little bit and enjoy my first ever sights of Paris. That idea proved a bit difficult for two reasons; one, it was still pitch black outside so all I could really see were advertisements along the highway, and two, I was a bit busy clutching the door as my taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic with no apparent regard for lane lines or traffic signals. Once I arrived at my host’s apartment building, I tried using the door code she gave me only to find myself locked out. Eventually, I gave up and called her (using expensive cellphone minutes since I didn’t have an international SIM card yet) and she let me in. I crammed myself and my bags into the tiniest little elevator I’ve ever seen and then arrived at my new residence. Life lesson learned? Lower your expectations. Things have a tendency to go wrong when you most desperately want them to go right.

Another life lesson I learned early-on in this endeavor is that there are few things in the world as awkward as showing up at a complete stranger’s house and moving in for four months. Christine, my host, is absolutely wonderful and she was so warm and welcoming, but I was exhausted beyond belief, I could barely understand her French because my brain was fried, and I had so many questions swirling around in my head that I couldn’t even ask a single one. She quickly caught on that I just needed to sleep for a couple hours, so that’s what I did. Now, three days in, we have somewhat adjusted to each other’s habits. There are still plenty of things I feel uncomfortable about (Which dishes am I allowed to use? Should I be regularly checking in with her when I’m not home? Should I tell her if I spill in the kitchen or just clean it up myself?) but we seem to have developed a rhythm and I bet it will only improve from here on out. Life lesson learned? Homestays are an amazing opportunity to fully immerse yourself in another culture, but it will be awkward, and you will forget all of the questions you want to ask as soon as they say, “Do you have any questions for me?”

So far most of this has seemed negative, but things really have improved since that first day. I know myself, and for me the first day doing something brand new is always terrifying and full of anxiety. I was a mess as I was unpacking, crying because of my homesickness and wanting to go home all the while knowing that this was the thing I had been looking forward to for months. A few good nights’ sleep and some amazing French food from my host Christine have helped improve my mindsight so much. I also know some of the other people in the program now and have started to develop some friendships, which is so essential in helping combat the homesickness. As much as I love my alone time, being around others who are in the same situation as I am is a huge comfort. Life lesson learned? Your physical well-being has an enormous impact on your feelings and mental health. When I was jetlagged and nauseous, my first reaction to everything was tears and my anxiety was through the roof. Once I slept and got some food in me, my outlook became much more optimistic.

Finally, I want to say that the current transportation strike in Paris has affected the day-to-day life of the city tremendously. Without the metro lines running consistently, traffic is a nightmare, buses and trains are packed to the gills, and walking often becomes the main mode of transportation. This can make for some extremely long walks through the city, but what better way to get acquainted with the lesser-known parts of Paris? It’s been irritating not being able to fall into a regular routine with the metro since there are different lines and stations open every day, but it has been interesting getting to see all of the little side streets and shops that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. The culture of public protest and striking is much different in France than it is in the USA. I’ve discussed this idea in my classes before, but it’s fascinating to see up close and personal how people react to these kinds of situations between the government and the people. If you can, read up on “la grève” (the strike) in France right now—it’s a fascinating look at how French and American people view work differently. Life lesson learned? When in doubt, walk it out. 2 hours is long, but it’s better than getting lost in a metro system you don’t know very well and missing mandatory orientation sessions.

A good representation of my mood on the first day

Finally smiling on my third day in Paris!

The end of my study abroad

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Kansai region, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

On Thursday, December 19, 2019 I submitted the last final exam I needed to take for the Kansai Gaidai University Asian Studies program, marking the end of my life as a student here. Since then, I have been wrapping up loose ends and preparing for the journey home. This is the obligatory “end of the semester” blog post in which I must try to concisely summarize the essence of what this experience meant to me.

The men of the 5th floor of YUI.

Unfortunately, a few paragraphs and pictures cannot remotely do justice to what I experienced here this semester. In a relatively short time span, I saw and experienced so much. I have more friends and acquaintances around the globe now then I possibly could have imagined having a few months ago. I feel as if I have gained years of knowledge and insights about the world. It was almost as if a curtain was obscuring my view and some of it has now been torn away. There is still so much I am ignorant of, but I can see the big picture more clearly than before.

Farwell party, hosted by the best bartender in Hirakata 🙂

There has always been a lack of understanding in the world, and I find myself uneasy whenever I see a close-minded view with regards to different experiences, people, cultures, and beliefs. A similar feeling of uneasiness also comes over me when I look at my past self, but this showcases how much I have and will continue to grow. Building bridges, seeking to understand that which is different from what we take for granted, and recognizing our faults is critical to building a better world. I am eternally grateful to the Kansai Gaidai exchange program for the bridges I was able to build here, and for everything I learned not just about Japan or the world, but also about myself.

YUI Kyoto trip (And this was the smallest YUI trip this semester). YUI proved to be much more than simply a place to live. It was an actual community that planned and hosted events that were far more ambitious than any past dorm I lived in.

Over the past few months, I was not just pushed to my limits. I was pushed beyond them. I had to completely crush fears that used to control me, because that sort of thing was not an option here. I remember all the embarrassing mistakes I have made, the exhausting travel, and my complete confusion and bewilderment at some of the bureaucratic processes I had to go through in order to live here. There are plenty of things I would have done differently. I wish I had done a better job of enduring the summer heat and traveled more sooner. I also wish I was more efficient of a student here (I am very anxiously awaiting my grades for my Japanese classes).

For my final trip to Kobe, I got to see the Kobe Luminarie, a massive light construction that is up for the duration of the holidays.

However, the overall sum of what I now have is a massive net gain. When I look at where I was at the start of 2019, and look at where I am now, the difference is shocking. I realize this is not an option for everyone, but people who feel as if they have hit a wall, have plateaued, are “stuck” or are just unhappy with themselves – should consider looking into opportunities that allow for traveling. It certainly helped me.

Final meeting of 2019 with an old friend.

Looking to the future, I certainly plan to come back. I have even joked (But maybe it could become serious) that I would come back for my birthday in May. Many other places are on my list as well. I used to have tunnel vision when it came to travel, completely focusing on Japan, but there is so much more out there. However, I do need a rest. As sad as leaving is, I look forward to returning to my simpler life in America and reestablishing myself. Until next time, Japan.

Final meeting with Isho, my speaking partner.

Adjusting to life in Athens, Greece.

Author: Katarina Modrich

Location: Athens, Greece

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I have now been in Greece for three weeks. I am living with a wonderful Greek Family in Iraklion, Athens. This is a suburb outside of the main Center of Athens. In my first blog I would like to welcome you to read about my experience so far in Athens by sharing photos and a bit about my daily routine.

Every morning there is coffee and breakfast provided by my wonderful host mother, Anna. I attend classes in Pagrati which is a 50 minutes’ commute from my homestay. Sometimes I am able to sit and read on the train and other times the train is packed with people and I listen to music or try to pick up some words that I have learned in my Modern Greek Class.

The best part of my commute is the walk from the train station to the school. I walk through the national garden which is a hidden gem for a nature lover like me. After getting off of a crowded train and walking through the busy streets in the center of Athens it’s a breath of fresh air to stroll through the peaceful garden.

After I go to my classes I often go to a café with some of my classmates. The cafes in Greece welcome you to stay for as long as you want. You can order one coffee and work on your homework for the next 5 hours. This has been a very comforting part of my time here so far. The café near my school, called “Kekkos”, serves coffee with some complimentary sweets and a glass of water.

The US Presence in Panama

Author: Mia Casas

Location: Panama City, Panama

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When we first drove into Panama City I was impressed by the skyscrapers that line the horizon. As we got closer, I loved seeing the modern landscapes and urban setting. I thought to myself, “This could be the place for me.” It had a seemingly perfect combo of Latin American culture, but also a Western influence. From the infrastructure to the recognizable restaurant chains, it was very obvious how much the city mirrored an American metropolitan city.

I was initially impressed by these features that so closely resemble my home. I enjoyed the feeling of being in a Western atmosphere because it represented something familiar to me, but I soon realized how this reality represents an unpleasant history between Panama and the US. At first sight, it demonstrates how the US has been a major influencer in the history and culture of the country. However, once you study the country’s history closer, you learn that Panama’s culture was essentially stripped away and dominated by US politics.

The wealth that is evident in Panama’s infrastructure is a direct consequence of the construction of the Panama Canal. With the profits of the Canal, Panama has established itself as the richest country in Central America. However, not all of its history is glamorous. Since its conception, the Canal was never a project Panamanians and the Panamanian government consented to begin. Yet, the United States overstepped the government to execute the plan for a canal and, in doing so, exploited the country’s lands and people to create a profitable trade route.

Moreover, the domestic and foreign workers were initially excluded from the profits of the Canal. Often times they were cheated out of better wages on the basis of being “unskilled” workers. Additionally, they were prohibited from entering an area known as the Canal Zone, as the name implies, the area immediately around the canal. This section of land was dominated by white “gringos,” who imposed their cultural norms of segregation in the country.

However, the relationship between Panama and the United States is glorified because of the Carter-Trijos treaties, in which the USA ceded control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanian government. This portion of history is etched in people’s memories in Panama. Both US President Jimmy Carter and Panama President Omar Torrijo are remembered as good men that sought to advance the conditions of Panamanians. In one interview, an individual shared how he remembered that these great diplomats had interest in progressing remote areas of the country, like in indigenous communities.

Thus, to my astonishment, I never encountered anyone in Panama that expressed animosity against the USA, despite their authoritarian presence in the past. Perhaps this is because the US invaded Panama in 1989 to remove the dictator Manuel Noriega. Some believe that Panamanians could have done this independently, but presumably, not as swiftly without the support of the US. I was disappointed that I did not know about these circumstances prior to visiting Panama, especially because it relates to my own history. One thing I have taken away from this trip is to study some of the significant events that have shaped the country’s cultures and current conditions before visiting. It does not need to be extensive, but enough to understand and relate with its citizens.

While in Panama, the cohort did an excursion to the Miraflores Locks to witness cargo ships passing through the Canal.

Ocean View of Panama

Panama Skyline

Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal

#ProhibidoOlvidar A Mural Remembering the 1989 Invasion of the US

Time-Lapse of Ship Passing Through

Cohort Photo at the Panama Canal

I Spy: Costa Rican Edition

Author: Mia Casas

Location: Cahuita, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One of the top attractions of Costa Rica is the wildlife. Many visitors look forward to seeing all the tropical species that are home to the country. The most recognizable include sloths, monkeys, iguanas, toucans, and more. You won’t find these animals easily in San José, but will definitely have the opportunity to see these creatures in their natural habitat during excursions. The best areas, in fact, are the national parks, which offer shelter for the animals to roam freely.

National parks are protected areas that prohibit the destruction of wildlife in all forms. Commonly, you will see signs that warn against feeding or touching wild animals and littering in nature. These precautions protect the natural environment and ecosystem. In Costa Rica, the regulations of national parks can be even more stringent. For example, Cahuita National Park, along the Caribbean coast, closes daily at 4pm, a relatively early hour. This allows the animals to have a break from human interaction, and still enjoy the daylight hours. For Manuel Antonio National Park, this same standard applies, and the park goes even farther to be closed all-day on Mondays.

While visiting these parks, there will be some animals that you can spot easily. However, most hide clandestinely in the vegetation of their habitat. With this in mind, it is worth considering hiring a guide to help you in your scavenger hunt for all the wild animals. Many animals hide in plain sight, and you need a trained eye to be able to spot them. Otherwise, you may end up looking at the same animal over and over again (like the white-faced monkey).

Additionally, some areas offer day tours, as well as night tours. During the night tours you may spot insects, spiders, frogs, and bats. In Cahuita, Heidi solicited the help of her friend Fernando to give us both a day tour and night tour. An extra benefit of a hired guide is that they have the proper instruments to see the animals, such as telescopes and special lighting during the night. Check out some of the pictures we took, with the help of Fernando.

Iguana at Manuel Antonio National Park

Congo Monkey at Cahuita National Park

Three-Toed Sloth at Cahuita National Park

Two Frogs at Fernando’s Place

White-Faced Monkey Video

Me at Manuel Antonio using a telescope to view the animals in the trees


Author: Elisabeth Walters

Location: Reutlingen, Germany

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Before leaving to come to Reutlingen in August, I was nervous and scared. The idea of leaving the country I call home to experience something new was, although exciting, also nerve wrecking. My mind kept replaying all the things that could go wrong. However, going out of my comfort zone was the best thing I could have done for myself.

By going out of my comfort zone, I have, firstly, seen the sights of the world from the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt to Buckingham Palace in the United Kingdom. Secondly, I am able to say that I’ve tried swabian food from Germany and seafood from the Mediterranean Sea. Also, I am able to say that I have lived in a culture that varies from my own and I am able to compare the teaching styles of Germany to the United States. Another thing is that I have faced challenges that I would have never have faced back at home and I’ve learned important life lessons from those challenges.

Besides the lessons that I’ve learned, the most important thing is that throughout my study abroad semester I have made true friendships with people who live differently than me. I’m able to say that I have a home away from home because I have come to love the city I stayed in during my time in Germany. Also, during my stay in Reutlingen, I’ve made memories that I’ll be able to replay in my mind for the rest of my life as well as share with others.

Clara, Ethan, and I eating smores on top of Georgenberg

A couple of us celebrating Ethan’s birthday in Reutlingen

As my time in Germany comes to an end, I have realized that I am no longer the same person that I was when I came here in September. I have changed. I am no longer afraid to test the limits and go for what I want in life. I have also changed in regards to my cultural awareness. Having stayed in Germany for a few months, I can say that I am more aware of what is a stereotype of that culture and what is not. Lastly, the lessons I have learned, the memories I have made, and the friendships that have blossomed in Reutlingen are not ones that I am saying “goodbye” to, but simply saying “see you later”.

Interning at a French Law Firm

Author: Bianca Gamez

Location: Paris, France

Pronouns: He/His/Him

For the second half of the semester, my study abroad program had the students do an internship in either English or French. Before being placed somewhere, the program teams up with EUSA that deals with the placement of each student. This process was tedious for me and pretty much every other student because over the summer we had to turn our resumés into a CVs which is a different format and it also needed to be in French. Apart from this, we also had to have a Skype interview with one of the EUSA representatives in order for them to see our French speaking skills and be able to get to know us. Not only did we have to do this, but we also had to fill out a couple documents and surveys online through their platform. After all of this, we just had to wait until we came abroad and see where we would be placed and who we will be interviewing with.

Since each student could specify which sector they would like to be placed for their internship, I decided to be placed in either political science or law sector. Since, I have already had experience working at a law firm in the U.S. it was not hard to convince them to place me in one. Fortunately, I conducted my interview at Cabinet Castellane Avocats which is a French law firm. The founder, Béatrice Castellane, of the enterprise let me intern with her firm for the rest of the program, and so far, I have been pleased with this internship.

Cabinet Castellane Avocats is located in the northwest part of Paris, Trocadero. In order to get into the building, you need three different types of codes in order to enter the private neighborhood, the apartment, and to access the stairs and elevator. The office is small and only consists of the attorney Castellane, another intern who is about to graduate from law school, and me. The other intern and me both have our own desks, computers, and work folders. I only work Mondays through Thursdays from 10a.m. to about 7p.m, and my tasks mainly consist of reading and responding to e-mails, reading cases, contributing my thoughts and opinions on the cases, helping draft documents, and preparing the documents for the hearings. Most of tasks and communication is in French except for the cases that are conducted in English.

(This is the outside of the law firm.)

(This is our kitchen. We are given an hour for lunch and just to relax after our busy morning.)

(This is my desk where I work on the cases that are given to me and translate words from French to English for my own comprehension)

Throughout my internship, I have been taken out of my comfort zone and have had my own morals and thoughts challenged. I learned that this was normal since my culture and the French culture is different especially when talking about politics. I will say, however, that I have learned so much from interning at a French law firm. My vocabulary and grammar have advanced so much legally and also from a day to day basis. I have become more comfortable when speaking in French because of this opportunity since I am forced to communicate effectively on what I am thinking and feeling about documents. Overall, this internship has helped develop my French speaking skills and has opened another professional career for me which is arbitrational work.

(I went to the Palais de Justice for a hearing. This is one of the main lobby areas of the courthouse.)

(This is also inside le Palais de Justice except this is one of the areas that is restricted and only those who have cases in this area are allowed to enter.)

Exploring the Japanese countryside

Author: Brandon Polinski

Location: Azuchi and Sekigahara, Japan

Pronouns: He/His/Him

For most of this semester I have constantly been surrounded by people and things. Kansai Gaidai is in the heart of the Kansai region, and is in the vicinity of not one, but three major cities. In Japan, it is also more difficult to distinguish where the city ends and suburbs begin, as the city sprawl extends outward, blending into the neighboring cities. The buildings may get smaller, but it does not get much less dense. My place of residence in Hirakata-shi is considered by the locals to be a small residential town, but it and the surrounding area is bustling compared to Valparaiso and my hometown in Illinois.

I had been interested in taking a trip to see what a non-urban Japanese town was like, so I was excited when my friend invited me on a countryside trip. We were still very much in the bounds of civilization, but this was probably the most unique of my experiences in Japan.

First stop was Azuchi. This is also the location of the ruins of the historic Nobunaga’s castle. To get to our destination we had to walk from the station through about a mile of rice fields. There were not any sidewalks, just single lane roads. Overall, this was still something of a tourist spot, at the museums there were quite a few elderly Japanese and at the castle trail there were many Japanese families. However, the town itself was easily the smallest town I had been to so far, with an estimated population of around 12,000 people.

Me in Azuchi.

View from the top of Nobunaga’s castle trail.

Sekigahara was even further out. On the way there we made a mistake and missed a train. This mistake cost us time, so we had to wait more than thirty minutes for the next train. In Hirakata, it would be rare to wait more than ten minutes. Aside from this set-back, there were no other issues and we arrived safely. Sekigahara has a population of around only 7,000 people, even smaller than Azuchi.  Sekigahara also hosts some museums, along with being the site of the historic battle of Sekigahara. However, we saw almost no people. We walked through more fields and a mountain trail, completely alone in wide open surroundings. In America, finding yourself alone in a spacious area is not a difficult thing to accomplish, but here it felt surreal and cathartic.

Parts of Sekigahara looked like something out of a painting.

We walked until we could not walk any more, and then treated ourselves to an amazing view of the sun setting over the ancient battlefield, with the town stretching out into the distance. Once rested, we began the trip back home. I am very happy I made this trip because it gave me an experience that I felt I was really missing most of this semester. I feel like an even more knowledgeable and well-rounded traveler, especially pertaining to Japan and the greater Kansai region.

Taking a rest.

The sun sets on the battlefield.

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