Author: studyabroad (page 1 of 34)

Flying Solo: On Traveling Alone

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, Enlgand

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Taken in Genoa, Italy

During my semester in Cambridge, I have been very fortunate to travel beyond Cambridge and even the UK. Most of these trips have been with at least one other cohort member and which has had lots of benefits: multiplied memories, always having someone to be your photographer, splitting costs, etc. And some of my favorite trips ended up being to the places that my fellow cohort members really wanted to go to; the spontaneity and lack of expectations has always added to the fun.

On the other hand, a lesson that we have collectively learned is that it can be really hard to travel with a group. In addition to everyone having different hopes and wish lists for what they want to accomplish or see on a trip, it is just a fact that everything will take longer when in a group— from getting from point A to point B, to deciding on where you want to eat dinner.

Personally, I think those challenges often will outweigh the costs, and that learning how to communicate, compromise, and give each other the benefit of the doubt are just as important to take-away from a trip than any souvenir. That being said, another lesson I have definitely gained while abroad has been in finding enjoyment and fulfillment in solitude.

One of our first independent trips outside of England to Edinburgh, Scotland (taken on the street that inspired J.K. Rowling’s “Diagon Alley”).

And even aside from the pros and cons of traveling with a group, sometimes because of our different bucket lists and class schedules most of us did travel alone at some point. I have grown up in a culture in which “women traveling alone” has always been approached as either reckless, a last-resort, or incredibly brave. Still, I felt ready, and I didn’t think it was fair for my gender to hold me back.

I had hopes for a solo trip through France, but it didn’t work out mostly because I was running low on time and money, and that’s okay. I did end up traveling on my own a few times when on trips with fellow cohort members and our paths split up. During Spring Break, I left Liz and Jasmine at Florence, Italy and went by myself to Marseilles, France where I met up with Nolan for a few days. He then went on to Spain and I traveled back to London.

Nolan and I in Marseilles, France

Then right before I came back to the States, Jasmine, Liz, and I took a trip to Spain to celebrate completing our semester abroad. We were together from London to Ibiza, to Valencia. Liz and Jasmine went ahead of me to Madrid and then London. I followed the same path but spent a little more time in Valencia and Madrid. The second-half of that trip felt like the first time I really traveled alone; i.e. not just on my own when traveling from point A to point B but alone when exploring a new city.

I learned a lot about myself throughout the semester, and my time alone in Spain gave me the perfect mind-space to reflect on my time abroad. Additionally, it felt really good to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. Below are some tips for anyone else making plans to fly solo.

Madrid, Spain

Do Your Research

There are a lot of helpful websites that can give you an overview of how safe a city or country is, especially for women, foreigners, at night, when traveling alone etc. Look up reviews of hostels beforehand and try to figure out anything you can about their public transport before you get there. Even if you can’t find out that much, or if it’s nothing different than what you’d see in person, it can be really helpful for your peace of mind.

Another thing I learned is that traveling alone can end up being more expensive than traveling with others, so be sure to factor that in to your budget. For example, you can’t buy food or drink in bulk and split the cost, and there were a couple times where I had to pay for an Uber when it wasn’t safe for me to walk alone in the dark but would have been okay if I had been with others.

Alone ≠ Isolated

“Alone” does not have to mean “lonely.” Try to find fulfillment and enjoyment in being alone. Use it as a time to reflect, and as an opportunity to feel proud of yourself! Acknowledge that traveling alone is no easy feat, and that it takes a lot of courage, independence, and confidence.

Additionally, traveling alone does not even mean you have to be alone! Throughout the semester we always met solo travelers in our hostels and sometimes they’d join us for dinner or even on the rest of our journey (which was a really common thing for young travelers to do in Europe).

I went on my own to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy where I got to see one of my all time favorite painting (Birth of Venus by Botticelli).

You can also make plans to go to places where you either can meet other people or where you won’t feel as noticeable if you’re on your own. I really loved going to museums and open markets for these reasons.

Be Smart

If you can, solo travel in countries where you can speak the language (at least some basics). Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way when in Spain but thankfully there were a lot of very kind people who were willing to struggle with me and use a lot of gestures. I highly recommend downloading an offline translator app and Duo Lingo.

If you do not get an International phone plan for the semester and plan on just using Wi-Fi (which is what I did), it will be totally fine. BUT, if I had known I was going to be traveling alone or if I had done any more of it I definitely would have made sure to get phone service. Especially in a country where you don’t speak the native language very well, it makes it 100% more difficult to not be able to use Google translate or maps.

Also, make sure you always keep others updated on your plans for the day and where you’ll be (e.g. your cohort, your mom, etc.). You can also use Find My Friends and share your itineraries etc., and especially if you don’t have phone service where you wouldn’t potentially be able to call someone for help if you didn’t have Wi-Fi.

Treat Yourself

I truly think the key to successful solo traveling is “treat yourself”!! It helped me feel less lonely and self-conscious about being on my own, and helped me feel proud of my accomplishments. Another perk of traveling alone is you don’t have to find restaurants and plans that make everybody in the group happy— just do whatever makes you happy!

Enjoying a ham, Camembert, and tomato crepe with horchata in Valencia, Spain while journaling and people watching.

I love wandering slowly and taking a very long time when exploring artsy neighborhoods, art museums, and bookstores. I hate feeling rushed, but I hate even more making the people I’m with wait on me (even if they’re super nice about it and really don’t mind). So when I traveled alone Florence and Madrid I savored taking my time in museums, and it made me appreciate the art so much more and feel refreshed.

Welcome to My World!

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

My mom, my sister Eva, and I posing in front of one of the countless old doors which my family consistently wanted to stop and take a picture in front of.

During the month of March, I was very lucky to have some of my family and friends visit me where I got to show them around my little world of Cambridge. My friends Hayley, Sarah, and Alexis were in London during Spring Break because of Valpo’s “The London Stage” course, Maddie came over France where she has been studying abroad this semester, and my parents and younger sister Eva came for a long weekend during her spring break.

Maddie, Hayley, and I near the City Center of Cambridge

The following are some of the place that either had become important to me over the past two months, and/or was something that had always made me think of them.

Castle Mound

This is a little hill where an Ancient Roman watchtower once stood, you can see most of Cambridge from the top (but only when it’s not overcast). I am not really sure when or how, but Castle Mound has become one of Cambridge’s most important places to me. If I have time, I always try to walk up it and look around for a bit whenever I pass by (which is pretty often because it is in between the City Center and the Valpo Dorm).


Punting on the river Cam is the most quintessentially “Cambridge” thing there is! The Cam runs through the city (get it?? Cam-bridge?) and the Punt guides point out many of the famous colleges which surround it.

My dad and Eva punting on the Cam

The Market Place

There is a wonderful open-air market every day in the City Center with many stalls full of food (so much food), vintage clothes, records, souvenirs, bikes, books, you name it! Cambridge’s famous Crepe Cart is also near the Market, and I definitely took everybody there.

The Pickerel Inn

This is a pub I walk by almost daily and one of it’s claims to fame is that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to hang out there (it’s very near Magdalene College).

The Pickerel Inn

Cream Tea at Arundel House

The “stereotype” of British people and their tea, is really not that much of a stereotype— it’s a fact. I took my friends and family to Arundel House for Cream Tea which is where Dr. Brough took our cohort at the beginning of the semester. Cream Tea is the classic British tea served with a variety of finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, and fresh jam.

Pinkies up!

Some of the Cambridge Colleges

“Cambridge University” is actually made up of 31 separate colleges—there’s no main building or campus—which each have their own history, coat of arms, extensive list of impressive alumna, and buildings, libraries, courtyards, chapels, residence halls, etc. The students at Cambridge University take a lot of pride in which college they belong to (sometimes almost to the point of elitism and rivalry), but it is a rich source of community, camaraderie, and tradition.

We visited into Magdalene College which is where C.S. Lewis used to teach, and I really love wandering into their small Chapel dedicated to Mary. And I made sure to bring Hayley and Maddie into the Christ College courtyard since we all met through Valpo’s CC (even though ours is technically based off of the Christ College in Oxford).

We visited Trinity College’s Wren Library, which has an unfathomable amount of history and artifacts. Some of the highlights were original, hand-written lecture notes and journals of Sir Isaac Newton and Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the first published anthologies of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, and an original draft of Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, both went to Trinity College).

King’s College Chapel

Hayley and Maddie inside King’s Chapel

I walk through King’s College courtyard at least twice a week on the way back from my lectures, and its beauty never fails to give me a few goose bumps; it was really special to experience those kinds of moments with my family and friends because they can never truly be communicated via a Face-Time call or text message.

My mom and Eva outside of King’s Chapel (Unfortunately, when I first took my family to King’s they were not open for visitors because they were rehearsing for an upcoming choir concert but we ended up going to the concert later that evening so it all worked out wonderfully!)

Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Way back in December, once Hayley, Sarah, and I had all solidified our plans to travel abroad this semester, we bought tickets to go to the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. A couple months later, our dreams came true. There is no other way to describe the experience but magical.

Hayley and I, or Hagrid and Ron?? You tell me.

The opportunity to bring the people I care about so much into this new part of my life was incredibly affirming to my process of settling into Cambridge. Watching my friends and family experience England, allowed me to reflect on how quickly I had become so used to the things that had once amazed me as well. It was a good reminder to not take anything for granted, but it also felt good to realize that familiarity had become present too.

Expectations vs Realities

Author: Garrett Gilmartin

Location: Granada, Spain

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Studying abroad is no doubt one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences I have had the pleasure of living out, however, I feel that some people, including myself, go abroad expecting pure magic and no hardship which just is not realistic. I one hundred percent encourage everyone who has the means to study abroad, but I just want to clear some things up so that students have the right expectations and can therefore get the most of the experience.

The first expectation I had going abroad was that the people would likely be closed off to tourists/foreigners. I think I had this preconception because I have seen so many “cold” interactions in the U.S. between citizens and foreigners, meaning the U.S. citizens were the ones who didn’t stop to help with directions or care to share a conversation. Now I do not believe all U.S. citizens are not willing to help, this is just a little of what I have noticed. The reality, here in Granada, is that most people, from Spain or other European countries, would gladly help with directions or start up a conversation. One of my favorite cafes is a small place across from my school where any time of the day I could sit down and have someone to talk to in english or spanish. It could be the cashier or it could be customers, people here are just so warm and welcoming. Obviously, this was a pleasant surprise and I was glad that my expectation was disproven.

Another expectation I had arriving in Granada was that my program group would be my best friends and that we would all hang out and travel together. Unfortunately, I was wrong about this one too. Don’t get me wrong, I hold nothing against anyone in my program group. The reality is that not everyone was in love with the idea of all of us sticking together all of the time. Some people were occasionally left out of activities and travel plans. This isn’t something to get down about if it happens because personally I used the disconnect within my group to grow and explore individually. I ended up meeting a guy from England who came to Granada to take a few classes in spanish and explore the South of Spain. That is just what we did. I ended up going on hikes, walks through Granada, and talking about some interesting worldly topics with my new friend that I likely would have never experienced without trying to meet people outside of my program and school.

I was also able to grow personally by improving my spanish and my understanding of the culture here thanks to my host family. Before arriving I did not know what to expect of my host family. I had heard about great experiences but I had also heard of some horror stories. I’ve learned that it is luck of the draw. I was lucky enough to be placed with a caring excited family who are always happy to talk, take me out for food, and even bring me to their small town home in the mountains. Many others in my program say they too feel lucky whether they just have a host mother, which seems to be the norm, or they have both parents and a sibling like me. Not everyone had such luck this time though. There was a member of my program who was living with a host mom who would insult them on the phone with her friends and feed them as little food as possible. No worries, my group member ended up talking to our lovely director who helped transfer them immediately into a new placement. I gave examples of really great families and a really bad one but the lesson is that host families can be amazing, terrible, or in between so it is important to be open to new experiences and to try to get along to start. If things seem to be getting worse there are always people to help.

I could go on forever about the infinite expectations that one could have going abroad but I think overall there is a universal lesson here. It’s important to have realistic expectations when planning to go abroad, however, it is ok to dream a little because some of those experiences will be that pure magic I mentioned.

Osaka: My Favorite City in the World

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Despite being from Chicago, I’ve never been a city person. I prefer quieter, suburban areas with less people, more nature and less noise. But once I came to Japan and visited Osaka, I quickly discovered it was the perfect city for me. Even though Osaka is a huge city, it never feels overcrowded or too busy. There are tons of little parks where anyone can stop to take a break and eat ice cream (something I’ve done probably too many times). The parks are especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season. There’s a wide variety of restaurants and shops, so it’s easy to spend the day out and about. Name brands are really popular here in Japan, so if you have expensive tastes, tracking down Apple, Gucci and other luxury goods is easy. But if you’re a college student like me and prefer something more within your budget, there’s plenty of family run restaurants serving traditional Osakan food like takoyaki or okonomiyaki along with small shops selling whatever you want to buy.

However, to me, the most important and defining quality of Osaka is the people’s kindness. Throughout Japan, Osaka is known for being a warm and friendly city contrasted with Tokyo who is normally colder and more formal. I can say this is definitely true having visited both cities. Osakans always seem willing to help out and answer my questions (which I am eternally grateful for being a clumsy study abroad student who still struggles to read a map). On multiple occasions, I’ve had Osakans come up to me to ask questions about where I come from, what do I like about Japan and more simply because they were curious. The Osakan students at Kansai Gaidai University are the same way. So many students have come to talk to me to practice their English and help me with my Japanese. There were even Osakan or other Kansai students who came into my Japanese class to help us all practice our Japanese.

I think one of my favorite parts of Osaka is its dialect, Kansai-ben. Most of the Kansai area speaks with this dialect, but it’s well-known for being associated with Osaka. Like English, Japanese has dialects. If I had to compare Kansai-ben to a dialect in English, it’s something like a southern accent. There’s lots of colloquial terms that replace the more common words used in standard Japanese. Verbs are formed slightly differently with Kansai-ben too, so understanding it can be difficult especially since they don’t teach it in Japanese classes. Thankfully, my Japanese professor here taught us some Kansai-ben, so we can try it out with our Osakan friends. The dialect reflects the more friendly nature of Osaka and I think I prefer it to the standard Tokyo dialect even if I don’t quite have Kansai-ben mastered yet.

I highly recommend visiting Osaka! Most people only see Kyoto and Tokyo during there trips to Japan, but you’d be missing out if you don’t take the trip to Osaka!

The British Education System

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Westfield House

The academia of Cambridge was certainly one of the factors that drew me to its study abroad program, and as a lover of language, I knew that England would have much to offer. Valpo’s Cambridge program is unique in that we actually can take courses from up to five different colleges! I have been challenged by the British education system in ways that my prior academic experience has never been able to.

Essentially, the only grade I got for three out of my four courses relied solely upon a final paper. Fortunately, as a Creative Writing and Humanities student, this structure was fairly similar to classes I have taken at Valpo, but it was entirely foreign to some of my fellow Cohort members. That being said, I did not fully realize until now how structured my studies at Valpo really have been, and how much those smaller assignments throughout the semester can really take some of the pressure off of the final paper or exam.

Demi and I at the Jane Austen Center in Bath, England on one of our (many) 
British Life and Culture trips.

The best and worst aspect of my courses this semester has been the lack of structure. As someone who works best when under pressure, it would be an understatement to say that my procrastination has always been my downfall. While the lack of professor-enforced drafts and mini-deadlines meant a lot less busy work on my part, the tradeoff was my needing to manage my time well— which was honestly one of the most difficult parts of my semester abroad.

But on the other hand, there were many pros to this academic system. In addition to forcing me to grow in the time management area of my life, it also made it possible for me to travel mainland Europe, explore Cambridge deeper, and invest more time and energy into the new relationships I have formed while here. Furthermore, this lack of structure also gave me a great deal of freedom to choose the topics which I would research and write about for my final papers.

Nolan sniped this photo when we were working on our final British Life and Culture
papers at a favorite coffee shop (Benet’s) across from King’s Chapel.

Below are the courses that I took this semester, and the theses of my final papers to give a general idea of what I learned and wrote about.

Sociology: Modern Societies (Lectures at Cambridge University, Supervisions through Westfield House)

Thesis: Shaping gender and sexuality to be perceived as heteronormative is silent systemic oppression which has been (and still is) implemented to ensure that traditional forms of power remain uncontested; thus, deconstructing these concepts until they are separate, flexible entities can be the first step towards a mission for awareness, resistance, and liberation.

Liz and I pausing to enjoy the Spring sun on our regular 30 minute walk back from our
Sociology lecture at Mill Hall.

British Life and Culture (Valparaiso University)

Thesis: Both Ludwig Wittgenstein and Virginia Woolf were obsessed with language and its contradictions. It is the philosophical experience of exploring the incomprehensible that inspired the prolific and profound words of both Wittgenstein and Woolf, despite—or perhaps even because of—those indiscernible areas where logical language falls short.

New Testament Epistles (Cambridge Theological Federation)

Thesis: The Apostle Paul saw the Old Testament’s role in the Early Church as a foundation for Christian community, but he did not believe it to be the foundation  for salvation. In relation to today’s Church, Paul’s perspective of the Law ought  to remind Christian leaders to continually make certain that their teachings are in line with Jesus’ gospel (i.e., to bring salvation to all people), rather than in line with the Covenant (i.e., to bring salvation to select people).

Nolan casually reading a book before our Theo lecture at Ridley Hall.

British Science Fiction (Westfield House)

This was the only course that did not have a final paper but instead an in-class short essay exam as the main (pretty much only) grade. Unsurprisingly, we studied a lot of novels in this course. With only four students in the class we all collectively read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and then each proceeded to read four different novels that we would then present on to the class. I really, genuinely enjoyed almost all of the books I read: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and The Power by Naomi Alderman (the last two being my favorite by far, and which I highly recommend!).

Jasmine, Demi, Nolan, and I posing in our House Robes in front of Westfield House
before class and weekly House Chapel and Tea (Taken on our first day of British
Science Fiction!).

San Pedro de Atacama

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Last week, Chile had its national Labor Day, and most businesses, supermarkets, and restaurants shut down for the day to give workers time to rest and be with their families. It actually started a day earlier, with most places closing around 6pm the night before. So with our extra day off, my friends and I decided to take a mini-vacation up to the north of Chile, in the Atacama Desert. It’s widely known as one of the driest places on Earth, with an average rainfall of .6 inches per year. One friend, Delaney, and I went first, with an extra day in the town San Pedro de Atacama before the rest of our group joined us. We rented bikes and rode around for half the day, in search of an abandoned tunnel in the middle of the desert. It was extremely hot, which was a nice change from the cloudy, chilly weather that we’ve started to have in Viña del Mar. On the way, we actually ran into a family of wild cows! They were so cute and fluffy, and actually allowed us to get super close to them!

The next day, four friends from our program met us in San Pedro. We spent the next few days exploring the desert and seeing some of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen. One day, we decided to take a tour to the 3rd largest geyser field in the world, but the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The tour company picked us up from the hostel at 4am so we could see the sunrise over the geysers. Despite being so hot during the day, it was surprisingly cold at four in the morning! My friends and I had to wear multiple layers, scarves, gloves, and very thick socks to survive! But regardless of the below freezing temperatures, it was well worth it. The views were amazing, and even though we were all tired and cold, the girls and I had a great time learning about the geysers, practicing our Spanish, and experiencing the unforgettable sunrise together. After a few hours at the geysers, the tour took us to a few more spots in the desert. This included a natural hot spring, a lagoon, and a cute town with a tiny church and only 5 families living there!

Overall, the girls and I had a great time together. Every night we hiked to nearby viewpoints to watch the sunset, and every night we were in awe. The sunsets in Viña del Mar have been really great, but there’s something extra special about the sun setting in the desert, with nothing but mountains and volcanoes in the distance. My friends and I have decided that the views we’ve seen in Chile, from the northern Atacama Desert to the southern Patagonia region, have been the most impressive we’ve seen in our lives so far.

My short trip (only Wednesday to Monday) to northern Chile has been, so far, one of my favorite experiences this semester. It was extra special for a few reasons. Firstly, I got the chance to see landscapes that, in photos, actually look photoshopped. Each day was full of sceneries that took my breath away. Plus, how many times can you say that you saw the sunset in the driest place in the world? But another really important reason why I loved this mini-vacation was because of the people I spent time with. In addition to the lovely girls from my program that were with me, I also randomly ran into someone I met in the very beginning of the semester in Viña del Mar, over 700 miles away. In the first few weeks of the semester, I went out in Viña with some members of the UVM international club. I ended up spending a few hours talking to a Chilean local, who did magic for my friends and me. It was really cool! Then, 2 months later, over 700 miles away, I ran into the Chilean magician again! It was such a chance encounter, and it made me realize how small this world really is. The more I travel, the more I realize that the world isn’t as big as I used to think. Everyone seems to be connected, and I’ve learned to look forward to the next time I run into someone I know, whether I’m walking in downtown Viña del Mar, or exploring the driest desert in the world.

Housing Advice while Abroad

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: Viña del Mar, Chile/Granada, Spain

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

What advice would you give to students (we have one who is concerned about this that will go abroad in the Fall concerned about accommodations?

I was concerned about accommodations before going abroad, but I learned that it really isn’t as stressful as I had thought. The people I lived with were very kind, and gave me a true glimpse into the country’s culture. I wouldn’t stress too much about the accommodations. Your host family just wants to make sure you’re enjoying your experience abroad. Plus, they usually have years of experience hosting students so they’ve seen it all. They give you home-cooked meals, do your laundry, and take care of you when your family back home can’t. For example, I got bronchitis during my semester in Chile and my Chilean host mom went with me to the clinic, talked to the doctor, and helped me get the medicine. Without her, I don’t know if I would have known what to do, or how to talk to the doctor at the clinic. I’m so thankful she took care of me, because getting sick while abroad can be scary! One really important thing students should know is that communication is really important. If you don’t want to eat certain foods, tell your host family and they’ll stop giving it you. If you’re having issues with the host family, tell your program director and they’ll do their best to resolve the issues. It might be hard or embarrassing to talk about the issue, but saying it once will be better than living with it for the whole semester. Just make sure to communicate!

How does setting up accommodations work (what’s the process)?

The process was super easy. VU and the host institutions do a lot of the work for you, and you just need to put in your preferences and restrictions. For example, I told the program directors that I’m vegan/vegetarian and they worked with the families to tell them what I can and cannot eat before I get there so everyone is on the same page. Before you go, there is usually a survey to help find the best fit with students and family. For Granada and Viña del Mar, it was a pretty seamless process and everything worked out really well.

Is it something you should be ashamed of? Were you ashamed?

I’m not really sure what you would be ashamed of. I loved living with a host family in Spain and Chile, and my accommodations at the YMCA in Valparaíso were really great as well. It’s an easy way to get even more immersed in the different culture, and the people you live with are great resources for information about the country and the town you’re living in. Although it might be uncomfortable or awkward at first, I think living with a host family is the best way to experience a semester abroad. It’s also a great way to improve your language skills!

Will you have anonymity and privacy when you tell personnel that you need accommodations?

Yes! Of course, it varies depending on the program. However, in all three of the VU study abroad programs I’ve participated in, the personnel that I’ve worked with are very accommodating. The grand majority of the people working with VU and the other institutions really just want to make sure that you’re safe and you’re enjoying your time abroad. They will do whatever it takes to make sure you feel comfortable wherever you’re living. Privacy can be a big concern, but everyone I’ve worked with has been discreet and only share what is necessary.

Will it stop you from having fun and making new friends and experiences; how does it work abroad? How is your experience?

Absolutely not! No matter where you live, you’re going to have an incredible semester, meet interesting people, and have lots of fun! In my experience, the host families just want you to love the country and enjoy the semester. They don’t mind if you come home late, or skip a meal to go out with friends. They only want to make sure you’re safe. The only frustrating thing is that I couldn’t have friends over to my house (although it depends on which program and the family you live with). However, instead of having that ruin the experience, my friends and I used that as an excuse to go out and explore the city more! I think that no matter what, accommodations won’t stop you from having fun or from making really great friends. And if it does, tell your program director or someone at VU and they’ll work with you to improve the situation! Regardless of where you live, your semester abroad will an unforgettable experience and you’ll meet people that will become some of your closest friends.

Meet Cambridge’s Cohort #102!

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: Cambridge, England

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

VU C-102 in Bath, England (Get it??)

Out of the nine Valpo students living in Cambridge this Spring 2019 semester, only two people were close friends before we got here, and a few of us were acquaintances or had environment-specific relationships with each other.

Four months later, and I think it’s safe to say that our closeness has exceeded the magical, inevitable bond that forms between people placed outside of their comfort zones and natural environments; we’ve really become a family.

Our first picture taken together in front of Westfield House (it feels like this photo was
taken years ago).

We’ve celebrated our highs together— like 21st birthdays, finishing final papers, making British friends, attending each other’s Ultimate Frisbee games and choir concerts, cheers-ing to getting jobs and leadership positions for next year, and Wordfest awards. We’ve supported and leaned on one another during the lows too— from homesickness, to physical sickness, break-ups and broken phones (multiple phones), procrastinated deadlines and everything that falls in between.

We’ve also learned how to survive with each other— it’s no small feat to go from not knowing each other to spending literally all of your time with 8 other people. Perhaps needless to say, we’ve all grown in communicating our needs and feelings, how to forgive, and how to practice empathy.

Nolan, Cami, and Eric in front of our house

As the semester is drawing to a close, our cohort has become an inextricable part of our study abroad experience. The thought of going home and not being able to accurately share with others the depth of these memories and relationships that we’ve so quickly formed is a stressful idea…The quirkiness and inside jokes, the way we’ve so naturally picked up each other’s mannerisms, and so much more. So, in an attempt to capture just a glimpse into our silly, creative, loving family, I’ve asked each cohort member a couple of questions.

Without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce to the world Cambridge’s 102nd Cohort (in order of our favorite colors on the ROYGBIV spectrum):

Emily Neuharth

Emily in Keukenhof, Netherlands

Favorite color: Pink
Nickname(s): Em, Maurice, Groovy Cat
Enneagram Type: 4w3
Astrology: Libra Sun, Pisces Moon, Leo Rising
Advice: A suggestion I’d give to future cohort members would be to remember that the advice, “Make the most out of your time,” is going to look different for each person— try not to compare your study abroad experience to others (whether that be your peers at other programs, past Cambridge students, or your fellow cohort).
Memory: All of our natural, silly, family-moments that we’ve so luckily grown used to…like binge-watching Hell’s Kitchen and Queer Eye, having dance parties in the kitchen, Face-Timing each other to get them to come downstairs and hang out, forcing each other to watch each other’s favorite movies, having photo shoots, working on procrastinated papers and presentations together, roasting each other, and adopting each other’s phrases and habits.
Growth: I’ve become more comfortable in spending my time alone and can better see the value in it. I’ve realized that I have a lot farther to go in my
growth as a person— and have learned that I was definitely in denial and hiding some things from myself. I think that in some ways I’ve become less sure of my identity after this semester, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. If I hadn’t had this experience than I might never have been forced to reckon with these hard things, and push myself deeper to understand who I am and who I want to become.

Elizabeth Palmer

Liz at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland

Favorite color: Peach
Nickname(s): Liz, Lilibet, King Julian
Enneagram Type: 3w2
Astrology: Leo Sun and Moon, Virgo Rising
Advice: MAKE QUALITY TIME FOR YOURSELF! You deserve the same effort you give when you’re with other people. Go for runs, explore, paint your nails, make a yummy healthy meal, read, etc. Don’t be afraid to reach out to one another and love on each other. You’re going to become a family, and looking out for each other makes the experience better for everyone!
Memory: Playing True American with everyone in the living room, taking myself on a weekend date to Nice, France (see, treat yourself like you’d treat others!!), and walking by the colleges in springtime.
Growth: BOUNDARIES!! You can’t get mad at anyone for overstepping your boundaries if they don’t even know about them. Learn to communicate and be honest, and you’ll have the best experience possible. Also, I’m finally not scared of public transportation!! 🙂

Dr. Lorraine Brugh

Dr. Brugh and Gary (her husband) at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridge, England

Favorite color: Orange
Nickname(s): Our Queen, Mom (including British version, Mum, on Mother’s Day).
Astrology: Pisces Sun
Advice: Practice solitude before you get here. There’s a lot of it here, and it takes some getting used to.
Memory: Watching you all from the bridge and see you flow under me (punting) on the Cam.
Growth: Improved toilet paper and paper towel management, though still a work in progress.

Demi Marshall

Demi at Stonehenge in Amesbury, England

Favorite color: Yellow
Nickname(s): Dem-Demz, Dung Beetle #1
Enneagram Type: 3w4
Astrology: Aquarius Sun
Advice: Keep an open mind and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Make the most of your time here because it will go by SO much faster than you think.
Memory: All my favorite memories are spontaneous plans with my housemates that I didn’t anticipate happening that day. They are always the most fun. I’ve found saying yes more than staying in really beneficial.”

Growth: I think I have become a much more independent and somehow calm person. I thought I would suffer a lot with anxiety and depression while abroad, but this has really been one of the clearest points in my life. I have learned to blend with new people and also do things for myself that I never thought possible.

Jasmine Delara

Jasmine in Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany, Italy
Favorite color: Yellow
Nickname(s): Mort, Jazz Hands, Jay-Z, Dung Beetle #2
Enneagram Type: 2w3
Astrology: Sagittarius Sun and Moon, Aquarius Rising
Advice: The advice I would give to the next cohort or to anyone reading this, is to connect and create the community you want early in the semester and remember that relationships that you want to work will take continuous work. You get out what you put in and by building a community on understanding, forgiveness, compromise, and laughter you are working towards a really strong future.
Memory: My favorite memory here in Cambridge has to be the weekly Common Meal dinners. Right from the beginning all of us in the house wanted to create a family-community feeling here in the house and a big setting for those bonds to be made was at Common Meal. I loved getting excited about what people were going to make that week or making others excited about what I was going to make that week. And then sitting down as a big family and sharing conversation to me really can’t be beat. It was always fun and it was always something I looked forward to and I will definitely miss it once I leave.
Growth: I’ve grown in a multitude of ways, many of them being hard to describe. Most importantly I have grown in my faith, but not in the ways I was expecting to grow in my time here. I thought I was going to spend a lot of time in my Bible and grow in my one-on-one time with God in that way, but I found myself spending more time with him in nature on walks or while playing guitar. I have also found a new love for solitude and understanding its importance in reflection, growth, and understanding. Before this semester I would do almost anything to spend as little time as possible alone, and although I will still spend most of my time in community I will appreciate the time I have by myself.

Eric Wolfrum

Eric in Cambridge, England

Favorite color: Green
Nickname(s): Mellie
Enneagram Type: 9w8
Astrology: Leo Sun
Advice: You might have more free time than you are used to, but there is so much that’s going on in Cambridge— it’s just up to you to put yourself out there.

Memory: Sitting by the canal in Amsterdam while reflecting on my past three months of being in Europe. Also, going on lots of hikes and long walks, and American Mondays!!
Growth: I have learned that things usually work out in the end and that risks are worth taking. In addition, I learned how to be more comfortable with myself and learned that people are (generally) nice and welcoming wherever you go.

Nolan Filbert

Nolan at the Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseilles, France

Favorite color: Green
Nickname(s): Sweet Wedge, Shmehh, Noly-Bear
Enneagram Type: 2w1
Astrology: Taurus Sun, Pisces Moon
Advice: Through all the entrances and exits in life, this program will be one of the best. My advice would be to come with no expectation of what it will be like but prepare to be amazed at the beautiful place that Cambridge is and the beautiful people you’ll live with. Take time to explore and find the green spaces to relax and the coffee shops to study in. Try to soak up the amount of history, culture, and music that is literally on every street and you won’t come close to being disappointed (hopefully). Lastly, your cohort will become your family, full of love and fun-filled memories that will last a lifetime.

Memory: One hundred and fifty percent would be all the little places in Cambridge that we went to throughout the year to learn more about Cambridge with the greatest tour guide, Dr. Brugh. Of course seeing “As You Like It” in person and in the birthplace of Shakespeare was a favorite memory too. The games we played as a group are definitely up there too.
Growth: The biggest thing I have learned while being here in Cambridge is that art is cool and I absolutely fell in love with it (Check out David Hockney for my favorite artist). (Go to the Prado Museum in Madrid and you won’t regret a millisecond of it) 🙂

Ellie Hackbath

Ellie in Stratford upon Avon, England

Favorite color: Blue
Nicknames: Eleanor, Queen of the Night
Enneagram Type: 9w1
Astrology: Capricorn Sun, Libra Moon and Rising
Advice: First: Don’t be afraid to travel because it’s easier than you think it is, and if you’re smart about it, it’s always a good experience— I haven’t had a bad one yet. Secondly: Don’t be worried to spend time at home because Cambridge is beautiful and everyone needs time to recuperate.

Memory: My favorite memory in Cambridge was to see a play with Nolan at the Cambridge Arts Theater. And outside of Cambridge was when Demi, Bethany, and I went to Paris. We all sat on the floor of our Air BnB, ate baguettes and brie and drank wine— it was really fun.
Growth: I’ve become more independent, self-assured, and less willing to take other people’s BS.

Eric Ruzanski

Eric at the British Museum in London, England

Favorite color: Blue
Nickname(s): Easy E, Weatherman, RaEric
Astrology: Aries Sun
Advice: Find a British topic, that be it science, literature, history, or whatever, and independently research that topic while you’re here. Go out of your way to visit places or do things related to the topic. If you love to learn, it’s a great way to enjoy and appreciate the time allotted in the United Kingdom. For me, this was Margaret Thatcher and BREXIT! I also visited a few places in Cambridge where big-name mathematical contributions came from. This town has so much to offer!
Memory: Hanging out with the Valpo group at Castle St. Pub after our first British Life and Culture trip to London. Also, writing, researching, and equity trading at various pubs and coffee shops.
Growth: I have grown to be patient with slow-er European Wi-Fi… 😉

Camden Heinisch

Cami in Windermere in the Lake District, England

Favorite color: Purple
Nickname(s): Cami
Astrology: Cancer Sun
Advice: Your time here is what you make of it, and there are ways to get involved in Cambridge. Personally, I did this through sports and Christianity. And experiment! I experimented with my fashion here (partly out of necessity because I didn’t bring a lot of things), and it will definitely come back to the States. Own the fact that you’re American. People won’t look down on you just because of your accent. They may grossly impersonate your accent and stereotype you (my personal favorite was being called a ‘yee-haw’ and seeing the accompanying handshake) but it’s all in good fun, trust me 🙂 The Brits that I have met here have an amazing sense of humor, and they can dish it as well as take it.
Memory: Going to a local pub after Bible study one Tuesday night. It had been a really rough week, but everyone that I went with was just so amazing and fun to be around… It was hard not to feel the same as they did walking out of there.

Growth: Fashion, emotion, faith, (but mostly faith). The Brits I’ve surrounded myself with here are exemplary Christians in a way I’ve never seen masses of people being, and it really pushed me to take a hard look at myself and how I was acting and going along in my faith. Time will only tell if the changes I experienced here carry over to the States.

Cohort #102 at the Jane Austen Center in Bath, England

Semana Santa in Mendoza, Argentina

Author: Casey Bremer

Location: Mendoza, Argentina

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Happy Easter! Here in Chile, they don’t celebrate a very huge, extravagant Holy Week/Semana Santa, like they do in some other Spanish-speaking countries (i.e. Spain or Mexico). Usually, Chileans just don’t have work or classes on Good Friday. Most stores and restaurants are closed, and many Chileans take the long weekend to travel to a nearby city called Mendoza, across the border in Argentina. So I decided to follow the crowd and cross the border into Argentina for the weekend. I took a bus from Viña del Mar directly into Mendoza, which took about 11 hours, mostly because of the long line at the border crossing. However, I didn’t mind because the way into Argentina is well-known as a very beautiful route- it curves right through the Andes and is surrounded by nature and giant mountains. During the bus ride, I actually got the chance to watch the sunrise in the Andes mountains, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Once I got into Mendoza, I walked around the city and visited a few main attractions. I had a full day to myself before some friends from Chile were coming the next day. So I visited street markets and then walked around the giant city park (it has a zoo, a lake, two museums, an amphitheater, a country club, 34 sculptures, and so much more). I also met some really nice people at my hostel, and we all went out to dinner at a very popular restaurant in town called Fuente y Fonda. Our table consisted of two people from Mexico, two people from Argentina, three people from France, and me! We made a point to only speak Spanish at the table, and it was really satisfying to practice my language skills and see how much I’ve improved in just the short time I’ve been in Chile.

The next day was busy, although very enjoyable. Some friends from my program in Chile came to Mendoza, and we ended up taking a few tours around the city together. For the first, we went to thermal baths an hour outside of Mendoza, in the middle of the mountains. Although it was a holiday and full of people, the thermals were really relaxing and had some great views! The next tour that we took involved three vineyards and an olive oil factory. Mendoza is well-known for its high-quality, low-price wine (most specifically a red wine called Malbec), and most tourists actually come to the city just to visit the vineyards. And in addition to the great wine, Mendoza is also known for its really popular olive oil. We ended the day with a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, because food in Argentina is super cheap compared to the US and Chile! Early the next morning we had to take an early bus to get back to Viña del Mar in time for Monday classes.

Throughout my weekend in Argentina, I was practicing my Spanish abilities and getting more comfortable with different accents. For example, I noticed that Argentinians use the verb tense “vos” instead of “tú,” stress different syllables of their words, and also use a lot of the “sh” sound. In contrast, Chileans talk really fast, barely pronounce the ends of the words, and almost never pronounce the “d” or “s.” As I’m improving in Spanish, I’ve gotten much better at distinguishing different accents, and as more time goes by in the semester, I fall more and more in love with the Spanish language in general. I love that I chose to come to Chile for my semester abroad, as opposed to England or Scotland, where I would speak the native language. Not only am I learning about different parts of the world during my semester abroad, but I’m also greatly improving my language skills. Overall, knowing a foreign language will always be a good thing, because it allows you to communicate with so many more people of the world. And in my opinion, studying abroad and being immersed in a new language is the best way to perfect your skills. If you want to get better in a foreign language, spend a semester immersed in it and by the end, you’ll have improved so much! Even though it can be a challenge, spending the semester in Chile has been so worthwhile and incredibly beneficial for my language skills- I don’t want to leave! I’ve already learned so much, and I can’t wait to see how much better I get by the end of the semester.

Climbing Mt. Hiei

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Mount Hiei, Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Japan is a mountainous country. No matter where you find yourself in Japan, it is likely you will be able to see the mountains in the distance. Japan’s most famous mountain is of course Mt. Fuji, but one of its most sacred mountains is Mt. Hiei, located between Kyoto and Lake Biwa. The mountain is home to multiple Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Monks travel up the mountain as pilgrimage while visitors can just take the cable car or drive their own car to the temples at the top. I decided I wanted to hike at least part of this divine mountain before I left Japan and with the weather becoming warmer with each day, I decided it was finally time to do it.

The mountain itself was absolutely gorgeous. It boasts different types of forests that change depending on how high up the mountain you go. Wild flowers grow on the side of the mountain and aside the walking trails. I decided to take the cable car halfway up the Kyoto side of the mountain and from that height, you can see the entire city down below. Since the mountain is known for its Buddhist affiliation, I spotted lots of Buddhist statues and monuments while walking. It became almost like a fun I-Spy game. From the Lake Biwa side of the mountain, you can see the lake and its coastal towns. My favorite part of the hike was the cherry blossoms barely still in bloom whose petals covered the walking path. Although I say walking path, it was covered in rocks, holes and tricky turns, so anyone who decides to hike on Mt. Hiei should be prepared. It isn’t an easy trek by any means, but if you do get too tired, there’s always the cable car.

I also visited the temples at the top of the mountain. Mt. Hiei has three main temple areas although I only visited two of them. The third was about 5 kilometers away in another section of the mountain. The temples have their own parking lots and transportation, so there are lots of visitors in contrast to the walking trails which had significantly fewer people. The temples, although old, are constantly maintained, so they looked like they were brand new. And while I didn’t enter any of them, I made sure to get a few postcards and pictures for posterity. However, I did take a visit to Mt. Hiei’s Inari shrine. Inari is a Shinto deity who is particularly famous in Kyoto because of Fushimi Inari. Having learned lots of Inari in my religions class, she is particularly near and dear to me, so I made sure to leave a few yen for her as an offering.

For anyone visiting the Kyoto area, I highly recommend visiting Mt. Hiei especially in the spring. The mountain is beautiful and easily accessible by car or cable car. The temples around the mountain are a great spot to visit and on the Kyoto side of the mountain, there is also a gardening museum. Determined hikers can make the climb up Mt. Hiei more difficult if they choose, but I preferred a leisurely walk for taking pictures and sightseeing. The path can also get pretty confusing at times, so make sure to bring a map!

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