Hoos Abroad is a blog featuring UVA students who are studying abroad and sharing their experiences with international education and cultural immersion.

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Learn more about UVA education abroad and opportunities to study abroad at educationabroad.virginia.edu

Recent Posts

Unhinged in Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello spent the entire 2016-17 year studying abroad in Amman, Jordan, participating in CET’s intensive Arabic language program. He shares an experience navigating social norms.

In an effort to compensate for all of the carbs I’ve been eating and the hookah I’ve been smoking, I decided to get a gym membership a couple of months ago and to my surprise, I’ve found that I actually really enjoy it. The gym I go to is called Troy 24/7 even though it doesn’t open until 5PM on Fridays and Saturdays. It sits on the main street, right on top of a hookah store and a barbershop staffed entirely by Syrians. The gym itself can politely be described as worn…for example, all of the pads on the machines are ripped and several pieces just seem to be held on by black electrical tape. It’s not the cleanest gym in the world, and the owner’s attempts to spruce it up, like painting blue triangles on the wall, only serve to emphasize that fact. Nevertheless, the staff are super nice and helpful, and the gym members – a weird assortment of foreigners, mostly Koreans; out-of-shape older men, and tattooed gym rats – have become a familiar community for me.

The other day when I went to the gym; however, I had a weird experience that left me a little wiser. And although I generally tend to hate blog posts where X-encounter taught me Y-valuable lesson about myself/culture/life in general, I really want to talk about it since it helps me simply articulate a concept that I’ve been struggling with.

Usually when I go to the gym, I bring a bottle of water; however, this time I forgot and so I went to the front desk, paid for a bottle of water, and watched as the owner used his fingers to unscrew the hinges on the door of the broken refrigerator where the water bottles are stored. No big deal. The next time, I also forgot to bring a bottle of water, so I put some money on the counter, went to the fridge and started to unscrew the hinges. The employee on duty, Abu Noor, an Egyptian working in Jordan because the economy is better (which tells you all you need to know about how awful the situation is in Egypt), saw me as he was walking past and cried out, “Stop! What are you doing? You can’t do that!”

He marched up to me and I started to explain myself, but he cut me off, “No you can’t do that. It’s not your place. When you go to the store and there’s something you want but can’t reach, you don’t climb the shelves, do you? You ask whoever’s working there.” Abu Noor kept getting more and more agitated as he tried to explain this concept to me. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s not your fridge, just because Muhammed (the owner) did it doesn’t mean you can!”

At this point, I was extremely confused and could not figure out what he was getting so worked up about. I’d apologized, it was an innocent mistake, and not even a big deal to begin with! Realizing this, Abu Noor grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “I know you’re a respectable guy, studying Arabic, and that you want to learn as much as you can. But you need to know that when you study a language, you’re actually studying three different things: language, culture, and behavior.” It then dawned on me that he wasn’t actually mad at me, rather he was offended by the way I had just assumed that I could go about something, which in his mind wasn’t my place to do.

Although those words aren’t innocent, particularly “behavior” in a patriarchal society, I think that they’re really insightful. Learning a language, especially when you’re overseas, isn’t just about grammar and vocabulary. The ultimate goal of language learning is to be able to use that language to communicate with and connect with other people. Additionally, every word, phrase and interaction is shaped by an enormous amount of implicit cultural, historical and social knowledge. We take it for granted, but every time we interact with someone else from our own culture, we’re drawing on an entire lifetime’s worth of interactions and operating within a very firm, defined set of social norms. It’s a reminder that you need to get out of the classroom to gain a full understanding, and it doesn’t just apply to language learning, but to every field of academic learning.

Q&A with UVA Alumna and Travel Blogger

Check out this Q&A from UVA Today with alumna Heather Mason, who moved to South Africa and developed a career as a travel blogger and writer.



Mason’s photo of her adopted hometown, Johannesburg

Mason recently sampled the food and wine of South Africa’s famed Stellenbosch wine region

Seoul, Korea: History, Modernization, and the balance of tourism and respect

Zachary Diamond is studying abroad in South Korea and Japan on UVA’s short-term Commerce program Finance in Northeast Asia.

After visiting Samsung in Gangnam, a group of us ventured to Bongeunsa, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 A.D. The first thing was the temple is absolutely beautiful, especially because they are currently celebrating Buddha’s birthday so thousands of colorful paper lanterns are hung up throughout the temple. It was extremely relaxing to walk through the entire area. Apart from the central prayer building, the temple is built into a hillside allowing for a small dirt trail surrounding by trees and a giant statue of Buddha that people would circumambulate in prayer.

Below is my favorite picture I’ve taken so far on the trip as it resembles the most fascinating part of this temple. From the spot of the picture, I was standing around trees, listening to nature and wind set off peaceful wind chimes. However, directly across the street are large class skyscrapers that hold offices for national and global firms. In Seoul I found a direct contrast of modern and traditional that is not evident in the United States. While Korea feels like a new and foreign land, the skyscrapers remind me just how similar it is to a large city in the states.

At the temple, I found myself conflicted between respect and experience. At the temple, people were in deep prayer and I felt as if I was trespassing on their special place. Especially at the statue of the Buddha, I was hesitant to walk close to the statue as I did not want to distract or interfere with those in prayer. Personally, I would be extremely thrown off and probably mad at anyone who was being a tourist at my temple back home. While for me the Bongeunsa was a spot to visit on this trip to Korea, for many people it is their sacred space and normal temple. The more I stay in the Seoul, the more I realize it is just like any other city, and that makes me feel somewhat guilty about trying seeing special places of the city as I’m treating the city as a spectacle and not what the locals treat it as, home.

My favorite picture taken so far

Lanterns hung up at Bongeunsa

How I became a Moroccan (ok kinda)

Morgan is currently studying abroad in Morocco. Check out her most recent blog!  

Before I came to Morocco, I was surprisingly ignorant about most of the culture and politics of Morocco, North Africa, the Maghreb region, and the Middle East more generally. After months of exposure I feel like I’ve only tapped the surface of this complex society but here are some of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve had:

  1. Dressing Up like a Moroccan:
    As I’ve mentioned before, there is a wide range of dress here in Morocco. Some women dress very western but many wear traditional jaballas and head scarves. Our professor, who is Moroccan, invited us to her house one day to try on her traditional formal attire. The dresses shown below would be worn to special events such as weddings or parties. We had such a fun time taking pictures and learning about Moroccan fashion!

  1. Making Bread like a Moroccan:
    Bread is a HUGE part of the Moroccan diet (which I was thrilled to learn upon arriving here). Khobz are served with every meal and used in place of a fork/spoon. For breakfast/tea time there are dozens of breads: harsha, msemmen, krachel, etc. etc. A friend from school invited us to her parents bakery to learn how to make msemmen and harsha. It didn’t turn out very well the first time but I plan to improve!

  1. Dressing Up like a Moroccan (part II):
    A few weeks after our first encounter with traditional Moroccan clothing, we were invited to the home of a tailor. She showed us her workshop and the immaculate dresses she sews with her hands to the customers desire. After letting us try on all of her creations she served us mint tea and sweets in typical Moroccan fashion. We chatted for hours in French about her independent entrepreneurship and breaking into the dress market in Rabat.

  1. Learning like a Moroccan:
    Morocco is an extremely multilingual society. Everyone speaks Darija (a dialect of Arabic) but school is taught in French and many people also speak English/Spanish. In this fashion, this semester I have taken one class in Darija, two classes in French, and three classes in English. Many of my classes have focus on Moroccan politics which I knew nothing about prior to arriving. I’d love to talk to you about the Moroccan monarchy and Arab Spring

  1. Living like a Moroccan:
    One of the best parts of my experience abroad has been living in a homestay. I live with another UVA student, a Moroccan woman, and her mother. The homestay provides the opportunity for complete language and cultural emersion. Every day I speak French with my host mom, she cooks us traditional Moroccan food, gives us insight into Moroccan thought, lends us supplies to go to cultural actives (ex. hammam), exhibits the famous Moroccan hospitality, and SO MUCH MORE. I’ve really gotten to live like a Moroccan the past few months and its something I’ll never forget.

It’s been 3 months since I landed in Morocco and I can definitively say I’ve become a better and more global person because of it. I have just over a month left in this beautiful country and I’m so excited to embrace every last moment I have here!

Daily life

Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her most recent blog post!

The alarm goes off at 7:30 in the morning, a sharp vibration against my mattress loud enough to rumble me awake. I turn over onto my side, stare at the screen of my phone, and realize that I do, indeed, have to get up to get ready for class. But I set it on snooze for another fifteen minutes.

I don’t think we are as aware of it as we could be but, at some point, we fall into routines. We put our shirts on with one arm first before the other, then the pants, and then the socks. We pour the cereal into the bowl before the milk. We make sure to grab the keys before we head out for the day. I think a lot of these little rituals are inherent at this point in our lives, routines that are so deeply carved in our muscle memory that one step out of place would cause a twinge of confusion.

At the same time, I wonder if the routines practiced over in America would follow me here into Tokyo. Would I still wake up the same, walk at the same pace, execute the same social cues out in public like I did in America? I don’t ask these questions to have a clear cut answer; there is no yes or no. In a few days I will have been in Japan for a month, and while that lends itself to a decent amount of time to have a response to that question it still isn’t one that is directly answered.

Instead, I’ve come to understand it as doing as the Romans. In a new country and a new environment with its own history and patterns, I needed time to figure out how to comfortably move throughout Tokyo. There were days of awkward language exchange, where Japanese leapt off my tongue and drowned in a pool of miscommunication. There were days of mistakes and remaining a “typical foreigner” in the eyes of onlooking natives. But it is in those discomforts and in my own personal sense of being a foreigner here in Japan that I find myself developing more routines. Every day is a chance to practice speaking and continue to strengthen my language acquisition. Every day is a chance to learn a new rule or discover a new place and why it’s significant in Japan.

Unlike many of my friends, I have never traveled overseas until this semester. Realistically my family can’t afford overseas travel; scholarships and loans are how I’m surviving here. This is the first time I’m truly engaging with myself on an international scale, figuring out how I work amongst a country that is not mine and where the language is still so new to me. As daunting as it may sound, I’m thriving here. It is challenging to go across oceans and time zones and separate oneself from everything that is familiar to them. Humans are creatures of habit and putting oneself in another environment where one has to create new habits can be difficult, but thus far it’s been rewarding.

One of my favorite habits happens whenever I am leaving or entering the dorm. The lobby is stone tile. On the right wall is a glass window that the caretaker of our dorm can see through. Ahead are the mailboxes, and on the left side is a wooden step and more rows of little storage boxes. In Japan, most apartments and dorms have a standard genkan, or the entranceway. Much like at home where I took my shoes off at the front and then put them into the closet, I take off my shoes and step up into the dorm. For some, it might take some getting used to especially if taking off the shoes at home was never practiced. Doing this every day not only attests to the spotlessness of the dorm floors but of how these routines have blended together for me.

As a creature of habit, it is near impossible for us to escape a subconscious need for structure. And while that it is true, it doesn’t mean we are required to stay attached to any one habit for the rest of our lives. Perhaps that’s the beauty of traveling overseas and being able to break away from habits that can become so mundane after years of repetition.

Coming to Japan was a breath of fresh air. I put on a new pair of glasses, drank in the vivid sights and smells of this chain of islands. I figured out the best streets to take to get to the konbini or the supermarket. I figured out the route to my classes, which buildings they’re being housed. I figured out what time to eat dinner was best since the dining room would be full of friends and at a decent enough time to have dessert later. I figured out how to respond to cashiers at stores, how to hand them my cash or card.

It still remains, though, that the one habit I developed as soon as I got off the plane is the openness to being wrong. I certainly had that back home, but I had to develop a real understanding that I was going to make mistakes, like throwing paper in the noncombustible bin or fumbling over my Japanese and saying something strange. But in a way, reminding myself of that during this first (almost) month I have reminded myself to be patient. I don’t have the malleable mind of a small child anymore and I’m not a natural-born polyglot, but every day I have to push myself to find the courage to speak Japanese. And slowly, but surely, I’m improving.

A bit of home comes to me

Christopher Hoffa is currently studying abroad in London at the City University of London. Check out his blog below!

Hey everyone!

I am checking in with my 8th blog post while being abroad! I am actually currently on a train back into London after a trip to Ireland. The trip was wonderful and Ireland was absolutely beautiful. It was actually my first trip by myself, so it felt much different than anything else I had done before. Though it is different, I did enjoy it a lot. Everything that you want to do is completely in your control and that was something that I definitely enjoyed. With all of this being said, I will move into my main topic of this post, and that will be post-exam life here in London. My flight from London back to the United States is not until June 2nd, giving me over a month of time here without any school.

I will talk about the last two weeks, starting with the first week when my brother and mother came to visit. It was there first time out of the United States, which made things very interesting. I enjoyed watching them attempt to learn the culture here in London. During the entirety of the trip, I couldn’t help but think if how they acted was how I acted when I first entered the United Kingdom.  They were amazed by the smallest things and clearly did not understand the norms of the society. This made sense though, as they had no idea what it would be like going into the trip. However, by the end of the week, they seemed to understand a lot about London and were beginning to fit in. They understood how to use the Tube, or Metro System, here quite easily. My favorite part watching them learn the very British words and finally understanding some of the locals, who they were very confused by at the beginning of their trip.

After they left London, I went on my first trip alone to Ireland. During my trip, I visited Dublin and Galway. The cities surprisingly different quite a bit from one another. Dublin was a much more modern city and the capital of the country. In terms of architecture, surprisingly did not remind me of any of the cities that I had been to before the trips. In terms of culture, it did remind me a bit of London, which makes a lot of sense given its history. From there, I went to Galway for a day, which was completely different from Dublin. I expected them to be fairly similar, but Galway really felt like it was a small town. It was filled with very cultural life, with music being played everywhere. There were a lot of great food shops and not too many tourists. It really felt like a true, small Irish town. I would say that Dublin felt much more like a tourist city, much different than Galway.

To wrap up this post, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed my semester abroad. Even though I am still here, it feels much different without having to go to class. It gives me a lot of time to think about what is going on in my life and giving me much more time to appreciate my surroundings. With a little over a month left, I will definitely be focusing on enjoying my remaining time outside of the United States.

Until next time,

Chris Hoffa

Eating your way through Sicily

Katherine Johnson is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Philosophy. Check out her trip to Sicily below!

After nearly three months of restlessly waiting for our group trip to Catania, I still was not prepared for the limitless amount of food we ate. Our professor warned us to bring our control top leggings, that it was a good idea to fast the day before, and even showed us a Powerpoint of everything that must be tried. Four days in Sicily – a delicious adventure – and an entirely new culture of cuisine.

Lunch in Palermo: We started with the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, an especially memorable restaurant because it actually used to be a favorite of the notorious Mafia boss ‘Lucky’ Luciano. From arancini to sardines, panelle (chickpea fritters) to eggplant parmesan, our first typical Sicilian meal was nothing short of amazing. Focaccia was passed around the table until the basket was as empty as the wine bottles, and we finished with the absolute best cannoli in possibly all of Italy.


Lunch in Catania: After hiking Mount Etna, we settled in a little gift-shop restaurant in plain view of the mountains. Coca-Cola was placed on the table for the first time since I’ve arrived in Europe, so we immediately traded up for red wine. The bruschetta came first, and already we noticed that bread in Sicily is very different from bread in Tuscany (although both were actually incredible). Sausage, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna were quickly placed in front of us, and devoured even quicker. For a mountainside restaurant whose main business comes from hikers, I give it a 10/10.

Snack in Catania: Straight from the Mt. Etna restaurant, we took our bus back to the city and stopped in front of Pasticceria Savia for a food and walking tour. The only way we were able to get through this much food was remembering that it’s a marathon…not a sprint. Two types of arancini were split amongst us all – and for everyone who has never heard of that word before: arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite are those filled with mozzarella; but ragu, ham and cheese, or spinach are other common types. Arancini get their Italian name from the word arancia (meaning orange in English) because they faintly resemble this fruit in their color and texture. Side note: some parts of Sicily call it arancine (feminine) while in Catania it’s called arancini (masculine). We thankfully had to walk to our next destination for desert: granita with brioche. Molto bene.

Dinner(s) in Catania: Our group gave a lot of business to Ristorante Marco, because we ate dinner there two nights in a row. I’m not even kidding when I say there were more plates than table space – we were stacking. Two types of ricotta cheese, mushrooms, four types of horse meat, artichoke, five types of salamis, two types of bread, eggplant, fish, fries, frittata, and of course, wine, surrounded us for hours. For desert there was lemon granita and chocolate salami – which is not actually salami but made from cocoa, broken biscuits, butter, eggs, and a bit of port wine or rum. If you’re ever in Catania, put this place on your bucket list. Oh, and try horsemeat because it’s actually amazing.

I’ll save you the description of how full we were from this weekend, but I’m sure you can imagine. So when you get a free moment, hop on a plane to Catania and try EVERYTHING, because we all deserve Sicilian food.



Thoughts on being an American abroad

Caroline Alberti is currently studying abroad in Toulouse, France, on CIEE’s Language and Culture program. Check out her blog post below!

I love speaking French, going out, and meeting people. In fact, I have been trying to go out more here in an effort to meet more people and speak more French (it’s educational Mom and Dad, I promise!). Before coming here, I was nervous about how I would received in French social situations as a foreigner. I’d heard stereotypes that French people were more closed off, or easily offended by imperfect control of their language. However, I have found this not at all to be the case. While I definitely think that French people are less open than Americans, the people I have met have been very kind and I have met a lot of great people.

The funny thing is though, meeting new people here in France is almost formulaic. If you are American and deciding to travel abroad anytime soon (like in the next 4 years to be exact) you may want to expect the interactions of the following sort:

Step 1: The “Bonjour”

The greeting, usually a bonjour and a bise is the first engagement. As I said before I am still  getting used the kiss-greeting thing. This is the step where very quickly my accent is detected. I have a love-hate relationship with my accent. On one hand I think it gives more liberty to make mistakes and makes me interesting. On the other hand, I don’t find American accents particularly pleasing but that could just be me.

Step 2: The “Where are you from?”

The accent thing inevitable triggers there “Where are you from?”. When this happens I have decide how annoying I want to be, and I either give a direct answer or I say “guess!!”. It’s really interesting to me to see where people think I am from. Almost never has someone guessed American. Most often I get English, or German and occasionally Irish, which is so surprising to me because I think that my accent just screams “AMERICAN”.

I think people don’t usually guess American because in fact in Toulouse there are not really that many Americans since it’s not a super popular spot for American study abroad programs. I actually really like this about Toulouse, since it means that being an American here is kinda special, and meeting other Americans here is rare which makes encountering one of my compatriots here is out of the ordinary and so when it does happen it’s a treat.

There “Where are you from questions” extends to where exactly in the United States I am from, where I have a little existential crisis not knowing whether or not to say PA or VA.

Step 3: The “TRUMP” Part

It may not happen right away (all though often it does). We may get talking about the weather, or studies, or music or whatever, and I’ll think I’m safe… but no no no. The question always comes sooner or later: “So…. what do you think of Donald Trump?”

*Sigh* Then there it is. The unavoidable topic as an American abroad in this day and age.

When I first starting receiving this question, I was a little surprised, but not at all bothered. In fact, I was glad to have an open ear to my rantings about the madness of this past election. It’s something, that like most Americans, I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on (which I won’t really put in this blog because it is not a blog about politics– though I feel like anyone who knows me probably knows where I stand politically). However, with each politically charged discussion I began to get more and more tired of talking about how crazy and doomed my country is (even though a big part of me agrees).

I think the political situation in our country makes it a really weird time to be an American abroad. I am surprised with the bluntness that French people approach this topic with me, since in French culture, personal things like that aren’t discussed as upfrontly. I am also surprised how blunt people are because in theory (though NOT in reality) I could be a Trump supporter. So far, I haven’t met any French person who aligns themselves with Trump’s ideals (if you can call them “ideals”), although with the way the French election cycle is going, I am sure they are out there. When I am asked about politics in America, I think they make the assumption that I am (rightly) unhappy about the current situation. I never feel like I am being blamed or aggressed for Trump’s election, which is something I was worried about before coming. More accurately I feel like the topic is breached with a sense of curiosity and often with pity as well.

It’s frustrating to repeat the same conversation, but it’s one I feel like I have to engage in or else people with think that I don’t have opinions on it or that I support Trump, both of which are definitely not true.

But over all, it’s hard to complain about people being interested in my country and wanting to hear my opinion. I am glad to be able to represent my country abroad at a time like this when a lot of bad images are presented of the United States abroad. In fact, this type of cultural diplomacy that happens within each exchange, the sharing of ideas and opinions, is one of the reasons I love traveling and studying abroad. These interactions, the ones I have had both here and in Morocco and elsewhere have definitely challenged me and helped me widen my horizons and perspectives, and for that I am very grateful.

So Frenchies, keep the questions coming. I promise you I will have an answer.

Anyway, hopefully this post wasn’t too political, rant-y, or pessimistic. I’ll try to whip up a little something more lighthearted next post!

ALSO, since this post was very light on pictures, enjoy this photo of my best friend in Toulouse and love of my life, Cissi, my host dog.

Isn’t she beautiful?? My heart melts every day when I see her.

Pce, luv, & politics,

Curbie 😉

Korea photo blog

Jessica Park is currently studying abroad in Korea for the UVA Exchange at Korea University. Check out her photo blog below!

Falles de València 2017: Patrimoni Immaterial de la Humanitat

Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his newest experience!

Fallas of Valencia 2017: Intangible World Heritage

Fallas. Where do I even begin? Professors and other students talked up this festival to me long before I arrived in Valencia, and now I know why. Even after having lived through it, I still find it difficult to explain the “locura” (madness) that is “las Fallas.” The celebration is truly unlike any other, and although I doubt my words will be able to fully explain the celebration or convey what an incredible experience it was, I’ll try my best!

Fallas is a festival of fire that takes place in the city of Valencia every year from March 15th to 19th. During this time, huge, brightly painted wooden sculptures are erected in plazas and public areas and are ultimately burned to the ground with fireworks displays at midnight on the 19th. From the minute the clock strikes 12:01 am the morning of March 15th (and honestly, even way before that point – certain festivities begin as early as February 3rd!) until the moment the last ember dies out, the city of Valencia is in a perpetual, 24 hour “fiesta loca.”

Here’s an example of a falla (the Falla Cuba-Literato Azorín, to be precise)

As if the opportunity to be living in Valencia and experience all this wasn’t cool enough, my best friend Sam joined me for the week! I loved getting the chance to celebrate Fallas with her 🙂

The most commonly agreed on explanation for the origin of Fallas dates all the way back to a pagan celebration during the middle ages. Because of scarce daylight hours during the months of winter, Valencian carpenters frequently labored far after the sun had set. In order to continue working without daylight, the carpenters would hang oil lamps from precariously built wooden structures. As winter came to an end and the days lengthened, these structures were no longer necessary, and the carpenters would set them on fire to celebrate the Spring Equinox and the lengthening of the days. Eventually, the celebration was Christianized and made to coincide with “La diada de Sant Josep” to honor Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of carpenters. The day of Saint Joseph always falls on the 19th of March, and is also when Father’s Day is celebrated throughout Spain.

These crude wooden structures from the middle ages have evolved so much that they have almost nothing to do with the fallas you’ll see today (except for the fact that they’re flammable). Fallas nowadays are made of what is essentially papier-mâché and sanded wood, painted over in bright colors. Fallas are satirical in nature and normally are designed to poke fun at someone or something (and really, anything is fair game). In this way, fallas vary in style and subject each festival because they offer social and political commentary on the events of the year (you had better believe that there was no shortage of mini Donald Trumpsbeing burnt to the ground in Valencia last weekend, and I can’t say the sight brought me much remorse).

This year, the day of Saint Joseph (also known as the Cremà, the last day of the festival when the burning of the fallas takes place) happened to fall on a Sunday, which was just a coincidence. However, this means that the largest days of the celebration fell on a weekend, allowing many more people from outside of Valencia to take days off and experience the festival. What’s more, 2017 is the first year that Fallas has been recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as intangible world heritage. Both of these factors made the festival even larger (and more crowded) than normal. All in all, it’s estimated that the population of Valencia doubles (some will argue it almost triples) during the week of the celebration. The preliminary numbers indicate that this year’s festival was record breaking, as the city welcomed well over a million tourists and spent around 8 million euros (and remember, that number is even larger when converted to US dollars) on the festivities.

Most “barrios,” or neighborhoods in Valencia have a “casal faller,” a committee that sponsors the neighborhood’s falla. This committee is composed of different residents of the neighborhood who oversee the falla’s design, construction, and erection. The process lasts year-round (no exaggeration – they’ve already begun planning for 2018 and it hasn’t even been a week yet!) and brings neighborhoods together to form tight-knit communities. The process can also be quite costly – many committees sponsor fundraiser paella dinners (a typical Valencian dish) throughout the year to help defray costs. Each year, the neighborhoods enter a friendly competition with each other to see who can sponsor the best falla (as deemed by a committee of judges). To be as fair as possible, neighborhoods are separated into different levels of competition based on their budgets. The top tier of competition consists of neighborhoods that have been sponsoring fallas for years, and are so good at it by now that they can mount absolutely spectacular and humongous fallas (or in other words, they have a huge budget at their disposal). For my pictures of fallas at the bottom of this post, I looked up the names of all the fallas in the top tier of competition. For the rest of them, I’m just going to leave them captionless, because looking up all those names would take forever! Fallas are normally named after the intersection of streets they are placed on, and at times the official names can get pretty lengthy.

As if the normal fallas weren’t enough, each casal faller normally sponsors a falla infantil, a smaller falla (normally more lighthearted and less satirical) for kids to enjoy. Each individual character on a falla is known as a ninot. Each casal faller chooses one ninot that they feel is an example of their best work and most representative of their falla as a whole to be put on display the month before the festival. Leading up to the week of Fallas, anyone can visit the museum and cast a vote for their favorite ninot. The ninot with the most votes becomes the “ninot indultat” of the year. This means the ninot is pardoned from the flames, and is kept in the museum instead of being burned. This is done for both regular fallas and fallas infantiles.

The ninot indultat from this year, depicting a scene that one might see in Valencia’s famous Mercat Central

Each casal faller also chooses one fallera mayor and one faller mayor infantil to represent their neighborhood falla in various ceremonies like parades and events at the town hall. For these events, the girls wear traditional fallera dresses and have their hair done up in a particular style. There is also one fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil chosen to represent the entire city, a great honor.

The fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil of Valencia, 2017

Walking up and down the streets of the city during Fallas, Valencia sounds like a war zone. You can hear explosions 24 hours a day coming from “petardos,” or firecrackers. If you’re like I was before I came to Valencia, when you hear the word firecrackers, you think of cute, small little packages that pop when you light them on fire. Not in Valencia! Petardos make huge explosions, a very loud bang, char the ground, and flash brightly. They can either be lit from the ground or thrown (theoretically also at the ground, unfortunately sometimes thrown at people). Many Valencians use the illegal variety packed with an excess of gunpowder, which can be quite dangerous if set off incorrectly. Petardos are used every morning around 8 am as part of the “Despertà,” or wake-up call, where partygoers roam the streets and set off explosives to wake up anyone still sleeping and start off the day’s festivities. Although most people exercise common sense and are able to set off petardos without getting hurt, there are inevitably accidents, and the hospital burn units are always busy during the week of Fallas. There are even men who will set off full-on fireworks (which is also illegal) down in the Rio, the drained river that the city of Valencia converted into a park system. It was astonishing for me to see so many young children set off and/or play with these explosives with minimal or no parental supervision. The camp counselor in me wanted to run up and take the explosives out of their hands, but I had to restrain myself.

Venders selling food or knick-knacks out of mobile stations are also very common. Although the sale of food is supposed to be regulated and the vendors are theoretically approved by the health department, we’ll just say from my observations, the standards seem to me a bit more flexible than they might be in the US. I was advised by my host mom to buy food sooner rather than later, as some vendors don’t change the oil they use to fry food in from one day to the next, which makes buying food the last few days kind of dicey. Sam and I took her up on that suggestions, and enjoyed some delicious churros and buñuelos on our first night.

Another quality tip from my host mom was to go out the nights leading up to the beginning of the festival. This way, Sam and I got to see a lot of the fallas without having to deal with crowds. We saw a good number of fallas during the “Plantà,” the process of setting up the fallas, so some of them were only partially constructed. However, it was a lot more pleasant than trying to elbow your way through lots of people in the midday heat. In fact, some families will take their children out at insane times (like 4 am) to see the fallas in order to avoid crowds.

There are lots of events and traditions that go on during the week of Fallas. Every day at 2 pm, there is a Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the town hall square). For this event, the crowds are simply unavoidable. You have to get to the plaza at least an hour early if you want a half decent spot. The Mascletà is similar to a fireworks display, except it’s put on during the day, and the fireworks stay closer to the ground and are even louder. The joke is that the Mascletà is so deafening, you can hardly hear it – but you can feel it! The vibrations you feel from all the explosions, particularly at the finale, are dangerously potent (I’m talking so strong, we were warned to keep our jaws slack to avoid chipping a tooth). What’s even crazier, the Mascletà starts long before fallas do, on the 26thof February to be precise! And seeing as it’s a daily occurrence, the city of Valencia spends a great deal of money on pyrotechnics well before the actual Fallas celebration even begins.

Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The big spaceship-looking tower is the falla of the town hall, which has nothing in particular to do with the Mascletà, they just happen to be in the same place.

There are also many “cavalcadas,” or parades, throughout the week. At any time during the festival, but especially during these parades, you’ll see people dressed up as falleros and falleras, wearing traditional Valencian outfits. You will also hear all sorts of bands and percussion ensembles playing music to rally people up and excite passerby.

(Very cute) falleras infantiles!

Each casal faller has its own parade to the “Plaza de la Virgen” (Plaza of the Virgen, although I feel like in this case the translation was hardly necessary), where they offer bouquets of flowers to the Virgen Mary on behalf of their neighborhood. This is known as the Ofrendà. All of the offerings are used to construct a larger-than-life Virgin Mary made out of flowers that is left on display for the week (and I feel the need to note that this structure is not burned).

However, my favorite of all the Fallas traditions are the castillos, or fireworks shows. They are absolutely stunning, and the photos don’t begin to do them justice. I also must say, as much as I love my country, these fireworks displays put the 4th of July to complete shame. Each night, the show gets bigger and starts even later. The biggest show, the Gran Nit del Foc, doesn’t start until 1:30 am!

But then again, during Fallas, the city never sleeps. This is a week where there are more people in the streets at 5am than at 9am. Fallas is a time where everyone kicks back and enjoys themselves, socializes and unwinds. However, the celebration has negative aspects as well. There is a horrific amount of trash generated in the likes of beer bottles, discarded wrappers, and the remains of fireworks that lie scattered all throughout the streets. Clubs and discos move outside, and blast music at all hours of the day, preventing people who live nearby from sleeping at night. The city infrastructure becomes absolutely paralyzed. Driving anywhere is nearly impossible with so many roads blocked-off to mount fallas, or converted to pedestrian-only for the week. This causes any remaining roads to become insufferably congested with traffic, to the point that it’s really just quicker to walk and save yourself the trouble and the gas. The metro still runs, but it becomes insanely crowded and everyone is shoved into the train like sardines (Sam and I got to experience this firsthand on multiple occasions). Businesses are shut down for the holiday and it can be difficult or near impossible to run errands or get things done during the festival. And this is not to mention the considerable environmental impact of so many fireworks, Mascletà’s, and burning fallas. For these reasons and more, some residents of Valencia dislike the Fallas, and others leave the city for the week altogether. Many residents stand somewhere in the middle, as they enjoy the celebration but dislike the effects it has on the city. My host mom is of this persuasion – she told me that she has seen enough of Fallas in her day that she would have left the city for the week had I not been staying with her. However, from my perception at least, the majority of Valencians seem to enjoy Fallas and are proud of what it represents for them in terms of cultural heritage.

Last but certainly not least, at midnight on the 19th is the “Cremà” (burning), the fiery end to the festival. Explosives are laid underneath the fallas, and when the clock strikes the hour, they are ignited. The fallas infantiles burn at 10 pm, the regular fallas burn at midnight, and the big falla by the town hall burns at 1am. These times tend to vary based on the amount of firefighters available to supervise and control the burning. Fallas that have won awards may also be burned later so more people can come to watch. I was amazed at how quickly the fallas burned, and how I could feel the heat from the fire even being a considerable distance away. At first, I thought it was sad that artists spend the whole year crafting these beautiful sculptures, only to burn them to ashes. And it is sad, in a way. But I now understand that it is all done in the spirit of the Fallas. The festival reminds us that beauty is not eternal and doesn’t last forever, and neither do the fallas. The Cremà symbolizes rebirth, a sort of purification through fire – out with the old, in with the new.

The Cremà on a Sunday night

I can now say with certainty that the title of World Heritage is well-deserved by the Fallas! I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to experience such an incredible festival firsthand and will always treasure my memories from this week.

Studying abroad in Italy

Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her spring break below.

You could call this the Spring Break Edition of my blog posts, because after traveling to three different cities (Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid) in a very abbreviated time span I don’t know quite where to start. To make sense of it all, I’ve decided to do “favorite” and “least favorite” part of each city, and tried to include some of what I learned in each place.

Barcelona: I was surprised how much I loved this city. Favorite parts had to be learning about the history of the city and the people (free tours are great for this kind of overview, and I did one in every city I went to) and the nightlife (because if you didn’t try to stay up all night with the Spanish, I’m not sure you’ve gained a full understanding of the culture). My least favorite part of the city was the necessity of using the metro– I’ve gotten used to cities one can walk around in quite comfortably, and during a long trip with multiple plane rides it was stressful to add metro trips to the equation. But really, that’s a stretch. I was surprised how much I loved Barcelona. I definitely discovered how crucial learning the history can really be to one’s experience in a city.

Lisbon: my favorite part of Lisbon was Lisbon itself– I could spend all day and night just absorbing this beautiful city and its many different neighborhoods, and to some extent that’s exactly what I did. I can’t wait to go back. My least favorite part of my time in Lisbon was that I got so sick I physically couldn’t leave the house my last day there. No delicious Portuguese dinner for my last meal (only a five piece McChicken nugget), no lovely pastel de nata pastries, and no hike in Sintra. It was all pretty devastating. I learned that traveling can be taxing and taking care of yourself extra carefully is definitely in order.

Madrid: my favorite part of Madrid was El Prado (this museum makes spending 7 hours in a museum easy) and walking down Gran Via. My least favorite part was that compared to Lisbon, it just lacked charm. It’s a big city with a lot to do, but I never felt completely blown away. Still, I learned that every city really does have something amazing to offer–if my friend hadn’t been visiting from the US I probably never would have thought to go to El Prado, and I really would have been missing out.

Settling into life in Hong Kong

Orian Churney is a 3rd year electrical engineer currently studying abroad in Hong Kong! Check out how he is settling into life as an exchange student there.

My time at HKUST is going pretty well. The classes are pretty similar to the ones in America, with both lectures and homework assignments. The library is pretty nice; there are a lot of places to study both in groups and by yourself. One thing that’s different than my home university is that essentially you have to take the elevator most of the time. To get to the main academic concourse, I have to take two elevators that each go up 10 floors, and after that most of my classes were somewhere on the second, fourth, or fifth floors. I had to get really used to taking elevators and some of the etiquette that the local students had about getting on and off elevators. But overall, it isn’t too hard, and I can get to most of my classes in around 15 to 20 minutes.

There are also some other interesting things that I have gotten used to over the first month of being here. I’m starting to get used to walking around with a lot of people around me, which is somewhat different than being able to drive around by yourself all of the time. The transportation around the city is pretty nice, as well. It’s a lot easier to get around when you don’t have to pay attention to directions while driving, and you just need to make sure which train to go on and which stop to get off at. The novelty of taking the train might wear off at some point, but for me it’s still pretty interesting to be able to easily travel around. It’s also interesting how much walking that you can do in large cities. At my hometown, if I wanted to go to the grocery store nearby, I would probably take my car, but over here everything is close by, so it’s a lot easier to just walk and take the metro. I don’t think many people even need to own a car, because of the public transportation.

One thing that is a pretty big change from my usual habits is that I now take notes on loose-leaf paper instead of in notebooks. This might not seem like a big difference, but I usually take a lot of notes in class, and now I have a bunch of paper in random folders. The folders are different too: instead of having two pockets arranged like a book, many folders just have one big pocket like a slide paper. I think many students took notes using electronic devices like a tablet, though. My professors post lecture slides online, which are pretty useful for studying, also. In general, my classes are going well.

Pre-departure blog Japan

Myliyah Hanna is currently studying abroad in Japan. Take a look at her pre-departure blog!

At eleven years old I had this dream of being in Japan, exploring the country, speaking Japanese and indulging in the culture. At eleven I was starry-eyed, pupils dilated with an unyielding love for a country I had neither been to nor knew of my existence. Perhaps Japan was my first love, though hardly romantic. Instead, the eleven-year-old me loved Japan because it was the opposite of everything that an American Black girl at my age was, according to the scrutinizing eyes of society, supposed to love, and at the time I reveled in its difference.

Eleven-year-old me still lingers in my aged heart, pressing her greedy fingertips against the valves and chambers to beg for indulgence in all things Japan. I cave in sometimes, end up spending an hour or three watching vloggers in Japan live their daily lives. Although the topics are not always interesting–how many videos about grocery shopping in a Japanese supermarket can you watch without exiting the tab?–I remain attentive and eager to see even the tiniest glimpse into Japan. I was looking through the peephole, falling further and further into a rabbit hole.

But the difference between eleven-year-old me and Myliyah now is the difference of time and the awareness of my place in the world. Children are beautiful, their naivety and innocence of the world a true reflection of just how important they are. Children are malleable and as easy as it is to mold a child it is easy to strip them of that warm gentle beauty. The difference of nine years and two and a half years of college is stark, unavoidable. My edges are sharpened, my senses heightened, but if one thing has remained it is my need for knowledge.

In a few weeks, I’ll be on a plane for nearly a day of travel to end up in Japan, where I’ll spend a few months studying and exploring. Even now I can hardly believe it. Kids that come from my demographic–working class, minority, from the inner city–don’t get much hope. You can’t do it because society says you can’t. My defiant nature wouldn’t let me be another example for the naysayers, and here I am years later: attending an excellent university, studying abroad with a few scholarships under my belt. I don’t want to use this as a chance to brag but rather as an opportunity to reveal that there is an entire vault of intelligent, bright kids and teenagers waiting for their chance but not always having access to the resources to get there. For that, I am blessed and privileged, and for them, I’ll dedicate this blog.

The closer I get to the date, the more I realize that I don’t have an international mindset. Per Japan’s travel policies, I have to have a visa to enter and stay in the country. I received the documents to obtain said visa in mid-February and decided to make a trip to the embassy on one my days off. It was located in a building on Park Avenue, in the heart of Midtown. I signed in, and a few minutes later a security guard led a few other people and myself into an elevator. On the 18th floor was the embassy. The walls were pastel green and orange with soft carpeting and announcements printed on bright, colorful paper; the feel of the room reminded me of a daycare. After walking through the metal detectors a gentleman pointed me to the visa window, which was right in front of a group of Japanese people watching television.

The woman greeted me and I explained myself to her. It was in the midst of our exchange that she asked if I had my passport, and I froze because I didn’t. I knew exactly where it was too–back at home in a file cabinet. She smiled and laughed some, told me that I could come back once I had my passport. I nodded and apologized, excused myself to the side to reorganize.

I suppose at any other time that I didn’t have my documents I would be highly annoyed with myself. What the hell, Myliyah? I would think. That time around I wasn’t. Instead, I thought, duh. Of course, I would need my passport for a visa into another country. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was in that thinking that I realized that my mind, my actions, my everything, was still so American. Nine-year-old Myliyah couldn’t begin to comprehend how I couldn’t just go to Japan and stay without putting in any kind of work or effort. Beyond learning the language, it’s necessary that I stretch my mindset to encompass both the perspectives of a young American woman and, soon, a young international woman.

To which I now ask myself the question: what does it mean to be international? Does it mean being able to speak another language, do as the Romans? Does it mean forgoing my American identity to usurp a bit of a Japanese one? Does it mean to live and interact in Japan as I have done so all my life in America?

I have no answers for these questions right now. But now with the visa in my passport, I will get on the plane and, perhaps in these next few months of travel, I will find answers to these questions. I won’t say that these will be definite and absolute and will be the same for every foreigner that studies abroad. Instead, these blogs will serve as a recording of my truths and how I will experience them in Japan.

Photo blog of South Korea

Katin Tran is currently studying abroad. Take a look at her photos thus far!

2 months in London

Hey everyone!

Today is March 15th and I am here to update you all again with my 5th blog post. It has been exactly 2 months since I left the United States. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by, especially since I have started to travel more recently. In this post, I want to talk a little about how I’m feeling in London and about some of my recent travel.

First, I’ll talk about London. To put it briefly, I believe I have adapted quite well to life in London. I know my surroundings extremely well and have found a nice group of friends. Additionally, I have become acclimated with all of the classes here. The part I was most worried about, living in a city, has surprisingly been something that I have come to truly love. There is always something to do and getting from place to place is very simple. In terms of cultural differences, I think that I have adapted fairly well to them. There are still some small things that bother me, but as a whole I have gotten used to them. One, for example, is that people tend to show up late to class. When I say late, I don’t mean a minute or two. Almost every class there are students that arrive anywhere from 1 minute after class starts to an hour after class starts. To me, that is something that I don’t see very much in the US, but is something that I have definitely gotten used to here in the UK. I would say that this is something that initially shocked me, but is something that I am now somewhat comfortable with.

Another cultural difference that I have noticed is that students will talk during a lot of the lectures. In the US, this is something that is extremely frowned upon and the professor will call the students out for. Here in the UK, there is a lot more talking and the professors do not seem to care a lot of the time. This is something that I have definitely not gotten used to, and I don’t think that I will. I sort of see it as a sign of disrespect, while it has been normalized in the UK. To each their own, however, right?

Now that I’ve talked a little bit about life in the UK, I’ll now talk about my most recent trip to Berlin. The travel during the trip was extremely rough, as a workers’ strike at the Berlin Airport had us rerouted to Hamburg, where we then had to take a train to Berlin. To make the travel portion even worse, my group purchased the wrong subway tickets and German train enforcement checked them and asked us to get off the train. From there, we all received fines even though we had not purposely used the train system incorrectly. This was definitely an experience that will be a life lesson, especially in regards to communicating with law enforcement within a country that the primary language is not English. Other than that, Berlin was an awesome experience. Berlin is filled with history and is definitely a place that I wish I would have had more time in. As a whole, I have genuinely enjoyed traveling to countries where the main language is not English, as it puts me out of my comfort zone and I feel as if it helps me to grow as a person.

All in all, the two week since my last update have been great. I can not believe that I leave in 2.5 months, something that is quite sad to me. I will definitely look to make the most of my remaining time in the UK though.

Pictured: Here I am with a professional League of Legends player (Jankos) that I met at a match in Berlin. It was quite a great experience seeing a professional E-Sports match.

Until next time,

Christopher Hoffa

A weekend in Paris

Chris Hoffa is a third year in the School of Commerce studying abroad in London. Check out his adventures in his posts!

Hey everyone! In this post, I primarily want to focus on my first trip to a place where the native language was not English. This was place was Paris, an absolutely beautiful city. I had two experiences that I really want to focus on, as I believe they were pretty wonderful and really opened my eyes to some things about life outside of the United States. Coincidentally, they both happened to occur on the same night, even though the trip spanned over three days.

I will start with the stories in chronological order. The first story relates to the Hostel that we stayed at in Paris. When we got off of the Paris Metro, we arrived in a part of the city that didn’t seem that nice and was way out of the center of town. I quickly realized that we were in a more residential portion of the city. After about a 10 minute walk late at night, we arrived at the hostel. What was surprising was the fact that the hostel was simply a town house. Chantal, the lady who owned the hostel, lived there along with her brother and her children. It was literally her house, and it was unlike any other hostel that I have stayed at. The room that we stayed in was her daughter’s room, which was very surprising to me. To me, this was much different than the United States, as I don’t believe most parents rent their children’s rooms out to strangers. I realized that her daughter was literally away at school and she was renting her room out. This was something that most parents joked about, but was something that Chantal was actually doing. It made me realize the cost of living in a city, or Paris that is, is probably considerably higher than most other places. In our culture, renting your child’s room out while they’re at school seems taboo, but in another culture I learned that it may not be.

The second story that I want to discuss relates to the restaurant that we went to that night. After settling in Chantal’s daughter’s room, we realized how hungry we were. We strolled around the busy street looking for a place to eat. Two men running a Kebab shop quickly pulled us in and it was hard for us to say no. Only one spoke English, and not very well. We tried to communicate our order difficultly, but eventually succeeded in doing so. The food was absolutely delicious, but what followed was pretty amazing to me. The two men came over and talked to us, and I mean both of them (even the one that didn’t speak English). They asked where we were from and wanted to know all about us and our trip to Paris. One had to go as another customer entered, but the non-English speaker stayed to talk to us. For the next 10 minutes or so, he attempted to give us advice through hand gestures and French. It was difficult to understand, but he gave us tips about pickpockets and how to work against them. This was amazing to me because, honestly, if I had two customers who didn’t share my language, I would simply serve them their food and walk away. On the other hand, this man seemed to care about us and wanted to make sure we had a wonderful trip in Paris. After giving us advice, his friend came back, translated some stuff, and talked to us a bit more. Eventually we ended up leaving the restaurant, but the experience was wonderful to me. It truly showed me that kindness is universal and language was not a barrier to it.

Well, that is all that I have this time. I look forward to updating you all in the future. Until next time!

Carnevale and Venice

Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!



What it is: a traditional Christian celebration marking the beginning of Lent, the period of 40 days before Easter when no meat is eaten. Corresponds to English “carnival” and is our equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

How It’s Celebrated: Basically, it’s a huge winter celebration of masks, parades, food, music, and parties. All of Europe celebrates it, but there’re a few cities in Italy that go ALL OUT.

The Best Places to Go:

CET planned for us to go to Carnevale di Viareggio, so Michela and Giulia, our Italian roommates, bought our train tickets and we left for a day trip. Just the excitement of going to one city for Carnevale inspired us all to also buy tickets to Venice for the following the weekend, and there are absolutely no regrets.

Review of Viareggio:
Viareggio celebrates Carnevale mostly with a parade of floats. The first round is a satirical showcase of politicians, world events, and Italian pride. A few that stuck out were the Brexit float (Britains with suitcases and God Save the Queen) and Trump (Los Trump Alato – The Winged Trump) with Trump as a bald eagle with wings holding a bag of money in one hand and a crying Hillary Clinton in the other. On the banner it read “Make Carnival Great Again!”

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In the second round, Viareggio brought out the big guns (literally, check out the “Make Carnevale Great Again” float). These floats were the most massive works of art I have ever seen, and all of them come with masks, full costumes, marching bands, dancing, and throwing confetti and candy. It’s difficult to even describe these so see for yourself:


America, once again, was portrayed as the Trump takeover with cowgirls and guns. Oh, and it lit up later.


The parades go on for hours and they’re judged as a competition (winner’s released later in March). The typical carnevale food we see throughout Italy (i.e. frittelle) weren’t present at this Carnevale, but they had food trucks, gelato, and games.


Is It Worth It?
For €18 in Viareggio, absolutely!! S/o to CET though, we got in for free!

Review of Venice:

Unlike Viareggio, Carnevale takes over ALL of Venice. As soon as we crossed the bridge from our Airbnb to the ferry stops, we were surrounded by costumes, masks, and murano glass. Oh, and the view was pretty good too.

Piazza San Marco was first on the list. Every square inch was filled with people, and there were mask competitions, Romeo and Juliet reenactments, and showcases going on all day. After visiting Basilica di San Marco, we went to the top of the Campanile (iconic tower) for the most beautiful views of Venice.


Carnevale wasn’t just restricted to the Square though, it completely filled Venice from the Piazzale Roma to the Rialto Bridge. We each bought a mask in the name of Carnevale, and Kayleigh showed us all up by getting a cape too.

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My dreams finally came true around 5:30pm when we rode a gondola through the Grand Canal. I wish a picture could capture the beauty of Venice when the sun was going down, but they just don’t do it justice. Side note: George Clooney stays at one of the hotels on the Grand Canal, it’s a shame he wasn’t there.


Finally, Is It Worth It?

Venice is worth going to any time of the year, but visiting during Carnevale just made it even better. The costumes, the masks, the shows, the food, and just the energy all over the city made it an unforgettable experience.




Traveling to other countries while abroad

This past weekend, a few friends and I travelled to Belgium. It was my first time leaving France since my arrival in early January. It was rather perfect because in Belgium, they speak French, English, and Flemish, so we all got a chance to further our French skills. In Belgium, they enunciate more when they speak French, so it was honestly easier for me to understand them than many of the French people I have encountered. Everyone we talked to was very impressed that as Americans we could actually speak and understand French, which was very flattering. Still, it also struck me that most Americans make little effort to learn the languages of the countries they visit. I have certainly been guilty of this when I travelled in the past. I think there is much more of a push to learn other languages in Europe, where you are surrounded by multitude of languages, than there is in the United States. I think that Americans also have less incentive to learn other languages because many people in other countries speak English.

One night while we were there, we decided to see the film Neruda about the Chilean poet and political figure Pablo Neruda. We bought our tickets in advance and stopped at a nearby grocery store for movie snacks to sneak into the theater. About twenty minutes before the start of the movie, we realized that this movie was in Spanish movie with French subtitles, not in English with French subtitles as we had hoped. We all looked at each other and laughed at our poor planning but decided to see the movie anyway. Why waste our money? We hunkered down in our seats with our assorted snacks and braced ourselves for an utterly foreign film, doubting that we would understand much of anything. But as it turned out, to our delight and disbelief, we understood almost the entire movie. And what’s more, we all genuinely enjoyed it. Sure, there were some vocabulary words and idiomatic expressions that we did not understand. But we still understood the majority of the subtitles. We were able to appreciate the beauty and style of the film. We even picked up on some of the jokes. After the movie, we all exclaimed over our mutual understanding. To me, this experience proved that my time in France and Europe in general is invaluable to my language skills.

Rabat not Rabbit

Morgan is currently studying abroad in Morocco. Check out her most recent blog!

10 Things Moroccans Do That Americans Do Not (Part 1):

  1. Eat couscous for lunch every Friday. EVERY Friday.
  2. Interpret traffic signals as arbitrary. Red lights, blinkers, & lane divisions are suggestions.
  3. All female gyms & all male cafés. Mixed feelings on this, look for a future blog post.
  4. Bread. with. every. meal. I’m not complaining, in fact I love it!
  5. Eat everything with their hands. Honestly, I forget how to use a fork at this point.
  6. Consider juice a food group… Americans are really missing out on this!
  7. Disregard time. “The (insert: class/party/dinner) happens when it happens and ends when it ends”
  8. Value multilingualism. Everyone speaks AT LEAST 2 if not 3 languages.
  9. Communal bath houses. You can even have someone bathe you for 10 cents extra!
  10. Refuse to split checks. One person in the group is expected to pay for the entire meal (lol)

We finished our first week of classes!! (for me: Politics of the Maghreb, Intro to Darija, Régime Marocain, Sociologie Deux,  Les Connaisances d’Islam + an internship at La Fondation Orient-Occident)

To celebrate, we spent the weekend exploring Rabat on our own for the first time! We really like to walk (tbh mostly to burn off all the bread we eat) and ended up walking 20+ miles, taking a cycling class, and doing yoga over the course of three days! Here are the Rabat hotspots as far as we can tell:

Medina: means “old city” but is basically a humungous, fortified market. I bought the first of many scarves here (for $5!!)

Kasbah: a UNESCO world heritage site, a fortified sub-city within Rabat on the beach. I forcibly received a henna here on Saturday… kinda traumatized but recovering nicely!

Chellah: you guessed it, another fortified area in the city! It’s full of ancient Arab and Roman ruins… and you can walk all over them!

Hassan Tower/Mausoleum for Mohammed V: this fortified area contains the gravesite of the current king’s grandfather and the unfinished mosque he tried to build before war broke out.

Rabat Beach: somehow we end up here almost every day! when it get’s a little warmer you’ll find us here surfing! The waves are HUGE and the cliffs are gorgeous.

Next weekend it’s supposed to rain so we’ll be exploring Rabat’s ~indoor activities~ then the next weekend we have our first trip to a new city!! Stay tuned.

*Bonus Story*
img_3993This is our friend and personal trainer Mohammed. He only speaks Darija but was intent on giving us the best spinning and yoga classes we’ve ever had — motivating us with Arabic music and commands in small English phrases (think: “lets go baby!” from popular American music lol). After 2 hours he wanted us to continue with core and leg conditioning… but we finally called it quits. Before we could escape he insisted on a picture together to commemorate our friendship. It has now been 3 days and we’re all still stumbling around with sore legs.

Growth in studying abroad

Sarah Genovese is studying abroad in Italy this semester, majoring in Foreign Affairs. Check out her thoughts on studying abroad below.

I’ve always been interested in studying abroad, and it was a huge part of my choice when picking a college– I wasn’t going to go to a college that did not facilitate an amazing study abroad experience. Traveling is one of my favorite activities, and international politics has proven so interesting to me that I am majoring in Foreign Affairs. I believe that there is a real value in moving away from everything you know, to better know yourself as well as the wider world. College seems like the best (and potentially only) time to move from the US for a little while and experience something entirely new.

Italy was an easy choice as a place to study abroad. My dad’s side of my family came from Sicily when my grandfather was very young, and I have always felt drawn back. My grandfather wanted his kids to have the American dream, and believed that a part of this dream was making them as stereotypically American as possible. As a result, my dad was taught none of the Italian language, and little of the culture. I have always felt that this was a loss, and desired a better understanding of where my family came from and what that means. I have taken Italian my last three semesters at UVA, and thus begun that process. However, I don’t think anything could replace the experience of actually being there.

While I am completely overwhelmed by how amazing this opportunity is, I have also been feeling overwhelmed more generally as well. Packing, and the logistics of air travel, are not my strong suits. Saying goodbye to friends and family was also incredibly difficult. Though I love traveling, I find it hard to let go of those people who will always be so important to me, even for a few short months. Meeting new people and moving on to new things can sometimes be hard for me because the people already in my life are so spectacular. However, even the most emotional of goodbyes felt very evenly balanced with my excitement at all that I hope to accomplish in these months.

My goals for my time studying in Florence are founded in self-development. Though being in college was a new level of independence for me, navigating a life that’s completely foreign to my mom and other mentors will be an even deeper level of self-reliance. Experiences shape who we are, and the experiences I will have studying abroad are experiences that I believe I may only be able to have in this moment of my life– as a student, as a twenty-one year old, and as a person reliant on herself and responsible only for herself. I’m excited to see where Italy takes me, and how the history and culture of this new place becomes a part of the person that I am becoming.

Drop everything and study abroad.

Holland Cathey is currently studying abroad in Germany for Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Check out her first blog post below.

Guten Tag!

I’m Holland and I’m studying abroad this semester in Freiburg, Germany!  I’ve been planning my study abroad experience as long as I can remember and I honestly cannot believe it’s finally here!!  The countdown is on and there are just 18 days until I leave.  February 27—once a far away and distant date, just 18 days away!

In these last few weeks before I leave, I find myself hyper-aware of all the things I anticipate missing like seeing familiar faces every time I walk past the Corner, all my friends in HackCville and in AXO, and even big events like Foxfield!  I’ll miss the creature comforts of home and the ease of constantly speaking my native language.  At the same time, I can’t wait to put that on hold for a semester and just GO!

Freiburg is a notoriously green college town on the edge of the Black Forest.  Just a few miles from the borders of both France and Switzerland, it’s perfect for a semester of new experiences!  I’m studying global sustainability and German with a minor in environmental science and chose this program (IES Freiburg: Environmental Studies and Sustainability) specifically because of all of the amazing classes I will have access to and the culture of sustainability in Freiburg.  I get to immerse myself in a culture where environmental stewardship and sustainability is a lifestyle, rather than a distant fact we have yet to come to terms with.  If what I’ve read is correct, you can earn some pretty nasty looks from other students if you fail to separate your trash correctly in Freiburg!  Even at the fairly progressive UVA, I couldn’t even get my first year roommate to use a re-usable water bottle!

I’ll take ecology classes in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, snowshoe through Liechtenstein, and learn about sustainable energy first hand. While abroad, I hope what it is about Freiburg that makes it so “green”—and bring that knowledge home!  My goal is to use my experience from both Freiburg and Charlottesville to gain a unique perspective on sustainability and environmental issues and ultimately help solve related problems in the future.

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it’s about more than academics.  Improving my German and studying sustainability is important to me, but what I’m personally most excited for is exploration.  Freiburg is located within an hour or two by train to France, Italy, Switzerland, and even Liechtenstein! It has always been my fantasy to study somewhere where I can hop on a train and explore whatever city I happen to get off at.  I find myself visualizing an idyllic semester packed with weekend trips, gothic cathedrals, and the picturesque views of the Schwartzwald, but what I am looking forward to most are all of the moments that won’t be caught in a photo.  I can’t wait for the first time I successfully have a conversation with a local—in German! Exploring a new city, culture, and language is all about meeting people and getting lost—and that’s what excites me the most!  I can’t wait be lost in Freiburg, absorbing new sights, sounds, smells and experiences.  I’m ready to throw myself into a brand new situation and see what I make of it.  I’m ready to see everything and feel anything.  A semester abroad is so much more than the photographs—it’s a life changing and inspiring time and I’m ready! Right. Now.

India photo blog

Sarah Romanus is currently studying abroad in India participating in The Alliance: India: Contemporary India- Development, Economy, Society program.


University of Pune: Pune, India

I took this photo because the University of Pune is the largest university in Pune city.  Many universities in the city have ties to this university, but are assigned different names.  This photo is the main building at the university.


Pune, India

This photo was taken on India’s Republic Day.  For this holiday our program visited a school for children with hearing impairments.  This school support kids from age 5-18.  The children had rehearsed a performance celebrating Republic Day and afterwards we all celebrated by eating a special Indian dessert together.


Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics: Pune, India

This is another incredible example of the vibrant colors and arrangements that can be seen in India.  This specific flower arrangement was created for India’s Republic Day.  I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the gates of the university to see this beautiful arrangement at the entrance in celebration of Republic Day.  In the middle, India has been made out of flowers to match the colors of the Indian flag.


Pune, India

This photo is from a street stand selling chaat and panipuri.  These dishes are originally from North India but have since spread around India and South East Asia.  In this photo you can see many people gathered around to get a quick dinner.  Street food is very popular in India and it is common to see many different types of stands line the road with various meals.  This was my first time trying the street food in India and it was delicious.  My host family took us to this particular one because it is their favorite.


Pune, India

I took this photo at a flea market in Pune city as the sun was setting on a wonderful day.  The flea market had vendors selling mostly handmade crafts and clothing.  In addition, there were live local bands playing music in Hindi, while food trucks sold typical dishes from all over India.  This event has been one of my favorites because it combined and displayed many different aspects of India’s unique culture.

Why I studied abroad

Alexis Ferebee is a third-year currently studying abroad in Lyon for the semester. Check out her decision to study abroad below!

I almost didn’t study abroad. During my first 2 years at UVA I had decided that leaving the country would be more of a hassle than anything. After all, I was probably just going to major in Media Studies anyways. Then, at the end of fourth semester, I realized how much I greatly enjoyed French, and decided to double major. Even then, I wasn’t thinking about studying abroad. Suddenly, at the beginning of this school year, I realized that I would be wasting the chance of a lifetime and that I needed to apply. Luckily, I had this enlightening realization just in time to submit an application for the spring semester, which would have been my last opportunity. And now here I am.

Tomorrow I leave to study abroad in Lyon, France for 5 months. I have done so much preparation for this moment and yet I feel like I still have so much to do. I have realized though, that stressing about it doesn’t help much. I truly do not know what to expect from this experience, and do not have many preconceived notions, but I do have many aspirations. First of all, I want to be able to enhance my French. This seems pretty obvious but the betterment of my French could help sway me in a certain direction career-wise. I also want to make international friends. I say this because I have two very good American friends going with me on this trip and I don’t want to just hang out with them while speaking English. I can do that any time. My biggest goal is to gain more confidence. Even now, I am sitting at my computer worrying about many insignificant details about my trip but I want to be more sure of myself, and I feel like this trip will give me the independence I need to make this happen.

There is such a mix of anxiety and excitement that I can’t explain. I’ve never quite experienced anything like this in my life, so I guess that feeling is pretty normal. I am anxious about my flight, my train, but most of all, my communication. I am confident in my French abilities, but what if I forget and freeze up? I guess I will have to wait and see what the next few days bring. All I know is that I am excited to be in a beautiful country studying a language I love!

Study Abroad – Round Deux

 Morgan King is currently studying abroad in Morocco for the semester. Follow her travels below!

Greater known fact: I speak French.

Lesser known fact: I am minoring in African religions.

What do you get when you combine those things and walk into the study abroad office? MOROCCO! Starting January 25th I will be living in Africa… AFRICA!!! My wildest dream is coming true!

For the next four months I will be studying Arabic, taking politics courses in French at l’Université Internationale de Rabat and conducting research for my masters thesis. Excitingly, a week of the program takes place in Grenada, Spain!

I’ve spent years building my French, months building my Morocco-appropriate wardrobe, and days building my courage to finally get on this plane.  I am so excited and incredibly nervous for the intellectual, cultural, and social challenges that the next few months will provide; but I am also soo ready for the camels, couscous, and caftans.

I’ve been asked so many times “why take this risk?”,” why Africa?”, “why Morocco?”.  Honestly, I don’t have a good answer other than this: I’m following my heart. I’ll keep you updated on why as I figure it out myself! For now, here are my goals for my semester in Morocco:

  1. SPEAK FRENCH: This might be an obvious one but, really, I want to force myself to speak French and not cheat by speaking English because it’s easier. I’m here to be immersed and I’m going to do it!
  2. TRAVEL: I’ve been to Europe twice but I’m so excited to take advantage of my close proximity to lesser-known parts of the continent. Marseille, Amalfi, and Santorini are calling my name! Also, MOROCCO IS SO COOL. Rumor has it a $10 bus ticket will take you across the country. We’ll see where I end up!
  3. EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE: Morocco is pretty westernized but as a Muslim State it has so much to offer from a non-western perspective. I am thrilled to learn more about Moroccan culture and to experience some reverse culture shock when I arrive back in the US!

Thanks for reading along as I run around northern Africa in my ankle length dresses! Merci à lire!

Back soon… gone to travel

Katherine Johnson is currently studying abroad in Italy. Follow her journey through her blog posts on the website. Enjoy!


Something tells me I should be packing…but I think it makes more sense to watch Under the Tuscan Sun the night before I leave for Italy.

20 years and 9 months later, it’s finally time for the ultimate departure from North America. For someone who’s international travels include spending 4 hours in Cozumel after high school graduation, a semester abroad has me freaking out. While it feels like hundreds of factors have gone into this decision, it all comes down to my battling a travel addiction. I am obsessed with the idea of travel. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be willingly giving up one of my precious 8 semesters at UVA, but its even harder to imagine passing up an opportunity to study abroad. When friends, family, professors, etc. have all asked me where I’m going, it’s not surprising that hardly anyone subsequently questions “why Italy?” because, who wouldn’t want to go to Italy? Well, for everyone who is just dying to know my answer, here it is:

  1. The history, the architecture, the art. Siena offers the unique perspective into the history of Tuscany with the perfect “road less traveled by” setting. Although I’m a philosophy major and politics minor, I’ll be taking an art history class abroad and have the opportunity to travel around Italy to see the paintings for myself – and yes, this is included in the class! I’ll naturally get lost in the museums in Siena or on my way to the Piazza del Campo – a medieval square that holds the infamous Palio horse races twice a year. Italy is home to some of the most beautiful cities in the world (Rome, Florence, Capri, Milan, Venice…just to name a few) and I plan to visit them all.
  2. Undoubtedly, cuisine is an immense part of a true Italian experience. I’ve gotten countless recommendations of restaurants to check out and foods to taste upon arrival, with gelatos and pastas being at the top (what a surprise). Wine is an entirely different subject. Italian wine is the final frontier of wine expertise, and taking a wine tour is at the top of my bucket list. Between the vast amounts of vineyards and modest pricing, it won’t be long until a glass of Prosecco at the dinner table becomes customary for me.
  3. Italians value family and la bella figura– meaning they care about having a good public image and live in a way that emphasizes aesthetics with good behavior. They are notorious for living la vita bella (the beautiful life) in that they approach daily life in the most relaxed and positive attitude, a refreshing cultural aspect for any twenty-something in America. What most of us as Americans take for granted in our day-to-day, Italians experience fully and passionately…including time.  In the fast paced reality of being a third year college student, there is never enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want. I envy those who can constantly just live in the moment, which is basically the majority of Italy. How long it will take for me to be even remotely relaxed about time though is TBD.

So finally, after over a year of planning, it’s time for my own adventure.

Siena is the destination, but I plan to experience as much of Europe as I can in the next four months through some major binge traveling. No amount of Google searching, memorizing small Italian phrases, or flipping through maps of the rolling hills in Tuscany could satisfy my curiosity for the experiences I hope to have. Fortunately, my excitement outweighs my fears – fears of being homesick, of living with people I’ve never met, and of the monumental culture shock I’m about to feel – because of everything I have to look forward to.

Thanks, Lizzie McGuire, for preparing me for anything to happen in Italy.

It’s too bad she also didn’t show how she packed all her shoes…



Reflection before embarking to Italy

Teresa Nowalk is currently studying abroad in Siena for the semester. Check out her reflection before she embarked on her journey! 

Italy. I can’t stop saying it or thinking about it… Soon I will be in Italy to study for about five months, which will be the longest time I have ever been out of the country.  Part of me is of course excited, and who wouldn’t? Gelato, pasta, pizza, mozzarella… But beyond the food, there is the history, art, and the culture. Those are the three things I want to focus on when I am not preoccupied with the dinner table and my stomach (not that I plan on going hungry in Italy). Since I am a history and (most likely) anthropology double major these next five months will be a really neat way to see my studies come alive. To me, Siena will be a recharge: a perfect halfway point for my studies as I conclude my second year.

Many of my thoughts go toward my homestay. I wrestled with whether to do one or not and am still not 100% certain about it. So we will see how my thoughts on the homestay will change later in the semester. But right now, my inner anthropologist is nervously excited to live in an Italian home. I love learning about how different countries eat dinner and what foods they eat in general so I am excited to branch out of the (American) Italian restaurants and their breadsticks. I also love learning about how other countries think about the US, so hopefully as my Italian goes from rusty to only somewhat rusty I will be able to understand why we are the ugly Americans (or not!)… But beyond this, I am looking forward to my sampling of Siena.

But most importantly, I have a few goals while abroad. Perhaps I am naïve and drank the study abroad kool-aid, but I hope to become more confident when I am abroad… And like everyone hopes to have better grip on the future, I hope to figure out what I want to do with two humanity degrees by the time I come back. More personally, I am determined to be more social and befriend as many people as possible. This is because, for me, as much as I want to have great stories when I come back, I also want to have others’ stories because an adventure should never be an individual experience. So to both my future self and to my readers: here’s to the stories and Italia.

Pre-departure post

Chris is a third-year studying Commerce at the University. He is currently studying abroad in London for the semester. Check out his thoughts before he left!

Before I get into my actual blog, I’d like to tell a little bit about myself. My name is Chris Hoffa and I am a third year in the School of Commerce. I love to play a variety of video games and watch New York Mets games during my free time. I am looking forward to traveling across all of Europe during my semester in London.

I still can’t believe that I leave for London in two days. As someone who has never left the country once in his life, this will be quite the experience for me. I am worried about making friends, about getting homesick, and about the challenges that I could potentially face. With that being said, I am still plunging myself into this adventure of a lifetime. I hope in this time that I will be able to learn more about myself than ever before and to become a better person through having such a diverse experience. I have created three major goals that I hope to accomplish during my semester abroad.

The first goal that I have is to befriend as many people as possible. This goal will allow me to receive all of these diverse perspectives and to meet people that I would never have had the opportunity to do before. I will be able to learn from these new friends of mine and hopefully be able to create lifelong friends from my time while in London. This will make my experience more wholesome in a sense.

My second goal that I have is to put down the electronics. I am someone who is an avid gamer and loves to play a variety of video games. Though it will be tempting to fall back on this hobby of mine when I feel isolated or face a challenge, I hope that I will be able to put them down and truly appreciate this time abroad. The video games will not be going anywhere in the near future, but this experience will be. I have a limited time while abroad and need to make the most of it while I can.

My third goal for the semester is to continue to stay in contact with my friends and family back home. Though I will be participating in this experience of a lifetime, I need to make sure not to forget the most important people in my life for five months. Keeping in constant contact will allow me to maintain these relationships and also will hopefully prevent me from becoming homesick.

As a whole, I hope that these three goals that I have created for myself will make my experience in London the best that it can be. This will hopefully be a life changing experience for me and will me allow to grow in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. I look forward to leaving in two days and embarking on the biggest journey in my life so far.

Hopping the Pond: Virginia → Valencia

Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his pre-departure blog!

Hi! My name is Thomas, and I’m a second year student at the University of Virginia. Starting today, I’m leaving Jefferson’s Grounds behind for the spring 2017 semester to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. I plan on using this blog to post regular updates on my adventures and experiences living abroad. Seeing as I’m currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now and don’t have anything particularly exciting to report on (yet!), I figured I would take the time to explain why I decided to study abroad and what Spanish means to me.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Growing up in my hometown of Oxford, Pennsylvania, almost a third of my high school graduating class was Hispanic. I can distinctly recall hearing Spanish spoken in the hallways during elementary school, and thinking how cool it would be if I could speak a “secret language” to communicate with friends and stump teachers. When I had the chance to begin studying the language in the eighth grade, I eagerly accepted, and Spanish soon became my favorite subject in school. I always excelled in my Spanish classes academically, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school in Spanish V when I realized it was what I wanted to study in college. I became president of the Spanish Honor Society my senior year and soon after decided to attend the University of Virginia as a Spanish major.

College classes were, of course, a rather large adjustment from high school classes, but nonetheless Spanish remained my strongest subject. My second semester, I was lucky enough to study under two particularly phenomenal Spanish professors who really motivated me to spend additional time practicing outside of class in order to further increase my level of proficiency. To that end, I read two incredible novels over the summer: El tiempo entre costurasThe Time In Between and Cien años de soledadOne Hundred Years of Solitude(both of which I highly recommend!) in Spanish to avoid the summer slump and expand my vocabulary. As if the books weren’t enough, I also developed a raging addiction to Spanish telenovelas such as Gran Hotel and Velvet. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Spanish truly became the unequivocal center of my life at UVA. In addition to taking three Spanish courses, I moved into the Casa Bolívar, UVA’s Spanish-speaking dorm. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent just about as much time speaking Spanish as I did English last semester. Because of all this practice, I feel reasonably confident in my abilities to communicate in Spanish, which will hopefully help mitigate the inevitable culture shock that comes with adapting to life in a foreign country.

This semester, I’m in five 4000 level Spanish courses covering a wide variety of topics. That sounds kind of crazy (and I guess it is) but hey, at least in Spain we don’t have class on Fridays! There’s no doubt these courses will keep me plenty busy, but by the end of the semester, I will have finished the complete course of study for UVA Spanish majors in two years’ time. Here’s my class schedule:

SPAN 4050: Global Integration of Latin America – MoWe: 09:00-10:30

SPAN 4600: Literature & Cinema – MoWe: 10:40-12:10

SPAN 4705: Spanish Mass Media – MoWe: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4713: Economy of European Union – TuTh: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4320: Contemporary Latin American Short Fiction – TuTh: 15:40-17:10

As you may have noticed, in Spain they use the 24-hour system (military time) which is definitely something I’ll have to get used to. The class I’m most worried about is the econ course – economics is already like another language to me, so I’ll have to see how it goes when it’s taught to me in Spanish!

To say I’m excited for study abroad would be a gross understatement. En route to Spain, I can’t help but feel quite introspective. When I look behind me, I marvel at all the progress a “gringo” like me has somehow been able to make in Spanish so far. Even so, looking forward to this semester, I see incredible opportunities to further increase my fluency and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture. I feel extremely thrilled and blessed to be embarking on this journey and absolutely cannot wait to see what Valencia has in store for me. Look out Spain, Tomás is coming for you!

a goddess named kyoto

Luke Merrick did a research exchange program at Waseda University in Japan this past summer. Check out his third account on the blog.

05 Jun 2016


A great view of the kinkaku-ji golden pavilion in Kyoto

week four

Although it may be a bit of a stretch to fit my experience into the mold of a classic Campbellian meeting with the goddess, such strict dedication to a theme has never been the goal of this blog. Rather, the monomythical themes have simply been serving as seeds for thought. And so that brings me to this weeks title, a goddess named Kyoto.

I did, indeed, have a meetup with Kyoto this week, visiting a couple of its famous UNESCO world-heritage temples, finding $10 noodles that would go for $70 at an upscale joint in New York, and just living the life with a couple of great buddies from the Waseda short-term program. Individually, this all seems quite touristy. When considered as a whole experience, though, one that is tied together by the little things like being asked about the manga (Japanese comic) I was struggling through on the bus by a kindly little obaasan (grandmother), it was so much more than a weekend of sightseeing. It was, I daresay, a meeting with the goddess that expressed, in its own way, the unconditional love and validation that every great monomythical hero has discovered in his own adventure.

This is all to say that, in my experience of exploring the world as an international student in Tokyo, I have come to realize that there are moments where things just seem to click into place. Of course, these moments can happen anywhere and anytime, but something about the vivid new sights and vast cultural differences seems to have upped the contrast of daily life and made this “clicking into place” all the more obvious. Humans are undoubtedly creatures of routine; millennia of evolution have given us incredibly powerful brains capable of forming and identifying incredibly complex patterns. Sometimes in forming these patterns, however, we get caught up in a cyclic perpetuation of habit, and I I think that this may be why we build and cherish things like the kinkaku-ji. We cherish these splendid distractions because they jerk us awake from our routine and remind us that we, too, can enjoy the Campbellian “boon of love.. life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity” through a meeting with the goddess.

At the risk of becoming a bit philosophical her, I think it is worth reflecting upon that essentially everyone I have ever met has been held by some fascination with the colorful wonders of the world. Certainly not everyone likes sports, or cares particularly about food, or even likes movies or theater, but we all seem to have a bucket list of faraway places we want to see before we die. There is something in the shining kinkaku-ji, in the bamboo wilds and bright orange torii (gates) of thefushimi-inari shrine that echoes a fundamental human desire. Immense riches, lifetimes of master craftsmanship, and the gentle footsteps of millions of pilgrimaging visitors have been poured out as offerings to the architypal goddess on account of a deep-seated desire that exists in all of us, a desire to receive unconditional love as Campbell metaphorized through the meeting with the goddess. So while you might say I went to go sightseeing in Kyoto last weekend, I think it sound much more impressive to call it “a pilgrimage to meet with the goddess and catch a glimpse of what makes us human.”

road of discoveries

Luke Merrick did a research exchange program at Waseda University in Japan this past summer. Check out his second account on the blog

30 May 2016

picture1My friend Roy playing suikawari during a trip to the beach

week three

Joseph Campbell: …it may be that [the hero] here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him… The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning… surprising barriers [must be] passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.

As I continue to shamelessly exploit Campbell’s Monomyth as a wellspring of blogging inspiration, I arrive now at this week’s theme: the road of trials. Although many discussions of this stage of the Monomyth focus on the hardships involved, in my case it seems much more applicable to look at the series of small victories, fantastic discoveries, and feeling “for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting [the hero],” that it entails.

This week offered a series of new experiences, each of which came with its own unique challenges and wonderful little discoveries. From taking part in an authenticnomikai (Japnese-style drinking get-together), to learning the ins-and-outs of Japanese barbecue, to enjoying the view of the sea from a not-very-gender-separated onsen (Japanese hotsprings), each day brought its fair share of “momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.” Each day, as well, brought reassurance that those around me, native hosts and co-adventurers alike, are doing one hell of a job bringing “benign power” my way to smooth over my endless stream of mistakes and show me the way in this alien city.

I have noticed that often times it is the most casual curiosity that pries most strongly at the heart of a matter. A common question people here ask me is “why did you, an American, choose to study Japnaese of all languages?” While the full answer is a bit of a long and disjointed story, even my most terse response starts with the fact that ever since I was young I have always been fascinated by the extraordinary cultural differences between far away East Asia and the Eastern U.S. which I call home. Now that I am living in Japan and experiencing these cultural differences firsthand, I have come to realize that there are little “trials” in everything from reading a Japanese menu (being in English doesn’t always help!) to finding the perfect middle ground between “embarrassed foreigner” and “public indecency” is at an onsen (hint: it’s way outside the typical American’s comfort zone, but not quite at a “nudist beach” level, so be careful to remember where you set your little crotch-towel in case some ladies walk by!). I have also come to realize that these little trials, while often puzzling or discomforting, are the very core of what makes going abroad so incredibly eye-opening, engaging, and educational.

It is, in my estimation, a perfect example of the road of trials: a thing of discomfort and difficulty that is also full of miraculous discovery and “unretainable ecstasies.”

The enlightenment

Fabiola is a fourth-year economics major who studied abroad in China this past summer. Check out her reflection on her time abroad.
      As an economics major at UVA is only natural that I am interested in how the world’s economy performs and how it’s changed over time. Coming from a small, in every aspect, and extremely poor country in Central America has allowed me to not only focus my interest on the big economies, specially not only on the US even though I do attend college in the US and 90% of the content I review on every single of my courses is based on the US economy and its behavior over time.Unfortunately, being accurately informed and understanding economics is not always an easy task. Economics is not an easy science. It’s based on infinite assumptions, models and states that not always, not to say ever, really occur in the real world, as we economists call it. Therefore, in order to study and understand how economics work one must first put aside several elements that are very present in both small and large economies to different degrees: dysfunctional institutions and its consequences such as corruption, extreme poverty and the special needs of the people in countries that experience it, black markets that have grown to be some countries’ top markets like drug cartels in South America… All in all, one must study economics in an ideal world where markets can move freely without any unnecessary, or illegal, intervention by the government and by the people. Once atUVA it only took me get through my Principles of Microeconomics course to understand why studying economics in the US, based on the US economy, was as close to the ideal world as one can get. Institutions in this country are much more functional than in other countries.
      US has gotten where it is, one of the world’s biggest economies, because since its origin its leaders have focused on exploding its potential with everything and more than it has to offer. When the rest of the world was still struggling with epidemics, development and poverty, the US was already getting ahead and growing ridiculously compared to the other, now, big economies. People became too ambitious and the “you can make it” idea got everyone to push their limits further and further, making US big as a whole. It was and it has been a constant growth throughout history with a couple peaks and troughs. On the other hand, other big economies tell a different story. China, for example, remained stagnant together with other countries in Europe and Asia for many years and then, within a short period of time, this huge monster started growing at a pace not even the US had experienced in its past. During this period, the spotlight moved from America to theOld Continent and it focused on countries such as China for a while. The world was shaken by this event that marked the overall economy forever. Many started making their own speculations and inferences about China. Then, one day, as many expected, the growth proved to be unsustainable and the country finally slowed down. This marked another major event on the world’s economy since, once the country became the world’s biggest manufacturer, other big economies like the US started taking advantage of China’s low labor prices to make some extra profit and satisfy its consumerist population. What really happened to China, that caused the country to slow down, is explained by many economists through different lenses and by different theories. Some point it out to the country moving from manufacturing to service industry and indexes not being adjusted to this change, a few others entirely blame the inefficient communist system that completely controls the market in China making it difficult to adapt by the Invisible Hand Theorem. It is ironic that coming from the poorest country in the western hemisphere, situation caused mainly by the several corrupt governments that have ruled the country, I still have a hard time to believe how dysfunctional institutions can bring a country down. I still tend to blame the people and their lack of effort because I naively believe that even under an inefficient system there is always opportunity. This is how my trip to China opened my eyes to the truth behind the curtains.
     Due to traveling difficulties my visit to China started in what I can, with all my confident, call the world’s most random city: Dafeng, a small city located north ofShanghai. As soon as we started entering the city it already seemed strange. There were no civilians on the streets, no cars on the roads, there were too many old buildings that seemed empty, the city was incredibly quite, it looked like a ghost town. As we spent more days there and then visited some companies it became clear to me that things in China work completely different. I then understood that the way people invested their money worked differently, people preferred to have all of their money invested in real estate instead of in the bank or the stock market. However, Idid not understand why. The real estate company we visited was working on a tremendous project. It had already built tenths of apartment buildings and these buildings were only the first few stages of the whole project. The managers assured us the whole project was completely sold and that 99% of the apartments’ owners were living there. This inaccurate information made everything more confusing. The whole project was sold? To whom? There was nobody in this town. And where was this 99%? Nobody was able to answer this. A museum honoring the CulturalRevolution, a Zoo with a dead horse, a Holland Themed Park and an Aquarium that tattooed their fish were the cherries on top of the weirdest ice cream.
      Traumatized and curious, we arrived at our next destination: Wuxi, a larger city still north of Shanghai. This stop was a lot more revealing than the first one. We saw more people on the streets and the real estate company we visited gave us some more accurate numbers about the amount of apartments they had sold and the percentage of buyers that actually inhabited the apartments, managers seemed more transparent. It was a little shocking to hear that the company was actually state owned, thus the government fostered the project they were working on. Here was the first time we heard that the real estate industry in China was struggling,which Dafeng had already made evident despite of the company’s attempt to prove otherwise. However, the manager told us they weren’t that concerned since the government was backing the project up and it would incur any losses the first few years, which they were already incurring and had confident they would continue to incur as they completed all the stages of the project. Why in the world would a real estate company keep working on a project that is incurring so many losses and which prospects of revenues were blurry and way too FAR ahead in the future?Shouldn’t these companies keep building as they sell? Shouldn’t they operate based on the market performance?  Now, I only had a vague idea of how communism works. I acknowledged that it tries to maximize social welfare equally and that in this system the government has more power and liberty to intervene in the economy; nonetheless, I was not clear to what extent. I started wondering myself,doubting this country’s authorities decisions.
     Perhaps the peak of the enlightenment happened when we got to Ningbo, an even larger city more similar to Shanghai than the previous two.  Here we visited a manufacturing company, and after that everything finally started making sense. The owner of the company first gave us a really weird fact: they had an area requirement that had to be filled with buildings depending on the size of the property, regardless of the infrastructure that the company actually needs for production based on the market demand.  So, the owner of the firm, knowing that by producing more than the market actually demanded he would incur losses, had to rent the extra building she was not using. Moreover, he would use this money to finance his own business since the high interest made financing almost impossible for private firms. It was never clear to me if this action was considered illegal or not, but the whole situation was too strange. After he explained and described more of the regulations that manufacturing companies had in order to operate, I was able to understand how inefficient the system was. The government was forcing overproduction, this is perhaps what caused the monstrous, unsustainable growth the country experienced for many years. True, it increased China’s GDP incredibly on a macro level, but it was evidently hurting the economy on a micro level. Where all businessmen as clever as this guy? How did they manage to keep operating? I felt extremely overwhelmed.Nothing made sense, how could it make sense to the leaders of this country. Why wasn’t obvious to them that controlling the market in such way can only go on for so long? How could they not see how bad of an environment this was for people trying to succeed with their own businesses, people trying to enter the market, people looking for their way out of China’s stagnant middle class, to people trying to make it?  
     Once we arrived to Shanghai I was excited to visit some financial firms to understand how securities worked in this market. Our visit to these firms only confirmed what I already suspected, the stock market worked just like the real estate market. Securities’ prices are also controlled by the government, which reduces credibility among the public in the stock market. This time, it was not the regulations imposed by the government to financial firms that impressed me, but the ability of arbitrage, which is normally absent in a competitive market, that financial firms were able to pull out due to the same control on the sock market.
     In conclusion, this trip really showed me how institutions can hurt the economy of a country when they don’t let the market act freely by its own. China is avery interesting case and not until you experience things first hand you can understand what is it that has slowed this monster down.

Reflection of arriving in Costa Rica

Jamir studied abroad this past summer in Costa Rica for six weeks. This is his second journal on the blog. Check it out!

Jamir Nahuel Kai

15 May 2016

Study abroad reflection #1 

It’s hard to accept reality. A strange articulation, I know, but I can’t express the bulk
of my feelings right now in any other way. I’m experiencing a surreal blend of comfort,exhilaration, and unease. Primarily, I’m overwhelmed by the gorgeous climate this evening. Fresquito is how my host-sister’s boyfriend described it. I would agree, cool and fresh feeling.

Secondarily, I miss my fiancé already. We haven’t spent more than a day apart for the last three years, and the plane ride to Costa Rica was enough to make me feel the distance between us that is to last for the next six weeks. Once I process the tropical breeze alongside the pangs of missing my beloved, I begin to tear up.

I can’t believe I’m finally here! I’ve been dreaming about this very place since ninth grade. That’s six long years of fantasizing about walking amongst the mountains and the bugs (so many bugs) and seeing beautiful, diverse, Spanish-speaking people all around me. And now I’m here. Los ticos do indeed, as all the posts I have read claimed, greet kindly all passersby. And greetings are specific to the time of day. 

My host-sister is a ray of sunshine, but busy. To make sure I got to see the beauty of the town and surrounding towns, she and her boyfriend took me for a sunset drive around the highs and low of Carrillos Alto and Carrillos Bajo. We took an even further trip out to a bigger town called Grecia and I tried my first authentic Costa Rican dish! I didn’t like it all that much. But that’s okay! Dinner by my already loving and caring host-mother, Alicia, was fabulous and filling. First day of school is tomorrow. Bright and early.

UVa in Costa Rica Pre-departure reflection

Jamir studied abroad this past summer in Costa Rica for six weeks. Check out his journal before he left on his trip.

Jamir Nahuel Kai

12 May 2016

Pre departure reflection

My passport has finally arrived! My new duffel bag has finally arrived! I just picked up a new pair of sunglasses and my two ounce travel bottles are filled with sunscreen, body wash, and bug spray. I’ve spent hours online researching various aspects of Costa Rican culture and I’ve had a long conversation with my host parents’ daughter about my stay in their home. It is now officially feeling quite real that I will soon be leaving for Costa Rica and living in Alajuela for an entire six weeks. But even though everything feels prepared, the butterflies in my stomach are telling me otherwise….

What if I don’t like the food? What if my host family aren’t okay with gay people? Will I be able to stay in contact with my mom without an international phone plan? And what am I going to do without being able to sleep next to my fiancée and our two dogs every night for a month and a half??? The truth of the matter is I’m equally as worried as I am excited for this imminent trip.

However, as a teacher candidate in my fourth (out of five) year at the University of Virginia, I recognize the value and importance of studying abroad. I can’t wait to start experiencing the new culture, meeting new people, and improving my Spanish. I’ll be doing a semester-long teaching internship at Monticello High School in the fall and taking standardized assessments in July, so I want my fluency to be as perfect as possible before returning home to the states. I also can’t wait to be capturing moments, sharing them with my loved ones, and transmitting my experiences in various forms. Above all, I’m very thankful for this opportunity as I’ve never been out of the country and I’m the only person in my entire extended family to attend college, let alone spend a month abroad to study a foreign language. I shall return stronger, more knowledgeable, and with un montón de memorias that I’ll utilize and cherish forever!!

Reminder: Pre-departure Orientation tonight 11/6!

Just a reminder that tonight is the predeparture orientation for Spring 2017. It will be held in Maury 209 from 5-7pm. See you all there!



Paris in the Fall part 2

Catherine Fama is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. This is her second post on the blog; check it out!


The Tuileries garden is a beautiful park that makes up part of the famous boulevard that runs from the Arc de Triumph, down the Champs Élysée, through Place de la Concorde and theTuileries, and ends at the Louvre. This garden is one of the most visited places in Paris, but it’s very common to see real Parisians lounging around one of the garden’s many fountains on nice days. I included this picture because it is one of the most beautiful place in the city.


Shakespeare and Company is a world renowned English book store in the Latin quarter of Paris that is beloved by tourists and intellectuals. I included this picture because it’s an adorable little shop, and anyone who visits Paris needs to visit.


The Sainte Chapelle is a small gothic cathedral built by king Saint Louis during the Middle Ages.It is much less well known compared to Notre Dame, but in my opinion is much more beautiful.These pictures honestly don’t do it justice, but they include some of the many gothic elements of the church and some of the beauty. The church is famous for its stained glass windows that go from the floor to the ceiling, and for supposedly containing the throned crown of Christ. This church is a symbol of Christianity in Paris. I included these pictures because the church is honestly too beautiful not to include.


The Madeline Church is a massive structure built to resemble the Parthenon in Athens, but it’s a functioning catholic church.. I included this picture because it’s extremely unique compared to the other buildings seen around Paris, and because it’s a part of my everyday life since it’s located just by my home stay.


The Moulin Rouge is a world famous cabaret in the Montmartre area of Paris. I took this picture because it’s a world famous location, and because it represents the seedier side of the city.


Place Vendôme is located just off the Tuileries and was originally constructed during the time of the 1st empire as a way to celebrate Napoleon and his victories. Now it is home to upscale shopping and jewelry stores. I included this picture because it represents a mixture of the history of Paris with its culture of shopping and luxury.

France photo blog 2

Kelly McCain is currently studying abroad in France. Take a look at her experiences abroad through her second photo blog.


These are the famous suspended houses of Pont-en-Royan in the Vercors mountain range just outside of Grenoble. We spent a lovely lunch on the banks of this little river gazing up at the houses that looked like they were about to fall into the river.


Grenoble is famous for its nuts. The “noix de Grenoble” are another AOC, like the Chateauneuf du Pape wine.  One day, my program took us to the local nut museum, which was interesting. This was my favorite part of it: walnut shells that have little scenes inside.  I love the tiny hammock and the tiny palm tree inside this walnut shell.  These are from someone famous (I forgot who it was) who sent walnuts with little scenes in them through the mail.


I was walking around Grenoble after my classes one day, and it was an absolutely beautiful day. The bubbles that go up the Bastille were in a perfect place for a photo, and this was the result. I love the beautiful colorful buildings along the river.


We went to a Grenoble hockey game.  The Grenoble team is called les Brûleurs de Loups, or the wolf burners.  There was an incredible energy in the stadium, with new chants starting every minute.  It was packed full, so it must be a local favorite pastime. We won!


This was the most incredible mural I have ever seen.  I had seen it on the Internet before coming to Lyon, but then when I was there, I saw a photo of it in one of the guidebooks, inspiring me to search the city to find it.  In person, it looks so incredibly real, that the small children playing in front of the wall looked like they belonged there.  Thanks to this mural, Lyon became one of the centers of street murals in France.


We went to a market in Lyon, the Marché Saint-Antoine, on a Sunday morning. It was full of locals and tourists alike, and was in a park along the Saone River for probably a mile. It was absolutely beautiful. From this side of the river, we could see the Cathédral de Fourvière that is so famous in Lyon. I took this photo of an old French lady inspecting the flowers for sale with her reusable shopping bag that every French person carries around when shopping.  I like to think that she was going to bring home the flowers to put on her windowsill.


This is a photo of my traditional Lyonnais dinner. It is called quenelle and was made out of chicken, eggs, milk, flour, and butter, then prepared with a delicious sauce.  It is similar to a dumpling. It was delicious!! I ordered it without really knowing what it was.


I took this photo of an amazing sunset the other day next to Place Grenette in Grenoble.  It had just stopped raining, and the sunset was incredible. This photo showcases the incredible beauty of Grenoble, along with the day-to-day life of the people heading for the tram to go home from work.


The popes moved to Avignon from Rome for about 70 years. This is a photo of the Palais des Papes, where we were fortunate enough to get a tour. It is beautiful and it was interesting to see the history of it. We also were able to go to the Pont d’Avignon, the place that inspired the kids song, “Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse…”.  My mom used to sing that to me when I was young, so I was really excited to see it in person.


This is a photo of the Pont du Gard, one of the only Roman aqueducts still standing.  It is right outside of Avignon, France, and is stunningly large. It was crazy to think that the Romans built it without any electrical machines, only with their manpower. The place was steeped in history, and it was magical to be able to be so close to history, even to touch it.


Here is a photo from a small Swiss town of Saint Saphorin. It hangs off of the hill on the edge of the huge Lake Léman, the other end of the same lake that Geneva is on. This region is known for its wine from grapes grown on terraced slopes, especially its white wine. It is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We spent the day exploring the terraces, seen in the foreground of this photo, and ended it with a wonderful lunch with the white wine of the region.


This verdant valley is a short bus ride away from the church and the monastery. A family friend and I spent the afternoon exploring the valley, with a view of the glacier high up on the mountain, a waterfall, and of course, the beloved cows. The day after we visisted Engelberg was the descent of Alpages, when the cows descend in the fall from the cooler mountains after grazing there during the summer.  Each year, it is a huge festival celebrating the cows and the farmers.


This photo is of the monastery attached to the beautiful church in the previous photo. There are many nuns and priests who live at this monastery and who raise money for their parish through a fromagerie, where they have been making and selling cheese for years. I was standing right in front of the fromagerie when I took this photo.  We had just bought a classic “jambon et fromage” sandwich on country wheat bread. It was a very simple sandwich, but one of my favorite meals so far this semester. The small white dots in the sky are more paragliders!


This is the inside of a beautiful church located in Engelberg, Switzerland. It is the prominent building in the tiny town, in a country that is still mostly Catholic. I was blown away by the bright colors of the church. Most other churches I have been in tend to be darker, but this one was full of light inside, and almost made it feel like we were outside in the mountains.

Global Week: Friday Schedule


For Friday, October 28th, here are the following events for Global Week:

Institute of World Languages Fall Symposium-Career Development and Language Competency in the Global Era at 3rd floor Newcomb Hall from 9:30am-3pm

UVa Library: Your Passport tp Global Experiences at Harrison & Special Collections, Small Auditorium from 11am-1pm

Final Friday at the Fralin at Fralin Museum of Art from 5:30pm-7:30pm

Check out the website virginia.edu/uvaglobal/iew for more details! New events every day until Friday. Revisit the blog for updates as well

Global Week: Thursday Schedule


For Thursday, October 27th, here are the following events for Global Week:

Fall Job and Internship Fair at 3rd floor Newcomb Hall from 10am-3pm

Visual Literacy in the Age of Global Education at Hotel A in West Range from 5:30pm-7pm

Language House Crawl at Shea House, Casa Bolivar, and Maison Francaise from 7pm-8pm

Check out the website virginia.edu/uvaglobal/iew for more details! New events every day until Friday. Revisit the blog for updates as well

Global Week is this week!! October 24-28th


For Wednesday, October 26th, here are the following events for Global Week:

Passport Drive at Hotel A on the Range from 10am-3pm

Fall Job and Internship Fair at 3rd floor Newcomb Hall from 10am-3pm

Peace Process in Colombia at the Great Hall in Garrett Hall from 11:30am-12:30pm

Securing a Global Internship: Panel and Resource Fair at the Great Hall in Garrett from 6:30pm-8pm

Beverly Cobble Rodriguez Lecture with Gretchen Ki Steidle at Harrison & Special Collections Small Auditorium from 5pm-7pm

World Cafe at the Multicultural Center at Multicultural Center, lower level Newcomb Hall from 5:30pm-6:30pm

Check out the website virginia.edu/uvaglobal/iew for more details! New events every day until Friday. Revisit the blog for updates as well

The beautiful Auckland, New Zealand

Tyler Lewis studied abroad in Auckland, New Zealand participating in the UVa Commerce: Third Year CORE: University of Auckland. Below are some phenomenal pictures of his time abroad!


These pictures are from the incredible Milford Sound. I took a tour boat through the channels and saw some breathtaking views. The natural waterfalls and wildlife were a thing of beauty.


These are from my visit to the town of Wanaka. It was such a pretty town and the colors of the leaves on the trees reminded my of a crisp fall afternoon at UVa.



We visited and hiked up the mountains along side two glaciers. The views we saw on these adventures were some of the most magnificent I have ever experienced. At Mt. Cook, freezing cold water was coming down from the glaciers into a small lake with ice chunks sticking out at certain spots.

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These pictures are from my last weekend trip to Coromandel. I took a ferry and could see the majestic buildings of the city of Auckland as the ferry took me away. In Coromandel, I did a beach tour and got to spend the day on a beautiful, white lace beach. I did a few short hikes through the trees and caves along the beach. As this was my last trip before final exams, it was a little bit emotional for me. I am so glad I decided to study abroad in such an amazing place. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world.

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These pictures are from when my parents came to New Zealand to visit me over my Easter Break. We went to some amazing places! We went to Queenstown and hiked up Bob’s Cove, visited the Hobbiton Movie Set and took pictures next to the different hobbit holes, went zorbing and swimming in the hot springs of Rotorua, and saw the glow worm caves in Wautomo. I am so thankful to have a family that is willing to take time out of their busy schedules and come visit me. It was so great for them to come to NZ and we all had an amazing time together.

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Over mid-semester break, my friends and I rented a camper van and drove all throughout the South Island of New Zealand. We saw some incredible sights! We traveled to the Moeraki boulders and walked on the beach with crystalized boulders coming out of the sand. We stopped along the coastline and saw seals and explored caves on the beach. We went to the southern most point in NZ. We did some astonishing hikes in Queenstown.


Before we left on our journey, my parents got to meet all of my New Zealand friends. It was great for them to get to know my friends, because these people I hope to keep in touch with as a leave my study abroad experience.


These pictures are from my trip to Rangitoto Island in Auckland. After taking a ferry to the island, I did a short hike to the top.

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These are from my weekend trip to Rotorua. My friends and I went white water rafting and it was a blast! We went down the largest rafting waterfall in New Zealand.


This is a picture of the business back in Auckland where I spend most of my time. I am lucky to be studying abroad at such an amazing business program at an incredible place.

Home again, home again

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her third post from her journeys 

Unfortunately, many good things in life must come to an end at one point or another. After a jam-packed last couple of weeks, I said chau to Chile and hopped on a plane that shot me back into the northern hemisphere. Now I’m a couple weeks into my old routine of pumping gasoline into my car, heating up frozen meals, and Googling information whenever I please. Here, no one shouts at me to guard my iPhone with dear life or to wear my shoes in the house because I might get a cold and die. And the best part? My listening comprehension is 100%.

Some days, I’m confused by the weather and weirded out that life back home has gone on without my presence. Other days, it feels as if I never left and this collection of South American memories is nothing more than a dream. Either way, it’s a strange sensation living and seeing and doing and learning all of these things in this other place and having no real clue how to convey any of it to anyone who wasn’t there. For now, I answer their questions about the food and classes and my favorite activities abroad. My hope is that if I spit out enough words with enough excitement in my voice maybe my friends and family can catch some sort of glimpse into the world I experienced for seven weeks.

Home is great. However, the more comfortable I feel here, the more restless I become for the things I am not guaranteed to relive any time soon.

I miss strolling along the boardwalk under a full moon, fingertips burning from the hot cheese dripping out the corners of a fresh shrimp and queso empanada.

I miss having to plan out questions before I verbalize them and that face that people make when I ask them to repeat themselves for the fourth time.

I miss the thrill of predicting whether that night’s metro performer would be belting a scene from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto or rapping a little too loudly into the mic to the latest from Calle 13.

I miss travelling long distances without enough money for the ride home, sprinting across cities to catch a bus before it leaves, and hunting down storefronts with a Wifi logo posted in the window so I can GoogleMap where the heck I am.

I miss these things and more, but I don’t feel unhappy to be back in the States. I’m grateful that I’m already 21 and I have seen so much of the world, and that I’m only 21 and have so much life left to live. Although I still have no quite finished processing this trip and the many ways it has changed me, I am ready to jump back into another school year, put to use any recently developed skills, and hear the stories and experiences of my fellow students and friends.

A Throwback in Time

Xieyan Qiao is currently studying abroad in Lyon participating in the UVa in Lyon program. This is her second post on the blog!

Today is October 1st. It has been exactly a month since I first landed at the Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport. I can still vividly recall my feeling of nostalgia, the palpitation of my heart, and the cold sweat in my palms after getting off the plane. The ‘Bienvenue’ at the airport seemed so exotic, out-of-reach, and strange. I sat at the corner of a bench, waiting for my luggage, not knowing how to hail a cab, or where to find the tramway.


(First view at the Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport)

Yet a month after, here I am, living cordially with a french host family, exploring Lyon with newly made friends, preparing the ‘exposé’ with french students, and reading Flaubert’s L’Éducation Sentimentale during a pause-café. As inspiring as it is, I cannot be more grateful thinking about how marvelously fast I become acculturated to the french etiquettes, and how much this study abroad experience has changed me.

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(The University at 9pm)

Language barrier is a difficult obstacle that I have to confront. I am taking eight classes now but I can hardly understand the professors. Occasionally, the negative feeling of being unable to follow the lecture and the dismay in regards to my own language incompetence can become overwhelming. Yet oftentimes, my attitude towards those difficulties is positive. As I am constantly listening to French actively, I do feel that my french is improving, although with a very slow pace and in an invisible way. How exciting it will be! Next June, I will be writing my final journal while reading the one I am writing now to see how much I have changed, consciously and subconsciously.


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In terms of cultures, I do feel that compared to Americans, French people are even more liberal, carefree, and poised. When class starts, the professors just walks into the classroom, sits down (with a box of cigarettes in bag), and begins lecturing with no lecture plans or syllabus or slideshows. With no homework in hands and no exams in sight until the end of the semester, I was unaccustomed to this free lecturing style and spent a long time adjusting.

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(#1 Dinner at cozy apartment and #2,3 food at the first welcoming cocktail party. Macaroons!)

If looking outside the academic atmosphere and thinking about the French culture, one sometimes wonders if that kind of unrestrained, unworried, and easygoing style is also a kind of life attitude for French people. When I see a French lady ( usually dressed in her classic trench coat, blue and white striped shirt, blue jeans, and a Paris of white sneakers) passes by with a baguette, a bottle of red wine, a cigarette, a bundle of flowers, and an air of detached nonchalance, I get an inexplicable impression that they are truly living every single moment of their lives to the full and cherishing their personal enjoyment at each moment more than, say, their professional duties or any other responsibilities. Every weekend, my host parents are out to other regions to relax and visit  friends, while there are friends coming in during the weekdays to visit and have dinner with them (by the way, French people eat really late. To have lunch at 2pm and dinner at 8pm is not at all a surprise). This free and easy attitude towards life may explain why no shops (except some boulangeries) are open on Sunday, all the banks are closed on Monday, and the professors never have office hours. After all, work and life are two vastly different and, perhaps, incompatible concepts.

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(We went to Basilique de Fourvière the other day.  Built between 1872 and 1884 in a dominant position overlooking the city, this minor basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was rainy and freezing cold on that day, so we had a coffee break afterwards and this chocolate Nutella cheesecake is heaven.)

A look at Paris in the fall

Catherine Fama is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. Take a look at her experience so far!


Place de la Concorde is a spot that is extremely important for the history, and therefore culture, of Paris. The obelisk that stands there now marks the spot whereLouis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guillotined during the French Revolution. It also marks the end the Champs Elysé, one of the most well know roads in Paris. I took and included this picture because of the historical importance of the area.  


The Grand Opera house of Paris is an iconic and famous building in the city, and is very important in the history of Parisian culture. Attending an opera at the GrandOpera house has been seen as the height of refined culture in Paris since it was built,and still is to this day. I took this picture because the Grand Opera house is extremely beautiful, and for its contribution to Parisian culture. This opera house has inspired many great stories like “The Phantom of the Opera.”


Les bateaux mouches are the Seine riverboats in Paris. They are an extremely popular way to see the city. I took this picture because the popularity of these boats is a testament to the importance of the Seine to Paris and Parisian culture. This picture was taken from the right bank of the Seine looking on to the Musé d’Orsay.


The St Sulpice church of Paris is a beautiful Renaissance era church in the heart of the city. It is renowned for its grand organ, and has a history of getting famous organists to come play there. This church is extremely old and was built at the site of an old Romanesque church. I chose to take this picture of the church not just because it is beautiful, but also because it represents some of the history of Paris, which is vital to Parisian culture.


This is one of many bridges across the Seine in Paris where couples will go and clip a lock with their names on it and throw the key into the river as a way of leaving a permanent reminder of their love. This tradition is important to Parisian culture because Paris is seen as one of the most romantic cities in the world, and people come from all over the world with their loved ones to celebrate their love. This is why I took this picture.


The Musé d’Orsay is a very famous museum that houses many of the most well known impressionist works of art. Impressionism was extremely important toFrance, because the movement began here in Paris and all of the great impressionists moved here to work. I took this picture from the other side of theSeine in order to capture the entirety of the building, which is an old train station.

Paris photo blog

Kendall Siewert is currently studying abroad in Paris. Below is a photo blog of her recent travels and experiences.


Claude Monet’s House

The home of the famous painter and the entirely yellow dining room!


Paris Plages

The last day of Paris Plages – an annual event where Paris brings the beach to the city!


Monet’s Gardens

It’s easy to see how he was so inspired.



Right where Monet painted many famous works.

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First impressions of Jordan

Dominick Giovanniello is currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan participating in an intensive Arabic language program. Below is his initial post while abroad.

Nothing compares to the feeling of stepping off the plane in a new country. It’s a strange cocktail of relief, exhaustion, trepidation, and most importantly, excitement. Right off the bat, you’re confronted by new sights, smells, and sounds. From the signs in a different language, to the accented English of the customs officers, to the building itself, everything is just familiar enough for you to navigate, but so foreign as to overwhelm you and key you into what’s about to come.

This isn’t my first overseas adventure. I was born in Germany, lived in Mexico and Bolivia as a young child, and spent my middle school years in Italy. But this is the first time I’ve lived overseas on my own, and the first time I’ve ever been to the Middle East (it’s also the first time I’ve tried writing a blog post).

It’s hard to say what exactly compelled me to exchange my friends and life at UVA for nine months of living and studying in Amman, especially considering that I’ve never been exposed to Arab culture or the Middle East outside of the classroom. However, as much as I love UVA, I was hungering for an adventure and I know there’s no better way to master a language than to actually live in a country where it’s spoken. So…for the next nine months, I will be studying Arabic full-time at the University of Jordan with CET Academic Programs and calling Amman, Jordan my home.

Everyday here poses a new challenge and a new adventure. Whether it’s learning how to play Jordanian card games, having an in-depth political discussion with my professors after class, getting a haircut, or simply ordering food, I’m constantly pushed out of my comfort zone and forced to set aside my own habits and ways of thinking. I may seem like a total idiot most of the time, but I’m gradually becoming more comfortable speaking, moving around and engaging with Jordanians. Just the other day, for example, I was literally pulled off the street into the wedding celebration of a random stranger. The man noticed me and my friends photographing the gaudy glowing tent that had taken over the street, but rather than chasing us away, he welcomed us into the party, where we listened to live music and dubke-ed (the traditional Arab dance) hand-in-hand with a large circle of men and boys until the late hours of the night.

More than anything else, it’s these small interactions (and occasional victories) that making living overseas so fun and rewarding. Not only do these experiences provide a window into the cultural differences and unique perspectives of others, but they also illustrate the universal normality and mundaneness of everyday life across the globe. Oftentimes, our only exposure to other cultures and ways of life comes from the news, and we don’t realize that beneath all the problems and conflicts, most people want the same things from life, even if they conceptualize them differently. At the same time that living overseas exposes you to other cultures, it also makes you more aware, critical and appreciative of your own.

In this blog, I’m going to try to record my experiences in Jordan and my impressions about Jordanian culture. I don’t want this to be a journal or a litany of my activities, but rather more of a place where I can grapple with and hopefully articulate the contradictions, challenges and joys of being immersed in a foreign land.

St. Petersburg, Architecture as a Reflection of the City History

Patrick Bond is currently studying abroad in St. Petersburg participating in the CIEE program.


         When Peter the Great became the Tsar of Russia and began working on the expansion of his territory, he greatly desired to acquire a port city. First this led to the acquisition of territory along the White Sea inside of the Arctic Circle, more specifically the port city of ArcAnglesk which could only be used 2 weeks out of the year to have the passage of goods. Later, after wars with Finland, came the acquisition of the territory which constitutes St. Petersburg. There are a number of things about St. Petersburg which have a unique quality about them. Perhaps the first is the great diversity of architecture, and the various rings of the city created during the expansion of the city.  In the centre of the city, and truly the origin of St. Petersburg is the Peter and Paul Fortress on the Petrograd Island. While the fortress itself is an impressive work of architecture placed in a fork of the Neva river to control the river traffic during the early 1700’s, the feature that most greatly defines the skyline of this Island is the spire of the Peter and Paul Cathedral. This cathedral unlike most Russian Orthodox cathedrals of the time followed a much more German, and thus protestant design. From the central origin point of this fortress, it becomes easier to date the rings of the city like a giant tree. Along the river most of the buildings date to the 1700’s and spiral to the inland and other islands which creates a unique feel to St. Petersburg. There are few places in the United States where you can observe different buildings from the past 300 years all on the same block. The photos that I have submitted for the first assignment I feel help encompass the defining look of the city which is very much a significant part of the everyday life of St. Petersburg. As this city is steeped in history, the architecture reflects this аs buildings from the 1700’s to the 2000’s are situated next to one another.


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France: photo blog

Kelly McCain is currently studying abroad in France. Take a look at her experiences abroad through her photo blog.


This is a great view from the top of the Bastille of the longest avenue in France. It is a source of pride for the Grenoblois that they have the longest avenue in France.





This was taken in Chamonix, France.  I took this photo because of the old, beautiful church with the vibrant flowers on the classically French-looking balconies, and the French flag. I thought that it really captured the essence of the towns in the French Alps.










This is a photo of le Stade des Alpes, the soccer and rugby stadium in Grenoble, that is a 10-minute walk from my house.  We went to a rugby game one weekend to watch Grenoble play Brive.  It was the first game of the season that Grenoble won, so everybody rushed the field.lake


Lac de Pétichet is a lake very close to Grenoble. I visited there one afternoon with my friend and her host family. It is a very common pastime of locals to go to one of the many lakes nearby after a long week of work. The alpine lake was so beautiful with the mountains in the background.










This image was taken of a man hang gliding over the Chartreuse mountain range in Saint Hilaire-du-Touvet, France during the 43rd annual Coupe ICARE festival. Each year during the Coupe ICARE, hang gliders, paragliders, pilots, wingsuit divers, skydivers, and more all get together and fly through the air just 20 km outside of Grenoble.  Many of them also get dressed up in disguises based on the theme of the year.  This photo is highly zoomed in on one of the more tamely dressed hang gliders.



I’ve learned a thing or two

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journeys 

July 17

chile3Although it is not without its occasional hardships and frustrations, time in this country is good for me in a lot of ways. It fills my soul with some of the very things that make it feel most full. Last week, I stepped off a bus during a spontaneous trip north and breathed in the air of the Andes Mountains. The mountains were tall and indigo, rising from the cactus-speckled ground out of a thin layer of fog. It was an untouched terrain, except for the foxes and birds and guanaco that roam as they please.  Standing there, I felt small and infinite at the same time. I knew that the dry earth upon which I placed my feet was the same earth to inspire generations of writers, workers, educators, and political revolutionaries. I was standing on a land home to the type of suffering and resilience I have never experienced in my lifetime.chile4

My eyes have seen some incredible sights in Chile – tranquil valleys filled end to end with vineyards, the sun dipping behind the snow-capped peaks that tower over the city of Santiago, pelicans on otherwise uninhabited islands perched upon black rocks resisting the tumultuous crash of turquoise waves…the list goes on.

But far more interesting than any view are the people who make up the history and culture of this land. As part of a research project for class, I had the opportunity to visit the Valparaíso fish market in the early hours of the day as fisherman were just arriving at the pier. As they picked fish out of the nets one by one and lined them up on trays to be sold directly to customers, they spoke to me of the difficulties experienced over the last fifteen years as a rise in industrialization has led to all sorts of fish shortages and laws that leave their nets empty and their families hungry.   chile5

In the month that I have been here, the city’s thousands of university students have been on strike, sacrificing their time and education on behalf of the large population of Chileans who don’t have access to such opportunities. Education in Chile is not free, and students nationwide understand the limitations that fact places on future generations.  It is not uncommon to see them marching through the streets demanding to be heard, taking each step with new hopes of defeating inequality.chil6

Yesterday, I visited Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights. For several hours, I saw footage and read documents and testimonies of the oppression suffered by the nation under the 16-year dictatorship of August Pinochet, a period of darkness and terror provoked by the 1970 election of Salvador Allende, the continent’s first democratically elected Marxist president. Though my head ached from the tales of torture and defeat, I was moved by an image in the final exhibit of mass of smiling Chileans displaying a banner that read “joy is coming”.

chile7On a weekend trip to Valley Elquí, I strolled through the quiet hometown of Gabriela Mistral, the first woman in Latin America to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a female intellectual in a male-dominated society, she wasn’t able to spend her entire life in the Chile that she loved, but instead devoted her life to improving the quality of rural education across the continent and promoting the rights of women and children. Like Pablo Neruda, the nation’s other famous poet, she was a writer with a mission. Her very existence cried out for justice.

This is why I love Chile.  The characters that make up its history and its present give me a better picture of what it means to endure and live selflessly in a world that is broken, and to give up everything in order to stand with those who were given nothing. It is a country rich with people as vibrant as its landscapes. I’m not sure anymore what I was expecting when I came “learn about culture”, but these are things I have learned, and for that I must say: Thanks, Chile, for blowing my expectations.

First impressions– “Valparaíso, que disparate eres, qué loco, puerto loco…”

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journeys 

July 5, 2016

“Valparaíso, que disparate eres, qué loco, puerto loco…” –Pablo Neruda

chileToday, I write from my desk by the window in Viña del Mar, Chile as the sky casts shadows of splendid pinks and yellows onto the sea below. Behind the sea rise clusters of houses containing every color imaginable, stacked and scattered in the chaotic way that is so characteristic to Valparaíso. Along the coast runs the metro, which I ride on a daily basis, never without feeling like I’m on the brim of bursting with joy because of the vast beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

I have been in Chile for two weeks now, a fact I am still not convinced is true. Now that I have settled into the rhythms of life in this quirky port town near the end of the earth, I feel as if I have always been here. As if maybe this is home. However, this sentiment wasn’t always so. My journals from the first three or four days express thoughts like: It is too cold here. Cold and gray. I don’t like the food. Something is making me sick. I will never make friends. Chilean Spanish is way too hard to understand. Thankfully, by the end of the first weekend and throughout last week, I realized what lies I had allowed myself to believe. I began to take joy in simple activities like strolling along the beach at sunset, chatting somewhat effortlessly with street vendors and university students, coming home to steamy hot soups that warmed my body from the inside, and geeking out at the poetry scribbled along walls all over the city.


On a typical weekday, I wake up between 6:30-7 and head downstairs where Abuela Teresa has faithfully prepared me a cup of coffee and hot bread with either honey and butter or ham and cheese. By 7:45 I am out the door and on my way to the metro station, which is a quick three minute walk from home. I am taking two classes at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), Latin American Film and Literature in the morning and Chilean Culture and Conversation in the afternoon. My favorite part of the day is when I go home for my 2pm almuerzo with the family. Lunch is the most important meal of the day and usually consists of a soup, a main dish, a salad, and if I’m lucky, a dessert. The meal is always lengthy and relaxed and I love the mental challenge of accurately following and appropriately contributing to the conversation.

chile3I typically use the rest of my day to become acquainted with the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. My adventures thus far have been many and diverse. My feet have taken me up the city’s famous funiculars, around painted labyrinths of streets and staircases, and into ice cream shops, cafes, markets, and discotheques. My taste buds have sampled street foods either fried in oil or doused with mayonnaise and avocado. I was fortunate enough to arrive in the country in time to sit in a crowded bar with a sea of screaming soccer fanatics as Chile won against Argentina in the Copa America (and to experience an after-party of flag waving, car honking, and chanting that lasted until the sun shone again the next morning).  I saw my first Spanish movie in theaters and had my first encounter with blubbery, snorting sea lions rolled out lazily on the beach. After the first week of classes, a group of friends and I treated ourselves to sandboarding followed by a fancy seafood dinner and a glass of local wine. Navigating public transportation has been an adventure in itself, but Chileans are chile4generally friendly and willing to help me out. If I ask a guy for directions, he will often respond by asking for my Whatsapp number. Sigh, thus is life as a foreigner…

One of my favorite experiences was a weekend trip to the capital city Santiago, which is thankfully only a 90-minute bus ride away from Valparaíso. After a chilly yet exhilarating day of exploring art museums, parks, historic homes, and seafood markets, we ended up at the city’s central plaza shortly after sunset. From there, I got the chance to sit in on a Catholic mass in the massive cathedral constructed in 1551 and then watch a parade of political protestors, two elements of life critical to the culture and history of Chile. I sat on a bench and smiled at the sights and sounds of a city all around me– a dad spinning his daughter around, someone preaching into a
chile5megaphone, several couples exchanging passionate kisses, a young woman selling scarves and winter hats, a man curled up by a tree with his hands open in hopes of receiving a few pesos. The vibrancy of humanity. The jumble of architectural styles spanning a few centuries. The backdrop of mountains faded by smog. The sting of winter air. Needless to say, Santiago was magical.

It has been two weeks and I could easily write a novel’s worth narrating things I’ve learned, but for now I’ll stick with this brief summary of my experience: I love it.


Livin’ la vida limeña

Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her first post from her journeys 

June 21, 2016

chile1Lima was a whirlwind of delicious food and new sights. In the city, I strolled through the streets filled with parks, plazas, and fun juxtaposition of both modern and colonial architecture. In one 30-minute flight, I journeyed from the cliffs of the Pacific to the Andes Mountains, basically in tears the whole time because of the beauty of it all.

My trip to Peru was a sweet transition into the southern hemisphere and Spanish-speaking world.  I lived for the first week with a missionary family in their apartment in the residential neighborhood of Miraflores just a few block from the coast. As Americans who had been in the country for seven years, they had all kinds of cultural tips to share with me. They generously let me be a part of their daily life, taking me to work and church, introducing me to their welcoming community of missionary and Peruvian friends, and showing me the must-see spots in Lima.

chile2After a week of fountain light shows, malls dug into the side of cliffs, coffee shops, cathedrals, local lunches, historical tours and a fine dining experience in the two-story McDonald’s, I flew out with them to the mountain city of Huánuco. Situated in a valley at 6,000 feet above sea level, I will remember the city as a place of neon lights, a zillion moto taxis, and a shockingly beautiful view of the Andes from every single direction.   Our days were spent building relationships with the Quechua people, asking questions, and sharing stories in small villages a few thousand feet above Huánuco. At lunch, the most important meal of the day, the group’s translator Arturo would have everyone rolling in their seats with laughter over hot plates of lomo saltado, ají de gallina, antichuchos de corazón, papa rellena and chaufa, a Peruvian-Chinese fusion dish. I quickly learned non-carbonated water is a drink for the gringos (white foreigners), and grew to enjoy chicha morada (corn drink), emoliente (barley drink), or everyone´s favorite soda Inca Cola.

Thanks to Peru, I finally got a chance to use my Spanish in the “real world”. I learned a lot about the andino people and the process of ministry, and left with an overwhelming sense of joy at seeing passionate Americans and Peruvians coming together and tirelessly pouring out their hearts.  The country is a special place, and I’m glad I got to take a sneak peak into all it has to offer.

A final reflection about my time in Morocco

Emily is a second-year studying French and linguistics. She studied abroad this summer in Morocco for six weeks. This is her final post from her experiences this summer.

I left Rabat on Saturday morning and though it’s been great being home and catching up with friends and family, it’s so weird to think that two weeks ago I was saying goodbye to my host family and leaving Rabat. As I left, I was thinking about how incredibly thankful I am for this experience. I had an amazing host family that made my home in a foreign country really feel like home. I got to experience Ramadan in a country that is an officially Muslim state with a majority Muslim population. I did things that I never even thought would happen in my lifetime, like walking barefoot in the Sahara, and saw some of both the good and bad of Moroccan society— genuine hospitality and openness of strangers alongside the commonness of catcalling.

I am so overwhelmed by the kindness of my host family and their extended family, the workers of the Oliveri on Mohammed VI that let my roommate and I use their wifi while the shop was closed during f’tour and brought us food from their meal, the conversations I had with shopkeepers in souqs everywhere (who always loved hearing us say “ana taliba, maândeesh floos– “I am a student, I don’t have money”), and so many other things. I love the lush Virginia trees I saw when I was driving back in Charlottesville last Monday, but I also miss all the landscapes of Morocco— the beaches on the coast, the jagged mountains spotted with scrubby bushes in the South, the flowering farmlands and tall cedars near Ifrane, and everything else.

I miss the tile work everywhere, the five times daily call to prayer, the look of Rabat bustling at night during Ramadan when the shops open back up, the smell of pastries and bread and spices and dates being sold in the markets. I miss all of these things, but I am so thankful to have experienced them in the first place.

There is so much that happened there and so much I was never able to cover in my blog, and so many little things that slipped through my notes and will slip through my memory, but here are some of my favorite memories to sum it up: Watching the women of my extended host family dance at the women’s party for the baby’s birth. Hair and beautifully embroidered djellabas twirling, lots of smiling and singing. I just remember feeling really, really happy the whole time we were there.

Seeing Morocco’s mountains for the first time while we were on the way to Fès. I couldn’t stop myself from taking photos and video of the landscape passing outside of the windows of that shaky van, thinking about how my parents would love these mountains, and knowing then these mountains would be one of the things I would dearly miss about Morocco.

In Imlil, hearing the 10pm call to prayer start in one village, then in another, and all of them echoing in the valley, and the prayer then starting in the village closest to me, while I was under a blanket on the rooftop porch. Echoing prayers, millions of stars, solitude.

Going to a hammam, a traditional bath (called a Turkish bath in English) with five other girls from my program. It was such a bizarre and wonderfully disorienting experience to be wearing only underwear and being vigorously scrubbed by equally naked strangers, and not knowing what was coming next (usually it was a lot of buckets of water being dumped on our heads, or instructions given in a combination of Darija and gestures to turn over, lay down, sit up). The hammam was so loud we couldn’t talk, but exchanged a lot of eye contact and tried to not laugh too much at our collective confusion in this situation that was so foreign to all of us. Of my six weeks in Morocco, this was the only moment that felt like culture shock, and in this case, it was wonderful. I’m so glad I was able to make it there before I left. Those ladies may have scrubbed off our dead skin cells off to the point of erasing our tans acquired from so much time in the sun, but MAN my skin felt great afterwards. 10/10 would recommend the hammam.

Second to last day in Morocco. My host family hosted extended family for dinner and I saw all the family again that I met in the first week, and it all feels very full circle. By the end of the night, we’re all delirious and full of seafood pastilla and what feels like a hundred other appetizer dishes in true Moroccan meal style, and we’re all in a good mood and my host sisters and I are giggling whatever we’re spouting in our delirium. It was bittersweet to know I would be gone in two days, and I was happy to have had this night with them.

I think part of the reason why I’ve been postponing this post is because then it will feel like it’s really over. I’ll have put a period on my time there, while not knowing when I’ll be  back. Part of it also is not knowing how to write that final sentence either. How do you capture what felt like a different life? After two weeks it has already felt like it almost wasn’t real, like it was a dream, until this morning when I found videos on my phone I had taken. Hearing the call to prayer and my host mother’s voice made it all feel real again.

I know this all probably sounds incredibly cheesy but it reminds me when my parents and I were staying at a friend’s house in a France a few years ago. I was acting as translator between my parent’s and my friend’s family, and my dad kept asking me to tell them, “thank you, this is really special.” I laughed one time and asked him why he wanted me to say that because it felt like an odd thing to say, and he said “because that’s how it feels.” That’s how my time in Morocco felt– really special.

Some final thank yous before I indefinitely close this out: thank you to my parents for taking a huge leap of faith to let me travel in a country we hadn’t visited before and didn’t know well, especially in the context of the current craziness in this world. And thank you to God for all these people and experiences.



Landscape of language traveling through Morocco

Emily is a second-year studying French and linguistics. She studied abroad in Morocco this summer for six weeks. This is her second blog post during her travels abroad.


For our last weekend of travel, we went to the North, visiting Tangier on Saturday and heading to Chefchaouen that night. On the way to Tangier, we stopped in the town Asilah, which was right on the coast and the buildings were covered in white and blue. It was beautiful, and it was also the first town where people spoke Spanish to us. It makes sense that people would speak more Spanish in the North, especially in Tangier, where you can literally see Spain across the water, but it still surprised me to say “merci” and “shukran” and then hear “gracias” back.


The language landscape in Morocco is crazy, with so many people being at least bilingual or bidialectal (speaking Darija, Moroccan Arabic, but also Modern Standard Arabic), and then the primary languages of communication shifting so much from region to region. In the South, our camel drivers and hiking guide didn’t speak much French and preferred English, which was the first time I had encountered that preference. In Rabat, if anyone is bilingual, they know French, or at least I thought. Caroline and I went surfing and our instructor, who lives in the Oudaïa Kasbah right by the beach, doesn’t really speak French but prefers English. It’s crazy to find these pockets all over the place.

morocco3  morocco4

We didn’t spend much time in Tangier, but the people we did talk to spoke French (whereas one girl who was trying to sell me postcards in Asilah switched from Spanish to English). We talked about Tangier in our history class and historically, Tangier has been very metropolitan with people from a lot of different backgrounds living there. I loved this feeling in Tangier in addition to the city itself, and of all the cities we visited in Morocco, I can most easily see myself living in Tangier in the future.

morocco5       morocco6

We visited the American Legation in Tangier, which is the only National Historic Landmark outside the US, and is the oldest American public property outside the US. It was cool seeing how far back the relationship between Morocco and the US goes, since the relationship between these two countries isn’t one that’s on the forefront of high school history classes.


After the Legation, we got back on the road to go to Chefchaouen, “the blue pearl.” The house Medina of Chefchaouen is painted with rich shades of blue, and I honestly don’t know why this is. When we were in the Oudaïa in Rabat and were taken on a spontaneous tour, our tour guide said that the blue walls are to keep mosquitos out. Our weekend in Chaouen was really low key, with the only thing scheduled being our dinner on Saturday night, so we didn’t learn much of the history of the town. Though I always like knowing some background, the unstructured time was wonderful and let us wander through the Medina at our own pace (and of course, take lots of photos).


These towns and this trip were a really nice rest and a good way to end our travels Morocco. I know I keep saying this, but I can’t wait to come back.

A letter from Morocco: week 1

Emily is a second-year studying French and linguistics, and she studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco this summer for six weeks. This is her first blog post from her travels.

Hey friends,

It’s Saturday night and week one of being in Morocco is coming to a close. We started classes on Monday and have been having 4 classes a day, and for the past two days, 3 hours of our class time each day has been Arab Philosophy. Our professor for that class teaches at a French university and he has to go back in a week to teach there, so we’re having that class a lot since we only have him for two weeks.

We’re looking at philosophy in a lot of different areas and it’s definitely abstract, but I like it. It helps having a bit of background from a class that I took this semester past called Muhammad and the Quran. It was more focused on reading the Quran itself, but we also spent a fair amount of time talking about the early exegetes and therefore some the Arab philosophers in the first few centuries after Muhammad. My research paper for that class compared the Biblical and Quranic conceptions of sin and fate and free will via the thoughts of Augustine and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (via their autobiographies, Confessions and Deliverance from Error). It helps to have that background, and with that, it’s easier to access the texts that are more theology-focused.

We’re also taking a class called Francophone Moroccan Literature and Culture, and we’re reading four books for it while we’re here. We’re about halfway through the first book, and tomorrow I’ll get more of my reading done while we’re at the beach (our program director lives on the beach and invited us to spend the day there). The books are all by contemporary authors and it’s a cool way to be introduced to Moroccan culture. My eldest host sister was talking about alcohol in Morocco and what she was saying was what my professor was saying also, and that discussion came about through characters drinking in Le jardin de pleurs by Mohamed Nedali.

Our other class in French is Moroccan Civilization, which is a history class. We’ve only had it twice so far because we’re taking Philosophy in its place some days, but I like what we’ve had so far. We’re also taking Moroccan Arabic (Darija), which has been really cool between studying Standard Arabic and Linguistics at UVa, because I get to see how the words are adapted and changed between the two. It’s also in taught in English, which is a nice mental break from our other courses, which are filled with technical terms in French. I now can pick up Darija words that we’ve learned when I hear my family talk, in addition to the unchanged Standard Arabic words and French expressions that crop up. With all of our classes, it’s been really cool seeing them (and of course, everything here) intersecting and overlapping.

Since I was jet-lagged all this week, it felt like a long week, but I know the rest of this trip will go by so fast. I’m trying to make sure that I keep the mentality that I have when I’ve traveled before for two week trips, which is “I’ll sleep when I’m back in the U.S.” Fortunately since we do have more time it’s not quite that crazy, and today was really relaxed. Tomorrow will be as well, with going to the beach and then spending more time with the family in the evening. Though our classes demand a lot of cognitive attention because they’re from 9-3:45 each day (with a 45 minute break for lunch and 10-15 breaks between classes), the homework isn’t bad. We do have about 50 pages of reading for our literature class each night, but it’s manageable. It helps a lot that we don’t have to look up the words we don’t know. We start each class with vocabulary– we give her the words we didn’t know and she defines them for us.

So far I’ve really enjoyed everything. Next weekend we travel to Fès so I’ll try and post something about that then.

Msa ikhir tout le monde,