France | An Idiot Abroad: From the Classroom to Real Life



Throughout high school we all learned about the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust. The heartless ways in which millions of people were slaughtered hold a salient place in my mind. However, it is not until I saw the grounds where these atrocities took place that I gained a deeper and more powerful understanding. The concentration camps of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau were the biggest concentration camps created by the Nazi regime and responsible for more than one million deaths. It is one thing to look at pictures of these places in textbooks, but another completely to experience in person. The sadness, despair, and violence permeates from the dirt and brick floors. It is a solemn moment to stand among the trees that millions also stood just moments before they were herded off to the gas chambers and mindlessly murdered. One does not even need to have knowledge of the Holocaust to feel the distinct sadness present in these concentration camps. Seeing the exhibits and just imaging how life must have been like in these camps was enough to bring me, as well as many others, to silence and tears.

It is unfathomable how humanity could be so violent and heartless to itself. Auschwitz preserves this inhumanity and serves as a reminder and lesson for future generations to never repeat this part of humanity’s past. The blackhole of mankind, Auschwitz is an experience and lesson that has been the most poignant for me on this study abroad experience thus far. It would be incredibly regrettable for anyone participating in a European study abroad program to not visit these momentous grounds. You will be left in tears, and you will be left speechless. It will force you to contemplate the past and question the nature of humanity.

Visiting Auschwitz is not as expensive as one would expect once one is in Europe. A weekend in Krakow can easily be done for under $150 USD (this includes plane ticket, public transportation, housing, Auschwitz visit, and food). There are not many resources online that provide an easy to understand and direct guide to visiting Auschwitz on a mega- budget; below I will try to give some tips that my girlfriend and I learned from our experience.

Flying into Krakow is relatively cheap through EasyJet. We spent about $80 USD (per person) for a roundtrip ticket departing from Lyon, France (this price could be less if you are flying out of a bigger city). A train ticket going directly from the airport to the city centre is about $3 USD and takes only 17 minutes. Once in Poland, find an ATM and pull out cash there. DO NOT let the ATM machine choose the conversion rate for you, simply delay the conversion and let your bank take care of it (there is an option for this on the screen). I saved about $10 dollars in fees letting my bank do the conversions rather than the ATM. Buying things in Poland really makes you proud to be an American. One US dollar is approximately four Polish Zlotys. To give you a sense of the dollar’s purchase power: 3 bottles of Polish beer costs $2.50 USD, a plate of very filling great Polish food costs $3-4 USD. We only ate at “Milkbars.” These are traditional Polish restaurants with communists roots that serve traditional food at very budget prices, catering to students and commoners.

In terms of lodging, there are hostels for as little as $5-7USD a night. My girlfriend opted for an Airbnb studio apt. that ran about $20USD/night. Krakow centre and the surround areas are not very big so it is very doable to get around by foot. Public transportation is really only needed going to and from the airport and Auschwitz.

There are countless tour groups in Poland that offer transport and guide to Auschwitz. These typically run around $30 dollars per person. However, these tours are completely unnecessary as there is public transportation that drops you off directly at Auschwitz for around 4 USD (MDA transportation company). Entrance into Auschwitz and Auschwitz- Birkenau is also completely free if you do not want a guided tour. There is also a free shuttle that takes you from Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Berkenau and takes about 10 minutes. I felt that experiencing Auschwitz without a guide was a lot better. My girlfriend and I got to see everything we wanted and take as long as we needed. We also did not have to move around with a huge group of people. Auschwitz is one of those places that is better experienced on your own terms and independently. Too many people simply distract you from the essence of the sites and may honestly even piss you off. There were quite a few people talking very loudly, taking pictures when signage specifically marked no photos, and posing for selfies at very inappropriate locations. I personally felt these actions were incredibly disrespectful and was glad that I did not partake in a tour or else I might have actually hit someone.

It was an amazing experience to see what I learned in class in real life. There are not enough words or pictures that can fully encapsulate the Auschwitz and Krakow experience. It is something that one must do themselves to truly understand; everyone’s experience is different and unique. All in all, Krakow is beautiful little city with very friendly people, amazing cheap food, and a poignant history.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017:

Spain | Recollections


Saying goodbye and going through periods of change is always difficult. Studying abroad is like living in this sandwich of big changes and big goodbyes, with a bunch of amazing experiences in between. Two months may be short, but it’s enough for cities, for people, to sink their hooks into you. The last week I have spent wandering the streets of Córdoba (in between studying for finals, of course) and soaking up as much as I can from this place. As I have reflected on my time in Córdoba, my travels throughout Spain, and my whole experience here, I leave you with these 5 lessons, thoughts, and recollections.

1. Be open.

This sounds really corny and obvious but it’s honestly one of the best things about traveling and being in a new place. Some of the best moments I’ve had in Spain have been striking up conversations with strangers, in the library or in a hostel. In my experience, people Spain (and especially Andalucía) are really friendly and welcoming to foreigners. Many Spanish students are studying English and looking for chances to practice, so they would just start talking to me if they heard me speaking English! I really enjoyed having these conversations with locals. Traveling and staying in hostels is also a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world. You may be traveling with your friends from your program, but make sure to take advantage of hostel culture and talk to people! First of all, the people who work in hostels are usually young travelers who work in return for free room and board. They will usually know the city fairly well, so ask them for recommendations! And there are so many different people staying at hostels as well. I met a mom and her daughter, a guy biking from Amsterdam to Southern Spain, and other study abroad students from America and London.

These may not be lasting relationships you make, but their amazing little slices of what it’s like to travel, to open yourself to new people and new experiences. In a similar vein, be open to spontaneity in general. Planning out your day is helpful, especially when you’re traveling, but make sure to leave some time to just let the day unfold. Some of the best moments I have had in Spain have been unplanned.

A lot of potential new friends await you everywhere…

And no matter what you’ll have your friends from your program!

2. Take time for yourself.

Studying abroad comes with this whole new group of friends, who have a similar background to you. On top of that you have so many shared experiences and you are all going through this experience together. You also have a host family, maybe an intercambio and some local friends. Oh, and studying! There’s a lot going on and a lot of people to experience it with. For most of my program I was always doing things with other people, exploring Córdoba or another city with my friends in the program. I really enjoyed those shared experiences – but by the end I realized I was really craving some alone time. I started to seek out quiet moments, moments where it was just me. I took out my headphones and looked around. And by doing so, I noticed so much more and had more time to just think and feel. Some of my best memories are from times with other people – and now I also have memories from times spent alone. One of the most important things I learned while abroad was how to take more time to be alone with myself and my surroundings.

Take time to wander, you never know what you’ll find.

3. Ask for and accept help.

Being in a foreign country, there are so many things that you just won’t know. You might not know where to buy shampoo, or if you have to print out your train ticket before you get to the station, or where the locals go to eat. Especially if you are learning a new language, it can be scary to ask for advice. You can probably figure out most things on the internet anyways, right? Ok, some things you can, but a lot of the time you’ve got to ask someone. In my UCEAP program I had a wealth of people who could help me with things like this – our program coordinator, my professors, and my host family. These people know the city you’re in a lot better than you and they want to help you! So let them. The same is true when you’re traveling – people in hostels are almost always really helpful. Being open to accepting help will make your life easier and your time better spent.

4. Make yourself available to your host family (if you have a host family).

My expectation of what it would be like to live with a host family was definitely different than the reality. I expected that we would do a lot more “Spanish” things, in a way I expected them to be like my informal tour guides of Córdoba. What I learned is that host families are normal people with normal lives, and so they didn’t have a ton of free time to do a lot of things with me. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and my family did still do things with me, as well as introduce me to their friends and family. I realized that if I really wanted to do something, it was more likely to happen if I asked about it. Another aspect of this is to spend time at home, especially some weekends. Obviously weekends are a great time to travel, but I’m really grateful I spent some of my weekends in Córdoba. Not only did this allow me to explore Córdoba, but it also gave me more opportunities to do things with my host family.

This hike with my host family & friends took a few tries to plan, and it was so worth it!

5. Record your experience.

When I started my program, I told myself I was going to keep a journal during my time here in Córdoba. Unfortunately, I am really bad at consistently writing in a journal, and so that didn’t really happen. I did write a number of times, but I would have liked to write more. However, I did take a lot of pictures and videos, and writing this blog helped me keep a sort of journal during my program. Studying abroad is full of so many wonderful experiences that you will want to remember. You may also find yourself changing as a person during your program, and that is valuable to be able to record.

There was a group of cats that lived in an empty lot near my house, and I photographed them whenever I could. These cats are one of the many things I will miss about Córdoba!

I hope that if you can study abroad, you will. I have learned so much, grown as a student and person, and made amazing friends during my time in Córdoba and Spain overall. ¡Hasta luego España!

Celia Cody-Carrese studied abroad in Cordoba, Spain, in Winter 2017:

Australia | Getting Settled in Brisbane


My name is Monica Martinez, I am a current second-year double majoring in Political Science and Geography/Environmental Studies. I am the lone UCLA Bruin studying at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia for Semester 1, 2017. Born and raised in the city of Los Angeles, I was more than excited to travel internationally for the first time, especially to a country (and continent) that is seven thousand miles away. I arrived in Brisbane three weeks ago and I have had the greatest experience thus far! Reflecting on my own experience, I would highly recommend that you take the time to plan and budget now, to ensure your time abroad is as stress-free as possible.


Flights to Australia can be expensive, reaching prices over $1,000. While it is important to secure your arrival to Brisbane by the mandatory date set by the university, I found there is no immediate need to purchase your plane ticket right away. I searched for months on STA Travel, a flight agency that provides discounted fares for students, and I noticed sudden fluctuations in prices depending on the month of purchase and day of departure. While I did see prices go up to $1240, I purchased a round-trip ticket two months in advance for only $735. Although not having a flight months ahead of your program can be frightening, I suggest investing time to search for the best deal because it can result in you saving money (in this case hundreds) that can be used later towards other expenses.

After securing your flight, take the time to check your baggage allowance and required travel documents to guide your packing. An important note: LESS IS MORE. Flying with Virgin Australia, my baggage allowance provided two 23 kg (50lbs) checked bags and one 7kg (15lbs) carry-on bag. While the combined allowance of 115lbs seems plentiful, everything does add quickly.


DO take your most essential items (medication, passport, electronics) and then move on to clothes. I arrived in Brisbane in February and I planned to stay here until July – although this time frame is equivalent to Spring/Summer in Los Angeles, it is equivalent to Fall/Winter here in Australia because it is located in the Southern Hemisphere. MAKE SURE TO TAKE NOTE OF THE WEATHER or else you will find yourself wearing a jacket when it is 90F (from personal experience, I can tell you that this is not fun!) Pack clothes that you would typically wear every day to school, while also remembering to add a business-casual outfit for a future presentation or university-sponsored event, an outfit (or two) for a night out with friends in the city, and outdoor/swim wear for when you go sightseeing. The same idea would apply for shoes (take what you need rather than taking your whole closet).

A crucial piece of luggage that you need to bring before you come to Australia is an outlet adapter. I heard the words adapter and converter interchangeably, which was rather confusing, but they do not mean the same thing. You only need a converter if your appliances/chargers are not listed as 120-240V (which most American devices are). Purchase an adapter, either one strictly for Australia or an international adapter if you plan on visiting other countries during your time abroad. Additionally, IF YOU CAN feel free to bring toiletries, school supplies, cosmetics (makeup is SUPER expensive here, I recommend stocking up before arriving), and a first-aid kit. If you are reaching the weight limit, feel free to skip these as these can be bought here at a local department store.


From the Brisbane Airport (BNE), the main UQ campus is located in the suburb of Saint Lucia. While you can either get a taxi or Uber to take you to your accommodation, UQ provides a free service for international students known as the International Student Airport Reception. After receiving your login, you can access the portal to sign up for a free airport pick up (you will quickly learn that free things are the best things). At the airport, student ambassadors from the university welcome you, answer any questions you may have, and even provide a few freebies to make your transition to Brisbane stress-free. The service collects all international students arriving in Brisbane between the designated time frame, making this a great opportunity to meet other students who are on the same journey as you. I found it comforting to find other students who shared the same anxiousness and excitement I did. From here, your driver will take you to your accommodation and you will be ready to settle in!


Now, you are probably wondering what the word accommodation means: Accommodation = housing. On your pre-departure checklist, #3 states “Please note that you must arrange and pay for your semester housing. It is not included in the fees you pay to UCEAP and is not reserved or arranged for you.” This is where UQ Student Accommodation steps in! The website lists a host of housing options for prospective students, ranging from on-campus colleges (dorms) to UQ rentals. Living on-campus is a great opportunity for you to meet others, especially because each individual college is themed and hosts events throughout the year to make your experience memorable. BUT, be aware of the cost because securing your space in a college can cost a minimum of $10,000. To reiterate, you are looking at spending $10,000+ just for housing.

I chose to arrange my housing for the semester through the UQ rental option, selecting to live in a shared-house with other international students. This option provided me with the opportunity to meet other students, while living on a budget. Again: invest, invest, invest! Invest time in looking through the rental options to find the best fit for you! My accommodation is located a 10-minute walk to campus and 15-minute ride to the Brisbane Central Business District (CBD). I have my own individual room, bathroom, while sharing the kitchen, living room, and laundry room with three other students. The process was not easy, especially because the notion of having to pay rent every week instead of month was intimidating and because I was so accustomed to heading down to BPlate for food instead cooking my own, but it was so worth it!

I absolutely love it here in Brisbane! For anyone reading this and is nervous to go abroad, do not be because it will be the greatest experience of your life.

Stay tuned for the next post to read about my adventures here in the land down under!

Monica Martinez studied abroad in Brisbane, Australia in Spring 2017:

Scotland | Airport Woes and Getting to Scotland


Having traveled internationally more than once and having had my share of interesting experiences while travelling, the beginning of my travels to Scotland began a bit rocky and challenged my travel experience. I decided to depart approximately a week before the program start date in order to insure that I’d arrive in Scotland on time. My mom, who has never left the country, and I decided to travel to Europe for the holidays. My flight was cancelled/delayed for about 5 hours. That was okay because I found out about it before leaving for the airport; unfortunately, the new route had a layover of 23 hours in Russia. I’ve done long layovers before but I really didn’t want to do that; especially because the 23-hour layover would be on Christmas day. Airports are not a conventional Christmas destination and also not particularly fun. Go figure. Upon arriving at the airport, I asked about our airline rerouting us onto the quickest flight to my destination, or at least something that didn’t have me stranded at an airport. Luckily, they found something that would have a short layover and have us arriving on Christmas day. We arrive at the airport to check in with our rerouted airline… who then tells us they do not have a ticket under our names. Of course, I begin to panic because the original cancelled flight had departed hours before. Neither our original airline or our new airline knew who we were supposed to fly with. Thankfully, everything was eventually situated, although we are still not quite sure what happened. All that mattered was that it was fixed.

After the holidays, I flew to Scotland and arrived at 1am, exhausted from travelling. The flight attendants began passing around visa forms that needed to be filled out before arriving at the visa stations. After exiting the plane, I rushed to the front of the line. My nice, warm hotel bed was calling my name. I got to the passport control officer, handed all the documents to him. He then asked, “Where’s your acceptance letter from the university?”. I pointed to the document I printed out and he said, “No, that isn’t acceptable. It doesn’t have the start and end dates of your semester program.” I then apologized because I didn’t realize it had to have the dates. He proceeded to tell me that all the other documents I had brought to him didn’t matter. I was thoroughly confused and starting to worry; what happens when you fly to a country and they don’t let you in?? Luckily, I didn’t have to find out. He let me through with a warning and my visa for Scotland perfectly stamped into my passport. I have been preparing for this trip for months. Prior to Scotland, I was studying abroad in Senegal. I thought I knew what to expect and all the things I needed for a smooth arrival. But, even in my plethora of lists, I still wasn’t fully prepared. Travelling is a finicky trickster, and it’s necessary to be flexible throughout the journey. Eventually, everything works out.

Traveling can be a scary thing, but it can also create the most interesting stories that tests your patience and flexibility. This may be a stretch, but the traveling to point A to B really adds to your character and teaches you a lot about yourself and interactions with other people. Although going to the airport and flying internationally can be stressful, I always look back at the downside and find that all the stress and worry I possessed at that moment turned out okay, sometimes even wonderfully.

Caitlyn Pickard studied abroad in Edinbugh, Scotland, in Spring 2018: 

France | An Idiot Abroad: Antsy for Annecy

By Barry Yang

Exiting from Brexit

This past week on Thursday I took my first final exam in the country of France. The exam was for my Brexit class which only lasted for five weeks (technically four because the teacher canceled class the first week). As I mentioned in my previous blog, the class itself is quite different from classes at UCLA. The professor is much more opinionated, and there is an air of bias that I feel should be reduced in an academic setting. The exam was two hours long and composed of five short answer essay-style questions. The questions alluded to a primary document from the British government outlining its plan for the official execution of Brexit, and we were suppose to incorporate the document in our answers. The nature of the exam, much like the class, was quite different from the ones I am accustomed to at UCLA. The professor’s questions were incredibly broad. While essay questions demand a degree of flexibility to allow students to propose diverse ideas and information, the questions we received were too broad that I struggled to establish a structure for my answers. The questions were also very opinionated in that they were inherently pro-remain. The questions did not really inspire a great amount of debate or analysis. They were more asking us to recount information than to make an argument. After the test, all of us UC kids discussed the exam and many of us shared the same thoughts. It will be interesting to see how the professor grades the exam. The class is incredibly diverse and composed of kids from various countries with various levels of English. It will be interesting to see how the Professor distinguishes the quality of someone’s answer from the quality of his or her English. This class was by far the shortest class I have ever attended. Although it was interesting to learn about Brexit in an academic setting and from a native British individual, I wish the class was longer and that the professor presented some information on the other side that went beyond what has been already talked about somewhat thoroughly in popular media. I am excited to see what my other classes’ finals will be like given that they are semester long classes unlike the Brexit one.

Metros on Metros

Living in Los Angeles and San Diego all my childhood, I have not experienced true public transportation. Although buses and now the metro-link exist in Los Angeles, both of these pale in comparison to the public transit in Lyon and even just Europe. Lyon’s public transit is run by the company TCL. TCL has four subway lines, four tramway lines, and over one hundred bus lines. You can essentially get anywhere in the city with the public transit system. I use to only take two tramways because those were the only ones I knew and I really did not want to deviate, get lost, and be an hour late to class. However, after I got the TCL iPhone application my life completely changed. The app outlines the quickest modes of transportation for you at the time and ensures that you will arrive at your destination by a time you specify. It is also advisable to get a TCL metro card which is about thirty euros a month for students but allows you unlimited rides. A normal ticket costs 1.8 euros and lasts only an hour from the time of first scan. However, many Lyon locals do not even buy a ticket when they are traveling one or two stops because ticket enforcement is incredibly lax. This may soon change though; my host brother just informed me that TCL has employed undercover agents and will be more strict on enforcement.

Antsy for Annecy

The city of Annecy appears on essentially every list when you look up “best small towns in France.” The town is situated by a huge lake as well as the Rhone-Alps. There’s also a river that runs straight through the center of town and quaint old buildings are built around it. When we visited Annecy, we got there on a Friday which just happened to be a market day. We got to try some very local food and was stuffed for about 10 euros a person. We had some potatoes and cheese with baguette, smoked ham, traditional French sausage, local baguette sandwich, as well as a good amount of fresh ice cream (yes all for 10 euros). This trip to Annecy was also the first time we used BlaBlaCar (a European ride sharing service). We usually opt for busses with Ouibus or Flixbus when traveling to locations close to Lyon because tickets are only around 10 euros. However, this time, BlaBlaCar worked out to be a better deal and more suiting for our schedule. While the ride was not horrible, I definitely would not recommend sitting in a standard French car for more than a hour. Firstly, the cars here just physically feel smaller than American cars. The drivers also try and pack as many people as legal possible into said small cars so one can kiss goodbye to leg room or shoulder room. Driving in France also feels more reckless and dangerous than in the US (this may be a biased opinion though considering I do not understand French driving laws). Even though the ride is not all that great, BlaBlaCar is still an amazing budget-friendly way to travel and allows you to meet some French locals and really drive through the French countryside familyesque style.

Spain | A Very Spanish Weekend: Sevilla

by Celia Cody-Carrese
A Very Spanish Weekend: Sevilla
Animated chatter morphs into hushed murmurs as the staff pushes out a hearty “shhh” across the room. It’s starting. Sevillanos and tourists alike are still searching forany bit of open space where they can sit and watch the show. The guitar starts, before the room gets quiet enough to hear it clearly. Next comes the clapping, soft and quiet at first. The singer lets out a long, high cry, his voice weaving in and out of the handclaps and guitar. There is pain and passion in his voice, that hooks into your ears and won’t let go. Seated next to him is the dancer, a woman wearing a red top, long purple ruffled skirt, and a red scarf tied around her waist. Her lips are red and she wears red and white flowers in her hair, parted down the middle and worn in a low bun. She is the picture of flamenco. Her white shoes begin to tap on the floor, along with the rhythm of the hand claps. Something beyond my understanding occurs which signals her to stand and take her spot in the center of the small wooden tablon, or stage, laid out on the floor. Maybe it’s a line in the song, or maybe it was just the feeling of the moment.She is larger than life – her feet strike the floor at a speed that seems inhuman, her arms twist and sweep across her body, her hips ground all her movements. But her face, her face is what says it all. She doesn’t ever flash us a dancer’s smile –instead,her face shows the effort behind everything. The pain and joy of the music, the sheer difficulty of what she is doing. By the end of the second song, a sheen of sweat covers her face. She’s not here to look pretty. She’s here to emote, to dance, and to do something really difficult, really well. This is true for the guitarist and singer as well–they don’t put up a front, it’s just raw emotion and effort. And that’s what made my first time seeing flamenco so incredible.

Flamenco at La Carbonería in Sevilla

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucía, and maybe rightfully so (but don’t tell anyone in Córdoba I said that!). It’s home to some of the best flamenco, best gastronomy, and biggest displays of Spanish architecture. My favorite place in Sevilla is the Plaza de España, a grandiose building and plaza designed by Sevillan architect Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio, constructed for the Iberian-American Exposition in 1929.Walking up to the Plaza is pretty breathtaking there are so many elements and details that I couldn’t decide what to look at first.

Aníbal González’s architectural genius is matched only by his fantastic mustache

Plaza de España, Sevilla

The Plaza de España is made up of a huge plaza, obviously, and an equally huge building that curves around the outside of the Plaza. Along the front of the building are murals made of intricate hand painted tiles, which represent different cities and regions in Spain.Within the plaza is a moat-like body of water, where ducks floating between rowboats. Over the water are four bridges, featuring brightly painted balustrades (theside part of the bridge). The whole thing is pretty stunning. We spent about an hour just walking around and staring at everything, and then rented row boats for half an hour. Fun fact! The Plaza de España was used as a set in Attack of the Clones,  the second film in the Star Wars prequels. Anakin and Padmé can be seen walking through the Plaza, which in the film is on the Planet Naboo.

Córdoba’s mural at the Plaza de España

Next to the Plaza de España is another impressive display of something Spain does really well-parks.Walking through the Maria Luisa park takes you through tropical landscaping, beautiful fountains, and ponds filled with birds, including two large andfriendly swans. (Feed them grass, they won’t bite!) Scattered throughout the park are various structures, including a dome topped gazebo and a beautiful building which houses the Museum of Arts and Traditions. Every corner holds something different, and simultaneously the whole park fits together beautifully. It’s historical, lush, and whimsical.

Parquede María Luisa

What’s a weekend in Spain without delicious food? Sevilla is home to a lot of great restaurants, and in total has over 3,000 tapas bars and restaurants! 3,000! My favorite place we went to was an old bar called Casa Morales, complete with giant barrels of vino and huge legs of jamón hanging over the bar. I don’t eat meat and the pig legs kind of weird me out, but they also feel so Spanish! I had espinacas Andaluz stew of spinach and garbanzo beans served with bread. It was delicious and so filling for only a small tapa! We also had amazing gelato right next to the Cathedral -my flavors included basil-lime, coconut, and almond.We sat in the plaza enjoying our gelato, watching horse drawn carriages pass by. Nearby a young woman warmed up for a street performance, where she danced hip hop and contemporary.

Tapas at Casa Morales

Something I have grown to love about Spain is the street performers. Many cities I have been to, including cities in America, have some pretty hokey street performers. Often they are talented, but there is too much schtick thrown on top of whatever art form they are doing. However, in Spain the street performers are a bit humbler and more original. In Madrid I saw roller skaters dance like they were on ice and jump over a row of about 8 people lying on the ground. In Córdo bayou can often see a man who plays saxophone on thePuente Romano, as well as various guitarists in the center. In Toledo outside a church, flamenco rhythms from a man’s guitar softly filled the air. The young dancer we saw in Sevilla left out candies in a box next to the hat she used to collect donations. Other notable sights in Sevilla include the Real Alcazar, a palace complex with Mudéjar (Moorish), Renaissance, and Baroque architectural styles.Within the Alcazar rare beautiful and extensive gardens,which a raised, covered walkway runs along.The Alcazar, along with the Plaza de España, are still in use today for royal and government purposes, respectively. And as with any Andalucían city, meandering throughout the narrow and winding streets is never a waste of the afternoon.

Mudéjar architecture in the Alcazar

Sevilla truly has a place in my heart, along with every other beautiful place I have been able to see during my time here in España!

Italy | If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends


If This is School, Let’s Have Class on the Weekends

One of the most central aspects contributing to my time in Florence has been my elective class: The History and Culture of Food in Italy. I’ve mentioned it in past blog posts, but haven’t given this once in a lifetime class nearly the attention that it most certainly deserves. So here it goes… I hope I can do it justice.

Months before my departure to Florence, after reading descriptions of the culture courses my study abroad program offered, I decided that I wanted to take the food class (the other options were Art History and the Sociology of Love– both of which students in my program are currently thrilled to be taking).  In reality, after seeing the word “food” in the course title, no further reading was necessary; the class chose me.

The enrollment period came around in December of last year, and having had friends go through my exact study abroad program in the past, I was advised to set an alarm for an ungodly hour in order to sign-up immediately, and ensure my spot in this highly coveted class.

Due to the different time zones, unsure of when the enrollment email would find its way into my inbox, and mostly because I am neurotic, I set an alarm to go off in twenty-minute intervals starting at 3:45 am.

After almost two-and-a-half hours of 8 jarring alarms, I received the enrollment notice at 6 am. It was a slightly tortuous night of restless sleep—but I reserved my place in the food class, and boy was it worth it!

Once in Florence, at orientation, Dr. Peter Fischer, the enthusiastic and beyond knowledgeable food professor, was only described to us as being, “very German and very loved.”

On the first day of lecture it became crystal clear why, Peter (as we call him), was so raved about. He passed out the class syllabus that set the tone for the incredible class and instantly deemed all future syllabi disappointing bores. Most thrilling was the class date labeled, “Midterm Exam Followed by Gelato Tasting.”

Class itself is always something to look forward to. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Peter begins lecture by asking us students to share stories of interesting food experiences that we’ve encountered since our last meeting. We talk about new dishes we’ve tried, look for the cultural reasoning behind why the waitress rolled her eyes when we asked for a to-go box after dinner, or tell stories of how when we’d tried to order a caffe coretto (espresso with a shot of liquor) but, lost in translation, received what we had accidentally asked for: cornetto (a croissant).

In class Peter brings Italy to life for me through analyzing the history of the food—one of the most central aspects to human survival in general, and encompassing even more grandiose, far-reaching meaning in Italy, where the meals taste like memories.

Peter has taught us some Italian food survival skills, like why a true Italian will never ever drink a cappuccino after breakfast (because the high milk content is thought to be hard to digest). And, I specifically, learned the valuable lesson that an Osteria is not a restaurant that sells oysters, like I’d originally thought and told a friend (sorry Sofia), but rather, typically, a less expensive restaurant.

Peter has lectured on a variety of fascinating food facts, like the American fast food movement, and the Italian counter-movement, Slow Food, which was sparked in protest of the opening of the first McDonalds in Rome in 1986. Californian chef and Farm-To-Table advocate, Alice Waters, is the Vice President of the international movement today.

We learned that potatoes, tomatoes, and corn originally came to Italy from the Americas, but Italians considered the Native Americans to be cannibals and initially refused to eat the food of “savages.” It wasn’t until a food shortage that the Italians turned to using these American vegetables, however, they made sure to disguise the foods’ original form, transforming potatoes into gnocchi and corn into polenta.

We learned that Italy wasn’t politically unified until 1871, and wasn’t culturally united for many years after that. Italians attempted to create a sense of solidarity through their cuisine. Pasta functioned as a unifying symbol, as its different shapes, sizes, and ways of being prepared, represented the regional diversity, but its same basic ingredients signified a one-ness.

We learned that during the first wave of Italian immigration to the United States, Italy was not culturally unified, thus there was not yet an archetypal “Italian.” It wasn’t until migrating to America, that Italians, as outsiders, honed their identity and discovered what it meant to be “a true Italian,” all while learning how to be “American” at the same time. Studying this, led me to examine what I think it means to be an American, through my own experience as an outsider in Italy.

Last week we all turned in our research papers that we wrote with the freedom to discuss the food related topic of our choice. If you have to write a paper, what better topic than food to write about? As long as you have snacks handy in the drafting process. My essay was titled “Dinner the Implications of the Italian Verb and the English Noun” and writing it, made me even more enchanted with the Italian family style dinners.

Besides learning in the classroom through remarkably engaging power points and lectures, Peter has taken us on numerous field-trips (like on a chocolate tasting!!) that I will remember even more fondly than the crunchy, savory, taste of my most favorite panini.

This Thursday, Peter walked us over to the Florentine Community Garden. The old running track, turned herb garden, was covered in raised plant-beds, and pink flowering trees (happy spring!).  We met Giacomo, the gardener, at the entrance, and in his hip, plaid flannel shirt and light blue jeans, he looked more like he belonged in San Diego than amongst the other peacoat- enthusiast, leather-shoed Italians.

Giacomo showed us around his sustainable herb garden, focusing most proudly on his composting, his rainwater supplied bathroom sink, and his fishpond that serves as mosquito repellent. We walked around the garden, admiring all of the unique hybrid herbs Giacomo was growing– lavender mint, cranberry sage, tangerine thyme, just to name a few.

As a class, we decided on six herbs to pick, and then we each took turns chopping them up as finely as possible. Once the herbs were hacked to a pulp, Giacomo brought out a stash of fresh, homemade ricotta, separating it into three small bowls. We then combined two chopped herbs into each bowl of cheese and stirred thoroughly. We were given delicious bread and slathered it with ricotta, along with various salts to add if we wished. All three of the herbed ricottas were absolutely delicious, but my favorite was the lavender mint and chive with a pinch of black, Greek salt to top.

Two weeks ago, our class of twenty took a daylong field trip to a small winery in the most enchanting chianti countryside. Chianti Classico wine maker, Paulo, walked us around his vineyard and taught us about growing grapes and the fermentation process. He brought us into his old stone house and showed us his downstairs cellar. The electricity was out, so we did our tour and wine/olive oil tasting by candlelight. It was a far cry from any school field trip to the local library I’d ever been on.

After the winery, Peter took us to a small town to eat lunch and drink some more wine at a bustling, down-to-earth Trattoria where we (definitely) over-indulged in a four-course meal. Our giant meat and cheese plate, was followed by a heaping portion of pasta e fagioli (pasta in white beans). A mixed-meat tagliatelle was next (I’m always a little weary of “mixed” meats, mostly because I’m afraid of eating horse… but if I didn’t think about it too much, it tasted good). Then came the pork stew, which was followed by the dessert wine, delicious biscotti, dense chocolate cake, and the concluding coffee, of course.

By the end of lunch, none of us could walk straight—mostly because we were so full (as if we had eaten a horse) but also the wine certainly didn’t help.

Somehow, we managed to waddle back to the bus that carried our very full bodies back to Florence. On that ride home, feeling happy, plump, and satisfied, I stared out the window as we wove and winded through the most breathtaking Tuscan countryside. Seeing the vineyards that braid their way up the mountainsides, come and go from my line of sight, I couldn’t help but think about how this was unlike any day of class I have experienced, or will ever experience again in my life.

I am one lucky foodie.

Sweden | Final Reflections



Final Reflections


Well, that time is here. I’m leaving Sweden. I sit here writing this as I should be packing. But, then again, I’ve never been one for packing. It’s a little odd still being here because practically all of the international students and many of the Swedish students have returned home for the summer, and the new incoming UCEAP class isn’t here yet. While it is a little lonely without so many of the friends I’ve made during my time here, I don’t regret taking the opportunity to stay here, even if its just a few days longer. Honestly, even though I do miss my friends back in the states, I don’t want to leave Europe. I love it here.

I know when I get back home the first thing people are going to ask me was what was my favorite part. It’s an answer you are expected to have. However, I have no idea how to answer that question. I’m not saying that every moment was picture perfect. It certainly was not, and you shouldn’t pressure yourself to have every moment go right while here (especially when it comes to exams in Sweden). That being said, the whole experience seems like a blur. I can barely remember what it was like before coming here. Prior to this, I had never lived on my own, never been to Europe, never planned my own flights, never wrote in-depth research papers, never set up an EEG, never lived in a community where I didn’t know the dominant language… there were so many “never”s. Being abroad has made me realize how many “never”s I still had that I wanted to experience. Perhaps my favorite part of being abroad was learning that want to come back. Not to Sweden in particular, but I do know that I want to live back abroad in as many countries as I can.

While I loved my time abroad, I had friends that were as anxious to go home as I was to stay abroad. I think we too frequently believe that studying abroad is going to be the epitome of our college experience. At this point, it is for me; however, I know it wasn’t for many others. I’m not saying that to scare you away from studying abroad. I definitely think moving to a place that is out of your comfort zone is necessary to better understand the lives of those around you. But you will face struggles if you choose to come abroad. I don’t want to sugar coat it and have you be surprised when you are thousands of miles away from the place you previously considered home.

Classes will be tough. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that since you go to such a world renowned college system  that the classes will be easy—they aren’t. Each college has a different way of presenting material, studying, and examining, so expect to be inexperienced in the classroom. It’s kind of like being a freshman again in a course filled with upperclassmen. The people around you are used to the system whereas you are just getting your feet wet.

Also, being away from relatives is tough. If you have a close knit family, it will be even tougher. I was fortunate enough to have some of my relatives visit me, but not everyone will have this opportunity. I suggest Facetime, Skype, iMessage, and WhatsApp to help stay in touch with your family and friends while abroad. Being in contact definitely helps ease any homesickness. I Facetimed my parents once a week to get an update on things back home, which definitely helped me (and helped them stop worrying about me so much).

Perhaps the toughest thing, depending on what country you choose, will be not knowing the dominate language. Having to constantly attempt to use the limited phrases you know, and then pulling out the translator when all else fails can get frustrating and be humbling. To me, it was difficult to learn the language. I would try to get through the entire checkout process using only Swedish, so I could improve my skills, but the second they have to match my credit card to my ID (my passport), they would automatically switch to English and not another word would be in Swedish. Though it was done for my comfort and convience, it made learning to speak the language difficult and made it super easy to be lazy in learning Swedish.

Well now that I’ve addressed some of the difficulties of studying abroad, I want to move to a more positive note—travel. My previous blogs have focused exclusively on Sweden and briefly on Copenhagen. However, to not speak about travel would be to exclude a major part of the study abroad experience, especially since it is a main reason why people chose to take their studies to another country.

While abroad,  I traveled to England, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, Vatican City, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Norway, Italy, Belgium, and of course Sweden. Practically every weekend during my time here, I was in a new country. All my free time was devoted to scanning travel websites to see which countries were the cheapest for each weekend and then convincing a group of my friends to go with me both to have company and to save money on Airbnb costs. Traveling in Europe is cheap if you get down a system. The cheapest flight I had was only $6! Many of museums offer student discounts, and with your residence permit, you get into the Louvre in Paris for free! Travel smart, but don’t let it distract you from your studies too much. I know some people here who have failed their classes, partially because they were too distracted by traveling. Definitely spend a good portion of your time traveling the country you are staying abroad in. That doesn’t mean just the capital—find the small cities too in order to better understand what it truly means to live there.



I have so much more to say about my time in Sweden, but this blog is getting long. I don’t quite have down my elevator speech for talking about my time abroad. My final piece of advice would be if you are on the fence about study abroad, do it. Like me, you might end up never wanting to leave.

Christine Pahel studied abroad in Lund, Sweden, in Spring 2017:

Ireland | Summer Wrap-Up


You’ve probably heard the stereotypical “study abroad was the best decision I made in college” and “I met my best friends during study abroad.” I have to admit I never fully believed this and always kind of assumed it was just an exaggeration or a way to sell a program. Having completed my study abroad experience, I can say that study abroad has been the best part of my college experience so far and I definitely have met some of my best friends during the program.

This summer program was only two months long, however, it was enough time for me to experience living in another country and build strong relationships with the other students. I went into the program as a rising sophomore which was unique. Of the other 140ish students, I only met one other rising sophomore and she went to UCI. Everyone else was a rising junior. However, I did not find this to be an issue in making friends. I didn’t know anyone going into the program, but this did not prove to be an obstacle at all. The program makes it pretty easy to connect with other students. You are with the same people all day long every day and even participate in organized activities together for the first two weekends.

Furthermore, with everyone studying the same subject, I found it even easier to connect with other students. Especially with physics being a difficult subject, everyone wants to help each other out and studying together can really augment your success in the program. Studying with friends also just helps you maintain your sanity while studying physics 24/7. During the week, you basically study all day every day so surrounding yourself with friends and allowing yourself to take breaks makes the physics part a bit more manageable.

On the weekends, take a break from physics. Go out into Dublin and explore or travel to another city or even country. The weekends are your time to have fun and travel. Even the professors expected us to have fun on the weekends so don’t feel like you’re being lazy because students are expected to travel on weekends. This gave me all the more incentive to work hard during the week so I wouldn’t have to worry about catching up on weekends. The layout of the program is basically: work hard during the week, have fun on the weekends.

I am so so grateful that I was able to participate in this program. I really have no complaints about the program itself. The professors do a great job of teaching you a year’s worth of physics in two months. Yes, the program is difficult, but that’s just because physics itself is a difficult subject. The tutorials force you to practice the content and are built-in study times. As long as you do your best to keep up with the content and review the course material on a daily basis, you will be fine. There will be times when you feel more stressed than you’ve ever felt before for any class, but I promise you do not need to worry about your final grade. They curve the class more than any other class I’ve taken and they do everything they can to help you get an A. Just remember to enjoy the program while you’re in it because it goes fast. I wish you all the best and remember to HAVE FUN!

Grace Heart studied abroad in Dublin, Ireland, in Summer 2017: