France | An Idiot Abroad: La Bise and the Geneve


La Bise, that’s what the French call that whole kissing on the cheek greeting thing. Instead of going in for the hug, they pop two on your cheeks and call it a day. Although I first found this gesture a little awk- ward to initiate, this form of greeting has grown on me and become something incredibly endearing.

This past week has been a continuation of IEP language classes which essentially just translate to another week of me not understanding French and showing up solely for the experience. I was extremely fortu- nate to have amazing professors who found my lack of French endear- ing and comedic. The school even found me an aide (thank you Marisol) who attended every class with me and helped me through the language classes. Despite the aide, the level of French you need to un- derstand these classes is probably something I won’t achieve within the next decade. Thank the Lord we begin regular classes next week which will finally be in English. I can soon finally prove to the French people that I’m not completely useless.

Madame Santos and Christine Ebnother our favorite teachers.

While Lyon is renowned as the center of gastronomy, I will not lie and say that I am getting a little tired of French cuisine. It is not so much the food, as the food decorum. Let me explain. While the food is deli- cious and invigorating to the palate, the portion sizes are usually horri- bly small. As a growing young boy with the appetite of multiple French men, eating at French restaurants is not really conducive for the wallet or the health.

The boys Cian and Cameron enjoying a nice wine.

Bread and butter are literally the bread and butter of meals, and I’ve found myself eating a lot of carbohydrates to compensate for the small portion sizes. Albeit, the bread here is so delicious and baked fresh dai- ly. The butter is also derived from organic cows that have not been adulterated by hormones. The fresh bread and natural butter really is a killer combo and very good. Throw on one or two cheeses from literally

the hundreds of options and its very very c’est bon. Wine is also cheaper than the sparkling water they serve. You can get very nice bottles of red and white wines in supermarkets for literally 4–5 euros. Baguettes are about one euro. Pancetta another 2–3 euros. A nice block of cheese for 5–10 euros. Combine all of this and you can have wonderful lunches and dinners for multiple days.

The ethnic foods in Lyon (Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc.) are also moder- ately disappointing…It is amazing that these foods even exist in Lyon but their essence and soul have been diluted to appease the French palate and as a result become unauthentic. Ethnic foods are also quite expensive. A big plate of Pad Thai will run about 8–9 dollars in the US, but here in Lyon the price is more like 14–17 Euros. At almost double the price and half the flavor, I’ve committed myself to only eat French cuisine (we will see how long this holds out though given how many of the other Americans in the group enjoy and miss ethic foods).

Besides French food, the most commonplace cuisine is the Kebab. Be- cause of its large Middle Eastern population, Lyon is filled with Kebab shops. You can’t really walk 5 minutes without seeing a Kebab shop. Filled with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and French fries, these Middle Eastern California burritos are very cheap and fairly tasty. Al- though probably not the healthiest, they’ve been a great food for when time is short or when the wine proves to be a little too strong.

This weekend I got the opportunity to go to Geneva, Switzerland. Boy oh boy do I NOT recommend going there. Firstly, they would not let me on the bus because I forgot my passport. I then had to book a different train ticket after getting my passport only to have no one check or ask for my passport. Upon arriving in Geneva, I couldn’t even tell that we were in a different county. I had to confirm with Google Maps to make sure that I had actually taken the correct train and left France. The city was incredibly cold and non-english speaking. I felt a strong sense of pompous superiority in the shops we went to and did not feel a lot of loving vibes. The lake in Geneva is fairly beautiful, but nothing spectac- ular. If you really want to see a lake, just drive up to Big Bear and you will have gotten essentially the same thing. Things are also incredibly expensive in Geneva. For dinner my friend and I shared some “buffalo chicken wings” and a pasta called the “San Diego.” These toddler sized dishes came out to more than 35 euros. The buffalo chicken wings came with 3 wings and some sauce that was everything but buffalo. The “San

Diego” pasta tasted just like Heinz ketchup mixed with undercooked pasta and zucchini. I could not have been more disappointed with Geneva. I do want to return to Switzerland in the future and see Lugano and other cities, but thus far, Geneva has been very very under- whelming 0.6/10 would not recommend.

This past week I also attended a party my host family put together. There were oysters, Galette (a delicious French cake), lots of cham- pagne, French whiskey, and great times. They invited their friends from Interpol and we had some great conversations about how much travel intensive the job is and the different things they get to encounter on an international level. Definitely looking to potentially working there in the future.

I am thoroughly enjoying my host family. I had the pleasure of making them Peruvian food on Wednesday, and although it came out a little too spicy, they were very receptive and we all had an amazing time.

Week two in France has been an absolute pleasure minus that one day in Geneva. Looking very much forward to when classes actually start and all the places I’ll get to see and learn about.

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

Spain | A Weekend in Cádiz


On a narrow strip of land, connected to the Iberian peninsula by an even narrower strip of land, is Cádiz- one of the oldest cities in Europe. Last weekend I went to Cádiz with a group of friends in the Exploring Andalucía program, and we had an amazing time! Cádiz is full of history, delicious tapas, beautiful beaches, and lovely people. Here are some of my favorite memories from the trip.

The views. For me, the two best ways to experience a city are on foot and from above. We did plenty of walking, and we also went in two towers and saw beautiful views of the city. Cádiz is really small so you can see most of the city if you are high enough. In the center of Cádiz there is a building called Torre Tavira which costs a few euros to enter. Not only does it offer an amazing view of Cádiz, including the Cathedral, the building also has a camera obscura- which allows you to see a live, 360 view of Cádiz. We were able to see the entire city of Cádiz projected onto a large canvas disk, in real time. It was so cool to see the waves of the ocean, birds in flight, laundry drying on roofs, and even people walking around the city!

View from Torre Tavira, including the Cathedral of Cádiz

In the Cathedral of Cádiz you can walk up a narrow and steep spiral ramp that takes you up to one of the two bell towers. From here you have a beautiful view of the city and details of the roof of the church. The bells ring every 15 minutes though, and they are very loud!

Very steep and narrow stairs at the top of the Cathedral!

View from the Cathedral bell tower

Speaking of the Cathedral, it is one of the most interesting buildings I have seen in Spain (besides the Mezquita-Catedral of Córdoba, of course). Structurally the building has two main domed towers and a concave façade in the middle. The exterior is two different colors because the building took a long time to complete, and they used two different materials. Inside, there is large central altar and many smaller chapels all along the sides of the church, all boasting statues of biblical figures and paintings. The church also had a crypt below ground that was designed to produce echoes. In the crypt the air is cool and moist, since it is below sea level.

The exterior of the Cathedral

The central altar in the Cathedral, which is modeled after the two towers

Tapaaaaas. Spain is of course famous for tapas, and there are many typical tapas dishes in Spain. Many of these are meat based, and I am vegetarian, so often my options are limited. In Cádiz however, I had eggplant with goat cheese and honey, salmorejo (a tomato based dip eaten with bread), and sautéed veggies. Everything was delicious and really cheap! I also had my first Spanish paella in Cádiz! On our first night we actually had Italian food for dinner, which was really good, but the other two nights we just went to a few tapas places for food. Although they are small plates, if you get a few you have a substantial dinner for only a few euros!

Adrenaline. Cádiz is right on the water and has numerous beautiful beaches. In the summer it is a popular vacation spot for this reason, and the heat makes the ocean a great place to cool off. As we went in January, it was not nearly warm enough to justify swimming in the ocean, but my friends and I wanted to anyways. We looked pretty ridiculous running in, as no one else was swimming, but it felt great to jump in the Atlantic! There’s something about seeing the sun begin to set over the ocean that’s different when you’re in the ocean, when your senses are heightened from the cold water.

Sunset over the ocean in Cádiz

Vulnerability. When you are put in a new environment where you don’t know anyone, which is often what study abroad is like, you end up making friends really quickly. In my case, I travelled to Cádiz and shared a hostel with people I had known for two weeks-and it was amazing. Because you are sharing so many new experiences together, you bond really quickly and form friendships fast. In my experience, this has led me to be more open and willing to share things about myself. There are many ways this has manifested itself-including a few of my friends and I playing guitar and singing together in our hostel. We spontaneously shared our favorite songs and our voices with each other. That vulnerability and ability to connect through music formed our bond that much quicker.

Traveling also lends itself to making new friends quickly wherever you go. Staying in hostels is a great way to meet people, because many people are traveling alone or in small groups, and there are often common areas to hang out in. At our hostel in Cádiz we met a lot of really cool people and got to talk with people from many different places!

No schedule. One thing that is nice about traveling to smaller cities is that while there are some big tourist attractions, you don’t feel rushed to do everything possible in one weekend. My favorite thing to do when I go to new places is often just to walk around the city, to see what people are up to and to look at different buildings and apartments. We would start our day and have some idea of what we might do, but never any specific place to be at any specific time. And because of this we just wandered, and got to know Cádiz through it’s narrow streets and from the brightly painted buildings that stand out from a sea of crisp white exteriors. On Saturday we walked through a park and stumbled upon a man playing the recorder, while cats darted in and out of bushes. Sunday we took the long way back to our hostel and encountered a large plaza where young kids were learning to ride bikes and scooters while their parents chatted and enjoyed the sunshine. Later, in front of the Cathedral, a woman danced flamenco in the street as people ate in the plaza and watched her perform. We did some of the tourist attractions but we also just walked, listened, and let the day unfold.

Lazy cats in Parque Genovés

What made this trip really special, however, was the people I went with and the people I met. If you surround yourself with good people you’re bound to have fun anywhere! Till next week!

My buds and I in Cádiz!

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

Italy | Music to My Ears


If you know me, you most likely know that I am constantly singing and humming as I go about my day: in the shower, while I cook, walking to class, taking a hike, reading a book, and yes, I’ve even been known to sleep-sing.

I just can’t help it. A song (or 10) gets stuck in my head, and absolutely no amount of distraction methods or mechanisms can unstick the tune that has adhered itself to every nook and cranny of my brain.

The Italian language seems to have this same effect on me. The graceful words and their corresponding melodies swirl around, and resonate with me, worming their way into my mind. The words replay in my brain like a broken record and I can’t help but unleash them, saying them out loud, over, and over and over again.

Italians converse with a catchy, deliberate melody that swells and dips, with specific rhythm, dynamics, fierce passion, and not so subtle hand choreography.

Music fills the air in any place that there is speaking at all. The train station is operatic. The open markets are symphonic. Melodies spew from all directions, and are conducted by the vendors, who direct and control any discordant tunes of whining hagglers.

I guess it makes sense that the language gets stuck in my head in the same way that a good Adele jam does. Every Italian conversation is its own song; every sentence is a lyric; every word, a note.

Like the songs that so often overwhelm my thoughts, I find myself parroting Italian phrases that I’ve picked up in passing, throughout my day. Shampooing my hair, I mimic the pitch, tempo, and intonation, of “faccio la doccia” (I shower). Making my bed in the morning, I rehearse “Buongiorno, vorrei un cornetto” (Good morning, I would like a croissant.) Studying for my quiz, I hum “in bocca al lupo” (a phrase meaning good luck that literally translates to “in the mouth of the wolf,” which seemed strange, until I thought about what its must be like for a foreigner to learn “break a leg”).

It is all just so captivating and pleasing to the ear. Often times I am so fixated on the beautiful pitches of what is being performed in front of me, that I forget to listen and comprehend the words themselves.

Before I left for Italy, I, of course, had to read Eat, Pray, Love. I paid special attention to the portion Elizabeth Gilbert dedicated to her pilgrimage to Rome, which she entitled “Eat.” (I’m choosing to take “Eat” as a personal, authoritative command to me from the wise and experienced author herself, to eat eat eat! And I have intently obeyed.)

In “Eat…”, Gilbert refers often to her favorite Italian word: “attraversiamo” (we cross over).  She explains that she loved to stroll with friends along the streets of Rome, intentionally walking on the side of the street opposite of her destination, so as to give herself the excuse, when the time came, to suggest that the group “attraversiamo”.

Every time I cross a street in Italy, I think of Elizabeth Gilbert and her favorite word. As I cross each street in Florence, and “attraverso”, I also consider what my favorite, exquisite Italian words that I’ve learned, might be. After a lot of crossing streets and therefore a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that my favorite word changes by the day, as does the song that is stuck in my head.

Today my favorite word is “abbastanza”. Yesterday, I overheard a young woman on my train to the beautiful city of Verona, say “abbastanza” playfully over and over, to her boyfriend. While I had no clue as to its meaning, the fun multi-syllabic word filled with pleasing soft “a” sounds, very much became stuck in my head like a pop tune. It became my mantra for the day. I hummed it under my breath as the train rocked me into a deep, ugly, mouth-wide-open, kind of sleep.

**Turns out “abbastanza” means “enough”…. a word, and in fact a concept, that seems to be null and void for me over here. Phrases in America such as, “thank you that’s enough parmesan,” never ever seem applicable for me in Italy.**

Last week, my favorite thing to say was “Mi dispiace”. I couldn’t get the melancholic tune and slow lilt for “I’m sorry” out of my head—and for good reason.  I’m constantly needing to apologize for bumping into people and things and animals, so “mi dispiace” comes in handy, more than I’d like it to.

I was in a little grocery store when “mi dispiace” first cemented itself in my thoughts, after an instance when I’d forgotten it, causing me to swear it would never slip my mind again. A grocery store clerk was attempting to pass by me, pushing an enormous stock-cart full of produce and products in front of him. I initially didn’t realize that I was blocking his path, until he said “scusi” (excuse me—another snappy word that’s fun to rehearse, and always applicable). Desperately searching for the correct Italian response, and feeling excessively panicked that I was in the man’s way, my instincts took over. My mind clasped onto the only word within its grasp, and I said “sorry” in English! Given that probably 80% of Florentines speak English, and the other 20% would likely know the word for “sorry”, apologizing in English was really not a big deal… The problem was the way I said “sorry”—in a very, very, overly thick, exaggerated, Italian accent, that probably seemed like I was making a mockery of the kind grocery clerk, his family, his friends, and his entire culture, all in just a single word. I left the grocery store, with “mi dispiace” in my mind, on-loop.

Right now, as my dinner simmers on the stove, I hum my favorite word for the moment: “mangia.” Mangia mangia mangia mangia mangia mangia.

Willa Giffin studied abroad in Florence, Italy in Winter 2017:

Ireland | Hiking Howth


Last weekend, we made our way over to Howth, a village just outside Dublin. Most of the village lies on a peninsula. Its coastal feel reflects its history as a fishing village. The village is only about a 30 minute train ride from Dublin City Centre, making it very manageable as a weekend day trip!


It is a bit of a process to actually get to Howth, but I promise its so worth it. I would recommend taking the DART, the Irish train system, from Dublin City Centre to Howth. We left UCD at about 11:00am and took the 39A into town to get brunch in Dublin. At about 1:00pm, we made our way to the DART station in Dublin. A round trip ticket to Howth is only about €5. Buy your ticket just outside the station and make your way to the platform. The station is extremely easy to navigate so you should have no problem finding your way. Once you’re on the train, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Howth.


Just across the street from the DART station is a small market with a few food stands and some souvenir stands as well. We picked up a few pastries from one of the stands and a Chow Mein from a noodle stand. Not kidding, the Chow Mein took about three hours for 3 of us to eat, so maybe get one to share with the group.


Once you’ve walked through the market, take your food and hike the Lower Cliff Loop and have a picnic on the cliffs! The hike was so incredibly beautiful and a must-do if you’re in Howth. The entire hike is about 4 miles and takes about 2 hours if you take it at a leisurely pace. The map below shows the path you will be taking, but it starts right in Howth Village and ends there as well. On the trail you’ll be able to see Ireland’s Eye, an island just off the coast of Howth. Baily Lighthouse and Howth Castle are a few other points on the trail to look out for. Our favorite part of the hike was just the beautiful scenery off the cliffs – one of the most incredible views I’ve seen while in Ireland. To end the hike, we walked down a sort of boardwalk/street with restaurants and docks along the side of the water. We were surprised to see seals and jellyfish swimming around in the water below us too!


We didn’t go straight home, but instead stopped by Dun Laoghaire! Dun Laoghaire is on the opposite side of Dublin City Centre from Howth so it took about 45 minutes on the DART to get there. We had already been to Dun Laoghaire a few times, but it’s another beautiful coastal town. It is somewhat bigger than Howth with more restaurants, shopping, and activities than Howth. Maybe I’ll do another post just dedicated to Dun Laoghaire because it is very beautiful and much easier to get to than Howth, but Howth is definitely worth the journey and you do get more beautiful views than in Dun Laoghaire. Take the 46A home from Dun Laoghaire and your perfect “beach” day is complete!

Thanks for coming along on another day trip with me and stay tuned for a “Day in the Life” post next week that will give you an inside look into what a day at UCD Summer Physics is really like!

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