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: