Ireland | A Weekend in Galway


Galway was without a doubt my favorite place in Ireland. It’s a very small city that I wouldn’t want to live in long-term, but it is an incredible city to visit for a weekend. I’ll take you along for my weekend trip to Galway with three of my best friends.


In terms of transportation, the Irish Rail is the easiest and cheapest method. It was the equivalent of $30 round trip for last minute train tickets to Galway. The train is very nice and really easy to use. You can take the 145 Bus from UCD to the train station. I would leave about an hour and a half to get to the train station and print your tickets so you don’t risk missing it.


I would highly recommend staying in a hostel while traveling anywhere abroad. Hostels are super cheap compared to hotels and while they are not extremely luxurious, they give you a bed to sleep in and that’s really all you need. You’ll be out exploring the town while you’re awake so don’t worry about finding luxurious hotels to stay in or anything. Also, you meet amazing people at hostels from all over the world. We met people from Switzerland, France, and Chile at our hostel and had really cool conversations with all of them!


The night life in Galway is incredible. There is live music everywhere and the town is so small that you can literally walk everywhere. I never felt unsafe in the small city. It’s very well-lit and there are people everywhere. Our favorite pubs were The Quays, King’s Head, and The Front Door. Walk home whenever you’re ready for bed for the night.


Having arrived Friday afternoon and experienced nightlife on Friday night, we decided to do a bus tour on Saturday! We used Lally Tours to see Connemara National Park on Saturday. I would highly recommend this company! We had a fantastic experience and all agreed it was one of our favorite things we had done in the month we had been in Ireland. The park is absolutely stunning and the tour takes frequent stops for photo opportunities, snack breaks, and/or stretch breaks. The main stop was at Kylemore Abbey which was stunning. We had time to hike around the property on the lake and see the stunning gardens as well as the mansion itself. Don’t worry about being tired from the night before because while you have to wake up early, you can always sleep on the bus (although I’d recommend trying to stay awake because the scenery is beautiful).


On Sunday, we wandered the streets of Galway in the daylight. There were at least ten different street performers. We would stop for twenty or thirty minutes to watch some of the artists before moving onto our next destination. If you won’t have time to see the Cliffs of Moher another weekend, I would recommend doing that on Sunday. You can use the same tour company which will drive you to the cliffs for a few hours and bring you back to Galway. The tours are usually about the equivalent of $50 or $60 per person so a pretty good deal considering all the sites you get to see.

That concludes our weekend in Galway! Thanks for coming along and I hope you set aside a weekend to see the beautiful city!

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

Spain | My New Spanish Family: Living in a Homestay


With the aim of improving my Spanish and getting the most out of my abroad experience, I jumped at the chance to stay with a Spanish family. I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it, besides the fact that I didn’t have to buy my own shower towel and that breakfast and dinner would be provided for me every day. In fact, we had no idea who our host family was or what area of Madrid we’d be living in until program orientation once we arrived in Spain.

Turns out I’d be living with a family of four – Pura, David, and their kids Sofia and Pedro, aged 16 and 19 respectively. Another American student from New York named Jasmine was also staying with us in the other free room in the apartment. The location of my homestay ended up being really convenient for exploring the city as well as commuting to school or other areas of Madrid every day. I lived right off of a metro stop on the blue line and about a 10- minute walk from Sol – the center of Madrid – and a 20-25 minute metro ride from the study center in Chamberí. This was the neighborhood of Lavapiés, which I soon grew to know and love.

On the top, flower stands outside of the metro stop closest to my homestay. On the bottom, flowers I got for my host mom and her daughter on their birthdays.

As soon as I arrived, my host mom showed me to my room at the end of the hall. The whole unit consisted of 4 bedrooms, 1 master bedroom, a living space, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. While the apartment wasn’t super big, it made good use of space and was a nice place to live in the middle of the city.

My room came with a wardrobe with two drawers, hangers, and a top shelf as well as a desk, twin bed, and place to store extra blankets. The amount of storage was comparable to what I had in my dorm room at UCLA with slightly less drawer space. There was also space under the bedside table with shelving for books and space for a couple pairs of shoes. All in all, I had plenty of storage space for my things :-).

The best part of my room was that the window opened right out into the street – I definitely took advantage of this during the warmer months when the weather was absolutely spectacular.

I soon also found out that Madrid never sleeps, and being in an apartment in a rather trendy area close to the center of the city meant dealing with some rowdy (but goodhearted) people at night who thought they were destined to be on the next Spanish Idol – good thing I can fall asleep easily☺

I also had access to the bathroom next to the main entrance. It was smaller than the one I was used to at home and in the dorms, with enough room for a toilet under the sink, two storage cabinets, and some bins pinned to the wall, as well as a shower (box).

I’ve never really seen a shower box before, and this one came with a shower-head that was in no way attached to the wall, meaning I had to hold it with one hand while washing with the other. There was enough space for my body, but it was a bit difficult to move fully around with the allotted space. But again — there was space for everything I needed…it was just a tighter squeeze than usual 😛

I also had to be more mindful of my water usage, turning off the tap whenever I didn’t absolutely need it, since water is apparently more expensive in the city (as is electricity – this means turning off lights in rooms when not necessary and unplugging chargers from outlets when leaving the house). However, Madrid tap water is some of the freshest water I’ve ever had, so filling up my reusable water bottle was never a problem.

In terms of kitchen-use, getting tap water from the sink was basically the only thing I could do in the kitchen by myself. Since my host family prepared meals for me (even though breakfast was typically very minimalistic and included tea/coffee with a pastry, toast, or cereal), I wasn’t allowed to store food in the fridge or use the oven or stove.

For the most part, I didn’t really need to use the kitchen anyways since I ate lunch outside of the house in between classes, but I felt restricted since I couldn’t make myself tea as regularly as I normally do and lunch had to be bought the day of instead of prepared the day before. I wasn’t completely restricted from tea, but I had to ask my host family to boil water for me instead of doing it myself, which seemed a little unnecessary for such a trivial task.

Otherwise, I was expected to make myself part of the family and abide by already-set household rules. This meant laundry day was set on Fridays and all dirty laundry was to be placed in a bin and left out before I left the house for the day or for the weekend. Dinner was also set for 9 PM for me and Jasmine and would always be provided unless we notified our host mom that we wouldn’t be eating at home that night.

The set time – while late by American standards – was very typically Spanish and fit my schedule well, giving me enough time to run errands or explore after classes.

While it would vary day by day, dinners were also the most social part of my day with my host family. I found myself having long chats with Pura or David (my host parents) over meals and catching up with Sofia and Pedro (my host siblings) at times also. It was nice to interact with Spaniards my age since I could pick up certain slang from them and learn about relevant things that teenagers talked about nowadays in Madrid. They were also interested in my life at home and would ask me questions about California and my lifestyle, for example.

They also tried to help me out with my Spanish-speaking abilities and would answer any random questions I had. While we weren’t the best of friends, we definitely had some good laughs and bonded over mutual experiences.

I also really appreciated living with another American in the same homestay. Since starting college, I’ve always lived with roommates – so this was a similar situation. It was nice to have an English-speaker to share all the moments that I couldn’t yet properly explain in Spanish.

Jasmine was also there for the spontaneous midnight runs to the nearby alimentación when I was craving Oreos as well as the slightly more planned menu del día weekend meals.

We also bonded over the shared experience of getting locked out of the apartment because of the fidgety door, and we definitely lost socks to each other over the 4 months of living together.

While the homestay definitely exposed me to Spanish culture and helped me with my language development (not to mention saved me the meal prep time for dinner and let me explore traditional Spanish foods), the immediate sense of community that those living at apartments experienced was not initially present here. This isn’t to say I never hung out with those in the apartments, but I did have to coordinate meetups more often than I would have if I lived closer to them.

Regardless, I don’t regret my homestay experience at all. I don’t think my independence was in any way compromised by living with a family either. In fact, they encouraged me to go enjoy Madrid nightlife and explore other parts of the country, Europe, and surrounding areas (my host mom loved Morocco and gave me very excited recommendations when I visited).

Being with a family also helped create a cozy atmosphere. Of course I felt homesick at times, but having someone around to chat with made me feel more at home. ☺

All in all, I think homestay is a unique experience that all those going abroad should highly consider, especially for purposes of language development and forcing themselves out of their comfort zone. Living in a city apartment gave me an excuse to really get to know my neighborhood and do a lot of solo-exploring. The same element that made it difficult to hang out super often with those in apartments also made me more independent and fueled many of my solo adventures.

Lavapiés and Madrid have my heart, and I now have a family to keep in touch with abroad as well as a new American friend from New York to visit, whom I wouldn’t have met or bonded as much with otherwise.

David, me, Pedro, pura, and Sofía in the kitchen of my homestay☺

Gracias a mi familia Española por todo, y gracias Madrid. There are difficulties and nuances that come with a homestay, but the benefits far outweigh the strains.

Nina Chikanov studied abroad in Madrid, Spain in fall 2017:

South Africa | Why South Africa?


Back in 2013, my dad told me he was going to South Africa and invited me to come along. I grew up in Los Angeles, California, rarely learning or venturing outside of North America. I knew virtually nothing about Africa, and from what I had heard in the news and various media sources, I was a bit uneasy about it. However, I am adventurous spirit, and so I decided to head to Johannesburg, South Africa, with my dad, at the tender age of 16. What I didn’t know at the time of my arrival, was that it would be my favorite trip I have ever taken, up until recently (because another African country has replaced it of course).

The reasons I loved South Africa when I was here in 2013 were numerous. For starters, I was able to see Soweto, which is a township with a vibrant culture and it is also home to Mandela House. Additionally, I went ATV racing in the mountains and saw zebras, visited Sun City, which is an action-packed getaway spot, and saw Sandton, Johannesburg, which is the richest square mile in all of Africa. What I loved most about South Africa, however, was the people. Everyone was so nice, friendly, and willing to lend a helping hand. South Africa had captured my heart and I knew I had to return.

In college, the opportunity to revisit South Africa emerged. While UCLA does not have a program that allows you to study in Johannesburg, they have a partnership with the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa. In contrast to my knowledge of Africa in 2013, by 2017 I had learned a lot about Africa, specifically South Africa, and its success, struggles, failures, and beauty. I have always wanted to learn more about South Africa and its rich, yet complex history, which includes Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, and Trevor Noah.

I had read and heard that Cape Town was stunning and that it had a modern wonder of nature in Table Mountain, so I needed little convincing that this was the right decision for me. Additionally, since my last year of university was approaching, I knew I had to strike while the iron was hot. About a year ago, I applied to study abroad in Cape Town, and was accepted into the program. My South African journey awaited and I couldn’t wait to settle into my new life abroad.

Kelli Hamilton studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, in fall 2018:

Switzerland | Differences


I was on the phone with my dad the other day when he asked “is everything over there totally different?” My initial gut reaction was of course not! But, when I asked what he meant, I realized that maybe things are more different than I had realized. (He asked me if the microwave is different, and by the way it is.) Switzerland is a Western country, and is incredibly similar to the United States in most ways, but there are small things that feel really different.

Outlets. I have taken for granted the abundance of outlets whenever I need them. Sure, usually there aren’t outlets easily accessible in lecture halls, but I can always find one in a smaller classroom, in the hall or in any study spot on campus. I have yet to find an outlet at UNIGE. Are there any in lecture halls? Nope. In smaller classrooms? No. In random places in open areas where I could maybe sit on the ground and charge? No again. I am genuinely starting to think that Swiss electronics just never die, because in addition to the lack of outlets at UNIGE, they’re absent from pretty much everywhere.

I love going to coffee shops to study. Not only am I more productive since I’m not in/near my bed, but I also like the activity happening around me, and the proximity of another latte. But, this is dependent on the battery life of my computer. At home this is no problem, when my battery is running low I just move seats or find the closest outlet to plug into. But not here – in my favorite study spot I have found exactly one outlet in the entire café. Word to the wise – always leave home with fully charged devices.

Boreal is quickly turning into my favorite place to work. But I still don’t understand how people can work here on their computers forever with no outlets

Less than 24 hours after landing in Geneva we had to find our way to orientation at Uni Mail (the mail UNIGE building) in room R050. I was jet lagged, sleep deprived, stressed, and felt like it was hard enough just getting to the building, let alone finding a room that definitely did not have a clear floor number.

It turns out that a room such as R050 actually does have a clear floor number, 0. In Geneva, as with probably many other places, the ground floor isn’t the first floor – the one above it is. Just think of how many flights of stairs you have to walk up, and that’s the floor you’re on.

The ceiling of the main area of Uni Mail

As a north campus major I’m used to my final grade being made up of many different components; participation, papers, maybe a midterm and a final with ways to boost your grade thrown in every once in a while. Fall quarter I was in a Poli Sci class that calculated your final grade from two things, 50% midterm and 50% final paper. Honestly, this terrified me because I knew that doing poorly on one meant doing poorly in the class. As it turned out, this was a great stepping-stone into Swiss education. The final grades for all five of my classes are based 100% on the final. If you’re not the best test taker, like myself, this is incredibly daunting. Also, not all finals here take the same format. I have some written open book finals, some written closed book final, and an oral final where we have 15 minutes to answer two questions to the best of our abilities. The hard part about having my entire grade based on the final, other than you know the final, is staying motivated to stay on top of all my reading. Obviously it’s necessary, but it’s definitely easy to fall into the trap of “oh I can always catch up later…” I’m definitely not trying to think too much about the finals since they’re so far away, so I’ll give an update once they’re done.

At home I never have cash. Everything goes on my card, and I rely on venmo to pay other people back for things. If we’re being honest, I really don’t remember the last time I paid for anything in cash, and definitely am never carrying anything larger than a 20 if I have anything. And on the rare occasions that I do use cash I always forget about coins – the only time I use them is paying for the parking meter. While the only two places that I have found in Geneva that do not take a card are a Thai food restaurant and a small news stand, I try my best to use cash for everything. My only reasoning behind this is I would prefer to pay the conversion charge as infrequently as possible – and when you put things on your card you have to pay it every time. For this reason, I take out larger amount of cash from the ATM than I would at home, and to my surprise this means bills larger than a 20.

The first time I used a Swiss ATM I actually didn’t know what to do when it produced a bill worth CHF200. Actually, I was terrified. I felt like giving it back to the machine and demanding it give me something smaller and more manageable that I actually knew how to deal with. But, of course, that’s not possible so I gingerly took it and went on my way. (Side note, as bills here increase in value the physical piece of paper gets longer. It’s kind of cool.) The plus side to ATMs giving you larger bills is that everyone here is able to deal with them and doesn’t look at you like you’re crazy if you pay for your coffee with a 100.

The thing that is the most different about Swiss money is the coins. Gone are the days of coins lying in my wallet forever and never getting used. The smallest Swiss Franc bill is a 10, meaning that coins can equal CHF5, 2 and 1 in addition to the smaller coins. This was weird at first but I actually kind of like it! It’s definitely nice to be able to get rid of heavy coins more regularly.

On the morning of orientation at Uni Mail, the first thing I noticed was the fresh OJ machine in the middle of the large open space. The machine literally squeezes orange juice for you while you stand there. I thought this was the coolest/ weirdest thing, and definitely did not expect to see another one. Well, it turns out that the Swiss must really like freshly squeezed orange juice because I’ve seen similar things all over, and there is even an identical “vending machine” in the lobby at the Cite. I haven’t tried it yet, but it is on my list to try while I’m here!

The OJ machine. At CHF2.80 it might be one of the cheaper options…

France | An Idiot Abroad: Finals on Finals



This past week I officially finished all of my classes, with the exception of Political Islam which I still have a take home final for and Politics of Humor which just commenced. The final for Professor Porter’s Imperialism class was quite straight forward. He gave us a variety of questions to choose from for our in class final essay which allowed for a great of latitude in our responses. He also provided us the questions at the very start of our class so we had the whole duration of the course to prepare and research our answers. Needless to say the procrastination bug hit like it always does around finals and most of us waited until the week or even days before the exam to begin preparing our essays. The questions asked and the exam style were very similar to their counterparts in the states. You get a couple questions from which you pick one to write about. You are allowed two hours for the essay and you may leave whenever you want. I personally chose to write “to what extant did imperialism cause the fall of the Chinese Empire in 1911” and discovered some interesting primary documents that showcased the conditions of the era in very bleak and non-academic manner. Being of Chinese decent myself, I never really had an understanding of the effects of imperialism on China or exactly what caused the Opium Wars (other than of course the obvious Opium). Professor Porter’s class really spurred me to look more into my culture’s history and understand the nuances of the era. For a long time, in middle school and high school, we were taught that imperialism is bad and the “white man’s burden” was more destructive than constructive. Imperialism was blamed for the plight of many nations and attributed as the reason for some’s decline. However, through Professor Porter’s class, we were taught to look at things from a different perspective; to engage in the question of imperialism from a not so black or white angle, but more so a grey one. Yes imperialism created many problems in the nations that were imperialized and yes imperialism produced devastating consequences, but it would be inaccurate to say that was all that imperialism did. It would be shortsighted to say that imperialism was purely bad, because there are moments of good and progress that were generated as a result of imperialist activities. Not all locals suffered and it was not always just the imperialists wreaking havoc. As through seen through China, the national government played a key role in the empire’s downfall and imperialism only highlighted the empire’s shortfalls but did not directly induce its fall. Professor Porter stressed to us the need to examine primary sources from both sides, the imperialists and the imperialized, and that imperialism cannot be blankly categorized as good or bad for all situations.

Our final for the Justice and Democracy was much more different than our final for Professor Porter’s class. The final for the former involved a group presentation where we picked a topic of our choosing and applied the theories we learned throughout the term to the topic. I was in a group of four with my girlfriend, Anna (fellow American), and Tom (our hilarious German friend). We focused on overpopulation and utilized the theories of Habermas, Sen, and Schlosberg to discuss the economics, environmental implications, and social effects of overpopulation. Our presentation was over forty minutes (as requested by Professor Sophie) and essentially a student lecture for the class. Although we were all a bit stressed the moments before the presentation, everyone did an amazing job and the professor was very pleased with what we had to say. The presentation was a great way to end the week of finals and my girlfriend and I hopped on a train bound for Italy the next day.


After finals, our week of break of began. For ten days my girlfriend and I planned to go to Milan, Florence, Rome, and Venice. At the time of writing of this blog we are currently in Florence for Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately I was sick in Milan (although we were only there for a day because it was the cheapest place to travel from in Italy) so we did not see much other than the Duomo, gelato, and a weird Chinese-Italian combination restaurant. It was such an amazing sight to see a Chinese chef making a pizza while another cooked up some Chow Mein.

This morning in Florence we got to see the Explosion of the Cart right in front of Santa Maria Del Fiore. It was a magnificent sight and a ton of people from all over came to see it. We managed to finesse VIP tickets from a nice Italian man and got real up close and personal with the fireworks. Never have I seen so many tourists and selfie sticks in such a small area. Today is our second day in Florence and it has been much better than the first. Yesterday my girlfriend and I, along with a German couple, were unfairly fined by the ATAF controllers for riding the bus “without a ticket.” Upon arriving in Florence we asked multiple individuals where to purchase bus tickets, everyone said you can just buy them from the bus driver. When we got on the bus the driver said something in Italian and motioned that he did not have any tickets and waved us back. We thought that this meant it was okay…but apparently not. After about two stops, two men dressed in plain clothes got on the bus (these were the employees of the public transport system). They specifically only went up to my girlfriend and I as well as the German couple to check tickets because we had luggage with us. Needless to say none of us had tickets because the driver did not sell us any. We were then forced off the bus where they issued us tickets and said that the fine could only be paid in cash. When asked if we could pay later today they responded that their offices are closed on Saturday and Sundays and paying on Monday would be more expensive (I later called and found out that their offices were actually open on Saturdays). When we tried to explain them our situation and that we simply did not know where to buy the tickets because there was no machine or advertisement, they responded with “you buy ticket at tobacco shop” and words in Italian that no one understood. There is absolutely no way for tourists who just got into Florence to know that you buy bus tickets from tobacco shops without prior research. This experience was a lesson that taught us that we definitely need to do more research about new countries. However, the Florentine system is also rigged because after speaking with the local workers at our hostel they said that the controllers specifically target tourists because the majority of them do not know that tickets are sold at tobacco shops.

All in all, the trip thus far has been great despite the tickets. It was a definite learning experience and we will proceed through the rest of Italy’s public transport with much more caution and information.

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