Italy | Lucky Happenings


The first and longest leg of my flight was officially complete when I landed at the Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris, 30 minutes behind schedule, with only 15 minutes until my connecting flight. I panicked—Florence was on the line.

With bags and limbs flailing, I sprinted through that labyrinth of an airport, which included a subway system and two lengthy security checks, neither of which I had anticipated. There were lines of people everywhere, extending for miles on end. Finally the clouds parted and the angels began to sing, as I reached my gate. Lucky happening #1.

As if making my flight wasn’t miraculous enough, somehow I got assigned the cherished window seat in the exit row—a true gift bestowed on my cramping legs. I was thrilled to be swimming in legroom, and also for the opportunity to have my first view of the picturesque city of Florence be an aerial one. Lucky happening #2.

After taking my window seat, two fashionable Frenchmen sat next to me. In very broken English, they asked me a question, miming and motioning to their friend further down the length of the plane, sitting in the middle seat. I’m not sure if I actually didn’t understand what they were getting at (requesting that I leave my heavenly exit-row-window-seat, and switch to their friend’s limited-leg-room-middle-seat), or it was just selective misunderstanding…. Either way, I gave them a perplexed look, to which they politely replied in concession, “ees okay, ees okay.”

With admirable determination, the Frenchmen then approached the two passengers that were sitting next to their friend. Those generous souls were more than happy to trade-up for more legroom and seemed to have no problem whatsoever understanding the Frenchmen. They offered their seats to the men, and then sat next to me.

Within seconds I discovered that the three of us, who by some serendipitous chance, randomly sat in the same row of the same airplane, are all enrolled in the same study abroad program!! Lucky happening #3.

My seat mates and I gabbed at unnatural speeds for the duration of the hour and a half flight. I quickly discovered that Lizzy, a UC Santa Cruz senior, is an absolute hoot with a heart of gold! Ricky, a UC Santa Barbara junior, is incredibly adventurous and is hoping to travel every chance he gets. I felt so relieved knowing that there were at least two wonderful people in my program. I also took comfort in the fact that three very jetlagged, disoriented brains, should suffice as one adequate brain, and we would most likely be able to figure out transportation from the airport to school, which had been my greatest concern.

We landed and exited the plane directly onto the tarmac of the Florence Airport. My first steps onto Italian soil were bitingly cold and beyond thrilling.

After collecting our luggage from the teeny tiny Florentine airport, we followed signs that read, “taxi”, feeling ever grateful for that familiar word, amongst so many unfamiliar others.

Finding a cab and communicating with our driver was an absolute breeze. We zipped past little gelaterias that gave an entirely new meaning to the words “hole in the wall”, and gawked over the chic dogs that matched their stylish owners in high fashion coats, strutting the streets like runways. As if the beauty were fleeting, I took pictures out of the backseat window like a paparazzi spotting Rihanna.

While he couldn’t have seemed like more of a gentleman, our taxi driver was in fact a Florentine driver, which I quickly learned means throwing all caution (and traffic regulations…and regard for pedestrian… and sanity) to the wind. Within the span of the 20-minute drive, we had three close calls of colliding with Vespas, cars, and famous monuments, before making it to Piazza Santo Spirito—the square in which our school is located. We paid the kind, but reckless driver, and I was happy to plant my feet on the immobile Italian ground again. Lucky Happening #4.

We walked through Piazza Santo Spirito and I could feel its trendy, bohemian air seep into my skin, and make me a little bit more hip.  Luggage in hand, we strolled past its charming fountain, admired its grand statue, and took (a million) pictures of its terra-cotta colored building walls, clad with vibrant emerald shutters and window boxes.

Upon reaching the school’s entrance, we pried open its intricately carved masterpiece of a door, that should be on display in a museum really (as should every Italian door… and ceiling… and clothes line).

Inside we met Daniela, the program’s spitfire housing coordinator, and our soon to be surrogate Italian mother. She gave each of us our keys and maps of Florence, circling our new, respective homes in relation to the location of the school and to other major monuments. To my surprise, students that had requested to live in apartments were scattered (along with their roommates) all over the small city. We share buildings with Italian families, giving us an authentic, rather than dormitory, Florentine experience.

Some students, like Lizzy, decided to do a “homestay”. That means that Lizzy is going live in an Italian person’s home where she will be provided family style, home-cooked breakfasts and dinners every weekday, along with the opportunity to have a live-in Italian language tutor.

Daniela called a taxi to take Lizzy and Ricky to their apartments, but she had me wait in her office, explaining that my roommate, Ruby, had gone to lunch, but would be back shortly. I had expected to have at least four housemates, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I only had one!

I sat in the office waiting, without the security blanket of my two new airplane friends. So much anticipation began to build up as I imagined meeting the random person I’d be living in a foreign country with for the next three months. What would she be like? Would she be “normal”? “Ruby” seems like a normal person’s name, right? Have you ever met a crazy “Ruby”? Would we have anything in common?

Finally, after maybe four minutes, Ruby walked into the office, and immediately her red hair indicated our first commonality. Lucky happening # 5. We introduced ourselves, and immediately she seemed so sweet, friendly, and normal!! Plus, I knew if we had nothing else to talk about, we could at least discuss our preferred SPF percentages.

We took a cab to our new apartment—which Daniela told us, is sandwiched directly in between two iconic areas of Florence (the Palazzo Vecchio with the outdoor rendition of The David, and the phenomenal Santa Croce Church). During the ride, Ruby and I discovered so much more that we had in common, aside from hair color and propensity to sunburn. We share a deep love for music (our parents both work in the music industry!), we grew up living just 7 minutes apart, and we both have a previously unrivaled passion for eating.

We arrived at our building’s prime location (but really any location in Florence is a prime one), elated to see that we have the quintessential Italian leather shop hugging one side of our building, with a quaint, family-owned gelateria on the other. Because ice cream is my absolute favorite food group, I could not have been more ecstatic. Lucky happening #6.

We lugged our bags (which by their weight and size may as well have housed those family members who’d asked to be packed into our suitcases) up the flight of stairs and into our new apartment.

Ruby unlocked our front door, and we got our first glimpse of our charming new apartment. Our kitchen is sweet and cozy with giant windows overlooking the busy street below, and a decorative retro tablecloth with images of beer bottles from around the world. Our living room is attached to the kitchen and has a green futon couch along with a TV! The bedroom is fairly spacious, equipped with two armoires and two very comfortable beds.

After unloading and organizing our things, Ruby and I decided to bundle up in our snow coats and walk down the street to grab some dinner. Our stroll to the caffé was made exponentially longer, as we were constantly distracted and drawn into each and every store on the block. We stopped in Signum (my new favorite shop that has post cards, and maps, and leather bound journals) and then into a Pinocchio themed cuckoo clock store, followed by a coat shop (that we entered only after the store owner, Mauri, offered us the “deal of the century.” He begged us to try on his extravagant handmade fur coats that made me look like a character in Narnia).

After an hour of walking and window-shopping, we made it the full one hundred yards down our block, and into Caffè Pasticeria. We felt jetlagged and unsure of what meal period, day, or year it was.  We decided to have a Cannoli drenched in powdered sugar for dinner, and call it a day—and a wonderful day at that.

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

Italy | Caught on Tape – En Route to Florence!


When preparing for a trip on an airplane, most parents of young children pack a goodie-bag of sorts, filled with an array of toys to occupy their traveling toddlers: action figures, dolls, coloring books, crayons, play-doh, iPads, and electronics galore.

My mom had it easy. Anytime we’d travel on an airplane, my greatest desire was a single role of scotch tape. That scotch tape kept me occupied and content for hours on end: I’d design tape bracelets for my dad, construct tape rings for my mom, and tape my tray table securely in its upright, and very locked position. While I may have had little regard for the arms my careful creations ripped the hairs off of, or the poor souls whose seatbacks were being forcefully bandaged by scotch tape, I was thrilled—and quiet. What a privilege it was to have unrestricted, free reign over the amount of tape I could use. The sky was the limit. Pun intended.

Today at 21 years old, I’m currently four hours into my flight from Los Angeles to Florence, where I will be studying abroad for the next three month.  As I sit here on the plane, I can’t stop thinking about how drastically things have changed since the days of my tape infatuation. For one thing, today the serrated edge of the scotch tape dispenser is probably considered a potential weapon, warranting an oh so awkward TSA pat-down. For another, I’ve moved far, far, FAR past my days of packing light and needing minimal sources of entertainment.

Within my backpack tucked (“crammed” might be more honest) beneath the seat in front of me, I have 2 travel books about Florence, my old Italian language textbook, a brilliant David Sedaris book, a plethora of snacks, my phone and its endless possibilities, my laptop and ITS endless possibilities, a pair of cozy socks (more for comfort than entertainment, but who can truly enjoy a good book with cold feet?), not to mention the screen on the seat-back in front of me that is loaded with seemingly unlimited movies, TV shows, and games, all available with just the touch of a finger (or a several touches, these seat-back touch screens aren’t very responsive).

Along the lines of over packing, I am embarrassed to say that despite the advice of every past study abroad student who has urged and pleaded with me to leave room in my luggage for future Florentine finds, my suitcase is filled to the brim and pushing the airline weight limit.

The forecast in Florence includes snow—a complete and utter enigma to an LA native like me. As if I were about to embark on some sort of off-the-grid Bear Grills adventure, I did my best to prepare to face the unknown elements that lay before me.

I bought a puffy down jacket at a killer Black Friday sale, a warm vest from Nordstrom Rack, and some nice long underwear from REI.  I packed a pair of well-loved boots that can (hopefully!) withstand the rain, good walking shoes, a pair of cozy slippers, some gloves, two scarves, four long sleeved shirts, a couple of sweaters, a few short sleeved tops, three pairs of pants, one dress (that I will probably never wear), and the rest of the allotted weight in additional socks.

Since my youthful taping days, the simplicity of my attention span has disappeared into thin air. However, my desire to “fix” and “mend” may have manifested in my devotion to packing an astronomical amount of medicine. I received an email from my study abroad program explaining that the medication and vitamins that we might be accustomed to in America are much more challenging to find in Italy. Naturally, I packed myself a makeshift first-aid kit that is (barely) contained in an enormous three-gallon Ziploc bag. I practically emptied out our bathroom medicine cabinet, pouring a generous supply of pills from their original bottles into more travel friendly individual sandwich sized bags, labeling in sharpie the name of each medicine along with its dosage. Then I placed each small, individual bag into the larger bag. I packed Tylenol, ibuprofen, bug spray (we were told that the mosquitos here are relentless, even in the cold), Benadryl cream, Benadryl in pill form, vitamin B, vitamin C, Echinacea, a Costco supply of Zicam (my miracle cold-be-gone medicine), Band-Aids of many shapes and sizes, drowsy and non drowsy Dramamine (for a potential Alps road trip!), a thermometer, Tums, and a lifetime supply of cough drops.

You can call me many things (maybe a hypochondriac being one?), but you can’t call me unprepared. I feel content, like all my bases are covered—but in writing this, I’m beginning to worry that once I land, the TSA will hold me in questioning for days on end without food, water, or sunlight, as my lifetime supply of pills in little bags will serve as potential evidence for my suspected role in the drug cartel….

Besides that faint, lingering worry of spending the rest of my life in an Italian jail, I am so eagerly anticipating the journey ahead of me. For the past year that I have known about this upcoming quarter-long adventure, people have constantly asked me how I feel about studying abroad in Florence. While I am undoubtedly excited to taste the pasta, walk the cobblestone, and see the laundry lining the windowpanes down the narrow streets, the type of excitement I am experiencing now is so different than the type that I am accustomed to feeling on Christmas morning, or when my name is called and my Starbucks order is ready. Unlike Christmas or my Carmel Macchiato, I just have no clue what to expect. No matter how many people recommend what Osterias to frequent, where to get the best cappuccino, or what time to climb to the top of the Duomo, Italy has just felt so distant and out of reach.

Something happened this morning, a random, chance encountering, that seemed to ignite a depth and fervor to the enthusiasm that I have been yearning to feel. My mom, dad, brother, and I decided to take our puppy on one last walk all together around our favorite bluff overlooking the ocean, before my 3:00 pm departure from LAX. With just a few hours until takeoff, I was nervous for the long flight ahead of me, and overwhelmed with emotion surrounding my imminent journey. Besides the four of us (and puppy makes 5), this particular walk was especially quiet and the streets were fairly empty. The only person we passed by was an older woman wearing a conservative, long black dress, tights, and shiny black loafers. As I crossed paths with the woman, I grinned and said, “hello”. Her face lit up with the most enormous smile, and with such incredible warmth, she replied, “buongiorno!”

If that’s not an omen for a wonderful Italian adventure filled with kind and charming people, I don’t know what is.

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

Ireland | Get Ready for the Time of Your Life


To make the most of your time abroad, definitely do some research on where you’re going. I used Yelp, TripAdvisor, Pinterest, and just general google searches to come up with a list of destinations and restaurants I wanted to explore. If you’re okay with average, a simple word doc will do, but if you really want to take advantage of your downtime, USE GOOGLE MY MAPS! My roommate introduced me to this fall quarter of freshman year when I was telling her about my Los Angeles Bucket list and trust me when I say this, making your bucket lists on Google My Maps will absolutely change your travel game. Most of you probably already have a google account. All you have to do is go to your Google Drive and create a new “Google My Maps.” This document will allow you to add destinations to the map and allowing you to essentially store your bucket list in the form of the map. Not only does this allow you to keep track of where you want to explore, but it enables you to plan the most efficient adventure days by planning around location. I created a “food” category as well as a “places” category so that if I’m just looking for a place to grab a bite to eat, I can filter by category. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: your travel planning will forever be changed by this feature. If you’re too busy (or just too lazy) to create your own bucket list, I’ll link mine below! It has over 100 places/restaurants to visit so hopefully I won’t see a dull moment while abroad.

My Bucket List:


Please, please, please take my advice when I tell you to pack essentials in your carry-on. I know this doesn’t happen often but I had a lot of bad luck on my way to Dublin. My flight from St. Louis to Chicago was delayed, causing me to miss my international flight to Dublin. I sprinted through the airport because the gate agent booked me on a new flight that left in an hour. I got to security 50 minutes before the flight was leaving and was told I was too late because you must check in an hour in advance. I ended up staying overnight in Chicago because the next flight out didn’t leave until 5:50pm the next day. Sure enough that flight was delayed as well and when I got to the Dublin airport, I also found out my luggage had been lost. It was an adventure to say the least, but I ended up fine and made it to Dublin safely. The point of this story is to say I had all my essentials (toiletries, clothes, etc.) in my checked bag that had been lost so I had to replace these for the few days that I was without the bag at UCD. Granted the airline did pay for replacements, but it is definitely a hassle when you’re on your own in a new country and don’t know how to get around yet to try to find toiletries and clothes to get you through a few days.


  • International flights require that you check in at least an hour in advance so be wary of this
  • International flights close their doors 15 minutes in advance of departure time

In order to make your trip run as smoothly as possible, make a folder with all the documents you might need. I would include the following:

  • All boarding passes (if you have connecting flights, printing these boarding passes ahead of time will save you having to print a boarding pass at the airport upon arrival)
  • Passport (have this in a very accessible place; you’ll need it a lot)
  • Acceptance Letter from UCD (needed upon arrival at Dublin airport)
  • Directions from Airport to UCD (just reassuring to know where you’re going)
  • Airshuttle Ticket (prebook if you don’t want to bother trying to buy one there)

Thanks for reading and I hope you continue to follow my journey in Dublin! I’m so excited for what’s to come so stay tuned 🙂

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

England | Living in Champion Hill



It starts really high. Before you even arrive, you see all the beautiful pictures and think to yourself, “Man, this place is gorgeous.”

And then you actually realize how far it is from campus.

Which stinks; it stinks, but, like most students here, you scramble to find other places to live. There IS a room swap that happens at KCL; but it doesn’t happen until October so that you can take the time to get acclimated, and really experience the residence for yourself.

I remember being really determined that I would for sure move out. But as time progressed, I started to really enjoy the people I was around. I formed great friendships with two girls who also were from UCLA on my floor. And also, I just started to become friends with everybody on this floor in general; building networks of kitchen cutlery, providing their pans and knives in exchange for my Sainsbury pots and cookie baking sheets. So, the line chart goes up again.

And again, like any great novel with complex plots — it goes back down when room swaps become available and you discover that the friends you just made are moving out. That one guy you look forward to talking to in the kitchen is moving away to another dorm (note: I wrote this a week ago, and I found out he’s staying– woo!) 

The reality is, I’ve now come to not only accept Champion Hill as my home, but also embrace it. And when I finally came into this mentality, I found coffee shops around (go to Mono — a  vinyl records only, cheap coffee shop with great pain au chocolat with comfy chairs, cute lighting and mini plants on your table).

I found Pop Brixton, a 30 minute walk with some of the greatest, cheap foods that I adore. Every time I miss a bowl of Ramen, Koi Ramen Bar has my back.

Sainsbury’s is only a five minute walk in our backyard for anytime you want to get a grilled cheese fix (that clearance sale bread for 70p, cheese, and never forget tomato soup).

As far as the bus, it’s about a 30 to 40 minute bus ride. I’m not gonna lie, it initially sucks. I can feel lost from the rest of London, but I’ve come to love the moment when crossing The Thames over Waterloo bridge. The mornings become the time I collect my thoughts before the day truly begins, the readings I didn’t read the night before, the meditation I needed to release anxiety, and to finally listen to those podcasts I never got around to.

Champion Hill has become the home of some of my favorite memories; eating dinner with humans from around the world who inspire me with their stories — the dude from Germany who traveled around the globe  —  the second year from France who never fails to make me crepes and makes fun of my silly American ways — the boy across the hall who laughs at me as we sing along to 2000’s music — the girl next door who I always can go out with — the fellow UCLA girl down the hall who became one of my closest friends. We sat together on the couch one day and thought about all the times we could’ve met at UCLA; how we went to the same parties, had so many mutual friends– but we didn’t meet until we both lived here in Champion Hill. And that was the thing, this serendipitous occasion of living here and meeting all the people I did, Champion Hill wasn’t a mistake at all. 

England | An Orientation of Orientation


To be entirely truthful, I’ve already been in London for 3 weeks : busy unpacking, acclimating, making friends, learning to ride a bus here or ‘top-up’ an oyster card, testing social cues, cringing at my own American English accent. So orientation was a while ago.

But, with some time and space, I feel that I can give a pretty good retrospective on the whole experience.


So here’s an orientation to the UCEAP Orientation at London, everything from what we did and what you can expect, and maybe some advice along the way.


Getting to London seems intimidating — the student visa process or the tier 4 visa process (eek!) But the truth is, 1) it really depends on the staff who interviews you at customs, 2) having your documents is the hardest part because it makes everything else a breeze. I was lucky that the staff who reviewed me was super kind; she looked at a few papers (but mostly my King’s acceptance letter — this will be your most important document. do. not. lose. this. because if you leave the UK to travel throughout the rest of Europe, you’ll need this letter to get back in!)


Day one of orientation was just getting to orientation; the plane rides, the Uber rides, the settling in and getting rest for the days to come.

Luckily, before leaving to London, UCLA holds a mini-orientation in Los Angeles for KCL abroad students. So, I had met fellow students to exchange numbers and we made plans to meet at the airport upon arrival at London. We Uber-ed together from LHR (London Heathrow Airport) to LSE Bankside, the UCEAP orientation.


So of course, orientation was, indeed, an orientation — consisting of various lectures on acclimating to London, the differences in academia between the US and the UK, and the US Embassy coming in to speak about what rights and services are applicable to us abroad.


But, they also scheduled guided tours for us at the Tate Modern.


We treated ourselves with peri-peri chicken and beer from the ever-so famous Nando’s.


We also got tickets to see ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’, a theatrical comedy show about a running a murder mystery show — wonderfully hilarious, filled with nuggets of improv that I didn’t expect.

And on the night walk back to LSE Bankside, we couldn’t resist taking photos of the sunset which soon became a darkness only lit up by buildings along the Thames.



Yes, I ate this every morning for breakfast.

I walked a lot, okay.


We had a lovely tour guide who gave us a walk around the Thames; showing us graffiti art, famous buildings…

Tower bridge opening up in the morning…

and leading us to lunch at Borough Market.


And our last stop of the day was the London Eye, and the tickets were provided for us.


Initially, as young adults, there’s sometimes a hesitation in submitting to some sort of schedule. But, in the midst of the craziness that is a new environment, it was nice to have someone care for us. We were introduced to a new culture in a way that helped us immerse seamlessly; to answer questions we had immediately. UCEAP provided us resources that a lot of other students didn’t get, those who studied abroad from other universities or countries. And it gave us the opportunity to meet other UCLA friends that we can continue being friends with even after we come back from London.

England | Tips for Getting Your Passport


If you’re planning to study abroad, you’ll be surprised how fast your trip sneaks up on you! Someone once told me to do as many things to prepare for your study abroad trip as soon as possible. Taking time before your trip to purchase luggage, your plane ticket and making room accommodations for any other travel plans you may have while on your trip are great ways to be prepared for your trip all the while lessening the stress load before you have to leave. This advice helped me tremendously before my trip to London. As you prepare to plan and prepare for your study abroad trip, one of the very first things you’ll want to do is make sure you have a passport.

If you’re traveling for the first time out of the United States, like I was, or if you already have passport, the first thing you will want to do is make sure that your passport is valid or plan in advance to get a passport. If you do not already have a passport or you need to renew the passport that you already have, you are going to want to do this as soon as possible. For me, this was the first time I ever traveled outside the United States so I started from scratch.  During Christmas Break, I thought it would be the perfect time purchase my passport so I had plenty of time for it to be sent to me before my trip. Every passport requires specific measurements for your photo and stores like CVS and RiteAid are great locations that will take your picture for your passport and print them out for a good price. Depending on certain locations, your post office may complete the passport transaction entirely, however some do not. If your local post office does not offer to expedite the passport, your local city hall will most likely offer this service. When you go to get your passport, you’ll need three things:

  1. Birth Certificate or Social Security Card
  2. Form of ID
  3. Check; If you do not have a check book, you can get a cashiers check

The cost for a passport is approximately $110, but prices may vary. Approximately two to three weeks after I went to the Redondo City Hall to get my passport, I received my passport in the mail and I was ready for London!

Main Points / Tips

  1. Get your passport as soon as possible (December – January)
  2. CVS can take and print your passport picture (Good Price $)
  3. Find Local town hall that can expedite and process your passport
  • Bring a check; if you don’t have a check book, you can always get a cashiers check prior. Don’t forgot your Birth certificate or Social Security Card and a form of ID such as a driver’s license.
  1. They will send you back your Social Security Card or Birth Certificate back in the mail approximately a week after you purchased your passport.

Savannah Shapiro studied abroad in London, England, in Summer 2017:

Spain | First Impressions


¡Hola a todos! I am in my second full week of life here in Córdoba, España. So far it has been FANTASTIC, and a little challenging. I have so much on my mind already about my time here, so for this week I’m going to write about my first impressions of Córdoba and Spanish culture, what I’ve learned, and show you all a bit of Córdoba.

When you study abroad, you hear a lot about “culture shock” and how to prepare for being in a new and different environment. I haven’t really experienced culture shock yet-its mostly just “cultural enchantment!” Since I’ve been here I have discovered some things that Spain just does better- here are a few.

1.In Córdoba it is super hot in the summer (it gets up to 110 degrees F!) and around 50 degrees F in the winter, right now. One way people in Córdoba stay warm is by having lots of space heaters in their houses. In my apartment my host family has a space heater under the dining room table, and then a big tablecloth on the table. When we eat we put the tablecloth on our laps like a blanket and then our legs and feet get all the warmth from the space heater. It’s so warm and cozy! It seems pretty common here, not surprisingly.

2.Free food. In much of Spain, especially Andalucía, you receive a “tapa” with your evening beer or wine. People generally go out for tapas around 8-9, and when you order something to drink you get something to eat “gratis,” or free! It’s not a lot of food, but it’s a nice little snack to tide you over until that 10 o clock dinner. Also it’s super cheap- a glass of wine or beer usually costs around 1.50 to 2 euros, and you’re really getting a drink and food!

3. Pace of life. From only being in Spain for a few weeks I have really noticed a stark difference in the way Spaniards and Americans think about time, and furthermore their lives. In America the concept of “wasting time” is fairly pervasive. Especially as a hardworking college student looking towards the future, I find myself often thinking of how to maximize my time as much as possible, how to always be productive, and seeing “free time” and relaxation as something to be earned. In Spain the emphasis is not to do the most impressive things with your life or make the most money, but to enjoy your life. My host mom said it best to me the first day I was here: “En los Estados Unidos, la gente vivir para trabajar. En España, la gente trabajar para vivir.” “In America, people live to work. In Spain, people work in order to live.” There are many ways this manifests itself. Spaniards spend more time with their families, usually just hanging out and talking. Seeing extended family is not only reserved for holidays (this is aided by the fact that people tend to live close to where they grew up). People don’t usually entertain at home, they go out of their houses to socialize and thus meet and interact with more people. And in general the pace of life is slower, there’s less of the hurried sense that life in much of America has.

4. Attitude towards foreigners. Every Spanish person I have talked to has been so friendly and welcoming. Furthermore, many people are excited to talk with me even though my Spanish still needs a lot of work. If I apologize for not asking many questions or being able to communicate what I want to say they are really understanding and kind! I can’t help but compare this with the way many Americans think about immigrants or people who don’t speak perfect English. We definitely could learn a bit from the Spanish on this topic.

Ok, now a bit more about Córdoba! Córdoba was once the largest city in the world, when it was the center of Moorish society and the seat of the Islamic Caliphate in the 10th and 11th centuries. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all lived in Córdoba in harmony. Part of the city is the original antique city which is home to the famous Mosque-Cathedral and the Jewish Quarter, or Juderia.

The rest of the city is fairly modern with a lot of Spanish charm sprinkled throughout. Córdoba is relatively small and it only takes about 30 minutes to walk from the northern area of the city to the river, where the old quarter is. As you walk through the city you’ll see plenty of cafes and bars (which are actually often combined in Spain), and people out with their friends and family. You might stroll through the park, Jardines de la Victoria, that runs along much of Córdoba’s downtown area. It has various statues, fountains, as well as a large indoor market, Mercado Victoria, in the center. The Mercado has food, bars, and even a discoteca on the second floor! Past the downtown center is Plaza de las Tendillas, which has a grand fountain in the middle and is surrounded by beautiful, old buildings. Once you walk through the Plaza you will enter the antique area of the city, where the Mosque-Cathedral and the Jewish Quarter are located. The cobblestone streets are narrow and the houses have large and elaborate doors. There are balconies covered in vines and plants on every building. It’s charming and as you’re wandering through the winding streets, you feel like you’re in another time.

I have had a great first two weeks in Córdoba, and I’m so excited to continue learning Spanish and discovering more about this city’s culture and history!

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

Spain | Getting Ready for Spain


¡Hola! Me llamo Celia, y estoy estudiando en Córdoba, España durante dos meses.

Hi! My name is Celia, and I am studying in Córdoba, Spain for two months. My program is called “Exploring Andalucia,” and I will be taking Spanish language classes as well as elective classes about Spain’s culture and history. I am a third year student at UCLA, studying Geography/Environmental Studies, and minoring in Urban Planning. I am from beautiful Oakland, California, I go on a lot of hikes with my dog, and I’m usually listening to music or a podcast. For the last month, I’ve been home visiting friends and family, as well as preparing for my study abroad program.

Here’s what I’ve done to prepare: 

  • Book a flight. Ok, so this didn’t happen in the last month. I booked my flight pretty much as soon as I knew I was officially accepted to my program. I decided to arrive in Spain a few days before the orientation in Córdoba. I’ll be in Madrid for three days before my program’s orientation in Córdoba, to explore and hopefully overcome the jetlag!
  • Book a hostel in Madrid. I booked through, which is definitely the best site for hostels. The website is easy to navigate, and you can sort by location, rating, price, and more! There are also plenty of pictures and reviews to help you make your decision.
  • Contact my phone carrier. Some friends of my mine who have studied abroad or travelled extensively abroad have bought a cheap phone once abroad or a SIM card for their phone, since they didn’t want to pay for an international data plan. My family’s T-mobile plan includes free international texting and data, so I can use my phone for free in Spain- just not for calls. It’s good to look into this before hand so you know what your options are-especially if you have to figure it out in a different language!
  • Contact my bank and order currency. I found out my bank’s partner in Spain so that I can use ATMs without incurring international transaction fees. To make purchases, neither my credit or debit card can be used without a transaction fee, so I plan to use cash as much as possible. I also notified my bank that I would be traveling so there wouldn’t be holds placed on my account. Finally, I ordered a currency exchange, which is easy to do online, at least through Bank of America. Now I am prepared to pay for necessities like taxis/public transportation, food, and other things without having to exchange dollars into euros once I’m there.
  • Bring all necessary documents, and make copies. I’m bringing my passport, of course, another form of ID and my UCEAP insurance card. I also made copies (paper and digital, stored in Google Drive) of my passport, credit, and debit card. This is something I wouldn’t have thought to do without UCEAP informing me, but it’s really helpful if you lose anything important! With copies made, you already have the information needed to fix the problem.
  • Ultimately, I ended up packing 7 pairs of pants (including one pair of leggings), 9 tops (short and long sleeve), 7 sweaters and turtlenecks, 6 tanks (mostly for going out), 4 dresses, 2 skirts, 4 jackets, and 5 pairs of shoes. I’m also bringing a few scarves and bandanas, some jewelry, pajamas, socks, and a pair of tights.
  • Talk to people with experience. Less of a specific task, this was something I tried to do as much as possible before I left. I reached out to friends of mine who had studied abroad, packed for long trips, done a homestay, or who had been to Spain. They all gave me invaluable information, tips, and encouragement. While I consciously made an effort to talk to people I knew would have good advice, I also learned a lot from many others. My study abroad trip made its way into many conversations in the last few months, and from just mentioning it people gave me ideas about where to travel, helpful websites, and more. Google is always a good source of information, but friends are even better.
  • Pack! This was probably the most daunting task for me. I am generally bad at “packing light,” because a) I really like clothes and b) I have a lot of clothes. Clear conflict here. The weather in Córdoba will be fairly consistent, which makes packing a little easier, but it will also be cooler, which means heavier and bigger clothes. For my flight, I have a checked bag that can weigh up to 44 pounds, and my carry on items (a 46L Osprey travel backpack and a day backpack) can weigh up to 22 pounds-and paying attention to weight limits is really important.

Other things I’m bringing:

All my luggage, minus my day backpack

a book

a journal

an attachable wide-angle lens for my iPhone

a reusable water bottle

my laptop

my phone


all the necessary cords and converters

toiletries & makeup

enough contact lenses for my time abroad

a backpack and a cross-body purse

earplugs & a sleep mask (I don’t go anywhere without these)

some pictures of my friends and family

a gift & card for my host family

  • And to prep for my flight I made sure I had lots of music, both new finds and old favorites, downloaded onto my phone. I also downloaded some podcasts and brought a book. I printed out my travel itinerary and made sure I knew how to get from the airport to my hostel.
  • Mentally prepare. This is harder to articulate and it’s different for everyone, but it’s important to do. Before you leave you will be really excited and probably a bit nervous. No matter where you are going or how long your program is, things will be different. You will have to make new friends, live in a new place, and possibly learn a new language. Take advantage and be grateful for those things you enjoy about home. Before I left I made sure to have my favorite types of food that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get in Spain. I did my favorite things in my home town, and I spent time with my family and friends (and dogs). And I got myself excited for a new and different experience!

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, seen from the Roman Bridge

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