Spain | Cobblestones So Pretty They Make Your Feet Hurt: A Weekend in Granada


It’s dark when I leave my house at 7:20 am, travel backpack on and umbrella in hand, in case it rains in Granada. Our program is meeting near a park, where the streets are somewhat maze-like, and thus I walk in the wrong direction. Right about when I figure out that I am not going where I should be, I run into three other students who are in the same boat. We put our heads together and find our way to the bus, chuck our stuff in the storage compartment, and get settled for the two and a half hour ride to Granada.

For our Friday excursion during week three, we went to Granada to visit the Alhambra palace. Since the bus was already taking us there, most of the program decided to stay in Granada till Sunday, to further explore the city. But first, the Alhambra.

Fun fact: The Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain! The palace which represents the last great Muslim kingdom in Europe drew over 2.4 million people in 2014. The Alhambra began as a small fortress and was expanded into a palace in the mid 13th century by the Moorish emir, or leader, at the time. In 1492, once Fernando and Isabel had expelled the Muslims out of Spain, they used the Alhambra as their Royal Court.  They made a few changes to the complex, but overall the Alhambra is a stunning example of Muslim architecture. The palace boasts grand rooms, gardens, reflective pools, and a lot of intricate ceilings and arches- my favorite architectural details. The walls and ceilings all have extremely detailed inscriptions in Arabic, as well as carvings of geometric shapes, fruits and flowers, and other beautiful details. Part of the Alhambra complex is the Medina, which was a town where people who created products or worked to support the operations of the palace lived. Walking through the Medina’s pathways and gardens feels like a medieval fairytale.

After the Alhambra, we headed to our hostels- I stayed at Marakuto hostel in Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood, a hilly and cobblestone lined maze of narrow streets. (The cobblestones in Granada are very charming but also very small and bumpy, hence the title of this blog- after a weekend of walking probably about 7 or 8 miles a day, my feet were pretty sore-worth it though!) Our hostel had hammocks and a treehouse, and after dropping off our things we joined a walking tour Marakuto provides. We walked through the Albaicín to several lookout spots, including an old house with a patio and a great view of the Alhambra. Then we made our way to the hills of Sacramonte, another old neighborhood in Granada. At the northern edge of the city, Sacramonte is at the base of a large hill, which you can walk up to get an amazing view of Granada and the Alhambra. We went at sunset and had the most beautiful view of the city and the sky. The golden, glowing lights of the Alhambra and the city slowly took over for the sun before our eyes.

The treehouse at Makuto hostel!

View of Granada and the Alhambra (on the far left) at sunset

After a much needed hour of relaxing at our hostel, we got ready to go out for tapas! In Granada the tapas are legendary because they are almost always free, and they are also supposed to be some of the biggest tapas you can get in Spain. I personally didn’t have any enormous tapas, but some of my friends did! After two bars we had a sufficient dinner, for super cheap. (Side note: I am going to miss a lot of things about Spain when I go back to California- but I think one of the hardest adjustments is going to be paying for food! Everything here is so much cheaper than in the US!) After tapas we met up with some other students in our program and went out dancing- and like typical Spaniards we took our time getting home.

The next day we went explorin’! After toast and coffee at the hostel, I went with a friend to the center of Granada. First we saw the Capilla Real, or Royal Chapel, which is part of the Catedral de Granada (the free part, to be exact). Fun fact: Fernando and Isabel, the king and queen who expelled the Muslims from Spain, funded Colombus’s expedition, and expanded Spain’s empire in Europe and the “new world,” are buried in the Catedral de Granada. We had a pretty special moment in the Capilla, because the choir was having rehearsal while we were visiting. It’s really incredible to be in a beautiful church while such haunting and divine music is being sung 50 feet away from you.

Altar of the Capilla Real

Patio in the Albaicín

After the Capilla we walked around the Realejo, the old Jewish quarter of Granada. For some reason this neighborhood has a lot of graffiti, and me and my friend tried to see how much of it we could translate! After walking around we met up with some friends at a really good brunch place, Baraka, and I had my second breakfast of the day. Sometimes, one breakfast just isn’t enough. For the rest of the afternoon, we went to a park, explored the city by foot, and then returned to our hostel for some much needed R&R!

For our second and final night in Granada we went out for tapas again, of course, this time with some new found friends from our hostel. We had quite an international group-with us were people from Denmark, Argentina, Germany, and England! To maximize our options we went to Calle Elvira, a street lined with tapas bars at the base of the Albaicín neighborhood. There were probably about 10 bars and 5 kebab places (kebab and falafel are the go-to late night foods in Spain) in three blocks on Calle Elvira! We went to one bar for a bite to eat and then later to a few places for dancing. Fun fact: It’s fairly common for bars in Europe to have foosball tables, which you can pay a euro for and get about 5 balls to play with. I played with some of our friends from the hostel- who were all way better than me because they play a lot, whereas I haven’t played since I was maybe 15.

For my last day in Granada, I met up with more people in our program to enjoy the city. There is a lot to do in Granada but it’s really quite beautiful to just walk around, you’re bound to run into something interesting! We went into a church and also by a creek that runs below the Alhambra. Afterwards we got churros con chocolate and ice cream before hopping on the bus back to Córdoba!

My time in Granada was truly magical, the city as a whole is historical and beautiful, at the same time grungy and kitschy. Every street holds new smells, sounds, and sensations. I can’t wait until I can go back!

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

Ireland | Transportation in Dublin



The easiest way to get around the city is through the bus system. Each student is given a LeapCard upon arrival at the program and it is preloaded with €5. With the LeapCard, you don’t have to worry about carrying exact change around wherever you go. Instead, you just fill up your LeapCard in advance and you’re good to go whenever you’re ready to explore.

The best place to fill up your LeapCard is at the Centra on campus before you leave. I try to have at least €10 on my card at all times in case I end up going anywhere I didn’t expect to go. On average, each ride usually costs about €2.05 with some of the longer trips being more. It is possible to fill up your LeapCard online, but DON’T DO THIS! If you fill up the card online, you have to take it in to Centra to verify the transaction anyway, so just save yourself the time and effort and go straight to Centra.

When you get on the bus, you can either “tap on” in which case you pay the max fee for all the stops or you can tell the bus driver your stop and he will only charge you according to the number of stops you will be going. Most times, I just tap on, especially if its crowded, to save time, but if you are only going a few stops, just let the bus driver know so you don’t get charged for the whole trip.

I know this was a point of confusion for several people when we started using the bus system, but some people were told that they needed to “tap off” if they “tapped on” when getting on the bus, but you DO NOT NEED TO TAP OFF. Some of my friends got charged a lot of extra money by making this mistake. Tapping off will charge you AGAIN for the max ride length which I’m sure you don’t want. When exiting the bus, you do not have to do anything.

Keep in mind that the bus stops running at 11pm usually. If you are going to be out after 11pm, just split a taxi with your friends. We’ve found it to be about €15-18 when coming from City Centre, which split between 4 people, does not come out to be too expensive.

Overall, the bus system is extremely easy to use and can get you pretty much anywhere, even all the way to Dun Laoghaire.


If you are trying to go a bit further, but not across the whole country, take the DART, part of the Irish Rail system. I only took it a few times to get from City Centre to Dun Laoghaire or from Dun Laoghaire to Howth. It is usually a bit faster and you can still use your LeapCard or you can opt to buy a separate ticket.


If you are trying to get to across the country, use the train! We took the train from Dublin to Galway and it was so incredibly easy and a very nice train ride as well. The train is very clean, with tables and comfortable seats. I would highly recommend heading over to Galway for a weekend by train! You should book these tickets ahead of time if you want to sit with friends. Our tickets to Galway were about €25 round trip. I know you can get to Cork and Belfast on the train as well so definitely check out the train for a few weekend trips!

These are the easiest and cheapest ways to get around Dublin and the rest of Ireland! Take advantage of all the time you have and travel the country because it has so so much to offer!

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

Italy | Weekend Trip to Switzerland and Exploring Florence



I’m back from what feels like a very long one-week blogging hiatus. Life has been wonderfully busy, where even the dullest moments (like taking out the trash) are filled with profound beauty and endless exploration.

I wasn’t able to write last weekend because I was sans computer in the Swiss Alps having the most exhilarating, fun-filled, picturesque, three days that I’ve had thus far in my life.

With a group of friends, I took an eight hour bus ride to Interlaken, where we gobbled up mounds of authentic fondue, learned to make chocolate at a cooking school (and quickly devoured that too), sledded forty-five thrilling minutes down an enormous mountain guided only by moonlight, visited Zurich, took a hike, stumbled upon ancient German ruins, and…wait for it… paraglided through the clouds over the incredibly stunning Swiss Alps. (I can barely stomach going down an escalator, so the thought of paragliding was absolutely horrifying to me… and also the best thing I’ve ever done).

After a phenomenal weekend away, I’m back in Florence, and like anytime I step foot outside of these city limits, I’ve returned with an entirely new prospective and appreciation for this unparalleled city. After Switzerland, I feel completely rejuvenated from that fresh mountain air, but I’m fondue-ed out, and ready to realign my loyalty with my beloved spaghetti.

Almost every weekend, I’ve travelled at least for the day and a night. There is a group mentality that I’ve picked up on amongst study abroad students here towards seizing every single moment so as to experience as much of Europe as possible (and sometimes even Africa). Every Monday the professors go around the class and ask, “dove siete andati durante il fine settimana?” (where did you all go over the weekend?). Responses never fail to include cities scattered across the entirety of Europe. It’s strangely easy to feel like staying in Florence is commonplace and even a little bit boring. I know… can you imagine?!

I am infinitely grateful to have been able to travel to so many fascinating places  (Interlaken, Zurich, Rome, Pisa, Lucca, Verona, Venice, Siena, and San Gimignano). For many students, frequently traveling outside of Florence and experiencing the beauty that is Europe was the initial goal of studying abroad, however, for me, it wasn’t. My original objective was to spend so much time in Florence that I become completely and utterly enveloped and swaddled up tightly in the warm, welcoming, rich, aromatic, and tasty culture here.

This weekend I reminded myself of this intention, and was adamant about staying in this beautiful city that contains more than I could possibly see, experience, or eat in seventy-eight lifetimes.

Last night, it rained harder than I ever thought possible. I considered turning on my rain-sounds white noise app, just to cover up the natural, cats-and-dogs pelting rain outside.

But this morning, I woke up to the most miraculously, crystal-clear, brilliant, blue Saturday sky. What a great day to be in Florence.

After making a quick breakfast at our apartment, Ruby and I decided that the garbage sitting under the kitchen sink had long past reached its expiration date. We gathered up our trash bags and took them outside where we dumped them in the city garbage receptors 300 meters away from our apartment (I’m trying to learn the language of the metric system).

That walk to the trashcans is one of my favorite parts of the week. We pass quaint gelaterias, hip bars, ancient buildings with antique terraces, incredibly innovative street art, and the unbelievable Santa Croce Church, which houses amazingly intricate frescos along with the tombs of Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Galieleo (not to name drop or anything).

Today, on our way back from dumping out the garbage, we decided to go inside the Santa Croce Church, instead of simply admiring it’s outside beauty from (the close) distance of our garbage cans.

Ruby had been in the Santa Croce before with her Art History class here, so she was able to spare me the time and energy of reading the explanatory plaques on the wall, and she gave me a condensed, more lively version of the most interesting facts about this 13th century church.

While I was admiring Michelangelo’s elaborately decorative and enormous tomb, a group of five monks asked me to take their photo on one of their iPhones. Not only did I get to learn about the incredibly fascinating and overwhelmingly exquisite history of the church, but I also learned that monks love selfies too!

When our stomachs began to rumble (as they seem to do about every twenty minutes here), we headed a few steps around the corner to La Prosciutteria, where met up with our friend Sofia. Ruby and I shared a decadent, artfully displayed board of prosciutto, salami, ham, several types of cheeses, roasted vegetables, olives, different breads, and some fig marmalade to top. This gluttonous feast was considered to be a “sampling plate” for two, but in reality it was so enormous, it could have fed my teenage brother.

Of course, lunch wasn’t complete until we got our gelato fix from Gelateria dei Neri (a place that was recommended in the Florence guide book my parents got me for Christmas). The three of us all ordered the “burro di caramello” flavor (butter caramel). It tasted rich and delicious like Werther’s Candy in ice cream form (aka heaven really is on earth, and it’s in a gelato shop right by my apartment).

We tried to walk off our lunches with some good old-fashioned window-shopping. We wandered through the leather market, gawking over the artisan bags, and snooped through the chic racks of the Italian boutiques and department stores. Along the way we listened to street musicians and watched brilliant chalk artists create temporary masterpieces on the cobble stone roads.

Somehow our shopping turned into yet another excuse for a snack break, as there was a coffee shop on the roof of one of the department stores (thanks for the recommendation Andrea!). We sipped on espressos and munched on our complimentary peanuts while looking out at the café’s breathtaking view of the Duomo, the cathedral in Florence and the most iconic monument in the city.

We attempted to climb to the top of the Duomo (where you get a panoramic view of Florence) but the lines were far too long, and we decided to wait until a weekday rolls around and all the tourists get out of our city 😉

We each went back to our apartments to regroup before we’d meet up for dinner later, where I’d indulge yet again in Florence–in another new restaurant, on a street I’d never walked down before, with waiters that could become future friends, and dishes that I hadn’t yet tasted that could very well be my new favorite meal.

Florence, what more could I ask for?

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

France | An Idiot Abroad: C’est Bon


“C’est bon” (it’s good). No two words could better encapsulated and de- scribe my first week in France. This is because these two words are the ones I use the most from my arsenal of flowery French vocabulary: filled to the brim with all its 10 words and elementary sophistication.

I have never taken French before. I have never been to Europe. I have never been so excited.

Coming to a foreign country and not understanding anything may seem scary, but at the end of the day it all comes down to perspective. When I first moved to the US at age 8, I was dropped straight into 2nd grade not speaking a word of English. At that age I was too naive to under- stand embarrassment or comprehend the fact that the teacher did not speak Chinese (I completed all my assignments and gave presentations in Chinese and never thought about the difficulties Mrs. Turner would have). Now, at 21, I am still very much possess that adolescent naiveté and could not be more thankful and happy that I never truly matured in this area. It is this youthful ignorance and complete blindness to bar- riers that has made my time in France, thus far, “très très bien” (very very great). I could not be happier that I never learned as a child to not talk to strangers.

Without any previous experience in French, I dove head first into this beautiful land. Armed with one phrase and one phrase only, “parlez- vous anglais” (do you speak English?), I landed in Lyon on New Year’s Eve at 10:17PM. Completely clueless and shocked by the freezing cold, I managed to get myself to my hostel after 1 train, 2 trams, and a lot of directions from Frenchmen that I couldn’t understand. I arrived at my Hostel exactly at 12:00AM and was greeted by a huge group of people with “bonne année” and other trendy French New Year sayings that I did not understand. It was at this moment that I realized that the hos- tel I had so last minute booked on Expedia was also a bar…The night continued with random conversations with a group of locals who in- vited me for drinks and made sure that I did not have to spend the first moments of 2017 alone. Everything that I had heard about the French hating Americans and being extremely unfriendly were all proven to be complete and utter BS at this moment. Thank you Mohammed, John- Phillip, and all the others with really French names that I do not have the proper education to pronounce.

(Six hour layover in Amsterdam before arriving in Lyon, France)

1) Lyon Airport. 2) Closing in on New Years. 3) Rhone Express to Lyon city center. 4) Friends I made on New Year’s Eve

I spent the next 2 days at the hostel and got really close with the baris- tas and other travelers who shared with me some special local spots and their incredible stories. One gentleman from Australia was espe- cially memorable. Jonathan had been an engineer in Australia and at the age of 48 decided to quit his job and travel the world. On the date that I met him, he had been traveling for almost 2 years. We talked late into the night, and his experiences and stories inspired and made a last- ing impact on me. He didn’t have a lot of money nor many luxuries, but one could feel the appreciation he had for life and the vitality he pos- sessed. Thank you Jonathan, Leslie, Judith, Clara, Sharif, Andre, and Jean for such a great first hostel experience in France.

On the 3rd day my host family picked me up from the Hostel and helped me move into my home for the next 6 months. When I met them, I could not believe how much my life was beginning to resemble a movie. My host-dad Yvan, is one of the most charming and funny people I have ever met and everything I imaged a Frenchman to be. We’ve had great conversations about how to strategize bargains with people on Lyon’s version of Craigslist (Leboncoin) and his favorite French musicians that I have grown to like. My host-mom Caroline, is very sweet and extremely caring. Her square glasses, French accent, and warm expressos just conjures up flashes of every French movie I have ever seen. Their children Paul-Eliot and Lison are also some of the nicest and most entertaining people I have ever met (child or adult). I could not have been more blessed to be placed in such a wonderful family. Even though we don’t always 100% understand each other, there is never a lack of conversation, great food, aromatic cheese, and terrific wine. Thank you guys for opening your home to me and wel- coming me as a member of the family.

Besides roaming the streets and talking to random people like a 7 year old, I’ve also dabbled in the realm of education. After all, academics first right? Classes have not officially began yet, but as a part of the pro- gram we have to enroll in a 2 week intensive French language and cul- ture seminar. The classes in this seminar are all in French. I’m not talking 1 or 2 words in French, a sentence in French, or even half an hour in French. I’m talking 6 hours a day of non-stop French. We’re not talking about elementary level French either. This is some next level, Les Misérable, Amélie, drowning in French type of level. I understand completely nothing in any of the classes. I live for moments when there are words spoken that sound similar to English and short breaks when I can converse with other students in a language that I actually know. Despite my efforts to transfer to a elementary school that I believe would actually be more conducive for my French learning, the powers that be have yet to honor this request.

This past week in the classrooms have been very reminiscent of my first months in 2nd grade when I didn’t speak a word of English and could not understand anyone. Similar to those months 13 years ago, I am still proceeding with a blissful lack of concern and regard for the language barrier and childishly engaging in the ways I can and to the best of my ability. Despite me being eons behind everyone else, these classes have proved to be overall great experiences and I don’t hesitate for a second on whether I should go to class tomorrow. After all, decisions are not made by everyone who understands, but can only be made by those who show up.

(A field trip organized by the University as part of the language program. We got to spend a day in Montpellier, which could have literally been the setting for every single Hollywood romantic film.)

I’ve made friends with the staff and professors who have come to refer me as the class’ collective “baby” and also graciously made accommoda- tions to make things a little easier for me. Although I still understand nothing, I have come to learn through this past week that it is not so much how much you can understand, but rather how much you try to understand that really matters.

I have made some great friends from all over the world in these classes. They are some of the most kind and fun people to be around. It’s amaz- ing how close we all have grown in such a short amount of time and I can not thank them enough for their help and friendship. Thank you: Jonathan, Daniel, Claire, Stasi, Cian, Ollie, Tammy, Elishka, Flevie, and Madam Santos for being the A1’s and all the great times. Looking for- ward to all the possibilities in the 6 months.

Some wonderful instructors who made things very fun even though I understood nothing they said 100% of the time.

(Some extremely fun times shared with some great people. Could not have asked for better compadres on this journey through a foreign land.)

In the words of Hannah Montana: “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

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

Spain | Studying Abroad


Living in another country is a wonderful experience full of new friends, new experiences, and travelling to new places. It’s also challenging, and it requires you to adapt to new circumstances. Moving to a Spanish-speaking country to study the language is a lot different than taking a class at a UC. From an academic and immersive perspective, here’s what I’ve learned.

Attending university in Córdoba has been very different from my regular college life at UCLA. At UCLA I go to a large university where everything is located on one campus. The University of Córdoba has different buildings throughout Córdoba, which each serve different groups of students. I attend classes at University of Córdoba Idiomas (Languages), or UCO Idiomas. One of the biggest differences between UCLA and UCO is that classes are much smaller in Spain. My biggest class here, Spanish History, has all 27 students in my program; but my Spanish Language and Andalucían History classes both have 15 students or less. At UCLA, my smallest classes (not including discussions) have about 60 people. Having smaller classes is a nice change, and I really feel like I know my professors- they are all very kind and funny, and attentive to the needs of students.

(An average class at UCLA vs. UCO Idiomas)

Teachers here generally teach in a different style- only one of my professors uses a prepared Powerpoint for his lectures. Another professor uses maps and images sporadically, but he mainly just lectures and writes on the whiteboard. Additionally, all of my classes here are taught in Spanish! The Andalucían History class, which is an elective, was originally taught in English, but we opted to have our professor speak Spanish. It has been a good way to practice and fully immerse while at school, and he is able to get his lessons across easier by speaking in his native language. At first I was worried about having History classes in Spanish- I figured I would not be able to understand enough, and would be ill prepared for the test. However, understanding another language is one of the first steps of language acquisition (it comes easier than speaking), so within a few weeks I was understanding most of what my professors were saying!

My schedule here is also a big shift from university life. In a normal quarter I also take three classes, which are spread out throughout the week- so I might have two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and one on Mondays and Wednesdays. I often have days with big gaps in between classes, and my days can change a lot depending on my academic and extracurricular schedule. Here from from 9:30 to 11:30 I have Spanish class Monday through Thursday, and from 12 to 2 I have Andalucían History on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Spanish History on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Every day we have a half hour break between classes, which is much needed time to recharge with a snack! On Fridays, we go on trips to historical and cultural sites in Córdoba and around Andalucía. Having class at the same time everyday is a big adjustment- I haven’t had a schedule like that since high school! While part of me misses the flexibility of having days off or big gaps between classes, I also really like the routine of waking up at the same time everyday.

There’s a cafeteria right across the street from UCO Idiomas, and I often have café con leche y tostada con tomate (a latte and toast with a tomato spread) for a snack during our break.

Another big difference here is the way grades and classes are structured. There is less work consistently given out, and more of your grade depends on testing. I have daily homework for my Spanish class, which usually takes me about 30 minutes to an hour, and most days I study more Spanish on my own. For the history classes I don’t have homework, and pretty much my entire grade depends on testing. My program is divided into Spring Semester students (who are in Córdoba until May) and Winter Quarter students (that’s me) who are here until March, and then returning to our schools for Spring Quarter. When we take our finals, the Semester students are also testing, but for them it is their midterms. Besides my Spanish class which also incorporates written assignments, my grades are based solely on testing and participation. It’s a little nerve-wracking, having your grade centered on one test, but I’m not too worried about the tests. One advantage of being a Quarter student in my program is that all your tests (except for Spanish, of course) are in English!

Your brain, on language acquisition.

Studying abroad, especially when you are learning a new language, is a different type of learning because you are constantly absorbing new information and expanding your knowledge. You don’t just go to class, learn something, study it, and then go about your life. What you learn in class is reinforced by your life outside of university, and vice a versa. In my Spanish class we are encouraged to talk about what we did over the weekend and bring in new phrases we learned. In history we learn about Al-Andalus, the name of Andalucía when Muslims ruled and the European Caliphate was centered in Córdoba. We learn about the Catholic monarchy of Fernando and Isabel and how they expelled the Muslims from Spain. Walking through Córdoba or Granada, architectural examples of Muslim and Christian culture can be found everywhere. And most importantly, I am surrounded by Spanish all the time- in my homestay, in class, in the street. This makes understanding and practicing Spanish much more accessible, and it becomes part of your life faster than it would without immersion.

It takes years and years of practice to become fluent in another language. By living in another country for a few months, you will improve and learn a lot- but you won’t become fluent. However, by immersing yourself and making an effort to practice every day, you are bound to improve, and lay the groundwork for communicating in another language!

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

Italy | Shouting Sweet Nothings


“This is a cowslip,” I enunciated carefully, while pointing at a picture of a dainty yellow flower I’d never seen before. Muddled little third grade Italian voices attempted to repeat the new English word that I was asked to teach them. The intended response of “Cowslip” turned into a variety of similar sounding words amidst the chorus of kids (“gossip”, “colic”, “cowlick”, etc.).

“Almost!” I corrected with enthusiasm, “Cow, come una mucca” (Cow, like a cow) “e ummmmmm…. lip”.  I pointed to my mouth and resorted to my go-to: English with a poor imitation of an Italian accent.

“Ohhh!!! cowsleep” the eight year olds repeated with such pride in their newly acquired, yet severely infrequently used English word.

Close enough, I thought to myself, before moving onto the next flowers’ name that I’d never heard before. “This is a Caladium”…

It was my first day working at an Italian elementary school that my study abroad program put me in touch with. When the day started off, I had absolutely no idea as to the kind of crash course in Italian culture that was in store for me.

That morning I had my language class, and at 12:30, when it finished, I grabbed a cappuccino and panini from Ricchi, the beloved caffè in the building adjacent to school. My internship that afternoon didn’t start until 2, but the bus ride was supposed to be lengthy and I have a knack for somehow misunderstanding even the most fool-proof GPS systems; so I ate my lunch and headed to the bus stop early.

I walked with my friend/ bus-taking consultant, Lizzy, who was assigned to the same school as I was. Lizzy is living in a home-stay towards the outer edge of Florence, so she’s had plenty of practice navigating the different lines.

After a short, beautiful walk, we waited at our bus stop and stood amidst a group of ten chic Italians that made me ever aware of how American I looked in my scuffed up gray Chuck Taylor Converse.

All of a sudden, an authoritative, official-looking man walked up from around the corner. He announced something fast, loudly, and in Italian, to the crowd gathered at the stop. The group of bus-goers let out a collective sigh, and immediately started moving in response. Uh oh. What was happening?

Lizzy and I looked at each other, each hoping that the other had understood every other word of the man’s speedy Italian. But nope. Not a lick.

Not really knowing what else to do, we decided to follow the crowd, with the hope that maybe the man had announced that our stop had been relocated for the afternoon, and therefore all the bus-goers could migrate to the new stop together.

Our plan of playing tag-along failed almost immediately as the crowd started to dwindle and the bus-goers dispersed in every possible direction. However, Lizzy and I held out hope, and followed two older women who stuck together and looked like they were well-versed Italian travelers, with their heavy fur coats and practical, yet obviously classy, leather shoes. Like undercover cops, we covertly trailed the women, assuming that they knew where they were going, and therefore would somehow lead us to where we were going as well.

Only after the fur totting women stopped directly in the middle of a street with heavy traffic in order to study a giant map, did we realize that the women we had secretly assigned to be our fearless leaders, were just as foreign and confused as we were. Following- the- Italian-looking-women, mission aborted.

Lizzy and I ended up walking on our own to the train station where we got on line 21—not without complication—but we (mostly Lizzy) figured it out.

After a 45-minute ride, we got off at our bus stop. It was raining pretty heavily and we got a little lost (yes, even with Google maps open on two different phones) but we made it to the school with one minute to spare.

We entered the building and were immediately greeted by two warm women working the school’s front desk. In quasi-Italian, we said hello and attempted to explain that we were the volunteers who were there to teach English.

Lizzy and I parted almost immediately as she was sent off to her assigned classroom. Then one of the women looked at me and motioned down the hall, “lavorerai in terza elementare”. Oh shoot. This was a verb tense I had yet to learn. And what did “terza” mean?

I asked the woman to please repeat (“ripete per favore”—my most used Italian phrase). Hearing the reiteration of unfamiliar words didn’t clarify much, but I nodded convincingly, like it did.

Ok. I could figure this out.  “Terza”, probably like “terrace”… Ok. So I’ll just go upstairs whenever I find a staircase.

I went down an extremely long hallway that seemed to extend off into the abyss, but eventually I came across a staircase.

My out of shape, full-of-pasta body took me up the flight of stairs. I opened the door at the top of the staircase, only to see that I’d walked into a janitor’s closet. So nope. Terza does not mean terrace.

Still confused as to what to do next, I stood, staring into the closet at the assortment of brooms and mops and cleaning fluids. This was definitely not the classroom that I was supposed to be in.

“Ciao??” I heard from down the stairs.

I whipped around, “Ciao!” my head in a janitors closet sandwiched between two brooms, was not the way I’d expected to get introduced to the teacher I’d be working for.

Nevertheless the teacher greeted me kindly and with gratitude, and then led me into the gym where her 28 third graders were doing volleyball drills with a student teacher. Turns out “terza” means third.

She motioned for me to sit at the sidelines. I relaxed on a folding chair and observed the class dynamic.

I was immediately struck by the frequency and volume of the yells and hollers that bounced off the walls of the gym. To me, the tone of the two teachers’ scoldings sounded furious, especially when the smallest eight year old couldn’t get the ball over the net. Then again, I didn’t even know the words that were being yelled…. The teachers could have been shouting, “you, young man, are an incredible athlete!”, but maybe they were just screaming these positive affirmation very loudly and with significant aggression.

I also saw more classic Italian hand gestures, whipped out and flying around, in my first ten minutes in the gym, than during my entire month so far in Italy.

I guess I should have expected these sorts of impassioned outbursts, given the stereotypes I’ve seen in Italian movies from the yelling grandmother, stationed in the kitchen, going on fiercely about how her grandson needs to find a nice girl who can make him the lasagna he deserves.

Sitting there, thinking back to my own gangly, uncoordinated elementary school days, I couldn’t help but feel slightly rattled by these apparent scoldings. The Italian kids, however, didn’t seem to be phased even an iota. They were completely used to it, and even laughed it off.

After about a half an hour of observing surprisingly intense third grade volleyball drills and holding two tiny pairs of the students’ “occhiali” (reading glasses), the class finished their gym period. They began to line up and I joined them at the door.

A group of five girls giggled to each other, whispering behind their hands, and keeping their eyes fixated on me. With so much excitement about the new, tall, American in class, one girl, Marina, built up the courage and asked, “what is your name be?”

“My name is Willa, Mi chiamo Willa.”

“Wella” they all repeated in unison.

Asking me my name, with an extra verb at the end, seemed to be close to the only English the kids knew. My work was cut out for me, and I was excited.

Unlike most adults I’ve encountered, the kids didn’t dumb down their Italian for me, even though I clearly had a very minimal grasp on the language, but rather they spewed out Italian words at lightning speeds, erupting with rapid-fire questions.

“Sai di Hollywood?” (Are you from Hollywood), “Ti Piace i Lakers” (Do you like the Lakers?) “Hai incontrato Michael Jackson?” (Have you met Michael Jackson?) “Ti piace gelato alla vaniglia?” (Do you like vanilla ice cream?) etc.

One little girl asked me, “Da quanto tempo sei stato in un aereo dagli Stati Uniti a qui?” (How long were you in an airplane to go from America to here?)  Feeling an irrationally strong urge to fit in amongst the group of eight year olds, I got a little flustered and attempted to answer her question quickly, like it didn’t even take me any thought. I  rattled off, “14 anni”, to convey 14 hours. I felt cool, like I had carved out my spot in the in-crowd, until I noticed the completely appalled look on the little girl’s face. It then dawned on me that although I meant to say “14 ore” (hours), instead, I said 14 years! I had just convinced a little girl that I had spent more than half of my life on an airplane and she probably thought I was an alien.

After everyone changed out of their gym clothes, we walked to class, accompanied by more yelling. When we reached the room the kids took their seats, and there was some more yelling.

The teacher, who was very kind and gentle to me, explained that I would be going over English translations of flower names to half of the students at a time, while she took the other half outside to eat lunch, and then we would switch groups after an hour. (The school day here is from 8-4:30…).

I looked through the list of English flower names that I would be teaching and didn’t recognize half of the words. I felt slightly confused as to why I was teaching these kids who could just barely ask me my name, words such as “cowslip”, “cornflower”, and “larkspur, but I wasn’t about to suggest otherwise and risk getting yelled at.  I would cry.

We went down the list of flowers, projecting their images on the wall, and writing out the Italian names and their English equivalents. Each kid then decided which flower he or she liked the most, and made a labeled drawing of it.

I walked around the class and looked at their magnificent artwork. I alternated between saying “bravo” and “brava”, all the while wishing I had a wider repertoire of Italian compliments.

While maybe slightly frustrating at first, it was so nice trying to communicate with the kids, with only a few shared words, and many smiles.

When everyone finished their drawings, the other half of the class came in from lunch. I did the same floral exercise with the new group.

At 4:25 the teacher lead the remainder of the first group of students back inside the classroom. She carried a tub of apples and gave them out to each student. She hugged each kid goodbye and kissed them on the forehead.

Then, everyone lined up by the door in order to meet their parents at the school’s entrance and go home for the evening.

As we all walked out of the class, Marina grabbed hold of my hand, and held it tightly. She looked up at me with beaming eyes and an enormous smile, “Quando tornerai?” (When will you return).

I think I told her one week, but I might have said one century.

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

Ireland | A Day in the Life at UCD Summer Physics


6:30AM – WAKE UP! I typically wake up around 6:30am and check social media for about ten minutes before rolling out of bed. It always seems like you miss a lot when you’re asleep for half of your friends’ days across the world.

6:45AM – RUN! By 6:45am, I’m ready to run. I love going for runs in the morning because it helps me wake up and it’s also just a really great way to explore the city. I typically run towards city centre and explore different neighborhoods along the way.

7:30AM – SHOWER! After I get back from my run and stretch, I’m shower and get ready for the day.

8:15AM – LEAVE ROOM! I leave my room around 8:15am every morning. It’s about a 10-15 minute leisurely walk to the science building from Merville (dorms) so you get to breakfast around 8:30am.

8:30AM – BREAKFAST! Breakfast is at the Pi Restaurant in the science building. There’s normally some sort of hot dish as well as fruit, oatmeal, croissants, yogurt, and granola to choose from.

9:00AM – LECTURE! We have lecture Monday-Friday from 9am to 11am. The professor usually gives us a short, ten-minute break around 10am so we can get water, go to the restroom, or take a quick power nap.

11:00AM – BREAK! After lecture, we have an hour long break until lunch. A lot of people study during this time, go to the gym, or just relax for a bit.

12:00PM – LUNCH! Lunch is served in the Pi Restaurant again (cafeteria-style). They normally have about three options for a hot dish and are very accommodating to different dietary needs. Salad and bread are available as well.

1:00PM – LAB/TUTORIAL! After lunch, you will either have lab or tutorial. My group has labs on Monday and Wednesday and tutorial on Tuesday and Thursday. Labs last about three hours and  tutorials last about two hours depending on the efficiency of your group. In lab, we do hands-on experiments that apply the information we have learned in lecture. In tutorial, we are given a set of five practice problems to work on in groups of three. Both labs and tutorials are turned in and make up about 40% of your grade together.

4:00PM – GYM TIME! After lab or tutorial, I’ll typically go to the gym and do strength or one of the workout classes. The gym is free to the physics students and there are several free workout classes. These classes last about an hour and are a great way to stay in shape while abroad!

5:00PM – DINNER! – After the gym, we head over to dinner back at the science building. Again, there are usually three options for hot dishes plus a dessert for dinner.

The rest of the evening usually consists of studying/taking notes/doing practice problems or exploring the city. It stays light until about 10:30pm so you’ll have plenty of daylight for exploring if you choose to do so during the week. I would recommend trying to do most of your Dublin adventures during the week so that you can take longer trips on the weekend!

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

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: