Category Archives: Opinion

10 Things You’ll Learn While Studying Abroad

(the obvious and the not so much)

10. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it

Whether you’re studying in Italy or Australia, you’re in for a big lifestyle change and culture shock like you’ve never experienced. The best way to experience life abroad is to try and assimilate into the different customs and practices of your surroundings. “You mean this tiny cup of espresso is supposed to be a substitute for my regular 16 ounces of iced caffeine?” Cue:

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Before you totally write their customs off, stand at the bar and drink your espresso and stop scouring the city for any place that will serve you American coffee.

9. The Buddy System is a very real, essential thing

“DOES EVERYONE HAVE A BUDDY?” We’ve been pestered with this question since kindergarten and now that you’re 18+ it probably falls on deaf ears. Let me just tell you, this is so vital. I love to believe that people are inherently good and I do believe that most are. However, you’ve seen Taken right? Let that be your motivation to listen. You want to leave the bar early but your friends want to stay? Bribe someone into leaving with you by paying for their kebab on the way home. Boom, done.

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8. Guard your iPhone with your life and maybe an electric force field

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Coming from a girl who had two iPhones stolen in the span of a month in two different European countries, giving up a night of blurry, probably embarrassing pictures at the bar is  lot easier to come to terms with then explaining to Mom & Dad why you need a new iPhone 5 express shipped over seas. People are ruthless and will reach into your purse and snatch your precious lifeline to society before you’re able to order your first drink. It can happen anywhere however, so make sure you always know where it is and possibly cut out a hole in your purse lining and sew in a zipper to secure safety. I realize this is dramatic but so are the phone calls I had with my parents begging them to send me my second replacement iPhone less than a month after they sent the first. Think about it.

7. The Importance of Planning Ahead

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#TBT to the night I landed at the Girona airport at 9 PM with my roommate not understanding that it was actually an hour train ride outside of Barcelona and wondering how we were to actually get to our hostel. Traveling on your own can be an awesome experience but when you forget how many steps are required to get from point A to point B you can find yourself in one of those situations you say “well one day we’ll look back and laugh” –  a great experience to have but avoid it by looking into how you’re going to get to the airport and then from the airport to your destination. Failing to plan the little details can turn out to be a really big “woooops”..

6. Slowing down can make all the difference

As an American, we’re hard wired to be constantly going and working leaving little time to enjoy ourselves. There’s a stark contrast to the “can’t stop won’t stop” distinctly American attitude and the way Europeans live their day-to-day lives. It’s a much more go with the flow lifestyle; so shops close when they please, people run late or don’t show at all, and not everything gets done when it’s supposed to. At first this may make you want to throw a tantrum but take a page from the European playbook and don’t take it all so seriously, you’ll find you may just enjoy yourself.

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5. Breaking free of the study abroad bubble can be worth it

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Don’t get me wrong the bubble rocks and also gives you the opportunity to meet some awesome people but you didn’t fly halfway across the world to spend all of your time with just Americans. Chances are your study abroad city will have a few bars known for being a meeting spot for students and they’re usually a blast. Once in a while though, check out a new spot around town. Ask a professor or program director a great spot to meet locals because half of your abroad experience will be made up of the people you meet and not just the places you travel. Make friends all around the world so you’ll always have a reason to come back 🙂

4. Spend your money on experiences, not things

I can’t say I didn’t shop because I would be lying through my teeth plus I still have mini souvenir bottles of Chianti Classico patiently waiting to be drunk in my closet (don’t they say red wine gets better with age?). However, if I could return all the cheap leather bracelets, mini bottles of limoncello and other things I bought, I probably could have afforded that trip to Amsterdam or sky diving in the Alps. The worst part is I also spent money on things that weren’t even exclusively European… I was all “I need this very rare scarf that I found at the H&M in London and life won’t be complete if I don’t buy this incredibly overpriced sweater from Top Shop”. Well guess what? Your profile pic of you skydiving in the Swiss Alps will get a lot more likes than the one of you in that Top Shop sweater. All jokes aside, make the money you spend worth it and don’t be hasty in your material purchases. For most people, studying abroad only happens once! Make it count.

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3. Hostels are nothing like the horror movie

Although your Facebook album “Semester Abroad” depicts a very glamorous lifestyle that your friends back home will undoubtedly comment with jealousy “OMG can I be you?” – you’ll soon realize that while you’re visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, your digs may not measure up. Before you’re first hostel experience, chances are you’ll look like this:

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But fear not. Hostel life will teach you a lot about yourself like, are you completely high maintenance? and how outgoing are you really? You may have booked a 12 person dorm with a shared bathroom and half of the guests may be a rowdy bunch of Australians. You also may be eating stale bread with an unidentifiable flavor or jam and instant coffee for breakfast but at the end of the day you have a safe place to rest your head

 

2. You’re much more independent than you think

I’ll be honest I used to make a huge deal about traveling by myself when I was in the states. And when I say traveling I mean like, doing errands and driving back to my college campus after break. I think there were a few times I had to GPS my doctor’s appointment – it’s not something I’m proud of but I’ve come a long way. Now when you’re abroad, these experiences where you suddenly realize this newfound independence usually won’t be voluntary. Chances are actually, you could be near tears in a German train station wondering where your train leaves from in 5 minutes and why god WHY are you here by yourself and if you could just call your mom you might be able to ask her to google translate “where is my platform?” into German for you. Safe to say I had a few of these exhilarating learning moments abroad. When you only have you to depend on, it becomes pretty clear what you’re capable of. You learn to read maps, ask questions, fumble foreign phrases and figure it out as you go. All of a sudden you’re a new person and you wonder why you ever doubted yourself in the first place. chrish bale

 

  1. Nothing compares to home

It’s not a secret that the home of the free and the brave is full of ample opportunity, convenience, and most obviously, familiarity. Before I came abroad, I had it in my head that Europe was 100% better than the states in every category. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I missed everything about my life back in the states. It takes an experience like leaving home for three and a half months to make you truly appreciate where you come from. As much as Florence will always be my second home, it took leaving the familiarity and comfort of the good old US of A to realize just how much I was truly thankful for everything that I had at home. That said, there are a few European policies I would love to see the US government adopt but that is a different topic entirely…

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Exploring Florence’s Best Piazzas

Florence is filled with beautiful piazzas, but if you’re not used to having several giant and elaborate town squares in your city, they can seem like a bit of a mystery. If you’re wondering what you can do in some of the city’s best public spaces (and what to eat, because duh, it’s Italy) consider this your guide:

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Home to some of the most famous statues in the world, Piazza della Signoria is an art lover’s dream. But don’t expect to be alone as you marvel at the impressive works in the outdoor sculpture museum, the Loggia dei Lanzi. At any given point in the day, you’ll be surrounded by hordes of tourists.

A few blocks from the Piazza, you can find Gelateria dei Neri, one of the best gelato places/bakeries in the city. Grab yourself a cone or a cannoli, walk to the piazza, and spend some time admiring the architecture of the Palazzo Vecchio and the copy of Michelangelo’s David in the statue’s original location. Then find a seat on the ledge of the Loggia dei Lanzi and watch tourists react to the sculptures. You’ll hear everything from debates on the ethical issues of marble quarrying to things like, “Isn’t that white naked guy thingy famous?” (Believe it or not, this is a real quote.)

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Because it surrounds the Basilica of Santa Croce, the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, Piazza Santa Croce is another major tourist destination. You can expect to see several groups being led by tour guides carrying giant sticks with loofahs on the top, a few souvenir carts, one or two street musicians, and a whole lot of pigeons.

Piazza Santa Croce is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. Get yourself an unbelievably delicious panino from the nearby Pino’s Sandwiches and head directly for the steps of the Santa Croce. Despite the constant commotion of the piazza’s visitors, the steps are a relatively quiet place to read a good book or spend a few hours people watching.

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Piazza della Repubblica has an incredibly long history. Starting as a Roman forum, the piazza is now at the heart of Florence’s shopping district and is filled with interesting people and events. Be prepared to see painters, musicians, and what is quite possibly the world’s coolest carousel.

There’s no shortage of great food surrounding Piazza della Repubblica (seriously, there’s a place that sells chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick) but if you want to go for a classic, get some mind-blowingly good Venchi gelato. Riding the carousel is obviously a magical experience (especially at night), but simply sitting and watching/listening to the musicians and artists is highly enjoyable. If you’re really bored, see how long you can stand in one place without a gypsy approaching you. My current record is 3.5 minutes.

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Looking to escape the crazy crowds of tourists? Then take a trip across the Santa Trinita bridge to Piazza Santo Spirito, because you won’t see hardly any of them there. In addition to artsy locals and the gorgeous Santo Spirito church designed by Fillippo Brunelleschi (of Duomo fame), you’ll find pretty trees, a beautiful fountain, and tons of charming restaurants and bars surrounding the square.

Around the corner from Piazza Santo Spirito is Florence’s crowning jewel of a pizzeria, Gusta Pizza. For daytime visits to the piazza, there’s nothing better than getting a gloriously large margherita pizza and eating it on the church steps. But perhaps the best time to visit Piazza Santo Spirito is on weekend nights when it’s absolutely packed with young and fascinating locals. If you’re tired of hanging out in Americanized clubs and bars, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the Santo Spirito nightlife.

 

11 Reasons Budapest and Vienna are the Most Underrated European Destinations

By Devin Billbrough

  1. Thermal Baths: We all go on vacation to have a little me time. So why not sit back, relax and enjoy the world’s largest outdoor “hot tub”?  Enjoy these healing waters until your fingers turn all pruny or wait until the Széchenyi Thermal Baths turn into a rave at night.1920332_10152304586777502_1700682705_n
  2. Bar Scene: From the ruins pubs in Budapest to the Bermuda Triangle in Vienna, you have plenty of options to wet your whistle. Taste test everything from the traditional Hungarian pálinka to the variety of Bavarian beers or schnaps offered in Vienna.
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  3. Food: Any foodie knows the most important part of traveling is eating local cuisine, and Budapest and Vienna have incredible dishes to choose from. Enjoy everything from goulash and dumplings to schnitzel and noodles (thank you Julie Andrews) #yummmm
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  4. Fresh Markets: If meats don’t tickle your taste buds, treat your sweet tooth to some apple strudel and Sachertorte. Traveling and trying to stay healthy? The Great Market Hall in Budapest and Naschmarkt in Vienna have farmer’s markets every day that display their prize winning crops.
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  5. Public Transport: Lazy and don’t feel like walking anymore? Vienna, the dreamboat that it is, has an awesome public transportation network (deemed one of Europe’s best) with buses, trains, trams, and subways.  Budapest, while extremely pedestrian friendly with compact neighborhoods, has metro stops every 5 minutes from each other.
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  6. It’s cheap – Ball out like a young Marie Antoinette in Vienna or live like kings in Budapest. Both cities are extremely budget friendly. The Hungarian Forint’s (HUF, Hufflepuff, etc.) exchange rate is one of the best you’ll ever experience while in Europe. All you can eat buffet meals will cost you around €15, and you can get a beer of stein for around €3.
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  7. Hidden gems: Ever wonder what it’s like to crawl through caves beneath a city? Experience it for yourself in Budapest. It’s like a gold mine down there. Want to feel the wind in your hair? Vienna’s Prater amusement park is just another way to channel your inner child and escape the city feel.
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  8. Opera for penny pinchers: Like music? On a budget? Want to see some of the most beautiful opera houses in all of Europe? You’re in the land of Mozart and Beethoven, so why not?! You can get €1 tickets in Budapest and €4 tickets in Vienna. Even if you just go for 30 minutes, well worth it.
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  9. Vienna Zoo: It’s not every day you’ll be able to visit the world’s oldest operating zoo! Located just behind the Schönbrunn Palace, you can see some of the most beautiful and elegant creatures ever created. Feed some giraffes, pet some pigs, and oogle at the beauty of penguins.
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  10. Christmas Markets: The Christmas markets in Austria are breathtaking. And you can get some souvenirs for mom and dad!
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  11. Green Space: Claustrophobic and feel like skyscrapers are closing in on you? Just think of big, wide, open spaces. Budapest and Vienna both have plenty of green space for you to enjoy. Silent meditation in a park not enough? Take a hike. Literally. Up to Buda Castle. The views you’ll get of the city are breathtaking.
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Discrepancies: Italy vs. the U.S.

  1. While most adult Americans wake up at the crack of dawn, go for a morning jog, read the paper, read their emails, eat breakfast and do whatever else in the time span of 5:30am-8:30am before leaving for work and starting their day at 9:00, Italians do not. Many places of business in Italy open later than they do in the U.S, giving the day a later start. The working/corporate world of Italy is incredibly chill to say the least.
  2. Since the day starts later, and people move through life at a more relaxed pace in Italia, it definitely goes without saying that everything else is timed later in Italy than in the U.S and everything else moves slower in Italy than in the U.S. Exhibit A: Italians eat dinner around 9:00 sometimes later, while we Americans eat at times ranging from 6:00-8:00.
  3. Italians, and most other Europeans, know about the politics of other countries and the countries surrounding them. Many Americans barely know about their own politics.
  4. Number one thing I wondered the entire time I was in Europe: what is the European fascination with Pringles. They’re arguably one of the worst American snack foods (sorry everyone, but we have some much better prospects). It’s so bizarre to me, but it’s also incredibly embarrassing that Italians and Europeans seem to think that Pringles are God’s gift to Earth, when most of the Americans I know do not. The same goes for fast food restaurants.
  5. A main issue that the U.S has that Italy does not is the one of overindulging in pretty much everything. Booze, food, caffeine, material items, you name it. It’s a lot of the reason they dislike Americans so much, aside from the next discrepancy.
  6. Americans are so ridiculously loud. Traveling in Europe, it was never difficult to identify a stereotypical American because not only were they probably wearing shorts and sandals, but they were also speaking ten notches above a normal level.
  7. Americans wear shorts and sandals, Italians do not.
  8. The first thing I want when I wake up in the morning is a Venti coffee. First thing I think about. You can’t find that in Italy. Italians definitely judge Americans for their caffeine intake as well as the invention of iced coffee, which is few and far between in Italy. When you do find it, it’s usually pretty gross.
  9. Italians eat croissants for breakfast; Americans eat deliciously satisfying egg sandwiches.
  10. Italians are die-hard soccer fans, baseball the second slowest sport to golf, is the American pastime.

10 Reasons Why You Should Pick Up and Move to Greece

1. Gyros: If heaven in a pita isn’t enough reason to pack your bags and head to Greece, then I don’t know what is.  For prices lower than the dollar menu at your local fast food joint, you can get a hot pita filled with shaved meat, tomatoes, onions, french fries, and of course a healthy dollop of tzatziki sauce. The only question is, why stop at one when you can have two?

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2. Toga parties: A trip to Greece is a perfect excuse to finally recycle your sheets and dress like the Greek Gods for a night. Just make sure to Youtube some toga tying techniques beforehand, because shockingly, it’s not as easy as it looks.  

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3. Original Marathon: Marathons have been growing in popularity and come in all shapes and forms these days; you can end up covered in paint, face all sorts of muddy obstacles, and even adorn yourself with glow sticks for a night version of these runs. So why not go to the place where it all started and give thanks for the opportunity to dedicate months of sweat and tears for the unbeatable adrenaline rush that comes along with running a marathon.

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4. Feta: “The feta is better.” Though you kind of have to say this with an accent for it to actually rhyme, the statement could not be more true. Whether you eat it on a greek salad or simply on its own, this crumbly cheese is lifechanging.

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5. Jewelry:  Greece has some really phenomenal jewelry; what with evil eyes adorning everything from rings to bracelets and beautiful lava rock necklaces in Santorini, you really can’t go wrong.  So head to Greece, get that credit card out, and ice yourselves

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6. Blue water: You know those pictures that come as a standard desktop on just about every computer since their invention in the 1800s- the ones showing unbelievably blue water you never thought actually existed? Well, in Greece it actually does. Without Instagram filters.

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7. Santorini:  Whose Facebook cover photo couldn’t use a little revamping? Become a model for a day with Santorini as your backdrop. Here, beautiful white houses line the cliff sides with an occasional blue roof or splatter of vibrant  color brightening up the horizon.

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8. Greek People: If the landscape and the food aren’t haven’t convinced you yet, the people of Greece are enough of a reason to come visit this country. The people are friendly, happy, and enjoy a leisurely lifestyle that makes this country even more welcoming. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your very own Kostos.

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9. History: Remember when you had to read the Odyssey in middle school? Well, that’s just part of the extensive history of Greece. Here you can learn all about the tales of Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, and all the other Greek Gods you grew up learning about. Not to mention the remains of old architecture, like the Acropolis, parts of the original Olympic stadiums, and the Parthenon.

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10. Island Hopping: There is no better place to try out that new bathing suit and go island hopping than Greece. There are dozens of islands to choose from including Ios, Mykonos, Corfu, and Milos; each one only getting more beautiful than the last. The only question is, why aren’t you already on a boat sailing around?

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11. But honestly, 10 reasons don’t even begin to cover it…all of Greece is amazing!

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