Category Archives: Opinion

You’re not in America anymore… How to make the most of your time in Europe

This summer I spent six weeks studying abroad in Italy. Best time of my life? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. You have an entire semester in Europe ahead of you, so get excited for the amazing adventure that awaits you! By the time you return home you will be well-versed in European life. In the meantime though, here are some tips to keep in mind to make the most of your new home.

Appreciate the culture and embrace new opportunities: You’re not in America anymore, so be respectful of your host country and embrace the cultural differences. You probably won’t understand the reasoning behind everything Europeans do, but that is half of the fun! Be open to new and different opportunities that you can’t experience at home by immersing yourself in their way of life, stepping out of your comfort zone, making an effort to learn the language, and finding places where the locals hang out.

Be spontaneous: I’m the kind of person who likes things to go as planned. When studying abroad though, this is rarely the case. Some of my best experiences while abroad actually came about because things didn’t go as planned. Make time to get lost or take a new route home because you never know what you will find.

Take advantage of easy travel: From weekend excursions with Bus2Alps to day trips with a few friends, take advantage of how easy it is to travel in Europe. Plan ahead so you can fit in all of the places you want to see. If you want all of the details to be taken care of for you, travel with the amazing Bus2Alps crew. The trip to the Amalfi Coast was one of the highlights of my time in Italy. If you want to be more spontaneous, grab a few friends and find the nearest train station.  It doesn’t take long to figure out how the trains work, and the places you can go seem endless.

Conquer homesickness: It is more than likely that at some point in between your schoolwork, your exciting new adventures, and your nights out with friends, homesickness will set in.  Everyone experiences it at different times and in varying degrees. It may seem like a good idea to seek out support from your friends and family back home. While this can be helpful, don’t rely on them too much. When you leave Europe, you will be disappointed if you spent more time on Skype and email than you did seeing the country. The best cure for homesickness is to stay busy and surround yourself with others. This will help you keep your mind off everything you are missing back home.

Remember to enjoy the little things: While you’re jetting between countries, jumping off cliffs, taking pictures holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and relaxing on gorgeous beaches, don’t forget to enjoy the little things as well. Try a new gelato flavor, watch the sunset, learn to cook an authentic dish, or listen to the music playing in the streets at night. These experiences are just as rewarding as the more popular experiences your friends and family are expecting you to have.

Last but not least, have fun! There is so much to learn about other countries and cultures when you take the time to explore what the world has to offer. Your experience studying abroad in Europe is something you will keep with you and talk about for the rest of your life, so make the most of it!

To read more about Kelsey’s study abroad experience, visit my blog at: http://exploringitaly2013.wordpress.com/.

How to be super European (A lesson in bidets)

By Sara Wiseman

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The street music is filling the piazzas, the bra-less gypsies are flipping their fruitless cups and it’s a great day to be in Europe. You’re strolling past the Pantheon with your linen pants, baguette and flowing scarf exploring the new surroundings.

“You look super European!” a friend says.

Like the ugly duckling getting hit on by the high school quarterback, you giggle and can’t help but think you’re more awesome than you give yourself credit for. You just moved up a class.

While this compliment had a flattering effect, some questions Americans must ask themselves are:

  • How dedicated are you to culturally immersing yourself?
  • Is Cloris Leachman still alive?
  • What does being European mean?

Most important being the final question and I can tell you the answer. Being a European means comfortably washing your bottom on the reg in a device called the “bidet.” And so, the ultimate question for those “super European” Americans is: How dedicated am I to this whole bidet thing?

My personal answer (and I know the question was just burning) is that I have zero dedication to the use of this cleansing contraption. Here are my suggestions for alternative uses for the bidet and how to deal with its presence in your new apartment.

1) Create your own beautiful fountain
You’ve seen all of these gorgeous fountains around town. Now, make your own! The sound of the bidet’s running water can create a spa-like experience. A tasteful decoration with small potted plants and miniature sculptures can make it just like “The Secret Garden”…only with more toilet paper.

2) Wash your filthy feet
For some reason, living in Europe has two main effects on me: constant dehydration and disgustingly dirty toesies. Your bidet can lend a helping hand in this sense. Just pop your feet up into the porcelain bowl and effectively clean your feet! This can also save you some money on a pedicure.

3) Clean a batch 
Laundry abroad can get really expensive and so, a bottle of laundry soap and a trailblazing spirit can easily solve this problem. Simply use your bidet to wash your essentials! It will save you from occupying more important space and can save you a loaded trip up and down what seem like thousands of stairs.

4) Water balloon fights
We’re all adults here. We can pay taxes, complain about politics and check our oil. But I’ll tell you what, you’re never too grown up for an old fashioned water balloon fight. And if you disagree, enjoy your life and expect to get blasted with a water balloon as soon as I find you.  Your bidet can function beautifully for ammunition reload in the trenches of a water balloon altercation.

5) Act like you use it and make people feel dirty 
But lastly, the most effective use of your bidet is to act as if you use it and make your friends feel lesser for not. Making people can be fun when you actually make them feel weird for not straddling this porcelain beast and washing themselves.   With any luck, you can convince your roommates to start using it and make fun of them.

I hope you’ve taken some of my suggestions to heart and enjoy the coming months of bathroom shenanigans.

Lose Yourself Abroad

By Sara Wiseman

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I want to inspire you all to make your time abroad phenomenal. And so, I’ll begin this post with a bit of poetry from one of this generation’s greats.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
Yo

Granted, the poet formally known as Marshall Mathers was probably talking about the opportunity to escape the drug-infested streets of Detroit but we can spin his message in any direction.

What Shady’s gospel can teach us is that any student studying abroad needs to make the most of their experience. After all, you only get one shot. Do not miss your chance to blow.

First off, when studying abroad you’ll be tossed in with a wide array of characters from all over the world. This is an awesome thing! I suggest cutting to the chase and letting your freak flag fly. I can guarantee that everyone is just as weird as you and accelerating the barrier dropping process can get you some close friends, fast.

If you came here with a gaggle of your friends, cut the cord. A mistake students abroad often make is that they literally transport their comfort zone to a foreign country. Drinking vino and taking selfies with your friends is awesome, it’s a favorite past time. But, it’s also why Panama City Beach was created.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure your friends are awesome. But isn’t one of the major points of studying abroad to grow through cultural immersion and vulnerability? Vulnerability can be a great thing.

Secondly, even if you aren’t surrounded by a hoard of symbol-flashing sisters, it’s important to remember that this isn’t America. This sounds like an obvious and idiotic thing to say but, seriously. Your study abroad experience will be much more enjoyable if you accept a new culture.

Students should also expand their drinking horizons. I know there are some cool American bars and it’s really comfortable there with all of your new friends but you should bounce and find some new, unique hangouts. Organize a night to go to an Italian aperitivo or go to your favorite piazza with a bottle of wine and good company.

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Thirdly, while drinking and partying can easily become a staple of your study abroad career, don’t let it. Take the time to appreciate the unique beauty of your abroad city.  Don’t let tourist spots define it and make sure to take advantage of the amazing parks and lookouts that may be surrounding you.

And (although it may sound stupid) study abroad students should keep a journal of some kind. You can start each entry with “Dear Diary” or bust out the old Password Journal if you want. The point is, looking back,you might not have the sharpest memory of dates, names and places. A nice reference resource can help you reflect fondly.

I know a lot of this seems painfully obvious and could easily be followed with the run-of-the-mill “There’s no I in team” or some shit. But sometimes it just takes a second for students to honestly think about the reasons they studied abroad and how they can get the most out of it. Remember the wise words of Mister Mathers because this may be your only opportunity to make an experience abroad amazing. Yo.

Lose yourself abroad

Museums That Don’t Suck

By Sara Wiseman

Learning can be fun! The words seem to automatically be accompanied by rainbows and a cartoon raccoon reading.  I hate museums but there are quite a few in Europe that don’t suck. Here are my top five museums in some of my favorite European locations:

1. Catacombs of Paris

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No doubt about it, this place is super creepy. And I may just be dark and weird but it’s also extremely cool. Visitors to the Catacombs of Paris plunge beneath the Earth hundreds of feet and toward the remains of about six million people.

Bones and skulls stacked by the dozens can really change your perspective on things in general. There is tons of information along the stroll through the Catacombs and any visitors to the city need to check out this creepy gem.

2. Macchine di Leonardo 

Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius and the ultimate Renaissance Man. There are a few museums dedicated to him around Europe and the one I visited in Rome was pretty amazing. Check out models of his inventions. Although mostly unfinished work, it’s nearly impossible to imagine what this man would have accomplished with all of the time and resources in the world. On a disappointing note: Tom Hanks was nowhere to be seen.

3. Mont Saint-Michel

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Alright, if ever in France, a visit to Mont Saint-Michel should be mandatory. Although it can be kind of a pain in the ass to get to, the payoff is amazing. Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island that formerly served as a monastery and has an incredible history.

Walking through the museum of the abbey was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The stones are mossy and chilled and the towering Gothic structures had me humming the theme to “Lord of the Rings.”

4. Monet’s Gardens

It may sound awfully boring but going to the house of Claude Monet and walking through his gardens was absolutely amazing. Seeing his famous landscape portraits literally come to life before you was crazy. The pastel colors melted away and the reality set in that this famous artist actually lived, breathed and worked here.

The museum aspect of this location is minimal (my style) but still incredibly informational.

5. Vatican Museum

You can’t visit Rome or Italy without checking out Vatican City and the Vatican City Museum. The artwork in this museum is breath-taking. The lines here can be super long and the crowds can make you want to scratch your own eyes out. But, you can get over that as soon as you look up. The wonder of Michelangelo’s work can leave you in awe of the capability of man and also make you wonder what you’ve been doing with your life thus far.

For any interested, a good movie to check out before visiting for a little background is “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” It gives viewers and idea of the struggle Michelangelo endured to create such a masterpiece.

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