3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.

Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving  all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.

In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.

In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.

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The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is love. The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is life.

First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.

I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.

In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.

I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.

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Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.

In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.

Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.

This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.

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Showing the Fam around Salamanca

Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.

It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.

Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.

And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.

Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant





Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.


Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead


I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.


One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…



I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.


Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado


Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.


The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!


Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

I am NOT a Mzungu


Before I came to East Africa, I would have greeted you with “Jambo!” like in Mean Girls.  Now I know better – Jambo is a tourist greeting and is not proper Kiswahili.  The proper way is to say “Hujambo”, to which you respond “Sijambo”.  Or if you are greeting multiple people at once, like now, you use “Hamjambo”.  The more you know!

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The view from the beach only a 5 minute walk from where I live

So I’ve been living in Zanzibar for some time now, and it is finally starting to sink in that I’m really here and will be here for the next four months.  When it really sunk in though, was when I saw the stars.  The night sky in Zanzibar is absolutely stunning and has almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I am living in a very dark part of the world, away from a lot of development, so the number of stars I can see is incredible since there’s very little light pollution.  And being in the southern hemisphere, the night sky looks different than it does at home.  When I finally had time to just look at the stars, that was when it really hit me that I’m actually in Africa and this beautiful island is mine to explore for four whole months.

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The moon (look really hard!  Just left of the palm) in Paje

Since I arrived here my days have been packed with intensive Kiswahili instruction (4 hours a day plus homework!), special lectures about the culture and expectations of the program, and water time.  After a few days in Stone Town, the main town on the west side of Zanzibar, we headed to Paje (pronounced pah-jay), a resort village on the east side of the island.  This was when I realized how small Zanzibar actually is – the drive from one side to another only took 45 minutes.  The beach at Paje is gorgeous and the tides are incredible.  Low tide can have you walking out over a mile until you see the ocean, and at night, you can see bio luminescent plankton washed up during low tide.

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These photos were taken 6 hours apart at high and low tide

While in Paje, we were assigned to visit a local village, about a five minute walk from our hotel, and my group’s personal assignment was to learn about local employment opportunities the locals have.  Using as much of the Kiswahili we had learned as possible, we walked right up to people and started asking.  One conversation we had really made me rethink the entire tourism industry.  We talked to a man not much older than us who worked for an excursion company (kitesurfing is very popular in Paje), and while he loves having tourists come and spend money, he isn’t the biggest fan of the new all-inclusive resorts that have been popping up on the island lately.  These resorts make their money by keeping guests at the resort.  The guests almost never leave and spend money in the community, and business has gone down in the past few years in the island.  He also made a good point about visitors going back home saying that they went to Zanzibar but they never talked to the locals or learned about the culture or did anything but stay at their hotel so did they really see Zanzibar?  All I know is, I’m going to think twice about booking an all-inclusive vacation in the future.

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We were able to see the poorer side of Paje, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  It’s incredible the stark difference between the resorts surrounding this village.

On our last day in Paje, we rose before the sun to leave our hotel at 5:30am (which is 11:30 usiku in Swahili time) to head to Kizimkazi, about a 20 minute drive north.  We arrived at the beach as the sun was rising and piled into two wooden boats so as not to harm the creatures we were following.  As we headed to deeper water, we were told to be ready to jump in the water at any second in case there was a sighting so we all got our fins, mask, and snorkel ready (and in my case, my GoPro camera as well).  We heard a “GO GO GO” and we rushed into the surprisingly warm water and I stuck my camera in front of me so I didn’t miss anything.  After the bubbles cleared, I saw some dark figures swimming below me, so I followed their path, and before I knew it, I was swimming less than twenty feet away from a pod of bottlenose dolphins!  It was incredible to get that close to a wild dolphin and they were so peaceful and strong and just beautiful.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to swim with wild dolphins – I thought it was just a Discovery Cove thing.  I took plenty of footage, which you can check out below!

This was absolutely incredible.  The dolphins weren’t afraid of us, they were just hanging out with some small humans watching.

I had a truly African experience a few days ago.  We had an assignment to take what’s called a daladala to different places in Zanzibar and our project was at some old Arabic ruins next to the ocean.  Those were interesting and all, but the really interesting thing was the daladala ride.  Daladalas are basically open-air buses you can take for 300/= (about $0.18) but they pack you in more than sardines, so good luck if you’re even the least bit claustrophobic.  But people are more than happy to move over to accommodate someone else so they don’t have to crouch on the ground.  We ended up sitting in each other’s laps (good thing there were four of us).  Deciding to study Kiswahili on the daladala was actually a good idea because many of the people on the daladala wanted to help us out, especially when we were asked to pay twice.  The kindness of the Zanzibaris is without end, and I’m grateful to each and every one that has helped me in my short time in Zanzibar so far, and I’m sure I will owe them big time by the end of my time here.


This is a daladala
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The inside of the daladala.  This was not even close to how packed we were on the way to the ruins.

And lastly, feel such a sense of belonging to this town and my group of sixteen.  We are recognized walking on the streets of Stone Town and asked how our Kiswahili language class is going and if we’ve learned anything new since we last saw each other.  And one specific experience was when I was at the site of the ruins.  I finally learned how to tie my khanga (a single piece of fabric you tie around your waist and wear as a skirt), and when I walked up to the beach bar, one of the women working there told me “You tie your khanga just like a Zanzibari!” and that was the moment that I realized that I’m no longer a mzungu.



The long yellow skirt I’m wearing is a khanga

My first few weeks here have already been unforgettable, and I’m really coming to understand the meaning of “experiential learning”, and not just having lectures.  Stone Town is beautiful and has so much history, which I will be posting updates about regularly.

As always, thanks for reading,

Baadaye! (until later)

Kim, DUSA Blogger

Traffic Reports

Your study abroad preparation check list probably includes things like brushing up on the local language, deciding what to pack, where you will be staying when you arrive etc. One thing it probably does not include is what crossing the road might be like. In the U.S. we are used to a very (well..sometimes) organized system. It is so ingrained in us that we have an automatic reaction to green lights, cross-walk signals and blinkers. Often times when you step foot (get it?) in another country it’s the simple daily tasks that can really push us into culture shock!

My preconceived notions of crossing the street around the world were similar to this: How to Cross the street in Sweden.

In the spring of 2012, I was on Semester at Sea’s ship sailing to 11 different countries in 3.5 months. The opportunity to compare cultures, food and languages was incredible but even the occasion to discuss differences in crossing the road in each country was fascinating! The following countries were some of the most memorable:

  • India, was a constant cluster of cars incessantly honking because bumper stickers on every vehicle told them to do so! Literally every car said ‘HORN PLEASE’. No one could ever sleep on a bus in India with the high pierced (imagine a cat screaming) car horn that they use. While on a tour bus headed to a temple with our group we got stuck in the middle of an intersection because of construction and confusion among drivers. While getting stuck, we “supposedly” hit another van that had stopped as well. I don’t recall hitting anyone but my opinion did not matter at this point. Our bus driver and the other driver started to yell at each other and we all sat silently, watching, waiting…and then out of nowhere the other driver ran around to our driver’s window and stole the keys right out of the ignition! Suddenly we were not only not moving but now our engine was off and the air conditioning ceased. What happened after that is a blur but I think our driver had to pay the other driver to get our keys back. We never made it to the temple that day but we did experience an interesting local altercation. Tip: It’s best not to get involved in arguments when you’re in a new culture, what might seem appropriate or polite to you may not be in the local culture.
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Traffic in India
  • Singapore was very pleasant, while somewhat chaotic because of the amount of cars, it all felt under control because, of course, it was. The police have even created an English language website for assistance with crossing the street in Singapore.
Traffic in Singapore
  • Viet Nam is a whole other story. Crossing the road in Viet Nam is like trying to cross a 4 lane high way in heavy traffic going 60 mph. The only trick to crossing the road in Viet Nam is to decide to go and walk at a slow and consistent pace so that the motorcycles and cars know how to maneuver around you. When you get to the curb you look at your friends and say ‘see ya on the other side!’ There’s also NO backing out once you commit to crossing the street, you have to go! I made that mistake once and almost got hit by a bus. My friend was smart and ran back, but it took me until I was in the middle of the intersection to realize I needed to NOT be there. Usually if a local was at the curb I’d stand beside them and follow their lead. Also, there are so many motorcycles in Viet Nam that it’s terrifying whether you are walking, in a bus or cab maneuvering through traffic. Everyone seems to think they have the right of way, yet somehow everyone moves around each other and makes it work…for the most part. I mostly just closed my eyes and prayed.
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Traffic in Viet Nam
  • So, when we were preparing for China we were told that crossing the street is similar to Viet Nam but the traffic will not go around you, they will hit you. That was comforting. Some people make it their goal never to cross the road when they go to China. I understand why now. In Shanghai there were a lot of traffic lights and cross walks with the green or red person telling you when it was safe, however the taxis did not obey those rules. Turns out red is just a suggestion.
Crossing the street in China, be careful!
Crossing the street in China, be careful!

So, keep in mind that something as simple as crossing the street can become quite the adventure if you’re not careful! Learn the rules of the roads, what’s considered ‘normal’ like walking out into moving traffic in Viet Nam and use common sense!

– Kathleen Horn, Program Coordinator, Office of International Education at DU

What My Study Abroad Program Didn’t Tell Me

As the end of my time here in Rome comes at full speed (23 days to be exact), my friends in my study abroad program and I have begun to discuss the ominous threat of reverse culture shock. We’ve had so many adaptations, so many lessons learned about how to “survive” in another country. Some of which I know I had to learn on my own, but some things which may have been useful to know going in.

Over the summer, the International Studies Abroad (ISA) program (through which I am here in Rome) sent us all a digital handbook containing information on everything from budgeting to that cultural adaptation graph I mentioned in a previous post. But there was also a section pinned onto the end about some specifics of living in Rome. Unfortunately, this merely scratched the surface of the subject. Granted, I’ve learned enough to fill a book with during my time here, and thus it would be impossible to contain it all in an already thick handbook.

Which is why I have compiled a short list for your own reading enjoyment containing some helpful hints to living in Rome that never appeared in the study abroad instruction manual.

1) “Non capisco l’italiano.”

Possibly the coolest and simultaneously most frightening aspect of most Italians is their carefree attitude. This means there’s no baristas being overly polite to suit your “customer satisfaction” needs (probably also helps that tipping your waiter doesn’t exist). Sure, they throw obscene gestures and shout curses at each other when they cut each other off on the road (see #3), but you know they don’t really care. I actually wish Americans could take a tip from the Italians when it comes to this. They freely their express anger, but they don’t let it bother them for the rest of the day. They have their bout of passion and move on.

Unfortunately, I eventually began to read this as Italians being unfriendly. But I realized how inaccurate this was after noticing how frequently random strangers try to talk to me. Even if it’s just asking me a question about where the bus is (see #2), it made me feel like I was finally blending in and at least looked like I knew what I was doing when they started talking to me.

Sadly, my single semester of “Intro to Italian Language” has not served me to the point of having the ability to carry on a full-fledged conversation with the fast-tongued natives. It can be rather intimidating when they confidently begin rattling off their fluid and musical words at a mile-a-minute. Which is why I was thankful that the only phrase I learned before arriving in Rome was “Io non capisco l’italiano” (“I don’t understand Italian”). Most times I can get by with just a smile, nod, and repeating “sí, sí” over and over again. But I’m still grateful that they’re trying to communicate with me.

Lesson learned: Italians are friendly, they just don’t care what you think of them at the end of the day. And that’s kind of cool.

2) “Scendo alla prossima.”

Public transportation in Rome is a nightmare, to describe it lightly. This is also a result of the nonchalant attitude but simultaneous passionate nature of the Italian culture. Apparently I was lucky this semester, since last year there was a bus strike at least once a week and during the entirety of finals week at my school (knock on wood). We’ve had a total of one day where the buses and trams shut down completely this semester, but even so, the buses are still notorious for disregarding the existence of a bus schedule. Case in point: it’s only a ten minute bus ride from my apartment to my school, but I still leave my apartment an hour before my classes start so I can make sure I catch a bus.

“You guys might be there for a while.”

Once you actually get on a bus, there’s a certain etiquette to follow. First and foremost, there’s an almost surprising respect for the elderly in Italy. It’s customary that if an older person gets on the bus, a younger person will immediately offer them their seat. I’ve even seen raucous Italian preteens yelling, shoving, and generally wreaking havoc with one another, but promptly stop to get off the bus and help an elderly citizen hoist their baggage and/or groceries onto the bus.

Since the buses are frequently late, that means they can get crowded. I mean like sardines-in-a-can-crowded. I mean like disregard-any-notions-of-personal-space-crowded. I mean like I-hope-you-wore-deodorant-today-crowded.

Be prepared to shove your way to the door, but rather than wordlessly plowing through the mosh pit, it can be helpful to know the simple phrase, “Scendo alla prossima” (SHEN-doh AH-la PRO-si-mah) which means “I’m getting off at the next stop.” Even when it’s not insanely crowded, people will frequently ask you, “Scende alla prossima?” if you are blocking their way to the door. Remain calm (see #1) and answer “sí” or “no,” and move out of their way.

3) Pedestrians don’t have the right of way.


Back at home, in my quaint little suburban town of Louisville, CO, and even the (comparatively) bustling city of Denver there seems to be a high regard for the rule of pedestrians having the right of way in all situations. This is not the case in Italy.

The roads are filled with smart cars and vespas taking advantage of their tiny size by zipping past each other at lightning speed. For not caring about being on time, Italians sure like speeding. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single speed limit sign while I’ve been here. Which is why the idea of slowing, let alone stopping at pedestrian walkways is utterly nonsensical.

Thankfully, those tiny vehicles and their drivers do have a fast reaction time, so if you do walk out in front of an oncoming one, they will stop, they’ll just be sure to stop as close to your feet as possible to give you a good scare. Still, most locals don’t seem to risk crossing the street at an intersection until the pedestrian walk signal gives them the OK.

Oh, and I’ve never heard so much honking in my life.

4) Fare la spesa (To go shopping)

I didn’t expect something as simple as grocery shopping to be such a different experience, but of course, studying abroad doesn’t miss out on changing your perception of anything.

I’m used to pushing a large cart around mega-Safeways and ultra-Targets, collecting as many items as will fit in the back of my car. But here, most folks walk to and from the grocery store, using little wheeled bags to transport their newly acquired goods home. Rather than using large push-carts, the grocery stores have little baskets that you wheel behind you, like a travel suitcase. I quickly learned that if the basket is getting too heavy to pull, that means I’m probably not going to be able to carry it back home.

As I’ve mentioned before, the grocery stores are nothing like the ones back home. They are much smaller and carry totally different items. For example, there are entire separate aisles devoted to pasta and wine, but I can’t, for the life of me, find baking soda.

Also be prepared to bag your own groceries. And try to do so quickly.

5) You’re going to become a coffee addict.

Don’t fight it: reciprocate the coffee love.

Although I was a frequent indulger of coffee before coming to Rome, three of my best friends here had never tasted coffee or simply didn’t like it before their arrival. Now, they need one every day. A fair warning to all my friends and family: I’m probably going to be a coffee snob when I come back.

Nothing can quite compare to the perfect temperature of the coffee and steamed milk and the fluffy foam that sinks to the bottom, allowing you to scoop it up with your spoon when all the liquidy goodness is gone. But above all, the gentle *plop* of the sugar when the foam gives way for it to sink into your warm cappuccino just can’t be compared. I plan on video recording that exact moment, so I may relive it while I choke down my skinny vanilla latte when I’m Stateside again.

Thankfully, coffee is a major part of the culture here. But the primary difference is that cafés with ample seating and a welcoming atmosphere for you to take a load off and work on your laptop or read a book for hours at a time are not frequently included. Going out for a meal is a social gathering, whereas stopping by a coffee bar seems to solely fulfill the purpose of topping off your caffeine meter. These two seem to be switched in American culture.

In fact, sitting at a café will often result in paying extra money. If you want to save the cents, remain standing at the bar. When you do pay, it’s often after you’ve had your fill and are about to leave. There’s a lot of trust that you won’t lie to the cashier about what you had.

But why would you want to lie to the people who just fed you the drink of the gods, anyway?

In conclusion…

There are many differences between your old home and your new home and there are plenty of pros and cons that come with those changes. The whole point of this study abroad thing is to make your own “lessons learned list” and grow as a person while you’re making it. So maybe there’s not a manual for living in X country. There’s not a manual for life either.

Chow for now.

-Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger-

Chocoholics Unite: The Eurochocolate Festival

This weekend, I traveled with a group of friends to the International Chocolate Exhibition in Perugia, Italy otherwise known as the Eurochocolate Festival.

That’s right, folks. An entire festival dedicated to chocolate.

And what a magical place it was. Rows upon rows of tents and display cases filled with everything chocolate related you could possibly imagine.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I first heard about the Chocolate Festival from my mentor, whom I was paired with through the Leo Block Alumni Center at DU. She happened to study abroad in Rome as well during her college years and gave me tons of great tips, among them a fervent “GO TO THE CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL.” That wasn’t something I had to ponder. It immediately went on my to-do list.

There were many ways for my fellow abroad students and I to get to Perugia (where the festival is held every year in the Fall). We wound up choosing to sign up with a program called Bus2Alps which is frequently used by study abroad students in Europe to travel to various festivals (Oktoberfest, namely) and weekend or extended trips. The tickets cost us €38 each (about $50) and included a tour bus with a bathroom and movie to and from the festival, metro passes, a chocolate card (more on this later), and basically just the comfort of having someone hold our hand through the whole traveling thing. Initially we were also considering just figuring out the journey for ourselves, which would have been inexpensive but potentially difficult to navigate by ourselves. We ultimately decided the help of Bus2Alps was worth the cost. However, the Res Grads program at the American University of Rome (the largest student organization on campus that plans cheap activities for students to participate in) was also offering an organized expedition that basically would have just led us there via train, without charging us anything extra. I think going with the Res Grads probably would have been best, but unfortunately they advertised it after we had already bought our Bus2Alps tickets.

Anyways, we found ourselves in Perugia one way or another on Friday and I was quite impressed with the city itself. This was not our first time in the Umbria region of Italy as we visited the small town of Assisi about a month ago. In a previous post, I alluded to the fact that the trip to Assisi was less than a pleasurable experience for us, but Perugia was very different. It’s a much more developed city, complete with a “MiniMetro” system that made me feel like I was suddenly in an episode of Futurama.

Beam us up, Scotty.

Once we stepped off our “rollercoaster,” we found ourselves in the Centro Storico (or historic center) of Perugia, converted into a giant open-air market of chocolate goodness.

I’ll have five of everything, please.

But of course, the best part of the chocolate festival was not just looking, nor even smelling the heavenly aromas of the chocolate, but actually eating it.

As I mentioned before, Bus2Alps took care of the €5 cost for the Chocolate Card. It’s essentially a punch card for free goodies at a select few stands at the festival. It took us a while to figure out that they had maps available that pointed out which stands were participating. By flashing our cards, we got free Lindt chocolate truffles, hot chocolate, chocolate euro coins, coupons, and even a phone case shaped like a chocolate bar. To be honest, most of the gifts were nothing to write home about, but hey, it was FREE CHOCOLATE.

We expected a lot more free samples though, so I do recommend that anyone who attends the festival comes prepared to drop some cash. I assure you that it will be impossible to not indulge in certain items, like my Nutella+arancia (candied orange peel) crepe that I had for lunch (yes, Mom, I do call that a balanced lunch diet).

photo by Kevin Jurado

See that hot chocolate? All of the “cioccolata calda” in Italy is as thick as pudding. It’s essentially like drinking hot brownie batter. I don’t know how many calories it has and I don’t wanna know.

My second word of advice is to bring a water bottle. I hate to admit it, but I did eventually get sick of chocolate and wished I had something to wash it down.

Third piece of advice: this was an excellent place to buy souvenirs for loved ones. Despite a lot of the wares being, obviously, chocolate and therefore prone to melting, there were also lots of chocolate-themed trinkets, t-shirts, and even melt-proof food goods like cocoa pasta and chocolate liqueur.

The chocolate festival was, albeit fattening, an awesome experience. The people were friendly, the city was beautiful, and the “noms” were delicious. If you’re looking for indulgence while traipsing through Europe in Autumn, look no further than the Eurochocolate Festival.

P.S. We topped off a day of eating nothing but chocolate with dinner at McDonald’s. That’s what I call a day of indulgence. Sorry, Mom.

Chow for now,

– Cheyenne Michaels, DUSA Blogger –

It’s ‘plane’ and simple. Traveling is easy…

He said.  That’s what my dad told me on the way to the airport.  “Traveling is easy, you’ll be fine.”  While my trip wasn’t that bad, “easy” isn’t the word I would have used.  First of all, my dad hadn’t been spending the last five months preparing for this trip, doing chores for DU, UKZN, Interstudy, and Daniels Fund.  I had to email people like crazy and go to so many places.  The to-do list was crazy, and that’s not normal for simple traveling (although it is normal for study abroad students).  So, let’s just take a run through of my travels, shall we?
July 12th 2012:  11pm
Goodbye: United States of America.
Hello: South Africa.
I am currently sitting in DIA.  To my right is a cute young man, in a white polo, a few years younger than me on his phone.  In front of me there is a couple, both silent and on their computers (ouch).  A different couple on their phones, eating McDonalds (at least they’re talking).  And a woman with a carry-on bigger than I knew was allowed.  I found that I still fear airports.  Everything went smoothly, it took under fifteen minutes to get to my gate from the time I left my family.  But my soul is crinched sitting here.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it feels like limbo.  I know where my past was and where my future lies.  The airplane takes me to my future, but then there is this place.  The place where you just sit and wait.  It’s like limbo; and I don’t like it.
Everyone keeps asking if it has hit me yet.  I mean, I’m going to Africa for goodness sake.  In theory, it should be hitting me about now.   It’s not.   It just feels like another step to take.  Change happens and it’s happening now.  That’s all.  I wonder if it’ll ever hit me.
Flight 1:
July 13th 2012: 1am
I’m awake.  I’m on a plane, and I’m awake, and I will remember it this time, unlike any other plane ride I’ve been on.  It’s really pretty.  It’s dark and the lights are out.  Jet Blue is has nice planes.  It has decent legroom and plenty of snacks and water coming around.  Plus a personal TV, which is always nice.
The landing is fun.  As the sun was comes up in New York I get to see the city from above while watching the sun rise.  =)
JFK Airport:
I’ve spent five hours in this airport and have nothing to say.   It’s not very ‘New York’ ish.  I went straight to the gate and stayed there.
Flight 2:
17 hours.  I have to be on a plane for 17 hours.
I fell asleep during the take off.  Now they’re feeding us a full meal.   The food is wonderful.  Their TV’s have over forty movie choices and most musical artists I can think of.
Seriously, every single time my stomach says “mommy, I’m hungry…” the flight attendants come around with food.  It’s like South Africa Airways understands the way the human stomach operates on a plane.  And all of their food is really good.  I’ve also slept through basically the entire flight.
My favorite feature on the plane is the flight map.  It shows us the temperature outside at our landing destination, the time at our landing destination, how much time we have left on the plane, and how fast we’re traveling.  Also, it has a nifty map that shows us the world, our travel path, and where we’re located on that path.  So you always know where in the world you are.  And it has what I call “the black whale.”  It’s really just showing where the sun is up and where it is down throughout the world… but it looks like a whale.
Never again.  I never want to sit through a 17 hour flight again.  I’ll walk and boat back to the US.  I am so bored the entire time.  Just sitting there drives me insane.  I never even watch a movie.  Although flying above the clouds and going through them is pretty.
Joburg Airport:
Welcome to South Africa, may we have your passport?
Dear US government… you can’t issue me a passport in 2015 when it’s only 2012.  And thanks to your little mistake they red flagged me, sent me through security, and scared the crap out of me.  One of my biggest fears through out the last few weeks have been airports.  For no reason I can explain, I have nightmares about them.  Needless to say, this little endeavor put me into tears.  The men in the room kept saying, “You shouldn’t cry.  It’s okay.”   It was cute (and also the only thing I could understand because their accents are so strong), but it just made me cry more.  I knew I had no reason to cry and I couldn’t stop.  I feared not being allowed into the country and losing my scholarship and not knowing what to do with the rest of my life.  And on top of it all, I couldn’t understand them, so I just looked like an idiot.  They just passed it off as a human error, and I have to find someway to fix it soon, before someone else official needs my passport.
At this point, it hit me.  Mainly because I really wanted to call my friends and family and have them support me.  I wanted to tell them the VISA story.  And I realized that they’d be reading it somewhere or they’d hear it in four months.  It took a while for the tears to stop. =(
I bought myself an ice cream treat after that.  And coffee.  The ice cream was good, and the chocolate bar in it was really good.  The coffee was crap.  No amount of creamers or sugar could make it taste better.  Oh, and they have coins that are 2 Rand.  The currency here is fun.
I fell asleep waiting by my gate.  I know I said I didn’t want to fly again, but I just want out of this airport so bad that I really want to be on this next flight.
Flight 3:
Short is an understatement.  By the time we’re seated and SAA hands out a full meal and cleaning up, we’ve landed.  I tried the plane’s coffee.  It’s just as bad as the airport’s coffee.  Maybe South African coffee is just bad.
Durban Airport:
Seven hour wait.  The rest of the Americans will show up and then we have an hour trip to the school.  Then my traveling here is over.
I went to the ‘toilet’ (they don’t call them restrooms) and hit my head really hard on the door.  Ouch.  I made a friend though!  He also goes to UKZN, but on a different campus.  He was picking up people for a conference.  After a little while I started understanding his accent.  He says it’s hard to understand American accents because they’re fast.
I slept during most of this lay over.  I just slept sitting down, laying my head on my luggage, which was sitting in front of me.
Interstudy finally showed up.  I was worried when they weren’t there at 8:10 and the American I knew coming here hadn’t gotten off the plane yet.  They were there a few minutes later.  And we were on our way!  Let the adventures begin.
Sarah Caulkins, DUSA Blogger

Safety and Security Abroad

As many of us enjoy summer travels or excitedly prepare for Study Abroad this fall, I’d like to take a moment to consider our safety. In light of recent tragic events, we’re reminded that while it’s seemingly impossible to control everything around us, it also reinforces the need to take precautions to ensure our safety and security.

On the Move

You will most likely be walking or taking a lot of public transportation while you are abroad. Even though you won’t be behind the wheel, you still need to know where you are going, and how to get there, before you set out. You might be concerned about standing out as a tourist by carrying around a map of the city or the public transportation routes. However, I doubt you’ll mind too much when you get on the wrong train and end up 40 minutes south of your flat in a part of town you’ve never seen before (I’ve done something like this too many times to count). It’s pretty easy to get directions off a smart phone, but keep in mind that your phone provider will charge you exponentially to use data while abroad, so have an alternate option available to you.

Also, use the buddy system, especially at night and early in the morning, or when you will be travelling through area’s where you know you will be a target. If you can’t help it and will be travelling alone, let someone know where you are going, preferably two people – one from the place you are leaving and one who you will meet at your destination.

If you do get lost, ask someone who looks official – a station guard, a clerk at a nearby store, a policeman, etc. – to point you in the right direction. Do not be afraid – or embarrassed – to ask for help multiple times until you get to where you need to be.

In your City

While everyone looks forward to feeling at home in the city where they have gone to study abroad, you don’t want to experience the rude awakening that you are still very much a foreigner in a strange place. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has a pretty good list of tips to stay safe on the street:

  • Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.
  • Try not to travel alone at night.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:
    • jostle you,
    • ask you for directions or the time,
    • point to something spilled on your clothing,
    • or distract you by creating a disturbance.
  • Beware of groups of vagrant children who could create a distraction to pick your pocket.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help.
  • Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • If you are confronted, don’t fight back — give up your valuables.

Party Responsibly 

It’s tempting to drop your inhibitions when you go abroad. Have fun, go out to pubs with friends, and dance at all the discotecas if you want, just make sure to watch yourself.

The establishments you might be tempted to visit in your host city are those catered towards tourists . These, unfortunately, are not always the safest of establishments and can attract some pretty seedy clientele looking to take advantage of inebriated youth from out of town. And I’m not just talking about the girls – guys are just as vulnerable as girls in this situation.

First and foremost, watch your drinks (if you choose to drink). You know the drill: always order your drink yourself and watch the bartender pour it in front of you. For whatever reason, tourist bars tend to add more liquor to their mixed drinks than what you would get at your local spot State-side, so make sure you see exactly how much alcohol is going in to your glass.

Once you have your drink, keep it close by your body at all times, and try to keep your hand covering the top of the glass. This will hopefully prevent anyone from spiking your drink. And like I said, guys are just as vulnerable. When I was travelling in Peru three of my friends had their drinks spiked while they were out – two of them where guys. People mistakenly believe that only women are at risk of being drugged, but men are often targeted, and then robbed.

If you do feel like you have been drugged, go to a hospital. Give the doctors as much information as you can provide, then contact your in-country program coordinator to let them know about your condition.

If you and your friends frequent the same bars and clubs over and over again while you are abroad, get to know the bouncers and bartenders that work there. If they are good at what they do, once they know you (and see you as a regular customer) they will watch out for you.

What if something does go wrong while I’m abroad?

If something does happen while you are abroad, you should first contact your in-country program coordinator. Your first reaction may be to call your friends and family, but to be honest, there isn’t much that they can do (except worry) from back home. Take down all of the contact information your program coordinator gives you at your orientation. Four numbers you should definitely have are:

1)   Your study abroad program’s on-site address and phone number(s)

2)   Your host family’s address and phone number(s)

3)   The local emergency phone numbers (police, fire, medical)

4)   The closest U.S. Consulate’s address and phone number

Keep them in your phone’s contact list, and written down in a second location, in case your phone is lost or stolen. Sometimes, those numbers become your lifelines.

The U.S. State Department has a very good resource for student’s who need help in emergencies while studying abroad. See their website (below) for more information.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of safety measures to take while studying abroad. Behind every safety warning is a call to be prepared and aware. Pay attention to your surroundings, especially the people around you, and prepare yourself for a misstep or mistake that could land you in trouble. This isn’t meant to scare you, but to prepare you for a true adventure. Enjoy yourself abroad! You will have a much better experience abroad knowing that you are safe and secure in your new surroundings, prepared to tackle any unexpected circumstances that may come your way.

Good Sources

More tips on how to keep yourself, your friends, and your belongings safe abroad!





–  Emily Bowman, DUSA Blogger

Reblog: Travel Side Effects–Mind Gymnastics

We found this great blog to share with you from twenty-somthingtravel.com!  This student talks through some big differences between being at home and travelling–some things to get you excited for this great experience!

“The curse of the traveller, is that no matter how happy you are, at least a small part of you always wishes you were somewhere else. Your eyes open to the massive amount of possibilities in the world, and it’s hard to focus on just one. Many people who take off in search of adventure quickly realize that travel is not like a cold that you get out of your system, but like an addiction that simply grows and feeds on itself.”

Link to full article:


What do you mean? I DON’T have to get there at least two hours in advance?

Growing up in the middle of the U.S., I had never experienced the functionality, accessibility, and true awesomeness of train travel before studying abroad this past fall.  I guess it would make sense that my rail experiences in my life thus far had only consisted of a ride on a mini train “choo-choo”-ing at a kid amusement park (hey, I’ve lived in Colorado all my life)!  But, after this last semester of traveling all over Europe, it seems as though I had missed out on one of the greatest forms of transportation EVER, and I wish we had more trains crisscrossing the our country as an alternative to the ever-familiar air and car travel.

Traveling by train is one of the fastest ways to get from one place to another, especially if you are traveling in-country abroad or venturing to other countries on the weekend.  Contrary to the dreaded lines, security, and early arrivals at airports, you can literally arrive at a train station a few minutes before your departure and still catch it!  George Winters once said that “if God had really intended men to fly, he’d make it easier to get to the airport,” which is totally true when you have to trek way outside of the city to get to major airports; this is the exact opposite with central train stations, however, as you almost always arrive right in the center of town and don’t have to coordinate a taxi or other transportation to get to where you are going.   

Did I forget to mention how relaxing trains are?!?  I loved sitting back in my chair and having a few hours to think and reflect on my past week or so of study abroad (or catch some much needed sleep before I began a new adventure in a foreign city).  I was so accustomed to the cultural mindset here in the U.S. of looking toward the future and advancing toward my professional and personal goals that I rarely ever reflected on my past experiences and what I had learned.  Training across Europe really gave me that opportunity to appreciate and understand the value of reflection and has helped me to be more mindful of what my past can teach me. 

I think that traveling by train is also a great opportunity to have a unique travel experience because you are able to see the breathtaking landscapes and countryside that lie between you and your destination (something you miss completely if you fly).  This quote I found sums up this idea pretty well: “Thanks to air travel, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.”  The beautiful hills and scenery aren’t the only interesting things you encounter on the train though, because there are plenty of things to see ON THE TRAIN, including people watching and chatting with foreigners.  I vividly remember having a two hour conversation with an Argentine mother who was traveling across Europe while I was on my way to Strasbourg, France for the weekend: what a quirky and fascinating lady she was! 

Traveling by train was an integral part of my study abroad experience and I really do miss it. So, until we get a better train network here in the U.S., you can find me riding the LightRail end-to-end, all-the-while taking some time to reflect on my current quarter and reminiscing about study abroad.

Samson Eberhart, OIE Peer Advisor

Unique Denmark: Bike Culture

Here is my video about bike culture in Denmark. I thought it would be an interesting topic because I remember experiencing some culture shock when I got here about just how many bikes there are everywhere. I also wanted to include a few clips from the World Championship Bike Race that I took when I went to go watch it with my Danish visiting Family.

Rosa, DUSA Vlogger in Copenhagen

Book Low, Fly High: 15 Euro Flights do Exist!

Low-Budget Airlines: Cost Effective Way to Travel Through Europe

Travel throughout Europe has become much more time and cost efficient with the increased availability of low-budget airlines! Low-budget airlines provide money conscious individuals with a cheap means of transportation. For those that are daring to book a flight with WizzAir or Condor (I swear, they are legit) than here are some pointers for traveling low-budget style!

Continue reading “Book Low, Fly High: 15 Euro Flights do Exist!”

How to travel around Europe!

Transportation in Europe

I apologize to anyone who is studying abroad in a non-European country but since my travel experience is limited to Eastern and parts of Western Europe that is what this blog will cover.

Moscow, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Budapest – you name a city and it probably has an extensive transportation system comparable to Washington, D.C., Boston or New York City.  The only difference will be language.  Believe it or not, not all signs in Europe are posted in English and this makes many tourists rather frustrated.  Here are some things to prepare for taking public transportation for the first time in a new, unfamiliar city (and trying to blend in):

Continue reading “How to travel around Europe!”