Breaking the Rules: Learn to ‘Flex for Culture’ in Turkey

Photo: AntoniO BonvinO

Submitted by Rachel Whitcomb, Global Ambassador in Istanbul, Turkey.


Oh that’s right…I’m STUDYING abroad…

Sometimes you get so caught up in the traveling aspect of being abroad that you lose sight of what sent you here in the first place.  But of course, I’m attending class and doing homework, I would never forget!

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Spanish, Siestas and Sangria: Life in Madrid

The gorgeous view from Palacio de Cibeles

Submitted by Kristen Schlotman, Global Ambassador in Madrid, Spain


I have been studying in Madrid for just over a week so far, and it has been absolutely amazing. Our first day was orientation. The program advisors showed us how to get to the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos campus, the ins and outs of Madrid as well as the USAC program. Then we took Spanish language placement exams. I was surprised when I tested into Intermediate Spanish I. I was nervous at first since I hadn’t taken Spanish since my junior year of high school, but it’s not so bad. A lot of the vocabulary and grammar came back very quickly and I definitely feel that I am in the right class level.

One of the best parts about the classes is the size. There are only five of us in my

Spanish keyboard

Intermediate Spanish class, and just two in my Spanish Conversation class. This is really helpful for learning the language. It almost feels as if we have private tutors. My class schedule is really nice as well. I take the metro to campus for class at 9 AM and am done by 12:30 PM every day, just in time to get lunch. The last few days I have been adventuring on the metro to random parts of the city. I will just pick a spot on the map and go. I usually walk around for a bit and then find some café or cerveceria for lunch. It’s fun to sip on sangria on the patio and watch people walk by.

Following lunch, people in the program have been getting together to see the different cultural highlights of the program. Yesterday, we went to Retiro Park and then to the Prado Museum, one of the three major art museums in Madrid. Today we went to another, lesser-known art museum called the Caixaforum. After that we went to a building named the Palacio de Cibeles (pictured above). The building itself isn’t that special, but the top floor has a great view of the city.

View from my homestay at dusk

Depending on what time my roommate and I get back to the homestay, I try to take a late siesta before dinner at 9:30 PM. Dinners with our host parents have allowed me to experience some of the best food of my life. Tortilla Espanola and gazpacho soup are now two of my new favorite dishes.

Madrid is known as a city that never sleeps and I completely agree with that statement. Bars and discotecas don’t become busy until 1 or 2 AM and the night normally ends at 4 AM or later. Last week, most of our program went to Kapital, the famous seven-story nightclub. It was a crazy night and we didn’t get back home until 5 AM. Tonight, I am meeting friends at a wine bar that used to be one of Ernest Hemmingway’s favorite haunts. In the near future, we are leaving to go on a day trip to Segovia, so hopefully I won’t be out too late, but you never know in a city like Madrid!


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Ireland: There’s City Life and Then Country Life



Submitted by Global Ambassador, Brendan, Galway, Ireland

The phrase “as different as night and day” is clichéd and I don’t like using it, but it’s hard to find another phrase to describe the difference between the city and the countryside here in Ireland. On Sunday, I spent the day exploring the city of Galway. I visited the markets, watched the street performers and grabbed food at food stands along the docks.

I got to take in the whole city feel where you walk around, and there is vibrant energy everywhere around you.

On Monday we went up into the highlands of Connemara, and an hour-long drive made me feel like I was transported a world away. People were replaced by sheep as the dominant population. The sound of music from performers and chatter from passerbys on the street was replaced by the sound of silence. As I hiked up the mountain with a group and looked at the landscape surrounding me, which was hard to make out through all the rain, I felt almost like I was going to knock on heaven’s door.

Galway, Ireland

The wind and the rain might have made many miserable, but not me at that moment. True, the bus ride back felt a lot longer in soaked jeans and I felt like I had a lake in each of my shoes, but sitting up there on that mountaintop, looking around, it was hard not to have a feeling of utter joy. There’s no other way to describe it as I looked back on where I came from, and looked down beneath me to see the sheep grazing on the grass and rocks I had just traversed over.

It was the image of the Emerald Isle that’s seared into one’s mind before visiting. The image of vibrant green landscape extending out as far as the eye can see. But that’s not the only image of Ireland that I found to be true over the last few days.

The Irish do certainly know how to celebrate. That much was evident this past weekend as the Volvo Ocean Race finished up. I have never seen a city center as crowded as I did then, and it was all ages out celebrating. The young and the old. It seemed as if the collective city of Ireland was out, enjoying the festivities throughout the entire day.

Oh, and one last image that is also totally true is that the Irish love to talk and tell stories. Wait in line for the toilets and you’ll hear a story. Order a pint at the pub and you’ll hear a story. Walk into a small store and you’re bound to hear at least three, more if there are no other customers at the time.

There is something different about Ireland, and if I had to pick a word to describe it, it would be “openness.” The openness to talk to strangers, the openness of celebrations in the streets and the openness of the rolling green hills of the countryside.

Oh Ireland, I am starting to like you!

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Madrid Adventure Begins…


Madrid, Spain

Submitted by Kristen Schlotman, Global Ambassador in Madrid, Spain

Eleven years ago, my sister studied abroad at Oxford. Ever since then I knew I had to study abroad. Going into college, it was number one on my list. Probably due to the fact that my sister studied in England, I always wanted to study there too. It wasn’t until this past year, when all my friends were coming back from their own experiences abroad, did I decide to study in Madrid, Spain. I researched several different programs and ended up with USAC, University Studies Abroad Consortium. A friend of mine did the same program last summer and highly recommended it. Not to mention, it is one of the cheapest programs out there.  USAC has several programs in Spain, but I chose Madrid because I love big cities and knew it would be a great place to practice my Spanish-speaking skills.

USAC Madrid offers two different housing options: apartments with other study abroad students or homestays with Spanish families. I picked homestay. I want to practice Spanish as much as possible and experience authentic Spanish culture. I want to drink café con leche every day and have paella for dinner. I can’t wait to talk to my host mother in Spanish and learn what you can’t learn in a classroom.

I knew I was going to study abroad no matter what, but luckily enough one of my best friends from my home university, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, decided to do USAC Madrid as well. Hannah and I even managed to get assigned the same host mother. In addition to studying in Madrid, we planned a two-week adventure across Europe before the program started. In that short amount of time we went to Barcelona, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, Venice, Rome, Athens, and Santorini. I don’t know if I would recommend trying for such a jam-packed schedule, but I would definitely suggest traveling to other cities and even countries while you are abroad.

I was told that a gift would be a nice gesture to present to our host mother. Unfortunately, Hannah and I were already in Europe when I got this suggestion. During our travels, I kept an eye out for a nice gift for our host mother. Finally in Santorini, we found a beautiful, blue, silk scarf. I knew this was a perfect souvenir from Greece and a great gift for our host mother.

The program is starting today. Hannah and I have already met a few others and will meet everyone tonight at a group dinner. I can’t believe I’ve been waiting over a decade for this to start. Wish me luck!

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South of Italy Field Study!

Sorrento, Italy

Overlooking the town of Sorrento!

Submitted by Allyce Morino, Global Ambassador in Viterbo, Italy

Ciao! I have just returned from my five-day tour of Southern Italy! It was such a whirlwind trip; I feel like I haven’t had a moment to slow down! Though the trip was enjoyable, there were some hiccups along the way. In each city, I learned something that is crucial to the study abroad experience.

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A Chicagoan Lands in Ireland. What one Global Ambassador Thinks.

Dublin By Night

photo credit:

Submitted by Global Ambassador, Brendan Bond, in Galway Ireland

The name’s Bond, Brendan Bond… now that I’ve got that joke out of the way, let me introduce myself a bit. I’m a 21-year-old rising senior at Loyola University Chicago, home of the Ramblers. I’ve lived in the Chicago area my whole life and while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the United States, I have never gone overseas.

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Tarangire National Park – The Only Place I’ve Ever Felt Truly Happy While Being Bitten By Bugs

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Submitted by Maggie Rodney, Global Ambassador in Tanzania

Tanzania Abroad101

Baby zebra! Isn’t it just the cutest creature on the face of the planet? (No offense to my dog.) I would love to take one of these home with me.

Our group went to Tarangire National Park yesterday, and it was by far the most amazing place I’ve ever been. Again, I keep having to remember that I haven’t even been to Ngorogoro or the Serengeti yet, which are going to be the first wonders of the world I’ve seen. But, regardless, Tarangire was absolutely fantastic.

First of all, it looks like a scene straight out of The Lion King. I saw at least three structures that looked like Pride Rock and I wanted to go check them out to see if I could find Simba (which, I have learned, is “lion” in Swahili).

Tanzania Abroad101

The cheetah goes after its prey. I wouldn’t mind bringing this home, either, but I might have to declaw it first.

Second of all, I saw some things that I never thought I would get to see in my lifetime. Within ten minutes of being in the park, I had seen a cheetah go on the hunt and take down a dik dik. Just watching it run reminded me of the many hundreds of times I had watched that on Animal Planet, and I still cannot believe I got to see it from less than a hundred yards away.  Then, we spotted baby zebras and elephants. We had already seen some pretty young ones at Lake Manyara, but these were brand new.  The baby zebra was still fluffy and red, and was probably the cutest creature I’ve ever seen.

Then came the real highlights – lions! We saw two adult lions from pretty far away, but I was able to get a pretty good picture. Later, we got a call on the radio that a lion cub had been spotted. When we got to where it had been seen, we were told that it was hiding in the bushes, and to just hang tight for a little while.  Here is where I learned the most important lesson of these game drives – PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. Unfortunately, convincing a group of teenagers to sit still for 20 minutes is difficult, but ten minutes after we drove away there were multiple calls on the radio saying it had come out. So, I missed my chance at seeing it. Which now ranks as one of the biggest regrets of my life. Lesson learned. But the day ended with a monkey leaping through the window of the car I was sitting in and our driver having to chase it out – absolutely hilarious.

Tanzania Abroad101

The lionesses we spotted… Note the zebra standing to the left looking slightly confused. These lions were sitting less than ten feet from an entire herd, and neither species really seemed to care.

Of course, as the world tends to work, something had to be just not quite perfect.  Tarangire has tse tse flies, which is basically the African equivalent of a horsefly. Somehow, my car ended up in an area with lots of flies, and little wildlife – luckily, I avoided bites, and the ones where we are don’t carry disease anyway. But the day definitely could have done without those. We WERE the only ones who saw any lions, though, so we like to think it balanced out.


“Classroom” Observations of Wildlife in Tanzania

Submitted by Maggie Rodney, Abroad101’s Global Ambassador in Tanzania


Jambo! The last few days here at the Moyo Hills Camp have been insane, so hopefully I’ll be able to fit everything in – I doubt I will. We spent Friday and Saturday exploring Lake Manyara National Park. We saw giraffes, elephants and zebras from only about ten feet away, and even more animals from less than 200 feet.  Continue reading

How To Stay Fit And Have Fun in Chengdu, China!

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Below Submitted by Danielle Au, Global Ambassador in Chengdu, China

Run by Eric Nelson (eric_nelson) on
Run by Eric Nelson

Exercise abroad!? How!?

It is extremely hard to stay fit or exercise when you travel because your routine could be completely different, but it is possible if you put your mind to it and keep up with it.

Here is the deal: You can work out at the gym but it is either expensive, around 70USD a month or it’s not a nice gym. The gym I went to in Beijing smelled like smoke and the highest dumbbell was 30lb.

So how do I stay fit while abroad?! CROSSFIT! Why is it so good? Because it requires NO equipment and NO gym. It is all based on how hard you push yourself.

Also my other classmates love running, and since there are so many awesome parks in Chengdu, you can just go out and run one day. The best thing is all these solutions are FREE!

When you’re done exercising and you want to go have fun, what do you do? Nightlife in Chengdu!

Chengdu by night by Viet Hung (VietHung) on
Chengdu by night by Viet Hung

The nightlife in Chengdu is awesome! But it’s also dependent on the group of people you go out with. There is one club that we always go to and it’s called Imperial. If you go to Chengdu and want to have a good time, GO TO IMPERIAL. Just tell your cab driver: Lan Kwai Fong (they know where to go)

Also if clubbing is not your thing, there is a street with over 30 bars. It is awesome! There are also plenty of Western, Irish, and other pubs all over Chengdu. Good luck with your easy ways to stay fit and have fun in Chengdu!


Maggie Engaging with the Locals in Tanzania

Submitted by Maggie Rodney, Abroad101’s Global Ambassador in Tanzania

Kifaru (Rhino)...My home for the next month!

Hey all, Maggie coming at you from Moyo Hill Camp in Tanzania! I’m officially halfway through my second day of classes here, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised at how acclimated I feel, which I did not expect. All of the people in the program – students, staff and professors – are really amazing people. The students all seem extremely interested and willing to explore everything around us, which I think is absolutely crucial to having a successful time here. The professors all have extensive study and knowledge in their fields, and all seem so excited to be teaching us what they know. Although, they like to call me out on the fact that I’m a finance major, and pretty much the only non-science major here. But, really, that shouldn’t stop anyone with an interest in the subject from coming; I have had no trouble so far with the coursework thus far, and we’re pretty well under way. I would suggest that anyone thinking about coming has at least a basic understanding of biology, though. Continue reading