International Travel Tips, from an International Traveler!

Working hard all week, calls for international travel on the weekend! See how Junior Alex Jackson balanced the two and her tips on traveling abroad while abroad on the Summer Global Internship Program in Spain.

The great part about having an internship abroad is that you are abroad! This means you get to travel on the weekend with your friends and see the rest of the world more easily and usually less expensive than you would if you left from the United States. It is also a great opportunity to get to know other students on the trip.

The first weekend I decided it would be best to stay in Madrid and just explore the city I would be calling home for a couple months. I was able to find some great restaurants and hang out at the tallest rooftop in Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes. We were able to relax, take pictures, and see how beautiful of a city Madrid really is. Besides Madrid, within Spain I also went to Granada, Barcelona, Valencia, and the island of Mallorca. My favorite out of all these places was Barcelona! It was just like Madrid but with a beach, and we were able to see La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. Fun travel tip: If you want to see all the big landmarks of the city book a bike tour, it is a great way to get exercise and see the entire city!

Traveling outside of Spain was a little more expensive for us. I think if we would have booked those weekend while we were still in the United States it would have been cheaper. However, a group of us got together and booked the trips! They were a little expensive but definitely worth it because I was able to explore the world. Outside of Spain I went to Portugal, France, and London. Portugal was a ton of fun because almost everyone from the internship program went on the trip. We all stayed in a hostel together and were able to experience the celebration of Saint John, the patron Saint of Porto, Portugal. At this festival there were food trucks, drinks, and hammers! As part of the tradition, people hit each other over the head with hammers during the event. Originally, you only hit those you wanted to ‘court’ with a hammer, but today it is just fun for everyone to do! It was so much fun to be able to experience another culture! Beside Portugal my favorite place was France, more specifically Disneyland France! It was a great time and was a smaller version of Disney World Florida.

From all this traveling I learned two things: to plan and be flexible. It is important to come in with a plan, but you also have to be flexible with it. It can be hard to be flexible when something goes wrong because you have limited time, but if you worry about what you are missing you will miss the entire trip! However, it is important to plan the excursions like the bike tour or even tickets to a museum. Also, many times the hotel will have pamphlets for you of things to do while in country. If you run out of things to do for the weekend ask a local, they can tell you where the best spots are to eat or visit! 

New Country, New City, New Experiences!

After just one week in Madrid, Spain Junior Alex Jackson discusses the excitement of moving to a new country and navigating your way around the city.  

The first week has been full of activities, adjusting to work, and exploring the city! The flight to Madrid was long but it was funny running into other people on the trip when we landed in Madrid because we all looked a little lost with our phones out looking for directions where to go. We were all bussed to the accommodations and they were beautiful and in a perfect location, Moncloa! Moncloa is a part of town with multiple metro stations, popular restaurants, and shopping within walking distance. They were very similar to a dorm but we had dinner included, our rooms were cleaned while we were there, and it was a 5 minute walk from two metro stations.

The partnering agency did a great job at making sure we adjusted well. They planned a welcome reception for us where we were able to meet all the students in the program! They then went over what the 10 weeks would look like for us and how to get our metro cards activated. After this meeting my friends and I decided to settle in and then wander to find the nearest McDonald’s. I know finding a McDonald’s in Spain?! The one thing I have learned from traveling so much is to always find the nearest McDonald’s!! Not to eat at all the time but sometimes it is just good to eat food that reminds you of home!

Day 2 in Spain my roommate and friend bought a 2 day metro pass to go get our month long passes. This was a task! First, we got turned around and walked 15 minutes in the wrong direction. When we finally got on the metro station, we were not paying attention and missed our stop! We had to double back to the metro card office where we waited for a short period of time until they were able to help us. We took our pictures and got home without a problem!

The day before work we traveled to our new work sites to make sure we could get there on Monday morning. I ran into a little trouble, but the partner agency was very helpful and escorted me to my site Monday morning, so I would get there safely! My first day of work was nerve wracking and fun at the same time. My office was so small, but everyone was so nice! They took me on a tour of the office, helped me get situated, and even took me out to lunch! They spoke in Spanish the entire time, but this is what I wanted. It was a little overwhelming but I was able to understand enough to learn about my co-workers and the job. I worked from 9-2 everyday, so I asked them to make a “What to do in Madrid” list that I could do after work! On the first day of work, do not be nervous, dress your best, and ask questions! Remember that they picked you to intern with them for a reason and that first impressions are the most important. Treat the internship as a way to figure out what you like and don’t like, ask questions to get to know the company, employees, and their everyday jobs.

Besides work, the partnering agency had so many activities planned for us the first week! We went to some of the staple places in Madrid like Parque Retiro, Temple Debod, and the Royal Palace of Madrid. These were just the places I went to but it was optional to go. My favorite was Parque Retiro is was huge, beautiful, full of activity! People were walking, running, reading in the grass, and playing music in open areas. The park was peaceful and full of life at the same time. The group had a picnic there and took so many pictures together. My first week was great and if it is a precursor to the rest of my trip I would enjoy it!

Life and Study in Strasbourg

Ling Shao shares her life in Strasbourg, France, from what she recommends seeing in the city to how the education system is different, as she studies abroad on the Student Exchange Program.

Strasbourg is a really safe and quiet city close to Germany and Switzerland. You can always take a train to go anywhere you want outside of France. If you live downtown, you can go anywhere that might interests you by walking. There is a really famous Cathedral named “Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg”.

You can see the whole view of the city at the top of the cathedral. It has the same name as Paris’ famous cathedral but it is much bigger and less touristy than the Paris one. I am not able to see the famous light show, but if you come in August or Early September, you can enjoy the light show in the evening.  It is really nice.

Other than the Notre Dame Cathedrale, you can also enjoy the biggest Christmas Fair in Strasbourg. It is still November, but normal trees are ready to become Christmas trees.

The study here is really different than that in the US. We only have 5 or 6 classes per week, however, classes here are more intense. One period class might take about 3-4 hrs and in some special cases, you might have to take an 8 hr class on Saturday with breaks. So bring some snacks and water for the classes and check your schedules before you arrange some trips on weekends. There is less homework which also means the grades heavily depend on the exams. I suggest that listening to the classes on a daily bases will help, so  you will not be so stressed during finals. I haven’t experienced an exam yet, but I am pretty sure that there will be a really intense reviewing week before the exam.

It’s a Small World After All

Calling out O-H! and getting an I-O! back in the Glass Mountains in Australia while on a hike, along with may other encounters, Maggie Hobson studying at Curtin University realizes how small the world can be and how anywhere can feel like home.

It’s crazy how small the world can be.  Especially when you are traveling with an open mind and meeting as many people as possible.  This past week and a half I traveled with four other exchange students to the East Coast of Australia during our time off from Curtin University.  On the first plane ride from Perth to Cairns, I sat next to a girl that looked about the same age as me and we got talking.  It turns out she attends University of Guelph in Canada, the same university that the two guys who were on my trip attend.  What a small world.  We ended up spending some time with her in Cairns, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and  the Daintree Rainforest.  After those few days in Cairns, we departed ways with our new friend and flew to Brisbane.

Selfie with a turtle in the Great Barrier Reef

While in Brisbane, we were able to explore the city as well as nearby areas such as Noosa, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast.  While on a hike through the Glass Mountains, we passed by a group of people headed down the trail.  I took a double take and saw a woman wearing an Ohio State t-shirt. “OH” I shouted and of course she replied with an “IO” and a big grin.  Even though that was such a short moment, there was a part of me that felt like I was back at home.

Nick, Steffi and I in the Glade Mountains, right outside of Brisbane

After a bit of a drive, we made it to Sydney.  We were able to meet so many people who had been traveling around the world for months, sharing stories of their adventures.  I found it amazing how so many people travel to places alone and just meet people as they go.  All the travelers we met had such open mindsets, making them people we wanted to spend time with.  So we spent a lot of time with them and one day while hiking along the coast from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach, an older gentleman stopped my friend from New York because of her shirt.  Turns out he had attended the same university as her, New Paltz.  We learned from him that he has lived in Sydney for quite a few years now, but was a born and raised New Yorker.  What a small world.

Views on the hike from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach in Sydney

Finally, towards the end of our trip, we flew to Melbourne.  It happened to be Kings Day, which is a Dutch holiday and the last girl traveling in my group was Dutch.  That evening, after exploring the city, we attended a Dutch festival to celebrate the holiday that was so important to her and her culture.  I spent my night trying all kinds of Dutch food and meeting spirited people who were happy to talk about their Dutch traditions.

My friend Steffi enjoying food in China Town in Melbourne before heading to the Dutch festival

By the end of our week an a half trip on the East Coast of Australia, myself (from Ohio), my friends Mitch and Nick (both from Toronto), my friend Paige (from New York) and my friend Steffi (from Amsterdam) were all able to experience something from each of our home towns.  In my time exploring the world and seeing so many new things, I was baffled by how small the world can really be.

In Bruges, Belgium

Sydney Lapin shares her adventures in Belgium, meeting the locals in Brussles and Bruges. Family dinners, an amazing hot chocolate, and a picturesque towns welcomed her to the country as she studies on the Student Exchange Program in Strasbourg, France.

Today I was thinking back to one of my first trips in January, Belgium. I had taken an overnight bus to Brussels with a few friends, and we arrived around 7:30 am. Anna, my friend from Finland, has a home is Brussels! Her parents work with the EU, and they move there every few years from what it sounds like. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and her mom had even prepared a lovely European breakfast for us! There were croissant, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and muesli, and juice. Anna’s mother spoke great English, and I was so appreciative to be around a parent again! It was like being at home a bit.

Anna showing us around Brussels!

We had a wonderful day of Anna showing us around Brussels. We took the long way to the city center, so that we could see the Parc de la Cinquentenare, (the park with the large gate that looks like the Brandenburg gate), the European Parliament, the Royal Palace, and a stunning view of Brussels near the Fine Arts Museum. We made our way toward Grand Place, where the buildings are gorgeously trimmed with gold decals. It was absolutely stunning. I think in the square alone there were four chocolate stores! Safe to say I was not dieting on this trip. But first, street waffles.

The group roaming Brussels!

We were on the hunt for the perfect street waffle. I ordered one with caramel, Belgian chocolate, and bananas. It took until I had about two bites left for me to realize it was landing like a pound of rocks in my stomach…but the taste was SO worth it!

Carly, Haley and I with our Belgian Waffles!

We walked around a bit more, and had planned to go home and relax and then head back out for dinner somewhere. When we arrived at Anna’s however, her mom had cooked a traditional Finnish meal for us! We all had drinks and discussed things about America and Finland, and each of us wrote a little note in the guest book that Anna’s family keeps.

In the morning, my friends had planned to go to Cologne, Germany but I was a little more interested in seeing Bruges, a more Northern town in Belgium, so I booked a night in a hostel just outside of the town and jumped on a train to Bruges! The train took about an hour, and when I arrived I had to take the public buses over to the area that the hostel was located. As I was sitting on the bus, I was a little unsure of what stop I was getting off at. An old man next to me noticed, and started speaking something in Flemmish. When he realized I had no idea what he was saying, the guy across from us laughed and translated. In Belgium, they speak Flemmish and French, so the man who spoke English and I had a nice conversation about speaking French, his friends in the states who live in New Mexico, and about the canal tours.

After dropping off my things, I headed out with my camera into the extremely picturesque streets of Bruges. I went on the canal tour, which was really cool and showed the entire city from a different perspective.

View from the water.

I had done some research on where I wanted to spend time in Bruges, besides just walking around, and so I headed to ‘The Old Chocolate House’ for hot chocolate! It was AMAZING. I sat in the restaurant upstairs, and ordered Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, and an assortment of 10 pralines (mystery chocolates!). When the hot coco arrived, it was a mug of steamed milk, and then a cup filled with your ingredients that you are supposed to dump in and stir. Even the cup was made of chocolate! It was so delicious, I went back a second time while being in the town.

The Old Chocolate House style Hot Coco!

The thing about Europe I noticed, especially in these smaller towns, is that so much closes around 6/7 pm. So I walked around a little, and bought my friends some assortments of chocolates, but then just sat in this little restaurant I found for a while until I felt hungry enough to eat again! I had to eat dinner, because there was a dish I was told I needed to try called “Waterzooi”. I ordered a drink, and the traditional dish, and wrote in my journal about my travel day. The restaurant was called “Brugge-Link”, and the dish was so amazing. It was almost like a cream of potato base with chicken and vegetables, and came with mashed potatoes on the side. Totally worth being overly full!

As I was walking back to the hostel, I ran into some sort of fire festival being held behind the Basilica of the Holy Blood. There were stands for food and drinks, a band playing music, and entertainers playing with fire! It was such a cool thing to run into!

In the morning, I got up before the sun rose to pack up my things and walk around the town while it was quiet. I was happy that the hostel was situated a little outside of the town, because the streets and alleys were just stunning. I was happy to be with my camera.


The rest of the day I explored. I roamed the town, went into the Basilica of the Holy Blood church, climbed the Belfry (the town tower in the center), walked around the ‘Lake of Love’, and then found a place called ‘Wijngaerde Beguinage’ which was a home for women, religious women, and widows who wished to live an “independent but committed life outside the recognized orders with their vows of fidelity and poverty”. It was considered a “city of peace”, and was a really beautiful area.

Swans in the “Lake of Love”
City of Peace

After strolling around some more, sending a couple postcards, and of course eating more chocolate, I took the train back to Brussels where I was catching another overnight bus back to Strasbourg. On the train I got to reflect on my time in Bruges, and my love of travel. Sometimes it’s just good to get away for a little and let yourself explore new things. I learned that I enjoy my own company, and that’s something that is really important in life! I hope to one day take my parents to Bruges and show them around, because it was such a lovely and picturesque little town.

Bruges City Center

Kakehashi Project 7: Big Day Out in Tokyo

A full day in Tokyo, Japan was dedicated to exploring the city! From Asakusa Temple, Harajyuku shopping district, to an observation tower overlooking Tokyo city, the students dive into the unique and interesting capital of Japan.

The sixth day started with Austin eating all of the eggs at the breakfast buffet, as usual. However, this day would be unusual as we would be traveling to different sites around Tokyo and given time to explore. First, we went to Asakusa to visit Sensoji Temple and Nakamise Street. The Sensoji Temple is an ancient Buddhist Temple built in 7th century AD. It was very interesting to see the structure of the different buildings on the larger complex as well as the large crowd we were walking through. We saw many women dressed in yukatas (a summer kimono) taking pictures in front of the different structures. It seemed like this was popular, as some of the shops we passed offered yukata rentals. Just outside of the temple area was Nakamise Street, a large area of street vendors and shops. Some people decided to keep exploring around and made it out to the Sumida river.

Sensoji Temple

Looking out from the Temple, many shops and vendors are set up in the street
Dennis at the Sumida river with the Tokyo Skytree in the distance

The original Pokemon video games (developed in Japan) included a part of the game where players could enter a large department store with many stories and specific groupings of items being sold on each floor. Growing up in the United States, this did not make a lot of sense, but upon visiting Akihbara, it started to make sense. Akihabara’s two main attraction points were a mall and bookstore. The mall was seven floors, with the lower floors resembling technology and department stores and the upper floors having current popular culture branded items (such as Pokemon, Star Wars, and Super Mario). The book store was nine floors tall with different types of manga books on each, though it was very tough for us to decipher the difference between types of manga books because we couldn’t read the language. There were also some sections dedicated to hobbies such as trains and automobiles.

Going up the escalator at the bookstore in Akihabara. This section has books on computers and coding.

We then went to Meiji-jingu Shrine & Harajuku; the Shrine was part of a larger park where many tourists and locals were walking and enjoying the scenery. Meiji-jingu is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 – 1912. The shrine was built in 1920.

Entrance to the path leading to Meiji-jingu Shrine

Across the main road next to the park was a small St. Patrick’s day festival (as our big day out in Tokyo happened to be March 17th). Many people living in Columbus have visited the Dublin Irish Festival – the core concept is that a group of first, second, and third generation Irish living in America put on a large cultural festival, complete with Irish dancing, traditional folk music, exhibits, a lot of food, and games like Gaelic football. The festival here in Japan that we stumbled upon was much smaller than the festival in Columbus, but still had much of the same types of stands and presentations; there was a street rugby game, a live band, and some typical Irish food. The most interesting part of this festival, however, was that it was put on by Japanese people (as opposed to Irish immigrants and descendants); everyone in the live band playing the Irish folk music was Japanese. One of the contacts from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that they did not know about St. Patrick’s day in Japan until recent years, so it is small but growing as a celebration.

Japanese celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Harajuku

Harajuku was an extremely crowded shopping district. With the sheer number of people walking around, it felt like being in New York City, but the streets were extremely quiet and peaceful with no shouting, horns honking, litter, or unpleasant smells. One thing that really stuck out was the customer service we encountered. In America, we’re used to retail workers being indifferent (more or less) to their jobs, and it quickly became clear that Japanese retail workers will bend over backwards for customers, requested or not, which was interesting to see. For example, Dennis had finished trying on some shirts in Adidas and went to see some of the shirts back to their racks. Even though he was only about 20 feet away from the rack, an employee quickly ran up with a smile, took the shirts, and put them back. Similarly, Jacob was looking at shirts and a store employee would not let him fold the shirts back up himself, insisting that he let her fold them.

Harajuku street corner overlooking the crowd

After Harajuku, we returned to our hotel to relax and get ready for the big travel day ahead of us. Before going to bed, Ethan led a group down the block to a mall that had a 60th floor observation deck looking out over Tokyo. It only cost ¥900 (about $9), and the views were amazing.

No caption necessary!

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 8: Sunday Scaries

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Kakehashi Project 2: The Undergrads and The PhDs

The first day of adventures in Japan! The group met with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn more about the Japanese economy and the countries characteristics. After a tasty lunch they visited the Imperial Palace and ended up with a great photo shot!

The first day started with a continental breakfast in the basement of our hotel. Austin arrived as soon as they opened, determined to try as much as possible and fill up for the day. The rest of the group was still either getting ready or sleeping, so he made friends with a group of students from Rutgers that was also participating in the Kakehashi Project.

After checking out of the hotel, we left for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). During our ride in, we finally got a chance to see the city during the daytime. We arrived at MOFA and were quickly ushered up to a large conference room. Our group from Fisher as well as students from Rutgers, University of Kentucky, and UNC Chapel Hill all gathered to be addressed by the ambassadors from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) on the nature of the program and what to expect. Immediately following the orientation, Mr. Ogiwara Hiroshi, an economist from MOFA, gave a presentation on the Japanese economy. He highlighted the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) as well as the trade relationship between the United States and Japan. Some of the PhD students from University of Kentucky asked him very insightful questions to promote a good discussion.

Sitting in our orientation session at MOFA

We departed MOFA to eat lunch at a local Tokyo restaurant. There were two long parallel tables for our group, and without any sort of direction or conversation, all of the males sat at one table and all of the females sat at the other, not unlike a middle-school dance. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the meal; Pat from OSU liked the Edamame beans so much that he ate them whole – shells included!

Ahmed and Pat getting ready to enjoy our first restaurant meal in Tokyo

After lunch, we attended a lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko, a professor at the Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management (SDM), teaching international political economy and Japanese diplomacy, as well as a Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet. This presentation was by far the most impactful on many of us.

As he tried to summarize Japan in 23 PowerPoint slides, what resonated with us was the way in which he divided Japan’s identity into three pillars: resilience, continuity, and maritime identity. As an example of Japan’s historical resilience, Professor Taniguchi alluded to the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping. This devastating natural disaster caused 15,895 casualties, left 6,156 injured, and 2,539 missing. According to the MOFA, 116 countries and 28 international organizations offered assistance, including the United States. Despite the damage, Japan persevered through the tragedy and carried on as a stronger nation.  Today, Japan remembers the date of the Tsunami, March 11th, in remembrance and in honor of those suffered.

Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko speaking on Japanese resilience, continuity, and maritime identity

The second pillar was continuity. Japan is well-known for bridging the gap between tradition and innovation. This is best exemplified by how Japan has the world’s two most longstanding operating hotels, the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and Hoshi Ryokan, which were founded in 705 and 718, respectively. In addition, Japan is home to the world’s oldest sake brewery, Sudo Honke, and the world’s oldest family business, Kongo Gumi, which has been building temples for 14 centuries. And yet, Japan has been on the forefront of innovation in major industries such as the technology and the automotive industry. Still, traditional Japanese culture has been passed on through generations and remains important to people in the modern day, such as their tea ceremonies (which we got to experience later in our trip, so keep reading our blogs).

The third pillar of maritime identity has shaped Japan’s economic positioning in the world. As it pertains to global trade, Japan’s importing and exporting operations are shaped by Japan’s maritime positioning. Furthermore, much of Japan’s most well known dietary delights are facilitated through Japan’s oceanic proximity.

We walked out of the presentation really starting to wrap our heads around what Japan really is. As Americans, we grapple with what America is and what it means to be an American; the lecture from Professor Taniguchi Tomohiko gave us a significant amount of insight into what Japan is and what it means to be Japanese. Fittingly, the next stop on our trip was the Imperial Palace. The landscape reminded us a lot of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as there was open gravel walking space in the middle of the city. Most of the group stayed in front of the entrance and saw the guards changing out, and a small group of us walked around the park area.

Chandler thought that it would be a perfect photo opportunity with the sun at dusk and the city in the distance, so we quickly posed; the picture ended up looking like an early 2000s boy band album cover, which we were all extremely pleased with.

From left to right: Joe, Austin, Judson, Dennis, Evan, and Jacob

Miho rushed us off to the Tokyo airport for a domestic flight to Oita, a seaside prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island. We were told that dinner would be on our own in the airport, and we were handed ¥2000 each (the whole idea of the exchange rate hadn’t fully set in yet, so we initially thought we were rich. It was about $20). Erica decided to use her money to get a haircut in the airport, using Kevin as a translator. The flight to Oita was roughly 90 minutes, but it went very quickly as we all slept through it. After a quick bus ride to our hotel, we again went right to bed, beat from the day.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Chinese New Year in Singapore

Megan Reardon shares her experience spending time over Chinese New Year! From Hong Bao to lantern festivals, she describes the celebration she saw while on the Student Exchange Program.

“恭喜发财!” As I walked around Singapore during Chinese New Year, you could hear these words being uttered by groups in passing. The literal translation of 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái) is “Congratulations on making money,” meaning well wishes for prosperity in the New Year. Chinese New Year is one of Singapore’s biggest cultural celebrations. It is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, which traditionally falls around the middle of February. The best way to describe the importance of Chinese New Year is by comparing it to the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year is a way to celebrate deities and ancestors, as well as an opportunity for family to come together from around the world.

There are many traditions that occur during Chinese New Year. Perhaps the most treasured tradition is the giving of a red Hong Bao envelope to the young. The red color symbolizes good luck and is used as a symbol to ward off evil spirits. This is such a common practice that even my landlord gave me a Hong Bao with $10 Singapore dollars! Other traditions include cleaning the home to ward off bad spirits that have accumulated in the prior year, eating mandarin oranges to celebrate fullness and wealth, and tossing together a large plate of Yu Sheng, a salad made of raw fish, fruits, and vegetables to ensure a lucky, prosperous, and healthy year for all.

The Hong Bao with S$10 from my Landlord
Tossing the Yu Sheng Salad

At Singapore Management University (SMU), though Chinese New Year was on a Saturday, we had the day off of school so international students had the opportunity to travel home if needed (in China, the students and adults get a WEEK off of school/work). Many expats in Singapore treat this weekend as a chance to explore the surrounding countries, knowing that everything closes down for the weekend, including restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Rather than leaving the city, we decided to experience what Singapore had to offer for the Chinese New Year.

Every year, Singapore lights up the city to commemorate the Lunar New Year. Chinatown is lined with beautifully designed lanterns for weeks prior to the New Year. There is a giant lantern with the yearly zodiac; in 2017, it was The Year of the Rooster. During the weekend of Chinese New Year, downtown Singapore has a festival with glowing lanterns that explain what Chinese New Year is and the history of the holiday in Singapore.

Every year, there is a fireworks show over the water on Marina Bay. Since Marina Bay is in the downtown area, we were able to get reservations for one of the many rooftop restaurants in the skyscrapers, observing the fireworks from the one of the best vantage points in Singapore.

At the rooftop restaurant with fireworks behind us

A Weekend In Morocco

From seeing the blue city to enjoying camel rides, join Samantha Ludes on her adventure to Morocco, while she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program.

If you hadn’t planned on visiting Morocco while abroad, then you need to read this and I hope you change your mind. I suggest traveling with a group, especially as a student. The cultural differences and language barriers make it a challenging trip to do on your own. I am not normally a fan of group trips; I hate being on a strict schedule, I always feel exhausted, and I never see everything I wanted to see. However, this group trip was unlike any I had been on. I went through a group called BeMadrid (but I booked it through UniTrips) and I cannot recommend it enough. While it was a long weekend, it was really a great one.

The trip that we chose to do was not necessarily the easiest transportation wise, but I swear it was not as bad as it may sound. We met late Thursday night and took a 7 hour bus ride to Tarifa, Spain. From there, we took an hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. If a longer travel day is not for you, there are trips where you can fly into Morocco and meet them, but the bus was nice enough that we were all able to sleep and honestly not that bad.

In Tangier, we met up with our tour guide Mohammed and hopped on a bus to start off our day. While on our way to see Cap Spartel and Hercules Caves, Mohammed would tell us anything ranging from funny stories about his life to facts about their culture. Having a local guide allowed us to get by much better since there was no language barrier or questions about where something was. Cap Spartel is a famous lighthouse overlooking the ocean just a quick drive from Tangier. We stopped here and got out to take some pictures, as well as pet a donkey and buy some beautiful little gifts that none of us actually needed.  After, we visited Hercules Caves which are a few minutes from Cap Spartel. The story behind these caves is that Hercules is said to have rested here during one of his journeys. The caves have two openings, one to the sea and one to the land, with the opening to the sea in the shape of Africa. If you go to Tangier, these are two touristy sites you must see.

And if you want to ride camels, you can do so only a short drive from Hercules Caves. I’m not sure if you have ever been on a camel but it is like riding a very unstable horse. While you may feel like you are going to fall off at any moment, it is one of those activities that you cannot miss when in Morocco (and this was included in the trip I went on).

We also went to Chefchaouen and Tétouan. If you have ever looked at pictures of Morocco, you most likely have seen either Marrakech (on my list of places to visit) or Chefchauoen, aka the blue city. We walked through the narrow streets of the blue city, each street painted blue and covered with a  range of colors. If I had more space in my backpack I would have bought a lot more than I did, everything is so beautiful. My lunch in Chefchauoen was my favorite meal of the trip. For the equivalent of 5 euros, we were able to get more food than our stomachs could keep up with. I left this beautiful city with lots of argan oil (Morocco is famous for it) and a few other goods I probably did not need. For those of you who love skincare, argan oil is great for hydration of your skin, without being too oily, as well as for your hair. Buy it for yourself, your mom, your sister, and everyone will be happy. Next on our tour was Tétouan, one of Morocco’s major ports famous for their seafood markets. We only spent an hour or so here but I was happy we did because we were able to see a much less touristy city but a gem nonetheless.

Back in Tangier, we had an “authentic” Moroccan dinner (bread, chicken, soup, potatoes, and their delicious mint green tea) while we watched a performance by a few locals. It was a great end to our trip and fun to get to meet a wide variety of people. Our group of 100 people (& 40 different nationalities) were led by students and a few adult advisors. Even though we only had 2 full days in Morocco, I think that our leaders did such an efficient job in organizing the trip that I felt like I had seen everything.

Now, there are a few things to remember when traveling here. What you wear has become less of a focus, however, you should still dress on the conservative side to draw less attention. In Morocco, most people speak French (and Arabic of course) but if you don’t know French, try Spanish or even German before you try English. My weekend consisted of lots of pointing and using the only two French words I know; toilet and pan. And speaking of toilet, do not forget to bring a roll of toilet paper because the bathrooms in restaurants and public places most likely won’t have any. Also, never pay whatever price they’re asking for (except at restaurants), ALWAYS barter and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel like you’re paying too much. Do not forget to buy lots of bottled water and just be cautious about where you are getting your fruit from. I personally had no problems with the food but I know other people did. Overall everything is very cheap there, so you should expect to pay less and get more (finally an exchange rate that is totally in your favor).

I am so happy that I decided to go on this trip. It is an amazing experience unlike anything I had done before and the weather is beautiful. So if you are studying abroad, add Morocco to a weekend trip because you definitely will not regret it.

 

November Photos in Austria

Ohio State Senior Peyton Bykowsk shares some of her favorite moments while abroad on the Student Exchange Program in Vienna this November. Including Christmas Markets, travel to Italy, visiting the Museumquarter, and end of term classes at Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (WU).

Greetings from Vienna! This November has been one to remember. Classes have been busy and full of fun projects, Museumquartier has opened some amazing exhibits, the legendary Christmas Markets have opened, and a trip to Italy topped it all off! Here are some photos of the month.

Christmas Market at Rathausplatz

Friends and I at the Rathausplatz Christmas Market just a few days ago. Christmas markets are my absolute favorite, this is just one of many in Vienna! They are incredibly festive, fun, and full of great gifts and treats.

Rathaus is is the City Hall building of Vienna and it is one of the most spectacular buildings in the city (especially when lit up with Christmas lights). For more information regarding the different Viennese Christmas markets, here is a link.

Travel to Italy

This November I traveled to Italy where I spent 2 days in Rome, 2 days in Florence, and 1 day in Milan. The trip was incredible, filled with good food, amazing history and incredible beauty. Below are a few pictures from Rome and Florence.

The Museumquarter 

Museumquarter is one of the most interesting parts of Vienna with several large museums in the area, and it is directly across from Hofburg Palace. They have some incredible exhibits, and you could last for hours in just one of the massive museums in the platz. Here is a glimpse inside the Fine Arts museum, its incredible interior, and a link to their webpage!

End of Term Classes

As the semester is nearing towards the last month, classes are certainly  busier. Here is a picture of a typical classroom set up at WU. This day was a study session for an exam where many peers got together to study and quiz one another in preparation.

Vienna has  been a spectacular choice for my study abroad experience. It is hard to believe I am nearing on my last month in this amazing country. From the interesting history, incredible beauty, amazing people and peers, and all of the fun culture that I got to dive into, Vienna was certainly the best choice for what I wanted to gain from the entirety of this experience. I look forward to a December filled with more Christmas Markets, continuing to build relationships with peers, and, most importantly, one of a kind experiences.