Going Abroad Tips That Are Actually Helpful

Studying on the Student Exchange Program, Lindsay Lieber lists up the 9 things she wish she would have known or have learned since landing in the country. From cloths to plugs to traveling, let her help you get prepared to go to Madrid, Spain!

Image may contain: Beth Dooley Lieber, smiling, standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and nature

You’ve just stepped off the airplane and you already feel jet-lagged and dehydrated. People are rushing around you, they’re not speaking English, and all you want to do is get your bags and get to your accommodation. Studying abroad can be stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be. Below is a list of 9 things I wish I would have known or have learned since landing in Spain.

  1. Bring a change of clothes and some toiletries in your carry on. A few of my friends had their luggage lost on the way to their host country, and the only clothes they had were the ones on their backs. This is especially problematic if your luggage is lost for several days, so to avoid being that smelly newcomer when meeting your new international friends it’s a good idea to pack a spare outfit.
  2. Don’t forget an adapter! If you’re like me, you brought an adapter for a two prong plug but failed to remember that your laptop has a three prong plug and needs charging too. And if you’re even more like me, you ended up buying a $16 one at a store in Spain that still didn’t end up fitting your plug. Moral of the story: it will be cheaper and more convenient to buy an adapter beforehand instead of in your host country or at the airport. And Amazon sells them for very cheap.
  3. Getting Euros at a decent conversion rate. If you arrive and need Euros, I can almost guarantee you that the airport will rip you off in terms of exchange rates. Since I need cash to pay my rent, the best option for me so far has been to use the Santander ATMs and withdraw large sums of Euros at a time at a 5€ ATM fee and a $5 PNC fee . Depending on which bank you have it may be different, but the PNC Virtual Wallet Student reimburses the PNC fee up to 2 times each statement period which is nice, especially if you don’t intend to open a checking account with a Spanish bank.
  4. Know the holidays of your host country. Again, if you’re like me, you flew in on Epiphany which is the equivalent of Spanish Christmas. Therefore, when you were hungry and tried to find food by your apartment, you realized that everywhere was closed. To avoid this situation, make sure you know if there are any holidays when you’re booking your flights.
  5. Siestas are a real thing. The siesta occurs around 2-5pm where many shops will close and there is a block in the day where there are no classes. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is sleeping. People will take leisurely walks to clear their heads, run a couple errands, or eat a big lunch that will hold them over until their dinner at 9-10pm.
  6. Smoking is very popular. Walking on the streets the person in front of you may be smoking, the students before class are outside smoking, it’s likely that you have a roommate that smokes. Coming from the US, this was something that surprised me. You don’t see as many people smoking in public and it has been ingrained since an early age about how harmful it is for your health. Nonetheless, there is a strong social smoking culture in Madrid that you should be aware of.
  7. The truth about traveling around Europe. Yes, it is very inexpensive to travel around Europe, and you have probably heard about buying a round-trip ticket for $40 or less.  But the truth is, if you’re a student with classes during the week, finding that $40 round-trip ticket will be difficult. Most of the best deals for flights are only if you are willing to travel in the middle of the week, with Wednesday usually being the cheapest day. Due to my class schedule I try to book flights Thursday (I have Fridays off) to Sunday or Monday and they usually cost me between $80 and $110.
  8. Not all hostels are created equal. Definitely do your research if you plan to stay in one. Think about location and cleanliness- How close is it to the city center? If it’s not close to the city center, is it close to a metro? Does it seem like they clean it regularly? And girls beware. I chose to stay in a mixed hostel towards the beginning of my trip and was the only female among 4 other guys who snored and farted all night in their sleep.
  9. Don’t  forget to travel around Spain! I know lots of people talk about traveling throughout Europe but don’t forget to travel within your host country as well. Toledo is just a short (and free with your metro card) bus ride away, Salamanca has the third oldest still operating university in the world, Malaga was Picasso’s birthplace, and Valencia is famous for the Falles festival held every March.

I have been in Madrid for about a month now, and while the transition wasn’t always the smoothest, I am having the time of my life. My favorite part has been seeing all of the intricate and unique architecture throughout the cities I have visited. There’s so much to see and do and I am beyond grateful that I get to be a part of it. So get excited about your trip, and get excited about exploring a new culture!

My Top 5 Photos on the Student Exchange Program

As she shares her top 5 photos from the Student Exchange Program, Michaela Santalucia reflects on her time abroad for a semester in Madrid, Spain. As a first time international traveler, she also shared her insights and benefits of taking the leap of faith to study abroad.

In order to highlight my experiences in a more fun way, I decided to do a little photo journal of my favorite photos, and reflect on the experience I had and where I was!

This photo of me was taken at the Real Jardín Botánico in the heart of Madrid. Some other exchange students and I happened upon the Botanical Gardens between lunch at one of our favorite places (Tinto y Tapas) and a trip to the museums in Madrid. Since the botanical gardens are so large (8 hectares!!), we never made it to the museum but we did see 3 very friendly cats, thousands of plants, and a cool art exhibit! Although this seems like a photo that could be taken anywhere in the world, this experience was extremely important to me because I felt like a true Madrileño (a native inhabitant of Madrid), because I found something completely by myself without advising a travel site and enjoyed my day without regard to time (in true Spanish fashion). This experience was a true turning point of my trip because I realized that I was no longer a tourist and was actually living in Madrid.

This photo was taken of me in Morocco! Only a 10 hour bus ride and a one hour ferry ride away from Madrid, this trip was one of my favorites because the culture was incredibly different than anywhere I had seen in Europe or North America, the food was incredible, Morocco had my favorite architecture, and the company I traveled with was extremely punctual and handled the incoming hurricane well and got us all out safely.

During this trip, I was lucky enough to visit three separate cities, get tours (by locals) in all of them, and stayed in a nice hotel. It was incredibly cool to visit a predominantly Muslim country and see how Morocco has been influenced by French influence. Most places I have visited in Europe or the U.S. do not operate under an incredibly religious government, and generally, Muslims are a minority in the places I have visited. Being exposed to a new style of government, a new way of life and a completely different architectural style had a big impact on my opinions of the area. Although I did not pick up any Arabic, I felt like I learned a little bit more about the world.

I took this photo in a small town about an hour train ride outside of Madrid called Siguenza (which conveniently shares the name of my favorite Spanish bottled water brand). My Professor mentioned that it was an incredible town with rich history, so I Googled it and convinced all my friends to go on a day trip with me that weekend! It just happened that weekend there was a special medieval-themed train you could take to the city to get the “full experience”.

On the train there were magicians, jugglers, and performers all presenting themselves in a traditional medieval fashion as they performed in the various train cars. Upon arriving in the city we were given a guided tour of the city (included in the ticket price), and on that tour, I found this adorable staircase. After the tour, we were free to wander around the city, get lunch, and meet back up later for an optional paid cathedral tour. This experience was one of my favorites because it was cheap, could be done in one day, and how often do you get to enjoy medieval magic shows as a college student? Never.

The university I attended in Madrid, Universidad Pontificia Comillas (Comillas Pontifical University) was a Jesuit school located in the heart of the city. It has been a longstanding institute of Spain but actually got its origins as a seminary in Comillas, a city in northern Spain. Due to its deep history, Comillas offered a trip to its exchange students to see the original university in the city Comillas!

This photo is taken from one of the corridors of the building looking out towards the courtyard and the main atrium/church. It was interesting to learn about why/when the university moved to Madrid and what it is used for today (another university purchased it after being abandoned for many years). This experience gave me a broader scope to how old some European institutions are compared to OSU.

Last, but not least, the experience that destroyed my rainboots, but was somehow the most peaceful I had ever felt while traveling. This photo was taken at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. We did a day trip from Dublin to here one day (left around 6 a.m. via bus with a tour group and returned around 9 p.m.). I still don’t know what it was about this specific place that felt different from all the others, but I can’t put my finger on it.

Something about looking off the cliffs into the ocean was calming and also incredibly scary and filled me with adrenaline. At times the walking/hiking path was small and covered in rocks, puddles, and mud pits (which is why my boots did not make it back to the states with me). After three hours of walking the path, we had to get on the bus to return to Dublin, but I probably could have stayed there forever. Looking back, I could have just been really refreshed from being able to speak English again, but I like to think the cliffs are magical.

Every part of my experience abroad changed me for the better, and now that I have returned to the states I am starting to see those changes in myself. For example, I recently noticed that I adopted the more relaxed Spanish approach to being early/on-time to events. Before going abroad, I was 20 minutes early to almost everything, but now I am more relaxed and prioritize what situations I need to be early in, and show up on time to the rest of my commitments. Before I went abroad, people would always ask me why I was going abroad/how I picked Madrid and I never had a solid answer, but looking back I now know what my ultimate goal of the experience was and that I achieved it.

My major goal of going abroad was getting a deeper understanding of myself and becoming more independent. Since my hometown is only an hour away from OSU, I always felt like if the opportunity arose to live/work in another area of the country, I would be too afraid to take the plunge. Going abroad as the only OSU student at my institution helped me to conquer these fears. Not only am I confident that I can keep myself alive (remembering to eat and other basic things), I can travel and manage myself independently. I funded my entire experience abroad by myself through scholarships and financial aid, made friends and connections in the country by always networking and attending social events, and learned a lot about myself because I was not influenced by anyone who knew me before. Oftentimes, you become who people tell you you are (you grow up around your parents and are influenced by their opinions on your character for example) but being abroad releases you from that. I was able to see who I was in an entirely new environment filled with new people and an opportunity to recreate myself if I so chose.

This trip allowed me to realize that when/if the time comes I will be able to take the plunge and move away from everything I’ve ever known. However, the trip helped me affirm my decision that Columbus is the place for me for a few years after graduation, and that has lifted a major weight off of my shoulders.

For anyone considering going abroad, my advice is always to go and for as long as your life plan allows (a week, a month, or even a year)! However, I understand that it is a major financial burden. My advice is to start early, pick a city that is within your budget, and apply for every single scholarship possible. Doing these things will ensure that you maintain your intended graduation date, do not undergo a huge amount of debt to fund your global experience, and it will prevent problems down the road such as Visa delays, expensive flights, etc. Going abroad seems daunting, but during my trip I kept reminding myself “If other students can do it, I can too” and reminding myself of that got me through the semester.

All the Not-So-Good Things and How to Deal with Them

Michaela Santalucia shares some of her start of semester challenges as she started her life in Madrid, Spain on the Student Exchange Program, to help future students prepare for some things they may confront. At the end, the challenges she faced helped her develop her independence, be a better problem-solver, and grow her resiliency. Skills she plans to use moving forward!

One of my biggest fears doing an exchange program was the level of independence required, especially since it was my first time abroad. Before I left I kept thinking “What if something bad happens and I don’t know how to handle it and I have to come home” or “What if I can’t handle adult problems like dealing with my landlord in Spanish?”. I think these fears are present in many people’s heads when they are heading abroad and/or these fears are holding them back. For these reasons, I made a list of the not-so-great things that happened to me to prove to everyone that you will be okay. Also, I can now laugh at these experiences (at the time I didn’t find them as hilarious).

On my way to Madrid and in my first few days in Spain, I ran into some issues that at the time seemed really inconvenient and I wasn’t sure how to navigate, but that I managed fairly well. Here they are:

  1. On my flight to Madrid, we hit some moderately scary turbulence (my phone and book flew into the air). This was incredibly scary because this one lady wouldn’t stop screaming, and it was only the third time I have ever been on a plane, so I was freaking out for a few minutes. Luckily, the pilot came of the intercom to assure us we would be okay, and that he was going to try to fly around the storm rather than through it. I think I fell back asleep within 15 minutes.
  2. After it taking me 20 minutes inside the Madrid-Barajas Airport to figure out the MyTaxi App (I highly encourage downloading this before you arrive and connecting your credit card in advance to make your airport experience easier, if you don’t want to speak Spanish to a taxi driver), I finally made it to the taxi. However, when I was getting into the car I dropped my phone outside of the car and almost left it. Luckily, I heard something fall and stopped the driver right after he pulled away and ran back for it. Not only was I embarrassed, but I think I saw my actual life flash before my eyes on day one.
  3. The first day I was in the city, I literally just slept the entire day. However, on the second day, I needed to leave to buy groceries and furnishings for my apartment. On my way back home from the grocery store, I could not get my apartment unlocked despite having the key. The key was not a traditional key I was used to because the building was old, and despite turning the key all the way until it stopped, the door would not open. At this point, my roommates were not in the apartment yet, and my landlord’s office was not open and they could not be reached.

With no other solution in sight, I started knocking on doors in my buildings. Person after person rejected the exasperated girl speaking broken Spanish at their door (probably because my Spanish was making no sense). However, I finally found a woman to come and help. She got the door open after many tries and we practiced on the door together. However, when I left again later, the same thing happened, and I could not get the door open. I had to ask another stranger for help. At this point, I was afraid to leave my apartment, so I spent the entire weekend inside until I could get into contact with my landlord because I didn’t want to get locked out, have no one to help me, and have to pay for a locksmith. On Monday I called the landlord probably 5 times to get them to send someone over. When they finally came, they taught me the trick to opening the door (which they probably should have told me when I checked in) and I never got locked out again.

This was by far the scariest part of my entire trip. I called my mom crying (which made her freak out) and I had never wanted to come home more than I did on this day. However, looking back on it, I realized that I was letting my fear get to me, because if I could open the door at any point, I probably could have opened it those first few days, but I let my exhaustion and fear of being in a new country get a hold of me. Additionally, it taught me that I would have to be incredibly persistent with my landlord in comparison to the U.S. Now that I have overcome that though, I feel like I am more resilient.

  1. The last semi-dramatic thing that happened to me abroad was that when I arrived, our toilet was broken for almost two weeks. Upon arriving to the apartment, I noticed that there was water by the toilet, but since it had rained, I thought it had come through the open bathroom window, boy o boy was I incorrect. Turns out, every time we flushed the toilet, some of what we flushed would end up on the bathroom floor minutes later. Generally, Spaniards are a little more relaxed than in the U.S., and the landlords follow suit when answering requests. We had to email them a total of ten times to even get them to come to the apartment. In total, it took 12 days for them to completely fix the toilet, and for most of those, I refused to go into the bathroom because of the smelly health hazard. This experience taught me that those in charge are not as receptive in the U.S. and without resources like Student Legal Services and the Student Advocacy Center, I would constantly need to advocate and push for my needs while abroad.

At the time, all of these experiences seemed like everything I feared before I left was coming true. However, these problems have taught me how to rely on myself for problem-solving, advocate for my needs, and maintain my own safety.

Although these experiences were difficult and should be discussed. They were outweighed by the positive experiences I had. While in Spain, I formed cross-cultural friendships inside and outside the classroom that will last me a lifetime. With my fellow students, I was able to discuss world problems and receive viewpoints and experiences that are not common in the United States. For example, I learned a ton about the Denmark legal system while in Spain, just by comparing business law with another student in my class. This cross-cultural experience was the most valuable part of my trip.

However, learning to manage all of my apartment problems did have some almost immediate real-world applications. While traveling during my time abroad (to England, Ireland, Morocco, Germany, and within Spain) I felt like my problems solving abilities was heightened. I understood that when I experienced a problem or mix up in a different country (language barriers, transportation issues, payment mix-ups), that I need to be conscientious of the culture of the country I was in and how my American mindset would cause me to react to things. This allowed the few mix ups I had while traveling (flight delays, credit card problems, not knowing how to use public transport) to seem like small bumps in the road whereas if they occurred at the beginning of my time abroad it would have seemed world ending. Reflecting on my trip abroad, it has allowed me to realize that I can feel completely comfortable travelling almost anywhere in the world, and that would not have been possible without all the not-so-good things.

17 Things I Noticed During My First Month Abroad

While her semester in Spain on the Student Exchange Program, Michaela Santalucia shares the differences she observed in Spanish culture and U.S. Culture, from eating habits, social norms, and daily expectations!

In my first few weeks in Madrid, I noticed some interesting differences between Spanish culture and U.S. Culture. Rather than writing paragraphs, I decided to make it a list so that everyone can reference it easily. All of these are in no particular order of importance or relevance.

  1. Mayonnaise– The mayonnaise in Spain and most of Europe is much different compared to what we have in the United States. Also, Europeans put it on a lot more stuff (for example, many people dip their fries in mayo and ketchup which if you have not tried is magical). At one of the first events of the semester, I watched many Spaniards pass around bottles of ketchup and mayo instead of ketchup and mustard and I knew something was up. I was hoping to be able to bring some Spanish mayo back to the U.S., but my suitcase was already full, so I do not get to keep this delicacy around. However, I think it is better than what we have in the U.S., so I am exploring import options for the good of everyone.
  2. Phones are older– Spaniards are not constantly buying the newest smartphones. While I was there, there was still a decent amount of advertisements for the iPhone 7, and a majority of available cases were for the 6,7 and 8. My guess is that because Spain’s economy is not the strongest, their first priority is not buying the newest smartphones, but it was still an interesting comparison to the United States.
  3. Hiring/firing practices– From my understanding, it is incredibly difficult to get both hired and fired and Spain. This is because the firing process is nearly impossible, so they have to make sure early on that you are not a risk.
  4. Grocery store styles– There are stores every 2-3 blocks that fit different needs. The traditional grocery stores are incredibly small and carry 1-2 brands of every product. However, there are tons of specific stores also. There are an equal number of fresh produce, fish, meat, and bakery stores interspersed between the grocery stores. Spaniards generally shop more frequently than we do in the U.S. because their kitchens have less storage space and they place a higher value on fresh goods.
  5. Pharmacies– There are literally pharmacies on every corner, and medicine is relatively easy to get. However, they give you an entire package of medication instead of just a few pills so that can seem overwhelming.
  6. Spanish Hours– In Madrid, the days start later and go a lot slower than in the U.S. On a Saturday, you won’t see anyone outside walking, or even on a metro until like 10 a.m. Why does that happen you may ask? In Spain, bars and clubs are open until 6 a.m. and many people will stay up that late hanging out with friends no matter their age.
  7. Old people living their best lives– There are more elderly people out and about it Spain than in the U.S. There are entire restaurants, clubs, bars, and parks where the elderly are known to congregate and hang out together. This is just something we don’t see as much in the U.S.
  8. Trash/recycling things– In Madrid since everyone lives in apartments, the trash is done in larger groupings. Every night, the landlord of each building wheels out trash bins for organic waste and normal waste. Then, between the hours of 11 p.m.- 2 a.m. every night (except Saturdays), municipal workers come to collect it. Recycling is done with large dumpster-like containers, generally one per square block, and is separated into glass, paper/cardboard, and metal/aluminum. These are generally also picked up every night.
  9. Always cleaning the streets– Due to the number of people in Madrid on any given day, Madrid has a team of workers who are always cleaning the streets. They walk around with brooms, shovels, and trash cans and clean the streets constantly to ensure that leaves, cigarettes, and other assorted trash does not build up.
  10. American music– When I first came to Madrid, I was hoping to increase my knowledge of Spanish by hopefully learning lots of Spanish pop music. However, the majority of music played is American, which can sometimes be disappointing.
  11. No screens– None of the windows, doors, or any other pathway to the outdoors has a screen to protect you from bugs. There are basically no bugs which makes the lack of screens sensible, but it is still difficult to adjust to.
  12. No air conditioning– I never saw a house or apartment that had air conditioning, and considering it was still upper 80s into October, I could have used air conditioning.
  13. Money is different sizes and different colors– Euros are fun to adjust to.
  14. Taking a two-hour break in the middle of school every day– Most of my classes had a two-hour break in the afternoon so the professors could eat lunch and run home. Which was nice so I could also eat lunch.
  15. Lunch as the biggest meal of the day– In Spain, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This means they prioritize eating good food at this time of the day. Also, this means they invented my favorite thing about Spain: the menu del dia. It is essentially a meal with a first course, second course, dessert, and drink all for a convenient price (usually around 10-15 euros, however, there are more expensive options available). I wish I could have brought the menu del dia back to the states with me because I got to try so many different restaurants.
  16. Ham, ham, ham– There is more ham in Spain than I ever expected. As a vegetarian, it could be a little annoying, but it was cool to see actual butcher’s processing meat.
  17. No dryers– Due to Madrid’s dry climate, most people do not feel the need to have a dryer. This means once you take your clothes out of the washing machine, you get to set it on a drying rack and let it dry for anywhere between a few hours to two days. In my opinion, this is really inconvenient because I was not responsible enough to make time for my laundry to dry.

T-Minus One Week until Global Immersion…

Who is to say she is ready? With only one week until she embark on a five month exchange to Spain through the Fisher Student Exchange Program, Madi Deignan is beginning to feel the intensity of this life-altering journey. If you feel stressed going abroad, read her blog to help you through this major transition!

This spring I will be traveling to Madrid, Spain, to study through the business school at La Universidad Pontificia Comillas. I would like to say that Ohio State was the only inspiration in me journeying to Madrid, but this dream began many years ago.

I grew up outside of Chicago, in a city with a high population of native Spanish speakers. My parents enrolled me in an elementary school with a bilingual option to aid the students who had yet to learn fluent English; my parents seized the opportunity to enlist their kids in a similar path: to become fluent in Spanish. As I grew and learned basic language, math, history, social science and other topics, in Spanish as well as English, my understanding and appreciation for Spanish culture grew. My parents loved seeing my progress with the language, and my dad lamented on his time abroad during college in Madrid. I knew I wanted to follow a similar path, and aspired to study abroad in Madrid during my college experience as well.

The sunset on the Guadalquivir, the river running through the city, and the fifth longest in the Iberian Peninsula
My friend Macie and I while visiting El Alcázar de Sevilla

My interest in Spanish did not decrease despite leaving elementary school and moving to Cleveland. I traveled to Spain and studied in Sevilla and Cádiz the summer after my Junior year. One month of exploring was not nearly enough, but it did reignite my dream of studying in Madrid during college. I knew then that no matter where I ended up for school I would need to find a university that was able to supply me the means of fulfilling this dream.

Finding the right program was not easy, despite my determination in studying specifically in Madrid. In fact, I almost missed the deadline for the Student Exchange Program! On chance, while visiting with my adviser about my schedule, I mentioned in passing my desire to study abroad, and discovered the deadline for second semester Junior year for this program was within the month, and there was an option to study in Madrid. I quickly applied, and when I met with the Global Education Adviser, emphasized my dream of being in Madrid.

Over Winter break last  year I received the email that I was accepted for the program along with five other students – I was extremely excited, and began to work on preparation. Over the last year I have researched the city, traveled to Chicago to obtain my Student Visa, read multiple travel guides, composed packing lists, secured housing, and locked down my flights. Now, with only one week until my departure, I am beginning to finally feel the anxious nerves hit me; living in this city with such independence and freedom comes with a lot of responsibility. For those who are experiencing a similar nervousness, I have compiled a short list of things to help in this transitionary time.

  • RESEARCH! The more you know about your destination, and the more planning that is done, the more comfortable and confident you will be upon arrival. The world works in similar ways, regardless of your location, and the key characteristic for success is confidence. Don’t be naive – this is a big transition! The best way to feel truly confident and have a strong attitude, is to do ample research. Memorize your new address, check out nearby amenities, plan for weekly trips to the store, figure out your daily walk… Come up with simple ideas to feel more like a native in your new home.
  • RELATE! Think about the similarities between your cultures, and begin to prepare for the emotional and mental journey that is about to begin. Understand that many others are in the same position as you, and think of the exchange students that you have encountered at school. The sooner you can relate to the culture you are immersing into, the more comfortable you will feel.
  • RELAX! Stressing out can be very easy, but more importantly, it can be brutally time-consuming. Stressing out too much is truly a waste of your valuable time before you leave. Easier said than done, try to do some relaxing activities before you leave, and use valuable time with loved ones before you embark on your journey. As the saying goes, let the chips fall where they may; it is no shock that this will be a difficult transition, but it is better to approach it level-headed and relaxed, rather than uptight and stressed out. Come to the table with an open mind and a light heart!
The views of the Atlantic Ocean from Cádiz were incredible

So: Am I ready for this trip? Can anyone truly be ready for such a culture change? What I can say is I feel very prepared, and I definitely feel ready for the semester of a lifetime.

Why You Should Create a Study Abroad Blog

“I am going to tell you why I chose to blog and why you should too.” says Samantha Ludes, as she studies at Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, Spain for a semester on the Student Exchange Program. How will you document your time abroad?

There are endless ways to document your time abroad but it ultimately comes down to what works best for you. Is it keeping a written journal? Or an Instagram account? Or a combination of the two? Upon my arrival in Spain I had decided that I was going to have an Instagram account where I posted photos from my travels. What I didn’t like about this route was that I found myself not including details about the places I went and primarily just sharing pictures. I decided that this was not the best option for me, so I moved to journaling. The issue with journaling is the lack of convenience as well as the inability to share photos. This was when I decided I would try out a blog.

The benefit of blogging is that you can do it anywhere you have access to technology, I often write posts on my phone and then use my computer to add photos and tag restaurants. There are also many sites that offer free blogs but I found that I liked WordPress the most. The themes are endless and you can personalize it to your liking. I spent a bit of time playing around with my site until I settled on a theme I loved. Now I write a post on every trip, my favorite places to shop, and whatever else that comes to mind. If you don’t want people to see your posts you can password protect them.

WordPress can seem a bit overwhelming at first but you can Google just about any question and there should be an answer. Whenever I go on a trip I make sure to start a post with the date and place so that it serves as a reminder to work on it. After a weekend trip I go through my photos and put them in an album under the location so that when I am working on my blog I can Airdrop all of the photos to my computer with ease. WordPress has a really great app that is super simple to use and if you want to write down notes during your trip, this is a great place to store them. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable with everyone viewing your posts, then you can password protect them.

At the end of the day, find some way to capture your memories and experiences, you will thank yourself later. Don’t worry about grammar rules, just write your posts how you would share your stories. My blog is primarily for myself and my family but when I share it on Instagram or Facebook I can see that over 200 people have visited my site that day. The one thing people always say to me after they read my blog is that they read it in my voice, which sounds funny but that is ultimately my goal; to share my stories as if I am sitting across from you in person.

I chose the name “No Pasa Nada” for my blog because it best represents my time here in Spain. “No pasa nada” means “don’t worry about it” in English and to me, this embodies the relaxed Spanish culture.  People here take longer lunch breaks, grab coffee with friends, and always stop to say hello. They don’t worry about rushing places and go about life with less urgency, something I have worked on adopting. I decided that I am going to continue my blog (as well as the “no pasa nada” lifestyle) when I go back to the states. I have found that I enjoy keeping my memories in one place and I can’t wait to look back and see everything I have done and all the people I have met.

Are you homesick yet?

Although Spain is a wonderful adventure, Nikki Matz also recognizes the difference from the U.S. She shares the things that she misses from the U.S. from her experience on the Student Exchange Program.

As a student studying abroad, one of the most-asked questions aside from “where are you from” or “what are you studying” is “are you homesick yet?” I have never been someone that gets homesick easily, I didn’t even get homesick when I went to college my freshman year. I wondered if the case would be the same when I moved across the world to live in a foreign country. After living in Madrid for 3 months I have decided that I may just miss a few things about home. I’ve compiled a list of a few things that I miss the most about America and home. I found it best to schedule a time to talk to people and if you can’t call texting can be just as useful.

  1. The people- At first I was very good about keeping in contact with friends and family at home, a 6 hour time difference meant I usually called people around 11 or 12 at night. As my friends and I got more busy with school and other things, I have found it harder to spend an hour on Facetime a couple times a week. Weekend trips will take ALL of your energy and the weeks have to be dedicated to all the schoolwork I don’t do on the weekends. 6 hours isn’t a lot, but it makes communication much more difficult than being in the same time zone. I found it worked best to set a time when you will try to call people, and it helps a lot to know other peoples schedules. For example, my parents would not get home from work until almost midnight in Spain, so I remember that when I wanted to call them.

2.The culture- Spain is not what I would consider a stereo typically cold culture, the people are generally nice and always willing to help, but I miss the friendly good mornings of American strangers when you are walking down the street or striking up conversations with people in the grocery store. I never realized that Americans were stereotyped as overtly friendly until I talked to people from other countries and they told me they thought this, and then I began to realize that it is very true. People generally consider Americans to be friendly people.

3. Free water/American service industry- I will be very relieved to order water with my first meal back in the States and to not see a charge for it on my bill. Europeans pay for all beverages on the menu and I have sadly eaten many meals without a drink because I am too stubborn to pay for water. In addition to the water dilemma, service in Europe is very different from the service in America. Waiters and waitresses in Europe are salaried and paid fairly well, so they do not have the motivation to give you excellent service because tipping is for the most part non-existent. You must get the waiters attention if you want anything, and sometimes they may still take 20 minutes to come to your table. In Europe it is rude to keep checking on a table because you may be interrupting conversations and it seems like you want to hurry people along. I found that I would spend over 2 hours at restaurants almost every time just because no one is checking on you and you don’t feel rushed.

I never appreciated the things that I love about America until I left and realized that I missed them. I am so happy that I have the chance to live in a culture so different from my own, and I really enjoy being able to see the differences in cultures across Europe. The truth is almost everyone abroad will eventually succumb to some kind of homesickness, missing a restaurant in your hometown or friends from college, but homesickness can easily turn into a good thing, because it makes you appreciate the things you miss even more than you already did. Keeping in touch with people helps a lot with homesickness and it helps you still feel connected to home. I also have found that a lot of the things you might miss (especially food) are available if you search hard enough. For example Bagels and many cereals that I like are not typical in Madrid, but I have found special stores such as Made in America or even cereal and bagel shops that serve some of my favorites. It won’t be something you get everyday, but every once in a while it is nice to have a bagel to remind me of home.

Some of the food I have enjoyed in Europe (without water)

Pizza on Foccacia with pesto (Cinque Terre, Italy)
Fresh pasta with pomodoro and pesto (Florence, Italy)
Pizza Margharita (Naples,Italy)

P.S. Of the 10 countries in Europe I have visited, Italy had the best food!

Advice on Traveling While Abroad

Nikki Matz, studying in Spain on the Student Exchange Program, shares her advice and tips on how to go about traveling while abroad for a semester. Check out her list of helpful Apps and webpages, as well as ways to get discounts!

One of the most exciting parts of studying abroad is the ability to travel around the area you are in and see a different part of the world. Being in Europe makes it quite convenient to visit a lot of countries very inexpensively. One of the best things to do when booking weekend trips is to do it early. I was able to get several flights under 100 USD just because I booked them early, and when I booked trips later I had to pay much more. For my school, I didn’t schedule my classes until December, so I wasn’t able to book very many trips early. It is important to think of other costs associated with booking trips, sometimes a flight may be cheaper but you may have to pay more for other things. For example, my monthly metro pass takes me to the airport for free, but the metro is closed from 2-6am, so if I have a flight early in the morning, I have to pay for a taxi. The cost savings on flights sometimes aren’t worth the hassle.

Some helpful tools and websites to use when booking trips:

  • Google flights: Make sure to open an incognito window, but it lets you see many cities at once and their prices, and you can track prices for different flights. Sometimes I would open two tabs to purchase 2 one way tickets.
  • Rome2Rio: once you are in a country, you need to get from the airport to your accommodation, and you also may want to move around the country. Rome2rio shows you all the ways you can get from point a to point b, with prices include. It is very useful to see the time it will take for different methods of transportation and their costs.
  • Bookings.com: I used this many times to book accommodations, they list hostels, B&Bs, and hotels at very discounted prices. It is always worth checking because you can find steeply discounted prices for very nice accommodations.
  • Hostelworld: Hostels are a staple for youth travelers, and if your goal is to save money you’ve got to use them. Hostelworld shows you how far places are from the city center, ratings, pictures, and other information. It makes comparing hostels very easy and is very easy to book through it. (Bring a padlock with you for hostels just in case they don’t have them, and I would also recommend a quick-drying towel and refillable toiletry bottles.)
  • Skyscanner: Skyscanner is another flight search engine, a lot of students utilize this to find the cheapest flights. I personally have used google flights more, but Skyscanner is very popular as well.

These are a few of the tools I found most useful, there are also often discounts for students such as the European youth card or ISIC that give you discounts on airlines such as RyanAir. It is good to be aware early that you can purchase a youth card for a few euros and get discounts on travel.  Traveling on the weekends is an integral part of studying abroad, it is exciting and exhausting at the same time. Being prepared makes everything more enjoyable and less stressful.

Pro tip: Try not to schedule classes at 8 am on Monday mornings (speaking from experience) best case scenario is ending class early on Thursday, no class Friday, and late class Monday.

Tétouan, Morocco

Copenhagen, Denmark

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.

 

Guide for Attending a Spanish University

From how to dress, how you take your in-between-class breaks, to the best gelato place to go after class, Samantha Ludes guides you how to navigate a Spanish university, as she attends the Universidad Pontificia Comillas for a semester on the Student Exchange Program.

I wish there had been a “How To” guide to attending a university in Spain, but since there is not, I decided to make my own. Everything from the clothes you wear to using graph paper instead of lined paper, there is a laundry list of differences.

I am studying at Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICADE, a business school in the heart of Madrid, Spain on Fisher’s Student Exchange Program. The school itself is beautiful. The Church inside the school and the tiled blue walls make me feel as if I am not at school at all.

I take classes ranging from Planificación y Gestión de Marketing (Marketing Planning and Management) to Spanish Culture Through Visual Arts. Most of my classes are primarily international students except for my Marketing course. It has been very beneficial to take classes with Spanish students since I have learned so much about the culture, the slang, and what university is like in Spain.

The first thing I learned is that students do not eat in classes, that is considered very rude. They do, however, talk during class. At least in my experience, students will talk to friends and be very casual in front of the teachers. Professors here are also more informal, talking about what good places students should go to, and not minding when students show up 20 minutes late to class, especially on Mondays.

Coffee breaks are apart of everyone’s everyday schedule. Before or after class, we will often go grab a coffee at a local cafe near school. My personal favorite is to go to UVEPAN because all of the staff are so friendly and love when I practice my Spanish with them. PRO TIP: If it is Monday then go to McDonald’s (which are a lot nicer in Spain) and get FREE coffee. All you have to do is ask for it!

People stand outside the building and catch up for a while after class with friends. Standing on those steps I have planned weekend trips, dinner plans, and laughed about stories from the previous week. I have met with group project members to discuss our assignments and scheduled our next meetings. In the states, I tend to go to class and then straight to whatever I had planned next. Here they take their time, plan a lot less, and chat a lot more. In my attempt to blend in, I have had to adjust how I present myself in class. I went from dressing very casually, typically in my workout clothes and my backpack, to wearing jeans, a sweater, and boots or sneakers with my purse. People dress as if they are going out to dinner but instead it is just for class. To my surprise, I have actually enjoyed getting ready like that everyday (probably because the shopping is so great here) but nonetheless, it has been an adjustment.

Going to a university in Spain may be very different from going to Ohio State, but different is not always bad. Getting lost in this small (but VERY confusing) building has led me to meet Spanish students who studied at Ohio State for their abroad experience. I approached a group of students in the cafe and asked if one of them could show me where the bookstore was. A few of them offered to walk me there and were telling me about where they studied in the US. It was the craziest coincidence when one of the students told me he studied at Ohio State. We talked about our business classes and football (of course) and how we missed the deep love for all things OSU. Talking with him about being a Buckeye made this new place feel a little more like home.

Another perk of going to Comillas is the gelato shop La Romana right down the street. If you like gelato, you will LOVE this.  The people at the counter will let you try almost every flavor, ranging from the classic Pistachio to Biscotto. I get a new flavor almost every time I go because they’re all so delicious that I can’t even pick a favorite! You must go in there and ask for a “muestra” (sample) and you will understand what I am talking about.

As always, Go Bucks!