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By Ashlyn

It’s 9:23 pm the night before I’m supposed to depart for Copenhagen. I board the plane at 7 pm tomorrow. T-minus 21 hours and 37 minutes to go. Tick tock. Tick tock. The clock is crawling from minute to minute and I’m stuck between wanting it to slow down and wanting it to speed up. It’s a strange feeling.

It’s funny, because I’ve known I was going to be studying in Denmark this semester since September. And yet the gravity of what I’m about to do hadn’t hit me until, oh… probably about 10 minutes ago. But now, as I print out my boarding pass and shove as many jars of peanut butter into my luggage as can possibly fit, it’s smashing down on me like I just removed the wrong block from a Jenga tower. I’m going out of the country for the first time in my life. The furthest I’ve ever been from my quaint little home of Reading, Pennsylvania was when I took a band trip to Disney World. I am completely out of my comfort zone here.

And now I’m going to Copenhagen. A city I chose for its cleanliness and easygoing vibe. And because the program I’m enrolled in seems like a good fit for a journalism major. And maybe, just maybe, because it’ll put me only a short bike ride away from noma, one of the best restaurants in the world. Just maybe.

Every once in a while, I’ll think to myself, “Wait. Ashlyn. What are you doing, going to Denmark for a semester? You don’t even like to leave the couch!” It’s true that I’m not the most social of animals. I love people, and I love having friends, but as an introvert I find it difficult to interact with people for long periods of time. And now I’m off to a country that I’ve only read about in travel books, full of people who speak a different language than my own. And I’ll be living in a dorm with not one but two roommates. Yikes!

Am I nervous? Yes. Am I freaking out? Sort of. But at this point there’s no turning back. I knew I was going to have these reservations from day one, but I just keep telling myself that I’m going to thank myself for it later in life. After all, how many times in your life do you get an opportunity to study in another country? To visit not just one or two but four different countries in one trip? (Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and France are all on the horizon.) I figure it’s like a mother bird and her fledglings in the nest – the baby bird is probably scared as heck as its mom callously thwacks it out of a huge tree, sending it plummeting down towards the ground. But at the last second instinct takes over and the bird starts flapping its little wings and tweeting and flying like it was born to do, and if it had never been pushed from the nest it never would have learned how to fly. Right?

Hopefully instinct will take over for me too. I want to fly!

By jdippel529

If I learned anything my first week abroad, it was exactly that. Studying abroad is a scary concept to most students, but I have come to realize that many of us don’t spend even half of our time worrying about the things that we should. Back in the states, I was nervous about making friends, having enough money to travel, and even gaining weight. But in reality, I made friends before I even touched down in Madrid, I can’t imagine leaving this beautiful city just yet, and I've been welcomed into a culture that has such a beautiful and worthwhile relationship with food (not to mention, I've been walking around so I probably burned it all off).

This first week, I ended up facing a lot of issues that wouldn't have occurred if I had kept my focus in preparation for my trip. I had gotten an “international” credit card that supposedly charged no transaction fees, only to find out that every place in Spain, except for restaurants, require that you enter a pin with your credit card. Of course, I was unaware of this and had no such pin. As a result, I was left without a credit card. I also got European adapters before my trip, instead of converters. This meant that I wasn’t able to use my blow-dryer, hair straightener, or curler. I also spent three hours at one of Madrid’s biggest cell-phone providers, “Vodafone,” trying to figure out a plan with an employee who did not speak English, only to find out that AT&T had not unlocked my phone correctly. Now, I am still without a calling or texting phone. It’s safe to say that I have done more walking this week than during any other point in my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the shoes for it. As I write this blog, my feet are still aching simply because I didn’t think about how comfortable my shoes would have to be to walk around Madrid.

What I learned this week was that before studying abroad, you need to make sure that you have covered your most important bases. Don’t worry about making friends and eating too much—instead, focus on issues such as which type of international phone plan makes the most sense, if your current credit card company charges any international transaction fees, how comfortable your shoes are for walking, and even the weather of your host country. So, the main takeaway is this: Don’t stress over the trivial; you are so much better off focusing your time and energy preparing for the various “little things,” that become a much bigger deal once you are actually abroad.

There is so much a blog can never tell you. Even if I were to sit with you in Panera Bread and tell you the entire thing, taking four hours and losing my voice and being kicked out by the staff at 9pm for closing (as one of my friends made me do), I could never fully make you understand. Maybe this is true for any experience. This is something one has to understand, and especially after an abroad experience. Especially after an abroad experience in Rwanda.

I wish you could have felt both the fear and exhilaration of taking a moto, racing past the stars and hills in Kigali. I wish I could I introduce you to the friends I made, to my host family, to Miguel and Ganza, who would hide behind their mother’s legs due to shyness. I wish it were mandatory for all people to go to the genocide memorials and not just see the past, but feel it, feel it in their gut and let it break them. I wish I could say things like, “ntakibazo” and “amatunda” without people asking me to explain, (ntakibazo is ‘no problem’ and amatunda is ‘passion fruit’ in Kinyarwanda). I wish people wouldn’t look at me with so much sympathy when I tell them our house rarely had running water or that I lived on a dirt road.

Being home is hard. It’s hard because some people want (like my friend in Panera) to know every single detail, and other people just want me to get on with my life. One of the hardest questions is, “How was Africa?!?” Well-meaning, but overwhelming and infuriating all at once. I can’t speak for a continent, nor can I speak for an entire country. I can only tell you about my personal experience in Rwanda. It began with living with my host family and going to school and ended with interning at an NGO and living in a house with eight of my classmates. It was a semester of standing out as “muzungu” everywhere I went, a semester of taking two small van-buses home from school, making a ten-minute drive a two-hour commute. It was a semester of living in a society built upon a tragic and horrific past and watching that society reconcile itself. It was a semester of learning something so much more than me or anything I could ever imagine.

Now that it’s over, I don’t know how to maintain the changes in me without being angry with American society, which isn’t fair to anyone. I can’t be angry with people for not sharing my experience and for not understanding it and in some cases, not wanting to. Upon my return, I’ve had to learn that this experience can live within me, and I can be changed, but I can still be the person I was before. What I want for the future has never been clearer, and there is not a doubt in my mind I will return to Kigali. That’s the thing about study abroad; yes you learn more than you could ever fathom, but you also build another life, another home elsewhere. That home can exist within you forever and can always be revisited.

By anuhyabobba

As soon as my program finished, I traveled for another month. For the first three weeks, I visited Patagonia -- the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. It had been the first time I traveled alone, and after my time in Buenos Aires had come to an end, it was exactly what I needed to recollect my thoughts and center myself. Starting from Santiago, my journey ended in the southernmost city of the world of Ushuaia. It brought me to the beautiful town of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where I biked 25 kilometers through some of the most breathtaking views of sapphire and emerald toned lakes and snow capped mountains backdrop. I swam in a glacier lake, which was fun but horribly freezing as one could gather. I also trekked on a glacier -- the Perito Moreno glacier to be exact. I made camp in the windiest town I have ever visited -- El Chaltén. If you have seen the logo for the Patagonia outdoors brand, that rugged mountain silhouette found inspiration from Mt. Fitz Roy and the surrounding peaks in El Chaltén. Mt. Fitz Roy, the highest of the peaks, would be hidden by clouds and when it did come out, it was stunning. I went next to Torres del Paine National Park, which is the place I most connected with during this journey. The Torres range and Lake Pehoé set the background for the campsite, and weather had been on our side the five days I was there. The last day up to the iconic Torres peaks was the most memorable. It first brought me through a forest that had this perfect symbiosis, and then to the most grueling part -- a 1000 foot ascension in the matter of a kilometer. This meant just direct uphill, and my knee had given out a day ago. The reason I wanted to visit Patagonia though was for the Torres peaks and so despite being in pain, I made it. I immediately collapsed on the ground, leaning against a rock that directly faced the peaks -- this moment brought incomparable peace to me.

I headed then to Ushuaia, where I only had a few hours. I remember the sun shining in those hours, even though the city usually sees only rain. I got my passport stamped to say that I had been in Ushuaia and went to the airport to catch my flight to Buenos Aires -- where I had seven hours from midnight to seven in the morning to gather my luggage from my host mom's and say my final bye to the city (for now). I flew into AEP, the inner city airport, and the runway and where the flight landed was a few miles to the right of Plaza Intendente Alvear, which was a block away from where I lived and which held an overwhelming feeling of comfort for me. The taxi ride to my host mom's went through all the places that held the sweetest memories of the adventures my friends and I had embarked on, and I started to tear up because it was a perfect way of saying this final bye to Buenos Aires.

My next week was in Peru, where my best friend joined me to go to Machu Picchu. We traveled to Lima and Cusco, where we largely explored on our own. When we went to Machu Picchu, it was early morning, or a time where there are a lot of tourists. We went down for an early lunch, and we revisited the site toward the late afternoon where there was barely a soul. In the absence of so many people, the site had this eerie but breathtaking vibe to it. I loved being there, and that too being able to share the moment with a person I hold so close to me. It had been the best ending to my time in South America.

I sadly returned home with a sprained ankle, but the healing period has allowed me time to reflect on studying abroad. Because I had the talk of adjusting back to being in DC in Buenos Aires, I am prepared but I also understand as Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through."  I will experience this readjustment day by day, and through doing that, I will be gentle to myself and reach out to my support system when I do need the help.

Thank you to everyone who has read my posts for following this five month journey of mine! Hope you all have a beautiful new year ahead.

By kendallpaynenewmedia

Kendall Walking

In late August, I took a ten day backpacking trip to New Zealand. Over the years I have had the good fortune of being able to go on family vacations and school trips, but in the land of the Kiwis I learned the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Gilbert Chesterton once said, “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” ...continue reading "Becoming a Traveler"

By bevvy2212

As I wrap up my semester abroad in Paris, here is a list of the five things that I really enjoyed doing while I was in Paris. Take a look below.

1. Macaroon. Hopefully you have all heard of what a macaroon is. The most famous brand is probably Laduree, which can be found in the United States as well. But my favorite go-to brand is Pierre Hermes. I don't know if you have ever heard of it but it's like, party in your mouth. There is actually a Pierre Hermes very close to Sciences Po (next to Eglise Saint Sulpice), about a ten minute walk. Unlike the traditional flavors from Laduree, Pierre Hermes offer flavors that might sound bizarre but taste delicious at the same time. Also, they alter their flavors in accordance to seasons so I was very bummed when I returned in December to find my favorite flavors gone. For those of you getting to Paris in the fall, please, for the sake of me, try the olive and the Ceylon tea flavor. They are to die for! In december, they also have the fois gras flavor. Unconventional? I think so. Worth the money? Absolutely.

2. Skating. I know that the rink at Waterfront is pretty great, but it's nothing compared to the open-air skate rinks in Paris. Probably starting from mid December, open-air skate rinks will pop up. There's one close to Champs-Elysee, but don't go to that one, it's tiny. I heard there's also one on the Eiffel Tower, but I'm not sure how big that can be either... but how cool would that be though, skating on the Eiffel Tower? My favorite one is probably the one in side the Grande Palais. It's massive and has all sorts of different light shows at night, though it is a little bit pricey (€25). If you're looking for a moderate sized rink at a relatively cheap price, I would recommend the one near Hotel de Ville (The Town Hall). Entrance fee is only 6 euros. The nice thing about French rinks is that they have regulations on how many people are allowed on the rink at a time, so it's never too terribly crowded. The down side? You might have to cue up in the cold wind for a very long time. My advice? Don't go when it's around Christmas time because that's when Paris is flooded with tourists and people who are on break. Go sometime earlier and in the afternoon instead.

3. Fontainebleau. You have probably heard of Versailles, but that's just, way too crowded for my taste. Actually I went to Versailles in December where there were barely any tourists. It was incredible because I never expected Versailles to be empty but I walked in the gardens this time instead of just inside the palace, and it was peaceful and quiet because most tourists would just tour the inside of the palace and call it a day. Fontainebleau is another chateau near Paris and I personally prefer it better to Versailles, simply because I've been to Versailles three times already. It's a little bit harder to get to, in comparison. You'll have to take the Transillien train from Gare de Lyon. If you have a youth card, it's approx 8 euros, other wise it would be 16. After you reach Fontainebleau, you'll have to take a bus to reach the Chateaux. The rooms are just as lovely as the ones in Versailles, if not more lavish. Napolean actually preferred it more to Versailles. We went towards the end of December and there were barely anyone there, which was awesome. "All these lands are mine! mwahaha" The town of Fontainebleau is really cute too, so that's definitely a plus.

4. Canal Saint Matin. I personally prefer the canal saint Martin cruise to the conventional Seine cruise, just because the canal passes through a part of Paris that's usually less touristy. There are usually two cruises per day. The one in the morning departs near Musee D'orsay and goes to Bassin de la Villette in the 19th arrondisement. And the one in the afternoon does the vice versa. After October I think, the cruise only operates on the weekends. The area in the 19th arrondisement has a lot of quaint bars around the canal, so it's a really nice place to chill when the weather is still nice and there are also a lot of really cool little stores scattered around the neighborhood.

I really enjoyed touring Europe in winter because it's the low season and there are so much less tourists around. So I would wait around a bit when you first get to Paris if you're doing Fall Abroad because the end of august/ the beginning of september is still sort of too touristy for my taste. Lines are long and people are everywhere. Maybe wait until around end of october/ beginning of november to start doing the touristy things. (But that's also the time when Sciences Po has its midterms and exposes, keep that in mind). I stayed for a bit after my semester is over in Paris, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the touristy spots a lot less crowded than I have imagined.

Till next time, Paris!