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By neerjapatel

I never knew how to answer the question, “what was your best moment abroad?” until I went to Split, Croatia. My friends and I decided to go after finding cheap flights right between our finals and hoping for a fun adventure. Little did I know, that Croatia was going to be the best trip I had abroad and the one filled with the most wholesome memories.

We decided to sign up for a popular day long boat excursion that travels to five nearby Croatian Islands so we could meet youngsters like ourselves. But on the morning, we arrived at the dock and we found that an Indian family from Australia had signed up for the same boat trip that we did. At the time, I thought it wasn’t going to be as fun but as we went to the first destination, I started talking to the mom and she was telling me about her family, work, and daughters. More importantly, we were instantly able to connect as individuals because of our Indian background. They offered us the Indian family snacks they brought on the trip and even paid for our lunch at one the islands. It was then that I realized my culture has brought me closer to people and given me a way to connect with them. That day, the mom told us, “we have taken you girls in as our own daughters today.” She truly welcomed us with open arms because we connected with each other through our Indian background. After being away from home for a long time and experiencing this memory, I gained pride in the welcoming culture that I came from.

As I look back at this incredible semester, I experienced so many different things, met incredible people, and most importantly, learned about myself. I loved Barcelona—living and studying in the city is much different than simply traveling to it. It gives you a different perspective and experience that only you can understand. But on the other hand, I was able to experience other countries and cities that were eye opening. And, what I found was that it wasn’t just about the place that you visit, but about the people you go with, the people you meet, and the experience you want to make out of it.

Croatia will always be my favorite memory, but Barcelona will always have my heart.

By maddierosser

My time in Barcelona has come to a bittersweet end! I will miss my host family, especially my host mother, Josefina. I will miss the beautiful, bustling streets on a sunny day. Most of all, I will miss the people and the culture surrounding food, family, and life.

Since returning to the United States, I have noticed how cognizant I have become about certain aspects of American culture. Little things that were frowned upon in Spain, like to-go coffee cups, stand out in everyday life. I have found that I am more aware of the value of my food and am trying to maintain this level of respect that I got a taste of in Barcelona.

Upon returning to GW in the fall, I will apply the lessons I learned while completing service in Spain to the community service in which I participate in DC. The emphasis on forming relationships within service, as opposed to treating interactions like a business transaction, is a value I will continue to emphasize when serving others. I am grateful for my experience in Barcelona, as it deeply broadened my understanding of community service on an international level. I hope to return soon!

By Marissa Kirshenbaum

A lot has happened since I wrote my last blog. In fact, this current blog is not even from "abroad", as I have officially returned back to the United States. Leaving Paris has been a whirlwind, one in which different feelings have all swirled together into one that is indescribable: I am grateful yet at the same time heartbroken, I am excited yet at the same time fearful. In the days leading up to my flight home, I felt at times content with the idea of leaving Europe, of rejoining my friends and family back home and reflecting on my meaningful experience. Yet, sometimes only a few minutes later I would feel devastated that my childhood dream has been terminated, that my time living in Paris has come to a close, and that I would have to say goodbye to a place that I had just gotten accustomed to living in.

Leaving Paris was more than coming back home after a long trip. In fact, when I was sixteen I spent five weeks travelling throughout Israel, so I believed that I would be used to the idea of leaving a place even if I had been there for a long time. However, this was different. It did not exactly feel like I was leaving to come home, because over the past three and a half months, Paris did in fact become my home. I went to school there, ate meals with my family, had my own bedroom, did my own laundry, and grocery shopped: all in Paris. I took trips throughout Europe and Africa, and returned to Paris. This was something that I had not expected would be so hard about leaving my sight of study abroad: it did not feel like my trip was over, but that my current life was being taken away from me.

Now that I am back and separated from Paris, I feel more of a sense of clarity. In this moment, I can reflect on my experience rather than dwell on what I lost. It has been interesting to reconnect with friends and see the life that I put on hold while I was studying abroad. It is interesting to see how people have changed and the things in society that have progressed. To me, it feels like I hit "resume", when in fact everyone else has been in "play".

...continue reading "Au Revoir mais pas Adieu!"

You know what they say… April showers bring May flowers and the end of study abroad! Okay, I guess I’ve never heard anyone say that besides me. Everything has been super busy lately with finals and classes wrapping up for the semester. Last Wednesday, my program hosted a dinner to celebrate the end of the term. It was a great opportunity to have a variety of delicious, typical Spanish tapas! 

The final exam in my Food & Culture course asked primarily about the differences we observed between the culture of food and charitable food services in Spain versus the United States. My reflection about our community service experience discussed the variation of professionalism and volunteer-customer interactions between Spain and the United States. For example, the Saint Egidio organization has a strong emphasis on building and maintaining community among the homeless population in Barcelona. As I was volunteering, Alba, the woman in charge on certain nights, explained that the church plays an important role in the lives of these people by not only providing sustenance but also by providing support. The church’s dedication to this goal is evident through its variety of food events, special Sunday meals, and the guidebooks they created to help impoverished citizens access food kitchens and sleeping shelters throughout the city. Furthermore, Alba described an annual event held by Saint Egidio that I found very heartwarming. The church holds a special day of prayer once a year for those who have passed away in the local homeless community. Alba stressed the importance of this event: “it helps for them to know that someone will remember them when they are gone.”

This type of community-building is not so common in the United States. Whether this stems from the presence of larger homeless populations or cultural differences in the United States cannot be said certainly. However, a cultural difference was very clear when I volunteered for the second style of food distribution, which I discussed in my previous post.  There were several obvious differences between this type of food service and the equivalent in the United States. One was that a large variety of people came to receive the free meal; there were men in work attire who looked like they had come from work, groups sitting together and laughing, and couples eating together. This array of attendees was not limited to homeless people living in Barcelona, rather, anyone who could use the help of a free meal. Back home, although anyone would be welcome to receive the dinner provided for those in need, it is very unlikely that there would be anyone other than homeless individuals.

...continue reading "Food Culture and Service"

By neerjapatel

Since middle school, I’ve always viewed myself as multicultural bringing together my Indian heritage with my American upbringing. I never felt that one culture dominated the other which helps me to represent myself in all settings whether this be at home, at school, or in the workplace.

As I’ve come abroad, I’ve been faced with many challenges. Being in Barcelona, I have found challenges including differences in language, food, clothing, and much more. At first, this was a huge culture shock. I was in a new city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and most importantly a huge language barrier. However, as the semester continued, I found myself adapting and turning ever challenge into a positive factor of the culture in Barcelona.

From my experience abroad, I am able to reflect on internal change and my identity. I still view myself as multicultural, but now I include the Spanish culture as a part of my identity. I travelled to Croatia last weekend and found myself in a country where I could not understand the language even if I tried. But, it wasn’t when I heard English that I felt at home but more so, when I heard Spanish. When I heard someone or a group of people speaking Spanish, it reminded me of home—Barcelona. In this sense, I think the way I view the Spanish culture and how it ties into my identity has changed the most for me throughout my semester. It has become a way I can connect with people outside of Spain. It has also become a way I connect with my friends that I made in Barcelona.

...continue reading "The Spaniard Inside of Me"

Greetings from Salzburg, Austria! While my program does not end til mid July, for other students this is their final week studying abroad, thus making this my last blog post. To be frank, I am only halfway through my program and have spent majority of my time outside of Freiburg, so I do not have the privilege of looking back on my experience and communicating it to you all, which was essentially what I was chosen to do. So, I will attempt to summarize my time here and give you a little insight into IES Freiburg - Environmental Studies.

For starters, most abroad programs start promptly after Winter Break in mid to late January at the latest. For better or for worse, this particular program starts late February - as in February 27th, which is basically March at that point - and goes til July 7th. This is primarily due to Germany’s semester structure and is similar to the Australia program. As a result, you have around 2 months at home after finishing up fall semester finals at GW before your program and about a month before you start school back in the States in August. I personally love spending time with my family and the extra month was perfect for my timetable, but it is important to note that it took my out of internship season in the summer. On the other hand to play devil’s advocate, spring and summer in Freiburg is the best time to live or travel in the city.

Which brings me to my next topic - Freiburg as a city. Freiburg is a university city and is primarily comprised of students, professors, and the elderly. That being said, when school is not in session, there is absolutely no one - and I mean no one - in town. During the first three weeks I was in Freiburg, school was not in session and it was still winter. Needless to say, it was rather depressing and isolating. As time went by and school resumed, the city changed over night and suddenly everyone was outside walking around, laying on the grass, eating at a cafe, and just enjoying the local culture. So if you do go on this program or are considering it, keep this in mind that it gets better. In addition, Freiburg is situated right near the French and Swiss borders, thus making Basel or Frankfurt the closest airport. The airport is only a 3-4 hour bus/train ride away, but it does make traveling more expensive. I pay from 5—70 Euros just to get to the airport (sometimes total, other times one way), thus increasing the cost of my weekend travel. If small towns in the middle of nowhere are your thing, then Freiburg is perfect, but if you are looking for a National airport type situation like DC, you will not find that here. ...continue reading "IES Freiburg – Environmental Studies Summarized"

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland! The past three days I have spent taking in the rolling hills, the blooming flowers of early spring, and riding bikes in Phoenix Park with family and friends. While I could give you recommendations of where to stay and stuff your face, Dublin is a rather small town, so it is best to wander around and find those for yourself. For the next week and a half I will be traveling to Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria - mostly just to travel, but some for class. In case you forgot (I tend to forget I am still a student too), I have class 5 days out of the week, but for this week my Swiss Alps Ecosystem class will be traveling to the Swiss Alps to analyze tree cores, identify both native and invasive trees, and to measure the human impact on the ecosystem for the past century. Did I mention that I will not be in the same country for more than 3 days and still have a final report and exam?

It recently occurred to me that because I plan these outrageously packed weeks, I have developed - and dare I say perfected - a rather comprehensive rule book for packing and basic travel. I thought I would share a few of my more basic rules as I have learned through experience that it is always better to be prepared. So here it is -

  1. Always - I mean ALWAYS - pack a swimsuit and running shoes.

I must admit that I stole this rule from my Aunt as she has forever emphasized the necessity of a swimsuit and running shoes. While it may seem absolutely psychotic to bring a swimsuit to say the Swiss Alps, you truly never know what is available. Most airports have a connecting - or at least nearby - hotel that allow you to use the gym and pool. If your flight is severely delayed or just have a ridiculously long layover and find yourself with 6 hours and nothing to do, you can easily go swim laps or run to pass the time. Even if on the very off chance the hotel does not offer this service, you can buy the cheapest service and I guarantee you both pool and gym access will be included. In addition, you never know what is available at your final destination. What happens if you are in the Alps and stumble upon a traditional sauna or find a group leading a sunrise hike? You’ll wish you had a swimsuit and running shoes. ...continue reading "Snippets from My Travel Rule Book"

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting my parents and sister in Paris. Amongst the long list of tourist attractions and miles that we walked over eight short days, the most interesting of the bunch was certainly the reunion with my distant French relatives.

Family is an interesting concept to me because you can fiercely define it in so many different ways. Some people say that family is through blood, but then others feel closer to those with whom they are not biologically linked.

Over the course of my time in Paris, I have come to consider my host family as a true family in its own right: we may not share the same genetics or sometimes even the same language, but we care for one another and we feel comfortable. What more do you need?

Some say that my passion for the French language and culture is derived from my family history: my great-grandfather and namesake Maurice was French and a Parisian in the twentieth century. Not much is known about my family's connection to France, except that we have two living relatives in the heart of Paris. My parents arrival gave me the courage to finally reach out and to establish a relation with them.

...continue reading "La Famille"

By frenezeder

Greetings from Budapest, Hungary! While I am fortunate enough travel to a different country nearly every weekend, most of the time I find myself drawing a blank at what time my flight is, what currency I am in, and what language everyone is speaking. This is most definitely the best issue to have; however, my weeks are always packed to the brim between traveling, doing independent research, going to class, and finding time to meet with friends. I have not had the opportunity to be homesick as oftentimes I don't even know where I am. But as of the moment, I know for a fact I am in Budapest solely because the inflation here is absolutely insane. Whenever I take a taxi, pay for a meal, or do absolutely anything, the price is always in the thousands ( 1 euro = about 300 forint). Always a joy to do quick math while scrambling to grab some cash.

Anywho, here are my recommendations for Budapest

1. Szechenyi Thermal Bath

This is THE mustard yellow outdoor bath you have seen probably a thousand times while looking at your friend's abroad posts and I must say I was not a fan. I should preface this with bachelor/bachelorette weekends are simply not my thing and this was most definitely the place for them. While the yellow bathhouse looks absolutely precious, the scene is most definitely not relaxing. I would recommend going early in the morning to beat the rush of tourists if you are looking for more relaxation. That being said, I do recommend going because it was fun to see it in person and I happen to adore the color yellow - just be prepared.

2. Gellért Baths

Ok, now the Gellért baths are exactly what I imagine when someone says "relaxing, stunning bathhouse in Budapest". If you are on a budget and can only go to one of the two thermal baths, I would definitely recommend this one. The Gellért baths are both indoor and outdoor baths engulfed in stunningly intricate tile - think Ariel's Grotto from the Little Mermaid. It is much more focused on relaxation and giving your body a break. I went on a Sunday morning and was what appeared the only non-local there. I could have spent the whole day there as they had a Finnish sauna, ice bath, lap pool, and several baths heated at different temperatures. Pictures simply cannot do the tile work justice, so you will simply have to go (or google it in high def preferably) and see for yourself. ...continue reading "The Grand Budapest AirBnB"

By frenezeder

One of the difficulties with traveling abroad is the lack of self care. Whether it is finding an affordable gym, picking your indulgences, or just maintaining a health lifestyle, it becomes increasingly more difficult when you are living in a society that does not place nearly as much importance on exercise as the US does. Specifically in Freiburg, it is almost impossible to be a temporary student and have a gym membership. Every gym requires at least a years long commitment and is rather expensive considering you are still trying to plan weekend trips. I have found that my mood is heavily dictated by my physical activity and diet and one of the most important things to do abroad is to take care of yourself. You are in an entirely different country most likely the only student from your university in the program, so to begin with internal tension is already high.

From the second I arrived in Freiburg I felt out of my element and was unable to actively solve the predicament because this city does not have a single workout class. Coming from DC and California where there is nearly a workout studio on every corner to Freiburg where there is not a single studio in 10 km distance is different to say the least. I tried to run outside, but people in Freiburg tend to simply not workout and give you incredibly rude and uncomfortable looks when you do try running outside. This was a complete shock to me and certainly did not put me in the best of scenarios. Luckily, I found a used bike shop in the area that sold relatively inexpensive bikes with free repairs and an option to buy back the bike. My bike now serves as my main mode of transportation and exercise. I bike about 2 miles each way to my classes and find that it is the highlight of my day. It severely improves my mood and has helped me stay active without the binding hassle of a gym.

I cannot quite stress how important it is to make yourself and your wellbeing a priority while abroad. I have found that the more I take care of myself, the more I enjoy being abroad. Whether it is making a meal full of green veggies at home or biking into town rather than taking the tram, I feel much better about being away from home when I feel like my regular self. It is so important to take time for yourself and to check in with your body and see how you are coping with such a drastic change. My first month here has been full of extraordinary experiences, but I was not able to fully enjoy them until I felt like myself through regular self care. You are the only person who can actively change your outlook on life, so you might as well help yourself with self care rather than hinder yourself.