Seville (Sevilla?) at Last!

Yep, I live here.

As I’ve now had a whopping ten days in Seville (basically a local), I feel fairly certain when I say that this is the most beautiful place I have ever called home. After climbing all 31 walking ramps to the top of the Catedral de Seville and only catching a few cramps, I was able to truly see how expansive this city is (see incredibly cool photo above). And though I won’t be able to see ALL of it, I will definitely try.

So far I’ve mostly seen tourist hotspots and tapas bars, not that there’s anything wrong with that the food here is awesome. Seville’s architecture alone is enough to prompt me to shamelessly whip out my camera, whether the building is home to a centuries old tobacco factory or the local Hard Rock Cafe, and honestly without signage they would be hard to tell apart. This goes to say that I have been generally overwhelmed in the best sense of the word. I really am just waiting for the day when I wake up here in the residencia and it doesn’t feel like a dream. Until then I’ll keep eating my way through all the montaditos I can order!

The Long Way ‘Round

Good news, guys: I made it!! To Spain, at least. Before we finally headed to Seville to start classes,  ISA hosted our orientation and a few tours through Madrid and Toledo. Four days later, I’ve officially moved in to my way-nicer-than-expected Residencia! Let’s rewind for a second though and talk about the parts of this beautiful country that I got to visit on the way down.

Arriving in Madrid solo was intimidating to say the least. Once I cleared customs and picked up my luggage though, I was quickly brought into the group of around 50 other students that arrived before me. Any nerves I had soon gave way to the excitement of finally being here. After months of planning and packing, we were finally doing it! And then I crashed. As in a 5 hour nap… oops. Thanks, jet lag. The good news is I woke up just in time to go to a delicious dinner with new friends, and was well rested for the next day’s walking tour of the city. Beautiful is an understatement. Because our program directors had coordinated earlier in the week, we skipped the lines at all the best museums and saw every impressive painting and sculpture our hearts desired. After a quick visit to the palace and some delicious tapas, we had just enough free time at the end of the day to sneak off to Parque del Buen Retiro and rent a row boat for sunset! Navigating the metro home was even a breeze. Madrid, we love you.

makin' a splash

A photo posted by Lauren Barnard (@uf_lauren) on

As with all other good things, this leg of our trip came to an end much too quickly. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we arrived in Toledo. Did you know that Toledo is the religious capital of Spain? To be fair, I didn’t either. But we learned that very fast, via our tour guide who looked strikingly similar to Zac Efron.

The way three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) meet within the walls of old town is truly stunning. Spain is definitely a country rich in religious history, and it was interesting to note how poignant the effects of the Inquisition are so many years later. We were able to visit the revived Jewish Quarter, where families whose ancestors fled persecution hundreds of years ago have returned to synagogues long ago abandoned. Sadly, our hotel was outside the walls of old town and all too soon we were back on the bus headed away from this incredible place.

Later that night, it was time for our academic orientation and I was bombarded with the fact that no, we were not only here to travel and get tanned. After a short bus ride yesterday and a crash course in navigating Seville, we’re here! Classes start on Monday, but for now I plan to enjoy this free weekend in my new home.



Would you like some chili with your pasta?


A few days ago I went to an Italian place not far from my dorm. It was structured like a made-to-order buffet: At the beginning you get a card from the cashier, then you go around whatever stations you want – pizza, pasta, dessert, etc. There you take a menu, tell the staff what you want, and they cook it right in front of you. After they give you the food, you place the card down on a machine that records the cost of the food, so that after you’re done ordering and eating, you give the card back at the front desk and the cashier tells you how much to pay in total.

I went to the pasta section. I read off the German menu and chose Pasta Bolognese, to which the cook responded with a nod. He began to pour oil and meat and vegetables into his pan, occasionally asking me questions like what type of pasta I wanted and whether or not I wanted garlic, all at a rapid, practiced pace. I had just come back from my three-and-a-half-hour German class, during which my brain became so overloaded and overworked that I could feel an unpleasant strain as I wrote sentences for the final worksheet. In the lunchtime rush, the restaurant was noisy and crowded, and the fact that I had never been there before and wasn’t sure where to get the napkins or silverware made me a bit anxious. It also didn’t help that over the sound of the steaming pans and background chatter it was often hard to hear what the cook was saying, so I kept my gaze fixed on his face, focusing all my attention so as not to let any of his questions slip by.

Finally, he finished cooking the meat and started making the sauce, and asked me if I wanted chili in it. Now, I don’t like spicy food at all. The most I can tolerate is a mild burn, and even then I have to have some sour cream or water to tone it down. I understand what he’s asking me about – I make out the word “chili” and see him hold out a pair of small, red cubes in his hand. I quickly nod my head, and he tosses them into the bowl. I enjoy a few moments of long-awaited silence while he finishes up with the pasta, but at the same time I feel frozen and bound to the inevitable – I probably won’t be able to eat the pasta because it’ll be too spicy. But I push the thought aside; it was two tiny cubes. Maybe it won’t be that bad. I can handle a little bit of spicyness, and as long as I have something to drink, (I ordered some still mineral water beforehand), I supposed I’d be fine. He finished making the food, rips off a few basil leaves from a potted basil plant nearby, and puts them in the bowl. I put down the card to register the sum, and with a Guten Appetit, he gives me the bowl.

Well, I was right. The pasta was too spicy to eat. I managed to force down a third of the bowl, drinking lots of water, but after that I couldn’t keep going. All because I didn’t want to fish around for the right German expression and nodded just to make the question go away. Now I feel bad because the pasta really was good; it was just the spiciness overlaying the flavor that made it inedible. Later, I felt bad because I left a large bowl of it unfinished at the table that would now go to waste when the staff came to pick it up. At least I hadn’t been terribly hungry beforehand.

I’m usually fine with speaking German in public to people, and I actually prefer making an order in German than switch from German to English and gambling on whether or not the person I was talking to will speak enough English to accommodate this. Especially, you can just point to a menu item and read it off in German instead of bothering about the translation, or saying it in English pronunciation and likely getting it wrong. But I don’t know what it was about that restaurant – the mayhem, the noise, the fact that I was tired or that the cook was standing right in front of me and constantly waiting for me to tell him what else to put in the bowl. So I guess my stress was reasonable.

Though I wonder if it would have really been that hard to say “Nein, kein Chili bitte.”


So far on this trip I’ve been eager to try new things and this especially applies to ordering food at restaurants. While I know basic words for like eggs and ham, there are many phrases on a menu that my high school Spanish classes simply did not prepare me for. When everyone in my group ordered “huevos rotus con patatas y jamon” I decided to be a little adventurous and order “huevos rotus con patatas y gulas.” I asked my friend Esteban, who hails from Mexico and fluent in Español, what “gulas” were, even he didn’t know.




Welp “gulas” is baby eel. My friends were astonished at the earthworm looking things on my plate and one decided to google it. The table filled with some laughter, but this time the joke was on them. What looked like an episode of fear factor to some was in fact me fulfilling my goal of trying new things. You don’t come to Spain to just eat ham and eggs every meal…..and let me tell you it turns out that baby eel is freaking delicious.

Plot Twist: I’m in London

Do you remember when friends would tease you as a child for taking the stairs into the pool, rather than just diving into the deep end? Well, I’m sorry everyone but I’ve definitely taken the stairs into study abroad.

Rather than jumping into a language barrier and unfamiliar country right out of the gate, I decided to warm up with a week in the United Kingdom visiting family friends and our old hometown with my mom. So after months of nerves, and some very last minute packing the night before departure, I found myself headed onto a BritishAir flight to Gatwick. And, even though I had written and rewritten packing lists making sure to bring everything I could possibly need, I couldn’t help but feel unprepared for what was to come in the next three months.

Landing and clearing customs was a breeze, and my mom and I were quickly off in a fun-size rental car to our destination. With only one night to adjust, we promptly passed out to get ready for my birthday in London the very next day. It was definitely a birthday to remember, to say the least:

After a week of hilarity adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road, having baked beans for breakfast (yes seriously), and tea at every hour of the day, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was so refreshing to be back in England, exploring every corner of London and Norfolk, that I didn’t have time to worry about my quick flight to Madrid tomorrow. Which, by the way, came at me much quicker than I was ready for.

Headed to Spain I feel confident and excited for the change of pace! It is also occurring to me that I know very little Spanish and probably even less of the culture and history of Seville, but it’ll be fine, right? Here’s hoping!

Hasta la próxima!

One Month Down!

Hello Everyone!!

I am so happy to say that I have officially survived one month abroad… how has this been possible? I honestly have no idea! Just within my first week of survival in France, I felt as if I had already learned enough to say I had been abroad for a year. My first month abroad has been full of highs, lows, growth, and adventure.

I think one of the reasons that people love their experiences abroad is because they can look back and realize how much they grew and how they were somehow able to survive all the crazy surprises that came to them. I know that in a few years I will be able to look back and laugh at my 20-year-old self, panicking, as I tried to survive and install myself during my first week of classes in Poitiers, France.

My first month abroad has been incredible. I was able to travel to London and Paris, and I have meet so many amazing people with incredible life stories. Although my classes are rigorous, especially because they can change between four different languages in just one lecture, I love the rich, academic experience I am receiving at Sciences Po. Take my class about Colombia: La Cara al Post-Conflicto for example, the professors for this class were flown to Poitiers from Colombia specifically just to teach this class! Although it is challenging to constantly be switching between English, Spanish, French, and now Portuguese, I find it so amazing how everyone at Sciences Po manages to communicate regardless of language or culture barriers.

Although I have loved my time at Sciences Po, not everything has been smooth sailing; the culture shock of moving to a French town that has less people than can fit in the UF stadium has been mind blowing, and the hostility I face when I identify as a U.S. Citizen is overwhelming at times. My first month abroad opened my eyes to many different perspectives, it has made me question why and how I identify myself of Mexican- American, and it has already shown me how history and international relations between countries directly influence day-to-day interactions between people. More importantly, it has taught me the magic of a piece of paper and written instructions; it completely blew my mind how I was able to find my way around without Google Maps or Siri talking to me every step of the way.😛 My time abroad has not been perfect, but it has been beautiful.

It has taken some time, but I am happy to say that as I reflected on my first full month here last Friday, I was able to do it at a dinner with other students who have become  my family away from home. I am so blessed to have found a church to call home (I live a block away from the Cathedral), and I have found a group of friends that accepts my crazy self and understands the adventure of studying oceans away from loved ones.


Cathedral St. Pierre- Can you believe I live a street away from this beauty?! 


Nothing like celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day with my new friends!

A month ago, I never thought I would be able to pack up my life in a suitcase and move to the other side of the world. It was a very hard choice to decide to study abroad and to ask those who rely on me to put their needs on a pause as I continued my education away from home. As a first-generation Latina, the first-generation guilt of traveling throughout Europe and receiving an education while my parents struggle to put food on the table follows me every day, but I believe that it is for this very reason that I am studying abroad. As much as I wish I could change the world at this moment, I know I need an education first. I know that I have to grow, to go on my own adventures, and to see the world through my own eyes in order to understand how exactly I can serve it. It is for these reasons that I study abroad.

When people ask my what I hope to gain from being abroad, I think back to this past month and how it has not only changed my life, but also how I hope it has motivated others to go out and achieve their dreams regardless of the stereotypes and social structures that threaten to hold them back. Although I may not have the same privilege as others, I do recognize that I am still very privileged and blessed in my own way. My parents sacrificed their whole lives to help me get to where I am today, and although they may not have a college education I believe that I am repaying at least 1/1000th of their sacrifice every time I walk through the prestigious doors of Sciences Po in Poitiers, France.

My month abroad has not been all painted pink, but it has not been completely gray either. Life has given me an opportunity to see its beauty and that is what I attempt to do every day, so all the way from Poitiers, France I wish you all the best for this incoming week- that any obstacles you face you may turn into motivations and challenges to test your own limits and reach your dreams because I know I am doing that every day.



Sending love all the way from my little town- Poitiers, France 

All Life is an Experiment

From the Sunshine State, growing up with manatees, surfing the Atlantic, Swamp loving, and Gator Nation living, to the Venice of the North, dynamic cultural intrigue, Mariinsky ballet, studying on the Gulf of Finland, and a mysterious, evolved Soviet community.

Accompany me, Rachel E, a 22 year old, Florida native and University of Florida student as I embark on my first journey abroad to St. Petersburg, Russia!

In my arsenal I’ll have: in-depth knowledge from my European and Russian studies background, a Sony A6000 camera, an insatiable appetite for exploration and learning, and the support of Gator Nation and YOU! In this adventure we will expand our cultural horizons into the influential, enigma, and Global superpower that is the Russian Federation. I’ll be studying at Russia’s oldest academic institution: Saint Petersburg State University, which sits pristinely on the Gulf of Finland, while living in the heart of downtown. I seek depth in Russian society: art, music, its’ citizens, food, abounding landscape, traditions, contemporary values, and vast community. But this is, most importantly, a resource for you, мои друзья (my friends)! So please contact me via comments or email (, asking questions, inquiring deeper into Russian topics, suggesting to see more or less of something, and advising activities or adventures for me! I’m here as your guide and vicarious opportunist, and I can’t wait to begin this journey together!

p.s.- below are a few photos from my first few days in Russia!

ура! (cheers!),

Rachel E

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My school, Saint Petersburg State University!

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A photo of me in front of a monument to Nicholas I, a ruler of Russia

Look Mom! I Made Friends…

Le jardin de Luxembourg- Paris, France 

Hello everyone!!! I hope you all had a great weekend and a fantastic start into your week!!

I have officially been in France for 3 weeks now, and I am so happy that I am slowly settling in and making new friends. As I prepared for my study abroad journey, I was so afraid of finding people who would accept me for who I am. The first few weeks in France were a bit intimating because of the language and culture barriers that threaten to push me aside and into an antisocial shell. Yet, I am happy to say that I pushed against those threats, and it is because of this that my past weekend was simply amazing as I explored Paris with a few friends from my university, Sciences Po.

Of course it is not easy at all to go up to a crowd of new people and instantly become friends, but while it is very important to have an open mind (I mean, one should always have an open mind, but it is extra important when studying abroad).  It is with the beauty of an open mind that we are able to cross impossible barriers in life. Of course, it is always scary to be vulnerable and to let people see a bit of what makes us shine from the inside-out, but without this beautiful vulnerability we are missing out on life.

During my 3 weeks abroad, I have already seen  different parts of the world through the eyes of new friends. Meeting new people allows us to see the world in different perspectives, to taste a bit of different cultures through new friends’ traditions, and to hear of others’ dreams and ambitious. If there are people around me, it is because they also had to go through dreams, failures, hope, and sacrifice to get to the same place- why not stop a moment in time to hear their story? How will we ever know how similar we are to others if we let social stigma and cultural assumptions determine who we approach or do not approach?

So, whether you are studying abroad or not I really encourage you all to meet new people. Who knows, your next dream may be motivated by a stranger’s story.

On a separate point, I also want to share the excitement of my weekend in Paris because it was my first trip with new friends!! I bet my mommy is so proud- she literally called every day the first week to ask if I had made friends lol!

During our time in Paris I was able to share a special moment as it was my friends’ first time seeing the Eiffel Tower. For example, met Richard Perry! Richard’s face when he saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time was priceless!! These priceless moments are the ones I live for! At times life can seem so short, and we all go through really tough times in life that make us realize how short and precious it can be. Yet, I strongly believe that it is through our dreams and aspirations that we can make life stretch out much longer than the pain we experience at times – especially when studying abroad. For example, yesterday (Monday) morning, I found out a loved one lost his battle to cancer. Oh cancer! First my grandmother and then my mother exactly one year ago and now this.. it is as if I can never get rid of it. Yet, it is through my experience with cancer, that I have really been able to see life differently, and I really hope my insight can motivate you all. Trust me when I say that I was scared to study abroad. I had planned to study abroad last fall, but my grandmother and mother were both diagnosed with cancer last September and plans fell through. Now that I had them both at my side, cancer free, I did not want to let them go and set out to France.  I had always dreamt of traveling the world, but it was one of those childhood dreams that I never really thought would come true, but I told myself that I would not be stopped by the fear of letting go. Yes, saying goodbye can be hard, and loosing a loved one while one study’s on the other side of the world is even harder, but if I let heartbreaking experiences like these stop me- I will never see the world that was created just for me.

What is this great world I talk about? Well, all my life I dreamt of seeing the Eiffel Tower…

…… and this weekend I was able to lay under it and dream new dreams; this specific moment blew my mind. Had I never taken this chance, I would have never believed in myself and my dreams.  I really think we should all take chances, maybe your moment of bravery is not packing your life in a suitcase to study on the other side of the world, but if it is do it! Whatever it is you have always wanted to do, but somehow thought you could never do..I encourage you to start acting on that dream. Life can be very short, and grief will always be around the corner- but in every moment we live there is also happiness. With every city I travel to, I meet new people with different stories and multiple dreams- it can be scary and there will be times when we feel as if we are dancing alone in a crowded room, but in this dance floor of life, with a smile and a little jiggle- you never know who may bump into or what amazing dream you may fall into.

So….. until next time… I encourage you all to go out in life and dance your own jiggle, meet new people, and really show to those you love how much you really do, because life can be really short sometimes. It is through our dreams that we make it stretch out, so do not stop dreaming!


Sending you all love and peace from France!! Cheers to a new day 

Are we there yet?

My flight got canceled the day before orientation for my study abroad program in Florence, Italy. I was stuck in Dusseldorf, Germany, which I had never heard of, until the airline found another flight for me to book. My layover went from being a five hour one to a 10 hour one. However, I managed to find an unexpected silver lining when I decided to explore this small city on the outskirts of this historically rich country.

I walked into a local restaurant called Albert’s. The man who was my waiter made me feel right at home, which in turn culturally shocked me because I had never had a server speak to me as if I were an old friend. He spoke seven languages. His accent was thick but his English never faltered. What really warmed my heart was that he carried a conversation with me in Spanish, which is how I communicate with my family back home. He then went on to explain the menu, and give me tips on where to visit during my time at Dusseldorf. His first suggestion was the harbor, which is a very popular destination for tourists. They can sit on steps and look out into it, or even sneak a peak of it from the local parks and restaurants. The harbor is part of a large body of water known as Medien Hafen, which is a popular form of transport in the city, it houses one of their largest bridges.

Due to the fact that I am in college and “balling on a budget,” I took his suggestion and passed by the harbor. I also managed to visit the Gehry buildings, which are known for the modern architecture. Each building was a piece of art, that tied into the modernistic and environmentally sustainable feel of the city. Most individuals used bikes as their main form of transportation, and those who chose to commute by car drove fuel efficient vehicles, there was no SUV in sight throughout the whole city.

Over all, my 10 hours in Dusseldorf were spent exploring the city and getting a feel for its citizens’ lifestyle. During my layover I got my first taste of Europe and I found it to be everything I expected and much more. My time spent in this small city prepped me for Florence, there I learned that it is customary to ask for the check because it is considered rude for the waiter to bring it without you asking, and that you pay a sitting fee instead of tipping. I would definitely recommend passing by Dusseldorf during your stay in Europe, it has not been saturated by tourism and it is rich in its authentic culture. My stay here just made me more excited for what was to come this semester abroad!


First Week


I’ve been in Germany for over a week now, and I’ve gone through quite a few changes in mentality. On my first day I felt exhausted and disoriented. Although the flight took around nine hours, by the time I got to Bonn, I felt as if it had passed in the space of a few minutes. From that moment on, everything else crept by in slow motion. I was having trouble comprehending the fact that I was in a different country, and it didn’t feel so much exciting as it did disorienting. I guess that’s what happens when you suddenly go from a quiet, empty summer to a busy, bustling city where you have to walk for minutes on end to reach all of your destinations and follow a tightly-packed schedule of mandatory activities.

Of all things, I wasn’t bothered about the walking. I enjoyed walking around the campus and using the buses in Gainesville, as it was a refreshing break from life in my hometown, where you have to drive practically everywhere due to long distances. Simply going to class, or walking back from a faraway restaurant after a meal, or climbing the stairs to reach your dorm room is exercise in and of itself, and I think it’s a much healthier way to live to be in constant motion throughout the day, even if it’s relatively low-key, as opposed to alternating between long periods of sitting/driving and intense exercising. The amount of walking I do in Bonn is more than in Gainesville, though, because there’s no central campus with all the necessary buildings conveniently placed near each other. Rather, the university’s buildings are dispersed throughout the city, though it’s sometimes the case that certain buildings are grouped together. The main class building of the university, or Universitätshauptgebäude, is close to the international center and to the Poppelsdorfer Schloss, another class building. But then we have the building where the international students take their German classes during the orientation, which is on a different street with cafes and stores.

I arrived in Bonn two days ahead of time, so during the weekend there wasn’t much to do but walk around the city and visit the places I’d have to go to on my first day. During both days it rained on and off, and the streets were sparsely populated, mostly by lone pedestrians and bikers. I was in a bit of a solemn mood, and the days seemed so slow and empty that I wasn’t sure how I’d survive the rest of the year here. But once Monday rolled around and I was able to get busy, things picked up and became much better.

The official Arrival Day was similar to UF Preview: all the exhaustion and paperwork, but without the tours. First off, I got my welcome folder, which had my bus ticket, blank forms for my future city registration application, temporary student ID until I’d get a real one, and instructions from the Studentenwerk (Student Housing Office) on how to sign my housing contract. Then I went upstairs where two other people were waiting and paid my Sozialbeitrag (a one-time student fee) and signed up for health insurance. Unlike at UF, the signing was done completely on paper and payments were made in cash. (Granted, I don’t know how these procedures go for regular Bonn students; maybe they have an online component as well.) Then, the next day, we had our first orientation event, which was a general information session in one of the main building’s lecture halls. Then the next day, at 9:00, our group of 70+ international students was split off into groups and sent to our first German class of the month, and the program began.

Most of the international students in our group are from Taiwan, Korea, and China. There are five other Americans, but none of them were in my German class group, so the only way I could get by with the other students was to speak German. I enjoyed the opportunity, though, and got so used to resorting to German to get my point across, even if it sounded broken at times, that when I bumped into one of the American students and spoke English with her, the language felt strange on my tongue. I’ve also spoken mostly German with the program directors and signed up for the German version of all the tours and excursions we went on throughout the day. I’ve found that I understand quite a lot of what everyone says, and I’m able to get my point across in situations like ordering food, so I figure only thing left to do is keep on going and using the language until it becomes second-nature. People are generally patient here and will be happy to repeat something if you don’t catch their words right away.

There’s so much more that I could write, but if I did, then this post would be 1,60934 kilometers long, so I guess I’ll have to find a way to organize my thoughts. Until then… I’ll be here. Tschüss!