My weekend in Croatian paradise

The Cathedral of Saint Domnius is located in the center of Diocletian’s Palace. The Game of Thrones often films in and around the palace.

If I asked you to point out Croatia on a map, how likely is it that you would be able to find it? If you’re anything like me, it’s probably not very likely. For me, Croatia is one of those places that I have heard of but haven’t learned much about. As for the location, my guess was the Caribbean. I wasn’t even close. Croatia is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, between Slovenia and Bosnia. Knowing absolutely nothing about a country you’re about to visit sounds scary, but it was surprisingly refreshing.

Diocletian’s Palace is located right by the port, so the views from the higher points of the palace are spectacular.

Seven of us from UF booked the trip through a company called Bus2Alps last week and left for the trip at about 9:45 p.m. on Thursday. The drive takes about eleven hours, so we arrived in Croatia mid-morning on Friday very exhausted (let me tell you, sleeping on a bus is not comfortable), but very excited. Maybe it was luck, but this unfamiliar country that we stumbled upon is quite possibly one of the most incredible places I have ever been or will ever go. We stayed in a small town called Split, which is a coastal city with a gorgeous view and an intriguing history. During our walking tour we learned about the history of Split, such as how it has been conquered by several countries, with minimal resistance on the Croatia’s part (which is likely the reason why Croatians are stereotyped as lazy; they didn’t gain independence until 1995). Split was also home to Diocletian, a Roman emperor whose palace is still an integral part of the city today.

The water is a gorgeous shade of blue that is almost unreal!

Apart from the history, Croatia is a generally wonderful country. The currency, called Kuna, is worth about seven and a half Kuna to one Euro. That being said, when you pay 60 Kuna for a towel, the automatic response is shock, maybe even disgust. Then you realize that it’s actually only about seven euros, and you’re shocked in a different, more pleasant way. Everything in Croatia is CHEAP. A large portion of seafood risotto that would have been at least $15 in the United States was about 50 Kuna. That’s less than seven euros. Wait, seriously? YES. And let me tell you, it’s incredible.

Now for the fun stuff, let me tell you about our activities for the weekend. First, we participated in a pub-crawl Friday night, which was organized through Bus2Alps. There were students from many study abroad programs on the trip, so it was a great opportunity to get to know people from all over the United States and hear about their European travels.

On Saturday, we participated in a cruise to the island of Brač. Have I mentioned how beautiful Croatia is? This was even better. From the boat we could see the coast, the mountains and the water, which was a shade of blue that was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at it. The island of Brač was also gorgeous. It was very quaint and a nice escape from the more touristy cities of Split and Florence. We were given lunch on the boat, and I ate a fish. Not just part of a fish. No, this was an entire fish, bone and all, and it was delicious. The struggle of pulling the occasional bone out of my teeth was worth it because the seafood in Croatia is so straight-out-of-the-sea fresh.

My fish in all it’s glory! I was worried that I should have ordered the chicken, but the effort of picking through the bones was definitely worth it.

On Sunday, we packed our things and hopped back on the bus for a short drive to Krka National Park, which is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Here I am in a country that I could not have pinpointed on a map just a few days earlier, and now I can’t wait to go back. The waterfall was insanely gorgeous; one of those places that a picture can never portray properly. Despite spending the morning feeling nauseous from the bus ride, our time in Krka was refreshing and reminded me that sometimes the best places are the ones you have never even heard of.

The pictures of the waterfalls in Krka don’t do it justice at all. It’s officially one of my favorite places on Earth.

Stayed tuned to hear about my day trip to Siena and San Gimignano. Avere una bella giornata!

I couldn’t resist doing the Chomp. Go Gators!

A little dehydrated but safe

My mom cried at the gate.

We were all so OK saying goodbye: My dad smiled and waved as the shuttle services drove me and my mom from Ocala to Orlando. I gave my sweet dog a kiss on the mouth, and he licked me back. My boyfriend and roommates and friends had dinners and goodbye parties and a bunch of, “See you later”s, and I was OK.

But at 6:30 a.m. when I was third in line to get my boarding pass scanned, my mom’s smile crumpled and small tears started pouring out. She already had a tissue in her hand like she did so many times when I was a little girl crying, like a good mom does.

I lost it.

This trip is very much a going-back-to-my-roots, reflecting-on-who-I-am trip for me. A language barrier has prevented me from learning a lot about my own Taiwanese history and family, and I’ve spent so much time these last three years in school just pushing and pushing toward a job and never stopping to reflect.

So I spent the first three hours of my flight to San Francisco crying. I just couldn’t help it. My mom told me how proud she was of me and how excited she is for me to flourish in Beijing.

Needless to say the first few days here I fumbled.

Luckily enough, we didn’t have to stay in the hostel. I know I said I was looking forward to it, but in my heart of hearts, I wasn’t.

However, there’s that inherent panic involved when you step into a class and have no idea what the professor is talking about. Did I sign up for the next level? Or the right class at all?

That’s what I felt when I set foot in China. Am I ready for this? Can I even read that sign? What’s my Chinese name again?

The sun rises earlier here, and my first morning I walked around from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. I was able to buy some school supplies and food, and I didn’t get lost. Every day since then, I’ve found a new area of campus or gone to a new place in the city. And more and more I’m realizing that its OK that I’m a little lost. I’m not fluent in Chinese. People come to China all the time without speaking any of the language. I’ve taken Chinese for two years. I’ve got this.

The food is plentiful and cheap, but a little greasy and heavy. There’s rarely water at restaurants, and none at all in the dining halls. You can’t drink the tap water and even if you boil it, there’s a nice layer of white sediment that floats not-so-innocently on the top. For the first two days, Beijing was uncharacteristically cold and rainy. Now it’s dry and hot.

But it’s really amazing here. The people so far have been so friendly and helpful with my broken Chinese. When it’s a good day, the smog doesn’t mask the blue summer sky. The Chinese cartoons are a huge hoot to watch and the international dorms where we’re staying are chock full of foreign students. I’ve meet people from France, South Africa, Korea and Norway to name a few. And I’m foreign, too! It’s novel to be the first person someone has met who is from Florida. For the first time, it’s not a bad thing.

I do miss my friends and family a lot. But I’ve made such fast friends here, probably in a way that only studying in China could foster, that I can’t wait for the next three months to unfold.

See you in three, Florida!

I’m finally going to China.
I’ve talked about it for months and dreamed about it for years and today, I fly from Orlando to San Francisco to Beijing.
My name is Emily and I’m a journalism senior with a minor and concentration in Mandarin. I’ve wanted to learn the language since I was a little girl. My mom is from Taiwan and tried to teach me as a kid, but because my dad is American, I wasn’t constantly exposed to the language and never picked it up.
When I was a freshman, I figured, “Why the heck not?” Even though I had all my language requirements out of the way, I really wanted to be able to communicate with my mom and her side of the family. Plus, knowing Chinese will allow me to communicate to people who have had such different life experiences and stories.
I’m a huge bundle of excited nerves for this trip.
I walked early in graduation on May 4, because after this summer I’ll finish my degree requirements. Within that whirlwind of family hugs and a lot of happy tears, I moved out of my apartment in Gainesville and repacked my life into two suitcases and a backpack.
Classes don’t start until May 11, and I wanted to fly in a little early to acclimate to my dorm, the campus and the area but it wouldn’t be an adventure without a twist: We couldn’t get the dorms secured for the first two weeks of the semester so we have to stay in a hostel.
I haven’t even had a chance to worry or even think about it—we found out last week. But I think it’ll be good. So what I have to carry my laptop around with me to keep it safe? I’ll get to meet the other girls on the trip summer-camp style.
I was worried about not knowing anyone, to be honest.
It’s been a year since I took a modern Chinese class. Most students go straight from Intermediate Chinese in Gainesville to Advanced Chinese at Tsinghua, but I took a year to have internships and jobs and bulk up my portfolio with articles and editing positions. I actually never planned to go to Tsinghua, but the cards fell into place and the opportunity was too good to pass up.
So here’s to the next 26ish hours of travelling and 3 months in Beijing. And as I’ve said to all my friends and family, to the U.S.: See you in three!

Pre-Departure Post: Brussels

Bonjour, tout le monde!

My name is Isha and in 10 days, I will begin my journey to Brussels, Belgium. In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about the adventures (and misadventures) that are an inevitable part of international travel and living abroad. I will be in Brussels for seven weeks, from May 22nd- July 10th.

I am a third year double majoring in International Studies and French while I pursue a certificate in EU Studies. That sounds like a mouthful, but what it really means is that Brussels is the perfect place for me to study. I chose Brussels because it’s the Capitol of Europe. Brussels is no more than a few hours from some of Europe’s most beautiful cities and I plan on taking advantage of that and traveling to Amsterdam, Paris, and wherever else calls to me (with the siren song of a cheap bus ticket). Not only is the city centrally located within the European Union, but it is also a cultural and political hub. I have been studying French for seven years and plan to improve my French skills while I’m there. Because Belgium is called “le pays de mauvais francais” (the land of bad French), I’m hoping that my American accent will be forgiven.

I’m a seasoned traveler (the first of my many international journeys was to India when I was four and I traveled to Europe without my family when I was 17) and, as a result, have become a pro at packing for long trips. I spent days shopping for the perfect European wardrobe, which I’m sure will still look completely out of place, and packed it all days ago. With my 21st birthday coming up only days before I board the plane, I chose to minimize the stress and focus on my favorite day of the year. So, I am happy to report that I’m all packed and ready to go!

As prepared as I feel, I know that I will encounter unexpected twists and turns during the journey and I’m excited to share them with all of you. While in Brussels, between my class and legal marketing internship, I plan on eating copious amounts of the city’s famous chocolate and waffles and, hopefully, walking them off on the cobblestoned streets. I know that I’ll learn a lot about food, culture, and fashion while I’m there, but I hope that, somewhere between eating waffles, drinking beer, and trying not to get pick-pocketed, I will learn a few things about myself.

The Calm Before the Flight

Today, I needed to give something to a friend so we planned exactly where to meet down to the street address. I even chose the place. The time we were meant to meet came and passed without me seeing my friend so I texted her that I was parked. She responded that she was in the parking lot as well. The parking lot was small so I quickly knew we were not in the same location. I double checked on my phone’s map and realized I went to the wrong spot. Have I mentioned that I have yet left for Luxembourg? I am still at home in the town I grew up in and all this happened within ten minutes of my house.

I am going to a new continent for four weeks without knowing a single person. My fears of the differing culture and being alone barely even register compared to my largest fear of getting lost. If my previous story does not offer enough evidence, I once took half an hour to drive home from a ball park less than a mile from my house due to taking a wrong turn. Using my GPS in Luxembourg, I’m going to be using a lot of faith, trust, and a little bit of pixie dust.

pixie dust

After having never left the country except on cruises, I will be studying in Luxembourg for two, two week sessions (4 weeks total) through Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Luxembourg is not in Germany as many of my friends guessed; it is actually the very tiny country between Belgium, France, and Germany. My days will be spent in class from 9 to 5, Monday through Thursday. Every weekend, we go on a trip to a different city. The travels begin with Strasburg, France then we are off to Paris, France then move to Brussels, Belgium and return to Paris for an encore the final weekend.

After my time in Luxembourg, I remain in Europe for three additional weeks joined by my family. We will be traveling to Paris (yes.. again. Though, I highly doubt I will ever tire of the city.), staying at a castle in Cerisay, France (okay, technically it’s a chateau but it has a MOAT so I refuse to see a difference), and finishing the grand traveling summer in Italy.

Summer travel route

            The summer travel route

I leave in four days on May 16. My main hope upon my return in two months is to have grown as a person… or at least be able to slightly follow a map.

Ciao from Firenze!

I got my first passport stamp in Dusseldorf, Germany, and I can’t wait to get many more!

Ciao from Italia! I have now been in Europe for almost a week and it’s safe to say that I am in love with everything about this beautiful place that I get to call home for the month of May. After a long flight with a layover in Dusseldorf, Germany, I arrived in Florence last Tuesday and moved into an apartment with my fabulous roommates: Taylor, Michelle, Ilana and Savana. Our apartment is beautiful, spacious and in the perfect location. We ate our first Italian meal (lasagna and a glass of Pinot Grigio for me) right in front of the Duomo.

Our view for dinner was the Duomo.

Wednesday was spent adjusting to the city and our program. After an orientation in the morning, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Lo Spronte. It is located across the Fiume Arno, or the Arno River, and has an amazing pesto ravioli dish. In the afternoon, we did a walking tour around Florence and learned about the history of the city. That night, after my first Italian pizza (amazing), we ventured out to a bar called Lion’s Fountain, where we met two girls from Minnesota and New York who have been studying in Florence since January. They were so sweet and gave us a list of all the best food and activities that we need to experience in our short time in Florence. It was so refreshing to hear from people who were in our shoes just a few months ago.

The Fiume Arno is just a few blocks from my apartment.

On Thursday, I had my first classes (yes, I am actually here to study). My classes are very small, so I’m looking forward to getting to know my classmates, as well as my professor, Dr. Lewis. Thursday night was our group welcome dinner, which consisted of four courses, including food such as bruschetta, salami, prosciutto, pasta, steak, potatoes and a creamy custard-like dish, which tasted like cheesecake and was topped with berries. And of course, a red wine that was surprisingly delicious.

Overall, I am adjusting well to Florence. The people are nice, the food is delicious and everything is beautiful. I have picked up a few important phrases, which are helpful because the locals love when visitors try to learn the language. There are just two things that I will need some time to adjust to: the driving and the time difference.

My first meal in Florence was perfetto!

The roads are basically a free-for-all, and cars are always speeding down side streets and alleys with no regard to the lines painted on the roads. However, the drivers are surprisingly calm. Only once have I heard a driver yell out the window at a pedestrian. Then there is the time difference. While I did not experience jetlag (it’s more of a general lack of sleep), I still have a difficult time remembering how far behind the time is back home (6 hours), usually when I post on Facebook or Instagram and I don’t receive any response for several hours. I suppose that’s just something I’ll have to work on!

I spent the past weekend on an incredible trip to Croatia, which was so special that it needs a post of its own. Trust me, you’re going to want the details. Ciao for now!

Week 1

It is so hard to believe that almost a week has passed since I boarded a flight at Tampa International Airport. It seems like that happened a month ago; so much has occurred in between.

Upon arriving in the heart of Florence, Italy (three plane rides later), a very exhausted, very excited, very nervous Allie lugged my 50 lb suitcase up the stairs and moved into my humble abode. Buzzing with excitement, my roommate, Delaney and another Florence traveler, Sari, went out to taste our first bite of Italian cuisine at Nataliano’s.

While I can post pictures, even when I first set eyes on Florence, I knew no description, no photo could do it justice. The city is teeming with an excitement that just cannot be translated into words. At orientation, an AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study) staff member said to us, “You are not tourists. You live in Florence.” That phrase made me feel like this experience has finally arrived. We are really living here, studying abroad in one of the most amazing countries in the entire world, living among its residents, being immersed in the culture. Wow!!

While I wish I could post a detailed account of every meal, every conversation, every memory, I am going to include some of my favorite things that have occurred in my first week.

One of my favorite meals was a “make your own” panini at the walk in shop of All’antico Vinaio. The locals suggested what cheese to get with my prosciutto, zucchini, and sun dried tomato spread. Let me just sum it up in on word for you: amazing. We lunched at the Ponte Vecchio and I got my first site of the Arno River. Safe to say, a Subway sub in the middle of Turlington is just never going to cut it for me again.

The very next day, a group of six of us, all traveling with the UF Journalism College began a journey to explore the Bobeli Gardens which overlook Florence. With a few wrong turns, we finally took an elevator and began our journey in the Bardini Gardens (which were supposed to lead us to the Bobeli). Up we wandered and what awaited us was the most amazing view of our new home. Breathtaking, unreal, and beautiful. We continued on a path that we expected to take us into the other gardens, and a hot and sweaty group we were, we got very lost. This was the best blessing in disguise. Somehow, we ended up in the ruins of an old fort, and there we found our favorite spot thus far. An amazing cafe and view quenched our thirsts and satisfactions. We found out how truly amazing it was to let go of plans, and appreciate how downright unbelievable luck, chance, and a European town really could be. I am going to remember that day forever, it was one of the best days of my life.

This weekend we traveled with some of the faulty and staff to Venice, Italy. The land of gondolas, and so we came to discover, the land of tourists as well. It was funny how quickly I came to find vast differences between Florence and Venice. I wasn’t sure I liked the tourist feel I found here-it really counteracted my expectations for what I imagined Venice was supposed to be like. I decided to equate that to an empty stomach and a day of travel.

The next day, still in Venice, a group of three, including myself, traveled off the mainland (and away from the tourists) to a pair of islands. The first being Murano. Here, the Italians are famous for glass blowing design. This quaint village took everything touristy about Venice and threw it out the window. We passed a man locking his front door and running to jump on his boat and begin his morning commute. We passed many older Italians having a bite at their local coffee shops. And (my favorite part) happened across an amazing restaurant, B Restaurant alla Vecchia Pescheria. Here, we found some of the best food I have had since arriving in Italy. Prosciutto and melon, caprese, calamari, YUM! In Burano, we found lace factories, colored houses, and the infamous lemon cookies.

I’m writing this now as I travel back via train to Firenze, which I guess means back to home. It really is unbelievable to think my first week has come and gone. Reflecting, I am surprised to find how at home I do feel in Florence, how much I already dread climbing back on a flight to the U.S. (Sorry, mom!). I am so excited to find out what the rest of this trip holds. Ciao! Allie

Stumbles and Successes in Madrid and Toledo

It has been 3 days since I arrived in Spain, but it feels much longer! This is partly because of the lack of sleep we have been getting, but also because survival in a foreign country takes a lot of effort. I feel proud of myself even when I accomplish small feats like ordering in a restaurant! Already I see the benefits studying abroad can have on a person. Personally, I feel much for more confident, for example. Also, my Spanish is already improving. I am learning lots of new (and useful) words every day! Communicating feels strange – I shouldn’t be surprised that so far everyone has understood me fairly well (twangy Southern drawl and all), but I am. It’s extremely rewarding to finally be able to use the language I’ve been learning. I have also gained more implicit knowledge as well, such as dos and don’ts in Spain.

This is not to say that everything has gone perfectly! My first day in Madrid, I (think I) offended a very nice waitress at least twice. I ordered a coffee with my meal, for one, instead of after which is more the cultural norm, and I also barely ate anything. It was delicious but I was feeling sick. She unfortunately seemed to think that my roommate (who was also feeling under the weather) and didn’t like the food.

(Photo: Our first meal in Spain)

That would be impossible! The food is Spain is simply amazing. I have even dared to try various mystery meats and substances and nothing has been less than stellar (except for a weirdly salty salad). I have been enjoying dishes like paella and croquettes, alongside all the many things I couldn’t begin to identify.

Money has been a little difficult. Credit/debit cards aren’t universally accepted, splitting checks isn’t really done in Spain, and it’s not always easy to find places to convert your money. Figuring out how to pay our checks is embarrassingly slow.

Madrid was pretty great. Two days is simply not enough to appreciate such an expansive and exciting city, and I have vowed to return. Some of the highlights of my visit were the tours with ISA, accidentally crashing a wedding, seeing the world’s oldest restaurant, glimpsing part of an opera in the Plaza Oriente, munching on churros dipped in hot chocolate, giddily touring part of the Prado Museum, and drinking sangria outside a bar at night.

Toledo was also fabulous but in different ways – Toledo and Madrid are not in any fashion comparable and are both worth a visit. Toledo is a medieval city with narrow streets and lots of Moorish architecture. While there, we visited two cathedrals (one is the fourth largest in the world) and a Jewish synagogue. Toledo is also known for sword making, so I bought a small ersatz sword that says “Winter is Coming” across the cross guard, and “Toledo” on the sheath. I’m pretty excited about it, haha.

(Photo: Toledo)

Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla and meet our Spanish families (we are all participating in a homestay). I’m terribly nervous, but I know it will be fine. Everything else in Spain has so far exceeded my expectations, and I have no reason to doubt that Sevilla will be anything different.

Emily: Summer in Beijing

Emily CardinaliEmily is a University of Florida student studying abroad this summer in Beijing, China. If you want to learn more about her program, click here: UF in Beijing – Chinese Language

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a Journalism senior with a minor in Mandarin.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    My mom is from Taiwan, and we fly out every other summer to see them. I picked up some Chinese here and there that way. I’ve never studied abroad before!
  • Why did you choose the program you’re studying on?
    This summer, I’ll be studying Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua is one of the best universities in China, and UF offered the advanced Chinese classes I needed there, so it was a perfect fit. I’ve never been to China before, only Taiwan, and I’ve wanted to see the mainland for pretty much my entire life.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    As a journalism student, I’m a news junkie. I love to parse through newspapers from all over the world and experience news through different lenses. When I’m not poring through the news, I’m an a knitter just trying to make more than lumpy socks.

Pre-Departure: Florence, Italy

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to travel. Although I have never left the United States, I have been to many states along the east coast and a few on the west coast, and I have even been to Hawaii, but I have yet to explore the rest of the world beyond this great country that I call “home”.

As soon as I learned about the study abroad resources at the University of Florida, I knew I needed to learn more. I researched programs and went to the study abroad fair, but I didn’t move forward in the process of choosing a program until the fall semester of my sophomore year. I heard about the summer journalism study abroad program in Florence, Italy and knew it was “the one”. Meeting the faculty and learning more about the program at the first meeting was enough to solidify my plans.

My older sister participated in a program in Florence the previous summer, so I knew that the gorgeous city would be a great location to start my international exploration. Now, I am two weeks away from the experience of a lifetime and I could not be possibly be more excited than I currently am.

Naturally, there is some anxiety buried beneath that excitement. I am on the final stretch, which means that I am making lists and checking them twice to make sure I’m as prepared as I think I am (I’m not). This trip is already keeping me busy, and I haven’t even left yet. Though I can’t say I mind being busy when it means that I am leaving to explore such a beautiful country so soon.

Speaking of beautiful countries, Italy is sure to be one of the most magical places I have ever been. Disney World has nothing on the Duomo in Florence, the countryside in Tuscany and the crystal clear blue waters of Sorrento and Capri – and I haven’t even seen them in person yet. I would like to pursue a career in travel writing and/or photography, so the memory card in my camera is sure to be filled many times during my stay, and the journal I am bringing will likely be filled with pages upon pages of stories and memories of my adventures in Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Venice, eating gelato and pasta and building friendships with my fellow Gators.

As cheesy as it sounds, one thing I know for sure is that this program will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Even if I live my life as a writer and photographer, traveling across the globe and learning about new cultures every day, I will always remember Italy as the place where I first dipped my toes into the world of the unknown and began my international voyage.