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!

The Journey to Madrid

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step” –Someone

I’m not sure when or where my first step was exactly. The last few weeks have been a blur with my internship wrapping up, my car dying, and busing and flying back to Florida to quickly pack.

But as much as like to rant about how crappy Chevy engines can be, the important stuff for this blog is probably my travels to Madrid. I’d like to consider myself an expert traveler buuut nothing quite prepared me for my first intercontinental flight. Packing for four months is stressful; my main two pieces of advice are to pack light and that Publix scales are your best friend.


Getting through an airport can be typically be broken down into three main obstacles

1) Baggage Check

2) Security

3) Boarding the actual plane

I was traveling with my friends Sarah and Esteban who both kind of (really) over packed. After a few trips to Publix, a long night of rearranging luggage, and some tough clothing cuts we hoped that none of us were over the dreaded 23 kg limit.

Reaching the front of the bag check line, it was the moment of truth. My bag went on the scale first and read exactly 23 kgs. Sarah’s bag was next and read….exactly 23 kgs as well. But Esteban’s bag had been the problem bag all along, as we went to put his bag on the scale the suspense was building……….and when the scale read a light 22.5 kgs we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Getting through security was annoying but no big deal. Boarding the plane is usually no issue but we were all stretching/breaking the whole “backpacks are fine as long as they can fit under the seat” rule. But the flight attendants didn’t seem to mind and as we strolled to our seats and prepared to cross the Atlantic. Sitting down with my complementary pillow and blanket and seeing that “Keanu” was on the in flight movie menu, was the most relaxed I had felt in a long time.


On our flight to Madrid we had a layover in Lisbon for 8 hours. I guess all the traveling and packing had distracted me so walking off the plane in Portugal is about when it hit me that this whole study abroad thing was really happening. We took a taxi to the Rossio Square and got out and it was just kind of surreal.

It didn’t matter that it was overnight flight that I couldn’t fall asleep on or that the city of Lisbon turned out to be a series of seemingly never-ending hills, we walked along the bay and then what felt like every inch of downtown. Making it to a park on one of the highest points in Lisbon the view was breathtaking.



The trip wasn’t quite over though. After another round through security, another flight, gathering luggage, and Uber to the hotel we were safely in Madrid around 7 pm local time. Exhausted and jet lagged we we’re going crash when we got to the hotel and live to fight another day, but we we’re too excited. It would have been easy to go to bed early but that’s not how our first night in Madrid was ending. As we headed out to explore the city, I felt really optimistic about the upcoming journey.



How Spontaneity Brought Me to London


Hello Everyone!!

I am very happy to post my first blog!! To start off, I have to apologize for taking so long to post. Moving to Poitiers, France has taken some getting used to, but that is a story for another post.

Today, I really want to share what last week was like. I had my first class on Monday, August 28th and then found out that the rest of my classes would not start until the following week. French methodology for courses has taken a while to get used to, but I was not going to complain about 5 extra days of summer! I had to be quick on my feet and decide what to do with these 5 days-next thing I knew I was on a plane to London!

This trip was very spontaneous ( I bought my plane ticket 12 hours before boarding the plane), and I was a bit nervous since it was my first time going to London. I thought I had already mentally prepared myself for spontaneous, solo trips throughout Europe, but now that it was actually happening I could not believe it. One moment I was sitting in class and the next I was on a plane to a different country.

I was definitely scared and nervous as I doubted whether or not the spontaneity would leave me with a bad taste in my mouth or if it would motivate me to keep traveling. I am happy to say that although I did come back with a cough because of the crazy, rainy London weather, there was not a bad taste in my mouth. The trip was amazing, and I was a total tourist walking around with my map, selfie stick, and backpacking book bag, but  I have to note that if I had let my fears win over spontaneity and swallow my love of adventure that it would have never happened.

In my perspective, studying abroad is about testing the limits we have set for ourselves. We have to go beyond our deepest fears, get on random planes, try not to die in new cities, and hope to buy food fit for our taste buds regardless of all the labels and descriptions in other languages. While being abroad, I am challenging myself to not be scared of the unknown.  During my time abroad I am living a once in a lifetime opportunity full of experiences that I will miss if I think it over too much.

So whether you are abroad  or planning to be, I really encourage you all to test your daily fears. Yes try to challenge yourself to overcome social structures and stereotypes imposed by others, but also challenge yourself to overcome those personal fears and obstacles that keep you up at night.  While abroad we have a chance to taste bits and pieces of the world. No, it will not all be perfect, but how will we really know what we are made of if we do not challenge ourselves to try new food, to communicate with someone who does not speak our language, or to visit that city we always dreamt of visiting but never dared ourselves to actually visit.

Let spontaneity take over your fears once in a while and just see where it takes you-It took me to London!

If you challenge yourself to be spontaneous this week, please comment below what it is that you set out to do!!

Thank you everyone!! Talk to you soon!

P.S. My picture for this post was actually taken in a random alley way of London after I took the wrong turn and spontaneously ended up in a beautiful part of the city that was not on my itinerary. The wonders of spontaneity just keep coming!

Four Days Left

I’m feeling rather detached. I’ve been expecting this trip for so long and told so many people that it seems like it’ll be easy to just pack up and move, so in some sense, in my mind I’m already there. On the other hand, I really know only the basics of what to expect, so it seems like I’m speeding forward into nothing. The program starts with a month-long orientation before regular university classes even begin, which includes German classes and cultural excursions, and also some amount of free time. I’ll probably spend it getting settled into my dorm and buying things I need. The dorm assignments are random (you choose a dorm type, but the building is chosen for you), but all the rooms are single rooms and the only difference between the dorm types is that one has a shared bathroom and kitchen, and the other has completely private facilities. I chose the shared option, simply because I know it’ll be good to see people on a daily basis and not feel like I’m the only person in this segment of the world. The thing I’m worried about most right now is forgetting to pack something important, so I’m taking extra care to double check everything.

The only other thing I can do at this point to prepare is spend more time with the language, which I’ve done by listening to radio, reading, and watching movies. My level in German so far is a B1 (first half of intermediate). I’m at the point where I can understand most of what’s on regular German radio and express myself with more or less regular sentences, but I think there’s a deeper level you have to tap through to in order to reach fluency (I’ll write more on that later). For now, my plan is to get to a point where I can take a regular university class in German and take at least my one remaining philosophy elective in German during my second semester. That will leave just two core classes at UF to complete my major.

Hope everything in Gainesville is going well. I’ll probably start reading the online campus newspapers for a change, to keep up with things. I’m also bringing a few favorite issues of The Crocodile with me to show people if I get the chance. That should be a funny experience. Plus, laughter breaks the ice.🙂

Rachel: Fall in Saint Petersburg

Rachel Neale is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  To learn more about her program, click here: CIEE – St. Petersburg.

Neale, Rachel

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a fourth year psychology and international studies double major, with a minor in Russian.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    Yes, once before to Israel in the past week or so. I went to visit a close friend and explore the “Promise land”.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    No, I have not.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I am studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. I chose to study there in order to experience the culture and meet the people I’ve dedicated my education to.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I’m most looking forward to getting first-hand perspectives on topics in my studies, such as the Soviet lifestyle, Putin’s regime, and what it’s like living in a country that’s been through so much transition. I’m also very excited for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters, which are the venues for Russian ballet!
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    I’m very interested in art, theater, and ethnography and my hobbies are yoga, photography, and cycling!

Besan: Fall in Manchester

Besan Abdel-Khaleq is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  To learn more about her program, click here: Advanced Pharmacy Practical Experience – Manchester.

Abdel-Khaleq, Besan

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a fourth year Pharmacy student.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I have traveled abroad many times. I have traveled to many countries in the Middle East (Jordan, Palestine, Kuwait, and Bahrain), Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Switzerland, Portugal, and Ireland) and have also visited Canada and Australia. They were mainly for vacations or visiting family.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I took part in the College of Pharmacy’s Short Study Abroad program, PharMItalia in the summer of 2015 for 3 weeks, which included touring many cities in Malta and Italy. We visited a number a pharmacy schools, pharmacies, as well as hospitals and had the chance to compare and contrast the career of pharmacy abroad versus in the US.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I will be studying abroad in Manchester, England for the month of October and will be at the University of Manchester. I have never been to England and it would be nice to learn about the career in this country.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I am looking forward to all the opportunities the University of Manchester is allowing us to take part in. It seems like they have a busy schedule for us all planned out, including visiting some rural pharmacies and national meetings.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    My interests include traveling and really immersing myself into the cultures of the many countries. I also enjoy just spending time with family and friends.

Chris: Fall in Madrid

Christopher Shirley is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  To learn more about his program, click here: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Engineering).

Shirley, Chris

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    Chemical Engineering Major. Will be gaining credits towards a minor in bio molecular engineering on this trip.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I’m from southeastern Michigan so I’ve been to Canada a few times, primarily Windsor. It’s a fun city.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    No I have not.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    Universidad Carlos III Madrid. I was looking into to fall classes and with the way the ChemE curriculum is set up it looked like I was going to be taking just technical electives. Someone in my study group suggested going abroad and it just made so much sense.Out of the all the engineering exchange programs UC3M was one of the few that was both cost effective and offered a September to December semester. The more I researched about Spain and about the program the more I liked it. Study abroad had always seemed like something I couldn’t do with my major but once I found out it was possible I jumped at the chance to do it.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    New experiences. I think being exposed to different cultures and venturing outside your comfort zone is just a good thing to do. Also I’m going with three of my friends (s/o Esteban, Sarah, and Taylor) and am looking forward to sharing this experience with them.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    Sports, vba programming with excel, sports again.

Briana: Fall in Florence

Briana Lirio is a University of Florida student studying abroad for Fall 2016 in Florence, Italy.  To learn more about her program, click here: FSU – Florence.

Lirio, Briana

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    My name is Briana Lirio and I am a public relations major at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. My minor is in business, which I am planning to continue pursuing in graduate school.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    I actually have never left the country, which makes this experience a lot more exciting for me. I’ve only ridden on a plane once before, and that was at the age of nine and to New York, so I do not remember much about it.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I have never studied abroad before, so the next three and a half months in Italy will be the first time I experience any type of cultural immersion.
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    I am studying abroad in Florence, Italy under the UF approved program “FSU in Florence.” I chose Italy because I wanted to go somewhere I have never been to before where it would be easy for me to become culturally immersed. I believe that because I am fluent in Spanish it will be easy for me to learn Italian, and that language is the foundation of most cultures.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    I am looking forward to exploring the different cities within Italy. I would love to personally experience seeing the artwork I have read so much about growing up.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    I love to read, my favorite book of all time is “Crime and Punishment.” Fyodor Dostoevsky does an excellent job of making the reader sympathize with a protagonist that can best be described as an anti-hero, someone who society would deem as unfit to live among us. However, most of my free time is spent doing the typical college student “stuff.” I love to go out with friends, and spend time with my family. I consider myself a food connoisseur (I once ate a burger that weighed 3 pounds, all on my own. I was so proud of myself I wanted to put it under the skills portion of my resume). I can binge watch Netflix for hours, and will only schedule my bathroom breaks between episodes in order to reach maximum watching efficiency. I love to try new things, even if I regret it immediately after. For my 19th birthday I went skydiving. It was probably one of the worst experiences of my life, but I got some great photos for my Instagram so it was worth it. Fun fact, I am really good at knitting, I’ve gotten awards at the county fair for some of my work. I started knitting in high school because it seemed like an interesting skill to have, and I thought it would impress guys (I was wrong). It has been my dream ever since I was young to visit Italy, and I’m very excited that it will soon become a reality.

Jacqueline: Fall in Poitiers

Jacqueline Chavez is a University of Florida student studying abroad for the Academic Year 2016-17 in Poitiers, France.  To learn more about her program, click here: L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques – Poitiers campus.

Chavez, Jacqueline

  • What is your year and academic concentration?
    I am a third year-dual major in International Studies(with a concentration in Latin America) and Political science, with a minor in French.
  • Have you traveled abroad before? If so, where and for what purpose?
    Yes, I have gone to Mexico around 10 times with my parents during the summer because all of our family lives in Mexico, and my parents wanted to make sure that my younger brother, and I could appreciate our culture and roots. I traveled to Mexico for spring break 2016 with a few friends from UF.
  • Have you studied abroad before? If so, where and what did you study?
    I traveled to Paris for spring break 2015 for African Americans in Paris- a UF sponsored alternative break trip. It was a short study abroad experience, but it was enough to make me come back!
  • Where are you studying abroad and why did you choose to study there?
    For fall 2016 I am studying at the University Sciences Po- Poitiers, France. I chose the  Poitiers campus because it is focused on Latin American studies.I believe Sciences Po chose me. Sciences Po is ranked fifth in the world for undergraduate studies in political sciences and international studies. Although there are students here from all over the world, I am the only Mexican, only one of 2 Americans, and only one of 5 exchange students. After applications and interviews, I am finally here to indulge in a rich academia. I also chose the small town of Poitiers, so that I could really indulge in French culture and language. For spring 2015 I will be studying with Semester at Sea. For an entire semester I will live and study on a cruise ship while visiting 11 countries on the cost of Asia and Africa. Since I am studying in Europe this fall, I wanted a trip that would show me another part of the world. I want to see all that I have learned in history books come alive, I want to indulge in different cultures, and I want to discover how people who identify differently are more similar than they think. I hope this discovery will help me better prepare to pursue opportunities in international studies and international efforts towards peace.
  • What are you most looking forward to during your study abroad program?
    As I start welcome week at Sciences Po, my goals have shifted a little. I am really looking forward to seeing beyond myself. I want to be comfortable with being uncomfortable by pushing myself to indulge in a culture that is different. I am looking forward to not only traveling and seeing new things, but to also pushing the limits my mind creates. I am excited to better my French, and start my fourth language, Portuguese. I want to see how a first-generation Latino on a full scholarship like myself is similar to other students with different identities and how our minds can come together to create a better tomorrow.
  • What are some of your interests and hobbies?
    Of course one of my greatest interests is traveling! I also love to cook, although I am not the best! Dancing is my escape from all worries, just as is my violin. I els love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to scrapbook my life adventures to have for years to come as keepsakes.