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!

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.🙂