study abroad

Top 5 Summer Plans for College Students

Summertime image source

With finals approaching, this means one thing… summer is around the corner! As a college student you have to get out there and do something with yourself. So, my recommendation is to consider these top 5 summer plans for college students

1. Intern

Unfortunately you’re not in high school anymore so interning is a must.  It is very important to secure a great internship for the summer because this allows you to make connections, get experience and most importantly help your future. You never know where a summer internship may lead… it could possibly give you a career with the company one day. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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2. Study Abroad

College is the best time to travel! Summer is even better because you’re not missing out on anything from the school year so it’s the best of both worlds. Take a look at this eCampus blog: Top 5 Reasons to Study Abroad, you can see a few of the many benefits of studying abroad. My recommendation would be to take a fun class you wouldn’t normally take at your university, maybe even one that is specific to the country you are in. This will definitely enhance the experience of your trip.

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3. Get a Job

Of course the fall back to not interning or studying abroad is getting a summer job. Although, this might not be the most fun or interesting thing to do in the summer but at least you’ll be making some extra money for the school year right?

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4. Take Summer Classes

This might be the most boring option to take for the summer but it’s also something to seriously consider doing. If you did poorly in a class this semester or even dropped it, taking an online or in-class summer session class could help you get closer to earning your degree. Also if you just changed your major and are behind in credits this is a great time to catch up instead of taking 21 hours next semester.

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5. Soak Up the Sun

The last option for your summer plan could be to take it easy and relax. Maybe go to the park with your dog, hang out with friends or just lay out by the pool to get that golden tan you’ve missed all year. There’s nothing wrong with this option because sometimes after a long year of classes, taking a break is the best thing to do.

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What are your summer plans? Let us know in the comments below!

The Hardest Part About Studying Abroad

Our planet is beautiful. Everywhere you look you can find awe-inspiring natural wonders, amazing cultural icons, or huge testaments to the brilliance of mankind. I firmly believe that all college students should spend some amount of time studying abroad (if they can afford it). Being immersed in an entirely different culture can be terrifying, but at the same time, it can teach you so much about the world around you. But that’s not even the best part of traveling the world. Learning about others, helping others, and being forced to adapt to new areas can teach you things about yourself that you never would have learned otherwise. For most students the hardest question is actually quite a difficult one: Where should I go? As much as I’d like to answer that by saying you should go everywhere, that advice wouldn’t really be feasible. That being said, here’s my attempt to help any students along with their destination decision.

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Europe: I, myself, would LOVE to study abroad in Europe at some point. I’ve already been to Italy, Greece, and England, myself. An AMAZING advantage to traveling to Europe, is that every country is so close, and every cultural area you could possibly want to see is literally a two hour drive away at most. You can easily just decide that you want to go to the Edinburgh castle in Ireland, even if you’re staying in Italy! One drawback to this, however, is that a short summer or winter session might not be enough for you. I highly recommend staying for a full fall or spring semester to truly experience all that you can. 

Asia: I will start off with a warning. Many cultures and traditions in Asian countries WILL be quite….hard to understand at first. If you’re ever to experience culture shock, it’ll occur when you make the transition between America, and, for example, Japan. I’m not saying this is a bad transition at all! However, for a little while, you probably will feel out of place. The time I spent in Japan was possibly one of the coolest and most interesting, but at the same time, I had NO CLUE what I was doing. If you ever want to experience a culture that is completely different from our own, DEFINITELY go to Asia. I guarantee you will come back with a different perspective on life, in addition to some fun stories!

Africa/Middle East: At this time, unless you’re planning on going to help other people, traveling to this area might not be the best idea. Unfortunately, it’s become dangerous to travel in the Middle East, and being American isn’t exactly the best label you could have. However, nothing helps you grow as a person better than helping others in need. There are many college organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders, that help villages and towns that are suffering. This might be a great way for you to really expand your horizons and do some good for the world!

Just remember, be prepared when traveling abroad! There are lots of resources for inexpensive travel plans for students and tips on traveling safe, so read up! Also, try to learn as much of the language as you can. It will definitely help you, and locals always seem to like it when you actually try to speak their language. Hopefully this will help with any decisions you might be making in the near future!

I would say “Bon Voyage!” but I would never forgive myself for being so cliché.

Chopstick Challenge

Have you ever tried to eat with chopsticks?

It’s difficult.

When I was little I thought I was doing a great job using them—I would hit them on the table, twirl them in my hair, even attempt to pick things up with them. But, eating? Now that’s a chopstick skill I never mastered, and honestly I thought I would never have to.

Boy was I wrong.

I recently traveled to China as part of my business class for school. Sure, I was nervous about the language barrier, and the difference in culture, but do you what took the most adjusting? Chopsticks.

Somewhere between classes, papers, and sleeping, my classmates found time to learn how to use chopsticks. I was confused. Whenever I ordered Chinese food before my trip, I used a fork. When did everyone become so cultured? So talented? Did they take a class?

I blame the mass popularity of sushi.

Everywhere we went in china—breakfast, lunch and dinner, there were no forks in sight. I wasn’t about to be “that girl” and ask for easier utensils. So there I was, halfway around the world, pushing my food around attempting to hold chopsticks correctly. My classmates ate with such ease, as if chopsticks were second nature. I wish I hadn’t missed the memo.

I was embarrassed, and hungry. I couldn’t get the hang of it. I tried so hard to figure out the trick. Yes, I even tried putting a hair tie around the ends, still no luck.

In the end, I had to just pretend no one was looking and try and try again. As the days passed I learned to scoop, stab, and occasionally pinch small pieces of food. By the end of the trip I had built up enough confidence and had practiced so much, I could almost pick up rice. It was a small accomplishment, but an accomplishment nonetheless. I never used a fork. I never went hungry, well too hungry and I had fun trying something new.

Whether you’re in China, or at home, or even at school, there will always be things that are new to us. There will be times when basic things seem hard, and you get frustrated. It’s life. It’s college. It’s part of growing up.

Being in China and using chopsticks taught me to be flexible. I learned that it’s okay to not know how to do something right away, and that sometimes part of the fun is improving.

Whenever you struggle with a new area—a class, a hobby, or a skill you’re trying out, learn to laugh at yourself, and keep trying. I was probably the worst chopstick user in all of China, but I didn’t let it get to me. I kept trying.  It was an adjustment, but a fun one.

And plus, now I have an excuse to break out chopsticks when I get back to school. My roommates won’t know what hit them when I impress them with my skills.

Now that I have the right utensils, I guess it’s time to tackle sushi…

 

When in Italy…go to the Amalfi Coast!

One of the best parts of studying abroad is having the opportunity to travel—even more than you ever anticipated. Different countries, different cities, there are no limits to where you can go if you can find the time. In Florence, there are several agencies to help plan weekend and day trips wherever you can imagine—in and outside the country. After one week in Florence and learning our way around our smaller city, seven of us (among like 100 total) took a three day trip to Amalfi Coast through Florence for Fun. If you’re in Italy and can only take one trip, this is the one I’d recommend.

 After an eight hour bus trip from Florence (this part isn’t so fun, but sleep will make it go faster) and a short night in a hotel, we traveled to Capri via another short bus ride and a 45 minute long ferry. Once off one boat, we quickly got on another for an hour and a half long tour around the island. But at the beginning of our tour, we had the opportunity to enter the Blue Grotto. The grotto is famous for its crystal clear blue waters, made even more special with the boat guides singing opera that echoed off the small cave walls around us. If you’re claustrophobic and considering this trip, I’d carefully consider this part: to get into the grotto, you need to lie on your back or risk losing your head—seriously (well, sort of…it probably wouldn’t come off, but it wouldn’t be a fun injury!). Besides the Blue Grotto, tons of other grottos are around the island with many homes of the famous, like Armani, tucked into the hills. If you’re interested in shopping, walk around the designer stores, like Missoni and Chanel, for the season’s latest. And don’t forget a fantastic seafood lunch at Isidora’s—their spaghetti with clams is to die for.

The following day was all about the beach and Italian shoes! We drove down to Positano, about 45 minutes from our hotel in Sorrento. After trekking down thousands of stairs and all complaining about shaky legs, we immediately headed into La Botteguccia, famous for its beautiful handmade leather shoes. You can customize your shoes however you’d like, with a wide variety of colors and styles—it took forever for all of us to decide! The shoes are higher in price, starting at 45 euro for the most basic design, but it’s completely worth it: the shoes are fitted perfectly to your feet for ultimate comfort—a necessary when walking all over Florence. After an exhausting morning of shoe shopping, we headed to the free beach with black sand that turned into rocks—without our new sandals made yet, our feet got hot, hot, hot! But the Mediterranean has crystal blue water, tons of sea glass to collect, and a mild temperature perfectly suited to counteract the scorching sun.

To round out our long weekend, the group headed to Pompeii first for an intense history lesson. Reading about what happened at Pompeii is bizarre enough. Going there and trying to believe your eyes is even more difficult to grasp. So much, from the original marble floors, a mosaic in the entrance to a now mostly destroyed palace, pottery and even bodies have been completely preserved in almost perfect form. All the ruins were beautiful—even the brothels with strange frescoes of different sexual acts and the stone genitalia to signal these places of the night.

Topping off the amazing weekend, we traveled for another 45 minutes to Mount Vesuvius, or Mount Vesuvio as they call it here. The hike is only about 20 minutes all the way to the top, but what they don’t tell you is you need to make it up pretty steep, soft gravel—no matter what shoes you’re wearing, you’re going to slide a bit on the way up, and definitely on the way down! The views are so worth the effort though. Make sure you have plenty of water and take a bathroom trip before hand (they only have port-a-potties), to stay comfortable during your hike. And definitely don’t grab any of the rocks on your journey, unless you’re ready for some majorly bad juju.

All in all, the Amalfi Coast is a must-see when in Italy. You can’t go wrong with beach time and handmade shoes, that’s for sure!

Study Abroad: Communicating with a Host Family

In most study abroad programs, living with a host family is a huge part of the overall experience. Not only can they help you learn about your culture, but they feed you, help you get around and can help you find the city’s hidden gems. But with a language barrier, or for someone who’s shy, it can be difficult to adjust to living with a stranger (or multiple strangers), especially in a completely different country. In the days I’ve been spending with my host mother and roommate, and hearing about others’ experiences with theirs so far, I’ve discovered a lot of great ways to communicate and open up—even if you’re not on the same linguistic page.

Luckily for me, my host mother knows English pretty well and also helps me learn Italian by speaking to me in sentences including both. For others, the transition hasn’t been quite so simple. If neither of you can speak each other’s language, there are still ways to communicate. Keep a pocket dictionary or phrase book with you. It might be annoying to look up everything you want to say, but it’s even more annoying to not be able to say anything at all. By the end of the summer or semester, you should have at least some words down pat, and conversation will be a breeze.

While you’re learning to speak in a new language, you can also learn to gesture a lot while you speak (if you don’t already). Pointing, nodding, smiling, etc. can all go a really long way in the absence of words. Sometimes you and your host family might not always understand the whole intended message, but again, some effort is better than none at all. It can even be helpful to write a few words down from a dictionary, so even if you don’t know how to pronounce them yet (something your host can help with), you can at least hold up the words for them to read. You can also attempt to help your family with English as well, by saying the words they are acting out. A few words and lots of gesturing can make for a great conversation!

In addition to language, some people find it difficult to fit into their families or talk freely with them. You don’t have to share your whole life story, just little details. If they have a dog and you have a dog, make a comment and maybe add a story about your dog they’d understand or appreciate. Compliment their cooking or ask them about a trinket you noticed on the TV stand. You can easily keep your personal life private while still getting to know your family and get along with one another. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or just talk about how classes are going. As time goes on, you’ll all feel more comfortable around each other and get alone just like a real family (hopefully anyway).

Just relax and remember to give yourself time to adjust. It’s a new situation, a new environment and all new people, so it’s ok to feel out of your element—that’s part of the fun of studying abroad! Put yourself out there, try to make yourself feel at home and never be afraid to speak up. Even if you have a negative comment to make, like if they make something you can’t eat for whatever reason, mention it to them. Your host family is like your adopted family for the time you’re in this new country, so take advantage of what these relationships have to offer. Above all else, traveling the world, whether for school or independently for fun, is an amazing learning and growing experience. So, push yourself out of your comfort zone, try new things and reach out to your family in whatever way you can to help you through the adjustment. You’ll be glad you did.

- ToonyToon

Study Abroad: Finding Your Way

We’ve been situated with our host families for about 5 days now, and the directions are becoming a little easier. So, for those you of you planning to go abroad in the future, here are some tips to start getting familiar with your surroundings.

First of all, be prepared with maps. The more you have, the better. Every map is different, and some will tell you stores or restaurants, or better views of streets. Sure, you risk looking like a tourist, but if you’re in classes there is no time to get lost—especially if you don’t know the language. Florence isn’t a huge city, but if you’re elsewhere it might not be so easy to find your way around. Plus, it’s not like you need to unfold an entire map and stop dead in the middle of the street. Fold your map to the section you need, so you’re more discrete and it’ll help you get your bearings quicker. Then you can simply tuck it into your pocket or bag, and take it out when necessary. If you pay to have an iPhone or smart phone that works abroad, you have it even easier: Google Maps! But still, make sure you pay attention to where you are so you don’t have to rely on help your whole stay.

Another way to help learn your way around is traveling in groups. Of course, at night especially, it’s safer overall to travel with at least one other person. But even during the day, working with someone else to get to your destination will prove extremely beneficial. Together, you can figure out different routes and determine where you are going faster. Like they say, two heads are better than one. Also, this is a great way to go on an adventure and get off the beaten path a bit. Instead of using your map, just venture around and see what you find (trying to pay at least some attention to where you are so you can visit these places again sometime). One of the best ways to explore a new place is to just go out without any real destination in mind—and a nice way to possibly avoid some of the overcrowded touristy areas.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you speak the language, ask people on the streets for directions—I’ve done this without speaking Italian, too, since pointing and nodding can go a long way. Talk to your host family if you’re staying with one, or the professors/school employees. They’re there to help you and they won’t be rude about giving you directions if you need them. Also, school friends may have already found cool routes to go on, so pairing up or asking around can be very helpful.

I have the worst sense of direction in the world, and I’m doing just fine so I’m sure you can figure it out too. Good luck, and happy adventures!

- ToonyToon

What is TEFL?

Ever wonder what it’s like on the other side of the classroom?  More and more students have been getting certified to teach English after their undergrad degrees as a way to work and travel to break up their schooling or to take a break before they enter the work force. Depending on where your destination is, a person could make enough to start paying off student loans, although most of the time, a teacher will just break even especially when just starting out.

There are many different certifications out there to choose from.  There is a traditional TEFL meaning teaching English as a foreign language.  This is when a person goes to another country to teach English.  Similarly, TESOL stands for teach English to speakers of other languages.  There is also the ESL, which is where a person teaches English as a second language, more generally done in the United States to help others here strengthen their English proficiency.  Generally, most schools require a 120-hour certification.  Remember, sometimes once a program is purchased, you may have a certain amount of time for it to be completed.  Many programs give you three months to complete a 120-hour program.

Some companies also offer specialist modules, which are certificates that accompany a TEFL certification.  Some of these modules include teaching with limited resources, teaching one-on-one, teaching to large classes, teaching to young learners, and teaching business English. These can set you apart and help you get ahead of the competition.

Where do you find these companies? GoAbroad.com is a great way to find various travel companies.  There seems to be endless companies where a person can get a legitimate certification, although thorough research should be done on a company before throwing your time and money into a program.  Learning about the company through the website is the first step.  Next, talk to alumni or people who have used the program.  If the company has no way for you to contact people who have gone through the certification program, that will tell you this company may not be the best.  A final step to ensure the legitimacy of a company is to contact them directly to see how you are treated and how long it takes for them to contact you back.

Once you have been certified, the next big decision is to decide on where to go.  Asia is known to be the place to go to make and save the most money.  Currently, there are high demands throughout Asia as well as some areas of Eastern Europe.  Keep in mind; you do not need to know the language of the area you are going to.  It is actually better for students to be engulfed in a completely English-speaking classroom.  For your benefit, learning a bit of the language before departing would be a good idea as you may not need the language in the classroom, but it is essential for everyday life being out and about in the society getting groceries, ordering food and drinks, reading street signs, etc.  Be aware of the safety hazards also before going.  I would recommend getting the Smart Travel App created by the US Department of State that provides information about the safety of each country.  Keeping updated on a country’s current events is

Teaching contracts range from public to private to governmental schools.  Some include housing.  Others include flight reimbursement.  Some are for as little as two months or a summer session.  Others are up to a year.  Some companies give more support when looking for teaching jobs than others.  This is a pivotal factor in choosing a company and choosing a destination.  Be sure to research a destination on your own rather than blindly following a company’s suggestions.

While your friends are living at home, you could be teaching English is a foreign land working, gaining independence, and learning a whole new culture.  Not to mention, doing things off the beaten track are looked well upon American companies!

Popular Study Abroad Destinations

So it seems like all your friends have been packing up their lives into two bags and shipping themselves around the world to study abroad, huh?  Fortunately, studying abroad is an opportunity offered at most all colleges.  Once you’ve made the decision to go, and have figured out funding whether it be through working multiple jobs, applying for scholarships, asking mom and dad or a combination of the three, the next big question to answer is where exactly you’re going to go.

The key to deciphering the big question of where is to figure out what you want from the trip.  Are you looking to connect with your heritage?  Are you looking for a party scene? Do you like the rural life?  Do you know any other languages or are you open to becoming bi- or even tri-lingual?  Speaking with study abroad advisors at your school as well as study abroad alumni like myself are the best ways to go about deciding which place would fit you best.

The most popular study abroad locations seem to be in Europe: United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France.  Australia, China, and Costa Rica are also popular destinations and here’s why these places are chosen:

One main draw to the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia is the lack of language barrier.  Of course, there are differences in dialect as there are traveling from New York City to Chicago to Los Angeles to Dallas.  There will be different words, phrases, and meaning given to different words.  The transition from English speaking country to English speaking country is significantly less, although you will still be learning a completely new culture.  It is true that English is spoken in other countries, but who wants to answer to “ugly American, party of one?”. The one major difference between these three places is money.

Studying abroad in England will obviously be a more expensive trip than Costa Rica as you would be converting your money to pounds instead of colones.  The currency exchange is something most forget to factor in.  Keeping up with the economic and politic state of a country before making the trip is a good way to stay aware on how quickly your bank account will deplete.  Think of yourself at the end of your theoretical trip. Money may not have been an issue all trip, but after those spontaneous weekend trips and unexpected purchases it may become an issue.  This always seems to be the time the exchange rate just got out of control and now you are resorting to eating meals from street vendors instead of buying organic fruit and veggies or going out to eat with your friends.  Keeping in mind that exchange rates change, whatever the rate is in December when you plan your spring semester trip will be significantly cheaper than toward the end of your trip aka tourist season in May.  All in all, ensure you can afford the place you are going to.  If money is tight, six months in London may not be for you.  Just as a person should live below their means when buying a house, remember that this frame of mind is incredibly valuable when traveling.

Also, do not forget that the greater the distance away from home directly relates to how expensive your plane ticket will be.  Australia is not a super expensive place to live, but do not forget the thousand dollars it takes to get you there.  Check out cost of living scales online as well as pricing flights.

Although money is probably the biggest issue when deciding on a place to live for a few months, there is another more fun aspect to consider: culture. Of course, each country has many different cultures and atmospheres that it offers.  For instance, a person could decide to go to Italy, but is then faced with the question of which city or town.  Italy offers the hustle and bustle of Rome (along with amazing architecture and food which is true of most places in Italy), as well as the small village of Florence with its Duomo tourist side and the altr’Arno local vibe and then there is the fashion capitol Milan and don’t forget the small town of Orvieto.  So once your destination country is chosen, don’t think the decision making has ended there.  There are two ways of doing so: one is to decide whether a small, medium, or large city is for you, research all of the cities that fit that description that you are willing to go to, then go from there; second, you can chose a country then search within.  The former of the two is usually the better system for most people.

If unsure which setting you would like to be in, ask yourself: Would you enjoy living without a car?  Do you mind public transit?  Would you like to walk to get your groceries?  Do crowds of people bother you?  Would you like to enjoy locally grown food?  When researching these places, try to not just hear the words studying abroad in Munich but try to picture yourself there, eating the food, interacting with others and living daily life.

Happy researching and enjoy your journey!

-Travel Bug

I’m reading Child, Family, School, Community

Learning the Culture of Your Travel Destination

Whether it’s a vacation, a study abroad trip, or a work trip, traveling without embracing the local culture is not really traveling now is it?  Here are some tips to understanding your next destination:

1. If going with people you know, do not stay joined at the hip.

  • Staying joined at the hip to another person may limit your networking skills.  Never go anywhere alone, but try to explore the area with different people.  Different people and personalities may bring out different aspects of the area that you may not have seen before.

2. Stay away from the touristy areas.

  • Try to get one or two friends and try to see a place for more than it’s town center.  Ensure it is not a dangerous area first.

3. Chat it up with locals.

  • If you are going to one place for a long time, become a regular at a coffee shop, sandwich spot, etc.  This is a good, safe way to meet locals, unless you are walking into Luna Restaurant (where the infamous Godfather restaurant seen took place).

4. Try to learn the local language/slang.

  • This can be done by meeting locals and cracking open a book or two.

5. Eat traditional foods of the place you are visiting.

  • This also goes along with staying away from tourist areas.  Many restaurants cater to the tourists, dialing down the number of traditional dishes on their menu and adding burgers and fries.  This may mean walking a little further to dinner, but the authentic little restaurant famous with the locals will be worth it.

6. Try to watch a television in the place you are traveling.

  • Television tells us an unbelievable amount of information about a place. Watching a news segment or sitcom can show us how some people of the area feel about their government.  It can explain family values and social dynamics.  Even without knowing the language, keying into the body language of the people you are watching can give you a more round perspective of the local people.

7. Read up on the local goings on: political world, economic world, and social world.

  • Reading from local papers and magazines are best, but if the language barrier is too difficult, simply staying on top of current events in the area is essential to understanding culture.

8. Do not drink the local water. You know need those cultures, not their illnesses.

  • Even if it is safe to drink, your body is used to the water from the place you live.  Drinking a few glasses every few days may not be harmful but switching over completely may be.  Instead of buying bottled water, which is essentially their water with plastic around it, pick up a bottle with a filtration tap, this way you will not burn through plastic and always have safe water to drink.

9. Get on local time.

  • Follow the same schedule of those around you- most Europeans eat a light breakfast, they have a big lunch, take a siesta, and enjoy a late dinner.  As hard as it may be try not to nap during the day to help get your internal clock reset to the local time.  This may take a few days, be patient with yourself.

10. Try to blend in with what you dress

  • Nothing says tourist louder than a fanny-pack, visor, and sunscreen splattered on your face.  Research before you pack and try to blend in, without sacrificing one’s own personal style of course!

-TravelBug

I’m reading The Bedford Handbook with 2009 MLA and 2010 APA Updates