Tag Archives: study abroad

My Study Abroad Adventures

I’m a college student. I love to travel. So naturally, I took advantage of the study abroad programs offered at my college. There’s about 9 to choose from, ranging from places like Costa Rica to Ireland. Every trip has a course tied to it that you take while in country. I’ve been on two and will be going on my third in three weeks time.

The first study abroad trip I went on was to Derry, Ireland. I left in early May of 2012 and spent 15 days in country for the class. I then stayed a week and a half later traveling on my own and then my mom met me for a trip to London and Paris. mommaparis

Let me say this; I LOVED my study abroad experience. Granted, every college is different and every trip within that college is different but I have yet to experience or even hear of a trip that wasn’t amazing.

Ireland was fantastic, a place I’ve always wanted to visit and the group that ended up going was 14 girls. Nuts. We all had serious apprehension before leaving but it was actually one of the better experiences of my life. We grew to be very close, albeit a few cat fights, and actually still keep in very close contact to this day. Two of the girls I went to Ireland with are now some of my best “traveling buddies”.

The way in which the trip was set up was easy to understand. We stayed at a local bed and breakfast, went to class three times a week for four hours a day and then had the rest of our nights free. We had planned “excursions” to places like Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, Belfast and the Titanic Museum, and only one guided tour of the city (thank goodness). 401711_10151133175688135_246478389_n

What was awesome about this planned trips was that we were still able to see things as tourists even though we were there for school. It also allowed gave us more of Ireland for our money.

Speaking of money; in total I spent $2300 for 15 days in Ireland. This included airfare, the program fee, food and souvenirs. The program fee included hotel, entrance fees, the cost of the class and transportation. Not too shabby.

I mean, I’ve never claimed to be a “thrifty traveler” but I like to save money where I can. Yes, I could have traveled throughout Ireland on my own for cheaper but I was gaining credits while abroad. I think that’s awesome.

Ireland was awe-inspiring. The history was rich and the people seemed to have this unabashed pride for their country. The greenness of it all is almost overwhelming and there are times where you’re silent, for there are no words to accurately describe the beauty of this country.

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My next adventure was to Belize. Belize kind of fell in my lap.
Two weeks before I left for Ireland, one of my professors told me about a scholarship they were giving away to go study abroad in Belize. I figured why not and filled out an application. As luck would have it, I won. All expenses paid (minus airfare) to Belize. SWEET.

So, a month and a half after I got back from Ireland, I began the paperwork for Belize and left two weeks later.

Belize was a complete 180 from Ireland. I frequently get asked about which trip I liked better and there is literally no way to compare the two.

caracolllBelize was a different world. Humid and jungle and animals and no air conditioning and true adventure. It was perfect. We arrived in Belize City and ran at about 100 mph for the next 15 days.

We saw Guatemala, we saw Mayan ruins of all kinds, we stayed in local villages, we went spelunking in an ancient Mayan Offering cave, we jumped from cliffs and rode waterfalls.

The class for this trip was Tropical Ecology and instead of sitting in a classroom for a few hours a day we would go into the jungle and learn from locals how different plants interacted with the environment, their medicinal uses, their spiritual properties. All of it. So if you’re a hands on learner, look for a trip like this.bz

I can honestly say, wholeheartedly, these trips changed my life. They opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that the world offers us that we’re sometimes too afraid to take advantage of. We’re in this world that most people know very little about and studying abroad gave me a chance to completely shift my world view. If you’re thinking about going, do it.

I will forever be grateful I went and I will always value the memories that I have from my time studying abroad.

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A Brief Glimpse At Belfast

Belfast is a city that seems to bustle at every turn but walk into any pub and time has stopped. The dust that lines the top of the shelves is easily an inch thick and the wood has started to warp in places from use. The once shiny metal stools have been hardened into a matte black from so much use. The bartender knows everyone that walks in and has the eyes of someone who truly has seen it all. But walk back out those front doors again and you’re slapped with reality.

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My visit to Belfast was a short one, with short being an understatement. The majority of the 5 hours I was there was spent in the Titanic Museum, an ode to the tragic ship but beautifully displayed. It’s a 5 story tale from first drafts to it’s fate at the bottom of the ocean. With artifacts recovered from it’s watery grave and donated by it’s survivors it tells the stories that would have never otherwise been heard.

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Belfast was also my first experience with a double decker bus. I know, so touristy. But admit it, you had a moment too. But, my moment was disrupted by snickering locals who laughed at the American tourists. What can you do?

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Around Belize In Two Weeks

Belize is a country of differences, culture, and deep-rooted beliefs that astound even the faintest believers. Arriving in Belize, I was a skeptic on many of the traditions practiced and found myself curious yet non-committal. Our first day consisted of visiting the Belize Zoo, which was an entity in of itself. The animals aren’t given cages that Americans are used to seeing  but rather wire wrapped into small squares that encircle their given space. The animals seemed to have all the behaviors recognized in zoo boredom but oddly enough, when viewing them, I seemed to think they were happier than some animals I have seen at American zoos.

I paid money to get the opportunity to feed a jaguar, which was such an extravagant experience but one that I was a little heartbroken about. The jaguar was so tame that it knew how to somersault and would allow multiple humans to pet it. In my opinion, wild animals should be just that, wild and free to roam. We finished our animal experiences at the zoo and headed for our home for the next five days, Crystal Paradise. I was taken aback by the setting in which we were surrounded; the lush landscape, the selfless family, the river that seemed to wander in its glory, and the leaf cutter ants in abundance. I situated myself in my room, one with a loft, and explored the grounds with a wild curiosity that seemingly came out of nowhere. As a group, we made our way down to the river to cool off after a day of traveling and it was an experience that brought everyone together. We bonded as a group and tentatively asked the questions we were dying to know about each other.

The next few days seem to blur together, not because they were boring or not filled with enough activities to make any particular one memorable, but rather because there was so much done in those few days that it literally runs together in my mind. I have to say with brutal honesty that one of my favorite experiences on the trip was the Offering Cave. I’ve never done anything remotely close to that in any way, shape or form. But what truly astounded me in the social psychology aspect was the way in which the group bonded and helped each other through even the hardest moments. We became a unit and acted as such, helping people rappel, carrying someone across a ledge, pushing someone to go even further when they thought they couldn’t give anymore.

Aside from how we acted, the cave itself was something of mysterious wonder. As we reached the sacrifice stone, the presence of those who had passed was almost palpable. We all turned off our headlamps and completely immersed ourselves in darkness. Nothing can truly compare to the silence and calm that ensued, the darkness seemed to lovingly embrace you in the way that only family can do and the quiet was beckoning you to listen closely, as if it had something to say. We all seemed to be completely content in the pit of that cave, as if we had all belonged there. Even as we pushed further into the darkness, we became comfortable with turning our lights off at random just to feel what was so readily available.

We visited many bodies of water such as the Rio Frio Pools, the Five Lady Falls, the Macal River, and the other side of the Gulf of Mexico. What I didn’t expect to happen was the ease in which we were able to navigate through the waters, the way we all wanted to try new things and push ourselves even further out of our comfort zone. We jumped off of 2 story tall cliffs, we scooted down little waterfalls, we climbed higher and higher looking for that new adventure that seemed to greet us at every turn.

What was truly unexpected though was the way in which the culture embraced us. We were tourists, but we were welcome, we were accepted, and we were asked questions. The best example I can give is the home stay. I stayed with the Tzib family that consisted of 11 people in the main house and 5 in the smaller house. What made the experience something I will honestly never forget was they way they conducted their lives, the way they treated me like royalty while maintaining their pride and dignity. What I consider poverty would be a lavish lifestyle for them but they were truly happy in their culture and their town. They chose to live like that because anything more would be wasted.

I know I’ve talked consistently about the family and the experience I had with them but I speak of them so feverishly because I don’t ever want to forget their faces, their characteristics, their family and their absolute kindness in the rawest form. I see them as something of a novelty, a family submerged in a culture that values men, subjugates women, and thrives off of the land but they navigate their lives to accommodate every person’s need, no matter how small.

The matriarch, Christina, was something out of fiction. She truly cared for everyone but herself; watching all of the children while everyone else went away to work, slaving over the kitchen, washing the children, making beds, and laughing at even the most terrible jokes I made. She asked me about my travels and when I returned to ask her, the furthest she had traveled was to the next town over, but she seemed to be completely content with that. I told her about the magic of Ireland, the mystique of Scotland and the beaches in Florida but nothing seemed to impress her. She was impressed by my thoughts about her land, though. She wanted to listen for hours about the way I talked about the ruins and the jungle and all things Belize.

Looking back on the experience, I am thankful. Not only for all of the things I am able to come home to, but also the people I met along the way in this journey called life. I took away so much from the trip as a whole but mostly from little moments along the way that truly made the trip worthwhile; looking out over Guatemala on top of an ancient temple surrounded by howler monkeys, night hikes where I could distinctly see the Milky Way, and the people who participated in this trip with me.

I will always remember my time in Belize to be something of a distant memory, a fast and furious two weeks filled with laughter, bumpy roads, and the most incredible people in a land that knows no bounds. Belize will always be close to my heart forever on.