Archive for April, 2009

Unusual Study Abroad Options for Intrepid Travelers

Senior Writer at findingDulcinea

While classic European destinations like Paris, London and Florence remain popular among students studying abroad, there is a growing interest in locations outside of Western Europe and outside of Europe in general. In 2005, Vistawide, an organization for language teachers and learners, reported on the Top Ten Destinations for U.S. Students Studying Abroad. Six were in Europe—the U.K. was number one, while Costa Rica, an up-and-comer, came in at number ten.

Three years later, the blog reported that several countries, including China and Ecuador, have seen a significant increase in study abroad enrollment over the past few years. With that in mind, here are some options for students seeking an unusual locale to call home for a while:

Bratislava, SlovakiaBratislava's winding cobbletone streets rival Prague's.

Bratislava's cobblestone streets rival Prague's.

Bratislava's cobblestone streets rival Prague's.

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is reminiscent of Prague and Vienna, featuring a vibrant café culture, bustling city center and relaxed attitude that has been referred to as Mediterranean-like. Slovakia is one of Central Europe’s newest EU states, established after a ‘velvet divorce’ from the Czech Republic in the early 1990s. Small, but rapidly growing, Bratislava is also called Pressburg and was the Hungarian capital from 1536 until 1848, according to Roanoke College, which has a study abroad program at Comenius University in the city of 300,000 residents. Students in Bratislava will see Gothic architecture and historic palaces, and have access to ethnic neighborhoods and the city castle, but won’t have to contend with the hoards of tourists found in other European capitals.

Furthermore, Bratislava is a great European hub, offering easy and inexpensive access to various other cities, such as Prague and Brno in the Czech Republic, and the Hungarian cities of Budapest and Balaton, according to EuroCheapo. Study abroad students will find great deals on airfare from Sky Europe, which has routes to Dublin and Malaga, for example.

Quito, Ecuador:

Streets of Quito

Virgin of El Panecillo looks over Quito

South America is still a bit under the study abroad radar, but places like Buenos Aires, Argentina, are quickly picking up speed. One city that retains a quiet atmosphere, but still offers students diverse cultural and environmental features is Quito, Ecuador. This capital city sits in the shadow of the Andes mountains and features stunning Spanish colonial architecture, according to the International Partnership for Service-Learning and Leadership. IPSL has programs in Quito combining volunteer service and study, which enhances students’ experience of local culture, and can help with Spanish language learning.

And for adventurous types, Quito is not too far from the Amazon rainforest, gorgeous Pacific beaches, active volcanoes and the equator, according to Jaunted. Even if you don’t trek to the Amazon, there’s opportunity to swing from the trees in nearby Mindo, where Canopy Adventure has an hour-long zipline program.

Specialized programs

Lastly, for an unorthodox study abroad experience, consider a specialized program similar to those offered by Antioch University. Examples of Antioch programs include studying Brazilian Ecosystems in the Amazon, or Buddhist studies in India and Japan. The programs offer field research and challenging cultural and language immersion, encouraging students to become active participants in global society far beyond college graduation.

National Emergency Can Strengthen a Study Abroad Experience

You’re sound asleep in your dorm room, hotel,  apartment, or  home stay.  Suddenly you’re jolted awake. What time is it? No, you didn’t oversleep-  It’s only three o’clock in the morning. What just happened?  Little do you know a massive earthquake has just struck in a nearby city. When you study abroad you take every precaution against getting your ID stolen; you pray for a safe flight; and you hope your housing doesn’t fall through.  It’s not natural to consider you might be caught in an actual emergency. In the wee hours of Monday morning, students near L’Aquila, Italy, a mountainous city northeast of Rome, felt one of the country’s strongest earthquakes. For some it was their first earthquake. Congratulations. Over the next few days, months, even years, students will discover the impact of the earthquake through their cultural interactions.  It’s a once in a lifetime experience to witness a culture, city, or country, rebuild itself after a disaster.  How do you, a student or traveler, prepare for something of this magnitude?

According to The New York Times the earthquake in central Italy has killed approximately 150 people, injured another 1,500, and left 40,000 to 50,000 homeless.  Fortunately, most American students are studying abroad in parts of northern Italy or Rome… and none of them were hurt.  As Italy mourns, U.S. Study Abroad Offices are contacting their overseas program supervisors to account for each student’s whereabouts. Places like Temple University, Georgetown University, and Northern Illinois quickly posted updates for nervous family members and friends about the condition of students in Rome – and other parts of Italy. Georgetown University is even assessing the future of its own Summer study abroad program in L’Aquila, the town most devastated by the earthquake. Natural disasters are rare – but they do happen. And students are not forgotten once they skip the country.  Is it possible to prepare for a natural disaster before going abroad?  You bet!

Being Prepared Gives You More Time to Relax and Enjoy the Ride

Being Prepared Gives You More Time to Relax and Enjoy the Ride

The easiest way to get ahead of the game is to get a cell phone.  In this case, study abroad students were far enough away from the earthquake that cell phone lines were not tied up.  Your family and friends will breath easier once they know you’re safe.  If you have access to internet- email, Twitter, and Facebook are the best places to start. Once you post an update, everyone and their mother will know your whereabouts. Within seconds the world knew an earthquake struck Italy.  Before you leave home, make sure you have all the emergency contact information for your home institution or program provider. Western Oregon University is one of many universities that posts emergency information online.  You may never need to use it, but again, better safe than sorry.

The Students Abroad U.S. Department of State Preparedness site provides students and travelers alike with emergency numbers for any country, evacuation procedures,  assistance for victims of crime, or help if you’re arrested. If your situation becomes unsafe and you have to leave you’ll be assisted by your program supervisors as well as the U.S. embassy and consulates. So let them do their jobs and chill out.

By no means should the rare chance of a natural disaster put a damper on your trip. There’s really nothing you can do.  Instead of panicking- learn from it.  See how the country and its citizens cope.  See what you can do – without getting yourself into more trouble.  In some cases, you might even be able to help out those who have been injured, but don’t do anything without consulting your program advisor.  Overall, have fun and let nature take its course!

Culinary Study Abroad and Learning to Eat Like a Local

Senior Writer for findingDulcinea

Cooking and eating with the locals offers a surefire cultural immersion for students studying abroad. Even without enrolling in a strictly culinary program, students can experience the deeply embedded cultural features intrinsic to native foods, simply by doing as the locals do. In Southern Italy, for example, simple preparations of seafood have been around for generations. Eating culturally rich foods does not have to be expensive either, provided students attempt to learn about regional cuisines before departing for a semester or year abroad, and make a conscious effort to meet and eat with locals once arriving.

Brave New Traveler’s Ross Lee Tabak has excellent advice for those longing to tuck into a legit local meal, including shopping at the grocery store instead of always eating out, not being afraid to eat alone, trying everything once and walking around during mealtimes to ask locals for their recommendations. Tabak writes, “we’re often looking for some semblance of home to soften the bombardment of culture shock, and so we opt for something bland, familiar and safe” to eat—resist the urge to do so, and you’ll be rewarded.


Make an effort to eat with locals while studying abroad.

For students desiring a more formal and structured culinary education abroad, there are plenty of programs to choose from. You’ll find culinary schools in many locations offering a variety of courses for budding cooks. Try Wilde Kitchen in Normandy or, if you’re really willing to go all out, Villa L’abri in Cannes.

Another possibility, for students interested in rustic local cuisine, is to take part in WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Participants often live with farm families, and thus could easily end up eating what they’ve harvested. WWOOF has programs around the world, including in France and Italy, where some of the highest quality ingredients are found in the countryside.

And to take an interest in foreign cuisine to the next level, look into intensive programs at schools like the Institute of Sustainable Gastronomy, which holds three-month certificate programs and semester abroad sessions that integrate “practical experience on the farm, in the food market, and at the stove,” and offer language training. The 2010 semester program is in Bordeaux, France.

Study Abroad and Discover the World…By Accident

Studying abroad opens the door for students to travel. Some trips are planned, others happen by accident. Before studying in Paris last year, I spent two months backpacking around Europe. At one point I found myself in Munich, Germany. Next stop: Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest,” which sits on the border of Germany and Salzburg, Austria. Eagle’s Nest was given to Hitler on his 50th birthday and was meant to be a retreat and a place for him to entertain visiting dignitaries. I discovered that day, however, you don’t always accomplish what you set out to do. Regardless of the outcome, every part of a trip abroad is an experience in itself.

Everything that could possibly go wrong… went wrong. From train and bus strikes, to rain, sleet, and snow, reaching Hitler’s famed retreat became an unbearable task. After boarding our train from Munich toward Salzburg, my friend Charlie and I quickly learned we would be stopped short. Train strikes had taken over Germany. Our train was no exception. We had to exit prematurely with dozens of other people. As we tried to understand the German announcements at our train station it started pouring. It never stopped raining.

Locals informed us we could take an inter-city train (those weren’t on strike) to Salzburg, and then take a bus back into Germany, to the town of Berchtesgaden. From there we would find yet another bus that would drive us up the mountain to Obersalzburg, the base of Eagle’s Nest. It was early in the day. We had time.

After biting our nails for a good hour, a train stopped. A German announcement informed us it was the only train headed to Salzburg. We stampeded the train. After arriving in Salzburg we bolted to the bus stop. We watched in horror as the bus we needed to catch drove away. Gone, forever. At the bus stop there were no signs, bus schedules, anything. We waited, in the pouring rain. Another train finally came an hour later. We now had another hour’s drive back into Germany. Ugh.

German Alps Covered in Snow

German Alps Covered in Snow

We finally made it to Berchtesgaden. We found the bus we needed to take up the mountain. The schedule said the last bus ran at 5pm. It was 3pm… we’d just made it! When we went to buy our tickets we passed souvenir shops, books on Eagle’s Nest, World War II puzzles, and postcards. Then we learned the last shuttle bus to Obersalzburg (Hitler’s quarters right below Eagle’s Nest) had just left. We went to another ticket window and asked for the bus schedule. Then we found out Eagle’s Nest had been closed for two hours… because of snow. It might open again in a few days- but would soon close for winter. We never had a chance.

Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Hitler's Eagle's Nest

We had a few hours until a bus would return us to Salzburg. So, Charlie and I explored the town of Berchtesgaden. The dense fog lifted on our walk into town. As we looked up into the German Alps we saw a protruding shape on one of the cliffs. It was an image we had seen on magazines in the souvenir shop. Berchtesgaden apparently offers a perfect view of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest!

Berchtesgaden turned out to be a fascinating city with imprints of World War II everywhere. It felt like walking through a scene from the WWII TV series, “Band of Brothers.” The town was occupied by troops during the war, but suffered little damage. We visited century’s old churches, small shops, and checked out cool restaurants. We even met a couple who had visited Eagle’s Nest the day before. They showed us a video recording of their walking tour. That night I had my first Weiner schnitznel with groztl (like corned beef hash- soo good)… and a few steins.

Berchtesgaden: A Hidden Treasure

Berchtesgaden: A Hidden Treasure

The journey of trying to make it to Eagle’s Nest became more exciting than actually getting there. The unplanned trip to Berchtesgaden introduced me to yet another fascinating town that I would have never come across had plans gone right. When studying abroad, go exploring on your own. Instead of dreading a failed trip, enjoy whatever else happens. More than anything, enjoy the adventure!

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