Saturday mornings were my favorite in Bilbao. Since my school was a thirty minute metro ride away, and we started class every morning at 8 a.m., getting to sleep in a little on Saturday was a pleasant change of pace. I didn’t like to sleep in too long though; there was too much to explore in this new city I now called home, and too many opportunities for adventure. I always started my morning with a leisurely stroll to my favorite café, to get a delicious café con leche and warm croissant. The smell of freshly baked bread was usually too tempting, so I’d often pick up a baguette to eat for dinner that night. If it wasn’t raining, I would usually keep walking through the busy streets lined with fruterias, shops, and a café on every corner. I would then make my way to the pier, to see the suspension bridge, Puente Colgante, transporting cars and people across the beautiful Nervion River. There were plenty of benches lining the pier that looked out at all the boats, as well as providing views of the neighboring towns, beaches, and cliffs. After finishing my coffee while gazing at the scenery, I would leisurely walk back home, taking a different route nearly every time.
By the time I made it back to my apartment, my roommates were usually already awake, discussing what adventure we would go on that day. Whether we wanted to relax at one of the many beaches near to us, go on a hike which would lead us to find old military bunkers, hunt for twelfth century abandoned castles in the woods, or simply spend the day getting lost in the streets of downtown Bilbao, we always managed to have fun and experience something I never dreamed I ever would have been able to. Living in Bilbao changed my life forever. Having the opportunity to live in such a fascinating city that I hadn’t even heard of until 5 months before I decided to move there truly opened my eyes to all the opportunities the world has. If I could have such an incredible experience in a city I didn’t even know existed, I can only imagine what other experiences I am going to have in my future international endeavors.
I’m not athletic. I don’t play sports. Yet last night, I found myself running up and down a soccer field wearing a bright orange penny, surrounded by a bunch of Italians shouting for the ball.
I was prepubescent the last time I played soccer, so when I was invited to play, I didn’t exactly jump on the opportunity. Pierre Paolo gave me his shorts and jersey top and Ali ended up sparing her bright pink Nike’s for me. The sun had just gone down and after changing in a mini dressing room trailer, kicking the ball back and forth with Nathan, we all, the Americans and Italians, dispersed out onto the field.
It was netted on all sides, and up above, and there were a few more other fields that Italians were playing on nearby. We kicked the ball around in a circle to warm up, and after figuring out how to stop it and kick it, I was ready.
We split up into two even teams, and as I was sorted to one side, I instantly pitied the Italians who ended up with me as their teammate. Giacomo was goalie, Ali and I were defenders, and everyone else just seemed to be running around, being everywhere at once.
Nobody passed me the ball, and I was completely fine with that. I hung back and defended the goal. I did a pretty good job actually, and even blocked a few passes. Even when I was younger I was never good at soccer, so for being so rusty and generally unskilled, I wasn’t as much of a disaster as I thought I’d be.
Dom, who I was also blocking on the other team, was being a turd pie and messing with me the entire time. I woke up with bruises, swollen bruises on both of my legs from trying to defend my goal. I now understand why shin guards are so important.
It was a free throw and one of the Italians threw it straight at me. I had no idea what to do, but at least they acknowledged my existence. Ali was kicking the ball back into play when Pierre Paolo and the other Italian who trusted me lifted me up on their shoulders, shouting for Ali to aim for me so I could try and get a goal. They put me down and Ali kicked the ball at me, which I allowed to bounce off my elbows and almost get in the goal. We lost and afterwards, our American friends were there to greet us.
We all got pizza, Italians and Americans. We all joked around, Ali showing off her Italian-speaking skills and belittling mine. And the boys all making dirty jokes about each other. Overall, it was a great experience. One I definitely never thought I’d have. My night was filled with fancy footwork, sticky sweat, and battered bruises, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When idealizing my time studying abroad, I had always dreamt of visiting Italy. With its rich culture, beautiful canals, and savory Italian food it was one of my upmost priorities to see this amazing country. So when the opportunity arose, and we were offered a week off for our fall break, my first thought was that I was finally going to enrich myself in all that Italy had to offer. Yet after much debate, and a few arguments, my friends and I realized that we would be taking a different route, and instead visit Ireland. Since I had never researched Ireland, or had an urge to visit it, there were little expectations on what to expect. It was as soon as the plane landed that I realized how much I had been missing all along.
With the overwhelming kindness the Irish showed, to their thick accents and hearty singing voices, I had instantly fallen in love. The week that continued was one I will never forget, from seeing the Cliffs of Moher and to spending Halloween in Galway, I had a new appreciation for this place. Dublin exceeded my expectations, with nightly visits to temple bar, and finally being able to experience a real Irish breakfast I felt like I could never leave. Yet when the time came for me to board the plane and return to France, I knew it wasn’t going to be the last time I visited Ireland. For a place this beautiful and magnificent was not somewhere I would forget, and knew soon enough I would be back. Ireland truly stole my heart, and I remain determined to one-day return to this stunning place.
A year out
One year ago I was living a dream in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is so aggravating that I can’t simply go back and be there again; living the most amazing year all over again. Living in Thailand is a constant wave of emotions and sights. One minute you are riding in a tuk-tuk zipping through the back streets of Chiang Mai, and the next you’re off exploring the Island Koh Phangan, wandering through massive fruit and fish markets, or in the hill tribes hiking through the forest. It is a place full of kind people, and new experiences. Every day is never ending amazement at the country you’re in. I cannot emphasize enough the BEAUTY I see every day. From the morning monk chants that echo through the city, or the tantalizingly blue ocean and the never ending crystal white sand, every second is simply beautiful. What I think I have noticed most, is how much people care about one another, and their respect for human life. People will give the shirt off their back to help someone in need. Thai people are respectful of every life, and politeness is taken to a whole new level. You are always greeted with a warm hello, and a polite bow.
Seeing the way that other people live gives you a kind of perspective that not many people have. The things I have seen, and the things that I have done, are the most amazing memories that I will carry with me. Describing this seems so unavailing, to the extent of cheesiness. But this experience and this feeling is something I never want to forget. I want to continue to explore and see the rest of the world. I believe that by traveling, you’re gaining more education and life skills than you ever would in a classroom. That is why studying abroad is so unique; it combines the two. Thailand challenges you by pushing you to a point that didn’t know you could handle. You are tiptoeing on the edge of your comfort zone and you are thrown way past that line. I now have the confidence that I always thought I should have.
This experience has opened my eyes to something new and incredible. My thoughts have been consumed with the thoughts of where I will go next. There is so much out there to see, and not enough time to do it. So, I may as well keep going from here!
It is midnight in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. I had just landed in another country for the first time in my life and I had no idea what to expect for the next nine months. It turns out that in the next nine months I would meet friends for life, have experiences that I will remember until the day I die and share moments with complete strangers, and friends that are too rich to even attempt to put into words. One morning my roommate comes in to my room at 6:00 am and wakes me up saying “get up Fuzzy, the surf is waiting for us!” I never thought I would ever hear those words as Zach and I gather our wetsuits and surfboards and head to the beach to catch some waves before class. We hit the beach and are in the water by 7:00 am.
As we sit out past the outer surf break, the sun just begins to peak over the cliffs surrounding the cove and as the fog rolls off the surrounding cliffs into the ocean I realize that this is my new home. After surf, I barely make it to class on time and sit through by far one of the most interesting lectures on Pre-Columbian Spanish Literature that I could have ever imagined. As the class lets out some Basque’s students come up to me and a few of my friends and we make plans to go to the Athletic Bilbao game that night. At 7:00 pm we board the metro and it is red and white stripes as far as the eye can see. There are Basque’s singing their national anthem in a language that is completely foreign compared to Spanish. As we step off the metro we enter San Mames Plaza and all of a sudden we are swept up in the chaos and camaraderie that is being a supporter of Athletic Bilbao.
The crowd explodes when Athletic Bilbao scores and they begin singing. This place is unlike any other I have ever been and now I can speak the language and officially call this place my new home. One day I wish to return to this place that once called home.
My study abroad experience in Alicante, Spain might possibly be the best thing that will ever happen to me. I am always asked to sum up my time abroad, but how do you sum up six months of pure adventure? To study abroad is to live in a state of constant confusion. From the language barriers to the random processions that break out at any time, confusion is always present. This confusion changes you. It teaches you to question your own beliefs and forces you to broaden your horizons. It also teaches you to have a huge sense of humor (in case you didn’t already have one). It morphs you into a person who can take on the world.
Spain taught me many things about different cultures, world events, and myself that I had previously been oblivious to. I learned that every culture has different ways of viewing the world around them and that sitting back and observing it through their eyes is one of the best experiences you can have. In Spain, they take their siestas seriously. Businesses would often not open until 9am only to turn around and close at 2pm for siesta. During this time, the Spanish people make it a huge priority to socialize and foster their relationships with others, (not sleep, as I had previously thought). I have never seen a more social culture and I loved it. My balcony overlooked a plaza where this socialization took place regularly in the forms of day parties and religious processions. There were many times that my roommates and I laughed with each other in confusion as groups of grown men would walk in matching pink shirts they had made with funny slogans, animal suits, and tutus. If they were going to meet up for lunch, they made sure to bring their senses of humor with them to always keep it interesting. Eventually, we became brave enough to join in and it was one of the highlights of my time abroad. I learned that life is what you make of it. You can have a life full of fulfilling relationships and humor if you choose to make time for it. You can live a life of adventure even without leaving a single city or by packing up and traveling the world with just the clothes on your back as long as you are open to making new relationships with others.
When making the decision to study abroad in London, England I did not think that I was going to change very much as a person or develop myself in anyway. This is because English was the native language and I visit my family in Ireland each year. In my first few weeks I learned how diverse the city is, and how many people are not originally from England. I felt as though my previous travels had prepared me for this experience. However, I did grow as a person and believe I understand parts of the world much better now. I consider London the melting pot of Europe. It was an incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world. My expectations were that I would make a ton of friends with stereotypical British “bloats” attending the same university as me because I would be immersed with English people in my school. The reality of the situation was much different than my expectations. I did however make friends with students from other countries outside the UK and even Europe. Although London seemed to lack its own unique culture, it had cultures from around the world that united it to make it one of the best cities I have ever lived in. From the people to the food, there was always something new to see, taste, or learn.
Adding to this incredible experience, I was absolutely blessed with my living situation. In planning my study abroad semester, there was a mishap of communication with my advisors and I was not able to live in the popular living situation for international students. It took hours of research and across the pond phone calls in the middle of the night until I found the right place to live. It was a private apartment with one Chico State and a Dutch student. It was located in the beautifully hip central London area of Clerkenwell. Each afternoon it was filled with businessmen in suits taking their lunch breaks at the local gastropubs. In addition to the location, living with someone from The Netherlands was an eye-opening and fabulous experience. When telling my friends and family about Marjolein, I explain that she had a larger culture shock living with us American women than actually living in the city of London. Living with her allowed me to become familiar with the Dutch culture and get an idea of how some people perceive Americans. At times, we found ourselves overwhelming her and it allowed us to take a step back and adjust to her quiet and laid back personality. Sometimes the language barrier put a wall between us, but overall I believe I gained a lifelong friend. It was great to get to know the city and be able to put my head down and know exactly what tube line I needed to catch. The fast paced life style and tube etiquette became part of my life. There were moments I forgot where I was because of the near sprinting from point A to point B. Some days I enjoyed taking things slow, and would not mind how much of a tourist I looked like. It was a different world than our beautiful little college town, and I appreciate this town more than ever. Overall, I have no complaints about London, and wouldn’t change my time there for anything.
On Saturday my friend Erika invited me to the beach with some friends of hers. It was close to Big Millie’s which I have been to a couple of times, but it was much less touristy. When we arrived I instantly ran into the ocean, even a week or two seems like way too long to have been away from the beach. I played alone for a while in the waves and at one point I was the only person in sight.
Close to where we were there was a group of young boys selling coconuts, so we went over to them to give them some food. They were really sweet and as we were chatting with we asked them for a coconut. One of the boys told us he would get us one, and to our surprise he started to climb up this HUGE palm tree. It was so big we initially thought he was just joking, and wasn’t going to climb it. He climbed the entire tree, all the way to the top. I am not kidding; it was taller than a 3 story building. This tiny boy climbed all the way to the top and knocked down about 5 or 6 coconuts. It was incredible! I felt like I was watching Mowgly out of the jungle book. None of the other little boys seemed to think it was scary because they too know how to climb those trees. I was scared for his life! All of the boys climb the trees and have no fear even though one of them showed us a scar he got from falling once.
After knocking the coconuts down and climbing back down the tree we got talking to the little boys. It is so nice talking to the kids here, they aren’t shy and they like to have mature conversations. I asked them each what they wanted to be when they grew up. One of them wanted to be a pilot, the other a policeman and another one wanted to be a musician. They were 7-12 years old and they all had such big ambitions. It was so lovely to hear them talk so passionately about their favorite subjects in school and their future goals. Their faces lit up when I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.
I have been doing a lot of self-reflecting recently and asking myself if I have done everything I want to do while in Ghana. I’m not sure that the answer is yes, there are so many more things I wanted to do. I am starting to regret the days or weekends where I just chilled out. I know those are necessary for a healthy mind, but I feel like with only a month left in this incredible country I haven’t done nearly enough! I made a bucket list which includes going to a Ghanaian funeral, surfing, camping and more. I hope to at least be able to check a few more off by the time I leave on December 15th. With exams approaching it might be hard. However, there is no doubt I have made some incredible memories and I don’t want to take one more second for granted!
Nine months ago, I boarded a plane destined for Thailand. My expectations were low, but my morale was high. I had little knowledge of Southeast Asia, and my decision to study abroad in Thailand is best described as a ‘leap of faith.’ Students who study abroad will traditionally choose a destination that offers courses meant for their major. The business courses offered in Thailand were scarce, thus my decision to pursue a double major in Asian Studies. And what an amazing experience it has been! Every day I learn something new about myself, and life has never felt so real.
There is never a dull moment in Thailand especially with weekend trips to distant cities, hill tribe villages and neighboring countries. Being a minority in Thailand has truly humbled me during my time abroad. I have learned to accept people for who they are without passing judgment, and I have gained a significant amount of confidence while living in Thailand. Adapting to new cultures and surroundings has been seemingly effortless for me.
The relationships I’ve created while studying abroad have been the most meaningful aspects of this journey. From meeting my Thai ‘puen rak kong chan’ (best friend), to befriending a monk whilst at a meditation retreat, my camaraderie with these unique individuals is so genuine and organic. My year spent abroad will forever be the most influential time of my life.