Final Thoughts

I’ve been home for over a week now and I still can’t wrap my head around how much these past four months have meant to me. There truly is no better time to travel than in college. With no permanent responsibilities or a full time job, there is more freedom at this point in my life than ever. I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Europe and I’ve made memories to last a lifetime.

Meeting people from many different cultures is a unique, eye opening experience. Each person I met has their own stories and advice to share, which has added to my opinions and opened my mind to new ideas about the world. So, I will offer one piece of advice about traveling: be open to meeting new people, you never know what gains could come from those interactions.

With each new experience comes new lessons to be learned, and I wouldn’t trade a single memory I made abroad for anything; however, I wish I would have known:

How to bargain at the Florence leather markets – Confidence is key. It will also save you lots of money.

How to meet locals We met so many amazing people around the city by simply being friendly and adventuring outside of the touristy areas.

Souvenir shops close on Sundays – When traveling on the weekends, it’s easy to leave souvenir shopping until the last day, but don’t. We learned this tip quickly.

Trust your gut on the simplest of choices – If the price for transportation is too good to be true, it just might be.  If the restaurant looks sketchy, it probably is. And if the sellers around the touristy areas hand you a bracelet for ‘free’, its definitely not free and you probably ditch him.

Research before traveling Obviously you know where you’re going, and often times how you’re getting there, but it will save a world of stress to plan out the smaller scale activities (Stay, activities and points of interest, transportation to and from activities, and so on).

No duffles – Backpacks or rolling bags are the easiest for traveling, trust me.

Be aware of your surroundings – Tourists are easy targets and Americans are easy to pick out by our clothing and loud voices. If you’re aware of the people around you and your personal belongings, you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Pictures don’t do justice – Take time to look up and enjoy the view with your eyes. Mental pictures and memories of those you’re with are just as valuable.

Adjusting back to the United State’s culture:

It has taken me about a week to fully overcome my jet lag. It’s odd jumping back into normal American life after living abroad for several months. I’m more appreciative of what didn’t come easily in Italy (free water at restaurants, grocery selections, cars for easy transportation, streets without sellers walking up to tourists, etc.), but I’m already missing what we’re not used to in the US (everything in walking distance, amazing/natural food, gorgeous views around every corner, relaxed culture, and so on). I can confidently say studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I would highly recommend the opportunity to anyone considering traveling during college.

I want to thank you all for reading my blog and keeping up with my travels these past few months. I received many great compliments and feedback, which has meant a lot to me. I hope you gained something from my posts and enjoyed everything I had to share as much as I enjoyed reflecting on my journey.

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Life at Lorenzo

Lorenzo de’ Medici (LdM) is a study abroad institution located in Florence, Italy. The school works closely with Iowa State University’s study abroad center.


Location:

LdM is located right in the center of historical Florence; however, I was surprised to find out the institute doesn’t have a central campus. All of the buildings with LdM classrooms, kitchens, the library, advisors offices, and so on are placed randomly amongst other shops and restaurants in Florence. The farthest buildings are no more than a twenty minute walk from each other, and I enjoyed being able to take in the beautiful streets of Florence by passing through the squares and one of the most popular tourist attractions, the Duomo, everyday.


Professors:

The majority of the professors at LdM are Italian. All speak fluent English and I never had troubles understanding them. Smaller class sizes allowed some professors to get to know the students and it was fun meeting and making friends from all over the United States. Most professors understand that we are students studying abroad, less for the class work and more for the experience, so the semester was definitely less stressful than a typical year at Iowa State.


Class Load:

15 credits worth of courses will all transfer back to Iowa State with no problem. An elementary Italian course is required and meets twice a week for an hour. Every other class is two and a half hours long, with a short break in the middle. Most of my classes were geared towards my major (marketing) and offered a unique perspective on the Italian and European culture. Throughout the semester at LdM, classes were fairly simple with few homework assignments. The last couple weeks were more work heavy, with papers and presentations leading up to finals.

Spring Break

Feeling adventuresome, my roommate Lauren and I put together a full schedule for our week off from classes. With plans to travel to four different countries, we began our busy journey in Berlin.


Berlin, Germany

A city full of rich history from the time Hitler came to power. We downloaded Rick Steve’s Berlin City Walk audio tour and learned so much about the city. The tour took us a few hours but was highly informative and I would recommend it to anyone traveling in Berlin.

The Brandenburg gate was originally built to separate west and east Berlin. It has now become a symbol of unity and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Berlin.

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Visiting the Brandenburg Gate

The tour led us through many historical sites in Berlin, a powerful one was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Numerous cement blocks that seemed to go on forever reminded us of a maze. Our audio tour had us imagine the cement blocks as if they were tombstones filled with bodies. The atmosphere was quiet and eerie as we walked through the maze of blocks.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

One of the most interesting places we went was the Berlin memorial wall. The original wall, which separated the east from the west, is still partly preserved. In the middle of the memorial was a wall of faces of those who died attempting to cross the wall. Being in the very spot where the wall once stood and the amount of history that once surrounded it set off an indescribable feeling.

Berlin Wall memorial

Ireland

Our first stop in Ireland was a huge landmark in a small town on the western coast. On the cloudy day, the green Cliffs of Moher appeared brighter than ever. One of my favorite trips from my travels thus far.

Cliffs of Moher

In Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse proved to be a fun stop for a rainy day. This self guided tour taught us about the ingredients in Guinness, how it’s made, and how to properly taste and pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We ended at the gravity bar, which was solely made up of glass windows that overlooked the entire city of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse tour

Gogarty’s bar, on Dublin’s famous Temple bar street, was one of our favorite night life experiences of Dublin. This traditional Irish Pub has a touristy flare; live musicians play Irish music as tourists fill the bar with beer, singing and dancing.

Gogarty’s Irish pub on Temple Bar street

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Being the (1940s) history fanatic I am, our first stop had to be the Anne Frank house. I booked our tickets a couple months out and for good reason, the lines to get into the museum grew increasingly long throughout the weekend. I was able to tour the secret annex the Frank family hid in for two years during the time of the Holocaust. The audio tour led us through the house to the bookshelf that was once used as a hidden door. We continued up the steep stairs into the annex and explored the many rooms. An extremely eye opening experience and easily the coolest museum I’ve ever been in.

Anne Frank house – Narrow building, fourth from the left.

Seeing the locals traveling around by bike inspired us to rent bikes for the weekend. We hesitantly started on our own. The locals are crazy bikers and move extremely quickly in all directions along the confusing bike paths. We eventually got the hang of it and biked throughout the canals, into Vondelpark, through the museum square and outside the main city area. The next day we took a bike tour and learned all about Amsterdam’s history. It was a pretty cool way to see the city!

Traveling as the locals do

Brussels, Belgium

No trip to Belgium is complete without picking up some chocolate. Mary’s is hands down some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

Delicious Belgium chocolate

Belgium waffles!! Our sole purpose for visiting this country. Of course, the chocolate, fries, and beer weren’t a terrible addition to this quick stop.

Belgium waffles

Although not the most relaxing spring break I’ve been on, it’s easily one of my favorites. I checked many places off my bucket list from this week abroad.

Photo Journal

Florence, Italy | January 31 – February 08

 


Venice, Italy | February 11

 


Verona, Italy | February 12

 


Interlaken, Switzerland | February 16-19

 

Prague, Czech Republic | February 23-26

 

Fiesole, Italy | March 3

 

Florence, Italy | March 2-6

 

Paris, France | March 10-11

 

Naples, Italy and Capri, Italy| March 18-20

 

Florence, Italy | March 20-25

Eiffel In Louvre

Ooh la la! A trip to Paris was at the top of my list of places to visit while traveling Europe, and for good reason. Paris has so much to offer, from its many extraordinary landmarks to the unique cuisine, I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city.

A couple of my roommates and I stayed at The Generator hostel. The building was a little ways outside of the city center, but located right next to the tram station and was easy and cheap to get around Paris. Once we arrived in the city, our first sighting was the Arc de Triomphe. Honestly, I had no idea what this arc was or why it was so special. I later found out it is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris and has a unique story tied to it. In short, this arc was ordered by French Emperor, Napoleon in 1806 to honor the French army. After the army had conquered most of Europe and took a victory in Austerlitz, Napoleon declared, “You will return home through arcs of triumph.”

Arc de Triomphe

 

As my roommates and I walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (main street in Paris), we stumbled upon the first ever Laduree bakery. World famous for their amazing macarons, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some (even if the line was out the door). There are so many flavors and most all of them are delicious. I picked out a chocolate hazelnut and a coconut with lime and both flavors were to die for. Other flavors my roommates raved about: pistachio and salted caramel. I think it’s safe to say we all highly recommend trying a macaron from Laduree.

Macarons at Laduree Paris
The original Laduree, one of the world’s best-known bakeries (specializing in macarons)

 

Our next stop, the Louvre. We were in luck because Friday’s after 6 p.m., the museum has free entrance to persons under 26 years of age. Inside the museum, it looked as though we had entered a mall. Escalators and staircases lead in every direction. Underground walkways connected the pyramid structure to the buildings surrounding it, which is where the museum galleries exist. After roaming around the main areas of the museum (and getting slightly lost in one of the wings) we made our way to the Mona Lisa painting. Displayed on it’s own wall deep into one of the exhibits, the painting was much smaller than I imagined. About 30 in. by 20 in., everyone crowded around the famous portrait, which made it difficult to take a good look, and a decent picture.

The Louvre – It’s more difficult to take this basic picture than one would think
Entrance to the museum
Attempting (and failing) the Mona Lisa smile

 

Around dinner time, we all followed a friend’s recommendation to a local French restaurant. I felt a little adventurous and decided to try the escargot, a typical appetizer in France. Escargot is simply a cooked land snail. It tastes pretty salty and has a tough, gelatinous texture that was most likely doused in butter, garlic, and whatever the green sauce (shown in the picture below) is. I surprised, not only my family, but also myself because I actually enjoyed it. I recommend giving them a try!

Escargot – the green substance is the part that is eaten

 

We lucked out with a gorgeous day on Saturday as well. The first place we visited was the Palace of Versailles. To our disappointment, the line to the entrance was insanely long so no one felt like waiting to enter the palace. We later found out that even though the line looked like it would have taken hours, it actually moved pretty quickly – so if this situation ever arises, it’s good to know the wait is worth it. Instead, we walked around back to view the Gardens of Versailles and were impressed with what we saw. The gardens existed a farther distance than my eyes could see, beautiful grassy designs surrounded the various pools of water. Realizing it’s only the beginning of spring, I could only imagine how gorgeous the gardens look with everything in bloom.

Palace of Versailles
Garden of Versailles
The largest garden I’ve ever seen

 

In disbelief we hadn’t been to the Eiffel tower yet, I was antsy to get there. We made a stop right before the main area of the tower to get crepes, which was a mistake. Although they were good, we were told later that crepes sold at the stands surrounding the tower are amazing. We walked around the base of the Eiffel and across the bridge to a building known as the Trocadero. From there, we had incredible views of the Eiffel tower and took the majority of our pictures. Exhausted from our constant travels, we decided to buy champagne and some snacks and relax on the Champ de Mars (a public green space located in front of the Eiffel tower). This was debatably my favorite part of the trip. I was extremely content relaxing in the sun, attempting to fathom the fact that I was in Paris, sitting in front of the Eiffel tower and drinking champagne. Once the sun went down, we had dinner at a close by restaurant, then went back to watch the the tower sparkle. Once it gets dark enough, the tower sparkles every hour on the hour, for five minutes. It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen and is completely mesmerizing to watch. If I ever get the chance to visit Paris again, I would take the elevator up to the top of the tower at night as I’ve heard it is an incredible experience.

The Eiffel Tower, beautiful from all angles
Pictures from the Trocadero building
Some of the roommates posing in front of the Eiffel tower. No, we did not plan to wear our jean jackets.
Champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel tower lit up at night

I only wish I had more time to experience everything Paris has to offer. I hope one day I will be able to return to explore more of this beautiful city.

Arriving Fashionably Late

A traveler’s series of unfortunate events would serve as a perfect title for a story of my travels to Italy. Traveling to Florence was eventful and memorable to say the least. Three friends and I took a direct flight from Minneapolis airport to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam straight to Florence – or so we thought.

Arriving to the Amsterdam airport was a breeze; the eight-hour flight went by quickly while the generous selection of movies kept me occupied. Once on the ground, we were able to explore the airport and do some people watching during our lay over. There seemed to be someone from every nationality, so it was interesting to walk by groups and overhear conversations in all different languages. Our layover went by in no time, and we were shuttled out to the airport grounds to board our plane.

A two-hour flight quickly turned into a three and a half hour inconvenience. We spent one hour flying in circles above Florence while waiting out the foggy weather below. Finally, we were given the okay to make our way to the Florence airport. It was incredibly foggy, but the houses, valleys, and river showed through. It was really neat to watch, we could even see the street my apartment is located on, we got so close!


An impressive overview of Florence, which also captures the fog that gave us so much trouble during the flight.

But then, the engine kicked up and back up we flew. They told us conditions were still unsafe to land on the runway, and we didn’t have enough gas to continue flying above Florence to wait out the weather. So off to Pisa, Italy the plane took us (a city about an hour from Florence) and an arranged bus ride to Florence was on its way.

At this point, everyone just wanted to be on the ground. We got our bags and walked around aimlessly trying to figure out where the bus would come. Our whole flight stood outside the small airport pick up/drop off door looking around at each other, frustrated and confused. Somehow, my friend and I managed to run into two of our roommates while waiting. About twenty minutes later, a man came walking through shouting the name of our airline, and the mob of people followed him. Only half of the flight could fit their bags into the large coach bus. So we waited for the second bus, in the light rain I might add. Twenty minutes later a second bus arrived. Another large, but half-empty, coach bus took us to our destination.


Waiting for the second bus ride into Florence in the drizzling rain. Pictured here are three of my roommates and a girl we met on our flight.

Although I would have much rather flown straight into Florence, the bus ride was actually very pretty, and a neat introduction to Italy. Houses of all different shades of tan, yellow, rusty red, brown, and white could be seen the whole way there. Beautiful green hills formed from all different directions, and giant mountains stood as a spectacular backdrop. I’m certainly not in the Midwest anymore.

Views from our bus ride to Florence. The scenery was amazing; however, this picture doesn’t do it justice.

Packing My Life Away

As you can probably imagine, squeezing four months worth of clothes, toiletries, and travel items into two large bags and a backpack is not an easy task. Especially when packing for unknown locations. I have to be prepared for snow in Switzerland, the beach in Spain (during the warmer months, of course), and everything in-between!

Before I started packing, I read up on what to expect the weather to be like and the types of clothes typically worn in Europe. Apparently the Italians are having a colder winter this year than they’re used to (go figure), but 40 degrees beats the Midwest’s negative temperatures any day. I also found out it’s common for Europeans to dress nicely each day, which means leaving my go-to leggings and sweats behind.

I followed this packing list from a blog I found online. It’s written mainly for students studying abroad and covers most everything I should need while overseas. Since packing can be an overwhelming process, it’s nice to remember that forgotten items can be purchased once in the travel destination. All together, it took me about a week and a half to get everything packed.

For those of you with any reason to pack a suitcase in the future, here are some of the clever tips and tricks I’ve learned while packing for Italy!

Pro-tip – Color coordinate all of your clothes so tops and bottoms can be swapped to create more outfit selections. (Conveniently for me, my whole closet seems to be made up of maroon and black clothing, so choosing a color scheme was the least of my worries.)

The rolling method – Take each individual item of clothing, fold it in half, then roll it up tight and pack everything in, side-by-side. This saves so much more room than laying each piece out flat in the suitcase.

Make every space count – Save small items, like socks, for last. This makes it easier to fill in the smaller, empty spaces and frees up some room for bigger items in a bag or suitcase.

Be prepared for the worst-case scenario – Always pack clothes and basic toiletry items in a carry-on in case luggage gets lost. You’ll be able to live out of the carry-on for a day or two while the airline locates any lost baggage. (This actually happened to a friend of mine traveling to Spain a few weeks ago, so it does happen!)

I hope this was helpful to anyone with a trip coming up or any reason to pack in the future. For those of you who just want to read about my adventures in Europe – hang in there. I’m anxious to get there, too!

Before It’s Too Late

Like many freshman students attending their college of choice for the first year, I was overly excited and motivated to gain new experiences. I joined numerous clubs, got involved in Greek life, attended freshman dorm events, and went to the many fairs put on by the Memorial Union (the study abroad fair in particular).

Rarely would I take on these events alone, though. My partner in crime of freshman year, my roommate, and best friend I had made and I took on most of these events together. Studying abroad was just one of the many experiences we both hoped to take on while in college. We talked about traveling and Google image searched all sorts of cool places around the world fairly often. At this point, though, we were only freshman and studying abroad was just an idea in its most advanced stage.

During my freshman year spring break, I was lucky enough to take my second trip to Puerto Rico. This is the closest I’ve come to traveling outside of the country (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory) and I had amazing experiences both times! It’s eye-opening to travel to a place with a completely different culture and way of life, and I loved every minute I spent there. This was just another stepping stone to the possibility of a study abroad experience.

img_4797This photo takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Exploring the beautiful buildings and shops along the cobblestone streets was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Fast-forwarding a year and a half, I had just completed my sophomore year of college and was ready to take on my first internship at a global company called Thomson Reuters (TR). A little background on Thomson Reuters: Basically, the company is one of the leading technology innovators of the legal world. TR works with lawyers of all fields and company sizes to keep them up-to-date with technology that makes their job easier. There, my primary role as marketing intern was to manage their social media accounts daily. I worked mostly with Twitter, since they had the best responses through this channel, but also made posts for Facebook and LinkedIn. My experience at TR was incredible and I learned more than I thought I could in a three-month program. It also furthered my interest in social media marketing, which is why the Iowa State study abroad social media internship position is an awesome experience for me. I am able to take what I learned from my internship and apply that knowledge to this position, while also picking up new skills by using different social media channels than I worked with at TR, such as Instagram and blogging.

Thomson Reuters not only taught me that social media is one of the most responsive means of marketing during this time period, but I was also able to meet with many professionals for one-on-one conversations. Each individual I met with throughout that summer had their own advice for me and experiences to back that up, but I found there was one commonality within each and every conversation: In one way or another, they all said their biggest regret from college/before starting their career was not traveling. They all had made excuses for themselves, from not having the money, to not having the time, to even not wanting to leave their significant other; but everyone regretted not taking the time to travel. This really made me think about my future and jump-started my research on Iowa State’s study abroad opportunities.

There is an opportunity for everyone. From any country one could possibly want to travel to, to the time period of the trip. You just have to go and find the right fit for you. My fit ended up being a semester abroad in Florence, Italy with my roommate from freshman year, and I could not be more excited.

An international trip has many amazing experiences to offer. I’m still a month away from leaving to go abroad and I already know this semester will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am thrilled I have the opportunity to share these experiences with my friends, family, travelers, and Iowa State students who plan to, or are thinking of traveling abroad during their time at ISU through the power of social media.