Monday, February 4, 2019

Heading Overseas

Elizabeth Jackson

Heading Overseas

Some tips I would like to share before heading overseas to study abroad, which for me was to Australia, are plentiful as I feel the way in which I traveled was the best way to start my study abroad experience. Before I left the country I did extensive research on all areas of the country, the surrounding countries, the culture, the people, and the economy. For me personally this contributed to my experience tenfold because it allowed me to feel mentally prepared for my trip. In addition I researched the best way to sort out my finances which was a huge factor in allowing me to get around as soon as I landed in the country. I opened an international bank account with my local bank branch that you could very easily collect information about prior to your departure. This allowed me to transfer money with minimal fees and helped me to feel as though I was prepared while in a foreign country.

In addition, getting a SIM card was also a very important factor in helping me to feel prepared while I was out of the country which I did while arriving at the airport. Most airports will have fairly cheap SIM cards for purchase that you can load at any time. However, some prior planning is involved when doing this because you must unlock your phone with your US phone carrier in order to activate the SIM which must be done in the country. Having a phone was important for me because it allowed me to access maps, communicate with family, and organize my activities for the day. It’s nice to have access to the internet as well if you ever quickly need information and I would highly recommend getting a SIM as soon as arriving in your country of study.

Another big thing to have sorted when arriving in your exchange country is to get some currency converted, which can be done either at the airport as there are always currency conversion stations or at your local bank before you leave the country. I personally felt better having cash on hand before I arrived at the airport just to be safe but either option works and is definitely a significant part of travel as sometimes credit cards can be canceled. With that being said it is also important to put in a travel notification to your local bank so that they know you are traveling outside of the country and don’t cancel your card.

Overall I would say one of the most simple but helpful things I did before leaving the US was making sure to pack extremely light; I only brought one backpack with me that had everything I needed in it. Traveling light is a huge advantage and simplifies moving from place to place when you don’t have so much to carry with you. Before I went to Australia I traveled around New Zealand and it was the best month of my life. I would highly reccommend doing something like this before or after your study abroad experience as it is good to take advantage of the area you are in and learn more about the environment you will be or have lived in.

6 months of Australia

Elizabeth Jackson

January 06, 2019

6 months of Australia

While studying abroad in Australia I fully took advantage of experiencing as much of it as I could by traveling all over and I believe that that was what made my study abroad experience so amazing. When I landed in Australia I went and stayed with my best friend who is from Byron Bay and I spent two weeks with her and her family. It was the most amazing time and I was able to spend Australia Day with them which is a big day for Australians. Spending the day in a very Australian manner was an amazing way to spend the holiday and get to know the culture of Australia. I was also able to spend my birthday with them and it was easily one of the best birthdays I have ever had. If possible, meeting up with friends or family in your study abroad country is a must do as it brings you comfort to know you have support in a foreign country. After I spent my birthday in Byron Bay my sister flew to meet me on the Gold Coast and we roadtripped all the way from Byron to Melbourne which is a huge trip. Road tripping is something I would highly recommend as it is fairly cheap to hire cars but an amazing way to be able to see so much of your country. We camped along the way (also highly recommend) and spent time in the Australian national parks that are all along the coast. Needless to say it was amazing and an experience to remember.

I also flew to Tasmania which is a more obscure part of Australia and less traveled but was the most beautiful place I have ever been. I came prepared to do a lot of hiking and brought the proper gear for it which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys doing outdoor activities. Buying gear overseas is generally a lot more complicated and expensive because the high charge is for the convenience of it. My attitude while traveling was one that was very open; this is important in order to get to know the people of the country. Most people are very friendly if you put out the same attitude and that was something that made my traveling experience amazing. Again, renting a car is the cheapest way to see the most in my opinion and spending time on the road allowed me a lot of time to myself that I will cherish forever. Having a plan is also an integral part of seeing the most as seeing what you want to see in each area cannot always be achieved if you are not efficient with your time.

In addition, towards the end of the semester I flew to Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef and that was also an experience I will never forget. Australia is known for the Great Barrier Reef and being able to experience that was incredible. I would definitely recommend exploring the parts of your study abroad country that it is famous for because while it may be cliche it is still attracting attention for a reason. I also flew to Malaysia for a few weeks during our mid semester break and had an amazing time there, which I thought was amazing because normally I am not in the same part of the world and felt it was smart to take advantage of that while I was there. I would recommend visiting areas all around the country you are studying in and not just the country itself as it is the best way to take advantage of your surroundings.

Maintaining positive mindsets when returning home

Elizabeth Jackson

Maintaining positive mindsets when returning home

January 12, 2019

After living in one place for the duration of 6 months or longer, it’s just natural to form a connection to the place and bond with the people you had met. Assimilating back into the life you had before you went to study abroad can be very difficult if you’re not mentally prepared for it. It’s a huge transition moving from one place to another in this way and I found it difficult personally. I had become so accustomed to the life I had created that I didn’t put any energy or effort into preparing myself to coming back to America. Initially it was very shocking and I wish I had some guidance to help me through what I was going through at the time.

The most important and useful piece of advice I could give on the matter is to always maintain a positive mindset. It will not serve you to think in a definitive way of “I’ll never see these people again” or “I’ll never be back” because as I soon came to find, neither of those sentences were true for me and most likely will not be true for you either. In fact, I am in Australia at the moment and am already planning on going back again in a few months to live indefinitely. It’s easy to get down about leaving your study abroad country but stay positive in thinking and planning on visiting or even moving. Another useful piece of advice is to focus on what you gained from the experience rather than lamenting your departure. While it can be difficult at times because we are emotional creatures, it really helps to contemplate all of the things you have gathered from the experience.

Upon arriving back in America I found that there were a surprising amount of things that were different that I hadn’t been used to and the shock of that was pretty overwhelming at times. Being born in the US I never thought I could experience culture shock to the place I was born but it happened nonetheless. In order to cope with this I tried not to get too focused on the things I didn’t like and just focused on the parts of living in America that I had missed while I was away. There are so many simple joys of being back in the state you are from and I decided to hold onto those things rather than how much I missed Australia. Mindset is everything and circumstances are never permanent; it is up to us how we choose to see the world around us.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Spanish Student Visa Guide

The Spanish student visa

Visa―something about the word is daunting. I get overwhelmed just thinking about the
paperwork, and the organization, and the planning that went into getting mine. I think
a lot of the stress I encountered in the process of getting my visa was due to (a) inaccurate
information and (b) contradicting information that I found on the internet and on
various blogs. So for you, my sweet future <estudiante intercambio>, I have removed
the discrepancies and streamlined the process so you can make it to España without
having to learn any Spanish swear words before you get there.


I wish I had found this information as blatantly clear back when I started my visa quest.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find out until I dropped off my visa that I need to go back to
San Francisco in person to pick it up.

Depending on where you are a resident, you might be able to visit your home
state’s consulate, and their procedures may be different (email them to be sure!),
but please be aware that in San Francisco you have to drop off and pick up your
visa in person.
***There is one exception. You don’t necessarily have to drop off your visa paperwork
in person. There is the possibility that your parents can drop off the paperwork for you,
however you, and only you, can be the one to pick it up. As put more formally by the
San Francisco consulate:

“Visa applications must be filed in person. However, applications may also be filed by a
duly accredited representative if you do not reside in the town or city where the Diplomatic
Mission or Consular Office is located and you can demonstrate due cause preventing you from
travelling, such as the distance from the Diplomatic Mission or Consular Office in question,
transport difficulties that make the journey particularly problematic or accredited reasons
related to a sickness or physical condition that significantly reduces your mobility.”

Now that you are well aware of the logistics of dropping off and picking up the paperwork,
it’s time for the next step.

2. Book an appointment!

Go to the San Francisco consulate website (there is an English option in the top
right hand corner) to book it:

These appointments fill up QUICKLY. Seriously, I’m not joking it’s booked
out sometimes 4 months in advanced.

You can’t book an appointment 3 months prior to your date of departure,
so keep that in mind. Also, your visa will take somewhere between 2-4 weeks
until it is ready, so you’ll need to account for that when planning your appointment.
You wouldn’t want to drop it off in late July and have to leave for school in early
August and it not be ready, you understand what I mean.

My best advice is to get it done with sooner rather than later. After your visa is ready,
it can stay at the consulate for as long as you like. For example, I dropped mine off in
early November and then came back in January to pick it up on my way to Spain.
First thing first though, book an appointment!

3. Papers, documents, information, oh my!

FOR A SEMESTER you will need:

National visa application form and one copy (USE DAY/MONTH/YEAR FORMAT!!!)

Passport and ID, original document + one copy of each

Two passport sized photos (2in x 2in)

Original university acceptance letter and one copy

Evidence of funds - this can mean a notarized letter from your parents,
or a letter from the university saying that you are fully financially covered.

Here’s an example of the one that my parents wrote for me:

Public or private health insurance that covers you internationally while you 
are abroad. I used CISI which is very comprehensive and doesn’t do too much 
damage on your wallet.

FOR AN ACADEMIC YEAR you will need:

Everything I listed above.

All of this too:

4. Visa fee

You can either pay in check or cash. Checks can be made out to
the General Consulate of Spain in San Francisco.

5. Other important information
to consider:

6. Make the most of your
time in San Francisco picking
up and dropping off your visa

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is a great spot to stay that won’t live up to 
San Francisco's spendy reputation. 
Download the Muni Mobile App. You can get a 24 hour bus pass 
for $5 on your phone. It’s super easy and you can use it to get around 
everywhere without having to rent a car. 

Check out Dandelion Chocolate (get the mission style hot chocolate) 
and La Taqueria (in the Mission District). 
I’m not kidding when I say these will be the best tacos you have 
ever had. Ever. 

    Walk or Run across the Golden Gate Bridge! It’s free and has amazing views. 

    Wander around Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy area) and find yourself pleasantly surprised with the sights, smells, and sounds of the city. 

      If you are a “plant person” like me, then check out the Conservatory of Flowers.
      There’s a small entrance fee, and it’s cheaper if you are a student, so bring your student ID
      and a good book to read.

      7. ENJOY ESPAÑA!

      Thursday, January 17, 2019

      The lifeblood of London: The Tube

      If you want to get around London, the fastest and most organised way is via the 'Tube': aka the London Underground. No matter how far your want to go within the city, there is always an Underground station within reach. From the Circle Line to the Jubilee Line, the tube ensures you can get to any direction within London city as quickly as possible.
      Tube Map
      Finding an Underground station is fairly easy. Look out for the iconic red and blue circular symbol that marks the entrance to a station. Signs along the streets also point out the nearest station and how far they are walking distance.

      To pay your fare, you can choose one of three options: pay for a ticket at a machine, use an Oyster Card, or use your contactless credit card. During my months in London, I primarily used an Oyster card to get around the train system. For many students, the Oyster card is the best choice for London public transport. Not only can you pay for the Underground, but all of the London buses take Oysters as payment too. In addition, as a student, you can apply for a student Oyster card that can save you on travel fare, which may be beneficial to you if you plan on commuting to school or going to town daily via the Underground. It is also very easy and quick to top up your card if you are running low: just insert it into a marked add-value machine, choose how much you would like to add (minimum 5 GBP), and pay via card or cash.
                                 Image result for citymapper london
      You might also want to download CityMapper: a free city-navigation map that is far more helpful than Google Maps off the shelf. With CityMapper, you have the entire London Underground system map stored on your phone. Furthermore you can even plan out your trip to work out how long will it take you to get to the destination, which carriage is best to get on to avoid getting into a jam, what lines you need to take (including transfers), and get an estimated time of arrival (based on my experiences, fully accurate). It is very useful due to the fact that it will notify you when you need to get off.  Do be aware though that in most Underground lines, there is no phone service or data available due to the lack of phone reception unlike some cities; therefore if you do need to rely on Citymapper: activate your phone carrier's Underground wi-fi service so you can continue using data-reliant apps while on the train.

      Here are some more tips and advice when it comes to using the Tube:

      • If a transfer between lines requires you to tap in or out your Oyster card/credit card, ensure you do it before you leave the line. Same goes for entering a paid area of a station: ensure the scanner reads the card. If you don't, you could be charged the full fare of 80 GBP as a penalty! 
      • There are no trash cans along the platforms. Following the terrorist attacks on July 7, 2005, the Transport for London removed all trash cans to eliminate any possible threats from hidden devices. So ensure you take your trash, or throw it away before getting on the train. 
      • Especially in the hotter periods of the year, it can get very stuffy and hot in the Tube. Ensure to bring plenty of water to hydrate yourself and wear loose clothing. 
      • You can bring food or drink onto the train, but be considerate and don't make too much of a mess in the carriage. 
      • While the risk of pickpockets is still present, currently the threat is minimal. But be vigilant of any unsavoury or suspicious passengers around you, especially if you are taking a late-night train or going to the outskirts of town. 
      • Most lines run until 1 or 2 AM, though there are night lines operational on some, that will keep going until the early morning. 
      • As the TfL reminds everyone: "If you see something, say something." Report any suspicious activities or possible dangers to a Transport police officer or Underground staff. 

      Monday, December 24, 2018

      Thats a wrap everyone!

      Heellooo, everyone. Janine Mabuti here. I just wanted to say that I have finished my first semester abroad in South Korea at Soonchunhyang University. Just thinking about this has made me sad and very emotional. The memories I have made, the people that I have met, and the lessons I have learned are something that I will keep with me forever. I have met people who have taken care of me while in Korea while also teaching me things and giving me advice. They are all part of the good times and bad times that I have encountered here in South Korea. I would not have wanted me semester any other way. Soonchunhyang University has treated me very kindly and I am glad that I chose this school to study abroad too. I was an emotional wreck the last few weeks because I did not want to leave Korea and my friends. But sadly, all good things must come to an end. However, the friendships that I have created here in Korea is something that will last a long time. I have made plans to visit the people I met here in Korea in their home countries in the near future. So instead of saying goodbye, we said see yah later. There's technology as well as other ways to keep in touch. Just wanted to thank the school and the people that I met here for making my time here in Korea, one that I'll always remember and treasure.

      Tuesday, December 18, 2018

      Fiesta, siesta, ¡VAMOS ESPAÑA!

      When I finished my semester in Brussels, I was so in love with Europe, I was not ready to go home. Instead, I decided to find a job as an Au Pair. As an Au Pair, I lived with a family, in exchange for watching their children and teaching them english. It was an absolutely amazing way to get to see inside a culture. I lived with two families for a month and a half each. One family lived in Guadalajara, a gorgeous small traditional Spanish town, and the other family lived in the bustling capital city of Madrid. 
      If natural scenery and tradition are your go-to scene, then Guadalajara is the place to be. When I arrived in early June, I had never seen so many flowers in my life. Rolling fields of lowers crawled up their mountains and hills. Most homes had balconies, all which grew their own flowers. Farms surrounded the town, blossoming with fields of wheat that danced in the wind. Not many people in the town spoke english, so I would advocate for having a little bit of Spanish language skills before visiting, but honestly it was my absolute favorite place in Spain. If you’ve seen the movie the Gladiator, you would remember the beautiful and ideal Spanish farm where Russel Crowe’s character lived—Yeah, it really looks just like that. The food is the best food I had in Europe as well. No one cooked paella as well as the merchants in that town. A gypsy market takes place on Thursdays and Sundays, and here you can find anything from rare homemade candy and cheeses to knock-off Adidas. A laid back environment always surrounded the town. Some of the best landmarks though include a central summer palace, including its own maze and unique architecture. A Duchess’ Grand Tomb lays behind a massive and scenic park. Churches and old city walls dating back centuries buzz with the locals, as they are still used. 
      Madrid marks a completely different way of life. A busy and urban environment, Madrid’s streets sprawl with confusing patterns and intricate neighborhood layouts. In the center of Madrid lies countless museums and restaurants, all of which are worth visiting. My personal favorite was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. It’s the best contemporary art museum I’ve seen. The trip to Madrid alone is worth it just for the Reina Sofía. The Retiro Park marks the almost equal second place attraction for Madrid. It has fantastic rose gardens, a glass palace, a giant lake in the middle you can take a peddle boat across, and even an open-air book market! Seriously, this park is like something from a dream. For the nightlife, Madrid de-liv-ers! La Kapital is the chief club around—it is in an old grand theatre, and has 6 floors of balcony, as well as reggaeton and techno! For the bars, the thing to do is tapa hopping in the Latin Quarter. While Belgium seems to maintain a strict “no eating” bar policy, Spain offers the exact opposite. In tapa hopping, the technique is simple. You go to a bar with your friends. The size of the group does not matter, but the more the merrier, right? You order the bar’s specialty “tapas”, or small appetizers, and a beer. You finish this, and move on to the next one. Repeat these steps until its the early morning hours. In Spain, this social event is so culturally ingrained and accepted, it’s not uncommon to see parents bring their children, or even their babies (I mean a literal infant here) with them. 
      Another interesting cultural observation about the Spanish is how much of night owls these people are. I would walk around Guadalajara at midnight, and I would see young small children playing alone in parks, or kicking balls down the street, as if it was noon on a Sunday. My families in Spain both usually ate dinner around 9 or 10 pm, with lunch being around 2-3 pm. 
      Some foods to try in Spain: Paella, churros with melted chocolate (or rolled into sugar if you’re soul-less enough to not like chocolate) and jamon!!! Jamon is their specialty ham. I mean honestly comparing it to “ham” is a gross understatement. It’s a gourmet art, and a reputable piece can cost thousands for a single leg. As for a drink, I would recommend a Tinto Verano! It’s a red wine mixed with a lemon Fanta or tonic water, and its popularity peaks in the summer. 
      Some places you must visit that are close to Madrid include Toledo and Alcalá de Henares. Toledo, known as the "Imperial City",is an ancient city and was the main home to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. It is extremely impressive! Honestly, I was more amazed by Toledo than by any other city in Europe. The ancient city lies on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain, and has the three influences of mArab, Jewish and Christian cultures. It was also the home of painter El Greco, and contains and impressive museum dedicated to him. Alcalá de Henares is another ancient and picturesque city in central Spain, right between Madrid and Guadalajara. Alcalá de Henares features the  University of Alcalá, an esteemed Spanish University placed in a decadent 16th Century Palace-like structure, and is the home of Miguel de Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote. Every year, the Spanish king travels here to give out the Cervantes literary prize. Also, fun fact,  Alcalá de Henares has storks EVERYWHERE! if you look at the tops of any tall building, you are sure to see giant stork nest and those humongous birds flying between buildings. 
      The main center of  Alcalá de Henares

      Plaza Major, Spain. The center square of the city 
       The beautiful natural landscape of Guadalajara. I travelled a little outside the city, but this is a hiking path up a mountain that overlooks the flower fields, landscape, and the town. It's very popular with the locals for biking or family walks.

       The interior of Toledo. It's jaw-dropping how beautiful it is. A full day must be spent just soaking in the sights of such a splendid city! The trip to Spain was worth it alone just for getting to see Toledo.