Thursday, January 26, 2017

Traveling throughout Europe

                I’ve been back home in Hawaii for a few weeks now and I must say, it really does feel good to be back. I missed the Pacific Ocean, the warm air and, of course, the food. However, a large part of me really misses being able to travel around Europe and living in France. The longer I lived in France, the more it felt like home. Every time I would return to Nice after a trip to a different country, it always felt like I was coming home, not like I was just going back to France. The scenery is definitely different from Hawaii, but just as beautiful. But the thing about living in the South of France and in Europe in general is the ease of travel to different countries and cities.
Cote d'Azur, France
                The school I attended in France was much different than a typical university you would find in the United States. For one, although I am in my final year of my undergraduate studies, I was put in the Grand Ecole program in France, which is a five year program to attain a Masters degree. My host university also had other campuses throughout France, the United States, China and Brazil, so the professors would actually travel between the six campuses. This meant that our course schedule had to coincide with our professors’ travel schedules. So a typical schedule for a student would be to have the same class from 8-5 everyday for three days and then not have that class for another three weeks. I decided to put my free time (which I had a lot of) to good use by traveling to other countries and throughout France as well.

              In the four months I studied abroad in France, I was able to travel to 17 different countries. There were three main reasons as to why traveling was so easy in Europe. First, probably the most obvious, is the fact that European countries are so close to each other. Second, are the price of airline and train tickets and the availability of low-cost airlines. And third, is the Schengen zone, which I will explain later.
Disneyland Paris, France
                It takes about 40 minutes to fly from O’ahu to the Big Island. It also takes around the same amount of time to fly from Nice, France to Milan, Italy. I’ve also taken the train from Nice, France to Monte Carlo, Monaco that only took about 30 minutes. It’s so amazing that you can take a short nap on the train or the plane and end up in a totally different country. The longest flight I took in Europe was from Dublin, Ireland to Nice, France, which took about two and a half hours. And when you think about it, that’s not very long at all considering that it takes over five hours to fly from Hawaii to the nearest state in the United States. Shorter flights means there’s more time to explore and no time for any sort of jet-lag to set in. This makes day and weekend trips super worthwhile because you aren’t wasting so much time sitting on a plane or a train and instead are able to explore as much as you’d like. During the month of November, my boyfriend, who was also studying abroad in France, and I were traveling so much that we joked that we only came back to France to do our laundry.
                With all the traveling my boyfriend and I did throughout Europe, you’d think we were millionaires or something. However, that is definitely not the case. We once had a flight from Athens to Rome that cost a whopping 8 euros, roughly $8.50. Crazy, right?! Yeah, we thought so too. That is the beauty of the low-cost airline market in Europe. Airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet offer super-low fares throughout all of Europe. However, these low fares do come with a catch. These airlines have very strict baggage guidelines and may even charge for things like printing your boarding pass for you. Their planes are also not the most comfy or
Danube River, Budapest, Hungary
luxurious, but they’ll get you from Point A to Point B. I was on a 25 euro Wizz Air flight to Budapest where you were only allowed to bring a small backpack for free, anything else would be an extra fee. As we were boarding, I saw a man who got stopped because his backpack was just a little bigger than the dimensions that were allowed. The ticket agents demanded he pay a 50 euro fee or else he would not be allowed on the plane. So ridiculous. But that’s the price you have to pay for a cheap ticket. So no, you don’t have to be rich to travel through Europe, it can definitely be done on a college budget as long as you’re willing to give up a little comfort.
London, England, United Kingdom
                So, onto the Schengen Zone. The Schengen Zone is made up of several EU and Non-EU countries throughout Europe that have no border control at their mutual borders. This means that once your flight lands, you are free to proceed to baggage claim without having to stand through the torturous line that is passport control, as long as you are flying between two member countries. There are several EU countries that are not part of the Schengen Zone, such as Bulgaria, Croatia and United Kingdom (pre-Brexit). I swear when we flew into London we had to wait in the passport control line for at least an hour and a half, and once you get to the border patrol officer, they grill you with questions about where you’re going, where you came from, how long you will be visiting even to personal things like how much money you have in your bank account. It did make me feel safe to know they really were being thorough, but it was a pain to sit through a line that was longer than my flight.
                All in all, I believe all the traveling, exploring and experiences were totally worth it. Every country brought new experiences and a new place to grow fond of. I’m so glad studying abroad gave me the opportunity to travel throughout such a beautiful continent, I don’t think I can ever mimic the experience I had otherwise. Lastly, here are some photos from some of my favorite places I visited throughout this semester. Enjoy!
Santorini, Greece

Cliffs of Moher, Clare, Ireland

Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, Monte Carlo, Monaco

La Señora

    unsure if the language barrier
  bothers you,
you've done this many times before.
From the Sierra Nevadas, 
      to the Albaicin barrio,
          to Las Recogidas, 
                                 alrededor a Granada,
I wish to learn and speak
and understand--you.

    My first week in Granada is nearing it's end and I'm keen to share with you all about my experience. I have titled this post "La Señora" because out of all the shock, awe, nervousness, and excitement; my señora and her family are the most interesting of all I've seen and heard in Granada so far. 
     For those who do not know, I am living with a homestay family. In Spain, this "family" is usually a widow, soltera o con sus hijos (alone or with kids), and we call her "señora" as a sign of respect--much like "aunties and uncles" in Hawaii. 
     The biggest and most present challenge of living in Spain, is living with a women, her daughter and her son who are todos Españoles. La Señora Pepa does not speak any English, y sus hijos, María y Juan, only speak some. I have come here to improve my Spanish, but outside of the house, I am tempted to speak only English. This is because I am often surrounded by the American AIFS students in a tour or an outing. I get a pass while I'm exploring with them, but once I'm home, Spanish is the key communicator.
     While it has proven to be challenge for me, especially when I've been tired, I realize that immersion in any country requires patience, effort, and respect for ones' culture. This culture in Granada, in Andalucia, is one that most definitely consists of food and dance and tapas and history, but the root of any civilization's culture is their language. On a day like today, when I had no desire to speak Spanish and butchered the grammar when I did, it is humbling to remind myself that I must build relationships while I'm here. I must get outside of my comfort zone and not only play tourist, but be invested in the people I encounter as well. La Señora Pepa and her family reminds me of that. I am an outsider entering their beloved city and country. The best thing I could share with them is my attention and effort to know who they are. 
Proverbs 16:24 "Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."

View of Granada from Albaicin lookout point

AIFS American Students in front of La Alhambra

Paella Mexicana

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Arrivederci and a Hui Hou Italia

Ciao Everyone!
                It has been several weeks since my semester abroad has been officially over and although I am happy to be back in the islands, it feels as if I have never left. Although at the time I was extremely homesick for the first month, now I wish I was still abroad enjoying every new experience I could. My time abroad was the greatest highlight of 2016 and now I refer to 2016 as my golden year. I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to study in a different country and gain a new perspective on how life half way around the world is. I can’t wait to take a trip back to Europe to revisit some of my favorite cities such as Zadar, Zurich, Brussels, Nice and to explore places I was unable to see while I was abroad. If I had another opportunity to study abroad again, I would not hesitate to say yes. Like I said it was the best four months of 2016 but in all honesty, it was the best four months of my life!
Shout out to Italy and all the European countries for being a part of my amazing time abroad!
If anyone would like to see additional pictures from all my trips and blog post I wrote while abroad, you can visit my website at



Saturday, January 14, 2017

WSL Competition in France

Hi all,

Being back in Hawaii after my semester abroad, one of the first things I wanted to do was get back in the water and do some surfing. It reminded me of one of my absolute favorite trips we took during the past few months- to the Quiksilver Pro France! For those of you who don't follow it, the WSL is the World Surf League and they host competitions for the best professional surfers around the world.

My girlfriend and I were originally planning to go to Dubai, but when we saw the competition would be in France during the same week we knew we had to go. We go to every competition on Oahu each year and we would be so close to this one (well, we were on the other side of the country, but at least we were in the same country). We booked a train to Bayonne, a little coastal town on the Atlantic Ocean side of France, and after a full day and stop in Toulouse we made it.

The competition is held at a little beach town called Soorts-Hossegor just a few kilometers away from there. It was truly one of the coolest little beach towns we had ever been to. It had a little downtown street lined with surf shops and restaurants, which was currently packed, but you could tell it would have been empty on any other non-summer day. Other than that, it was all residential with a lot of nice big beach houses. The beach was gigantic, with massive dunes so you couldn't even see it from the street below them, like these below.

The competition was much different from what I expected. Having been to the Pipe Masters and other North Shore WSL competitions, I thought I had seen the beaches as packed with people as they can get. I really thought the France competition wouldn't be crowded at all, but I was so wrong! This beach was so packed we could barely find a place to sit. People came from all over Europe to see the pro surfers. We were actually only a few kilometers away from Spain, so there were a ton of Spanish fans there. They even did the announcements in Spanish after French and English. Of course they had the usual T-shirt stand, and I had to spend half my life savings on shirts.


The winner of both competitions (Quiksilver/men and Roxy/women) were both representing Hawaii! John John Florence and Carissa Moore won this one and as you probably know, John John went on to take the world title this year. The waves on this stretch of coast were absolutely incredible and you would never know it, so it gave these surfers a lot to work with. We later found out that Hossegor is considered the "Surfing Capital of Europe"!

It was a great few days at a town that I will definitely come back to in the summer some day. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to visit a non-touristy French beach town. On the way back home, our train made a stop in Toulouse again, but this time we booked it so we would have a night to spend there. We went on the official tour of Airbus Industries where they manufacture all their aircraft, and even got to see the assembly line of the super-mega-jumbo A380! Another great stop in France for anyone who is interested in aviation- the entire city of Toulouse seems to be based on the industry.

In conclusion, it was an awesome trip that reminded us of home a little. Of all of the cool countries that we travelled to in Europe, Brittney and I still agree that this trip is at the top of our favorites. If you have the chance to visit the Basque Country coast in France, take it!

-Woodrow Matthews
France, Fall 2016

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Letter after letter
completes a word
after word
sentences, paragraphs,
page after page turns
and here we land on a chapter,
start of a new adventure.
My heart bleeds each word,
and I think of a time
when these pages will be written for me to read--
ingrained in my memory.

To go abroad, will be a blip in my lifetime,
or a change in the script
a lifetime movie--
not written by human hands,
but Divinity.
My heart bleeds each word,
Christ bled so each word in scripture would be fulfilled--
for me.
I can live out this truth daily
as His daughter and ponder
my story, recorded,
Knowing that my story has begun,
and ended
intertwined in His glory,
with a happily ever after
not even fairy tale stories could capture.

Page after page turns,
and I'm excited to say
that today,
a trip to Spain is a necessary blip,
A volta,
A change that God knows is good for me.
I trust Him, knowing that relationships
and joy
are to come--
and I'm at peace.

He keeps me.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

How college works in France


Hello Everyone,

I just got back to America from an awesome semester spent in France. My university was called SKEMA Business School located in the beautiful south of France, better known as the French Riviera.

It was hard for me to even think about school when I first arrived and saw where we would be living. The beach was just a few steps away and everything on the Cote d'Azur was just perfect. But after a week of taking it all in, I soon learned that university in France is not the same as we are used to in America. I have done a fair share of traveling around the world, but I suppose it would be impossible to know what it is like to go to college somewhere else. In the end, it was great, but just took some time to figure out!

First of all, we were offered class selection only a few weeks before school started. A lot of exchange program students were confused over the summer as to when we would be able to choose our courses, because obviously it is very important in terms of planning so many things. And when we finally were sent a course list, it was totally different than what was on their website! As it turns out, we were enrolled in what is called the Grande Ecole Program. That basically means we were taking graduate level courses, which our home universities would accept as undergraduate-level credits, even though SKEMA offers an undergraduate program. Confusing, I know- but SKEMA wants their exchange students to experience a Grande Ecole because it is the best of the best in French Education. It was very cool once we understood it all!

So, with a totally new course offerings list, I had to go back to step one and re-do all of my course equivalency approvals. It wasn't terrible, but I had to choose very carefully because of the way scheduling works at this school. Classes were held very randomly. For example, at HPU you might have a class every MWF from 3:00 to 4:00, and that is your schedule for the whole semester. Well at SKEMA, you might have a class on 9/21 from 2:00-5:00, then the next day at the same time, then you don't meet again for another month! Yes, it is very confusing. With a layout like this it was very difficult to choose classes that did not overlap with each other, which was technically not allowed. My solution was to literally print out a calendar and write out every session with their times to see what I could take without overlapping. It was a lot of work! But actually in the end, it helped me choose my best schedule to my preference, so it was worth it. The reason that SKEMA does classes like this is because they have 6 campuses across 4 continents and the professors actually travel between all of them to teach. I had classes that only met twice a month because in between the teacher was traveling between Paris, Nice, North Carolina, Brazil, and China! Once again, it was very interesting once we figured out why.

Finally, after having all of my newly-approved classes in order with no overlapping, I arrived to the first sessions of my courses. This is when I learned the magnitude of taking Grande Ecole classes. Maybe some of your experiences have been the same, because I have heard that other universities in Europe have the same evaluation method. Instead of periodic assignments, quizzes, and exams contributing to our grade like we are used to at HPU, this university bases your entire grade off of one final exam. It could be a literal exam you complete in class, or it may be a final project or essay that you submit; but either way the grade you receive on that is the grade you are given for the course. This was very stressful to me! Sure, it was great to not have to be stressed out throughout the whole semester about periodic exams, but the stress for that one big exam sure does add up. Luckily it turned out that all of my finals left me feeling confident, except for one really strict teacher who was always angry and surprised us with an open-ended final. And to make it worse, he told us that a REALLY good grade on his final was a C, which is what I need to pass the course at HPU!! So I will basically be worried until I get my grade on that one.

All in all, I really liked how Grande Ecole works in France. We learned that it is very prestigious to say that you have gone to a Grande Ecole and it will impress the bosses if you apply for a job with a French company. The randomness and scattered schedule allowed me and my girlfriend to go on a TON of trips around the country and around the continent- 17 countries in all! And when we weren't traveling, it was so nice to be able to relax on a beach in the French Riviera in a class-less week. I am so glad that I chose SKEMA and I wish I could go back already!

Happy New Year,
Woodrow Matthews

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Studying abroad in New Zealand, SEA Part 2 of 2

SEA semester is a very unique program in the fact that you are literally studying abroad on a tall ship sailing around whatever country your program you picked is in. I am in New Zealand living aboard the Robert C Seamans. She is a 134 ft. double masted beauty. Here is a post from December 10th during my program. I was barely on land and had no contact with the outside world for six weeks, it was an amazing experience. 

Auckland, New Zealand skyline at night

December 10, 2016. It is crazy how my days blur together and the next thing you know its four days later. Its like a bunch of memorable things decided to happen all at once. 

Lets start with the creatures that we have seen: sei whales, dolphins, pygmy whales, albatross, more dolphins and its just amazing! I am very happy I finally got to see some creatures because I was getting worried I was never going to see some.

Dolphins playing by the ship 

Woke up for morning watch one day and ate some crepes with bacon in them and then bam! Three whale spouts. The whales were decently close to our ship and they kept spouting and we could see their fin and such. It was a very neat experience.

During my galley day, back to that later, there was like 7 dolphins playing in the bow and I sat up there and watched them forever just having the time of their lives. It is so different watching them in the wild compared to anywhere else. It was a very special time.

The pygmy whales showed up a few days later and they were decently far away but we could still see their fins and spouts. There was a large pod of them following us for quite some time but then they left. 

Other things, we anchored last night in a harbor area because yes, we are FINALLY BACK BY THE MAINLAND! It is so crazy to see so much land again. Tonight we are anchored only 7 miles away from our dock in Napier. I cannot believe that we are already 3/4 done with this trip. We are going to be docked for a few days so I am very excited to explore. 

Swim Call while at anchor ft. my beautiful home, the ship

So back to my galley day. Galley in boat language means kitchen. So everyone gets one day in the galley to assist the steward in helping him create meals and prepare them and such. It is a long day it starts at 0500 and goes till 2000. The menu I had for the day was:

Breakfast: eggs and bacon
Morning snack: coconut raspberry muffins
Lunch: brats and mashed potatoes 
Afternoon snack: chips and dip and roasted almonds
Dinner: enchilada casserole
Midnight snack: chocolate marshmallow pretzel bark 

It was quite the adventurous day and very busy. Cooking for 34 people is not an easy task. 

SSV Robert C Seamans, my home for the six weeks

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Finance Recommendations and Things to Consider

As I’ve just completed my time abroad, I wanted to share a few personal finance tips that I have acquired through my experience, and what I have discussed with fellow students traveling abroad.   Rather than remind you that traveling and living abroad can be costly, I am going to share with you tips to save money, and have a more pleasant experience spending in foreign countries. 

The first thing you must consider is that it may be difficult or impossible to open a bank account abroad.  Yes, there are some instituions that have partner banks around the world (I’m talking about you, Barclays), but for the most part, you should be able to get by without opening a bank account.  My recommendation is, prior to leaving the USA, open a free checking account with Charles Schwab (specifically Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking, found at  This account is completely and totally free (no minimum balance, no minimum required to open), will charge NOTHING to spend abroad (no foreign transaction fees), and will reimburse ATM fees WORLDWIDE.  This was my favorite perk.  I could use any ATM in London, and I was reimbursed if they charged a fee.  I saved A LOT more money than my friends by having this perk.  Also, the account will give you a lifetime of free checks (even though I don’t think you’ll use them ever).  Seriously, it’s a great deal.  Full disclosure, they do a credit-check prior to open (hard-pull), so having credit history may be helpful.  Also, their customer service can be accessed worldwide, and I had zero issues at all during my time abroad. 

If you’re a bit worried on spending, and you want to try to keep emergency funding in your bank account, I recommend opening a credit card that charges no interest for a promotional period. I did this and put most of my purchases on it, and with the additional perks, was able to get a free plane ticket home (thank you, Delta Skymiles Gold American Express). Make sure it offers zero foreign transaction fees – otherwise, you could end up paying a lot more, like 3% per transaction more.  It would be best to consider MasterCard or Visa, as American Express is not accepted at all places you’ll be spending.  I used the CapitalOne VentureOne Rewards Card.  No foreign transaction fees, no annual fee, and I was able to secure more cash-back on my travel to save me more money.  When I opened the card, it offered no interest for 12 months, so if I did have a balance, I wasn’t charged interest.  This gives you a little more freedom in financing your time abroad – but, please be careful, and keep your parents notified of your spending if they are assisting you financially abroad.  If you have no credit history, you might need a co-signer, and please remember that your credit will be affected after opening/applying!

            Prior to doing additional traveling, you need to consider additional spending that migh arise due to your traveling. For example, if you purchase a cheap Ryanair ticket, do you know how you are getting to the airport?  Ryanair usually occupies airports outside of city limits, requiring a $10-15 shuttle ride per direction. This can add up quickly, so please do your research ahead of time.
Consider my trip to Milan, Italy from London.
·      RyanAir round-trip ticket: $32
·      Shuttle to London Stansted Airport from Central London, and return: $22
·      Shuttle from Milan Bergamo Airport to Milan Central, and return, $30.
So, you might have figured you got a REALLY cheap flight… but when you add in the extras it will take to get to/from airports, it can add up quick.  Just please consider this before making your arrangements!

So, just be conscious of how you’re going to be paying for additional fun while you’re studying abroad.  And always over-budget when you’re preparing.  Contact me if you’d like more advice on credit cards, and banking services… I have a lot of experience in both, and I’d be happy to share my advice!