Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.

First Week Anniversary!

Hello from the other side of the world!! I have been in Prague for a week and a half now and it has been such a trip already! I feel like this past week and a half has felt like forever and no time all at once. Leaving home was surprisingly easier than I imagined, yes some tears were shed but as I stepped on the plane and stayed awake for all five hours, I didn’t cry once. Arriving in Prague with some fellow friends, felt surreal. My dorm itself was much nicer than I expected, walking into my room I was pleased to find myself really happy. It is a single room, very spacious and has huge windows that overlook Praha 6 (aka has the Prague Castle in it’s view).

I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.

Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.

It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.

My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)

Checking In


Buonanotte tutti! Or, I suppose it’s still the afternoon for my friends and family back home. The past two weeks have been filled with so much exploration and adventure and I am not complaining.

Last weekend I went on one of the most amazing trips of my life to Amsterdam. This city is so perfectly picturesque and even though all 165 canals look generally the same, I snapped a picture of every single one we passed. Despite the chilly weather, I immediately fell in love with Amsterdam. Every bridge and side street is filled with tons of bikes, as they are one of the most popular forms of transportation there. The people there were also extremely friendly and were always looking to lend a helping hand to a seemingly lost group of American girls. Though we were only there for a few days, we were able to see so many things. We visited the Van Gogh Museum and the infamous “I (Am)sterdam” sign because we obviously had to take the cheesy pictures in front of it. Afterwards, we took a tour of the Anne Frank house which left us feeling a bit emotional and uneasy, but it was an unbelievable place to see. We traveled about the city via tram and absorbed all of the beauty before us and tried to explore as much as we could in just a single weekend.

Today I returned from an equally as beautiful city, Firenze. Florence has been at the top of my list of places to travel to for a very long time and it did not disappoint me in any way. Unfortunately, the first night we arrived it rained. Hard. The entire night. After getting settled in our apartment and purchasing some umbrellas, we decided to make the best of it and braved the storm. We ended up at a great little bar/restaurant for most of the night recommended by my friend Erica who studied abroad in Florence last semester. It was a perfect place to spend a rainy night. The next day we signed up for an all day tour of Siena, Tuscany, San Gimignano, and Pisa! This was honestly a wonderful tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area(Best of Tuscany Walkabout Tour). We took a coach bus to all of these places and were given time to explore each area after the tour. The tour also included a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Chianti Wine Vineyards(pictured) which is an organic farm that makes wine, olive oil, and other Tuscan treasures. Before leaving for Milan this morning, I stopped at the Central Market and purchased a few of Florence’s finest genuine leather goods, which was a perfect end to my trip.

Until next time….arrivederci!

Ello from London!

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

London has always been at the top of my list of places to visit (as well as L’Italia). Before me and Joceline arrived at Limerick, we knew that one of the cities we had to visit was the iconic, London. London became the first city outside Limerick that we visited. Being that I am such a HUGE city girl, I absolutely loved it. I’m really glad we went to see

Big Ben 7

Big Ben, Houses of Parliament

London first because we were halfway through the semester, and it was just so refreshing to step foot in a city. I love Ireland, don’t get me wrong. But I was starting to get a little city sick, and this trip was definitely needed. We decided to take public transportation throughout the whole entire weekend, especially on the double decker buses. We were able to really see the city in all of its glory on the bus. Not to mention, we were really lucky because we got sit on the top floor, first row with the window view. We visited a lot of popular tourist destinations. We saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, day and night. Parliament at night is so gorgeous and the architecture is beautiful. We also climbed the Tower of London, and

Telephone Booth

Telephone Booth

climbed 311 steps of The Monument. We walked the London Bridge, and walked along River Thames. We saw Buckingham Palace, Webminster Cathedral, and Webminster Abbey. We visited Trafalgar Square (which is the center of London). We also made a pit stop at the Kings Cross Metro so that we can catch the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 3/4, and found the Harry Potter filming location of Diagon Alley and the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Joceline was also able to go on a bike tour around the city, (I didn’t go because…surprise! I can’t ride a bike) and I went on Europe’s largest Ferris

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

London Bridge

London Bridge

Red Double Decker Bus

Red Double Decker Bus

London Eye, River Thames

London Eye, River Thames

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheel and saw the most beautiful view of the city. Although I was a little bit disappointed because I was hoping to bump into Adele (she’s my favorite artist and celebrity…and I am OBSESSED) but I didn’t. Which shouldn’t have been surprising because she’s incognito.

London Eye

London Eye

London Eye

London Eye

Inside the London Eye

Inside the London Eye

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monument

The Monument

On top of the Monument

On top of the Monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

 

Platform 9 3/4 was a huge disappointment. It was nothing like the movie (which I understand, movies are different adaptation to the books) but I pictured the platform to

Diagon Alley, Entrance to Leaky Cauldron

Diagon Alley, Entrance to Leaky Cauldron

Platform 9 3/4

Platform 9 3/4

literally be in between platforms 9 and 10. But instead, it was away from all of the railways and trains in that metro station. A really cheap trolley and cheap props were placed against a

random brick wall of the station, between platforms 9 and 10. But instead, it was away from all of the railways and trains in that metro station. A really cheap trolley and cheap props were placed against a random brick wall of the station, with a plastic “Platform 9 3/4” sign hanging over it. Nevertheless, I had to take a picture in front of it anyway (with a Hufflepuff colored scarf because I am a Hufflepuff) because it was one of those bucket list things.

The Script - No Sound Without Silence Tour

The Script – No Sound Without Silence Tour

Speaking of bucket list, I also broke my concert virginity in London. I am proud to say that the very first concert I ever attended was, The Script during their No Sound Without Silence tour. I really wanted to see them in Dublin because they’re an Irish band, but I would have been home during the date they were playing in Dublin. I was worried that we got nosebleed seats but it turned out that we were really close to the stage! The band played a lot of songs from their new album, and a few old hits. The concert was a huge thrill, and the venue (O2 Arena) was huge! There were about 16,000 people there!  The concert ended with “Hall of Fame” from their #3 album, with confetti cannons going off. It was a beautiful sight to see. I left the concert in tears.

The Script - No Sound Without Silence Tour

The Script – No Sound Without Silence Tour

London was amazing and I loved every aspect of it. It’s definitely one of my favorite cities I visited during my time here abroad. Once a city girl, always a city girl.

Paint the Town Green

Ireland is absolutely beautiful. It’s very green! The weather hasn’t been too bad either (even though everyone says it rains a lot) The weather is often cloudy though but when it’s sunny, the green grass shines like no other. It is absolutely beautiful. I have not been to many places in Ireland, I’ve explored more of continental Europe than anything else. So far, I’ve visited Dublin, County Kerry, and County Tipperary. I’m also going to explore County Galway, The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, and more of Dublin next month! I cannot wait!


Dublin

Father Matthew Bridge, Dublin

Father Matthew Bridge, Dublin

I spent Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin and attended the festival. This was my first time in Dublin and since I went during Saint Patrick’s Day, I didn’t really get to see Dublin for all of its’ glory. Classes were not in session as it was a national holiday. The festival was pretty great. There was a lot of traditional Irish music, as well as marching bands from the United States.

Saint Patrick's Day Festival, Dublin

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival, Dublin

Joceline and I, Saint Patrick's Day Festival in Dublin

Joceline and I, Saint Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin

Irish Garda (Police Officer), Saint Patrick's Day Festival

Irish Garda (Police Officer), Saint Patrick’s Day Festival 


County Tipperary

International Society, Rock of Cashel

International Society, Rock of Cashel

I joined the International Society (similar to the International Student Union at New Paltz) earlier this semester, and it is one of the best decisions I have made while here. They have contributed to making this study abroad experience really memorable. Recently, they have took us on a medieval tour in County Tipperary, 25 miles from Limerick.

The Round Tower, Rock of Cashel

Carey’s Castle, Joceline

Rock of Cashel

 

 

 

We visited the Rock of Cashel, also known as the Cashel of Kings. The stone fort used to be the residence of the Kings of Munster but then became a major Christian center in the early 12th century. The ruins also sat on top of this huge hill which took forever to climb (reminded me so much of going Vandenburg for class!) The view from the hill was gorgeous though. We also visited Carey’s Castle, built sometime in the 1800s by the local Carey family. The castle is surrounded by a forest and a river as well, making the site, beautiful.

Athassel Priory, Medieval Ruins

Athassel Priory, Medieval Ruins

Athassel Priory

Athassel Priory

Carey's Castle

Carey’s Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, we visited that largest medieval priory in Ireland, Athassel Priory. The priory dates back to the 12th century, and was a monastery of many men and women under religious vows (nuns, monks).


County Kerry

The international education division at Limerick took us to the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, last week. The peninsula sits on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and across from the Blasket Islands. It was really pretty. I had lunch at one of the many fish and chips shops. Like in London, fish and chips is a very popular dish here. I, then, had dessert at Murphy’s ice cream shop where I tasted the popular, sea salt icecream. It tasted like vanilla with kick. It was quite interesting. I also was able to visit the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium. It was quite small but at least I was able to see the penguins get fed!

Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland

Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium, Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

 

Ireland is super gorgeous. Out of the three places I’ve been to so far, I can’t say I have a favorite. I am lovin’ it here!

I’m still a pretty classy person!

The classes here at the University of Limerick are really really different from SUNY New Paltz. It’s mostly lecture based with class sizes of 100-200 students in a lecture hall. It’s definitely a culture adjustments as well because most of my classes back at New Paltz involve a LOT of discussion (especially since I’m a Sociology Major). However, the classes do seem easier than New Paltz because the lecturers (not professors) post ALL the notes and lecture slides up online. In addition, there’s also one assignment or exam for the class that make up the whole grade. The courses here are a lot less demanding. But because the courses here are lecture based, are easier, and are less demanding, they’re also more boring. I really miss having debates and discussions in class. Sometimes I find myself zoning out in lectures because I’m sitting in a big auditorium, listening to a monotone lecturer for two straight hours.

I am taking a variety of different courses though. Two sociology – Sociology of Love and its Dark Side, and Gender: Sociological Perspectives, a traditional Irish Music & Dance Course, and one psychology – Psychology of Social Issues. I’m learning Irish Step dancing in my Irish Music & Dance class, it’s quite hard. And there’s a LOT of hopping. We’re having a end of the semester performance for it, next week (I still don’t remember half of the steps!) In my Psychology class, we had to organize and participate in a 10K marathon. The goal was to increase exercise in our daily lives thereby, contributing to one’s mental health and happiness. In addition, we were also able to raise almost €5,000 for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I have never taken a class such as this, and I’m glad I did!

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Plassey 10K Run

 

Welcome to the Emerald Isles!

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Because I had a night flight, I arrived in Ireland at 7am. I did not sleep at all, I was so anxious and excited. There was so many thoughts running through my head. Still to this day, I have no idea how I was able to even stay up for the whole flight especially since there was no wifi on the plane. When I got to Limerick, I toured around campus, unpacked, made myself at home…anything but sleep. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours and I didn’t have any caffeine at all. I was a zombie, I don’t know how I did it. I was just so excited.

Limerick is a beautiful place despite the constant cloudy weather. It’s so much different from New Paltz.

 

For example, there’s an ensuite kitchen in your apartment (no meal plans!) There’s no roommates, and you get your own bathroom. They provide pillows, blankets, a full size bed, a huge closet space. It’s massive! I currently live in a six bedroom apartment with two Irish students, two Americans, and my roommate from New Paltz, Joceline. When Joceline and I spoke to Sean and John (our two irish housemates) described our housing situations back at New Paltz, they were so shocked, “Wait!, How are you suppose to make toast?!, Fire hazard?, What?!”

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The Living Bridge, University of Limerick

After settling in, there was this three-day orientation for all the international students. I felt really, really welcomed. They gave us a beautiful tour of the campus, fed us their best food, and invited us to a concert (see youtube link above) Known for their traditional Irish music, this concert featured a group called, “Celtic Steps”, which consisted of someone playing the bodhrán (traditional Irish drum, similar to our version of the tambourine), the piano, accordion, fiddle (who is also on vocals), guitar/banjo, and four Irish step dancers (two male/two female). It was a stellar performance and I was so amazed by their talents! I wish I had the hand-eye coordination to do any of that!

 

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I am loving it here!

 

 

And so it begins…

Hey Readers! Due to technical difficulties, my blog was not published in time before my departure. So…some of my posts may be in past tense! However, thank you for following me and reading about my experiences! I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed blogging about them! Cheers, Sandra xx


I remember about two weeks before my departure, I went on this frenzy and panic that everything was going go all wrong. I started imagining crazy scenarios where I was going to be kidnapped or lost in the middle of a mountain region with no electricity or contact with anyone. I remember having to call United Airlines almost everyday with some bizarre question about baggage or my flight, and to make sure everything was okay. I suppose the paranoia was normal, since I’ve never really left the country, and have never really been on my own. It’s a scary feeling…hell, it’s still scary. But even with all the paranoia, I still managed to pack 48 hours before my flight (which is no surprise because I always pack at the last minute.) Even a few hours before my flight, I was STILL packing.

From the 48 hours before my flight, and the 48 hours after my flight, I remember being in such shock. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to really prepare themselves for an experience such as this. They say, studying abroad is an experience of a lifetime, and it truly is.

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