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.

Backpacking Europe slowly, but surely :-)

Hey there, it’s been a while. This whole experience has been incredible and it’s flying by. I find myself saying, “write a blog post now” but my time abroad is fleeing and I want to take as much of it as I can.

It’s finals week here, well more the middle of finals which is crazy to think about because it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my two week language course thinking, “this never ends” and now it’s ending too soon. Luckily for me, I’ll be staying an extra month to volunteer and I’m so thankful I was able to find a way to stay because once you’re here you don’t want to leave.

But let’s get to my title, one of the best things about studying in Prague is how central in Europe it is. This is a major advantage to traveling across Europe because it’s so easy to get to other countries for a very nice price. So far, I’ve visited:

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Berlin, Spain
  • (and this very weekend, TOMORROW in fact) Paris, France

it’s been my dream to do this, it’s such an amazing opportunity that I can’t even really believe that I’ve been to all these places that I’ve only ever looked at through photos. I will not say that some places were better than others, everyone has personal opinions, but some put me under this enchantment and I found it hard to leave.

It’s amazing seeing different cities, the people are the best. You can witness how the culture is in different places not even that far from each other. And even though NYC will be there when I come back, I find myself looking for it in the cities I visit. Berlin especially reminded me of NYC, it felt like home and if I could I would study abroad there next maybe.

It’s hard trying to express the amount of feelings that I’ve experienced. Seeing the Berlin wall, something that brought so much devastation to so many lives; biking around all of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum after years of dreaming of seeing it. Or walking through the city that inspired Gaudi and Picasso, I could cry because I spent my whole life learning about these amazing things that some never get to experience for themselves. So passing through historical cities like Dresden where you know how bad things once were, you feel humbled.

I travel alone, partially because I don’t mix well with others and because alone you can do anything you want whenever. I enjoy putting myself into a situation where the only option I have is to step out of my comfort zone, for instance I always try to talk to locals and get a sense of what the cities are really like, not just my tourist-y version of it. That’s what I would say is one of the most important things, get a sense for the true city and not the one made for tourists. Don’t spend your whole time on the phone taking pictures; take pictures of course but make actual memories.

As for traveling within the Czech Republic, this country is overall so charming and special. I’ve gone to Pilsen where the famous beer is made and I was able to get a tour of the brewery which taught a lot about the history behind the beer. I’ve also gone to Kunta Hora earlier in the semester and saw the famous Bone Church, I’ve seen a concentration camp town, and I’ve gone hiking in their Bohemian Paradise (Česky Raj). The hike was the most memorable so far because it’s truly a paradise for hikers and people who love forests. But when I went, it was pouring hard and hailing, so it makes for a funny story.

I should get back to working now, I’m not sure if anyone reads this, but if you’re like me and you’re incredibly anxious you want as much information as possible. I hope I can help.

FOOD! Isn’t it the best?

If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.

Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.

The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.

One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.

Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.

On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.

#tbt: Amsterdam

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I visited Amsterdam. It was my last trip until I headed home to New York. I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam. I remember my aunt going all the time and bringing me back souvenirs. It was great to finally have the opportunity to see it for myself.

In order to explore Amsterdam we used transportation and walking. However, we soon realize that walking was the best way to get around. I realize the bus pass we got for the four days we were there was not worth it. Lesson learned!

Tip #1: Research! If you don’t need transportation, don’t be pressure to buy a weekly pass or etc. 

Also it’s very important to pay attention. Not only are you look both ways for cars, but bikes make up most of the transportation around Amsterdam. I had to constantly look back and forth just in case.

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The highlight of my trip was visiting the Anne Frank House. I’ve heard about this place for such a long time. I grew up learning about Anne Frank and the holocaust that I had to check it out. The whole time I couldn’t believe I was there and learning about new things I didn’t know. I left that place feeling inspired and grateful for the life that I live.

I also learned that you have to be patience because you have to wait about two hours to get inside. That didn’t stop me from wanting to see the museum. I’ve waited for concerts longer than that!

Tip #2: Be patience and arrive to places early. 

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Another highlight was visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Gogh was another person I grew up learning about. It was great to be surrounded by his art and other artists that were inspired by him or that he was inspired by. It was great to see his famous work and learning more about his life.

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It was also the beautiful scenery that Amsterdam has to offer. There was beautiful canals, flowers, and weather all around me. It was a great time to go to Amsterdam. Although I didn’t get to go on a canal, I was able to experience riding a bike around Amsterdam. It was very nerve wracking at first, but then I got the hang of it. I would definitely ride a bike again in Amsterdam if I have the chance.

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I got visit the famous I Amsterdam. I watched people climb the letters with so much ease and I wish I had the strength. Maybe next time!

I miss all the travel places I got to visit. I can’t wait to experience it again one day.

Back To Reality

It’s been exactly ten days since I left Wales. It felt like just yesterday that I was walking the streets of the lovely country and creating a life there. I remember the people, the food, and the place I called home. There are small moments when I think back to the six months I spent abroad. Sometimes it feels like a dream and I just woke up from it. I still can’t believe I got the opportunity to travel and study in UK.

I think over the past six months I developed a greater appreciate for the world and where I live. I started taking a closer look of my surroundings and feel grateful to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. Since I was away for six months, I feel like a foreigner. I have to start falling into the familiar patterns and rediscover my city.

Two days after returning, I went to Manhattan and I couldn’t hide the smile from my face. It was great to be back and call home, home once again. One thing that I started paying more attention is the tourists. I have a better understanding of what goes through their minds when visiting a new place for the first time. Now, I have patience when it comes to being surrounded by tourists because I was a tourist for six months.

I wouldn’t mind being a tourist in my own city. There are still so many things I haven’t seen and I lived here all my life! I still have places in Europe that I want to visit in the future or even return to places like Wales once again. With studying abroad, it made my love for traveling increase. I want to travel the world and grow my appreciation for the world even more.

Aside from seeing the differences between UK and US, I think I’ve become a better person and student. I have learned to take on new responsibilities and skills. I’m on my last year in SUNY New Paltz and I’m ready to take on the upcoming tasks with the new skills I learned. Studying abroad helped my growth and helped in redefining my goals I set in the beginning of the year.

I love that I had the chance to study abroad. It gives me the chance to talk about my experiences and hope that my brother would want to study abroad one day. I can also offer tips to my cousin, who will be studying abroad in two years. I think everyone should have the chance to study abroad and discover the world we live in.

Goodbye Cardiff!

In less than 24 hours, I will be returning to New York. I can’t believe that I will no longer be studying abroad in Cardiff University. For the past six months, I’ve been independent and experiencing a world I read in books and seen in movies.

I’ve made a life in Wales and I grew so much as a person. I have learned new skills and adjusted to being on my own. I have seen the differences in cultures and taught people about the how New York really is.

I never thought that a Puerto Rican from the Bronx will ever get the chance to travel the world. I never thought that I would get the opportunities to create memories that I will talk about for the rest of my life.

I’m excited and nervous to head back to the states. When I come back home, I have to remember that there’s no more Tesco and that I have to rely on transportation. I have to remember I can’t just hop on a bus to London or plan trips to Ireland or Rome when I feel like it.

But I’m excited that I will be reunited with my family after all this time. I’ve been away from my family before, but not to this extend. This was an experience for the both of us. I can’t wait to thank them for giving me the chance to study abroad. I can’t wait to tell them all about my trips and give them the gifts from all the countries I visited.

I can’t wait to provide my parents with the support they’ve given me. I want to be able to cook for them, clean for them, and provide just as much as they provided for me.

I know once I return, I need to start looking into jobs, internships, and start preparing for my last year of college. Vacation is finally over! :p

I’m sad to be leaving Cardiff, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last time I visit. One day!

Hello Ireland!

I have less than two weeks left in Europe. I thought it was be good idea to squeeze in two more countries before I head back home. My friend Lauren and I made a decision to visit Ireland and Amsterdam because those are two countries that we always wanted to visit. Spring break happened so fast that we didn’t get to include these countries into our travels.

So in the beginning of June, we headed off to Dublin, Ireland for three days. Out of all the traveling I’ve done, Ireland was the easiest and smoothest traveling day. We were able to explore on the first day with no problem.

Tip #1: Traveling can be fun, but it’s not glamorous all the time. There were moments that I was so exhausted and wanted to just sleep. You’re constantly on the move and alert. Traveling is fun, but it’s not always fun.

On the first day, we explored the city of Dublin. We even went to the Guinness Storehouse and learned how beer was made. It was really informative and I learned a lot about the industry. The highlight  of that day was that met three different people that either lives in New Paltz or went to SUNY New Paltz. It was such a small world!

Tip #2: You never know who you’re going to meet on your travels. The world made me large, but it can surprise you in the smallest ways.

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On the second day, we took a bus tour to Belfast which is in Northern Ireland. The bus tour ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. filled with so many things to do. First, there was a black taxi tour in the town of Ulster, where I learned about the troubles between Catholics and Protestants. It was interesting to see and learn about the history between the communities. It’s crazy to think it’s still going on after all these years. We got to visit the peace wall and I wrote a small note with the lines of “Love is love. Peace is peace. All lives matter.”

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While we were on the bus, the tour guide gave us information on Ireland and told us many mythological tales. There were even moments that we learned about Game of Thrones shootings, a show that I love very much.

Aside from that we visited the Giant Causeways and the Rope Bridge which I went over. It was amazing! The view of Northern Ireland is breathtaking. The water is a bright blue and there is so much green life around. I fell in love with the views of Ireland. By the time we headed back to Dublin, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and I knew that going to Ireland was a great decision.

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On the last day in Dublin, it was a perfect day to visit the parks. I got to see the Oscar Wilde statue. He is one of my favorite authors and the statue fit his personality perfectly. I also got the opportunity to visit Dublin Castle for free because it was the first Wednesday of the month. The day ended with a view of the state apartments as well.

Tip #3: Make sure you research the places you go to. There can be great discounts and free places to visit.

Ireland was such a great place to visit and I can’t wait to come again!