An Experience Abroad

Hello friends!

My name is Kristen Bertrand. I’m a senior nursing student, a member of the Honors College, a lover of vegetarian food, an (extremely) average photographer, and most recently, a world-traveler.

AufWiedersehen

That’s me. I’m saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to America and embarking on my very first ever trip abroad! My destination: Munich! Or, München, as the locals call it. This moment was what I had been anticipating since I had made the decision to study abroad almost a year before. This moment was a culmination of a year of saving all of my extra money, trying (and failing) to become fluent in German on DuoLingo, applying for the Honors College SAGA program, packing and repacking my suitcase a million times, and a week of sleepless, excited nights. Even after all of that, I had no idea in this moment that I would be embarking on the most rewarding 11 days of my life.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Most of the Germany crew at Schloß Neuchwanstein!

Since I have returned, so many people have asked me questions like “How was Germany?” or “Did you have fun in Europe?” The questions are simple, but the answers are not. I find myself wondering how I am supposed to answer. How do I sum up 11 days worth of an overwhelmingly wonderful and enriching cultural, educational, and personally life-changing experience in a concise way? How do I describe what it’s like to stand in the middle of Marienplatz with the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel towering overhead packed tightly against shops like H&M and Urban Outfitters? How do I explain the feeling of standing in the foothills of the Alps, staring up at their breathtaking peaks? How do I make people understand the nerves of being dropped off on a bus in the Czech Republic, where every sign is in a language you don’t even know how to say “hello” in and the currency system uses a type of bank note that you can’t even pronounce? On that same note, how do you make them feel the confidence and pride you felt at the end of your 31-hour trip, when you find yourself feeling blissfully at home in that very same country?

PragueSkyline
A view of Prague from the Strahov Monastery.

NymphenburgIn my next blog post, I will talk all about the experiences that I had while abroad, but for now I want to close with a simple, loaded request. All of those who are reading this that are trying to decide whether or not you want to study abroad, I’m asking you to take the leap. Get out of your comfort zone. There is nothing more humbling or confidence-building than immersing yourself in another culture. During this experience, I made friends from around the world, learned about some of the darkest parts of our world’s past, celebrated the beauty and history of cultures much different than my own, laughed, cried, sang the entire Sound of Music soundtrack in Austria about a hundred times, and most importantly, I have left my footprints in three different countries that will now forever be a part of my personality. Life gets a little bit bigger when the world is your classroom.

Auf Wiedersehen for now,

Kristen Bertrand (@krismariebe)

 

Musings from Germany.

In the 11 days my group and I spent in München, Germany, we gained a new perspective about the lifestyle of a very beautiful country. Walking around the city, talking to the local people about German ways of life and their healthcare system, and eating delicious food all helped me become more oriented to the similarities and differences between the American and German lifestyles. Here are a few small things I learned to appreciate and will miss slightly too much.

Escalator – stand on the right. Pass on the left.

Bicycles – very common method of transport. You’ll see a well-dressed man in a 3-piece suit riding around on a bicycle, and it’s perfectly normal. I have a slight crush on these beautifully handy machines, especially the folding ones (they’re just so convenient; you can ride around town, and then fold it up when hopping onto a bus or tram).

Also, with these views, I’d take a bicycle over a car any day. Or a moped.

 

Weather – … is eventful. During the month of May, it ranges from the high 40’s to low 70’s and sometimes is accompanied by rain. However, it changes within moments. When it comes to weather, layers were my best friend. Overall, it’s a good thing to be prepared for literally anything: cold, hot, rain, hail, cute dogs. Example: in the middle of a very hot, sunny day (with a 40% forecast of rain) in the marketplace, the German skies started hailing and thunder-storming. Be prepared, kids.

Transportation and accessibility – the public transport is incredibly efficient and clean. Major modes of transport are by foot, buses, trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn (underground trains), babies riding in attractive strollers, cars, taxis, and bicycles. The public transport system bypasses traffic, is cost efficient, and you don’t have to search and fight for parking (Yass to all of that!). Feel like people-watching? Take the U.

The majority of the time, we walked everywhere… we averaged at around 10-12 miles each day. It is easy to get from one part of the city to another by using a combination of these methods. This in addition to the compact structure of the city makes everything more accessible as well. One major advantage of public transport is that people who are unable to or do not drive benefit from the accessibility and independence it provides.

The city – is condensed. In other words, a very large city is fit in a slightly smaller area. For a large city, the compact structure means that with a public transport system, you can get to places fairly quickly, given that you do not take the wrong train in the wrong direction. It took me a couple of days to finally start understanding how the U-Bahn (underground train system) operated. The maps look intimidating at first (and second) glance, but after getting lost several times, you learn to enjoy the adventures and get more efficient at map reading each time. #progress.

Dogs – a major attraction in the city streets. We see a lot more pets traveling with their owners daily here. Big dogs, small dogs, fluffy dogs, all cute dogs. Ian, our tour guide on a day trip to Salzburg (Austria) bought his dog with us for an entire day, and nobody complained. Several pets don’t even have a leash on, which starkly contrasts with pet norms and policies in the states. My extensive analysis on this important subject matter is that since pets spend more time with their families in the busy streets of larger cities like Munich, they are more used to outdoor interaction and are very well-behaved.

Food – is really good! Being a vegetarian, I was initially concerned about the options I would have available to me, mainly because Google implied that I may struggle. After all, German restaurants are known to offer some pretty great meat options. All in all, I found vegetarian food very easily and at almost every restaurant we went to. In fact, there were several purely vegan and vegetarian restaurants throughout town. In addition, there are many small places to eat in almost every part of the city that offer a considerable variety.

Architecture and views – any word I use will be a major understatement. Basically, imagine a postcard. Imagine being inside of it. Castles, super green grass, canola fields, busy train stations… it’s all stare-worthy. One problem I did run into while abroad: I had to give myself a time limit for staring.. and then remind myself that time was up. Talk about a real challenge.

 

FullSizeRender-2

 

Out of an outrageously long list of things I’ve seen and learned, there’s my very small but useful but small list from my time in Munich; maybe it has convinced you to consider Munich as a place you should (definitely!) visit; if not, don’t worry I’ve still got more to say. 🙂

I plan to write more about the global and healthcare based observations I made in my next post! Hope you guys are having a wonderful summer as well! J

A Week in Dublin (and a day at the Giants Causeway)

My day started as any normal day would, except that this was not a normal day. This was a 36 hour day that would start in Huntsville, continue on in Charlotte, before having a real change of scenery by finishing in Dublin. That first day in Dublin passed in a haze of tiredness. Aside from simply taking in Dublin and walking through various stores, we visited the Book of Kells and the Long Library. We ended the day with dinner at Murray’s, which was the right choice.

Day 2 we had a bus tour of Dublin, that also included tour of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. This was a really cool place to visit and had a lot of history to go along with it. After this we went to the University College of Dublin. We attended a workshop based on design thinking, where we were shown a very neat process of designing, really anything. That night was the first night we went out to find a pub for some food, we settled on the Long Stone. We made the right choice.

Day 3, what a day, what a lovely day. The Giants Causeway is one of the coolest places I have ever been, it has been called the eighth wonder of the world, and it deserves this title. After this lovely trip we returned to Dublin and went to dinner with our tour guide, Joe, at the Old Storehouse. Once again we made the right choice.

Day 4 began with a walking tour of Silicon Docks. This was the section of Dublin that included a lot of financial firms, banks, and tech companies (such as Twitter, Google and Facebook). After lunch in a cafe we went to the Natural History Museum. That was quite a treat, they had a a huge number of animals to look at. For dinner we went to Beshoff Bros, a fish and chips restaurant that was the right choice.

Day 5 was our final day to tour Dublin, we first went to a workshop and learned how to make our own portable speaker for our phones, that was fun. We also revisited the Book of Kells and the long Library because everyone else wanted to see it once again. After this we went to Christ Cathedral and had a tour of that, which was really cool as well. The tour guide took us up to the bell tower and I had a great time ringing the bells. Sadly that was the last day in Dublin, as we went to bed that night we all wished we could stay for another week.

My Week in Dublin, Ireland

My first trip across the Atlantic to the European city of Dublin, Ireland began with a short flight from Huntsville to Charlotte, followed by a not-so-short transatlantic flight into Dublin. Our group of six started our first day in Dublin with a walking tour of the historical area of the city. We had the opportunity to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room in the Trinity College Library — both humbling sites to see. IMG_4669.JPG

We started day two of our trip with a bus tour of the city. Some of the highlights of the bus tour was getting to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin’s historical Georgian Squares where every door is a different color, and the beautiful Phoenix Park. Following this we traveled to the Innovation Academy at the University College of Dublin for a Design Thinking Workshop where we learned about how different ideas from individuals can be merged to create solutions to problems. We participated in an exercise where we were assigned with redesigning the umbrella. In this exercise, we were required to conduct interviews with passers-by around the university and then discuss as a group the data gathered from the interviews. From this data we continued the design thinking process of creating a prototype, testing our redesigned umbrella, and presenting the prototype. It was a fun exercise, and we learned about how each other thinks as well as how we, ourselves, think.IMG_4781

Day three was my favorite day. As if the four hour drive to the northern coast of Ireland wasn’t beautiful enough, we got to see the natural phenomenon known as Giant’s Causeway. As we got off the bus, we took a twenty minute hike down the mountain to see  the naturally formed hexagonal columns that extend from the water. As I stood on the columns looking at the waves crashing in from the sea and looked back toward the massive mountains, I couldn’t help but be in awe of God’s handiwork. IMG_4924

The fourth day of my trip started off with a walking tour of Dublin’s Silicon Docks. With Ireland’s 15% corporate tax rate, large companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others house their European headquarters in the Silicon Docks district. After eating lunch we visited LogoGrab, a technology company known for its technology in logo recognition software. Many companies such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, and other companies with trademarked logos seek out LogoGrab to have analysis on the use of their logos through social media posts. This is a way they can monitor when and how their logo is being used. If you have a public account on Facebook or Instagram, there is a great chance that a photo you have posted is in LogoGrab’s database and has been part of a logo analysis. Following this lecture, one of my classmates and I walked over to the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute where we had the opportunity to interview a postdoc Ph.D. about her research in cancer. She informed us of the innovations of today in cancer research, including immunotherapy in which she specializes. After the interview she took us to her lab for a quick look.IMG_5040

On Friday, our last day in Dublin, we attended a MAKESHOP workshop. MAKESHOP is a place owned by the Science Gallery at Trinity College where the public can attend hands-on workshops where they can actively learn about science and put their knowledge into practice. Our group learned how to solder on circuit boards. We used the knowledge we acquired to create a portable speaker that can be plugged into an auxiliary port on a device.

We did have to come back to the USA on the seventh day, but I will never forget the incredible experience I had in Dublin, Ireland. The opportunities I have had at UAH are incredible. I was humbled to receive the Honors SAGA airfare grant, and I am forever grateful for that. Below are some of my favorite photos. Until next time, Dublin.

My Australian Study Abroad

2

Hello, everyone!

My name is Alex Clemons, and I was given the amazing opportunity to study abroad at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, from July to October 2016. During the flights to my new home for the next four months, I was both super excited but a little nervous as well. I would be in a country that was not only in a different hemisphere but also on the other side of the globe! This would be my first time to be away from my family for an extended amount of time, and I wasn’t sure how well I would adjust to this complete and total independence. It wasn’t long, however, before I got settled and realized that the experience of living in a new country would be one that I would remember for the rest of my life. I have a few pieces of advice to make a seamless transition from UAH to whichever university that you’ll be attending while overseas.

1. You’re going to have to do stuff that may make you uncomfortable, so embrace it. I had so many firsts while in Australia, ranging from my first cab and tram ride to my first final exam in a room with over 1,000 people. Some situations might seem scary at first, but you may realize that they might not be as bad as you think.

2. Make many friends with the locals. I knew a couple of people from other states who were studying abroad with me that stuck to a group with only international students. That meant that they had no one to help them get accustomed to the area and no one to tell them important things like the cheapest restaurants with the best food. The day after I arrived to the house where I would be staying, I became good friends with two of my nine roommates, Pui and Tim, who knew everything there was to know about Melbourne and Deakin University. They were great people with great advice, and I’ll admit that I bummed a ride from Tim to the grocery store many times!

3. Call your parents consistently. I know you may feel like your days will fly by and you won’t have time for anything other than a few text messages, but your parents are most definitely worried about you. Their baby is in a completely different country, and they are probably concerned about you and your safety. A phone call is not only a great way to keep them updated on the amazing things that you’re getting to experience but also a good way to fight homesickness.

4. Lastly, there is a pattern that most study abroad students seem to go through, so you need to be aware that what you are feeling is normal. Most people feel excitement at first, thinking how amazing the new environment is. I know on my cab ride from the airport to the university, all I did was stare out of my window at the big city with strange sculptures. Walking on campus, I was fascinated by the different accents I heard swirling around me. The second mindset you get is annoyance. I know it sounds awful, but after a while, the novelty of things wears off, and some of the things that you thought were so cool before become not as great. I don’t know how many times I got upset because I started to walk into a busy street after checking the wrong side of the road for traffic. Pretty soon after this, you’ll start to feel homesick. The best way to combat that feeling is to keep in contact with your friends and family. Luckily, these emotions are just a few small ones you’ll be feeling amidst the excitement from doing new things and the amazement from how different people live their lives from those in America. Know that these various feelings are normal, and you are getting the experience of a lifetime.

I wish you all good luck with your study abroad programs! Remember to take lots of pictures to document all the sights you’ll see and the experiences in which you will partake!

One of the many beautiful beaches in the town of Byron Bay.

1

One of the Twelve Apostles, which are large rocks that have worn away due to erosion from the strength of the waves.

3

These are three of my roommates and me on a day trip to Tim’s farm and town. Pictured from left to right: Tim’s super cute dog Barney, Tim, Rachel (from New York), me, and Pui (from Hong Kong)

4

The Experience of Study Abroad

My experience abroad was like no other. I learned so many things, saw so many things, and did so many things that looking back it is hard to remember every detail or even the majority of them really. My decision to go abroad was a pretty easy one since it had always been something I wanted to do. My destination abroad was a little unexpected since I knew nothing of Ireland before leaving, but I fell in love and will most likely make my way back there one day. The course was a UAH mostly online course, and it involved light course work before leaving. The work was nothing extraneous, and it was more times than not informative and helpful.  We also had a couple of meetings throughout the semester to plan for the trip.

On the morning of my trip, I was more scared of the plane ride than anything else. I had been on a plane for a total of an hour and a half just three months before for the very first time. Now I was about to fly over seas for 8+ hours. Next, when we were all waiting in the terminal, I realized I had another problem. There were 12 people on this trip, and even though we were all UAH students, I had never seen any of them in my life except for at pre-trip orientations. I had thought about this some since I had obviously noticed I didn’t know anyone going on the trip during orientations and things like that, but this was the first time it truly sank in. Needless to say, we sat in Huntsville’s airport terminal in silence for about an hour before leaving. Oh how things would change. Eight hours later we landed in Ireland where it was 8 AM, and it was midnight at home. We did the hard thing, and we continued through the day to make the jet lag ‘better’ for the weeks to come. The first day together was filled with more silence and irritability from lack of sleep. We were lost in the capital city of Dublin for much of the day since this is where we were staying for our trip. When we did finally get to the hotel room, we learned there was no air conditioner in our hotel (this is a norm in Ireland), and there was no shower. Thankfully the temps in Ireland are favorable for the no air conditioning thing, and as for the no shower, well there was a shower head in the ceiling and a drain in the bathroom floor with a shower curtain surrounding it. This meant that every time me or my roommate took a shower our entire bathroom was flooded for the rest of the evening or morning. At this point in my trip, I was really wondering what I had gotten myself into. Then the good stuff started. The day trips to the gorgeous landscapes made me know I made the right decision. They were unbelievable, and it mostly felt like a dream when I was seeing these gorgeous sites. I slowly fell in love with everything Ireland had to offer. By the end of two weeks, I had seen so much natural beauty that I was truly curious if anything in the United States would ever impress me again.

As for those people that I had sat around in silence for so many days – they became my friends. Not my ‘I’m going to speak to you with small talk for two weeks’ friends, but my actual friends who I learned so much about in only two weeks, who I still talk to every time I see them, and who I truly care about. The landscapes were amazing, but the memories made with these people were just as amazing. That’s a little bit about my trip now here’s a Dos and Don’ts list for your potential study abroad.

Do

  • Keep a travel journal – This is my biggest regret from the trip because there are so many little details I know I’m forgetting from my trip. If I had kept a travel journal, I know I would love reading it now, but I would especially love it in the future.
  • Find those friends who will walk to Burger King with you at 1 AM when you didn’t enjoy any of the local favorites you had eaten that day, the friends who will steal the mint chocolates you LOVE off the housekeepers cart when she’s not looking for the days you don’t have time to eat breakfast, take pictures of you at the gorgeous scenes, go into all the gift shops you want to go in, and who will just be a friend to you and try to get to know you during your time abroad- Friendships made during this trip are very dear to me. If you are more of a loner, it’s still important to have those people to help make sure you are safe while you are abroad. I’m somewhere in the middle of being an introvert and extrovert. However, the friends I made understood when I needed to be alone, but also when I wanted to enjoy time with them. I was blessed on this trip because our group ended up all being fairly good friends.
  • Lose sleep for memories – You will probably have to get up at 6, 5, or maybe even 4 AM at least a few times during your trip. If many people are going to do something at night whether it be shopping, going to a local favorite restaurant (or pub in Ireland), or some random event in the city, GO WITH THEM. Leave yourself time to catch up on sleep when you get back, and take naps when you can while there (my personal favorite nap spot was on the bus/van during day trips). It is so worth it to make more memories and experience more things even if you lose some sleep.

Don’t

  • Avoid making connections- You want to share this experience with people you can call your friends! Have I stressed this enough yet?
  • Let the things you aren’t accustomed to scare you- I didn’t love the idea of the bathroom being flooded every time I showered, but I lived.
  • Be scared to try new things- Eat the food, take the hike, take the selfie, and buy the random item that you just really love (even though you probably don’t need the entire sheep souvenir collection) . This trip is about you, so do what you want to do and don’t second guess yourself.
  • Hesitate to find a new adventure when you get lost- I probably spent about 86% of the trip with no idea where I was, but I knew it wasn’t where I was planning to go. I saw so many more sites this way, and I experienced the culture of the Irish in all different areas. However, you should always remember to stay safe. If something looks sketchy, get out of there ASAP.

Here are some pics of our group not looking touristy at all. Thanks for reading and happy travels.

saga-blog2
Downtown Dublin, Ireland
saga-blog1
Selfie from a bus trip