The GoGlobal Blog

Month: March 2018

Escape to the Swiss Mountains

Escape to the Swiss Mountains

Hi Everyone!

 

From the moment that I came to Switzerland about a month ago, there has been almost zero time to relax or sit back. Weekdays are a constant balancing act between figuring out how to live by myself in a foreign country, adjusting to the academic system here, and making new friends. While weekends have been just as busy, as attempting to make the most out of every single minute of traveling isn’t always easy.

Therefore, due to the last few weeks being hectic for myself and everyone else, my group of friends and I chose to find somewhere where we could finally unwind. Luckily for us, finding a place suited for relaxation wasn’t difficult at all because Switzerland is filled with woods, mountains, lakes, and other serene nature attractions.

                           Villa Margharita

After only a little bit of searching, we chose Viznau, a tiny town of 1,000 people that is on a lake and encircled by vast mountains. Just to get there we had to take three different trains and a bus because of how remote the town is. To add to that, our villa for the weekend was a 45 minute walk from the town, which made it completely isolated. That evening and night that we spent at the Villa was exactly what I needed to recoup from the intensity of the prior weeks. All we did was appreciate the view, cook a big meal for all of us, and hang out. The whole time there wasn’t any sound but the one coming from our voices and the music we were playing. All in all, it was one of the most carefree days in my entire life.

The train that we took up to Rigi

I would’ve stayed there for forever if I could, but we had to be a little more productive in our touristic endeavors. Therefore, on Sunday we took a train from Viznau up to Mount Rigi, a popular mountain in the area. The train ride lasted about an hour and had increasingly more spectacular views the higher that we went up.

 

 

 

At the top of the mountain, we were greeted with the most spectacular view of all: a breathtaking panorama of mountains. We took it all in for about an hour, taking as many pictures as possible and trying to comprehend the beauty of what we were looking at.

 

To top off an already extremely relaxing weekend full of remarkable views, we spent the rest of the day in a spa on the top of the mountain. Not only was the spa itself much better than any I have ever been too, there was an outdoor heated pool that overlooked all of the mountains. 

The hard part of having such a calm weekend is going back to the busy life of an exchange student after. However, despite not always having much down time, these last few weeks have been some of the best of my life. Whether its trying to order food at a restaurant when the server doesn’t speak English, catching up on Finance homework, or being in a spa on the top of the mountains, I have loved it all.

 

Radek

The Time of my Life ™

The Time of my Life ™

I have now been living in Salamanca for a little bit over a month– things have been incredibly difficult, but at the same time I am having a wonderful time. I’ve been having an internal struggle because studying abroad is made out to be the ~best time of your life~ and while I do love Spain, my life is far from perfect here.

As you know, the first weekend I was pickpocketed and was without a phone or access to money for two weeks. For those two weeks, I stayed in Salamanca, explored the city, but didn’t have the means to do much else. I spent a lot of time by myself (which is something I am very thankful for, because I am very introverted), but at points I felt very isolated because I was only able to communicate with my family and friends when I was on my computer. Since I had to be on my computer to communicate, I spent my time either at home or at school, the two places I had wifi. This meant though, that I spent a lot of time with my host family. My family consists of me, my host mom Gloria, my host dad Jonas, and whatever group of students we have that week. Gloria and Jonas are a young couple, which has allowed for us to connect on a familial level, but also on a level of friendship. Gloria cares for me as if I were her own child, and for that I am so grateful. I miss my family and friends so much, but I now have my family here.

The first month was honestly pretty lonely. I have generally been very good at making friends, but for whatever reason, I still don’t feel as though I have settled into a solid group. I have definitely made a bunch of surface level friendships with people I see in class and enjoy talking to, but there are only a few people who I have cultivated a deeper friendship with. I realized this last week, and I have since been making an effort to grow the friendships I do have. Reaching out to others has always given me anxiety, and it still does, but I am trying really hard to do so. Since, I have been spending more time with Alyssa, who is my closest friend here. We only met about a month ago, but she is a person that feels like home and has a comforting presence– she is a person that I love being around. I also have been spending time with Colvin, who is the one other person from Loyola that is studying in Salamanca. We are in completely different programs, so we do not have any classes together or any mutual friends, but it has been so nice having a familiar face around.

I have also found myself feeling a disconnect between myself and faith here. Right before leaving, I was feeling very solid in my faith: I was working with the after school program at my church meaning that I was there 6 days a week, and I just became an official member which was so so exciting. I came to Salamanca and found a church, but I am oftentimes not in the city on Sunday mornings due to traveling. I have recently started going to church programs throughout the week with another friend of mine, Rick. It was very hard coming to this place where I do not have a solid faith community, but I am excited to begin building this new faith community.

While things have been very hard, I have also had some wonderful experiences. Last weekend I traveled to Prague and visited Mickey, a close friend from Loyola who is studying there for the semester. We spent time cooking together, exploring the city (on public transit!!! Heck yeah!! Their transit system there is super neat), and just enjoying each other’s company. Prague was absolutely gorgeous– we saw the Lennon wall which is a space of peace and graffitti started by students after the fall of communism, which was without a doubt my favorite sight. Leaving Prague was one of the saddest moments of my time abroad, because it was so lovely to be around one of my best friends again, but we will be seeing each other in Madrid next weekend, so more adventures to come!

      

This past weekend I traveled to Lisboa with my program. The weather was not superb (it was pouring about half of the time), but the city was stunning. Pictures we took could never do it justice. Lisboa is well known for their ceramic tiles which are all over the outsides of buildings and are absolutely stunning. The first night, API treated us to a wonderful dinner where I had some amazing fish and mashed potatoes (I had no idea how much I missed mashed potatoes, wow). I spent time with the people around me, and it was very wonderful. I felt like I really got to know a lot more people on this trip, and I really made an effort to cultivate friendships. My friendships with Alyssa, Kim, and Liam (along with those of a lot of the girls in my program), grew a lot this weekend, and for that I am very thankful, even if the weather wasn’t the best.

      

All in all, things have been a complete rollercoaster, but for that I am grateful. I may not be having the picturesque time of my life that study abroad is often depicted as, but I have learned and grown so much, even in the past month. My host family doesn’t speak English and all of my classes are in Spanish, so the only time I speak English is when I am with others from the United States. Ultimately, I am here to immerse myself, and I am doing just that. The Universidad de Salamanca is an incredible school and I love my classes (especially Las mujeres en la historia de españa) along with my professors. Considering how much has happened, the fact that it has only been a month baffles me. Regardless of how hard this first month has been, I am very thankful to be here learning, exploring, and growing despite the trials that come my way. 

Things I’ve Learned While Abroad

Things I’ve Learned While Abroad

Hi again! Blogging my life abroad has started to feel almost normal? I have had a lot of time to reflect on some important topics during our excursion to Cambodia, so to make this easy on all of us I am going to make a list of the things I’ve learned as a whole while studying abroad. Hopefully I can help inform anyone thinking of studying abroad, and specifically anyone wanting to come to the Vietnam Center!

  • You learn conversions for money in a snap

After our trip to Thailand, where the baht is used, and our excursion to Cambodia, where the US dollar as well as the riel is used, you learn to become a money saving master. The exchange rate for each currency is different, but budgeting has become second nature, so I don’t have to keep going to ATMs and racking up those international fees. The amazing thing about being in Southeast Asia is that places you only could’ve dreamed of visiting are just an hour flight away instead of a 20-hour flight. I do keep a small amount from each different currency I have just as little keepsakes which I find something I am going to love to have to look back on.

  • We never really learned about Southeast Asia

Our recent excursion to Cambodia really made this point very clear to me. The Cambodian genocide is something not mentioned in most general education classes, but is a very important historical tragedy that I recommend everyone read into. We spent our trip visiting Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where we visited the historically important spots in each city which I am super grateful for. The two sites we visited in Phnom Penh were the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Field Genocidal Center which become not only a sobering moment, but a reflective one. Speaking to the tour guides and people we met allowed us to learn more information about Cambodia in a handful of days than I knew in my entire life. When Loyola said this experience would be immersive, they weren’t kidding (in the best of ways).

  • You learn new things everyday

My time here has showed me that I actually am learning and not just running around Saigon as a 19-year-old American with no direction. I am finding ways to incorporate what I’ve learned slowly into my life. I have also learned so much from our BK partner students and would listen to them speak non-stop about their lives if they wanted me to. It’s amazing to pick up on things you never really knew about Vietnam even after being half way through the semester. I just found out I’ve been telling my taxi drivers the wrong way to turn since I got the two Vietnamese words mixed up for right and left (I should’ve enrolled in that Vietnamese class huh?).

  • No pain no gain

As mentioned, we also went to Siem Reap while in Cambodia and went to the Angkor Archeological Park. We woke up at 4am (yes you read it correctly!) to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. It was a lot of walking and tuk tuking (motorbikes with an attached ack for up to 4 people to sit) and standing in the sun, but it was all worth it. We got to venture around a few of the temples including Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm (The temple in Tomb Raider!). If we didn’t get our lazy bones up that bright and early we wouldn’t have spent so much time seeing temples almost a thousand years old and the carving that looks like a dinosaur in Tam Prohm.

                                     

(The dinosaur carving *X Files theme song*)

I don’t think I am going to stop learning as long as I’m here, and as the days roll by I do get nervous to come home. I think I am going to miss living and studying in Vietnam a lot (and the 22-hour flight back has already given me nightmares aha). I definitely know I am going to fall victim to reverse culture shock, but I do know I am going to get myself back to Vietnam one day again.

First Trip to a Different Country

First Trip to a Different Country

Hallo aus der Schweiz! (Hello from Switzerland!)

 

One of the many perks of studying in Switzerland is its location in Central Europe. There are multiple countries that are only a few hours or less away, which means the possibilities for trips are endless. Last weekend, my friends and I decided to take full advantage of that by going to Konstanz, a small town in Germany and only a hour train ride from where we live.      

 

Unfortunately, Konstanz is right by the Swiss border, which means that it is very similar to what I’ve gotten used to in Switzerland. While studying abroad I hope to experience many different kinds of cultures and people while traveling and Konstanz didn’t provide much of that. There were many of the exact same stores that I see in Switzerland and the people even spoke with a similar Swiss-German dialect.

However, even though  I may not have gotten the full German experience that I craved, the town made up for that in multiple ways and it was more than a worthwhile trip. To start, everything was much cheaper than it is in Switzerland. I had already heard of Swiss people going to Germany just to grocery shop, but I didn’t think that there could be such a drastic change in prices. Luckily, our train ride back to Switzerland was late at night, which meant that we could save money on lunch, coffee, and dinner while in Germany. Not only did everything cost about half as much as it would in Switzerland, it was some of the best food and coffee I’ve had while being abroad so far. For Lunch and then later for coffee, we went to the most popular café in town called Pano. The food drew us in, but the intimate atmosphere of the place gave us no choice but to stay there for a few hours. To top off an  already amazing food day, for dinner we went to the most authentic German restaurant we could find and I had a Weiner Schnitzel. It was satisfying to come back to Switzerland that night without an empty stomach or wallet.

 

Aside from eating and drinking coffee, my friends and I spent much of the day walking around and trying to see as much of the town as possible. Konstanz was filled with fantastic architecture and streets, and it being situated on a lake didn’t hurt at all either. Half of the fun of traveling comes from just that, exploring the towns you go to and discovering various unique features. The other half of the beauty of traveling comes from being able to connect with the people that you travel with. I may someday forget some of the towns that I see while being abroad, but I’ll never forget all the memories I make. The day trip to Konstanz was filled with carefree moments that I’ll always remember.

 

Konstanz was the first of many possible day trips that I’ll be able to have while studying in Switzerland. However, for the meantime it’s back to school and living in Winterthur. I’m slowly starting to adjust to the Swiss system of academics and I’m thrilled to share my experiences from that standpoint in future blogs.

 

Till next time,

Radek

 

 

 

Winter Break in the Winter

Winter Break in the Winter

At Loyola we get Spring Break and Winter Break, but at SLU Madrid we get Winter Break and Spring Break. Our Winter Break was after our midterms, so it just ended, and I chose to spend mine in the cold snowy countries instead of on a beach (and I only slightly regret it).

Bike riding through Copenhagen

I travelled to Scandinavia, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway, and Copenhagen, Denmark and even in below freezing temperatures I loved them. I definitely recommend bringing a Chicago winter coat for the Spring semester, because I incorrectly assumed it’d be sunny and beachy weather, so I had to buy a winter coat in Spain.

Walking the streets of Stockholm

Despite my mistake coming into the trip, I wound up having a lot of fun touring the cities! Since it was so cold my friends and I took every opportunity to go into the little shops along the streets and saw things we wouldn’t have if we had just walked by, and I ended up with some pretty cool souvenirs. We also booked tours so that we were doing more than just walking around in the cold. There are free walking tours in every city we visited, but we paid for ours in order to be a bit warmer travelling inside a bus. I learned a lot about the local history and current opinions on the city I visited and I stand by the belief that guided tours are worth the money.

Out of all the cities, Oslo was my favorite just because I loved how the city looked and felt covered in snow, and how beautiful the parks were even in the winter. I do think Copenhagen was the most fun city I visited though, because we booked a bike tour, so we were biking to all the sights! It was freezing so I was completely bundled up, but the tour was absolutely worth the cold weather.

My friends and I kept joking how it was warmer in Chicago than where we were, regretting not choosing the warmer climate, but enjoying the experience we were having. I definitely don’t regret the trip, but next time I book one I’ll be planning according to weather first.