The GoGlobal Blog

Month: November 2014

Monkeys and Pirates – The Caribbean

Monkeys and Pirates – The Caribbean

Another weekend has come and gone in Costa Rica! Time flies so fast when you’re having fun!

This weekend I went to a province in Costa Rica called Limon. Here we stayed in Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side of the country. It was my first time on this side, thus far we have been traveling to the Pacific beaches. We stayed at a hostel that was located on a beach called Playa Negra, where the sand was literally black!

This part of the country was a completely new experience. We woke up early, rented some bikes and found our way to the the Jaguar Wildlife Refuge. This was the closest I have ever gotten to a sloth! On top of that, I got to hold and play with a baby monkey! This was the MOST AMAZING experience in the world!

The motto of Costa Rica is PURA VIDA. This is used as a greeting, a farewell, it means ok, and so much more. The phrase means much more than it’s literal translation of pure life. By saying Pura Vida, people really mean, relax, take it easy, everything will be alright. This is definitely something I feel every time I visit a beach. The beach areas are full of tourists, but there are always those little beaches that are full of locals, and to my experience, these are the BEST beaches. This is where you really feel Costa Rica.

I only have another 4 weekends left in this amazing country. It is so sad to think that I will be leaving behind a country I have fallen in love with.

Pura Vida!






Poland Fall Break 2K14

Poland Fall Break 2K14

Before I arrived in Rome, before I had even heard what other study trips were being offered for the Fall 2014 semester, I had already set my heart on the Poland study trip. A year ago, my best friend of 17 years had been a part of this excursion and she had urged me to go, claiming it was the best trip JFRC offered and that “everyone who didn’t go was jealous.” I was sold.
October tenth finally arrived, and we Ryanaired our way to a tiny airport an hour outside of the city center of Warsaw. Going into the city by bus opened my eyes to suburban and rural areas of Poland, which, oddly enough, reminded me of my home in Chicago.

Warsaw was an autumn wonderland: red, orange, and yellow leaves spiraling down from tall trees, fountains bubbling in the misty morning air, and plenty of parks to enjoy these fall spectacles in. Our tour guide, a self-proclaimed patriot named Adrian who was kind enough to give us the tours for free and also herd us on and off public transportation, led us around the city showing us where the uprising had occurred and where the Jewish ghetto once stood during the horrors of World War II.

Once our time in Warsaw was up, all 14 of us packed our things and crammed into tiny train compartments that fit eight people each. In these train cars, with our bags tucked neatly overhead, I found myself reflecting on the strength of our JFRC community. Sure, some of us were friends beforehand, but only two days into the trip and I was already feeling an incredible and unique bond with my travel companions, and that bond would only grow as the week went on.

Following a three-hour journey, we started our Torun experience with an incredibly moving documentary called “Ghosts of Rwanda” that would set the stage for the Human Rights and a Just Society Symposium and left me sobbing in a very cold movie theater.

The main event of Torun was held at Nicholas Copernicus University, we had the immense privilege of being a part of the symposium. There, Carl Wilkins, the only American to stay in Rwanda during the genocide, his wife Theresa, and a panel of other international lawyers shared their unique views on genocide and what has to be done to prevent it and the necessary steps that have to be taken in the attempts to fix a society that has gone through such terror.

That night, we had one of the best dinners of my life (just a huge skillet of meat, vegetables and pierogi, so many pierogi!) and attended a gathering with the Loyola alumni at a lovely Polish brewery where they serve gingerbread beer!
The next day we mentally prepared ourselves for an emotionally taxing day as we set out for Auschwitz. There is so much that could be said about this experience, but I think I can sum it up in one word: vital. I truly believe that it is vital for us as humans to travel to this place and see and learn about what the prisoners and the people who died there had to go through. It is important to keep the stories of these brave people alive so that we can ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again. The most unusual thing about the camp, though, was its incredible beauty. Surrounding the barracks where people suffered and prayed for salvation are towering trees just now changing color with the season. All around, these beautiful leaves fall on the brick and dirt roads leading through camp as if the Earth itself was trying to apologize for what horrific things happened there. For the entirety of our journey through this solemn place, hardly a word was said.

Auschwitz was a truly transformative place. After delving into a place of true evil and horror, I was able to feel a stronger bond with those JFRC students who had chosen the same fall break trip as I had for many of the same reasons. It turns out more than just a small portion of the global population care about human rights, and this simple, small fact made me feel so much closer with not only my companions, but also the world.

From the beginning to the end I found that every bit of the study trip was infested with magic. I was able to experience a refreshingly beautiful and hopeful country with truly amazing people, and I hope JFRC continues to offer this absolutely life-changing trip for years to come. Thank you JFRC for providing your students with such a wonderful and transformative experience!

Madrid Made Me Do It

Madrid Made Me Do It

This past weekend was hands down the best I’ve had while abroad. I knew from the moment we landed in Madrid that it would ruin me. There’s no way a culture that believes in sleepless weekends, tapas, house-made sangria, and excessive amounts of pork would fall short of a personal heaven. Although Madrid is easily covered within a weekend, I would have happily stayed the rest of my semester.

Our first day in Madrid was spent seeing all the tourist essentials: The Prado Museum, El Retiro, Plaza Mayor, The Market of San Miguel, Gran Via, Puerta del Sol, etc. Usually, site seeing is stressful at best. Waiting in line for entrance to museums or fighting off other tourists to get that “perfect shot” of some stereotypical monument usual but in Spain the agenda was altered. It was more easy going. The city of Madrid was very walkable, so we never took public transit but willingly got lost running into grand plazas and quaint cafes in the process. It was a relaxed day wandering around and with the weather on our side we decided to find some good tapas for dinner. Tapas, for those unfamiliar, is small plates of traditional Spanish dishes that are meant to accompany drinks (remember that house-made sangria I mentioned before?).

Throughout the weekend we frequented Museo del Jamon which literally translates into “the museum of ham.” At first I was skeptical of this chain of restaurants, but with legs of ham lining the walls and hoards of people always crowding the bar how bad could it be? The answer: not bad at all, actually quite amazing. For around 3 euro you got your pork fix with a bacon and cheese sandwich and a beer. They also had a deli counter where mass quantities of Spain’s specialty of Iberico ham could be purchased. Evidence of Spain’s love for ham doesn’t solely exist in entire restaurants being dedicated to swine, but rather how pigs are treated. Some pigs are only fed chestnuts and acorns in an effort to produce the purest pork possible.

This type of care for Spanish cuisine extended to nearly everything we ate that weekend, which is not a far stretch from Italian food. One stark contrast between Madrid and Rome, however, was how clean the city was. Madrid looked as though it had been cleaned thoroughly with a toothbrush. There wasn’t garbage laying around and each boutique or restaurant or cafe was not only in pristine condition but so freakin’ friendly! Everyone we encountered those three days was more than willing to help us, whether it be for directions or for a suggestion on where to grab the best paella in town.

If I hadn’t bought a return flight to Rome, I would still be exploring Madrid. A city that offers hospitality, beauty, and delicious food gives no incentive to leave. I’m confident I’ll be back someday ready and willing to dive deeper into Spanish culture. Adios, until next time Madrid.

Off to Never Land

Off to Never Land

Two weekends ago I had the privilege of visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica.  The trip was organized entirely by USAC, which is the program I am studying abroad through. USAC organizes two field trips per semester and the field trips vary depending on the semester. While in Monteverde we spent the first day hiking around the national park, and the second day we went zip lining.  We zip lined through the Cloud Forest. The location was stunning and zip lining is always a fun time. To my surprise zip lining was not my favorite part of the trip. My favorite part was the view at the end of the hike on the first day. The lookout in the Cloud Forest absolutely took my breath away. A picture of the view should be attached below, but like anything truly amazing, a picture cannot do it justice.  I would recommend Monteverde to anyone and everyone who is considering visiting Latin America.

Last weekend my friends and I visited Puerto Viejo. Monteverde still remains my favorite location in Costa Rica, however Puerto Viejo has some of the best beaches I have seen. The coast is full of clear water, and when I went swimming I saw hundreds of little fish attempting to blend in with the ocean floor. Some of the braver fish would brush against our feet and legs as we walked. Unlike Tamarindo, there were no large rocks on the sea floor, which are very hazardous to surfing. The beach was simply clear water and fine light sand.

Another thing Puerto Viejo has to offer which is unique to the area is the Jaguar Wildlife Rescue.  The Rescue Center was founded by two biologists, and provides proper veterinary care to wild animals who were injured or abandoned.  The Center offers tours twice a day which allow visitors to interact directly with the animals. When we visited they let us go into the baby monkey enclosure.  The monkeys would occasionally climb on some of us tourists, however they seemed rather attached to their caretakers, all of whom are volunteers.

I understand that all of my fun stories are from traveling various places, but I still do go to school.  While Costa Rica is a beautiful country, and has provided me with many wonderful experiences, it would not be worth studying abroad here if the school I was going to did not benefit me. Thankfully, I have been learning a great deal of Spanish in and out of the classroom. Costa Rica has proved to be an amazing experience.

Until next time,

April Skillings

La Bella Bologna

La Bella Bologna

Ciao da Roma!

This past weekend, I decided to be spontaneous and take a day trip to the beautiful city of Bologna, the home of spaghetti alla bolognese (aka spaghetti with meat sauce), some of the best red wine in Italy, and medieval architecture.  Upon going there, I did not know what to expect, as this beautiful city in the Emilia-Romagna province is one less traveled by Americans.  However, I thought I would take the plunge and check it out.

When I got off my fast train from Rome, I immediately went to a wonderful restaurant for lunch called the Ristorante Donatello.  For my meal, I ordered a glass of house red wine, lasagna, and tiramisu.  The red wine tasted very full bodied, almost like a cabernet, but with a bit of a fruitier after taste, which regardless, paired very well with my lasagna.  The pasta used in the lasagna was a spinach pasta, topped with a hearty, meaty ragu sauce.  The tiramisu, in my opinion, was the best part of the meal.  It was served in a martini glass, where the cake part was topped on top of a custard-like frosting.

After lunch, I decided to take a look at the central plaza, the Piazza Maggiore, where I found the central cathedral of Bologna.  As you can see from the featured picture, the Cathedral was absolutely massive, breath-taking, and an utter delight to visit.

Cathedral in the Piazza Maggiore.
Cathedral in the Piazza Maggiore.
The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna.
The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna.

Once I spent about half an hour inside the cathedral seeing the various alters (unfortunately cannot be pictured because photography was not allowed inside the cathedral), I ventured along a main street to Bologna’s most famous set of towers, Le Due Torre.  One of the towers had not been completed, as construction was forced to stop in the 12th century.  However, the other tower had been completed, and its inside is currently accessible to tourists.

Le Due Torre.
Le Due Torre.

For just three euros, I was able to make the hike to the top, which, if you decide to go there, is a hike.  Although I was out of breath once I got to the top, the views of the entire city of Bologna were incredible.

Incredible views of the city centre from the top.
Incredible views of the city center from the top.

For the next several hours, I decided to wander the streets of Bologna and visit the numerous parks and shops in the city.  Once I got tired, I went to a gastropub called Swinebar, where I was able to get another glass of red wine.  This time, I ordered a Sangiovese red, which was paired with some simple crackers and olives.  Since I had time to kill until my train back to Rome, I headed to another restaurant, Caffe Roberto, where I got a 7 euro aperitivo special.  For just 7 euros, I got a glass of house red wine, cured meats, cheeses, crackers with aole spread, tomato topping, and peppers.  The setting was very tranquil, as I was able to read my book, sip on wine, and relax in peace in the center of town.

All in all, this experience of traveling by myself and taking the chance of a new city was incredible.  Because I enjoyed myself so much, I decided to take another spontaneous day trip this coming weekend.  Tomorrow I head for Genoa, and I cannot wait to continue my travels.

Ciao per ora,


Trekking through Thailand

Trekking through Thailand

Well folks, I’ve finally done it. I’ve achieved one of my life-long-bucket-list-dream-goals … an absolutely incredible trip to Thailand. It was everything I wanted and more … stunning sights, delicious food, and adorable friends to spend time with. Such an amazing week–I don’t even know where to begin!!

Okay, that’s a little bit of lie. I can start with our flight–we left Saigon on Wednesday night and hopped right on over to Bangkok. It was quick and painless … and for the first time ever, I was actually able to sit in a row with my friends!! Such a little goofy thing, but still so much fun for me. That evening, after a long taxi ride (with a fabulous view of the Bangkok skyline), we checked into our cute  boutique hotel. Then we set out in search of decent Thai food … and after a little too long (how many Japanese places does one neighborhood need? My GOD.) we finally found some!! I had my favorite dish, pad see ew, paired with  fabulous Thai iced tea, called “milk tea.” I wish I could say that my meal was comparable to Thai Grill or Summer Thai back in Chicago … it wasn’t even in the same realm. So fresh, and so, so good.  I was so excited to keep eating–I had to restrain myself from ordering more!

The next morning, we hung out and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive. We quickly realized, however, that it’s almost impossible to sightsee, maneuver public transit, and make big decisions as a huge group. So, Dan and I set out together, with similar desires to see as many temples as possible in our two days … and perhaps fitting in some shopping too! We managed to figure out the sky train (oh my gosh, Bangkok WINS at public transit. It puts the L to SHAME.) Then, we clambered onto a somewhat touristy river ferry and sailed to the main temple area, where we explored Wat Arun (Temple of the Sun) and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Both were gorgeous; it was just so hot. I didn’t think it could get much hotter than Saigon … boy, was I wrong!! Dan and I were ready to call it quits when we stumbled upon a lowly mango-and-sticky-rice vendor–and oh my goodness, it was life changing. The combination of sweet and salty and the multitude of textures was just too delicious. Then we took the river ferry back and explored Siam Square, the most amazing and futuristic mall. We had just finished a mediocre dinner when we discovered a La Duree macaron shop (in Bangkok?!) … Dan was so excited, and I was too! It was the most perfect ending to a wonderful day.

Friday we were up bright and early again, and off to see the Grand Palace, a complex of temples and royal offices. I almost didn’t want to go… the very thought of getting all the way there and all of the sweating that was going to happen made me want to stay cuddled in my cozy down comforter. But I am so glad that I went. It was so beautiful; the absolute epitome of what I think of when I picture Thailand in my head. I felt so at peace–I love the commanded quiet of these Asian temples, versus the crowded business of European churches. The sparkly temple facades (strangely) made me think of the “It’s a Small World” ride in Disneyland … I was humming the song the entire time while touring around the complex grounds. Later that evening, Dan and I got Thai massages (obviously) and had La Duree again (whoops!). I just love exploring and living in big cities … I feel so at home, regardless of where I am in the world.

My Saturday was pretty relaxed, which was much needed after the two previous crazy days of sightseeing. My lovely roommates and I checked out at noon and spent the afternoon wandering the city. Then we relaxed at the hotel and caught a night bus to Chiang Mai. Getting ourselves to the bus was a slightly harrowing experience (Bangkok cabs are a HUGE pain in the butt), but we were each so excited to travel to this tiny mountain town and escape the big city for a little while. We arrived at 6:30AM on Sunday, quite exhausted and feeling just a tad disgusting. Sadly, our hotel wouldn’t let us check in until 2PM, so we decided to see as many temples as possible before taking a very rewarding nap. So, we grabbed some breakfast and went exploring. It was wonderful … but we were each so tired. We finally checked in around 3PM and absolutely crashed. Five hours later (!!) and our deliriously hungry stomachs woke us up. We wandered the night market and found food … I had tom kha ga soup (lemongrass, coconut milk, and chicken) with a glass of chilled white wine. It was absolutely perfect. The perfect group of hilarious, adorable friends; amazing food; and a beautiful, peaceful place to explore at our leisure. I literally couldn’t have asked for more.We slept well that night … not surprisingly!

Monday morning we set off with a bang, heading towards the mountains for Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a beautiful Buddhist cliff temple. After a lot of steps and a lot more pictures, we headed to lunch at one of Chiang Mai’s top Thai restaurants (more sweet mango and sticky rice? YES please). Then we spent the late afternoon at a super touristy (but super FUN) 3D art museum … it was absolutely hilarious (impromptu photoshoots with adorable friends are always the best), and a great way to end our  trip. At 8:30PM we were back on the dreaded night bus back to Bangkok, and then a flight home that Tuesday!

I cannot express how deeply I am in love with Thailand. I will certainly be back, as soon as possible! Even as I write this post, I am already missing the sights and the food … but I have to move on, as the entire Loyola program leaves for our Central and Northern Vietnam excursion tomorrow morning. One day off from traveling and we are at it again! While I’m completely exhausted, I realize how lucky I am to be having this incredible experience. I couldn’t be happier doing what I love … traveling the world. Stay posted!!


My warrior name is Beyonce Pad Thai.