Lauren’s Spotlight: Next Stop, Madrid!

I studied abroad in Madrid last summer on a Global Seminar and my favorite moments while abroad would be riding the metro. Madrid had many different sub cities and you can see all of them by riding the metro. I remember the whole metro system and memorized the same announcements as the conductor each metro ride towards halfway into my trip. The metro card was essential and probably one of the best investments for anyone looking to travel in Madrid.

Lauren and friends striking a pose in the Metro, Madrid, Spain, 2019

I remember going to Puerta de Sol and felt like a tourist in Spanish New York City. I remember walking around this stop to numerous souvenir shops, menu del día specials, and seeing tourists taking as many photos as possible.  Next stop, I would ride the metro to Canal, a suburban portion of Madrid, to go to my apartment. This area had great parks, local food spots, and a lot of families.

Stop Santo Domingo was a great street for all the shops. In July, all the stores have a huge summer sale.  If you wanted to go to the Sunday flea market, El Rastro, you can go to stop La Latina. This is a must see! Make sure to go earlier in the morning. I found some vintage pieces and souvenir gifts for my friends and family. To go see the hippy and more artistic part of Madrid, I would go to stop Tribunal.  

The list goes on and on about how all these stops led to great stories to tell. I would have never guessed that something as simple as the metro would be one of my favorite moments abroad. Cheers to Madrid’s Metro for one of the best summers!

Lauren in Madrid, Spain, 2019

Jackie’s Words of Wisdom: Fluency Not Required

When I studied at Yonsei University during the spring of 2019 through UCEAP, I learned this: the city of Seoul is such a fascinating location. While businesses thrive in buildings with many floors, coffee shops flood the local eye, and street performers block the roads tempting you to stop for what would only be a minute but actually lasts an hour, Seoul is also surrounded by some of the most beautiful traditional and historical sites. Just a couple of miles away from the prestigious and modern looking Yonsei University, there lies the beautiful Gyeongbokgung palace that is surrounded by endless shops of eye-catching souvenirs you questioned whether to bring back home. I was one of the many tourists there with a phone camera that would not leave without a satisfying amount of pictures taken. Of course, the individuals and I who decided to explore the location knew we couldn’t leave without one thing…… Trying on traditional Korean dresses (hanboks)! We made sure to book a reservation at a dress rental location in advance just before our departure date back to the US. When the day came, we arrived at the location and spent more time than necessary trying out a variety of colored hanboks. We were very indecisive! But we came to final decisions, wore our dresses, and made our way out. Almost instantly it felt as if we were stepping into a historical Korean drama! It was almost magical! We walked around the surrounding area and took pictures inside the tourist-friendly traditional houses. At the end of the day, we were all left so exhausted, but for all the pictures we’ll keep forever, we knew it was all worth it! 

Jackie wearing a hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea, 2019

The first time I ever took a field trip alone was in South Korea. I would be lying if I said it all went smoothly and it wasn’t one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it was also really fun! I initially believed it would be stressful to live in a country without having any knowledge of the language. However, when I landed at the airport just before my study abroad program started, I realized how wrong I was. Koreans were really friendly and they assisted us when we needed it. It was then when I realized that a language barrier was only a learning experience to go through. Over the course of the semester, I wasn’t going to let time go to waste, so I decided to be out and about taking a trip to myself. Before going to Korea, I have always been the biggest fan of the Korean Reality Show “Running Man.” They were a group of Korean celebrities and comedians who challenged each other to missions and wild courses all while traveling all around and highlighting Korea’s culture really well. They are funny and exciting, and as long as there were subtitles, it was one of my favorite things to watch every now and then in my free time. Since I was in Korea myself, I decided to take a trip to one of their established mini theme parks located in Seoul. The mini theme park was established in a way for you to complete various challenge courses over a certain amount of time as if you were in the reality show yourself. Since I was alone, it was a one-player kind of experience, which was kind of hard to not only understand the instructions but also doing the entire course! As much as I was in it to try to win, I was really in it to see what the place was like. To my surprise it was chaotic and a perfect activity to many middle-school-aged children who ran around attempting to maximize their points and finish all the challenges. In the end, I did not end up completing the course perfectly; however, I completed just enough to be able to get a small pin as a prize! I guess all I would love to say is that you don’t have to know the language to have fun. Go out there, and explore! You never know what you’re going to experience!

Jackie at the Running Man theme park, Seoul, South Korea, 2019

Elakya’s Spotlight: Beach Daze

Sunrise on the beach, Costa Rica, 2017

In the summer of 2017, I went to Costa Rica independently, mainly to visit for the first time and to stay in a culturally immersive ranch, where only Spanish was spoken. This was definitely quite an interesting experience overall for me, because I had absolutely no Spanish knowledge other than what I’d picked up from living in California, as I had taken French in high school. However, that did not stop me from having one of the best experiences of my life. 

One of my favorite memories from the trip was a day that I had just dedicated to visiting and exploring new beaches. As the weather was so tropical, the water on every beach was perfect, and it was expected for everyone to go in and play in the water. Each beach that I visited had its own unique beauty, and I had never felt so calm or relaxed as I did that day. In some places I swam, in some, I read a book quietly, in some I ate amazing local food on the shore, and in some I played volleyball or frisbee. The day ended before I knew it, and I was so exhausted yet satisfied. It was honestly an unforgettable time, and the experience made me feel more in touch with everyone that I had met there. One day, I really hope that I am able to go back to Costa Rica. If I do, the main thing I would change is dedicating more days to exploring some of the best beaches I’ve ever been to in my life.

Elakya’s view at the beach, Costa Rica, 2017

Kaylee’s Summer Love: When in Rome

Trastevere. While I studied abroad in Summer 2019 through a Global Seminar in Berlin, the highlight of my trip was the weekend I spent in Rome. The food, the people, the sites; there was no finer feast. The beginning of my love affair with this city started with the Roman drinking fountains. Rome was dotted with these fountains that I learned were called
“Nasoni,” which means “a big nose” in Italian. This was likely on account of the shape of the water spout that ice-cold water came from. These fountains blended seamlessly with the landscape, proving free water to a city of nearly 3 million. And during this warm weekend in Rome, the water from the Nasoni was a key feature in my stay.

My love for this city blossomed as I explored an area of tucked-away restaurants. Grazia and Grazielle, where I tried my first carbonara. The next was Ristorante La Canonica Roma, a beautiful Italian church that was transformed into a restaurant. At every street corner, there were gelato shops – 1 euro for one scoop. Outside one of these shops was an odd collection of very friendly cats lounging on steps that led down into some ruins. So down the steps I went, and discovered the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. As a cat lover and huge geek for ancient ruins, the sanctuary alongside the Largo di Torre Argentina ruins remains the most delightful surprise. 

Kaylee in Rome, Italy, 2019

Adoring Ancient Roman history as I do (enough to have considered majoring in classics), visiting the sites that I had extensively researched made my heart flutter. The vast amount of tourists and Italian humidity could not dampen this excitement. Exploring the cobblestone city on foot (thank you Google Maps), allowed us to absorb the sites. The best piece of advice I followed was waking with the sunrise to beat the crowds. From the trevi fountain to the Spanish steps, before beginning the trek to the Colosseum. The extensive fascinating history that coated this city was known to me, but the beauty of the city? There are no words. 

Rome, Italy was the second European city I visited and the one I had dreamed of for years. I can pinpoint the way my love for Rome blossomed but Berlin is also a vast collection of memories imprinted in my heart as this city fundamentally changed me. For me, Rome was love at first sight because it was everything I imagined it to be and more. In comparison, Berlin became one of my closest friends that allowed me to find a bit of home in her city. With this, all I can recommend is you yourself travel; go to cities that you find pieces of home in and cities that never let you forget how different they truly are. While there, grow inexplicably without apology into the person you have always wanted to be.  

Con Amore da Roma.

Kayle in Rome, Italy, 2019

Eliana’s Spotlight: Vegan Food Galore

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE good food, especially when it’s tucked away in cute cafes. As someone with a dairy allergy, there were times when it was hard to eat in Korea. To avoid getting sick, I refrained from a lot of desserts and dishes. That was until I discovered two great vegan places in Seoul.

The first place I learned about was The Bread Blue (더브레드블루), located just a twenty-minute walk away from my dorm at Yonsei. I loved getting their vanilla latte and classic pastries after a long day of class or as a treat on the weekend. My favorite pastry had to be their sweet potato bread, but, let’s be honest, I loved everything they had to offer. When I moved from my dorm to an apartment, I went there most mornings to get my breakfast and morning coffee–it was so fun to feel like a local and get recognized by the employees there! 

A delicious strawberry cream cake from The Bread Blue, Seoul, South Korea, 2019

As much as I loved The Bread Blue, it paled in comparison to Yummyomil (야미요밀), an amazing vegan bakery and restaurant in Hapjeong. A quick bus ride from the stop outside my apartment in Sinchon took me to a heaven filled with coffee, burgers, sandwiches, and pastries! I was saved by their almond milk latte and baked goods (my favorites being their red bean cream-filled buns,  sweet potato apple crumble bread, and brownies). I also became obsessed with their “ham” and apple sandwich, filled with plant-powered tasty goodness! I did not try one of their burgers, but, by the number of people ordering them, I think it’s safe to say those are delicious too. 

Beautiful baked goods at Yummyomil, Seoul, South Korea, 2019

Even a year later and with plenty of vegan food places at my disposal in California, I find myself missing The Bread Blue and Yummyomil. It was so great to find places that I wanted to return to time and time again; it made me feel like I had found my place in Seoul, especially when I was living on my own in a studio apartment after my summer program ended. Both restaurants were off the beaten path, but I am so glad I made a point to find them. These hidden gems transformed my experience with food in Korea, and I hope everyone who finds themselves in Seoul finds themselves in these restaurants too!

Eliana’s Lost and Found: The Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun

I’ve been obsessed with books my whole life and with bookstores for almost as long. When I was looking for things to do in Seoul, I knew the legendary Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun was at the top of my list; I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the pictures online! 

Entrance of the Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, South Korea

It was also special to me because it was the first time after moving into my dorm at Yonsei that I traveled alone. I had only been in Seoul for about a week when I went. The public transportation is great, but being unfamiliar with it meant I was nervous about getting lost. Thankfully, I spoke enough Korean to comfortably ask locals for directions, but, just like a dad in any travel movie, it takes a lot for me to admit I’m lost. 

The bus was easy enough and I got off at the right stop. However, the streets were a different story. The thing about the Kyobo Bookstore is that it’s practically hidden from view; you have to walk down huge steps to get to the entrance, and, if you’re not paying attention, you could overlook it completely because of all the big buildings and monuments around it. Unfortunately, my nerves got the best of me and I spent at least 30 minutes walking in circles around the same streets and crossing back and forth on the same crosswalk. I even began to rehearse how I would ask someone for directions in my head. I hated to admit it but I was lost.

Even though I thought there was no hope for me, there was a light at the end of the tunnel (or, more accurately, street). In my nervous haze, I had been crossing the street on the opposite side of the bookstore the whole time! Once I figured that out, it took me a whopping two minutes to find the bookstore. The entrance shined like the gates of heaven as I walked down the steps. When I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed by the expanse of the books and all the excited people milling about. It was wonderful! From the beautiful stationery store to the English section with great options and all the Korean books around me, I was so glad I had not given up the search and made it to the paradise of books! 

Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, South Korea

Getting lost was nervewracking, but, once I took a minute to get my bearings, I was able to find my way. That gave me a boost of confidence in my travel skills and independence. Without that happening, I would not have been able to enjoy the time I spent living in a studio apartment in Sinchon, nor would I have had the courage to take a spontaneous trip to Tokyo by myself! It’s okay to get lost; sometimes it’s even great.

So just know that no matter where you are in the world, you can find your way, and it’s always worth it in the end! Plus you get bonus points if you don’t have to ask people for directions! 

Rachel’s Spotlight: Making Conversation

I studied abroad in Fall 2017 in Beijing, China through UCEAP. It is the most special highlight of my entire college experience, and there are many memories I constantly think of from my time abroad. One of my favorite moments abroad happened unexpectedly but remains to be one of the most profound memories I have of my study abroad experience because it showed me the progress I had made in learning Mandarin and reminded me how important it is to learn from and get to know other people. This moment happened after I had been in Beijing for about three months.

Beijing, China, 2017

I was heading to my internship using public transportation and decided to get on a bus that I knew would take me to where I needed to go but that I had never used before. I got on the bus and realized that the next stop (written at the top of the bus in Chinese) said the airport, proving that I may have gotten on the express bus of the same bus line rather than the normal bus. The airport was very far away, and a stop that was not along the normal bus route would have gotten me to my internship way too late.

In Beijing, there were often two people who worked on the buses: the bus driver and someone who sat in the middle of the bus to make sure that everyone tapped their bus cards on the way out. So when I realized I may have gotten on the wrong bus, I asked the bus attendant sitting in the middle of the bus if we would stop at the stop I needed to get to (I asked in Mandarin). She said yes, so I was very relieved, but then she also got out of her seat and offered for me to sit next to her. We then had a conversation for the rest of my bus ride, about 15 minutes, about our lives and where we were from.

This was one of the most special experiences I had in Beijing during my study abroad program because it allowed me to connect with someone from a completely different background–someone I wouldn’t have connected with if it weren’t for thinking I got on the wrong bus. It was also a testament to how much my language skills had improved within the three months I had already been there, which was an eye-opening experience for me as our conversation was rather seamless and I wasn’t nervous jumping into a conversation with a native Mandarin speaker I had never met before.

Rachel with her Chinese language classmates after presenting at a language speaking competition for international students , Beijing, China, 2017

The most significant realization I had from this experience was how valuable it is to get the opportunity to connect with people from other countries. Because of this experience, I make it a goal to go out of my way to have conversations with people I may have never met and to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from people of a different background and culture. There were so many amazing moments during my four months of studying abroad in China, but this moment was particularly life-changing and something I think about often in my day-to-day life back in the States.

Rachel and her friends with their Thanksgiving meal, Beijing, China, 2017

Eliana’s Favorite Waterpark: WATERBOMB

There were so many things to do in Korea while I studied at Yonsei International Summer School through UCEAP, but the number one thing I knew I had to do was attend WATERBOMB. WATERBOMB is a summer music festival that takes place in different cities in South Korea. It is known not just for great lineups but also for the fact it’s a combination of a music festival and a waterpark. Everyone told me it was a great time and it did not disappoint!

I attended the second day of the Seoul festival in July 2019, which meant I got to see iconic artists like Hyuna, Zico, Crush, DPR Live, and more! I was already exhilarated at the idea of seeing some of my favorite performers live, and that exhilaration multiplied exponentially the second I stepped foot on the festival grounds. Immediately a mob of people with loaded Nerf water guns greeted me, joyful screams and laughs surrounding me. It only took a few moments for me and the people I went with to buy some water guns for ourselves–we simply couldn’t resist the fun of WATERBOMB! 

From water gun wars to a giant pool sponsored by Sprite and massive water canons on the stage, it was like the ultimate summer activity imaginable. We couldn’t walk any more than a few steps before getting attacked by water. It didn’t matter; we fired right back! 

The best part, though, was being in the crowd. We went to the stage before big artists performed, so we were really close to the front. That meant we got a great view of the artists–I even managed to land a hit on Crush with my water gun–and were right in the middle of the splash (or, rather, flood) zone! I truly have never been that wet in my life; it felt like two or three oceans poured on me for an entire night. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was still soaking wet when I got off my hour-long subway ride and even later when I hopped in the shower at the end of the night. 

No matter how impossible the idea of being dry seemed, it was absolutely worth it! I laughed a lot, and, when I wasn’t laughing I was aggressively singing and rapping along to my favorite songs (it was hilarious to see the shocked looks from the people around me when I didn’t miss a beat of Hyuna’s set). All of that being said, I cannot recommend WATERBOMB enough to anyone who wants to spend their summer in Seoul; it is the best music festival I have ever been to (sorry Warped Tour) and I am so happy I spent a summer day at the best kind of waterpark! 

Tiffany’s Spotlight: Reaching New (Zealand) Heights

The scenery of New Zealand is best explored on foot, just like how Frodo and the Fellowship traversed Middle Earth on foot in their quest to destroy the One Ring. One of my favorite moments studying abroad in New Zealand Fall 2018 through UCEAP has always been taking in the view from the top (while discreetly taking a deep breath) after I finally reached the summit of my latest long and tiring hike. The photos shown are from my weekend excursion up Little Mount Peel with the Canterbury University Tramping Club. 

Little Mount Peel, New Zealand, 2018

When I first joined the club, I really did not know what I signed up for. Every weekend, I’d hop aboard a van going somewhere, end up in the middle of nowhere, hop over a farmer’s fence or two, and start walking. That “walking” would somehow warp into crossing small streams, jumping up steps that are the same height as my knees, and to my dismay, encountering some sort of incline in any trail I took. When I would inevitably fall behind, it was easy to strike up a conversation with the other stragglers because we could bond over our mutual suffering from sore muscles and shortness of breath. I got to know three of my close study abroad friends this way and we still keep in contact to this day. 

Little Mount Peel, New Zealand, 2018

I am glad that the club was the one to handle all the tramping logistics. Because if I had known just how long I would have to walk, the treacherous terrain I would have to walk through, how steep the hike was, or how sore I would be for the next couple of days, I probably would not have all these pictures to show. I would have doubted my capability to complete the tramp and so I would not have joined the excursion in the first place. But by not knowing what I had gotten myself into, I ended up surprising myself with just how far I could walk and by the unexpected friendships I forged along the way. Once I completed a hike up and down a mountain with the club, it became easier for me to seek out longer hikes to undertake and taller mountains to climb on my own, one of which was the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (where Mount Doom is!)…but that is a story for another day.