A Day in Firenze

fun fact of the day:  the city called Firenze by Italians is what Americans call Florence. I definitely did not know that before coming to Italy.

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Well, I’ve officially been in Italy for six days which absolutely blows my mind. I feel like I’ve been here forever, but also like I’ve not been here for very long at all. Arezzo is slowly becoming my home base, the place I feel most safe and comfortable in, which I would not have believed three or four days ago when I kept getting lost on the short walk from our classroom center to the monastery where we live.

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Yesterday a small group decided to take a spontaneous day trip to Florence because we had heard about a church there that had services in English (thank you, Mrs. Hall!). Around 8:45 am, we boarded our first Italian train. I’m sure this will become old hat to us in no time, but right now it’s sort of an adrenaline rush every time I hop on. The train ride from Arezzo to Florence is a little less than an hour long, but seems much shorter because looking out the window is such a beautiful experience.

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Upon arrival in Florence, we spent about 45 minutes trying to find a café that should have been only 20 minutes away, but it’s difficult to navigate a foreign city on foot with only a cellphone that has pretty spotty coverage. Somehow we managed to take a detour by Saint Mark’s; it wasn’t a bad thing, though, because it’s really a magnificent building.

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We made it, though, and sat down to enjoy a cappuccino and some brioche before church started. Oh, I forgot to mention that the church we were going to was in a café. How cool is that? Jesus and coffee, two of the best things, in one room. While we were seated, a girl named Hannah approached us and asked us a question about the church, saying that she was a study abroad student and this was her first time to visit. We laughed at the coincidence and told her that this was our first time, too, and soon she was a part of our group. The church service was amazing and just what I needed that day, and everyone was so welcoming to us there. They recommended restaurants to eat at, which we quickly set after with Hannah as our guide.

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On the way to lunch, Hannah led us past the Duomo in Florence, which is absolutely the most breathtaking building I’ve ever seen. We learned about the Duomo in art class in elementary school, and here I was looking at it in real life–it was a very surreal moment and if I was a crier, I definitely would have been sobbing right then.

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We had to keep moving, though, and walked over to a carousel in the middle of one of the piazzas to take some pictures.

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We walked through the leather markets and wove our way through the streets, eventually arriving at Il Mercado Centrale di Firenze, basically a huge Italian food court. I ordered a margherita pizza and it was most definitely the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten: I watched them hand-toss the dough, put the toppings on, and place it in a stone oven before putting it on a plate and handing it to me. SO GOOD.

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After lunch we headed to the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It was stunning, as everything else in Florence is, and I could’ve spent hours looking out at the water and the old city. There was a couple making out behind us, though, so we thought it best to leave.

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We continued walking through the city until around 4 p.m., taking pictures with street art and random buildings before finally saying goodbye to Hannah and heading back to Arezzo. The sun was setting over the hills as we rode the return train, and it was almost completely dark when we arrived in Arezzo. The rest of the night was spent eating dinner and getting ready for bed, trying to catch sleep to be ready for another day in the Bel Paese di Italia. Cíao for now!

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Italy – Thanks for the Memories

Studying abroad was a major challenge. Not only for me, but for my entire family. I have mentioned in previous blog posts about all of the issues that my family had gone through. Leaving my family was difficult, being away from my family  was difficult, but most of all, leaving Italy was difficult. I truly believe that studying abroad has made the largest impact in my life. When I applied for the Global Engagement Fellowship, I mentioned that traveling and studying languages helped to understand other cultures. It helps to understand where other people come from. It helps to understand global issues. It helps when solving problems. Now that I have been abroad, I believe that leaving helped me to grow.

I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity to spend as much time in Italy as I did. However, there is one small problem. The world seems smaller now.

Ever since I have been back, all I want to do is travel. I want to see the world. I want to know everything there is to know about every place!

I miss so much about Italy already. I miss my friends, I miss the people, I miss the shops, I miss the culture, I miss the streets.

Now that I am back, I am able to look back on my experience. Being able to study abroad as an Undergrad was a privilege. I feel like it prepared me for my future travels and experiences.

In conclusion, I miss you Italy. I hope to see you soon…


Alexis Hall

So I’m in Italy

So if my last few thousand Facebook and Instagram posts haven’t made it blindingly obvious, I’m in Italy!!! I’ve been here for less than 48 hours, but in that time I’ve consumed four different kinds of pasta and walked over 13,000 steps, so I think I’m starting out well :)

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Yesterday was unusual since we were all jet-lagged and a little hangry, so the day consisted mostly of moving into the monastery that will be our home for the next four months and eating some authentic Italian food. Today was a little more exciting–we visited the classroom annex for some gnocchi and orientation, then took a tour of Arezzo.
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It is the most picturesque little Italian town you ever did see with cobbled streets, coffee bars on every corner, and a beautifully rich history. It started snowing during the tour, so afterwards we stopped in a little bar for some cappuccino and bombolone (a cream-filled donut).
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The rest of the day was spent in the monastery Skyping with family, napping, eating a delicious authentic Italian dinner, and writing on our blogs about our first couple of days. I am so excited to see what this semester brings! Fino alla prossima volta!

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“I Can Go the Distance” – On Culture Shock and Feeling Down

To those of you studying abroad this semester: congratulations!! You’ve taken a huge step and should be proud.


And, for those of you who aren’t, still read on! (Also, you definitely should consider going somewhere new for a time – to gain new perspective is an amazing thing. Check out this list of opportunities/scholarships: http://www.studyabroad.com/scholarships.aspx)

I figured since I’m an “old hand” at this (hah – not!), I could give you some advice for this new adventure. Hopefully some of these tips* will get you through the first few weeks – these are often the most difficult! Don’t get scared though. You’ll soon settle in and have an amazing time!

* These tips aren’t just for those experiencing culture shock. Anyone who’s feeling under the weather or overwhelmed in any way, read on!

1. Set some goals. Use your favorite medium for this. Write a blog, draw your life in five years, make a list of things you want to accomplish, compose an original song, or just tell someone everything that excites you. Remind yourself of why you are where you are and where you want to go from here.

2. Meditate. If you’re having trouble imagining your goals, clear your mind and see what comes to you. Meditate the old-fashioned way or, my particular favorite, listen to your favorite album while lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Go stargazing. Play music. Do some calculus. Discover whatever method clears your head of all doubts and fear.


3. Indulge yourself. If you’re stressed out, it probably means you’re working hard –perhaps too hard. Cook yourself your favorite meal or buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. You deserve a little treat.

4. Work hard. Success is gratifying and self-assuring, and it comes in many forms. Whether you aced a test, received a compliment from your teacher on an assignment, or even learned a valuable lesson from a mistake you made, you have improved yourself. Small successes are just as important, so keep going. And don’t ever diminish self-worth based on someone else’s idea of success.


5. Socialize. Human interaction is important when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just seeing a familiar face can brighten your mood, and speaking to friends and family will often provide that extra support you need to keep going.


6. And don’t hesitate to seek help. If friends don’t seem to understand how you’re feeling – or if you’re feeling more down in the dumps than usual –, speak to a professional. Whether you’re experiencing culture shock or too much pressure at work or school, you can’t forget to look after yourself. This means taking care of your mental health. Sometimes it can be too difficult to dig ourselves out of a dark place, and there is someone nearby who is trained to help you! Reach out. You don’t have to shoulder all of this alone.

And on a personal note, if you need to talk to someone, send me a message. I’ve probably felt exactly how you have, and maybe I can provide some help. I’m not a professional, but I am here.

With all this in mind, go forth to the adventure of a lifetime!


Best of luck,

Ellie x

Interesting things that happened in December/January

I haven’t kept up on my blog at all so I’m just going to make one post of (very brief) summaries of interesting things that happened in December and January in chronological order.

1. My classmates being awesome: My birthday was in December, so my classmates surprised me with a cake and a card during listening class. It was probably a fire hazard because there were a lot of candles on it but it was awesome. We also didn’t have any forks, so one of my classmates thought it would be a good idea to just feed everyone bites of cake off of the spatula. It was funny.

2. Christmas: I went to school on Christmas, which was weird. But we all wore red and green so we could take a Christmas picture. I went to dinner with a Chinese family and their friends. It was very much different from Christmas in the states. We had hot pot, which doesn’t really even exist here, and someone got up to make a toast every 5 minutes. It was good though.

Our Christmas picture:

3. TUTU Running Club relay: A guy who I met at the 50k invited me to run a relay that his running club was hosting. Each person only had to run 6K so of course I participated, and we made an international team. It was a lot of fun, even though one of my teammates didn’t show up, forcing my other teammate’s friend to run a 6K in khakis and a button down shirt.

Relay team:

4. New Years: We actually got a few days off for New Year, which was awesome. I went to KTV for the first time with my classmates. KTV is basically just karaoke but you have your own little tiny soundproof room. China has a lot of KTV places. Also I am bad at KTV but everyone else in my class is really good.

5. Making food: My classmates and I got together and made various food from each of our countries. In the end we had a lot of food:

6. Final Exams: We had final exams from January 13-15. This was not fun.

7. Trip to Harbin: Chinese textbooks always seem to have a lesson about Harbin and ice lanterns, so Sarah and I took advantage of the weekend after finals to go to Harbin and look at ice lanterns. They were in fact very impressive and awesome. I only took three pictures because it was really cold (REALLY COLD as in -20 Fahrenheit). Turns out taxi drivers in Harbin like to talk to people a lot (unlike in Dalian, where they prefer to just listen to the radio), and lots of people are trying to scam you because Harbin gets a lot of tourists.

Pictures of ice lanterns: IMG_3766


8. Going home: We returned from Harbin at 10 on the 17th, so I bought some snacks for the plane and went to sleep so that I could get up and leave for the airport at 4:30 am. I then waited in lines in the Dalian airport (2 hours), flew to Shanghai (2 hours), got through customs and security and checking in again in Shanghai (3 hours), flew to Detroit (13 hours), waited in lines and rushed around through security and customs in the airport in Detroit (3 hours), and flew to Oklahoma (3 hours) for a grand total of 26 hours spent in airports and airplanes, 3 times through security, 3 times waiting in line to check my bags, and lots of sitting. It actually wasn’t bad, and for once nothing was delayed. Success!

Online Shopping: More difficult than you might think

Despite the fact that Dalian is sometimes called the “shopping city”, and does indeed have more than it’s fair share of gigantic malls, I decided to try out some online shopping in China because walking around all day shopping can get exhausting, particularly when you don’t know which stores might have what you’re looking for. A lot of Chinese people also choose to shop online, especially for clothes, so I thought there must be some advantage to it. It turns out that Chinese online shopping sites are incredible. Basically, you can buy absolutely anything for ridiculously cheap and read a million reviews about it to confirm that the quality is good before you buy it. It is then shipped to your door (supposedly) for at most $2.

The first step is setting up an account, which went smoothly until I got to a part where you have to enter your name, but it has to be at least two Chinese characters and also has to match your bank card. Obviously, my name could not possibly meet both of these requirements. I actually don’t remember how I got around this snag, but I somehow did. I probably couldn’t do it again without a lot of luck, but at least now I have a account.

I ran into a second snag because I could only use my bank card that had 67 yuan ($10) on it. (Long story short, I have two bank cards that I didn’t try to get. One is from the school and has my scholarship money. One is from when I went to the bank and exchanged money and they put the 67 yuan that wouldn’t go nicely into hundreds on a card and gave it to me.) For some reason I couldn’t sign up for an online account because (again) my name was wrong. Apparently, I had to enter it with a bunch of extra spaces in it. Once I was finally able to get past the first step where you put in your name, it turned out that I just can’t use that bank card online at all anyway. Eventually, I discovered that I needed to transfer money between the two cards using an ATM and then a CRS (I didn’t know those existed before I came to China, do we even have them in the states? I still don’t even know what CRS stands for but they’re super helpful.)

Finally, I got to actually try to buy something. I needed to buy running tights, as the weather was quite cold and I forgot my nice running tights in the U.S.. Eventually, I had found a cool $6 pair of tights to experiment with. I entered the address on my room key card, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, my tights did not ship quickly, nor did they ship to my room, or even my building, or even the bridge near my building (somehow, a lot of people get their packages delivered to this spot underneath the bridge and just go pick them up from the pile. Here is proof)

Instead, I received a mysterious text message telling me to go to a place which nobody could give me directions to by that night, or else my package would be send back. They also helpfully left a phone number. I wasn’t about to lose those $6, so I called the number, obtained very poor directions, and headed out the door. I followed the directions, but couldn’t find anything resembling what I was looking for (the 3G building apparently), so I asked some more people on the street, who didn’t know, and then called the number again. This time I got better directions to a school near mine, but I didn’t quite know if I had understood right, so I asked the guy to repeat it, at which time he got annoyed, told me he’d deliver them to me tomorrow, and hung up.

I could have just went home and waited for him to deliver the thing, but I wasn’t sure how he would know where to deliver it, and I’m impatient, so I walked to the other school. Finally, I found someone who knew the place in the text message, and took me to it. Then, we searched through this maze of packages forever, but couldn’t find it because the guy had taken it to his office so he could deliver it. He was very annoyed to see that I had come to get it instead of waiting. But hey, I’m just a stupid foreigner.

Later, I managed to order two whole things and get them actually delivered to my building simply by putting the name of the school I was at in the address. So the lesson learned from this whole experience is that if you order something in China you should make sure that your address is super specific, or else your life will be hard.

Three Days and 3,000 Stories

I have been in Hatfield, United Kingdom at the University of Hertfordshire for almost three days now. It hasn’t been that long in the grand scheme of things, but so much has happened. Saturday:
  • Landed in Heathrow (11:30am)
  • Collected and Taken to Campus
  • Moved into flat
  • Registered for Orientation
  • Signed up for London trip
  • Met cool people
  • Had free dinner
  • Went to bed (9:30pm)
  • Woke up (9:00am)
  • Went to CATS Students Orientation
  • Went to ASDA SuperMarket
  • Returned purchases to flat
  • Went to Exchange Student Orientation
  • Went to “Chill Out Night”
  • Got freaked out by Magician
  • Had free dinner
  • Returned to “Chill out Night”
  • Met more cool people
  • Taught cool people how to play Spoons
  • Played spoons/ chatted for 3.5+ hours
  • missed last bus back to flat
  • walked back to flat with new friends
  • Went to bed (1:30am Monday)
  • Woke up (8:55am)
  • Registered as a student
  • Tried to go to Mathematics Advising session ( no one was there)
  • Went to humanities advising session
  • Got schedule
  • Realized schedule was very messed up
  • partially fixed schedule
  • finished applying for Fleming Scholars Program
  • hung out with new friends
  • Wend to Aldi (yes, they have that here!)
  • cleaned flat
  • had flat meeting with flat-mates
  • wrote blog post
  • Went to bed(midnight)
All of which was done while fighting massive jet lag! :)  

  So much has happened that only a few things stick in my mind. Trying to get my schedule fixed has, of course, been an important part. I’m am here to learn, after all! I had two problems: 1) where I had back to back classes on different campuses, which has already been fixed, and 2) where I have two classes scheduled for the exact same time. I am going to fix the second problem first thing tomorrow. Another thing that sticks out to me is the amazingly talented magician who was at the chill out night. image He did several trick for us. He made an X appear on Camille’s (from Canada) had while it was balled in a fist. He had me write my name on a card of my choosing and then made it appear in the most unlikely of places, including in a sealed envelope inside his wallet. image He made a deck of cards disappear while two of us were holding it. However, his most impressive trick was his last. He had me pick a random card out of the deck. While I was showing everyone the card (except him), he set the deck on the table. I put the card back in the deck while he showed us a semi-transparent card he pulled from his jacket pocket. Then he borrowed my phone to take a picture of all of us with me holding the semi-transparent card from his pocket. image That, ladies and gentlemen, is my card. But other that these things and a few others, the weekend has blurred into a sea of new faces and places. The funny thing is, after knowing some of these people for 36 hours, I feel like I’ve known them forever. We all come from different places, but right here and right now, we are all in the same situation. It’s an amazing bonding experience. But I can tell that these are the people I am going to miss most when I eventually go home :(. Fortunately, that isn’t for several more months!

Week One: Settling In!

It is Sunday afternoon, meaning that I have now lived for just over a week in the beautiful city of Alcalá. A great deal has happened in that week, and I will try to recount some of my thoughts on the week here. I am sure to ramble, so it will probably take multiple posts to say all that I want to about this amazing week! One of the biggest things that I have realized is that it will take me some time to adjust to the Spanish timetable. If my host family is any indication, Spaniards do not enjoy rising earlier, much preferring to both stay up and wake up late. All of my classes will start at 10:30, so I will wake up around 9, late by American standards, but very much within the norm here. Then come classes. I have two a day, one from 10:30 to 12:00 and one from 12:30 to 2:00. I assumed that the 30 minute break was for lunch, and as my host mom sent me to class the first day with a sandwich and an apple, I thought that my assumption was confirmed. Oh, how wrong I was! As it turns out, normal lunchtime here is at 2 in the afternoon, and what I thought was my lunch was simply a mid-afternoon snack! My host mom is constantly bemoaning the fact that I eat what is, by her standards, very little, and this cross-cultural miscommunication only confirmed that – what I thought was an ample lunch she considered nothing but a supplement. Apparently, I really need to work on my appetite if I want to fit in here! Disagreements in how much food is enough aside, I feel so welcomed and cared for by my host mother. From day one, she has constantly worked to make me feel as at home as possible, and my host sister has done the same. It is a bit mind-blowing to me, because these people have opened their home to me, a complete stranger, for four months of their lives and are doing it so graciously! They get to see me throughout my whole adjustment period, enchanted with Spain but at times missing home, slowly but surely adjusting to my new life here. They are my culture and language guides, and I am so grateful for all that they have already done for me. After lunch, on weekends, the Spanish take a siesta from 3 to 5 or 6. This can mean napping, watching TV, reading, or any form of relaxation, and I think it is an excellent idea. In the United States, life is so fast-paced, and people barely have time to slow down and enjoy themselves. I was the stressed-out United States mentality incarnate last semester, and as a result, I was excited to experience the more laid-back mentality of Spain. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have learned that I need to re-learn how to really relax, but I am confident that in time, I will be able to adequately take advantage of the Spanish miracle that is the siesta! Because Spaniards eat breakfast and lunch later than Americans, it should come as no surprise to you that they eat dinner later as well. I was prepared to eat around 8, but the actual Spanish dinnertime is more like 9:30 or 10! I am still not fully adjusted to this, but I know that I will soon get there, and then I’ll be confused when I return home as to why we eat so early! My host mom was shocked when I told her that we dine at 5 or 6 in the states. And I’m beginning to see her point – this way, you have enough time before bed to digest but not enough to become hungry enough to need a snack. The Spaniards might be on to something… Before I had applied to any study abroad programs, I knew that I wanted to choose one that would allow me to live with a host family, and I will be forever grateful that I followed through with that dream. I already LOVE the city of Alcalá, and I cannot wait to explore more of Spain and Europe, but so far, my host family is my favorite part of this adventure. More than anything, I wanted to practice my Spanish and integrate myself into the Spanish culture, and with their help, I will be hard pressed to do anything but succeed. (I realize that this recap of my week turned into a commentary on the Spanish timetable and me gushing about my host family, but I’m not too sad about it. I will definitely be back to describe more of what I have done, but, if only for posterity, I think it is even more important to describe what daily life is like for me here. The grand events and the explorations of new cities will likely stick out in my mind for years to come, but the details of everyday life, which some might call mundane, are just as important to me. I chose Spain for the whole experience, the grand things and the small, and I don’t want to let any of it fade from my memory!)

The Dairy of a Girl Stranded

Or – Why NOT to get to the airport too early – Today my dad dropped me off at Denver International airport somI could catch the first leg of my flight to London Heathrow airport and the University of Hertfordshire. The only problem? My dad dropped me off at nine thirty am; my flight doesn’t leave until 4:15 pm. That is seven hours early. SEVEN HOURS!!! I am currently six hours in and and starting to go a little crazy-er. Because running around, dancing, and/or screaming is generally frowned upon in most airports, I’m writing a blog post instead, because it’s practically the same thing. image Now, before anyone starts thinking my dad is off his rocker (because that’s a whole different conversation) for dropping me off so early, allow me to assure you that there were good logistical reasons for that. However, logistics doesn’t make me feel any better right now. So how have I spent these hours so far. Well, I sat in front of the checkin counter for 3 hours waiting to check in my bags. It too me about an hour to get through security. Then I got some Panda Express and found a plug, which I am guarding with my life. I have spent a lot of that time trying to download some reading material for the plane ride, but that still hasn’t worked because the airport wifi doesn’t work — big surprise. — The plane I will be riding on just landed, but it won’t depart for almost an hour and a half. I have decided to spend that time staring at the plane in an attempt to hurry the process. It probably won’t work, but I enjoy deluding myself. :) image **UPDATE: the wifi must have heard me bad talking it; it finally started working. So al least I got my books! image