Posted in Study Abroad

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

While studying in another country, you may miss some of your own national holidays. But they can still be celebrated. They are what you make them. Yesterday was July 4th, Independence Day, here in the United States. I thought I’d share the journal entry I wrote from July 4, 2001 while on my study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. As I’ve stated before, the style (or lack there of) of journaling I did while on this program was the catalog, boring, “this happened and then this happened” variety. But by the end of the day, our group of Americans managed to celebrate the day with some ‘back home’ touches.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Happy Fourth of July! I am wearing green! I had class in the morning. The thing here is that their voices tend to lull one to sleep unlike @ home where it is boredom that puts you to sleep. So this means that I slept thru most of class. Then lunch woke me up.

Me (and friends) awake in class

On our way to class we picked up our play tickets and received info on where to be on Sunday for hurling. Then we went to history. Normally I can understand what he is saying. However, today every time he was saying something important he would turn his head the other direction. I had to look on my neighbor’s notes for many things. Then the next class was boring but somehow the guy’s voice just keeps me going.

Then Kevin, Zara, and I went to buy the tickets for the concert on Friday!!! Lisa is going. So is Becky and Caitlyn. Then we went skirt shopping for Zara. I bought blue pants at T.K. Maxx. Zara got 2 shirts + skirt.

At Bruxelles. It was, at the time, a jazz/blues bar (another American touch). The mentioned Sandy (and friend, Mike) dancing.

Then I went home and cooked dinner, caught up on my journal entries and rested. The speaker about pop culture was good and funny. Then we were treated with a drink at the Buttery. We sang songs – American ones in honor of the 4th. Poncho and I did a nice duet to Son of a Preacher Man.

Then we left and went to Mulligan’s. Then we checked out “Fireworks” which is a dance club. We decided not. Then we went to McD’s and that Big Mac + fries tasted so good. Then we went to this place called Bruxelles. It was cool but a bit smoky in the basement. Sandy & I tried to have open wrists to pick up guys – negative.

The group photos. We posed for a bunch of these. Took us a bit of time to get centered in front of the camera before the timer went off.

Then we went home. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and toasted w/ a shot of vodka courtesy of James. We then took group photos. Then we all checked our email. I wrote Amy, Sam and Trevor and yelled @ them for not writing. Then I walked home and went to bed.

Beers: 3 + 1 shot

Posted in Issues, Souvenirs, Study Abroad

Luggage – Bringing Home Your Adopted Culture

Tara Donne (

There is a small shop in a town near where I live called Celtic Treasures. Yes, it’s cliché. There’s the Guinness barware that can be found many places. And they have the claddagh rings, Celtic crosses, and crystal. But what always stood out were the foodstuffs and candy sections. The day I saw they carried the same roll of sandwich cookies my friends and I would get for our lunches I was transported back to Ireland, to being on the train, traveling to some new town, seeing the lush scenery, and feeling downright blissful. This store became my connection to that feeling, that culture.

Returning home and figuring out how to reconcile the two worlds you live in (it’s probably more like three: the world you left at home, the world you encountered away, and the world you thought you were returning to only to find it has been replaced by a world that is a mix of the old you knew and something unknown) to create an entirely new (4th) world can seem daunting, frustrating, joyous, and liberating. It is definitely worth the effort.

There are many ways to go about this. Below are just some of the ways I stay connected through things and language – the outer stuff. This is the easy part. (The real challenge is reconciling your new attitudes, opinions, and viewpoints – the inner stuff. But I’ll save that for another post.)

Things I learned to like while abroad that I continue to enjoy. Football is the first to come to mind, particularly with UEFA Euro 2012 going on right now. I love seeing players I watched down at my local pub while living in London. And getting to know the up-and-coming lads to continue my growing affinity for the sport. Gastronomically, I obtained a strong hankering for Indian cuisine. Also, lest I forget about mayo with fries – yum! To wash down any food, I learned to savor the taste of a well pulled pint of Guinness.

Items I don’t know how I ever did without. Duvets, people. They are a genius way to go for bedding. Why? Because they eliminate the need for multiple layers. Making your bed is a breeze when you have just one layer to pull up and straighten. Plus, with duvet covers (which are sheet-like) you can change up your look while one is in the dirty laundry pile. Initially, I had trouble finding exactly what I was looking for, but the increased prevalence of Ikea has made this issue rather moot. Also, scarves are the number one fashion accessory I took from being aboard. I have a rainbow of colors and am still trying to perfect the different ways to wear them.

My first American attempt at a duvet and cover – pre-Ikea.

The linguistic reminders. I curse in British-English and German. I say little phrases in my head in Dutch and Spanish. I overuse the words ‘indeed’ and ‘quite’ when I’m speaking. In response to asking a friend why she was looking at me oddly, she said, “You just said car park.” For the life of me I didn’t understand why this was “wrong” and my brain couldn’t come up with the American word (parking lot or parking garage).

Posted in Study Abroad

Class Assignment: Haiku

While organizing my parents’ basement over Memorial Day weekend, I came across my papers from my courses in Dublin, Ireland. The program was through USIT and my group was comprised of students from the Universities of Wisconsin and Michigan. In the mandatory module taught by a faculty member from the University of Michigan we talked about haiku as another way to express our experiences while in Ireland. As I had been casually writing rhymes and raps for years I actually looked forward to completing this assignment of writing our own haiku. I remember being quite proud with how mine turned out.

I wrote some of these while sitting on the green at Queen’s University, Belfast. These first haiku were describing what was happening during the lunch break that day.

She tries to juggle fruit
Practicing the toss she fails
Even with two fruit

He can do it well
Juggling is his forte
She still fails at it



Hearts was the card game of the summer. Games could get very competitive, tempers flared, and tantrums were known to be thrown. One girl, in particular, would bring out the anger “Claw” when a certain card would be played that she had to pick up.

Pass them left then right
Queen of spades and hearts are bad
Many points are bad
Rage comes with the Queen
His eyes wander card to card
He has shot the moon



A group of us liked to shake our groove things every now and then. These two haiku are about one night out in Belfast when I was giving a dance lesson to a fellow classmate.

Dancing at the Globe
Sex on the Beach fills me up
Move hips side to side

Did you drop something
Here, let me get that for you
Doesn’t that feel good



What poetry exercise is complete without some tale of love, or, in this case, a crush.

His eyes tell a tale
Places haven’t seen not touched

Says he has seen me
Hands on my shoulders, warm, new
Fades into the east




Posted in Issues, Study Abroad

Reaching Slot Zuylen Castle

In the early weeks of my culture shock while in the Netherlands weekends were a fearful thing. I didn’t know too many people yet. My Dutch roommates were often out of town or busy doing their own things. Without school to get me out of the apartment and interacting with others I feared I’d spiral even further downward. I saw a weekend trapped inside my head, and, thus my apartment, as a failure in time usage while I had this opportunity.

I had come from a summer in Ireland where I was very quickly incorporated into a group and was assumed to partake in any weekend plan. In the Netherlands, things weren’t so instantaneous. With people spread out across an entire city it proved more challenging to make friends than living in the dorm-style environment in Dublin where everyone was at my fingertips.

The first weekend in Utrecht in which the school wasn’t sponsoring an event neared. I began to hear about other people’s plans. It frustrated me that I didn’t have any, and my brain translated the fact that I hadn’t been asked to join anyone meant that I was un-liked. And if I was un-liked then it would be a very long, lonely year of limited travel and experiences. It never occurred to me to figure out what I wanted to do and ask other people if they wanted to join me. Not when I was in victim mode.

Two girls I had hung out with a couple of times were discussing how they were going to check out Slot Zuylen Castle located not far from town. They were going to ride their bikes along the Vecht River. It sounded very idyllic to me. Just the sort of local exploring I’d have chosen if I had been thinking that way. The more they went on about it the more I wanted them to ask me to go too. I wasn’t outgoing enough (it would be rude I thought) to just ask if they’d mind a third.

Slot Zuylen Castle

Friday came and they were still planning on going the following morning, but no invitation followed. I was boiling inside to the point of screaming with my thoughts about a failed, unused weekend, being trapped in my apartment, the dread of not having plans and forcing myself to go outside, and feeling un-liked enough to not be asked to do anything by others. I no longer cared if I was being rude. To me, I’d sacrifice being rude to try and avoid the darkness that loomed in my head. So I blurted out, “Can I go with you guys?”

“Of course,” one girl said. “We would have asked you but we thought you had other plans when you didn’t express an interest in going.” I didn’t see that response coming. When she said this something sort of clicked inside my head. I was able to step back from my situation and I recognized how my dealing with culture shock had affected the way I was viewing the scenario. Without my cloud of fear and anxiety, simply saying, ‘Hey that sounds like fun. Mind if I join?’ wouldn’t have felt like a do-or-die, all-or-nothing event. It would have been normal.

On that bike ride to the castle I was thrilled to see a snapshot of the countryside. I encountered my first windmill up close, saw sheep, and saw how the farmers direct and contain the plentiful water supply. Experiencing firsthand a taste of the extensive bike network out of the main cities was cool too. It seemed like something every country should have.

This freak-out, then blurt-out, and resultant positive response was the first step in breaking with my shock. It helped me to see whatever situation I found myself in more than one way. All was no longer doom and gloom. I still had a ways to go but having made that first step was everything.

Posted in Study Abroad, Travel

Please Don’t Stop the Oompah Band

I always held a fascination for Germany, more specifically Bavaria. It began with my parents’ almost yearly trips to München (Munich) when I was four or five years old. They would bring back dolls dressed in traditional clothing with shawls, hats, and sashes; a stuffed elephant (Benjamin Blümchen), who apparently held a variety of occupations as I had clothes for him to be a boy scout and a chimney sweep; chocolates that tasted like nothing the Easter bunny had ever left me; and books in a language with too many capital letters. I even had my own pair of lederhosen.

I often wondered about this far off place that my parents had to take a plane to get to, and which produced so markedly different takes on toys and clothes and chocolate. The pictures in my parents’ slide shows added to my wonder. The timber-exposed buildings, the elaborate Neuschwanstein Castle, the largeness of beer steins, the hats with feathers and pins, the merriment and splendor of Munich’s Rathaus-Glockenspiel (to my child-eyes, it was a marionette show for everyone, right in the middle of town) – this is not the stuff of adults!

As I got older, little changed my view. I found out that one of my favorite films – The Parent Trap – was based on a German children’s book by Erich Kästner. The pictures my sister brought back from her first trip with my parents looked much the same as from years before. As a special treat, we would eat knackwurst, and like the big beer steins, these were oversized hot dogs. Everything seemed bigger, and, therefore, more magical over there. When would I get to see for myself?

When I did get to Munich, it was an impromptu trip at the tail end of a week in Prague and Vienna that four friends and I took during a break while studying in the Netherlands. Two of the girls and I decided to take a few extra days and stop in Munich on our way back to Utrecht; the remaining two headed back home. I was so excited. I’d finally get to see what the rest of my family had seen. I’d get to find out if my childhood images of the place held true. If the train ride was any indication, I wouldn’t be disappointed.

Leaving Vienna we had nowhere to sit on the train. Once in Germany, we switched to a smaller train that would take us into Munich. We were happy of the late hour and the low number of travelers as seats were plentiful. My friend, Ximena, from Mexico, was teaching me and our other friend, Leslie, the words to La Bamba when we heard music coming from the next car. The sounds reminded me of the polka bands that played at a German restaurant back in Madison. We decided to investigate.

Entering the next car we discovered an Oompah band! They were on their way home from a gathering and competition. On their heads were hats with pins and feathers, and on their bodies were lederhosen. I couldn’t have pictured this happening nor could I have asked for a better greeting to Germany. They happily played for the crowd that began to gather in the car.

Munich, too, did not disappoint. I drank from the oversized beer steins, I tried on a colorful traditional dress, I ate knackwurst, and I saw the performance of the Glockenspiel. The city also had a surprise up its sleeve for me too – surfing! People were surfing in the Englischer Garten! My expectations had been reached and exceeded.

Though overstuffed with touristy sites and actions, this was a fantastic introduction to the country. I knew my childhood view was only a part of a greater, more complex culture and society. I knew that if I had the time to get out of the city center, I’d see many contrasts to my romantic image. But, such as that band on the train, I’d also see many reinforcements too.

Posted in Study Abroad

Hurling with Cúchulainn

It is March Madness time here in the US and I am writing during an unwanted lull after the first week of speed and excitement of the men’s college basketball tournament has come to a close with the original 64/68 teams being whittled down to just 16. As I anxiously await the upcoming four days of games in the second week of the tournament, my mind, in its craving for exhilaration in this downtime, keeps going back to the day when I saw the quickest, toughest, and most intricate sport being played. The sport was hurling.

As part of my study abroad program to Dublin, Ireland, I had the option of attending a hurling match. The excursion included entrance to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) museum at Croke Park, and a ticket to a championship match between Kilkenny and Wexford. Though I had heard about hurling, seen a Guinness billboard with hurlers depicted on it, and had bought a hurley a couple weeks prior, I had little idea of the awesomeness of the sport.

Walking into the stadium I had no clue what I was in for. The museum was great for a historical perspective and had fun interactive stations, but didn’t prepare me. The field itself was enough to give me pause. It was huge. It was longer than an American football field and nearly two times as wide. I had learned that there are 30 players on the field at once, 15 to a side, but even that number couldn’t need that much room, could they?

Before heading to my seat I chose a team to root for. Though Wexford shared the same colors (purple and gold) as my high school, I had to go for Kilkenny (gold and black) for no other reason than I really liked Kilkenny beer. I bought a braided headband, though I didn’t know at the time it was for my head; I just wore it draped around my neck. The space on my head was occupied by what I had considered to be a headband – a narrow strip of cloth with Kilkenny written across the front. It was most likely an armband. Oh well.

I sat next to a guy on my program who was a sports fanatic. He decided to root for Wexford and decked himself out in purple and gold. He had a headband, armband, and a team jersey. He also waved a purple and gold flag. Having chosen our sides, all we had to do was figure out how the game was played.

The crowd was loud and pumped up for the game waving their flags of varying sizes above their heads. I was surprised to see that the two support groups were quite intermingled. There was no real sense of separate home and visitor sections in the stands. I was also surprised the seats weren’t full, this being a championship game. But I paid little attention to these details as I was riveted by what I was seeing on the pitch.

(Author: Peter Wöllauer)

Field hockey was the first sport I thought hurling comprised elements of.  Hurling has two main pieces of equipment, a hurley and a ball. The moments when the hurlers played the ball on the ground or performed small lifts or scoops of the ball with the hurley I felt I was watching hockey.

Once the ball was off the ground the sport added huge dashes of lacrosse, for when they ran with the ball they had to balance it on their hurleys if moving further than four steps, and a pinch of baseball, for when they would toss the ball in the air out in front of them to then swing at it with their hurleys. Rugby can join the mixture with the lack of protection worn for a game that allows some forms of tackling. Handball is the last to lend itself to the concoction with players being able to open-palm pass the ball to each other. Scoring, I eventually figured out, went one point for between the uprights and over the bar, and three points for a goal in the net, below the bar.

The game is fast and tough. The amount of body contact was striking due to the fact that players were wailing hurleys about. One player had to come out due to blood on his uniform and needed to change before he could return to the pitch. I was surprised there weren’t more like him. As someone with good hand-eye coordination but poor something-extended-from-hand-eye coordination, the high level of a multitude of skills involved amazed me.

I left the park that day knowing I had just witnessed something truly awesome in the world of sports. As my words cannot do hurling justice, here is a video I came across to illustrate what I saw that day. I’ve watched it a number of times to help fill the void caused by the tournament’s break. It seems to do the trick. For the rules and other background information click here.

Posted in Guest Blog, Study Abroad

Norwich Calling to the Faraway Students

This is a guest post by Nicole Subik.

“A fine old city, truly, is that, view it from whatever side you will.”

-George Borrow, writing about Norwich in the 19th century

When I tell people that I studied abroad in England, they usually assume that I was in London. It is almost akin to telling people I grew up in New York State and the familiar and repeated automatic assumption of a Manhattan upbringing. Although I did spend some time (about 2 ½ weeks) in London, my heart belongs to Norwich, the city where I spent the majority of my junior year as a student at University of East Anglia (UEA).

Norwich (pronounced Nor-itch) is a city located in Norfolk, about a 2-hour train ride northeast of London. With a population of over 125,000 people, it serves as a professional and cultural hub for the surrounding areas making the population appear larger. Boasting a large university, football team, cathedral, and 12th century castle, its rich medieval past stands alongside its stunning modernity to produce an alluring juxtaposition of old and new.

Norwich postcard circa 2001

The city itself is conspicuously urban in many ways, but the pockets of historical architecture and preserved history allow for a spectrum of “moments” as a study abroad student. The famous open market that has been around for almost 1,000 years is a stone’s throw away from a Top Shop; a little closet-sized store selling meat pies is a couple of doors down from Marks and Spencer; the Castle Mall (now known as The Mall Norwich) was named for its proximity to William the Conqueror’s castle. I remember one day taking a bus from the university into the city center and buying a McFlurry with Cadbury Crème Eggs (don’t judge me unless you’ve tasted one!) before heading off to do some exploring of historical sites relating to Julian of Norwich.  I got lost but was fortunate enough to meet an elderly life-long Norwich resident who walked me (very slowly) to where I was headed; I enjoyed the sleepy, ancient sites, headed home, and then later went clubbing at one of the numerous night clubs in the city.  All in one day.

A view skyward from a Norwich street

My undergraduate institution has a total enrollment of about 2,500 students and is set in a quiet suburban setting. UEA has nearly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students and is situated on the outskirts of a bustling urban area. Studying abroad, for me, was not only a chance to experience the different culture of a foreign country, but it was also an opportunity to try out life at a larger university and bigger city.  The program I attended allowed me to live in a dorm with other UEA students, mostly native English freshmen who were decidedly not having a study abroad experience. I felt that integrated me into the culture in a way that may not have been possible in London. Having a residential campus as home base gave me footing within the university community. In addition to my life as a full-time student, I attended campus events, wrote and directed a piece for a short play festival, and made loads of British friends who I still keep in touch with 10 years later.  The location also gave me a chance to travel around England and other parts of Europe with ease.

My rail pass

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my life. I did not quite know what I was getting into, but it turned out that Norwich was a perfect fit for me. I have not been back since I left in June of 2002, but I think often of returning to England. When I plan this trip in my head, I envision flying into London and spending a few days taking in the sights, but my travel daydreams always, always land me back in Norwich.

Nicole Subik is a Learning Specialist at Villanova University.