Tot Ziens! (A Dutch Goodbye)

(Written by Erik Stanek)

Being back in the USA has never felt so strange, so alien.15917025969_035da261c5_k

After spending over four months in the Netherlands studying at Wageningen University (my last bike ride in the NL on the right), normal life has transformed back to the hustle and bustle from the relaxed, easygoing lifestyle. It was inevitable that coming back to the USA would be a culture shock for me. Shocking, meaning just how big, fast, convenient everything is in America. I think we take it for granted how easy our lifestyles are.

24-hour service, cheap everything, big roads, massive grocery stores, unlimited options. The list goes on how easy it is to just “live” here. It’s not like this in the Netherlands, where people go at their own pace and me time is pitted above capitalism.Overworking is not as common. People actually try to slow down, sip their coffee, and enjoy life. I loved it. The “gezellig” lifestyle (cozy, relaxing, friendly) has been imprinted into me. I have found myself searching for a nice cafe to have a good coffee and read here in the suburbs, but nothing matches. Nothing fits the criteria that the Netherlands set so high. I am left with settling for Starbucks, or some other cooperate chain. It pains me that I cannot find the way of life abroad here in the states. I however can learn from it, learn to make more time for thought and relaxation to help phase out the stresses of our society. I learned so much abroad, things that have changed me and allowed me to see the world in a clearer view.

The one lesson I learned abroad is so simple it seems obvious, yet it is lost too often…

Everybody is the same.

One more time…Everybody is the same.

Egypt, USA, South Africa, Finland, Russia, China, Italy, Czech Republic we are all the same. Searching to love, laugh, and live happy successful lives. Media has created a separation between cultures that is merely a social construct. A barrier that only exists on TV and in words. Traveling the world, and meeting new people each day is a lot less scary when you do not have a TV telling you what to think. I thank my study abroad experience infinitely for this because it has opened up my mind. I no longer think of the world as such a big place. It is actually quite small. We are living in an age of interconnectedness never seen before in history. As a world, we have to take advantage of this. Spread the truth, ideas, and culture to each and every person so we can create a globally connected world. Doing so, we can help to alleviate these false realities that we began to believe and help solve issues that are pulling apart our world. I do not want to dwell on this too much and make it into an attack on media, but rather just portray how eye opening my trip was.

Studying abroad changes you for the better. It opens up a part of you that you never knew existed. You learn more about yourself than you have in the past 20 years of your life. Your dreams seem so much closer when you are not blinded by living in one culture your entire live. New ideas come easier as you have a new point of view to draw upon. I cannot stress just how invigorating my trip was. I firmly believe studying abroad should be required just as a gen ed. If we want to build innovative thinkers. Students capable of solving real world problems. We need to send them out to see the “real world”. Not just Chambana.

For now though, I am still here in the USA, pondering on the things I have learned and the good coffee I will miss. The Netherlands was good to me, and the people were kind. I hope to be back soon and get another taste of the place I would gladly call my second home.

(Christmas Market in Maastricht, NL)


(Colosseum in Rome, Italy)



Liliana in South Africa!

A dream I never knew I had has come to life. I surpassed all my original goals in studying abroad in South Africa for my fall semester at UIUC. It’s difficult putting my past experiences into words to properly capture all the emotions and experiences I had while abroad. But here it is…..

My adventure began at O’Hare airport in Chicago where I met the people I would spend the next four and a half months with. In total we became a group of 14 students. Of course in having a group this size, we would run into some issues from having lost luggage to people being separated and forced to take a different flight. At last the 14 of us were reunited and in the place we would call home for the next couple of months…South Africa! Specifically we arrived in Durban.

We took classes at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on culture and diversity. At 3PM when we walked out of class we were almost always greeted by a group of velvet monkeys! These monkeys were EVERYWHERE!!! They were like UIUC’s squirrels. We were warned to keep our windows closed and also told not to feed them. Well…. one warm day, I opened the window to my room slightly and stepped out for a few minutes. When I walked towards my room I began to freak out and scream as I witnessed a monkey in my room, over my dresser eating by bananas! When the monkey saw and heard me it jumped to the window, looked at me, took a bite of the banana and jumped out the window. I never opened my window after that.


Velvet monkey on campus

During our time in KwaZulu-Natal, we also visited the Drakensburg Caves. It was here that I hiked my first hike, but before I was able to realize that I actually really disliked hiking, we experienced some issues…like the bus breaking down…and getting lost in the mountain… and freezing (Yes it can be cold in Africa)!

Bus broke down

Bus broke down going UP a mountain

Hitch hiked in the back of a pick-up truck. (It was a park ranger) :)

Hitch hiked in the back of a pick-up truck. (It was a park ranger) 🙂

Me in the background excited to start my first hike...notice the excitement was BEFORE the hike. (Although I realized I'm not a hiker I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything)

Me in the background excited to start my first hike…notice the excitement was BEFORE the hike. (Although I realized I’m not a hiker I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything)

My first safari experience also happened when I was in Durban. A REAL safari.. A real AFRICAN safari…WOW, even now I think of the privilege I have in being able to say I have been on a real safari. I was able to see Timon (meerkats) , Zazu (hornbill birds), Rafiki (baboons), Pumbaa (warthogs) and many other animals like zebras and elephants!







To think that all of these experiences occurred during the first 3 weeks is mind blowing! There is still so much more that I did. Look out for more of my blogs to come.

#SAFRICA #ACESabroad #ILLINOISabroad #Gilman #Enkosi