Letters to Pia …. I mean Juliette.

It can sometimes be a bit tourist-filled city here in Verona. The city is so beautiful and filled with life, yet at the same time it is quite small and easy to see in a short time. I would say it is kind of the perfect city live in in Italy, because you get to see the beauty without really seeing the chaos that can come from living in a big city in Italy. But like I said, it can sometimes be tourist-filled. One of the main attractions here in Verona is the fact that this is the city of Rome and Juliette. There is La Casa di Guilietta and Guilietta’s tomb located very close to the city center. There is also a neat thing that has been going for a while in “a casa di juiletta”, which was highlighted in the famous and lovely chick-flick starring Amanda Synes – Letters to Juliette.  People all over the world come to this location and write letters to Juliette asking for her advice.  Then they take the letter and stick it to a wall inside of Giuliettas House ( where you can also find her famous balcony). However, people can also send letters to this house address. Whether it be 13 year olds or 40 year olds, all letters are opened and answered by il Club di Giulietta.  This is where I come into the story. My dear friend, is a journalism major and it has always been a dream of hers to be part of the Club. Through her help, she and another gal were able to join “il club di Giuletta”. This club is made up  by many different women of all ages, all who are in other words “Juliet” and respond to the letters sent to Juliet. It has been such a neat experience to be part of this club. At first I did not know why I could be of any help to them, fore I do not know anything about being in love or have any true experience in it, and I didn’t think that I had the “poetic” heart or mind that a “Juliet” required. But everyone is always able to help in some way, and I think this program has helped me to discover this. When I first entered the office, I discovered and there were thousands of letters to be answered. I expected this. However, what I did not expect was that the letters were written in many different languages. This is something that is obvious, but had not crossed my mind. Obviously if people from all over the world are writing to Juliet, the letters must be in all kinds of languages! Luckily, I am able to speak and write in Spanish ( thanks mom & dad!!!) and English (big surprise there). This came in such great help because believe or not much of the letters sent were in spanish. ( if you think about it most if not all of S. America, excluding Brazil, speak Spanish and also there is Spain….that is a lot of girls with a lot of feeling writing in spanish!).  I also studied French in high school, am studying Italian now,  and somehow I can tell the difference between written spanish and protoguese, so I  help sort out many of the different letters in English, Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese into different piles.  My favorite thing to do though is to write back. Many times girls writing to Juliet are only asking for advice on how to be open to love….not so much how to deal with is ( although we do get plenty of those). My favorite letters to write are to the young girls who are still in the early teens and who are still hopeful and dreamy about love. These are the easy letters. The hardest ones to write back are the ones where girls seek answers, answers that I cannot give them. These are the toughest ones, but with the help of the other secretaries they are most definitely doable and done. Overall, I am really enjoying myself here in Verona and I feel extremely privileged and honored to be a part of this club for this semester. All thanks to my good friend!


Spring Breaking in Amsterdam

Spring break just ended and school is back in session, but I had the great opportunity to travel all the way to the Netherlands to Amsterdam. This was my longest trip and have to say it was definitely one of my favorites. First on my list was of course seeing the famous ” I Amsterdam” sign, with life size letters. This was one of the many cool little things that made Amsterdam so unique and different from Rome, where I am currently studying. I was absolutely amazed by the hundreds and hundreds of bikes that were everywhere. People there much rather ride their bikes everywhere rather than drive cars, even when its rainy and cold. The scenery was incredible, each bridge looking like something out of a painting. The canal was everything I had hoped for, glistening in the sun and making Amsterdam feel like home. The scenery was not the only impressive thing Amsterdam had to offer though. The food was incredible and was such a nice change. The coffee was designed with a heart and was so fresh and made right in front of me. I had breakfast at a place called Bakers and Roasters, which was half a restaurant and half a bakery. I would recommend it to anyone visiting because of how welcoming the environment was and the delicious food. My second favorite was a little basement restaurant called the Pancake Bakery, which served at least 30 different types of pancakes, every flavor you could have ever imagine and much more. Amsterdam was the adventure of a life time and I wouldn’t have picked anywhere else to go on spring break!

-Meaghan Sampey

I Amsterdam Sign


Adventures from University College Dublin

Something NewIMG_0304

Arriving in Dublin, getting to the UCD campus was simple and straightforward. All had to do was hop on the aircoach bus outside the airport, but even then I was paranoid about getting off at the wrong stop. I had nothing to worry about, there was a whole group getting off together on that Monday morning and we all migrated to housing check-in together. I received my key card and set out to find my room.

After hauling luggage across campus and several sets of stairs, I could unpack and settle-in. Running low on energy, I had two things left I wanted to accomplish my first day: start confirming classes and find a convenience store for basic supplies. Getting help with classes was extremely easy; I just went to the international student building and got everything sorted out within a couple days. Luckily the campus has a store with every basic living item only a 5 minute walk from my room.

I will admit, the first few days were lonely and probably the hardest of my whole semester thus far. Having no roommates yet, no familiarity with anything, and being thrown into a new city and country left a feeling of isolation. Remembering fellow University of Illinois ACES students were living in the same complex, I shuffled through past emails remembering Amy had said what apartment Dane and she were living in. They ended up living in the apartment house right next to me. After meeting up, we started getting familiar with Dublin.

The first two weeks was filled with exploring Dublin and walking its streets. It’s a city like I’ve never seen before. Winding, narrow streets cut through the city every which way. The first few times going into the city were intimidating to say the least, however, there are multiple major landmarks that make learning to navigate much easier.


It feels like a second home now. You know you love being in a city when you just enjoy walking down its streets. It’s filledIMG_0323 with character day and night. Rather than being jam-packed with skyscrapers, small cozy buildings line the streets.

Nothing compares to the atmosphere of a true Irish pub. Add in a live band, and it becomes unbeatable. We found little place called the Cobblestone on the other side of the river. It’s out of the main city center and away from the tourists. This gem became one of our favorite places to go any night. You can listen to traditional Irish bands play in corner as you sit around and enjoy a couple pints.

IMG_0328A pub located in the city center, the Stags Head has a lot of character. In it, friendly bartenders, amazing food, and a mounted head are waiting on the inside. While we usually try and explore new pubs, the Stag’s Head and the Cobblestone are the two pubs I will remember most in Ireland.

I’ve spent whole days walking through Dublin, and I still enjoy doing it again and again.

Now being in Ireland in the spring, it seems almost necessary toIMG_2604 witness Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day. Wow was it a site to see. The streets were crowded and packed with green as far as the eye could see. There were so many people jammed along the street for the parade; we couldn’t get closer than 20-30 feet. That was a day I won’t forget anytime soon.

Travels in Ireland 

For the first half of the semester, I can say that I traveled somewhere almost every weekend. I really wanted to get out and explore Ireland and see everything it offered.  The first trip was to the Wicklow National Park in Glendalough. There were 8 of us total who went; Dane, Amy, and me, plus several friends we made in the beginning weeks. We arrived on a Friday afternoon by bus and explored the front of the trails. The following day we headed out mid-morning for our hike. We decided to take a combination of 3 trails – each one gave completely different views of the park.IMG_0695

It took around 5 hours to complete the trails, and they delivered some of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever experienced. Starting at the Upper Lake, you walk along it to an old mining town. Up until this point, the trail has been flat, but now we start climbing alongside a waterfall.  After this ascent we are forced to walk along studded wood beams laid across icy and marsh ground. We follow this to the top of the first mountain. A downhill trek begins before climbing up a second mountain. The last of the trail wound downhill through a forest on the backside of the park, marking the end of our Wicklow National Park weekend.

The next trip was one organized by an international student club on campus.IMG_0839 Dane and I signed up together during the welcome week. We were taken west to Galway, a beautiful coast city. We were allowed free roam and exploration the first night there. The following morning, the group was taken to the Aran Islands for a bike ride. We were allowed freedom to go wherever we please. Small groups formed to bike across the main island Inis Mór. One of the most astounding sites of the weekend came from hiking up to Dún Aonghasa, an old fort on the side of a cliff.

IMG_1439Dane and I decided to start exploring more on our own and planned two more weekend trips to Waterford and Kilkenny in the south. Waterford is a coast city, and the oldest in Ireland. The old walls and towers can still be seen that once surrounded it. We walked through several museums and learned a great deal about the history of Waterford that weekend. The trip to Kilkenny the following Waterford was a result of talking to several people who spoke of it as their favorite city. The most prominent landmark is a massive castle sitting along the river. It was a day filled with wandering and admiring.

The last tripIMG_1574 before the 2 week break period was a trip to Northern Ireland organized by the same international student organization on campus. The costal views of that trip were once again amazing. We were taken to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the Giants Causeway, and I toured the Titanic Museum. The rope bridge consists of a pathway along the coast and a bridge that links the mainland to a small island. The Giants Causeway is natural rock formation on the coast that has the appearance of several small cylinders of varying heights. It’s hard to describe, so I’ll let the picture do that.

Traveling Across Europe

Break period has arrived, and that means exploring Europe! Amy and I traveled the first week of break with Katelynn, her roommate (one of our good friends now).  We spent a majority of our time in Italy, visiting four cities: Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome. The focal point of Milan was a large church that rose above the city, giving us a great view of the skyline. Walking through the city center, it was a shopping city for sure.

IMG_1892Venice is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. A city that is made of canals and footpaths, the only transportation is a boat and your two feet. The feeling of isolation from the busy outside world was amazing. We spent most of our time just wandering the twists and turns; interesting shops were around the corner, down the street, and everywhere you look.

I like to split up Florence based on the river. On one side you climb up and see beautiful views overlooking the city. It was quite a hike, but well worth it. The other side of the river is where most of the attractions where, such as the massive Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a cathedral that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

IMG_2489Rome. You can’t really comprehend the history seen throughout the city through pictures and movies.  It really takes your breath away when you see it in person. It’s a large city, but very walkable in that you never get bored of looking at what is surrounding you. There was so much to see in the short amount of time that we had. The Panetheon, The Baths of Caracalla, The Roman Forum, The Colosseum. Each and every one blew me away. There aren’t any words to properly describe the feeling of seeing them.

A short stay in Paris following Rome concluded the first week of break. In Paris I saw the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Musée d’Orsay to name the major attractions. It was a vast city, and the only real means of transportation was to take the metro. By this time, a week of traveling had been exhausting, and Dublin was calling me back. It was a relief to be back in Dublin to rest a few days before the next adventure.


The second week of break, Katelynn and I made our way to Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, we visited Brussels and Bruges while we stayed in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Our days were filled mostly with wandering and enjoying the city. Especially in Belgium, we really had no set plans. Bruges was like a medieval fairytale city. It was a cozy city and fun to walk around. In Amsterdam, we went to the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, giving a great end to the break period.

On Campus – Classes at UCD

IMG_0297Now it’s time to talk about the other part of study abroad, the studying. I fell in love with the UCD campus immediately. It’s beautiful and easy to walk everywhere; there is even a woodsy running trail on the south side. There is openness to it since it’s not in city center, yet is only a 10-15 minute bus ride away from city center. All in all, I have no regrets about my program choice; it is absolutely perfect for me.

Throughout my time here, I have always run into helpful staff. The international student office did a wonderful job of answering any questions I had during the first several weeks. From registering for class to giving directions, they were always friendly.

While I did take a lighter course load than normal, I still wanted to take classes that were important to me. I attempted to take two food science classes, but was only allowed into one. The difference in the program at UCD compared to the U of I was interesting to see. The UCD food science program is much more set-in-stone with classes after talking to Irish students. Also, in the last two years, their classes are only 7 weeks long. They end at the break period and the rest of the spring semester are sent to internships. That concept was very interesting to me.

One of the classes I wanted to take from the very beginning was “Irish for Beginners.” While it can be challenging and frustrating to understand a new language, it has become one of my favorite classes to attend. I found it fascinating learning about a language completely different than anything I’ve seen before.

Another class I place great value on is called “Ireland Uncovered.” Basically an introductory class to Irish culture and history, it covers everything from music and language to prominent figures and events in Irish history. It has been a valuable learning experience.

Class structures aren’t any different than back home; there are small seminar sections but are also the huge lectures halls. The difference comes from testing and continuous assessment. Being used to constantly doing small quizzes, homework assignments, and several midterms, studying at UCD was completely different.

Grades rely on usually one or two tests, a final and maybe a midterm.  The constant continuous assessment work every week in the form of homework is nonexistent – at least in my classes. This method depends on the student doing independent study and checking their own comprehension of material.  While some U of I classes are still like this (massive lecture halls for Gen Eds) the majority of my classes always had some kind of work due every week.

Since my food science class has ended at the 7 week period, I can talk a bit about how exams are different. It was an exam like I’ve never had before. It wasn’t necessarily harder than at the U of I, just a different testing format. First of all, finals are not taken on campus; they have to be taken in an off campus testing facility.  It was a room lined with numbered desks. Everyone is assigned a number on a chart outside the room and before you enter all bags are left in a side room.

I was given one test booklet with lined paper and my exam – one sheet of paper. I had two hours to answer 4 questions. But instead of short answers that get to the main point, these questions must be answered in great detail. Connecting the material across the field is the point of this testing method. It is not just to see if you memorized something, it tests your understanding of a process and how it is used. I see this method as a way to “show what you know.”

However, this isn’t the only tests that are given. Other classes I’m in still give standard multiple choice tests. In my opinion, I found the essay testing easier. The multiple choice questions seem highly specific on details that didn’t seem relevant at the time of studying.

Reflecting on my experience thus far, I have no regrets (apart from the flash of panic “what am I getting myself into” a couple weeks before leaving) on study abroad or my host university. Living and studying at UCD has been wonderful fun the past few months. I can really call Dublin home at this point whenever I travel elsewhere. I’m looking forward to the rest of my semester, the time has sure flown by already.

Josh Warren


Huan Le Gu Amusement Park in Shanghai

This is the biggest amusement park in Shanghai, located at 佘山路 of Shanghai. This character is 春, which means spring, and also means the Spring Festival. (I know it was a bad picture with my eyes closed)

The amusement park was about the same size as Six Flags in the US, but it contains a water park and children palace. However the water park is only open during the summer so I can’t have the chance to experience it, sad~

Picture of the day! Credit to my Chinese friend and thank you!

There were food courts and stores inside the amusement park, bbq, noodles, rices, sushi, and everything. The picture above was a coconut! This is actually the first time I saw coconut in white? I always see the ones in brown and with tassels. The coconut juice is so good, a hundred times better than coconut milk that you bought in the supermarket!

Seals are playing tricks to attract people to take photo with him/her, I think it cause 20rmb, (less than 4 dollars) to take a photo with it.

If you are interested in coming to Shanghai, this is a “must go” place!


Exploration in Shanghai, Xinzhuang Garden

Hello guys~ It is getting a little warmer in Shanghai now! Most of the flowers are out again! Shanghai has a lot of cherry blossom which I am longggg to see for years! This weekend I went to Xinzhuang Garden at the south of Shanghai, hoping to see some cherry blossoms~

However, I was too early for it.. T^T

But luckily there were more a lot more of other flowers were out, and they are as pretty as cherry blossoms too!

This is called 梅花 (meihua), there were two types of 梅花, one is shown on the picture above, which opens at spring time. And there is another one call 腊梅, which opens during cold, snowy winter. (sorry this blog only let me upload image that is less than 2mb, so I have to resize all my images)

This is a enlarged version of an ancient Chinese cooking tool. The handle that I m climb on is the handle that one could hold on and push, so the round round is rolling on the ground, and Chinese usually pull rice, soy beans, or wheat under the stone. This can turn the ingredients into powder and use for different style of cooking.

Many Chinese like to have 盆景 ( indoor plants) and it is actually a Chinese tradition. One can attend courses of how to plant a good 盆景 and there are standards such as certain size, shape, color, and etc. China have 盆景 competitions and museums too. And they could be very pricey.

盆景and me 🙂

This is bamboo area of the garden, bamboo have special meaning to Chinese too. Because bamboo is straight and tall, Chinese use it as a metaphor for people who were honest (straight personality).

These are 桂花, they looks like 梅花 but are in white, and smells a bit like lily.

Here’s more pictures of the garden.

This last one — tradition Chinese drums.  I hope you guys like my pose!


Welcome to Wageningen

I sure picked the perfect winter to escape the record-breaking cold in Illinois! And on top of that, I am so lucky to be spending this semester in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Wageningen, Netherlands is an amazing town in the middle of the country that I’ve grown to call home since my arrival at the beginning of 2015. I am here with five other U of I students, each of us living in a different corridor with mostly Dutch housemates. I have had incredible adventures so far this semester traveling across Europe, yet some of my favorite memories have been made getting to know people here in Wageningen. This small college town, situated an hour by train from Amsterdam, is astonishingly diverse with over 150 nationalities represented. Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) is world class for life sciences, and I have found it the perfect place to be learning about Environmental Policy and related topics.

bikes at ede wag station

(Just a fraction of the many bikes at the train station – our main form of transportation here in the Netherlands!)

wag u r

(WUR campus – love biking over the bridges)

wag street

(The main walking street in Wageningen on a sunny day)

Classes here at WUR are a little different than they are back in Champaign. Not only am I taking Masters level courses (yikes!), but our classes are taught in blocks, meaning I am already completely finished with my first course! I thoroughly enjoyed my first class, Food, Health and Society: An Integrated Socio-Political Perspective. It was fascinating learning about food policy topics from an international perspective and having an opportunity to discuss these issues with people from all over the world. We also had a class excursion to visit the Amsterdam Institute for Advances Metropolitan Solutions and to tour some community gardens in Amsterdam. It was an awesome day of learning, but it was also fun to stop at a small local brewery at the end of the day to get to know some classmates better!

amdam canal

(A panoramic shot in Amsterdam)

I have also been able to take other trips around the country, traveling back to Amsterdam, as well as seeing new places like Utrecht (one of my favorites) and Carnival celebrations in Den Bosch (its Dutch spelling is ‘s-Hertogenbosch – crazy!). Carnival was an insane experience but it was so much fun! The whole town comes out to celebrate and the town even changed its name to honor the celebrations – ‘Oeteldonk.’

utrecht canal

(A canal in Utrecht)


(Carnival in Den Bosch – source: oeteldonk.org)


(Carnival aftermath)

Last week, my roommates and  friends here threw me a surprise birthday party, which I will absolutely never forget! I have been so fortunate to have an opportunity to travel quite a bit on the weekends and over a break period, but I am finding it more and more difficult to spend time away from Wageningen as the semester continues to fly by. I miss you Champaign, but how will I ever leave this place?


(Selfie with my roommates at our annual holiday dinner)

-Fionna Millett

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad


Luck of the Irish

At the end of February, I got the pleasure to visit Dublin, Ireland. This was very special for me because my family is from Ireland and my whole life I’ve actually been an Irish dancer, so this hit pretty close to home for me. I was only there for two days but jam packed my schedule to make sure I could accomplish everything I wanted. The first day I went on the Guinness Factory tour which was unbelievably cool, and got to see where they make this unique kind of beer people drink all over the world. That night, I was taken on a walking tour around Dublin to see some famous sights, one of them being the bar called Whelans, which was the bar one of the scenes from P.S. I Love You was filmed, one of my absolute favorite films. The next day me and my friends did an all day bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher. Along they way we had a couple stops, including one in Galway, which was my favorite because of all the vibrantly colored buildings. Finally when we got to the cliffs, it was almost impossible to get a decent looking picture because it was the windiest day and being that high up got pretty scary. Fortunately, I got one token picture in front of the gorgeous Cliffs of Moher, right before I was almost lifted off into the sky. These two days meant so much to me and I would go back in a heart beat. I also was able to do a little shopping and buy a brand new claddagh ring and great souvenirs for my friends and family. My flight on Sunday at 630 am was not fun to say the least, but i’d do it all over again to get a little more luck out of Dublin, Ireland.

-Meaghan Sampey

Guinness Factory

Whelans Pub

Cliffs of Moher