South Africa

South Africa- Andrew Rice

When I got off the airplane and stepped onto the bus that was going to take us to our new home for the next three weeks I was in bewilderment of the scenery that was put before me. Nothing that I have ever seen in my life looked so nice. Driving on the left side of the road was one of the many things that I grew accustomed too over my three weeks abroad. The next day we woke up and got introduced to all the people that will be helping us over the course and I have never been more welcomed to a foreign area. I had no clue what to think about this country that I had just got too, but I was soon to find out just how amazing South Africa is.

Our very first week in South Africa was a week of non-stop tourism and being able to see the beautiful country. One of the very first things we did, to get to know each other, was to go to a braai (picnic) at Ivy’s, who is one of Jan’s good friends. When we were at Ivy’s was when I first got my cultural shock in South Africa. We had a traditional meal of cooked beef and lamb, spinach, corn, and white flour dish. We ate all this in a little bowl with our hands and drank luke-warm water but I wouldn’t change that for anything because I would never have had that if I didn’t go over to South Africa. After we got done eating we blocked off a road and had a small dance circle. We showed them how we danced, and they showed us how they danced and it was quite amazing to see all the different cultures. After we got done dancing for two hours we got back on the bus and went back to our house.

I loved every part of this trip so much and wish every single person got the chance that I got to see one of the most amazing places that I have ever been to. The best part about the trip is how it affected my life. All the way from the small stuff like how much I missed iced drinks and how they aren’t a thing over in South Africa because it is so expensive to make ice, or even how I noticed how big carpooling is over in South Africa because they can’t afford a car and really want to save on carbon emissions. This shows me that we need to do more of this over in the States just so that we can be more like South Africa. I know from going on this trip, I will always keep apart of South Africa with me so that then I can give the story of the people over in South Africa that I experienced. From getting accustomed to the people of South Africa, I learned that you need to value more of the important people in your life and the basic needs in your life that you must have instead of valuing the wants you have in your life. South Africa is a place where you can find yourself while seeing the world and I can’t wait to go back to this beautiful city.

-Andrew Rice



Morocco, College, and Religion

January 6, 2017

Even though this was a horticulture trip, the cool part was that we learned many more of Morocco’s identities, like its religion and educational systems. We visited Al Akhawayn University. On the way to the university, we visited an apple farm where we learned the importance of how the crop is grown to have optimal success. Once at the university, we met a U of I alum, Naim, who currently works at Al Akhawayn University. We learned about the the difference between school systems using the traditional Moroccan system and schools that use the American system and how economics plays a major role in which school students can attend. Al Akhawayn University was made, because it was desired to clean up the community and the king at that time wanted to make a school using the American system. The American name of Al Akhawayn means Two Brothers. Students that want to attend this university have to submit their high school records, portfolio, entrance exam, and get an interview. To graduate, seniors must complete a capstone project incorporating their knowledge gained throughout their years at the university. Students also have to do an internship for two months and complete 60 hours of community service working with people in underserved communities before they graduate.

While at the university, we visited their mosque. This was a very unique experience for me, because my knowledge about Muslim religion is very slim and I had never visited a mosque. As we entered with our shoes off and our minds open, I was astonished by the intricate designs of the mosque which included cedar carvings and Jewish designed chandeliers. It was beautiful and so peaceful! Naim and Mosbah (or faculty leader) gave us a miniature insught into how services are held and answered all of our questions regarding Muslim religion and services. We discussed topics ranging from how students at the university lead prayer sessions to the extensive training required to be recognized as a scholar and religious leader to how Osama Bin Laden helped create a false an image of Islamic culture and beliefs. The conversation wrapped up with discussing the relationship between Islam and Catholicism and how Moses, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary are highly respected in the Quran. I found so much value in learning about the Muslim religion, contextual history, and found myself having a desire to learn more about the religion.

Since Morocco is a Muslim country, it is important to discuss religion and how it has had an impact on the country. I truly appreciated Naim and Mosbah being willing to share their experiences and their religious house of worship with us. Even though religious views may vary from person to person, I believe everyone on the trip gained new knowledge, respect, and perspective on the Muslim religion.





Fun in the Sahara Desert in Morocco

January 16, 2017

As we pulled up to a hotel in the middle of the desert, we saw camels lined up outside along with the guides. It was so exciting seeing our camels all lined up waiting for us. Riding the camels were definitely not what I expected. As the camel raised from the ground, it felt like I was rising to the sky and I was going to fall off (which did not happen). It was a long way down, but hopefully the sand would cushion my fall was what I thought to myself. The camel ride was not as comfortable as it seemed, and this made me wonder if people that use camels for transportation experience similar discomfort. Once we arrived at our destination, we climbed sand-domes and on the other side of the sand dunes awaited a night that we would never forget. We danced the night away with Berber men, enjoyed their Berber music, ate well, and watched the sunrise and sunset in the Sahara. On the ride back to the hotel, I tried to talk to the two men that were guiding us. Turns out they were in my age group. One man was 20 and the other one was 22. I asked them some questions but sometimes they could not understand what I was asking due to the language barrier. One question I asked was had they ever left Morocco, and their answer was no. They have the desire to, but cannot afford it. In that moment, like many times in this trip, I realized my privilege. I wish I could have talked to them more, but it was difficult since I did not speak Arabic or French. This was a great learning experience that a classroom could not teach us. Camel rides make beautiful pictures too!


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Costa Rica

VIDA Pre-Vet Costa Rica 2017 – Haley Evans

At the beginning of the year, I had the amazing opportunity to travel abroad to Costa Rica where I helped assist local veterinarians with spaying/castrating dogs and cats. Going into this trip, I had no expectations. New country, new culture, new experiences. I would make the most of it. Being hands on with every patient, assisting with surgery, and monitoring the anesthesia was incredibly rewarding. It allowed all of us to get a taste of what life was like for a vet. Learning new skills, both technical and social, was the theme for this trip. Everything we did required effective communication. By the end of the tour, we were more in sync with how surgeries and consultations went. I can honestly say my decision to take the vet career path was the right one for me. This tour fueled the spark that keeps me moving forward, closer to my goal. There’s a common phrase that is said in Costa Rica: Pura Vida. It means pure life; I took this to heart. Live life in the moment and appreciate what you have while acknowledging what you do not. And work your butt off for what you want.


Haley Evans


Dominican Republic

Santiago, Dominican Republic- Abigayle Steffes, January 2017

After spending a few days in the capital of the Dominican Republic, my class ventured two hours away to Santiago. Within hours of being in this city, I fell in love with it. With endless music and dancing, the city of Santiago never sleeps. I had no expectations of redefining who I was, but this city changed me.

Our first night in the new city was spent in the mountains at an ecotourism site called Jarabacoa. From waterfalls to smokey mountains, the scenery was one that took my breath away many times. At Jarabacoa, we bonded with six of the Universidad ISA students. They taught us Merengue and Bachata. In exchange, we taught them how to line dance and swing dance. These cultural exchanges made me rethink some of our American values and truly opened my eyes to what I was experiencing. Jarabacoa was the highlight of my study abroad trip because I bonded with American and Dominican students, and made some of the best friends.

Another meaningful aspect of my time in Santiago was when we visited a Batey. A Batey Libertad is a rice growing area, where many of the workers live in the community across the street. Eventually, the community converted to sugar cane production that issued work visas for Haitians. These communities are typically poor, and the people often don’t leave the community to seek higher paying work.

From the moment we stepped off the bus, the children welcomed us. They held our hands and would not let go. As we toured their community, I opened my eyes to just how much we have in the United States. We have running water, electricity, and homes with more than one room. However, what we lack is the pure happiness and love for basic things. I noticed that even the company of new people brought an insane amount of happiness to the children we were blessed to meet.

There was one kid in particular that touched my heart. His name was Macero. Macero insisted on braiding my hair and teaching me games, such as handshakes that have corresponding songs. I could see pure joy in his eyes as we interacted. While we Americans may have more luxuries, the Batey community absolutely had more love and fulfillment in their lives because they were not caught up in material items, or living life based on the amount of time you have.

ACES 298: Discovering Systems of the Caribbean taught me more than just agriculture systems. I learned about a different way of life, gained new perspectives and discovered myself. #imagineACES




Semester Abroad-Dublin Spring 2017

Alex Brauman – Junior – Agricultural and Biological Engineering

On January 12th I packed everything I thought I would need for 4 months of studying in another country and drove up to Chicago to spend the day with my family.  The next morning I flew to New York to start my adventure.

After spending 3 days in the city visiting a friend I boarded an overnight flight to Dublin.  Everything since then has been a blur.  The first week was all orientations, getting to know the school, and visiting the city.  It didn’t take long to start traveling though; the first Saturday after we arrived, the school sponsored a daytrip to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.

I am studying at University College Dublin, one of the largest schools in Ireland, with just over 25,000 students.  It is located in the suburbs south of Dublin, but is only a 20 minute bus ride from the city.  The campus is a lot smaller than U of I and a lot of the Irish students I have talked to live at home with their parents and commute to campus.  There isn’t really a campus town like there is in Champaign.  It isn’t really any better or worse, just different from what I am used to!  I’m taking 4 classes here on campus and one online through U of I and they’re actually pretty similar to a lot of the classes I have taken at U of I.

Traveling in Europe, and Ireland in particular, is incredibly easy.  There is so much to do compacted into a small area.  In the 5 weeks I have been here I have visited Cork and kissed the Blarney stone, Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, spent a good amount of time exploring Dublin, and spent a few days in Madrid!  I also have trips to London, Brussels, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna planned.  From Dublin I can get to anywhere in Ireland in less than 5 hours.  Busses and trains crisscross Ireland and the rest of Europe for that matter.  If you plan ahead of time, weekend trips are relatively cheap and allow you to visit some incredible places!  Traveling by yourself or with other students teaches you so much about yourself and the places you visit.

If you’re considering studying abroad during your time at the University of Illinois, do it.  There are so many opportunities, there is bound to be something that will fit your academic goals and schedule.  There are also many scholarships that will help cover any potetial costs of your study abroad experience.  Early planning will immensely by making sure you keep some classes reserved to take abroad.  Studying in another country is an amazing experience and I would reccommend it too anyone who is even considering it!

-Alex Brauman


Africa, South Africa

ACES: HDFS Study Abroad in Cape Town, South Africa

Aside from working at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, I was amazed at all the sights we were able to see during the trip. A meaningful aspect from the trip for me was when we visited some of the townships in South Africa. Since apartheid, these communities are historically impoverished areas inhabiting all Black populations. Although these areas look to be very poor, the sense of community that the residents have with each other is very inspiring. While visiting Ivy’s township of Delft, it was amazing to see all of the neighbors greeting her with such warmth and compassion. After dinner that evening, it was great that we got to interact with some of the other people in the township. After a long day at work and especially during the holiday, spending time with family continues to be an important aspect of this community. That is something I really admired and was inspired to see.

Some of our other adventures included hiking up the Cape of Good Hope, visiting Table Mountain, going to the beach, visiting the apartheid museum, Nelson Mandela’s home, bargaining for authentic souvenirs, and trying so many amazing new foods. Overall, my experience abroad was unforgettable and such a great learning experience. I would encourage everyone to partake in a program relating to their academic and extracurricular interests because the experiences you will have are well worth the journey. #ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

-Vanessa Farrow