Europe, Italy, Rome, Uncategorized

Rome, Italy – Food and Culture Program (post 2)

After a month in which quickly became my favorite city, I completely fell in love with Rome. I instantly loved the culture, customs, and norms that the city has.

February was a fun month. It was the first month of traveling we got to do. I went to class and explored Rome Monday through Friday, then when the weekends came I took full advantage of it. We even had some Fridays off which made for longer getaway weekends.

My first trip outside of Italy was to Prague, Czech Republic. It was a strange feeling at first, even getting on the plane and traveling to another country (especially since I’ve never left the U.S. before). We got settled in and started exploring right away. We hit the main tourist stuff like Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, and Prague’s Astronomical Clock. It was such a cute and friendly town.

Other weekend trips in February included Paris, France, Interlaken, Switzerland, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Being exposed to these different countries was truly an incredible experience. I found myself comparing them to the U.S., as well as Italy. Each country is so uniquely different that I’m glad I could see firsthand.

Even with all of my weekend trips I was lucky to do this month, I was always happy to come back home to Rome.

-Madelynne Murphy

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

Europe, Ireland, Uncategorized

Happy Cows Come From Ireland

My friends and family always joke with me, “Are you actually studying over there?” While I have been on many adventures during my time abroad, rest assured I am still attending class and learning at University College Dublin. This past Friday, I had my first “practical” or field trip to the university’s research farm, Lyons. I went with my ANSC20050 class, which is about dairy production.

Ireland’s dairy production system is very different from ours in the states. One of the first things I though when stepping off the plane for the first time in Ireland was, “Wow, this place really is green!” Ireland’s abundance of grass is a cheap feedstuff for cows. Ireland’s weather also differs from Illinois’. It rains here, a lot. This causes the grass to grow on a seasonal curve, with the highest amount of grass being produced in the spring. Farmers will try to match the curve with milk production, meaning the cows will also be producing the most milk in the spring.

Spring calving is most popular in Ireland, which results in a surplus of milk being produced in the spring and less being produced in the winter. One way Ireland deals with the high amount of milk in the spring is by producing dairy products, which have a long shelf life. Ireland is famous for it’s butter, cream liquor and cheeses. Since Ireland is an island, the products being sold internationally must also have a long shelf life.

I have been greatly enjoying my dairy production class at UCD and learning about the differences and similarities between Ireland’s production and the production back home. It was refreshing visiting Lyon’s Research Farm to see that cows may raised differently over here, but they are still as happy and cute as I remember them from back home.

– Tessa Cowser

Belgium, Europe, Uncategorized

Reflections on my Semester in Leuven

Before my semester, I highlighted a few goals for the upcoming few months. I wanted to meet new people, go out of my comfort zone and experience a new culture. These three goals were important to me, and I believed that by accomplishing these goals, I would be a more well rounded person.

The week before classes started included an orientation week where we had the chance to meet other incoming exchange students. Here, I met some Russians, a Brazilian and a Slovenian. Throughout the semester, we created a bond and constantly hung out around Leuven as well as during other excursions outside Leuven. These few people became some of my closest friends within four months and I know that I have a home whenever I am in their home countries.

Before the semester, I never wanted to travel alone. It was not because I was scared, but because I thought that traveling alone is boring. In March, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and plan a weekend trip to Copenhagen and Malmo by myself. I figured that this would be a test to whether I can successfully overcome my fears of traveling alone. Throughout that entire weekend, I was completely in control of my itinerary, which is something that would not happening if I were traveling with others. I also gained a new appreciation for life and different cultures because I was less distracted and more focused on my surroundings. This spearheaded my other trips alone, including Luxembourg City, Ipers and Dinant.

Throughout the semester, I lived on the same floor as 10 other Belgian students. On most days, our paths would cross in the kitchen while cooking or eating dinner. We would always discuss Belgian and European politics as well as US politics. I also learned a lot about Belgian pop culture and how important football (soccer) is in their daily lives. I would also practice my Dutch with them. A few of them became some of my closest friends at the end of this semester.

These past few months have felt like a never-ending dream. Never would I have thought that I would travel so much, meet such diverse individuals and learn about a completely new culture. Unfortunately, all dreams must come to an end, but the memories will never be forgotten.

Europe, germany, Uncategorized

Weekend Trip to Berlin

Two of the main reasons I choose my program, a semester at University College Dublin, was the location to travel Europe and the amount of time to. After only being in Ireland for three weeks, I was ready to head to mainland Europe and visit Berlin, Germany. It is exciting, and a bit scary, the amount of independence I have over here. Having looked at my semester schedule, I realized most of my exams and projects were due throughout April and May. Now, I figured, would be the best time for me to travel. My new friends and I talked about a weekend trip, and only 4 days before leaving, we booked our plane and hostel. It was spontaneous, but the best decision made since being here.

The weekend started on Friday at 4:30am to catch a bus to the airport. No classes on Friday for me! We spent Friday walking around the city and walking through museums. There are so many details and sculptures on the buildings, something you just don’t see in the states. Being in Germany was the first time being somewhere where English wasn’t the primary language. Luckily, most people spoke it a little and I traveled with a friend who took German in high school.

Saturday was all about the sightseeing. If you are traveling in Europe, I highly recommend seeing Berlin! It has a very urban, hipster and young feel to it. Also, if you like history, there is a lot to see too. One of my favorite parts of the trip was learning about the Holocaust at the Topography of Terror museum. If you want to experience traditional Germany, Berlin may not be the place to go, but I enjoyed getting a true taste of the  exciting city.


The breathtaking Berliner Dom Cathedral and the Needle in the background.


The Berlin Wall – East Side. So much talented artwork!


Parts of Berlin have a very urban feel to them.

FullSizeRender (67)

The Brandenburg Gate is a must-see!

By the time Sunday rolled around, we were very tired from all the exploring we had done. Hostels are cheap, but not the best for a good night’s sleep (I’ll bring earplugs next time!). We wrapped up our sightseeing, did some shopping at a local art flea market, and tried currywursts. After a long weekend, I was ready to head back to my new home in Dublin. I can’t wait to see where else I get to travel in my 4 months here! Auf wiedersehen, Deutschland!

-Tessa Cowser


Europe, Italy, Uncategorized

Rome, Italy – Food and Culture Program (post 1)

I have never been to Italy before, let alone been outside of the United States for that matter so I was extremely excited and grateful to study abroad, but of course I didn’t know what to expect. I studied in Rome through U of I’s Food and Culture Program for a whole semester, and I can honestly say it’s been the best four months of my life. I was able to travel to and see several countries, learn to be fully independent, meet so many people, and most importantly immersed myself in a totally different culture that forced me to step outside my comfort zone. In the last four months, I gained new perspectives on things I normally wouldn’t have.

After weeks of preparation and packing, and a 13 hour layover flight that seemed never ending, I was finally in Rome! Tired and cranky as expected, we got dropped off at our apartments that quickly became our homes for the next four months. Trying so hard to fight the jet lag, our program directors kept us busy right away with a welcome dinner, following a scavenger hunt around the city the next day. It was like the blind leading the blind trying to find all of the monuments and historical buildings. Keep in mind we haven’t even been in Rome for 24 hours. We got lost many, many times but it ended up helping us become aware of our surroundings early on.

Thankfully we had Sunday to ourselves to catch up on some sleep and relax (we arrived that Friday and were constantly doing things ever since). Naturally, me and my roommates slept in until 3pm and it was very much needed. Once we were up and going, our first stop was the Vatican Museum. It was absolutely beautiful, and pretty incredible to see the history and art of the past. Our tour also included the Sistine Chapel which was an experience I’ll never forget.

We started school that Monday which was like your typical first day back in the United States. We went over the syllabi for each course, met our professors, and learned the ground rules. This specific program is through U of I, so my classmates were only the U of I kids in that program too. There was a total of 36 of us. We took 5 classes which included Contemporary Italian Society, Food and Culture, Food and Media, Layers of Rome, and Italian. Every class was held on alternative days, besides for Italian which we took everyday (which came in very handy).

The rest of the week contained our classes, roamed around the city after classes, and surely but slowly unpacked our stuff. The following weekend my roommates and I took a train up to Florence for a day where we traveled around the city.

By the end of the month, we were totally accustomed and knew how to “do as the Romans do.” The transition took a little bit of getting used to, but it was fairly easy for myself. At this point I was already in complete awe of Rome and was just so excited to be there.

-Madelynne Murphy


#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces

Europe, France, Purpan, Uncategorized

Weekend Adventures: EI Purpan, Toulouse, France

During this program, there are two weekend trips planned out for the first month while the participants are in school. The first weekend was spent in the Pyrenees mountains. It was absolutely incredible, even from inside of the bus while we drove to the top. Looking back on the photos, none of them actually do the beauty of the mountains justice; they also look completely edited. We arrived at our humble abode for the weekend and immediately had a picnic lunch before we left to begin our hike. It was a beautiful day, perfect for the long climb. By the time we reached the top, I had surprisingly only fallen down once. I’m unfortunately clumsy, so this was actually a big deal. It began to rain once we made it to the top, but the water was a perfect way to cool down. We were fortunate enough to get a great view of the tallest waterfall in Europe before we headed back down to the bus. That night we were served a traditional French meal with several courses, one of them obviously being cheese. Afterwards, we watched the Barcelona team at a local bar as they won the Championship game for the UEFA Champions League.


The Pyrenees

The next day, we left early in the morning so that we could make a stop in the famous city of Lourdes on our way back to Toulouse. It was a beautiful Cathedral, and being able to walk through the Grotto was very humbling. It is one of my favorite places that I’ve visited while being abroad.


The Grotto

The next weekend, we drove all the way to Barcelona. We arrived Friday night just in time for a delicious tapas dinner. Afterwards, the group went out to the nightclubs to experience Barcelona’s famous nightlife. It is nothing like that of the places in France that I’ve been in. The next day, everyone spent time in the sun and the sand, and walked all over the city. We had plenty of gelato and super sore feet by the end of the day. Finally on Sunday, we headed to La Sagrada Familia, walked past the Arc de Triomf, and wandered around the many parks before it was time to head back on the bus.


Arc de Triomf, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

The third weekend was free, so a small group of us headed to the beach town Arcachon, near Bordeaux, to relax in the sand. We ate more fresh seafood in one weekend than is normal, and probably spent too much money on macaroons; but it was a wonderful mini vacation from school.


Being able to travel all over with everyone on the program was a great way to make long lasting friendships. Nothing can bring you closer to someone than getting lost in foreign cities and navigating your way home together.

Maureen Bailey

Europe, France, travel

The French Family Experience

After completing my first month at Purpan University in Toulouse, France and moving in with a host family in rural southwestern France, it is amazing how different my experience is. Living in Toulouse surrounded by 60 other American students was easy. I always had people to talk to and connect with despite the fact that I was in a completely different country. I didn’t have to think about how I acted, or if I was doing something offensive all the time around my American friends because we all came from similar cultures. When I moved in with my host family, everything changed. All of a sudden I was surrounded by 5 unfamiliar (but very friendly) faces who spoke little to no English, and had a completely different lifestyle than me.

I am now currently living with a wine-producing family in the Madiran region of France. I spend my weekdays working in the vineyards and selling wine to any English speaking customers who happen to come to buy and/or taste wine. Although it is not what I want to do for the rest of my life, it is a great experience, and I’m learning more and more about the wine-making process as I continue my internship.

My host family nearly always has other family members over at their house, and it’s appropriate for anyone to come over unannounced. At my house in the US, we rarely have family over, and when we do it is planned well in advance. Additionally, every meal in my host family’s house is eaten together. Family time and eating are of the utmost importance. Although family time is also very important to my family, we don’t do nearly as many things together as my host family does. I really like and appreciate how much the French value spending their time with others.

Despite that our families are thousands of miles apart, it is almost comical how many different similarities there are between my family and my host family. My host family has three children like my own family. The oldest child takes on the role of the responsible (sometimes cranky) boss, much like my oldest sister. The middle child gets blamed for everything but in reality is the nicest one, much like my older brother. Last (but never the least) the third child is clearly the ornery favorite, much like myself. The last sentence was a joke…kind of. Overall, even though the language barrier is something that is inescapable, and it’s bound to be uncomfortable when you sometimes feel like you are imposing on your host family’s private life, I’m learning more about myself, how to communicate effectively both verbally in English and French and nonverbally through body language… and lots of smiling.  I am looking forward to my next few weeks here!

-Hannah Donoho