First Month in Rome

I arrived to Rome, Italy of January 13th with majority of the University of Illinois students who are on the same program as me. We traveled in a group, so this made the flight more enjoyable and stress-free. This was my first time traveling to Europe, so I initially did not know what to expect. The flight was extremely long, but seeing familiar faces along the way was very comforting. As a group, we arrived and were dropped off at our different apartments.

My first experience in Rome was ordering at a restaurant called Sette Oche. The initial language barrier was a little frightening at first. I did not know any Italian, so communicating with the waiter was not easy. Even when I asked a simple question, “What is a popular item on the menu?”, I was surprised to learn that trying to speak in English would not get me very far. Secondly, we experienced some cultural shock when we received the bill. Restaurants in Rome charge a sitting fee as well as a water fee but they do not tip. This was a little confusing. The smell of the restaurants carried down the street. The food smells so amazing, and I felt like I could taste the freshness on the tip of my tongue.

Now with being a month into my program, this process that was once chaotic is now very easy. After our first overwhelming day in Rome, it was nice to get in a routine with orientation and classes starting. I remember feeling excited to start taking Italian classes so I can try to communicate with locals at restaurants, cafes, etc.


So What is South Africa Like?

At this point in time, I’ve been in South Africa for officially 3 months. That’s a pretty long time, and I’ve got to say that I’ve had some pretty unique and exciting experiences here so far. So far I’ve gotten to feed a giraffe, hug an elephant, play with lion cubs, and pet a cheetah. Pretty cool, huh? How many people can say that they’ve gotten to do that? I’ve taken multiple safaris and I’ve seen four of the Big Five. I’ve bungee jumped off the highest bridge in the world, I’ve skydived out of a plane, and I’ve done enough hikes up Table Mountain to last a lifetime. Have I mentioned the beautiful and numerous beaches that I’ve gone to up and down the coastline? This country is absolutely breathtaking and the beauty of it has not been lost on me even after 3 months. I still drive around sometimes and think, “Wow, I get to live in this country for half a year. How lucky am I?”

Now that we’ve discussed my exciting adventures here, let’s get onto the lifestyle differences. So what are some differences between South Africa and America?

  1. The homeless population here is a lot bigger and the beggars are a lot more persistent. If you are not firm with them and say no, they will actually follow you for a short distance.
  2. South Africans walk soooo slow. It takes some time to get used to this, but every so often my American speedwalking mentality comes out.
  3. Everyone and everything here is always late. Professors are late, trains are late, you name it. It’s called “African Time.” Imagine getting used to this when you come from a country where everyone is always 10 minutes early.
  4. Vegetarianism is not a huge thing here. There’s a braai, which is like a BBQ, almost every week and boy do South Africans love their meat. They’ll grill lamb, steak, porkchops, and pretty much anything else that they can get their hands on. Hot dogs and burgers are a no-go here.
  5. It might just be that I’m used to shopping at places like Walmart or Target, but the stores here are all separated. If you need groceries, you go to the local Pick’n Pay. If you need contact solution or medications, you go to the local Clicks Pharmacy. If you need a small screwdriver, there’s a hardware store down the street. All-in-one stores are pretty rare here.
  6. Lastly, people here are not shy about staring. You can walk down the street and if you catch their interest, they will literally stop in their tracks and stare you down until you’re out of sight. Consequently enough, this can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re someone like me who looks very different from everyone else.

Well, that’s all I have to say about South Africa for now.

Sala kakuhle! (Stay Well!)

Sally Tran



Jamaica, Uncategorized

Jamaican Me Crazy, Oakley Whalen, Winter Break 2017

IMG_1401Even after I had arrived in Jamaica, it still felt completely and utterly surreal. I had never been to another country so studying abroad in Jamaica was a whole new ball park for me. I had no idea what to expect! When we first arrived I was stunned by the beauty of it all. I kept having to pinch myself. I knew instantly that I was going to love it.

On our first full day of the trip we went to the University of the West Indies Mona campus that was in Jamaica. We learned about the history of the beautiful campus and saw the training field that Jamaica’s own Usain Bolt trains on! The most interesting part of UWI for me, was learning about student life compared to student life here at U of I. At UWI they were similar to us in the fact that they also have a lot of different clubs and extra curricular activities to take part in.One thing that did differ between UWI and U of I is that UWI does not have sorority and fraternities like we do here, instead they stay in residence halls and become loyal to their halls. Each hall has colors and competes in sports just like our greek life here does. It was so intriguing to learn all about it.

Another cultural thing that I found astounding, is that in Jamaica, since a large fraction of people do not attend college, people’s “alma mater’s” are their high schools, not where they attend college. This is very different from American culture, because I personally feel that people have more pride for their college than for their high school. I was excited, nervous, and eager to learn about all Jamaica had to offer.


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!


IMG_9431.JPGFullSizeRender 2.jpg



Cape Eleuthera Institute, Bahamas – Week 5

This was my last full week, and last weekend, in the Bahamas.  My brother Paul took a vacation from work to come down to the island and visit me, and we had a ton of fun.  On Friday night, all of the interns and some of the managers at the Institute went to a trivia night at the Marina, a resort near our campus.  It was organized by two of the interns and was actually very impressive.  Everyone was organized into groups of 4 or 5 (Paul and I were put on separate teams, since we basically have the exact same wealth of knowledge), and there were 6 categories.  Each category had 9 questions, and I can’t believe I didn’t get some of them!  The names of Ron Weasley’s parents?  How could I forget?  Molly Weasley, MOLLY!  After trivia night, and since my brother was staying in a townhouse in the Marina for the weekend, we had a small after party that included dancing all night and jumping into the shark-filled ocean.  Maybe not the smartest idea, but definitely a night to remember!

On Saturday, Paul and I took a trip down island.  We rented a car from a man named Friendly Bob, who was not really all that friendly, and left around 10:30 a.m.  Our first stop was to Rock Sound, the largest settlement on the southern half of the island.  We visited the famous Ocean Hole.  Paul absolutely refused to jump in, but luckily there was a ladder.  We saw schools of large fish that didn’t seem to be afraid of us at all, and even a handful of reflective blue angelfish.  We walked around the hole and found signs describing its origin and the history of the island and of Rock Sound, which used to be named “Wreck Sound” due to the large number of shipwrecks that littered the water near the settlement.  I was surprised to learn that Columbus actually landed in the Bahamas; was it not he who landed in New England?  Or was it Florida?  Guess I didn’t listen all that well in history class!  While in Rock Sound we stopped at a small gift store called The Blue Seahorse, and we both got delicious smoothies and a handmade painting.  (I also splurged on a bit of jewelry).  After Rock Sound we traveled north to Club Med beach, which was detailed in the same post as the Blue Hole.  It is an abandoned 1970’s resort, and it’s clear just from looking at what remains that Club Med was the place to be at the time.  It also boasts a beautiful secluded beach that I could spend hours on if I had the time.  After Club Med we ate lunch at a restaurant called 1648, which is apparently the year that the Bahamas were colonized.  It was swanky, with one of those pools that juts right up to the edge of the resort and then disappears in to the ocean below.  We decided we would save money on lunch and order just water, which ended up being a bottle of Evian costing $9 USD.  CRAZY!  Doesn’t the Bahamas have tap water?  I had the blackened grouper sandwich and Paul the lobster roll – both were absolutely delicious.  I’m not usually the biggest seafood fan but this was by far the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had.

After lunch we continued north to another gift shop called Island Made, where Paul bought a shirt with the Kalik logo (a Bahamian beer) and I got a few small gifts for people back home.  After Island Made was the Glass Window Bridge, which brings together the Atlantic and the Caribbean over a narrow strip of land – and by narrow, I mean nothing more than a few rocks and a two-lane highway.  It is amazing to stand there and compare the difference between the dark, stormy waters of the Atlantic and the turquoise, serene waters of the Caribbean.  I didn’t mind having already seen it – I got a strong sense that a view like that just doesn’t get old.  We then turned around and decided to head back home, but not before stopping at a sign that read “Deli and Bakery, open from 10a.m – until”.  Not a typo, that’s really what it said!  What time is “until”?  We didn’t know either, but it was still open!  It wasn’t much more than someone’s house that we walked into, and we each got a piece of pineapple upside-down cake, and a piece of blueberry cheesecake to share; both were delicious.  I said that I imagine that is what America was like in the 1950’s – that you could just walk into someone’s house and would leave with a piece of something delicious and a feeling that you had just been a part of a play about real life that maybe wouldn’t have made Broadway, but was fun for everyone involved.  That’s sort of how I’ve felt about the entirety of being here, like it isn’t actually real but that everyone is agreeing to pretend that it is.  And while I’ve had an absolute blast here, and learned so much and gained a new perspective on myself and on everything around me, I think I am ready to go home.  I’m ready to go back to doing the things I like to do: going out to eat whenever I want, watching movies with my friends, sleeping in, playing with dogs on the quad, late-night trips to Kams and later-night trips to Burrito King.  I’m excited to get back to campus and begin my Junior year, and I can’t believe in only 5 days I will be on a plane home.  I will always remember my time here in the Bahamas, and it’s something that I hope will continue to affect me the way it has.  I hope that, unlike my tan, the smile lines don’t fade from my place and that this place doesn’t fade from my heart.  I hope that the people here aren’t soon lost from memory and that the amazing things I’ve done aren’t easily forgotten.  This weekend was a great way to wrap up a stellar summer, and I feel so blessed to have had this experience.  Until next time, Eleuthera! #ACESAbroad

xoxo, Christine


ACES 298 In the Dominican Republic

During my time studying abroad, in the Dominican Republic, I created memories like no other. The trip gave me the opportunity to experience and learn about new agricultural systems (along with fun tourism of course). I never saw myself doing something like this before I signed up for the trip and deciding to is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

We spent two fun days at the beach, there we saw a variety of different cultural aspects, things that you would never see in the United States. Things like music, boxing recreation, vendors, caribbean food and dancing are some of the things we saw on the beach. It truly is an experience that is impossible to describe without experiencing.

The best part about the trip was the friendships I created and discovered. I met some of the most welcoming Dominican college students that I will never forget and will contact for years to come. It was crazy how close we became in just a few short days together.

I had a great time trying to learn and master the Spanish language. The dominicans found it funny when I told them all I hear when they  speak is “blah blah blah blah”. I know now it is a lot easier to learn the language by being surrounded by it rather than sitting in a classroom and learning it.

#ILLINOISabroad #ACESabroad #imagineaces