Taking A Step Back~Preparing For Take-Off~

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That’s me by the way!

Preparing For Your Trip

You have made the decision, you’ve budgeted, and now for the exciting part, it’s time to start getting ready for your trip!! This was the part I enjoyed the most because you know you’re almost there! You have a million feelings running through your body and  you have started counting down the days! One thing I cannot stress enough in the packing process is do not overpack on clothes!! You will buy clothes in whatever country you go to, trust me! Every country has a different style in attire, and a lot of the times, you’ll want to buy something to fit in. Below are some tips I found useful and would give to anyone in preparation for their journey:

  • Try to limit your takings to one luggage, one carry on, and one backpack
  • Most airlines limit the weight of your luggage to 50 lbs, try to stick to 35 lbs on your first flight of departure (you will buy things and that leaves an extra 15 lbs of room)
  • Make a list of everything you’ll need before the packing and check off each item as you pack it
  • Do not take any hair tools such as flat irons (you can buy them in the country you’re leaving to for a cheap price plus their outlets may be different from the U.S.)
  • Buy a travel pack wallet to carry everything you need such as passport, cash, etc. (this is super cheap and was probably the best investment while in Europe, can be found on amazon)
  • Buy an outlet convertor for whatever country you’re going to (to charge laptops, phone, cameras, etc)
  • Take a camera! (whether it’s your phone or a professional one, you’ll need it)
  • Pack comfortable shoes! (with all the walking and exploring to be done, you’ll need them)
  • Learn the basic commands of the language to wherever you’ll be studying (directions, questions, greetings, etc.)
  • Do some research on the culture (what’s offensive, what’s proper, etc.)
  • Do not feel the need to look or stand out (don’t make yourself a target and wear expensive jewelry or designer items this avoids any potential conflicts)

Your study abroad advisors and coordinators will go into much more detail on how to prepare for your specific program and give you important information on the country. But I hope this was some insight and help to prepare you for your trip and excite you!

There is no better time to take on the opportunity of studying abroad. The experience and time spent is 100% worth it. Most will say “Once I’m done with school, I will travel,” but the reality is that most of us won’t. You won’t have the same resources available to help in the future and the truth is, most will go off straight into their career. After that comes family, and more responsibilities. Then by the time you retire, you’re too tired to travel or don’t have enough saved… We all want to focus on school right now and say later, but why not now? Tomorrow is never promised, so do it while you can and share your stories to everyone you can! Inspire people to live outside the box and the normal routines with your experience. Because, in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, “Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return.”

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Taking A Step Back~Budgeting~

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I’d be lying if I said I was able to afford the entire trip on my own, because I did have some help. In total, my whole study abroad came out to $25,000. Yes this seems like a crazy amount, but in reality this included the tuition, the study abroad program itself (which was about $10,000 and this is an amazing price compared to universities), flights, food, shopping, and all of the traveling I did which included 8 countries. In reality, I spent a lot more than most of the other students out there, but I wanted to go all out. I know some people on the program that only spent $13,000 on the entire trip, but again, this comes down to how you want budget yourself out there. You can stay in the city you’re studying abroad in and save yourself money on extra flights and travel expenses, this alone cuts down on a lot of spending. But I knew from day 1, that I would travel to as many countries while out in Europe and budgeted from the first day I decided to go for my expenses out there. So depending on how you want to spend your time and money, you can further decide and project how to budget.

I had a year and a half to prepare for my trip and save as much as I could. This meant changing dramatically how much I was spending monthly. I made an excel spreadsheet to track my monthly inflows and outflows. I found that a lot of the extra items I was purchasing like Starbucks or shopping, added up to a lot more than I thought. So I cut it all out. I made sure that 50% of my paycheck went straight to my Europe spending account. I do recommend working full time, this is what I did while going to school full time. The more money you could make the better. Below are some tips I personally followed and found very useful in saving:

  • Save at least 50% of your paycheck a month towards your study abroad spending
  • Cut out all, or at least 80%, of the extra spending you’re doing
  • Limit activities and choose more wisely what to spend your money on (this is hard as you will have to turn down many outings with friends but it is worth it in the end trust me!!)
  • Create a monthly budget and find ways to cut out necessary expenses (subscriptions such as Netflix, Spotify, etc)
  • Find ways to increase revenues (tutoring, babysitting, any way to make extra $)

I was able to save 75% of the total cost of my trip on my own. The other 25% came from financial aid and a scholarship. If you receive financial aid, there are a lot of resources and scholarships available to students who plan on studying abroad. I recommend taking advantage of these because it’s free money! One help I received, which made a big difference, was the Gilman International Scholarship. This scholarship is available to any financial aid recipients who plan on studying abroad and offers up to $5,000 in scholarships!!! They offer scholarships to countries all over the world for students! I was lucky enough to have amazing advisors to walk us through the process and review our applications before submitting to ensure we had a good chance of receiving the scholarship. The process could be a little lengthy, but it is something everyone receiving financial aid should apply for! The application process and deadlines are posted on the website and can be accessed on the following link:

https://www.gilmanscholarship.org/applicants/deadlines-and-timeline/

I would look into all the resources available and ask your school’s study abroad advisors for help if you run into any problems or have any questions. But trust me, you are not alone on this! Help is always out there, you just have to look for it.

Taking A Step Back~Making The Decision~

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First day in Italy!!

I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of the experiences first and leave the most important part for last. So in this post, I am going to go over a few main points and help you during the process before studying abroad. If you have any questions or want further information on any of the topics I go over, feel free to email me, and I’d be happy to help! (Contact information on the bottom of my home page).

Making The Decision

Making the choice to study abroad can be very conflicting and overwhelming. For most, it seems like an unrealistic possibility with work, family, relationships, etc. The first time I heard about the study abroad programs at my school, Fullerton Junior College, I thought, “Yeah that would be cool, but no way I can do that!” So my first year, I stuck to my plan to get the heck out of community college as soon as possible. My second year around, the same professor came into one of my business classes and again talked about the different programs offered and resources to help make it happen. This time, I paid much more attention and began considering it. I went to a few of the meetings and the study abroad program for business majors the following year was going to take place in Rome, Italy. I WAS SOLD as soon as I found out about this! Europe has been a dream place to visit for me since I was a little girl. Deciding to study abroad was the absolute BEST decision I have ever made! I have always been the type to “stick to a plan” and get upset if things don’t turn out the way I planned them to. For me, getting my associate’s degree in two years was a must, but something inside of me told me that I’d never get the chance to get up and leave the country for three and a half months (at least not for a very long time). I kept coming up with excuses in the beginning on reasons not to go. I had no one to give me the money for my trip, I would have to stay at community college an extra year to transfer, I had a boyfriend, and I had a job. All these excuses kept me from going the first time around, but let me tell you something… When you really want to do something, you WILL make it happen and will find a way! Not everyone supported my decision in the beginning, but to be honest, I think those who told me I couldn’t do it and it would never happen, actually motivated me most to do it! And besides the amazing memories and mesmerizing trips I experienced, one of the greatest satisfactions out of my study abroad was knowing I did it on my own and made it happen without help from my family!!

 

On Paris ~

Paris was another short but schedule filled trip! I will definitely visit again one day because once we were there we realized how much more there was to see and do. We stayed at Plaza Etoile which is right in the city. You get a cute view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It’s also one of the cheaper hotels we found in the city. Paris is one of the pricier cities, so try and plan ahead as much as you could and prepare to go over your budget.

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We did a full on tour at the Louvre Museum, which is about 4 hours and was around $60 US dollars. (One of our group members bought it on accident for us because all we wanted was general admission, but we got some pretty interesting history behind the paintings). We also got to see the Mona Lisa, which is SMALL in person! I was expecting this painting to be huge, but its was tiny!! Lol. And the crowd around the painting is tough to get through; you have to just push your way up to get a glimpse of this masterpiece. We got to take some iconic pictures and we called it a day! I don’t really like doing tours because a lot are pretty boring and you end up with an older crowd, but if you want to know the history behind the artwork, I’d recommend doing the tours.

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Outside the Louvre Museum

We did a tour through the Eiffel Tower which included going to the top floor and a boat ride around it and you get to chose the boat ride anytime throughout the day. Personally I thought night time was the best because you get to see it lit up from a distance. This was one of my bucket list places to visit and I’m so happy and blessed that I got to experience it. The views from atop of the Tower are astounding.

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Views from the Eiffel Tower

The detail and size of the Eiffel Tower just take your breath away. And watching it glow during night time, is a whole different experience. Every hour the Eiffel Tower lights up and I cannot express the emotions that run through you as you sit there and take it all in. Gosh, I can feel all of those feelings rush back to me as I’m writing this. It just puts the biggest smile on my face! At the end of our night, we sat back and just watched the Tower light up every hour. With a bottle of champagne and a blanket to sit on, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I tell you, this is something everyone has to witness and feel on their own. There is no picture or description that does it justice, just go there and you’ll see.

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The rest of our trip was spent walking around and having photo shoots. We got some pretty amazing photos here that I will forever cherish. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the Palace of Versailles or the famous lock bridge. But I will surely return back to this beautiful city and spend a lot more time touring! The saddest part was not being able to eat a crepe. We kept saying we would eat one, because who goes to paris without eating crepes! But with such short time, before we knew it we were heading back to the airport. But trust me, next time I will eat crepes every chance I get! Overall, Paris was beautiful and mesmerizing. The city of love, perfect for couples to visit and fall in love all over again, I know I did. Next stop… Croatia!

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On Amsterdam ~

This trip was quite short, we arrived on Thursday morning and left Friday night. We tried doing as much as we could, but there were still some places missed. In my perspective, Amsterdam was two completely different cities in one. I have to say, this city was the most interesting one visited. On one end, there is the extremely beautiful, tranquil side. The buildings are all tall and run along canals which are so peaceful to just sit by and soak in every detail surrounded by you. On the other end, there is the city that just blows your mind, the Red Light District. I can’t include any pictures taken from inside, because it is prohibited and if you are caught taking a picture inside, there are some consequences.

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I will start with the city we fist walked into, the good side of Amsterdam lol. We stayed in a hostel, which was our first time. It was the cutest place ever and was super cheap! We had a group of 8 so luckily we were able to get our own room and could lock the doors when we left, so I’m not sure if it counts as a hostel experience, but nevertheless it was a hostel. It was called the Train Lodge, and was about two miles from the city center. It’s easy to get to the center though because you’re already at a train station. All you do is hop on and get to the city in minutes! Great location, great people at the lodge, and overall I would highly recommend this place.

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We were able to visit the Anne Frank Museum, and I cannot describe how surreal this was. You learn so much about history and what the life of a Jew was like during the Nazi genocide. You literally walk through where her and her family had to live in hiding and how trapped they felt. This is a museum everyone should visit if you ever go to Amsterdam. It really helps you appreciate your life and empathize with those who lived during this horrible time and what they had to endure.

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Just one of many beautiful canals in Amsterdam

The food was amazing as well. We had so much to try and it kind of felt like home again. They have a lot of American fast food and other specialties. There was a fry bar, yes a place that only sold fries, that we tried. SO GOOD! You’d think ordering fries is a simple, straight-forward process, but not here. You have a ton of options and you just want to try it all! So food, was an A+ in Amsterdam.

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From left to right – Rosie, Karla, Kim Me, Alexis, and Lexi.

Now, for the crazy part… We went to two museums in the Red Light District. The Museum of Prostitution and the Museum of Sex. I find it astounding how open this city is with sexuality. It embraces life’s secret pleasures and encourages you to join in with them. When you think of Prostitution, I’m sure you associate it with negative connotations. But not in Amsterdam. For many, it’s a way to make a living and help you get to where you want. For example, one of the stories we heard was about a woman who studied law in college. In order to afford her loans and pay off all her debt, she became a prostitute. At the end of her college studies, she was able to land a job in her career and came out of college debt free because of the money she made. To many, prostitution is solely a job and is not really frowned upon in this city. It really makes you see it on a different level when you actually experience walking down Red Light District and go to the museums there.

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Another interesting part of Amsterdam are the “coffee shops” you find. They literally look like coffee shops and have a peaceful ambiance to them. You walk in, order as if it was coffee, and sit down. They bring you your “coffee” and you sit back and enjoy. I won’t get into too much detail for this because it’s pretty self-explanatory. Just google “Amsterdam Coffee Shops” and you’ll know what I mean. Anyhow, it’s interesting how open everyone is with it. More interesting, Amsterdam is considered one of the safest places to visit in Amsterdam. Think there could be a connection? Anyhow, overall I loved this city and I’m sure I will visit again within my life time to visit the places we didn’t get to see. I would definitely recommend visiting at least once in your lifetime to see one of Europe’s most dynamic cities. Next stop… Paris!!

 

On Spain, Pt. 2~

On Madrid ~

Madrid, ahhhhhh… Madrid. An amazing city that 100% took me by surprise and made me fall in love with Spain all over again. I have to tell you, I thought I would’ve loved Barcelona the most and wasn’t too excited about Madrid, but this changed completely after visiting both cities. I could’ve spent all 10 days here and still wouldn’t have gotten tired of it. The city is small and easy to navigate; everything is centered around the main plaza and within walking distance. This city is filled with culture in every direction you look. One day, we just took a walk around the city and ended up at random museums and parks. We ended up laying in this beautiful park and took a nap there. It was the most peaceful nap of my life!

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You can see us napping in the background lol

Our first day we arrived, we went walking around the plaza. I can still here the noises that surrounded me. The waiters asking us to dine in their restaurants, vendors flooding the streets, entertainers gathering crowds to watch their performances, whistling, laughing, photos snapping. There was so much going on in this plaza it amazed me.

Our second day of exploring, we ended up at Buen Retiro Park. We rented two small boats to paddle through the lake for only 6 euros, and we cracked up the entire time! Whether it was racing each other from one end to the other, people watching, or just sitting back, relaxing and soaking in the moment completely, it was an amazing 30 minutes and well worth the 6 euros. I remember watching one local singing on his guitar. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but the passion in his voice, his body language, was so intense and moving as if his whole existence was put into this song. You get a lot of amazing side shows like this throughout the entire city. It was a beautiful park, and I’d highly recommend visiting if you visit Madrid.

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Back boat from left to right – Sean, Me, Pita, and George. Front Boat from left to right – Kimberly, Taylor, Alexis, and Megan.

We ate lunch at a small hole in the wall called El Tigre. A local recommended it to us and said we wouldn’t regret eating here. BEST TAPAS EVER!!! It was quite a small place and there were no chairs or tables, which surprised us. There are built in tables along the walls that you stand by. A man came up to us, took 6 euros from each of us and brought us a bunch of different plates of tapas to share. You also get a beer, sangria, or mojito included and it is pretty huge! This food was amazing! We had no idea what it was called or what we were eating half the time, but we just ate! When you’re done, if you want more the waiter brings more plates with different foods on it again. The place is filled with people and napkins cover the entire floor. It was such a cool experience, nothing like I’ve had before at a “restaurant” and I would give it a 10/10.

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Buen Retiro Park

Night life in Madrid was awesome! We went to a place called Joy the first two nights. It was so much fun! The DJ’s were good, the ambiance was energetic, and everyone was just there to have a good time. There is also an 8-story club in Madrid that we unfortunately couldn’t didn’t go to, but I plan on returning to this city again one day and I will for sure go there. Overall, Madrid was a city well worth the trip. It was the cheapest city, but had everything to offer us. From the stay, to eating, to shopping, to clubbing, I only spent 200 euros in total for 4 days. The ending of Madrid had to be one of my favorite parts, because I finally, after 3 months, got to see my boyfriend. He arrived at the airport the day we were taking off to Ibiza and I have to tell you, long distance relationships… ARE TOUGH! It was only 3 months, and I missed him every single day. But the wait was worth it, because I got to explore the rest of my trip with him and enjoyed every moment of it. Next stop… IBIZA BABY!

On Ibiza ~

I’m doing Ibiza and Madrid on the same post for one simple reason. Ibiza is a super short post, because what happens in Ibiza, stays in Ibiza!! This island is a party island… We went during off season, apparently the best time to go is from August to September because of the weather and it is tourist season so everything is open. We went in April and a lot of places were closed. But this didn’t stop us from having a blast! We stayed at a beautiful airbnb with 13 people (Some people left during our spring break to go elsewhere). We did a party boat called Oceanbeat, and it was a blast! It was a booze cruise and you go around the island for about 4 hours. They stop in the middle of the ocean and you jump out into the ocean off of a water slide! This was absolutely amazing and surreal, and the water was extremely cold but it was so worth it! Overall, Ibiza was a ton of fun! It isn’t too expensive here and the people here are super friendly and welcoming. You get treated like royalty here! Not much sight seeing to do, it’s really just a party island but the experience is a once in a lifetime! That’s all I’ll say on for this place, because it’s something everyone has to experience on their own. 😉 Next stop… Amsterdam!

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On Spain, Pt. 1~

Spainwas an amazing 10 days spent with some pretty amazing people! I have to say, Spain was by far top 3 of all the 8 countries visited (Greece and Italy were my other top 3). This trip was our Spring Break, and it couldn’t have been any more chaotic / fun / crazy! We started in Barcelona, then Madrid, and finally the biggest party island of them all IBIZA!

Barcelona~

So, we had a group of 17 people on this trip… YES I said 17 people! Lol. This made the trip so much fun with everyone’s different vibes and personalities. We definitely made deep connections and long lasting friendships from this trip. Our first destination was Barcelona. To my surprise, it wasn’t my favorite in Spain, but I feel our location had a lot to do with it. We stayed in a suburb outside of the city and had to take a 25 minute train ride just to get into the main city. (We had to find a place that would fit all 17 of us so this was our only option). Our place was so beautiful though! It was a huge 4 story home right across from the beach. Our neighborhood was really secluded and quiet. Our first day in Barcelona, we walked around the main city and got see some pretty amazing sights. The Cathedral of Barcelona was one of them! The building is detailed on every inch of the walls. We ran into this on accident which made it even cooler.

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Cathedral of Barcelona

We also walked through the famous La Boqueria. At this market you can find just about any food you desire from refreshing freshly made juices to sweet candy to sandwiches. Funny story, as you’re walking through, the skies are filled with tons of pigeons. We were walking and made a joke about how funny it would be if someone got pooped on. And sure enough… guess who got pooped on! Yup, me! And to top if off it was a BRAND NEW sweater I had just gotten earlier that day! Lol. It was pretty funny though, we all got a good laugh out of it.

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La Boqueria

The next day, we relaxed at the beach in front of our house. It was a pretty good day. The beach was empty and the water was very clear. We met some locals there who told us we came at a good time because during the summer the beaches are flooded with tourists. We opened a bottle of champagne, sat back, and enjoyed the view.

On our third day, we had a long agenda full of different sights we wanted to visit. We walked over 15 miles!! First we went to the Sagrada Familia. We wanted to do the tour inside and figured we’d buy the tickets at the door… DO NOT plan the way we did if you want to do tourist attractions. Apparently the only way to get tickets for the Sagrada Familia is online (which is a pretty common thing in Europe now). And to top it off it has to be at least two days in advance… so there went that plan! I’d highly recommend doing your research in advance on places you plan to visit and make sure if you can buy them online, you do to guarantee your entrance! Nevertheless we still got to see the outside and get to say we’ve been there before. After that, we walked to Park Guell. This was one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen in my life! It’s so big and has so many different aspects to it! Again they required tickets and you had to get them online. So we didn’t get to go inside the area with the colored walls (which was so depressing for me because this was one of the things I looked forward to most). But we got to walk around it and could still see it from a distance. The rest of the park we could see and walk around without a ticket. We got some pretty amazing pictures here!

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Park Guell

After a long day of walking, we decided to check out and prepare for our journey the next morning to Madrid! Side Note: Night life in Barcelona was not the best from our experience… We went to three different clubs and not one of them impressed us.. but Madrid and Ibiza, now that’s a different story! Now for the chaotic part of this trip… Remember how I said earlier that we had 17 people in our group and that the house we rented was about half an hour outside of the main city center? So.. we had a train to catch the next morning at 6:45 am. We planned on taking cabs there since we wouldn’t be able to take the subway because it didn’t open until 7 am. We booked four online taxis, paid for them, got our confirmation and were ready to go the next morning. We woke up at 5 am to emails from an hour prior, stating our cabs were cancelled because we were too far out of the city to get. I called the cab company confused and irritated at the change of plans. The first girl I got was not helpful at all, the second tried to help but couldn’t do much, and the third guy gave me a different number to call and see if a different cab company could get us. By this time I’m furious at what’s going on. I call the second cab company hoping they can get us, but they respond the same as the first company and said we were too far. At this time it was already 6:00 am.. We start looking for different options like new train tickets or maybe asking the neighbors for rides but nothing seemed to work out (New train tickets for that day would be well over $200)! By this time everyone had given up hope and knew we would miss our train. Something inside of me was not going to stop trying until we were at the train station, and I knew there had to be a way. So I keep googling different cab companies, I finally find one I think will work and call them (Mind you, I am using my phone for all these calls and didn’t have an international plan so I got a pretty huge bill at the end of the month lol). Anyways, I finally get ahold of someone and they say they’ll try and get us a cab! So all 17 of us are waiting outside, the sky pitch black, hoping to find a cab turn the corner. 10 minutes later, we see a cab and are filled with joy! We fill the first cab with four people and ask when the next one is coming. The driver said two more should be approaching soon. But we needed four to fit all of us, so we ask about the last one and the driver looks at us confused. He hurried to call another one and again we were scarred that some of us would miss the train. Two more show up and the last couple of people get in headed to the train station. Finally its just five of us girls waiting and it’s 6:25 am.. We are praying to God that a cab driver shows up for us. Then out of no where we see a light shining from around the corner and what do you know? It’s a cab coming for us!!! We jump in super excited and happy to have a driver but also nervous about how close we were cutting it! We told our driver we had to be at the train station in 15 minutes and he gasses it like no other determined to get us there in time! 6:40 am and we make it on time. ALL OF US! Thank God there was no line and the train station was dead, as soon as we arrived to the train stop, our train arrived. To be honest, this was something I will always personally remember and actually took it as a life lesson. What I took from this was there is ALWAYS a way to make things happen. When everyone else is in doubt and has given up, you just keep going and keep trying. I’m not trying to give myself all the credit here, because other people were trying too. But I knew inside that I would find a way for all 17 of us to make it on time. Even after getting denied by three different cab companies, I kept trying and kept searching. And I made sure to put everyone in a cab before I got into one, and I made it happen. So here we are, 6:45 am on our way to the next destination. Next stop, Madrid!