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If you’re getting ready to study abroad, then this post is for you.  Yes, it does reference going to Ireland mostly, but there are some good pointers for wherever you may be headed!  Aleyse Peterson, my good friend from Augsburg College, fills us in on her preparation experience for studying abroad in Ireland in the fall of 2009.  It wasn’t as much work as she had first expected; the biggest thing on her end was acquiring a passport.

So what is getting a passport like?

According to Aleyse, it’s a simple process.  “You just go to wherever nearest to you they do passports, fill out the paperwork, and they take your picture. Then you wait for however many weeks until you receive it in the mail. For Ireland, if you are there for 90 days or less, you do not need a Visa.”

You can find applications at post offices, learning abroad centers, and on the U.S travel site.

Is there any other paperwork?

“I had paperwork for my program I was going through—one piece of which I had to have signed by a notary.” Notaries do the official verification of legal matters—in this case, financial business.

“The best part is, when I got to immigration in Ireland, the guy I got was really nice, and when I said I was from IES, he didn’t even make me show him the papers,” said Aleyse.  “If you are in the country for only 90 days or less, you don’t need a visa. Well, our program was for 110 days or something like that, so it was up to immigration if they wanted to make us go pay 150 Euros to get a Visa. About half of us had to; I got lucky and didn’t.”

What is packing like?

“It was interesting. You have to try and fit everything you will need for three and a half months into as little baggage as possible! Not easy.” Said Aleyse.  “I ended up taking two suitcases, one bigger than the other, and paying the extra for the second bag. Oh, and I had my carry on.”

Aleyse’s packing style: one bag for clothes, one bag for toiletries and other everyday items, and a carry on full of electronics—especially a digital camera!

“Everything is more expensive in Ireland than here, as it is around most of Europe, so bring what you can with you from the states. That’s just an opinion though.”

There you have it then—a few tips in preparation from an experienced traveler (did I mention she’s been to Costa Rica and a bunch of other states across the nation)!  So good luck to all you future study abroaders with getting your passport, doing any other paperwork, and deciding what to bring with you!


I recently watched the movie A Little Princess (circa 1995), and was reminded that “all girls are princesses.”  I ended up thinking about where I would want to live if I was a princess.  My decision is based on my heritage: France—although I’m not sure I would want to live in a castle because that may get lonely.

My roommate, Alyson, a 21-year-old journalism student, recently came back from a trip to Germany and France.  She brought back photos of castles in both countries.  The architecture goes beyond the blueprint plan of the castle I envision living in, but I can’t deny how amazing it would be to live in one.

These pictures should convince you that France and Germany are places to visit, especially if you’re studying architecture, history, design, etc., or if you’re like me and dream about being royalty!

Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (circa 12th century)

Located in the Alsace region of France, this castle sits an impressive 757 meters above the Alsace plain.  Looking out from the castle you can see the surrounding countryside: the Vosges mountains, the Black Forest, and on a clear day, the Alps.  Tours are offered daily, and you can hang out in the castle’s dining rooms, weapons rooms, chapel, and so much more.  Eight centuries of history have been witnessed by this castle, you shouldn’t miss out on this.

View from the castle's keep

Neuschwanstein (circa 1868)

Neuschwanstein Castle is situated near Schwangau and Füssen in the Allgäu (Southeastern Germany near Austria). The path to the castle starts in the village of Hohenschwangau, and this is also your last opportunity to park.  The castle is relatively new, but it is one of the most popular landmarks in Europe (1.3 million visitors each year).  After the death of King Ludwig II in 1886, the castle was opened to the public and now does daily tours.  In this castle, no photography is allowed inside, but the modern architecture outside is still worth your camera’s lens.

View from the path leading up to the castle

I’ve noticed among my friends that in addition to Spanish, French, and German, Japanese is a popular language to study at the University of Minnesota.  My good friend Dane Christensen, a double major in Asian Languages and Literature with a focus on Japanese and Political International Economics with a focus on Southeast Asia, studied the Japanese language for 3 years before he studied abroad in Tokyo for about a year.  He plans to live abroad for several years after graduating college.  I wanted to get a feel for what living in Japan would be like compared to Minnesota, so I asked him about his experience.

Desiree:  Did you have a lot of free time?  Was it just like being at school at the U?

Dane:  The school I went to was the 4th most prestigious school in Japan for private universities.  The classes I took were harder than classes at the U.  School took up a lot of my time, but I also worked a lot as an English language tutor.  Japan is an expensive place to live, so I had to work since I was broke a lot.

Desiree: Where were your favorite hangouts during your free time?

Dane: I would spend time in Kabukicho, which was an area near a very popular place called Shinjuku at the center of Tokyo.  I would spend time there because my friend lived there.  I would also frequently visit Yokohama where my then girlfriend was living.  We knew the cheap bars, the fun bars, and so whatever we felt like doing in the evening we knew a place we could get to by subway.

Desiree:  Besides bars, where else did you go?

Dane:  That was just the nightlife, but we would also go out to arcades sometimes, which are still popular things in Japan.  With my friends, I’d go out to dinner.  There are a lot of different districts in Japan.  Tokyo is sectored off into categories based on things you can buy.  The technology district was pretty cool, but there was also a different section you could go to just for clothing, etc.  During the day, there are also a lot of beautiful parks to go to.

Desiree:  You mostly hung out off campus then?

Dane:  My university that I attended was a place I also hung out at because I was in activity clubs at the school.  In Japan, these clubs function the same way intramural sports leagues do at the U of M.

Desiree:  What kinds of activity clubs were you a part of?

Dane:  I was a part of basketball, hiphop dance, and capoiera (a Brazilian traditional dance).

Desiree:  What made you join these clubs—besides the fact that you are always a part of some club?

Dane:  Well of course I joined the clubs because I was interested in them, but then when you join these clubs you become friends with the people in them.  These friends are your social crowd.  That is the social norm in Japan to hang out with the people that you do things with at school.  It becomes sort of like an obligation because the clubs would set up social gatherings in addition to practice and meetings, etc.  It’s a good way to meet people though.

It seems as if Japan is one of the easiest places to assimilate into.  After hearing about Dane’s experience, I would love the chance to check it out!

I eat a lot of pasta.  I love Italian food and I prefer having it over anything else, whether I’m eating out or staying in.  I grew up with an Italian step-grandpa and so many family dining experiences were at the local favorite, St. Paul’s Buca di Beppo.  It’s probably not the same as eating in Italy, but it’s the closest I can get while not traveling abroad.  My personal favorite Italian dish is my mom’s spaghetti pie, a tasty spinoff from regular spaghetti.


¾ lb of ground beef or Italian sausage

¼ cup of chopped onion

1-1/4 cups of spaghetti or marinara sauce

¼ tsp of Italian seasoning

1 egg, well beaten

5 oz of spaghetti noodles, cooked and drained

¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp of butter

¾ cup of drained cream styled cottage cheese (optional)

½ cup (2 oz) of shredded mozzarella cheese


Brown the meat and the onion in a saucepan.  Add sauce and seasoning, stir together and let simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Cook spaghetti noodles according to package instructions.  In a mixing bowl, stir together egg, cooked (hot!) spaghetti noodles, Parmesan cheese, and butter.  Press noodle mixture into bottom and up sides of the pie pan (glass dishes work best) as if forming a pie crust.  Spread the drained cottage cheese over the bottom of the noodle crust.  Spread meat and sauce mixture over the cottage cheese.

Choose one of two cooking options:

  1. Cover with wax paper and place in microwave for about 9 minutes.
  2. Place in oven uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

After the pie has been cooked, sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Serve pie by the slice, with a side of steamed asparagus.

I love this dish, and I can guarantee you it will taste delicious.  If you’re interested in other homemade Italian dishes, check out my friend Antonietta’s cooking blog, Cipolli, which also has helpful pictures!

Italy may have offered up a smooth and creamy gelato, but it has nothing on Argentinean ice cream. Freddo, a family business that opened in 1969, changed the way ice cream is experienced in Argentina. Some of the ice creams are smooth and creamy, while others might be described as irresistible or dense, traditional or kosher. Freddo offers up a flavor for everyone. The variety is vast and it is divided into groups such as chocolates, creams, dulce de leches, and fruits.

This flavorful fiesta in your mouth usually contains more milk and less cream than the American counterpart. This means you can save a few calories (as long as you keep the quantity down!). This treat is super sweet too – perfect after a full entrée!

If you’re headed to Buenos Aires anytime soon, it’s a good idea to check out what the L.A. Times travel section says about ice cream shops in that beautiful city. Apparently those little shops are busy, busy all year round.

If you’ve ever been to an authentic Japanese restaurant, then you probably know three flavors of aisukuri-mu (ice cream): green tea, red bean, and vanilla. They all sound so normal, and they typically are  (red bean tastes similar to strawberry and it’s my favorite one to get at the sushi bar!). But when you are in Japan, or maybe just at a Japanese grocery store, such as Kim’s Oriental Market in St. Paul or United Noodles in Minneapolis, you’ll discover that there are many more flavors available  than just the typical three.

Instead of picking out a chocolate or vanilla, you could try squid ink, ox tongue, soy sauce, or even Dracula cool garlic mint.  Of course that’s not all…there are over 100 outrageous flavors in the Japanese ice cream world!  But besides the many quirky flavors available, nothing specifically sets regular Japanese ice cream apart from American ice cream. They generally have a similar consistency, although Japanese ice cream is not always as heavy.

The one very traditional type of ice cream, which is actually only 20 years old, that you should try in Japan is mochi ice cream. To most ice cream eaters, mochi seems like an odd creation. Made of an outer layer of soft dough (a type of sticky rice) and an inner layer of ice cream, this delicacy is considered finger food. Common flavors include green tea, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, mango, and red bean paste.

Even to an avid ice cream eater, this stuff sounds a little scary.  Chicken wing ice cream doesn’t seem too tantalizing, and I’ve got my sources (a few Japanese friends) that tell me that even the scariest sounding ones are actually sweet flavors that go down oh so smooth. I’ve loved the regular flavors for years, but maybe it’s time to be adventurous.

I love ice cream. I eat it all the time. If I ever went on a diet, I would fail miserably because I just can’t give up my ice cream.  I’m sure there are plenty of other ice cream lovers out there too, and some of them just might be studying abroad.

Now I’ve also heard that Italian ice cream, gelato, is one of the smoothest and most wonderful ice cream to try.  I’ve had gelato here in the States, but I’ve never had the experience of eating authentic gelato in Italy.  Two of my friends who studied abroad in Italy this past summer filled me in on their top five flavors.

Allie, a 21-year-old speech, language, and hearing sciences major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Dark Chocolate (very rich tasting)
  2. Banana (don’t let its bright yellow color scare you)
  3. Tiramisu
  4. Raspberry
  5. Mint (I love American mint ice cream; I can’t wait to try the gelato version!)

Lee, a 20-year-old design major, said her top 5 are:

  1. Pistachio (green and creamy with a hint of nuttiness)
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Banana (a common favorite apparently)
  4. Stracciatella (similar to American chocolate chip, but with finer chips)
  5. Mango

Apparently, though, it is uncommon to just get one flavor at a time.  Lee said she would always come away with a cup of 3 or 4 different flavors—a good tip for any Italy-goers.

So I bet you’re asking what makes gelato so special?  For starters, gelato is churned at a much slower speed than regular ice cream.  Less air gets into the mixture this way, and it creates a much denser cream.  It’s also made with different proportions of whole milk—as in, it contains less fat!  And of course, gelato isn’t meant to be frozen like American ice cream; it is typically stored at a slightly warmer temperature.  But even with all these differences, the one thing the two will always share: you can’t resist another bowl full!

Before you get on your way to a new and exciting country, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re aware of certain things.  After speaking with so many people who have travelled internationally, and after extensively travelling across the United States myself, I have picked up on a few of these “tricks of the trade.”  Here are a few of my favorite quick tips to help you prepare for all of your travels.

  1. Pack light—well, not too light, but don’t forget to leave room in your bags for any new clothes or souvenirs you may buy while abroad.
  2. Know your itinerary (at least have a basic outline).  In my experiences, it’s always handy to have a list of places you would like to see.  Or, make your list elaborate to the point where you have to experience new and exciting things!
  3. Be aware of your finances at all times.  Things happen, but personally I would not like to lose money for any reason.  Just don’t overspend, there’s no need to exceed your limits if you’ve planned accordingly.  And always be wary of pick pocketing; places with higher tourism are stereotyped to have higher rates of stealing.
  4. Have insurance that covers you for any medical issue that arises.  It’s important to know what you will have to cover for any medically related expense.  You can usually get expanded medical through your own provider while you’re travelling internationally, but if not, then check with the program you’re studying abroad with.
  5. Remember to keep updated on any conditions that may threaten your itinerary or your safety. This could be simply weather-related or it could be something bigger such as a riot.  Be aware of all your current events for the area you’re travelling to and you’ll do fine.
  6. Make sure to pack enough “techie” stuff to keep in contact and take photos—everything from cameras, cell phones, and all of the chargers and cords that these things need. Those of us who don’t have the option to travel want to experience new places too!
  7. Last, but not least, know the area basics of your trip.  If you know the location of where you stay, the transportation in the area, and the well-travelled areas in the neighborhoods you’re visiting, then you should (unless you have a knack for getting into a jam) complete your trip quite safely with out any mishaps.

Italy is a top choice for the United States collegian who is planning to study abroad.  According to the 2009 Open Doors report on international educational exchange, Italy continues to rank at number two, right behind the number one United Kingdom, even with the increase in popularity of non-traditional destinations such as South Africa.

Italy’s destination status is linked in part to the length of the typical study abroader’s trip.  The Open Doors report stated that the majority of students (56.3%) kept the duration of their stay abroad short-term (meaning either summer term, January term, or eight weeks or less.)  Many schools typically offer more short-term courses in these highly visited destinations.

So with the end of the school year upon us, and many students prepping for study abroad in the coming May and summer terms, I find it only appropriate to fill you in on what can be newly expected in Rome and Venice!

Rick Steves, author and television personality of European travel, posted a recent article on CNN Travel filled with tips that will help you bypass long ticketing lines at the Vatican Museum with its online reservation system and even beat taxi scams to and from the airport in Rome.  He also informs us that Venice, although suffering from the hectic economic downturn and huge crowds, still offers beautiful architecture and pleasant dining.  In Venice, you’ll now see more billboards than murals, but you’ll also receive better discounts at the museums!

Both the Open Doors report and Rick Steves insist that Italy’s classic destination cities do not disappoint. Those recommendations are good enough for me, and hopefully you’ll find them to your satisfaction as well. As Rick Steve’s so aptly puts it, “Buon viaggio!”

My friend Aleyse Peterson, a 20-year-old theatre major, returned from Ireland in December of 2009, and she already wants to go back.  I figured it must be a pretty good place if her desire to return there is so great.  I wanted to know more (in case I ever decide to travel to Ireland), so we skyped and here’s what I found out from her:

Desiree: What made you choose Ireland for study abroad?

Aleyse: Well, it is my favorite country. I love the people, the country, the culture…pretty much everything about it.  When I found out I could study theatre in Ireland, I jumped at the chance.

Desiree: What kinds of theatre classes did you take there? What were the courses like?

Aleyse: Well, I took Devising, Movement, Voice, Acting and Irish Drama.  The first four were very physically intense, focusing on the performance side of theatre. Irish Drama was our “academic” class, the only one we actually sat in a classroom setting for.

Desiree: Which was your favorite?

Aleyse: Probably acting–although all of them had their amazing points.

Desiree: So you were fairly busy then? Did you get any time to travel around Ireland?

Aleyse: I was quite busy, but yeah, we had the weekends free.  It was our own responsibility to make travel plans if we wanted to, and we did. Read the rest of this entry »

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