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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!


As of Monday, I have 8 days until I arrive in Europe.  I am kind of nervous so I sent out an email to my friends who have gone abroad, and this is the general consensus:

  • Dublin: my friend, Jenny, said I had to go because she “loved it there. It’s way more laid back then London, which you will need when you have been there for a bit.”  She also recommended going on the countryside bus ride because “it is so beautiful.” My other friend, Steph, said that Dublin was fun.  She heard Glasgow is cool and not so touristy, but she never got the chance to go.

  • Italy: Steph said, “If you’re going to go anywhere in Italy go to Rome, there is so much to see and do there.”  Sophie also suggested going to Rome, if anywhere in Italy.  She said she really enjoyed the history, and things to see there.

  • Greece: I have heard great things about the islands, but the mainland is “dirty” and “touristy.” Steph said, “Santorini and Mikonos (the Grecian islands)…is a far plane ride but it was the best trip I’ve EVER taken and I know you will love it! My friend, Brooke, says to avoid Greece.  She said that it was just too hard to get to, and you really don’t have enough time to enjoy it.  She said “save it for the honeymoon!”

  • Barcelona: This is the #1 place my friends said to visit.  Three of them said it was one of their favorite places in Europe.  Sophie said, “I’m not sure if I’m biased but my favorite city is Barcelona by far!” Steph said “It’s amazing and if you go, go to CHUPITOS.  It’s a shot bar and its unbelievable!” Read the rest of this entry »

A few days ago my parents received a photo atlas of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in southern Colorado, authored and illustrated by a family friend. He runs a small photography business from his website, and has gained prestige in the field of digital photography over the years. Last year I interviewed him about his photography, and he offered the following advice to newbies: “Now there are so many possibilities of taking good technical pictures that lots of people can jump into it. A distinguished photo is good or bad based on its composition.”

I’m amazed at how many students that go abroad transform into prolific photographers.  With so many photo ops abroad, it’s worth taking a few minutes to learn some tips on taking good pictures. Here are a few very basic photographic rules from my parent’s friend that are guaranteed to make your pictures better.

1. Divide your picture screen into three equal parts. Try to have the object of a photo in just one of them. This is called the Rule of Thirds.

2. For portraits, make sure there aren’t any background objects that stick out of your subject’s head.  Even shadows can make a person’s head look a little lopsided or goofy.

3. Also for portraits, make sure you don’t cut out any body part at the limbs.  People tend to look disfigured in pictures when this happens.

After watching Kim (Maggie Grace) get kidnapped on her Parisian vacation by sex-traffickers in the movie Taken, I’ve dumped my plan of traveling Europe alone. The likelihood of something similar happening, however, is probably small. Pickpocketing appears to be the national crime of France, and you’re far more likely to suffer from a vehicle accident than from a crime at the hands of a trafficker. Still, I’ve been unable to find out if kidnapping is a serious problem for Americans in Europe or not; there is an absence of public government stats addressing the question. At any rate, it’s best to be safe. Here are three things every student going abroad should do:

1. Leave an itinerary with someone. If people know where you’re going they’ll know where to look if something goes wrong.  Make it as detailed as possible too!

2. Be alert. Be aware. Check out the U.S. Department of State’s student international safety page before you travel. The site has a nice feature that allows you to check out country specific information, such as crime trends.

3.  Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in the U.S. Yes, Prague is pretty at night, but so is Chicago and New York, and you probably wouldn’t scamper through the residential streets alone at night in those cities. This point also has another meaning—don’t break the law. You could end up in prison facing much harsher penalties than in the U.S. According to the L.A. Times, London, a likely study abroad spot, is the #4 city that Americans are likely to be arrested in.

If you need to escape from a building abroad, don’t bother looking for a glowing, bright red “Exit” sign. Much like the debate over the metric system and the concern over which side of the road is “correct,” Americans and the rest of the world don’t see eye to eye about their exit signs either.

As Slate Magazine explains in their latest installment of a series about international signs, the American sign has two strikes against it: 1. It’s composed only of words, and 2. It’s red.

Since it’s adoption by the International Organization for Standardization in 1985, most other countries have used a version of Japanese designer Yukio Ota’s green “running man” exit sign, as seen above. The Slate article explains that a recent directive from the European Council, for example, requires that a running man appear on a green background. Advocates say that the green color of the sign implies safety, and that the pictogram can be understood by anyone.

Despite the green running man’s popularity abroad, the National Fire Protection Association (which regulates safety signs in the U.S) says it has no plans to replace the red marker in the near future. NFPA administrator Robert Solomon explains that, “when the NFPA investigates fires, it never encounters circumstances ‘where someone says I didn’t know where the exit was because I didn’t know…what the exit sign was. When they don’t know where the exit is, it’s because there was no signage there whatsoever.’”

While some buildings or institutions in the U.S. are gradually beginning to use green exit signs, Americans shouldn’t expect their familiar red markers to disappear overnight. But student travelers should be ready to remember that, in a foreign country, green means both “go” and “exit.”

My friend Claire Watne, a 20-year-old junior at the U of M majoring in Linguistics and Spanish, just left for Venezuela. I zoomed an email her way to find out about her trip thus far.

Sherry: What program are you in right now?
Claire: I’m a part of the VENUSA program in Mérida, Venezuela. It’s a semester-long home stay program. I’m taking classes in different fields (like business, literature, culture, politics, etc.) in Spanish, but most of the people here are taking Spanish grammar classes.

Sherry: How was your flight?
Claire: My flight was as expected; getting through the Caracas airport was a challenge (as well as very nerve-wracking), but I was in a group of about 30 Americans, and we had a guide from the Miami airport to Mérida. It was three flights (Minneapolis-Miami, Miami-Caracas, Caracas-El Vigia) and a two-hour bus from El Vigia to Mérida.

Sherry: What were your first thoughts upon arriving?
Claire: There were a few things that stuck out to me at first; the biggest one is the drivers here. Everyone is crazy, there are no speed limits, and seatbelts are decorations.

Sherry: Was it difficult to find your way around at first?
Claire: It wasn’t really difficult because I didn’t try to do it alone; I had my Venezuelan friends take me on tours, and such. Now that I’ve been here for a month, it’s pretty easy; there are four major avenidas that run N/S, and all the calles are numbered. It’s pretty easy, especially because all the buses just go up and down the same street.

Sherry: Was there anything you saw that you expected, and is there anything that you didn’t expect?
Claire: I tried not to have expectations before I got here because Read the rest of this entry »

Jordan Zaffke just returned from Sweden. He is 21 years old and in his third year at the U of M as a double major in international business and accounting. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while, so I emailed him to find out about his trip:

Sherry: Why did you choose to go where you did?

Jordan: I chose to go to Sweden because I grew up following Swedish traditions, and I have family over there. I grew up in a Swedish culture, and wanted to experience it first hand. I also decided to go there because it would have been a great experience to learn a different culture and practice the Swedish language.

Sherry: Was it weird being away for so long? From your friends and family?

Jordan: It wasn’t so much weird being away; it was just different. It forced me to make new friends. I still was in contact with friends and family via skype and facebook, but I didn’t see them everyday. In the end, it was for the best, because I met many new friends from around the world, and that is something I am proud of.

Sherry: What was it like there?

Jordan: It was somewhat similar. The weather was similar (rainy, somewhat chilly), and the country has many of the same things we do–H&M, McDonald’s, and the like. However, their grocery stores and and government run businesses were vastly different. In grocery stores, we were forced to buy our own bags everytime; they were not provided to us for free. Also, waiting in queues was big in Sweden. At the bank, you took a number and stood in line. The same goes for the post office, restaurants, and the like. Read the rest of this entry »

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