Postcards From Abroad

Not just another travel blog

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

The financial realities of studying abroad.

For most of us, studying abroad is a far-fetched fantasy. Spending an entire semester living and learning in a foreign country is a would be great, unobtainable due to time, or budget constraints.

So we sit here looking at our priveldged friends post new pictures from far-away places on Facebook.

But are we better off for not going?

Michael DePaola spent last May living and studying in Saarbrucken, a city that lies on Germany’s westernmost border.

DePaola described the experience bluntly.

“It was the most fun I have had my entire life”

But his trip  was expensive to say the least. DePaola was charged the standard tuition rate for a maymester at JMU, nearly 300 dollars per credit hour, he took six. Depalo was also charged an additional 2500 dollar fee and had to pay his own airfare.

All accounted for, a month in Germany cost him just under six-thousand dollars, an amount similar to other study abroad programs of that length.

DePaola also revealed that JMU charges out of state students extra for study abroad programs.

Depola, a Senior, and ISAT major, learned of the program through his professors. Strictly for ISAT majors, the  JMU-hosted program was concerned with “Energy and Enviornment Sustainability.”

He defended the overwhelming price, citing boosts to his academics, social life, and cultural appreciation

“It helped me be able to graduate with a duel concentration in environment and biotechnology within ISAT, he said “without the trip, I wouldn’t have been able to do it”

He took two courses, ISAT 480 – International Energy Intiatives and ISAT 428- Industrial Ecology, and despite only meeting a few times a week, he claimed the hands on approach of the courses was more valuable than anything learned in a classroom.

“We went on tours of solar panel manufacturing areas, and climbed a 100 meter tall wind turbine,” he said, “totally awesome”

He used his free time to explore the city, and enjoy the nightlife.

“We went to clubs where they played techno mixed with 90’s music,” he said “it was really funny hearing German teenagers singing ‘Oops I Did it Again’ to a techno beat not really knowing what any of the words meant.”

In addition, he also took a trip to Amsterdam, for what he claimed were “obvious reasons”

Despite wishing to return to Saarbrucken for employment, Depalo admits that there are no programs in place through JMU that would help him achieve that goal, even if his time abroad padded his resume.

“I applied for ten alternative energy jobs in California, Colorado, and actually one in Germany, in the city i studied in, he said. “I’ve been going at it on my own, and its very difficult.”

Laura Pond, a 2010 graduate of JMU, was enrolled in the SMAD summer semester in London, prior to her senior year. Like Depola, she acknowledged the tremendous price-tag associated with the program.

Her program lasted 8 weeks, and cost nearly $10,000

“My parents paid for all of it” she added.

Overall, she enjoyed her time abroad.

“I went to many museums and tourist attractions.” She said “I also was a Corporate Partnerships Intern at the National Autistic Society for 20 hours per week. “

Like DePaola, she also has had some difficulty in justifying the trip in the long run, as her career choice as an event planner is unrelated to the minor in British Communication she received from the semester.

“I thought it would really help me in the future to set myself apart in the job market.” She said

Pond is currently unemployed.

These stories confirm what we already knew, while studying abroad may come with a steep price tag, those of us who are stuck at JMU are missing out on a great experience, academically, socially, and culturally.

Neal Hollowell



A Gourmande’s Traveling Bucket List

By Jessica Albert

Let’s face it. We all love food.

I love food so much that I have made my father drive me from my home in Northern Virginia into Washington, DC (about 30 minutes away) in Route 66 bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. All just so I can get my favorite bowl of soup from my favorite Chinese restaurant… even I will admit, this is a bit insane. But, there is a reason behind my madness. All people who like international food can agree that it’s best when it is as authentic as it can be.
There are people out there that would travel the globe for their favorite snacks, entrees and other dishes. So, this post is a compilation of the top international “must-eats” when traveling.–A gourmande’s traveling bucket list, if you will.

France: Croque-Monseuir
Bread is a staple in the French culture. Citizens purchase baguettes everyday and eat them with majority of their meals. Cheese or “formage” is another widely eaten French staple. There are also several types of French cheese that people eat. Brie and Camembert are two popular ones.Now, combine these two elements together and add in some ham, and we have our first food pit stop.
A croque-monsieur is a french sandwich resembling an American breakfast sandwich. Ham and cheese are melted in between two grilled slices of bread to make a very tasty treat.
Originally, the sandwich started off as an item served in bars and cafes. Now, croque-monseuirs are served widely and with other various ingredients. There is also a feminine version of the sandwich called a croque-madame. The croque-madame includes the same components as a croque-monsieur but with a poached egg on top of of it. Below is a video of how to make you’re own croque-madame. See if you can make it as authentic as possible.

Italy-any type of pasta
Most of us are used to our mom’s homemade spaghetti. Mmmm, I can taste my mom’s signature spaghetti recipe now. However, what comes from Prego and Ragu is certainly not the best out there. To really do spaghetti right you have to go to Italy, our second pit stop, where they cook many different types of pasta.
From ravioli to penne to ziti, there are several different types of pasta to gorge on. Spaghetti is just one type of pasta… some people forget there is a whole pasta world out there to explore.
Authentic pasta sauce recipes include real, non canned ingredients because most of them are made from scratch. That means, real garlic, onion and tomatoes are used in the production of these tasty sauces. Many of the products you can buy off the shelves today are loaded with preservatives and aren’t the best choice for our bodies.

United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada- Fish and Chips
We all have heard of fish and chips. However, I am not so sure anyone knows what the chips are in fish and chips. The chips aren’t like the UTZ we buy in a bag at the grocery store, they are actually what Americans call french fries. The “chips” play as a sidekick to the battered and deep-fried fish filets in the dish.
Fish and chips originated in Ireland, Scotland and the United Kingdom. Now it is a carry-out item at many restaurants in several countries. However, fish and chips is mostly associated with the United Kingdom.

Sushi is a Japanese food that usually includes raw seafood and rice. There seems to be a clear line between sushi opinions. People usually either hate or love sushi. For those of you who love it. You definitely want to eat the best of the best from its originating country, Japan. Those of you who hate sushi probably have issues with the fact that it is typically viewed as “sketchy” raw fish. This is a misconception. Think of it this way: If all of the sushi lovers in the world have sampled sushi from venues such as local restaurants, grocery stores and–EEEK–even campus dining halls, then there is nothing to worry about. They’ve all eaten a vast multitude of sushi and still live to tell about it. Sushi masters in Japan know what to serve and what not to serve. So there is virtually no reason to worry about eating it.
If you’re still not convinced, there are ways to ease yourself into the sushi world. There are types of sushi that only include vegetables or have cooked seafood instead of raw seafood in them.
If you were wondering how to make sushi from scratch in your own kitchen, take a look at this video below.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this post. I know I enjoyed writing it. Remember to pick up these foods when you’re abroad. You won’t regret it.

Re-defining the term “long-distance”

“Hi everyone! This will be our last week of posts since the semester is coming to an end. However, we were inspired as bloggers so who knows, maybe we’ll continue on our own. Look for us in the blogging world!! This post is an article I did about what its like to travel/study abroad while in a relationship. The relationship could be literally with a significant other, or more based on the familial relationship. I hope you enjoy reading this article. I really liked talking to these students/former students about their experiences. Thanks for following our blog this semester 🙂 Here’s my last post”

Posted by: Megan Brothers

Imagine. Sitting in the airport, waiting for your flight to board. Nerves, excitement, and sadness flood your body as you wave goodbye to your loved ones behind you.

Despite the difficulties of leaving those you love behind, students who travel or study abroad seem to agree on one thing; take advantage of the opportunity, regardless of your relationships.

Senior SMAD major Katy Summerlin traveled to London in 2010 for the fall semester. Besides the stress of an internship, taking classes, and being in a foreign country, Summerlin was also in a relationship back home. They had been dating for seven months, but had never been apart for more than three weeks.

“He was very supportive of my decision to go abroad and wanted me to have a good experience without missing him too much,” says Summerlin.

“I missed him a lot though,” Summerlin says, “but I was so busy most of the time; I literally didn’t have the time to spend pining for him. Looking back, it really wasn’t that bad. I think it would have been harder if we hadn’t been able to talk though.”

Communication is key in any relationship. Summerlin says that she and her boyfriend talked on Google video every day. She also had a cell phone and was able to text him.

“The time change was difficult but I would usually call him right before I went to bed at midnight as he was sitting down for dinner,” says Summerlin

Talking kept them close, but Summerlin’s boyfriend also sent her a care package filled with goodies, inside jokes, and his favorite t-shirt. “It made the distance not seem so far,” says Summerlin.

Unfortunately, Summerlin and her boyfriend broke up a few months after she got home. She assured me that the break up had nothing to do with her being gone however, and they are still on good terms.

Summerlin’s advice for anyone wanting to travel/study abroad is, “Go ahead and do it. Don’t let your relationship hold you back. Have your family come visit too. My parents visited on our week-long break; knowing they were coming made it easier to get through the lonely times.”

Laura Pond, a 2011 SMAD graduate, took part in the Semester in London program in the summer of 2010. She had a position as a Corporate Partnership’s Intern at the National Autistic Society and took three classes. In a separate realm of relationships, Pond experienced the feeling of homesickness and missing her family.

“At least when I was at JMU and missed them, they were just a phone call or a two-hour drive away; it wasn’t that easy being overseas,” says Pond.

Like most people traveling overseas, Skype, e-mail and Facebook chat helped Pond get through the rough times without her family. She was able to talk to her family and friends at least once a day.

Laura in the phone booth! Classic!

Skyping a friend from home!!

Pond’s advice for travelers is to “Be yourself and take in the moment as much as possible. Find someone in the group that you can relate to and stick with them; it’ll make missing your family and friends a lot easier.”

In another part of the world, Rachel Miller, also a 2011 JMU graduate, traveled to Nakuru, Kenya for a month-long internship.

As an International Affairs major with a concentration in Africa and the Middle East, she has always taken an interest in Africa.

Rachel with two Masai men outside their village in Mara

She went through an organization called Experiential Learning International that set her up with a microfinance institution in Nakuru.

Like Summerlin, Miller had been dating for a couple months before she went abroad. However, Miller said she felt stronger about her boyfriend at the time than she had about anyone else she had dated before.

“We were used to seeing each other every day and being a ten minute car ride away. It was weird having an ocean between us, but I still felt close to him,” says Miller.

Being away took a harsh turn when communication was tougher than expected. “We planned on skyping a lot, but the Internet in Kenya was too unreliable. The seven hour time difference didn’t help either.” By having Internet access in her office however, Miller was luckily able to check her email. Her boyfriend sent her one every day.

“His emails started my day with a smile and our two Skype dates gave me butterflies,” says Miller.

Miller says her trip to Africa didn’t cause any strain on her relationship but in fact made them stronger. They are still very happily dating.

Her advice for potential travelers is, “ DO IT. Don’t let a relationship prevent you from having a life-changing experience. We have the rest of our lives to be in relationships, but the window of freedom to travel is small. If you have the opportunity, TAKE IT!”

piki piki (motorbike) ride to the village of MoloRachel with a borrower group in a village outside Eldoret










All about the Holidays

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we are all still reeling from the effects of overindulging on Turkey, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving is of course a strictly American holiday, created to honor when the pilgrims first discovered the turkey, who lead them to the native Americans, and food, or something like that.

So to honor this ambiguous, but uniquely American holiday, here are a few holidays that are celebrated strictly by the citizens of some of the countries we have discussed.


St. Stephan’s Day

January 26th

This is a weird one. The day after Christmas the Irish celebrate St. Stephan’s day, and like our thanksgiving it’s roots and celebration have little in common. It started as a feast day in the catholic church, honoring, obviously, St Stephan, who was a martyr in the early days of the church. Now, as you would probably guess, the day is celebrated, namely by young boys, who blacken their faces with coal, and chase around a wren (a bird) until they kill it, or it dies of exhaustion. How it came to that is anyone’s guess.


Founder’s Day

September 21st

This holiday is relatively new one, started in 2009 to mark the centennial birthday of the nation’s first president Kwame Nkrumah. It recently came to the spotlight again this September, when several world political figures, J. A Kufuor of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Horst Kohler Republic of Germany. gathered for a short ceremony and conference discussing the life and works of Nkrumah, at his mausoleum.

Nkrumah was instrumental in the fight for Ghana’s independence from Great Britain in 1957, and served as president until 1972.


The King’s Feast

November 15th

This holiday is a relic from the time when king’s and queens were in the ruling body of the state. Many countries have had similar holidays, but as monarchy was phased out, so was the (mandatory) celebration of the monarchs. In Belgium, the king and queen still exist, mostly for ceremonial reasons, and this day is set aside to honor them. The celebrations don’t go past a formal “Thank you” from Parliament, and a few church services.

Neal Hollowell

Phew! Exhausted Travelers–Read this.

By Jessica Albert

Traveling can be exhausting. Especially for first time travelers. And I’m not just talking in terms of jet lag.

Traveling requires a ton of planning and spending. Neither of which do I think people typically enjoy doing when they’re supposed to be vacationing.

Just think about it. There is always a long laundry list of to-do’s before you actually make it on your trip like: getting a passport, buying tickets, converting money, packing, etc. I don’t know about the rest of you, but just thinking about it makes me tired.

Before I sat down to write this post, I thought to myself: “How do people manage to do all of this and plan their vacations and manage to enjoy them?” Well, the folks over at AOL had the same question. The only difference between me and them is that they have the answer.

AOL’s Travel Site is equipped with tons of information that is useful to all travelers. I browse the home page from time-to-time myself looking for blog post ideas. But, today when I was looking for any idea I came across the itinerary pages of various travel location pages.

I like this feature a lot. Vacations are short and expensive. There’s no time to waste trying to figure out what you want to do. Let AOL be your free travel agent. All you have to do is find your travel destination among the ones listed on the site and then click on the navigation link that says itinerary. The itinerary is split up based on a two-day trip and a seven-day trip. It gives you about 3-5 activities to do each day and provides you with a map of where each activity is located. Pretty nifty, huh?

Above is a screen grab of the Day 7 itenerary from AOL. Travelers would benefit from this tool because it is easy to use and is based on user preferences.

One of the best things about this feature is that you can use it as you wish. Students who are traveling abroad for longer than seven days can pick and choose which activities they want to do. Or could alternate days and in which they follow the suggested routes.

Here are some links to the itineraries of popular locations abroad.

The next best thing about this feature is that it is FREE. In fact, all of the features on the AOL travel site are free. You can do everything from reading restaurant reviews to booking flights. So, before you exhaust the stuffing out of yourself, go to AOL travel and see what’s up.

The Distinguishables

I walk into the airport on the day of my flight and all I see is labels, dancing above people’s heads; everyone fitting into 4 distinguishable categories.
1. The high class roller; the businessman

They’re probably the easiest to spot. Brief cases replace suitcases, laptops replace backpacks, and caffeine replaces all natural emotions. They’re dressed in crisp blue suits, pin stripes down their legs. They’ve got their Rolex strapped around their wrist and Calvin Klein’s latest stuck to their feet.

They stand impatiently in the seating area with The New York Times tucked under their arms, jabbering away on their Blackberry’s. Once on the flight, their ear buds pop in, they order a scotch, and you don’t hear from them again until the plane has landed.

They sit properly in their first class seats, legs crossed, careful not to wrinkle their pants. Tapping their shoes, checking their watches; as if time would really go any faster

2. Unmanageable monkeys…I mean children…small children

I am always astounded when I board a plane and I see a mom and a dad with a three year old, a five year old, and a two-month-old baby. Children under the age of five should not travel, period. If you don’t agree with me, or think your children are angels, when in fact they are basically just hairless monkeys, then please, feel free to prove me wrong, or ask ABC how young is too young.

They cling to their poor, sleep deprived mothers, like monkeys in the wild. They scream for bottles, yell for toys, run up and down the isles of the plane and get in everyone’s way.

In their seats, they constantly feel the need to bang their backs into the cushion, forcing the tray table on the back of their seat to throw the coke you just received from the nasty flight attendant, into your lap; its going to be a long flight.

Finally, my favorite part of children travelers (oh, the sarcasm) is the descent into the airport. Pressure builds in your ears as you drop out of altitude, subsequently making your ears hurt. When the altitude drops, cue the serenade of screaming kids and parents trying to calm them down. Do us a favor and 1. Don’t travel with small children, 2. Teach them to “blow out” when their ears hurts, and 3. If you have to travel with them, give them sleeping pills; they’ll wake up in the airport on the other side and we’ll all be much happier.

3. The never flown, and mortified

I don’t know, I think this category ranks right up there with screaming children. Yes, flying can be terrifying when you’ve never done it before. I mean who isn’t scared about flying thousands of miles in a super heavy airplane over the water for hours? Sometimes science can’t calm your fears.

No, the dinging “fasten seat belt sign” does not mean we are going to crash, it means there is turbulence and you need to put your seatbelt on; do not fall into my lap because you forgot to put it on. Fair warning.

Yes, your ears will pop when we raise and fall in altitude due to pressure; your ears are not exploding.

Yes, the plane will look and feel like we are going to do a flip when we turn; this is not the case.

And finally, no, the noise the airplane makes halfway through its decent is not your luggage being dumped from the belly of the plane, that would be the gear, we need those to land.

4. The seasoned traveler

Arrive at the airport 2 hours and 13 minutes before the flight is destined to depart. Spend an hour in check-in and security. (No more than that because we put our liquids in a bag and neatly packed our things instead of throwing everything in last minute.)

We board the plane and take our correct seat, since no one seems to understand that A27 means A27. Just because you get claustrophobic sitting in the middle seat does not mean I’m switching you for my window seat. Tough luck.

We’ve got our Bose noise canceling headphones on to drown out screaming babies and panic stricken first-flyers.

We’ve got our seats laid back, our blankets up and the window shade down; we’ve mastered the science of getting comfortable in small spaces.

We’re tuned in to the 5-inch TV monitor on the back of the seat that is being catapulted back and forth from the four-year-old in front of us. But before we know it, our eyes are shut, dozing off in a sea of chaos and waking up in paradise, undisturbed and very relaxed.


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