Friday, September 18, 2009

Returning to my first love...

Hello! My name is Jay Prosser. I’m in my fourth year at Valdosta State. I’m dual majoring in history and French with a minor in international studies.

I’m originally from Atlanta. I came to VSU because it was, quite honestly, the furthest point I could get from home and still pull the HOPE scholarship. At first, it seemed like I would go four years and out with little excitement. Then the honors director suggested I study abroad. The summer of 2008 brought my first taste of international jaunts when I left for Paris for the summer. I spent five weeks falling deeper and deeper in love with the country and the culture. I came back convinced that I had to return, for a year this time.

I planned and was accepted by International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) for a yearlong study in Grenoble, France. Grenoble is to the southeast of Paris in a region known as the Rhône-Alps. It is nestled at the base of the French Alps and serves as the base for all the busses that run to the ski resorts in the mountains.

This blog will hopefully follow all the exploits I have in Grenoble - from the jazz festival in late fall to the wine tastings in early January to the film festival in May – all designed to keep me involved and make me explore. I want to come back from Grenoble nearly fluent in French and knowing that I truly immersed myself in the culture.

Getting to this point however, was not easy.

The ISEP process is long. It takes nearly half a year to complete your paperwork and receive approval from the Program. Once this is accomplished, you have to work with the Consul General for the Republic of France. Located in Atlanta, the Consulate is in charge of issuing all visas for the southeast United States. They have their own list of requirements necessary for a visa to be issued.

After a hectic summer, it was all taken care of though. I was finally cleared and ready for a year in France.

Mostly ready anyway.

* As part of the International Student Exchange Program, Jay Prosser is studying abroad in Grenoble, France for the 2009-10 academic year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home

As our time in Lima came to a quick end, none of us wanted to leave our new home. We had to meet the group at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday so we could get transport to the airport. A bunch of us thought it would be a novel idea to not go to sleep that night and instead catch some zzzz’s on the plane, but that was a huge mistake! We all felt horrible and tired all the way home, but somehow we made it back safe and sound after a whole day of traveling. I was so happy to be able to leave the airport with my parents, and soon after, I was reunited with my puppies! After a long day, my bed and all of my pillows never looked better!

I never thought I would have experienced culture shock coming back to the states, but sure enough, I did. Even though I was only gone for a month, it felt like my world had been turned upside down. So many things had changed, happened or gone by that I felt like I was left behind. I did not have a problem switching back to English; however, I still dream in Spanish pretty frequently. The one thing I hate is that I’ve become so cheap. In Peru I could buy whatever I wanted for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, here there is no bargaining and I’m suffering from sticker shock! I also miss the Peruvian food — it was to die for!

To anybody who is thinking about studying abroad…. do it! This trip was amazing, and there are many other wonderful trips that Valdosta State offers as well. It doesn’t matter where you go, because in the end, it’s all about the new experiences you will gain. That alone is priceless. These study abroad trips are worth every single penny; so don’t let the price stand in the way. Peru really opened my mind and allowed me to expand my horizons. I have learned so many important life experiences that will stick with me forever. The most important thing I learned was that we are so blessed to have access to so many things here in the states. I no longer take things like clean water, sanitation and toilet paper for granted.

I would really like to say thank you to my host parents Oscar and Julia. They welcomed me with open arms and are the sweetest people I have ever met. They will always be my Peruvian parents! I would also like to say thank you to Dr. Amy, Dr. Marcos Goldfarb and José for making all of the plans and arrangements. This trip was really a once in a lifetime experience.

* Stephanie is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It All Comes to an End in the City of Lights

Our last weekend is here! And what better way to spend it? We are in the City of Lights — Paris! This was the weekend I had been waiting for our entire trip! We got to spend five days and four nights in this wonderful city.

On Friday, we got to Paris around 12:30 p.m. and went to check into our hostel, the FIAP, before heading out to a very quick tour of the Louvre. The first thing I saw were the Victory Wings, which ended up being my favorite statue in the Louvre (of what I saw). I really liked the history behind it. I learned that it was over 3,000 years old, and at one point in time it was in over 300 pieces.

It was eventually put back together and is now sitting in the Louvre.

Then, we went to see the famous Mona Lisa. Honestly, it was kind of a let down. It is very small, and kind of boring. The only reason it is famous is because it was stolen and not found until three years later. On one side of the room is this tiny painting (Mona Lisa) and on the other side of the room is a HUGE picture that takes up the entire wall. But at least I can say I saw it. I also took time to see the Venus De Milo and the inverted pyramids. Afterwards, I headed back to our hotel and ate dinner and planned out the rest of my weekend.

Saturday, a couple of us decided to do a bike tour of Paris. We signed up for the

morning/afternoon and night tour with Fat Tire Bikes!

We had so much fun on the one in Munich that we just had to do it again in Paris. That morning we met at the Eiffel Tour and then headed to the bike shop. We started our tour by stopping at an old military school, which is still used as a military school. We also saw a monument dedicated to world peace. The monument has the word “peace” written all over it in over a hundred different languages. The creator of the monument says he isn’t going to finish the monument until there is world peace. I think he may be waiting a while. We ate lunch in the Royal Gardens, and then finished our afternoon tour at the Louvre.

Later, we met back up again at the bike shop for the night tour. First, we took a 25-minute bike ride over to Notre Dame.

Then we stopped for ice cream at one of the most famous ice cream parlors in the world. I had chocolate! It was amazing! Then we stopped by the building where Marie Antoinette was kept before she was beheaded, and headed back to the Louvre. Then we rode our bikes to the pier where a riverboat cruise was waiting for us. Our river cruise lasted about an hour, and served complementary wine. After the riverboat cruise, we headed back to the bike shop and it was almost midnight before we made it back to our hotel!

Well, I can definitely tell you that my bottom was hurting on Sunday! All the bike riding took a toll on my body! That morning, we went to the Eiffel Tour again. This time, we took an elevator ride up to the second floor. We couldn’t go up to the very top because it was too crowded. The view from the second story was plenty beautiful and is much higher than you think it is from the ground! For lunch, we went to our weekly American food fix, Hard Rock Café. That afternoon, we toured around the Sacre – Coeur, an old church that sits high up on a hill in Paris. You can see all of Paris from the top of this hill. We also went to Montmarte, a little town square next to Sacre-Coeur where a lot of local artist try to sell their paintings. I ended up buying two beautiful canvas paintings to take back to my apartment. I walked around the square three times trying to decide which ones I wanted! That night, Kent and I went to see the Lido. It is basically a French version of an American Broadway show with plenty of lights, costumes and stage sets to please anyone! Then we headed back to the hostel to get ready for our day trip to Normandy.

On Monday, Kent and I had to get up early to catch a train to take us to Bayeux. It is about two hours from Paris. Our tour guide met us at the city center (which is really small). Our first stop on our Normandy tour was Pointe De Hoc. We got to see many of the old bunkers and debris that was left over from the battle. We also saw a monument that was built in honor of the fallen soldiers during those battles. Our next stop was the infamous Omaha Beach. It looked like a normal, happy beach. There were lots of families sitting on the beach, just playing and having a wonderful time. It was very hard to imagine that such a horrible battle took place at the beach. Afterwards, we headed to the American cemetery. We learned that there are over 9,000 men and women buried at this location. It eemed like all of the white marble crosses went on for miles and miles. It was a very sad place to visit. It really makes you proud to be an American. It also made me realize how lucky I am to be an American. Our last stop was between the American and British invasion sites. This was the best view of Omaha Beach. Our tour guide also showed us two German guns that were still in the original bunkers from the battle. After our tour, we caught the train back to Paris and began packing our stuff up to come back to America!

Being able to have the opportunity to have this experience was an absolute blessing. I would recommend studying abroad to everyone! There are so many memories that I have made throughout this trip that I will never forget! I have so many new friends that each made an impression on my life that will always be with me. I will never forget the people that I was able to share this experience with. I would definitely recommend to any one thinking about doing a study abroad trip to do lots of research before you go. That way, you will know about all of the sites you are going to see. It will make the experience that much better. I would also recommend doing a bike tour while oversees if one is offered in the area you are traveling to. The bike tours in Munich and Paris were the most fun things I did throughout the entire trip. I absolutely loved Germany and would love to go back someday! Maybe I’ll take a cruise over there so I don’t have to fly!

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe,Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

Back Stateside and Missing Germany Already

So it feels a little weird being back stateside after five weeks of not only visiting Germany, but also making it my home. A part of me is glad to be home — to see my family and friends — but the other part of me also misses my friends that became as close as family from Germany. The one thing that is going to take some getting used to is the fact that I do not have something to do every second of every day. For example, yesterday I literally paced around my house for an hour because I was so bored, and neither the Internet nor television interested me.

My last few days in Germany were great. I went on a day trip to Belgium (Brussels and Bruges) by myself, which was nice, almost to prove I could travel internationally by myself. Bruges was beautiful, filled with tourists and a little redundant, but I didn’t hate Bruges (those who have seen the movie with Collin Ferrell will understand). Monday and Tuesday were full of classes, studying and stress for a lot of people. I just had to finish some projects, show up and present them. The last couple of nights there, the hotel made us some great meals and the mayor of Konigswinter, the town where we were staying, actually joined us for a little while at the hotel. At night, we went down to the Rhine River with a bottle of wine and tried to delay the inevitable: leaving this beautiful country.

This trip for me has been the most exciting, fun and memorable thing I have ever done. I have met people that will be my friends forever; I have seen places that most people never get to visit in their lifetime; and I have built a connection with the country of Germany. I know that sounds a little odd, but you can believe me when I say that this is only the first trip of many that I will take to that part of Germany. I really wish everyone could experience what I have the past five weeks. If anyone ever gets the opportunity to visit any European country, do it. Do not hesitate, because you will not be disappointed.

I am forever grateful to the European Council for working with me to make this trip happen and being patient with me. I am having a hard time putting all my feelings, thoughts and emotions into words right now, which is something that I am not used to. I am still processing everything, and I probably will be for a good while.

I talked to one of my friends from the trip today, and her and I are in accordance: we’re catching the first plane back. This is what a trip like Bonn, Germany will do to you. There are really only three words that can sum up my trip:

I miss Germany.

* Lee is participating in a study abroad program in Bonn, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's European Council and International Programs.

Machu Picchu - the Belly Button of the World

Amazing, magnificent, superb and brilliant don’t even come close to describing what I’ve seen this past week. Last Friday, we finished up the last day of our three-week class, and got ready for our “mini” vacation. Early Saturday morning, we boarded a plane from Lima to Cusco with lots of anticipation. After arriving that afternoon, we headed off to our hotel to rest for a bit. Here the altitude was around 11,000 – 12,000 feet, which was a huge change from sea level. Most people had headaches and occasional nausea, but nothing stopped us from enjoying every minute!!!

Cusco was the capital during the Inca Empire and is called “the belly button of the world” because it was in the center of Inca territory. Here you can see clear Inca and Spanish influences on every single street. Many building foundations still have actual Inca stones forming the foundations. The streets are also very narrow and cobblestoned as well. Cusco was a gorgeous city to explore and learn about. We stayed here for three days visiting many different ruins, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Our tour guide, Gary, was very knowledgeable and explained everything to us in detail. I wish I could have recorded everything he said because it was so pertinent and interesting. After lunch on our first day, Gary took us to three or four different ruins, one gold-plated cathedral (literally I’ve never seen more gold in my life) and one working monastery.

On the second day, we woke up extremely early to catch a train to Aguas Calientes where we would take a bus up to Machu Picchu. It took us over 4 hours to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu; however, when we finally arrived it was well worth it. Machu Picchu sits at about 8,000 – 9,000 feet above sea level, which made hiking up to the ruins a bit easier. It is also part of the Peruvian jungle sitting near the Amazon basin, so as you can imagine how amazing the view was! After trekking up to the ruins, we were overwhelmed with the absolute beauty of Machu Picchu. Words cannot even explain what we felt or what we saw. The only thing I can say is that you have to go see it in person. Machu Picchu has truly earned its right as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. One of the surreal aspects of the ruins is that there is no Spanish influence here whatsoever. The conquistadores never discovered this sacred place, so it has remained untouched and perfectly preserved.

On the third day, we took it a little easier as we were all very sore after hiking around Machu Picchu. We took a bus around the Sacred Valley, where we were able to witness gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys and unique little villages. This was a wonderful little excursion to be able to take in the beauty of nature. At the end of the day, we had to pack up our hotel room and get ready for a 9-hour bus ride from Cusco to Puno in the morning.

We took off for Puno very early in the morning in an effort to arrive by dinnertime. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier to get off a bus in my life after that trip! However, the bus was a really nice way to see the Peruvian countryside. While traveling on the Altiplano, we had some amazing views of the mountains. In this area we were at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, so it felt like we could literally touch the clouds!

The next morning we all geared up for Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is famous because it is the highest navigable lake in the world sitting at 12,500 feet above sea level. Our first stop on the lake was the famous floating reed islands. These islands are home to local indigenous groups. We had the amazing opportunity to actually go onto the islands and see how they live. I was shocked at how many uses the natural growing reed has in this culture. The reeds are used for everything from building boats and houses to the actual island itself. After touring the floating islands, we got to ride on one of the small reed boats. This was one of my favorite things because it was so calm and peaceful! Later on we got back on our boat and went out to the island of Taquile, where we hiked up to our lunch location that had a magnificent view of the lake. Following lunch, we hiked a bit more up to the main square where there was a festival being held. There were many local people dressed up in gorgeous clothing dancing around in a circle. It was really a sight to see!

After our mini vacation was over we got ready to fly back to Lima. Nobody wanted to leave! We all had a once in a lifetime experience that we will remember forever!

* Stephanie is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Shoutouts and sandwiches

This week we went to Machu Picchu — AMAZING. Of course, the air is so thin because the altitude is so high that just walking up a flight of stairs, leaves you breathing like a 500-pound chain-smoker with asthma… it’s great really. It is still totally worth it! We had the best tour guide ever — Gary somebody — so if you go to Cusco look him up. Sorry I don’t know his last name, but how many "Gary" tour guides can there be in Peru right?

We also hit up the sandwich stands on Saphie street. I recommend the pollo juevo and queso sandwich… SO GOOD. We also saw about a thousand other ruins. I feel terrible for not remembering all their names, but trust me, ruins are really cool and everyone should see some. Lago Titicaca was next in Puno after the best nine-hour bus ride I have ever taken (I’m being sarcastic in case you can’t tell). But nine hours on a bus not included lake Titicaca is insane. There are manmade islands that people live on, they make them out of reeds and live there, incredible really.

I got some requests for shout-outs because there are a few dorks on this trip so here goes:


To Tyler - you are the best dancer I have ever met. I would really like to take lessons from you, no really.

To John - bloodbrain

No one else requested one so no one else gets one, but I love you all the same! Anyway this trip is really crazy, but really awesome. I felt like I have done nothing but run around like a crazy lady since I got here and I couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, I don’t even want to go home, which actually has nothing to do with the fact that we begin traveling at 2:30 a.m. and don’t finish traveling until around midnight by the time we make it home to Valdosta. I just really want to stay here that bad!

Peru is really a diverse and beautiful country, just don’t tell anyone from Chile or Bolivia that I said so!!

* Katelyn is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Monday, July 27, 2009

My last week in Karlsruhe...

I can’t believe our last week is here. It seems like we just got to Karlsruhe!

On Monday, our train didn’t get into Karlsruhe until 5:30am! I had to be in class at 8:30am. Needless to say, I was very tired! After our usual classes, I went took a much needed nap! That night I went to the computer lab until it closed to work on my international marketing paper. I was determined to finish that paper because I didn’t want to have to worry about it anymore this trip.

After classes on Tuesday, Lauren and I decided to take a trip to a nearby city called Baden-Baden. It is known for its luxurious spas. People all over the world come to Baden-Baden to enjoy a day at the spa. We went to a spa called Caracalla. It had three huge pools with jets, fountains and massaging showers, two saunas with aromatherapy jets, tanning beds, drying lamps, and a massage area. We took full advantage of everything they had to offer! I also had a 30-minute back massage — it felt amazing! Afterward, we went to a local restaurant and had dinner.

We took a field trip to Strasburg, France on Wednesday to tour the European Parliament. It was a very beautiful city. The European Parliament was a very interesting place. When we first arrived, we were given a presentation about the European Parliament, through which we learned about the history of the parliament, the member countries, representation in the parliament, and some of the rules and regulations regarding the parliament. We were able to sit in on a session, but had to use earphones to hear the debates in English. The earphones had over twenty different languages playing. We could also see the interpreter box from where we were sitting. While we were listening, they were discussing their relationship with China.

Thursday was packing day! I didn’t realize how much stuff I had acquired over the past three and a half weeks. We had our last classes that morning, and then Sarah, Dr. Droms and I decided to do some last minute souvenir shopping in Karlsruhe. I found a cute little cuckoo clock magnet for my refrigerator back home. I wanted a real cuckoo clock, but they were so expensive! My mom was born in Frankfurt; she still has the cuckoo clock my grandmother gave her from Germany. For dinner, we had our last Doner Kabab sandwich. We basically lived off those sandwiches while we were there.

That night I packed and packed and packed! It took me almost two hours to pack all of my stuff back up! It was a very strategic process! We were lucky enough to have the faculty at the university take the luggage that we didn’t need in Paris to Frankfurt on Wednesday morning before our flight back to America. It was really nice not to have to worry about carrying all of our luggage around Paris!

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe,Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

Rome is AMAZING!!!

We started the trip by taking a 12-hour train ride from Karlsruhe to Rome. I am absolutely scared of flying and after taking the plane last week. I decided that I wasn’t taking another plane anywhere, unless it was headed back to America! We left Karlsruhe around midnight on Thursday and arrived in Rome around lunchtime on Friday. The train was very uncomfortable on the way there! We paid for the cheapest seats on the train, thus the uncomfortable ride. I was sitting between two random people on the train and had nowhere to lay my head for 12 hours! We definitely learned our lesson and upgraded our tickets on the way back from Rome to beds. (They were a lot more comfortable!)

As soon as we got off the train, we headed to the Colosseum. I love the Colosseum! This was the site I wanted to see the most out of all of our weekend trips. My favorite movie of all time is the Gladiator. Being able to see where so much history took place was almost surreal. I couldn’t believe that the Colosseum has been able to survive longer than 1900 years! We took a tour through the inside and saw where the Romans use to keep the trap doors for the animals to come out to attack the gladiators and learned some interesting facts about gladiators from our tour guide. Most people think that all of them were forced to be gladiators (slaves, captured homeless people, prisoners, etc.), but some made a choice to pursue the lifestyle because they were looked upon as heroes if they were successful (not killed). For some reason, many men volunteered to fight in the battles to become heroes of Rome. I don’t know of many people who would volunteer for that today!

After the Colosseum, we took a tour of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Our tour guide for these sites was a local history professor who was very knowledgeable in the subject. We learned all about the ancient history of both of these places. It was a very weird/cool feeling to be thinking that Caesar had walked where I was walking. Later, we went to the Pantheon. This was built as a temple to all of the gods of Ancient Rome. In the center of the dome-shaped ceiling, there is a huge hole cut out that is the only source of light for the building. It was really neat to see all of the paintings, architecture and burial sites of past kings in a building, which is central to the hearts of many Romans.

Afterwards, we enjoyed some real gelato! It was so good! If you got pineapple, it actually tasted like a pineapple! If you got peach, it tasted like a peach! It was seriously the best ice cream I’ve ever had — way better than any ice cream in America. That night we went to see the Spanish steps. It was so pretty at night. There are all sorts of lights, music, food and drinks, making it a perfect spot for “people watching!” It was the perfect end to a very fun day!

On Saturday, we went to Vatican City, which I learned is actually the smallest country in the world! When we decided to tour St. Peters Basilica, we all had to make sure that our shoulders and knees were covered before we went inside. They are people at the front of the building checking to make sure everyone is in proper attire to enter. We walked around inside the basilica then headed up to the top of the basilica. Because the elevator only goes halfway up, we had to walk over 300 stairs to get to the top, but the view was well worth all those stairs. It was a beautiful view from the top. Next, we went to see the tombs of all the previous popes. There were popes buried in tombs dating back to the year 1200! We also went to visit the Sistine Chapel. The artwork inside the chapel was gorgeous. Michelangelo was truly a master at art. All of the paintings were breathtaking! That night we went to see the Trevi Fountain. It was huge! Legend has it, that if you throw a penny over your shoulder into the fountain you will have good luck. I had to try!

Sunday was our last day in Rome. We didn’t really have much time to look tour around because we had to catch our train back to Karlsruhe that afternoon. For lunch, we ate at a little café that served over fifty different kinds of pasta! I tried the spaghetti carbonara. It had bacon, eggs, pasta and cheese in it. Sounds kind of gross, but it was really good! Then, we caught our train back to Karlsruhe.

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe,Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Cold Day in July...

So I'm sitting here working on my final paper only one more day left of class! It is sort of bittersweet because obviously. I'm stoked to be finished with class, but that also means that it is almost time to go home, which I am NOT excited about. But I'm trying not to think about it; I'm just concentrating on spending what time I have left with all the friends I have made here in Peru and finishing this paper!

I think the people are what I will miss most about Lima. We leave for Cusco on Saturday morning (which by the way is spelled Cusco not Cuzco, spelled with a "z" it means little dog in Quetchua, which is offensive, obviously). So Macchu Picchu is on the horizon, as well as Lake Titicaca, the belly button of the world according to Incan legends. It is supposedly like 20 degrees in Puno and might snow. It's so crazy to be somewhere that cold in July. I heard a rumor that it's an all-day bus ride to Puno, where Lake Titicaca is, so that should be fun. But anyway, I'm about to get back to my paper. I'll let you know how Cusco and Puno turn out!!

* Katelyn is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Amsterdam, Bikers and the Holocaust

With a week left in the trip, there is no slowing down. It has been go-go-go for the past four weeks and it seems it will be that way until we get on the airplane next Wednesday. But before I get all sentimental, I should recap the past week.

Monday thru Thursday was as normal as it has been the entire trip. Five hours of classes Monday and Wednesday with field trips every Tuesday and Thursday. The school work has kind of crept up on me, seeing how I was up until 5:30 this morning working on presentations for both of my classes (but the good news is that they are done and only one more project to do!). But the highlight of my week — the Mecca for most college students — was our weekend trip to Amsterdam.

Everyone hears Amsterdam and automatically thinks of legal drugs, sex and debauchery. I am not going to lie, there was plenty of that to go around, and I kept a comfortable distance from the three. This does not mean that I didn’t have a great time, so don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of place to get into trouble in Amsterdam, but the city offers so much more. From the Ann Frank House to the Heineken Experience to the Dam Square, Amsterdam opens its arms to tourists of all shapes, sizes and fantasies. It is a beautiful city, dissected with canals and a haven for bikes. I thought the bikes/bikers were one of the coolest things about The Dam. There were thousands of bikes, chained together as if they were huddling to stay warm from the port breezes.

The funny thing about the bikers, however, was that they have no consideration for your bodily safety. One of my friends actually got run over by a biker, and I was cursed out for not moving out of the way quickly enough (they speak English very well in Holland). We went in two factions, a group of seven, who went one night before I did, and me and one of my other friends that I made on the trip. The other group booked their hostel right after the orientation in May at a place called Amsterdam Cribs. This was no hostel; it was an apartment that a local guy rented as a hostel to the younger crowd. The hostel that I was in was I bit less luxurious (to say the least). But both nights I spent the night on their couch.

So I’m not going to lie, the Red Light District was a place that I wanted to check out. To be brief, it lives up to all the hype; anything you want, you can get.

Tomorrow we go to Dachau, a concentration camp outside of Munich for our last field trip. I have been in a Holocaust class for the past few weeks, and it has opened my eyes to a history that I was not versed in. This trip, for me at least, will provide the slightest glimpse into what it must have been like to spend a moment in the camp. I believe only those who were there will ever understand what it was like, even if all the books on the topic were at one’s disposal. This should be a catalyst for an interesting blog afterwards.

* Lee is participating in a study abroad program in Bonn, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's European Council and International Programs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Penguins, Sea Lions and Bird Poop…oh my!

This past weekend our group visited three very different landmarks on our excursion. Our main destination was Ica, a smaller town about three hours south of Lima nestled in the Atacama Desert. For those who do not know, Ica and the surrounding areas were pretty much devastated by the large earthquake that occurred in 2007. Thankfully, you can see signs of re-growth today.

En-route to Ica was our first destination — The Ruins of Pachacamac. This archeological site was once inhabited by several different groups (Early Lima, Huari and Inca) and used for religious purposes. Here the Inca built the Temple of the Sun, which was used to worship the sun god Inti. Luckily for us, the temple remains for all to admire. All of the ruins in this area were really spectacular and in decent shape. For me, the ruins asserted that there really were people living there before conquistadors came in and took over. You can learn about different cultures like these in history books, but until you really see the actual thing for yourself, it’s just not the same.

After Pachacamac, we continued our very long ride to Ica (thank goodness it was a private bus)! We arrived at our hotel just in time to grab lunch and get settled in our rooms. Later on that afternoon we went screaming through the dunes in dune buggies. It was like one long, crazy, scary rollercoaster that wouldn’t stop. This was every thrill seekers dream!!! The dunes are indescribable with the Andes Mountains in the background. First of all, they are HUGE and there are tons of them. I’m not quite sure how our driver didn’t get lost because everything looked the same to me (like one big sand box)!

Our driver found some really tall dunes to ride down, waxed up the sand boards and got us ready. You could either ride down on your stomach or your feet, but most of us chose our stomach! In order to go down on your stomach, you lay down on the board with your arms tucked under your body and your feet spread apart so you don’t flip over. The first time I did ok….except for half the desert that ended up in my pants! The next hill was a bit bigger and that’s when I received my sand burns. It turns out that I got going too fast and my arms slipped out from under me and started to drag on the sand all the way down the hill (OUCH)! Needless to say, my forearms look a little nasty right now! Once everybody was done sliding down the dunes, we rode over to one of the highest points to watch the sun set over the horizon. It was truly beautiful. In the end, the experience was so worthwhile! This was one of the best experiences of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

The next morning we woke up super early to see Las Islas Ballestas. These Islands are a chain of big rocks off of the Peruvian coastline commonly called “The poor man’s Galapagos or The Peruvian Galapagos.” The crashing waves have created numerous arches making the islands unique and interesting. Many animals, such as Humboldt Penguins, Sea Lions, Peruvian Boobies and Peruvian Pelicans, call the Ballestas home. There are also gazillions of other birds that claim this island habitat. Because there are lots of birds, there is a lot of bird poop or guano, which is a very important, profitable resource/export here in Peru because it is sold to farmers who use it as fertilizer. To the occasional tourist, guano is not so appetizing because is smells atrocious!

All in all, this was the best weekend yet. I wish I could do everything all over again because it was so much fun! Now if I can just get past this last week of classes, I’ll be in Machu Picchu in no time!

Lots of Love,


* Stephanie is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Survival Tips for Traveling by Taxi in Lima

I thought for this week's blog I would do something useful, so here are some hints for taking a taxi in Peru.

1. Before you step to the curb, know where you are going and about how much it should cost to get there. Remember, there are no meters in these taxis — you must "haggle" with the taxista to find a price that makes you both happy.

2. Step to the curb and wave your hand, about three taxis will pull over, so don´t worry if you don't like the first one because there will be another and another and another. DO NOT jump in the taxi right away. You must first ask the driver through the window if he knows the place you are going. There is a chance he will tell you he does even if he doesn't, but I can't help you there! Anyway if he knows ask him how much. Since you are from the United States, he is most likely going to tell you something ridiculously pricey. Don't be afraid to say no. Negotiate and if he doesn't cooperate, go to the next one.

3. After settling your price, you can get in the taxi. If you are in the front seat, put on your seatbelt. If you are in the back, its a good idea but not required. Also LOCK THE DOOR. This is to prevent the door being opened and someone grabbing you or your bag at red lights.

4. I forgot to mention if a tiny little car pulls up that says tico on it anywhere don´t get on it unless you have to! It is a tin can on wheels. Tin cans and normal-sized cars, plus high speeds equal unhappy passengers.

5. Pay attention to where you are going, watch for familiar buildings etc. just to be sure the taxista really does know where you are going.

6. Do not be surprised if the taxi driver does any of the following:

a. Drives down the middle of the road,

b. Honks his horn incessantly,

c. Drives as fast as he can,

d. Squeezes past and in between other cars.

He is only driving down the middle of the road to make sure that if one lane opens up he can get there without having to completely change lanes. He is honking his horn at other drivers that cut him off and pedestrians who try to cross in front of him. He will also honk because you are coming to a crossroads with no stop sign or red light. The horn will alert the drivers coming from the crossroads to maybe stop or to accelerate, so that he has to stop. Either way, everyone is blowing their horns. I'm also pretty sure that they occasionally just do it for fun.

If he is driving as fast as he can, you can be sure that not only have you just gone over a speed bump, but another one is coming up. They use the space in between speed bumps to practice going from 0 to 60 and back to 0 in short distances. Also don't be alarmed if he squeezes between cars and buses. The drivers here in Lima act a lot like children in line at the ice cream shop — they are all trying to get there first. But, this is a perfectly normal behavior, so don't worry.

7. When you reach your destination pay, check all of your belongings to make sure you didn't leave anything before you get out. EXIT ONTO THE SIDEWALK NOT INTO THE ROAD. They do not stop for pedestrians here.

Well, I think that is everything you need to know for successful taxi travels in Lima, Peru. I deeply apologize if I left any questions unanswered and promise to do better next time! By the way, some of these tips come from the Peruvians themselves and some of them are my own insight — in case you were wondering how credible they are.

* Katelyn is participating in a study abroad program in Lima Peru, organized by Valdosta State University's International Programs and Modern and Classical Languages.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Late Introduction...from Lee Johnson

We arrived in Germany in late June, and I was prompted to do a blog around the same time. The problem that arises with a blog while studying overseas is balance the time to both write the blog, keep up with the work load for school and to experience all that this great country has to offer. So if you notice this is the first one in almost three weeks and this is not due to the fact that I am lazy, but the fact that I have not found the time, or the energy for that matter because traveling and taking in the local sites have taken its toll on my energy level. But here I am, early on this great German morning waiting for breakfast to be served. So without going into great detail, because it would take at least 10 pages to go over everything, but I will do my best to sum up the first three weeks without becoming long-winded.

The first weekend was awesome, in short. I know that the previous statement is a very

simplistic adjective to describe the first week, but to be honest, I know no better. The first three days we were here we took tours of Bonn, Aachen and Trier; all of which blew my mind not only by their beauty and culture, but also by how friendly the people are. I had my stereotype of Europeans before I came and to be honest, right now that stereotype is completely shattered. The cathedrals, the “shopping malls” (which are more like open-air outlet malls to be very general), the restaurants and the beer gardens all blew my initial expectations of this country.

Before I get to far, I should preface this with details about my program and why I am here, and possibly a little about myself. The European Council has many trips overseas, and I chose the Bonn, Germany trip, mainly because it gave me the best opportunity to explore not only Germany, but the various countries that border the city, locally called Deutschland.

About myself: I am a senior journalism major at VSU and I chose to come overseas this summer because I felt that at no other point in my life I would have the opportunity to experience something like this. All I can say is it was the best decision I have ever made.

We are staying in a little town 45 minutes outside of Köln call Königswinter. Imagine Helen, but a little smaller with better food and drinks. The traditional German architecture is apparent, as the town has a rich history in tradition. It is located on the Rhein River, and I have spent countless hours reading on a bench perched over this prominent Westphalian feature. The hotel we are staying at hosts many people (by this I mean not only American students, but tourists who are mainly from Germany). Not only does this provide a little entertainment, but also a chance to immerse ourselves into the language and culture. If I could spell German, I would share a few phrases, but that is not a reality for me.

So far, we have visited Munich and many local cities (Bonn, Köln, Linz, Remagen). I plan to visit Amsterdam this weekend. To travel to different cities is a bit expensive, seeing how the Euro is 1.4 dollars as of the last time I went to the ATM.

I feel like I am getting a bit long-winded, so to sum up the trip and the country right now, I would have to use one word — unique. To me, this word encompasses many other words: beautiful, friendly, delicious (as it comes to food and drink), and proud (especially in Bavaria … it’s kind of like the Texas of Germany, but with better beer and lederhosen). To be honest, I will be a walking advertisement for this program for the years to come and will be wishing that I can come on this trip every single year. I wish right now that I could upload some pictures, but unfortunately the Internet at the hotel we’re staying at is sub-par and I am lucky enough to be able to put this up. But I hope everyone who reads this will come back to search the Photobucket site that will be up as soon as I return stateside.

I am hoping sometime this week that I will catch a few moments to write down some unique experience to share with the VSU community. One thinks college is a hard enough place to budget time; come on a study abroad program and time is like money, literally, and for the next two weeks I am as frugal as they come.

* Lee is participating in a study abroad program in Bonn, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's European Council and International Programs.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Touring the Audi Plant

On Monday, we had our usual marketing class. Everyone was so tired from traveling all weekend. Some of the girls who went to London didn’t get back until almost 5 a.m. on Monday morning because of flight and bus delays! After we got out of marketing class, many of us took a quick nap before heading to lunch and our German class. After German class, some of us decided to go walk around the city. We ended up getting some ice cream from an amazing little ice cream shop in the shopping square. The ice cream here in Germany is way better than any ice cream I’ve ever had back in the states. It’s so much creamier here! After that, I spent most of my afternoon at the train station. I am absolutely scared of flying. After last weekend’s flight from London and back, I refuse to get on another plane, unless it's heading back to the states! So, I basically had to figure how to get to Rome and back this upcoming weekend at the train station. I’m going to have to take a 12-hour train ride to Rome, but it’s worth it to me to not have to take a plane!

On Tuesday, we had classes and lunch at the hostel. After class, I went to the computer lab to catch up on some schoolwork for about three hours or so. That evening, some of us girls decided to straighten Dr. Droms hair for the night. It was quite an event! It looked so good! All of us girls had fun getting ready for our night out together. Our entire group was invited by Dr. Lembach, the Director of International Programs at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences (our host for the trip), to a biergarten party at a local biergarten. We all got dressed up, and we were looking good for the event! Some German students also came to join us for dinner and drinks. They will be coming to VSU next semester to take class and study abroad at our campus. It was really nice to be able to meet some of these students and tell them all about our city and our campus. They seem really excited about coming over to America. We all exchanged names and numbers, so when they do make it over to the states, we can meet up and show them around.

On Wednesday, we had our second weekly field trip for the international marketing and management classes! We were invited once again by Senator Aurenz, who is on the board of directors for Audi, to tour the Audi plant in Neckarsulm. It was about a 1.5 hour train ride from Karlsruhe, but was definitely worth the trip. We arrived at the plant around 10 a.m. Senator and Mrs. Aurenz greeted us and advised us to study hard, get a good job, make a lot of money, and then buy an Audi! We toured the production facilities that make the Audi R8s and it was amazing. Did you know that 80 percent of the R8s are made by hand? Only about 20 percent of the production process of an R8 is by robots. This means that each and every R8 is truly unique. You can have anything you want put into these cars. They will specialize the car to fit the consumer’s needs. Of course, the price tag increases with each specialization request.

It was so cool to see how the assembly line works in a car production company. For the Audi R8s, each station has exactly 29 minutes before the car parts move on to the next station. We also learned that each and every Audi car is sold before it is ever made. This makes it so the company does not spend a lot of money in storing product that hasn’t been sold. We later moved on to see how the Audi A6s are made, which is a much different process. A robot is responsible for about 80 percent of the A6 production. During the tour, we basically just watched a robot twist its little steel hands and rotate in all different kinds of ways to put the car together. These cars can also be specialized according to the consumer’s preferences.

After touring the plant, we were treated to lunch in the Audi Staff Restaurant. After lunch, we took a bus to a local wine vineyard for a wine tasting and buffet. We were given a quick tour of the wine cellar, and treated to a wine tasting of some of the different wines produced in the cellar. We tried five different wines, ranging from white wines, to blush wines, to red wines. We were also served dinner at the wine tasting. After we had our bellies full, we went to catch the train back to Karlsruhe.

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

A Weekend in London

Yay! Finally, a place that speaks English! Don’t get me wrong, I have loved being able to use some of the German language I have been learning recently, but I’m not going to lie, being able to talk to people with no language barriers was amazing! London was an amazing trip. I wish I had more time to explore its all around history and beauty. There is so much to do in London, and there is absolutely no way to see it all in only two and a half days!

On Friday, the first place we went was to Kensington Palace. This is the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles lived for a short period of time. I am a huge fan of Princess Diana. My grandmother was from England, and of course, she was a huge fan as well. I can remember receiving gifts from England that had Princess Diana on them when I was young, including a tea set (the English love their tea) that featured likenesses of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in celebration of their marriage. I also received many calendars, pictures, stamps and postcards with Princess Diana on them. I have always thought she was an incredible woman with a huge heart. She is a role model for many people around the world still today.

Kensington Palace had eighteen of the dresses that she had worn while she was alive inside the palace. There was also a make shift memorial outside of the palace because her birthday was July 1. We explored around the outside of the house and its gardens, which were stunning! After the palace, we decided to take some fun, candid pictures in the ever-so popular red phone booths, and then headed to do some shopping at Harrods — one of the largest department stores in the world! It sits on over four and a half acres of land with 330 departments within the store. It's every girl’s dream shopping store. You can find almost every brand/designer name in the world in this one store! It was also the first store ever to install an escalator.

After a little shopping, we went to visit the Princess Diana memorial fountain. It was located in a park close to Kensington Palace. It is in a beautiful garden where people are welcome to put their feet in the fountain to cool off and relax. We later decided to check out the London Eye. It is basically a huge, modern ferris wheel ( that gives riders an amazing view of the city of London. Built in 2000 for the millennium celebrations, it was so popular that the city of London decided to keep it up for tourist and their citizens. You can see for miles when you get to the top of the eye. It takes about thirty minutes to make one whole revolution around the wheel. You can get spectacular pictures of the Parliament building and the Big Ben. Afterwards, we decided to get some dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. We heard that the ethnic food in London was really good, so we gave it a try — it was really good!

On Saturday, we decided to take an open top bus tour around the city of London on the “Big Bus Tour.” It took us to see all the major attractions in the city including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral (where Princess Diana and Prince Charles got married), the London Eye, London Bridge, Tower Bridge and the Royal Courts of Justice. It also included a river cruise that offered excellent views of the Big Ben and London Eye. We also got to see the Shakespeare Globe Theater and the Millennium Bridge. After that, we stopped by the first ever Harley-Davidson shop in Europe and then headed to dinner at the first ever Hard Rock Café. I had pork nachos that were out of this world good! We also got to tour their “Vault” where we saw all kinds of famous memorabilia from people, such as Elvis, Madonna, B.B. King, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beatles, Tom Petty, Prince and Kurt Kobain.

After dinner, we went to get a t-shirt for Kent’s sister from Wimbledon. When we got there, we were told we could actually get in to see Venus and Serena Williams play in the women’s doubles championship for only 10 pounds, so we jumped on that deal! It was so much fun! I mean, how many people can say they’ve been to Wimbledon! It was definitely one of the many highlights of our trip!

On Sunday, we had to pack and prepare for the trip back to Karlsruhe, but we didn’t leave without having a little fun first. We went to Buckingham Palace at 10 a.m. to see the Changing of the Guard and ended up sticking around until 11:30 a.m. to see the entire ceremony (with the band). For lunch, we ate at a local café that served England’s famous fish and chips. They were very good! Then we headed back to the airport to travel back to Karlsruhe.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend! It was a wonderful experience and I will definitely be back to visit London!

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe, Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.

Back in Karlsruhe

This week in Karlsruhe was an amazing week! We did so many fun things around our hostel and the city.

On Monday, we had class, as usual, and lunch at the hostel. During lunch, everyone sang happy birthday to me (my birthday was actually on Sunday, June 28). Ms. Droms and Dr. Ware had bought me a cupcake from Starbucks and put a candle in it for me. It was so sweet!

It really meant a lot to me! For dinner, we went out to a local restaurant for Tiara’s birthday, and later, we all came back to the computer lab to start studying for our daily quizzes and case studies. We wanted to get as much done that night as we could, so we wouldn’t have to worry about it all week!

I’m slowly starting to pick up on some key German words! Two of our favorite words to say are “danke,” which means thank you, and “bitte,” which means your welcome or please. These words are very important for anyone to know if they are planning to travel to Germany. However, being able to understand the German language when Germans are speaking to you is very tough. They speak really fast! I really wish I would have taken a German language class before I came over to study so I would be able to speak and understand the language a little better. Luckily, many of the Germans I have interacted with know some of the basic words in English, so that makes it easier to communicate.

On Tuesday, we had classes and lunch at the hostel. Afterwards, a couple of us decided to check out the Karlsruhe water park named the Europabad. It was so much fun! They had four indoor pools, one huge outdoor pool (with plenty of chairs to lay out on), two super fun water slides, a lazy river and a sauna. It only cost three euros to stay for two hours! We definitely stayed the entire two hours and we want to try to go back sometime again before we leave! After the water park, we all went to eat at a one of our favorite local restaurants, the Doner Kabab. It is so good! They serve all kinds of sandwiches, pizzas and wraps. Then we all came back to our hostel and passed out because we were so tired from playing at the water park!

On Wednesday, we had our first weekly field trip for the international marketing and management classes! We were lucky enough to be invited to tour the L’Oreal plant in Karlsruhe, thanks to Senator Aurenz and his wife. Senator Aurenz owns a company in Valdosta called ASB Greenworld, and he is also on the board of directors for the Audi plant in Germany. His wife has connections with executive directors at the L’Oreal plant in Karlsruhe, and this yielded us a wonderful experience at the L’Oreal plant. Senator Aurenz and his wife have been loyal friends and supporters to the Langdale College of Business for many years.

Our group received a complete tour of the plant. We started in the room where they actually make the products (shampoo, make-up, creams, etc.), then we saw how they bottle it, label it and package it all up. The machines they are using to do all of this are unbelievable — so correct, exact and precise each and every time.

After our tour, they served us an amazing lunch. It was, without a doubt, one of the best meals I’ve had since we’ve been here. After lunch, we were served coffee and they answered all the questions we had for them. When the tour was over, they gave all of us incredible gift bags with all kinds of products for girls and boys. All of the products were labeled with German words, so we came back to our hostel to look up what the words meant to figure out what products we were given. It was like a scavenger hunt for German words! During our visit, we had tons of fun and learned a lot as well. We were all really appreciative of what the L’Oreal plant did for us. They really showed us a wonderful time. For the rest of the afternoon, I basically just ran errands. I mailed some postcards, grabbed some Starbucks, and ate dinner at the hostel. Most of us went to Scruffys for a little while, then headed back to the hostel to get some sleep!

On Thursday, we did the usual class thing then everyone started to pack up for their weekend trips. I was packing for my trip to London with Kent, April, Tiara, Gail, Lauren, Danielle and Ms. Droms. We left Karlsruhe around 5 p.m. and took a train to Baden Baden; from there we took a bus to the Baden Baden/Karlsruhe airport. We got there about three hours early, but we didn’t really have anything else to do, so it was okay. Our plane left at 9:45 p.m. and arrived in London around 10:25 p.m. London time. They are an hour behind Germany. So, the flight really took about an hour and forty minutes, not just forty minutes. When we got to the airport, we took a bus from the airport to the city of London. When we finally got there, we checked into our hostel, the Bestplace in Waterloo, and went to sleep!

* Mallory is participating in a study abroad program in Karlsruhe,Germany, organized by Valdosta State University's Langdale College of Business Administration and International Programs.